Mini Book Reviews: June

June, as usual, was a super busy month for me. Not only did school wrap up, but I started a new job and did quite a bit of traveling to visit family and friends. As a result, I didn’t have as much time to blog (though I did read), so mini reviews!

Before I get to that, though, I must put my pimp hat on and link to the Diversify Your Reading Challenge that is all about diversity in YA fiction.

Okay, on to the books.

Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate by Ellen Conford: What I really wanted to read was Seven Days to a Brand New Me, but since my library doesn’t have it, I settled on this Conford classic that I bought from the library book sale. Basically, Carrie agrees to be the newspaper advice columnist, which she has to keep secret. She enjoys it at first, but taking on the burdens of the school body starts to take its toll. The book is a quick, fun read. I actually wish it had been longer and delved a little bit more into some of the relationships. Plus, I really think I have read it before. Some of it felt very familiar to me, especially the big reveal.

Also, I just found out this book was made into an After-School Special. Clearly, I need to get my hands on that.

YA Reading Challenge: 16/20; Page to Screen: 2/5; Off the Shelf: 3/5

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors: Selfors is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. This book was breezy and fun, perfect for the train. I loved the premise (Katrina helps an angel who won’t go away until he can grant her her heart’s desire), loved the characters, loved the setting. Katrina is an awesome character, her grandmother is fantastic, and the conflict between Katrina and her best friend as well as Katrina’s grandmother and their compeition are both ace. I just really enjoyed reading this book. It’s so fun, the overall message is great, and, of course, it has my favorite kind of feminist character.

YA Reading Challenge: 17/20; Off the Shelf: 4/5

She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva: I love, love the premise of the book. I like stories about good girls, but I also like stories about good girls gone bad–as long as they make sense. It’s not enough that a cute boy is involved, and I love that Cheva has really high stakes that make me believe Maya would make the choices she does. My only problem with the book is that it’s more plot than character-driven, and I just couldn’t engage all the way with Maya. If the relationships had been a little bit more developed, I don’t think I would have lost interest/steam going into the end. As it is, I found the beginning of the book more engaging than the conclusion.

Support Your Local Library: 23/30; YA Reading Challenge: 18/20; POC Reading Challenge: 13/15

Deenie by Judy Blume: Yeah, so first time reading this. (I know. I KNOW.) I wasn’t big into Judy Blume as a kid/teen. In fact, I think I have read all of her books post-adolescence. I thought this book was fine as a description of the process of getting a back brace for scoliosis and also what happens when someone completely shallow has to think beyond her looks. However, it was way too short, and I thought it would’ve been better served if the relationships (especially the one between Deenie and her sister) had been more thoroughly explored. Another fast read, just not entirely satisfying.

YA Reading Challenge: 19/20; Off the Shelf: 5/5

Book Review: What Did I Do Wrong?

It happens without warning and it hits you with devastating force. Your closest girlfriend…stops calling you or seeing you. She has decided for whatever reason to move on with her life and she leaves you to clean up the broken pieces of the friendship.

I’m sorry, but CAN I QUOTE THIS ENTIRE BOOK AT YOU FOREVER AND EVER? I mean, I am seriously considering doing just that.

Not only was I currently going through an “unending” (what Liz Pryor calls it when a friend drops out of your life with no warning whatsoever in What Did I Do Wrong?: When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over) (and, yes, that whole title is necessary), but I had the same experience Pryor did when I realized I was in this situation:

Deep in your heart, where bullshit can’t survive, it’s impossible to mistake one woman blowing another off for anything other than what it is. […] I knew somewhere inside me that our friendship was over.


Something inside felt inexplicably off. I had a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach […] An entire trail of ended friendships with women ultimately surfaced. A few had ended naturally…but this trail revealed numerous friendships that had stopped, with basically no ending.

The endings to each of these friendships in my adult life had come through some form of avoidance. And not just regular avoidance, but a masterful, calculated, methodical kind–quiet, brutal, and alarmingly effective.

I no longer had to question the meaning of the feeling in my stomach. It was a mass of unaddressed emotion that had accumulated after each unresolved ending with a female friend.

LIZ PRYOR. GET OUT OF MY HEAD. No really. I mean it.

