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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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The Bear and the Nightgale is a medieval Russian fairy tale-esque novel by debut author Katherine Arden.

And it’s beautiful.

That’s pretty much the whole review I want to give this book. It’s beautiful. It’s an experience. You should absolutely read it.

The closest comparison I can think of is Uprooted by Naomi Novak, for the same dark fairy tale feel. The Bear and the Nightingale is something of a slow burn book, about a family living in Northern Russia, and particularly about their youngest daughter, Vasya, who loves to run wild in the forest and sees the creatures of folklore all around her.

The novel juxtaposes Vasya and her stepmother, Anna, two young women who have the sight. Vasya embraces the creatures as protectors of the land and her friends, while Anna sees them as demons, and throws herself into religion to try and escape them. Then a young charismatic priest, Konstantin, comes to the village, and decides that he’s been called by God to rid these people of their old-religion superstitions and fill them with fear of God’s wrath. He reviles Anna, who wants nothing more than to be his disciple, and is obsessed with Vasya, who he increasingly sees as a witch. When Konstantin’s fear allows a dark force to awaken in the forest, Vasya must fight to protect the magic that protects them all.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a book of wild forests, dark creatures, unsettling promises, and complex characters. It’s a story of magic, of wonder, of fear, and of not fitting in, beautifully imagined and enchantingly told. I really recommend it.

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An Ode to Malta Vestrit

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As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I recently became obsessed with Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series. I highly, highly recommend it as one of the best series I’ve ever read. And one of the (many) reasons I adored it was an initially rather awful character called Malta Vestrit.

Malta is the youngest female character in the Vestrit family, at 13, and fights with pretty much every character we grow to love. While her mother and grandmother struggle to make ends meet and her aunt Althea runs off to have adventures on the high seas, Malta just wants expensive jewellery, pretty dresses, and everyone’s attention on her, and she despises every other sympathetic character for standing in her way. In the first book, her selfish actions sabotage her family’s attempts to salvage their situation, and she is very, very hard to sympathize with or like.

But even when I absolutely hated her, I kind of loved her too. I love that Robin Hobb wasn’t afraid to make her act horribly to every other character we care about, and to be horribly wrong in so many ways, not as a villain figure, but as a basis for her growth as a character.

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Maas and Masculinity: a few thoughts on Empire of Storms

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I’ve been a big fan of Sarah J Maas’s novels since her debut, Throne of Glass, came out in 2012. Since then, she’s only gotten stronger and more addictive as a writer, and so the fifth novel in the Throne of Glass series, Empire of Storms, was probably my most anticipated read of the year.

But while Empire of Storms was highly readable and plot-twisty and all the things you might expect from a Sarah J Maas novel, the book’s approach to romance left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. Like Maas’s May release, A Court of Mist and Fury, Empire of Storms is obsessed with hyper-masculinity, and while in one novels that’s just a theme, two novels back-to-back present a more concerning pattern. In these stories about badass female characters saving the world, almost all the male love interests end up being possessive, aggressive and controlling.

Both series have a similar conception of “fae,” with extremely territorial males that get aggressive whenever anyone else male is even in the same room as “their” female.

Rowan bit down against the sight of other males near his queen, reminding himself that they were his friends, but–

Or:

The savage, wild snarl that ripped out of Rhys was like nothing I’d heard, and I gripped his arm as he whirled on Cassian.

The badass female characters roll their eyes at the guys’ stupidity, but it happens again and again, and no one is ever more than mildly irritated at their displays of possessive aggression. In fact, any effort to step away from violent possessiveness is treated as a sign of how great a guy he really is.

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Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

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Oh my god, I’m so in love with this series right now.

The Liveship Traders Trilogy was recommended to me by Claire Rousseau on Twitter, who described it as “pirates and courtship and women crossdressing to go to sea.” Obviously, I was sold. It’s my second Robin Hobb series, after reading (most of) the Rain Wild Chronicles a few years ago. Although I adored the first two books in that series, when I moved onto her Farseer trilogy, the massive switch in style (and the kind of blah, seen-it-before male assassin coming of age story) put me off catching up on any of the others.

But this book. This book.

