Title: London Belongs to Us
Author: Sarra Manning
Rating: 4 Stars
I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did, but I should have known better because Sarra Manning. This entire book is a crazy roller coaster of an adventure as our heroine, Sunny, finds out that her boyfriend has another girlfriend from his previous school and has been two-timing her for the entire duration of their "relationship." Sunny starts off wanting to forgive him, but as she searches London for him, she begins to realize that she deserves a lot better. The plot doesn't seem all that revolutionary, but the people Sunny meets on her night--girls who encourage her to stand up for herself, friends who tell her that self care is not selfish, buddies who support her for who she really is, and even other girlfriends who prove that women support each other instead of putting each other down--make this a wonderful story. I love these types of strong friendships and this book passes the Bechdel test ten times over. It also has so many meaningful conversations about class, privilege, and race. Just... I love Sarra Manning. Can every YA book be this nuanced and yet still so much fun?
Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Rating: 2 Stars
Oh, this book had so much potential. I want to start by saying that, whatever my reservations with this story, I did really love the mermaid lore. Fama's mermaids are deadly and savage and I loved them. However, the story, which alternates between present-day where Hester, a young teenager, begins to investigate her family history where every woman has passed away after giving birth, and between a time years ago when Syrenka, a mermaid, fell in love with a human, Ezra, and left the ocean to be with him, leaves a lot to be desired.
Syrenka's story is vastly more interesting than that of Hester's. For one, Hester has sworn off of dating because she doesn't want to end up like her mother and grandmother before her, which is rather faulty logic because dating someone very rarely equates automatically having a child with them. What's more, Hester's storyline undergoes some vast changes, with some rather late insta-love happening and weird details seemingly explained away such as her absentee parents and her far-too-understanding-best-friend Peter. It just never came together for me and I wasn't able to love Hester as a heroine, either.
Syrenka, though, I adored. Her story is expertly told but the mystery plaguing the novel and subsequent solution is all a little too flimsy for my liking. I'm not one for strange supernatural tales, so perhaps this is just a case of "me-not-you", but Monstrous Beauty is a novel I'd skip, fascinating folk lore and all. Take my advice and read Fama's sophomore novel instead: it's brilliant.
Title: The Next Together
Author: Lauren James
Rating: 3 Stars
I had heard a lot of praise for this novel before launching into it, but it wound up falling seriously short for me. I really love the premise of this one--a couple, separated by circumstances in every generation but they keep managing to find each other again in their next life. It's done quite well, too, with James slipping between eras seamlessly as she makes us swoon for this couple. But, where the issue crept up for me was in the final third of the novel. Our main era, essentially present-day-ish, features Katherine and Matthew as high school students. As we learn how they fell in love in previous lives, present-day Katherine and Matthew are investigating their aunt and uncle, respectively, who were married and then labeled as terrorists. Of course, they realize that they are their reincarnations but their love story, based completely upon their recollections of past lives, is flimsy at best. I couldn't root for present-day Katherine and Matthew, despite loving all of their past incarnations.
What's more, the explanations for how Katherine and Matthew remember their past is essentially non-existent. The book is written in such a way that it seems as if there is some higher time-traveling power that is watching over Katherine and Matthew and reincarnating them to save the world, for some purpose or the other. But, none of this is ever explained. I suppose I have to pick up the sequel, but I'm so confused and rather irritated by the lack of answers that I won't be launching into the companion novel. The Next Together is well-written and I'm impressed by the multiple historical fiction love stories bound together in this one, but the ending doesn't pull off this intriguing premise as much as it promises to and, by the end, I was only left disappointed.