Review: Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

I wish I could gift the book Best Friends to my younger self. I guess that’s what you have little sisters for – to make their childhood a bit more bearable. Sequel to Hale’s graphic novel, “Real Friends“, Best Friends explores the confusing in-between period of time where you’re no longer a kid, aka sixth grade *cue scary sound effect*

Shannon Hale managed to yank out all those suppressed memories from those early school years. Everything covered in Best Friends reminded just how glad I am not to be in the sixth grade *shudders*. The boys being mean just to appear ‘cool’, the girls being in constant competition, the petty fighting, the gossiping. How did we all survive that? And more importantly, why do little kids act so mean? I guess that’s why I’m studying Psychology.

Speaking of, yes, I still cannot stop analyzing the characters I encounter in books. This must be like book editors who can’t mentally stop correcting the writing they read in their free time. It’s simply impossible after you read the DSM to not look for signs of a disorder in every behavior. Like Jon Ronson wrote in his book The Psychopath Test:

“I wonder if I’ve got any of the 374 mental disorders,” I thought.
I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.

So reading Best Friends where Shannon Hale covers anxiety and OCD (presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both) was really interesting to see unfold within such a young character. I can’t stop thinking about her spiraling thoughts.

I’d recommend this book for many reasons (relatability, mean girls, finding your voice), but the mental health aspect made the book stand out for me.

This here paints the picture so clearly. “The worries were wrong” is so powerful.

This showcases the cycle of obsessive thoughts and taking momentary comfort in repetitive behaviors or mental acts like praying or repeating words silently.

Oh, and the gorgeous art by LeUyen Pham grew even more detailed and colorful this time around. Here are some of my favorite parts of Best Friends:

I wasn’t sure at first of the story within a story aspect, but if you want to buy my immediate love feature the ocean in your book.

It was also interesting how she featured writing as a tool of escapism when her friends didn’t want to play pretend anymore. It starts with the little things and then grows into something bigger… I mean she has multiple books out now.

Don’t stop! I loved that her teacher encouraged her writing (and that Shannon Hale included the real paper her teacher graded.) Having a teacher believe in you grants so much confidence when you’re young – or at any age, really.

…Until she grows tired of you too. Ugh!!! Those friends. I forgot all about those friends… Don’t bring me back to sixth grade, please. Ever.

Oh, that art!! I loved it when the art would suddenly change in style. It brought the story to life for me. So good!!

This page convinced me. I want a third book with Shannon in middle school or high school, please!

Me during this pandemic. Hovering in this cruel cycle of wanting to know what’s going on but also coming out of it with less knowledge and more fear. I only noticed the fear mongering in the media when I compared watching the news VS watching something I enjoyed. Wow. What a difference in mindset afterward. Do an experiment and notice your emotions after watching the news VS after watching your favorite movie or favorite Youtube channel. It will make you want to never watch the news again. Who wants to feel full of despair and anxiety? Not me.

Ah! What a powerhouse. Like my favorite Sarah J. Maas quote: “My name is Celaena Sardothien,” she whispered, “and I will not be afraid.”

This is what this book granted me: solidarity. We’re not alone in our thoughts.

READ THIS BOOK! Gift it to your younger siblings, cousins, neighbors. It’s so insightful and fun and thoughtful. I want a third book!

Oh, and help out this college girl by buying my books on Depop. I’m selling my books on Depop because I’m moving soon. If you’re looking for popular YA books; poetry; books full of dogs: foreign editions of books… Come take a look here

Psychology Student Reviews The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

As a Psychology student, it was compelling to dive into this prequel already knowing who Snow will become. This was a chance to use a retrospective look to see what happened in someone’s past that led them to become the person they are today. Oh, Dr. Gaul.

I’ll dive right in with a number of things that planted red flags along the way:

  • How Snow views Lucy Gray as his creation, his possession. His. Be prepared to riot at this next line:

“In some ways, it had been better to have her locked up in the Capitol, where he always had a general idea of what she was doing.”

  • His suspicions of everyone can turn a simple person into the devil by his overthinking. People with anxiety tend to interpret negatively things that aren’t quite clear. He takes that anxiety and turns it so much so that it can almost be painted as paranoia.
  • His lack of empathy when people suffer. Biggest red flag: his friend gets hurt and his main worry is getting blamed and punished if something worse happens. And when the parents of the friend rush in, which is when most people would go to reassure them, Snow is thinking first and foremost of himself:

“He didn’t know what the Dovecotes had been told, but he had no interest in talking to them, especially before he’d worked out his story.”

Big red flag. Huge.

