BOOK REVIEW: More Happy Than Not – by Adam Silvera

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Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: June 2nd 2015
Finished reading: June 4th 2016
Pages: 336
Rating 3qqq

“Memories: some can be sucker punching, others carry you forward; some stay with you forever, others you forget on your own. You can’t really know which ones you’ll survive if you don’t stay on the battlefield, bad times shooting at you like bullets. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have plenty of good times to shield you.”

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More Happy Than Not was on my list of most anticipated 2015 releases and I added it to my list months before it was even published, but somehow I never actually picked up my copy until now. It’s easy to say I had really high expectations for this book, and that may or may not have influenced my opinion in a negative way. Because it’s a fact that it took me ages to read this novel by Adam Silvera and I can’t say I enjoyed the first part. The prose and dialogues felt a bit forced and I felt like the story dragged to much in the beginning. To be honest, I actually thought about DNFing it at one point just because it took me so long to get a proper feel for the story… That said, I’m glad I continued reading because the last part of the book was brilliant. I’m not saying it completely made up for the slow start, but it did explain more about what the main character was going through. More Happy Than Not mixes the average contemporary romance story with science fiction elements, which definitely transforms it into an interesting read. The message behind this story is also inspiring, and especially the last part had a lot of really interesting quotes. I have debated whether to give this novel a higher rating, but I can’t ignore the fact that the beginning just didn’t do it for me. Would I recommend it? Probably, with the advice to keep reading even if you don’t really like the beginning.

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 Aaron Soto has been struggling to find happiness again in the months after his father committed suicide. Things have been tough, but his girlfriend Genevieve and his mom have been trying to get him back on the right track. After he tried to end his own life not long after his father died, they seem to be more worried than ever… Because it seems like Aaron is slowly drowning in his own grief. When Genevieve has to leave town for a couple of weeks, Aaron starts hanging out more and more with a new guy, Thomas, instead of with his friends. Thomas seems to understand him a lot better than his old friends and Aaron can’t deny Thomas makes him feel happier than he has been in a long time. But are these feelings just about friendship, or something deeper? And how does Thomas feel about all this? Aaron feels he is making a mess of his life, and is starting to think the revolutionary memory-alteration procedure at the Leteo Institute might be his only way out for a happy and normal life…

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Like I said before, I had really high expectations of More Happy Than Not and the first part actually disappointed me a lot. It took me a long time to get a proper feel for the story; the first part was both slow, the prose felt forced and the story dragged a lot. Still, there is no doubt that the last part of the story is really good and probably would have gotten one of the highest ratings on its own. It’s an interesting topic that manages to raise important questions about glbt acceptance, suicide, happiness and life in general… In short: after a slow start, the second half of the book is definitely a reward and makes this novel worth reading in the end.

BOOK REVIEW: Suicide Notes – by Michael Thomas Ford

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Title: Suicide Notes
Author: Michael Thomas Ford
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: October 14th 2008
Finished reading: April 13th 2016
Pages: 295
Rating 3,5qqq

“I’m still kind of a mess. But I think we all are. No one’s got it all together. I don’t think you ever do get it totally together. Probably if you did manage to do it you’d spontaneously combust. I think that’s a law of nature. If you ever manage to become perfect, you have to die instantly before you ruin things for everyone else.”

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Suicide Notes is not the first book I’ve read that uses an interesting mix of humor and a serious theme like mental ilness and (teenage) suicide and therefore its plot is not exactly original. In fact, both It’s Kind Of A Funny Story and The Shock Of The Fall use quite a similar setting with a main character inside a psychiatric ward and if I have to be honest I feel those two books mentioned above did a better job especially when it comes to character development and credibility in general. (I’m aware the second title was published years after Suicide Notes, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I think it was better). I want to make clear that I am by no means saying this novel by Michael Thomas Ford was a bad read and I mostly enjoyed reading it, but I did have a few minor problems with it that influenced the rating. First of all, I wasn’t completely convinced by the credibility of the characters and their (lack of) development of both the main character Jeff and the other patients. Also, I’m not sure I appreciate some of the mental ilness, suicide and glbt related humor used during this story. Not only can some of it be found offensive (especially the glbt related parts), I also thought the humor felt forced at points… I do agree the pace is fast and the story is easy to read even though it’s about such a serious theme. I would probably have given it a higher rating if it wouldn’t have been for the last part… I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but it has something to do with the glbt theme that I found slightly offensive and the (sort of) love triangle was somewhat annoying as well.

