Reviews of Teen Books by Genre: Contemporary

Love and Gelato
Welch, Jenna Evans
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is one of those books that gets better in the days after finishing it. Of course, the white-washed love triangle was a little stale, but I love a good romance in an unfamiliar city. The beginning of the story had so much potential, but I was slightly let down by the end. The last few chapters, which should be the best as each character frantically interacts to find their resolutions with others, just felt rushed. Here's where it gets good though. I love how the main character naturally found a true friend in her first days in Italy. I love how they find parallels around the city to her mother's own adventures there. Finally, I love how her mother's story, though rocky, helped Lina find her own path. If any of this sounds intriguing, try this book!
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
Slay
Morris, Brittney
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This book reminded me of Ready Player One in that it highlighted the potential for a better, or more chaotic, world of virtual reality. It was a cool concept and I liked the characters, but the plot was predictable and it just didn't speak to me. Slay is very real about the issues of racism within the online community, which is important to be educated on, but the serious topics mixed with an attempt at modern slang was odd. It is a nice book if you are bored, but not at the top of my list to reread.
Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
XOXO book jacket
Oh, Axie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

XOXO features a teenage Korean-American girl, Jenny, who plays cello and one night meets a mysterious boy named Jaewoo at her uncle's karaoke place. They end up going to a festival and Jaewoo leaves and never texts Jenny again. Jenny goes on but moves in with her grandma she never met in South Korea and finds Jaewoo is actually a k-pop star who goes to her new school. Throughout the novel Jenny and Jaewoo grow close and learn about the struggles of balancing the expectations that come with talent and love. I enjoyed the concept of k-pop mixing with the famous-common person trope as that is what drew me in initially, but the novel was very predictable and surface level. Throughout the book the characters didn''t have much character development, there's no plot twists, and the only interesting part and pro of the novel is the concept.

Grade 12

Reviewer's Name: Tisha
We'll Always Have Summer
Han, Jenny
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

We'll Always Have Summer is the last novel in the Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy.
Like the second novel, We'll Always Have Summer was another book that did not contribute to the series at all and was another story of completely useless drawn-out drama. Somehow, the last novel's conflict was even worse than the last. Turns out, Belly and Jeremiah decide to get engaged, and surprise, surprise, Belly still harbors feelings for Conrad. Except for this time, Belly is about to be married to Jeremiah. With too many practically cheating moments to count, the novel makes you realize that Belly might not be much of a good person, and probably doesn't deserve Conrad or Jeremiah. In my opinion, the person you most feel sympathy for is not the protagonist or love interest, but Jeremiah himself. With his own brother and fiance sneaking around his back, the novel really attempts to romanticize Belly and Conrad's forbidden romance but fails miserably. Overall, We'll Always Have Summer is a pretty unsatisfying book to wrap up the trilogy and makes readers despise Belly and Conrad even more.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
It's Not Summer Without You
Han, Jenny
2 stars = Meh
Review:

It's Not Summer Without You is the second installment to The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy. In my opinion, this novel and plot seemed a little stretched out, in attempts to lengthen the series. The novel was pretty much the same as the first, with Belly constantly stringing along with Jeremiah while also battling feelings with Conrad. Except for this time, Belly is actually in a relationship with Jeremiah, making the whole situation much worse. Throughout the whole novel, I could not help but cringe constantly. The fact that Jeremiah and Conrad were brothers made the whole thing with Belly much worse. Belly is in a relationship with one brother, but secretly in love with the other. Clearly, a recipe for disaster, and Belly completely does not handle these situations in a logical or considerate way, making the whole novel seem like a huge jumbled mess. Overall, I feel like It's Not Summer Without You was a totally unnecessary addition to the series, and that the author could have wrapped up the plot easily at the end of the first novel of The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
The Summer I Turned Pretty
Han, Jenny
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The Summer I Turned Pretty is a teen romance series written by Jenny Han, author of the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series. While the novel has a promising plot, containing a cute beachside childhood romance between Isabel "Belly" and her two childhood friends Jeremiah and Conrad Fisher, the plot for me got a little mixed up in the middle of the novel. Belly starts off by informing us readers of her longtime crush on Conrad but claiming that she doesn't have such feelings toward him anymore. However, it becomes painfully obvious that Belly does in fact still harbor feelings toward Conrad and is unhealthily pushing down these feelings by using other guys to make up for him. In my opinion, Belly is not a likable main character and displays many toxic traits throughout the novel. She consistently strings along innocent guys and is totally unaware of her own negative behaviors. However, I understand that the novel is supposed to encapsulate Belly being a typical teenager, discovering romance and etcetera. While I didn't particularly enjoy Belly in the first book, and couldn't really cheer her on as a protagonist, I have to admit that some of her rash behaviors did mirror common traits that many young teen girls, such as myself go through. Overall, while The Summer I Turned Pretty did not have a likable main character, it did have a couple of sweet moments and did illustrate the pains of growing up well.

