4

Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang


ABOUT THE BOOK

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
young adult contemporary published by Greenwillow Books on 9 September 2014

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. 

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn't understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn't understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? 

THE RATING


THE REVIEW

Falling into Place is the kind of contemporary I've been gravitating towards more and more. Oh yes, I like the fluff, the snark, the flirtiness but man, I love the messy-because-miserable even more. It's raw and gritty; just how life is. You just don't know if the ending would leave you a big grin, teary sad or if it will punch you in the gut. I like books that leave an impact on me, shake me to the core and hurt my heart. Falling into Place will keep doing all of these things to me for a long time to come because fuck, Liz Emerson left an impact on me.

Liz Emerson, you're such a hard person to like, but I like you anyway. You were constantly in a bad place, but you had a conscience anyway. Isn't it such a human thing to crush someone to pieces because that's what you're used to doing, even though you know what you're doing is essentially wrong? You've blown the stigma associated with unlikeable characters out of the water because damn, why should I've to stop myself from liking you as a character because of your past of morally questionable actions? I don't have to and I don't.

It's one thing to have some bad days in your life but to have a life made up wholly of bad days that just go worse day by day is what Liz Emerson's life has been like lately. There's a point beyond which humans just give up and for some, it's a daily struggle between giving in and giving up. Liz has went beyond that point the moment she let herself go but instead got suspended between life and death. This story takes place in such a moment.

Friendships begin in the unlikeliest of ways and that's exactly how the friendship among Liz, Julia and Kennie began. They look after each other but they also give each other space. They don't get on each others' backs when it comes to stopping them from making mistakes which doesn't always work to their advantage as it's not the wisest thing to ever do. Still they know each other and that's what really counts even if they don't tell each other every single thing. Then there's Liz's mother who never knew how to be one. As she sits in the waiting room trying to stop her brain from going into overdrive of worst case scenarios, she realizes she isn't ready to stop being one. It's the stuff made of heartbreaks. Liam, who still has happiness inside of him even when Liz lost hers bit by bit whenever she crushed another human being.

Falling into Place is beautiful, overwhelming, poignant and comes from a place of deep-rootedness. Life has a funny way of balancing things but it isn't always fair in doing so because things that were once lost might never recover in the shape they were lost. It may pain you to read Falling into Place or it may not because it's also a book that not everyone would see for what I saw or feel the things that I did. Amy Zhang is a fabulous writer and that I want to read more of her books because damn, I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading Falling into Place.

THE QUOTES

'The textbook made the world black and white and drew a very uncompromising line between what was and what could never be, as though everything was already dictated and Liz's only job was to keep breathing.'
'Some people died because the world did not deserve them.
Liz Emerson, on the other hand, did not deserve the world.'

4

The Musing Mind: Flawed Isn't (Necessarily) Bad

Ponderings with little bursts of cartoon art.

character flaws [ˈkariktər flôs]: Stuff that make up characters that we end up having complicated feelings for.

I was scrolling through Maggie Stiefvater's tumblr the other day (it's become somewhat of a habit ever since I started reading The Raven Cycle series last December), when something grabbed my attention. A sentence that stayed with me hours after I read the post. Someone had asked Stiefvater her thoughts on Vladimir Nabokov's stance that a good reader is one who is impartial to the story and the characters in it. Along with her response regarding what she expects from a good reader and what she thinks about Nabokov's stance as a writer herself, Stiefvater went on to point out the things that makes a good reader. She said, 'remember that a flawed character is not necessarily a bad character.'

That sentence resonated with me. There's so much talk about wrong things that characters do because they're just bad, bad, bad and must be hated because of those things. But they aren't bad, they're just flawed. Being gullible doesn't make a character bad, only flawed. There are countless flaws in the gene pool of characters that aren't necessarily bad unless they're portrayed to be. Moreover, most of it is associated with female characters. Readers tend to chalk it up to more bad than flawed which I find hard to swallow. A flawed character makes the story interesting while a bad character just leaves a bad taste behind. This is not to say that flawed can't be bad, it can be. But more often than not, the opposite is taken to be true when it isn't.
Garfield only be a troublemaker of sorts. (Source)

Flawed is Just More Interesting

A perfect human being doesn't exist however, there are ideals who exist on earth and on the page. We know what makes us good and what makes us bad but we don't know that about anyone else. Sometimes we don't even know what makes us good or bad, let alone anyone else. Yet it's much easier to get a good character than a bad one. It's easier to be bad but it's harder to understand their reasoning. It's harder to be good but it's easier to understand their reasoning. If a character wants to save the world, we accept it because damn, the world needs all the saving it can get. Yet we can't seem to indulge a character who wants to destroy it because we think they should just go die instead.