Like many wonderful and addictive fantasy series, I almost put this down after about 150 pages, because it really takes its time to get going. It sets up the world, sets up its large cast of characters, and leaps from storyline to storyline as things start to come together, resulting in an opening that’s difficult to invest in, and an ensuing story that takes over your whole brain. And once it kicks off, I fell completely in love.

I am obsessed with this cast of characters. I’m just reviewing the first book here, because I haven’t finished the series yet, so it’s possible that the remaining book and a half will fall to pieces. But these characters.

First, Althea Vestrit, who is already one of my favourite characters of all time. She’s a complete badass, if also a little selfish and spoiled at first. She’s grown up travelling on her father’s liveship — a magical trading ship that bonds with its owners and comes to life after three of them have died on its decks — and she has always believed that she would captain the newly-awakened Vivacia herself after her father’s eventual death. But when her father dies, the ship is instead given to her brother-in-law, a selfish, arrogant man who only cares about how much profit the Vivacia can bring him. He forbids Althea from ever stepping foot on the shop again, but in a fit of anger, he swears by the gods that if she could ever get proof that she worked successfully on any other ship, the Vivacia would be hers. It’s Althea’s only chance, so she disguises herself as a boy and sets sail on a mission to earn her liveship back.

Back home, her mother Ronica is stuck dealing with the death of her husband, the disappearance of her daughter, and the financial ruin that seems to be falling down upon them. Slavery has been introduced to Bingtown, where they live, and the only way to compete would be to use slaves on her property herself, but Ronica is determined that the old ways must prevail over the approach of these heartless newcomers. With her is her older daughter Keffria, a woman who’s suddenly realized that she’s disregarded by her husband and disrespected by her daughter, and who is determined to prove herself.

And then there’s Malta. The wonderful, horrible Malta, Keffria’s self-centered and ruthless thirteen-year-old daughter. She’s exactly what people accuse Sansa Stark of being, like a young Cersei Lannister, at least at first. She’s delightfully, hatefully awful, obsessed with jewels and parties and manipulating everyone around her to adore her, but she doesn’t understand the forces that she’s messing with, and she could end up in far deeper trouble than she realizes. I love her. I can’t stand her. I can’t wait to see where her story goes.

There’s also Wintrow, Keffria’s teenage son, who was training to be a priest before his father forced him to travel on his liveship instead. He feels like a prisoner there, an unhappiness sensed by the newly-awakened Vivacia. And then there’s Captain Kennit, a ruthless pirate who dreams of being a king, is the true villain of the story, but somehow keeps stumbling into appearing the hero instead.

And I just love it all. I’m flailing so much. I’m sure the series has flaws that will become apparent to me once I’ve finished it and given it space, but I’m currently in that addicted and adoring space that you find so rarely, when an epic book series completely sweeps you away. I definitely have to write a whole post about Malta, once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime, if you haven’t tried this series, I really, really recommend you pick it up. It’s so amazingly, wonderfully enchanting, with rich, flawed characters, buckets of adventure and just a hint of dragons.

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Hugo Nominees 2016: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Mercy is the third in Ann Leckie’s acclaimed Imperial Radch series, which I’ve voted for in the Hugos for the past two years. Leckie’s debut series, to me, has always been perfectly balanced sci-fi. It’s  high-concept science fiction, but it’s also an emotional, humorous and character-driven story. On the one hand, it’s very personal — the story of an outcast risking themselves to get revenge against the leader of the human universe because they killed someone she loved. On the other hand, it’s very, very “sci-fi” — the story of the last remaining ancillary of a battleship AI that was otherwise destroyed, and its captain murdered, by the multi-bodied leader of the human universe. That leader has grown over so many bodies that she’s split and is now fighting a secret war with herself; one side wants to use the protagonist as a pawn against the other, but our protagonist wants them all gone.

Also, there’s reflections on colonialism and gender theory and questions of identity and all that fun stuff. Something for everyone, really.

Unfortunately, this instalment started off a little weak. It has to take a lot of little story steps to transition from Ancillary Sword to its own main plot, which meant that it felt pretty slow. It’s probably more effective if you read the books back to back and not after a year’s break, but with that gap, I found myself struggling to remember who everyone was and what was going on. If I hadn’t loved the previous two books, I might have given up.

