Mini-Reviews: Gone Girl, Sharp Objects & Dark Places // Edge-of-the-seat thrillers by Gillian Flynn

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Hello everyone!

I think I fell back in love with writing reviews. The secret? Mini-reviews! The truth is, I never have that much to write about a book, even one that I love very, very much. After seeing some bloggers nail this approach (such as Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books, and The Orangutan Librarian), I couldn’t help but give this a try.

Gillian Flynn is one of my favourite authors. After reading Gone Girl on my plane ride to China, I couldn’t help but devour Dark Places and Sharp Objects as well. I am amazed by her writing style and her mastery at psychological suspense.

Gone Girl

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From the back cover

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

What I liked

  • Humorous and witty writing that makes you smile and wince at all the right places
  • Plot twists that keep you guessing
  • Main characters (Nick and Amy) who are flawed, messed-up, and very fascinating to get into the heads of
  • Sharp, quick pacing that will have you turning the pages

What I didn’t like

  • Without spoiling the story: The antagonist of this story is very thorough, methodical, and calculating in their ways, making it difficult to relate to this character

Overall: 4/5

Gone Girl is a roller-coaster ride without a single dull moment. It must-read for anyone who is a fan of the mystery and thriller genre.

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Dark Places

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From the back cover

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

What I liked

  • The plot twists!! There is never a dull moment
  • Libby and her family. Even though Libby’s mother and sisters are dead in present day, we get to learn about their personality and quirks through Libby’s memory
  • The disturbing details of the backstory

What I didn’t like

  • Libby’s character isn’t immediately likeable – she is bitter and calculating. However, I feel that this is the intention of the author, and Libby grew on me over time

Overall: 4/5

Yet another amazing novel by Gillian Flynn. As much as this is a murder mystery about Satanic rituals, Dark Places is also a story about the love that underlies a family. I absolutely loved this novel, maybe even more so than Gone Girl.

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Sharp Objects

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From the back cover

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

What I liked

  • Amazing prose and dialogue
  • A well-developed main character (Camille) who has depth and flaws
  • An intricately woven story line with plot twists that will keep you guessing

What I didn’t like

  • For a thriller, the pacing was incredibly slow. Nothing much happens for the first 80% (and then it is like %&$*#?!)
  • Repeated use of certain phrases, like “she is the type of woman who holds your hair back when you vomit”, and “smell like sex”

Overall: 3/5

If you can put up with the slow pacing, Sharp Objects tells a haunting tale about dead (and very, very sick) people that will raise the hairs at the back of your neck.

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PS.

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Are you a fan of the thriller/suspense genre? Have you watched the Gone Girl movie? What do you like writing better: full-length reviews or mini-reviews?

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Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga // A heartfelt contemporary YA novel

18336972One day, while Taliah’s mother is out of the country, Julian Oliver, the famed rock star, shows up on Taliah’s doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.

Taliah and her best friend Harlow embark on a journey to Julian’s hometown, where Taliah meets Julian’s father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 304 pages

Ever since reading (and loving) My Heart and Other Black Holes, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this new novel by Jasmine Warga. Here We Are Now did not disappoint- This novel is about love and loss, and hellos and goodbyes. It will pull on your heartstrings, while being grounded in reality.

The characters are the highlight of this novel. They each have their shortcomings and mistakes, which make them all the more real and loveable. I also love how the relationships between the characters change and grow over the course of the novel.

“I think with some people you can just tell you’re going to have a history with them. Even if that history hasn’t happened yet.”

Taliah lives a simple life with her mother. She is a kind-hearted girl, though she builds a wall between herself and the other people in her world. The only people that she lets in are her best friend and her mother, Lena. Taliah has never met her father, though she is convinced that he is no other than Julian Oliver, the lead singer and guitarist of a famous rock band. One day, Julian appears on her doorstep and invites her on a road trip to meet his father who is dying. At first, Taliah is hesitant to trust Julian. After all, how can you trust a father who has never been in your life? As the story progresses, their relationship strengthens.

