Since leaving college, I haven’t planned out my reading throughout the year. I am much more of an organic reader: whatever I come across that I feel like reading, I dive into. I might have a really good idea what I’ll read next, but nothing certain until I turn that first page.
But even with these loosey goosey structure, I usually indulge myself during the summer. It’s hot. The girls are on vacation. And something about summer always makes me feel like a rebel. I know, I know – how can I feel like a rebel when I don’t have any rules to rebel against? For one, I like to read some books that some might think are a little less…um…enriching. Some Michael Crichton. Chick lit that is bad in a good way. My beloved Stephen Kings. And usually I’ll indulge in some re-reads, since those don’t count towards my Goodreads goal.
This year, though, since I set a goal of reading 70 new books, I was going to have to buckle down. I told myself that if I could lay of the re-reads (20 of my 74 total books last year were re-reads) for the rest of the year, I could indulge for all of December. I’ve done pretty good sticking to my guns, but that left a gaping question of what to do with my rebellious desires this summer. Then I stumbled over a perfect answer: I could indulge in the guilty pleasures of YA novels. They’re usually a quick read, most of the ones that catch my eye do a fair job of keeping an “adult” audience engaged, and I had quite a few on my To-Read list.
What Happened to Goodbye, by Sarah Dessen
McLean is a senior in high school when her parents drag her through a seemingly sudden and scandalizing divorce. Feeling betrayed by her mom, McLean opts to move from city to city with her dad, who specializes in taking over failing restaurants and turning them around. This transient lifestyle suits McLean; she enjoys making up new personas in each city and school she settles into. She can be a peppy cheerleader in one, sullen goth chick in another, annoying student council nerd in yet another. It’s the perfect way to not deal with anything, these other personas. Until she lands at the school she’s starting when the story begins, and McLean finds herself being McLean again, rather unexpectedly.
I enjoyed watching Dessen show us how plausible these reinventions were for a good kid caught in a bad situation. I liked how nothing that happened – save the over-the-top new life McLean’s mom conveniently stepped into – seemed implausible. McLean’s character was well fleshed out; the arc of the story was well paced; events were a little predictable, but pleasantly so. The teenaged characters, I thought, were better developed than the supporting adult characters, but this was a YA book after all, so I let that minor go rather easily. What Happened was just a great summer beach read. Or patio read. This one (all three books, actually) was an ebook on loan from the library, but I will definitely pick it up if I see it – and for a goofy reason, too: McLean’s budding romance with the boy next door hit all my ooey-gooey sweet spots. Hey, it’s a pre-req for summer reads, isn’t it?! Mine anyway. 4 of 5 stars.
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
It’s funny: I had much higher hopes for Before I Fall than I did for What Happened to Goodbye. If you would’ve offered both to me, I would have read Before I Fall first, based on plot synopsis alone. Spoiled and seemingly perfect high schooler Samantha faces all the problems of a popular co-ed: where the party’s at, how many roses she needs to gather from admirers at school to look cool enough, when she can sleep with her boyfriend already so she can stop getting teased by friends over her virginity… You can see how this book annoyed me from page one, right? But then there’s a car accident that kills Samantha…only she gets to relive her final day seven times in order to figure out how messed up her priorities really were.
Look: I get that Samantha and her friends were supposed to be annoying. There would be nothing for Samantha to redeem if she was incredibly likeable, right? But I still couldn’t invest myself in her turnaround. I didn’t care if she finally got it, because I didn’t care that she died in the first place. I didn’t think Oliver walked the fine line between creating characters you could hate, but still root for. I wasn’t pulled in to any aspect of the story. I just couldn’t care about or connect with anything, at any level.
I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a good read for someone actually in the YA crowd – lord knows there are some excellent tips in there about being your best self now and not drinking and driving certainly – but I can say for certain that this wasn’t one of the YA books that can stretch into the adult market. (God that makes it sound like a smutty “adult” lit genre, doesn’t it?) 1 of 5 stars.
The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson
I liked this book so much more than I thought I would. It was a slower start for me, and it took me a bit to connect with our main attraction, Miss Rory Deveaux, a New Orleans native finishing her last year of high school in London. Once I did, the story started flying by. That is a good, good thing when you’re in it for some easy summer fun.
Rory, as I said, is finishing her last year of high school in a fancy pants London boarding school while her parents are working on a sabbatical project nearby. She has to adjust to the cultural differences of London snootiness and a boarding school setting vs. good ol’ Louisiana stereotypes. This should have bothered me, but somehow Johnson pulled it off. I liked the characters – even the snooty ones. I liked the balance she created between boarding school life and the murders taking place around campus that mimicked the Jack the Ripper slayings. (Let’s be honest – that’s the real reason I picked up the book. Jack the Ripper slayings, woohoo!) The fact that there were ghosts involved at some point, in some way would have made me steer clear, but it was worth it just for a certain crack a character makes about vampires and werewolves.
Really, if it sounds like a screwball mish-mash of genres – ghosts and murders and coming of age in a London prep school – it’s just because I’m doing a poor job of singing its praises. Name of the Star was exactly the kind of book I’d want to read on a throwaway summer’s afternoon. It’s the kind of book you can pick up and put down as you corral the kids back outside, or attend to whatever comes up in your day-to-day lives. And, if you really like it, it’s the first book of a series. But don’t worry; I found that it ends just neatly enough that you can enjoy it as a stand-alone as well. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.