Get to know me with The Sunshine Blogger Tag!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a tag but this seemed like a really fun one to do. You get to know me a little better and I can answer all these fun questions and think of new ones. It’s a win-win, so thank you to Panic At The Bookstore for nominating me.

The Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and answer the 11 questions they’ve written for you.
  2. Nominate 11 people and give them 11 different questions to answer.

The Questions

1. What was the book that got you into reading and how did you find out about it?
I got into reading because of the Harry Potter series. Big surprise, right? 😀 I’d read books before, but I remember not really enjoying it until Harry Potter. I found out about it through my brother who’s two years older and started reading Harry Potter first.

2. What goals did you have when you first started blogging and have you achieved it?
I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months so I haven’t set my eyes on any goals just yet. For now, I’m happy to blog consistently and become part of the blogging community.

3. What inspired you to start a blog and did you learn anything while blogging?
I wanted to create a space where I could share my love for books and reading, and I’d toyed with the idea of starting a blog for a while so I thought I’d combine both and start a book blog. Yes, I’ve learnt so many things already!

First, it’s a LOT more work than I thought it would be. But I really like it, so I don’t mind. Second, aesthetics are really important BUT it’s not easy to create a blog design you really love. I think I’ve changed my design threee or four times the first two months. 😀 And, lastly, I thought book reviews would be the most important and popular posts but that’s actually not the case.

4. Apart from reading, what other things do you enjoy?
I like going to the gym, cooking, and watching TV-shows.

5. If you could be transported to one bookish world, which would it be?
The Harry Potter world without a doubt!

6. What is one thing you struggle with as a reader and one thing that you love?
I struggle to keep up sometimes. There are just too many books for me to read!

Wat I love about reading is that it can take you away to another world. It’s a very calming and peaceful experience because you can forget about your own life for a while and live someone else’s.

7. Do you believe that books have the power to change your life? Have you read any such book?
Yes, I definitely believe books have the power to change lives. Especially books that deal with mental illness or racism, discrimination, sexuality, etc. Having said that, I’ve read many books that I really relate to and that I’ll always remember, but I wouldn’t say they’ve changed my life. But I still have a lot of books to read in my life, so who knows, maybe I’ll read my life changing book somewhere in the future 🙂

8. Are you a sucker for happy books or one that leaves your heart broken?
As much as I like fluffy, light, and funny reads with a happy ending, I find that the ones that broke my heart are my absolute, all-time favourites. For those of you who’ve following me for a while, you know I’m a big, big fan of History is All You Left me by Adam Silvera.

9. If you had the chance to live in either your reality or favorite fictional world, which one would you choose? ( I think I have read this in some tag before but I like this question so sorry for the copy haha)
This is a tough one. There are a lot of amazing fictional worlds I’d love to live in, but I think I still prefer living in my reality.

10. Do you believe in buying books or getting them from a library?
I think both are great, but since I live in a non-English speaking country, the library isn’t an option for me if I want to read the latest books.

11. I don’t believe that all readers have to be introverted. It’s Friday night and there’s a really fun party going on in the neighborhood, would you go with your friends and attend it or stay home and read?
My friends aren’t the party going type either, so this question is kind of moot. 😀 But, hypothetically, yes, if they ask me if I want to go to a party or to the movies or anywhere really, I would definitely go with them.

My questions

  • Do you share your love for reading with anyone outside the blogging community (friends, family, teachers … ) ? If so, who?
  • What do you like and dislike about the book blogging community?
  • They say knowledge is power. What have you learned from reading?
  • What are your reading pet peeves?
  • If you could swap identities with a fictional character for just one day, who would you pick and what would you do?
  • You have the power to bring one fictional character to life in your own reality. Who do you pick?
  • Is there a book you think everyone should read?
  • What’s your favourite quote?
  • Which author would you want to have dinner with? What would you ask them?
  • What’s your favourite movie or TV show right now?
  • Which food or drink would you love to try sometime? (in real life and the fictional world)

I nominate…

Bionic Book Worm

Beth (Reading Every Night)