  • He imitates emotions he thinks people expect him to feel in that moment, instead of sitting to uncover his real emotions. This is especially evoked in front of the cameras where he can make up a whole new persona.
  • He excuses his actions to clear himself of all guilt. He’s a great lawyer; the devil’s advocate. I was especially shocked when he dared to say this next line after the unthinkable happened to Sejanus: “And who knew? Maybe the cookies would keep coming.”

We’re rioting.

It was equally concerning to read the class discussions like, “How do we get more people to watch the Hunger Games?” And the one voice of reason, Sejanus, is being pushed aside like a madman. I had to actively remind myself that Sejanus is the good guy in a sea of bad. It’s all about who controls the narrative. This story is being told through Snow’s eyes. Don’t get distracted.

It’s disconcerting that the message of this book is either you riot against someone like Dr. Gaul and end up [redacted] like Sejanus, or you become her pet like Snow.

Which brings me to the point that we’re here for characters like Lucy Gray, not for Snow’s class homework 101 on how to be a dictator.

“Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life . . . then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn’t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off.”

More point on the other characters:

  • The one thing that kept circling around in my mind was how Tigris would view Snow’s presidency. We see how much she sacrifices of herself for her cousin Snow. Yet in the end, we’re left with barely any mention of her. Unfortunate. I have a tiny sliver of hope that she would actively disapprove because she was always the voice of reason when he talked badly about people.
  • Lucy Gray is like a poor Disney princess who has to act graceful with the Capitol’s children even though she’s starving because of their families. This book should’ve been from her perspective. She deserved more page time, or at least her own POV. Her games were so rushed over, especially the ending. She deserves better.
  • Oh, but the loveliest moment of them all: “Hey, you found some katniss.” “Some people call them swamp potatoes, but I like katniss better. Has a nice ring to it.”

I do have to say after a certain point in the book, I couldn’t wait to finally escape the boring everyday routine of academic life. Luckily, the author immediately replaces it with everyday military life… Help. I can’t read any more details of the meals they ate and how everything had to be organised. Oh, and the amount of songs featured in this book? No, thanks. I’m good. It was like each chapter featured at least one, if not four. But I do have to add, the history on The Hanging Tree song was a nice touch.

All in all, I do appreciate that the author returned to this world. Now, when I catch Catching Fire references on my timeline or any talks about the Capitol or the games, I feel like I have insider information thanks to this prequel.

Midnight Sun might be next on the list.

Check out the prequel to the Hunger games through this excerpt:

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I realized while scrolling through my extensive ravings for Rainbow Rowell’s books, I’ve failed to include Attachments in the excitement. We’re gathered here today to mend that mistake.

“Or maybe he was just afraid to do something real.”

Funny to consider that Attachments used to be my least favorite Rowell book, maybe a bit above Landline, simply because I could not be bothered to even think about the adult world when I first read those books. And now, Attachments is like my second favorite book of hers right after Fangirl. You know what that is? insecure hbo

Who knew I’d become an adult so soon? They grow up so fast.

If you asked in short, why I love this book, I’d say it’s because of the characters. With Lincoln’s fear of moving forward in life, yet afraid of standing still. Plus, the moms in this book are something to behold. Attachments is full of Rainbow Rowell’s excellent dialogue, thanks to Beth and Jennifer’s email exchanges. Also, it’s an obvious biased reason to love a character, but Lincoln is such a Cath (Fangirl).

“If he didn’t look, he didn’t risk accidental eye contact.”

I guess I really love my introverted representation. For a minute there, I let myself wonder how Cath and Lincoln would get along. But given that they’re both main characters taken from Rainbow’s mind, it feels taboo crossing them over, as if they’re related or something because they were created by the same person.     

Okay, that’s it in short. But you know we don’t do short around here, so let me rave extensively about the beauty of this storyline:

  • I think I secretly love Attachments so much, mainly for the fact that all I ever wanted is a guy to interpret my telepathic gestures at him. So of course, I secretly took joy in Lincoln’s adjusted behavior upon reading Beth’s thoughts on him. It’s like he has insider info. I mean not like – he actually does, but still… It’s kind of a dream not having to actually approach the guy. He knows your opinion, feels the same, and is secretly reciprocating your thoughts to show ‘I’m here. I like you too.’ Mr. Darcy would approve.

“If this were a Jane Austen novel, it wouldn’t be so bad—if you were intercepting my letters, and I was peeking over your garden hedge …Computers make everything worse.”

