It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and WarIt’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
Published by Penguin Press

As a war photographer, Lynsey Addario has experienced some of the most amazing and terrible things imaginable. She has made it a point to travel with a purpose, to get the photographs most photojournalists won’t or can’t get, to show the world the truth through her photographs. This memoir is a peek into the years she’s spent all over the world, documenting some of history’s scariest and most important moments.

I’m not really into photography myself, but I love and appreciate how great photographers can tell a story with a single image. I also enjoy reading about the incredible and terrifying experiences of journalists (as I learned when I read Lisa Ling and Laura Ling’s memoir). It’s What I Do is a perfect combination of these two things, as it’s a memoir of Addario’s many experiences in the decade plus she’s spent photographing many parts of the world, peppered throughout with photographs from these experiences.

I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this book any more than I did. Not only is Addario an incredible photographer, but she’s a fantastic writer too. Her book is informative and rich with detail, yet she still maintains a friendly tone throughout that made me feel like I truly got to know her. Some of the things she’s experienced in her life were downright terrifying – many, many times she wondered if she’d survive – and she tells these stories with seriousness but also sprinkles in moments of lighthearted humor. Other things she’s experienced were simply beautiful – the humanity of the world, all the different people she’s met and various cultural experiences she’s had, it’s just incredible to read about. And see via her photographs.

I don’t really have much to say about this one, I guess, other than I really think everyone should read it. There’s nothing NOT to like in It’s What I Do so please check it out for yourself. What an inspiring, beautiful book – one that is entertaining, educational, and enlightening. Highly recommended.

The Cake House by Latifah Salom

The Cake HouseThe Cake House by Latifah Salom
Published by Vintage
Review copy provided by the publisher

The Cake House begins with a bang, quite literally: Rosura’s father shoots himself at the home of her mother’s lover after learning of her affair. Immediately, Rosura and her mother move in with this man, Claude, and his teenage son Alex. Rosie is miserable in this strange home, living with two people who are basically strangers to her, and her mother is too depressed to be there for her emotionally. Soon she begins to suspect that things are a bit off with Claude, that maybe his business is not as legitimate as he presents it to be, and even worse, the ghost of Rosie’s father keeps showing up just when she moves closer to the truth.

This novel had a lot of potential for me. Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, part ghost story, part dysfunctional family dynamics – it has many elements of stuff I love in books. Ultimately I didn’t really connect with it and I think that’s because there was just TOO much going on here.

Initially, I was intrigued by Rosie and wanted to get to know her better. She behaves in some bizarre ways – sleeping for days, bicycling around her neighborhood naked, trying to get together with Alex’s friend, then actually getting together with Alex (her new stepbrother I guess?) – but then again, her life has been turned upside-down. I suppose that gives a person license to do some crazy things. At times she seemed very smart and perceptive, but other times she seemed incredibly naive for fourteen. I guess what I’m trying to say is her character felt inconsistent for me and as a result, I never really connected to her.

The ghost thing was an interesting twist but it never fully integrated into the story for me. What the ghost seemed to be doing was warning Rosie to keep her distance from Claude, but the ghost was MEAN. And I never fully understood if her dad was mean when he was alive so it didn’t make sense to me. Also I kind of hated the Rosie and Alex dynamic – basically he was using her (as teen boys who think with their hormones are prone to do) but she was too young and in too emotional of a place to understand that’s what was happening. It felt sloppy and sad and just out of place in the overall story. But that could just be me.

I didn’t hate the book. I liked Salom’s writing. I kept reading because of that and because I was genuinely interested in finding out what was the deal with Claude. Salom gave just enough clues throughout the book to keep the reader engaged in that story and for me at least, I raced through the end to get to the truth.

I think The Cake House could have improved with some more cohesion and tightening up of the many, many elements of the novel. I didn’t enjoy the book much but as I said, I didn’t hate it either. I’d be open to reading Latifah Salom’s future novels as this one did show promise.