Becky

Melissa @ BookNerdMomo

Sarah

Mikaela

Zoe

Valerie @ Valerie’s Musings

Eva@Brilliantly Bookish

Sarah @ Written Word Worlds

Shoto

…but anyone is free to answer my questions. If you do, please leave a link in the comment section so I can read your answers! 🙂

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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Details & Summary:

Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: April 11th 2017
Pages: 338

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

My thoughts…

As I write this, I’m not sure how this review is going to turn out. For the past half an hour, I’ve been staring at a blank page, trying to figure out how I feel about this book. The best thing I’ve come up with is this: I have some mixed feelings about it. Let me try and explain…

I’ll start with the things I absolutely loved about this book. First, I think this is one of the most diverse YA books I’ve ever read. At least 50% of the characters are either a POC and / or belong to a minority. There’s the MC who’s fat (and unapologetically so), her sister Cassie has a girlfriend who’s Korean-English, they’re both Jewish, they have two moms who’re a mixed (biracial) couple … and the list goes on and on. In the beginning, it was quite overwhelming to read about so many diverse characters (because it’s rare to have so many as opposed to having one or two) but that feeling quickly disappeared. I liked how the author didn’t draw attention to the characters every time they had a scene. They were just part of the story and everyday life, as they should be.

The Upside of Unrequited is also a body positive book. Molly is fat and, yes, she deals with a grandma who not-so-subtly tells her she should lose a few pounds and she also struggles with issues that stem from her weight BUT she doesn’t change herself. She doesn’t try to lose weight by going on a crazy diet and she doesn’t have a make-over that suddenly makes her pretty. Molly’s appearance doesn’t change over the course of the story and I really appreciate that. It sends an important message to teenage readers who might feel uncomfortable being a higher weight than is deemed attractive by social standards.

“Even if he likes me, I’m not sure he’d like me naked. I hate that I’m even thinking that. I hate hating my body. Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might. Because chubby girls don’t get boyfriends, and they definitely don’t have sex. Not in movies—not really—unless it’s supposed to be a joke. And I don’t want to be a joke.”

This book also gets brownie points for strong, realistic family relationships and friendships. Molly has a great bond with her sister, friends, and her moms but that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or disagree and fight. Which obviously makes it that more realistic because absolutely no one has perfect relationships.

Lastly, I loved all the Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda references and “cameos”! Confession: it took a second to realize that Molly’s cousin Abby was in fact Abby from Simon vs. but when I did, it was absolutely wonderful. I loved reading snippets of her life because she’s such a fun character! And Simon makes an appearance too! I mean, what more could you want? Other characters are mentioned as well (such as Taylor with the amazing metabolism) but I won’t go into detail because they spoil the events of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.

What I don’t like about The Upside of Unrequited is Molly’s obsession with a getting a boyfriend. I mean, I get it. She’s seventeen, she gets insecure about her body sometimes and her friends all have (had) boyfriends / girlfriends. So, yes, it’s realistic for her to want a boyfriend. And I don’t have a problem with that. The problem for me is that it seems like she needs one. This is addressed near the end book, which I appreciate, but it didn’t line up the rest of the book. Like, she doesn’t really start believing she’s beautiful and worthy of love until she gets a boyfriend. And, I’m sorry, but that’s not a message I support.

“I guess it’s just this feeling that my body is secretly all wrong. Which means any guy who assumes I’m normal is going to flip his shit if we get to the point of nakedness. Whoa. Nope. Not what I signed up for.”

“Here we go. Cassie’s soapbox: the fact that I’ve had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. Apparently, it’s because I need to woman up. If I like a guy, I’m supposed to tell him. Maybe in Cassie’s world, you can do that and have it end in making out. But I’m not so sure it works that way for fat girls.”

It would’ve been so much better if she learnt to feel beautiful on her own and if the getting-a-boyfriend-part was a nice bonus. Or if it didn’t even happen in this book. I really liked Reid and, yes, I shipped Molly and Reid, but the author could’ve just as easily developed a strong friendship between the two and then alluded to the fact that something (romantic) might happen between the two after the book’s events. But at the same time, I understand why Albertalli didn’t. Molly having a boyfriend is a more “logical” ending, I guess.

