Lucky In Love

LILKW          I just finished Kasie West’s newest creation Lucky In Love which is due to come out in July.  (Right in time for my birthday, but I got a signed ARC because the reading gods love me!  Well, my friend, Rachel, does as she braved a signing a couple weeks ago.  Rachel does her own reviews and is always good for a recommend.  Here is her website.)

Lucky In Love is about a high school senior, Maddie.  She is a super focused, studios teen.  The kind that forms plans to make plans (rare breed, I know.)  She is determined to get into a good college and earn some scholarships to pay for it, determined to keep her parents from divorce, her brother from his wallowing self-destructive tendencies, and her co-worker Seth securely in the friend zone.  She has plans after all, and boyfriends don’t fit into it.  (Maddie and her friends have made a “no boyfriends” pact, which means they definitely didn’t pay attention in US History because all the world wars started because of similar pacts.  #truestory.)  After a disastrous 18th birthday, Maddie buys a lottery ticket with her last two dollars on a whim.  She wins!  $50,000,000, to be exact.  (I wrote it out so you can see all the zeros.)  Life is great now, right?  Money solves all problems, right?  Happily ever after, right?  Yeah, no.

Before I get into my thoughts on this particular novel I want to comment on all of Kasie West’s novels in general, well her contemporary novels.  I haven’t read Pivot Point or its sequel, Split Second.  But, I have had the pleasure of all of West’s contemporary YA romances.  I’ve read several YA romances in recent years, and I have to say that Kasie West has a very unique flavor.  I want to call it wholesome, but that isn’t quite accurate.  There is just something very good about her writing.  And I don’t necessarily mean that in a technical or even aesthetic sense.  This isn’t to say she doesn’t have bad characters or her characters don’t make bad choices.  (For instance this specific novel almost got thrown across a Starbucks due to one life decision the protagonist made, but luckily I have more self-restraint than that.)  That being said, the world is a bit brighter when Kasie West pens the words describing it.  She primarily writes in a female POV and you will always finish each of her books with a smile on your face and a thought somewhere along the lines of “damn that was adorable.”  I’ve linked Kasie West’s Goodreads page if you have any interest in any of her other novels.  She also answers readers’ questions on PSILYKWGoodreads as well.

Okay I have a gun to my head and the mysterious bandit wants me to pick a favorite.  P.S. I Like You.

            I know what you’re thinking: “But By Your Side involves being locked in a library!”  This is true but I liked the way the relationship develops in PS I Like You more, and they write letters.  Like, real hand-written letters.  It’s fantastic.

Okay, back to Lucky In Love.

I am beginning to realize how many books I pick up where I look at the cute couple and the pink balloons on the cover and am like “oh this is going to be a good romance” only to realize that while there is romance, it’s about more than that.  I don’t think there is any spoiler in me sharing what this novel is really about: money.  Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of money.

Specifically, it’s about money and how it changes people.  Not only people who have it, but the people who really want it.

To be perfectly honest (if such a thing exists), this book was quite hard for me to read.  Normally West’s books are good for one sitting, maybe two.  I took my time with this one, nearly a week.  Money is a hot-button issue with me.  I’ve lived life both paycheck-to-paycheck, and also lived life with a comfortable cushion between each pay day.  I was lucky enough to have both parents working through the majority of my child hood, and a super saint of a mom who if she was stressed out about money did a pretty darn good job of letting me be a kid anyway.  It wasn’t until later in life, when all the true adulting began that I started to understand the true value of money, and what a stressor it can be.  Money is on of the top three things that can automatically stress me the fuck out.  (Cancellations of favorite television shows and having to forego sleep in order to achieve reading endeavors are the other two in case you were wondering.)

Push comes to shove I have a pretty easy life.  I’m gainfully employed, I have decent credit, a reliable vehicle, my mom still tells me I’m special, and I have two adorable puppies.  Still, off the top of my head I can think of a hundred things that would significantly improve my life, and all of them would require lots of money.  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“There will always be more money,” is something a friend of mine always likes to say.  I do applaud her optimistic point of view, and technically it’s true.  There always will be more money, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Even sitting here, doing nothing except writing this blog is costing me money.  It’s everywhere and in everything.  It would be nice if I could power this laptop on puppy cuddles and potato chip crumbs, but alas it runs on electricity, which I pay for.  With money.  Though I’ve been trying to get the power company to accept original sonnets as payments instead.  So far, it’s a no go.

