Review: Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

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Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

There are monsters in the sea.

Warning: This is a slightly personal review.

Eliza and Her Monsters is extremely relatable. It deals with social anxiety, which is something that a lot of people suffer with. It shows how, despite all logic, our minds can twist our biggest fears around and turn them against us.

I relate with Eliza on a lot of levels, but my personal experience reading this book might be a little different. See, I used to be exactly like Eliza. I didn’t realize it, but throughout high school, I didn’t talk to my peers very often. I purposely avoided working in groups or attending any of the events, including prom. I ate lunch in the library, even though I wasn’t supposed to, because I hated the idea of sitting in the cafeteria. I tried to hide as much as I possibly could, all because I was terrified of talking to my classmates and having them either ignore me or shut me down. I didn’t want them to even look at me.

My senior year of high school brought a lot of changes to my life, and I started to open up a bit more. By the time I graduated, I had gained some confidence. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t invisible, and I was comfortable with that.

I have mostly overcome my social anxiety – mostly. I’ll admit that sometimes I get extremely freaked out whenever I have to talk to someone that I have a crush on, and my best friend will attest to this, because she’s had to listen to me fret and whine for years. I didn’t realize how far I’d come until I read Eliza and Her Monsters and I saw in Eliza who I used to be.

I was so frustrated with her. A lot of the time, I thought Eliza was being extremely immature, especially when she shut out her family. Every time her parents would try to approach her and get her to spend time with them, she would throw a fit, like she was twelve years old. She was abrasive, disrespectful, and selfish. She gave no thought to how others felt or what their problems were.

I used to be just like that. I used to do all of those things, and reading them through different eyes – from the outside looking in – completely sucked. It was also an eye-opener.

Every time Eliza’s parents talked to her about how private she was and how she needed to be more sociable, I saw reflected in them my own parents, saying the exact same thing. I remembered how much those kinds of words irritated me – but, reading them again, I wasn’t. It was like I was finally understanding what it was my parents had been trying to drill in me for so many years.

I am still pretty introverted. I detest parties. I hate being by myself in a group of strange people – but I’m not as afraid to talk anymore. As a matter of fact, the right person would probably say that I have a harder time shutting up.

The best part about Eliza and Her Monsters was Eliza’s maturity. She learns how to conquer her anxiety and keep herself from getting worn out, and that is important to every person who has ever suffered from social anxiety. It has some nerd culture, yes, and quite a bit of the Francesca Zappia charm – of which I have grown fond of since I read Made You Up – but the most important aspect, and the one that will appeal the most, is how Eliza overcomes her fears – how, essentially, she slayed her monsters.

Review: The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

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The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“Run. The end draws nigh, and the sun will soon set for all your kind. How long can you evade the dark, I wonder?”

Well, holy shit. Julie Kagawa took everything that I wanted from The Immortal Rules and delivered it in The Eternity Cure on a silver platter. I don’t know why I’m so surprised.

The Immortal Rules was good, but I still found it wanting. I couldn’t stand the girl-hate, and due to the extensive traveling, a few parts were slow. It also didn’t feel nearly as dark as it could’ve been, with Allie a very unconvincing narrator when it came to describing her struggles with her “demon”. Because I love Julie Kagawa’s writing so much – plot-driven, dynamic, and straight-forward – I still enjoyed it, but there was something missing.

Whatever it was, The Eternity Cure shoved it down my throat. For one, it’s a blood festival. Not only is there more action, but the battles are more gruesome. The world that Allie and Zeke live in becomes more twisted, and that’s something that I’ve never seen from Julie Kagawa before. It was a delight. Sarren, who was mostly just a distant memory in The Immortal Rules, appears more often and reveals his true psychopathic nature. This series was originally marketed as dystopian, but the further it goes on, the more it skewers into horror – especially where that ending is concerned.

Allie has also matured. No longer hiding her true nature, her melodrama is kept at bay, and since she is also no longer quarreling with Ruth, there isn’t any girl-hate – and I can’t tell you enough how big of a relief that is. The worst part about The Immortal Rules was the feud between Allie and Ruth over Zeke. It was a gigantic obstacle that kept getting tripped over, preventing the story from flowing smoothly.

Additionally, there’s Jackal. Jackal appeared at the end of The Immortal Rules as the raider king hunting down Zeke’s family, and he reappears early on in The Eternity Cure. He adds the sarcasm and wit that I remember in The Iron Fey series, with Puck. It’s an element to Julie Kagawa’s writing that I’ve grown found of, and while Jackal is a gigantic asshole and his sense of humor is much blacker, he’s so endearing. He’s the icing on top of the cake.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” he announced. “The good news is that the jeep is still where we left it, and I got the damned thing working again.”

