Posted in Blog Tour

Review: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

Rating: Highly Recommend

Nothing makes me happier than books with small but resounding emotional stakes that make me ponder the ways that we connect to other people and find our way, step by step, through what is often an intense and cruel world. And more often than not, my favorite books in this category are young adult novels that explore flash points in the lives of young people. One such book that fits this category is Maria Padian’s latest young adult novel, How to Build a Heart.

Since her dad, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, all Izzy has wanted was a home and some stability. Her mom, little brother and her have been on the move ever since and Izzy is ready to settle down. Completely cut off from her father’s family nearby, Izzy’s family is on their own, especially so after they learn that Habitat for Humanity has selected them as the first family to receive a house on the wealthy side of the town where Izzy lives. Eager to trade in their mobile home for a real house with walls, Izzy is excited and nervous all at the same time, because she doesn’t want any of her friends at her school she attends on scholarship to know that she’s poor. Especially not after she befriends Aubrey, a new girl in their a cappella group. And definitely not after she begins to connect with Aubrey’s older brother Sam. Equally parts poignant romance, heartwarming family drama and a sweet, complicated friendship book, How to Build a Heart is a must read for anyone looking for a great contemporary read about figuring yourself out and learning to trust the people who support you.

I loved Izzy as a character. She felt complicated and real, and I quickly got sucked into the messy dynamics of her story. It’s easy to relate to her complicated feelings toward her neighbor and best friend, Roz, who resents their life in the mobile home and longs to get away from her abusive family to become a stylist. I also related so intensely to Izzy’s shame around having less than her wealthier private school peers, but admired her dedication to her family and ingenuity in juggling all of her responsibilities.

Also, my favorite part of the book was her friendship with Aubrey, and how that connection became the first domino in a chain of events that changed how Izzy saw herself, her family and her situation. In close second for my favorite part of the book was Izzy’s relationship to her father’s family and how that changed and evolved over the course of the book. I loved that a big part of this book was about second chances and learning how to let people in, to let people show you that they’ve changed or that they’re not who you thought they were.

Izzy’s dynamic with the Habitat for Humanity workers was also great. Habitat is an organization that I’ve of course heard of and there have been builds over the years in my area. However, I didn’t know much about the details of it, from the application process to how the builds were completed and what an emotionally and physically taxing process it can be for everyone involved.

The writing itself had such an incredibly and strong voice. Izzy’s thoughts and feelings leaped off the page. The writing is gritty, emotionally intense and lyrical all at the same time. This book would make a perfect weekend read under a pile of blankets or the perfect beach and poolside read once summer, finally, rolls around. Unless you live somewhere warm, now. Then please read this book on the beach for me. 😉

Posted in Blog Tour

Excerpt from BRIGHT BURNING STARS BY A.K. Small

I am such a fan of books about competition, relationships between girls, ballet and Paris. That is why I am SO excited that A.K. Small’s fantastic debut, Bright Burning Stars, will be out this Tuesday. I loved this beautiful written, thrilling novel, and I am so excited to share some information about this gorgeous book and an excerpt from it as part of the blog tour.

As a young ballerina in Paris, young adult novelist A. K. Small studied at the famous Académie Chaptal and later danced with companies across the US. Inspired by the dancers from her childhood, Small weaves a vivid story of a fiercely competitive female friendship in her dazzling debut, Bright Burning Stars. Following two teens fighting for center stage and a spot in the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet, this page-turning novel explores the lengths it takes to turn talent into a career. A gifted new writer, Small brings the reader into the passionate world of ballet all while telling an engrossing story of female friendship.

Kate and Marine have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School where they formed an intense bond after respective family tragedies. Their friendship seems unshakeable until their final year when only one girl can be selected for a place in the Opera’s company. The physically demanding competition takes an emotional toll, and their support for each other starts to crumble. Marine’s eating disorder begins to control her life as she consumes less and dances more, and Kate discovers the depths of depression and the highs of first love as she falls for the school heartthrob—who also happens to be Marine’s dance partner

As rankings tighten and each day is one step closer to the final selection, neither girl is sure just how far she’ll go to win. With nuance and empathy, the intense emotions of teenage years are amplified in Small’s debut as the girls struggle with grief, mental health issues, and relationships, all set against the glamorous backdrop of Paris.  

