Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: YA Romance (page 1 of 3)

Review: Princess Amy (Melinda Pollowitz)

Melinda Pollowitz, Princess Amy (Bantam, 1981)

Category: Young Adult Fiction > Romance

Series: Sweet Dreams, #4

Setting: 1980s Michigan, USA

Locations: Mackinac Island, Petoskey

Key Words: Love triangle, class, family, snobbery, LARP, holiday, romance, cousin

In Brief: The biggest issue with this book is that we’re supposed to believe that Amy is torn between Pete and Guy when Guy is just plain awful. We’re told repeatedly that he’s really hot, and that’s why Amy can’t stay away despite him being a prat, but she finds Pete attractive too, so it doesn’t make any sense. The dialogue’s often clunky, too.

Huh?: The Chad-like Guy and all his super snobby friends apparently play a LARP version of D&D. Not likely.

Protagonist: Amy Painter (16 years old, female, white, American, middle class, slim, able-bodied, neurotypical)

Diverse Key Characters: Pete Demarest (working class)

Content Warning: Unhealthy weight loss discussion and behaviour. (Amy’s aunt and cousin diet constantly and want Amy to do the same. Initially she says she doesn’t need to, because she’s not overweight, but by the end of the book she’s crowing about her stomach shrinking and she’s dropped a dress size in three weeks.)

Author: Melinda Pollowitz (American)

Review: The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

The Fault in Our Stars book cover
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin, 2012).

Category: Young Adult Fiction: Contemporary

Setting: 2010s Indianapolis, USA

Key Words: Cancer, Romance, First Love

In Brief: A book that initially is more about life than imminent death, but which succumbs to many of the usual tropes by the end.

The Plot: A terminally ill girl meets a boy in her cancer support group and they fall in love.

The Protagonist: Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl whose terminal cancer has been paused by a new drug.

The Love Interest: Augustus, seventeen years old and in remission for fourteen months at the start of the novel.

Other Female Characters: The only main one is Hazel’s mother, who is more complex than it initially seems. Hazel has kept one school friend, but their friendship is surface level compared with her friendships with Augustus and Isaac.

Diverse Characters: The three teenage characters are disabled / chronically ill.

The Worst Bit: Three words: Anne, Frank, applause.

(content warnings under the cut)

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Review: “The Popularity Plan” by Rosemary Vernon (Bantam, 1981)

The Popularity Plan book cover

Series: Sweet Dreams, #2

Genre: YA Romance

Setting: Contemporary USA

Quotable: “Don’t worry, Dad. Mom’s not going to let them make me into a wanton woman.”

The Good:

  • The protagonist, Frannie, has a realistic reaction to her newfound popularity, but ultimately she understands it for how performative it is.
  • Frannie’s parents are present and active in her well-being.
  • The writing is engaging and the book is a swift read.

The Bad:

  • Frannie’s friends are horrible bullies, and yet she’s always the one apologising to them.
  • Ronnie isn’t very well developed as a love interest

The Unbelievable:

  • Frannie arranges dates with five different boys in a week and that just earns her a reputation as a girl who doesn’t want to settle down yet. In 90s Australia, that would’ve earned her a much worse reputation than that. (Unfairly, of course, but still.)

Review: P.S. I Love You

Title: P.S. I Love You

Author: Barbara Conklin

Series: Sweet Dreams, #1

Published: 1981

Setting: 1980s Palm Springs, USA

Key Words:

  • first love
  • romance
  • holiday romance
  • class/wealth
  • divorce
  • family
  • young adult
  • illness
  • loss

Thoughts:

  • simplistic writing
  • genuine emotion
  • likeable protagonist
  • good love interest

(content warnings under the cut)

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Review: All American Girl – Meg Cabot

All American Girl book coverI’ve never read any of the Princess Diaries books. My library never has the first one in, and the movie put me off them a bit, because Anne Hathaway bugs me, and I’m exceedingly shallow. So I think All American Girl might be the first full-length Meg Cabot book that I’ve ever read. I picked it up at a library book sale, expecting it to be a light and fluffy read that I could then pass on, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. It’s a clever and fun contemporary romance, which I shan’t be giving away after all!

