I've opted to pair mini reviews of these two YA titles together because neither came from a publisher. Both are ARCs that were sent by a friend and I might have skipped writing about them entirely if not for the fact that I enjoyed them so much.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is supposedly one of the hot YA novels of the season and I went into the reading knowing that and nothing else, which is apparently the best way to enter the reading.
Cadence comes from a wealthy family but a broken one. Every year her grandparents, aunts and cousins, plus a relative of one of the aunts' boyfriends, spend their summer on the family's island. All that changed, two years ago. Now, Cady has migraines and memory problems and her mother is constantly telling her to stop talking crazy, get a grip. After a summer in Europe, Cady returns to the island and tries to piece together the events that led to her traumatic memory loss. What happened to Cady?
Most of the reviews of this book are vague, at best, and there is good reason for that. It is best to go into the reading totally blind. Those who have gone into it after reading the publishing hype have, I've found, been the most disappointed. I thought the book was excellent. I liked the poetic writing, the interaction between Cady and her cousins, the underlying themes about race and privilege, the way everything was explained (even if the explanation was a bit maddening). I liked it so much, in fact, that I bought a finished copy so I can reread the book with the knowledge of how it ends. Blogger and YA author Lenore Applehans mentioned that reading We Were Liars a second time was revealing from a craft perspective. I've yet to get to that second reading but I'm still glad I bought a copy and am looking forward to seeing the story from a different perspective.
Highly recommended - Loved the natural rhythm of the writing, the characters, the mystery, what I perceived as the themes (sometimes I wonder if I'm getting out of a book what an author intends) and the ending. If you read the book, I advise going into the reading knowing as little as possible -- maybe wait till you forget the hype if you've read or heard too much. The less you know, the better.
Half Bad by Sally Green is yet another YA that I heard was good from a reliable source (same source and provider as We Were Liars, actually) and read without even bothering to read what it was about.
In Half Bad, there are White Witches and Black Witches (and regular old humans -- unfortunately, I can't remember what they're called). The White Witches are allegedly good, the Black bad. But what about someone with mixed parentage? Is a half-breed good or bad?
As Half Bad opens, the reader gets to know Nathan, a teenager who lives in a cage. He has a keeper who makes him do chores and exercise, cook and study. If he runs too far, says something he shouldn't or doesn't do his chores as expected, he's punished. And, he can't run away without dire consequences. But, why is Nathan in a cage?
The book unfolds in several sections, first a look at Nathan's life in a cage, then a return to the past where the reader learns about Nathan's family, most of whom love him dearly and do everything they can to protect him from the people who presume he will someday choose his dark side, as Nathan is half White Witch, half Black. Over the years, the rules regarding half-breeds keep changing, becoming more and more restrictive, and Nathan finds out that the White Witches -- who believe themselves to be the good ones -- may be every bit as bad as the Black Witches, if not worse. Who is good and who is evil? What will become of Nathan? Will he ever meet his mysterious father, a man the White Witches claim to be one of the most dangerous and prolific murderers on Earth? Will Nathan survive to receive the three gifts he needs to go from Whet to Witch at age 17 and who will give him his gifts if he does?
Highly recommended - Wow, did I love this book. There's a lot to think about, plenty of action, characters to love and hate, and the changes in Nathan are believable. It's one of the darkest YA novels I've read but, relatively speaking, I don't read all that many. I've been told it's mild by comparison with some. Half Bad is the first in a trilogy but it's wrapped up in a satisfactory way, even though there's clearly more to the story. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.
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