Monday Minis

Has it REALLY been 21 days since I’ve posted here? Wow. July has been busy and I guess that means I have been completely absent. At some point I’ll catch you all up on what’s been going on in my life, but for today I’d like to catch you up on what I’ve been reading. So here’s the rest of what I read in June, and soon I’ll get started on what I’ve been reading this month.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story RediscoveredSome Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story Rediscovered by Trudi Kantor
Published by Scribner

Trudi Kantor was an Austrian hat designer in the 1930’s who was exceptionally talented in her field and as a result, traveled all over Europe to be creatively inspired and to sell her hats. When she fell in love and married Walter Ehrlich, a Jewish businessman, right as the Nazis came to Vienna, everything in her power was focused on getting herself, her new husband, and their families as far away as possible.

I liked this little-known memoir quite a bit. At first I thought “another World War Two book?” but this one is different because it’s got a lighter feel that most books of this genre can’t get away with. Kantor was fleeing the Nazis, and that’s a huge part of her story, but it’s not her whole story. Not even close. She was a fabulous, fashionable, and very wise woman who had a lot to contribute to the world, and her memoir shows that. There is definitely a brevity to her story, especially towards the end, but the book also shows a side of the war that is sometimes glossed over – that of ordinary people who were just trying to live their lives, go about their regular days, when the Nazis changed everything for them. That was most definitely my favorite aspect of the memoir, and why I can recommend Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler.

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Knopf

This novel is so many things – a love story, an immigration story, a story about race in America, a story that illuminates how globalized this world has become, and even more than all of that. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ifemelu goes to America for college, hoping that her boyfriend Obinze, will soon follow. But red tape holds him back, and their separation causes the two of them to follow very different paths in life. Fourteen years later, when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria for the first time since her departure, everything is the same as how she left it yet completely different – including and especially Obinze.

I feel that what I wrote above simplifies Americanah into a simple story about missed opportunities and unrequited love – and in a way, the book is about those things. But it’s about so much more than just those things. I loved this novel. Loved it and was challenged by it, loved it because I was challenged by it, actually. Reading about the immigrant experience, reading about race in America from a non-American Black, reading about someone who is half the globe away from her family for fourteen years (when I complain when it’s been more than three or four months since I’ve seen mine), reading about being so in love with someone that it’s easier NOT to talk to them than to confront the fact that you’ll never be together in the way you want, all of this and more is what I loved about Americanah. It’s fantastic. Please read it yourself.

InfidelInfidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Published by Free Press

Somali-born Ayan Hirsi Ali is one of the most controversial women on earth. She left Somalia for Holland at the age of 20, claimed refugee status as a way to escape her arranged marriage, and ended up in the Dutch Parliament. She made a video denouncing Islam that caused filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to be killed and caused huge issues within the Dutch government. Infidel is her memoir, mostly about her years growing up in a Muslim country, but also focusing on how she escaped that culture and what has happened in her life since.

Just a few things about this book, although I could write a way longer post and have a lot more to say. One, I was shocked and saddened by what an awful and abusive childhood the author experienced. Regardless of religion, no child should be forced to grow up the way she did. Two, I think it’s incredibly brave of her to so loudly denounce Islam, a religion that historically has been linked to abuse of women and girls, that requires women to have very few (if any) opportunities to make choices in their own lives, being a woman herself. She’s the very definition of feminist and I applaud what she’s doing – speaking up, being honest, showing people the realities of the world she grew up in, one in which millions of women and girls suffer silently today. All of this while receiving death threats on a daily basis from the men who oppose the truth she’s telling – it’s a brave thing this woman is doing. While most of her memoir is the story of her life, the very end is a passionate call to action and this was by far my favorite part of the entire thing.

I listened to the audio of this and I do not recommend that. I had a difficult time understanding the narrator which detracted from my enjoyment and appreciation of the book overall. I highly recommend Infidel, and definitely encourage print over audio.

