The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

Final Ruling: 4/5 stars

(If you want to avoid the spoilers, please avoid the italics)

Okay, so let me preface this with the fact that I read this book a long long long time ago, like when I was in elementary school; but that doesn’t really mean much because I also read novels meant for adults at that age too (yes, I was that kid). Anyways, I adored this book just as much as I did when I was young, probably because I still have this morbid fascination with science gone wrong, genetic experiments and the like. Maybe that makes me a freak in turn, but I can’t help what keeps my eyes glued to the page. The characters were beautifully developed and remarkably unique, by the end of the book I felt like I had a personal and emotional connection to each and every one of them. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know that the characters and their growth are the most important part of any book for me, so to find a book that has both an interesting premise and captivating characters is absolutely phenomenal. So I tip my metaphorical hat to Mr. Patterson for making me a part of the twisted and remarkable world of Max and her family. But aside from all of that, there were some serious drawbacks that forced me to lower my overall rating.

Let’s get right into explaining the negatives, in order to get the heartbreak of writing these words over with. Now, I know that this is a book for younger kids so keep in mind that this is something I also kept in mind while I was reading. However, the fact that this was meant for people younger than me does not completely excuse the childish prose and anticlimactic reveals. Yes, the book was written for children, but it was not written by a child, which is frankly what it felt like some of the time. At some points, it even felt like Patterson was trying way too hard to sound like a child. Yes, the book was written from the point of view of a teenage girl, but let’s be honest, no teenager’s inner monologue sounds as childish as Max’s.

(CAUTION: spoilers ahead)

Speaking of childish, can we PLEASE talk about that awful, over-dramatic, and trite revelation that Jeb is actually Max’s father. Yes, the book does build up to this, but the way it is revealed was very very anticlimactic and nearly made me laugh out loud at the means of revelation: Jeb literally yelling to Max down the hallway thing that she had just killed her brother, Ari. There were so many ways that Patterson could have revealed this, ways that would have made more sense, would have had a much higher shock factor, and would have improved the quality of the whole book itself. He had such a good thing going, too, with Max starting to see through Ari’s facade. But alas, Patterson didn’t feel that he could stave off the reveal, and thus killed Ari and ruined the interesting dynamic between the two. 

(spoilers over)

Now onto the positive parts of the book which, in my opinion, do outshine the negatives. First of all, the characters; the characters are fantastic. I fell in love with each and every one of the flock in turn. I adored Max’s dedication and love for her family, Fang’s intelligence, Nudge’s badass innocence (if that makes sense…), Iggy’s refusal to let his disability limit him, Gazzy’s strength, and Angel’s compassion. How amazing it is to finally see a book with such strong familial bonds, I really don’t see that enough. Family is so so so important and it is wonderful to see somebody acknowledge that in a young adult book.

In addition to the characters themselves, the book is so captivating because of what has happened to them. The whole idea of genetic experimentation is so fascinating to me, and I adore reading about it, no matter how sick and twisted that makes me. It gives me a morbid sense of curiosity as well as a broken heart to read about the

(CAUTION: spoilers ahead)

School and the Erasers and the other experiments on children that Patterson described, especially the ones that Angel came in contact with during her time back at the school. She read their thoughts and found that not only were the children physically deformed, but they were mentally compromised as well, unable to form coherent thoughts. Some of them died mere minutes after she encountered them. The scientists that work at the School and the Institute make me sick; I cannot even fathom the fact that anybody could treat another person, no matter how little humanity is left in them, like they treat the children they experiment on. They keep them in freaking dog crates, as if they have no thoughts or feelings. They are horrific human beings for doing something like that (Jeb in particular). Speaking of that, let’s talk about Jeb for a hot second. He disgusts me, seriously disgusts me. He pretends to be a friend to the flock, pretends to save them, to take care of them, makes himself their father figure, and then abandons them to return to the School and the white-coats, who he was working for the whole time. He has a stupid head and a stupid face and does not deserve to even be in contact with the flock. He took literally everything from them, making him impossibly more horrible than he already is for condoning what the School and the Institute are doing. Ugh, I have so many feelings about him I can barely form coherent sentences. 

(end of spoilers)

I would recommend this book to anybody who desperately wants to be whisked away to a world existing just underneath our noses, a world of twisted science, a world in which the primary goal is to find the humanity in the not-quite-human.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Oh my sweet goodness, talk about ****magical****. This story is the fairy tale to end all fairy tales. It is magical, self-aware, quirky, breathtakingly lovely, mysterious, and just all-around wonderful. Not only does it read like a traditional fairy tale, but it feels like magic, it feels like childhood, it feels like everything a fantasy story should be.

