Friday, May 18, 2018

Contemporary Fiction: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Many will recognize today's book as the most recent selection for Oprah's Book Club. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones explores the life of two newlyweds whose young marriage is struck by tragedy. Now they must navigate the consequences of a situation they did not create, and do their best to hold themselves and their marriage together.

The Situation: Roy and Celestial are married only a year and a half when they are suddenly, and brutally, forced to be apart. During a visit to Roy's hometown, he is falsely accused of a crime and ends up being sentenced to 12 years in prison. It is a devastating blow to their young marriage, which was certainly not perfect, but they were making it work. With him in Louisiana, and her back at home in Atlanta where she is a successful up and coming artist, the two write each other letters (not emails) to stay connected in between visits. It is not easy of course, especially when the letters turn to more difficult matters such as Roy's desire to have children; the opinions of both of their parents; the continued efforts of Celestial's uncle for Roy's release; and the closeness of her best friend Andre, something Roy has never been completely at ease with. Twelve years is a long time, and at about three years in, Celestial says she cannot do it anymore and stops visiting and writing, leaving Roy feeling more lost and alone than ever.

The Problem: What is supposed to make Roy's life better ends up being the thing that makes everything more complicated for everyone. When Celestial's uncle manages to get Roy's conviction overturned, he is set free seven years early, but the only person that seems ready for him to come home is his father. And though Celestial may have formally ended things two years before, she never sent Roy divorce papers, something he manages to hold onto as a hope that he can still save his marriage. But he does not know that she has moved on, having found comfort in her best friend, a relationship that no one seems to approve of but them. The confrontation between Roy and Celestial is inevitable, and everyone will have some serious decisions to make. And as the story slowly moves toward this interaction, the big question becomes whether these two will stay together, or if simply too much time has passed. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set mostly in present day southern U.S. Roy is from a small town in Louisiana called Eloe, while Celestial is from Atlanta. The narrative is split almost evenly between the two states as Roy's parents still live in Eloe, and this is also the state where he will end up being incarcerated, while Celestial stays in their home in Atlanta, the city where she grew up. Of course, the plot line involves a black man being falsely accused of a heinous crime and consequently sentenced to twelve years in prison, something that happens more often in this country than anyone cares to think about. The time in prison causes Roy to lose his freedom, his job as a promising executive, his sense of who he is, and finally, his wife and what could be their growing family. But the book does not dwell too much on that stuff, though it is there. The real issue involves where Roy and Celestial's marriage stands once he is released. She told him she was done with their relationship, but never drew up divorce papers. And when she comes face to face with the early release of the man who is still her husband, Celestial's fierce independence almost evaporates when she must reconcile herself between the man she married, and the man who has been there for her since Roy was sent to jail. It is not a cut and dry situation, no matter how much anyone tries to claim it is. If anything, it is an issue created by terrible circumstances, and now Roy and Celestial have to deal with it.

My Verdict: This is a book that is well-written, but hard to read. The characters are often unlikable, but still interesting and relatable. And the situation seems hopeless at many different points, but I still found myself turning the page, wanting everything to work out. Jones presents a situation with no easy solution, but it is incredibly easy for everyone except Roy and Celestial to say what needs to happen. And while I appreciate the complexity of the issue, I had a hard time with Celestial's willingness to take a back seat when dealing with the ensuing conflict. Before Roy went to prison, she seemed brave, independent, and outspoken. But when faced with a difficult decision, she becomes passive and quiet, and hopeful that someone else will take care of it for her. What Jones does so well is write the situation in a way so that no one is presented as the villain or the hero. These are simply two flawed people who attempted to start a life together before things went horribly wrong. Ultimately, it is a problem that none of these characters created, which is what makes the whole thing that much more cruel.        

Favorite Moment: This may be a bit of a no brainer, but I pick when Celestial's uncle is able to get Roy's conviction overturned and he is subsequently released.

Favorite Character: Big Roy is a man who adopted another man's son as his own, and gave him not only his last name, but his first name as well. He is also a man who took on the task of burying his own wife, despite professional gravediggers standing by.

Favorite Quote: "I respect his ambition; I had mine. But you don't want to spend the rest of your life with a man who has something to prove." - Celestial's father before she married Roy. 