One last side-note: I know that romance and unrequited crushes / love was the main focus of the book, but sometimes it felt like that’s all there was to the book. I would’ve liked to know more about the characters’ lives outside the romance department. For example, Cassie is outgoing and fearless and protective of her sister, but what is she like as a person? What are her hobbies? What does she want to do when she graduates? What does Molly? What do any of the characters? In short: I would’ve liked to get to know the characters on a deeper level instead of being limited to knowing who their boyfriends / girlfriends were, who they were in love or crushing on, etc. The only exceptions were Molly and Reid, who’re easily the most developed characters.

The Upside of Unrequited is a realistic contemporary read featuring a diverse cast. It’s relatable and funny and features issues many issues teenagers are typically concerned with, but but it also tackles serious underlying issues such as body positivity, LGBTQ rights, and mental illness. Having said that, the message of the book could’ve been improved if it showed teenagers that there’s no need for romance to feel beautiful and worthy of love. You alone are enough.

Rating

Actual Rating: 3,5 stars

Normally, I don’t work with half stars, but this is an exception. It’s not as good as Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but it’s better than other books I’ve rated with three stars. So there you go: 3,5 stars it is!

Have you read The Upside of Unrequited? What did you think?

My Bookish Pet Peeves in YA fiction

I’ve done a lot of serious posts lately (on mental illness, the Thirteen Reasons Why controversy, whitewashing, etc.) so I thought I’d switch it up and do a fun post. Today I’m talking about My Bookish Pet Peeves in YA fiction. Disclaimer: these are my personal pet peeves, which means you might not agree with any of these things that personally annoy me, and that’s totally fine. In fact, let me know in the comment section what your pet peeves are. It’ll be fun!

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1. Books with one-word titles

I can’t really put my finger on why this is a pet peeve. I think it’s because it was a trend a couple of years ago. Like, every YA book had to have a one-world title. Don’t believe me? Here a just a few: Twilight, Divergent, Uglies, Cinder, Matched, Fallen … It didn’t help that I didn’t like any of those books, which is probably why I started associating one-word titles with bad books. I know that’s terrible because there are plenty of really good books and classics that have one-word titles (1984, Dracula, Emma, Fangirl … ) so the title by no means reflects the quality of the book, but it still bothers me.

2. Sequels

No one likes finishing a book you love to pieces. No one. You want it to go on and on and on and on until the end of days so you can grow up and grow old while reading about your favourite characters’ adventures and all the trouble they get into. I mean, who didn’t want to read about oh, I don’t know, Harry Potter’s adult life? His kids’ lives? Heck, why not Dumbledore’s childhood? Seriously, us Potterheads would read anything even vaguely connected to the Harry Potter Universe.

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BUT there’s one problem: if you (the author) decide to do a sequel FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, give us a decent story. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with a sequel where literally nothing happens. Or worse: you get a sequel that screws up the original characters and you’re like: “NO, NO, NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”. Ugh. It’s the absolute worst because it taints the memory of the first book which you loved but now you’re not sure about because the sequel kind of ruined the whole thing.

3. MC’s who’re good at everything

Don’t you hate it when an MC discovers they have powers / are the chosen one / are destined to overthrow the government / are training to be an assassin and they don’t struggle at all? And did I mention they also get good grades, play an instrument, maintain a social life, have time to worry about the love triangle they’re caught up in and they’re rescuing stray dogs left and right? Okay, I might be exaggerating, but you get the point. It’s not realistic for them to be good at everything they do.

4. The MC’s family is not around / abusive / dead

Look, I get it. A big part of being a teenager is figuring out your identity and dealing with problems…preferably without parental supervision. But that doesn’t mean you have to traumatize your MC by giving them parents who’re dead, abusive or who don’t care about them. Yes, I’m aware there are teenagers for whom this (unfortunately) is realistic, but that’s not nearly the case for every single teenager. Which means not every YA character should have a screwed up family. Long live healthy family relationships!

5. Obligatory romance

I love my romance just as much as the next person, but please don’t throw in a romance because you feel like you have to because it will appeal to your audience. It feels forced most of the time and, to be honest, it’s also really unrealistic. How do all these heroes and heroines have the time and energy to worry about who likes whom when they’re supposed to saving the world or stop the evil overlord for killing their family? Priorities. Please.