I just…yes. She describes it perfectly. PERFECTLY. That is exactly what happened with my recent unending. I went from the grudging acceptance to the WAIT A MINUTE. THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE stage, and it has happened A LOT. Just all of these experiences kept coming back to me. Remember her? And her? Oh and don’t forget about her! And, wow, it just made me sad.

Here’s the thing, though. (And this is why books that deal with unpleasant subjects are necessary, idiot WSJ writer who I really shouldn’t be giving any more pageviews.) (I mean, seriously.) (I just…ugh. I don’t have the energy to get into all the ways that article sucks.) THE THING IS that my experience does not exist in a vacuum. At all. It is, in fact, a pretty universal experience, according to the (informal, granted) research that Liz Pryor did.

That’s right. All of the women she interviewed had been dumped unceremoniously by at least one friend. It is not an individual experience; it is one shared by many. Pryor isn’t a social scientist, so she doesn’t actually give the kind of research details that would be expected of an expert doing this kind of field research, but she offers up pretty powerful anecdotal evidence that confirms what I know to be true: the end of a friendship can be devastating, especially when you don’t know why it happens.

What’s even more devastating, Pryor discovers in her talks with these women, is the lack of respect and acknowledgment afforded to the end of a friendship–either by the person who dumps you or society at large. Some quotes! (Of course.)

The act of girlfriends dumping girlfriends is simply void of any guidelines or rules. […] there is no protocol when it comes to how a woman should end a friendship with another woman. She is free to behave and act in any fashion, fit or unfit. Not a soul will question her. Like no other situation I can think of, accountability and responsibility simply don’t exist.

Or like a friend of mine recently said, “A guy who drifts away is a dick. But sometimes friendships drift, and it’s different.” (Obviously, I do not agree with her. A friend who drifts away is a dick as well, but somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s different. I have been guilty of this myself, so I’m not throwing stones. I’m just saying. Amazingly, perspective always changes when I’m the one on the receiving end of crap behavior.)

The worst for me (and Pryor) is when you flat out ask your friend if you’ve done something wrong or if something is going on/shifting, and she says, “Oh no, I’m just busy” or otherwise continues to BRUSH YOU OFF when you know something ain’t right. As Pryor says, instincts don’t lie (see also the b.s. quote above).

Our not acknowledging that we are indeed ending the friendship is what could be considered lying by omission. To deny something is wrong when a friend asks, is an actual lie.

THANK YOU. It’s also a lie to say to ourselves, “Oh, I don’t want to hurt her by telling her I don’t want to be friends anymore.” YOU ARE ALREADY HURTING HER BY PRETENDING EVERYTHING IS FINE WHEN SHE KNOWS IT ISN’T. OMG. A friend and I discussed this when she was going through a break up with her boyfriend. When someone says s/he doesn’t want to hurt you, what that person actually means is they don’t want to deal with the emotional consequences of knowing they have hurt you and your reaction to said hurt. That is why it’s always so bothersome when someone says that. It’s bull.

(Can you tell I have strong feelings about this subject? My word. I didn’t pick female friendships for my research/dissertation topic for nothing.)

Okay, back to the lack of societal respect for the ending of female friendships.

The hostess said, “When we end a relationship with a man we break up.” And I said, “Exactly, and the whole world acknowledges our pain. Our parents, our friends, society says, this is something! It’s a breakup. How are we doing? Are we getting through it? Are we moving on? We get set up on blind dates, taken for coffee, and sent cards. As women, we get more empathy and compassion for the ending of a relationship with a man than for anything else other than death or birth.”

So, I will not get into an epic and lengthy rant about living in a heterosexist society that only values women by their relationships with men and fails to consider that having an emotional response to any other kind of intimate relationship than one with a man is possible. I mean, haha, intimate relationship with anyone other than a man? SUCH A THING DOES NOT EXIST. Intimate relationship that doesn’t involve sex? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I will just direct you to read Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” and encourage you to pay particular attention to what she describes as the lesbian continuum.

