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Book Review: Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Okay, I’m probably cheating a bit by including this in my 52 books contest. After all, this book is a graphic novel. I could have read this is in way less than a day if I hadn’t kept stopping to do other things. That said, it’s technically a novel that’s over 100 pages, and I did read it this year. Besides, I had so much other stuff to do this week that I don’t feel too bad including this.

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Page Count: 160
F/NF: Nonfiction
Genre: Graphic Novel -Memoir

Rating: 10/10

Goodreads Summary:
Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Opinion:
I’ve never read a graphic novel before. I had to read a graphic novel for class, and I chose this one because I’d heard good things about it and because I vaguely remembered liking the film when we watched it in college.

I’m so glad I chose this graphic novel to read! I interviewed a classmate of mine for a different class last semester who was from Iran, and everything she told me about growing up seems to fit with this book. Marjane is such an interesting character to read about. The book shows a great mix of history/politics and normal kid stuff. Marjane wants to keep up with everything that’s cool and hip, even though the country is being ravaged by war and taken over by fundamentalists. Some parts made me laugh out loud, and other parts made me cry.

The drawings in this book are great. They’re not the most realistic looking drawings, but Satrapi shows emotion so well. I’ve been known to get confused trying to read graphic novels before, but this one was really easy to read. I’m so glad my teacher made us read a graphic novel, as I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to reading this one otherwise. I’m now kicking myself for not having ordered the second book at the same time.

If you’ve ever been curious about what it was like to grow up in Iran, this is a great book to get. You get a history lesson in a way that’s fun and emotional, not boring like textbooks usually are. You get to see the personal side of war. It touches on a lot of issues that are really important for people to talk about. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more horrific and amazing. I will definitely be buying the sequel soon.

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Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Title: Some Girls Are
Author: Courtney Summers
Page Count: 245
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating: 5/10

Goodreads Summary:
Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Opinion:
This book and I have a complicated relationship. Before I get into all the reasons why I didn’t like this book, I have to say that Courtney Summers is definitely a talented writer. She kept me turning the pages, even when I wanted to throw the book across the room and never look at it again. Granted, part of what kept me reading was because I was waiting for something that never happened, but she still kept me reading, and that’s what counts. She has a talent for writing, although I already knew that from a previous book of hers that I read (This is Not a Test). Actually, I also have another book of hers that I am going to start reading next (Fall for Anything), so it’s not like I dislike the writing in her books for the most part.

My problem with this book is that I don’t like any of the characters.

Maybe there are a lot of people who enjoy reading about characters that they can’t stand. Maybe there are some people who enjoy reading about people who continue to make a bad situation worse. I’m not one of them. If I have an otherwise likable character who makes the wrong choice sometimes, I can keep reading and enjoy it because it’s fun to watch people grow.

But Regina never changed. She never learned. She never grew. I suppose we’re supposed to think that she did given a choice that she made to keep her mouth shut near the end of the book, but I don’t really think that that counts. I think that was yet another stupid decision she made that was only less stupid compared to the other stupid choices she made before that.

In the beginning of the book, I felt sorry for her. I hated Kara and Anna and Donnie and Josh and all of the other people who wouldn’t listen to her and who hurt her. As time went on, though, I started to realize I hated Regina, too. I felt less bad about what was happening to her because I remembered that she deserved it. I’m not saying she deserved to be almost raped (that was horrible), but she deserved to have no friends.

I guess I kept reading this book because I was hoping I would eventually feel genuinely sorry for her. I hoped that I would start to understand her and sort of like her. That’s what happened with Before I Fall. I hated Sam in the beginning, but by the end of the book I was feeling sorry for her. I saw a few redeeming qualities in her friends, even though I hated them, as well. I don’t necessarily like the idea of excusing actions of the mean, popular people, but I like to read about realistic characters. I like to believe that everyone has a little bit of good in them, even if that good is only directed at a few people. But these characters aren’t good at all to anyone. They’re horrible to each other just like they are with everyone else, and that’s not fun to read about.

