Book Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao – An Evocative and Vulnerable Story about Grief, Connection, and Moving On

Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.

And Sam picks up the phone.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

I was provided an uncorrected bound manuscript from the author. My honest opinions in this book review reflect this version and may be different to the final version of the book.

It’s been two months since I finished You’ve Reached Sam, and it’s a book that has stayed with me since. I think about this book almost every other day. You’ve Reached Sam is a story that confronts grief in its most intense and most painful. And yet, though I was a sobbing, snotty mess by the end of the book, its tender and genuine portrayal of love in its most pure form was also unexpectedly healing.

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Book Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa – A Vulnerable and Warmly Funny Story about First Love, Coming Out, and Loving Oneself

Blurb:

A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.

Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.

Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.

Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.

Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.

I was provided an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Somewhere, sometime, a queer teen will read Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, hold this story close to their chest, the story finding a home in their heart. What an illuminating and poignant book Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is; a book that deftly balances the softness and joy of first love and steadfast friendship but also the sharp and painful edges of heteronormativity and anti-gay prejudice. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is soft, beautiful, triumphant, painful, heart-aching, and bittersweet – and I suppose it’s a little like life, isn’t it?

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Book Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong – A Brutal Yet Tender Retelling of Romeo and Juliet Like You’ve Never Read Before

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong.

Blurb:

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

CW’s Review:

I was given an ARC of this book by the author; this does not influence my opinions outlined in this book review.

How do you even begin to write a review for one of your most anticipated reads of 2020 that didn’t just exceed your expectations, but its story stabbed you in the heart, sucked the lifeforce and tears out of you, and made you ache and feel horror all at once – and by the end you wanted to thank Chloe for it?

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Book Review: We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia – A Messy, Complex & Powerful Exploration of What It Means To Question Yourself

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Summary:

Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect. He’s going to make sure all the parties are chill, he’s going to smooth things over with his ex, and he’s going to help his friend Dave get into the popular crowd—whether Dave wants to or not. The high school social scene might be complicated, but Nandan is sure he’s cracked the code.

Then, one night after a party, Dave and Nandan hook up, which was not part of the plan—especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Dave’s cool, and Nandan’s willing to give it a shot, even if that means everyone starts to see him differently.

But while Dave takes to their new relationship with ease, Nandan’s completely out of his depth. And the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. But is breaking up with the only person who’s ever really gotten him worth feeling “normal” again?

CW’s review:

I received an ARC from the author. This does not influence my opinions of the book review in any way. 

In the Author’s Note of We Are Totally Normal, Rahul Kanakia, who is a trans queer woman, talks about how the book is one that’s deeply personal, one so “deeply rooted in [her] own shame and confusion and embarrassment over [her] own sexuality”.

If you plan to read We Are Totally Normal, or recently decided not to read it, you should understand this: We Are Totally Normal is not a cute YA romance. We Are Totally Normal is a story about the messiness of fluid identity, navigating high school social dynamics and hierarchies, and how labels can be overwhelming and shape our experiences – and not always in an affirming way.

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Book Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee – Move Over Jade City; Jade War is The Bigger, Better, and Crueler Big Sister

Review: Jade War, by Fonda Lee

Blurb:

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

CW’s Review:

Many of you may know that Jade City is my favourite book of all time. And not just ‘one of my favourite books’ – Jade City is the favourite book. And now I find myself in the strange and unexpected position of finding a new favourite book of all time. I have loved Jade City so passionately for years that I never gave thought to the possibility that it would be dethroned so soon. It’s not often you read a book where the second book, the middle book of a trilogy no less, is undoubtedly better than the first book, and yet, Fonda Lee did it. Jade War, the sequel to Jade City, has dethroned its predecessor as my favourite book of all time. Jade War is more brutal, more devastating, more emotional, and more than you could ever expect it to be.

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