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth

This novel, bringing to life war-torn Chechnya with fictional characters but a not-at-all unrealistic story, is haunting and beautiful all at once. When eight-year-old Havaa’s father is “disappeared” by the Russian military, she is taken in by Akmed, a neighbor, and brought to the only remaining hospital in the city to hide. The only doctor left at said hospital, Sonja, has zero interest in hiding a young child from the military, but obliges when Akmed agrees to assist her with some of the patients and their many unmet needs. As the story takes shape, it becomes clear that absolutely nothing is a given in this horrifying time and place, and these characters’ lives are incredibly fragile – yet their humanity is most certainly still in the forefront of their story.

I had a difficult time with this novel, probably because I expected to love it to the moon and back and I am not even sure I liked it. I definitely appreciated it – I learned about a war that I am ashamed to say I knew little about, I felt deeply for these characters and the atrocities they were forced to endure, and I thought Marra’s writing was just gorgeous in its stark simplicity. Ultimately, I found myself staying at arm’s length from the novel, though, and I don’t know if that’s because it was just too difficult for me to wrap my emotional brain around. The few times I’d picture myself in this situation were enough to make me a blubbering mess, so I had to turn that part of my brain off while reading the book. I don’t know. I liked it but didn’t all at the same time. Does that make sense even a little bit?

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby
Published by Balzar & Bray

From the publisher:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

This is the kind of book that I have the most difficulty reviewing and talking about. While I thought Bone Gap was pretty incredible I am having a difficult time putting into words exactly what about it is so great. Nymeth’s discussion about it (which includes some spoilers) does an excellent job of going into detail on just what exactly is so fantastic about this novel. Let me offer some of my own (way less intelligent and eloquent) ideas.

I loved the way these two brothers, Finn and Sean, didn’t have the easiest time with one another and yet their commitment to sticking together and looking out for one another was unwavering. Their relationship mirrored in some ways aspects of my relationships with my own siblings – we don’t always “get” each other or do the right thing or say the perfect words at the right time, but ultimately we are there for each other in a way that nobody else in the world ever will be or can be. There’s something about that sibling bond that is unbreakable, even when on the outside it might be far from perfect.

There’s another girl, Petey, who is not mentioned in the summary above but who may have been my favorite character in the book. She and Finn fall in love over the course of the novel, and I absolutely loved this budding relationship. The awkwardness of first kisses (and first other stuff) and uncertain conversations, the feeling of insecurity that takes over when you can’t quite figure out why this person that is perfect in every way actually wants to be with you, it was all there in spades.

I wasn’t sure about the magical realism aspect of this book (you all know I’m hit or miss when it comes to that) but it really worked here. It wasn’t done with a heavy hand, but instead was used to illuminate more clearly the way the characters felt and how they saw the world. What happened to Roza was horrifying and at times, I wasn’t sure if it was the magical realism talking or if I was getting the full story, but either way her whole situation could be the subject of endless discussions. I don’t want to say too much without giving away spoilers but let’s just say that I think we need more books like Bone Gap, books that deal with issues traumatic to women in an open, feminist, woman-centered way.

Anyway. I don’t think I articulated at ALL what is so great about this novel, so just go ahead and read the review I linked to above. And then go read Bone Gap.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Published by Ten Speed Press

From the publisher:

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

I am not a person who likes holding onto things. I am also not the neatest person and have a tendency to let stuff pile up because I don’t necessarily have a home for everything IN my home. I thought this book would help me figure out better ways of getting rid of stuff I don’t want/need, and organize the stuff I do want/need.

I was mostly right. The basic premise here is that you should handle every single item you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and only keep the things that do. There’s a lot of other stuff about speaking to your items, thanking them for the purpose they serve/served in your life, and these things seemed a little strange but whatever. She also goes into detail on exactly how best to organize your stuff so that everything has a place and everything is at peace.

The idea that things have feelings (which is basically what she’s implying) is weird to me but I can ignore that in favor of some of the concepts in this book that helped me. I purged four large garbage bags of clothes and shoes using her method (and I didn’t have a lot of stuff to start with). I also got rid of a ton of makeup/toiletries/miscellaneous bathroom stuff that was just taking up space. Next comes books which is incredibly overwhelming for me, so we’ll see how that goes. I also want to work on my extra kitchen stuff I never use, as well as the large collection of bedding for various sized beds I’ve amassed over the years. One thing at a time.

