Top Ten Opening Lines

Hallelujah! A Top Ten that I am more than equipped to do! I often think about this, especially since ALL OF MY REVIEWS START WITH FIRST LINES. Some of them are downright hilarious, others are real and full of wisdom, others jump you right into the action. I’m not going to make a distinction between these. I’m just going to give you the ten I enjoy most, for any reason.

Let’s get started!

Top Ten Opening Lines

1. “Anyone who’s had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It’s all about Before and After.” -The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

2. “There are lies in life we accept.  Whether it’s for the sake of ignorance, bliss or, in my case, survival, we all make our choices.” -Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

3. “Check this out.  This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons…with his nose.  Yeah.  That’s true.  Not sure how he found out that was some kinda special talent, and I can’t even imagine how much snot be in those balloons, but hey, it’s a thing and Andrew’s the best at it.” -Ghost by Jason Reynolds

4. “Top three awful moments of my life: Meeting my biological father at ten, breaking my arm in three spots at nine, falling into a hole and being trapped there overnight with a dead body at eight.  Other than that, I love my life.” -Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry (is she the queen of first lines or what?)

5. “Brit had been fired from the Yum Yum Shoppe, which came as a  shock to approximately no one.” -Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

6. “Shooting an arrow into a crowd of people on the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro is highly illegal.  Good thing I A) don’t care, and B) can’t be seen.” -Lovestruck by Kate Watson

7. “I make cakes.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I love.  But today, I’m standing over a mermaid, wondering what’s wrong.” -The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

8. “Henry calls me at 12:01 the night before homecoming.  Or technically–and assuming the alarm clock I knock off my nightstand once a day is even in the right time zone–the morning of homecoming.  “Cleveland.  I need you.  Put some pants on.” -The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

9. “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” -Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

10. “There is blood under my fingernails.  I wonder how many of my people I’ve killed this time.” -A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Wild Bird

Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen

First Lines: “Wren…” My name is floating around me. Bouncing on the clouds in my mind. “Wren…wake up, Wren.” Everything’s cocoony. Drifty. The clouds are so soft. “Wren, come on. It’s time to go.” Go? Go where? Who said that? I don’t recognize his voice.

My library added this to their ebook collection recently and I thought the premise sounded pretty cool. I’d never read anything by Wendelin Van Draanen, despite the fact that Flipped is so popular and the 6th graders at my school read it every year. This seemed like a good place to start.

Wren’s world changes at 3:47 a.m. That’s when she’s taken from home, hustled to a car then a plane and forced to march into the desert of Utah. This is what happens to kids who have gone so far off the rails that their parents don’t know what to do with them anymore. Wren is now enrolled in Wilderness Therapy Camp. When Wren arrives at camp, she’s angry and bitter. But those emotions won’t help her survive. Even a burning rage can’t start a fire or build a tent. In order to survive, Wren’s going to have to do the one thing she absolutely doesn’t want to do…ask for help.

This was such a simple, beautiful, hard-hitting book. 14-year -old Wren is a mess. Desperate to help her, her parents ship her off to a camp in the middle of the desert to turn her life around. Wren, as you can imagine, is initially angry and upset about this. But the desert is about self-discovery and maybe it isn’t so bad after all.

Wren is a hard person to like, but it’s easy to feel sympathy for her if that makes sense. When we first meet her, she’s high or drunk or both. She’s vicious and mean and spiteful. But the story is told with flashbacks that begin to show us how Wren got to this point and it quickly starts to make sense. The story is all about her character development and that was excellent. I loved seeing her change as time went by.

Since the plot is so much about Wren learning more about herself and surviving the desert, there isn’t exactly a lot of “action”. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. There are other characters we start to get to know who are equally amazing and the skills Wren learns (starting a fire, building a tent, etc.) have their moments. I just really enjoyed that this story was so much about Wren’s growth. I can’t get over how engrossing that was.

The story deals with a lot of darker topics, as everyone at this camp is struggling through something, usually involving behavior issues and drug use. While it seems like the lexile is meant for younger readers (as is the age of the protagonist), it sometimes felt too heavy for that age group. Maybe that’s just me. There’s no profanity and nothing graphic about the story, but it does go into details about drugs. I’m sure there are people this age who do need to see this, though. I just know it’s probably not going to be taught in schools very often for that reason. No matter how good the overall message is.

