Book review: Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia

Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Source: Borrowed

The children of Alexandria are just trying to live like normal teens, and Ben Schiller is no exception. But her relationship with her best friend is changing, her sister is hiding a dark secret, and tragedy looms. Also: where are all of the parents?

Filled with teenage loves and fights and parties, Sacred Heart is part summer vacation, part End Times anticipation, and a landmark coming-of-age graphic novel. The punk-infused, character-driven storytelling and innate cartooning talent heralds Suburbia as a major new voice in comics.

I popped into my library a couple weeks ago to pick up a different book and saw Sacred Heart sitting on the YA graphic novels table. Since I am, in general, pretty into graphic novels these days, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. Well, I was wrong.

It hurt a lot to check it out, because this was just… not good.

Let’s start with the most basic of things you need in a book: the characters. So many of the characters looked so similar that I had a hard time telling them apart even by the end of the book. There are also so many characters involved that I had trouble keeping them all straight! Every character was a different “annoying teenager” stereotype.

Moving on to the actual plot, or maybe I should say the lack of plot: I’m not really sure what the goal was here. There are a number of plot threads here. There’s the fact that all of the adults have disappeared. The constant murders happening throughout the town. The typical sex, drugs, and alcohol mindset of the punk rock scene, which is only intensified because of the lack of parental supervision. There’s a friends-to-lovers plot going on that takes up a big chunk in the middle of the book and is then kind of forgotten about. Any of these ideas could have made for an interesting book, but the problem is that they’re all just kind of left hanging. Even at the end of the book, nothing is resolved.

The only other thing I want to address here is whether this book is age-appropriate for YA. I’m definitely not in favor of any kind of censorship, but I do think it’s important to know that this book is definitely upper, upper, upper YA. Like, constant references to alcohol and drugs. A ton of sex, including full nudity. A pretty steady stream of profanity. I’m a little surprised that my library shelved this in the YA section.

I’m really struggling to find something positive to say about this book. The only thing I can come up with is that it was nice that the main character had a dog. I just can’t recommend this graphic novel at all.

Have you read Sacred Heart? What’s the last book that really disappointed you? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini reviews: Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List, La Belle Sauvage, & The Wedding Date

Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 28, 2007
Source: Borrowed

Naomi loves Ely. And she’s kinda in love with him.

Ely loves Naomi. But he prefers to be in love with boys.

Naomi and Ely have been inseparable since childhood – partially because they’ve grown up across the hall from each other in the same Manhattan apartment building, and also because they’re best friends. Soul mates. Or are they? Just to be safe, they’ve created a NO KISS LIST – their list of people who are absolutely off-kissing-limits for both of them. The NO KISS LIST protects their friendship and ensures that nothing will rock the foundation of Naomi and Ely: the institution.

Until Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend. And a fateful piece of chewing gum in the wrong place at the wrong time changes everything.

Soon a rift of universal proportions threatens to destroy their friendship, and it remains to be seen whether Naomi and Ely can find their way toward new soul-mate prospects…and back to one another.

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story about love of all kinds, one that reminds us that any great friendship can be as confusing, treacherous, inspiring, and wonderful as any great romance.

Despite the barrage of negative reviews, I decided to pick up this book based solely on my love for David Levithan. To my surprise, although I did have some definite criticisms, I didn’t hate it. I think it helps to view this book not as a romance, but as a coming of age story in which the characters have to come to grips with the idea that their lives might not turn out the way they’d expected. The book isn’t going to win any awards for groundbreaking fiction, but it’s a quick and fun read.

I don’t think that Naomi or Ely are supposed to be particularly likable characters. They’re both self-centered teens who could stand to do some soul-searching. I thought Naomi’s attitude throughout much of the book was pretty gross (her wish that Ely would just set aside the pesky fact that HE LIKES BOYS and just HAVE SEX WITH HER ALREADY rubbed me the wrong way) but Ely really grew on me. Yeah, he’s selfish and he’s an idiot, but he owns up to it. I just wanted him (and Bruce the Second) to be happy.

Side note: References to the Myspace community and Napoleon Dynamite took me right back to my high school days.

Previously: Dash & Lily’s Book of DaresThe Twelve Days of Dash & Lily

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Series: The Book of Dust #1
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 19, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…

Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

The book starts really slowly but picks up around the halfway point. It’s a good start to the series, I’m sure, but leaves a bit to be desired as a standalone. I ended up not finishing it within my library loan period, but I was lucky enough to snap up the audiobook in the half a millisecond that it was available. The book was much better on audio and I finished it within the day.

Maturity warning: LBS contains quite a bit of violence, a decent amount of foul language, and frank discussion (and description) of sex crimes. It’s for an older audience than HDM.

Previously: The Golden Compass • The Subtle Knife • The Amber Spyglass

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Source: Borrowed

A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

This is a cute, light, sometimes witty romance. The action all happens in the first third or so of the book — I felt like it could’ve stopped then and I wouldn’t have really missed anything. The middle third of the books is highly focused on the sexual relationship between Alexa and Drew and it feels almost like PG-rated erotica, if that makes any sense. (The sex scenes are very fade-to-black.) The last chunk of the book is just a mess of miscommunication. The book is probably worth a read for romance fans, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I would.