Doesn’t that sound FANTASTIC? Now keep reading for the first chapter!


Chapter 1

Marine

We stood outside the circular studio in the apex of the dance annex. Some of us obsessively rose up and down in first position to break the soles of our shoes, while others, like the boys, tucked their t-shirts into their tights and cracked their necks for luck. I didn’t do anything but clutch Kate’s hand. Kate and I always held hands before the weekly générales. But before I could ask her what she thought the new ratings would be, who would outshine whom on The Boards after only a week and four days of ballet classes and rehearsals in our final year at Nanterre, my name was called first. A bad omen: in six years of dancing here, the faculty had never switched us out of alphabetical order before. Isabelle The Brooder always started. I danced third. 

“Break a leg,” Kate said in English before I stepped into the studio, which made me smile because saying things in her mother tongue was Kate’s way of showing love.

Inside the vast round room, three judges—judging deities really—sat erect behind a long folding table.

Valentine Louvet, the director, was on the left, her dark hair twisted into a loose knot and rings adorning her fingers. She would sometimes look up at the giant skylight and I would swear that her lips moved,that she discussed students with Nijinsky’s ghost through the thick glass. Francis Chevalier, the ballet master, an older man with sweat stains radiating from under his arms, was on the right. While you danced, he rhythmically jabbed the tip of his cane into the floor. In the middle sat The Witch, aka Madame Brunelle, in glasses and a tight bun. When she disliked a student’s movement, which was almost always, we all whispered that worm-like silver smoke seeped from her nostrils and her ears.   

I didn’t look them in the eyes for fear of turning to salt. Instead, I hurried to the yellow X that demarked center, taking note of all the mirrors that wrapped around me like gauze. I tried not to criticize my reflection, how I was one kilogram fatter than when I’d last performed in May. I’d found out earlier this morning, courtesy of Mademoiselle Fabienne, the school nutritionist. Weigh-ins here were like random drug tests. You were called and asked to step onto the beastly scale whenever faculty felt like it. Now, all I could do was suck my stomach in and pray it didn’t affect my score. I placed my right foot on the tape, my left in tendu behind, then waited for the pianist’s introduction. 

As I offered the judges my most heartfelt port de bras, I concentrated on the ivory of my leotard, an atrocious color on me, yet a coveted symbol of my new elite rank. Seven other sixteen year-old rat-girls and I had risen to First Division. The variation we were to perform today was obscure, from The Three Musketeers, but I didn’t mind. Actually, I preferred low profile dances. The pressure somehow felt less. I also liked the three-count waltz, the way the notes filled up inside me, the rush of the C major melody, all making me zigzag across the studio. Music was why I kept going, my ticking heart. As the piano filled the air, my arms felt fluid, my balances sharp, and my leaps explosive. Even my hunger diminished. I steered myself from left to right then from front to back. My spirits lifted and my nerves calmed. Vas-y. I can do this, I thought. And then I remembered to give the judges my stage smile. Maybe I’ll rise from Number 3 to Number 2. During a slow triple pirouette, I held my foot above my knee, balanced, and stuck my landing in perfect fourth position, the number 2 floating like an angel’s halo above my head. 

But then I forgot to anticipate the piano’s shift in keys, the sudden acceleration. Realizing I was an eighth of a note off, I skipped a glissade to catch up to my saut de chat. Ne t’en fais pas, I told myself. Adjust. Yet, at once, The Witch stood up and snapped her fingers, silencing the music. 

“I thought you were here because of your auditory gift, Duval,” Madame Brunelle said. “Don’t students call you The Pulse?”

I looked down at my feet. I hadn’t gone through three fourths of the variation.

“They must be wrong. Would you like to have someone else come in and demonstrate? Teach you whole notes from half notes?”

“No,” I whispered. 