Recommended Reading: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward tells a different kind of story also about a southern family torn apart when one spouse is incarcerated.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I am once again extremely late to the party for a YA series that many have been excited about since the first book came out in November 2016. Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) is the first in what will be a three-book series by Neal Shusterman. The second book, Thunderhead, already came out earlier this year and will be making a DSN appearance in June for YA Fest. My explanation for just now getting to this book is simple: I avoided it. I read the synopsis, and decided that it would be too much for me. But then I saw that Shusterman was scheduled to appear at the 6th Annual San Antonio Book Festival, and after hearing him speak, I felt like he was the kind of writer I could trust. 

The Situation: It is the distant future, though no one knows exactly how distant, as the human race lost the need to number the years once death ceased to be a natural thing. There is no more hunger, or disease, or war, or misery; everyone can live forever. Of course, if everyone did live forever, while more people are still being born, Earth would become desperately overcrowded, so the Scythedom was created. With every need they could possibly have taken care of, and death taken almost completely out of the equation, humans fear very little and are not motivated to do much. The only exception is when a Scythe is spotted in the vicinity, as anyone can be gleaned at any moment, including children.  The Scythes are the only people allowed to "glean" other humans as a means of population control. Those who are picked for the job are chosen carefully, and must undergo a year of training and several tests before they are ordained. This year, Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch are two of the newest apprentices.

The Problem: To be chosen to study under the Honorable Scythe Farady is no small thing. Though neither Citra nor Rowan had any previous desire to be a Scythe, such an aversion actually makes them a suitable choice, and having Scythe Farady as their mentor certainly works in their favor. Unfortunately, even the Scythedom is not immune to the petty politics of an organization run by humans, and those who wish to cause trouble decide to object to Scythe Faraday having two apprentices instead of one. The discussion ends with Citra and Rowan's apprenticeship being tagged with a critical stipulation, one that will be upheld despite it being unprecedented and unnecessary. Training to essentially become an expert in taking life is hard enough, but now the two pupils must compete against each other for their very lives.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in a future where years are no longer numbered, but instead are named after animals. People can now live forever, unless a Scythe gleans them, and they are ruled only by Thunderhead, which is essentially what we know of as the Cloud, but much more powerful. Technology has finally achieved the sentience that science fiction writers had warned us about, only Thunderhead is not evil and has no desire to turn against us, or use us for its own aims. It provides everything we could ever need, and this goes beyond simple clothing, shelter, and food. Thunderhead also holds all knowledge, and has made it easily accessible to anyone who wishes to know...well...anything. The only thing Thunderhead stays away from is the Scythedom, who live by their own rules and govern themselves. If a Scythe appears to be showing bias, either in their gleaning or in their granting of immunity, they are punished as the Scythedom sees fit. It is not a perfect system, and removing death as a primary threat has not made for a perfect society. Most things that humans do are useless and unnecessary endeavors, as Thunderhead can provide anything ever needed. What do humans strive for after everything is given to them? And is someone whose job it is to take life, even in the name of aiding society, anything more than a killer?

My Verdict: I was incredibly afraid that I was going to end up in another Strange the Dreamer type situation where after reading the first book, I had to make the ugly decision not to continue with the second and subsequent ones. But it turns out I was right to feel like I could trust Shusterman after hearing him speak at the San Antonio Book Festival. Make no mistake: this book is intense, and troubling, and it describes a world that honestly disturbs me. Given a choice between the world I know and the one Shusterman described where death and disease and war and famine are no longer a thing, I actually find myself choosing my present reality, as messed up as it is. And while the two main characters of Citra and Rowan are thankfully easy on the nerves as well as easy to root for, the trials they go through are nerve-wracking and brutal and painful and sometimes cruel. Even so, this is a great book and another wonderful addition to the dystopian YA collection.

Favorite Moment: The word "favorite" does not really fit how I feel about this scene, but it is certainly the one that sticks out in my mind the most and had the biggest effect on me. There is a moment early on in the book where a man sitting in an airplane, waiting for take-off, sees a group of Scythes walk onto the plane. Only when he notices one of the stewardesses running away from the plane does he begin to understand what is happening. 

Favorite Character: Scythe Faraday is a character in the tradition of Atticus Finch or Jean Val Jean, or even Gandalf. His mere presence makes you feel as if everything is going to be okay. 

