P.S. I Still Love You

Warning! Turn back now if you haven’t read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. P.S. I Still Love You is not a stand-alone novel. You need to read the first book to fully appreciate the second.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s turn our attention to P.S. I Still Love You by the fabulous Jenny Han. This book as been on my TBR list since I finished the first book, and I finally got the chance to read it this weekend. (Thank you, Overdrive!) Like the first book, it is a quick, light read, and it thoroughly grabs the reader’s attention, especially if you love the first book. What’s more, the main character, Lara Jean, is Asian American, representation that is sorely lacking in a lot of contemporary YA romance. And this book, like its predecessor, is definitely a romance at its core.

Lara Jean Song Covey desperately hopes she hasn’t ruined things with Peter. Sure, at first they were just pretending to be into each other, but it soon became real for both of them. But now Lara Jean doesn’t know what to do. Maybe a letter, like the one that brought them together in the first place, will help the situation. It can’t hurt, right?

As it turns out, Peter is just as eager to start a real relationship as Lara Jean is. The two reunite, but their reunion isn’t as sweet as one would hope. Someone secretly videos what should have been a private moment between Lara Jean and Peter and plasters it all over the Internet. It goes viral. It becomes a meme.

Lara Jean is mortified. Peter is vowing to stop whoever posted the video, but the damage has been done…and Lara Jean is pretty sure she knows who’s responsible. Unfortunately, Peter has blinders on when it comes to the culprit (the vile Genevieve), and this incident is driving a wedge between him and Lara Jean.

Peter and Lara Jean are drifting apart–thanks largely to the machinations of Genevieve, Peter’s ex–but there’s another guy just waiting in the wings for Lara Jean’s attention…another guy who received one of her infamous love letters way back when.

John Ambrose McClaren seems to be the perfect guy. He’s smart, tall, respectful, handsome, and he’s interested in a lot of the same things as Lara Jean. Part of her really likes him and wonders what could come of a relationship…but another part of her still has feelings for Peter. What’s a girl to do when she’s torn between two guys?

Well, as is often the case, Lara Jean follows her heart. Who will it lead her to? Find out for yourself when you read P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han!


So…I don’t know that I liked this sequel as much as the first book, but I still found it to be a very entertaining read. Also, as I think I mentioned in my post on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I related a bit to the character of Lara Jean. No, I’m not Korean, or girly, or a good cook, or at all interested in romance, but I’ve always been a “good girl.” Yes, I argue a bit with my parents, but we’ve always had a very good relationship, and, even as a teenager, I respected them and their rules. (Seriously. I broke curfew exactly one time, and I felt worse about it than they did. I doubt they even remember it.) It’s nice to see that reflected in modern YA literature. More often than not, teens are depicted as rebellious–even disdainful–of their parents (when the parents are in the picture at all), so I really appreciate it when I see something that resembles more of my own experiences.

As far as who Lara Jean should end up with in this book, I have a feeling that will be up for debate with a lot of readers. Will you be Team Peter or Team John Ambrose McClaren? (Yes, it is necessary to say his full name.) I won’t come right out and tell you who Lara Jean ends up with, but I will say that I am most definitely Team John Ambrose McClaren. In my most humble opinion, he’s a great match for Lara Jean. I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.

Even though P.S. I Still Love You is a fairly light read, it does deal with issues like cyberbullying and deciding when it’s the right time to enter into a sexual relationship. I think some middle school students may be able to handle the situations as presented in the book, but others won’t. Know your readers before recommending this book or its predecessor to middle grade audiences.

If you’d like to learn more about P.S. I Still Love You or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, take a look at the author’s website. You can also connect with Jenny Han through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Carry On

If you’ve read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ve already been introduced to the characters of Simon Snow and Baz Grimm-Pitch. These two characters are the subjects of Cath’s fanfiction in Fangirl. In Carry On, Rowell graciously gives readers the story Cath was working on. Now, it’s not totally necessary for you to read Fangirl to follow what’s happening in Carry On, but I do think it helps.