6. Endless and repetitive character descriptions

I like short, basic descriptions that are not repeated every two pages. If you tell me the MC’s love interest has eyes the colour of the ocean on an overcast day just once, I get the picture. You don’t have to tell me three times in two pages. Seriously.

7. No diversity

This one speaks for itself. We live in a diverse world. People come in all shapes and sizes, they’re not all straight and they don’t share the same background / ancestry and skin colour. I can’t stand a contemporary YA book that features no diversity whatsoever. It’s unrealistic, plain and simple.

8. Bad representation

This ties in with the previous one. If you’re including diverse characters (which you should) please do research. Talk to people with the same experience, don’t revert to stereotypes and always be respectful. Basically, use common sense.

9. Deus Ex Machina

Don’t you hate it when your characters are in big the-world-is-going-to-end-and-everyone-is-going-to-die trouble and you know they’re not all going to get out alive until suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re saved by a character that showed up once 200 pages ago? That’s just one example of a Deus Ex Machina ending but I hate all of them. It’s a sign of poor writing.

10. “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.”

Can we agree this phrase is cliché and therefore should never be used again? Or at least not in the next ten years? Thank you.

Review: City of Saints & Thieves by Nathalie C. Anderson

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Details & Summary:

Title: City of Saints & Thieves
Author: Nathalie C. Anderson
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: January 24th 2017
Pages: 404

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it. With revenge on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving the streets on her own, working as a master thief with the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job with the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving a long-awaited chance for vengeance. But once Tina returns to the lavish home, she’s overcome by memories of her painful past, and the girl who does not exist is caught red-handed, setting into motion a breathless and dangerous cascade of events that will expose not only the truth behind who killed Tina’s mother, but even more harrowing secrets from Tina’s past that will change everything.

My thoughts…

I picked this book for two main reasons: 1) the blurb enticed me. It promised a story about a girl who does not exist, a thief living in the shadows of Sangui City who’s looking to revenge her mother’s death. Strong female character who’s a thief? Set in Kenya? Yes, please. 2) It’s a thriller / mystery. I don’t usually read anything but contemporary YA novels, but in my 2017 goals, I mentioned I wanted to read more widely, including more genres, so there you go.

The first few chapters didn’t disappoint. Tina is a strong-willed, sometimes stubborn, teenage girl who knows what she wants. And what she wants is to ruin Mr. Greyhill, whom she believes killed her mother. With the help of a few members of her street gang, the Goondas, she breaks into his house to steal data from his hard drive. Everything seems to go smoothly…until she gets caught by Mr. Greyhill’s son and her former friend, Michael. Michael refuses to believe his father could’ve killed her mother and wants to stop her from ruining his father. The only way to do that is to find the real killer… together.

“People don’t look for revenge to make them happy. They do it because they must.”

I loved the first part of the story. The characters are well-developed, the rich details about the unique setting are fascinating, and the plot is enticing. It’s easy to sympathize with Tina, who wants revenge for her mother’s murder, but also with Michael, who desperately wants to prove his father’s innocence. And then there’s Boyboy, Tina’s accomplice and IT guy, who provides much needed comic relief.

The book deals with serious, real-life issues in Kenya and Congo such as human rights, politics, war, and street gangs, and I really appreciated all the research the author did to make it a believable story.

And while I recognize the importance of the book, I didn’t “connect” with it. I think a lot of it has to do with the pace of the story. Sometimes it’s fast and a lot of things are happening at once and other times it’s really slow and, to be honest, boring.

The City of Saints and Thieves was off to a quick, thrilling start, but the rest of the book didn’t quite deliver what it promised. Since it was pretty obvious from the start that Mr. Greyhill most likely didn’t kill Tina’s mother and there weren’t a lot of other suspects who could’ve done it, I knew almost right away who the real killer was. As for the thriller aspect of the book, there were a few surprises along the way and several action-packed scenes that helped build suspense, but I never had that I-have-to-keep-reading feeling. I wasn’t staying up late to finish the book or biting my nails, desperate to know what was going to happen next. In fact, it was easy for me to close the book and get back to it later.