“Miss Sanders,” Madame Brunelle yelled. 

Kate poked her head inside the studio. A joke, I thought.

Kate was a dynamic ballet dancer but well known for her lack of rhythm. 

“Mademoiselle Duval needs help with her waltz tempo.

Would you run the variation through for her?”

What? 

Kate nodded. She tiptoed into the studio, setting herself on the X the way I had done earlier.

“Shadow her, Duval,” Madame Brunelle ordered. 

She snapped her fingers and the pianist began again. 

I danced behind Kate. We moved in unison, gliding into long pas de basques, arms extended. Kate seemed weightless, her heels barely touching the ground. A genuine smile fluttered on her lips. Her ivory leotard fitted her long narrow frame like skin. Blue crystal teardrops dangled from her ears as she spun. They glittered like fireflies. All of Kate glittered. The afternoon sun poured in from the skylight, lighting her up like a flame. The variation lasted a million years. At every step, my face grew hotter. The studio door had been left wide open, so I saw in the mirror’s reflection that other First Division dancers were peering inside and watching our odd duo. A wave of humiliation nearly toppled me. Madame Brunelle did not stop the music this time. She waited for Kate and me to finish with our révérence, thenshe dismissed us with a flick of the finger. 

I ducked out of the studio into the stairwell and didn’t wait for Kate. I could have sought refuge in the First Division dressing rooms but that was too obvious a hiding place so I rushed down three flights of stairs and into the courtyard. A mild September breeze blew. I fought back tears. It would have been easier, I thought, if The Witch had picked someone else. Anyone else. But Kate? Pitting me against my best friend? I wished I could keep walking past the trees, alongside the fence, out of the gates, down L’Allée de La Danse, to the metro, all the way home to the center of Paris and my mother’s boulangerie. There, inside with the warmth and the sugary smells, I would find a tight hug, an, “It’s okay, Chérie. You don’t have to do this unless you want to.” But I knew I wouldn’t. I’d have to go back to the dorms to change into street clothes or at least take off my pointe shoes and then I’d see Oli’s battered demi pointes on my bed. Plus, I’d come this far. Hadn’t I? Only 274 days until the final Grand Défilé. Judgment Day: when everyone, except for two strikingly gifted students—one female, one male—got fired in the top division. I plopped down into the middle of the courtyard and found the sky. How could I have messed up on tempo? I closed my eyes and inhaled. 

“Hey!” Kate yelled a minute later.

I started. 

She stood at the entrance of the courtyard, breathing hard.

“Do you think you could have gone a little faster?” she said, crossing her arms. She was still in her leotard, tights, and pointe shoes. Her neck flushed bright red from running. Wisps of blond hair framed her face. “You hurtled down the stairs like a bat out of hell, M. I thought you were going to tumble and fall.”  

Bat out of hell? I nearly corrected her and said that here we used comme un bolide—like a rocket—but instead I replied, voice sharp, “Too bad I didn’t.”

“You don’t mean it,” she said. “Mistakes happen. You’re only human.”

Kate sat down beside me. She smelled woodsy, even after she danced. We watched as pigeons flittered around the bright white buildings. On our left were the dorms with their common rooms at the bottom. In front, the dance annex loomed. It was known for its grand staircase, bay windows, cafeteria, and Board Room where all big decisions were made. On the right was the academic wing with classrooms and faculty offices. Little pathways led from one building to the others with awnings in case of rain. If I turned around, I could peek at the high concrete wall hidden between oak trees. Sometimes I wondered if the barrier was there to keep rats from fleeing or strangers from trespassing. 

 Kate squeezed my ankle then flashed me her best smile.

“The Witch is an asshole. Seriously. Don’t sweat it.”

At her touch, my eyes filled. The tempo mix up hadn’t been Kate’s fault. Only mine. I quickly wiped the tears with the back of my hand.

“Have I told you that I dig wearing ivory?” Kate said. “Last night, I called my dad and tried to explain it to him. How good it felt to parade around in this sublime color. I said it was like receiving the freaking Medal of Honor but he didn’t get it.”

