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7 Popular YA Books – Reviewed by a Teen

Following my previous blog post, I mentioned some of my favorite books that I read this summer. However, favorites aside, I want to mention a couple other books that I read during this time. Some books that I felt were alright were Heartless by Marissa Meyer, The Cousins by Karen McManus, the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han, Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch, and Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo. 

Books I Thought Were Okay:

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I would’ve liked Heartless because I liked the premise of the story, but I had to downgrade it to “okay” because of the ending. I didn’t agree with the choices that the main character, Catherine Pinkerton, made in the end because it just seemed a bit fickle to me that she would promise her love interest, Jest, something, then completely change her mind back and forth. I tend to develop my own opinions about characters’ actions in books and it’s a big reason why I’m so picky about the books I like. I’ve noticed that I like the characters in books the most when they match with my own personality, which is why I love the character Beth Harmon from The Queen’s Gambit, and I get frustrated with overly emotional or irrational characters. Strangely, this only seems to apply to book characters, not movie characters. Keep in mind that my thoughts about the characters are just my personal opinion, not that every character should be specifically written to fit my preferences as I continue my analysis of books I’ve read.

The Cousins by Karen McManus

Next, I’ve read most books by Karen McManus, and The Cousins was a decent read like most of them. This one had some big plot twists, and I also liked Milly as a character because of her intelligence and ambition, but I just wasn’t as invested in the characters and story as with my favorite books. I would like to see some more character development in her books, since the plot is engaging, even if the plot twists seem a bit unrealistic at times, but I don’t feel that I really cared as much as I could’ve for the characters. As for The Cousins specifically, I loved the plot twist at the end. It’s pretty crazy.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han

If you’re a fan of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, you’re going to be disappointed to hear that this was another one of my “pick apart every action that the character does because I’m just annoyed by this point” that my family members had to endure my rants. I read it mostly to compare it to the movies, and while I’m putting it in the “okay” category, I didn’t really like the books very much. The relationship was incredibly toxic at times, as Lara Jean (the main character), occasionally took pleasure in making her boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky, unhappy. I know many people loved the movies, but I only started sort-of liking the movies after rewatching them multiple times. However, having Asian-American representation in the movies was great though, since there aren’t that many teen romance movies with an Asian love interest. My controversial opinion is that the relationship between Lara Jean and Peter is definitely much more “smoothed-out” in the movies, because in the books Lara Jean is a bit more of a sadist and Peter is a bit more of a douche. It wasn’t all bad though, while I didn’t support Lara Jean and Peter together, at least the relationship was well-developed. What’s your opinion on the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series? 

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I’ll admit, this book made me super hungry for Italian food, particularly pizza and gelato. The romance was well-developed, since I prefer when authors use actions that give room for interpretation while showing the romance between characters instead of telling the reader that the characters find each other attractive. You can see this very clearly when comparing the romance between Lina’s relationship with Ren (her true love interest) versus with Thomas (her temporary love interest), where Thomas was just described through adjectives while Ren was shown through actions throughout the course of the book. But the reason why I ranked this book as merely “okay” was firstly because of Lina’s attitude. I understand that she had just lost her mother and had to uproot herself into a completely new place, but her attitude towards her new father and Italy was incredibly rude in the beginning, although she did have significant character development and changed her attitude throughout the book. The second, and the main reason, was how highly inefficient her actions were, and how she could’ve figured everything out more quickly. Okay, okay, I know it was important to the plot of the book to not reveal everything at once, but the obsessive efficiency in me was really irked to see how she could’ve figured everything out much faster if she had just read the whole journal first and asked her father, Howard, for answers, instead of running all the way from Florence to Rome. It was stated that she was too hurt to continue reading the journal, but I don’t see how it’s any less painful to go to Rome to (spoiler alert) meet her birth father than to have just read the journal first. Howard also didn’t seem to have minded sharing what he knew, it was always Lina who was running away from learning about the truth.

Love and Other Perishable Items

Despite the title of the book, Love and Other Perishable Items, that made it sound like yet another cheesy teen romance novel, I actually quite enjoyed this book! This time, it was because of the characters that made the book as great as it was. Yes, after picking apart the characters in all of the other books I just mentioned, I’m saying that the characters in this book were what made me like the book. First of all, the character development was one of the best that I’ve ever encountered. I could understand the main character Amelia’s thoughts and struggles because they were well-portrayed in the book, and her love interest Chris’s perspective truly brought a new perspective to the story instead of being a continuation of the same story told by a different character that makes no sense to have a different perspective. Amelia was also an intelligent character, so I liked that about her as I don’t often see characters portrayed like her (as in unusual, intelligent, but sometimes lonely) in many teen romance novels. 