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When fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day, he finds himself inside the psychiatric ward. Even though he doesn’t really remember what happened the other day, someone clearly made a huge mistake when they brought him to the ward… Jeff is determined to leave as soon as possible, claiming he doesn’t belong there along with the ‘nutjobs’. But what about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart? Jeff doesn’t see what the big deal is about what happened, but other people do seem to be worried about him. It turns out Jeff is part of a forty-five-day program and won’t be able to leave early even though he thinks he is perfectly fine and ‘normal’. But as the days go by, the ‘crazies’ start to seem less crazy and Jeff slowly starts to accept what happened to him…

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Suicide Notes is without doubt an interesting read with a fast pace and a healthy dose of humor to lighten up the serious theme. Still, I do believe there are better books out there with a similar plot. And although I enjoyed reading this novel in general, the characters were not always completely credible and I wasn’t always completely convinced by the humor either. The glbt related parts were probably my least favorite and sometimes even slightly offensive and cliché… But otherwise it is still worth reading if you are interested in the theme.

BOOK REVIEW: Random – by Tom Leveen

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Title: Random
Author: Tom Leveen
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: August 12th 2014
Finished reading: March 30th 2016
Pages: 224
Rating 4qqq

“’Because that’s what being dead means,’ Andy says. ‘It’s the zenit of ‘never’. Never again, never this, never that. You don’t come back from never. You can’t enjoy never. You just sit there, not existing, not listening to your favorite songs or eating you favorite foods. Never.’”

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I’ve read a few good books about teen suicide and (cyber)bullying in the past (including Tease, Thirteen Reasons Why and Nothing Everything Nothing), so when I first read the blurb of this novel I was immediately interested. Unfortunately cyberbullying is becoming a more urgent problem every day with the internet-focused society we are living in today. Tom Leveen did an excellent job in showing us how something seemingly ‘innocent’ as a few harsh Facebook comments can make someone vulnerable make the decision to end it all. The main character Tori is the perfect example of someone who didn’t see the consequences of her comments, and still thinks she didn’t do anything wrong. The random call and the way she is forced to think about suicide and how she might have played a role in the death of the very person that used to be her friend make this read into something truly intriguing. Random has a fast pace, is easy to read and has just enough plot twists to keep you surprised until the end. The characters might not be completely likeable, but they do feel real and show us what can happen if cyberbullying isn’t taken seriously. Recommended!

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Tori hasn’t been herself lately ever since one of her former friends decided to end his life. Kevin and Tori used to be closer, but when Tori became friends with a bunch of popular people she started to act differently. Her new friends don’t exactly treat Kevin the right way and slowly Tori starts to join them… And when her new friends start leaving harsh comments about everything Kevin writes on her Facebook page, she doesn’t defend him. Feeling desperate to stay popular, she even writes a few nasty comments of her own. Now Tori’s Facebook page is evidence in an upcoming trail with national coverage that wants to convict her group for cyberbullying and being the direct cause of Kevin’s suicide… Tori doesn’t believe she is guilty, but is forced to rethink what happened to him when she receives a random phone call. What seems to be a wrong number turns to be a guy her age that asks her for only one thing: a reason not to kill himself. Tori first thinks he is a fraud, but can she really take the risk and have another possible suicide on her conscience?

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Random is a well written and fast-paced read about a subject that is becoming more and more important as the influence of the internet grows. Cyberbullying is probably more common than the ‘old-fashioned’ bullying known ten years ago, and it is important that the consequences are revealed to the bigger public. Tom Leveen did an excellent job by doing just that in his novel and make us think about how something simple as a few Facebook comments can have a huge impact on someone. I would definitely recommend reading this book if you are interested in the subject.