West’s protagonist, Maddie, doesn’t just defy odds and win the lottery.  She changes her own life and the lives of everyone around her, and she does this not through optimism or altruistic deeds, but through money.  In this book, West explores the age-old adage: money can’t buy you love or happiness (or more book-specific, it can’t help you control your life or solve all of your problems.)  West obviously agrees with this, because Maddie quickly realizes the damage that money can do, and how it can change people, even people you love and trust, and turn them into something twisted, greedy and jealous.  Maddie eventually begins to realize that not only does she see all those around her in different light until she’s not sure who is on her side, but that she, herself, is seen in a different light by others, and it isn’t always objective, flattering or accurate.  Money makes people petty.  It’s a sad, tragic truth of this novel.

I worry most teenagers will miss the mark with this novel.  I know as a teenager I knew how to spend money, but it wasn’t until I became a struggling adult that I truly understood the power of the dollar, and that I could understand the enormity of becoming a millionaire overnight, and what it all means.  Maddie is quite mature about her win, actually.  Then again, Maddie’s entire personality constitutes a need for control, so it fits.

What it comes down to is that money isn’t a cure, privilege, or right.  It’s a tool.  A tool earned by hard work (or in this case, dumb luck) which may or may not aide you in this journey (often stupid and tedious goddamn limping trudge) that we call life.

Aaaaaaaannnnnd, the romance is really adorable too.  Seth is a good, rounded out character considering you don’t get his point of view.  I had a very vivid picture of him by the end of the book, and I lurved him.  And seriously, this was one of the most creative and adorable first dates I have ever read about.  If Seth were real, I’d have high-fived him.

As always, Kasie West did not disappoint in her newest novel.  I give this four solid stars, because while it was engaging and had deeper meaning, it did not have that captivating factor that often warrants a five star rating.  Plus, I felt there were a couple of loose ends at the end, which I can’t really expand upon without giving spoilers.  Any fan of contemporary YA romance will feel fulfilled by this novel.

Until, my next reading adventure.  It’s going to be…. HA! Not telling.  NO SPOILERS!

OH, and because this novel made me think about it a lot, my list of what I’d do if I won the lottery:

  • Quit my job. (It’s cool, I’m replaceable.)

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    I knew it was a thing…
  • Go back to school and achieve degrees in (in no particular order) Literature, History, Biology, Psychology and Philosophy (the last so I’d have something cool to talk about at parties.)
  • Open of a nightclub and throw lots of parties in it, especially themed ones like zombie night and pirate night.  Zombie pirate night???!!!!!
  • Ensure the life-long solvency of all my closest friends and family, including next generations thereof. #trustfundbabies.
  • Buy one absolutely, wildly expensive sports car. Probably an Aston Martin DB11 or Vanquish.
  • Build myself the perfect house (cottage, chateau, castle) in the middle of freaking no where, preferably with a view of a waterfall.
  • See the world.
  • Donate.  Donate.  Donate.  Cancer research, Red Cross, Alzheimer’s research, Parkinson’s research, FEMA, SPCA, the list goes on.  I know everyone says they’d do this if they won/earned tons of money, and there’s a reason so many have this instinct.  The world owes us absolutely nothing, but goddammit if it isn’t our job to owe the world something if we can afford it.

Completely interested to see some other people’s lists in my comments.  Or anything really.  I’m not picky.

The Upsides

UpsideI had the pleasure of reading Becky Albertalli’s newest accomplishment this month, The Upside of Unrequited.  This book puts you in feels, especially if at any time in your life you were a teenage girl of questionable proportions who thought “what the fuck are you talking about?” a lot when people were talking to you.  (In case you’re wondering, that’s 99% of all teenage girls.  I’m assuming that the last 1% are all sociopaths or in a coma.)

“Upside” is about Molly Peskin-Suso, seventeen.  She has a lot going on.  Her parents are a bi-racial lesbian couple.  She’s a chubby, Jewish, super crafty Pinterest-queen.   She’s starting a new part-time job at a chic boutique.  In her young life she’s had twenty-six crushes, none of which ever came to anything.  Her best friend and cousin, Abby, has moved away and started a new life.  And lastly, Molly’s twin, Cassie, for the first time ever after a history of casual hookups, falls in love and suddenly and has a girlfriend.  What’s more, Cassie is desperate for Molly to find a boyfriend now too, so goes out of her way to set her up with her own girlfriend’s cute, hipster friend, Will.  Molly’s more into her new co-worker, Reid.  But the thing is, Molly’s never been able to maneuver down the precarious path of crush to boyfriend.  She’s not sure how it works, and what it comes down to it, she’s not sure she’s worth it.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, that means you were probably a teenager at some point too.