The story follows the unicorn, later dubbed Lady Amalthea, who is the last of her kind. She searches relentlessly for the resting place of the rest of the unicorns, along the way picking up a ragtag group of supporters, who later prove themselves actually integral to her quest. She braves cruel people, being captured and displayed, evil kings, fiery monsters, and a lonely prince with a heart of gold.

Beagle creates a poignant and stunning landscape that still manages to echo with the dark despair of the people under the rule of King Haggard. The unicorn provides a glittering ray of hope, managing to bring light to everyone she touches. Regardless of this, nearly everybody that encounters her attempts to take her for their own, thus depriving the rest of the world of her magic. Even the prince, albeit unwittingly, keeps her prisoner with his stereotypically ‘prince-ly’ acts of heroism; however, what makes him different is that he did not intend to detain her, but instead to make her fall in love with him. This fact opens the door to the idea that perhaps love is its own type of prison. By the end, the prince, now the only ruler of his kingdom, does attempt to detain Amalthea, whose time as a human made her seek the imprisonment that she tried so so so very hard to avoid. But, in the end, he allowed her to go free, albeit after a stern talking to from Molly and Schmendrick, and I can’t help but think of a line from one of my favorite poems: “nothing gold can stay”.

The Last Unicorn is a breathtaking story about the true nature of love, the importance of friendship, the true nature of greed, and the true nature of people in the face of something truly beautiful.

I would recommend this epic and timeless fairy tale to anybody, young or old, who wishes to once again look at the world around them with wide-eyed fascination.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Ah, is there any book better than this one?? I THINK NOT!

The Lightning Thief is the ultimate childhood fantasy adventure. It immediately transports a reader into a world where differences are not only accepted, but celebrated. I’m pretty sure every single kid in the world has gone through the same exact thing: feeling inadequate and ashamed of the things that make them special. So many kids put their heads down in the face of their dyslexia or ADHD, being tortured and made fun of (as if living with disabilities wasn’t hard enough). However, in the not-so-unrealistic world of Percy Jackson, those differences just mean that underneath all the normality, there is something truly awesome. Learning disabilities are literally an indicator of a superior bloodline, one that runs directly back to the great Gods of Olympus (how’s that for awesome?!).

The writing is humorous and breezy, managing to integrate witty jokes and sarcasm into life-threatening situations, thus making it accessible to every single age group which, in my experience, is a nearly impossible feat. Riordan expertly weaves Grecian mythology into modern-day America, somehow creating this world in which pretty much anybody is accepted and nurtured to their fullest potential. Through the mythology, he broadcasts this message of acceptance, as well as extremely powerful messages about the most important bonds between people: the bonds of friendship and family.

I read this book first when I was 12, about the same age as Percy in this book, and my copy has just recently fallen apart due to the fact that I have read it relentlessly, turning to the world of the half-bloods whenever those feelings of inadequacy start to creep up on me, as they did during those elementary school years. Of course, now I know that the woes of a 6th grade girl are nothing against the real world, but my goodness did they seem important then. The writing of Riordan got me through the toughest ordeals of that time in my life, Grover and Chiron and Percy were my best friends, and my heart really did reside in Camp Half-Blood. Those tattered pages were my childhood, and it was an amazing honor to be able to grow up alongside Percy and Annabeth; I am sure that their story will stay with me for an eternity, and quite possibly longer.

I would recommend this masterpiece to absolutely everybody. My friends, my family, acquaintances, random people on the street, and anybody else that happens to hear me as I shout my love for this book from the rooftops.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Final Ruling: 4/5 stars

Let me start by saying that this book got an insane amount of hype, so perhaps my picture of it in my head to begin with was the primary source of the slight disappointment I experienced at the hands of this book. The story itself is lovely and poignant, and fed a secret desire inside me that I didn’t even realize I had until I finished reading If I Stay.However, there are, in fact, many glaring faults in this story that led to my merely ‘good’ experience reading it.

Let’s begin with the most obviously wonderful part of this book: the love story. Mia and Adam are so wonderfully contradictory and perfect, it almost seems as if them being together was as inevitable as Mia’s car crash. The rocker and the classical musician. *sigh* how dreamy is that?! Maybe it’s because I’m a musician or maybe its because it was so beyond wonderful to see them bring out the best in one another, as opposed to them being in a borderline toxic relationship, as is the case with most romance novels. It could not have been more picture perfect, that is, until the car crash.

Speaking of the car crash, this was one of the book’s most glaring faults: it was so obviously cry-bait. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good tear-jerker every once in awhile, but at times, it felt like the author was trying too hard to get this response, making some of the moments that should have been lovely and heart-wrenching seem forced. Yes, the story was beautiful, and yes, it was very sad, but sometimes the commentary within was unnecessary and obviously meant specifically to make people cry. In spite of this, it was quite lovely, and I do, indeed, find myself largely overlooking the cry-bait staring me in the face.