“Of course not.” I shook my head.

And just like that, the weird moment between us, the resentment I’d felt at having to dance behind her, passed.  

I was about to tell her that after what had happened in the circular studio I would probably never wear ivory again, when younger rats came out into the courtyard, disturbing our privacy. Everyone always whispered about everyone else while waiting for ratings. Within the hour, the Board Room would open. Rankings would be posted on the wall. Rats who were rated below fifth place might be sent home. Now and again, I’d see a parent waiting by the school entrance and the wretched sight would make me flinch. But Kate, who was always at my side, would loop an arm around me and say, “Face it, M. Not everyone is cut out for this.” Her thick skin soothed me today.

“God, I can’t stand the sitting around,” Kate said. “Let’s play Would You.”

“I thought you and I banned that game,” I replied. 

Kate laughed. “Things don’t go away just because you want them to, Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Or because the stupid rules say so.”

I slapped her shoulder.

“Ouch. Loosen up. I go first,” she said. “Would you die for The Prize?”  

The Prize. What every rat girl and boy was after: the large envelope with a red wax stamp on the back, a single invitation to become part of the Paris Opera’s corps de ballet. The thought of seeing that envelope made me dizzy with possibility. I almost said yes but she cut me off.

“If I close my eyes,” Kate said. “I feel the envelope’s weight in my hands, the warm wax beneath my thumbs. It’s damn near euphoric.”

I looked away. Kate’s hunger for success, for being the Chosen One was sometimes so acute that it frightened me.

“Are you asking because of Yaëlle?”  

The Number 3 rat from last year, a sweet girl from Brittany, once our roommate, had been found in her tiny single, lying atop her twin bed, in her ballet clothes, bones protruding at strange angles, eyes sunk deep in their sockets, dead a few days before Le Grand Défilé last May. She’d starved herself in the name of The Prize. Ever since, we’d all been on edge. Summer hadn’t changed the mood. If anything, getting back together after a few months away had heightened the sense of dread.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“No,” I decided. “I wouldn’t die for The Prize. Would you?”

“Yes,” Kate said. “Absolutely.”

There was no hesitation in her voice.

“I’ve got another,” she said. “Would you hurt The Ruler for The Prize?”

Gia Delmar, the Ruler. Always Number 1 on the boards, she was our biggest rival but this wasn’t the time to think about her. Not before rankings. “I wouldn’t hurt anyone,” I said, then I added, “Would you rehearse night and day?” 

“Yes. But would you do drugs?”

“Would you?”

“Rehearse night and day, sure. Drugs? Maybe.”

“Kate!” I said.

“Would you try to suck up to Monsieur Chevalier?”

“No. But maybe Louvet.”

Kate laughed. “I know. Would you sleep with The Demigod?”

The Demigod? I shivered. Like The Ruler, The Demigod was off limits. As a rare conservatory transfer, he’d magically appeared in Second Division one sunny day last February and had outdone everyone. I didn’t want to think about the leaders, the rats most likely to succeed, even if they were supremely sexy. “No,” I answered. “Of course not. Would you?”

“Maybe.”  

“That’s sick,” I said. “Sleeping with someone to climb the ladder?”

Kate lowered her voice. “The Demigod is different, M. You know. Everybody knows. Even faculty. Look how they gawk at him. His talent is greater than the sun and the stars combined. Proximity to him is—” she paused, searching for her words. “The key to everything. Think of it as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s lover, collaborating with him on a canvas. Except that our canvas is four dimensional, made up of flesh, of bodies.Lee’s paint strokes had to intensify, right? The Demigod’s balletic gift, his glow, rubs off like glitter on his partners. Haven’t you noticed? Anyone who spends time with him in and out of the studio shoots up on The Boards. M, he is The King. You know what dance is? The art of the sensual. Electricity, entanglement, ease. You partner with him and you will blow the roof off this effing place. Plus,” she sucked in her breath, kept me in suspense. “He’s got the hottest quads in the universe.” 