Recommended Reading: Speculative fiction is fun. Or at least it can be. I recommend Nnedi Okorafor's Binti series as a follow-up.        

Friday, May 4, 2018

Historical Fiction: An Ill-Fated Sky by Darrell Drake

Today's post will cover An Ill-Fated Sky, the second book in the A Star-Reckoner's Legacy series by Darrell Drake. Last year I was given the pleasure of reading and posting about the first book, A Star-Reckoner's Lot, where readers first met Ashtadukht, her cousin Tirdad, and their half-human/half-div traveling companion, Waray. Now we follow the latter two on another journey across various lands of the Sassanian Empire in a quest for answers and revenge. Naturally, I must issue a serious spoiler alert for anyone who has not read the first book.

The Situation: To say that Tirdad is filled with guilt after what he did to Ashtadukht would be an understatement. He has plenty of reasons at his disposal that he could use for justifying what happened. In the end however, he is only left with guilt and sadness. When Tirdad becomes cursed by the very sword he used to kill his cousin, he also inherits her planet-reckoning powers, and gains insight into what led her to do what she did. Now Tirdad's guilt and sadness are joined by anger and revenge. Fortunately for him, his old half-human/half-div traveling companion, Waray, is up for another adventure. She may be as cryptic and violent as ever, but she is also helpful, and knows how to wield an axe when it is needed most.

The Problem: Learning the truth behind what really happened to Ashtadukht, and what really caused the fall of Tirdad's House will not be easy. For one, he is not a young man anymore. And two, learning the truth and possibly getting revenge means hunting down star-reckoners in a land filled with kingdoms at war with each other, and ill-meaning divs who think nothing of causing trouble and ending lives. Also, traveling with half-human/half-div Shkarag (Waray's true identity) often proves challenging. She can be enough trouble on her own, but it does not help that other humans are wary of her mere presence. If Tirdad is to find out what he wants to know, and take the revenge he feels Ashtadukht is owed, it will be more than a simple matter of finding the people responsible and making them pay. He must first manage to stay alive that long, but he also must not allow himself to be consumed by the same anger and hatred that Ashtadukht fell victim to. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction/fantasy novel that, just like the first book, is once again set during the Sassanian Empire of what is now Iran. The story picks up after the events of the first one, with Ashtadukht's unfortunate death still fresh in Tirdad's mind, especially since he was the one who caused it. Up to this point in Tirdad's life, honor has been incredibly important. But can the thing that caused him to take the life of a family member really be all that great? Especially when his House would end up ruined as a result? Tirdad is ready to be done with honor and the past altogether, but fate has decided to bind him to his dead cousin, her powers, even her memories, and her dangerous thirst for revenge. If there is anything that helps him hold it together it is the presence of Shkarag, though she has issues all her own. Just as in the previous book, trust between humans and divs (even half-divs) is a tricky thing. Though Tirdad and Shkarag become close, he still does not know everything about her. And one thing about Shkarag is that there is always more to her than what she chooses to reveal, and she knows more than she would ever tell, even in her own cryptic way. Much like the first book, this one is filled with adventure, strange creatures, and epic battle scenes, all against the backdrop of the Sassanian Empire.

My Verdict: I was once again treated to a unique story with incredibly vivid and often terrifying creatures and characters, some of which don't even stay dead after they have been killed. And though Ashtadukht is dead, she still makes the occasional appearance in the way of memories, feelings, and the sword that Tirdad must carry. She is the invisible third character in a journey that is clearly going to be tough, but entertaining. What Drake does so well is making it clear that there is more to the journey than what Tirdad sees, but this truth is not revealed in any obvious way. It is the subtle sense of unease that comes from almost every conversation and encounter that tells the reader that things are not as Tirdad wants to believe them to be. It is another successful blend of historical fiction and fantasy, with an adventure that will keep any reader entertained. 

Favorite Moment: Any moment when Tirdad is shown that he knows very little in the grand scheme of things, and there is a lot of them.

Favorite Character: Chobin is the kind of friend that we all need to help us not take ourselves too seriously all of the time.