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Isla and the Happily Ever After
Perkins, Stephanie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Isla and the Happily Ever After is the third installment in the Anna and the French Kiss series. In my opinion, this book was far better than the Anna and the French Kiss series but still contains a couple of flaws with it. To start off, Isla and Josh's love story was pretty sweet and contained just the right amount of cheesiness. I enjoyed that their romance followed a typical, but also a well-done trope of the sunshiney girl versus the more brooding introverted boy. However, despite some of the cute moments, I couldn't ignore the glaring fact that Isla and Josh's story seemed way too sudden. Right after they meet, they practically dive into their relationship right away, with no suspense or build-up. Isla and Josh rush right into the thick of things, something that made the story seem a little rushed and underdeveloped.
Isla as a character also seemed slightly underdeveloped, because I could not really find myself relating or having any strong feelings towards her at all. Isla was a very "meh" character, her personality traits mirroring mediocrity. Adding on to Isla, her obsession with Josh was also a little worrying. Isla seemed to pin everything about herself to Josh, to the point where she felt like she didn't deserve someone as great as him. At some point in the book, I felt that Isla's only character trait was her romance with Josh and that she relied on him far too much. Overall, while the novel had some weak points, I'd say it achieved the minimum of what a cheesy and sweet teen romance book should be. However, I hesitate to say that this book was a well-thought-out work. If a cheesy romance is what you're looking for, there are thousands of far better romances you should reach for before this one.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Anna and the French Kiss
Perkins, Stephanie
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Anna and the French Kiss is supposed to be a sweet teen love story, following Anna, a senior in high school who suddenly gets sent to a foreign school in Paris. While I could see what Perkins was going for, the whole "teen cliche love story" was not executed well. For one, Anna is far from a likable protagonist. Although having dreams to be a professional female film critic, when Anna is forced to attend school in France, she claims that she is shocked when she discovers that movie theatres exist in France. It's hard to believe that an avid film watcher is so ignorant of the fact that other countries besides America also have movie theatres. Not to mention that France is one of the major film capitals of the world. Anna continues displaying an almost disbelieving amount of ignorance when she also avoids her school's cafeteria because she doesn't know how to order food in french. Later, she is told that the school's chef does indeed know how to speak English, and that one doesn't have to be fluent in French to speak to him. Anna also is unaware that in France, most people have a basic grasp of the English language, and thinks that nobody knows how to speak English, thus convincing herself that she must learn French. Anna is almost too oblivious of the world outside her to be believable, but over and over again, Anna continues to dumbfound readers by displaying more and more ignorant thoughts and behaviors. Adding on, Anna's love interest is also far from a likable character. Etienne St. Clair (a name that might be too overboardly french to be true), is a boy who conveniently has a British accent, but is also somehow French and American, all at the same time. It's almost like Perkins wanted Etienne to be French and American, but also to have the typical British accent that every teen fiction love interest must have all at once, thus resulting in the confusing cliche mess that Etienne is.
Lastly, Anna and the French Kiss, while containing problematic characters, also contains problematic behaviors, such as the romanticization of cheating and an absurdly ignorant and offensive main character. While I understand the route Perkins may have intended to take, Anna and the French Kiss was far from a cheesy and sweet romance novel.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
We Were Liars
Lockhart, E.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The average reviews for this book are lower than usual, but it really surprised me. The story felt like a true story and dystopian and fiction all at once, not to mention the plot twist. The setting of an isolated vacation island set the background for a unique storyline between a few families with dark secrets. I enjoyed the main characters' personalities too, though there were some comments they made about homophobia and racism that were kind of weird and sounded like the author didn't do much research about the LGBTQ+ and POC communities. It was very entertaining still, and I would recommend it if you need a suspenseful story to read quickly.
Grade 11