But once the main plot kicks off, with Anaander Mianaai looming on the horizon, it becomes a really absorbing read.

Ann Leckie’s writing remains immensely readable. Her characters have so much life to them, and her writing has a real sense of humor, even as it builds a serious sci-fi world exploring serious themes.

The first book was usually discussed as “that gender book,” because of the gender-neutral race and language at the center of it. At this point, however, the gender stuff is just worldbuilding — it still exists, but it’s not really the point. We’re talking about other things, like colonialism and oppression and self-determination. I’ve seen people criticize this book for losing that focus, creating the sense that we’ve got an all-female cast (as it uses “she” and “her” for everyone) rather than a gender-neutral cast. But we’ve been spending time in this world for two books now. Perhaps it’s fitting that the book, like the protagonist herself, treats gender as Not A Big Deal, except for the times Breq meets other races and has to scramble to choose the correct gender for them in her speech. People who distinguish between male and female are the slightly confusing other here — not bad, just culturally different — so it makes sense that the book has long since put any sense that its gender language is unusual aside.

That said, Ancillary Mercy is still very, very focused on the idea of identity. It’s just that its questions of identity are explored in ways that make sense within its own world. After considering a lot of issues of colonialism in the last book, Ann Leckie mashes the questions of gender, identity and self-determination together here by focussing mostly on AI — whether they count as beings in their own right, whether they should be free to be their own “captains,” whether they should be able to protect themselves from access codes that interfere with their own opinions, whether replacing one AI core with another counts as murder. AIs are referred to as “it” instead of “she” by default, and the novel explores the connotations of this language, and the idea that some AIs prefer to be referred to as “it,” because they are different.

Because although gender isn’t even a consideration in this world, the question of “Significance” is. It would be easy to misread one of the novel’s big themes as “what it means to be human,” but as the language issue suggests, the AI here aren’t arguing that they are human. In fact, Breq is insulted by people who say “you don’t seem like an ancillary,” because it implies that her reality is lesser and that she’s somehow transcended it. It’s not “should the idea of humans be expanded to include AIs?” but “human or not, they are individuals, and they deserve autonomy.”

Unfortunately, although the AI theme was hinted at from the beginning, I doubt it was the driving plot conclusion that many people were expecting. In Ancillary Justice, Breq wants to kill Anaander Mianaai. All of her. She wants to destroy her. To me, that sets up an expectation that, by the end of the trilogy, Breq will act on fulfilling this goal. Whether she succeeds or fails or changes her mind at the last moment, the possibility has to come up. Ancillary Sword was smaller in scope, set on Athoek Station and its nearby planet, but I’d assumed that Ancillary Mercy would expand to consider the bigger picture again. It never really does. Actions in the book have consequences for the rest of the universe, but we’re still very focussed on the wellbeing of this station and this planet and these characters and this single incarnation of Anaander Mianaai.

Perhaps this comes from my reading too much YA and watching too much space opera, but by book three, I was expecting the protagonists to take on The Enemy with potentially world-changing consequences. They have to be at the center of the story. But most of Ancillary Mercy feels like a fringe fight, just something else happening in the vast universe. And perhaps that’s the point, but it felt jarring after that initial Book One promise. I expected the book to be structured as “first we fight the extra evil Anaander Mianaai that’s here, and then we take the battle to the rest of her.” The novel’s conclusion was really clever, with gripping action, and it has massive implications for the whole universe, but it’s still relatively small, compared to the scale and severity of the Anaander Mianaai Problem. It resolves the immediate problems of the characters we know by focussing on this question of AI autonomy, but the long term consequences and stability are unclear. It’s the sort of series ender that makes you go, “OK, but THEN what happens??”, which might be good or bad, depending on how you read it.

Overall, Ancillary Mercy is a great read, with wonderful characters, gripping action, a great sense of humor, and a lot of interesting things to say. However, I’m not sure it lived up to all of the promise we saw in the series’ first instalment. The series doesn’t quite feel cohesive, which is why I don’t think Ancillary Mercy will be at the top of my voting list this year.

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The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Unexpected Everything. I adored Morgan Matson’s debut, Amy & Roger’s Epic Roadtrip, but I was less keen on her next two novels, so although I couldn’t resist grabbing her newest release, I was readying myself for disappointment.

