“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.

Anyway…

The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

“After the Parade” by Lori Ostlund

23492669It’s some kind of masterful when you spend the first quarter of a book thinking that the main character is a self-absorbed, ambivalent, almost blissfully ignorant fool but then you read the middle half of the book, getting ever more caught up in his story, and the final quarter of the book realizing that none of those things that made him unlikable and unrelatable at first were his fault and he did grow from them, whether by choice or by force. Sometimes life isn’t anyone’s fault. To alter the title a bit, sometimes life is just a parade it’s hard to see the end of.

AFTER THE PARADE is Lori Ostlund’s tale of a forty-one year old man name Aaron Englund. An ESL teacher, the story begins with him packing up a U-Haul in Albuquerque and leaving for San Francisco. He’s leaving behind eighty-two year old Walter, the man he’s been with for twenty-three years – and known a few years longer. The math works out to mean that Aaron was eighteen and Walter thirty-six when they first became a couple. That fact lands somewhere between unnerving and sad. As a reader, it’s easy to feel bad for Walter at the start. The man he loves leaves on Christmas Eve after nearly a quarter century. He’s elderly.

But then it becomes so much more complicated than that.

As Aaron travels – literally to San Francisco and figuratively to figuring out who he is – his story is told. His memories of an abusive father and a distant mother, who was more distant because of her abusive husband. His memories of never quite fitting in to normal groups at school. His tendency to gravitate toward the outcasts of society, almost as though he is searching for himself in them more than he is searching for a true friend. And so it comes that by the time he meets Walter as a teenager, his father is dead and his mother is gone.

Aaron is inherently a boy in need of something he never had. That he would find comfort in a stable older man when most boys his age would be doing anything but settling down, makes perfect sense. As in all things, defining love and the existence of love is tricky and almost impossible.

In time, woven into a rich story with so many threads, it becomes clear that Aaron teaches English to immigrants because he sees himself as one of them, in a way. He is an observer too, trying to figure out just how to make it through an uncomfortable, unfamiliar world without getting hurt. And maybe get through it with someone to love. The questions his students ask, the stories they tell him… they help Aaron to find himself.

Ostlund’s novel is harsh and sometimes breathtaking in it’s sadness but it is beautiful. Everything makes sense in the end, especially the most perfect of endings.

(I received a copy of AFTER THE PARADE through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” by Felicia Day

I loved this book for some very important reasons:

1. Not to brag (and really, I’m not!) but Felicia Day and I are almost the same age so her discovery of the wonders of the internet, of being able to not be weird because there are like-minded people on the internet, of getting lost in the worlds of the internet kind of basically mirrors my own. I mean, I’m not internet-famous, Hollywood-famous and no one is going to read my memoirs (yet! we’ll go with that, ha!). I’m not a gamer. I know some of the things she references because of just paying attention on the internet.

2. My vice is fandoms of the YA book series variety and, honestly, I have met some of the best friends I will ever have through finding a shared love of Twilight (yes, Twilight… shush, haters). I’ve never met them in person but I’ve been talking to them for years (and years is far longer than I’ve talked basically anyone I knew in school). And that’s okay.

3. I’m introverted enough to need someone to occasionally say that all this is okay. To say “me too!” And that is basically what I found myself saying over and over as I read Felicia Day’s book. “Me too!” It felt darn good!

I don’t usually read memoirs because I don’t… get them. Not unless you’re like eighty and solved world hunger or something. But people my age or younger, writing books about their lives? I generally say “you do you, I’m gonna read that book over there instead” because… I don’t know, maybe it makes me feel unaccomplished. Maybe it’s jealousy. Who can say? The point is, I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It was almost like she was as startled to be writing the book as I was to be reading it. That’s a good thing.

And, in the best sense of irony, I bought and read this book because one of those best of friends I met on fanfiction.net and Twitter through a shared love of Twilight who told me I would like this book. And I loved it! So thanks, everybody!

“Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue

I didn’t realize I managed to read Imbolo Mbue’s BEHOLD THE DREAMERS just three days but, apparently, I did. Thanks for keeping track, Goodreads addiction of mine!

I think I didn’t realize because I got lost so fast and so hard in this fantastic story of what America means to those who are born here and to those who come here. It seemed like I spent weeks in the fictional lives of Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian illegal immigrant, and Clark Edwards, a high powered Wall Street man, as they traverse the uncertain world just before the and just after the 2008 economic recession. And it seemed wholly appropriate to start the book, left too long on my to-read list, just after recent events made news.

I think I appreciated Mbue’s novel more because I read it when I did. I didn’t mean to read a politically, socially relevant to current events story. I meant to read a book by a POC for the reading challenge I’m doing. I accomplished both and I could not be more pleased with it.

Mbue is an immigrant to America from Limbe, Cameroon – the hometown she gives Jende and Neni Jonga – who now lives in New York City. This makes the story that much richer, because she tells a story of her people, a story she knows. And I feel more educated for it. My favorite kind of fictional book is the one that teaches me something and this book taught me a lot.