This novel also tells the story of Lena and Julian’s relationship, how they met and fell in love, and the events that occurred leading up to the present day. Lena was a modern woman who was ambitious and independent. She immigrated to American from Jordan, choosing to pursue her dream while giving up her family and her home. Julian loved music from the bottom of his heart, and he would rather be a musician than carry on his family business. Lena and Julian found solace in each other, because they were both defying their roots in pursuit of a dream. I absolutely loved that there is focus on the parents in this novel- Yes, once upon a time, parents were teens and young adults, and they had their own love stories too.

He reminded her of America. Of her American dream.

There are some elements of romance, but it does not dominate the story. This is refreshing because it is true in real life as well: romance plays a significant part of our lives, but it doesn’t occupy all of our waking moments. I love that there is focus on other important relationships, such as those between family and friends.

I loved Jasmine Warga’s writing style in this novel. There are few characters, and the story is a simple one. Even the scenes and dialogue are written in a simple style that flows. However, it is a story that is rich in meaning, that made me reflect about people and relationships. This novel reminds me that a great story can be written using simple language.

“I like trees.”

“And what do you like so much about them?”

“They’re good listeners. And they know how to let go.”

The Bottom Line:

Here We Are Now is a subtle and heartfelt story that will make you smile, maybe even shed a tear (or two). It is guaranteed to give you the warm and fuzzies.

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Here We Are Now is one of my favourite contemporary YA novels this year, and Jasmine Warga is one of my favourite authors. Do you have any favourites?

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff // A sci-fi adventure that will make you think “… wait what just happened??!” in a good way

Did you know that Illuminae is considered a space opera? It makes me wonder: What makes something a “space opera”? And why is it called a “space opera” anyway? When I think of space operas, I think of people singing at the top of their lungs while floating in zero gravity, accompanied by an entire floating orchestra.

Anyhow, I digress :’)

23395680From Goodreads:

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Science Fiction / Young Adult / 608 pages

I haven’t read sci-fi in a long time, and I realize that I’ve been missing out, because Illuminae kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. (Note that I listened to the audiobook and have never read the print edition.)

I absolutely love the main character, Kady. She is just so awesome. As a girl, it was empowering to see another fellow girl kick butt. She is capable, independent, and unafraid to take charge. I also like that Kady is a hacker. When I was in university, there were way fewer girls in engineering and computer sciences programs compared to guys. And I feel that is because these are subjects that guys are encouraged to be interested in, while girls are encouraged to go into health sciences or the humanities. I know that when I was growing up, I was always nudged towards the health sciences, and even though I loved computers and programming, I never even thought of pursuing a career in it. Long story short: I am glad to see a female MC who kicks butt when it comes to computers; perhaps this will inspire readers to think beyond conventional careers that are expected of women or men.

I like the relationship dynamics between Kady and Ezra. We read about crushes and new couples all the time in YA fiction. Most of the time, Girl A meets Boy B and, after some fillers and plot twists, they fall in love and live happily every after. The fact that this novel focuses on the relationship between Kady and her ex-boyfriend is refreshing and adds an interesting twist to the story.

I also love how AI is represented in this novel. Although the AI (named AIDAN) is a computer, he appears to have thought and a personality of his own. It makes you wonder whether artificial intelligence can ever reach the point of singularity: Can artificial intelligence ever surpass human intelligence? And can artificial intelligence ever have thoughts, emotions and personality?

The plot is just awesome. When I finally think I know what was going on in this book, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Repeat this about 10 times and you get the gist of this book. I absolutely love the crazy twists and turns in the story that keeps you guessing. There really is no dull moment in Illuminae.

The format of Illuminae is unique, in that the story is presented in a series of classified documents, censored emails, interviews, surveillance camera transcripts, etc, rather than a straightforward narrative.  This is a unique and interesting way to present a story, however I wonder if it is necessary, and if the story can be better expressed in the conventional format.