Reviewer's Name: Maggie
This Is Where It Ends
Nijkamp, Marieke
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

This Is Where It Ends follows four students who recount their perspectives going through a school shooting at Opportunity High. Initially, I was intrigued to read this book since it covers a very sensitive topic and is a topic that I was interested in learning more about. However, the novel completely missed all my expectations. Instead of a thoughtful, heavily researched, realistic story, I got a novel that seemed to be an insult to any school shooting victim. The novel was way too action-packed, in such a way that every single plot point in the book seemed wildly exaggerated. Making it worse, the school shooter in the novel was way too villainized. With cheesy lines and no real reasoning behind his actions, the author made it seem like the shooter was some kind of superhero comic villain, with no other drive for his actions besides to incite fear in others. There was no psychological deep dive into why the shooter, a previous student in the school, ended up in the way he did, and why he thought his only solution to his problems was to murder his classmates. It was a shame to read such a novel meant to address a major problem in America, but was instead contorted and desensitized in a way to appeal to the entertainment industry, and failed to have any educational value at all. To put it shortly, This Is Where It Ends seems more of an action-thriller novel, not one that is meant to be taken seriously at all.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: Michelle
Songbirds
Lefteri, Christy
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Songbirds is about the disappearance of domestic workers in Cyprus--women who had no choice but to leave their families in Sri Lanka or Vietnam or the Philippines and find work as maids in the homes of Cyprus's wealthy class. Nisha, whom the story centers on, is a Sri Lankan woman who has faced much loss. She comes to Cyprus, leaving her daughter behind, and becomes a mother figure for Aliki, the daughter of a somber, grieving widow named Petra. Though Nisha has such an impact on the people around her, especially Petra and Aliki, she is merely seen as a maid, overlooked, taken for granted. In a parallel plot line, Yiannis is a poacher who hunts songbirds for a living. He and Nisha have a secret relationship, which would jeopardize everything if discovered by Petra, and when he finally tells Nisha about the poaching, she is deeply disappointed in him, though Yiannis doesn't stop his senseless killing of songbirds. One night, Nisha goes missing. What ensues is a long, agonizing search in which the police refuse to do anything and Petra begins to realize that she relied on Nisha for nearly everything and didn't appreciate her while she was there. Petra and Yiannis team up, determined to find out what happened.
In my opinion, this story could've been told so much better. The metaphor of the songbirds was far too loud and became redundant and irritating. Lefteri could've more effectively woven together the plot lines of Petra and Yiannis without being so blunt with her metaphor. However, I did find it very interesting--and saddening--to learn about the missing domestic workers of Cyprus. Just as in The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Lefteri brings to light real issues that go beyond news coverage and should be talked about but somehow aren't. These maids are just as human as anyone, having sacrificed lives in their home countries for the benefit of their families. I would have enjoyed this novel more if the pacing had been faster and the plot hadn't been so repetitive; the characters also weren't the most likable.
I wouldn't necessary recommend this book, but the premise is worth knowing.

Reviewer's Name: Alexa
One of Us Is Next
McManus, Karen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is the sequal to One of us is lying. In this book, there is a person who would like to continue Simon's legacy. A boy who framed 4 teenagers in detention on his death. But, it's a game of Truth or Dare. You do a crazy dare, like kiss someone or get one of your deepest secrets exposed. It turns out, this is just based on a revenge plan from 2 people, looking to ruin someone's life based off of past incidents.
This book is AMAZING. It was just a good as the first book, if not better. It has a great story line and plot and truly does keep you intrigued the whole time. I loved this book and would rate it a 10/10.