Despite the depth of the characters and how overall well-written the book was, there are two reasons why this book is in the “okay” section of my list. The first one is mostly my problem – I don’t like stream of consciousness writing. Most notably, one example of this is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which I read purely to try to understand what all of the hype was about with this book (and I still don’t understand). Love and Other Perishable Items is written in a format that reminds me of the writing style of The Catcher in the Rye, and I just find this style too detailed, which causes the story to be rather slow-paced. Secondly, similar to the problem with other books, this book uses instant attraction to explain the love between Amelia and Chris, which I’ve stated before that I don’t like. I even reread the beginning to make sure that I didn’t miss the part explaining why Amelia likes Chris, but there was none. However, I’m letting this one go more than the other books, because I don’t think the use of instant attraction was because of lazy writing, rather, the reasoning and development of Amelia’s attraction to Chris isn’t that important to the story, it’s more about the effect of her love for Chris on all of her subsequent interactions. Overall, this book was well-written, and I particularly liked the book references (for example, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger were all mentioned frequently within the book) and discussions that went on throughout the story because I’m reading many of the same books myself.

Books I Disliked:

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Now onto the books I disliked. Firstly, Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. I was immediately intrigued by the premise of the story – a love story in a tuberculosis sanatorium? As a biology nerd, I love well-written fiction books that incorporate medicine, particularly tuberculosis. However, this book was just so incredibly frustrating to read, because I didn’t agree with the decisions that the characters made, and the romance was very poorly written. I wouldn’t call myself a sucker for rules, but I absolutely hate it when characters continue to make bad decisions when faced with a serious situation, and then refuse to accept the serious consequences. The characters could potentially die of tuberculosis or infect someone else, but yet they still decide to break the rules because they couldn’t handle not drinking alcohol and putting other people at risk by sneaking out to have fun. As you can tell, this annoyed me very much because the rule-breaking was glorified as the main point of the book and I just don’t think rule-breaking should be glorified in serious situations like developing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. The second main reason why I disliked the book was the way the romance was portrayed. Like I said above, many books just decide to write adjectives in order to justify romance between characters, which isn’t very convincing. In this book, the romance was established by writing about how much the characters, Lane and Sadie, kept thinking about each other and using adjectives to describe how attractive each other was. Knowing that one character thinks another character is hot isn’t enough to make me understand and support the romance in the story, so I disliked this book because of this lazily-written romance.

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Another recent book that I disliked was American Royals by Katharine McGee. The premise of the story is intriguing – it’s set in an alternate history universe where George Washington accepts the crown instead of becoming president, establishing a monarchy in the United States. However, I called this book “the advertisement for Communism” because of how much I disliked the characters. This one is more of my personal opinions towards the characters that made me dislike the book rather than fault with the writing or other technical details like the issue with Extraordinary Means, but I got frustrated with how much each character complained about their wealth and position. I actually started ranking the characters based on how much I disliked them, with the top one being Samantha, the princess of America and one of the main characters. When someone suggests that she could actually use her position for good and to help others, she gets mad and starts complaining about how burdensome it is to be a princess and decides to cause trouble all the time, which I found irresponsible and annoying considering how she has significant privilege that many people envy. My second least favorite was Nina, Samantha’s best friend and Jefferson’s (the prince and Samantha’s twin brother) girlfriend. I didn’t start out disliking her so much, but she had absolutely no personal growth whatsoever throughout the book and her own thoughts and opinions are so easily swayed by other people that it became frustrating to see her struggle over the same issues over and over. In fact, in one chapter, her archnemesis, Daphne, easily convinced her with just a few sentences to break up with Jefferson because “she wasn’t good enough.” But by the next chapter when Nina’s friends and family give her a little pep talk, she completely changes her mind and tries to win back Jefferson, so it infuriated me how indecisive and spineless she was. Because of how irresponsible and querulous many of the characters were about their privileged position, I called this an advertisement for Communism and democratically-elected leaders. Additionally, both George and Martha Washington were in their fifties by the end of the revolutionary war, and George Washington was also likely infertile due to a tuberculosis infection so he never had any heirs. This would’ve made the premise of the story impossible, unless they had a relative of George Washington become king, which wasn’t mentioned in the book. But of course, this is a fictional alternate history story, so I digress.

