Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“The trouble with denial is that when the truth comes, you aren’t ready.”

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

“If our past selves got a glimpse of us now, what would they make of us?”

This book came so unexpectedly into my life, but I’m eternally grateful that it did so. There’s simply so much to love about We Are Okay that I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed writing this, but thankfully lists exist for me to break it down point by point:

  • We have a switching narrative between the past and future, which adds tremendously to the ongoing intrigue. Usually with books that have a similar structure, I struggle connecting with either the past or the present but that was not the case with We Are Okay. Far from it, actually. I kept switching my love for the chapters set in the past and those set in the present.
  • The author gets so many things right. From leaving your home and friends and childhood behind, to tackling loneliness, grief, friendship, f/f love, bisexuality, heartbreak, and talking about books and paintings, positive adult figures, and so much more. But I especially want to address how Marin’s broken longing felt so palpable. I could virtually feel her grief coming off the page, which is by no means an easy feat to achieve in writing.
  • Speaking of, LaCour’s words blew me off the page. I just loved how certain scenes drew a perfectly fitting picture in my mind.

Exhibit A:

“She leans over our table and turns the sign in the window so that it says CLOSED on the outside. But on our side, perfectly positioned between Mabel’s place and mine, it says OPEN. If this were a short story, it would mean something.”

I had to laugh at how witty that passage was.

And then hiding my smile at this gentle and still scene following at nighttime:

“So I turn over and find Mabel closer to me than I’d realized. I wait a minute there to see if she’ll move away, but she doesn’t. I wrap my arm around her waist, and she relaxes into me. My head nestles in the curve behind her neck; my knees pull up to fit the space behind hers.
She might be asleep. I’ll only stay here for a couple of minutes. Only until I thaw completely. Until it’s enough to remind me what it feels like to be close to another person, enough to last me for another span of months. I breathe her in. Tell myself I need to turn away.
Soon. But not yet.
“Don’t disappear again,” she says. “Okay?”
Her hair is soft against my face.
“Promise me.”
“I promise.”

My heart. These two have my heart.

  • The summer chapters are set in San Francisco, mainly at the beach, which is one of my all-time favorite locations.

“Tourists descended onto our beach, sat in our usual places, so we borrowed Ana’s car and crossed the Golden Gate to find a tiny piece of ocean to have for ourselves. We ate fish-and-chips in a dark pub that belonged in a different country, and we collected beach glass instead of shells, and we kissed in the redwoods, we kissed in the water, we kissed in movie theaters all over the city during matinees and late-night showings. We kissed in bookstores and record stores and dressing rooms. We kissed outside of the Lexington because we were too young to get in. We looked inside its doors at all the women there with short hair and long hair, lipstick and tattoos, tight dresses and tight jeans, button-ups and camisoles, and we pictured ourselves among them.”tumblr_oawgnvocw51qgt42uo7_500

  • And since Marin’s from San Francisco but moved to NYC for college, the winter chapters set for the perfectly gloomy and quiet atmosphere. And as this books mentions, “It was quiet, maybe, but it wasn’t simple.”
  • I loved the attention paid to details. You could tell how much the story meant to the author just by little things such as the names of the girls:

“Just different enough,” I said.
“As usual.”
Since we’d met, we had a thing for our names’ symmetry. An M followed by a vowel, then a consonant, then a vowel, then a consonant. We thought it was important. We thought it must have meant something. Like a similar feeling must have passed through our mothers as they named us. Like destiny was at work already. We may have been in different countries, but it was only a matter of time before we would collide into each other.”

  • And now that I’ve successfully circled back to my favorites, I have to talk about how stunningly earnest their relationship felt. We get to see them through all the stages: from strangers to friends to lovers to something more to something undefinable and then… And then going back and forth until they find their footing. It was everything I wanted and more. They’re so good for one another.
  • Like I wrote in my review for Queens of Geek, I live for books that write about girls. Girls supporting girls. Girls loving girls. Girls, girls, girls!!! And so this book fulfilled my heart while reading about Marin’s remarkable roommate and compassionate new boss and noteworthy best friend.

“I look at her. I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”

This is still one of the kindest things I’ve ever read. My eyes are burning again.