Recommended Reading:  The Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor is also full of strange creatures and epic adventures.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Historical Fiction: Noir by Christopher Moore

A new Christopher Moore novel is always a welcome sight. When reading one of his books, you know you are in for a fun ride with more than a few twists and turns, and with plenty of off-beat characters and witty dialogue. So when Noir came out a little over a week ago, I did my best to get it onto DSN as soon as possible.

The Situation: Sammy "Two Toes" Tiffin tends bar at Sal's in San Francisco. Though his boss, the aforementioned Sal, was nice enough to give Sammy a job after World War II when jobs were in short supply, the two men do not much care for each other. And since Sal knows the truth about Sammy's past, he decides to make his employee do his dirty work when he agrees to do a favor for an Air Force General. The timing could not be worse though as Sammy has just fallen head over heels for a woman ("Yeah, a dame, that's how it starts..."). And miracle of miracles, Stilton (like the English cheese) seems to like Sammy too. If he can manage to not screw anything up, and pull off the favor for Sal, he will be able to keep his job and have the woman of his dreams. 

The Problem: Of course Sammy manages to screw it up, and it seems Stilton is done with him when contact stops and she is not at her job or her apartment. But this becomes only one of his problems when the local racist cop gets in a scuffle with one of Sammy's black friends, and a deadly snake, whose shipping crate was addressed to Sammy, is set loose on the city. Add in a government cover-up, a creepy cult, a foul-mouthed kid, and the eccentric uncle of a friend who is far to eager to result to murder, and Sammy has a situation on his hands that will require every colorful character he knows and their particular set of skills. 

Genre, Theme, History: This is a historical fiction novel, set in San Francisco in 1947, that is more often put under the category of humor than anything else. Moore is known for taking real events and people and putting them into unique and hilarious situations of his own creation. And with this book, he has it all done in the vein of the noir genre. Many of the characters, though fictional, are based off of real people that Moore either read about, or knew at some point in his life. There was a racist cop who was known for his intention of keeping the population San Francisco as white as possible. And the character of Thelonius Jones, a giant but soft-hearted black man, is based on someone Moore knew as a child. And because this story is set in 1940s America, racism and sexism abounds. From the various pet names that men insist on calling women (lots of "toots" and "doll"), to Sal's insistence that one of Sammy's friends is not welcome in his bar due to him being Japanese (and he's actually Chinese), some of the dialogue and descriptions in the novel will perhaps make many people cringe. But Moore makes sure to warn the reader beforehand, and it becomes clear throughout the novel that this is not behavior condoned by the author.

My Verdict: The intricate plot line is there, as are the diverse characters with various quirks, and the quick-witted and sometimes hard-to-follow dialogue. Yep, it's a Moore book alright, and yet there were often parts of it that I found to be a bit boring. Perhaps it was the narration which was sometimes told from Sammy's point of view, and other times by a narrator who went unknown until about midway through the book. Or it could have been the complicated plot. Or it could have been because there were many moments where an interesting character and their situation was introduced, only for the story to quickly move on to something else, forcing the reader to leave the new and interesting character behind for a something less dynamic. It is funny, it is entertaining, and it certainly has enough going on, but even so, certain parts lagged, while others felt forced and/or rushed. Either way, still worth checking out, especially for those with an affinity for the noir genre.  

Favorite Moment: When Thelonius Jones reveals Sammy's nickname of "snowflake."

Favorite Character: Moore gives Thelonius Jones an incredible backstory as well as a heart of gold. He loves his mother, as well as her cooking, and uses his incredible strength and size to look out for his friends. 

Recommended Reading: I still need to visit a lot of Moore's earlier work, but I recommend The Serpent of Venice, which is currently my favorite book by the author.        

Friday, April 20, 2018

Graphic Novel: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Every year, there are books that simply get away from me, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui was certainly one of them for 2017. I am always on the lookout for more graphic novels, or in this case graphic memoirs, to read and make space for on this blog. It is a format I would like to become more familiar with, and I always get excited whenever I do find one I can fit in. Today's selection was no exception as I was excited to explore Bui's story as an immigrant from Vietnam attempting to find her place, along with her family, here in the United States.