Sam is an enjoyable heroine, who has a strong personality. My favourite part about the novel was the way that she grows throughout its pages, learning to see the world and the people around her in a more mature way. Although All American Girl is not strictly a coming-of-age story, there is still a great deal of character growth shown here. Sam’s art lessons, and her struggle to paint what she sees, instead of what she believes she knows, form a perfect metaphor for her parallel reassessment of her family, her long-term crush, and the other people in her life.

I can’t stand the phrase “Leader of the Free World” as a synonym for “American president”, because the US president is not my leader, thankyouverymuch. It’s used multiple times in All American Girl, but I get the impression that Cabot uses it ironically, given the way she portrays the president and his actions. If so, it’s another example of the clever writing and characterisation that makes the novel stand out a little from the crowd of contemporary romances.

Speaking of the romance, it’s also nicely done. There’s a love triangle of sorts, but only in the sense that Meg is torn between her long-held “love” for Jack (her older sister’s boyfriend) and the “frisson” between her and David. I particularly enjoyed the way that Jack’s character failings are never specifically detailed, but rather the reader is allowed to form their own conclusions from his behaviour.

All American Girl is, indeed, fluffy teen romance, but it’s a strong example of the genre. Perhaps I should try the Princess Diaries after all!

Review: Ex-mas – Kate Brian

Ex-mas book coverEx-mas is enjoyably fluffy. Like many contemporary romances, it’s rather predictable, but the storyline is pleasant and the writing style is low-key and unobtrusive. I read it on public transport, and it’s the perfect sort of book for that situation. You don’t have to think too much, and it’s likeable enough that the time passes quickly.

I’m a big fan of queen bees, so I got excited when I realised that Lila was one of the two most popular girls in her school. This isn’t a story about popularity, however, but rather one about the choice between being popular and being yourself. In this sense, it has a good message, but I found Lila’s dilemma a little unconvincing, given that she’d spent three years working at gaining and maintaining her place in the social hierarchy of her school. That shows commitment!

I struggled to find the connection between Lila and Beau convincing as well. For starters, their background is that they dated through middle-school and into their freshman year, and this is represented as having been an extremely serious relationship, with them being in love with each other. I really needed them to be aged up a little if I were to believe in their past and their rightness for each other. In contrast, Lila’s three year relationship with Erik is written more like a three month relationship. I know dating is different in America, but it still didn’t ring true to me – especially as Lila’s memories of Beau being controlling are never really addressed.

Then again, it never pays to think too deeply about a lot of novels, and Ex-mas is entertaining enough that I was able to put aside my questions and enjoy the plot. Road trip stories are always fun, and here the purpose for the trip adds an extra element of interest to the story.

Review: My Summer of Love – Helen Cross

My Summer of Love book coverI watched the film of My Summer of Love earlier this year. It was one I’d picked up super cheap at some point in time, completely unaware that it was related to the novel I’d had sitting in my bookshelves for years, waiting to be read. I didn’t like the movie at all, so I had very low expectations for the book it had been based upon. Luckily, I enjoyed it a lot more than I had been expecting.

My Summer of Love is tightly written with a very strong voice. The protagonist is fifteen-year-old Mona, and the novel is presented from her flawed perspective, complete with slang and local dialect. At first, it’s a simple tale of teenage boredom and family drama, centred around Mona’s sister’s second wedding and life at her father’s pub. But then she meets Tamsin (for the second time) and Mona’s penchant for gambling, drinking and petty crime descends into something a lot darker.