I liked this book as a kick-start for me to take more seriously getting my shit together. Some of the details were a bit strange, and probably not stuff I’ll ever actually do (I draw the line at talking to the items in my home), but the general idea is really helpful. I can see a lot of people getting a LOT of inspiration from this book. I certainly have.

Misery by Stephen King

MiseryMisery by Stephen King
Published by Signet

From the publisher:

Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house. Now Annie wants Paul to write his greatest work—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an ax. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty…

I read this for the Misery Read-along (#MiseryRAL) because I was looking to read another King novel after being pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Mr. Mercedes. I’m thinking I’ll need to keep reading King, because I see how good he is at the creep factor, but I didn’t love this book anywhere near as much as my first experience with his work.

Paul Sheldon was not a character I liked. At all. Sure, I felt bad for the guy, and a part of me hoped he would end up okay after all of this, but for some reason I didn’t connect with his character so I couldn’t quite care about him at the level I probably should have. He just seemed like kind of an asshole before Annie came into his life – the snippets he told the reader about his life showed me that he wasn’t the kind of guy I’d want to befriend – so I don’t know, I didn’t quite get there with him.

Annie was batshit crazy and the best part of the book for me, by far. Her insanity was at a whole other level, and King definitely kept me on my toes with her behavior. I never knew what she would do next, but I was sure it would be more terrible than the last thing she did. Just the fact that I knew she was in the same house as Paul kept that ominous feeling going throughout the book and I loved feeling like maybe something crazy will happen, or maybe she’ll just give Paul some more medicine and go to sleep. It was an emotional roller coaster in the best way.

Some of the things that happened were a little much for me with the gross factor (tractor!) but I expected that and was able to handle it. Also, it took me quite a while to get into the book – I felt the first half was pretty slow, especially given the high expectation I had for King’s stuff to pull me in. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of the story within the story thing (and based on what I read of that story I didn’t find Paul Sheldon to be all that talented of an author, which annoyed me).

But those things aside, I can see King’s talent and I appreciate what he did with Misery. The creep (oogy?) factor was totally there and the way he crafted this character of Annie was pretty incredible. Not my favorite King (of the only two I’ve read, haha), but I’ll keep reading more for sure.

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious OneThe Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow & Company

Taisy Cleary has spent her life loving a man who has never loved her back: Wilson Cleary, her father. It has been seventeen years since he left Taisy, her mother, and brother Marcus for Caroline, a much younger woman, and Taisy has seen him once in all of that time. Out of nowhere, Wilson calls Taisy and asks her to spend time with him and the teenage sister, Willow, Taisy doesn’t even know – a sister who hates Taisy on sight. For Willow’s part, she and her father have always had a perfect, loving, happy relationship, and the sight of Taisy in her home threatens everything she’s ever felt sure of about her family and her life. As the two sisters slowly get to know one another, each are forced to look at their family with new eyes and decide for themselves what they really want and gain the courage necessary to reach for it.

I was so thrilled to see that de los Santos, one of my favorite authors, had a new book out. I was even MORE thrilled upon finishing it and absolutely loving every word she put on these pages. It is rare for me to read a book with two main characters and feel equally pulled to both of them, but that is exactly what happened here. Taisy broke my heart in many ways, she was wounded and raw from her father’s cruel ways, his poor treatment of she, her mother and her brother something she could never come to grips with even after so many years. Yet somehow, she remained an eternal optimist, convinced that Wilson couldn’t possibly be as awful as a person as her brother knew him to be, always holding out hope that he would come to his senses and seek a relationship with her one day, yet he continued to disappoint her, time and time again.

And Willow, a girl who seems on the outside to have the perfect life – great relationships with both parents, was given every opportunity to learn and become the kind of adult who would make a difference in the world, a child who knew with absolute certainty that she was loved more than anything else in her parents’ life – and yet, she suffered crushing jealousy at just the mention of her sister’s name. The growth of her character was such a joy to watch – she went from being an incredibly judgmental, sheltered child with plenty of opinions about things she didn’t even understand, to a grown-up, someone who was able to see the world for what it is and understand that people are complicated and relationships even more so. She became a person who understood that it was okay to become her authentic self and that if her father truly loved her, he would support her in doing that.

