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Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I’m really excited about today’s post because I’m finally back with another Middle Grade Monday installment!

One of the main reasons I wanted to create a specific post series focused on middle grade books was because I hoped to find more books that I could share with my younger brothers. Unfortunately for me, my brothers aren’t huge readers (yet) but fortunately for you all I have loved reading middle grade books and I need somewhere to share my thoughts on them! These may not be weekly posts but I’m hoping to get one up as often as I can.

So as I’ve been seeking out new middle grade books for my brothers and myself I’ve talked to my mom quite a bit about what kind of content she wants me to look for. During one conversation I mentioned rereading a book that I had read in elementary school and finding problematic language in it. My mom said that when reading with my brothers, finding something like that in a book is an opportunity to teach them why it may not be appropriate. In the same vein, when a book contains a tough topic that also allows for educational moments while reading.

When I was in elementary school I gravitated more towards historical fiction and fantasy books. While these remain my favorite genres today I’ve also enjoyed picking up realistic fiction middle grades. There are so many unique stories and my TBR keeps getting longer and longer. I do also want to note that my Middle Grade Monday posts will contain some spoilers on the books I discuss because I want adults who may be looking for reviews to know what they may see before passing the book on to kids!

Now with that out of the way, let’s get into the book discussion! One book I had been hoping to read for a while now was Front Desk by Kelly Yang. My library has a pretty extensive e-book selection and when I saw they had a copy available I immediately checked it out. This book is a semi autobiographical story that touches on numerous big topics but is filled with determination and optimism and I adored it.

Image Description: Cover of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Front Desk takes place in the early 90’s but the relevance of the topics within was powerful. Yang touches on immigration, racism, police brutality/prejudice, bullying, employee mistreatment, and poverty. I’ll also note that there is a description of physical assault during a robbery and then a hospital visit. As I previously mentioned, Front Desk is semi autobiographical. At the end of the book she included an author’s note in which she spoke about how she helped her parents run various motels after they moved to the United States. Her family helped numerous Chinese immigrants during a time when economic hardship allowed for gross exploitation. Yang states that by sharing their stories in Front Desk she hopes these “immigrants’ struggles and sacrifices will not be forgotten. They will not be forgotten.”

So as the synopsis says, this story follows a girl named Mia. She has so much determination and compassion and it was really interesting seeing the ideas she came up with to try and help others. I haven’t read the other books in this series yet but I can only imagine what Mia might get into in those. Her interest in writing leads to using letters in order to help those around her. This reminded me of when I was in elementary school and made more than one petition for the pettiest things now looking back. Kids should know that they always have a voice, they can have opinions, and they can help.

Now does Mia also get into situations that weren’t really great? Yes. Like at one point she was trying to help solve where a stolen car went because the main suspect was a black woman and Mia wanted to prove her innocence. In doing so, she goes to a man’s house to see about the car and almost gets into a dangerous situation with her friend. That part was kind of stressful and also a great lesson not to go into stranger’s houses.

Using the letters, Mia helps countless others but also gains confidence in herself. Even with her growing confidence though, she struggles with what her mother wants from her. Mia loves writing but continually gets discouraged because her mom wants her to focus on math. This ends up leading to a really emotional scene where Mia finally learns that her mom wants to be able to help her but if English is Mia’s passion then she knows she can’t help her daughter. It was a really powerful realization showing how much Mia’s mom cared for her daughter. Mia’s mom was embarrassed that she struggled with her English and she was discouraged with her family’s misfortune in the United States and I was really glad to see how much this family cared for one another.

In the end, they also gained something of a found family with the immigrants who passed through as well as the “weeklies” from the motel. The friends that Mia made helped her learn so much about the world around her and while some of the realizations she made, especially those about racism, were tough to read they were important things that kids do need to learn about. Mia was so bright and it was heartwarming to see how she worked through the discouraging moments throughout the story. I think that Front Desk is a great book for showing kids not only that they have a voice that they can use to help others but also that it’s important to learn how certain situations may affect people differently. I highly recommend this book and look forward to picking up the next book in the series when I can!

Before I sign off I also wanted to say that I loved reading the About the Author section to realize what writing has done for Yang as it was beginning to do for Mia. Yang actually went to college at the age of thirteen and graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law. Though she was one of the youngest women to graduate from Harvard Law, Yang decided to pursue writing instead. This lead to her founding The Kelly Yang Project which is “a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States.” I thought it was amazing that she created this and I hope the kids who have gotten involved find their voices through writing.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Front Desk you can find it in these places:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (which you can use to find an indie store near you!)