While reading My Summer of Love, I was strongly reminded of the absolutely brilliant film, Heavenly Creatures and, upon finishing, I realised that it also has many similarities to The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. There’s a strong sense of apathy here that belies the obsessive emotion that Mona says she feels for Tamsin. As readers, we are not given the impression of a young girl caught in the flush of first love; rather we see someone broken and breaking further apart, with no apparent care for what she does and who she does. My Summer of Love is not so much a tale of love as it is an account of deep grief and the (unknowing) quest to find something to feel.

The main pairing in the novel is a lesbian pairing, but I am not sure that this matters at all. Mona doesn’t question her attraction to Tamsin, but rather lets it slot easily in amidst her growing awareness of men and her attractiveness to men. I found this refreshing, but not entirely realistic, given the novel’s setting.

I am not entirely sure why they changed the novel so very much when making it into a film. Certainly, there is not a lot in the film that bears any great resemblance to the book, which is a shame. My Summer of Love is dark and clever and very good. On the other hand, I would not read it again, simply because I didn’t like the ending. I’m not sure it was sufficiently supported by Mona’s journey and, in a purely personal sense, it just felt too dark and pointless. The first line of the novel talks about the day that two people died. If it had only been the first person, I think the ending would have been perfect.

Still, the fact that I didn’t enjoy everything about My Summer of Love doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very clever novel, with strong characters and a wonderful feeling of apathy and destruction throughout.

Review: Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss coverPeople have been raving about Anna and the French Kiss for as long as I’ve been book blogging. As a great lover of contemporary young adult romance, my interest was obviously piqued, but I didn’t rush to get my hands on a copy because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my inflated expectations. I need not have been concerned. Anna and the French Kiss is just as wonderful as everyone says it is.

The thing with contemporary romance is that it’s a genre where it is particularly obvious that there are only so many stories to be told. The key to a good novel, therefore, is not in the level of originality so much as it is in doing things well and with heart. And Anna and the French Kiss definitely has heart.

Anna makes for an extremely likeable protagonist. While she is beautiful (of course), she is not perfect. In fact, she learns a few important lessons about herself as the novel reaches its climax. She makes mistakes, but once she realises this, she works to put them right, which is the thing that matters. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Anna is passionate about something other than Étienne – film – and that her plans to study it remain firm despite her feelings for him.

Étienne himself is basically constructed by Stephanie Perkins to steal the hearts of a good number of her readers. He is thoroughly charming and always quick to defend and support Anna. There is the clichéd American fetishisation of a British accent, which I always roll my eyes at, but luckily Étienne has more to him than an accent and floppy hair. I liked the fact that he is short and that the trials in his life actually have an effect upon his behaviour.

Both the friendship and romantic tension between Anna and Étienne feel very real. Sometimes, romance can feel forced, but that is definitely not the case here. More importantly, neither Anna, nor Étienne, are forced to alter who they are in order to work together. My only concern with the relationship is the fact that, as charming as he may be, Étienne does not really strike me as a good long term relationship prospect. You wouldn’t catch me placing too much trust in sometime with such a history of extreme emotional cheating!

As a brief aside, I often struggle with books with an ‘American Goes Abroad’ focus, simply due to how the other culture is so often described in a patronising manner. This is absolutely not the case in Anna and the French Kiss, which I found very pleasing. In fact, any negativity is directed towards America itself – so perhaps the awkward feeling for non-American readers will be replaced by one for Americans!

Anna and the French Kiss is a warm and enjoyable novel, with characters that are easy to like and an overarching will-they-won’t-they plot thread that is very appealing. Stephanie Perkins deserves the praise that this novel has received and I very much look forward to reading the companion books.

Review: The Unwritten Rule – Elizabeth Scott

unwrittenruleSarah has liked Ryan for years. The trouble is, Ryan is now dating her best friend, Brianna. Sarah knows that crushing on your best friend’s boyfriend is breaking one of the biggest unwritten rules of friendship but, the more time she spends with Ryan and Brianna, the more she realises that she doesn’t want to back away, even though she knows she should.