Reading this book was such a pleasure for me, mostly because I just loved watching Taisy and Willow as their relationship evolved from strangers to sisters, the kind of sisters who looked out for one another, who protected each other, who supported each other no matter what.

Truly, there’s so much about The Precious One I loved and I am so happy I got to experience de los Santos’ lovely writing and character building one more time. This was a perfect read for me and I loved every second of it.

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

The Daughter: A NovelThe Daughter by Jane Shemilt
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Review copy provided by She Reads

While Jenny’s life is extremely busy with her career as a physician, twin sons Ed and Theo, and their younger sister Naomi, she couldn’t be happier with the path she and her husband Ted, a neurosurgeon, have chosen for their family and marriage. When fifteen-year-old Naomi disappears one night, seemingly leaving not a clue behind, Jenny is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her life, her children, and her ability to understand and take care of her family.

As I read this novel, I couldn’t help but get pulled in by the characters and the story Shemilt created. There is definitely a thriller-like aspect to The Daughter – what happened to Naomi is the central theme throughout the book and everything else kind of spins around that axis. I found myself furiously turning pages, desperate to find out Naomi’s whereabouts and hopeful that Jenny would get some answers and that her beautiful, young, smart daughter with so much ahead of her would come home safely.

While the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, and my initial response to the novel was that I enjoyed the ride it gave me, if I was a bit ambivalent of the some of the characters and their choices, after thinking about it some more I have to admit to feeling more lukewarm about the book. I think the major issue I have is that I don’t love the way Jenny was portrayed in the book. It’s a delicate balance for a writer to handle a working mother with respect and grace, and I think that in general Shemilt did an okay job with that, but I did feel somewhat uncomfortable by parts of the book. For one, Jenny goes from feeling extremely confident that she knows her children better than anyone to feeling extremely guilty about her work schedule and almost blaming herself and her decision to work full-time for Naomi’s disappearance. While I understand that working mothers go through complicated emotions about their choices (just as stay-at-home mothers do), the vast up-and-down of her emotions around work/life balance felt inauthentic to me.

Also there were a few points throughout the novel where it felt like outsiders were almost blaming Jenny’s choice to work for her daughter’s choices and ultimately her disappearance. What about Naomi’s father’s choices? What about the fact that Jenny was modeling how to have a successful career AND a family for her sons and daughter? I wished more mention of these aspects of a working parents’ life would have been in the book, instead it was all about the guilt Jenny felt and about the complete lack of guilt her husband felt (who worked a tremendous amount more than Jenny).

I’m also not sure how believable the ending was. What happened to Naomi is entirely possible, of course, but the way the whole thing came together just didn’t ring true for me.

What I did like was the way the story was told – Shemilt takes the reader back and forth from before and right after Naomi disappeared to a year or so later, in alternating chapters. Jenny narrates the whole thing, so you have a general idea of what happened to Naomi based on some things she says in the later portions, but it’s pretty ambiguous. The format definitely kept me on my toes. And I think Shemilt did a good job with the whodunit factor – I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on with this teenager and it could have gone a few different ways at a few points throughout the book.

While I had a few issues with The Daughter, I thought it was a decent thriller, one that at least kept me turning pages very quickly. I didn’t love it but I know others did so if this is your thing, give it a try and decide for yourself.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians #1)Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Published by Doubleday

Rachel Chu is mostly excited but a little nervous when her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, invites her to spend the summer with him and his family in Singapore. She thinks Nicholas might be The One, so it’s only natural to want his family to get to know her and vice versa. What she doesn’t know is that Nicholas comes from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore, he’s heir to a huge fortune, and his family is not going to accept him marrying an ABC (American Born Chinese). As Rachel gets to know the insanely rich family and friends that her boyfriend grew up with, she begins to question her place in his life – and wonders if she can ever fit in at all.

