Monday, September 7, 2020

#AmReading YA: The 5-Star Edition

Charming as a Verb

Ben Philippe
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.
Henri had many talents, and his charm was one of his secret weapons. A chameleon, who could easily fit into all school cliques. A persuasive orator, who dominated at debate. An entrepreneur, who created a successful dog walking business. He was also a first generation American, who was under a LOT of pressure from his parents to achieve their dream of him attending Columbia, and for once, his charm might not be enough to help him attain this goal. 

I fell in love with Philippe's writing via the greatness that is The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. That story had incredible characters, spectacular humor, and lots of emotional depth, and I saw all those elements on display in Charming as a Verb as well. 

  1. Henri was a first-class narrator. I loved his voice! He was witty and snarky and authentic. He elicited a multitude of laughter from me with his many observations, while also appealing to my heart with some of his hopes and fears. 
  2. The romance was fantastic. Who knew blackmail could turn into more? Henri and Corrine were polar opposites, personality-wise. She was "intense" and wanted to learn his charming ways, but she also brought a lot to the table. Wow! Just, wow! Henri really met his match with Corrine. She was one of the few, who could resist his charm, and it forced him to be more real with her. I also loved how they challenged each other and the way they grew together. 
  3. The bromance won my heart. Henri and his best friend, Ming, had a great friendship. Every time they were on page together was a special treat. I have to say, I am such a fan of seeing more male friendships, where they openly share their emotions. We need these depictions. 
  4. Anyone who is going through or has ever experienced the college admissions process will be able to relate to Henri's struggle. There is the stress with getting all the applications in, keeping your grades up, and padding your "resume" so that the colleges notice you. There is also the pressure to achieve, which may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Getting into college is a major process and a B I G decision. That was all explored and captured so well in this book.
  5. OMG, the dogs! My first reason for picking up this book was because Ben Philippe wrote it, but when I saw that cover! I knew I HAD to read it. And friends, that cover was not a tease. Henri walked some fabulous furry friends, and I loved getting to know them all. 
Another book by Philippe for my favorites shelf! He combined standout characters with the perfect amount of humor, romance, and emotion. I was delighted to be part of Henri's world and grateful to accompany him on this journey. 

Overall: This book really lived up to its name. I was utterly charmed by this story and absolutely loved it from beginning to end!

Early Departures

Justin A. Reynolds
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always, delivers another smart, funny, and powerful stand-alone YA contemporary novel, with a speculative twist in which Jamal’s best friend is brought back to life after a freak accident . . . but they only have a short time together before he will die again.

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.

He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.

Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth?
Jamal shut out his lifelong best friend, Q,  after losing his parents in a car accident, but when he saw his former  friend in danger, he didn't hesitate to help. Unfortunately, he was too late. However, Q was chosen for a new program, which would bring him back to life, temporarily. Given this second chance, Jamal was determined to mend their friendship, but he was also racing the clock as he tried to repair the two years of damage. 

If you could, would you opt to come back to life? To take that opportunity to say goodbye? I am not sure how I would answer that question, but in theory, I think there is something really beautiful about it, and that beauty permeated this story. As with Opposite of Always, I alternated between laughter and tears as I read this book. I was filled with pain and sadness, but also a lot warmth, hope, and happiness. 

It had been two years since his parents' deaths, yet Jamal was still grieving their loss, even if he didn't acknowledge it. It kept him from planning for his future and from fully committing to any relationships. He had this deep fear of losing more people who mattered to him, so he decided not to get too attached. This broke my heart at first, but at least he eventually was pushed forward in this story. I found it really special that the catalyst for this change was his best friend. That he was able to work through his pain and loss by fixing his broken friendship with Q. 

I am actually ugly crying as I write this, but I swear, there is a lot of humor in this book. I smiled a lot as I spent time with Jamal, Q, and the rest of their "family". The flashbacks were especially heartwarming. I shared memories of younger Jamal and Q as they worked on their comedy show, as well as some precious recollections of his parents. 

I must say, Jamal was one lucky man. He was surrounded by people who cared deeply for him. Besides Q, he had a phenomenal group of women, who pushed him, challenged him, and supported him. The relationship between him and his sister was simply extraordinary, and I could not have picked a better girlfriend for Jamal. Q's mother also played a huge role in his healing journey, and it eased my pain knowing they had each other. 

This book was really emotional but so beautiful. It's about loving out loud and treasuring every moment. It's easy to think you always have more time. More time to tell or show the people who are important to you that they are, in fact, important to you. This book was a really heartfelt reminder to not put those moments off. It was about love, "family", second chances, and seizing the day. Maybe I am a bit sappy, but I was I was extremely touched by this story.

**ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.

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  1. I was redirected here by the link in your "best of YA" post. Early Departures sounds like a great mix of contemporary and sci-fi/fantasy, so I have it on my radar now!

    1. Both of Reynolds' books have a sci-fi element. This one, the re-animation, his previous book, a time loop. They are very emotional too, and I really loved them.