Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Quality of Prose: 3/5

Quality of Story: 3/5

Quality of Characters: 2/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 1.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 5 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

When Emmy’s childhood best friend, Oliver, returns home after being missing for 10 years because his father kidnapped him, Emmy & Oliver reconnect, fall in love, and learn to be true to themselves despite what their parents want for them.

My Favorite Quote

“I just hugged him and didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything to say. Sometimes there just aren’t enough words to fill the cracks in your heart.”

emmy

What I Loved About It

It’s a really interesting premise, exploring the aftermath of a biological parent kidnapping situation. I also thought Oliver was a really interesting character that kept me reading so I could learn more about him. But I thought that Benway kept something that could have dove really deep into some serious issues (I mean just imagine being kidnapped by your own parent while your other parent searches everywhere for you without you knowing. That is some messed up stuff!) very lighthearted and surface level. Emmy and Oliver fall in love and Emmy learns to tell her parents the truth about who she is because of him and that’s all nice and fluffy, but OLIVER WAS KIDNAPPED BY HIS DAD and why is this book so light and chill considering its subject matter?

Also, why does it mostly center on Emmy? I found myself caring very little about Emmy’s petty “I just want to surf but it’s dangerous so I can’t tell my parents about it” drama. Oliver was kidnapped and is trying to adjust to life with a mom that he doesn’t know because his dad took him from her and he misses his dad and this is some heavy stuff but for some reason it isn’t given the proper amount of heaviness in the novel. It also ends in a very happy “life is good” kind of way, and I just don’t think it’d be that easy for Oliver to adjust and cope after dealing with something like that.

I also feel like Benway’s prose is really good sometimes, and other times is trying way too hard to be funny or deep or relatable, and to me the trying-too-hard-ness was really obvious and took away from the book as a whole.

Overall, I liked this book. It was entertaining and fun. But the problem is that I don’t think it should be a fun book considering the subject matter.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Be true to yourself. Don’t just become who your parents want you to be, but forge a new path for yourself. All that tired teen trope jazz. Nothing much deeper than that.

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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 2/5

Quality of Story: 2/5

Quality of Characters: 1.5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: A week

A 1 Sentence Summary

When she moves to a new city and school after her friends died in a mysterious accident she can’t remember, Mara Dyer meets the handsome Noah Show and uncovers what really happened the night of the accident and who she really is.

My Favorite Quote

I honestly don’t have any quotes I loved from this book, but for the sake of continuity, here’s one that isn’t terrible:

“The two of us snuggled like quotation marks in his room full of words.”

mara dyer

What I Loved About It

At first, I was really intrigued by the mystery in the book. What happened to Mara’s friends? Why do people keep dying around her? I was also intrigued by the romance between Mara and Noah. Will they ever get together? Are the rumors about him correct?

But about midway through the book, when these questions were finally answered, I lost all interest and found it very difficult to not roll my eyes at the mawkish romantic fluff between Noah and Mara and the silly, plot-hole filled mystery that is the central conflict of the novel.

The romance, though it started out being a particularly sexy and interesting one, ended up bearing too great a resemblance to the Twilight series. Noah and Mara seem to be too deeply in love far, far too quickly. Noah is creepily overprotective and way too perfect and Edward Cullen-esque. And that part is the most frustrating of all because at the beginning of the book, it seemed like he had flaws–he was a player and a bit of an entitled but mysterious jerk–and these flaws made him a really attractive character. But then Mara realizes he likes her and suddenly, he is perfect and sweet and kind and so smart and supportive and a dog lover and trillionaire and the most attractive man Mara (and the audience) has ever seen. And for some inexplicable reason, he likes Mara immediately (even though, like Bella Swan, she’s given him no reason to garner his attention or attraction).

And don’t even get me started on the plot itself. What began as a really intriguing mystery devolved into a difficult-to-follow, cliche-filled, rushed narrative that I honestly didn’t care to know the ending of. Mara kills people with her mind? Ack. Mara has to swim across a swamp of alligators to find her brother who has been kidnapped for NO APPARENT REASON with the help of Noah who–again inexplicably–knows her brother has been kidnapped and where exactly to find him? Double Ack. Noah has a super power that means he can sense Mara’s pain and cure people and especially Mara? Ack Ack Ack. Let the uncontrollable eye rolls commence.

Though I myself found the book especially corny and unlikable, I could definitely see my students being interested in it (the way they’re still interested in Twilight though it is also–to put it mildly–pretty terrible).

What My Students Could Learn From It

Nothing at all.

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 3/5

Quality of Characters: 3/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: 3 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Henry Page falls in (mostly unrequited) love for the first time with the mysterious Grace Town, who is in love with someone else, her boyfriend of many years who has recently died.

My Favorite Quotes

“When I look up into the night sky, I remember that I’m nothing but the ashes of long-dead stars. A human being is a collection of atoms that comes together into an ordered pattern for a brief period of time and then falls apart again. I find comfort in my smallness.”