And I almost got it. About 150 pages into the book, I was close to abandoning it. The Unexpected Everything is a sprawling summer read — over 500 pages long — and nothing really hooked me in those first pages. I’d reached the halfway point of most contemporary YA, and I still hadn’t really connected with the book.

But I kept going for “just a little bit longer,” and somehow ended up reading the last 300 pages all in one go. The book took its time to get going, but once it did, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the story.

At its heart, The Unexpected Everything is about friendship, family, and cute cute dogs. Perfectionist overachiever Andie ends up without any summer plans after her prestigious internship is revoked at the last minute, and after scrambling for another resume-filler, she stumbles into a not-so-prestigious job as a dogwalker.  This brings her to Clark, the cute, awkward and nerdy prodigy novelist struggling with writer’s block and dog-sitting for his editor for the summer. Meanwhile, Andie’s congressman father is also forced home for the summer after being caught in a scandal, making his usually non-existent presence suddenly very present indeed.

Perhaps one of the problems at the beginning of the novel is that the book juggles a lot of elements. There’s Andie’s dad, and Clark, and the dog walking, and her overachieving, and her grief for her mom… it’s enough to make a summer read 500 pages long, but it mean it’s not easy to get immersed in the novel’s world. By the time we meet Andie’s foursome of best friends, I was so busy balancing other plotpoints and characters in my brain that I didn’t have the energy left to connect with them immediately.

But once everything clicks into place, the book becomes fantastic. Once we connect with Andie’s lively friends, her own insecurities, her potential relationship with Clark, it’s an absolute page-turner. It’s a true summer book, about friendship and self-discovery, lazy days and unexpected drama. Matson has an incredibly readable writing style, and her character relationships (and character flaws) are spot on. If you want a contemporary novel that you can really snuggle down with and dig into, that will pull you into a world and give you a sizeable chunk of wonderful reading time with real-seeming characters, then this is definitely one to try.

Also, the cover is irresistibly cute.

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Hugo Nominees 2016: Uprooted by Naomi Novak

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On the back of my copy of Naomi Novak’s Uprooted, author Maggie Stiefvater says that it “feels as if it has always existed and has been waiting patiently for me to return to it.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe this enchanting novel about fairy tale magic. Uprooted is a spellbinding novel, and even on the first read, it feels like a familiar story that you’re finally coming home to.

The plot is slightly difficult to describe, but the tone is perhaps summed up by the first line: “our dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”Agnieszka’s valley is ruled by the Dragon, a mysterious sorcerer who lives in his tower and emerges once every ten years to choose a girl to work for him. The girls come back changed — seemingly fine, but unable to return to live in the valley for long — and the villagers decide it’s a small price to pay for the Dragon’s protection against the evil Wood that lurks nearby. Everyone in the valley knows that Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia, is going to be the girl chosen this year. But when the untidy, disorganized Agnieszka show a hint of magical power, she is chosen instead.

Uprooted invokes a lot of dark fairy tale tropes — the evil Wood, enchantment in food and water, the maiden whisked away to the tower — with a writing style that gentle echoes the feel of a fairy tale while adding more character and emotion and depth to the style. It’s incredibly readable, and I found myself tearing through the pages. I couldn’t read it fast enough.

Agnieszka is an interesting character, but the real protagonist is the valley, with the Wood as its antagonist. The Wood is a living, breathing evil entity, waging war against the kingdom, desperate to grow and corrupt until nothing good is left. In a sense, Agnieszka is an extension of the valley, the force fighting against the Wood, and her magic is deeply rooted in her home and in the natural world around her. She does have a dose of “special snowflakeness,” in that her magic is uniquely powerful and works differently from absolutely everyone else’s. This is explained somewhat by her connection to the valley and a potential link to an old mythical witch called Jaga, but it’s not really explored in depth, which might frustrate some people. She’s just Special, because she’s the Valley, and we have to accept that.