One of the reasons I could overlook the faults of the book was the powerful powerful message about choices and their repercussions. Now, most people today make largely insignificant choices, and some of those choices we don’t even think about. Forman magnifies this, turning it into a choice between life and death. The pros and cons run through Mia’s mind, and it is all of those small things that factor into the ultimate choice that make it so heart-wrenching and thought provoking. Forman’s use of this colossal choice in the face of the small moments forces the reader to look inward, to weigh their own pros and cons, and even to better appreciate the small moments of their life, because, as Forman so eloquently showcases, you never know which moment will be your last.

Speaking of last moments, If I Stay revealed a strange and secret question that has been buried in my mind for years: how will people react if I died? Who would care? Who would show up at the hospital and trick nurses just to get a glimpse of me? Mia’s entire family and support system shows up for her, family and friends alike, and it makes me wonder, would mine do the same?

I would recommend this book to those who aren’t afraid to think long and hard about their life and their choices, as well as to anyone in need of a good long tearful existential crisis.

 

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Final Ruling: 4/5 stars

Can I just say… WOW

I haven’t adored a lighthearted contemporary novel this much since… well, since forever. Call me biased because of my own image problems, but a book about a self-proclaimed fat girl that doesn’t focus on her getting skinny is a new and extremely welcome change. However, there were various aspects of it that were irredeemable in my eyes, and so the beautiful story of an unapologetic fat girl was tainted.

First let’s get the negative aspect out of the way: this book was chock-full of GIRL HATE! Yes, the main character ends up mending the broken ties she makes in pursuit of acceptance, but the way in which those same ties were initially severed are quite unacceptable. From the very beginning the protagonist, Willowdean, is scathingly jealous of her best friend, Ellen, or as Will calls her, “El”. She idolizes El in a quite unhealthy way, and at the same time despises her because of her effortless beauty. So, when El finds a friend that, in Will’s eyes, is everything Will will never be, Willowdean freaks out, lashing out at everybody around her. Without even getting to know El’s new friend Calli, Will hates the girl, and basically forbids El to see her, which is not okay. In addition to hating on the pretty girls, Will is judgemental of the people who try to befriend her, looking down upon them for being fat, crippled, or having a not-so-pretty smile; now that is just blatantly hypocritical, and not in any way acceptable practice, no matter what you look like in comparison because girls need to stick together, not tear each other down (there are already enough people trying to do that anyways).

Regardless of the heartbreak brought on by such blatant girl hate, there were many many positive messages as well.

The first of these lovely messages lies in the way Will goes around kissing any boy she wants, and the way that her weight is not an issue. I know that it could be seen as a not-so-good thing, but to have my insecurities validated really does make me feel better, gives me hope in a world that tells people like Willowdean and myself that we cannot be loved because of the way we look.

On a less self-centered note, the gradual acceptance of Will by her mother is an extremely extremely important aspect of the work, one that I am unashamed to admit almost brought me to tears. Will’s mother, at the beginning of the book, is borderline rude, and it seems that she does resent her daughter for the way that she looks, but by the end, Willowdean’s mom comes through, helping out with pageant prep and respecting her daughter and her daughter’s body much more than she did at the beginning. Motherly love eventually wins out, and they call a fragile truce, ending in a heartwarming and humorous scene in which Ms. Dickson absolutely positively cannot get her dress to zip, only to be saved by Will, her words, and some industrial clips.

The overall heartwarming message is so extremely important and relevant, especially in our current world of fat-shaming and unrealistic expectations. As Will and her ragtag group of outcasts so beautifully showcase throughout the book: be unapologetically yourselfno matter what.

I would recommend this book to all of the girls in my life (and outside of it), because being yourself in today’s world is a hard thing, and sometimes we need a little reminder that it’s okay to stand out.

 

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Final Ruling: 3/5 stars

Hmm… the one word that I would use to describe this book is… mediocre.

Don’t get me wrong, it was super cute and I am such a sucker for a hopelessly romantic story; but, no matter how much I wanted to love it (which was seriously a lot), I just couldn’t. It was remarkably predictable, so much so that I could guess exactly what would happen before the characters did, which took a lot of the magic out of the events as well as the characters themselves.

Graham is the typical brooding movie star, discovered out of the blue and went shooting into stardom, where he was plagued by loneliness and a life under the scrutinizing eye of the public. All I can say to that is “BOO HOO”, so bad for you, you rich superstar. He annoyed me to no end, and it seemed like all he could do was either complain or brood behind his oversized sunglasses.