Genre, Themes, History: As mentioned, this is a memoir presented in the graphic novel format. Bui tells the story of her parents and their journey from war-torn Vietnam, to their new lives in California. The story actually opens up as Bui prepares to give birth to her son, with her mother and her husband by her side. Suddenly she is struck with the sense of now being the parent, even though she still feels like the child who came to America so many years ago. Bui then moves backwards, beginning with her younger brother, and talks about the birth of all of her siblings, even the two sisters that did not survive. She then jumps to when her father was a young man in Vietnam, and begins to tell the complete story: how he grew up in a country constantly in turmoil; how he ended up being raised by his grandfather; how he met Bui's mother; and ultimately, how they got themselves and their four children to America. Bui did not initially choose the graphic novel format. When she first wrote the story down she felt it to be too academic. She wanted to present a history that was relatable and not oversimplified. Though choosing the graphic novel format meant having to learn a completely different medium, she pushed forward anyway. The final product is more than a story about immigration. It is about Vietnam; the importance of home; the importance of family; the expectations we put on ourselves and each other; and what it means to sacrifice for those we love.

My Verdict: This is everything I hoped it would be. It is a moving and intriguing story that beautifully, and sometimes tragically, details the events that led Bui to write this memoir. The narrative is easy to follow, and the art gives the book a somber feeling, even on the better moments of the family's history. And while Bui tells her family's story, she also talks about how difficult even attempting such a thing can be. Talking to each parent separately as well as together, Bui ran into several challenges when trying to put the whole story together. Admitting to even those trials lends the whole thing a sense of honesty that is necessary in a book like this. It is certainly a different approach to this type of story and Bui pulls it off extremely well.

Favorite Moment: When Bui's mother and father are able to use their limited English to help other refugees make their way through the airport.

Recommended Reading: For more graphic novel goodness, I recommend the adaptation of the novel Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.

 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nonfiction: Educated by Tara Westover

I received Tara Westover's Educated as part of a giveaway on Goodreads. Although it was already on my to-read list, all book lovers know how easily that list gets out of hand, and sometimes great titles can still be overlooked. Receiving it for free from my favorite book website simply helped guarantee it a spot on this blog. And its focus on a young girl from a survivalist family who does not step foot in a formal classroom until she is 17 is what garnered my interest in the first place. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book, more specifically a memoir, in which Westover talks about her life and how it was shaped by her family and their belief's, as well as the effects of her father's mental illness. Westover grew up on a mountainside in Idaho, and was raised by Mormon parents who did not believe in public education, government assistance, or modern medicine. Her father firmly believed that to visit a doctor was to turn against the Lord, and even worse than someone who saw doctors was someone who tried homeopathic remedies, while also visiting doctors to seek their opinion. It was either one or the other. So Tara would grow up more or less homeschooled before acquiring admittance into Brigham Young University at the age of 17. She would eventually go on to receive a PhD from Cambridge, just as the book jacket says, but that is not really the point of the book, or even the point about education. It would take years, and much counseling, before Westover would realize that the education she missed out on was the ability to own her own memories, reality, and identity. Sure, she would not hear about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement until college, but she also would be made to question her own memory of tragic and abusive events in her life, and the part some of her family member's played in that tragedy and abuse.  

My Verdict: This book had everything that a memoir should. It was honest; it was interesting; it offered a different look at life that we usually do not get to see; and it was filled with doubts over the author's memories, yet filled with a certainty that not only did those things happen, but they had an effect that some may want to deny, but they are only lying to themselves if they do. Be warned though: This book will infuriate many, trigger some, and cause great heartache for a fair amount of readers. It is a reminder that the people closest to us sometimes hurt us the most, and then they will claim it was for our own good. It is also a reminder that healing rarely comes quickly, and that education is a life-long journey, not a destination, and certainly not something contained within a school. Well-written and hard to put down, Educated is even more fascinating than the book jacket suggests. 

Favorite Moment: Any moment when someone in authority, whether it was a religious figure, a counselor, or a school administrator, exhibits faith in Westover's abilities and intelligence, whereas her father would do what he could to keep her at home working for him, and her mother would only mumble in agreement.

Favorite Quote: "I had started on a path of awareness, had perceived something elemental about my brother, my father, myself. I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others - because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward." - Westover on her brother's casual use of the word "nigger" as an insult, after learning in class what the word actually represents.  

Recommended Reading: While Educated is mostly set in Idaho where Westover grew up, Ruth Wariner's story as told in The Sound of Gravel takes place in Mexico, where she also grew up in a Mormon household in an environment of abuse and control.   

