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.

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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?

Transgender and intersex protagonists – are they represented in the mainstream literature yet?

Trans and Intersex representation in mainstream literature Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Is there still a lot of discrimination or is it just fear and dysphoria? Or is a thing of the past?

I had this idea a couple of years back after beginning to read more diversely, and with the latest coming out and worldwide publicity around Nikkietutorials, curiosity of how trans and intersex protagonists are represented in mainstream literature is back in the forefront of my mind. We even have what I think is the final season of ‘I Am Jazz’ which has just started airing and a trans character in ‘Supergirl.’ I also loved the representation in shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘The Fosters.’ Just to mention a few – so there is definitely an accepting and welcome addition of transgender and intersex representation in the mainstream media – but I wanted to explore it further and take a look at the publishing industry (and my own personal reading habits.)

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There is also the concept of ‘own voices’ books, written by transgender and intersex authors – which can be a more authentic representation of their own community and experience. I’ve read novels with leading characters who identify as transgender or intersex penned by cis authors, and I must admit it’s very hit or miss with how I enjoy the narrative. Half the time they are a tiny bit offensive or dysphoric without meaning to be. It says more about the authors’ education about this niche community that it does about someone who has actually lived through the experience. And thus, the novel reads like its demographic is skewed towards enlightening cis gendered readers. Deep discussions with members of the LGBTQIA+ community always praise the efforts and inclusion on the surface, but if you have a deep discussion with these readers, the details are often off-base.

If you search for the terms transgender or intersex when looking for your next read you will typically get a list of non-fiction titles. Socio-political or psychological focused papers, autobiographies, and erotica. Where are all the great stories that just happen to have a transgender or intersex protagonists that are fiction which are not revolved around coming out, transition, or sexual intimacy? Believe me, they are out there, you just have to really look. The only place I was able to find a decent collection of current releases are from blogs or Listopia on Goodreads. And if you compare the lists to general fiction current releases… the average transgender and intersex list sits at 100 books, the average general fiction list in anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000. Which boils down to a 4-10% representation on the current market. Which is an interesting figure because that is what psychological journals are quoting as the percentage of people identifying as transgender or intersex in the real world as a general benchmark – whether that is accurate or not today is a different debate. But it felt like a significant correlation. Looking through my own library (which is skewed by the availability of literature and available funds to purchase books) sits at approx. 5% (up from 4% in 2018) out of a 22% share of LGBTQIA+ titles.

I am definitely thankful for the changes in attitude to transgender and intersex characters. Twenty years ago it was rare to read a novel with their representation, and if they were present, they were usually treated as evil, a freak, a sex worker, or the comic relief. The ending of their storylines usually culminated in tragedy too. It was dehumanizing. The trend is definitely skewing towards greater representation, more realistic, well-rounded characters, and positively ending storylines.

I do have to say that there is a great deal of acceptance out there. And it warms my heart. People are people. Love is love. We are seeing that reflected in representation in our publishing material, film and television, and the wider community in general. Yes, there are still opposing voices, but as loud as they get, their manifesto is getting tossed out the window in favor of a more inclusive and accepting environment. And something makes it feel like we are heading for that Star Trek future.

So what does it all mean? I think is shows how society’s attitudes are changing, how that change is reflected through representation in art and culture, books and movies. It’s allowed for the discussion and importance of own voices literature. It is also opening doors for other minority groups into inclusivity. It leaves me feeling positive for how the human races collective consciousness is evolving, and how we are getting a wide array of poignant reading experiences.

Trans and Intersex representation in mainstream literature Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

What was the last book you read with a transgender or intersex protagonist? Can you add to these titles of new and upcoming books with transgender/intersex protagonists?

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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.

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.

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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

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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.

Book Review – ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss’ by Kasie West

Acting, school and boys – typical teen stuff. But sabotage – yikes!

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

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Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her.

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

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It looks like Kasie West is back on her winning formula. Another enjoyable escapist romance with ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss.’

Set in the same universe as ‘Love, Life, and the List’ we follow protagonist Lacey, and aspiring teen actor in her first big movie role as a zombie. Only she has a helicopter/hover father and schoolwork to contend with as well as her acting job. Enter the cute tutor Lacey’s father hires to ensure she at least gets a passing grade, because, you know this whole acting thing may just be a whim no matter how serious, and how long Lacey has taken on being an actor. Tutor Donavan is straight-laced and all business. The business of learning. Only adding to Lacey’s daily pressures. Then little things start to go wrong on set… nothing like piling on the stress.

Again this is a cute contemporary, a quick read, as West has established as her brand. It didn’t quite have the quirky field of characters as her earlier works, but ‘Fame, Fate and then First Kiss’ still managed to captivate my attention and keep me engaged until the end. Lacey is cute and sassy but with a mostly level head. I almost wanted her to be a bit more headstrong to create some more tension. Or at least something so she wasn’t so… vanilla. So to with her love interest Donavan. He was very much a perfect wish-fulfilment type of guy. I’m used to a bit more character from West’s leading men.

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Contrasting that we have some of Lacey’s co-stars who are very sure of themselves (or very full of themselves) which added some colour to the mix.

I did love the small mystery plot line as well; it helped keep the pace and tension right to the end, rather than this being an angst-fest. So a slightly different tone to West’s usual fare, but a welcome change. Though, please bring back those interesting characters…

There is not necessarily a lot of character development, rather more of a burgeoning understanding and better lines of communication being established. So while the plot is mostly predictable (small mystery aside) and because of the ‘vanilla’ characters and less angsty storyline, the pay-off wasn’t as great as I was hoping. Though still entertaining and definitely a step in the right direction after a lull in late 2018 to early 2019.

I liked the connection to Abby  and Cooper and am looking forward to the final book set in this universe ‘Moment of Truth’ to be released in March 2020.

A solid entry into my guilty pleasure collection, though I wanted a bit more complexity of plot and a dash more interest in the cast. Recommend to lovers of teen YA romances, it was a pleasant way to wile an afternoon on the lounge with a hot cup of tea.

Overall feeling: *sips tea*

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss Book Review Pic 03 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.

Book Review – ‘Winger’ (#1 Winger) by Andrew Smith

A masculine approach to some heavy themes.

Winger (#1 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 439

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Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

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A realistic contemporary coming from a uniquely masculine protagonist.

Winger’ was a challenging read for me. On one hand, the narrative is quintessential for our protagonist Ryan Dean ‘Winger’ West. Short satirical chapters resounding clearly from his fourteen year old brain as he navigates private boarding school, playing rugby, bullies, girls, and having a best friend who happens to be gay. The writing style is perfect for the main character and the target market. It deals with themes and issues expertly through this lens.

Alternatively, it was really hard for me to swallow all the toxic masculinity and immaturity. I just about tore my hair out. But this is my personal choice – I tend to shy away books that blatantly wave these flags in my face. Understandably, as difficult as it was for me to stomach, if you set foot in any private boys’ boarding house, you’ll find this atmosphere front and centre.

The other thing that had me going ‘hrmm’ was the plot twist at the end. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know how it affected the protagonists journey… he’d resolved and changed by this point. Then, in the aftermath of the event, I don’t think it was dealt with sympathetically. It felt an emotionless observation. And while it did affect Ryan Dean, it did not seem to have a resounding permanence. What was the lesson learned? How did it change him? Maybe we’ll explore these themes further in  the sequel ‘Stand-Off,’ but I failed to see what its inclusion in ‘Winger’ was apart from shock value and driving home the theme of toxic masculinity, bullying, and homophobia.

Winger (#1 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The characters were summarily interesting, but not altogether complex. I did not really find myself investing much in any of them… apart from maybe secretly shipping Ryan Dean and Joey. But, even considering ‘Winger’s’ length and simplistic plot and character outlines, the development and world building was fantastic and held up the story. So too did the witty anecdotes, short chapters, and large formatting of the hard cover. So ‘Winger’ was a relatively fast and easy read.

There is a certain type of dry immaturity to the humour in ‘Winger’ that would really appeal to a certain type of reader, and while it was hilarious in some spots for me, I did not find it as funny as I was expecting. I guess as an older female, all the young teen boy amusements were lost on me. In fact I was in danger of my eyes falling out of my skull from the excessive eye-rolling.

All in all, ‘Winger’ was an okay read for me. I’d only recommend it for younger male readers, or those looking to experience a new perspective. I appreciate this novel for all its merits, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. But I will finish the series with ‘Stand-Off’ as I am curious to see how author Andrew Smith addresses the themes presented towards the end of this novel, and whether protagonist Ryan Dean grows because of the experience. I’ll be very disappointed if it is another journal-esque account of boarding school and fails to address the damaging attitudes of Pine Mountain boarding school.

Overall feeling: Teen boy tunnel vision.

Winger (Winger #1) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Winger (Winger #1) 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.