This is THE FANCIEST audiobook that has ever graced my ears. Ever. I love that there is a full cast, sound effects and even background music. All the voice actors are amazing and the directing is superb. This audiobook is an adaptation, because an unabridged reading would be impossible given the format of the book. However, I think the director and the cast handled this creatively. If you were to listen to one audiobook in your life time, listen to this one.

The Bottom Line:

Illuminae will sweep you off your feet and keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. If you are looking for an addictive science fiction series to dive into, look no further!

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If you have read this book, what do you think about it? If not, will you read it? Do you think there are careers that are expected for men vs women? What do you think about artificial intelligence, and do you think we will ever reach a point of singularity? What is your favourite audiobook?

Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks // A heartwarming, true-to-life romance

two-by-two-uk“If it comes, let it come. If it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go.” 
― Nicholas Sparks, Two By Two

At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear… In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality.

Romance / Fiction / 497 pages

This novel is written from Russell’s point of view. We watch him change and adapt as curveballs are thrown into his life, and things that are precious to him are taken away. I love that Russell has both strengths and flaws: He is ingenious when it comes to advertising, and he is a kind and trusting person. On the other hand, because he hasn’t been the primary caregiver for his daughter London, it is an uphill climb for him to learn to take care of her. I also love that we get up close and personal with Russ. We not only learn about his present but also his past – his childhood, his relationships with his family, and his mistakes, which all shape who he is as an adult. Russ is a likeable character who seems real.

I liked reading about the other characters, for the most part. Some of my favourite scenes are dialogues between Russ and London, which are so natural and at times comical. Throughout the story, we see how their relationship changes and evolves, as London learns to trust and rely on her father more. I also like Marge and Liz, Russ’s sister and her wife, and Russ’s mother and father. They each have their own personalities, and we get a sense of how their histories with Russ shape their relationships with him.

On the other hand, I find Vivian’s character (Russell’s wife) to be less believable. For  most of the story, she is selfish, manipulative, and almost sociopathic. And that’s fine. I’d say (from personal experience), that some terrible peeps are like that in the real world. Call me jaded, but these people don’t change. However, towards the second half of the story, Vivian’s personality goes through a dramatic shift which I find to be unrealistic.

The plot unfolds slowly, with ample amount of time to explore Russell’s relationships with the people who are important to him. I think that is appropriate for the type of book it is. There is a very subtle and slow-moving romance which is nice and heartwarming. Oh, and there is a plot twist towards the end of the book which comes out of the blue. I am not too sure how I feel about it: It is an event that is not caused by any of the characters, so it doesn’t feel relevant to the story. On the other hand, this is a story that is meant to imitate real life, and well, in real life, $&@* happens.

This is a pretty clean novel. We usually equate the Romance genre with super sexy and steamy love scenes. But there is none of that here. Maybe just, like, a sentence. This is a novel that I would recommend to my conservative, traditional-minded Asian mom. Seriously :’)

I am a fan of the writing in this novel. Russell’s internal monologue flows well. All the dialogue between characters is fantastic.

The Bottom Line:

Despite the few qualms I have about this novel, I liked it. I liked Russ, London, Marge, Liz, Emily, and Russ’s Mom and Dad enough that it kept me turning the pages. This novel is a good rainy day read when you want to immerse yourself in someone else’s reality.

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Have you read this book before? Have you read another Sparks novel? To be honest, this is one of the first adult fiction that I’ve read in a while… Do you prefer adult or young adult fiction?

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera // A phone call that can change your life

333852291On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 384 pages

They Both Die at the End is an interesting book that makes you think. Note that I listened to the audiobook version and did not read the physical book.