And Regina. I’m sorry, but being scared of being alone doesn’t excuse you from being part of that group. It’s not like she had no friends before she hung out with them. She had Liz, a girl she really liked, and she sold her down the drain to hang out with Anna, and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why that is better than not being popular. Maybe it’s because I was alone most of the time in high school, but I don’t understand her at all, nor do I feel sorry for her.

I understood Regina’s anger, and I understood why wanted to get back at Kara so badly. I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t a little bit enjoy reading about some of the stuff she did to Kara, but I also can’t say that I thought that was a smart move. I don’t understand why she would go to someone she hated right after she’s almost raped, and I don’t know why she would let someone she hated talk her out of going to the police. Everything could have been avoided if she had done that. She could have gone to her parents at any point. Hell, she could have gone to a teacher.

That’s another thing that really bothered me about this book: I have a hard time believing parents and teachers are that blind. How do you beat someone up in the hall and not have a single teacher notice? Maybe things have changed since the time this book occurred (they did have payphones, after all), but my school always had teachers nearby, if not out in the hall with us. I guess that’s part of why this book bothered me so much. I have a hard time believing that could actually happen.

The only characters I sort of liked in this were Michael and Liz, but even they bothered me. Michael bothered me because he was too nice to Regina and started liking her (I think) way too soon. I can sort of excuse some of his behavior, but I still thought he was stupid. I really liked Liz until the end of the book. I liked how she refused to forgive Regina and told Michael he was stupid for trusting her. She was the only character who made any sense. And then she did something at the end of the book that “fixes” all of the problems, and that all seemed a bit rushed and out of character for everyone involved.

The fact that I’m spending so much time complaining about this book definitely says something about it. I have very strong negative feelings about this book, but it kept me reading until the end. I have definitely read some books where I didn’t care enough about the characters to keep reading. That is the only reason I marked this book as high as I did, even if my rating still isn’t that high.

Book Review: The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Title: The Boyfriend List (Ruby Oliver #1)
Author: E. Lockhart
Page Count: 229
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating: 9/10

Goodreads Summary:
Fifteen-year-old Ruby has had a rough ten days. During that time she:

* lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
* lost her best friend (Kim)
* lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
* did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
* did something advanced with a boy (#15)
* had an argument with a boy (#14)
* had a panic attack
* lost a lacrosse game (she’s the goalie)
* failed a math test (she’ll make it up)
* hurt Meghan’s feelings (even though they aren’t really friends)
* became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
* had graffiti written about her in the girls’ bathroom (who knows what was in the
boys’!?!)

But don’t worry—Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

Opinion:
I really enjoyed this book. This is definitely the sort of book that I would have wanted to read in high school. Ruby Oliver is such an interesting character. She makes a lot of mistakes in this novel, but for the most part I can at least understand where she’s coming from. I felt like I was the one getting the therapy while I reas reading this, which was actually sort of nice. I could relate to Ruby so much during some of those conversations with Doctor Z. I know how it feels to realize you’re making your mother’s mistakes. I know how it feels to think that something is going to happen with a boy and then have it not work out and not have any idea why.

I also really enjoyed reading about Ruby’s parents. I can’t remember the last book I read where the main character talked to both of her parents on a regular basis, let alone a book where the main character actually told her parents some of what was going on in her life. It was sort of nice to read about. Her parents also made me laugh. I’m sure I wouldn’t find their fights amusing if they were my parents, but they were fun to read about.

The set up of this book was bizarre. It jumps around a lot as far as the timeline is concerned, which was interesting but made it a little hard to keep the details straight, at least at first. I also had a hard time keeping up with all of the guys on her boyfriend list, but that’s just because I’m bad with names (at least the names of fictional characters).

There are also a lot of footnotes in this book, which I wasn’t expecting but really enjoyed for the most part. Ruby adds in footnotes when she wants to provide more information, and this information is usually highly entertaining. The only footnotes I didn’t really like were the ones where she explained some of the references she made, like when she explained the plot of Carrie and Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe it’s just because I already got those references, but those footnotes sort of annoyed me.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book. I’ve seen this book be compared to the Jessica Darling series, and I completely understand the comparison now. There’s no Marcus Flutie to swoon over, but reading about the ups and downs of Ruby’s life definitely reminded me of the other series. If you’re a fan of Sloppy Firsts, you might want to give this book a try.