Other places you can find me:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Add me on Goodreads here.

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

If you’re interested in supporting the blog, my Ko-Fi is here.

You can also email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com for review inquiries, etc.

Thanks so much for reading and I’ll talk to you in my next post!

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Books Reviews

Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

As is the case with so many of the books that I review, I got this at my library! I was super pumped that they had it and even more pumped that it had no wait time. 36478784._SY475_

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary takes quite the unique twist on the “there’s only one bed” romance trope.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

This book has been a bit hyped up and I was hesitant to start reading it as I haven’t had the best rapport with hyped up books this year. By the end of it though I was pleasantly surprised with how much I had enjoyed it! I actually rated it 5 stars!

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Tiffy and Leon were such distinctively different characters and one of my favorite things about the book was how vastly different the writing styles were between their chapters. It gave them both a unique voice and it seriously made the book for me. When there are more than one narrator in a book I will sometimes get mixed up with who is speaking and this kept them so separate that I never got them mixed up.

I think that all the branched off plot lines in this actually held weight within the story which is not often the case in romance novels. Though I would have loved to see more with Leon’s patients, Holly and Mr. Prior, just because I adored them. Each portion of the felt tied up by the end and I was left feeling satisfied overall.

The characters were unique but not overly done which I really appreciated. I feel like it’s far too easy for side characters in romance books to fall into stereotypical roles. From the beginning I was a bit worried with the introduction of Kay but she ended up being so minor that I kind of just brushed my thoughts of her to the side (I could say a lot about her but I think I’ll refrain from doing so).

One of my personal favorite parts of this book was Tiffy’s job! She works as an editor for craft books and one of her clients crochets and knits and it honestly brought me so much joy to read all those parts. DIY should be included in more books.

I also really enjoyed the romance in this. Seeing the relationship between Tiffy and Leon unfold between notes left around the flat was perfect. I’m a big fan of unconventional relationships like this! Leon has a good chance of being my new favorite love interest. He was so gentle, sweet, and caring and I quite enjoyed reading his chapters (this is definitely not always the case when it comes to dual perspectives with males and females). He was so respectful and just genuine, loved him.

Minor spoilers ahead in terms of trigger warnings and discussing those plots points:

As a warning there is a stalking abusive ex in this book and if you are at all triggered by stuff like that I would probably pass on this book. I felt that the author handled this quite well and this is coming from someone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship similar to the one Tiffy had been in. By putting her in therapy I felt that was one good step forward but I also felt like this didn’t completely lean in to the whole “love can fix everything”. Tiffy was still uncomfortable with falling into a new relationship but still felt more secure with her new relationship. I don’t know, it just felt good to me.

This was such an unexpected joy to read. It had me feeling all warm and fuzzy by the end and I really want to get my own copy so that I can read it whenever I want to. If you’re looking for a sweet slow-burn with a very happy ending, I would definitely recommend this to you!

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Books Reviews Uncategorized

Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

sadie

Last night I finished reading Sadie by Courtney Summers. I’d seen it a few times in various BookTube videos and was intrigued by the cover, 100% a judging the book by the cover situation, and checked it out from my library’s digital collection.

This book is written in an unconventional format told in two perspectives. One perspective is that of a podcast, titled “The Girls”, unfolding the story of Sadie and her sister Mattie as the host gathers more and more information. The second perspective is of Sadie herself, one of the missing girls. I’m a really big fan of stories that have odd formats, it makes it more intriguing to read and so when I saw that this was partly told through a podcast format I was even more excited to read it.

I for one, went into this book knowing nothing about the plot and I find that for mystery/thriller/crime type books that’s really the best way for me to go. If I know too much about the story I find myself trying to predict every twist and turn and end up ruining the book for myself. However, if you do want to know what the book is about here’s the blurb from Goodreads 🙂 –

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

After reading it, I decided to rate it 5/5 stars. There were very few bits that I found myself disliking and I honestly really enjoyed how it ended. I know that there were a lot of people taking off entire stars from their reviews because it was such an open ending but I felt like it was perfect. We don’t always get the endings in life that we want, nor does that happen in books. It felt more realistic to me than if we would’ve had some big happy ending. I felt that justice was served and that was really what Sadie had set out for to begin with. I’m trying to keep this vague to keep from spoiling it too much.

