If you’re looking for a novel for teen and young adults which deals with real-life issues in a realistic, fun and respectful way, look no further!
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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Random House UK, Children’s
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Romance, Teen, Young Adult, Coming-of-Age
Molly is on the cusp of womanhood, though she doesn’t feel like it. She’s never been to a house party, never had alcohol, and never kissed a boy. That’s not to say she hasn’t wanted to; in fact, she’s had 26 unrequited crushes in her 17 years. But no matter what advice her twin sister Cassie has for her, Molly never has the courage to speak to boys. In fact, the only one she can speak to is the nerdy guy at the store where she works, but she doesn’t crush on him so that doesn’t really count, right? When Cassie begins dating Mina, Molly is pushed into a circle of friends she’d never normally hang out with, and she makes a pact with herself to let go of control and be daring. Speak to the boys. Especially Will, who might be the coolest guy Molly’s ever been friends with.
The Upside of Unrequited is a delightful look at the trials and tribulations of an almost-adult. It’s never easy to find love, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find you, in the most unexpected of places.
What strikes me most about this novel is that it made me remember. I’m 25, which I admit is not very old, but 17 still feels like a lifetime ago. Molly’s story reminded me about that time in my life, where everything was more emotional, more dramatic, more important. When I look back on my memories I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe, but I expect both is in order. Becky Albertalli has managed to successfully inhabit the teenage voice without being patronising, minimising or childish. Molly was someone I could relate to, and I understood her struggles.
As well as being a great example of how to write for teenagers, about teenagers, The Upside of Unrequited also reads like a love-letter to nerds. Being a self-proclaimed nerd myself, it’s nice to see them win every once in a while. Pinterest lovers will enjoy the crafty side to Molly’s personality, whilst LOTR geeks like myself will also find nods to their particular brand of interests.
The novel centres around Molly’s quest for love, but it also has a strong vein running through it concerning sisterhood, and the problems which can arise between siblings during young adulthood. All siblings grow apart a little as they transition from teenager to adult, but with twins this experience can be even more difficult. Molly and Cassie clearly have a very close relationship, but they are also distinct characters with their own ideals and aspirations. Albertalli handles this with care and realism. I completely feel for Molly when she feels that Cassie is drifting away, but I also totally understand Cassie’s desire for more independence.
I’m very impressed with this novel. What could have been a by-the-numbers story of a teenager wanting to find love is actually a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what it is to be a teenager in today’s society. I think The Upside of Unrequited can give hope to those who feel like they’re always going to feel alone and unloved. There’s someone out there for everyone. I’ve also got to add that I love the subtle way Albertalli promotes LGBT relationships in this novel. Because it is such an important issue, I think that sometimes authors can shove it in your face a little too much. With The Upside of Unrequited, all the LGBT relationships just seem right. There are no ‘token gays’. It’s just real life.
The Upside of Unrequited is released on 11th April 2017.
She Wolf by Sheri Lewis Wohl (Bold Strokes Books Inc.)
Genres: Paranormal, Romance, LGBT
Lily Avergne was once the daughter of a royal line, destined to marry a man she didn’t love. That all changed on the eve of her wedding night when she was attacked by a werewolf, an event which would change the course of her life forever.
Over four hundred years later and Lily is now a formidable Jäger, tasked with hunting the very thing she herself has become. She is the best at what she does, and lives for her job. Nothing else matters.
Her latest mission takes her to the small town of Colville, where a spate of murders has a familiar ring to it. Teaming up with the local Sheriff, Jayne, Lily begins to uncover unsettling truths about the perpetrator of these crimes, which lead her to question everything she has ever known about her past life.It is only with the help of her small team, and Jayne, that she is able to face up to her demons and finally find the love she has always secretly dreamed of.
She Wolf is an entertaining, if somewhat predictable story. A great bit of escapism but it lacks a little ingenuity which could take it from a by-the-numbers fantasy novel to something a little more special.
The novel begins with an opening prologue set in the 1500s. Although this is necessary for the storytelling, the way Wohl has decided to write the passage – as though it was written all those years ago – is a little jarring to my eye. As a 21st century reader, it was a little more effort than I wanted to use to decipher the phrasing in order to easily understand what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not at all a difficult read. I just like it to be really easy. I like the idea of it, but for me Wohl didn’t manage to pull it off. As it is the first passage in the novel I fear it may have set the rest of the book up for more scrutiny than it otherwise would have deserved.
I was worried at first it was going to be a flimsy story with little substance, but I’m pleased to say this was not entirely true. Interesting characters with distinct personalities were defined very early on, and by the first three chapters I’d already decided who I liked and who I didn’t. It’s no easy feat to create characters who are wholly real and relatable, particularly when we are dealing with the supernatural, and it is a credit to Wohl’s imagination and understanding of people that she was able to do this so early on in the novel
The plot itself, though predictable, is somewhat original. A werewolf hunting werewolves for hundreds of years is a really interesting idea which could have been played in a myriad of ways. I feel that Wohl missed a bit of a trick here. Nothing really came of this potential dilemma in the end, and though the author could be saving a really exciting bit of story for a future novel, I would have liked to see a little of the conflict which would undoubtedly have arisen in this situation. Of course, Lily has been doing this job for hundreds of years, so maybe hunting down her own kind doesn’t phase her anymore. Nevertheless, there are so many opportunities with this plot point that I would have liked to see it explored further.
There is one other plot decision I can’t ignore. Lily and her team end up staying at Sheriff Jayne’s house, and they decide they need to come up with a reason for this because the townsfolk would otherwise get suspicious. That is absolutely fine, but the reason they decide on, which they claim is the only story that will work, is nonsensical. It reads as a ludicrously obvious ploy to begin a relationship between two characters who I don’t really feel are right for each other, and it is these sorts of decisions which hold the novel back from being a really good supernatural story.
Before I give the impression that She Wolf was a complete letdown, I did complete the book, and I must say I enjoyed it. It is a brilliant piece of escapism, with very real threat to characters the reader does grow to care about. Two side characters caught my attention in particular; a witch and a necromancer who, it was hinted at, may be two of the most powerful supernatural beings in the book. When they join forces, the stuff they’re able to do is very cool, and I’d love a follow-up novel focusing on them.
Along a similar vein, I loved that Wohl created a likable and ‘friendly’ necromancer. So often in supernatural fiction necromancers are evil beings who want to raise a zombie hoard and take over the world, so a benevolent guy who just wanted to help people pass on was very refreshing. Sadly, if I remember correctly the words ‘go into the light’ were used – a little too cliché for my tastes.
On a final note, the novel feels a little like it was padded out. I felt the author repeated herself a lot, with characters thought processes making points which I was alreadly well aware of, as they’d been discussed three or four times already. At one point I was concerned it was going to threaten the well-developed characters Wohl had created – even in the depths of love I’m pretty sure most people do actually have more than one thing on their mind.
Each of these niggles are just that, niggles. None are huge, glaring errors which completely ruin the book, but together they give the feeling of a somewhat amateur attempt at storytelling.
If you want a bit of a fantastical adventure with a good balance of romance, threat and mystery then this book is for you – just don’t expect it to blow your mind.
She Wolf is available for purchase from 17th January 2017.