April Book Love

A few book recommendations from the things I read last month!

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus doesn't come out until May 30th, but I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of it from the publishers, and it is a fantastic book. It's billed as "The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars," and that feels like a pretty apt description. A princess, a brain, a jock, and a criminal all end up in detention with the outcast, Simon, the mind behind their school's infamous gossip site. By the end of detention, Simon is dead. Someone in the room must have been involved in his murder. And all of them have secrets that they might have killed to keep.

I genuinely could not put this book down. After something of a reading slump, I devoured it almost in one sitting. It has some dark themes, and some great character psychology, but it's also incredibly readable, and, dare I say it, fun. I got deeply invested in trying to solve the mystery. I grew to care a lot about the characters. I wanted to see what would happen in the future, and know what had happened in the past.

And, when the answer came, I was delighted to find that I'd figured out some of what had happened, but not all of it. The clues were there, and it's definitely possibly to piece them together, but it's a book that makes you feel clever as you read it and solve it, without failing to offer some surprises too.

Honestly, I loved this one. I really, really recommend it!

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr is another advanced copy I was lucky enough to get my hands on, although I'm a bit behind with talking about it, because it came out April 4th. I love Sara Zarr's powerful and painfully real contemporary novels, so I was really eager to pick this one up.

Gem & Dixie is a novel about two sisters, 17-year-old Gem and 14-year-old Dixie, who live with their neglectful mother and haven't seen their father in years. Gem has dedicated her life to protecting her sister, but Dixie resents her for her protection. Gem feels like the unwanted one, the burden, and when a chance appears to run away and leave them all behind for good, she has to figure out if she can abandon her sister, if it means saving herself.

In the end, Gem & Dixie wasn't my favorite book by Sara Zarr. It's very emotional, and very painful to read, but it didn't quite pull me in as much as some of her previous novels. Still, if you're looking for something raw and realistic, you can't go wrong with Zarr's books, Gem & Dixie included.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is just about the most adorable book ever. It's a slice of life contemporary novel, a group of friends over the summer, struggling with growing up. Twins Molly and Cassie have always been inseparable, but when Cassie gets a girlfriend, Molly begins to feel left out. What happens when she and her sister grow up and grow apart? How will she cope with being left behind?

Then answer, Cassie insists, is that Molly needs to stop having meaningless unrequited crushes on boys and actually get a boyfriend. Someone like Cassie's girlfriend's friend Will, for example, a hipster redhead who seems to like Molly. If Molly and Cassie can date best friends, maybe things won't have to change. But then Molly starts developing feelings for completely the wrong guy, her nerdy coworker Reid. He loves Ren Faire and wears Game of Thrones t-shirts, and he definitely doesn't fit in with Cassie's cool new crowd. But maybe Molly doesn't care?

Everything about The Upside of Unrequited just feels so real. The emotions resonate, the dialogue sounds like actual conversation, and the way these characters love and hurt each other is so flawed and relatable. I absolutely devoured this book, and I loved every minute.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was the focus of a lot of conversation in March, but it only came out in the UK a few weeks ago, so I'm a little bit behind. The Hate U Give is a novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about a girl who is the only witness to her friend's murder by police. It's a powerful novel, and a challenging one, at least for this white girl from the north of England. The fact is that African American characters and communities are not frequently represented in mainstream fiction that makes it across the pond, so it was a much bigger leap in perspective for me than I had anticipated -- not in sympathising with the characters, who are all vibrant and flawed and wonderfully portrayed, but in understanding the dialect and slang.

This is an important book, and a painful book, but it's also immensely readable and full of heart. Everyone should read it.

As for books for May, I have a copy of A Court of Wings and Ruin arriving today that I'm admittedly super wary about. I used to loooove Sarah J Maas's books, but Empire of Storms was a hot mess, so... we'll see. I'm hoping it'll be good, but I won't be surprised if it's full of all kinds of misogyny and homophobia in the guise of humor and romance. I've not read any reviews, so we'll see.

I've got a few more advanced copies I need to dive into -- The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander -- and after finishing rereading A Room With a View, I think I'm going to try The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It's definitely a book that a feminist English major should have read before, don't you think?