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  • Side note: the amount of times my eyes teared up while reading was low-key alarming. But it was like I couldn’t help it, especially towards the end. Like Marin said, “I was crying, trying not to cry.” We Are Okay is tragic and hopeful and morose and every adjective in the world that will help encompass the beauty of this story.
  • And last but not least, I delighted in the fact that the families played such a big part in this book. Specifically centering on Mabel’s Mexican-American family and how fervently they welcomed Marin with open arms. Ana and Javier are two of the kindest souls and made my heart swell more than once with their words and actions.

All in all: I’m beyond grateful that I picked this up on a whim because I don’t think I’ll find anything like it soon. But I know that I’ll look forward to any of Nina LaCour’s future works to come out.

P.S. This song felt really fitting for the mood this story is conveying (since it also mentions summertime and being seventeen and drinking whiskey). I listened to it on repeat until, to paraphrase this book, its sound turned to nothing.

5/5 stars

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Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

“Love happens at night,” Angelika says, whispering like it’s a secret some of us might not know. “So we’ll take away the night.”

This was such a quick read, almost impossible to put down. I wasn’t sure at first if I would read this, but then without noticing I was twenty pages in and feeling invested, so then I had to keep going. And now here we are.

The Careful Undressing of Love follows the Devonairre Street Girls and their eccentric little community in Brooklyn that has experienced an unusual number of tragedies, which everyone refers to as the Curse. And 75-year-old Angelika Koza is always there to remind them of it.

“If a Devonairre Street Girl falls in love with any boy, whether or not he loves her back, the boy will die. Devonairre Street Girls must not fall in love. That is the responsibility, that is the Curse, that is what is true.”

It kind of reminds me of Blue’s curse in The Raven Boys, where she has been told by her psychic family that she will kill her true love. But the Devonairre Street Girls don’t believe in their curse, or at least that’s what they tell themselves…

“Fine. It’s strange that we wear the keys, that we grow our hair, that we drink the tea and eat the cake and switch the outside lights on when the sun goes down and armor ourselves in wool.
But Santa Claus is strange, too. And lucky pennies. And horoscopes in newspapers. And unbreakable mirrors.”

I loved the magical realism in here. Their curse also brought up in my mind the question of “is it better to have loved and lost or never loved at all?” I still don’t know what my answer is or will be.

Honestly, this book had me so enthralled that upon looking out of my window, I felt surprised that Angelika Koza wasn’t lurking and judging me from across the street. She knows something extra about the world. And I can still hear her voice shoving in I’ll say it again if you weren’t listening.

Also, to keep track of the characters, here’s a list of the their quirks that I initially loved:

  • Delilah James with her made-up sayings. I’ll try to remember each and every one.
  • Lorna Ryder with her ability to hear her mother’s heart. Oh, and who loves thinking only about herself…more on that later.
  • Isla Rodriguez is an unstoppable force. She’s also the youngest of them all but growing up the fastest.
  • Charlotte, who’s together with Cruz Rodriguez, doesn’t seem to have any kind of life in her until something happens that I’ll talk about later on.

Oh, and this book address white-privilege, which yes, please:

“They’re always more concerned with Isla’s outfits than mine. The other night at Julia’s I was wearing less than Isla is now, but it didn’t incite the same kind of outrage when I walked down the street. I think Isla must notice it, too, the way her body is a particularly tense battleground compared to the rest of ours. I think of the way Ms. Abbound looked at Delilah, too. It’s uncomfortable to think of us as anything but a single organism, but of course it’s easier to be a white Devonairre Street Girl.”

I kept thinking of this:tumblr_m4ahq0osee1qzh4jxo1_500*From here on I want to discuss some spoilery stuff.*

The book also tackles Lorna’s grief after she lost her father in the Times Square Bombing almost seven years ago. The portrayal of her grief felt so real and personal and specific, and I’m still reeling.

“When Dad died, Mom said to be sure to let myself have good moments. Even when everything hurts, even when other cities are exploding and people we love are disappearing, there’s still space for sweet things. I let our elbows’ resting against each other feel good, while everything else feels bad.”

But then… then this book took a turn down the wrong lane for me. A truly wrong turn when Lorna decides to cheat multiple times on her boyfriend with Cruz, who’s still with Charlotte. However, the book comes up with a convenient way for our hetero heroine to get rid of all her hetero guilt.

“We’ve been together a long time,” Nisha says.
Charlotte looks down, but she doesn’t deny it.
“You can’t be together,” I say. “Charlotte and Cruz are together.”
I look back and forth between the two of them, the golden couple of Devonairre Street, one of the main reasons I know the Curse isn’t real, the people I’ve built a whole sense of the world on.”