They Both Die at the End takes place in an unique world: In this hypothetical near-future world, an organization called Death Cast has data on who dies within the next 24 hours, and will contact these people (called “Deckers”) by phone. Because of this, there are also other businesses that are set up to cater to Deckers, such as the Last Friend app, which pairs Deckers up with other Deckers, or with non-Deckers, so that they will have someone to spend their last moments with before they die. There is also the Make A Moment company, which simulates thrilling experiences, like sky-diving, and there are bars and clubs where Deckers go to party it out for one more night. And because people get advanced notice before they die, this also makes for some interesting experiences: you can watch your own grave being dug, or you can attend your own funeral among friends and family. Even though They Both Die at the End is classified as a contemporary novel, some aspects of this novel strikes me as being science fiction (in a good way.)

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Mateo and Rufus both won my heart from page one. Mateo is a sweet and kind boy who loves to read and play the piano. However, he is afraid to go outside and face the world, and he enrols in online courses to be able to stay inside the house. Rufus is the exact opposite: he is surrounded by a close-knit group of friends and he is not afraid to get into trouble. In the beginning of the novel, Rufus is beating up another guy for getting in between him and his girlfriend. As Mateo and Rufus get to know each other through the Last Friend app, they both have something to teach each other: Mateo learns to take risks, and Rufus learns to be kind.

Though most of the chapters are told through either Mateo or Rufus’s points of views, the story occasionally shifts very briefly into points of views of minor characters, like Zoe and Delilah (other Deckers who are called by Death Cast), or Andrew and Victor (employees of Death Cast), or Mateo and Rufus’s friends. These chapters add some interesting insights to the story: Like, how does a friend feel when he/she knows that you’re going to die in a day? Or, how does it feel to work at a company who notifies people of their deaths? Or, does a celebrity have any regrets when they know they are about to die? On the other hand, there are so few paragraphs devoted to each supporting character, that I don’t feel connected to any of them, nor am I interested in how they think. I keep on wanting to speed through these sections and continue reading about Rufus and Mateo.

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As to be expected, this premise leaves some food for thought: What would you do if you know that you had less than a day to live? Would you want to know that you have less than a day to live? These are all important and worthwhile questions, and we see how different characters approach this: Mateo decides that he wants to take more risks, doing things that he would be scared to do before, including seeking a Last Friend. On the other hand, Delilah chooses to deny the fact of her death completely. While I appreciate that the book talks about the theme of death without hesitation, there are times when I wonder if it is too repetitive and not subtle enough. 

The writing is great, but… it’s pretty depressing. There are books out there about depression or grief that somehow packs in some pockets of humour (I don’t know how the authors do it), but this one does not joke around. Because of this, the book is a bit of a heavy read. It was harder for me to get through compared to some of Adam Silvera’s other books, like History is All You Left Me.

The audiobook is good. I have no qualms about it.

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The Bottom Line:

They Both Die at the End is an interesting read for days when you are feeling philosophical.

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Have you read this book, and what did you think about it? If not, will you be reading this book? Would you want Death Cast to exist in our world and call us when we are about to die in the next 24 hours?

[Images are courtesy of Amazon and Goodreads]

Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

While waiting for They Both Die at the End to come out (and it DID this week!! *squeal*) I decided to read one of Adam Silvera’s other books. I’ve heard SO many amazing things about History is All You Left Me and Adam Silvera. This book did not disappoint 🙂

25014114“One night we argued for a solid hour over who would win in a duel between Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader. I’m surprised we’re still friends.” 
― Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Young Adult / Contemporary / LGBT / 320 pages

Disclaimer: This is a review of the audiobook. I did not read the print edition.

Love the diversity in this book. First of all, there are LGBT characters (Griffin and Jackson, who are gay, and Theo, who is bisexual.) Second of all, our main character Griffin has a mental illness (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

I feel that OCD is misunderstood at times. People often joke that they have OCD, because they are overly organized or perfectionistic, but I think it is more than that. In this book we get a sense of what having OCD could be like, though I can’t comment about the accuracy of this representation. I like that although OCD plays a role in Griffin’s life and in his story, it is not the focus of this book. Just like how I imagine that a person can have mental illness without it being the focus of his or her life. I also like that his OCD is not “cured” in the end, which is realistic, given that mental illness is something that people live with.

