teen romance

Review: The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Problem with Forever
The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Disclaimer: Received from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

I love Jennifer L. Armentrout books (in particular, the Lux series which are wonderful), and so when I saw her new contemporary novel, The Problem With Forever, on NetGalley, I knew I had to pick it up.

Mallory “Mouse” Dodge suffers from PTSD after a traumatic, abusive childhood with dreadful foster parents, where she was protected only by her foster brother, Rider. After an incident, Mallory and Rider were separated, and Mallory found loving and understanding foster parents in Carl and Rosa, two doctors who lost a daughter to natural causes years ago. After three years of homeschooling, Mallory decides she wants to go to school for her senior year to gear her up for the social pressures of attending college. Battling her social anxiety and speech difficulties as she goes to school, she soon bumps into a familiar face…

This book was such a quick read for me, and unlike any book I’ve ever read – it’s a romance, perhaps even a twist on Romeo & Juliet. Rider and Mallory moved into two very different backgrounds, united by a past that they’re both trying to move on from. Mallory is set on college, perhaps even medical school, whilst Rider really isn’t too bothered about school – he hardly even does his homework, too focussed on his art. I liked this unconventional love interest, and the subplot that is his new family and their lives. However, Mallory really does try to mould him into a ‘better’, more academic person – which is understandable but kind of grated on me – he was an interesting character to begin with, and doesn’t need to be pushed into the typical love interest mould.

Most of the characters were developed and had full back stories – especially Mallory and Rider – but I felt Mallory’s school friends were way under-developed, something chronic in YA. Mallory’s best friend Ainsley, however, was fun and had her own storyline – which I believe will be explored further in the next book.

Whilst this story definitely stands out from most romances, it was actually the romance that didn’t quite gel for me. I know a lot of people loved it. It reminded me a lot of my ex-boyfriend in a cringey way (my ex-boyfriend was VERY cringey). It was not discussed at all that Mallory and Rider were foster siblings, and were brought up, for ten years, as brother and sister (albeit in a very messed up household). This was particularly surprising to me as Mallory’s parents do object to the romance (I loved that the parents were realistic and got involved!).

There are some really dark and serious topics in this book (child abuse, drugs, grief, loss, the poor/rich divide,etc.) which I really did like – but the romance and the characters just didn’t click for me. This book has all the ingredients for a great YA novel, but the execution didn’t do it for me – but it did for a lot of other people.

A hard-hitting romance with dark tones but ultimately, a story of survival.
View all my reviews

 

What did you think of The Problem With Forever? Comment below or tweet me at @annalisebooks!

Annalise x

Review: V for Violet by Alison Rattle

27415536
V for Violet by Alison Rattle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Review copy received via netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.


Battersea, 1961. London is just beginning to enter the swinging sixties. The world is changing – but not for sixteen-year-old Violet. She was born at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced Victory in Europe – an auspicious start, but now she’s just stuck in her family’s fish and chip shop dreaming of greatness. And it doesn’t look like fame and fortune are going to come calling anytime soon. Then she meets Beau. Beau’s a rocker – a motorcycle boy who arrives in an explosion of passion and rebellion. He blows up Violet’s grey little life, and she can’t believe her luck. But things don’t go her way for long. Joseph, her long-lost brother, comes home. Then young girls start going missing, and turning up murdered. And then Violet’s best friend disappears too. Suddenly life is horrifyingly much more interesting. Violet can’t believe its coincidence that Joseph turns up just as girls start getting murdered. He’s weird, and she feels sure he’s hiding something. He’s got a secret, and Violet’s got a dreadful feeling it might be the worst kind of secret of all…

V for Violet is the story of Violet, a working-class girl in the early 1960s, stuck working in her family’s fish and chip shop. Her life is shadowed by the loss of her older brother during the war, and her arrival into the world a year later largely went unnoticed – the loss of Joseph still hangs over the family, 16 years on.

Violet is also drifting away from her best friend, Jackie, who has a new job at the sugar factory, and with it, a new gaggle of friends.

And then there’s Beau – the rocker who Violet can’t help being attracted to.

First off, I loved the setting – I loved all the little historical details, and this book really does feel like a fresh addition to the YA market. This is a book which makes you feel like you’re immersed in the 1960s, and the plot involving Joseph was really well executed. I loved the murder mystery element to the story – it really adds a tone of suspicion to most of the characters, and again, it feels different to a lot of YA novels today.