So much to say about this novel.  It was a difficult read for me mostly because it proved to me what a bitter adult asshole I am sometimes.  I was that fat teenage girl whose friends earned themselves boyfriends and was left behind.  I was that grand-daughter who had to listen to her grandmother say “you’d be so pretty if only you weren’t so fat.”  I was absolutely the girl who formed crushes knowing they wouldn’t go anywhere because I was too fat to have a boyfriend.

“Even if he likes me, I’m not sure he’d like me naked. I hate that I’m even thinking that. I hate hating my body. Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might. Because chubby girls don’t get boyfriends, and they definitely don’t have sex. Not in movies—not really—unless it’s supposed to be a joke. And I don’t want to be a joke.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Not to make myself sound miserable or anything.  I had friends, we had good times, we watched a lot of horror movies and consumed a lot of sugar to the detriment of our sanity.  I was carefree, bought a lot of witty t-shirts and read a lot of books.  Good times.  Still, this novel struck a chord because despite all that I did do, there was just as much that I didn’t get to do.  Or, also in my case, so many things I regret doing *winky face emoji.*OWQuote

The first thing I would like to address about this book, is the blatant social agenda.  Molly’s life is so progressive I coughed out rainbows for twenty-four hours after I binged this novel.

Gone are the days when family means mother, father, child; or husband and wife.  Gone are the days were male means penis and woman means vagina.  (Some would say those days never really existed, we just believed they did.)  I’m all for it.  Let the lives and difficulties of modern day protagonists reflect the social changes and mores of modern day humans.  The new millennium has brought a shift in the definitions of love, sex, gender identity and marriage.  Woohoo!  Social progress is awesome!  We’re almost fully-realized human beings!  When aliens finally enslave our future generations they’ll be able to give us mad props on how open minded we are.  After all, we did allow aliens close enough to enslave us.  We’ll probably give them the right to vote in presidential elections before they tighten the noose.

I don’t have a problem with social agendas disguised as YA romances.  I do feel preached to, however, when the social agenda slaps you in face.  It’s courageous.  Abertalli is trying to make a point.  There were a few beautiful moments that celebrated social progress, and I appreciated those.  A new day has truly arrived.  Honestly, anyone who does need this point made to them probably would never read this book.  They probably read non-fiction books about turning road kill into stuffed animals and tune into a lot of weather reports.

That was judgey. Well, this whole blog is judgey. Sorry not sorry.

I know I’m not the only un-teen who has read this, and I had to keep reminding myself as I went that this is a book for teens.  Despite how I feel that the agenda is unnecessary because most of the target audience finds sexual preference about as interesting as preferred ice cream flavor, Albertalli is trying shape young minds.  Go humanity!  Yay!

There was a thread on Twitter concerning the idea that young chubby girls cannot possess any kind of self-worth unless they achieve their romantic goals, or at least that books like this perpetuate that idea.  And honestly, I can see where people might be coming from.

In Albertalli’s defense, she makes it very clear from page one that Molly Peskin-Suso wants a boyfriend like most chubby kids want cake (or in my case fried chicken).  She doesn’t form her unrequited crushes by accident.  They are a result of a deep-seeded desire to experience the floaty, dreamy, sugar-coated, dancing on air sensation that happens when you love someone and they love you back.  It’s not a desire that only chubby girls experience; it’s probably the most human desire that a person can have.  (Other than compulsive over-eating and condemning things we don’t understand.)  To quote the great cinematic endeavor Moulin Rouge “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  A movie about can-can courtesans and bohemian artists may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or absinthe), but you have to admit that’s a pretty profound statement with universal meaning.  We are programmed to love.  It’s a biological imperative.  This programming always existed since we were still mostly covered and fur and only communicated telepathically (yeah that was a Sense8 reference, you know you love that show too).  All we’ve done over the years is make the process infinitely more complicated.  For instance:

Despite the genetalia I was born with, do I associate more as a man or a woman?

Despite my gender identity, am I attracted to men, women or both?

Would I care about being with someone whose sex did not match their gender identity?

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I couldn’t find a chart so here’s a kitten from Pinterest

Okay, I know my gender identity and I’m attracted to someone, but are they hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan- or asexual and how do I find out?

How many beers will I have to consume before I’m brave enough to ask?  (Because that’s right girls, it’s not just up to the guys anymore.  Yay progress!)

Seriously, someone should make a flow chart.  I’m sure someone has made a flow chart.  I should find the flow chart.

