Dear Evan Hansen (Book Review)

Dear Evan Hansen

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:  

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

Thoughts:

I have heard so much about Dear Evan Hansen. It seems that it’s been everywhere. I know that performances starts today in London. I have to admit that apart from Hugh Jackman singing a song from it on his world tour, I haven’t heard the music from the musical yet.

I went into reading Dear Evan Hansen without knowing much about it at all. I think this was the best way to read it for someone who may not see the show or know much about it. I can’t give you a comparison to the production because I haven’t seen it. However, as a book, I enjoyed reading it and thought it had incredibly well developed characters.

The basic premise of this book is that Evan Hansen (who has severe anxiety) seems to be invisible at school. After breaking his arm, his mother encourages him to get signatures on his cast- to get out there and to speak to his peers. Whilst going through this, Evan is attending therapy. He’s told to write letters to himself to become more positive. Evan’s letter is picked up by Connor Murphy so misinterprets it. Connor signs his name in big across Evan’s cast, truly making his mark. However, Evan never anticipated just how much of a mark Connor would make on his life.

Connor commits suicide and when Connor’s parents find the letter ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ they believe that Connor and Evan were good friends. Evan soon ends up tangled in lies as he tries to help the Murphy family with their grief.

There are points of this story that are so hard to read. I’m pleased this story exists though because we need to be talking about mental health. It shouldn’t be something that is hidden. I think this book would appeal to many readers- not just a YA or musical theatre audience. I think many people could and should take something away from this story.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes! 3.5 stars

A brilliant read surrounding mental health!

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Banned Books #59- Crazy Lady

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books. This month, Beth and I read Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly.

Crazy Lady!

First published: 1993
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2005 (source)
Reasons: offensive language.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: I don’t know why I put myself through this each month – as soon as I see the reasons for books being challenged/banned, I get cross! Haha. This book was originally published in 1993 which feels occasionally like a million light years ago but strangely enough, at the same time, it feels not long ago at all for me, it’s a year I remember quite well. Attitudes have changed quite dramatically from the nineties, especially regarding children with special needs (thank goodness!) but as for the reason this book was challenged? I just don’t get it. It states offensive language and well, there are many moments in this book where the characters “cuss,” but no mention is ever made of the particular words they use. All that is said is the word “cuss,” which isn’t offensive by itself – not to me, anyway. So I’m left feeling slightly confused as to where the offensive language was?!

CHRISSI: We never agree with the reasons for things being challenged and I really don’t see the problem with any language in this book. As I’ve said before, children and young adults hear and see much worse in their family home. Even in the 90s! I don’t think offensive language is reason enough to challenge a book. I really don’t!

How about now?

BETH: Nowadays I would hope that the mere mention of the word “cuss” or “swear,” wouldn’t send people running for the hills but sadly, that still appears to be the case. Well, when it was challenged in 2005 that is! Fair enough, not everybody appreciates bad language, I personally don’t use it in my reviews because I don’t want to offend anyone but I understand and enjoy the fact that everyone is different. However, I don’t understand why when the “bad words,” aren’t even mentioned that some people still have an issue with this book? Perhaps I’m being incredibly naive.

CHRISSI: I can’t believe that this book was challenged in 2005, especially when TV and the media have much worse language occurring. I mean, seriously?! If the language was more explicit, then I could probably get why it was challenged, but it’s really not that bad at all. I’ve read worse and I’m sure teenagers/young adults have heard worse too. I think we can censor our children/young people too much and it makes them curious to seek out what is being challenged.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Crazy Lady was a quick and easy read for me but nothing I really want to shout from the rooftops about. It was interesting to see the depiction of a special needs child written in the nineties (but set in the eighties) and how far we’ve come as a society since then in our attitudes and treatment. I thought the alcoholic character of Maxine was an interesting addition but I have to admit, she frustrated me slightly especially as it seemed like she wasn’t making any effort to really help herself or her son Ronald.

CHRISSI: It has an interesting story-line and one I’m pleased is represented in children’s literature. It wasn’t a book that I’d rave about. I found the ending to be a bit of a let down. Mainly, like Beth, it made me appreciate how our treatment with people with special needs has progressed. We still have a way to go, but we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction. I liked how it didn’t try and talk down or be condescending.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Two Can Keep A Secret

Two Can Keep a Secret

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:
One Of Us Is Lying

Synopsis:

Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news. And where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. No one knows what happened to either girl, and Ellery’s family is still haunted by their loss.

Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted her and Malcolm into Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but their new status grows shaky when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. No one has forgotten Malcolm’s brother-and nobody trusts him when he suddenly returns to town.

Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears, and Ellery and Malcolm were the last people to see her alive. As they race to unravel what happened, they realize every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe.

And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

Thoughts:

I wasn’t blown away by the author’s debut novel, but I knew I wanted to read this book. It sounded really gripping. I’m certainly glad I didn’t give up on this author as I really enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret. 

The story follows twins Ellery and Ezra (totally got Pretty Little Liars vibes with this name and the title…) as they go to love with their grandmother in Echo Ridge as their mother is in rehabs, Echo Ridge is completely new to them. It’s a town full of secrets. Homecoming Queens go missing including Ellery and Ezra’s aunt Sarah. Years later, it happens again and the threats are rife. Ellery and Ezra are determined to find out what’s going on, with the help of some new friends.

It’s told from two main perspectives, Ellery and Malcolm. I don’t always love a dual narrative, but I feel like this one worked and it made you have a deeper insight into the story. Malcolm is the brother of one of the Homecoming Queen’s boyfriend. They suspected Malcolm’s brother of murder and Malcolm is immediately regarded with suspicion when the threats begin once more. I really liked Malcolm’s character. I felt like the author made you want to reach into the story and help him. He certainly has a rough ride throughout.

I was so intrigued by this story, eager to find out what was going to happen. It’s not the most complex mystery, but it’s decent all the same and kept me turning the pages and that’s what it’s all about!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes! 3.5 stars

A creepy mystery well worth exploring!

Fat Girl On A Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Fat.

High school senior Cookie Vonn’s post-graduation dreams include getting out of Phoenix, attending Parsons and becoming the next great fashion designer. But in the world of fashion, being fat is a cardinal sin. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly compared to her supermodel mother—and named after a dessert. 

Thanks to her job at a fashion blog, Cookie scores a trip to New York to pitch her portfolio and appeal for a scholarship, but her plans are put on standby when she’s declared too fat to fly. Forced to turn to her BFF for cash, Cookie buys a second seat on the plane. She arrives in the city to find that she’s been replaced by the boss’s daughter, a girl who’s everything she’s not—ultrathin and superrich. Bowing to society’s pressure, she vows to lose weight, get out of the friend zone with her crush, and put her life on track. 

Skinny. 

Cookie expected sunshine and rainbows, but nothing about her new life is turning out like she planned. When the fashion designer of the moment offers her what she’s always wanted—an opportunity to live and study in New York—she finds herself in a world full of people more interested in putting women down than dressing them up. Her designs make waves, but her real dream of creating great clothes for people of all sizes seems to grow more distant by the day. 

Will she realize that she’s always had the power to make her own dreams come true?

Thoughts:

I was really intrigued by this book based on the title alone. Fat Girl On A Plane? What? I was eager to find out what this book was going to be about! I’m so pleased I read it. It was really easy to read! Perfect if you’re looking for a YA contemporary book to add to your TBR for the summer.

The story is told by the same character but from different points of time. This is the time when she was fat and the time when she was skinny. It starts with our main character, Cookie, getting the opportunity to fly to NYC to interview the designer Gareth Miller. She is told by the airline that she has to buy another seat because they deem her unable to fit into a single seat. Urgh. After finding the money, Cookie arrives in NYC but her trip doesn’t go the way she planned. Cookie believes that if she loses weight then she’ll be better accepted in the fashion world. She believes that skinny=happy. She’ll have more success and land the man of her dreams. Everything seems to be going the way she had planned, but Cookie soon finds out that skinny doesn’t always = happy.

Cookie is a fantastic character and there are lots of laugh out loud moments in this book. The author explains that this isn’t a ‘get-thin-be-happier’ story and I’m glad of that. We should learn to be happy in our own skin and thin doesn’t always mean happier. I did like that this book challenged the way we see happiness. I don’t think many people are truly happy with everything on their body and think the grass is always greener on the other side.

I think this book is well worth reading if you’re looking for a light YA contemporary read.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes! 3.5 stars

A solid debut! I enjoyed this book!

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:

Shatter Me

Furthermore

Synopsis:

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

Thoughts:

I have enjoyed Tahereh Mafi’s writing for quite some time now and was intrigued to find out that she was releasing a contemporary book. She usually writes in the dystopian genre. I was definitely interested to see how A Very Large Expanse Of Sea would compare to her other books. I thought it was a fantastic read on a very important subject.

The story is set in 2002, a year after 9/11. Shirin, is a Muslim-American girl who is dealing with the fall out and racism after 9/11. Shirin wears a hijab which causes her to become a target for bullying and racist comments within school and the local community. Shirin has started to become hardened to the way she is treated. She doesn’t come across as a very nice person anymore because her guard is up. She’s desperate to protect herself. When Ocean comes along, he wants to get to know her. Shirin has to learn how to let her guard down and let someone become closer to her.