I imagined Cyrille flying into splits, his thighs stiffening under silver tights, what his hands might feel like clasping mine if I was ever asked to partner with him. My whole body warmed. Kate was right. The Demigod was like food, like one of my mother’s pastries. You knew that eating it was bad for you, but you just couldn’t help yourself. I was about to warn Kate that the Greek demigods, as attractive as they were, ate their young and their lovers when Monsieur Arnaud, the groundkeeper, walked over to the old fashioned bell and rang it. The wooden doors creaked open and all the dancers scurried inside the Board Room. I still sat outside, frozen. What if I was ranked fifth or lower and got sent home? I thought of Oli. My promise to dance for him no matter what. Failing was not an option. Kate snagged my hand and pulled me up.

“Come on, sweetie,” she said. 

I reluctantly followed her in.

Posted in Book Review

Review: If Only by Jennifer Gilmore

35396511
If Only by Jennifer Gilmore, HarperTeen, 288 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CW: birth/babies

Representation: adoption 

A new trend I’ve noticed in YA books that are told from a dual perspective where one thread is told in the past, the other told in the present and they connect in some way. It’s a neat narrative tool when it’s done well. One new book where such is the case is If Only by Jennifer Gilmore.

This poignant novel traces the parallel stories of a first mother, Bridget, and Ivy, the daughter Brigitte had at sixteen and gave up for adoption. Bridget’s story takes place in 2000 when she is sixteen and Ivy’s story is told in 2017 when she is the same age. The novel is a story about a mother making the toughest and best choice for her child when she’s just a kid and the magnetic pull that exists between them years later.

What I loved most about this book is how the two plot lines complemented each other. I love that Gilmore chose to set the book at points where the mother and daughter are the same age and showing their parallel journeys that they undergo at the same age. This narrative format made the story more interesting and also created interesting similarities and differences between mother and daughter that were subtle, but lovely.

In terms of form, I loved the “If Only” chapters. Interspersed throughout the book, there are chapters that show alternative lives that Ivy might have lived if Bridget had chosen a different adoptive family for her daughter. What’s most extraordinary about these chapters is the way in which Gilmore then weaves the characters in these chapters elsewhere in the story so they still exist in the world of the narrative and not just in these “what if?” moments.

I also loved the beautiful and poetic writing. I cried many tears reading this book, as so many of the scenes are poignantly tender or utterly heartbreaking. The writing is so rich, too. This is definitely one of those books you can pick up on a Saturday afternoon and get lost in. Overall, If Only was a quick, sweet read about adoption, friendship and what it means to find your family. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Water in May by Ismée Williams

34227722
Water in May by Ismée Williams, Amulet Books, 320 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Content Warnings: Doctors’ offices, scenes in hospitals and intensive care units, pregnancy & birth, violence, infant death.

Every once in  a while, I read a story that’s truly special because it exposes the best of humanity in the worst and unfairest situations. One such novel is Ismée Williams’ debut Water in May, out today from Amulet. Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols is pregnant with the baby who thinks will save her family and change her future. Then she finds out that the baby has a severe and potentially fatal heart defect. Suddenly, Mari must make tough choices about her baby and her future in this riveting tale of family, friendship, motherhood and resilience.

I first want to acknowledge that I love this is a book written by a former pediatric cardiologist and a WoC that features a Latina protagonist. The book features a list of Dominican slang in the front and the language and culture of Mari’s Dominican family and group of friends shines through the pages of this book. If you are looking to read more diverse books, I highly recommend this beautifully written novel that shows the experiences of a WoC and inner city teen life.

My favorite part of this book was Mari and her voice. The writing was so rich and descriptive. I loved how there was both strength and vulnerability in her voice. Mari is a fighter with a past criminal history and a complicated family history. Her mom is an addict, her dad is in prison and she has a fraught relationship with her abuela. I found myself rooting for Mari from the first page.