*I hope the paragraph above makes sense. It does if you’ve read Fangirl. It may not if you haven’t. Of course, it’s pretty easy to remedy that situation.*

Simon Snow is, by all accounts, the Chosen One. It doesn’t seem to matter that his magic is unreliable at best and totally explosive at worst. The leader of all mages–called the Mage, obviously–is sure that Simon will save the World of Mages. Simon isn’t all that convinced. (Neither is his roommate, Baz.)

Simon is starting his final year at the Watford School for Magicks, and he’s fairly certain that he’ll have to battle the Insidious Humdrum, the strange figure who’s creating holes in the magical world, at some point this year. (Simon has no clue how he’s supposed to win against this guy.) He’s also worried that he and Baz are probably going to end up killing each other. That is, if Baz ever shows up.

When the new school term begins, Baz is nowhere to be found, and Simon becomes obsessed with figuring out what’s happened. There’s simply no way Baz would voluntarily miss his final year at Watford…or any chance to torture Simon. Does his disappearance have something to do with the Humdrum or the increasing negative feelings about the Mage? Could it be related to Baz being a vampire (which he has never actually admitted to Simon)? Or could something more be going on? Whatever’s happening, Simon needs to know where Baz is…and what he’s up to.

Soon, though, Simon has one less thing to worry about. Baz returns to Watford. Why was he gone? Well, that’s sort of complicated.

“Complicated” is the perfect word to describe nearly everything about Baz’s life. He’s a vampire, he’s returning from being kidnapped, he’s trying to find out who killed his mom, his infuriating roommate has more magic than anyone in the world (but doesn’t really know what to do with it), his family is working against the Mage, and…oh, yeah…he’s in love with Simon. How could he possibly fall for someone he doesn’t like most of the time and may have to destroy in the near future? Well, the heart wants what the heart wants…

Eventually, Simon and Baz realize that they’ll have to form a truce and join forces to discover what’s really going on in the World of Mages…with the Mage, the Humdrum, all of it. Can these two work together without killing each other? Will Baz reveal his feelings for Simon? How does Simon truly feel about Baz? Is there hope for the future when the World of Mages is in so much turmoil?

Only one thing is certain: It’s going to be a very interesting year at Watford.

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I love this book so hard. (This is true for every Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read.) The dialogue is compelling, the mysteries are intriguing, and the characters are wonderfully complex. And I haven’t even mentioned the delightful love story…

Those who’ve read Fangirl (or any of this post) likely already know that Carry On features a developing relationship between Simon and Baz. This is commonly known as slash fic, and is very popular in fanfiction writing. If you ever wanted Harry Potter to end up with Draco Malfoy instead of Ginny Weasley, definitely give Carry On a try. It’s a very sweet love story, but there’s enough danger, magic, drama, and even humor to satisfy all readers (even those who don’t particularly like slash fiction).

As I wrap this post up, I realize that I haven’t begun to express just how wonderful Carry On really is. I don’t know if I can. Read it for yourself. Hopefully, you’ll love it as much as I do.

If you’d like more information on Carry On and other books by the absolutely fabulous Rainbow Rowell, check out the author’s website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. You may also want to check out the video below. It features Rainbow Rowell herself talking about Carry On at Book Expo America.

 

Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.

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I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been on my radar for a few months, and I finally made time to read it this week. (I actually devoured it in less than 24 hours.) This wonderful book by Jenny Han introduces readers to Lara Jean Song Covey, a somewhat fanciful sixteen-year-old girl who gets over her crushes by writing them letters. She writes the letters and then moves on with her life. But when the letters actually get sent, Lara Jean’s life gets kind of complicated…

Lara Jean is a devoted sister, a loyal friend, and a reliable daughter. She’s not much of a rule-breaker, she doesn’t go to many parties, and she’s kind of invisible at school…and she mostly likes it that way.

Lara Jean does have some secrets, though–secrets those closest to her know nothing about. Lara Jean has had five crushes in her life. In order to move past these crushes, she writes each boy a letter, addresses it, and places it in an old hat box under her bed. No one knows about these letters except Lara Jean, and she has no intention of every mailing the letters…especially since one of them is written to her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.