Where was I? Right, not ranting. Pryor describes how she dealt with the ending of a relationship with a boyfriend vs. how most women end relationships with their women friends:

That breakup was clear, compact, and final. The confrontation was something I clearly struggled with, but I did it. After all my whining and stressing, I eventually faced up and broke off the relationship–because that is what you do. That is the protocol when it comes to male-female relationships. After the confrontation, there was never any second-guessing, speculation, or confusion about what happened and what the future would hold. So what is it exactly about friendship with women and relationships with men that carry such agendas at the end?

Again, this is where social sanctions come in. And someone who is a sociologist would be able to talk more about that, but since I am not that person, well, all I can offer is this quote from the book: “Friendship lacks sanctions set forth by society to describe it’s responsibilities.” There are no rules. Even though we all know deep in our hearts that it’s wrong to just dump a woman friend (most of the women in the book talk about having heartfelt conversations or doing deep reflection before deciding a friendship was over), that is what gets done. Because, like my friend said above, it’s okay when women just drift, right? Right?

The second half of the book is Pryor offering up alternatives to the calculated avoidance, lying, and misleading that leads to an unending. She offers more anecdotes of women who confronted their friends. They didn’t do it face-to-face (not only because it’s uncomfortable but because it is hard to say everything you need to say in those situations) but through a letter. Letters! Emails! These are why these modes of communication are effective. Sometimes it was the end, but often, it offered the women a chance to revisit and revise their friendships (if that’s what the letter writer was open to). Like Pryor says, “Most friendships can withstand some change. You don’t have to make the choice of being friends in a certain way, or not being friends at all.” I think Pryor is really clear that the letter can effectively end a friendship you don’t want to be in any longer. Which is fine because it does let the other person know you at least respect her enough to say what’s up and also that you valued the time you did have together.

When your friend blows you off that you have known and shared things with, the experience is just so, so bad. For me, it’s that feeling that I’ve been thrown away, that the time we shared together didn’t matter at all. That’s what hurts so much about the unending, and Pryor is really careful to address that. Sometimes friendships can’t/shouldn’t be saved, and that’s okay. But just basically deserting someone? Not cool. Not cool at all. Especially when, if it were a man/romantic partner, there would have been all of this talking about/through it. And, yes, I know it’s different when you’re sleeping with someone, but still. That dude could treat you like crap, and he would still get more than your friend that was there with you through it all got. And that just ain’t right.

“But when you’ve really made a friend, you know, an intimiate, someone you’ve shared all your stuff with, someone who really knows you in and out…one might say the ending deserves some words, some explanation, or for God’s sake, some acknowledgement.”

I really, really like that Pryor ends on this note, so I will, too:

May you always remember the joy and contentment that your women friends bring to your life, and the honor that deserves.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye

Now, I thought. Now is when I introduce myself as Liz Sweet, clear this whole thing up. […] But for some reason, standing there, I couldn’t. Because despite my best efforts otherwise, Mclean already had a story here. […] She was not the same Mclean I’d been for the first fourteen years of my life. But she was Mclean. And not even a new name could change that, now.

So, in case it’s not obvious from the breakout quote there, Mclean Sweet (the main character in What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen) likes to change her name with every new town she moves to. Not only her name, but her persona. And she has moved A LOT in the past two years because her mom does something super scandalous that makes Mclean (a) want to flee and (b) want to try being someone different.

What I Liked
– I love Dessen’s writing style. She manages to be reflective and immediate all at once. Even though she writes with that sort of adult distance, the book still reads like an authentic teen experience. At times, though, I did feel as though Mclean sounded too grown-up, but the character is world weary, so it works.

– I actually liked the love interest. He isn’t damaged or broken, and it’s refreshing, especially after the last few. Also, he’s smart! I love smart characters.

– Speaking of smart, oh my gosh, I love Deb so much. I wish she were the star of her own book. DEB. I love you.

– All of the characters are great, really. I liked Mclean a lot. I thought she really epitomized the trauma of divorce and how confusing it can be. Also, there’s this great bit where she’s trying to remain loyal to her dad because he was the one wronged, and he tells her that it’s okay for her to want to spend time with her mom. Just…great stuff all around there.