“Because I never realized that you could fall in love with humans the same way you fall in love with songs. How the tune of them could mean nothing to you at first, an unfamiliar melody, but quickly turn into a symphony carved across your skin; a hymn in the web of your veins; a harmony stitched into the lining of your soul.”

ourchemicalhearts

What I Loved About It

Krystal Sutherland’s writing is very John Green-esque. The prose–and especially the dialogue–is incredibly witty and sharp, and it also has a depth to it that many young adult books are lacking these days. It gets you thinking about life, death, and love in a way that you hadn’t previously.

It’s those two things that I really liked about this book. The dialogue, which was chock-full of hilarious references and smart comebacks, was extremely fun to read at times.

Here’s a cool example:

The main character, Henry says, “This is the second straight hour I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift. She’s the only one who understands me…Who hurt you, Taylor? How can one person endure so much heartbreak?” to which his sister replies, “Are you gonna keep this bottled up inside until it manifests as mental illness?” to which he says, “That’s pretty much the plan.” His sister: “How long have you been lying in that bed for, anyway? You’re going to get deep vein thrombosis.” Henry: “Leave, Sadie. Leave me to my heartache and DVT.”

This funny exchange is immediately followed by a deep heart-to-heart covering love and what it means when a love isn’t forever and the chemical reaction in your brain when love fails and your heart is breaking.

The whole book is full of these funny exchanges and cool (and extremely current) pop culture references and quotable quotes about love and death (like the ones I included above under “My Favorite Quotes”).

And while I loved all these things about the book, there were things I didn’t love as well. I didn’t particularly like the characters. I supposed I liked the supporting characters (Henry’s sister and friends, etc.). They were hilarious and endearing and fun in their eccentricity. But Henry and Grace? I just could not root for either of them. Henry was naive to the point of annoyance, and Grace was frustrating and unappealing and even a little cruel. And I guess that’s the point. Doesn’t love make you naive? And doesn’t grief make you cruel? This isn’t supposed to be a love story you root for, but instead a case study on how first love (or really any love) doesn’t usually last, and how do we react when it doesn’t or when we’re in the midst of it but know it won’t last?

What My Students Could Learn From It

Another cool thing about this book is how realistic of a depiction it provides for teenage relationships. Henry’s obsession with becoming Grace Town’s boyfriend even though he practically knows nothing about her and only finds her attractive 20% of the time? Yeah that’s pretty realistic. Take it from someone who spends 8 hours a day with hormonal, relationship and “love”-driven teenagers. The obsession is so real. I think kids can learn from how Henry’s obsession pans out.

Other than that, I don’t think there are many clear cut lessons to learn from Our Chemical Hearts. Sutherland asks a lot of questions and starts a lot of conversations and encourages thought about a lot of things (with those magic John Green-esque quotable quotes), but doesn’t provide many clear “morals of the story.” Her ambiguity is refreshing. I think teens would appreciate the depth of some of the quotes and dialogue found in the novel, and it would get them thinking about a lot of things. And as their teacher, that’s definitely something I want novels they read to do.

Wintersong: A Novel by S. Jae Jones

Wintersong: A Novel by S. Jae Jones

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 3.5/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

A sexy German fairytale about a young, female–and therefore often overlooked–musician who is whisked away to the Underground to become the bride of the mysterious, dangerous, but somehow familiar Goblin King.

My Favorite Quotes

“This was the immortality humans were meant to have: to be remembered by those who loved us long after our bodies had crumbled into dust.”

“’A sparrow is beautiful in its own way,’ Käthe said severely. ‘Don’t force yourself to be a peacock, Liesl. Embrace your sparrow self.’”

wintersong

What I Loved About It

I really loved this book.

Jones’ prose is phenomenal. It’s musical and magical and drew me in from the very beginning. It’s similar to Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina (which I also love) in that the main character’s musicality reflects in the prose of the book itself.

The magical fairy tale-ness of the book makes it a fun and compelling read.

It’s also just a great romance. Jones does such a good job in making the Goblin King a tragic yet sexy villain AND hero. And the love story between Leisl and the Goblin King is alluring and also probably the steamiest romance I’ve seen in a YA book.

Though the novel is a fantasy and is set in Germany in the 1800s, I found it easy to relate to the main character, Leisl/Elizabeth. One of my favorite quotes (the one above about the sparrow and peacock) alludes to the fact that Leisl has always been considered plain by everyone who knows her except the Goblin King who sees the beautiful music in her soul and loves her for it (I know that sounds insanely corny but trust me, Jones pulls it off so well). As a girl who has been considered on the plainer side (but with a great personality!!) by many people, I definitely related to that feeling of being a sparrow on an embarrassingly visceral level. I think my students could relate to that too.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Not a whole lot. Though I truly LOVED this book, the main reason for its 4 star rating instead of a 4.5 or 5 is because while it is a fantastic and fun romantic read, it’s not a book that changes your views on something or puts you in a melancholic funk for days (like All the Bright Places). There’s not a ton my students could learn from it, other than a little bit about 19th century German culture and folklore.

Nonetheless, it’s a FANTASTIC romance and a really fun read. And I’d definitely recommend it. To my students AND my readers.