“What’s the bad news?” I asked.

“Something took my fuzzy dice.”

I’m starting to grow really fond of this series, the same way that I did with The Iron Fey. It delivers the creepy, bloody, vicious vampire story that I had been craving for.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami, by Akiko Yosano

1142106Original Title: みだれ髪 (Midaregami)

Author: Akiko Yosano (與謝野 晶子, Yosano Akiko)

Translator: Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda

Genres: Poetry, Tanka

Rating: ✮✮✮ +½

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Without returning…

O my feelings

In this gathering darkness of spring

And against my koto

My tangled, tangled hair.


Project BSD

I cannot verify how good I am at reviewing poetry. I can’t critique poetry the same way that I can books; I can only generate my personal opinion, not the quality of it. There were some that I didn’t like or understand, but Tangled Hair was a beautiful collection over all.

Tanka is syllabic, and it follows a structure of 5-7-5-7-7. Similar to the haiku, it also contains themes of nature. There’s a lengthy introduction that delves into the history of the tanka and also its evolution, leading up to where Akiko Yosano plays a roll in it. It rambles on and quite a bit of it is unnecessary – there’s a lot about Tekkan, Akiko’s husband, and all of his past lovers that was pretty boring – and in the end, it entails what can be easily understood by reading the poetry itself: it’s feminine, it’s erotic, and it’s sensual, just like Akiko herself.

Morning wisteria,

Soft murmurs of love,

His hand on the back of my neck,

O powerless to detain him,

My lover of one night!

What makes Akiko’s poetry so shocking is not just the eroticism, but what it symbolized. The traditional tanka relates strictly to nature’s beauty; Akiko crushed the “Old School” style and turned the tanka, which had been dying across the nation as an art form, into something completely her own. There’s a lot of themes in her poetry that become repetitive – the color red, pink blossoms, a koto, priests and temples – but sometimes she still twisted it and wrote something new. This one is my personal favorite:

The clear spring inside me

Overflowed,

Became muddy –

A child of sin you are

And so am I.

The best part about Tangled Hair is that it’s bilingual. Because it’s so difficult to translate Japanese exactly into English, trying to replicate it to the letter is an impossible job, especially since tanka is based on syllables. To give you an idea, hanashimasu means “speaks/will speak” in Japanese – four syllables versus one or two, depending on the context. It’s unbalanced. Instead of trying to cram the English translation into the same structure, the translators let the poems run free, and included the poems in the original Japanese – both in kanji and romaji – to keep its authenticity. There’s also notes that explain the poems’ meanings, though personally, I think trying to dissect poetry ruins its beauty.

Tangled Hair is feminist poetry. Though there were some that I didn’t get, I love the themes that are depicted in this collection: sexuality, beauty, desire, and throughout, that undertone of naturalness that the original tanka prescribes.

Manga Review: Seraph of the End, by Takaya Kagami and Yamato Yamamoto

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Seraph of the End, by Takaya Kagami and Yamato Yamamoto

Genres: Shonen, Paranormal

Volumes: 14

Status: Ongoing

Favorite Characters: Mikaela Hyakuya, Krul Tepes, Shihō Kimizuki

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

“Humans will do anything for their families. We’ll happily lie, cheat, make deals with the devil, or even become demons ourselves.”

When I write these reviews, I try really hard to keep myself from gushing all over the place and to maintain an analytical, serious persona – but this time, I don’t think I can do it. I love this manga too freaking much.

I got into Seraph of the End on complete accident. What started out as a mild curiosity blew up into a frantic obsession. I usually take my time watching anime to avoid burning out, so twenty-four episodes usually takes me about a week and a half.

I watched Seraph of the End in a single weekend. I couldn’t stop.

What surprises me the most is that Seraph of the End has everything that I hate. It has fantasy elements, but it is also a dystopian, which is a genre I can’t stand. There are vampires, which up until recently I couldn’t take seriously. Also, I kid you not, but almost every person in Yūichirō, the main character’s squad has a gigantic crush on him – including the men. Then there’s Mikaela, whose obsession with Yūichirō is so intense that he has very few other characteristics. He’s a character that was built to be complex but is portrayed as one-dimensional.

He is also my favorite character of the series and my precious vampire angel.

