Posted in Books

“Epically Earnest” by Molly Horan

Epically Earnest is a queer young adult contemporary fiction book about a teenager coming to terms with her parentage, adoption, and falling in love for the first time.

Jane Worthing was an early viral sensation- she was found on the New York City subway as a toddler, in a gaudy Gucci purse. The grainy flip phone footage of her rescue and subsequent adoption by the single mid-twenties dude bro who found her was a big story, and that was Janey’s five minutes of fame. Her life, outside her murky origins, has been pretty normal. Her father met the woman who would become her mother shortly after, and their lives became a lot less newsworthy. In the seventeen years since, Jane has thrived, with barely any notoriety attached to her name. Despite the booming industry of genetic testing, Janey had no interest in finding her biological family. That is, until her best friend Algernon stole her spit and got the test run behind her back.

This is a short read, but a phenomenal story. Fans of the Oscar Wilde play will enjoy it, though the story is by no means a carbon copy. Janey has her own journey as a character, as do her friends. The book has the same snappy dialogue as the play, though obviously updated to twenty-first century teens, and the characters have the same chemistry. In such a short book, it’s hard for every character to have a complete arc, but I think Horan manages to thread that needle. I really enjoyed Algernon as a character, he comes across as a very real person with flaws, strengths and growth. Janey is the point of view character, and though we spend the most time with her, the best characterization happens when other characters are observing her. I think she is really well-written as a young woman coming into her own. She really thinks she’s the only one who doesn’t have herself figured out, which is very human and normal, and her awkwardness is understandable and relatable.

The end of the story is a bit open, but I like that. Answers are good, and can really make a book feel finished, but the story of an eighteen year-old isn’t finished, and some answers simply can’t be found. Some of the best stories leave space for you to think about what happens next. I love how the living obituaries Janey writes actually create that space. She’s writing the kind of life she wants for the people she loves, and maybe that’s the future, maybe it isn’t. Maybe she’ll find the truth, or maybe she’ll decide not to look. Not everything can be as neat as a play. I wouldn’t have minded a more tied-up ending, but I like this one. Janey’s just starting her life, and the ending reflects that.

I also really liked how emotional and conflicted Janey is, without being too angsty. Obviously, in her situation, angst is warranted, but I didn’t think the deep emotions she expresses in any way detract from the humor and lightness of the story. There is a dark moment, which makes sense. Janey is reckoning with a serious issue that follows a lot of people throughout their lives. I really like how it’s handled, and I think it’s a necessary beat in the story.

The romance is pretty straight-forward, and I enjoyed reading about a bunch of teenagers who all like each other. I liked the awkwardness and the sweetness of both of the central relationships in the book. I was less invested in Algernon and Cecil, but they got a really great moment that sold me on them midway through. I did like Gwen a lot, and enjoyed the chemistry between her and Janey. I do think that the central relationship is Janey’s friendship with Algernon, which I personally really liked. I prefer when friendships don’t take a backseat in romance-driven narratives, which is so often the case.

Overall, this was a really fun read, and I would highly recommend it. Anyone who likes a queer YA book will enjoy it!

Posted in Books

“Blue Bloods: After Life” by Melissa de la Cruz

I cannot overstate how disappointed I was by this book. I love Melissa de la Cruz! I’ve read a lot of her books, and enjoyed them! I particularly loved the Blue Bloods series, which was contemporaneous with a lot of supernatural romance emerging in YA. Schuyler is a compelling protagonist, and her adventures moved quickly from peril to peril, before ultimately she and her friends triumph over their devilish adversaries. This victory doesn’t come without loss, as Schuyler is forced to sacrifice her true love in order to defeat Lucifer.

Blue Bloods: After Life takes place in a totally different world, with the Schuyler we know suddenly inhabiting the life of a different Schuyler, in a different year, in a vastly different New York. The premise is promising, and then it’s completely unfulfilled.