One day, Lara Jean realizes that the hat box under her bed is missing, and the letters she’s written to her crushes have actually been mailed out. When she understands what’s happened, Lara Jean panics and worries about what all of this could mean for her. A couple of her former crushes are no longer around, so she’s not terribly concerned about them…but some of them confront her about what she wrote, and that’s where things get a little messy.

In order to save face around Josh, Lara Jean devises a plan to make him think that she’s totally over whatever feelings she may have once had for him. She conspires with Peter, also one of her former crushes, to make everyone think that they’re now together. It’s a win-win situation, really. Lara Jean can avoid a big confrontation with Josh, and Peter can make his ex-girlfriend jealous. What neither Lara Jean nor Peter count on, however, is how this fake relationship will affect both themselves and those around them.

Lara Jean is growing closer to Peter, and she’s beginning to wonder if maybe he has some feelings for her. What started as a fake relationship may quickly be evolving into something real. Does Peter actually care about her, or is he still just using her to make his ex jealous? Does Peter, who knows the whole story of the letters, believe she still has feelings for Josh? How does Margot, Lara Jean’s beloved older sister and Josh’s ex-girlfriend, figure into this mix?

Lara Jean will soon have to face the realities of all of her relationships–those with Peter, Josh, and her sisters. What will she do once everyone knows the truth? We’ll just have to see…

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I found To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to be a fast, fun read that definitely gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Even though I thought Lara Jean’s voice was a tad grating at times, I felt that her character was realistic. It’s a nice change from all of the rule-breaking party girls in a lot of contemporary YA. Teens who respect their parents, like to stay in at night, and follow rules need to see themselves in fictional characters, too, and I was happy to see such a character in this story…even though she did play fast and loose with the truth from time to time. (Even us good girls can relate to that, though.)

I do have to admit that the end of this book nearly sent me into a panic. I kept glancing at the page count at the bottom of my ereader and wondering how in the world I was going to get a happy ending with so few pages remaining. And, while the ending was somewhat satisfying, it did leave things kind of open…which makes sense when one realizes there’s already a sequel.

The next book featuring Lara Jean and company, P.S. I Still Love You, is already out, and it is near the top of my lengthy TBR list. I can hardly wait to see what happens with Lara Jean and Peter.

For those wondering if To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would be a good fit for middle school library collections, I’d have to say that it may be okay for upper middle school. There is some language, alcohol use, and talk of sexual situations, but there is nothing terribly graphic. In truth, Lara Jean could actually serve as something of a role model for some readers. She sees a lot of this stuff going on around her, and while she does feel some pressure to fit in, she remains true to herself and her values. Do with that what you will.

If you think To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sounds like the book for you, I encourage you to learn more about in on Goodreads or the author’s website. You can also connect with Jenny Han through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Lying Out Loud

Several weeks ago, I read The DUFF, a highly entertaining read by Kody Keplinger. This past Tuesday, I finished its companion novel, Lying Out Loud. (Normally, it doesn’t take me so long to write up a post after finishing a book. I blame end-of-school-year craziness.)

Anyway, Lying Out Loud, which takes place a few years after the conclusion of The DUFF, revolves around Amy Rush (Wesley’s sister) and her best friend, Sonny Ardmore. The best way I can describe their story is Easy A meets Cyrano de Bergerac. But since that doesn’t really go into how cool this book is, let’s take a closer look…

Sonny Ardmore is a world-class liar. She’s discovered that sometimes lies–especially those concerning her parents–are much less painful than the truth. Not even her best friend Amy knows exactly why Sonny needs to sleep over every single night…and Sonny’s in no real hurry to tell her. Sonny knows Amy would by sympathetic, but telling the truth would mean admitting what’s really going on to herself, and Sonny’s not ready for that.

So…the lying continues, and it’s about to land Sonny–and Amy–into quite a mess.

Ryder Cross is the new kid at Hamilton High. He’s pretentious, standoffish, and totally drool-worthy. And he has a crush on Amy. One night, Sonny and Amy (mostly Sonny) respond to a message from Ryder and basically play him for a fool. When Ryder calls them out on how mean they’ve been, Sonny responds and apologizes. The two end up chatting all night long, revealing pieces of themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else. There’s just one big problem, though. Ryder thinks he’s talking to Amy.