While City of Saints & Thieves has several good elements such as well-developed characters and a unique setting, and the writing was decent, it wasn’t the page-turner I expected it to be. In the end, it wasn’t a mystery or a thriller, but a coming-of-age story about a girl learning about herself and her mother’s past.

Rating

On Mental Illness: Stop Blaming the Victim!

In today’s Infinity Talk, I want to discuss something that’s been bothering me to a point where I have to talk about it or I’ll explode. I’ll try to stay calm and write a comprehensible and rational post that reflect my thoughts, but don’t be surprised if this turns into a rant halfway through. Apologies in advance.

Having said that, let’s talk about victim-blaming. Particularly: blaming the victims of mental illness.

It’s been on my mind for a while now, but my thoughts and emotions didn’t float to the surface until I read some of the comments on Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Thirteen Reasons Why is a popular Netflix show based on Jay Asher’s book. It deals with difficult topics such as sexual assault, bullying, depression, rape, and suicide in a rather no-nonsense and at times very graphic manner.

Before I get into it, let me make this clear: this post is not about whether Thirteen Reasons Why is a “good” or “bad” show. This post is about the negative response and attitudes toward mental illness. I’m simply using Thirteen Reasons Why as an example to prove my point.

So, what is victim-blaming? As you can probably guess, the victim is blamed for his or her physical and / or mental suffering.

e.g. Hannah Baker from Thirteen Reasons Why is blamed for committing suicide.

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Here are just a few comments I’ve seen all over social media these past couple of days:

Hannah Baker…

  • was a whiny, self-entitled millennial girl
  • was too sensitive
  • had a “princess complex” thinking she could get everything she wanted
  • didn’t even have it that bad. There are people with far more serious issues
  • was selfish for committing suicide
  • took things too seriously
  • should’ve moved on (more accurately: she should “get over herself”)
  • should’ve reached out to her parents
  • should’ve gone for Clay instead of wanting the hot, popular guys

I can’t tell you how much these comments upset me. They are ignorant and hurtful and completely disrespectful to actual, real-life people who deal with mental illness on a day-to-day basis.

These comments prove that a stigma that still surrounds mental illness, a stigma Thirteen Reasons Why (ironically) wanted to raise awareness for.

What is stigma?

Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”

From the point of view of the victim, there are several responses to being stigmatized:

  • feeling ashamed
  • blaming themselves
  • secrecy
  • isolation
  • social exclusion
  • suffering from discrimination

“Displays of discrimination can become internalized, leading to the development of self-stigma: people with mental illness may begin to believe the negative thoughts expressed by others and, in turn, think of themselves as unable to recover, undeserving of care, dangerous, or responsible for their illnesses.”

The question is: why do we (aka “society”) blame the victim?

There are two explanations:

  • a lack of knowledge: many people are ignorant when it comes to mental illness. They only know what they’ve seen in the media. Unfortunately, the media often reverts to stereotypes when featuring people with mental illness (e.g. they’re violent and dangerous, they’re not “normal”, their parents are to blame … ). This portrayal of mental illness keeps victims from speaking out and therefore keeps the stigma alive.
  • we’re a culture of victim-blamers: “The core of victim-blaming is that we don’t want to feel out of control,” she says, since being victimized – or learning that someone else was victimized – threatens to shatter the illusion that we’re always in control of what happens to us; and it runs counter to a notion rooted deeply in our society. Fighting for our freedom, being independent, fighting against someone controlling us – we have a whole history of that.”

What can we do about it?

The only thing that will help eradicate the stigma is education. People need to be educated about mental illness and how their thoughts and behaviour are part of the problem. Campaigns to raise awareness and books, movies and tv shows with an accurate representation of mental illness can help achieve that goal.

To wrap up this post, I want to give one piece of advice: please stop and think before you act. Always be kind and respectful of other people’s feelings and experiences.

And please don’t hide behind the fact that Thirteen Reasons Why or any other show is “just a show”. It’s not. There are real people out there dealing with real issues that might be discouraged from getting the help they deserve and need.