 

I think more than anything Albertalli was just trying to get the point across that you don’t know unless you try.  You can’t cry over what could be if you’re not willing to try and make it a will be.  Wow, someone should put that on a poster with kittens.  Growing up is hard, trusting people to do right by you is harder.  But no one gains anything by waiting and wishing for everything you want to fall right into your lap.  Ultimately, that’s what this novel is about.  It’s not about how chubby girls get boyfriends and suddenly love themselves.  It’s about acceptance of yourself and others as they are, communication (always), and the good old-fashioned try.  And, for god’s sake, abandoning that teenage mentality that when something goes wrong it’s the end of the world, because it’s really not.  Awesome lessons for any teenager with no self-esteem and even less confidence.

“But you know, there’s an upside here. Because when you spend so much time just intensely wanting something, and then you actually get the thing? It’s magic.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Going back to the Twitter thread, I think it’s important that people understand that your self-esteem doesn’t hinge on winning the boy or the girl.  Even with all of our social progress, there are too many girls out there who still believe that unless they’re in a relationship or being desired in some way, they’re worthless.  This, frankly, isn’t true and never has been.  I believe Molly Peskin-Suso’s journey exemplifies this assertion, and this is a social agenda I can get behind. Without giving up the ending, I believe Molly’s story is much more about confidence than romance.  Despite outside influences and pressures, Molly makes a lot of really good decisions for herself, and that’s what’s important here.   I’ve been happily single for years, and the older I get the more I believe that the only thing I would ever give up my freedom for is a madman in a blue telephone box.  If you didn’t get that reference, that’s alright, just continue on with your life not knowing what you’re missing.quote

I rated this book five stars solely based on the feels it gave me, because even though not all of them were good, a book that can affect you is a good book.  Also, it deserves all five for the effortless wit that I treasure in novels of any kind.  It is an easy, fast read that even people who have all their shit figured out could appreciate.  Albertalli effectively captures the terrifying state of liking someone and not being sure how, if, or when they will ever like you back.  Good writing, good reading.  AND if you haven’t read it, Albertalli’s first novel: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a damn adorable read as well.

“There’s just something terrifying about admitting you like someone. In a way, it’s actually easier when there’s no chance of anything happening. But there’s this threshold where things suddenly become possible. And then your cards are on the table. And there you are, wanting, right out in the open.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

And Then The Killings Began — A Review of Jane Steele

Gather children, I have quite the bedtime story for you this blogening (that’s blog + evening.  See what I did there?)

I’m behind the times on this one, since it was published about a year ago.  I was too busy reading about hockey players and CEO’s with hearts of gold and man-hoods of—well, never mind. A blog for another time perhaps.

This last month I did a lot of rereads.  (I can’t help it, Goodreads gives us credit for them now.) I reread one of my favorite YA dystopian series, the Shatter Me Trilogy, by Tahereh Mafi, (totally recommend that one if you haven’t discovered it already, it’s like X-Men meets Mocking Jay) and more to point for this blog I reread Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Which takes me now, to the object of ye old blog today.

Jane Steele 3
Jane Steele, an Eyre Satire by Lyndsay Faye, has been on my radar since October when I bought it for my BFF in Writing/Reading Shenanigan’s birthday.  She read it this month too and immediately insisted I follow in her footsteps.

I read it in two sittings.  The first, a brief hundred page sitting that involved a comfy chair, a moment of idle free time and an obscene amount of  Cheez-its.  As for the second sitting, I consumed the remainder of the novel in a maniac, bleary-eyed all-nighter kind of state.  I read this damn novel like I was going to be quizzed on it the next day.  If I failed the quiz, the girl from the Ring would crawl out of the pages and strangle me with her scary hair.

Jane Steele starts her autobiography as a young girl at the age of six, whose French mother, ostracized from polite society, and clearly suffering from manic depression, eventually succumbs to a laudanum overdose.  Jane’s Aunt Patience (who hates Jane and her mother) threatens to send her to boarding school.  Jane resists until after her cousin Edwin attacks and tries to have his way with her. Jane pushes him into a ravine and kills him.  Thus, the tale begins: “Reader, I murdered him.”

            “If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it:  I will be another embodied disaster.  But I will be a beautiful disaster.” ~Lyndsay Faye

The Book continues around ca. 410 pages of Jane Steele navigating, first, her mother’s death (which subsequently haunts her for the entirety of the novel), then into the most atrocious boarding school imaginable.  After, she then escapes into the lonely, dirty streets of London, and then finally to the return to the home of her childhood, Highgate House after Jane learns her aunt is dead.  There is a new owner, one Charles Thornfield.  Jane lies her way into the household, becoming a governess for Thornfield’s ward, Sahjara, all the while secretly plotting to prove the house actually belongs to her.  Things don’t quite go as planned.  There’s a secret treasure, a forbidden basement, and the mysterious fact that Thornfield never takes off his gloves.