Book Review: Bloom by Elizabeth Scott

Title: Bloom
Author: Elizabeth Scott
Page Count: 231
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating: 9/10

Goodreads Summary:
There’s a difference between falling and letting go.

Lauren has a good life: decent grades, great friends, and a boyfriend every girl lusts after. So why is she so unhappy?

It takes the arrival of Evan Kirkland for Lauren to figure out the answer: She’s been holding back. She’s been denying herself a bunch of things (like sex) because staying with her loyal and gorgeous boyfriend, Dave, is the “right” thing to do. After all, who would give up the perfect boyfriend?

But as Dave starts talking more and more about their life together, planning a future Lauren simply can’t see herself in — and as Lauren’s craving for Evan, and moreover, who she is with Evan becomes all the more fierce — Lauren realizes she needs to make a choice…before one is made for her.

Opinion:
If I had read this book a few years ago, I would have hated it. I would have hated Lauren for having a boyfriend who loves her and not realizing how lucky she was that she had someone, for having someone to call a best friend and not really listening to her. But now I totally get where she’s coming from. I can understand the fear. I can understand why she would stay with someone who makes her feel safe, even if he might not be the best person for her. I can understand why she hangs out with people she doesn’t like because she knows her boyfriend wants her to. I understand how she feels, and I can sympathize with her.

That doesn’t mean that I think Lauren always made the right decisions. I think it takes her a bit too long to figure some things out, and I think she was a bit unfair to Katie. However, just because I didn’t agree with her choices sometimes doesn’t mean that I thought there was something wrong with the book. We’ve all convinced ourselves of certain things and acted upon those assumptions, just to realize later that everything would have been better if we had just talked to someone.

I really liked this book. I normally can’t stand books where the main character has to choose between two guys, especially not when she’s already dating one of the guys, but I think it works here. Evan’s not just a random guy that she sees and instantly wants to be with. They have a bit of history, which explains her initial interest in him. And I can understand why she wouldn’t want to break up with Dave, especially when he’s always talking about their future and how much his parents love her. I can understand not wanting to hurt him, even though that’s exactly what she’s doing. Again, she might not make the best decisions, but I can understand why she makes them.

Book Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Title: The Future of Us
Author: Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Page Count: 356
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: 6/10

Goodreads Summary:
It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long – at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. And they’re looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right – and wrong – in the present.

Opinion:
I saw this book in the grocery store a while ago, but I wasn’t really interested in it at the time. Now, months later, I’ve read and loved a book by each of the authors (Thirteen Reasons Why and The Earth, My But, and Other Big Round Things), and I realized I had to read this book simply because I loved the other two books I read by these authors (separately). I was sure that a book written by the two of them would be fantastic.

I was wrong.

I didn’t completely hate this book. The characters were rather shallow and obsessed with members of the opposite gender, yes, but they’re sixteen year olds. I’m not saying there aren’t really mature sixteen year olds out there, but I’ve only been out of high school for five years. The majority of teenagers are obsessed with boys/girls and partying, and that’s what the majority of the teenagers in this book were. I found the side characters – Kellan, Tyson, and Sydney – rather interesting, and I was sorry that we didn’t get to see more of how their plot lines were resolved. One of the pieces of information Emma learned about Kellan halfway through the book was one of the main reasons I kept reading, and I was disappointed that we didn’t get to learn what happens to Kellan.

I was also disappointed with the main characters. Josh is in love with his best friend, who rejects him because she doesn’t want to ruin the friendship. That plot is hardly original, but in other circumstances it could have worked. I think I just didn’t really like Emma. I didn’t really know enough about her in the beginning to have her “big realization” at the end really mean anything. Her father left and started a new family, and his new baby daughter is apparently having health problems. Had these issues really been brought up in the beginning of the novel and been a recurring theme, maybe I would have cared about Emma more. She’s been hurt by her father and is worried about her sister and therefore doesn’t allow guys to get close to her. That I could have understood, but we don’t learn most of that information until the end of the book, and by that point it’s really too late.