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Research
Byrne, Peter. “Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Jan 2000, 6 (1) 65-72.

CORRIGAN, Patrick W; Druss, BENJAMIN G.; Perlick, Deborah A. “The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care.” Association for Psychological Science.

Schroeder, Michael O. “The Psychological Impact of Victim-Blaming – and How to Stop It”. Health.usnews.com

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What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comment section so we can start a discussion.

Top Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

First off, I hope everyone had a great Easter (for those of you that celebrate it) and / or an amazing weekend!

Second, it’s Tuesday and you know what that means… It’s Top Ten Tuesday! For those of you who don’t know, Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and book bloggers from all over the world make a list of 10 things that fit that week’s topic.

This week’s topic is “Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read a Book.” This is an absolutely fabulous topic to discuss, so let’s get straight into it.

Content-wise, I’ll read anything that features:

1. A cute romance

I’m a sucker for a cute romance, especially when it’s first love. There’s nothing like reading someone about two people falling in love for the first time and all the joys (and troubles) that come with it. Who wants a tortured romance with a lot of drama when you can read about awkward first dates and kisses and figuring things out? I hate it when the romance is perfect like they were “meant to be”. No, no. Give me awkward first love any day!

Example: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

2. Forbidden love

Having said that, forbidden love is my guilty pleasure. There’s just something about rooting for two people whom you know can’t / shouldn’t be together. It’s frustrating, sure, and you might want to throw that book out the window when your OTP comes this close to making things work, but it’s all worth it.

Example: Robbie & Cecilia (Atonement by Ian McEwan)

3. The friends to lovers trope

Are you noticing a theme here? You probably think I’m a die-hard romance fan that’ll read anything with romance in it, but that’s not actually true. I don’t even read romance books where the romance is the main plot. I just love it as a side plot. Anyway… the friends to lovers trope is one of my favourites. Bonus points if said friends are childhood friends.

Example: Lexi & Aiden (Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt)

4. Humour / Funny situations

In general, I prefer books that deal with “serious” topics (racism, grief, sexuality, etc.) but sometimes I need to take a break and I’ll choose something that’s a bit lighter. Lighter meaning my heart is not in danger of being crushed into a thousands pieces and I don’t spiral into an existential crisis.

Example: Paper Towns by John Green

5. Strong, non-romantic relationships

Caring and supportive parents? A female protagonist who’s got a female BFF? A bromance that makes you smile like an idiot? Yes, please! I love my romance, but I also think it’s really important there’s a bit of balance.

Example: Simons vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Things that are not related to the actual content of the book:

6. Blurb / Summary

For me, this is make-or-break. If the blurb and / or summary doesn’t appeal to me, I probably won’t be reading it. That sounds harsh but there are SO MANY books that you’ve got to pick and choose.

7. First paragraph or page

If the book passed the blurb / summary test, I’ll have a look at the first page. I know some people just look at the first line, but that’s not such a deal breaker for me. If I don’t like the first line, I’ll still read at least the first paragraph. If I like it, I’ll read the first page. If the first page has me wanting more, I’ll buy the book.

8. Favourite authors

When it comes to my favourite authors, I’ll skip any and all tests. I don’t care what they’ve come out with. If they’ve published something new, I’ll read it. At the moment, I only have two favourite authors though: John Green and Adam Silvera.

9. Hype

I’m definitely not immune to hype. If everyone is talking about a particular book I’ll check it out on Goodreads and see if it’s something that I’d enjoy. This is key. If I genuinely don’t care about the book (i.e. it’s not my preferred genre, I don’t like the summary or the first page, etc.) I won’t read it. BUT if it does seem like something I’d enjoy, I’ll boost it to the top of my TBR list.

Example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

10. Recommendations

If someone I know (friends, family members, bloggers, etc.) recommends a book to me, I’ll always have a look at it. I’ve found many great and all-time favourite books I probably would’ve never read if they hadn’t been recommended to me.

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What about you? What are some things that will instantly make you want to read a book?