The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia drives a lot of the plot, and is one of the book’s greatest strengths, outside its world building. Both Agnieszka and Kasia are fully realized people, and there is so much nuance in the loving relationship between them. Kasia has spent her life knowing she’s going to be chosen by the Dragon, and Agnieszka has spent her life knowing she’s going to lose her best friend. Agnieszka’s selection allows the novel to explore the resentment that lingers under the surface of these assumptions, how Kasia knows Agnieszka was always glad it would be her best friend and not herself, how Agnieszka feels both resentment and relief at not being the Special One. The two characters’ love for one another plays a huge role in the story, and that love is giving a compelling amount of depth and shade.

The Dragon, meanwhile, is a familiar trope. Whether that’s fun or tired will depend on the reader, I think. He’s the grumpy, rude, distant sorcerer whose heart will eventually soften toward Agnieszka, but not enough to actually be nice to her. He’s grouchy and closed off, he never explains himself, and his way is always the right way. And lets not forget the kidnap thing, which he never even considers could be upsetting for the girls until Agnieszka points it out to him. The romance between the Dragon and Agnieszka feels as inevitable as it is unnecessary, and although its rooted in magic in an interesting way, it’s exasperating that a novel that’s so inventive in other ways trips into that familiar trap of “older guy who is a jerk mentor and young girl who falls for him even though he’s never ever nice to her.” SPOILERS (highlight to read): At the end of the novel, Agnieszka seems to step away from the Dragon, going to live in the Woods to help end its corruption, and I was so delighted by this. She had the cliche romance with the Dragon, but in the end, he wasn’t going to change and become any less closed off, and she had her own story and her own life to live. Except, of course, that’s not the ending at all. He returns on the last page, she takes his hand, and that is that. Disappointing, I thought, when it could have been so much more original.

The structure of the novel also feels slightly off. The plot goes off in a lot of different directions, and although you can look back at it and see how Agnieszka’s story led her from A to B, it seems to take a lot of detours that don’t feel cohesive to the story. Agnieszka is trying to befriend people at court! Agnieszka is modifying a prince’s memory, which is mentioned as dangerous multiple times but never really comes into play again! The novel also shrugs off its fairy-tale feel for a good chunk of the story, turning to a more battle and human focussed plot, which I found quite confusing. Eventually, this all becomes clear, but I had a lot of questions in the middle there, and that uncertainty didn’t seem to be deliberate. But when Uprooted focusses on the magic of the Wood, it is phenomenal. Gripping and nuanced, original and yet familiar.

Uprooted certainly isn’t a perfect novel, but it is a very good novel, and definitely worth a read. I’m not sure if it’ll be top of my Hugo ballot, but it’s definitely worthy of consideration.

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Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

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loved Jessica Spotswood’s historical fantasy series, the Cahill Witch Chronicles, so when I heard that she was releasing her first contemporary, I was desperate to read it, even before I had any idea what it was about.

In Wild Swans, Ivy Milbourne struggles with a family legacy of great talent and great tragedy. Her great great grandmother was a famous portrait painter, but killed herself and two of her daughters when she drove her car in front of a train. Her great grandmother was a Pulitzer prize winning poet, until she was murdered. Her grandmother was a famous artist, until she drowned herself in the bay. Her mother was a talented singer, at least until she ran away when Ivy was a baby. And Ivy… Ivy doesn’t know what she is. She wants to live up to her family legacy, but she’s never discovered any particular talent, and she has no idea what she wants to do with her life.

Wild Swans is a quick read (I devoured it in less than a day), but it’s not a beach read. Two big story threads intersect in the novel. The first is Ivy’s struggle to live up to her grandfather’s expectations, the promise of her family’s legacy, and her struggles with being, as she claims, mediocre. The other involves her mother, who returns to live with Ivy and her grandfather after being out of contact for fifteen years, bringing two younger daughters with her.

Despite that second dramatic set-up, this is mostly a low-key book: family drama in a small town where everyone knows your business, and a rising high-school senior who feels she’ll never live up to expectations. And it’s beautifully written. Sweet and compelling, with emotion that feels real. I noticed sentences because they hit me in the heart, not because I was thinking, “wow, the author really worked hard on that sentence.” After reading a whole bunch of artsy, overwritten YA novels, more concerned with authorial voice than engaging the reader, Wild Swans is like a breath of fresh air. Effortlessly magical.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that the mother character felt a little one-dimensional until near the end. She’s incredibly unlikeable, cruel and destructive, and although that’s a valid character choice, there was part of me wanting to see a sympathetic side to her. It shows up eventually, but it’s complicated, and I never felt like I fully understood her perspective.