When Sonny realizes that there’s been a mix-up, she initially tries to tell Ryder the truth, but he loathes her and won’t give her a chance to fess up. So, liar that she is, Sonny decides to enlist Amy’s help in turning things around. She convinces her best friend to do everything she can to make Ryder let go of his ridiculous crush and turn his attentions to Sonny.

All the while, Sonny continues to text Ryder all the time–and he still thinks he’s talking to Amy. Sonny knows it’s wrong, but she can’t give up this tenuous connection to Ryder. She tells him things she’s told no one else, and he’s doing the same. Sonny just wishes he’d realize that the girl Ryder’s talking to is right in front of him, waiting to be noticed.

Ryder is very confused about the whole situation, and he’s not the only one. Amy is growing tired of Sonny’s schemes, and even Sonny is having trouble keeping up with all of her lies in her quest to prevent the messy truth of her life from being revealed. But that’s the thing about truth. It has a way of making itself known no matter what a person does…and Sonny’s day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Sonny does everything she can think of–short of being totally honest–to unravel the mess she’s made, but her lies are catching up to her. She’s totally panicked, and she’s terrified that she’s about to lose Ryder, Amy, and any possible hope for her own future.

What will happen when Sonny is forced to face the truth? Have her lies hopelessly damaged her relationships with both Amy and Ryder? And how will Sonny and those closest to her deal with the circumstances that led Sonny to make her life one big lie in the first place?

Uncover the truth for yourself when you read Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger!

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Lying Out Loud is a quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always charming read that fans of The DUFF will adore. Readers will especially enjoy the glimpses of Wesley and Bianca in this story. (He’s still charming, she’s still sarcastic, and they’re still really cute together.)

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was that it was just as much about Sonny’s relationship with Amy as it was about her burgeoning romance with Ryder. In fact, I daresay the Sonny/Amy relationship was the most important in the book. If it had come down to choosing between Amy and Ryder, I honestly think Sonny would have chosen to keep Amy in her life. (I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though.) Sonny was kind of horrible to Amy for much of the book, but Amy stood by her side–until even she couldn’t take the lying anymore. When Sonny realized that she was about to lose the greatest person in her life, that’s when she really turned things around. I don’t think Ryder alone would have been able to be that catalyst for change (though he definitely had a part in it).

I think Lying Out Loud is a great read for young adults looking for a book that really delves into relationships–friendships, family (with all of their complications), adversaries, and even one girl’s relationship with herself. Sonny examines her own part in the relationships around her, especially her tendency to lie in an effort to make things easier for her, and I think she eventually realizes just how much she matters to those who really care for her and how much damage she’s truly done. The lies are not necessary. Those who really love her will do so no matter how bad or ugly the truth may happen to be.

If I’ve piqued your interest with this post and you’d like to learn more about Lying Out Loud and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, TumblrFacebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. Have fun!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

I’m amazed that I just got around to reading The DUFF (which came out in September of 2010), especially considering that I’ve been one for most of my life. (We really can’t count those preschool years, right?) I’m not going to go into my “duff” experiences through middle school, high school, college, and even into my adult years, but let’s just say that the title of this book alone speaks to me. What’s between the covers of the book…well, that’s another story.

Bianca Piper is fiercely loyal to her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, even when they force her to go to a local dance club with them. Bianca usually just sits at the bar and nurses a Cherry Coke, but on this particular night, she’ll engage in a conversation that will change how she views herself, her friends, and how the entire world looks at her.

When the vile, loathsome–and totally hot–Wesley Rush starts talking to her at the club, Bianca’s pretty sure there’s been some sort of mistake. She makes it pretty clear that she hates Wesley, so why is he chatting her up? Well, the answer is rather simple. He’s trying to hook up with one of Bianca’s friends, and he thinks that paying attention to the “duff”–designated ugly fat friend–of the group will win him some points. Bianca, of course, is livid at this description, so she throws her Cherry Coke in Wesley’s face. (Quite right, too!)