Reviewer's Name: Mackenzie
Someday, Someday, Maybe
Graham, Lauren
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lauren Graham, the charismatic actress, writes an endearing and entertaining story about the struggles of show business in her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe. Franny Banks is a frazzled young woman with big dreams of making it in New York City, but she finds herself stuck in an unfortunate cycle of disappointment, only booking the occasional commercial acting job. When she finally gets an agent, Franny thinks things are looking up, but instead she becomes consumed by a toxic acting culture and loses sight of herself. Graham tells Franny's story with wit and relatability, conveying hard truths through sarcastic, sometimes hyperbolic observations, complete with Franny's amusing inner commentary and scribbly, sketch-filled planner pages. This novel could be a rude awakening to those who wish to pursue the acting industry or show business, but the truths it tells about life are important. Sometimes we forget what's best for ourselves when trying to please others. Sometimes failure can lead to the unexpected. And sometimes things don't work out like we hoped they would.

Reviewer's Name: Alexa
One of Us is Lying
McManus, Karen
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is about 4 highschool students who are in the classroom when another student dies. Since they are the only ones in the room, they are the ones who have to fight to prove that they are innocent and try to get their normal lives back. Throughout the book, each person gets framed at least once, with new evidence. You get a point of view of each person and others on who did it, and why.
This book was AMAZING! It kept me engaged the whole entire time and had me gasping at every plot twist. I know that alot of people have been posting about this book, but it is definitely worth the read. There is also a sequal, called One of us is next. I would rate this book a 10/10.

Reviewer's Name: Mackenzie
She Drives Me Crazy book cover
Quindlen, Kelly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

She Drives Me Crazy opens with Scottie Zajac horrendously losing the first basketball game of the season to her ex-girlfriend. And it keeps going downhill after that. After a horrendous fender-bender in the parking lot after the game, Scottie is forced to carpool with Irene Abraham, the beautiful head cheerleader with a heart of stone. But after a few twists and turns, Scottie comes up with a perfect way to get back at her ex: fake date Irene until their next basketball battle. But within their fake relationship, Scottie finds that maybe feelings, relationships, and exes aren't as simple as she thought.
This book was fairly simple. It was a standard rivalry turned forced cooperation turned love story, with lots of shenanigans along the way. The things that made this book stand out from the simplistic romances of its peers was surprisingly not how the main love story was handled, but rather how the previous one was. Scottie had been in a nasty breakup caused by a nasty relationship, and it shows. She's torn about her ex and is constantly conflicted over whether ending the relationship was a good idea or not, something that's sadly very common for victims of toxic relationships. Her self esteem is noticeably impacted, and she has to struggle with this throughout the rest of the book. The book also handles a lot of other difficult subjects really well, like the demonization and trivialization of cheerleading, and the criticisms given to gay athletes. Despite these heavy topics, the book still delivers the fun romance it promises, with a few interesting twists thrown in that complement the themes of toxic relationships and moving on. The characters of the book were also surprisingly endearing. Scottie was loveable despite her flaws, Irene was one of the coolest female characters I've read in years, and even the side characters each shone and grew in really unique ways.
All in all, this was a great book, which I'd definitely recommend for lovers of romance, rivalry, character growth, and some 90's era romantic gestures!

Reviewer's Name: Eve
Restart book cover
Korman, Gordon
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Restart is about a boy who fell off a roof, forcing him to relearn his entire life. His old life, however, is nothing like what he envisioned. From throwing rotten tomatoes at cars to terrorizing the school, Chase is no longer who is friends want him to be. I liked this book because you never know when a bit of his old life will pop out of a clear blue sky. The moral of the story, don't hide things on a roof.

Reviewer's Name: Kai
500 Words or Less book cover
del Rosario, Juleah
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

500 Words or Less is about Nic Chen, a girl now hated by her high school after cheating on her beloved boyfriend. Nic is trying desperately to salvage her senior year, when she stumbles upon an opportunity to write admission essays for her frighteningly ambitious peers. As she writes and learns more about the people around her, she begins to understand how much she needs to learn about herself.
This book is almost entirely in verse, which is interesting. In some parts, it's basically a normal book, just put in a more vertical format. Other times, the structure really benefits the prose, and the beautiful writing lends to the more whimsical medium. The book was almost entirely sad, and crossed into heartbreaking at the end, making it great for catharsis. Although the story itself was fairly standard high school drama, the underlying currents of mental illness, grief, and acceptance lent it a lot of weight. The book made good use of repetition and symbolism to represent cyclical thought, and had some good twists, especially one at the end that was really gut punching. The main characters were really well fleshed out, especially some side characters that helped make the story less one note. The main characters conflicts also felt very realistic, and made her sympathetic despite many of the things she did.
All in all, this was a good book. I would recommend this to anyone who likes poetry, drama, and lots of introspection.