In this book, we get up close and personal with Griffin, who is caught between the past and the present. I love that the writing shifts between Griffin’s memories with Theo, and the present day, when he is coming to terms with his loss. It is touching to read about how Griffin and Theo fell in love and the firsts that they experienced together. As the story progresses, the present and the past converge, and Griffin’s feelings about Theo and his relationships with the other characters change.

Although the story is written in Griffin’s point of view, the author uses the second person (“you”) to refer to Theo. It is almost as if Griffin is writing a letter or having a one-sided conversation with Theo in his head.

I like how the supporting characters, Wayne (Griffin’s childhood friend) and Jackson, develop throughout the novel. I love how perceptions of both characters change in subtle ways as Griffin learns more about them. It captures perfectly how first impressions can change, and sometimes even friends that we’ve known for a while can surprise us. And even though Theo had passed away prior to the beginning of the novel, his presence is felt throughout the book, and he is a character in his own right.

The audiobook is narrated well. It took a short while for me to warm up to the narrator’s voice. At times it was difficult to distinguish between characters’ voices, and between dialogue versus Griffin’s inner thoughts. Overall, I did enjoy the audiobook.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. Despite this being a heavier read, it took almost no time for me to finish this book. It’s one of those books that I got addicted to very early on in the novel and just couldn’t wait to finish.

The Bottom Line:

History is All You Left Me is a beautifully written book about overcoming grief and living with mental illness.

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Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

32075671“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.” 
― Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 444 pages

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The Hate U Give was an amazing book that I read a while back, but didn’t get a chance to review until now. By the way, this is my review of the audiobook, which was superb. I had never read the print version of the book.

This book touches on the issues of racism and police brutality without holding back. I love that we walk a mile in the shoes of Starr, a black girl who is personally involved in a case of police brutality, and we get a sense of the anger and grief that she feels. I believe that through creating relatable characters and telling their stories, books like this can change people’s opinions and attitudes towards minority races.

Starr is a strong heroine, and it is amazing to watch her grow over the course of the novel. In the beginning of the story, Starr lives a double life: She tries to fit in at Garden Heights – her poor neighbourhood – and at her preppy school. She needs to show people at her school that she is not from the hood, while she needs to show people at Garden Heights that she is still “black”. However, Starr’s two worlds collide when she witnesses her best friend being shot by the police, and she needs to make the decision to be vocal.

We are with Starr on this journey as she discovers that some people disappoint her, while others surprise her in how much they care. We see Starr grow from being self-conscious and fearful, to someone who is not afraid to speak up and embrace who she is.

The characters are a highlight of this novel. I love Starr and her family: I love that her mother and father are portrayed as the multi-dimensional people that parents are: they are loving, though they are not perfect. I love that her boyfriend Chris and her friends Maia and Devante have personalities of their own. And even though Khalil was dead from page one, he is a haunting presence throughout the novel.

The pacing of this novel is slow. This is not meant to be a book that we speed through, it’s meant to be slowly digested. On the other hand, I feel that some scenes and chapters of the novel can be condensed or omitted to produce a more tighter work.

I was conflicted about the portrayal of villains in this novel: Officer 115 who had shot Khalil, and one of Starr’s friends who is a blatant racist. I typically want to see that villains have character, and I had expected that, over the course of the novel, these two characters would start to show dimension, instead of being portrayed as just bad. But on the other hand, this is Starr ‘s story. It’s not Officer 115’s story or the racist friend’s story. And if I were Starr, I would hate these people to the end of the world too.

I love the witty writing in The Hate U Give. The dialogue breathes life to each of the characters. And did I mention that the narration of the audiobook was stunning!?

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The Bottom Line:

The Hate U Give tells an unflinching tale of how racism and police brutality can affect an entire family and neighbourhood, and how violence only begets more violence. I absolutely love the characters, the writing style, and the audiobook narration. This is a heavier book in the YA genre that can capture your heart if you give it a chance.

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