But the more Bianca thinks about Wesley’s description of her, the more she thinks…he may be right.

Being branded as a “duff,” though, is not the worst thing going on in Bianca’s life right now. Her mom is never around, her dad is a mess, and her ex-boyfriend (who completely crushed her heart) is coming back into town. So what does Bianca do to distract herself from her problems? She lays a big kiss on her nemesis, none other than Wesley Rush.

Well, the kiss with Wesley probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal…if she had stopped there. No, instead Bianca continues to escape her problems in Wesley’s arms, and she’s soon avoiding even the good things in her life to spend more time with Wesley (who has issues of his own that he’s trying to escape). Bianca still officially hates Wesley (who continues to refer to her as “Duffy”), but it’s getting harder and harder to convince herself of that, especially when he’s there for her during the most difficult situation she’s ever encountered.

So how can Bianca reconcile her growing feelings for someone she swears she hates? Does Wesley have feelings for her even though she’s supposedly a “duff?” Do these two kids have a shot at a real relationship, or will their various issues drive them apart? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

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So…first of all, let me say that I love Bianca’s voice in this book. She’s cynical, sarcastic, moody, and she doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, she’s vulnerable and struggling with her parents’ crumbling marriage. Even when she’s being surly and self-destructive, Bianca is a sympathetic character. And even though I don’t particularly like how Bianca distracted herself from her problems, I can see where she’s coming from. Her mom escapes through traveling, her dad escapes into a bottle, and both Bianca and Wesley escape into each other. (I escape into books, Netflix, and food…which may go a long way in explaining why I still see myself as a “duff.”)

For those of you thinking of giving The DUFF a read, let me go ahead and tell you that the book doesn’t shy away from sex. Bianca and Wesley get pretty hot and heavy, and that definitely comes through in the book. Even when Bianca hates herself for turning to Wesley, she enjoys sex with him. (Why else would she keep doing it?) And I may get angry messages for saying this–especially here in the Bible Belt–but I think it’s important for teen readers to see examples of enjoyable sex lives in the books they read. I can’t think of many YA novels that make it a point to say that characters–particularly female characters–have positive, even fun, sexual experiences. Something to think about there.

So…given all of that, I would recommend The DUFF to teenage readers (probably age sixteen and up)* who like books with totally relatable characters, sexy times, and a rather happy–if somewhat unrealistic–ending. It’s also a great book for readers who sometimes struggle with their self-perception. (That didn’t narrow things down, did it?) All of us have thought of ourselves as ugly, fat, or some other negative adjective. Are we all “duffs” at one point or another? Maybe. But, as Bianca discovers, other people don’t get to decide who and what we are. Our identities are up to us.

*This is NOT a book for middle grade readers. Aside from the sexual situations, there’s also quite a bit of language and some other themes that may be more suited to mature readers.*

There’s another book set in the world of The DUFF coming out tomorrow! Lying Out Loud features Wesley’s sister Amy and includes cameos from the characters we’ve come to know and love. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Bianca and Wesley are faring.

For more information on The DUFF and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube.

**I know there was a movie adaptation of The DUFF released a couple of months ago, but I didn’t see it. From my understanding, quite a few liberties were taken with the plot, so I doubt I’ll see it now. If I’m wrong on that, please let me know, and I’ll give the movie a try.**

 

The Year of the Beasts

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading The Year of the Beasts. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads, and the only things I knew going in were that I’d previously enjoyed books by the author, Cecil Castellucci, and the story was told in both prose and comics (drawn by the very talented Nate Powell). I was unprepared, then, for just how hard this book hit me.

At first, I thought I’d be reading a fairly typical tale of two sisters who grow apart because of a guy and then eventually find their way back to each other. Yeah…not so much. To say that this book defied and exceeded all of my expectations would be a gross understatement. The Year of the Beasts threw me for a loop, and I’m still thinking about how the story relates to my own life and my understanding of things like jealousy, love, and grief.

It all started when the carnival trucks rolled into town. That was the unofficial start of summer, a summer that would forever change everything for Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu.

