None of these books fit into my reviewing theme this year (revisiting series I’d never finished), but I wanted to review Clap When You Land anyway because it is excellent, and I decided to throw the other three in as a bonus.
Clap When You Land: 5 stars.
Plot: Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her Tia and sees her father every summer, when he comes back from New York City to visit. When his plan tragically crashes and everyone aboard dies, she discovers that he had another family in NYC, and she has a half-sister she never knew about, named Yahaira. The novel explores the immediate aftermath of Camino and Yahaira’s father’s death, as well as their new relationship.
The good: Um, everything? This book is lovely. It’s written in free verse, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The characters are so well-written, the plot is heartwrenching and moving, it’s just fantastic.
The bad: I really can’t think of anything. I loved this book. It’s funny, I wanted to review it, but it turns out I have almost nothing to say about it because it was just so good. Read it!
Reasons to Stay Alive: 4 stars
I’ve had Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library on my TBR list for quite awhile now, but I picked this up first, thinking it might be a good post-2020 choice, especially considering how I normally prefer nonfiction to fiction.
The plot: The plot, such as it is, is about Haig’s struggle to overcome depression and anxiety. It sort of follows a chronology at first. He and his girlfriend Andrea are in Ibiza. Haig begins experiencing severe emotional distress, leading to him contemplating suicide and Andrea eventually deciding they need to leave and return to England, where they stay for awhile with his parents. The rest of the book is just sort Haig’s observations as he works on his mental health, and his thoughts now, looking back at a difficult time.
The good: An honest and moving book, and one that I would guess has helped a lot of people. Haig is open and vulnerable throughout, and I came away really liking him and appreciating his perspective on mental illness.
The bad: It kind of fell apart a bit, at the end, when he starts actually listing the reasons he wants to stay alive. I think this part was probably very helpful to him, but it reminded me of one of those books you find at Hallmark or an airport bookstore with “14,000 reasons to be happy.”
Pride: 4 stars
The plot: A modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, taking place in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. Zuri, the second of five sisters, meets and takes an immediate dislike to Darius, the snooty new rich boy whose family moves in across the street. Meanwhile, Zuri’s older sister Janae is falling in love with Darius’s brother, Ainsley, and Zuri is interested in Warren, another boy in the neighborhood.
The good: This is a thoughtfully done retelling that hits all the beats you expect, but is fresh enough to feel like an original story. I’ve read other retellings of Pride and Prejudice that were absolute garbage (*cough*Eligible*cough*), and this one shone by comparison. I liked everybody in this book, especially Zuri and Darius. The updates to the story, to move it into the 21st century, were well done–especially the bit where Zuri runs into Darius and his sister in Washington DC during a college visit, and when you learn why Darius hates Warren (the Wickham character).
The bad: While this is a clever and well-done story, it’s not the kind of book that will stick with me long-term. It’s sort of yet another YA romance, and I’ve read a lot of those. On the other hand, I’ve never read one before that takes place in Bushwick and tackles gentrification and social class the way Pride does. I enjoyed this book quite a bit while reading, but I don’t think it’s one I would ever reread.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder: 2.5 stars
Saved the mediocre for last.
The plot: Pippa, a high school student, is working on a capstone project for senior year. She decides to investigate a murder that took place five years earlier in her town, when Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then died by suicide. As she gets deeper into the case, aided by Sal’s younger brother Ravi, she becomes convinced of Sal’s innocence and passionate about clearing his name.
The good: The mystery was interesting. I really liked the character of Ravi, and I also liked the way the teens in general came across–other than Pippa (we’ll get to her momentarily). I also kind of liked how complicated the final resolution of the mystery was–I’d figured out part of it, but not all of it, and that part I hadn’t figured out kept it interesting.
The bad: Pippa is a wholly unbelievable character, whose only personality trait is that she’s very studious and does well in school. And yet on the other hand she takes the most outrageous, ridiculous risks in service to the plot. She catfishes someone at some point, yet we’re still supposed to root for her? Also, the way everything tied up at the end seemed sort of anticlimactic. But, most of all, something bad happens to a dog in this book FOR NO GOOD REASON and for that alone, I can’t recommend it.