Book Review – ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ by J.H. Trumble

Great issues, but losing relevancy in today’s market.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, LGBT+

No. of pages: 352

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Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, heart-pounding, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an off-Broadway job in New York–at Nate’s insistence–that certainty begins to flicker. Nate’s friends can’t keep his insecurities at bay, especially when he catches Skyped glimpses of Adam’s shirtless roommate. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it’s the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.

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Don’t Let Me Go’ was struggle that was a struggle to read. Mainly because it deals with bullying and discrimination. It’s not the lightest topic for a contemporary romance. Also, a number of aspects contributed more to my dislike… A storyline that jumps around the timeline was disorientating. A whiny and jealous protagonist Nate. I found the first quarter of the novel, well, boring. I hate admitting this – ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ has some great reviews and was recommended to me by someone I trust. So, I think aside from triggering themes, this is just not the method of storytelling that I related to.

After that first quarter of what ended up as me yawning and putting the book down for a break a number of times, we get a few chapters on bullying and teachers acting inappropriately (*cough* discrimination *cough*) It felt old. Like it had been written in the 80’s, though it was released in 2011. I haven’t read many other contemporary novels dealing with a gay protagonist published in 2011, but other genres published in this year with gay characters did not have this level of hate and discrimination. Yes, the characters faced adversity, but being gay and dealing with discrimination was not all they were about. Additionally, being an educator in high school for over 10 years – talk about a personal slap in the face with a wet fish at my profession.

Don’t Let Me Go’ did nothing particularly new. I had trouble connecting with the story or the characters. It went from the two leads groping, to campaigning for gay rights. There was no evolution or character development. Maybe I waited too long to read this? Contemporaries we see being published today are much more sophisticated.

Around the halfway point we start to see some intelligent discussion around gay rights through Nates activism in high school. The bullying had taken the forefront of the narrative and while I value the tone of the narrative, the situation again, feels dramatized and unrealistic. Like harkening to an age passed. So I felt the hand of the author pushing the story along. Add to that the jumping around the timeline and we get a loss of the organic feel to realistic fiction.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Granted the story, writing, and pacing improved dramatically after the halfway point, but it felt like it took so long to get there. And that’s all this story seems to be about. Dealing with hate, ignorance, and bullies. There’s elements of friendship and exploring identity, but I wanted more multifaceted characters. Sure they’re gay, but what else are they? It left ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ feeling two dimensional. Like the author was writing this story to illustrate the negativity gay youth faces.

I did like how it attempted to change perception and educate its readers in the last quarter of the novel. But for me – and what I like in a contemporary – is to connect and relate to the protagonist, get wrapped up in the angst, get invested in their story as they overcome adversity… and well ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ lost me through jumping around the timeline and focusing on a single issue instead of developing the character and using many of their life experiences to draw me in.

I feel like this novel is either an educational tool to highlight the treatment of gay youth in unevolved places, or for a demographic of young gay men… but having said that, attitudes are much different today towards gay youth. We see a lot more community support, and frankly I’d be concerned this novel would scare some. It didn’t deal with the issues in a constructive manner organic to the story.

I’ve read so many fantastic LGBTQIA+ contemporaries that tackle the issues raised in ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ in a much better way while still telling a multifaceted character driven story, that I feel like I’d skip recommending this title in favour of many others. I may give J.H. Trumble one more chance with a title from later in her catalogue: ‘Just Between Us’ is her latest release, back in 2013, but nothing from her in the last 7 years. I’m not holding out much hope.

Overall feeling: Fizzled and faded away.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookporn

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This will be the third read from Maureen Goo… her novels kept popping up as recommendations on Goodreads after I completed a number of books by Jenny Han and I have not been disappointed so far.

What novels have you bought solely on a Goodreads recommendation? Did it live up to the algorithm?

Picture vs Page – The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star Picture vs Page Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

The Sun Is Also a Star’ exceeded any expectations I had. When the book was first released there was a lot of hype, and I tend to wait and read later without any influence to sway my opinion. But I had to get a move on with the release of the film adaptation. I wanted to read the novel before its release to avoid another lengthy wait for the hype to go down… and avoid spoilers.

