Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5 stars
I have to preface this book review by explaining my love for Colleen Hoover. So, I don’t usually read books in the actual romance genre. They always feel so shallow and unrealistic and I’m not interested in reading about people that just jump into bed together five seconds after they meet. Colleen Hoover romances, however? They are AMAZING. I’m not even sure if her books are usually categorized as romances. A lot of them might tread into YA waters. But intense YA. Very romantic YA. But the characters are always written so well. They have flaws, they have hopes, they are fleshed out and easy to identify with, no matter their story. And when they get together with the other love interest? Actual sparks will fly. Hoover writes love scenes that are so tantalizingly delicious without being corny and cliche. Bottom line? Read her books. ALL OF THEM. I don’t think I’ve ever rated any of her books below a 4.5. And I’m pretty stingy with my 5 star ratings! Slammed is the first one I read and still my absolute favorite. November 9 was another very memorable one. But they’re all fantastic. Read them.
Okay, all that being said – Without Merit isn’t actually a romance book. I was a little thrown off by the amazon description when I realized a few weeks ago she had a new book coming out. But I was sure it would still be a hit no matter what the subject matter, and I was right. This book is about Merit, a 17 year old girl who belongs to a pretty bizarre family. She lives with her dad, her step-mom who she hates, her older brother Utah, twin sister Honor, little half brother Moby, step-uncle who is only a few years older than her Luck, and Honor’s boyfriend, Sagan. Oh, and her agoraphobic mother lives in their basement. The Voss family is full of eccentricities and Merit holds a lot of judgement against all of them. As a person, she’s pretty flawed as you watch her learn to understand that she’s depressed and actually at fault for a lot of their family’s anger and drama. She’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you can also relate to how many times she says things she instantly regrets and has to live with the shame and embarrassment that comes with it.
While the main theme does not revolve around romance, it does exist! At the beginning of the book Sagan (before he lives with them and knows they are twins) mistakes Merit for being Honor and kisses her. This sparks a bit of infatuation on Merit’s part and she has to deal with wanting what she can’t have. Their relationship is one of the driving forces behind the book and what really pushes Merit to see that she needs help.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m never quite sure how I feel about domestic/family life books. They’re not something I’m usually drawn to initially, but I rarely regret actually reading them. I loved all of the characters. I enjoyed watching the family members interact with each other and thought Luck and Sagan’s presence was so essential to making the story great. It was a little hard to understand how a dad who is “doing his best” doesn’t actually have a problem with the way his kids are living. But I like how they begin to resolve their family craziness at the end. I’m definitely recommending this book. And all the rest of her books while you’re at it!
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lucy is the daughter of two parents who spend most of their time traveling overseas for work and pleasure. Owen is the son of a new apartment manager, who is struggling with grief over the death of his mother. They live in the same New York City apartment building and finally meet while stuck in an elevator during a citywide blackout. They have an instant connection and spend the night talking to each other on the roof of their building gazing at the stars. The next day circumstances beyond their control take them apart from each other, but they keep in touch by sending the occasional postcard – an inside joke they have from their overnight conversation.
Throughout the book, Lucy moves all over Europe and Owen moves all over the western states. They drop a postcard to each other every time they move and occasionally write emails. They begin other relationships, but never forget each other. They feel powerfully connected to each other, even though they had so little time to get to know each other.
Overall, I felt like this book had a lot of potential. I loved the beginning when they met and seemed so good for each other. They weren’t living under the best circumstances, but they both made the most of it and looked out for the people in their families. But for so much of the book they were apart! It’s hard to really feel invested and deeply root for characters that never have any interaction. I didn’t see have any of that spark I so often long for in juicy YA romances. I liked the characters, but the book just didn’t hit me where I had hoped.
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
Rating: 3 stars
In this book, 17 year old Sophia is counting down her final days of living in Tokyo before she has to move back to the States after a four year stay. She’s upset about leaving the only friends she’s ever had, but determined to make the most of her final days. Until she finds out Jamie, a boy she knew years before, is on his way back to Tokyo. Jamie and Sophia parted on terrible terms three years ago after a missent text and haven’t spoken since. You travel along with Sophia as she spends full days and nights reliving her best memories of Tokyo and making new ones with her best friends – and Jamie.
It might have something to do with the last book I read also being a countdown to some inevitable tragedy. But I did not enjoy the premise of this book at all. I thought the misunderstanding between Sophia and Jamie that happened when they were only 13 and 14 years old, was a little bit ridiculous. And the way they suddenly jump into a relationship despite how many times Sophia says she hates Jamie, was kind of unbelievable. I liked Jamie. And it was vaguely interesting to learn about their favorite spots around Tokyo. But there were also a lot of allusions to other big topics that were not fully explained. If this book eventually has a sequel, I think I’d like it better.
Overall, Seven Days of You felt pretty mediocre to me. I was interested enough to keep going, but it was not be memorable. Nothing about any of the characters truly sparked my investment. If you’ve been to Tokyo or are interested in it, this might be a fast and fun YA for you. If you’re not, I’d say skip it. There are plenty of better ones out there.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Rating: 3 stars
In this book, people are given calls by a company called Death Cast in the early hours on the day they will die. They’re not told how or what time that day they will die, just that it’s their last day and they should live it to the fullest. This story revolves around Mateo, an 18 year old recluse who lives with his dad, except that his dad has been in the hospital in a coma for the last couple of weeks, and Rufus, a 17 year old who watched his entire family die when their car crashed into the Hudson River four months earlier. After receiving their Death Cast calls, each boy downloads the Last Friend app and eventually find each other and spend their final hours forming a friendship. They have a variety of adventures throughout the day, trying to make it last as long as possible. Rufus helps Mateo come out of his shell of fear and Mateo helps Rufus see his life in color, despite the great loss he suffered watching his family die.
