Modern Lovers by Emma Straub*
Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were in a pretty popular college band, but now they just do regular people things. The fourth member of Kitty’s Mustache went on to become a star, burning out in her youth and leaving behind the band’s best song as her legacy to the world. Now, they live almost-next-door to each other in Ditmas Park, and their lives are simultaneously tangled and completely separate. When a producer gets in touch to buy their life rights for a movie about Lydia, their once-friend and fated rockstar, it brings up a whole host of issues and feelings on ageing, purpose and relationships.
This book manages to be dramatic and quiet, all at the same time – which is quite some feat. Fans of literary fiction will love the phrasing in this novel, which is beautiful and slow-paced without being dull. The characters are well-rounded and I very much felt that they could be real, from Andrew’s mid-life crisis to Ruby’s teenage one. This book does an excellent job of juxtaposing young love with the realities of what ‘happily ever after’ really means, the spontaneity against the monotony, the honest against the buried secrets. If you’re looking for something sweet and thought-provoking, then I think you will love this.
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*
This book took me completely by surprise. I am a little sceptical, probably unjustly, by the suite of YA novels populated by dying teenage characters, or characters who want to die – as in Jennifer Niven’s first, very popular novel All the Bright Places. They feel a little bit emotionally manipulative to me, and they’re just not my jam. It should be noted that I haven’t read any of the really popular ones, but it’s just a feeling I get – and I’m willing to be proved wrong some day. This book, though? Is about the very opposite – about living, seizing every day and squeezing every last experience out of your time here on earth. It was inspiring, joyful and so full of love for the characters.
Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart. This is the YA story that I want to see them make a movie out of, please.
What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
I am clearly on a feminist YA kick at the moment, and this is the most feminist of them all, in that it is explicitly about being a feminist and all that entails. The third in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series, and the best of the three, in my humble opinion (although the others are definitely worth picking up), follows Lottie as she takes on the world with her #Vagilante campaign. Determined to call out every incidence of sexism she encounters for a full month, Lottie finds herself at the centre of a feminist revolution at school and in the wider world – until it all starts to get out of hand. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character – I love her no-holds-barred approach to life and love. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this – it’s an absolute triumph.
The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan
I’m going to lump all these books together for the sake of this post, but they are all individually pretty excellent so I would definitely encourage you to look them up and discover their individual merits. As well a feminist YA kick, I’ve also been dabbling in the world of historical romances and I am completely head over heels for this series. I’m always a fan of books with crossovers, where characters you fell in love with in the previous novel come back with cameo roles and/or get their own starring title, and this series does it perfectly. By the time I was reading The Suffragette Scandal: Volume 4 (The Brothers Sinister) I was so enmeshed in the world of these characters that I never wanted it to end; I’m still in denial that I won’t ever find out more about their lives because they felt so real to me. These books completely smashed my preconceptions about romance novels – they’re body positive, they’re diverse, they’re feminist and each time I thought I couldn’t love another one more, the next one came along. Although the series is named for the Brothers Sinister, the three heroes of the novels, it is the heroines who steal the show. These are books about women who won’t be put into boxes, and the men who love them because of, rather than in spite of, that fact.
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