Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman Review

Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Pages: 340

Summary: Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

*This novel discusses sexual assault + there’s also mention of suicide*

My Rating:★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Starfish is a beautifully written, but impactful and powerful YA Contemporary that follows Kiko, who dreams of getting into her dream art school! Bowman discusses and handles numerous heavy topics throughout this novel, but above all through Kiko we understand there is always hope!

Starfish was one of those novels I’d always planned on reading in 2017, but sadly never got to. I’d heard such amazing things from fellow book bloggers & made it a goal to read it in 2018! While I knew it would be a pretty impactful read, I did not expect it to be so heart-wrenching. This book was thought-provoking, beautiful and truly an unforgettable YA Contemporary.

Kiko is finishing up high school and ready to graduate. As a passionate artist/painter, she dreams of getting into Prism, one of the top art schools in the country.

Her home life and family isn’t the easiest. She hardly feels she has close relationships with her two brothers, Taro and Shoji and her mother is constantly emotionally abusive towards her.

She feels her mother will never understand her no matter how hard she tries. My heart broke for Kiko, reading just how neglected she felt, how ignorant her mother was and how she never felt like she’d have a family who understood her truly.

Not only does she constantly belittle and criticize her, but Kiko also has to deal with her mother’s ignorance and self-absorbed personality throughout the entirety of the novel.

As her final days of high school are close by, she and her friend Emery get invited to a party. There she reconnects with her childhood best-friend + crush who had moved to California years ago, Jamie.

When she learns her uncle (who she was assaulted by as a child) will be staying at her house, Kiko struggles to convince her mother to keep him out. With that, as Jamie & Kiko slowly but surely rekindle their friendship + he’s by Kiko’s side when he understands she needs to get away from home for a bit.

In order to escape the anxiety, frustration and all the other complex emotions of being with her mother, Kiko heads to California with Jamie to forge a new path for herself and find a place where she can belong.

I loved the beautiful relationship between Kiko and Jamie. Jamie was so understanding about Kiko’s anxiety and he always did his best to support her in her dream of finding a new art school!

I also loved how Bowman showed this new step of their friendship now that they are older and more grown-up. While we know from Kiko how close they were, seeing her form a different but even stronger bond with him as the story develops was so beautifully done!

Also because I read Starfish in about a week than the usual 2~3 days it usually takes me to read books, I felt it allowed me to really connect with Kiko and her story!

The writing was just so lyrical and flows beautifully with the heaviness of the story. It really allowed you to fully understand Kiko and her story. Additionally, it just allows you to see the depth of the characters in such an interesting way.

There’s also descriptions of Kiko’s paintings at the end of each chapter & they added so much to understanding the depth of her emotions and heart & they were written so vividly that you could really envision her artwork!

Plot-wise, it is compelling and heart-wrenching. Seeing Kiko go on her journey to not only find herself, but also to better understand what family means to her and how she can let go of the people or places that hold her back was truly inspiring. The plot not only weaves together in such a brilliant way, but honestly there were moments too, that just left me surprised!

As for representation, this novel follows our main character Kiko who is biracial being 1/2 Japanese & 1/2 white (as are her brothers Taro & Shoji) additionally Kiko also has social anxiety (Both Social Anxiety + Japanese-American Rep are #OwnVoices!)

Starfish is novel that really fills your heart through each turn of the page as you connect more with Kiko and her story.

Starfish is a character-driven, phenomenally written YA Contemporary that stays with you long after the final page! From the important and heavy topics discussed to the empowering journey of the main character Kiko, Starfish is a novel that inspires you to find your voice!

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Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed ARC Review

Love Hate And Other Filters Samira AhmedLove, Hate & Other & Filters by Samira Ahmed

Publisher: Amulet Books Soho Teen

Release Date: January 9, 2017

Pages: 288

Summary:American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

*Received an ARC of Love, Hate, & Other Filters through a giveaway*

My Rating:★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Love, Hate & Other Filters is a heartfelt debut that discusses topics both relevant + timely today. While tackling such a number of important issues, Ahmed balances chilling, heart-warming +honest tones perfectly. Readers will fall in love with Maya and her empowering tale to follow her dreams and tackle the obstacles that life throws her way!