            “Though I no longer presumed to have a conscience, I have never once lacked feelings.”  ~Lyndsay Faye

Jane’s beginnings are interesting and oddly hypnotizing as she navigates her childhood and adolescence through her morbid point of view.  I don’t think it would be much of a spoiler to reveal that Miss Steele becomes quite the accomplished serial killer

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Dexter at his most punny.  bloodydisgusting.com

in her short life.  I started the novel wondering how this would be accomplished, but of course anyone who has ever watched the show, Dexter, (or read the novels they’re based off of) knows that even serial killers can be endeared antiheros.  This book, which is very much Jane Eyre meets Sweeny Todd (without the music, of course) delivers quite a disturbingly relatable narrator.  The book is written savagely, and therein lies its gothic appeal.  It’s morbidly tragic and that’s what makes it not only appealing, but beautiful.  Jane’s voice is steady, intelligent and full of feeling.  The prose kept me turning the page even after it was four-thirty in the morning and I could barely see.

 

            “Some tragedies bind us, as lies do; they are ropes braided of hurt and bitterness, and you cannot ever fully understand how pinioned you are until the ties are loosened.” ~Lyndsay Faye

Then, just when you’re starting to understand Miss Steele and her murderously independent (for the time-period especially) ways, Charles Thornfield is introduced.  Anyone who has read Jane Eyre probably has an inkling of the turn the novel takes from that point.  However, I found myself underwhelmed by the romance in general.  Don’t get me wrong, everything that Thornfield says and does is awesome (amazing, flawless, perfect, really I could keep going).  Faye very much eliminates some of the motivational flaws that a more discerning reader could take fault with in Rochester.  Rochester, if you strip him down, is a grumpy, deceitful, selfish bigamist.  I forgave him this fact simply because by the time he grants Jane Eyre his full confession, you see him as not only helpless to cure his current circumstances, but hopelessly in love with Jane.  Charles Thornfield isn’t helpless, and he’s more than just hopeless.  He’s tortured.  His past eats at him, and (spoiler, kinda) it has nothing to do with adultery.  Still, by the time Jane Steele meets Thornfield, her life has already been quite an adventure.  Their witty repertoire, while entertaining, lacked emotional impact for me due to everything else going on in the book.  The romance, though it does have its moments (and trust me, they’re grand) is overshadowed.  I feel that gist of their mutual need for one another is embodied in this quote:

            “… we are doers of deeds, he and I, and as such lose parts of our flesh along the way, and can only pray to meet friends and lovers who can help to stitch us back again, and that we can make them whole in turn.”  ~Lyndsay Faye

Their relationship is very much about mutual understanding rather than desperate need.  I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t read this book for the romance.  Read it for the murder, and the intrigue, the mystery, the mild-mannered and extremely polite constable turned detective, and most surprisingly, the history.  Jane Steel features a lot of the British Empire’s relationship with India at the time.  I don’t know how much of it is historically accurate, all I can say is that it feels researched (but not in a terribly boring way I promise).  If you want the giddy romance, read Jane Eyre.  If you want serial murder and female empowerment in a gothic setting, this book is for you.

Learn more about Lyndsay Faye here.  She has a blog!  She is an actress, has adorably named cats and is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.  I totally understand that obsession, though I have to admit I’m probably more obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch.

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what’s not to obsess over?  IMDB.com

I shall leave you with this gem of a quote from Jane Steele which made my writer brain sing and my reader heart swell:

            “I hope the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stores.

“We tell stories to strangers to ingratiate ourselves, stories to lovers to better adhere us skin to skin, stories in our heads to banish the demons.  When we tell truth, we are callous; when we tell lies, often we are kind.  Through it all, we tell stories, and we own an uncanny knack for the task.”

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sleepy gargoyle demands this of you

Oh, one last note before I go.  You do not have to read Jane Eyre in order to enjoy Jane Steele, but I highly recommend it as it will add to your reading experience.  Jane Steele treats her literary doppleganger as somewhat of a personal hero and often quotes her and refers to Eyre’s tragic tale of woe as she recounts her own.  Honestly, just read Jane Eyre for the sake of reading it.  It’s an awesome book.