BOOK REVIEW: I Was Here – by Gayle Forman

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Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction
First published: January 27th 2015
Finished reading: September 3rd 2015
Pages: 288
Rating 3,5qqq

“Life can be hard and beautiful and messy, but hopefully, it will be long. If it is, you will see that it’s unpredictable, and that the dark periods comes, but they abate — sometimes with a lot of support — and the tunnel widens, allowing the sun back in. If you’re in the dark, it might feel like you will always be there. Fumbling. Alone. But you won’t — and you’re not.”

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I Was Here was one of my TBR jar picks and it’s also the first time I’ve read anything by Gayle Forman. I know a lot of people love her work, but I have been avoiding her books so far because I was afraid there would be too much romance involved. I’m definitely glad my TBR jar got me to read I Was Here, because I really enjoyed her writing style. It was an interesting read, although I have to admit I’ve read better books with the same suicide theme. That or maybe I’m suffering from a YA contemporary fiction overdose… The main characters are not exactly likeable, but at least they feel real. Meg and her depression, Cody trying to understand why her best friend would do such a thing and Ben who broke Meg’s heart and slowly wins over Cody’s… Each character is without doubt well developed. Not everything about the story is original or completely credible, but overal it’s quite an enjoyable read despite the serious topic. Recommended if you enjoy reading YA contemporary fiction.

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Meg decided she couldn’t stand living any longer and made a plan to end her life; drinking a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room. Her best friend Cody is devastated and simply doesn’t understand why Meg would do such a thing. They were supposed to share everything, but Cody never saw it coming. Where were the warning signs? Meg’s parents ask Cody to travel to her college town to pack up Meg’s things, but when she arrives there Cody discovers something more than just her belongings. Meg had a whole different life in her college town Cody didn’t know anything about, and it looks like Meg was hiding quite a few secrets… What were the real circumstances around Meg’s death?

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I Was Here is without doubt an interesting enough read and I enjoyed Gayle Forman‘s prose. I wasn’t exactly a fan of the main characters, but they help shine a light on a very serious topic: (teen) depression and suicide. Like with Meg, sometimes the signs are not all that clear and forums like the one that visited Meg can push people over the edge. It’s definitely a story that will leave its mark.

BOOK REVIEW: My Heart And Other Black Holes – by Jasmine Warga

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Title: My Heart And Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: February 10th 2015
Finished reading: August 19th 2015
Pages: 320
Rating 4,5qqq

“Life can seem awful and unfixable until the universe shifts a little and the observation point is altered, and then suddenly, everything seems more bearable.”

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I’ve had my eyes on My Heart And Other Black Holes ever since I first heard about it last year, and not just because of the beautiful cover. Depression and teenage suicide is a hard topic both to write about and to get right. I’ve read various raving reviews in the past that made me really look forward to this read despite the heavy subject… And now I’ve finished it I can say this novel was just as good as I was hoping for. The story has interesting characters that are well developed and feel ‘real’. Jasmine Warga was able to describe depression really well with the help of both main characters Aysel and Roman. They want to end their lives for different reasons and especially Aysel gives you a really good idea of what depression really feels like. The prose is simply beautiful; I have so many quotes highlighted on my kindle! I really enjoyed the plot as well, and all in all I would definitely recommend My Heart And Other Black Holes to those who enjoy reading realistic fiction and don’t mind a ‘heavy’ read.

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After her Turkish father committed a terrible crime and was sent to jail, Aysel was left to deal with the consequences. The whole town wants to blame her for what her father did and even her own mother can barely look at her…  Her mother has remarried after leaving Aysel’s father a few years ago and Aysel now has to live with her stepfather. Aysel is depressed and feels that most of her ‘new’ family doesn’t really want her there… And when she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, she decides it’s time to say goodbye to this world. Aysel replies to a message and meets the second half of her suicide pact: Roman. They don’t have anything in common and Aysel doesn’t understand why someone like Roman would want to end his life… But it turns out that both have their own reasons why. Will they really go through with their plan?

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My Heart And Other Black Holes isn’t a light read and will definitely make you think. Lately there have been published a lot of books about teen suicide, but this one without doubt stands out from the rest. It’s an original story, the characters are interesting and well developed and I loved both the plot and prose as well. All in all a very interesting read if you like the genre and don’t mind the heavy subject.