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The story is based around the idea that in 2012, the world was supposed to end. A virus spread that killed virtually all humans over the age of twelve years old, and in order to maintain their food source, vampires rose up and took control, capturing many and taking them down into vampire cities as livestock. Yūichirō and his adopted family at the Hyakuya Orphanage were such victims, and they lived like that for four years until Mikaela, Yūichirō’s best friend, plotted an escape that went horribly wrong. The rest of the orphans ended up dead, but Yūichirō managed to escape. He enters the Japanese Imperial Demon Army in order to become a part of the Moon Demon Company, a special branch designed to eradicate vampires, in order to get revenge for his family.

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The central theme is to live not just for yourself, but for your family and friends as well. Yūichirō maintains his loyalty to his squad, to Guren – who saved him four years prior, when he escaped – to the rest of the army, and to Mikaela. He starts out as a lone wolf that doesn’t rely on anyone, but comes to learn that he can’t fight alone. I love how – even if the mission depends on him to leave comrades behind – Yūichirō will scream, bluster, and at times disobey in order to keep those he cares about safe. Stupid? Yes, but I’m a softy, and I love the concept of ‘no man getting left behind’.

Seraph of the End is both beautifully written and drawn, with intense action, slices of humor, and a whole lot of tragedy. It’s one of those gripping, edge-of-your-seat stories that I’ve come to find I adore just as much as the sweet and romantic ones.

“No matter what you become, we will always be family.”

Review: Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

7893725Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.

Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away was the very first book that I ever reviewed on The Grumpy Librarian. It’s almost kind of surreal that, about a year after this blog began, I’m reviewing another one of her books.

The topic of school shootings is a very sensitive one. It’s multi-layered and complex. You look at the situation, and at face value, you see the victims; you dig further, and you consider the shooter’s mental state, what put them in that position in the first place. This makes both parties simultaneously innocent and guilty, and when people are murdered, everybody wants it to be black and white. What Jennifer Brown shows in Hate List is that it isn’t. It’s so multi-colored that you can’t tell where one fades into another.

In the end, Nick – the shooter – is a monster and a victim. He is his own victim; he destroyed himself. The message that Hate List portrays is that, even though Nick was bullied relentlessly, his anger and pursuit of revenge don’t equal the damage he caused – not even a fraction of it. That’s because – and as someone who just recently graduated, I can say this with absolute confidence – those things will come and go. Though I can’t speak for everyone, teenagers mature and come to regret what they’ve done and who they used to be. It was Nick’s inability to contain his anger – deal with it, find a source for it, see past it – that caused him to explode.

And although what Nick did was unforgivable, what Jennifer Brown doesn’t let the reader forget is that he was a human being. She peeks into the kind of person he used to be, before his mind became clouded with violence. She shows how kind he was and how much he loved those he cared about, and how even after what he’s done, Valerie can still grieve for him.

Valerie is a great protagonist, because when Nick blew up, she caught most of the shrapnel. She has to deal with so much guilt: over not noticing Nick’s behavior, for causing her family grief, for starting the mess in the first place. She has to look at the faces of all of the people that she used to blame for her suffering, but were actually innocent, and at what she did to them, indirectly. She has to find ways to make amends, even when people won’t let her. Hate List shows her maturity from beginning to end.

I was completely absorbed by this book. The emotions were all so tangible. One of the qualities of Jennifer Brown’s writing that I love is how she pulls out the flaws in human beings and uses them to shape her books. She shows how even the people we love the most can turn into the people we hate; how even the nicest ones we know can turn cruel. That’s what makes her books so realistic, so engrossing, and so hard to put down.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: The Setting Sun, by Osamu Dazai

194740Original Title: 斜陽 (Shayō)

Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)

Translator: Donald Keene

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮

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This I want to believe implicitly: Man was born for love and revolution.


Project BSD

I very much enjoined No Longer Human. I liked its quiet melancholy and its deep, depressing theme. Whether or not I cared for the narrator is dubious, but I thought it was insightful and I relished it thoroughly. To completely flip the page over and end up here is a bit of a shock.

The biggest problem with The Setting Sun is that it’s boring, and also that it’s melodramatic. It’s full of symbolism relating to the post-war era of Japan following World War II, and if the book related to the country as a whole, I could get down with that. Instead, Dazai wrote about a specific aristocratic family. This means that the attention is centered on them. This means that I have to care for them and direct my sympathy towards them, and I can not.

If I felt anything at all, it was squashed by Kazuko. How the hell am I supposed to feel bad for her when she writes to a man, knowing that he has a wife and family, asking to become his mistress and to have his child? Ignorance is one thing, but she knows. I realize that times were different then, and that many men had mistresses and their wives even knew about it, but that doesn’t disregard how much it sickens me.