This truly was wonderful. I read the whole thing in a day.

One of Us is Lying (One of Us is Lying, #1)

Amazon.com: One of Us Is Lying (9781524714680): McManus, Karen M ...

First Lines: A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update. If all you knew of Bayview High was Simon Kelleher’s gossip app, you’d wonder how anyone found time to go to class.

So I wanted to read this not because it definitely sounded like something I’d like (though I do enjoy mysteries), but because it was so popular. I needed to see what all the hype was about. So if you’re someone who hasn’t read this and you’re wondering the same thing, this is for you.

Five students walk into detention on a Monday afternoon. Only four come out alive. The group is as unlikely as they are diverse. Bronwyn (the brains), Addy (the princess), Nate (the criminal), Cooper (the athlete), and Simon (the outcast). Only Simon never makes it out, and soon the police investigation determines his death wasn’t an accident. He died on Monday, but on Tuesday, he was set to post a revealing article about all four of the suspects–the students in the room with him. Is one of them guilty? Or have they been framed while a killer is still loose? Who has secrets so dark they’d be willing to kill over them?

The book jacket is certainly attention-getting. 5 kids walk into detention, 4 kids walk out alive. Who did it? And why? I like mysteries, so I thought this would be pretty good. However, what I dislike is these books that are more about who has the strongest motive (basically, who has the darkest secret?) and none of the speculation is really based in any real evidence. It’s frustrating because it doesn’t seem like the case makes much progress through most of the book.

Also, speaking as a teacher here, I know students can be nasty to each other, but I swear this class was made up of the absolute worst of humanity all shoved into one grade. The stuff they were doing was just horrible and I have never seen so many terrible people in one cafeteria. I know that this is probably a dramatic device more than anything, but I can’t help feeling like this sometimes normalizes this behavior for readers who may not know any better. It seems like all YA is printing anymore are books about horrible people with secrets to hide. We all have secrets, and social media is unforgiving, but the biggest scandals at my high school was who was dating who and maybe a pregnancy scare.

I’ll get off that train now. I did come to like the characters throughout the story. Cooper, Addy, Bronwyn, and Nate were people we didn’t necessarily like at the beginning but came to like as we got to know them more. They all had different personalities and underwent a lot of character development as the story went on.

I just thought the story was so slow. When I saw how the story was set up, just constantly pointing fingers at other people, I knew it was going to be a long read. There’s just very little in the story that makes it feel like you’re getting any closer to solving the mystery until near the end.

And because these mysteries are getting more common, I more or less figured out how it would end from the very beginning. It was just predictable to me.

Top Ten Reasons I Love YA Contemporary Romance

I’m not going to lie to you guys. When I saw that this top ten was a freebie as far as “Reasons I Love [Insert Here]”, I for sure thought I was going to do just straight up YA. Or YA historical fiction. Or YA fantasy.

When I started typing the title of this post, though, contemporary romance came out. So I’m going to run with that.

I do think contemporary romance gets a bad rep because it’s “for girls” and that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So let’s take a look at what makes contemporary romance so awesome (and maybe see a few examples along the way…) The common question I asked as I wrote this was, “Was this something other YA genres have/do?” And the answer is, of course. But for each of these, I think YA contemp just does it better.

Top Ten Reasons I Love YA Contemporary Romance

1. The Characters are Relatable

Immediately the books that came to mind for this were Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. It’s been years since I’ve read either one of those books and yet they’ve stuck with me. Why? Because I connected with the main characters. I felt Anna’s pain of having an unrequited love, going through that myself at the same time I read this. I related to Cath by being quiet and awkward and uncomfortable in college like her. The books felt so much more real when I was actually in those shoes.

2. The Emotions Run Deep

What I love so much about romance as a genre in particular, regardless of whether it’s YA or not, is that it knows how to pull at the heartstrings. So while love and affection are the main emotions, they’re joined by others. Sarah Dessen and Katie McGarry are masters of this, crafting stories that aren’t always going to be happy and carefree rom-coms, but they can make you scared or nostalgic or sad as well. The emotions are just heightened. Prime examples: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen and Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry.

