Mini Reviews: YA Contemporary

The Art of Not BreathingThe Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story of grief, and a family’s inability to deal with it, really drew me in. Elsie’s twin brother drowned five years ago, and she starts free diving because she can remember that day more clearly when she’s holding her breath on the sea floor. There are some really great aspects of this novel – Elsie’s brother Dillon’s eating disorder and the free diving, specifically – that made me want to love The Art of Not Breathing. However, the issues I had with this story were troubling enough to sour the entire reading experience. As our protagonist, I found Elsie annoying at best, insufferable at worst. I wanted to shake her more than I wanted her to succeed. Also, there was a bullying subplot that felt very disconnected from the main story line and therefore came across as forced. Why does your MC HAVE to be bullied? I cannot overstate how much I HATED the love story in this book. Word to the wise: when a college-aged boy shows interest in a 16-year-old girl, he is bad news. Not only was a romantic subplot completely unnecessary in this story about grief, but the direction it took was infuriating: it became an even cheaper plot device. Oh my god now I can’t stop thinking about this shitty male character and insipid MC who allowed it like Jesus Christ. I need to get back on track. Aside from the “love” story and Elsie herself, I did enjoy the part of the story that was actually focused on this family’s collective and individual grief. But the aspects I disliked ruined the rest for me, so I can only rate this as a (generous) 3 stars, even though the parts that were actually about the loss of Elsie’s brother I found to be really captivating.

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Wild SwansWild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what it is with recent YA contemporaries and me, but oh man I am unimpressed. Once again, this book had an intriguing premise that sounded promising: Ivy comes from a long line of brilliant yet seemingly cursed women, and the pressure to develop an outstanding talent of her own is overwhelming. Then, the mother who abandoned her after birth shows up – with the two daughters she’s actually raised, turning Ivy’s life upside down. Dun dun dunnn, exciting drama right? No. Every character in this book was either outright heinous or annoyingly cliché. Seriously, I cannot point to a single character that I genuinely liked. My biggest problem was Ivy’s mother. She is hands-down one of the worst characters I’ve read in recent memory. We never get any real excuse for her actions, which perhaps pisses me off even more. I don’t like to throw this word around lightly, but Ivy’s mother is a straight up bitch. And! She forces everyone to act as if Ivy is her sister, not daughter. SERIOUSLY?! There’s also a romantic subplot that of course becomes a tiresome love triangle between Ivy, her life long best friend, and the tattooed hipster poet. Pass. I could appreciate what Spotswood did by including characters like Ivy’s radical feminist friend and a transgendered child, but in execution it just felt so heavy handed. All of this ranting and I haven’t even commented on the plot or writing…probably because they were both so underwhelming. In terms of a rating, this book fell somewhere between 2 and 2.5 stars.

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