Life is flawed by design and each one of us grow up with some sense of judgement that's not always black and white. All of us have baggage that we bring with us whenever we read a book, then there are our perceptions that shape the way we look at characters and judge them. I've always tried to keep an open mind when it comes to books because preconceived notions along with my baggage and perceptions is just too much to handle.
Everyone has those. (Source)

Duality is Key

The difference between a flawed character and a bad one is that a bad character has none of the duality and all of the patheticity. Their flaws go deep and their lack of remorse deeper. There are many facets of flawed characters and not all of them end up on the same level of flawed. I like a rebellious character but I can't handle a meek one. I'm much more likely to tolerate a callous character than a fickle one. It all comes down to what Stiefvater calls a 'biased, emotional reader.'
Lazy is not a flaw, it's someone else's idea. (Source)

How to Characterize?

I don't think it's necessary for a bad character to have a good side if they just had a good reasoning for being bad. Or maybe not even then. It's just that I'd rather read about flawed characters who create tensions, go after trouble, make mistakes, and may or may not manage to redeem themselves. I like characters who are sarcastic, blunt, intolerant, obsessive, anxious, and bold. It doesn't really matter to me if they're good or bad, flawed is good enough. I can even handle characters who are repulsive. But nice and bland is just dull and no.
Say yes to smartass. (Source)
So yes, flawed isn't (necessarily) bad but flawed is engrossing and it makes the reader uncomfortable which is subjective and may not be everyone's thing. While bad is just bad, flawed is messy and complicated and also many not be everyone's thing (especially the deeply flawed). However, what Stiefvater says is also true, 'there's as much universality in emotional resonance as there is in style preference.'

4

Playlist: Alternative Summer


Okay, not strictly alternative, but the vibe is pretty much alternative. Like, always. Or a mixture of alternative, electronic, and pop. For me, summer days are pretty relaxing and so I'm usually listening to songs during the late afternoons and while strolling in the garden late at nights.

I. CENTURIES  || FALL OUT BOY
This song give me chills. CHILLS. C. H. I. L. L. S.

II. FREE THE ANIMAL || SIA
Sia never fails to shock me with her music. Love how unrefined and nonconformist Free the Animal sounds.

III. TOY SOLDIERS || MARIANAS TRENCH
Man, summer or not, I'm never getting tired of this song.

IV. ANIMALS || MAROON 5
I just really like this song despite the slightly weird lyrics. It's okay because it's Adam Levine ha ha.

V. TOMORROW NEVER DIES || 5 SECONDS OF SUMMER
Sandra not-so-casually mentioned that this is her favorite 5SOS song and I agree with her which never hardly ever happens. I

VI. RIOT || S V Ē
Basically, Riot is could-totally-have-been-my-2014-summer-jam that I discovered too late. 'Tis sad.

VII. BON VOYAGE || MARLENE
I basically love all of Marlene's Indian Summer EP but man, this song is so upbeat and awesome.

VIII. WOLF BITE || OWL CITY
*solo dances*

XI. SUPERHEROES || THE SCRIPT
This song goes from a soft melody to an epic chorus and that is all.

X. UNCONSOLABLE || X AMBASSADORS
The kind of gritty song that I find irresistible.

XI. FIREPROOF || ONE DIRECTION
I just really, really like this song. You might say I have a thing for words sung-stretched too long in songs.

XII. WE'RE THE KIDS || PARADE OF LIGHTS
A road-trip-in-summer vibe alert.

XIII. DISPARATE YOUTH || SANTIGOLD
A lazy I-so-don't-care-right-now kinda song.

XIV. INDIAN SUMMER || MARLENE
Perfect for everything summer.

Alternative Summer by Sana on Grooveshark

1

Review: Wildlife by Fiona Wood


ABOUT THE BOOK

young adult fantasy published by Little, Brown on 16 September 2014
second book in the Six Impossible Things companion trilogy

During a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.

New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can't help but be drawn back into the land of the living.

THE RATING


THE REVIEW

Teenage is an age where everything's happening at the same time for the first time. From hitting puberty to pulverizing heartbreaks, being a teenager is never easy. And then putting all these teenagers for a semester in a mountainous region, you're bound to get a lot of fun, drama and realizations all rolled into a book called Wildlife. It's contemplative, it's beautiful, it's something special.

Wildlife is told from Sibylla's and Lou's point of views which I usually love (I did have a bit of a problem differentiating between the two because of the lack of distinctions). Sibylla is a normal teenage girl with parents who have somewhat weird jobs, a younger sister who's probably on her way to high school popularity and a best friend, Holly, who's a mixture of selfish, overbearing, and I-am-better-than-you-can-ever-be attitude all rolled into one. Whereas Lou has two mothers, her boyfriend recently died which is why she's been seeing a therapist twice a week, and her three best friends are off to Paris.

High school is a social ranking system hazard and it either rocks to be where you at or simply sucks. Holly wants to go from the unnoticeable to the elite and she uses Sib to achieve that. But that's not it. Oh, it never is. While I can understand Sib's inability to stop being a pushover, I could never understand the extent to which Holly goes. It's just pathetic, mostly. Man, high school is a really harsh place to be sometimes.