3. I Can Experience A Different Life

Reading is about living a life that isn’t your own. I love reading about different cultures and different types of people. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is super cute and focuses on Indian culture, allowing me a glimpse into that. Something Real by Heather Demetrios is about a reality TV star. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols deals with the realities of being poor and living paycheck to paycheck. No matter what end of the spectrum it is, I can experience a life I haven’t lived. That’s all I ask from a good book and the more I can feel like I’m a part of it, the better the book is.

4. They Cover Deeper Topics Than You Think

This is perhaps my favorite part of these books. Everyone struggles with issues and these books don’t shy away from it. That Night by Amy Giles is about two people who feel alone in the aftermath of a shooting that shook both of their worlds. On The Spectrum by Jennifer Gold deals with autism and eating disorders. This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes deals with internet bullying and death. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia deals with mental illness. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. These characters feel real because they’re dealing with real problems.

5. They Are Super Exciting

Just because they’re romances doesn’t mean they can’t be exciting page turners. Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter is about a Secret Service agent’s daughter and her friendship with the President’s son. (It also may not technically be “contemporary romance” but it’s set in the present and there’s a love angle, so I’m going with it.) Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally is a wonderfully written story of summer camp and a tortured main character who only drops hints about why she’s so upset. And Katie McGarry’s books are full of danger and suspense. Romances aren’t just mush.

6. It Feels More Like My Life

As much as I love historical fictions and fantasies (and I do), I also love dropping into a story that feels like something I went through or could have gone through. On The Fence by Kasie West is about a tomboy who falls for her best friend/the boy next door. I related to Charlie so much. Same with Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally because Jordan truly doesn’t understand how to be a girl. She just knows how to talk football. (I grew up with 3 brothers…) Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira is about a girl with a crush who turns to her books to figure out how to deal with her crush. If you’ve never done that, you’re lying to yourself.

7. The Feelings of First Love

I’m long out of the target audience for YA (I’m in my late 20s), but it’s so much fun to read YA and feel again the way a first love feels. The nerves, the excitement, the rawness. I don’t really have examples for this one because it happens in so many of them that I can’t really pick just a few to exemplify this. But I’m sure you know what I’m talking about anyway.

8. The “Growing Up” Struggle

This one also happens in so many YA stories. This is that dichotomy between still sometimes wanting to be a child and wanting to be an adult. Sometimes they want to lean on their parents, sometimes they want to completely ignore that they have parents. We’ve all been there, to some extent. And pretty much all of us have had to make big decisions we didn’t feel old enough to make (college, jobs, etc.).

9. Comedy is Common

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how emotional these romances can be, but let’s be realistic too: some of them are just downright funny. They’re supposed to be! All The Feels by Danika Stone is complete ridiculousness wearing a ComicCon costume. My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten by about people working at a Ren Faire and it’s wild. A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker is about a high school that forces seniors into a mandatory Marriage Education class…and matches them up with a “spouse” for the year. They’re bizarre, but they’re funny and great for a laugh.

10. They Remind Me of My Favorite Rom-Coms

And speaking of comedies, some of them literally are based on some of your favorite rom-coms! Take Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett for example. It’s based on the movie You’ve Got Mail. Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein is a YA version of When Harry Met Sally.

YA Trends: Cartoon Covers

Ok, so I really enjoyed writing the last YA Trends post, so I thought I’d do another one.

This one’s about covers!

Cover Trends Aren’t New

Amazon.com: Tweet Cute: A Novel (9781250237323): Lord, Emma: BooksIf you’ve been in the YA game for more than a couple of years, you’ve probably seen a cover trend.  It used to be the girls with half a face. Or girls in big ball gowns, even if that didn’t fit the story at all. Or the minimalist covers of like, dandelion fluff or a shoe on the side of a road.

It’s just that now, we’re starting to get more into the cartoon-looking covers. And they kind of drive me crazy.

What are “Cartoon Covers”?

I’m sure there’s some kind of technical term for these covers, but they look like computer-generated cartoons to me, like someone was just messing around and made fan art of their favorite character(s) in the story.  Or like they’re trying to Disney-fy everything. It does have a distinctly innocent, Disney look to it.

More Than Maybe by Erin HahnAnd this trend is everywhere, but most prevalent in the YA romance category.