I also loved her three friends (Yaz, Teri and Heavenly) and the ways that the four girls loved and supported one another. If you are looking for a book about girl power and strong female relationships, then Water in May is the book for you. I even liked the depiction of Mari’s relationship with her baby’s father, Bertie, and found the way their relationship changed to be one of the most tearjerking parts of this emotional read. The parts that take place in the NICU are also particularly emotional, but William’s description of procedures and nurses and the overall environment is spot-on.

The storytelling and pacing is also spot on. Williams did a great job juggling all of the subplots in this book. The descriptions are great. The dialog is spot-on. There are twists and turns you won’t see coming. I also loved how at the core of this story is a doctor, Dr. Love, who fights for his patient and a mother who fights for her child against all odds. If I am going to read a book that I know will be emotionally taxing, I like it to be full of hope and inner strength. Water in May did not disappoint. It exceeded all my expectations and left me in tears. I hope it’ll leave you teary-eyed as well, with joy and a little bit of sadness. There are more moments I loved in this book that I would love to gush about, but read this book first and then find me and we can gush together. This is the kind of book I don’t want to spoil. I want you all to take this intense and powerful storytelling journey and enjoy it as much as I did.

Posted in Book Review

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

28526192
27 Hours by Tristina Wright, EntangledTeen, 400 pp. 

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Content Warnings: Colonialism, violence, death

This review doesn’t need a hook because I’m just going to say it: Tristina Wright’s novel 27 Hours is my overall top pick of 2017. Keep in mind that I read this book in June and I know I’m not going to change my mind. This book stole my heart in the best way and if you are reading this, I hope you are either requesting, buying or begging your friend to loan you a copy of this book ASAP.

Pitched as “queer kids in space” (there are no allo cishet MC’s and it’s AMAZING), 27 Hours is a stunning, high concept sci-fi novel about a mismatched band of teens who must save the human population on their alien moon in the course of a single night. The narrative structure of this novel, told hour by hour, kept me on the edge of my seat until the end. I’m not usually a science fiction reader, but this book literally made me want to go out and read every good science fiction book I could get my hands on. I still haven’t totally ruled that out.

Let’s talk about the characters because I love each and every one of them. If you’re a fan of Six of Crows or novels with big casts that have characters with lots of personality, then you are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. Rumor is arguable the main main character of this book. After watching his dad sacrifice himself to monsters, he escapes his city on a mission to save his moon. He’s so full of angst and broodiness. So much love for him! And then there’s Jude, a book who has lived among the chimera in the trees. He’s soft and amazing and adorable. There’s Trick, who’s protective and adorable.

And *happy sigh*, there’s Braeden, who’s smol and bighearted and so, so, so freaking ace. I read this book after two books with ace rep that disappointed me and hurt me in ways that I didn’t even know were possible. One of them made me feel the worst about my orientation that I have ever felt in my entire life and this book, and Braeden’s rep in particular, validated me and healed me ways that I vitally needed. Legit, he fiddles with his black ace ring in the fourth paragraph of his first chapter and I had to throw the book down because I do that ALL the time and I never expected to see it represented in a book. I was in actual happy tears. I can’t tell you all how much it means for me that Braeden exists as a character. He was the kind of ace rep I’ve always wanted and needed.

Moving on…….Dahlia is a black trans girl who is sweet and kind and I had so much love for her. Nyx is a pansexual Deaf girl who can hear the moon speak to her. She was my second favorite character in this book and from her love for Dahlia to her friendship with Braeden, I just couldn’t. It was all so good.

I am in awe and admiration at how Tristina pulled all the elements of this plot together. It is so intricate and complicated with interwoven subplots. Seriously, just based on power of storytelling, this book is a masterpiece.

I also loved the setting. I’m not usually a fan of books that are set in space, but this one just left me wanting more and more and more of this world. From the forest people to the colonies to the HUB’s, it was all so vivid and beautiful. I’m really, really looking forward to more books set in this world. Plus the writing is amazing. Seriously.

In terms of my critique, the only critique I had about this book was that while Braeden is clearly identified as asexual, it feels like he is aromantic as well and that’s never mentioned in the text. I wish that his romantic orientation was clarified in the book because if is aroace, aroace readers deserve that explicit identification.