Another element that might be good or bad, depending on your taste, is that Wild Swans feels like a slice from the character’s lives over a set period of time. They lived their lives before the book began, and they continue afterward. I found the ending satisfying, but it’s not a neat ending, where everything feels tied up or resolved. The characters’ lives continue after the book closes, and many elements of that future remain uncertain. Personally, I liked this about the novel, but I can imagine that others might find it unsatisfying.

But either way, Wild Swans is a fantastic book. Great characters, great writing, and incredibly readable. It’s lowkey, and it’s wonderful. Definitely recommended!

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Entertainment Recs for Anxiety and Depression

One of my biggest struggles is how difficult I sometimes find it to concentrate on stories. When anxiety and depression are bad, we really need the distraction of some good entertainment, but concentrating can just seem to take too much energy and effort, even if it’s just casually watching a TV show.

So, with that in mind, here are some of my recommendations for low-concentration entertainment for low and anxious days.

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Graphic Novels. I only got into graphic novels last year, but they’re perfect for flying through a story. They’re easy to read, visually appealing, and you can read a whole trade paperback in less than an hour, so they don’t feel intimidating. Rat Queens is a good bet, as it has a fairly simple plot, great characters, and is lots of fun. I also recommend The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, because it is hilarious. (My full review for Rat Queens is here, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl here)

Novels are tougher, but I recommend some light and breezy contemporary fiction — something that’s easy to pick up and get invested in. I particularly love Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

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The Anatomical Shape of A Heart by Jenn Bennett

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NB: This book is also known as Night Owls in the UK.

The Anatomical Shape of A Heart is a super super shippy, super super fluffy YA contemporary novel about a young artist named Bex who’s really obsessed with anatomy.

Which is a good 80% of why I’m reviewing this book. Bex wants to be a medical illustrator, and the book begins with her trying to get permission to draw cadavers at the teaching hospital to help her win a scientific art scholarship for college. When she’s forced to take the night bus home from her appointment, she meets Jack, who, she quickly discovers, is the now infamous golden-penned graffiti artist writing words all over San Francisco. In the world of YA contemporary, it’s a pretty unusual set-up.

And I have to describe the story that follows as fluffy, even if it does deal with some serious issues, like a plotline involving schizophrenia. It has dark elements, but it exists in a world where you know everything is safe and will turn out OK in the end. The book is structured around Bex’s scholarship competition, but the main focus is its cute romance, and it is cute, and written in a way that pulls you in. Bex and Jack stand out as protagonists — Bex as the talented artist desperate to draw cadavers, and Jack as the Buddhist vegetarian vandal — but they’re also both such teenagers, in a way that makes the book feel incredibly real. Bex means well, but she has a self-serving and rebellious streak, and when she fights with her parents, she can be downright cruel. Jack is painfully overconfident, even as he’s insecure, completely blase about the escalating potential consequences of his actions and the near inevitability of getting caught.

In fact, my main criticism of the book is that it might be too nice and fluffy, even despite the aforementioned schizophrenia plotline, because the potential conflict doesn’t really ever get ramped up into a plot. There are a bunch of problems and tensions lurking — Bex’s non-relationship with her father, Jack’s relationship with HIS father, Bex’s struggles to be able to afford to go to college, the fact that Jack is wanted on felony charges for vandalism — but none of it is explored in depth. The growing relationship has very few real obstacles, and it feels like there are many potential sources of conflict that pop up in the background, and then get resolved in the background as well. I really enjoyed reading the book while I was reading it, but when I looked back on it once I was done, I wanted more from it.

The book also suffers from a slight lack of female friends. Bex’s two friends are away for the summer and are basically mentioned twice — once to establish that, and once to say they sent her a joint text on her birthday. There’s a sense in that moment that Bex feels isolated from them, but again, that’s not really explored, so they’re mostly just kind of missing.

But despite that, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart is incredibly fun to read. It’s the sort of story to carry you out of a reading rut, to cheer you up at the end of a long winter, or to help pass the time on a long and fidgety plane ride. Definitely recommended!

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