It isn’t always an easy read. I found myself wanting to shout at Jende for how he treats his wife, Neni. I wanted to hate Clark Edwards because I do not like the power of Wall Street. But… when I sat back and thought about it, none of that made sense. Jende’s chauvinistic, domineering, my-way-or-the-highway persona is… real. Not being a Cameroonian immigrant, I completely trust Mbue on this. The way he treats Neni, as though he is lord of all things, and the way he is subservient to Clark Edwards to an extreme, as though he truly believes Clark is his better, is no doubt indicative of how immigrants straddle two worlds when they come to America. And Clark, though he is one of the main power players at Lehman Brothers, has motivations for working constantly and not seeing his family enough and his motivations are his family. He’s doing what he knows how to do, straddling two worlds as he tries to be two men. I have to imagine, not being a rich New Yorker, that his is not an uncommon, yet human struggle among families there.

I am so glad I read this book and I encourage everyone to read it too. It’s so important and so good.

And now I want to try Cameroonian food too, after Mbue’s mouth-wateringly vivid descriptions!

(I received a copy of BEHOLD THE DREAMERS through NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “Tidewater: A Novel of Pocahontas and the Jamestown Colony” by Libbie Hawker

BBW2016_twitter_0.jpgJust in case anybody didn’t know this… don’t believe Disney when it comes to your history!

Now, granted it’s been a long time since I say Disney’s “Pocahontas” and granted I am reviewing a “based on true events” sort of historical fiction book – it is that in part because there is precious little in the way of recorded history for this time period in American history, I realize I might not have much better to offer. But I think I do.

Reading Libbie Hawker’s incredibly detailed and researched, down to a glossary of terms and a pronunciation guide for the words Pocahontas would have known, made me think. It made me look up parts of history I thought I knew. It taught me things I never expected to learn. And it made me want to read more about Pocahontas and the Jamestown Colony, and read this book again. It isn’t just “history” either, it is also a story. Hawker is incredibly adept at giving personality and substance to what could be obscure details and descriptions of dugout canoes. Her words made me feel like I was in Jamestown and in Werewocomoco.

That is what a historical novel is supposed to do.

And I felt things for this story. I wanted it to end well for them, though I knew how it ends. I want them to be happy, to find love, and to find peace. I cared.

(I received a copy of TIDEWATER from NetGalley and Running Rabbit Press in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Reviewed: “The Fault In Our Stars” by John Green

I have always avoided jumping on the bandwagon of the latest must-have books, especially when it comes to young adult-y type books that seem to be flooding out of publishing companies. This is good, because when I do get around to it, I can enjoy it witho20821174.jpgut being influenced by the hubbub of the thing. This is bad, because when I fall in love with something, other people have more or less moved on.

Both things hold true now that I’ve finally read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Finally.

In my defense, I couldn’t put it down and I read it in three days flat. So there’s that.

Anyway, this book gets four stars out of five from me:

One star because, although there was no ugly sobbing involved, my heart is heavy and my mind is a little bit changed for having read this story of dying children with no power to save themselves.

A second star because a book about dying made me laugh and smile and hope and dream.

A third star because the characters supporting Hazel and Gus; Isaac, Hazel’s parents, Gus’ family, Lidweij, Patrick, and even Peter, are so well-developed and beautiful in their own fallible human way.

A fourth star simply because I didn’t expect to like this book so much.

It falls one star short because now I want to read “An Imperial Affliction” and I can’t (I’m fairly sure it doesn’t exist to anyone but the characters on these pages).

Reviewed: “Book of Numbers” by Joshua Cohen

23308445.jpgHaving read a handful of reviews of this book on Goodreads before I started it, but after I got it through NetGalley, I realized there are two sorts of readers of this book… those who haven’t finished the book and probably won’t ever and those who are hyper-critical of those who haven’t finished because this book, according to this latter group, is one of the greatest ever written.

That made starting it all the more daunting; because I don’t like quitting books and I don’t like people judging me before I start something.

So I was determined to at least the finish the book so I could complain, or rave, about it with all due process of reading.

This did not happen.

Much like the narrator’s life, he is inexplicably given the same name as the author as another fictional character in the book, I got nowhere fast.

This had almost wholly to do with the pretentious, self-centered, cheating to the knife’s edge of being a criminal, vaguely racist, slightly misogynistic narrator, Joshua Cohen. Women always do him wrong, he never does women wrong. He spent paragraphs describing the shape of his mother’s (his own mother’s!) thighs and butt after her husband died and comparing them to his super health conscious girlfriend (that he was kinda sorta freeloading off) and neither got good marks from him. He describes an Asian food truck worker as Asian because (paraphrasing) “it’s too hard to tell Vietnamese the others, and even men from women.” Joshua Cohen (narrator, not author) wrote one book that never actually got published (apparently because of 9/11 though the exact why is something I never understood) but he fancies himself really good at it, though he rarely does it. It’s all about him. Joshua Cohen (author, not narrator) makes this clear by using giant, complex words that all but scream “I’m a writer and I have a thesaurus!” in simple sentences where not knowing the obscure word isn’t a problem because context clues fill in the blanks.

And Joshua Cohen (narrator, not author) is strangely not the most interesting part of the book.

The narrator wrote a book relating to his mother’s family history during the Holocaust. The narrator was in New York and lost friends on 9/11. That is the story I wanted to read.

So, in conclusion, fine. People who have reviewed and loved this book and been so harsh on those who couldn’t finish it… I’m a quitter too. I don’t care. I bet you and I don’t have many favorite books in common anyway. You keep yours, I’ll keep mine and we can both be happy, yeah?

(I received a copy of BOOK OF NUMBERS through NetGalley & Random House in exchange for an honest and original review.)