And finally, the last book that made me cry

I’m not a very emotional person, and I rarely cry over movies and books. In fact, the only movies that have made me cry are Hachi: A Dog’s Tale and The Hate U Give. But this book, out of all of the books I’ve read, has made me cry so many times, and I haven’t even finished the book yet! It just sparks so many emotions, and the writing of the book is so plain, but so powerful. The margins are filled with sticky notes to make sure that I’ll never forget the contents of the book, and I often bring this book with me on trips because it’s just such a classic. Are you ready to know what it is? *drumroll please…* It’s…. Mathematics for the International Student HL (Core) by Haese Mathematics! I’m sorry, I had to give an ode to my favorite Tweet that asks “What’s the last book that made you cry?,” where the responses are filled with students posting the names of their textbook.

But still, it’s undoubtedly true that this book is probably the one that has made me cry the most, with my geometry textbook being a close second (fun fact – I absolutely despise geometry! Is anyone with me on this?). This was mostly because when I was signing up for courses that year, I was discussing with my friends about what courses we were planning on taking. Someone asked about which math class that we all wanted to take, and so I told them, I wanted to take IB Mathematics HL. Everyone looked at me in shock, and they started sharing the horror stories of HL Math, including stories of their friends who had their soul crushed in that class and eventually dropped out. So, when I first went into the class, I was petrified, and before my first exam, I spent the entire week just sobbing over my textbook and doing every single practice problem I could find. With all of the times I cried over the textbook before that first exam, I think I already accumulated enough “crying episodes” to be considered the book I’ve cried the most over. Yet, in a shocking turn of events, taking IB Mathematics HL changed my perspective towards math, and in a good way. I quickly realized that IB Mathematics HL wasn’t as hard as people made it out to be, especially since my teacher was incredibly kind and she would explain any concepts you didn’t understand as long as you asked. I came into the class fully expecting to further develop my hatred towards math, but because this class is more of an “understand the theories behind the topics” class than a class that relies on memorization (*cough* geometry *cough*), this type of learning worked much better for me. Throughout the course of the class, I began to develop an appreciation for math. Honestly, as much as I complain about IB, I appreciate the ideology behind IB in that it tries to develop good habits in students and help us understand why we know what we know, so I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to take these courses. It’s certainly not for all students though, so if you would like a blog post about the types of classes available in high school and what to choose, please let me know in the comments below!

But while both textbooks I cried a lot over, I have to make a certain distinction between my geometry class and IB Mathematics HL, because I’ve realized why these two classes were polar opposites for me. First of all, I completely forgot everything about geometry immediately after taking the class, despite getting good grades in the class. I’m serious, and this has been a huge issue for me since studying for the SAT. Yet, I still remember most of the concepts from my IB Math class (I admit, IB Math is much more recent and I knew more of the material beforehand, but there’s more than just that!). The reason for this is because of the memorization-heavy, high-stress environment that was my geometry class, which caused me to cram for each exam, all to forget it right after the exam because it felt like such a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders once I didn’t need to know it anymore after the class. This was a terrible learning style for me, and comparing this to my IB Math class, which mostly focused on understanding the concepts and less of an emphasis on grades (don’t get me wrong, high school grades count more, but the way my teacher structured the class meant I worried less about my grades) allowed me to learn and remember the material without wanting to dump it all out once the exam was over. I learned firsthand, cramming doesn’t work, and different learning styles can make a huge difference in whether or not you succeed in a course. In an ideal world, I would design classes for students to learn the material through lectures, then apply that knowledge through discussions and projects, because that’s what’s most fitting for my learning style. What about you? How do you learn best?

And that’s a wrap to my summer book reviews!

I read many other books during this time that I did enjoy, but here were just some of the most notable ones! For right now, I’ve actually been getting into the fantasy genre because of how good Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor was, even though I used to dislike fantasy books. While I’m genuinely interested in reading the perspective of dystopian novels, I have a hard time getting past my personal opinions and critiques about how this would never happen, so I haven’t found a dystopian novel that I’ve enjoyed (book recommendations welcome!). I understand that writing a compelling book is incredibly difficult, so I am in no way trying to insult any of the authors. I have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to books and writing though, so here is just some of my criticism about books that I hope is useful for any aspiring writers out there. I promise I’m not this judgemental when it comes to other things though!

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