THRILLER & GYMNASTICS-INSPIRED READS: YA Mini Reviews

I think half of my reading back in December was dedicated to YA books, including the three books included in today’s mini review round up. One of these books has definitely received so much hype since the authors is a YA thriller favorite, while I’d love to see more hype and love for the last 2 books in today’s reviews!

The Cousins by Karen McManus

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I was craving a YA book early on December and since it was the Bad on Paper Podcast book club pick for December, I decided to pick up Karen McManus’  The Cousins. I’ve only read Karen McManus’ smash hit, One of Us is Lying, back in 2018. It wasn’t my FAVORITE book in the world, but I definitely understood the hype and liked Karen McManus’ writing style. Another YA mystery, The Cousins follows Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story, three cousins whose family has been estranged ever since their grandmother disinherited their parents over twenty years ago. When the cousins receive a letter from their grandmother asking them to work for the family resort for the summer, the three soon find themselves heading to Cape Cod for the season and trying to figure out what went wrong all those years ago. 

The Cousins is such a great thriller to binge read in a day or so this winter. I ultimately read it in three sittings, but if it hadn’t been for final exam season, I so would’ve read it in one go! You know that I love reading YA books with ‘rich kid’ settings, and I really enjoyed getting into the extravagance of the Storys’ lives on a fictional Nantucket meets Martha Vineyard’s inspired island. Although their grandmother and their parents as teens did have pretty privileged lives (we get a few chapters told from the teenage perspective of Milly’s mom), Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah’s lives aren’t exactly as extravagant as their parents used to be. I feel like we got to explore Aubrey and Jonah’s backstories quite well and their own secrets, but I do wish we got some on Milly- the only reason I think why we maybe don’t is because we explore her mom’s story as a teen. I admit I often had to return to the family tree in the beginning of the book because I kept getting their parents/the four siblings confused, since all their names begin with A. I really didn’t know what to expect from the mystery and I did enjoy the way the plot unraveled. It wasn’t the most jaw-dropping ending, but I thought the twists were delivered well and I honestly wouldn’t have guessed the big reveals in the beginning of the book. Will The Cousins be a super memorable read for me? Maybe not, but nevertheless, there’s just something about Karen McManus’ writing style that is so easy to get hooked into that makes The Cousins a fun binge read on a cold day this season. 

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Hannah Orenstein’s Head Over Heels, a gymnastics-inspired contemporary romance, is one my favorite reads of 2020 that left me craving another book about gymnastics. Enter Jennifer Iacopelli’s 2020 release, Break the Fall, a YA book following a fictional group of young women on the USA gymnastics team headed to the 2020 Olympics, until a scandal involving their coaches and one of their teammates threatens their future at the Games. 

Break the Fall tackles the very real reality surrounding sexual assault and other scandals in the competitive gymnastics world. While the main protagonist, Audrey, is not directly involved in the scandals, her teammates’ experiences are obviously very traumatic and affect the entire team’s mentality and relationships. The book well balances these serious discussions while also focusing on Audrey’s preparation for the Games – something she never thought she’d actually experience between the competition and the back injury that almost ended her career. There is a lot of details about the type of moves and gymnastic events Audrey and her teammates perform, and I found myself glued to every paragraph in fear that they would make a wrong move or in anticipation for their final score. The book was so well-written and again balanced the gymnastics scenes with the serious conversations and emotions going through Audrey’s head. There is a slight romance between Audrey and another Olympic hopeful snowboarder, Leo. While I think the story still would’ve been strong without it, their relationship allowed us to see another side of Audrey, especially as she prepares for a life without gymnastics after the Games. Read More »

FEMINISM, HISTORICAL FICTION, & POLITICS: October YA Mini Reviews

This mini review roundup focused on three YA books I’ve picked up over the last few weeks hopefully has something for everyone: a contemporary read about a girl ready to start a feminist revolution in her medieval-themed workplace, a historical fiction read about an aftermath we rarely see in YA, and an all too timely read featuring politics and the environment. 