To do some research for this, I opened a Goodreads list called 2020 Anticipated YA Romances. Even I was shocked when I saw that the first 11 books on the list employed the look I’m talking about. Only about 18 out of 71 of the YA romances on this list did not use this cartoonish look. That means about 75% of them did.

I understand this is not scientific in any way, shape, or form. But as an informal survey, it’s incredibly enlightening to say the least. I mean, I didn’t even realize it was that common.

Why is this taking over?

Amazon.com: Fangirl: A Novel (9781250030955): Rowell, Rainbow: BooksAs with any trend, be it in fashion, movies, music, or books, something sold well and everyone is trying to copy it. I can’t figure out what book started this trend (my best guess is last year’s Red, White, & Royal Blue), but I know that it’s not new. The anthology My True Love Gave To Me from 2014 uses this kind of cartoonish look to depict each of the couples in each story. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell even employs this same style, though with a few differences. So this isn’t something that just got invented.

The point of covers is to help sell the books. Whatever’s going on in marketing right now must point to the success of this style. Maybe it’s simply that people got bored with the previous cover style and are intrigued by the new style. Maybe this allowed for brighter eye-catching covers. Maybe it was “easier” to highlight diversity instead of finding models to fit the look. (I can’t help feeling that this somehow plays into it. I could just be cynical, but it’s ironic that the moment stories start getting more diverse, you suddenly don’t have real-life models on the covers anymore.)

What’s wrong with it?

Besides what I just mentioned about not truly depicting people of diversity in any real capacity, my issue with this is that it seems to trivialize the stories because they’re “just romances” or they’re “for girls.”

Amazon.com: A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes ...Compare, for example, the types of covers you’re seeing coming out in other genres that are marketed for boys or mixed audiences.  Sabaa Tahir’s newest, A Sky Beyond the Storm, is a fantasy novel with a very strong multicultural girl on the cover. The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has a gold emblem on it that reminds me of Katniss’s mockingjay pin. Rick Riordan’s The Tower of Nero involves a battle scene on the cover. Karen M. McManus’s upcoming release, The Cousins, has family pictures with giant red X’s through the faces.

None of these are as cartoonish as the romance novels. Even the ones that are computer generated (Riordan, maybe Tahir) still make their effects look lifelike and three dimensional.  The cartoons don’t even do that.

Obviously, I realize that romances are supposed to mostly be light and fluffy reads. They use the covers to immediately tell the audience that these books are different than, say, McManus’s mystery or Tahir’s fantasy novel. Covers are very indicative of genre. It’s intentional.

You Say It First by Katie CotugnoHowever, I just balk at the idea that romances are nothing but fluff. Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed was one of my heaviest reads this spring–and yet it’s given a cartoon cover to emphasize the romance of the story rather than its political edge. You Say It First by Katie Cotugno is another with a political edge and a cartoon cover.

Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab deals with a wannabe Olympic swimmer who might be losing her career if she can’t force herself past her edge.

American Royals and the sequel, Majesty, by Katharine McGee are full of people with the weight of the world on their shoulders, social media vitriol, and manipulations from every angle.

Don't Read the Comments by Eric SmithThe Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton is about a waitress at a medieval-themed restaurant who disguises herself as a knight to join the joust–something that only the guys can do. And Kit isn’t going to let the bosses say a girl can’t do it.

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith is about a professional gamer using the money she makes to help her mother pay the rent and internet trolls who are now threatening her in real life.

But yeah, sure, let’s just focus on the romance in these and give it a cute, poppy cover that don’t highlight at all that there’s more depth to the story than that.

I hate the misconception that romance is just about the love stories and that’s it.  That’s like saying Titanic is just about Jack and Rose when there’s so much more to the story than that.  Do they have romantic elements? Yes. But something like The Hunger Games also has a very obvious romance in it as well and that’s de-emphasized to highlight the action.

Last Thoughts

Like any trend, this will probably only be around for a year or two and then start to disappear. It’ll be something new before we know it. It just bothers me that this is so pervasive at the moment and that it seems to be impacting diversity disproportionately. From the covers alone, you’d never be able to tell how multicultural they are. That seems to be intentional to “broaden the appeal”; however, it just perpetuates the problem.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. I’m just hoping we can get to a point again where we can acknowledge that YA romance is about far more than romance.