Most YA characters tend to be middle-class, with no money worries or a care in the world – but not Violet. Still being bossed around by her parents, she rebels with rocker Beau, your typical bad-boy and suspected murderer. Even though the bad boy rhetoric has been done a thousand times before, Violet’s attraction to him in understandable, and the murder mystery aspect of the novel adds a darker edge which makes Beau stand out.

I also enjoyed the sub-plot with Jackie – both Jackie and Violet are growing up – and apart – which is a story that I think most people can relate to but is rarely touched upon in YA. Often the heartbreak of losing a dear friend can be more than losing a love interest, and the difficulties in Jackie and Violet’s friendship are realistic and relatable.

If you’re looking for a new UKYA novel that will sweep you off to the swinging 60s, V for Violet is available in all good UK bookshops from 7th April, 2016.

View all my reviews

Annalise x

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fangirl is a book that needs no introduction, but have one anyway.

The ‘fangirl’ in question is a girl called Cath, who moves away to university with her identical twin sister Wren, leaving her dad at home (their mum walked out on them when they were 8). Cath writes fan fiction for her favourite book series, Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) as she waits for the eighth and final book to be released, but Wren has grown up, perhaps a little too fast. Cath’s social anxiety plays up as she’s forced into new scenarios, new experiences and even forced to write original characters (shock horror!).

Although the book is about growing up and moving away to university, it is firmly Young Adult. I personally love stories about starting university – it’s interesting to see characters forced to adapt and change during a story, and it’s a plot that’s rarely used (despite the fact that it’s fundamentally interesting).

This novel is definitely character driven – I found the characters to be well defined and fleshed out (the pictures at the front of the book may have helped), although the plot is a little hit-and-miss – I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen at the end, and the ending felt a little rushed and not quite wrapped up – this also happened in the other Rowell novel I’ve read, Eleanor & Park. Although this leaves you thinking more about the characters, there’s not too much tying up of loose ends, no big finale (unlike the Simon Snow novels!).

On the character front, we do see some diversity (which makes the characters interesting!) – Art is a single-parent father, Cath and Reagan are both described as plus-size, and Jandro and Abel are both Mexican, for example. The characters are flawed as well, with the love interests being realistic and not hot rod sex gods – which makes them all the more relatable. A real highlight of Rowell’s novels is the interesting characters and their development, and they do stand out against the white-washed Mary-Sue adventures that often clutter the YA bookshelves.

On the point that the plot wasn’t developed enough, especially for a book of 460 pages, I’d like to add my suggestions. I would have liked to have seen more conflict between the twins and their mother, as well as between the twins themselves – they don’t talk for three months but this is mentioned as an afterthought, and there’s no seething and anger from Cath during this time or any real indication Wren is gone. I also didn’t cotton onto the blossoming relationship between Cath and Levi until it was spelled out to me in sky writing – so I would have liked to have seen more scenes between them earlier in the novel. Nick also completely disappears, and he could have been a really interesting character, but instead his plot his resolved suddenly just before the end.

I quite liked how the excerpts of fan fiction broke up the novel – but honestly, I wasn’t invested in the characters, and so there’s way way too many excerpts written in. Especially as some chapters are Cath reading her fan fiction to Levi, without any real addition to the plot. Carry On, Cath’s fan fiction novel is being released this October, but I’m not particularly interested in reading it – the characters are a slightly-too-obvious rehash of Harry Potter.

I would recommend Fangirl if you’re looking to read something original, entertaining and popular. If the plot had been expanded and consolidated more, this would be a definite five stars, but it just doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

View all my reviews

Annalise x

Non-Fantasy/Dystopian YA authors to try!

I’m packing up my books this week as I’ll be leaving university at the end of this year and my schedule leaves about 3 weeks holiday between now and July, so I’m getting a good look at some of those books hidden on my shelves!

A rut I definitely got in when starting out with YA was that I just loved the Genre of the Day – and so my shelves are full of vampire novels and dystopians. However, there are some series I’ve really enjoyed which aren’t your typical YA book, and they’re great to try if you’re getting bored of the same-old YA books which come out year after year.

Meg Cabot

I know Meg Cabot through the Princess Diaries series – which has recently rebooted – but she’s actually written a few bestselling series. The Mediator series has rave reviews – but is also fantasy. The Princess Diaries, Queen of Babble, The Boy series, and the Heather Well series (which starts with Size 12 is Not Fat) should all be fantasy-free, amusing and fun to read. (The Princess Diaries also led to two Disney films, although they do not follow the plot of the books exactly).