Bonus points: interracial romance, fake dating that turns into real feelings, real lives outside of the relationship, great tacos

ARC review: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

The Way You Make Me Feel has been at the top of my Most Anticipated list for 2018 ever since I saw the cover way back when. I don’t even know what it is about this cover, but it drew me in and I knew that I had to read this book. I can’t say that I really loved the story, but I do still love the cover.

The book turned out to be a much younger YA than I was expecting. You know how in some YA books, the characters act like mini-grown ups? Not the case here. Clara and her gang of friends act like stupid, immature teenagers through most of the book. Clara herself is a little jerk who never thinks of anyone aside from herself. She and her friends live for pranks, always dreaming up something bigger and better for next time. Clara’s nemesis is Rose, also a little jerk, but one who thinks that Clara and her friends are beneath her. The characters fit into very specific molds which reminded me very much of the YA of my youth.

This is billed as a young adult romance, but I think of it more as a coming of age story than anything else. This is a book about Clara learning to think of someone other than herself. It’s a book about consequences. It’s about family and appreciating what your parents have given you. It’s about friendship and analyzing whether the connections you’ve made are really going to benefit you in the long run. The romance is the least important part of this book. In all honesty, it’s pretty forgettable.

Sometimes, a YA book will make me look back on my high school days with rose-colored glasses. Oh, to be young again, I think, as I sit here preparing for my ten-year high school reunion. Other YA books make me very glad to be grown and away from that drama. The Way You Make Me Feel falls firmly into the second category. I have no desire to go back to the petty arguments and stupid feuds of high school. I connected more with Clara’s dad, Adrian, than I did with any of the teenage characters. Adrian is actually one of the best and most present YA parents in recent memory, so bonus points for that!

This was my first book by Maurene Goo. I might not have loved it as much as I’d expected, but I did have fun. I have I Believe in a Thing Called Love on my TBR for later this year.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a free advance copy of The Way You Make Me Feel from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review. The Way You Make Me Feel releases on May 8, 2018.

ARC review: I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

BFFs Ava and Gen are headed off to college.  While Ava is staying in California, Gen is headed off to Boston to attend a small liberal arts school.  Through emails and text messages, we watch Ava and Gen grow up and learn to live without each others’ constant presence.

Now, apparently, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin are YouTubers.  Apparently, they promote their own channel in this book.  I’d never heard of them (or their channel) prior to reading this book, so that just went totally over my head.  I will, however, get into the nitty gritty of what I liked and disliked about this debut.

My first thoughts, upon starting this book, were that Ava and Gen are probably very realistic eighteen-year-olds, but they were both borderline intolerable for me.  Both of them were judgmental and annoying and reminded me that I’m not eighteen years old anymore.  I hope I wasn’t like that when I was their age, but I probably was.  I do not want to go back to look at my old Livejournal because I’ll probably die of embarrassment.

Ava is dealing with her mental illness while being away from home and away from her best friend.  She suffers from OCD, anxiety, depression, and possibly other conditions – we never hear about her actual diagnosis, only fleeting mentions of her conversations with therapists or symptoms she exhibited at a party or in class.  In an attempt to make friends at college, Ava joins a sorority.  Soon after, she begins her first real relationship with a goofy frat boy.

In Boston, Gen is coming to terms with her sexuality.  After living a (mostly) heterosexual life in California, she realizes that she’s also really into women and embraces her new-found bisexuality with open arms.  This was really great, but I wonder if the authors took this a bit too far.  (More on that later.)  Aside from her sexuality, Gen doesn’t really get her own storyline.  Everything that happens to her is at least tangentially tied to her sexuality.

Ava and Gen are total opposites that somehow work as best friends.  While Ava is very cautious and overthinks everything (much like me), Gen is very reckless in all aspects of her life. I thought that this would make me like Gen less, but I actually preferred her over Ava for the first half of the book or so.  Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Gen really disappointed me.  Although it was great when she gently called Ava out on being problematic, I thought she became a little unreasonable as the book continued.  Suddenly, Ava wasn’t even allowed to ask questions because Gen would freak out at anything other than blind, unwavering support.

Ava constantly had to apologize to Gen, even when (at least in my opinion) she’d done nothing wrong.  You should be able to comment on your best friend’s life. You should be able to tell her she’s making a mess of things before she does something that she can’t take back. You should be able to ask her questions about her life without her cutting off all communication like a petulant child. I’m sorry, but the relationship between Ava and Gen was not a healthy one, and it had nothing to do with Ava’s mental illness.

It’s so hard to talk about this without digging into some spoilers, but let me try.  When Ava expresses some concern about the people that Gen is choosing to involve herself with, Gen jumps down her throat.  “YOU’RE NOT GAY, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND!” she screams (via email or text) when Ava’s concern is nothing to do with the gender of the person Gen’s seeing, but more to do with the implications of the relationship.  And even when Ava’s right, she has to apologize before Gen will talk to her again.

