P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Rep: POC (asian), mixed race
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before vol. 2
Rating: planchet-3

After faking a relationship for several months in book one, Laura Jean and Peter are finally, officially, a couple.

However, their obstacles are not over yet. They have definitely succeeded in making Peter’s ex jealous–as evidenced when spreads a video of Peter and Laura Jean making out in a hot tub on a school trip. Despite their best efforts to get the video taken down, it keeps showing up in unsurprising places, leaving Laura Jean humiliated.

When she gets a response to her one missing letter from the previous semester, she rekindles a friendship she thought was gone forever. Peter, however, is jealous. Worse, he can’t understand why Laura Jean gets so angry when he spends so much time with his ex–and then lying about it.

With their fledgling relationship on the rocks, Laura Jean escapes into her volunteer work at a local retirement home, where the ladies are always happy to see her, offering advice on dealing with boys, and are more than willing to set her up with their grandsons.

When one of those grandsons shows up unexpectedly, sparks will definitely fly. But will they be romantic, or just friction?

The Laura Jean books are so cute and sweet. I do have a bit of a problem with some of the things in them–like the jealousy issues, and the fact that apparently Peter’s “best quality” is his face.

This book delves a lot into Laura Jean’s insecurities with sex and her attitudes about it. At times I think it got a bit obsessive, but maybe that’s just because I’m not sixteen. Personally, I think Laura Jean can do better than Peter, though he was very sweet in the way he tried to protect her in this book.

While this isn’t my favorite series, it does evoke some of the feelings I got from Fangirl, which is one of my favorite contemporaries of all time. I guess I have a soft spot for insecure teenage girls.

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: hard copy
Content warning: extreme diets
Rep: POC (S. Korean), mental illness (anxiety)
Rating: planchet-4

Lucky is a K-Pop superstar, and she’s 48-hours from her career skyrocketing into entirely new territory: she’s about to debut on an American late-night now, an honor few Korean pop stars see. If all goes well, she’ll go from being one of the most popular solo artists in a tiny country to being an international hit.

But Lucky can’t manage the enthusiasm everyone else has for the show. She’s supposed to be grateful, but as she sits in her hotel room after another exhausting show, it occurs to her that as much as she loves singing and performing, her passion for being “Lucky”, the pink-haired, 5’10” phenomenon known for her thigh-high silver stiletto boots, has waned in the past several years. Everything is routine.

It starts out as a simple quest: a hamburger. Shouldn’t be too hard to find at 11pm in one of the busiest cities in the world, right? Lucky sneaks past her handlers and security and out onto the lively Hong Kong streets. But one thing she doesn’t account for are her anxiety and sleeping pills kicking in at just that moment, leaving her dazed and apparently drunk, sleeping on a bus.

Jack, a Korean-American photographer who has been living in Hong Kong since high school, finds Lucky passed out on said bus. He doesn’t recognize her at first, but can’t seem to leave the poor drunk girl wandering around in her hotel slippers alone. Afraid she’ll run into trouble, he tries to take her back to the hotel but instead ends up following her around the city as her drugged brain leads her from one shiny object to another.

When she finally passes out for good, he takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep off whatever is in her system. It’s then that Jack, who moonlights for a tabloid, realizes “Fern,” the drunk girl he picked up on a city bus, is really Lucky.

Both of them are looking for escape. Once their paths cross, adventure follows as Jack shows sheltered Lucky around the city he calls home.

I loved every single page of this book. It helps that I’m a big fan of K-pop myself, and there was a lot of the culture behind the media in just the first few pages: the expectations to be grateful, to work hard, to always be perfect, both in appearance and behavior.

If you were a fan of the Laura Jean series, this is a good step up, straddling the line between YA and New Adult (the romance is light and doesn’t go very far; I’m referring more to the age group NA is aimed at). If you’ve ever questioned your path in life, then this is a must-read.

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Rep: POC (asian), mixed race
Rating: planchet-3

Wallflower Laura Jean can’t confess the way she feels to her crushes, so she writes letters to them instead. But when someone uncovers her secret love letters and mails them, it sends her into a tailspin. Not only have all of her old crushes gotten letters, but so has her current crush and neighbor, Josh. Even worse, Josh also happens to be her older sister’s recent ex.

To help save face and convince Josh she isn’t really interested in him–and maybe to convince herself, too–she and another letter recipient, Peter, decided to pretend they are a couple. Bonus points: Dating Laura Jean will really piss off his ex, Genevieve.

But the lie soon gets out of hand, and neither Laura Jean nor Peter can tell what’s real and what’s just the fantasy anymore.

I was late catching the train on this one. Honestly, I don’t regret it too much. I liked the movie, and though it was pretty cute. I’m a bit less keen on the book (I know, I know. *Ducks flying objects*).

While I loved Laura Jean’s voice, I’m not crazy about Josh or Peter. Josh is a cabbage–that is, a character that could be replaced with a cabbage, and no one would notice. He has very few opinions and the only time we see him express an actual emotion, it’s jealousy.

Peter is the obnoxious kind of boy that I avoided in high school, and the type of man that makes me roll  my eyes and leave the room. Even worse, the narrator for this one did a really annoying voice for him. It was completely in character, but so annoying to listen to. Honestly, I think Laura Jean could do better than both of them.

While the “falling for my fake boyfriend/girlfriend” trope is one of my favorites, I’m still only lukewarm on this book. I do want to finish the series, but it was still only about 3-3.5 stars for me.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

“I’ve often noticed that people equate ‘having a sense of humor’ with ‘being an insensitive moron.’” –Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Contemporary YA
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: bullying (implied), anxiety attacks
Positive rep: mental health (social anxiety, depression
Rating: planchet-5

Audrey has always been a bit quiet. Reserved. Shy.

But after an Incident in March, she’s left unable to function in society. She doesn’t leave the house except for therapy sessions, wears dark glasses even indoors, and has panic attacks at the thought of using the phone, texting, or even emailing.

Her world has shrunk down to the size of a pin, encompassing just her parents and two brothers. Since The Incident, not even her best friend tries to talk to her anymore.

But when her older brother decides to enter a videogame competition and his teammate Linus starts coming over regularly to practice, it turns Audrey’s safe place upside down. Suddenly there’s a stranger in the house, and he’s not familiar with all the unspoken rules the family has adopted to help her cope–like not mentioning her dark glasses, or that the den is off limits to everyone but her.

As Linus starts coming over more often, however, Audrey starts to think he might not be so bad. Certainly not so bad as the people who caused The Incident and left her terrified of people in the first place. In fact, Linus has been challenging her boundaries–in a good way.

The thing I really loved about this book is that while there is a romantic subplot, it’s extremely minor–the story focuses more on the friendship between Linus and Audrey. And while they do get together, it’s not a case of “I’m in love, I’m cured!” Linus helps Audrey build a support system, which then allows her to heal.

I wish I’d had this book back when I was in high school and college. It’s the sort of book I wanted when I was writing The Evie Cappelli Series.

I loved all the characters, including Audrey’s wacky family. With such a closed set, the story really has to be character driven, and Sophie Kinsella does a great job of creating funny, distinct, realistic people to populate Audrey’s life.

My only complaint about this book is that we never get any information about what exactly The Incident is, though in the long run the details don’t really matter. What matters is that Audrey has suffered a trauma, and it is taking her a long time to recover from it.

If you are struggling with mental health, this is a great, light-hearted book to pick up on a bad day.