Louise Rennison

The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series is hilarious and brilliantly British. Georgia is a typical British girl on the cusp of becoming a woman, and we follow her as she discovers boys, snogging, and how embarrassing parents can be. There’s 10 books in total but they’re so easy to read and enjoyable (and not too long either) that it’s easy to fly through them. Rennin’s latest series is the Misadventures of Tallulah Casey series, which is very much in the same vein as the first series – in fact, Tallulah is Georgia’s cousin. I’d definitely give this series a go if you’re in a reading slump – and the movie is pretty funny, too.

Morgan Matson

The only Morgan Matson book I’ve read so far is Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, which is a classic American road trip story (which are always fun, right?). Since then, Morgan has published two more stand-alone books, with another, The Unexpected Everything, coming in 2016. Second Chance Summer and Since You’ve Been Gone are on my TBR list.

Ally Carter

I absolutely loved the Gallagher Girls series, which follows a student at a Spy School for Girls, Cammie Morgan, and her emerging love life with a fellow spy. These books are only about 300 pages long, so short enough to devour in a day or two. Heist Society is a book I actually own, but haven’t got round to reading yet, but the series (which currently has three books) is in the same vein as Gallagher Girls. Her new Embassy Row series looks exciting too. These books are a little more Middle Grade than YA, so great starter books for easing into the YA world.

Sarah Dessen

When I first got into YA, Sarah Dessen was reigning queen of love stories. Her books are stand-alone, so easy to pick up just one and know you’re not going to face a devastating cliff-hanger at the end – and all of her books have stellar reviews on GoodReads so definitely well worth a dip into. I’ve read Just Listen, The Truth about Forever and Lock & Key but if you’re looking for her most recent work, Saint Anything was released in May.

Cecily von Ziegesar

The Gossip Girl series is 13 books long, but they’re very short and fun books (although a little expensive – still £7.99 each on Amazon). These are the source material for the CW show of the same name (which I absolutely love) although the show deviates quite heavily from the books. There are two spin-off book series too – Gossip Girl: The Carlyles follows the Carlyle triplets, and The IT Girl follows GG alum Jenny Humphrey at boarding school.

Honorary mentions: John Green (who else) and Rainbow Rowell (of course).

Who are your favourite YA authors? What are your favourite non-fantasy series? Comment below or tweet at @annalisebooks 🙂

Annalise x

Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Confession: this was my first Rainbow Rowell novel. It won’t be my last.

Eleanor Douglas is an overweight (yes, an overweight main character!) teenager who starts at a new school after having being sent away by her new stepdad for a year. She reluctantly takes the bus to school, where she reluctantly sits next to Park Sheridan, a half-Korean boy from a pretty well-off background. Over the course of the school year, they go from sitting in silence to sharing comics and then find themselves dating. Simple, huh?

What really makes this story stand out is the background. Eleanor is overweight, dresses strangely, refuses to wear make-up, and subsequently finds herself with no friends and getting bullied. She lives in a poor home – a house where she shares a bedroom with her four siblings, and doesn’t even own a toothbrush. She bathes before her abusive stepdad comes home because their bathroom has no door. She lies when she goes over to Park’s house because her stepdad would refuse to let her go.

This isn’t a story set in a dream romantic world. There’s no love-at-first-sight locked-eyes-across-a-crowded-room twilight-esque scene where the main characters realise that they’re meant to be, forever and ever. Park doesn’t even like Eleanor when they meet, and it’s only through getting to know her that he starts to find her attractive. Eleanor acknowledges that they’re unlikely to get married and live happily ever after. There’s poverty and boundaries and bullying and embarrassment and even a break-up.

I think everyone can relate to Eleanor in one way or another. She’s the weird girl that every school has at least one of, the girl who’s a bit chubby and strange, who doesn’t dress correctly, who hates PE class, and who gets picked on. I was definitely one of those girls (I also didn’t have a cute half-Korean boyfriend though). This book is a little ray of hope for those girls, hope that they might meet someone who loves them for who they are (yeah, still waiting on that…).

So what else is great about this book? The characters are well developed, with hobbies and likes and friends and PARENTS (who haven’t dropped off the face of the earth conveniently so our lovebirds can live happily ever after at the tender age of 15) and FLAWS. Eleanor is no Mary Sue. She’s a girl with a bad home life and low self-esteem who doesn’t quite understand why this guy likes her so much (and doesn’t share absolutely everything with him). Park’s mum is judgemental at first, and doesn’t like Eleanor – but, like Park, she comes around to see she’s actually a nice person. There’s also diversity with an Asian love interest (not all love interests have to be mysterious, pale and handsome!) and Park’s background involving the Korean War really gives life not only to him, but also his parents.