So, Gen comes out to Ava via email as she tells her about her recent sexual exploits.  Shortly after, Gen begins to have sex with basically everyone she meets.  By her own admission, she’s attracted to everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, personality… anything. Gen is very quick to call Ava out when she references a common stereotype or says something mildly offensive, but I worry that Gen’s character falls into common bisexual tropes.

Bi doesn’t have to mean promiscuous.  It doesn’t mean that the character should be attracted to literally every person they meet.  It shouldn’t mean that the character is solely interested in hookups without any commitment whatsoever.  It doesn’t have to mean that the character destroys the rest of their life in search of their next conquest.  Gen actually cuts off contact with Ava when Ava expresses (very reasonable) concerns about Gen’s behavior.  Ava is painted as the villain who just doesn’t understand when Gen is obviously spiraling out of control.

I appreciate what the authors tried to do with representation.  In a lot of areas, they succeeded.  There are gay, bisexual, and trans characters that actually play major roles in the story.  There are characters of different races and ethnicities, just as there would be on any normal college campus.  Ava’s mental illness representation was great because it was just another part of her and not something that was a huge deal.  I just wish that Gen’s sexual experimentation had been handled better, because, as a grown woman, I could only think of the danger she was putting herself in by going home with strange men and women.

I guess, in the end, I appreciate with the authors were trying to do. For me, the book was a miss.  For someone closer to the characters’ age, it might be more of a hit.  Life has sure changed since I started college.  That much is for sure.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

I received a free ARC of I Hate Everyone But You from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

ARC review: The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Dani Cavanaugh’s mom has planned out her whole future for her.  As a college psychic, her mom works with high school seniors to help them find the ideal program and school for their interests.  For Dani, a major in communications at Ohio State was the plan.  Not in the plan was Dani failing her senior year English class and getting her OSU admission revoked. Dani’s determined to get her life back on track, so she enrolls at her local community college with plans to transfer to OSU next semester.  But what happens when she realizes that her big life plan might not be what she wants anymore?

I first found out about this book through That Artsy Reader Girl’s 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  Imagine my surprise when I found it on Netgalley and then was actually approved for an ARC!  This turned out to be one of my favorite debuts of 2017.

If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t so sure about it when I first started reading.  It took awhile for me to really get sucked in by the writing, and my natural status as #1 problem solver kept trying to kick in for Dani.  I found myself thinking, “What kind of high school teacher fails a kid based on one paper? I’m sure she could have contested that.”  I thought, “What kind of parents don’t care about what their daughter actually wants?  Why are they more concerned about her lying than about the fact that she felt like she couldn’t tell them about her admission being revoked?”  I also thought, “This is a good warning as to why you shouldn’t declare your major before you even start college.”  But then I told myself to turn my brain off and just enjoy this book.  And I did.

Initially, Dani is upset about her plans changing.  She’d been accepted to Ohio State, a well-respected Big Ten university, and was now walking into the admissions office of Denton Community College with her tail between her legs.  But it turns out that DCC is a really good fit for her.  She makes friends.  Her classes are tough but enjoyable.  She even reconnects with her old neighbor and the two start dating.

Dani really takes her future into her own hands.  She gets herself a job at the college bookstore so that she can save up money for her inevitable transfer.  (I am super jealous because I would have loved to work at my university’s book store.)  She finds herself an internship in a field that she loves.  She grows as a person and becomes more responsible and more mature.

There are two main conflicts in this book.  The first is between Dani and her mother. Because Dani’s mother, for as famous of a psychic as she is supposed to be, does not understand her daughter at all.  She wants her daughter to be someone that she’s not, and it frustrated me immensely.  Her mother even grounds her.  Grounds her.  I was, in general, pretty respectful of my mother while growing up, but I think I would have laughed in her face if she’d tried to ground me while I was in college.  Dani is an adult.  She is allowed to have her own opinions and make her own mistakes.  I really disliked Dani’s mother for failing to realize that.

The second main conflict is between Dani and Luke, her childhood neighbor that she begins dating at the beginning of the book.  Growing up, Dani had a huge crush on Luke.  He was her best friend’s older brother and she swooned over him at every chance.  Now, they’re both grown up and taking advantage of the fact that they’re allowed to be alone and kiss each other and nobody can stop them.  But, the thing is, we never really feel any chemistry between them.  Aside from their first kiss, they just kind of coexist on the page.  Dani has a thousand times more chemistry with Porter, her coworker and Luke’s roommate, than she ever had with Luke.  But much like Ohio State had always been Dani’s dream, so has dating Luke.  Dani has to reconcile the fact that sometimes your dreams don’t turn out the way you want them to.  That sometimes dreams can change, and that’s normal and okay.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  Maggie Ann Martin definitely did justice to the genre, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

I received a free ARC of The Big F from Macmillan/Swoon Reads via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.