For the first time, Tessa and Lulu are enjoying the carnival without the watchful eyes of their parents. They’re finally free to truly enjoy the food, the rides, the games…the boys. So when Tessa sees the opportunity to hang out with her crush, Charlie, and his friends, she seizes it.

Tessa, Lulu, and Tessa’s best friend Celina join up with Charlie and his buddies for a bit of fun at the carnival, but Tessa couldn’t know that this one outing would change her relationship with Lulu. Why? Well, as it happens, Charlie isn’t interested in Tessa. He wants Lulu…and Lulu wants him back.

Tessa is green with envy, but she tries her best to hide it. She doesn’t want to rain on her sister’s parade, but she can’t be wholly happy for her either. Charlie was supposed to be hers, not Lulu’s…and it feels like Lulu is taking every possible opportunity to throw her new boyfriend in her older sister’s face. It feels like Lulu, the younger of the two siblings, is growing up, moving on, and leaving Tessa in her wake.

Tessa’s only respite from the drama with Lulu, Charlie, and their assorted friends occurs in the arms of Jasper, the school outcast. Tessa finds a measure of peace when she’s alone with Jasper, but she doesn’t see how he can be part of her “real life” outside of the woods where they meet. Neither does he. No one even knows about them, and Tessa fears her friends’ reactions if they did. On top of that, even though Tessa is growing closer to Jasper, she still can’t let go of her jealousy over Lulu’s claim on Charlie. Why does Lulu, now Miss Popular, get to parade around with her boyfriend while Tessa has to keep her tenuous new relationship a secret? Nothing about this is fair in Tessa’s eyes, and she doesn’t know how to cope with all of the jealousy and rage bubbling within her.

Everything is about to come to a head for Tessa, Lulu, and company, and the summer that began with such promise will end in a tangle of envy, sadness, self-loathing, regret, grief, and–when all is said and done–a small measure of hope.

Will Tessa find some way to tame the monster raging within her and find the girl she used to be once again? Or will the events of this one tragic summer change her–and everyone around her–forever?

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I don’t know that the brief recap above in any way captures what happened in this book. It doesn’t even touch on the story presented in the comics. At first glance, the two stories don’t appear to be related, but, as the book progresses, the prose and the comics come together to create a story so intricately woven that I can scarcely believe that I ever thought they could be separate. While the prose tells of that one eventful summer that changed everything, the comics–presented in alternating chapters–show readers how grief and self-loathing can turn a person into something completely unrecognizable. How do the comics relate to Tessa’s story? Well, I’ll leave you with that one surprise, but I will tell you that I felt totally ripped to shreds by the book’s conclusion, and I’ll probably take a second look at the book’s art to see if I can pick up any clues that would have hinted at the emotional wreck that I was soon to become.

Now it’s time to get a little personal…

Truthfully, I think my strong feelings about this book come, at least in part, from my own experiences. Like Tessa, I have a younger sister. When we were teenagers, I sometimes felt like she had everything going for her. (To be perfectly honest, I still feel that way on occasion.) While I was the short, fat, near-sighted, bullied, tuba-playing nerd with braces, my sister was the tall, thin, athletic, blond girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. It was difficult to stand next to her and not wonder if everyone was thinking, “Well, I guess little sister is definitely the pretty one.” (Sometimes I didn’t have to wonder. People said those words out loud.) And things didn’t get any better for me when the guy I was madly in love with (or so I thought) had a thing for my sister. While she did not reciprocate his affections, the mere thought that he preferred her to me turned my overly dramatic teenage world upside-down. (If you’re reading this, you probably think I still haven’t recovered. You’d be right.) It was painfully easy to see my sister and me in the characters of Lulu and Tessa. I think that’s a big part of the reason why this book’s conclusion affected me the way it did. It made me examine what my teenage self would have done if she were faced with the same circumstances, and I have to admit I likely would have felt much like Tessa did.

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If your interest has been piqued by this post, I strongly urge you to give The Year of the Beasts a try. You won’t regret it. I think this is an excellent book for any reader in eighth grade and beyond.

To learn more about this amazing book, you can check out author Cecil Castellucci on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter, and graphic novelist Nate Powell on his website and Twitter.