First issue: world-building. This story takes place in pandemic-era New York, in 2020, and Schuyler is fifteen, in high school again. Some things are very different, she and Oliver have different last names and families, and some things are weirdly the same: Schuyler has the same father, for one thing. And she’s still a Blue Blood, despite not being Gabrielle’s daughter in this universe. What? That’s explained away pretty quickly, but not to my satisfaction. There are also some differences in the history of this world, but that doesn’t seem to affect the present day much? Like, Napoleon died a lot earlier, but that doesn’t change the modern world in a discernible way. The whole alternate worlds thing requires more panache to pull off and it just doesn’t happen in this book.

Kingsley Martin is also in this universe, but he arrived a year earlier, for some reason, and is running the underground resistance. Another thing that just happens! Why would Kingsley just fall out of the sky? No explanation. I will say just about the only compelling thing about this book was his chemistry with Max Force, and their relationship developing. Then, killing Kingsley off? Ugh, why? He’s already died once in this series, how much does he have to take?

I think if I was doctoring this book, it wouldn’t take much to fix the biggest problems. Firstly, the point of views were a great idea, I love seeing into Max’s head, so a good change would be that it’s only Jack who gets thrown into the body of his alternate self. He’s just died in the main Blue Bloods universe, I’d buy it that he would somehow bleed between the worlds or be thrust into another version of himself. Plus, let’s face it, Schuyler’s life in this alternate world is boring, she has little power and even less information. I did not want to read about her being in Zoom classes all day and then sneaking out at night. So, cut that Kingsley and Schuyler fall through, and just have it be Jack. He has this weird imposition of his old self, the one we know, and he becomes conflicted about his position as Lucifer’s golden boy. Meanwhile, you can still have Kingsley and Max fall in love, just the version of Kingsley from this universe, who can still be sabotaging Lucifer. Jack can fall in love with this universe’s Schuyler, and find the strength to turn against the devil. I also don’t like that this is setting up at least a sequel, and possibly a new series. I would just have this be a stand-alone book, and have Jack and Max work together with Schuyler to defeat Lucifer from the inside. Given their positions in his organization, it wouldn’t be that hard to get close to Lucifer and for Schuyler to shish-kebab him. These changes would weed out a lot of what doesn’t work about this book, and lean on the strengths: Max and Kingsley’s relationship, and that between the twins. I think this book actually did build a good bond between Max and Jack, and I think having the book from their perspectives alone would allow that relationship to take center stage in the development of the characters.

The primary thought I had while reading this book was that the author wanted to change some things about the way they told they story, without sacrificing the narrative already existing. It just was a frustrating, boring story with little to recommend it. You’re better off just rereading the original series.

Blue Bloods: After Life is available wherever books are sold, or at your local library. This reviewer was provided with a copy in exchange for an unbiased review.

Posted in Books

“The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik

The second book in the Scholomance trilogy, The Last Graduate, follows El and her friends as they begin their senior year and preparations for the lethal graduation run. El also has to reckon with a warning she received from her mother, to stay away from Orion Lake, her kind-of-boyfriend.

Our reluctant protagonist has to deal with a terrible class schedule, the discomfort of being popular after years of social ostracism, and a host of other problems. El’s voice remains unique and prickly, the narrative style is one of my favorite things about this series. She’s snarky, and she would love to believe that she doesn’t care about people, but she can’t help it. El is a better person than she wants to be be, despite dire prophesies of her future.

I liked that Aadhya and Liu got a lot of time on the page, because their friendship is at least as important at the El-Orion relationship, and I love their dynamic. In particular, I liked the extra time we got to spend with Aadhya, because I think Liu got more characterization in the first book and this one really fleshed Aadhya out for me more.The new freshmen were pretty decent additions too. I think Orion took a pretty visible backseat in this one, but he still has an arc and it works for the book. He had a lot going on in A Deadly Education and it makes sense to divert focus a little more and really zoom in on some other stuff, like El’s journey.

The thing that most bothered me about the previous book was the first third kind of feeling like an info-dump, but this one didn’t have that problem. El’s voice is pretty chatty, but it comes across naturally and I liked it. The controversy about the first book and potential racial insensitivity made me inclined to read this one a little more closely, but I don’t think there’s anything racist in this book. Overall, I really loved the book, but beware the cliffhanger ending! If the ending of the last book was difficult, just wait until you read this one.

This reviewer was given an advanced readers’ copy in exchange for an honest review. The Last Graduate can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library.