I love how Lorna remembers this fact when it’s convenient for her, because the minute her lips are on Cruz’s she all, “Charlotte who?”

Also, I’m kind of livid at how this was all played out to make the herione feel OK for cheating. I was so excited about the possibility of a f/f relationship featuring in here, but making it seem like plot-twist is just not how you do it. I had to take a breather after that to calm down over how angry I was.
There are so few f/f romances out there in YA books, and I was so, so excited when I heard it was going to play a part in here. But it didn’t. It only appeared over 220 pages in (out of 288), and then it was only presented as a twist so that the main white, hetero character wouldn’t feel guilty for kissing her friend’s boyfriend. UGH. This is just such harmful representation when your whole novel is straight as fuck. Can’t we have even one good thing this year??? tumblr_of8am9j3ne1sjcdg6o1_250After that I quickly came to realize just how self-centred Lorna acts all the damn time. She lives in this bubble of “I’m so special and everyone loves or wants to be me.” And I’m like, “….people literally do not give two fucks about whether you speak or not.” Similar to what Nisha said, “But you Devonairre Street people—you’re all in your own world, aren’t you?”

I just hate, hate, hate that Lorna was the center of this novel, when there were so many more deserving souls… like Delilah. The Careful Undressing of Love should have been told through Delilah’s eyes, not Lorna’s pretentious ones. Especially once you consider the fact that Delilah lost Jack, whom she truly loved, and we barely get to see her after that. We mainly see how Lorna is hurting, and I’m like…. okay….tumblr_o0hbcon5ru1rstnf0o2_500This novel started out fantastic, but it petered out after Jack’s sudden death. And after that straight nonsense, I was out. I can’t even hide how disappointed I am. I was truly excited when I started and read the first 150 pages, but I can’t get over how the whole aforementioned situation was played. You don’t use f/f romances like that. You just don’t.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

2/5 stars 

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Careful Undressing of Love, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I was hesitant at first with picking this up because I thought A Little Life revolved around four white dudes and their #whitepeopleproblems. But oh, was I incredibly mistaken. The cast of characters in this one is far from what I thought; it tackles a variety of topics such as sexuality, race, disabilities, mental illness, and so much more.
Not what I expected and for once, I was glad to be so off-track.

If you’re looking to diversify your reading (as you should!!), this book has it all:

  • POC characters.
  • Multiple LGBTQ+ ships.
  • Disabled main character.
  • Honest look on mental health and mental illnesses.

This review contains *spoilers*.

tumblr_oat8djp2t11s9egmko1_500Source

This profound, tragic, memorable book centered around four college roommates from a small Massachusetts college moving to New York to make their way, is more complex than meets the eye. First and foremost, Yanagihara is a storyteller and her detailed and complex characters drive her work. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.

Let’s take a minute to start from the beginning and really understand each member that creates this dynamic foursome:

Jude St. Francis (aka the one who deserves the whole wide world and more):

We get to know Jude slowly but surely, and the one thing I remember most was how I truly enjoyed the specificity and depth of his character. He made me see the world anew and think differently as well.

Also, I keep going back in my mind to his first and only social worker, “and the first person who had never betrayed him,” and every time I just end up in tears.

“I don’t see why I have to talk about it at all,” he muttered at her once. He knew she had read his records from Montana; he knew she knew what he was.
She was quiet. “One thing I’ve learned,” she said, “you have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them. I’m going to teach you how to talk about them, because it’s going to get harder and harder the longer you wait, and it’s going to fester inside you, and you’re always going to think you’re to blame. You’ll be wrong, of course, but you’ll always think it.”

She was Jude’s rock, and seeing her slowly disappear made my everything hurt. Ana was good people, the best.

“You’re going to be great at college,” she said. She shut her eyes. “The other kids are going to ask you about how you grew up, have you thought about that?”
“Sort of,” he said. It was all he thought about.
“Mmph,” she grunted. She didn’t believe him either. “What are you going to tell them?” And then she opened her eyes and looked at him.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Ah, yes,” she said. They were quiet. “Jude,” she began, and then stopped. “You’ll find your own way to discuss what happened to you. You’ll have to, if you ever want to be close to anyone. But your life—no matter what you think, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and none of it has been your fault. Will you remember that?”
It was the closest they had ever gotten to discussing not only the previous year but the years that preceded it, too. “Yes,” he told her.
She glared at him. “Promise me.”
“I promise.”
But even then, he couldn’t believe her.
She sighed. “I should’ve made you talk more,” she said. It was the last thing she ever said to him. Two weeks later—July third—she was dead.”