Content warnings for: pedophilia and sexual abuse, assault, murder

I think that this book did a really good job of showing just how hard it is to survive in small towns where no one ever seems to really succeed. That class difference can cause so many issues and is extremely painful to read about. It was really hard to read about how hard Sadie tried to provide a good life for her little sister. How hard she worked to protect her over her lifetime and it broke my heart even more as I read further into the story and found out more and more about the backstory of Sadie and Mattie.

If you are a fan of audiobooks I would recommend picking this one up. I read that it was a full cast audiobook and with the podcast aspect I think that would be a really cool way to experience that. If you’re a fan of true crime type podcasts at all I would recommend checking this book out. It was not an easy read in the slightest but it was such a good story that I know that I’m going to continue thinking about it.

This book was dark and sad and truly a story worth reading. If you’re interested in picking up a copy of your own here are a few links:

Amazon // Barnes and Noble // Book Depository

 

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Books

Review: Radio Silence

So I read Radio Silence by Alice Oseman and IT RIPPED ME TO SHREDS.

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Like honestly from about the halfway point to the end of the book I cried for the majority of my time reading. The story was just incredibly cathartic for me and I wish so much that I could have read this back in high school but I’m glad that it made it’s way to me now.

For those of you who have not heard of Radio Silence here’s a short little summary:

Frances spends most of her time studying and working towards her goal of university. That’s been her self proclaimed path since she was young. Then she gets presented the opportunity to create artwork for her favorite podcast and everything begins to change.

She meets a new friend and can finally begin to act like herself. And then the trust that had built up between them is shattered and Frances has to work to find a way to fix what has been broken and find out what path she really needs to take with her life.

I’m really bad at summaries, so here’s the link to the Goodreads page for the book.

I rated Radio Silence 5/5 stars, however, when I started this book I was unimpressed which I was kind of shocked about (but obviously in the end my entire opinion changed). I’d heard this book hyped up for months (mainly from Kat from the youtube channel paperbackdreams) and I was so excited to pick it up that I ended up reading almost all of it in a day. Like I was reading it the entire time that I was at work. I found the writing style incredibly unlikeable and I’m not sure if it just happened to change the further into the book I got or if I just got used to it but after about the first 100 pages I was paying any attention to the writing style anymore. I will say though that I feel like most of this book was written by “telling” and not “showing” and I think that’s my main gripe with the writing.

The deeper into the story I got, the more I found myself relating to Frances and the more it broke my heart. There were so many times where I almost had to set the book aside because it just brought back so many painful memories for me from my childhood up until now. I think that for anyone who has ever felt like they just don’t quite fit in would relate to Frances. And anyone who has ever gone through something that has left them questioning their entire future would enjoy this as well.

I would have loved to read more about the podcast, it seemed very Welcome to Nightvale to me! I also would have appreciated for the ending to have been stretched a bit more, I felt like there could have been points in the middle that would easily have been taken out in order to accommodate for more closure at the end. I just wish I could have seen a bit more happiness come out of an otherwise incredibly emotional book. Again, though, I think it was only this emotional because I felt like I could have been living a mixture of Frances and Aled’s lives. I related so much to this story that I feel like I don’t know how to talk about it without starting to cry about my own life experiences.

Anyways, there’s a decent amount of representation (bi, asexuality, one of the podcast characters is agender, the main character is mixed race) in this book but I feel like most of it is essentially mentioned in a sentence or two and then we just move past it. Like I was super excited for asexuality rep and then there was one paragraph about it at the very end and that was it. Although if I force myself to think about it, these kids are 17-18 years old and honestly who isn’t still figuring stuff out at that point? So I kind of get there being so many brief instances of explanation because I know at that age I sure as hell wouldn’t be talking about being asexual to anyone.

Again, I would highly recommend this book to anyone: teens, young adults, and even adults. I definitely though urge teens and young adults to pick up this book. Especially if you have ever experienced the push to try and take a path that you have questioned. Especially if you feel like you have ever been the odd one out. And especially if you have ever had the experience of meeting someone who you can be truly you around and then losing them because that story line is the one that killed me the most.

If you’re interested in picking this up I’ve added some links to places that you can purchase the book here:

Amazon (this is an affiliate link!)

Barnes and Noble

Book Depository

And if any of you have read this book, what did you think of it? I’d love to chat with you about it!