Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking NormalFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

Something is hiding in my childhood. Something Off.

This book literally scared me. I had foreseen Faking Normal having many possible effects on me but fear really wasn’t one of them. And the worst part? This book doesn’t have any monsters in the traditional sense. No demons or things that go bump in the night. Not even any serial killers or psychopaths. The scary things in this book are the memories that people forget over time. The kind of memories we push below the surface and force ourselves to hide away. What don’t we remember from our early childhoods? What horrors did our minds automatically repress to shelter us from dealing with reality? Why are we like we are – could there be an answer hidden deep inside us, a long-forgotten memory that haunts us subconsciously?

There are so many books about sexual abuse in its various ugly forms. I’ll be honest and say I imagined this book would be yet another poor version of Speak. The two do have many similarities: both are about teenage girls who feel unable to talk about their horrific experience. They both have a lot to deal with internally as well as externally and the ultimate theme of both is about gaining an understanding of why many victims feel unable to report what has happened. But, that being said, Alexi’s story felt fresh and unique. The author’s approach to the subject was different from Anderson’s and touched upon elements of child psychology as well. The two girls’ reasons for not reporting the crimes also differ.

Then there’s the other part of this story.

You know, if you’d asked me to draw my perfect guy as a kid, I would have drawn you a cliche. He would have been a stereotype: tall, white (or orange crayon most likely), dark hair, good-looking in a generic way. But we learn as we get older that fantasies don’t hold up in reality. We never want the person we thought we would and we never ever want the person who the world thinks we should. From the heavy metal-loving loner who I watched anime with in high school, to the only Pakistani guy who talked to me in English at the fast food place where I got my first job, to the nerdy guy with the glasses who gave me his copy of Crime and Punishment to read in college. The cliched fantasy is never what we want or need. The person we want in the end is the one we want for all the reasons you can’t draw on paper. And that’s what Alexi Littrell starts to realise in this story.

I do have criticisms and the book might have got five stars otherwise. There was some casual slut-shaming that annoyed me with the character of Maggie playing the role of the throwaway “slutty” girl who is the butt of many jokes. One thought of Alexi’s is: “it’s too cruel to tell Maggie her dating practices don’t lead to roses”, because she’s apparently been around a bit. She also deserves to be used and her feelings are not considered. This is a conversation that’s had when Heather’s boyfriend cheated with Maggie:

“Maggie. But she… why would he do that?”
I give her a look. “Maggie, Heather. She was there,” I say.

It was just such an unnecessary addition to an otherwise really good novel. One thing I will say and I think it’s important to note, I was a little confused about the use of the word “rape” in this novel for a large part of it, but my questions were answered in the end. For once I would say stick with it if you’re unsure. This is a very real spoiler, please do not click unless you’ve read the book: (view spoiler)

The term irritates me, but this novel is very much a coming-of-age tale. It’s about leaving fantasy behind and facing reality. Facing the truth. Facing your fears. And growing up. There are many mysteries to be solved in this book and each revelation is like leaving a little bit of childhood behind. It’s incredibly powerful. And sad. You should read it.

The Seers by Julianna Scott

The Seers (Holders, #2)The Seers by Julianna Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

After finishing this sequel to
The Holders
, I still maintain that this is a massively underrated series. It has a Harry Potter meets X-men vibe but will specifically appeal to teen girls/young women the most. The story itself is not entirely unfamiliar but Scott puts her own unique spin on paranormal boarding schools, superpowers and teen romance. It’s fast-paced, funny, a little creepy at times, but certainly always entertaining and addictive. For the first time in what feels like forever, I find myself wanting a YA paranormal series to never end.

Becca returns in full-force with her sarcastic humour making the narrative sparkle on each page. In short: I like her. But I need to say more than that too. She’s realistically flawed, brave without being ridiculously so, willing to fight for the ones she cares about and a perfect balance of heroine and insecure teenage girl. I have one main criticism of this series and that’s that no other female character is anywhere near as developed as she is. Chloe (Becca’s friend) is inoffensive but pales in comparison next to the depth of Becca’s personality – something that I hope will sort itself out in the next book. And the new character of Shannon is also entirely one-dimensional. I appreciate that the rules of the magic in this book make the main players male but I’d ideally like to see more from other female characters in future.