The Sun is Also a Star’ novel is a contemporary narrated in alternating points of view between teens Natasha, a Jamaican native, grown up in New York about to be deported; and Daniel, a Korean-American with ‘tiger’ parents pushing him towards a Yale application and becoming a doctor, despite his passion for poetry. We also get the occasional factoid chapter around physics, science, or a side characters perspective/history/future. While all of these elements are present in the film, and because of the omnipresent nature of movies the story flowed much easier from scene to scene. And the cinematography was beautiful. One of the drawbacks of the film was that it eliminated a number of characters from the narrative which hindered the whole interconnectedness/universal fate theme that runs through ‘The Sun is Also a Star.’ Some of those secondary characters added something to the story too – and leaving them out of the film to focus solely on the two romantic leads (Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton) left the movie feeling like most other romances out there. Also the novel had enough time and space to develop a strong emotional connection with and between the characters – it did not feel as strong in the film.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

We see social issues of interracial relationships, racism (and typecasting), immigration (both legal and illegal), mixed in with identity, and coming of age all at that tender age where the world flips on its head – graduation of high school. It was a hot-bed of themes and issues to create a passionate contemporary. I don’t know if it’s just me but many of these hot-button issues did not resonate as strongly with me from the film; which is strange considering a visual medium can usually drag out a lot more pain. I think maybe the producers wanted to keep a lighter tone and focus on the romance.

The pacing did not lag anywhere in this novel – which is high praise for contemporary. Usually they are introspective, symbolic, and take some time to build. ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ set the stakes high straight away and kept the pressure on until the end. The pacing in the film by comparison was good, but a little slower. Maybe because the angst did not translate as strongly. Maybe I connected with Nicola Yoon’s writing style better than the tone of the movie?

We also get a pizza slice of the New York landscape. Coffee shops, record stores, the tourist strip, the corporate buildings – it was an almost magical depiction of the city as seen through the eyes of our protagonists. It was just as vibrant in the film as it was in the novel. Rotating wide shots, beautiful colour grading, and sultry close ups added atmosphere. You get some muted tones throughout to make other colours pop, and many shots had unfocused edges to draw the eye to the principal part of the scene. Brilliantly done.

On a side note – the movie soundtrack is pretty cool too!

The family dynamics of both Daniel and Natasha are also a great peek into how POC are depicted, and how their culture shape their behaviour. I will say the novel depicted more of a stereotypical version in compared to the film. But it was intentional in the book to illustrate a socio-political view. It was softened in the film – and successfully – I feel it may have come off a bit mirco-aggression-y without that tweak.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I did find the ending typical of contemporaries, that ‘what if’ moment, leaving the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens after the last page. But it does this with an unexpected flair and twist that I enjoyed. The film’s conclusion felt – cute- it lost the impact of the novel (again due to the cuts from characters/loss of angst.) I liked it, but nothing I would rave about. The film teased the novels ending but then went in a different direction.

One theme that is strongly resonating throughout is that we are made up of the same molecules as the universe, proving that everything is connected. It pushes this further by playing with fate, predetermination, and how universal forces follow an order about things. I found it poetic. Sometimes it can be cliché, but the novel ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ managed to pull it off with sophistication. The film did have this undercurrent, but it felt more like a story of love and fate. Like the universe will always open a door for your to find your one true love. A great concept, but less grand in stature to the novels theme. At least it didn’t come off as cheesy.

The novel is definitely superior to the film, but I’d recommend both.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ by Jeff Garvin

Living in the grey.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, LGBT

No. of pages: 335

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The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

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This was a difficult book to read. Not because of its writing style or plot, but because of its content. Bullying is a big thing for me. I don’t like it and it triggers strong reactions in me. I experienced many of the challenges our protagonist Riley faced, and other challenges he faced in this story are completely alien to me. But the bullying and assault thing… I just wanted to grab a taser, jump into the world of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ and zap all of those horrifically behaved teens. Such a satisfying image in my mind of those bullies twitching on the ground and wetting themselves *rubs my hands together in evil glee* How human beings can treat one another at times is simply unbelievable.

This novel deals with some amazing issues around identity and orientation. Even themes of gender roles. I loved the philosophical discussion that ran throughout the course of the story. At times my head hurt for Riley and the struggles he faces. ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ has a great deal of information for any reader who relates to being in the grey parts of the gender spectrum, or whomever wants to learn more about the concept. It really was an eye opener. But I think that this aspect was part of the story’s drawback. Some of the narrative felt forced or guided by the hand of the author to illustrate an important aspect of being gender fluid. The novel gives full exposure to the gender expression dial, and as such, loses a touch of realism.

As a former high school teacher and someone involved with the LGBTQIA+ community; having spent years at university studying psychology and using those tools in the workplace to help youth, the situations and topics in ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ are invaluable, but at times felt like tools to bring light to a perspective or issue. So it’s got me juxtaposed between applauding Jeff Garvin approaching this subject matter, and wincing at how some parts of the story don’t feel authentic to the narrative.

I also didn’t get that emotional punch I was waiting for towards the end. Something about the conclusion felt somewhat… clinical rather than passionate.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Riley’s arc over discovering who he is and coming out against adversity makes for an interesting read. I especially enjoyed how he made new ride-or-die friends in Solo and Bec. Their trio of friendship really drives this story.