Additionally, Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks wrote an amazing and nuanced review that critiques the race rep in this book that I think everyone who reads 27 Hours should read because it raises some really crucial issues.

Overall, my heart is bursting with love for this book. While it’s not perfect (and no book is), this is the book that was clearly written with the intent of inclusivity and damn good storytelling. It’s the kind of book that so, so, so many different kinds of teens will be able to find themselves in. If you want a book about love, friendship, family or fighting for what’s right, this book is for you. Also a note that I look forward to whatever Tristina has out next, because I know I’m going to be reading it.

27 Hours is out October 3, but you can pre-order now it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local indie!

Posted in Book Review

Review: P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

25486998
P.S. I Like You by Kasie West, Point, 336 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Classic young adult contemporary romance is like cotton candy. It’s saccharinely sweet, super cute and very fluffy. When done right, it’s a hit. When done wrong, it just doesn’t stick to the cone (aka its audience). Terrible summer metaphors aside, one of my favorite contemporary romances that I’ve read recently is P.S. I Like You by Kasie West. It was the first book I read by her and although I was skeptical from the cover and hesitant at first, I soon fell in love. This is a book you need to read this summer. Cute, smart and sharp. This book is a cutesy but very real and honest gem.

Lily hates chemistry. That is, until she begins a low-key note exchange with a boy who sits in her seat in another period. Her daily moment of peace amidst a vendetta against her best friend’s ex, her struggles as an aspiring songwriter and a hectic home life, Lily is torn whether she wants to know who her secret pen pal is and even more worried about the consequences of that discovery. Jump into this cute tale about a girl coming into her own, managing friendship and ogling at cute boys with so much heart that I couldn’t help but be swept away in it. It has friends, family and romance. There’s really no way to go wrong.

West’s cast of quirky characters make this novel. I loved Lily’s flaky, awkward character and immediately wanted to follow her along on her story. She felt like so many female protagonists I’ve read in YA (particularly by rockstar authors like Sarah Dessen and Sara Zarr), but different at the same time. She had her own quirks that made Lily herself. Still, I would’ve likes her character to be defined a bit more, as she felt rough around the edges at points. I also loved her best friend, Isabel, whose failed matchmakings were one of my favorite subplots in the book. Each of the boys-Cade, Lucas, David-all had their own personalities too and didn’t feel like flat characters, a frequent pitfall of more “chicklit” titles.

I also loved that Lily’s family was so present in this book, to the point that I wish they were in the book even more. It was nice to see a teen with a messy home life. Jonah and Wyatt, Lily’s younger brothers, were adorably mischievous and her older sister Ashley filled out the family cast well. All the scenes with the family were enjoyable, and it’s remarkable that West manages to depict so many complex relationships-with boys, friends and family in one reasonable length story.

The story itself had perfect pacing and ample suspense. It’s an easy read-perfect to read outside on a hammock or at the beach or on a long drive. Just give yourself time, because once you start, you’re going to want to finish. And my reviews are always spoiler free, but man are you going to adore this ending if you’re a hopeless romantic like me.

The notes that Lily and her secret penpal pass back and forth were fun and I looked forward to reading them whenever I saw them pop up on the next page. West took this trope and made it her own, made it something that worked with Lily’s character and didn’t feel cliché. I will note, though, that I already knew who Lily’s penpal was about eighty pages into the book. I was happy to see that I was right, though, and knowing didn’t take away from the steady build up of suspense (I may or may not have thrown the book down and shouted, “I KNEW IT!”).

The positive female friendship was an amazing part of this book, something I’m always on the lookout for in contemporary YA. I loved that they were best friends and acted like it. I loved that their trifles weren’t a major focus in the book. I only wish there was more of them in the book. Their unbreakable girl power was one of my favorite part of this story.

This book is also definitely a feel good read. I generally read books that are sad and intense, so this was a nice break from my norm. I can’t wait to check out what else West has written and maybe find a few more fluffy love stories to add to my TBR this summer. But you should all add this one, if you haven’t already.