The characters weren’t my only problem, though. The setting was a huge distraction. One of the reasons this book sounded interesting to me was because it was set in 1996, and the characters were somehow able to use Facebook. I may have been sort of young in the 90s (having been born in ’89), but I still have memories of the 90s, and I was looking forward to seeing how the time period played a part in the novel. However, it didn’t really work like I hoped it would. Maybe it’s just me, but the references seemed a bit too deliberate and not at all natural. At one point one of the characters actually refers to Gore as “Vice President Gore.” Again, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never heard anyone ever refer to the vice president in such a way unless they were on TV or talking to the VP. I mean, I can’t imagine saying “Vice President Biden,” and I sure as hell never said “Vice President Cheney.” That was just the most obvious example, the one that stood out the most to me. The other references sort of fit with the story most of the time, but it seemed like the authors went out of their way to make them relevant sometimes, and it was rather distracting.

I think the biggest problem for me, though, was the lack of plot. I’m all for literary fiction and character-driven novels, but I still have to be waiting for something. Sometimes really interesting characters can make up for a lack of interesting plot, but in those cases I have to be interested in the characters, and I wasn’t really. I just spent most of the book watching Emma try to find her dream husband and wondering when something interesting was going to happen. The only parts that actually interested me (the information we learn about Kellan and David) never really went anywhere. I guess I was just hoping that the ending would make the whole experience worth it, and it didn’t do that.

Overall, I’m not entirely unhappy that I read this book. It taught me a lesson about what to include in my own novels, which was helpful. I also didn’t find the entire thing miserable to read. I may not have actively enjoyed most of it, but I didn’t completely hate it, either. It was entertaining enough, though it’s not really a book I would recommend to others. I just hope that others don’t judge these authors’ other work by this one.

Book Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Before I get to the actual review, I have to take a second to thank Raquelin for recommending this book!

Title: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Page Count: 236
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating: 10/10

Goodreads Summary:
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

Opinion:
When I first heard about this book, I didn’t think I’d like it. I always scoff at the idea of love at first sight, and I’ve read so many reviews bashing the insta-love prevalent in YA novels, so the very notion of this book did not appeal to me at all. I had no plans of reading this until a friend recommended it to me, saying that it was adorable. Since I’m always more willing to try a book after someone I know recommends it, I decided to give it a chance.

I am so glad I did! Adorable really is the best word to describe this book. I love Hadley and Oliver. They’re so cute together, and I found the entire thing believable, even the parts I know I would never do. I didn’t always agree with some of the choices that Hadley made, but I’m still glad she made them. I liked that they got to know each other really well in the short time that they spent together. I don’t know what it is about this book, but it convinced me that they felt a real connection with each other.

But the relationship between Hadley and Oliver isn’t the only focus of this novel. Really, this novel is about Hadley and her father. I’ve seen a lot of reviews of this book bashing this relationship. We learn early on that Hadley’s father fell in love with another women and abandoned his family to move to London, and most of the reviewers seem to find this unforgivable and hate the fact that Hadley’s going to the wedding at all. However, I loved reading about this relationship. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been on the opposite end of this – where parents stayed together and fought all the time – but I could understand his choice, and I was definitely hoping for a reconciliation. Parent’s aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, and try as we might, we can’t stop loving them (most of the time – obviously there are some exceptions). I should also mention that while Hadley’s never met the woman her father is marrying, Hadley makes it clear that she’s the reason they never met, that both her father and her father’s new wife wanted to get together.

This was a really cute book. It was a fast read, as I kept wanting to see what was going to happen next. There’s not a hugely dramatic plot or anything, but that’s true of most contemporary YA books. If you’re looking for car chases and mystery, this isn’t for you. If, however, you’re looking for a cute read about relationships and forgiveness and falling in love, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. I know I did.