There’s no denying the title of this book. They really do die at the end. And it’s pretty depressing. I understand that the theme of the book is that you should always live each day like it’s your last. Find your people and love them well. Don’t shy away from opportunity and adventure because life is worth living and living well. But I just couldn’t get past how depressing it really was. Not only that these teenagers were about to die, but that so many people in their universe got these calls every single day. Hundreds in just NYC alone? The people that are about to die are called Deckers and the city caters to them in so many ways, because there are so many of them. It’s a little bit terrifying. It’s hard to read this book and not constantly think about what you would do in that situation. It’s supposed to give you a message of hope, but I feel like knowing I could get a call like that any day would absolutely cripple me. Rufus and Mateo definitely form a unique bond as their day goes on and I like that they eventually decide being with their friends on their last day is more important than trying to save them the pain of possibly witnessing their deaths. As one that lived, I’d be so upset not to be given the opportunity to say goodbye and they realized that as well.
Overall, I was not in love with this book. I don’t shy away from sad things, though I prefer books that make me cry tears of happiness. I enjoyed the concept and the characters were mostly interesting. Mateo really spent way too long being cautious and then does a 180 in the middle of the book that felt a little bit unbelievable. But knowing your hours are limited probably does that to a person. It’s a well written and perfectly fine book, but it wasn’t for me.
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Rating: 5 stars
Letters to the Lost epitomizes everything that I adore in a YA novel. The central plot point revolves around two teenagers writing letters (or emails or chats) to each other, without knowing the other person’s identity. While of course also simultaneously having some sort of knowledge of each other in real life. The relationship between them grows deeper on an emotional level while they get to know each other, without some of the extraneous circumstances that come along with surviving the high school life. When done well, these types of books will always bring tears as you become highly attached to the characters and root for their ultimate happy ending.
In this book, Juliet writes letters to her mom that died months earlier in a hit and run accident. A war photographer, Juliet’s mom corresponded most frequently and deeply with her daughter through written letters and Juliet can’t figure out how to give up that connection. She continues to write and leaves the letters at her gravestone. Declan, stuck doing community service for getting drunk and crashing his dad’s car, finds and reads one of her letters while mowing the cemetery. Struck by how deep her words reach his own pain, he responds to her letter. This spurs an angry letter back from Juliet, extremely upset that a stranger has intercepted her deepest thoughts. Declan and Juliet continue to write to each other and eventually set up anonymous email addresses so they can write back and forth more quickly. In the meantime, they form a confusing and hesitant friendship with each other after a couple of rough interactions in their real lives. As you watch the main characters find their way to each other in more ways than one, you become deeply immersed in the different levels of pain they’re each going through and are truly rooting for them each to overcome their pasts and search for a way to make their own paths for the rest of their lives.
Overall, I loved this book. It was definitely on the heavy side. The characters are both dealing with family deaths. Declan struggles with a terrible family life and a step-father who is determined to make him feel absolutely worthless. But there are a host of supporting characters that really show up for both teens in the sweetest ways. Rev, Declan’s best friend, is the kind of friend we all hope to have and be. I loved their friendship as much as I loved what went back and forth between Declan and Juliet. I was also really impressed with how they came to terms with it when they each discovered who the other person was. It didn’t have the crazy teen drama that so many YA books have when things like this happened. It was a great book. It made me cry. And it made me feel a lot of things. I highly recommend reading this one!
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Rating: 2.5 stars
This is the story of two teenage step-siblings (although not legally) who are each dealing with their own bundle of issues. Lion, the older brother, has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is struggling with coming to terms with who he is with or without his medication. Little, the sister a year younger, sees herself as Lion’s greatest confidante which sometimes causes problems in her own world. In order to keep her away from Lion’s downward spiral, their parents send Little to a boarding school across the country where she realizes she might be in love with her roommate. The book picks up the summer after Little’s first year away when the siblings are trying to find their way back to the relationship they used to have, with a whole variety of factors and people that begin to come between them. The entire book is a very realistic portrayal of what it feels like to come of age while also struggling with mental illness and confusing sexuality.
I heard a lot of great things about this book before it was released, but I have to admit I found it rather dull and uninteresting. Little’s obsession around Lion felt uncomfortable to me. The fact that the author made their parents not legally married felt like an opening for the two kids to eventually fall in love with each other. It didn’t happen, but Little was so entirely immersed in Lion’s every move that it felt unavoidable. Throughout the book, Little is constantly referring back to vague things that happened with her roommate Iris, fighting deep attraction to her new co-worker who Lion also is attracted to, and starting a relationship with her long term buddy Emil. There was a lot of emotion going in too many different directions. Which is perhaps why it felt realistic. But maybe also why I didn’t enjoy it very much.
Overall, this book was just okay. I probably wouldn’t recommend it. It won’t have any lasting value in my mind. The subject matter was interesting, but none of the storylines really gripped me the way I had hoped.