BOOK REVIEW: Thirteen Reasons Why – by Jay Asher

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Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction
First published: October 18th 2007
Finished reading: August 5th 2015
Pages: 288
Rating 4

“Sometimes we have thoughts that even we don’t understand. Thoughts that aren’t even true—that aren’t really how we feel—but they’re running through our heads anyway because they’re interesting to think about.”

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I have been wanting to read Thirteen Reasons Why for a while now, mostly because a lot of people have been recommending it to me over the years. This novel by Jay Asher is definitely not an easy read, but very interesting. Lately I’ve seen a lot of YA contemporary novels dealing with suicide, but Thirteen Reasons Why without doubt stands out from the rest. The prose is very original: the main character Clay ‘interacts’ with the voice of the deceased girl on the tapes. The plot is intriguing and with Clay coming over as a good kid it really makes you wonder why he is on the tapes… Because supposedly the thirteen people mentioned on the tapes are the reasons why Hannah decided to end her life. This novel is definitely not for everyone, but if you don’t mind a ‘heavy’ read, Thirteen Reasons Why is highly recommended. It will make you think on how something small can have a huge impact on someone’s life!

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Hannah Baker decided to end her life two weeks ago, but not before sending a bunch of casette tapes to the first out of thirteen people she wants to send a message to. Thirteen people and thirteen reasons Hannah couldn’t live with herself anymore and committed suicide… When Clay Jensen returns home after school one day, he finds out he is one of them. He doesn’t understand why he would be on the list, because he feels that he has always been a supportive friend. But Hannah tells everyone that if they don’t listen to the tapes, an extra copy will be made public and everyone will know their secrets… So Clay and the other twelve have no other choice than listen to them. And soon he will find out why he and the others made the list.

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Thirteen Reasons Why is what you call a ‘heavy’ read. Suicide is never and easy topic to write about, but I think Jay Asher did an excellent job with this novel. The dialogue between Clay and Hannah’s voice on the tape is what makes this novel original. Some of the things people did to make it to the tape seem only minor events, but like Hannah says: the snowball effect makes small rumors turn into something big and destructive. A very interesting YA contemporary novel if you ask me!

BOOK REVIEW: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – by Matthew Quick

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Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fiction
First published: August 13th 2013
Finished reading: July 24th 2015
Pages: 273
Rating 4

“DO ANYTHING! SOMETHING! Because you start a revolution one decision at a time, with every breath you take.”

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was recommended to me various times over the past two months, so I thought it was about time to read it. The story sure didn’t disappoint. Matthew Quick created with Leonard Peacock a very disturbed character that will make you want to keep on reading to find out if he really ends up doing what he has been planning: kill his former best friend and then himself with his grandfather’s gun. This might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, but Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is brilliantly written and shows how various actions drove Leonard to form this disturbing plan in his head. The prose is more than good and I especially loved the letters from the future that are to help Leonard convince himself to not kill himself. This novel has some heavy themes that might not be for everyone, but I think it’s definitely worth it. It really gives you an insight in how seemingly normal kids end up with a gun in their hands and how a disaster possibly can be prevented by an act of kindness like that of Herr Silverman.

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Leonard Peacock turned 18 today, but nobody seems to realize it. He is tired of this life and decides to give four people a goodbye gift before he gives himself his own birthday present: killing his former best friend with his grandfather’s gun and afterwards end his own life. The four people that are most important in his life don’t realize what he is up to… His neighbor and Borgart fan Walt suspects something is wrong, but he doesn’t insist. His classmate Baback doesn’t trust his gift and leaves Leonard alone with his thoughts… And a Christian girl named Lauren doesn’t really appreciate his gift either. Will Her Silverman, the last person and the teacher of his class on the Holocaust, be able to save Leonard from his fate? Or can Leonard save himself before it’s too late?

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This is not your typical topic when it comes to YA contemporary novels, but it makes Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock that much more interesting. Sure, in a way it’s disturbing to read about a teenager who is planning to kill someone and then commit suicide, but it is something that can happen if someone is desperate enough. The prose is brilliant and with a fast pace it is quite a quick read that will leave you wondering what could have happened. I would definitely recommend reading it if you like YA contemporary and don’t mind a ‘heavy’ read!