I also appreciated the roles Riley’s parents play, as well as that of Riley’s therapist. They all added support and safety for Riley to begin this journey of self-discovery that we don’t usually get to see in YA. Though I think the trend is starting to change as older opinions fall out of favour to be replaced by inclusive (woke) attitudes.

I can’t say I got any surprises from this read. I predicted the storyline within the first five pages, but the beauty of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ comes not from a derisive plot, but from the themes and content. It ‘opens up a conversation.’

Jeff has some great wit in the narrative, and I found myself wishing for more. I also was hoping for more angst. Though he can really build the tension like nobody’s business, seriously, I felt my muscles coil up and they did not release until I finished the book. I don’t think I’ve experienced a read quite like this. So top notch in tension with his writing style, but a tad dry; I feel a bit more humour would have livened it up more. But who knows – that may have been intentional to highlight the seriousness of the themes posed in ‘Symptoms of Being Human.’

Definitely something I’d happily recommend, I’m glad to have had the experience.

Overall feeling: I feel like and intellectual now.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ by Casey McQuiston

A fairy-tale and ‘Madam Secretary’ mash-up.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 236

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What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

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Red, White & Royal Blue’ is an amazing debut and definitely a sneak attack for me. I picked it up because of a number of friends raving about this book and jumped in with no prior knowledge other that the blurb.

I’ll get the downsides out of the way first. The main drawbacks for me as a reader was a little bit of the swearing, and some of the intimate scenes between the two main leads – I’m okay with these devices if they add something to drive the plot forward, or build an atmosphere. I don’t even mind a few graphic love scenes here and there just for titillation and fun (I’m no prude) but after a while it becomes tedious.

The second big thing was exposition and pacing. Primarily the pace of the novel was dragged down by frequent descriptions, history, or lengthy scene setting. They were kind of relevant to the story, but not essential, and left the book feeling longer than it needed to be.

McQuistion’s writing style is edgy and humorous, and she is at an expert level in building tension and angst. I devoured this book in two sittings and had tears in my eyes over half of the time. It is a tenderly sweet and emotional ride. I wasn’t sold too much on the third person point of view though, it didn’t feel like it had been honed in, there was a lot of unnecessary repetition of words in the sentence structure. So the flow wasn’t quite there for me.

As with contemporaries like this, we are rooting for the leads to end up together, so there is always that sense of predictability in this genre. But, not knowing much about the plot before I went it, and the cutesy, sweet cover art, I was expecting a Hallmarky type rom-com… I did not predict the amount of difficulty, tension, and long journey the characters had to navigate. Maybe that is less about predictability and more about my misguided assumptions from the cover alone.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleMcQuistion builds great fleshed-out and realistic characters. I did not like all of them, a few I wanted to reach into the pages and punch in the face. And others I wanted to hug, (or steal all for myself,) which is a great testament to her craft of storytelling. I was so wrapped up in their lives that I forgot about the outside world. The only times I got pulled out of the story apart from the occasional exposition, was when my eyes were too blurry from tears, and I had to stop and calm myself down.

The hate-to-love trope is overdone, but I really enjoyed it in this story. Especially when we get diverse characters. Mixed race, mixed nationalities, and mixed sexual identities, all wrapped up in political machinations.

Alex our brash and workaholic son of the President of the United States reminds me of every young gun upstart we see in political and legal dramas. I didn’t particularly connect with him, but I appreciated him as a character and cared about his story. The growth and story arc of his is point of view, is what this tale follows. We begin to see a softer side slowly emerge from Alex as he begins to explore his options in life and love.

Henry is by far my favourite – he’s the prince charming fantasy. Regal, polite, a legacy steeped in family history. The kind of things I enjoy in a man. I would have like to have seen a bit more of a comical play on the clash of cultures; I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities that may have lightened the load in certain parts of the plot. Henry too evolves as a character and you get a real sense of how each of our two leads influence each other.

Definitely a much more serious and realistic story than I was expecting. Totally engrossed in the novel and will happily recommend it to anyone.

I thought the cover art was cute and on trend with the manga-styled format that is popular right now, the colour choice really grabbed my attention, though I’m uncertain it projects the tone of the novel.

Overall feeling: A wonderful (and emotional) surprise.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Books I read in 2019

Here are some goodreads stats and book covers of everything I read over the course of last year…

Casey Carlisle Books Read in 2019

…and if I had to pick my favorite read for last year it would have to be ‘Contagion‘ by Erin Bowman.

What was your most enjoyable read from 2019? I’d love some great recommendations.

UPPERCASE lowercase 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.