In this sequel, the story picks up not long after we left off. I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers for the first book as much as possible. The last book left us with one clue as to how Becca could defeat the power-crazy Darragh and save not only Holders but possibly the whole of humanity… Ciaran Shea. But how and if he will help still remains a mystery as Becca, Jocelyn, Alex and Cormac take a trip to Adare Manor and find themselves amid the bitchiness and pomposity of Holder aristocracy. However, Ciaran won’t be easy to find and Adare Manor appears to hold some dark secrets of its own – it seems that Becca and Jocelyn might not be the only ones interested in the information they seek. The main question becomes who to trust in this race for the truth.

Sound exciting? It is!

Though, perhaps what I love most about all of this is Alex. As far as YA paranormal love interests go, he easily has to be one of the best. I mean… he blushes. He’s sweet and considerate but doesn’t treat Becca like a baby. The two of them support one another and – apart from a couple of mild instances to keep the tension going – they are refreshingly free from drama. Plus, I like the maturity of their relationship and the way the sexual side is handled in this book. Scott doesn’t attempt to pretend teen hormones don’t exist and introduces that side of their relationship gradually but realistically. They’re easy to root for and easy to love because this book isn’t primarily about romance and its dramatics. Love is present constantly in the background, but there are more pressing issues to deal with and the author never loses sight of this.

The ending of this book is shocking and sad but leaves a little room for hope too. I honestly don’t know how certain issues are going to be resolved or if they even will be. Ms Scott is just a little bit evil – you never know what kind of hell she’ll be willing to put you through.

But I can’t wait to find out.

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

The Waking DarkThe Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I think it’s time to admit a sad truth: me and Robin Wasserman are simply not meant for one another. It’s tragic to have to acknowledge this when most of my GR friends seem to be in the middle of some epic love affair with her books. But I had my problems with The Book of Blood and Shadow – I tried my best to love it but felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall – and even this latest venture into the world of creepy horror and general mindfuckery couldn’t convince me to join the fan club. I don’t think it’ll be easy to explain why, because I do believe Wasserman is a strong writer on many levels… but I’ll do what I can.

Things always start good between us. I open the book and find myself immediately transported into the time and place where the story finds its setting. The author is a master of atmosphere – whether it be the dark, secretive streets of Prague or a creepy little American town that is evidently plagued by something more monstrous than we can even imagine. Her writing is solid and beautifully descriptive. Her characters are complex, driven by emotions that simultaneously scare us and earn our understanding. If you’re like me, then you begin a Wasserman novel believing it’s going to wind up on your all time favourites list. And then something starts to happen. I begin to notice it about a quarter of the way in and become sure of it by the time I’ve read a third of the book.

The descriptive style that was oh-so-lovely at the beginning becomes tiring. The in-depth exploration of the characters which you thought was really clever before starts to hurt your brain. “Plot!” I feel myself screaming “Where are you?” The writing style weighs down each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter and makes the story drag. The author spends SO MUCH time creating a setting and an atmosphere before the story starts to progress. She spends so much time building a complex portrait of the characters before any answers start to be given. And some of you will love this. I know some of you already do and, believe me, I can see why. But I like my stories as much as I like my characters and writing. There’s really only so long I can go without one. I personally prefer novels that integrate character development and atmosphere building with the main plotline, not those that set it all up at the beginning and only then proceed to tell a story.

I want to stress that my feelings towards books like this portrays my own personal dislike for novels that are told in a certain way. It’s affected my enjoyment of almost universally liked books such as The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. For that reason, you should probably disregard this review if you’re a fan of really creepy, small town horror stories. Wasserman owns the creepy in this story. I truly admire her for not easing up on the grit, gore and adult themes just because she’s writing for young adults – she’s not afraid to go there and, for me, that’s a big compliment to give to any author.