The relationship between Shirin and Ocean is both sweet and frustrating. I think that’s pretty relatable though for the age of the characters. Sometimes I just wanted to push them together, but I think their struggles and stubborn behaviour were totally spot on. Having a relationship for Shirin, would have been a challenge, especially post 9/11. I loved Shirin as a character. She’s so fierce and not afraid to speak her mind despite what the community is doing to her.

This story does heavily involve romance, but it’s also more than that. Tahereh Mafi takes you into Shirin’s world. We find out how terrible people can be towards Muslims, especially those wearing a hijab. It was interesting (although horrible) to read about Shirin’s experiences with racism, but it was also lovely to read about the people that really cared about Shirin. I think there was a good balance. It mean it’s not all doom and gloom.

I feel like Tahereh Mafi somewhat educated readers about some aspects of Muslim culture. Of course, not all Muslims are the same, but it did give you an insight into some of their lives without being condescending. I appreciated that. I loved how we learnt about Shirin’s family. Her mum and dad were immigrants and aren’t sympathetic towards her drama at school. You can understand when you read about their experiences, however, they do still care about their daughter. That’s clear.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

A very touching read. It was lovely to read a contemporary story from Tahereh Mafi. Especially a topic in which she has so much personal experience with!

Learning To Breathe

Learning to Breathe

How did I get it?:

It was a gift!

Synopsis:

Indira Ferguson has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules—to study hard in school, be respectful, and to never let a boy take advantage of her. But it hasn’t always been easy, especially while living in her mother’s shadow.

When Indy is sent to live with distant relatives in Nassau, trouble follows her. Now she must hide an unwanted pregnancy from her aunt, who would rather throw Indy out onto the street than see the truth.

Completely broke with only a hand-me-down pregnancy book as a resource, Indy desperately looks for a safe space to call home. After stumbling upon a yoga retreat, she wonders if perhaps she’s found the place. But Indy is about to discover that home is much bigger than just four walls and a roof—it’s about the people she chooses to share it with. 

Thoughts:

I was immediately gripped by the synopsis of this book, so I put it on my Christmas wish list. I received a copy for Christmas and decided to get around to it ASAP. I’m pleased I did because although it didn’t blow me away, I thought it was a really interesting read. I will warn you though, it’s not an easy read. There’s sexual violence involved so proceed with caution.

Learning to Breathe follows Indy. She’s only just turned sixteen and finds herself pregnant after being assaulted. Indy now lives with her Aunt who couldn’t care less about her. She went from living with her dear Grammy who protected her, to someone who judged Indy on her mother’s reputation, which let’s just say, isn’t exactly glowing. Indy finds herself hiding the pregnancy, desperate to not be tarred with the same brush as her mother.

Indy is such a lovable character. I really wanted to reach into the story and protect her. I wanted to shake the adults in her life and get them to care more about the girl in front of them. I think the teachers at her school needed a good talking to as well. Completely useless!

This is Janice Lynn Mather’s debut novel and I think it shows a lot of promise. I did the feel like the pacing of the story was a little off. Sometimes it dragged and then the ending happened so quickly. The pacing of the story is what prevented me from giving this book 4 stars.

Would I recommend it?:

Yes!

A promising debut novel. The story isn’t easy to read but the main character is well developed and she makes you wish for a happy ending!

Restore Me (Shatter Me #4) *spoilers for previous books*

Restore Me (Shatter Me, #4)

How did I get it?:
It was a gift!

Previously reviewed by the same author:

Shatter Me

Furthermore

Synopsis:

Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?

Thoughts:

I was really worried when I heard that the Shatter Me series was going to get another book. I really enjoyed the trilogy and I was anxious that it might not live up to expectations. I know not everyone likes this series, but there’s something about it that really captures my attention. I find it utterly readable. Now, this review might seem a bit short and vague, but I really don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t read it yet, so I’m going to try and keep it as brief as I can.

Restore Me picks up not long after Ignite Me. Juliette has taken over the Sector 45 and has been named the new Supreme Commander. She has Warner and needs to get her sh*t sorted out. Understandably, Juliette is struggling with the enormity of the task. There’s so much she doesn’t know and secrets are starting to be revealed. Secrets that could turn her whole life around. The world in which this story is set is pretty terrifying and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better…

I loved that we were introduced to some new characters and met up with some others from the previous books. I absolutely loved that Warner and Juliette narrated this instalment. I used to be on neither ‘team’ but over the series I’ve really come to love Warner. I’m really excited to see where this story goes.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Bring on Book 5! Not something I usually say… but I’m excited!