Sibylla is one of those frustrating characters that you just want to shake some sense into. She started off okay but then she got on a billboard for a perfume ad, kissed one of the most popular guys in her grade, and her best friend made it her life goal to put them in a relationship. You see, such things never end well and it didn't. Imagine a car swerving off the road and you know you just can't do anything but watch; that's how Sib's side of the story sums up. And oh, there's Michael, a very cool nerd who's also Sib's oldest friend.

Lou is my favorite character because she's generally so blunt, unperturbed, and unaffected even though she's going through some pretty hard stuff in her life. She's coming to terms with the death of her boyfriend Fred, she observes more but talks less, and she never let Holly get under her skin. Sometimes I just wanted to give her a hug because she's so vulnerable and I can only imagine just what she's going through. It takes a special kind of something to be okay, really okay. Lou's story is about that journey to okay.

In all, Wildlife is a story about a time of your life that you won't ever forget because you learned something from it, you gained friends because of it, and you got to know yourself better. It's a realistic and poignant story about two teenage girls. I liked it a lot but I wasn't blown away by it.

THE QUOTES

'It is just me who gets twisted into these tangles of my own construction?' 
'If I could breathe enough to scream right now, the sound would be gulped down in one mouthful by a black hole of disappointment.'

13

Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing


ABOUT THE BOOK

young adult fantasy dystopia published by HarperTeen on 2 September 2014
first book in The Lone City series

The Selection meets The Handmaid's Tale in this darkly riveting debut filled with twists and turns, where all that glitters may not be gold.

The Jewel means wealth, the Jewel means beauty—but for Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet finds herself living in the Jewel as a servant at the estate of the Duchess of the Lake. Addressed only by her number—#197—Violet is quickly thrown into the royal way of life. But behind its opulent and glittering facade, the Jewel hides its cruel and brutal truth, filled with violence, manipulation, and death.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her life . . . all while trying to stay alive. But before she can accept her fate, Violet meets a handsome boy who is also under the Duchess's control, and a forbidden love erupts. But their illicit affair has consequences, which will cost them both more than they bargained for. And toeing the line between being calculating and rebellious, Violet must decide what, and who, she is willing to risk for her own freedom.

THE RATING


THE REVIEW

I went into The Jewel expecting the worst of the instaloves and the juiciest of the royal politics which really worked because man, I would've been extremely frustrated otherwise. Instead I'm just sorely disappointed because the plot is actually entertaining. The characters and the dreaded instalove? Not so much. Moreover, the fact that not much is told about the reasons is annoying because it's like you gotta read the second book to know more which what if I don't want to?

I was kind of more focused on the fantasy aspect of than the dystopian which is why a couple of parallels to The Hunger Games really made me roll my eyes like the character Lucien who's basically Cinna.  Also, how the Jewel is the centre of the Lone City where the royals and the richest reside surrounded by the Bank with all merchantry, the Smoke with all the industries, the Farm with all the well, farms, and the Marsh where the poorest lives. The city is set up in the shape of an enormous circle and is located on an island. Also, almost everyone in the book has weird names that refer to the part of the Lone City they are from which isn't enough to justify the weirdness attached to names like Ochre.

Violet is bound by circumstances to serve the royals by being a surrogate. However, she's of the sort who'd rather spend her life poor and happy with her family than in luxury among the royals. So there is much talk about how she misses her family and her best friend and how she doesn't want to be a surrogate among moments where she's entranced by the pretty dresses, the elegant balls, and the elaborate meals. That's pretty much the extent of her personality.

The first half of The Jewel is actually pretty entertaining despite the obvious lack of worldbuilding beyond the structure of the Lone City and the puzzling surrogate situation. The shenanigans of the rich and a freak of the Duchess who buys Violet kept me glued to the story. And bam, instalove! Oh my, where do I even begin? It's so cheesy and it was awfully painful to read about Violet's train of thoughts regarding her extremely clichéd love interest. I wish there was a love triangle with Garnet involved who's the only interesting character in The Jewel other than the Duchess.

The concept behind The Jewel is no doubt entertaining, but the glaring loopholes in its execution put a damper on everything else. In a way, I get that the instalove is sometimes part of the plot but using it to move the plot forward hardly ever works because it's insta-freaking-love. How could I believe anything when it's physically painful for Violet because Ash didn't even look at her mere hours after meeting her? The rich and their dirty dealings bit is so very juicy and engaging and reminded me of Aimee Carter's Pawn which, if you've read, you'll know is pretty harsh and cruel. In all, I'd have enjoyed The Jewel way more if not for the cringeworthy romance which came in like a wrecking ball (sorry, I couldn't resist). Oh, and that ending!

THE QUOTES

'Hope is a precious thing, isn't it,' she says quietly. 'And yet, we don't really appreciate it until it's gone.' 
'It's hard to remember who who you were when you're constantly pretending to be someone you're not.'