To start I loved Maya so much! She was just such an inspiring + delightful main character! Maya Aziz is an aspiring filmmaker and against her parents expectations, hopes to get into NYU & study film.

Not only does this novel surround Maya and her dedication to pursue her dreams, with some romance along the way, but it also discusses and tackles Islamophobia and how an event far from her, impacts her in her small Illinois town.

Aside from the wonderful protagonist Maya, we are also introduced to Maya’s parents (Dr./Dr. Aziz) who, with their hearts in the right place, are set on Maya finding a suitable partner and attending a university they approve of.

However, Maya builds the courage and strength to tell her parents just how passionate she is for the dream they see as a “hobby.” Her determination + strength the follow a dream she follows with such heart was so inspiring + I was rooting for her every step of the way! (+ Loved the film references sprinkled throughout the story!) 

There’s also her dedicated best friend Violet and Maya’s aunt Hina who (w/ out Maya’s parents knowledge) knows about her dream to get to NYU & is supportive of Maya 100%.

Then there’s Kareem who is the college guy that Maya’s parents approve of. He was such a great character! While we see Maya’s relationship grow with him, we also see how they are willing to see eye-to-eye on the development on their relationship + the above all, wonderful friendship dynamic they have with each other! I loved their scenes together, they had such great chemistry & although their relationship doesn’t work out, Kareem makes it clear he will always be a supportive friend to Maya no matter what!

And then there’s Phil, the guy at her high school that Maya has had a crush on for years. They too also begin to develop a relationship (although a bit fast-paced).
Both Kareem & Phil were supportive of Maya every step of the way and above all were just such kind and wonderfully-developed male leads! Ahmed just delivers the romance of her story in such a unique way that just surprised me and I loved how it was developed.

While Love, Hate, And Other Filters builds as a relatable YA Contemporary with some friendship, romance, family dynamics, common stresses & anxieties of college/university, and themes of independence, around 50% of the way through the novel does a complete 180 when Maya is soon confronted with Islamaphobia in her small town.

When news of a terrorist attack reaches Maya’s home and the person suspected shares her last name Aziz, Maya stays strong as a guy at her high school shows hatred towards her and her parents clinic is damaged in a cruel act of hatred. My heart broke for the terrible things her + her family were faced with.

When her parents fears cause them to re-consider her acceptance to NYU, Maya must continue to gather the strength and confidence to stand by her dream.

Throughout the novel we are shown that the camera is very much like Maya’s shield and we see how it distances her from situations. And as the novel progresses we see in general how one views a person/situation is all through a lens (or filter!) That, I felt became such an important aspect to the story and was really integrated all throughout!

I think my only minor critiques that kept it from being a full 5, were that I felt this book was marketed with such a focus on tackling Islamaphobia, that I wanted there to be more expansion on how Maya & her family tackled it + overall just more discussion on the impact such fears can have because I feel such discussions of timely issues are so important in YA!

Additionally (though I fully understand I read this as an ARC, so the FC has most likely gone through more edits) I felt there were moments in the story that went a bit too fast, so plot and character-wise where there could have been just a little bit more development. 

Aside from that, I honestly loved this book with all my heart & feel it was such a memorable read!

I cannot wait to read Ahmed’s future books & highly recommend checking out Love, Hate & Other Filters if you haven’t already!

Character-driven, cinematic, timely, and full of such heart, Ahmed’s debut is captivating! Love, Hate, & Other Filters follows inspiring Maya Aziz as she tackles with understanding who she wants to be and the heart-breaking + heavy issues she encounters in her small town!

A Taxonomy Of Love by Rachael Allen ARC Review

A Taxonomy Of Love by Rachael AllenA Taxonomy Of Love by Rachael Allen

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release Date: January 9, 2017

Pages: 336

Summary:The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . .something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

*Received an ARC from Barnes & Noble B-Fest*

My Rating:★★★☆☆ ½

My Thoughts: A Taxonomy Of Love is a plot-driven + complex YA Contemporary that brings such depth to its main characters and weaves in numerous themes of grief, loss, friendship, love and family. The unique format + expansive timeline that unravels, really make Allen’s A Taxonomy Of Love stand out!

What really stayed with me after I finished A Taxonomy Of Love was the writing and how it allowed me to really connect to the main character, Spencer Barton.

Not only was it refreshing to read a YA Contemporary from a male POV, but I’d also never read about a main character with Tourettes before.

A Taxonomy Of Love follows Spencer at 13 up until 19 yrs old as we follow his life and unforgettable friendship with his new neighbor Hope Birdsong.

From their friendship as 13-year olds in middle school, journey through high school, etc. I loved being able to follow these characters through the ups and downs of their life across a wide timeline.

A Taxonomy Of Love really stood out to me because of how its told. Not only through the engaging 1st person POV, but also through the 6-year timeline. For a standalone, I feel that can’t be easy, but Allen executed it in such a way, where it all flowed well and you really see the progression and growth of the main character Spencer.

There are also illustrations of Taxonomies that allow Spencer to make sense of new situations + the world, but also the in-between chapters with letters and messages from Hope. These additions really added more to the story and allowed me to learn a different side to these characters.

The story starts when Spencer meets Hope at 13 when she moves in next door and become friends almost instantly. However misunderstandings arise when its clear they both have feelings for one another but can’t seem to find their way to each other.

Then tragedy strikes Hope and her family when her older sister Janie passes away. We see how they slowly begin to grow apart. Spencer + Hope find their friendship slowly fading away as the years go by. Misunderstandings and misfortune keep them unsure if they’ll ever really reconnect with each other.

Now as to why I rated this book 3.5 stars, my biggest issue was that the time-jumps. It never felt like I got to fully know these characters (aside from Spencer) or feel extremely connected to the story itself because it felt plot points and development would be rushed through. I also felt it dragged particularly through uneventful or average everyday events if that makes sense?

Even when important themes of love, loss and social issues (such as racism) are discussed, the abruptness of the chapters + various time-jumps made it really difficult for me to really feel connected to these important story elements.

As for the diversity represented in this novel, as I mentioned before we have the main character Spencer Barton who has Tourettes + Jayla, Spencer’s girlfriend, who is black. There is also light discussion of mental health, when the passing of Hope’s sister is mentioned and she talks about going to a support group + when Spencer begins medication that helps with his Tourettes. (Though I can’t personally say whether Tourettes was accurately represented, overall it was great to see that represented in YA! + Ablesit language was challenged~)

Not only did I read how Spencer’s Tourettes influenced his life and impacted his confidence (as he mentioned people bullied him when he was younger), but also that friends, such as Hope would give him the patience and support he needed. Throughout the novel its clear that Spencer has friends, family, and people in his life who will support + understand him.

Overall it was also great to see him gain so much confidence in himself and learn to navigate and better understand the complex friendships + relationships in his life, throughout those 6 years. He grew so much as a character and I found myself rooting for him & Hope!

An aspect of this novel that I really loved was the various messages Allen weaved into the story. There’s grief, family, independence and friendship that are such important themes throughout the story as we follow Spencer and Hope’s story. Not only were they portrayed pretty well, but they really stuck with me as I progressed through the story.

There was also illustrations of taxonomies that just add more to the story itself and letters from Hope that really allow her to come to life.

A Taxonomy Of Love is a complex YA Contemporary that spans across a rather big timeline as we follow Spencer + Hope and their complicated, but powerful relationship. Important themes of love, loss, and growth weave their way into the story. Allen’s writing really brings such depth to the main character of Spencer and brings his story to life!

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes Review

The Arsonist by Stephanie OakesThe Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial Books (PenguinTeen)

Release Date: August 22, 2017

Pages: 493

Summary:It starts with a fire. A diary. A murder.

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer…or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

My Rating:★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Arsonist is a thriller, mystery, historical-fiction, and coming of age all in one! With such depth to the main characters, threads of mystery that weave together so perfectly, and surprises at every turn, Oakes novel will have you immersed in this brilliantly crafted story! 

Having been such a huge fan of Oakes debut The Sacred Lies Of Minnow Bly, I knew I wouldn’t miss out on her upcoming books! Though while this one has a lesser rating compared to her 1st book, I still really loved it and had such a fun time reading it!

We follow 3 differing POV’s that all end up weaving together in such a way, you don’t expect! I know as I saw all the pieces coming together, I found the twists and turns of the story to be so well done and left me surprised!

Told through essays (Pepper), letters (Molly), and diary entries (Ava), the story unfolds in such a unique and interesting way!

Starting with Molly Mavity, she’s somewhat of an outcast at school and knows she’ll never really fit in. Her father is a convicted arsonist and currently in jail and as for her mother, is dead. But Molly believes she’s still out there somewhere and is waiting for her return.

Ibrahim, aka, “Pepper” Al-Yussef is just trying to graduate high school, so he’s given an assignment by his counselor to write essays about each of his classes.

And Ava Dreyman, a girl living in East Germany who, along with her family resist the Stasi rule and hope to one day be free of the Berlin Wall.

Molly and Pepper soon team up when a mysterious letter brings them together to solve the mystery of what happened to Ava Dreyman.

They find themselves reading her diary titled The Arsonist, visiting people from Ava’s past, traveling to Berlin, and forging a complex friendship along the way.

What I loved about Pepper & Molly so much, was the complex but underlying strong friendship that forges between them as they try to solve the mystery. While Pepper later admits he could possibly imagine a nice relationship between them, he also states their friendship was so much more important and I loved that!

Its clear throughout the novel, that they both feel pretty lonely and really want someone to connect to, feeling like they don’t really belong. Seeing just how alike they are through their POV and seeing them slowly forge their friendship was so beautiful!

Through Ava’s POV we see just how independent and brave she is, when she’s forced to leave her home in East Germany to avoid the Stasi from capturing her. She grows and undergoes so much pain and betrayal when she must leave her family and her home behind. While I loved each of the POV’s equally, her’s was just filled with so much pain and heartache that you just feel so connected to her story and want to see her be reunited with those she loves and be free.

We also get so much depth to her as we see how these traumatic events from her being forced to flee her home, to seeing her members of her family put in danger & even killed, to the betrayal she endures and how it just causes her to become a shadow of who she once was.

I wish I could put into words the complexity of the story, but truly can’t. There’s just so many brilliant points that bring these characters together in ways you just don’t see coming!

What I found made me difficult to truly rate this book a 5, was the writing-style. While I loved that it truly gave you such depth into each of the characters minds and their personalities, I couldn’t help but feel that other aspects fell a bit short. From the setting descriptions to some side characters, they weren’t given as much depth as I would have hoped, which did make it a bit difficult to truly immerse myself in this book. Additionally, the story does get slow paced throughout and due to its length did drag a little bit at some points.

Aside from that, what the writing-style brings that really makes the book stand out and truly shine, is the uniqueness of each POV and how its just brilliantly executed.

There were definitely a few side characters that I felt truly were given such depth and you felt you really knew them by the end of this novel. To start with, Pepper’s father, as we learn what brought him to the U.S. and the heartache he also endures with the loss of his wife, Lido, a friend Ava makes who allows her to find hope again when she finds herself mistakenly put into a mental institution, and Heinrich Werner, a Stasi officer who is in charge of eliminating those who rebel against current republic or attempt to flee.

Overall I highly recommend this book if your looking for a unique mystery that really delivers complex and interesting characters, while keeping you putting pieces together till the very end!

The Arsonist is a uniquely woven tale that brings in mystery, coming-of-age, historical fiction, as you follow 3 distinct POV’s that bring to life such unique and memorable main characters! With such deep underlying messages about family, fighting for what you believe, and the depths of love and loss, Oakes The Arsonist, is not one to miss!

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum Review

The Wicker King by K. AncrumThe Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Publisher: Imprint (FierceReads)

Release Date: October 31, 2017

Pages: 320

Summary: The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

My Rating:★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Wicker King is a dark and thrilling mystery that will keep you immersed and on the edge of your seat! The lyrical and raw writing delivers such emotion and conveys a dark and gritty atmosphere of mystery and suspense!

From the summary, I knew The Wicker King would be an intriguing mystery, but there were so many elements that surprised me and I became so invested into the world, plot, and characters!

Set in 2003, we follow August and Jack have been long time friends, since they were kids. Now as the years passed, they have their own friend circles, but outside of school still manage to maintain their deep and complex friendship.

There are also side characters, such as Rina + twins Roger and Peter, play a much more central role in Jack and August’s story as it progresses. Though for me personally a lot of the other minor side characters weren’t as developed as I would have hoped.

Then Roger suspects that Jack may be losing sight of reality and implores August to help his friend. As August begins to find out for himself, he soon learns more about Jack’s alternate fantasy with magic, monsters, and a quest, which tells of a prophecy only they can fulfill!

There’s discussion of co-dependency between Jack and August as its clear that Jack is very much in control of the dynamics of their friendship. While August wants to ensure Jack’s well-being, he can’t help but continue to feel obligated towards him and keep their relationship from fracturing.

Ancrum explores the dark and complicated elements of their codependent relationship and how it above all, impacts August the most.

The lyrical and vivid 3rd person POV flows perfectly with the overall dark and mysterious tone of the story, while really allowing you to see the characters (especially Jack and August)  in such a unique way, focusing more on their inner psyche and unique sides to their character.

What also brings so much more to the novel is the format of the novel! With pages going from light to dark as the story progresses, which was brilliant and further conveyed how the story grows into a much more complex, darker, and mysterious tale! There’s also additional illustrations, newspaper clippings, photographs, etc. all which really add more depth & an intriguing element of mystery!

Both August and Jack are developed so well that you really understand whats going on their heads through the short, but impactful sentences and chapters.

While this is a pretty quick moving mystery-thriller, its done in such a way where it slowly descends and unravels into a darker tale as the story progresses.

Arcum delivers dark mystery and suspense so perfectly! Alongside the quick, emotional and raw writing-style, it just brings together the plot and intricacies of August & Jack so perfectly!

From just such few sentences, we know about Jack & Augusts parents and how their neglect for their kids really impacted them and caused them to rely heavily on each other. (With Jack’s parent’s absence & August’s mother’s depression).

Mental Illness and health slowly gets weaved into the story and really cements itself into the story as it progresses.

As for diversity, we have one of our main characters August Bateman who is biracial and bisexual (as is Jack) and a GLBT+ relationship that clearly develops among Jack and August.

The story is brilliantly plotted and honestly had me up late reading just to unravel the mysteries of this book and the fascinating characters, August and Jack.

With twists, dark and atmospheric writing, discussion on mental health,  brilliantly crafted main characters, among other fantastic elements, The Wicker King is a perfect mystery read!

Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga Review

Here We Are Now by Jasmine WargaHere We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Release Date: November 7, 2017

Pages: 304

Summary:Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.

Julian asks if Taliah if she will drop everything and go with him to his hometown of Oak Falls, Indiana, to meet his father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. Taliah, torn between betraying her mother’s trust and meeting the family she has never known, goes.

With her best friend Harlow by her side, Taliah embarks on a three-day journey to find out everything about her ‘father’ and her family. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.

My Rating:★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Here We Are Now is a moving YA Contemporary that follows Taliah when she meets her rock-star father for the first time, connects with him and his family, and learns more about her parents past! Plot, writing, characters, and themes all come together to deliver an unforgettable tale of family, love, and new beginnings!

I read Warga’s debut novel My Heart And Other Black Holes & just loved everything about it, from the characters to the writing and was definitely excited to pick up her next book the moment I heard it was announced!

With each page, I just continued to fall in love with this book! From the wonderfully written characters to the mystery that unfolds surrounding the past of Tal’s parents to the importance and power of music that weaves its way into the characters and strong theme of family that is such an important part of this story.

Tal has always had her suspicions growing up that her father may be rock-star Julian Oliver, though her mother usually avoided the topic. When he shows up on her doorstep one day to explain to her that his father is gravely sick. and may be passing away soon, she knows its a lot to take in.

But she knows its her only chance, so she takes the opportunity with her mother out of town on business in Paris, to reconnect with her father and figure out how Julian and her mother Lena met and exactly what happened between them that caused them to split up.

Though her friend Harlow is hesitant at first, she’s convinced to tag along and join Tal on her adventure.

Now she’s in Oak Falls, Indiana meeting Julian’s family, from his mother to the cousins, aunts, and boy next door Toby.

I loved how character-driven this book was! It was beautiful reading how Tal grew close to the father that she had always thought of meeting one day, how music shaped her father’s life and how it inspires her too (with her dream to become a song-writer too).

This novel is also driven by the important theme of family. Not only through learning more about her parents past and getting to know her father better, but through Tal connecting with her father’s family and just reading how happy they are to get to finally meet her. Family is such a huge part of this story that you sense it with each page.

Also told through Lena’s past, we better understand by Tal’s mother grew to avoid talking about Julian and how their relationship shaped her and how it really connects with Tal as she learns more about her family.

The intricacy of the plot and storytelling was done so perfectly and really allows you to solve the mystery of Tal’s parents past as it unfolds for her with each and every chapter!

While the pacing was slow at some points, I felt it really allowed me to immerse myself into the story and really understand the amazing characters.

This is also an OwnVoices story as Tal’s mother is Arab-American! It was also great to read such diversity in this novel with Harlow’s f/f relationship with Quinn that’s mentioned, and Tal who is biracial (1/2 white and 1/2 Jordanian).

The theme of friendship is also makes its way into this story as we learn that Tal feels her friendship with Harlow is slowly fading as she spends more time with her girlfriend Quinn & her band. Tal and Harlow used to be so close, writing and preforming songs with each other or just hanging out. She feels their friendship is slowly fading and you really understand how Tal feels when Harlow later decides to leave join Quinn back home and tell Tal that she shouldn’t only rely on her. I felt bad for Tal, but she takes charge and decides to let Harlow’s tough words inspire her to connect with her family.

Similar to My Heart And Other Black Holes, Warga also explores mental health as Tal overcomes her anxieties and opens herself up to better knowing her father, his family, and having more confidence in herself (and her music).

I loved the writing so much, following Tal’s POV! Not only with the themes of family, music, and love that weave their way into the depths of this story, but also through Warga’s beautiful and subtle writing that brings so many aspects from themes to the characters of Here We Are Now, to life.

While I just adored this book with each and every page, I can’t really explain why but Tal’s friend Harlow was just not really my favorite character 😂 She was pretty pushy at times with getting Julian to open up more and just wasn’t a supportive friend when she decided to leave Tal. I just felt the overall story felt odd with her there, if that makes sense? 😂😂

Here We Are Now beautifully explores the strength and fragility of family, love and how it changes over time. With themes of family, music, love, character-driven storytelling, and an intricate but moving plot, Warga’s latest YA Contemporary is not one to miss!