 

Yes No Maybe So

Amazon.com: Yes No Maybe So (9780062937049): Albertalli, Becky ...First Lines: “Oranges don’t have nipples,” says Sophie. I park our cart by the display pyramid, pointedly ignoring her. You could say there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to discuss nipples with my twelve-year-old sister in the Target produce section. And that part of me. Is all of me.

I kid you not, as soon as I opened the book and saw this was the first few sentences of the story, I had a moment where I thought, “Great. I’m going to have to start my review with that.” I think that’s one of the most bizarre first lines I’ve ever posted–and that’s saying something. Ok, so this book wasn’t really on my radar prior to like, February or March. I really just picked it up because people were talking about it.

Jamie loves politics and has no problem volunteering to help his local state senator run for election–but please let Jamie do behind the scenes work. When he even thinks about canvassing door to door, he practically feels like he’s going to throw up.  Until Maya, anyway. Maya is having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend doesn’t have time for her, her parents are separating, and now she’s forced to canvass with some awkward guy? But it turns out canvassing is actually…kind of fun. And as the poll numbers get closer, so do Jamie and Maya…

I want to start by saying that I did enjoy this book, but I was awfully divided on quite a few things. I’ll try to explain as we go along.

I’ll start with a positive: I thought the romance was adorable. It’s the kind of awkward slow-burn that I feel like YA is moving away from and I’m so glad to see it back. I thought it was ridiculously realistic that the characters kept misinterpreting every flirty gesture from the other. Oh, she touched my hand? Must have been an accident. Oh, he asked me out for ice cream? He’s just being friendly. It was sweet and innocent and so so cute. Especially since so much else of the book was so heavy.

I did eventually grow to love the characters. I already liked them for the multi-cultural aspects of the story. Maya is a Muslim-American (of Pakistani heritage, I think?) and Jamie’s family is Jewish and planning a bat mitzvah for practically the whole story. Experiencing both of those cultures in one story was really awesome.

It was just that at the very beginning, I thought the writing was trying too hard to box them into a specific stereotype. Maya’s defining characteristic is that she detests change. That’s it. That’s virtually all we heard about for the first few chapters from her. And Jamie was the same way, except he’s even more clumsy and awkward than Bella Swan. All we heard was how much of a dork he is, how he knocks stuff over, how he gets tongue-tied and blurts out stupid things. With Jamie especially, it felt more like a caricature than a character. Thankfully, those stupid traits eventually faded away and we could see the characters for who they really were.

As for the premise of this story focusing on a political event, I both applaud it and cringe. Like, I think it’s incredibly brave to write such a political story right now because this kind of thing, the change it’s calling for? It’s needed. The story is timely and in a definite response to the election of 2016. But I also struggled because it was just so heavy. I read books to escape the news, not find it in these pages. Reading something this political (especially for someone who generally doesn’t talk about politics) was hard for me. Admittedly, that’s a “me” problem and I acknowledge that.

The plot was interesting for so many different reasons. There’s a lot going on in the story (and I did think that some of the plot lines were not done justice), so there was plenty to focus on. There’s the canvassing, the bat mitzvah, family drama, friend drama, the romance, and the downside of politics. I loved that this story allowed the characters to find their inner strength and change so much through this process. Character development was ace. Even as pertaining to some of the minor characters as well. But this is about plot, so let me get back to that. The progression of the story totally made sense. It felt realistic and there were setbacks almost as often as there were successes, which helped with that realistic feeling.

I just generally enjoyed this story and you can feel the heart that the writers put into it. I did close the book feeling…weird. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it stirred up a very odd mix of emotions. Not all of them good, but that’s the nature of politics. This is worth at least looking into. It’s not all about politics, after all.

Final Note: After I finished this book, I started looking at some of the reviews and they pointed out a very serious issue that I’d missed while reading. They pointed out that there are some issues revolving around Maya and the representation of Muslims. Beyond Maya and her family, there’s only one other Muslim character we meet. Maya challenges her religious beliefs far more than Jamie does. And besides the Ramadan stuff at the beginning, there’s very little ever mentioned about her culture/religion after that. I hadn’t thought about it that way until I saw someone else point it out and I thought it was worth passing along to you. But it didn’t play into my rating of the book.