The Unwritten Rule does a very good job of capturing the kinds of emotions involved in having a crush on someone you’re not meant to like and I think that Elizabeth Scott did a good job of making her characters realistic when it comes to being too afraid to communicate due to inexperience and fear. Even more so, Brianna is just spot-on as a study of a teenage girl whose behaviour is entirely influenced by her unhappy home life. I think a lot of readers will dislike her greatly, but I personally found her a very sympathetic character, despite her self-centred behaviour.

I think my greatest difficulty with The Unwritten Rule was the fact that I just don’t like infidelity in any form. Scott puts a lot of effort into making it almost seem excusable here, by making both partners cheaters and by emphasising the fact that Brianna isn’t an entirely wonderful friend to Sarah but, in a way, that just made me more uncomfortable with the subject matter. There is always the feeling that what Sarah and Ryan are doing is wrong, but it seems to be portrayed as a justifiable wrong, and that just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think it’s okay to cheat, just because your partner isn’t as perfect for you as someone else is and I don’t think it’s okay to betray a friend because she cares more about herself than about you. So I don’t think I’m really the intended audience for this book!

All that said, I enjoyed how the novel was written and found Scott’s style extremely fluid. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers who aren’t quite as put-off by infidelity and betrayal as I am, because I think it’s a well-constructed book with a lot going for it. As it was, I read most of it in one sitting, and will definitely look out for more of Elizabeth Scott’s books in the future.

Review: Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance – Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Charlie and Aaron play girlfriend and boyfriend on a top family television program. In order to boost the show’s popularity, they also pretend to be in love in real life, an act that can be difficult to maintain when they annoy each other so very much. But then their cover is blown, their career is on the rocks and the two teen stars are forced to weather a frantic media storm without the old roles to depend upon.

Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance is a light read with three distinct parts. The first section concentrates upon Charlie and Aaron’s life as teen megastars, the middle focusses on their time hiding out together following the outing of their fake romance and the ending is set at a Shakespeare festival, where they have been cast as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. The difficulty with this is that each section felt quite distinct and I had mixed feelings about the book as a whole. The first part was fun, the second part dragged a bit and the final section was far more my kind of thing. There’s still a focus on the relationship between Charlie and Aaron (after all, this is a romance), but there’s a strong coming-of-age element as well, and the two protagonists are allowed some real character development, which was lacking in the earlier part of the book.

Although the novel draws its ideas from Much Ado, it is not really a modernisation as such. Certainly, there are some strong similarities between Charlie and Aaron and their Shakespearean characters, but this is not really played up until the final section of the book. At most points, it reads like a standard fame-based contemporary romance, which I think is a positive. Connecting Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance too closely to Shakespeare’s work would undoubtedly highlight the former’s shortcomings, whereas it stands on its own as a fair example of its genre.

Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance switches between chapters told from the first person perspective of the two protagonists. I am not sure whether Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin took on a character each, as some other collaborations have done, or whether they contributed equally to each perspective, but I did find that the two character voices could seem a little indistinct at times. The biggest difficulty I had with this style of narration, however, was the fact that occasionally the reader is subjected to reading about the same events twice, but from different points of view, which often meant jumping backwards in time with the change of chapter. This seemed to happen more and more towards the end of the novel, and I found it quite a clumsy technique, which really took me out of the action rather a lot.

When it comes to likeability, I think that Aaron will be the more popular of the two main characters. Charlie is very realistic, and I enjoyed the way that she allowed herself to be more vulnerable as the story progressed, but she has an edge to her character that makes her initially more difficult to like. Aaron, on the other hand, always seems more down-to-earth. I’m not sure that he’ll end up a major fictional hearthrob, but he’s an interesting character who is not as distanced from readers by his television stardom as Charlie is.

If you’re looking for a light romance, you could definitely do worse than Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance, especially once the character development starts to kick in. It’s not the kind of book that will stick with me forever, but it was a pleasant way to while away a train trip.

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