– In fact, I enjoyed the relationship between Mclean and her dad as well as the complicated nature of Mclean’s relationship with her mom. We are talking season one and season two levels of Gilmore Girls writing here with the framework of complicated parent-child relationships. (If you haven’t seen the first two seasons of Gilmore Girls, I recommend you check it out.) That whole air of wanting things to be better than they are, but understanding that they can’t be and also understanding the frustration/desire that comes from all sides? Man. That is some good stuff. And Dessen delivers it here in spades.

– The setting is great. Between the beach and the restaurant, each place has its own feel and energy.

– It also amuses me that the kids in the past couple of books have been the same age as Dessen’s daughter. First, the couple planning the pregnancy. Then, the screaming baby. Now, the toddlers. Kindergarten or preschool next, I’m guessing.

What I Didn’t Like
– There was not enough Deb. Did I mention I love her? I love her.

In conclusion: This is a great read with great characters and an A+ conflict.

Support Your Local Library: 23/30; YA Reading Challenge: 15/20

Book Review: Jazz in Love

I’d lost my parents’ trust and disappointed them in some pretty major ways. But whatever I’d broken needed to be broken. It wasn’t real. Now, my parents saw the true me–a combination of Jazz and Jassy and Jazzy and Baby J.–not the ideal Jassy they’d etched in their minds.

Jazz, the main character in Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger, is a Sikh Punjabi good girl who does everything right and has a secret love of romance novels. And boys. Romance novels and boys are, unfortunately, forbidden for Jazz. So much so that when she’s caught hugging her best (male) friend Jeeves good-bye on the street where anybody in the world can see, her parents decide she must participate in Guided Dating, so they can make sure she’s dating an appropriate Indian boy.

What I Liked

– I liked Jazz a lot. It’s hard sometimes to tell the story of a good girl who goes off the rails without making her too too, but I thought Jazz’s slow downward spiral (if you want to call it that) was believable and authentic. It makes sense that she would start lying to her parents and not be able to stop.

– The subplot with Auntie Kinder and her long lost sweetheart was super cute and sweet. It was also fairly unpredictable.

– I really loved all of Jazz’s interactions with Jeeves. It’s obvious why the two of them are friends and maintain such a great friendship.

– This is a fast-paced and fun read.

What I Didn’t Like

– I felt there was a lot of stuff left unexplored, especially the relationship between Jazz and Tyler R. There’s one particular thing that happens between them that we never get any follow up on (for those who have read the book: it’s after she meets his parents), and I thought it was pretty major and deserved some real attention from Meminger.

– I don’t get a real sense of Jazz’s parents, and I really couldn’t tell Cindy’s sisters apart. Basically, I would have liked the supporting players to be a little more fleshed out. Not that Cindy’s sisters matter all that much, but more of Jazz’s parents would have been really good.  I feel like even Tyler R. was pretty flat, even though it makes sense because he’s a lust object. The only players in her life that I felt had real depth were Jeeves and Auntie Kinder. I don’t know if the story necessarily needed it, but I did, so.

In conclusion: Nice, fast read. Perfect for the beach or pool this summer. The romance(s) really keep the plot moving along as do some of the wacky choices Jazz makes.

Support Your Local Library: 22/30; YA Reading Challenge 14/20; POC: 12/15

Book Review: I Saw You…

I picked up I Saw You…: Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections edited by Julia Wertz for two reasons. (1) The cover is cute. (2) I love the idea of authors/artists creating stories from want ads or Craigslist missed connections or, well, anything like that. It just appeals to me. I was really interested to see what different ideas the artists would come up with to explain the people who placed the ads and the people who inspired them.

As for the book, it’s basically like picking up any short story collection. There are some hits and misses, some stories and ideas I just don’t get. Some of the artwork appealed to me and some of it didn’t. As a project it was exciting and inspiring. As a read, it was okay.

And, if I’m being honest, I was also expecting longer entries. Some were a nice length, but most were essentially comic strips. (I don’t know why I expected longer. I mean, it is a collection of short comics. But I just did.)

All of that said, if you’re interested in storytelling and POV and all of that fun writing stuff that comes when different people are given similar prompts, then it is a fascinating read.

 by Julia Wertz

Support Your Local Library: 20/30; Graphic Novels: 4/10