Friday, April 6, 2018

Young Adult Fiction: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is one of the many young adult books from 2017 that I missed and am now circling back to. Thanks to my annual trip to BookPeople in Austin, Texas on Christmas Day, I finally snagged myself a copy and gave it a place on this blog. There is of course the usual excitement of potentially discovering a new favorite YA author, but also, the premise alone sounds pretty amazing, and I was ready to root for a shy, creative, and awkward protagonist.

The Situation: Eliza Mirk is a high school senior in Westcliff, Indiana, and she hates it. High school that is. Actually, she is not all the fond of Westcliff either. And the best thing about being a senior is it means high school is almost over. Eliza does not have a high school crowd, or even a few small friends to eat lunch with. Her two closest friends live far away, and she only interacts with them online. The thing about Eliza is that she is shy, socially inept, a little strange, and the creator of one of the most famous web comics on the Internet, Monstrous Sea. But outside of her family, and her two online friends, no one knows that. And Eliza prefers it that way. Even when the new kid at school turns out to be Monstrous Sea's biggest fanfiction writer - as well as smart, and nice, and kind of cute - Eliza decides to continue to hide who she is.

The Problem: Hanging out with Wallace Warland, or rainmaker as he is known online, comes really easy for Eliza. For one, he is less interested in speaking to people than she is. And two, he loves Monstrous Sea, so they have plenty to talk about, or write to each other about. The longer she hangs out with him, the more she begins to come out of her shell, even attending a few social events and making new friends. Being more of a joiner is something Eliza's super athletic and outgoing parents always wanted for her. Thinking that Monstrous Sea is no more than a little hobby, they would prefer if their daughter stepped away from her computer and phone more often and joined them outside. They are pleased she has made a new friend, but still do not understand her, and she does plenty on her end to keep them in the dark. As long as Eliza maintains the tenuous control she has over her life, she will be able to make it to graduation in one piece. One small change could make her feel unbalanced. And a big one just might cause her to fall apart completely.  

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the fictional small town of Westcliff, Indiana, where Eliza lives with her parents and two little brothers, Sully and Church (named after Ed Sullivan and Winston Churchill, respectively). Eliza is incredibly anti-social, preferring to retreat into the fictional world she created known as Monstrous Sea. Her fans only know her as LadyConstellation, but her moderator Max (Apocalypse_Cow) and the manager of monstroussea.com Emmy (emmersmacks) know her as Eliza (MirkerLurker), the creative and awkward girl who posts pages every Friday that continue the story. Eliza is not like every other teen in that she has a huge online following and prefers drawing, writing, and being online to pretty much everything else in life. But she is like almost every other teen in that she feels like her little brothers hate her, and that her parents just don't understand. Her identity is wrapped up in LadyConstellation and the story she has created, which is somewhat of a problem as she does not let anyone know that she is LadyConstellation, not even Wallace. Eliza comments that the beginning of the comic was her beginning, and that it is her responsibility to continue it. So what happens if it ends? What happens if her secret is found out? What happens if Wallace finds out?

My Verdict: I have to be honest and say that I did not like Eliza for probably the first half of this book. To me, she was a brat. And whiny. And incredibly selfish. I mean this was worse than typical teenage stuff. I can usually feel for the shy, socially awkward, creative type, but she was too much. Ever so slowly though, Wallace helps her to come up for air once in awhile, if only for a little bit at a time. Eventually, I did begin to feel for her, and root for her, and scream on the inside for her whenever things went wrong. And giving her a secret identity as a creator of a popular web comic added a new and fresh dimension to the story. Of course people are different online than they are in real life, but this was something else entirely. We may not all have insanely popular web comics, but everyone can relate to the desire to retreat to a place where we feel understood and cared about. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Sully confronts his parents with what they have done to Eliza and how little they truly know her. I think what is most messed up about this scene is that we know Eliza is the hero, and at this point her parents are the villains. No 13 year-old boy should ever have to yell at his parents about how they do not know his sister.

Favorite Character: I can honestly say I would never have called this at the beginning of the novel, but Sully and Church ended up being my favorites, even though they really aren't in the story all that much.

Recommended Reading: Many aspects of this story remind me of Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, one of my favorite YA books, and certainly my favorite book by Rowell.