Where She Went

If I Stay was Mia’s story, and like her music, it was lilting, graceful, sometimes somber. But Where She Went is Adam’s story, and like his music, it’s to the point, angsty and hard. This book picks up three years after the first book. Adam is a famous rock star, Mia is graduating from Julliard, and they haven’t spoken in years. It took me a while to settle into this book since things are so different, but in the end I really loved it.

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Darkness Becomes Her

Darkness Becomes Her looks like your run-of-the-mill paranormal romance, right? It’s dark and gothy and you’re pretty sure the heroine is going to be a weepy emo princess. Well, color me surprised when I started reading this and the heroine, Ari, was swearing like a sailor from the first page and clearly did not let anyone fuck with her. This book is smarter than your average paranormal romance.

First, let’s talk about Ari. I fell in love with her from the first page just because of her attitude. Ari is awesome, okay? She grew up being bounced between foster homes and is currently being raised by a couple of bounty hunters, who are teaching her the trade. That means Ari kicks a lot of ass. (Though she’s not a superhero – the fighting is described pretty realistically, with Ari making up for her small stature by outsmarting opponents and kneeing them in the groin a lot.) I was a little skeptical when she described her odd appearance, though. Ari has silver Rapunzel-style hair which can’t be cut or dyed, teal eyes (not blue, TEAL), and a small tattoo of a crescent moon under her eye. That’s like every Mary Sue fanfiction character ever! Luckily, Ari’s personality and tenacity is enough to make up for it.

Oh, God. I’d just killed a man – my fingers flexed on the hilt of the blade – with a goddamn, fucking-ass, miniature sword.

How can you not love that?

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If I Stay

I finally picked up If I Stay this month for two reasons: one, I’d been meaning to read it since it came out in 2009, but kept forgetting about it. Two, I received an ARC of the sequel, Where She Went, and decided I’d better read the first one so I could make good use of the ARC. (Thanks, Simon & Schuster!)

And now I’m kicking myself for not having read this book sooner. I devoured this book in less than a day. The narration style just sucks you in, because you have to know if Mia will choose to live or die. And the way the narration switches back and forth between present tense and flashbacks is genius, because it allows for so much character development in such a short amount of time. The whole book takes place in under 24 hours, yet you really get to feel like you know these characters: Mia, her parents, Adam, Kim. I have to say I loved that even Mia’s parents, Kat and Denny, got their own flashbacks. Parents in YA are so often glossed over or made into caricatures, but getting to know Mia’s punk rocker parents before they were parents really gives you a sense of loss when they die, because they were made out to be whole people.

The way Mia and Adam’s relationship is represented is a little bit cheesy at time (their couple nickname is “Groovy and the Geek”? Seriously?), but still totally believable and unique. I also love the way music is at the root of so many of the relationships in this book: Mia, a classical musician, struggles to relate to her rocker boyfriend. Her parent’s relationship with each other is rooted in their love for music. A lot of YA books feature a protagonist who plays an instrument or who has a boyfriend in a rock band, but not many of them delve into what the music means to those people. It’s just a trait they have, a hobby. I love that so much of If I Stay explores how different people relate to music.

This book was so emotional and heartbreaking for me, and I almost immediately started reading the ARC of the sequel when I finished, because I had to know what the consequences of Mia’s decision would be, how the fallout would affect these characters I’d come to love. (Look for a review of Where She Went later this week.) If you’ve also been putting off reading this book, don’t put it off any longer. It’s absolutely a must-read.

The Bermudez Triangle

File this one in the “WHY HAVE I NEVER READ THIS BEFORE” category. Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle is not a new book. It was published in 2004, when I was a senior in high school. You’ve probably seen it at your local bookstore or library. I’ve seen it around for years, but I think I was always put off by the cutesy-looking hearts on the cover. I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but while Bermudez does feature a few romances, it’s more about three best friends than anything else.

Oh, and did I mention it features a lesbian romance without being a cliche? With depth and nuance, even? It was swoonworthy, much moreso than the hetero romance was.

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Wither

Wither is the first book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. I’ll admit I was skeptical when I first read the summary on the back of the book: one generation’s attempts to stop aging have backfired. The First Generation succeeded and will live nearly forever, but their children will not. In any subsequent generations, men only live to age 25, women to 20, before succumbing to an uncurable virus. Teenage girls are kidnapped and sold into polygamous marriages, with the intention of creating enough new children to keep the human race alive and to experiment on, to find a cure.

And this is a YA book? I wondered how this book was going to handle such dark themes, and worried that it was going to turn into one of those bullshit books where the kidnapped victim ends up falling in love with her captor. But I was absolutely wrong. DeStefano has done an amazing job with this book. It’s dark, don’t get me wrong. It’s very dark and does deal with some pretty frightening themes. However, I found myself totally enthralled by this book. Our narrator, Rhine, is separated from her twin brother Rowan when she is kidnapped by men who provide wives to wealthy men. She is then bought and forced into a polygamous marriage along with two other girls. Once married, they live inside a luxurious mansion, where they have everything they could ever want – except their freedom.

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Delirium

I’m calling it now: Delirium will be one of the biggest YA releases of 2011. I raced through this book in about two days and I’m already itching for the second book in the trilogy, but the book was so good that I’ll probably re-read it a couple of times while I wait. If this book doesn’t catch on in a big, Hunger Games-way, I’ll be shocked.

I was a HUGE fan of Lauren Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, and Delirium doesn’t fall short of expectations. Oliver has captured me with her beautiful writing style in a way few authors have done – she writes so honestly that her characters’ happiness and pain is tangible and utterly real. And she describes the scenery in a way that almost makes it a character in its own right, which really adds to the atmosphere of the book. Where a book like Matched lacked a certain realism, the future Portland, Maine of Delirium feels like a fully fleshed-out world with a history. These are the things that put Oliver’s book solidly above the rest of the dystopian YA fiction pack.

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