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix Series)

SPOILER ALERT
TRIGGER WARNING: suicide; self-harm

Today I want to talk about a show that has had a big impact on me: Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s a Netflix series based on the book with the same name by Jay Asher. The book was (and still is) very popular with teenagers, which partly explains the success of the series. Of course, the involvement of Selena Gomez and the brilliant performances from the whole cast didn’t hurt either. But there’s another reason why everyone’s talking about it and that’s the controversy surrounding the show.

For those of you who haven’t read the book or haven’t watched the show, Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes behind. Every tape reveals a reason (or rather, a person) that made her life unbearable and eventually lead her to commit suicide. The story is told from the point of view of Clay Jensen, who was a friend to Hannah.

I’m not going to lie: Thirteen Reasons Why is hard to watch. I know there are a lot of people who binge-watched it in a day or two but, personally, I couldn’t. I had to take a break every two to three episodes just to get in the right headspace to watch the next one.

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Why? Because the show doesn’t shy away from hard, taboo topics such as suicide, sexual assault, bullying, self-harm, and rape. It faces these issues head on and gives the viewer a detailed insight into Hannah’s life and emotions without holding back. I can honestly tell you I’ve never felt so bad for a fictional character before. All throughout the show, I was wishing and hoping something would change, that things would miraculously get better, and Hannah would still be alive, but that didn’t happen.

In the last episode, we see Hannah slit her wrists in the bathtub and bleed to death. And, again, this was hard to watch. It’s very uncomfortable. Unbearable almost. There are many people who couldn’t watch it this particular graphic scene and averted their eyes because it felt so real.

And that’s where the controversy comes in. While the show has received many positive reviews for bringing attention and raising awareness for topics that are not discussed openly (when they should be), it has also received backlash.

Even more so: the show has been labeled dangerous both for younger viewers and viewers who might be triggered by the graphic scenes. Critics argue that the show romanticizes suicide and presents a “revenge fantasy”. They believe that, when falling into the wrong hands, Thirteen Reasons Why is a “suicide manual” and that Hannah’s suicide is justified.

While I understand these concerns, I don’t agree. I don’t believe the show romanticizes Hannah’s suicide. Had they showed Hannah taking an overdose of pills after which she dozed off before she died, then, yes, I would’ve agreed. But I think the scene works because it is graphic. Suicide isn’t easy or pretty. It’s extremely painful and there’s no way back, and I think that’s what the show is trying to portray.

As for Thirteen Reasons Why being a “revenge fantasy” I have to disagree again.

Do I believe that these people were responsible for her death? No, I don’t.

Mental illness is more complicated than a straightforward cause and effect relationship. I don’t believe anyone – not even Clay- could’ve “saved” her. They could’ve helped her on the way to recovery, yes (along with professional help) but they’re not responsible for not “saving” her.

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Do I believe Hannah thought they were responsible? Yes, I do.

And I think that’s what’s important here. This is Hannah’s story and Hannah is a flawed person. She’s suffering from mental illness, specifically depression, which leads to impulsive, irrational behaviour.

In an ideal world, she would’ve reached out to her parents or to Clay or to any other character and found professional help. We all want everyone who’s had to suffer like Hannah did or who’s had to deal with trauma to seek out help and get better, but, unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. We’re not perfect people.

A lot of teenagers don’t reach out. They don’t get help. Which is partly why suicide is the second leading cause of teenage death in the US.

But just because Thirteen Reasons Why shows a realistic account of what’s happening with a lot of teenagers right now, that doesn’t mean it glorifies/romanticizes the subject. Overall, I think the show does a good job of showing the aftermath of a suicide. It shows that someone’s life is always going to be changed forever. For Hannah, it’s her parents and Clay and Alex and Jessica and so many others.

There’s always someone that loves you and who can’t bear losing you, even if you think they don’t exist. In short: you are someone’s Hannah even if you can’t see it.

I can honestly say this show has changed me. It made me aware that everything you say and do can have a huge impact on someone’s life. And I think that’s another important thing I’m taking away from this show: we should always strive to be kind to one another because we truly don’t know what someone else is going through in their life.

But, most importantly, I’ve learnt to never give up. Things can get better and it starts by reaching out to as many people as necessary and getting professional help.