Other reviews have highlighted a few problems with the book. There is a lack of racism in 1986 Omaha towards both Park (as a Korean) and Eleanor’s black friends which could have been a really interesting side story and the romance which develops between Park and Eleanor is perhaps a little unexpected (unless of course you’ve read the title of the book!) seeing as how antisocial he is towards her when they first meet. If I had to change something in the book, I’d add more. The book is pretty damn near perfect, but a few more side stories and secondary character development wouldn’t hurt.

A note on the ending: it left me wanting more. Don’t doubt that it wasn’t a good ending, but it left me wanting to know more about what happens to these characters as it’s a tad abrupt. However, I’m content with knowing that this a great stand-alone novel – too many YA books today are spun into a 10+ book series which eventually run out of steam.

Eleanor & Park is a Jacqueline Wilson novel for a slightly older generation, a refreshing tale of love between two imperfect characters. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on more Rainbow Rowell books. (Fangirl is waiting patiently on my shelf!)

Annalise x

View all my reviews

Review: Forever by Judy Blume

Forever
Forever by Judy Blume

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Forever is a story about a teenager’s first love and first time (having sex). Katherine and Michael are two older teenagers who meet, hit it off, and start dating. He wants to have sex with her, she’s not entirely sure if she wants to, but then she agrees and they do it. There are no horrific consequences – she doesn’t get pregnant, she doesn’t catch an STD, and she doesn’t die – and this is what sets it apart from other books depicting this kind of story (at least at the time it was published).

The story is a fairly realistic depiction of teenage romance – actual teenage romance without a paranormal element and rainbows and fireworks if and when the main characters have sex. There are scenes where both main characters acquire contraception – something a lot of YA writers leave out, because it ruins the romance of it all. This is where the book really excels – and why it is still a bestseller today – it’s realistic. There’s premature ejaculation and awkwardness and the whole ‘making-a-big-deal-of-it-all’ aspect of high school. Katherine and Michael are not soulmates (although they believe it at the time) and their relationship doesn’t even last the summer. Sure, there are people who marry their first boyfriend and live happily ever after, but it just isn’t the norm in real life (although it seems to be in YA). Michael’s had sex before, and I’d love to see more of this in fiction – real, experienced characters, especially girls. Every YA heroine seems to be an innocent virgin, and every villain is a sexually promiscuous bad girl – and it only reinforces slut-shaming and the idea that once you’ve had sex your personality miraculously changes.

The whole story is pretty progressive. Kath’s parents would rather have her having sex at home that god-knows-where, and her grandmother sends her pamphlets on all-sorts of relevant information – abortion and contraception. There’s a character questioning his sexuality and experimenting. There’s an attempted suicide, due to said questioning. It’s only disappointing that, forty years after this book was first published, so much of the story is relevant today. Teenagers are still having sex (shock horror), but there’s still controversy around non-heterosexual characters, abortion, and even just sex in general in YA fiction. In Kath’s world, there is no shame over having sex, using contraception, having an abortion – they’re seen as sensible, responsible choices. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world just yet.

Forever is known for being teenage girls’ first read of realistic sex. The topics involved (and the age of the main characters) suggest this book is for older girls, but the writing style is simplistic, and I almost felt a little too old to be reading it. The whole plot seems a little undercooked – at only 200 pages long, I would have happily read a book with a bit more padding. Some really interesting sub-plots are touched on briefly – Sybil’s hidden pregnancy, Jamie’s first experiences of love, and Artie’s possible homosexuality – which really would have brought the book into its own had they been expanded on. I think the tone and style of the book is really a remnant of the era in which it was first published – it reminds me a lot of the books I read published in the 1980s and 1990s, like Animal Ark and The Babysitters Club, rather than the high-octane paranormal fantasy romances that dominate YA today.

Ultimately, this is a book written to teach girls about safe, realistic sex. It more than achieves in that aim – and it’s a testament that girls are still reading it today. If it was a little longer, maybe those who don’t normally read, wouldn’t bother to read it.

I would kind of love to see a new Forever on the market though – a cult bestseller written today that portrays sex and being a teenager realistically. I’d also like to see a book that touches on the same theme but is aimed at boys – Forever is told through a girl’s perspective (as many YA novels are), and I’d be interested to read something from the other side for once!

(Also, my 2015 copy has a lovely design (a simple cherry) which isn’t as cheesy as some of the others and has red gilded edges)

Did you enjoy Forever? Do you have any recommendations? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below 🙂

Annalise x

View all my reviews