Ellie is the token young adult romance heroine, complete with red hair, pale skin, an affinity for chocolate, a home in a quaint small town, and a murky past (which, to be honest, wasn’t really as murky and dramatic as she made it out to be). She was shy, cute, and beloved by everybody in town. She pined after a boy she couldn’t have, fought over him with her best friend, and went around thinking “nobody could possibly ever understand” when, in reality, if she had just communicated with anybody, or better yet, communicated with Graham, everything would have been resolved in a much easier way.

That being said, the redeeming quality of this story was the plot premise. The story between these two had major potential, if it had been carried out with literally anybody except Graham and Ellie. Their meeting via a misspelled email address is absolutely dripping with fate and meant to be, two things I am such a sucker for. They were each other’s “person”, and their exchanges were heartbreakingly sweet and provocative, enough to tug on anybody’s heartstrings. In my case, it tugged the book up two whole stars on the universal five star scale. What can I say? I’m a sucker for true love.

I would recommend this book to anybody in need of a short, feel-good story about two kids hopelessly chasing happiness.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Magonia absolutely took my breath away (so much so that I had to run outside to try and glimpse a skyship of my own).
The characters are shockingly vivid, the plot is unlike anything I have ever read before (and I am a ravenous reader so that is truly saying something), the emotion written into every word brought me to tears, and the twists and turns left me breathless (pun wholeheartedly intended).

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Magonia absolutely took my breath away (so much so that I had to run outside to try and glimpse a skyship of my own).
The characters are shockingly vivid, the plot is unlike anything I have ever read before (and I am a ravenous reader so that is truly saying something), the emotion written into every word brought me to tears, and the twists and turns left me breathless (pun wholeheartedly intended).
The characters, in my opinion, were what pushed this book over the top, transforming it into something more than a fluffy fantasy novel, something to be admired, something from which there is a plethora of things to learn. Not only did Headley create these 3-dimensional characters that seemed to leap off the page and into reality, but wrote in a way that the scope of minority representation was incredibly vast, on a scale that is exceedingly difficult to find anywhere. She flawlessly integrated realistic disability, established LGBTQ+ relationships, commentary on racism and sexism, as well as platonic male-female relationships into a world too fantastical to believe yet just realistic enough to be plausible. Her characters are what make this world of literal aliens unfathomably plausible, letting a doubt of reality into the mind of the reader through legitimate historical precedent and the realistic depiction of a debilitating illness. It is even said by the author herself in the Acknowledgements of the novel that the legends of a strange land in the clouds called “Magonia” are completely legitimate, and documented in various historical texts. Thus, a seed of doubt is planted in the minds of the readers, one that blooms into the possibility of belief in such a fantastical world. Along with that historical precedent, the mysterious illness from which Aza suffers provides a very skillfully integrated doorway into this other world. Aza literally dies in the beginning of the book, just after Headley forms an attachment between her and the reader forged from an admiration of her bravery, compassion for her situation, and the unbridled passion in her heart that the reader is introduced to mere pages before her demise. Aza is someone to be admired, someone to be loved, someone to be taken care of, and somebody that I realize anybody would be incredibly lucky to have in their lives. The catalyst that is Aza’s death is used as an introduction into the deeper workings of another soon-to-be major character: Jason. Sweet and adoring Jason. He is revealed to be this beautiful knight in shining armor for Aza, someone who compiles knowledge like a dragon hoarding treasure, in the futile hope that he will have in his mind everything that Aza could ever need. He would literally move mountains for her, or if not move mountains, then commit multiple felonies and completely disregard the American legal system in pursuit of her well-being. Jason, as the book progresses, becomes one of Aza’s strongest remaining ties to Earth, and eventually the person who helps her save herself in the face of complete world annihilation. Truth be told, I was waiting with some degree of apprehension for the seemingly inevitable love triangle that would develop between Jacob, Aza, and Dai. However, I was very very pleasantly surprised when that trite situation did not occur. Aza and Jacob were meant to be, and there is no denying that. In addition to the complicated protagonists, the antagonists are just as well-rounded and complex. At first, the true antagonist is not revealed, and is instead hidden within what seems to be an additional protagonist. Zal is quite obviously the protagonist of her own story, but through a shocking twist, ends up being the antagonist of everybody else’s. Headley creates an antagonist that people can relate to, somebody that some can even come to sympathize with, thus creating ca complicated moral situation for the reader as well as for the other characters. My goodness, that type of story is incredibly rare, and it was like a breath of fresh Magonian air to see it utilized so beautifully. The world of Magonia is brimming with kick butt women, women antagonists who don’t revolve completely around men, women who are leaders, pirate queens, ship captains, and sailors, making wonderfully crafted feminism one of the many underlying veins of this tale.

I could seriously go on for countless hours about this modern literary masterpiece, but some things are better to experience, not just read about. That being said, I would passionately recommend this book to anybody who would listen.