  • You know it’s a lot to take in the invasion of privacy that happens so I felt a tiny bit relieved when Beth would do the same to him, like trying to follow him home, and planning an imaginative life with him and feeling betrayed when she thinks he’s already settled down

“Wondering what his name is. And whether he’s as nice as he seems. And whether he likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain …

Would you believe it if I said that song was stuck in my head for hours after…

Also, funny that this isn’t her first rodeo of creeping on a guy. See below how she met Chris, her douche boyfriend, who we all, including Beth, ignore (does it still count as ignoring if he ignores you first?):

“One Tuesday night in November, I saw him at the library. I spent the next four Tuesday nights there, hoping it was a pattern. It wasn’t. Sometimes I’d allow myself to follow him to his 11:30 class in Andrews Hall, and then I’d have to run across campus to make it to my class in the Temple Building.
By the end of the semester, I was long past the point of starting a natural, casual conversation with him. I stopped trying to make eye contact.
I admire her sheer power of will to see something through.
  • The humor in Rainbow’s books remains impeccable. The amount of times I simply wrote “lol” in my notes (the quickest way to keep reading but pinning what made me laugh) is astronomical. Just to state a few examples:

“<<Jennifer to Beth>> Hmmm …I think I’d like to be a stay-at-home mom with no kids.”

Seriously, where does she come up with these gold one-liners?

“Like Lincoln, most of the girls had eyes only for the guitarist.”

Just the wording of that phrase alone is hilarious.

Oh, any and all conversations with any and all of the moms in this book receives an instant five-star rating.
“You came to kindergarten with me for the first month.”
“You asked me to.”
“I was five,” Eve said. “You should have told me no.”
“You were scared.”
“I was five.”
“I didn’t send Lincoln until he was seven, and I’m so glad. He was so much more prepared.”
Lincoln had been prepared for kindergarten. He could already read and do some addition and subtraction.”
What a mom gem.
Another one: “I think they were happier about my breakup than Kiley’s wedding. “I knew it was a mistake to let him be in the family picture,” my mother said.
They don’t make them like this in other books. I want more!

“Doris clucked and choked on her cake. She put her hand on his shoulder. Lincoln hoped that Beth wasn’t about to walk in.”

Ha! So she won’t write about it the next day accusing her Cute Guy of cheating (with an elderly woman)? It’s like he hears Beth’s voice narrating his life. I love it.

  • I also adore this book so much for giving us that “Falling …Was he falling? Or was he just bored?” This hits the spot! Both Lincoln and Beth are on standstill in their personal lives with no way out so they use each other as this safe haven in their head… I want more.

“<<Beth to Jennifer>> I can’t give him up. What would I have to look forward to?”

Above all, these two represented the way we can let our fantasies take over so we’ll never have to do anything real.
“No, he was just going to kiss her. He wasn’t going to wait. She’d kiss him back. He was absolutely certain that she would kiss him back.
And then he’d tell her that he loved her.
And then he’d tell her his name.
And then and then and then … what?”
Me creating scenarios in my head be like…
  • Reading the email with the phrase “trying not to bite his shoulder.” bookspoils

There’s so much longing present in this book that it only hit me toward the end when they finally kiss that it is the only kiss in the book. They live so vicariously in their head, I almost forgot no one actually instigates anything in their real-life until they do. What a shock that was. I WANT MORE! It was like hitting the play button after being stuck on rewind for so long.

“because I’m not 16 anymore. That’s when it hit me— I’m not 16 anymore.
And I don’t mean that in an offhand “well, obviously” way. I mean it like “Jack and Diane.” Like, “Oh, yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
This made me hit the same realization. Help. Oh, to be young and… and what? I love the idea of reverting to my younger self but there’s also so much pain that accompanies those teen years that it’s honestly not worth it. But oh, to think of all the books that await to be read for the first time…
  • Lastly, I’ll indulge in sharing random moments of resemblance to Fangirl because it’s my favorite book and I look for it in everything::

“<<Jennifer to Beth>> Really. I think you’re pathetic. It’s almost painfully embarrassing to read your messages when you’re like this.”

Reagan before Reagan existed.

“<<Beth to Jennifer>> How did he win you over?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> He just wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept sitting behind me in our poetry- writing class and asking me if I had plans for lunch. Like I wanted this muscle-bound blond guy to watch me eat.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I can just see him. A farm boy with sexy sousaphone shoulders …”
(Puts on best Jeopardy game-voice) What is Levi for 100 points
Also, Lincoln kissing Christine in their college days while studying for a final? What is Cath and Levi for 200 points.
Okay, thank you for letting me indulge in that.  I’ll leave at that, since I don’t want Jennifer calling me pathetic.
This review has been a long time coming. So I’m glad to have it up to revisit time and again, as I commonly do with my reviews for Rainbow Rowell books.
Please indulge in a copy for yourself or your loved ones. Choose your pick of the litter:

Can we take a moment to admire the beauty of all these books put together: