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I’ll Give You the Sun | Review

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

4.5 stars because of the insta-”split-aparts”-love and because it wrapped up just a little too nicely at the end. But I don’t really care because I loved it.

Twins Noah and Jude are sometimes more like NoahandJude – two halves of the same soul. But as they get older and start to face what it means to be a teenager and to realize that your parents aren’t perfect, NoahandJude starts to fission, a wedge slowly forcing them apart.

I’ll Give You the Sun is told from both Noah and Jude’s perspectives, but in different timelines. Noah’s story begins when the twins are 13; Jude’s when they’re 16. And slowly, their stories start to come together and only then can they understand the truth.

There’s a heavy influence on art and metaphor, and the writing definitely reflects that. It’s artsy and lyrical and reminiscent of magical realism, and I absolutely loved it. Especially from Noah’s POV:

“I love you,” I say to him, only it comes out, “Hey.”
“So damn much,” he says back, only it comes out, “Dude.”

I just really loved Noah and how he saw the world, how he would paint everything in his mind (SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Rowing Madly Back Through Time), and his angst of growing up and staying true to yourself and falling in love and the jealousy of siblings. And I really, really wanted to see his artwork.

“We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”

And then there’s Jude, who walks with the ghosts of her family, who carries onions in herpocket to avoid serious illnesses, who creates sculptures out of sand.

They see the world differently, but they’re both haunted by their various demons, and they need one another in ways they don’t understand. And they make mistakes. They’re selfish and cruel and jealous, and make poor decisions out of anger. But they’re teenagers, and what teenagers don’t do those things?

Also, Guillermo Garcia is one of my favorite mentor-type characters ever.

As for the story, the twist with their mother was predictable, but it set up a nice catalyst for Noah’s revelations about himself, his family, and what it means to love.

Jude’s love story was a little too perfect, the ending a little too happy, but there’s definitely magic in this contemporary, and I simply adored it.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | review

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

First off, let me preface this by saying (for those who don’t know): I LOVE Harry Potter. Like so many others, I grew up reading the books, wanted to be Hermione, went to as many midnight releases as I could (both books and movies), instilled a “Harry Potter week” at the camp I used to work for, and even have a Harry Potter tattoo. Harry Potter is life.

Some people hate the continued content J.K. Rowling has put out since publishing the final book but I eat up every little bit, wanting to devour as much of the Wizarding World as I possibly can. Did I think she made a mistake in some of her history of the wizarding world in America? Yes, absolutely. Do I hate that she said (spoiler) Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together? 100% (R/H is my OTP and I even named my wedding table after them – they were all named after literary couples, so this isn’t as weird as it initially sounds). BUT, any additional information about her fantastic world is welcome to me.

Despite that, I was hesitant to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I still bought it at midnight (here’s the link to my vlog of that night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESwSguiwfLQ) and read it first thing in the morning, but I was apprehensive going in. Would she break up my OTP? Did I really want to read about Harry’s humdrum life at the Ministry, about him adulting? Was I ready for adult issues from my favorite, golden trio?

11adf1b0-fd14-0133-805a-0e31b36aeb7fHarry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up with the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a section many fans dislike), with Harry sending off his eldest two children to Hogwarts, and a young Albus is nervous about the sorting.

Here’s where things start to veer from the books, however. The Albus in the Deathly Hallows epilogue seems quiet, nervous, but overall a happy and well adjusted kid. The Albus in Cursed Child is not. This eleven year old boy is conflicted, troubled, and living in a heavy shadow of his father.

And so Cursed Child begins.

The story itself is a fun throwback to Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (sometimes a little too on the nose), and it’s classic Harry Potter adventuring: kids think they know everything and make decisions that affect the entire wizarding world without consulting adults. We get to explore the effects of the decisions Harry and co. made so many years ago, and see how some of our favorite characters have fared post-Voldemort.

2333The hardest part for me, however, was seeing the trio as adults. It’s been nine years since the last Potter book hit the shelves, but we’re catching up with Harry in today’s timeline. When I read the books growing up, I was aging with Harry (I was 10 when the first book came out and 20 when the final one did), but now, Harry is way past me. He’s in a different stage of life than I am, and I found it harder to relate to him. I’ve never been 40, never had kids; I don’t know the struggles of parenting yet.

I also associate these three as teenagers saving a world that’s bigger than them, so to see them in their boring Ministry jobs and home lives, away from Hogwarts and Voldemort and the thrills (and anguish) that came with it, was difficult. I miss the precarious attitudes and adventures of youth.

The other thing that Cursed Child suffers from is the play format, which did it a bit of a disservice because the limits of the story are constrained by the time and scale, and reading it left something to be desired. Novels allow for nuance, slow build up, strong character development, thoughts, emotions, and details, but plays rely on the actors’ performances and set designs. Cursed Child is already a two part play, and I still feel like so much was skipped over or left out. Plays are meant to be performed, and I think this one is no different. On stage, it’s probably magical and a theatrical wonder, but on the page it’s lacking that dynamic layering that performances can give.

On to spoilery thoughts:

I wasn’t a fan of the reveal that Voldemort secretly had a child. I thought it was way too simple and also out of character for He Who Must Not Be Named, a loveless shell of a man who never cared for anyone other than himself. I just didn’t buy it.

tumblr_oawwevXdqo1uhoadvo1_1280Albus’ sorting into Slytherin and friendship with Scorpius made me happy, however. I thought it could’ve been simple for her to put him in Gyffindor and struggle to live up to Harry’s legacy in his own house, but putting him in Slytherin shook things up. It showed not all Slytherins are evil (finally) and allowed him to sort out his own legacy (even if he made some stupid decisions and I just wanted to shake him half the time). Scorpius is my new favorite character, though, and I’m glad Malfoy got to redeem himself.

The time travel element felt cheap to me, but it was a good way to bridge the stories of Harry and Albus together, to bring readers/viewers in, and it also allowed for the idea that every death and detail in the original story is important, that without each of those elements, time would have moved in a very different way. Death, particularly of the innocent, is hard on those around it, and sometimes we can’t get over it, but that might be the reason the war is won.

This meddling with time also just proved how much Ron and Hermione are right for one another, despite Rowling’s later admission. Every time time tried to rip them apart, they always found one another in the end (even if Ron’s character was very much a comic relief and pushed to the side for Harry and Hermione to run the world… he read more like Steve Kloves’ version of Ron rather than Rowlings). As this was one of my biggest concerns going into the book, I’m grateful Rowling kept with the canon, despite her misgivings.

End spoilery thoughts

Overall, it’s Harry Potter. Although I may not have felt that same rush I felt when reading the original seven, I was still giddy and excited to return to the world and characters I love so much. The characters – old and new – were wonderful, and the story was a reminder of why I fell in love in the first place.

Harry Potter has always been about relationships, being true to yourself, and finding a light in the darkness, and Cursed Child is exactly that.

So despite my misgivings, I absolutely loved it and am happy to have another Harry Potter story on my shelf.

Can someone buy me tickets to the stage show (and a ticket to London)? Now I really want to go. 😉

5/5 stars

172 Hours on the Moon | Review

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172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’d heard such raving reviews from some of my friends about it, and I was intrigued by the idea of a thriller set on the moon. What could the premise possibly be? Aliens? Astronauts gone rogue? I was excited to find out.

And then I started reading it.

The premise of 172 Hours on the Moon boils down to: there’s something dangerous and weird happening on the moon, and NASA has kept silent about it for fifty years, but now it’s back and they need to fix it. To build popularity and hopefully gain support (read: $), they decide to make it a big spectacle: the 50th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing, using models that look like those from Apollo 11. Oh, and did I mention their plan involved sending teenagers to space?

Dumb.

This is where my problems began, and despite my hopes they’d get better, they didn’t.

So NASA, this big giant space organization that has LITERALLY put man on the moon, that employs some of the SMARTEST people on the planet and has a contingency plan for their contingency plan, decides it’s going to hold a lottery and choose three teenagers from around the world to send to space.

That’s right. THREE.

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The application said they needed to be in good health, etc, but there were no tests actually required, no fitness evaluation or mental stress tests. No knowledge of space or science required.

So… you’re telling me that out of the entire world, NASA just happened to RANDOMLY pick three teenagers to go to space and all three of them are perfectly fit to go?

No.

(also, they all speak English, I’m assuming, since they communicate without effort amongst one another despite their different countries of origin?)

If I’d been in charge at NASA, I would’ve put in place some evaluation they had to pass before they could even apply. THEN I would’ve chosen 50 or so candidates who scored the highest (on a range of tests – physical, mental, stress, etc) and maybe even dreamed of becoming astronauts (instead of going because they wanted to get a girl back, ugh), and then made them go through even more tests to whittle it down to the final three. Think The Selection/The Bachelor meets Armageddon.

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But hell, if I were in charge at NASA, I wouldn’t be sending teenagers to space. Or really, I wouldn’t be doing anything from this dumb book.

So they get to the moon. Our three main teenagers aren’t particularly interesting, and the events on the moon sound like The Martian but way less smart and with some weird “thing” killing people. Even the deaths were boring.

Idk. I thought the “thing” (no spoilers) was pretty dumb and if they knew that much about it beforehand, it seems pretty reckless to send people up there without any methods of taking care of it. Maybe let your peeps know there’s something out to get them instead of keeping it a secret? You know, to protect their lives on THE MOON.

Half of what happened on the moon didn’t even make sense, and I just really wanted more development of what could have been a really cool idea.

The scariest part about this was the urban legend one of the characters tells that has nothing to do with the plot. Cool story, bro.

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Anyway. This is more of a ranty ramble than a well structured review and I apologize for that. But this was just dumb and made me dumber for having read it.

2/5 stars for what it could’ve been with a better (or even just adult) writer, and for the fact that I did finish it and was mildly intrigued at times.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! | Review

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The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

The premise of The Regional Office is Under Attack! is very exciting: a secret underground organization of badass warrior women who save the world, is under attack. It’s Die Hard with cyborgs and angsty teenager girls, with Oracles in turtle bathtubs and orange macbooks; what’s not to like? Or so I thought.

It starts out well enough; one of the assassins, Rose, is counting down the minutes until she can give the infiltration signal, before she can descend the mile underground to the Regional Office under stealth, before things go wrong.

But soon enough, the story gets lost in the spiraling backstories of characters I can’t find myself liking and the confusing narration, and it loses that initial spark.

The story follows two main characters: Sarah, the Director’s right hand, who has a mechanical arm and a broken past; and Rose, the newest and youngest recruit, but who is also rash and angry and doesn’t quite fit in.

160418_BOOKS_miller-regional-office.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Alongside them are a handful of other secondary character that are perhaps more important to the plot than the two main protagonists are: Henry, the Recruiter on whom Rose has a crush, and who is perhaps behind this attack; and Mr. Niles, who, along with Oyemi, created the Regional Office and broke Sarah’s life. The men are the ones pulling the strings, despite the womens’ best efforts.

The story is told in sections based on each of the female characters, with chapters flip flopping between the past and present; in between these character sections are dissertation accounts on the Regional Office and it’s history and what could have happened to it. Much of it is speculation, but it does add backstory to the Regional Office and offers an outsider viewpoint on what happened.

Basically, this story is weird. I appreciate the tongue in cheek narrative about heroes and hero plots, but I had a really hard time getting through this. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, and had a hard time getting past the writing style (there’s a lot of “I could have done this, then I would’ve done this, and watch this… except I didn’t do any of it”) and a lot of it is left up to the reader’s interpretation of events.

I thought the premise was cool, but didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I wanted to.

A Visit from the Goon Squad | Review

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a depressing, vignette-style collection of interconnected short stories about growing up, reflection, time, and life. It’s beautiful and ugly at the same time, and I loved it.

The reader follows character after character, somehow related to the one previous, during a specific period in their lives. You learn about where a character came from through their friend’s memory of childhood, then view them years later from their ex-wife or child. At times it can be disconcerting and puzzling to figure out how the current perspective relates to the grand scheme, but when it hits, it’s cathartic and fun.

The stories aren’t about anything in particular, just a brief moment in that character’s life and who they were at that moment, but it reflects on memory and trying to recapture moments, nostalgia and the passage of time.

goon-map-UPDATED-May13What I really loved about this book was the format and risks the author took. You see characters from different perspectives, giving them more dynamic characterization and development; most are flawed, with vices and honest moments of clarity and introspection. Even the writing differs based on the characters, which makes it easier to dive into that character’s head and feel what they’re feeling. Interconnected stories that jump through time and characters are some of my favorite stories, and this doesn’t disappoint. I couldn’t wait to figure out who the next perspective would be, to hear their story.

At times A Visit From the Goon Squad can be very depressing. It talks about life, loss, and growing older; watching your life pass by from the sidelines, reflecting on who you were and how the world has changed around you, but you haven’t. Depressing, but also poignant and beautifully poetic.

4/5 stars

Nora and Kettle | Review

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Nora and Kettle (Paper Stars #1) by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

In the post-WWII 1950s America, stereotypes and prejudices against the Japanese were still prevalent. Kettle is a Japanese American boy, raised in the internment camps, who prefers life on the streets to the brutality of life in a Home. Along with his “brother” Kin, Kettle leads and protects a group of lost boys, known as the Kings, in a more “free” life. Nora, on the other hand, lives a privileged life of luxury and money, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes, Nora is physically abused by her father and is the sole protector of her younger sister, who has already been the permanently affected by his abuse.

A historical fiction loosely based on Peter Pan, Nora and Kettle is heartbreaking, beautiful, and rich with character development.

My biggest problem with this book is also one of its strengths: character development. While I loved the extensive look into these characters and their lives, understanding their motivations and who they are individually, it took 200 pages before the characters actually came together and the plot advanced. While this is written in a more “contemporary” style, focused on character and relationships, I would’ve liked to see that struggle of them coming together as more of the focus on the story. Nora on the streets, Kettle struggling with his identity: that’s where the real story lies, not 200 pages of will Nora leave home or not.

15305456The first book in a series, the ending, while cathartic at times, seemed more interested in setting up the next book than finishing the current one. Readers are left with a cliffhanger and a major change in Nora’s life that should’ve been addressed much earlier.

That being said, Nora and Kettle is lyrically written, with beautiful paragraphs of dialogue and description that naturally flow together. It’s very easy to picture and watch the words dance around your head.

Dealing with some very tough topics, Nora and Kettle doesn’t shy away from the brutality of child abuse and racial prejudices, but doesn’t make it the sole characterization of its characters. Nora is abused, and that affects her in very real ways, but she’s also a sister, a dreamer, and someone whose mind hasn’t been shut to new experiences. Kettle is a Japanese American, but even he doesn’t know what that means for him; he doesn’t know what to identify as, and while he keeps his head low to avoid confrontation, he also works hard, refuses to give into those prejudices, and protects those that need it.

Though it takes some time for the title characters to finally come together – for Peter to whisk Wendy away through the window – when they do, it’s magical. They have a natural chemistry, and knowing them as well as we do, it’s exciting to see them together and beginning to fall for one another. It’s fast, but it also feels very slow at the same time.

A big fan of Peter Pan and its many retellings, this was not a disappointment.

3.5 stars

A Gathering of Shadows | Review

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A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by VE Schwab

Minor Spoilers Below

The second installment picks up a few months after A Darker Shade of Magic left off, with Lila fulfilling her pirate dreams and Kell and Rhy experiencing some new setbacks in their relationship. Their lives magically tied together, they can feel each other’s pain and emotions, and it’s starting to take its toll on the boys.

Kell is frustrated and can’t seem to expel the energy he has pent up inside, and Rhy is conflicted over feeling grateful he’s alive but wishing he’d had a choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, Red London is gearing up for the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament between the three neighboring kingdoms (a la Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) which pits twelve magicians from each kingdom against one another in four rounds of fighting.

While this is happening in Red London, White London is mending itself, and the darkness from the first book is slowly creeping its way back into control. A Gathering of Shadows, indeed.

The characters are what made me love the first book so much, and they continue to astound me and captivate me here, as does the newcomer, Alucard Emery, who is contesting to be my new favorite. He’s charming, magical, has secrets, and he’s a Captain, what’s not to like?

tumblr_nw8mfvX7nT1qaryrmo1_500I also really like the relationships between this cast of characters, and how they’re all varying and intricate. Not to mention, the romantic relationships that start blooming set my ships asail. My favorite ship from the first book totally sunk, but was replaced with one I may even like better. Also, yay! gay/bi characters! and Schwab’s light touch on the romance aspect. This is a fantasy, after all, NOT a romance. There’s some light kissing, but that’s about the extent of it.

The pace was about on par as the first book for me, which is to say, it’s a bit slower, but I attribute that to the rich writing and detail and my desire to savor the moment rather than rush it. Also, Schwab’s writing never feels very rushed or particularly fast-paced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting.

The Essen Tasch itself was really cool. I liked seeing how the magicians used magic as a weapon and learning more about the magic system itself. My only complaint is that I wish there’d been MORE! I do love tournaments and games though, which is why Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the Harry Potter books.

I also kept thinking more was going to happen with the neighboring kingdoms that were visiting. There were some subtle, throwaway lines about that, so my mind kept predicting massive slaughters and backstabbing during the Games. The ending is “catastrophic,” (it’s the name of the chapter), but not in that way. The book overall kind of feels like too much of a setup for the next book, as not a lot of major plot happens, but there’s some cool stuff and development along the way.

That catastrophic ending was close to what I’d predicted it would be, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting for the third (and final?) book next year.

4.5/5 stars

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August | Review

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

As Harry dies, he is reborn as himself, in the exact same place, time, and circumstances, as if he’d never lived before. Except he remembers everything.

This book explores time, life, science, memory, and humanity. How do you spend your life if it’s your only one, then what happens when you realize it isn’t? How does living change, how does your perception of time, events, people, and memory change?

To live the same life over and over, to watch the same disastrous things happen, life after life, it can get tedious, depressing, and may encourage one to start to change.

Harry is not the only ouroboran (person who dies then lives again), and in one of his early lives, he’s introduced to the Cronus Club, a group of his peers who are set on making sure history stays the same. Disastrous things can happen when you mess with time, after all, and the Cronus Club regulates that. In addition, the Cronus Club makes life easier for those who are fated to live their lives a thousand times. When their memories return as early as two, they begin making connections and escape plans, where their hundred-year-old minds aren’t as trapped by their young bodies.

Imagine going through puberty dozens of times. Ugh.

Harry-August-PrizesHarry was born in the 20s in England, and he spends most of his lives in and around England, fighting in the war, studying various degrees, and traveling the world to help himself understand his predicament. In one Cambridge stay, he befriends a young man named Victor, with whom he has philosophical and scientific discussions on the theory of time. When Victor suspects Harry is a member of the Cronus Club, he punches him and disappears.

Years later, a young girl comes to his deathbed with a message from the future: the world is ending faster and faster, and they can’t figure out how to stop it.

Harry’s fifteen lives are a mixture of boring and interesting, with the storytelling interweaving between the lives and connecting similar moments. Some lives were definitely more interesting than others (I wasn’t a fan of the time he spent in a mental institution, though I suspect he wasn’t either), and some of the slower lives could drag the story down at times.

That being said, it wasn’t enough to deter me from the complexity of this story.

I love time travel, even though it makes my brain hurt when I think about it too often. In the beginning, I wrote down several questions and theories I had regarding this story and its usage of time, and as the novel progressed, many of those questions were answered for me.

Harry himself is kind of a boring character with a boring life, but in the second half, he starts to become more interesting, more deceptive, more creative, which made him more likeable in turn. His dabbles with “evil” in Russia help pick up the plot, and the centuries-long deception is intricate and incredible.

I loved the mix of science and history and I thought the concept was really, really cool.

4.5/5 stars

Nimona | Review

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I was first introduced to Nimona at YallFest, when my group of BookTube friends and I put together a Hunger Games challenge, where we pitted different book characters against one another and discussed who would win. Nimona made it to the Quarter Quell, and almost won. After having finally read the graphic novel, I’m confident in saying I think she’d win the entire thing.


Nimona is a shapeshifting young girl who teams up with the resident supervillain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, because she wants to kick some ass. She’s impulsive, brash, and quick to kill, but she’s also brave and smart and becomes what he needs to take down the group who claims to be the kingdom’s protectors, including his former best friend-turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

nim53_0I love Nimona. She’s funny, richly developed, and has an interesting yet vague backstory. She’s wild, has a devil-may-care attitude, and can shapeshift! Blackheart and Goldenloin challenge the typical ideas of heroes vs villains in the same way Gru and Megamind do, and I love the flipped stereotype.

Nimona began as a web comic, with the story and art both done by Noelle Stevenson, and it’s both a well crafted story and comic, and the art style definitely suits the story.

Dragons! Villains! Shapeshifting! Badass characters! Nimona is perfectly wonderful.

4.5 stars

Not that Kind of Girl | Review

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Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Most people know Lena Dunham from her work on the HBO series Girls, which features young women in their early 20s trying to “make it” post college in New York. Even if you haven’t seen the show, you’ve probably seen – or at least heard about – her unabashed nakedness and sexuality. She is the embodiment of the millennial generation, struggling with love, sex, dieting, jobs, and her own narcissism. Dunham is either loved or hated, has a strong sense of self and feminism, and isn’t ashamed of it. Yet, she’s also insecure  and obsessed with death, and not as comfortable with sex as her portrayal of Hannah may imply.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” is Dunham’s first memoir, and she speaks candidly about those insecurities, her mental health issues, and her experiences growing up with “artists” as parents. She’s privileged, wrapped up in her own petty dramas and issues, but there’s something relatable about her, for a 20-something woman, at least.

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Perhaps reading these logs would’ve been better, but as I listened to the audiobook – narrated by Dunham and the reason I chose to listen rather than read – it felt repetitive and unnecessary. The narration itself was typical Dunham – she isn’t the best narrator in the world, at times her voice can be grating and pompous – but it fits her book, and I prefer to listen to memoirs when they’re read by the author, it makes it more personal.

I loved getting her perspectives on topics like friends, sex, love, and work, and I do think it’s an important read for women in the 20s, but am not sure people outside that demographic would find it enjoyable.

3/5 stars