Naoji has told me that many people say you are repulsive, and that you are hated and often attacked. Such stories only make me love you all the more. I am sure, considering who you are, that you must have all kinds of amies, but now you will gradually come to love only me. I can’t help thinking that.

Kazuko is whiny. She’s whiny and self-absorbed and just plain annoying.

In regards to the writing, Dazai has this habit of stating an event, and then going back and describing what happened. I hate this tactic, because it’s anti-climatic – it’s almost lazy. Where’s the build-up and tension? As a whole as well, parts are extremely plain, some are purple enough to induce vomiting, and some just don’t make sense. (Why are the words ‘breast’ and ‘breasts’ used so often? Is it intended to be sexual or could he not think of a proper synonym?)

This book is important to Japan because it depicts its transition into a more industrial society. It’s not that I don’t understand that, or that I’m overlooking it – I simply didn’t enjoy this book.

Goodreads Book Tag!

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おはよう、皆さん!(Good morning, everyone!)

I’m almost done with high school. My final day is next week! I’m nervous and excited all at the same time. I’ve been really busy, but now quite a few of my classes have ended, and I have more free time than ever.

To celebrate, I decided to do this tag that absolutely nobody asked for!

I nabbed it from over at Icebreaker694, and if you haven’t been tagged already by her, you should do it, too!


WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU MARKED AS READ?

After a long week of wrapping up my resume and portfolio project, I managed to finish a collection of stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa! I read the ninth volume of Haikyuu!! the same night, which I am slowly making my way through as the volumes become available at the library.


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

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I can’t say anything about this yet, but I did like No Longer Human, so hopefully I will like this one as well.


WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO READ NEXT?

One of these two!


DO YOU USE THE STAR RATING SYSTEM?

Well, yes. Although I wish that Goodreads would include the half-star ratings.


ARE YOU DOING A 2017 READING CHALLENGE?

I WAS. But here’s the thing, see. I set it really high because I was reading a lot of manga, and although I was double-checking that I was adding the ‘read’ dates, for some reason Goodreads would cut like, twenty or so of my books out of my challenge. Gone. Kaput. So I just said, “Screw it,” then cancelled my challenge and figuratively sulked in a corner.


DO YOU HAVE A WISHLIST?

Yes, although I haven’t added any books to it in a while.


WHAT BOOK DO YOU PLAN TO BUY NEXT?

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I really want to read some poetry by Chūya Nakahara, but his books are so hard to find! I can’t get them through Mel-Cat. I especially want this one because it’s a bilingual edition.


DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE QUOTES?

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

I need to read more Jane Austen.


WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS?

It’s not that I love every book that these authors have written, because Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite of all-time, and I haven’t been able to finish any of her older books yet. It’s just that they’ve written books that mean so much to me.


HAVE YOU JOINED ANY GROUPS?

Yes, but no. I’m a part of a few groups, but I don’t participate in any of them, and I feel like it’d be rude for me to leave. ;–;


I’m feeling lazy today, so this time I tag everyone!

(Seriously, though, everyone should do this tag.)

Until next time! ❤

(P.S: I’ve been watching Prince of Stride: Alternative lately, so have a gif of this angel.)

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

35206Original Title: 羅生門 (Rashōmon)

Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke)

Translator: Jay Rubin

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

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What happened to the lowly servant, no one knows.


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • Rashōmon
  • In a Bamboo Grove
  • The Nose
  • Dragon: The Old Potter’s Tale
  • The Spider Thread
  • Hell Screen
  • Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum
  • O-Gin
  • Loyalty
  • The Story of a Head That Fell Off
  • Green Onions
  • Horse Legs
  • Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years
  • The Writer’s Craft
  • The Baby’s Sickness
  • Death Register
  • The Life of a Stupid Man
  • Spinning Gears

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was actually one of the few Japanese authors that I knew before I started this project. He’s one of the more well-known ones out there. There was a collection of his stories in my school’s library, but when I started to read them, I wasn’t impressed. The translation was awkward and the story was confusing, and I only finished a couple before I gave it up and returned the book.

It turns out, I am not alone in my opinion. I mention this to emphasize the fact that a good story can be ruined due to a terrible translation, and that it’s better to see which ones are available before picking one up.

This collection is much, much different. The writing is beautiful, and Akutagawa’s creative genius shines through. The tales are morbid, strange, and cynical. Hell Screen, the longest one in the book, was one of the ones that I tried to read previously. The first time, it was like trying to complete a puzzle with pieces that didn’t go together; this time, I was absorbed completely.