I had to stop myself from crying then. Her death was all I thought about in the days following. It impacted more than I anticipated, which just goes to show how every single character in A Little Life was extremely well developed. Even when we only have a glimpse of them on the page.

Also, this:

“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

Willem Ragnarsson aka the best of friends you’ll ever have:

Oh man, the love I have for this one is hard to capture in words. Willem was what made this novel start off so promising for me. The love and patience he has for his friends, especially for Jude, was truly inspiring. And their connection in their twenties was on a whole other level.

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”tumblr_ogalgiycoa1vj8gn9o2_250I wanted Willem, who was humble, hardworking and diligent, to have everything he deserved, everything he desired. He was my favorite.

Also, this:

“Sometimes he wakes so far from himself that he can’t even remember who he is. “Where am I?” he asks, desperate, and then, “Who am I? Who am I?”
And then he hears, so close to his ear that it is as if the voice is originating inside his own head, Willem’s whispered incantation. “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.
“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.
“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.
“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.
“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.
“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”

In the end, all I can say is I LOVED HIM SO FUCKING MUCH.

Malcolm Irvine the “noncommittal” and conventional one:

We got to know so little about Malcolm that at first all I associated with him was his money and  work. I did, however, love how he slowly but surely found his passion and ambition while renovating each and every one of his friends’ houses. You could feel his devotion and dedication pouring off the page.

Jean-Baptiste “JB”  Marion the self-involved one:

I don’t even know where to start with JB because he had a lot going on that ended up affecting all of them. But I do want to focus on one major event that destroyed what had been more than twenty years of friendship when he decided hurt Jude in the most traumatising way by impersonating him. And I was gobsmacked even more when we got to see the aftermath it left on both sides. I always loved seeing the four of them together. They truly had something special. And I still can’t forgive him for ruining it like that; for hurting Jude like that.

“Why did you do that, JB? Why did you do that to him, of all people?”


And then, suddenly, things began to turn a bit sour for me… There’s just such a thing as too much tragedy in novels, and I’m not sure the author got that. At a certain point when truly atrocious things were happening time after time after time, I was left feeling numb.
I mean:

  • Jude has a profoundly disturbing (disturbing doesn’t even begin to describe it) childhood from literally day one.
  • Jude gets abused, sold into prostitution, kidnapped, run over by a car—and all before the age of fifteen.
  • Jude began a relationship that quickly turned out to be abusive and deadly, and it had its long-term reverberations.
  • Jude loses the people important to him the instant they truly connect. MULTIPLE TIMES.
  • Jude has to get his legs amputated.
  • Jude tries to end his life. MULTIPLE TIMES.
  • The more the novel progressed, the worse things were getting in Jude’s life.

Willem the Hero/ Ragnarsson the Terrible perfectly describes how it felt hearing about all the horrors Jude went through:

“He felt that he had in some ways learned more about Jude in the past year than he had in the past twenty-six, and each new thing he learned was awful: Jude’s stories were the kinds of stories that he was unequipped to answer, because so many of them were unanswerable. The story of the scar on the back of his hand—that had been the one that had begun it—had been so terrible that Willem had stayed up that night, unable to sleep, and had seriously contemplated calling Harold, just to be able to have someone else share the story with him, to be speechless alongside him.”

The more I read, the more I understood that there was no mercy, particularly for Jude. He went through so much intense shit, and it got to a point where it was physically painful to read. Some stories were so terrible that it had left me with a full night of contemplation. Where were the silver linings?

I talked it over with my mother and the more I discussed it, the more I realized how livid I was at the manipulativeness I felt in the writing. I mean, Willem got into a fucking car accident by the last hundred pages or so and I felt NOTHING. That’s how messed up I found this book. My favorite characters dies and I feel nothing. And I quickly realized that it wasn’t me, it was the book. At a certain point after you read about only pain, pain and pain, you end up feeling nothing at all. It was just too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, A Little Life was a good book, but by the end, I was more than ready to leave.

So I’m not sure whether I loved this book as much as I did in the first part (because it had some lightness in it) or if I’m tremendously disappointed as I felt in the last part (because it had so much darkness in it). A Little Life has been pretty well talked up so my expectations were clearly high. But still, it…it did disappoint a bit.

4/5 stars

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