Reviewer's Name: Eve M
Charming as a Verb book jacket
Phillipe, Ben
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Charming As A Verb" follows Columbia-ambitious professional dog walker Henri, who works hard at the prestigious FATE academy to secure his future. When intense classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy threatens to expose the fraudulencies of his dog walking business, Henri is forced to help her increase her social standing to boost an application to a dream school of her own. Before long, the two of them become close, but will their college ambition tear them apart?
This book states what it is right on the cover: charming. The atmosphere of the book is calm and cool, easily laying out a protagonist with sparkling personality and quick wit. The setting is a hectic but homey New York, the perfect set for a cautionary tale on doomed ambitions. The characters and dialouge feel real and grounded, with their own flaws and quirks that keep them loveable and relatable. The plot is relatively slow-paced, but still draws in the audience with the underlying tension of college admissions. The book was fairly standard for its genre, but it does stand out with the conflict at the end. In short, near the end of the book the protagonist does something the audience finds unthinkable, but is still understandable after all that we've grown to know him. And the consequences afterward are realistic and dire, really nailing the lesson of the story home. I only had a couple criticisms. The first was that the love interest of the story was so over the top that she sometimes came off as a caricature rather than person, although this was improved over time. I also felt that the ending didn't fully follow through the consequences of the conflict, making it a bit flat.
All in all, this was still a really good book, which I'd definitely recommend to anyone who likes well written romance, fun characters, and cute descriptions of dogs.

Reviewer's Name: Eve
The Fault in Our Stars book jacket
Green, John
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“The Fault in Our Stars” is about Hazel Grace, Augustus Waters, and many other things. We follow Hazel and Gus through their lives which seem to involve a lot of cancer. Hazel's lungs are not good lungs, they fill up with water with causes problems due to cancer. Augustus has one leg due to cancer but is doing fine. Gus and Hazel develop a relationship over reading Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. The book leaves behind a lot of questions when it ends. In the novel we watch Hazel and Augustus navigate through their lives and become close to each other. We watch Hazel and Gus live their lives and watch life happen to them.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is a book that will break your heart, be prepared for it. Both Augustus and Hazel will make you fall in love with them. Their dynamic is adorable and so adorable and so enjoyable. Isaac was such a wonderful character. He was a friend of Augustus and personally he is one of my favorite characters. The medical accuracy is probably meh but it made sense to me, who is not a medical person. This book is part realistic, romantic, and bittersweet. The writing style describes the emotions so well. The figurative elements are used in such fun and creative ways. This book is beautiful, the characters are beautiful, the plot was beautiful, and the writing style was beautiful. The book shows the characters getting screwed over by life and it was great at showing that life isn’t perfect and that sometimes life seems to bite you in the butt. This book progresses at the perfect speed, makes you love the characters, and then breaks your heart. This book is perfect for anyone searching for an emotional book that just is realistic and beautiful.

Reviewer's Name: Jordan
The Spanish Love Deception
Armas, Elena
2 stars = Meh
Review:

I'm normally all for an enemies-to-lovers rom-com book with good diversity, but this book did not do it for me. For such a lengthy read, there was no substance and Catalina was constantly repeating herself. The story involves Catalina needing a date to her sister's wedding in Mexico and agreeing to take her work enemy, Aaron Blackford. First of all, Aaron had no personality. A tall, ominous Caucasian man with dark hair is really the only description. The banter was alright, but became boring and repetitive after a while. Then, all of Catalina's internal dialogue discussed this wedding, which only got a couple pages of description when it finally happened! But what bothered me most was how the entire book revolved around this pity party for Catalina. It was interesting to read about this (unfortunately) common occurrence that a couple with an age gap or existing in a professional setting tends to be accepted only for males, but this message could have had a better reach if the main character wasn't complaining every other page that her life was completely ruined, even years later, by this misogynistic disparity. She even clarified that she took a new job offer because of the experience, not because she was trying to escape. However, the author contradicted this statement by devoting most of the book to a "feel bad for me" mindset. Readers will empathize more with the main character if they aren't guilt-tripping everyone. Less is more!

Reviewer's Name: Maggie