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars 

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is such a fantastic 2020 young adult release! If you love Jen DeLuca’s contemporary romance, Well Met, and want some ren-inspired YA, this book is for you! Kit works as a waitress, or serving wench, at a medieval-themed dinner-and-show restaurant (think Medieval Times), but longs to become one of the Castle’s Knights, like her older brother. The Knights perform every night, but due to the corporate policy, only men can be Knights. When Kit not-so secretly takes her brother’s place one night, the video of her performance goes viral and Kit and her fellow employees team up to shake things up at the Castle.

The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly’s setting alone makes it such a unique read. Jamie Pacton really nailed the setting and its atmosphere. From the performances to Kit’s wench uniform, this story was so detailed and makes readers feel like they are at the Castle themselves. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly has such fantastic commentary about gender and gender roles, as Kit trys to otherthrow her company’s sexist policies. There was a lot of diverse gender and sexuality representation, and it didn’t feel forced at all. The book also features Kit’s budding romance with her best friend and fellow co-worker, Jett, and her family’s struggle to pay bills and afford college. I find that college, or books with seniors who are about to go to college, feels unrealistic at times in YA books, but I think the author had an honest depiction surrounding Kit being or not being able to afford to go to a four-year school right away. WhileThe Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is overall a fun and really enjoyable read, it had such great & mature discussions surrounding gender, feminism, and growing pains, romance and college planning included. 

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Monica Hesse is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her latest release, They Went Left, was instantly added to my TBR as soon as I learned about it this past spring. I admit that while I still really enjoy historical fiction and now really think about it can be incorporated into the classroom, I am more critical about the genre now after finishing my major in English and minor in Holocaust Studies.

Set in 1945 Germany, They Went Left follows eighteen year old Zofia Lederman, who has recently been liberated from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and heads home to reunite with her younger brother, Abek. Zofia knows that no other member of her family has survived the war, and she is on a quest to find her brother. After coming home to discover that there’s nothing left and Abek has not returned, she goes to a displaced person camp to find her brother. Through her book, Monica Hesse gets at the really important fact that Holocaust survivors’ struggle didn’t end as soon as the war ended and when camps were liberated. In her author’s note at the end, she acknowledges that Zofia’s story was based on the many stories of victims and survivors and their time living in displaced person camps after the war. Zofia is extremely focused on finding her brother, but she also has to think about how and where she is to reclaim her life after having lost everything. What I thought was especially interesting about the book is that Zofia’s memory is understandably very unreliable after her experience, so she struggles to distinguish between what really happened and what hasn’t – which makes it even hard to remember what her last memory of Abek actually was. Like other readers, I wanted more mystery and honestly a more complicated story, but I thought its ending somewhat made-up for its mystery. The book definitely nailed its purpose, but perhaps not its full potential. Nevertheless, like Monica Hesse’s other books, They Went Left is an equally heart-breaking and important read. 

Running by Natalia Sylvester 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I feel like YA contemporary books featuring a parent in a political campaign or who works in politics is such a niche genre but it definitely exists. If you’re like me and you enjoy this sub-genre, I highly recommend The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne, and even My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. These recommendations now include Running by Natalia Sylvester.

I forget how Natalia Sylvester’s Running made its way on to my TBR, but I’m so glad it did. As we get closer and closer to the election next month, I’m thinking we’ll see this book find its way on to more YA contemporary book recommendation lists. Running follows Mari, a Cuban American teen, whose father is a Florida senator and is running to be the democratic candidate for the presidential election. As the election and environmental issues creep more into Mari’s life at school, Mari finds herself actually learning about what her father’s campaign stands for – and figuring out her own beliefs.  

Regardless if the election was this year or not, Running felt like a super timely novel. Mari and her friends are really concerned about how their environment is changing. They live in the Miami area in Florida, which in the book is experiencing flooding and a contaminated water crisis (that I believe was based on real events in 2018). I really enjoyed Running because it focuses on Mari and her relationship with her parents and her friendships – i.e. there’s no romance. Everyone knows I love romance in YA, but it felt so refreshing to not have in there and honestly, I think it would’ve felt forced if it was! I think it would’ve been super interesting if Mari’s dad was the Democratic candidate, but his campaign is just about getting the Democratic nomination. Nevertheless, this book is really about Mari finding her voice and realizing she can be an advocate for change, regardless of who her family is and what they stand for in politics. 

What YA books have you read lately? Have you read any of the ones I reviewed? Share in the comments!