Can I start really quickly with a short discussion on the term “chick lit”? I am just going to put it out there that if Crazy Rich Asians was written by a woman, it would be deemed “chick lit” and therefore been brushed aside as too fluffy or silly by many readers (and critics). But since a man wrote this book, it’s funny and smart satire. Think about that for a second.

Anyway. The above comment does not mean I didn’t like the book – in fact, I REALLY liked the book. Crazy Rich Asians IS funny. It’s hysterical at times but also in the way that you know the things happening here are kind of true – satire is based in reality, of course. As I read the first fifty pages, I worried that I would have trouble keeping all of the characters straight – there are a lot of people in this book, and they’re all related somehow – but that didn’t end up being an issue. And I think the many characters contributed to my enjoyment of the book, because just at the exact moment I would start to be less enamored by a character and more annoyed, Kwan would switch to someone else. Although I have to admit that I’m not one hundred percent sure I have the family tree down in my brain – this cousin married so-and-so’s niece’s son, etc. Very confusing. But it was much less important to keep their relationships straight as it was to just know who was who and how they were related to Nick.

While the novel is really funny and is supposed to have that light tone throughout, there is a serious element to it and I was glad for that. I think without the depth the end of the novel brought, I would have liked the book a lot less. As it is, though, I thought the ending gave the novel the punch of reality it needed and absolutely gave me a reason to want to read the second book, which was just published the other day.

So I really liked Crazy Rich Asians!! While this wasn’t the kind of book I would have picked up on my own, the combination of great reviews I’d seen for the book and my friend’s urging helped me decide to read it. I can absolutely recommend Crazy Rich Asians and I really did have a lot of fun reading this novel.

My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best EverythingMy Best Everything by Sarah Tomp
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lulu has just graduated high school and cannot wait for the summer to be over, when she’ll finally leave her small Virginia town for college. But her father springs some horrible news on her – he lost her tuition money so she has to wait another year to go away – and as she’s determined to get out no matter what, she comes up with a plan. With her best friends Roni and Bucky, she concocts a scheme to produce and sell moonshine. As things quickly get out of hand, she enlists another guy, Mason, whose family has been in the business for years. With Mason’s help, the four of them start making real money, and although Lulu begins having unexpected feelings for Mason, she starts getting truly excited that she’ll be able to leave town for good once the summer is over – if they can keep their business hidden until then.

My Best Everything was a quick read, one that has a lot of heart but also deals with a somewhat serious topic. The moonshine business is illegal, and what Lulu and her friends have decided to do for money can get all of them arrested and put in jail. There’s a sense of desperation about Lulu that I think a lot of teen readers will relate to – that feeling of NEEDING to escape high school, of being so beyond ready to see the world and get to college and just start your life – and I think Tomp portrayed this in-limbo time between high school and college really well. There’s a lot of discussion between Lulu, Roni, and Bucky about the future and what their plans are and the three of them range from knowing better things are in store for them as they grow up and get an education and move on with their lives, to feeling like their small town is the best they’ll ever do and so they should just stay put and start adulthood at eighteen. And the three of them go through different stages of feeling this way throughout the book, which I thought was true to life, very representative of what being eighteen feels like and looks like.

Something that I found interesting about My Best Everything is the way it’s written. It is in second person, with Lulu addressing someone as “you”, and we figure out early on that the person she’s writing to is Mason. This gives the book just a little bit of an anticipatory feeling, as the reader can’t help but wonder what becomes of their relationship, or if something really awful happened to Mason, which would cause Lulu to write this letter (or whatever it is) to him.

Ultimately I enjoyed My Best Everything but didn’t find it to be amazing. It was a good story, with a few elements that made it different from typical YA fare, but it was a really quick read and didn’t have a ton of substance to it. I think it will resonate better with younger readers than it did me, and as I said I think it would hit the sweet spot for those teens who feel like Lulu and are ready to get their adult lives started already. I think I’ve said this before, but I may just be getting too old for certain types of YA. This one falls into the category of like but not love for me.


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