Thursday, September 3, 2020

One Old, One New: The Poppy Nwosu Edition

One Old, One New features two books - one old, one new, which are connected in some way. Today, I am sharing two books by Poppy Nwosu. Fun fact: Alice Dyson is actually Nwosu's debut, but it's featured as the "new" book, since it is getting a US release in September. 
Making Friends with Alice Dyson

Poppy Nwosu
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A sweet and soulful romantic debut about rumors, friendship, and discovering who you really are

Alice Dyson knows exactly how she'll be spending her final year of high school--with her head down, quietly concentrating on her textbooks and homework. She is focused on the future, and nothing and no one is going to get in her way. That is, until a bizarre encounter with Teddy Taualai, the school's most notorious troublemaker, goes viral, derailing her plans and pushing her into the spotlight. Suddenly Alice's under-the-radar life is one enormous, messy complication. And the worst part? Teddy Taualai is everywhere she turns. In author Poppy Nwosu's pitch-perfect debut novel, an unlikely pair of outsiders take the daunting, delicate first steps toward becoming friends and maybe, just maybe, something more. Briskly paced with a complex and appealing cast of characters, this contemporary romance explores the ever-tricky dance of staying true to yourself while opening your heart.
Alice had a plan. She just needed to finish her last year of school, continue to get good grades, and get into the university of her parents' choice. Then she could finally be free. Her plan didn't include Teddy Taualai, but it seems Teddy didn't get the memo, and maybe that's a good thing. 

Poppy Nwosu annihilated me with this book. This book quietly came and hit me right in the feels, and I absolutely welcomed every second of it. 

So what's this book about? 

It's about friendship. I mean, it is mentioned right there in the title, and this theme of friendship was explored from multiple sides. Alice's life was changing in many ways. She was forming a new rapport with Teddy, which was no easy task for her. At the same time, she was trying to save her lifelong friendship with her bestie, May. I really like that Nwosu included this relationship which was going through some growing pains, because many people share this experience. It gave Alice a reason to explore what makes a friendship and how to be a friend. Some really touching moments arose from these introspections, and I welcomed it all with open arms. 

It's about looking beyond the labels. Many rumors followed Teddy to his new school, and after three years, he was still unable to dispel them. He was fairly isolated because people believed these tales about him. Alice, however, made the effort to get to know him. She saw past the stories to the sweet, slightly wounded, but rather big hearted boy underneath. She took the time to break through the armor Teddy used for self-preservation, and what she found was someone really special. Teddy was the primary focus of this theme, but it came up in other ways and was definitely a theme worthy of exploration. 

It's about being true to yourself. There were so many people who thought Alice should steer clear of Teddy. Their commentary ranged from "he's a bad influence" to "you'll never be popular hanging around with him" type comments. She didn't care. She followed her heart. There were also these lovely moments where Alice would perform these small acts of kindness. Sometimes it was just saying something nice to someone, but other times, she had to dig in and be brave as she defended others. I admired her for going against the mob mentality, not giving into the "cancel culture", and I applauded her for doing things I knew she found difficult. 

It's about falling in love. Watching Alice's feelings for Teddy evolve was nothing short of wonderful. I think she struggled with what he saw in her, first as a friend and then as more. I felt like Alice suffered from never feeling like she was enough, because of the way her mother treated her and because she was unpopular. But Teddy saw into Alice's heart, and she eventually saw into his, and well, it made my heart explode. 

Nwosu told a beautiful and moving story of friendship and love. She crafted two remarkable characters, whom I am overjoyed to have met and I adored rooting for. 

**ARC received in exchange for an honest review.

Taking Down Evelyn Tait
Poppy Nwosu
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Wakefield Press
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The door creaks open and standing in the entrance is my absolute worst nightmare.
Perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect brain.
Perfect sneer.
Evelyn Tait.

Impulsive Lottie – heavy-metal fan, expert tomato-grower and frequent visitor to the principal’s office – is in even more trouble than usual. Her best friend Grace has dropped an unlikely bombshell: she’s dating Lottie’s mortal enemy, good-girl Evelyn Tait.

Studious Jude, the boy next door, has the perfect war plan. Lottie will beat Evelyn at her own good-girl game, unveiling Miss Perfect’s sinister side in the process.

Taking life more seriously starts as fun, but soon offers its own rewards . . . so long as Lottie can manage gorgeous Sebastian’s sudden interest, Jude acting weird, and the discovery that she might actually be good at something.

Taking Down Evelyn Tait is a story about family, friends and embracing who you are. Even if that person is kind of weird.
Lottie is tired of Evelyn Tait ruining her life and is determined to beat her at her own game. The takedown will require patience, planning, and a makeover of sorts. But when Lottie assumes her new good girl persona, she arrives at some epiphanies about Evelyn, her family, and herself. 

 I know this is only the second book by Nwosu, but I am in love with her writing, characters, and storytelling. Though this story dealt with friendship, family, and even romance, at its core, it was a story about growing and changing and being true to yourself. 

Lottie hadn't even finished secondary school, and her life had already been turned upside down twice. Once, when her mother left the family, and again, when her father remarried. I felt like Lottie never properly dealt with the emotional fallout, and it all just came out in the wrong ways. I mean, she got herself into trouble so often, that she was on a first name basis with the principal. [NOTE: I loved these scenes. They never failed to delight me] That was why I appreciated that her nefarious plot turned out to be such a wonderful path to self discovery. As she was pretending to be a "good girl", she actually began to enjoy the perks. It was fun to see her fully embrace this side of herself, but more importantly it gave her insight into herself and others. 

Lottie and Evelyn had been set on destroying each other for quite a while now, but Lottie never fully understood Evelyn's situation. She began to see that being Evelyn Tait was not as easy as it looked, while also learning the root cause of Evelyn's animosity towards her. It was such an "A-HA" moment for Lottie, and one of the points in the story, where I really began to see her worldview shift from being so egocentric. 

Nwosu blessed Lottie with not one, but TWO, amazing friends, both of whom I adored. At one point in the story, both of these relationships were a bit strained. There was bound to be tension, when Lottie's best girl friend, Grace, became romantically involved with her nemesis, but she also pushed her best guy friend, Jude, to his limits. Again, another "A-HA" moment for Lottie, where she came to some realizations about her friends' needs and feelings. 

But let's talk about Jude, dear sweet Jude. He was the boy next door with the heart of gold. When Lottie looked back, she realized how Jude was the one person in her life, who was always there for her.  I grew so frustrated with Lottie, because I thought she sometimes took advantage of him or took him for granted. Recognizing the way she treated him, as well as his importance in her life was another part of Lottie's evolution. 

Over the course of this book, Lottie grew tremendously. She learned to see the world outside herself, began to appreciate the important people in her life, and started to make better choices. I was really proud of her, and I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could resist falling in love with her.  

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