Akutagawa has been compared to Atsushi Nakajima on multiple occasions, but to be honest, he reminds me of Osamu Dazai. Both authors committed suicide, and death and alienation are two recurring themes in their work. There are multiple differences in style – Dazai’s No Longer Human felt very sad in a numb, hollow way, whereas Akutagawa’s stories are more dramatic – but both authors suffered in similar ways, and it’s reflected in their writing.

–I don’t have the strength to keep writing this. To go on living with this feeling is painful beyond description. Isn’t there someone kind enough to strangle me in my sleep?

The most controversial ones are Akutagawa’s non-fictional work. (Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years Spinning Gears.) There is especially criticism regarding The Life of a Stupid Man, Akutagawa’s “autobiography”, told in fragments. Akutagawa’s personal life, though interesting, is inconsequential to me regarding the story’s merit; it didn’t effect how I read it. I loved it because I thought that it was beautifully written, and the way it’s sectioned gives it a poetic feel that I particularly liked. I wasn’t that impressed with Spinning Gears, neither was I O-Gin or Green Onions, but as a whole I think this is a great illustration of Akutagawa’s craft.

Akutagawa was, in a way, tragic. His skills once put him at the top – but changing times, mingled in with his own doubt and other’s criticism, resulted in his decline. That is why although quite a few of his works are considered to be masterpieces, there are others that are far less than that. I don’t think Akutagawa’s work is something that you will always love 100% of the time, but an author is never perfect, and many of his stories are true classics.

Review: Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

27230789Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮✮

“We change. We keep changing. We won’t be finished products ’til the day we die.”

This review contains spoilers, and is also a bit personal. Please read with caution!

Openly Straight, this book’s prequel, is very special to me. It’s the book that helped me realize that I was attracted to girls; it is essentially the book that helped me come out to myself. Eventually this escalated to where I’m at today. Without Openly Straight, I don’t think I ever would’ve been honest with myself about my true feelings.

It was not a perfect book, but in a bittersweet way, I liked how it ended. I enjoyed Rafe and Ben’s relationship and wanted them to have their happily-ever-after, but the fight and loss of friendship was more realistic. It felt finite. So all it took was one look at Honestly Ben for me to know what was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a bad book, just the same as Openly Straight wasn’t. I like the way Bill Konigsberg writes, I like how he characterizes, and I like the silly and sometimes extremely dark humor that he sprinkles in.

“I feel like we already have a truce,” I said. “I’ve placed my imaginary Maginot Line, and there is an uneasy accord along the Western Front.”

“Oh, Ben,” he said, and the gentleness of his voice made me look away. “Wait. Am I Hitler in that analogy?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. “I guess.”

“So you made the Jewish guy Hitler. Nice.”

I also agree with basically everything this book is about: agape, or unconditional love. It’s a type of love that goes beyond anything physical or material, and can relate to anyone, paternal, sexual, emotional, etc. I strongly believe in this type of love; I don’t believe in soul mates, exactly, but that there is someone, or possibly multiple someones, that are out there and are so right for you that things like sexuality and gender don’t matter anymore. As Ben says repeatedly, he is not gay or bisexual, but he still loves Rafe despite the fact that he’s a boy. A lot of readers seem to be upset by this and claim that this is misrepresenting bisexuality, and as someone who was formally bisexual, I can understand their point of view – but at the same time, I get what Konigsberg was trying to say. I don’t think he was trying to be biphobic; I think he was trying to show that people love who they love without restriction. That is agape.

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Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

My problems with this book reside in other things, the first and foremost being that Honestly Ben feels like an excuse to give Rafe and Ben the HEA that they were deprived of in Openly Straight. Otherwise I can think of no other significance. There isn’t even a change of scenery; the book literally dumps you in where the previous left off. The result is that I felt like I was reading the exact same book. I would’ve liked something a little different: a new place a few years from now, maybe, but something to give it a change of scene.

This relates to the other thing, which is the advocacy. I want to mention that I have absolutely no opposition about advocacy in books whatsoever, because I think that’ll be the generated idea. I love it. This book touches various subjects, including misogyny, anti-war, gender identity, and of course homosexuality. These topics are very important to me, but when I see them in a book, I want them to be integrated in a way that flows with the plot. I want it to still be a book. Instead, all that it does is prop the book up for its lack of substance. I kept feeling like I’d fallen inside of Tumblr.

I felt the same way about David Levithan’s Every Day. I appreciate and support these things when they are discussed in books, but I don’t want it to be everything. I am still a reader; I still want to be entertained.

A good book all in all, but I wish that it had varied from its predecessor. If there are ever going to be any future books about Ben and Rafe, I’d like them to be experiencing new situations instead of dealing with old ones.