Tag Archives: Realistic Fiction

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Review by Varsha R. ’21)

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW for Normal People: Sexual assault and suicide

The first thing I noticed when I started Sally Rooney’s Normal People was that she does not use quotation marks in dialogue. What was initially jarring became understandable to me over the course of the novel. At the heart of Rooney’s writing is an innate desire to fully immerse the reader into the narrative; in real life, we don’t talk or perceive language with quotation marks, and her aversion towards such conventional punctuation made me feel as though I myself was a side character in the book, watching the story unfold with an outside, yet involved, perspective.

Rooney’s sentences are short, blunt, and zany. At first glance, her words leave almost no room for interpretation, but she also manages to craft an intense, emotionally draining and, at times, frustrating love story that leaves an impact. It’s perhaps for this reason that people either seem to adore Rooney’s writing or despise it. It takes a while to get used to, especially after reading the more standard works of basically any other established author.

Normal People takes a classic, time-and-time-again-told story of misunderstanding amid romance while weaving key threads of social class, mental turmoil, and simultaneous self-discovery and self-depression. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the lead characters, Marianne and Connell, as they make their individual footprints in their legacies while constantly surrounded by the other’s memory and presence.

They start a clandestine relationship with one another in their senior year of high school with the cliche trope of a popular soccer player and a quiet, misunderstood ugly duckling. What separates Normal People from any other coming-of-age romantic comedy is an unmistakable backdrop of social inequality, emotional uncertainty, and poignant thoughts of philosophy and self-questioning, which are furthered by a strong use of the third person.

Rooney has an irksome talent to keep the magnetically attached Marianne and Connell in her books apart at the most inopportune moments, a trope that gets exasperating after the first couple times. But as she puts it, “All these year they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.”

And of course, a key hallmark of Rooney’s books is a disappointing ending that almost came off as a final “screw you” to the reader after having been swept up in Marianne and Connell’s intertwining tale for so long. But it was impossible for me to stay annoyed for long after having reflected on the profound impact that this book had on me, my perception of myself, and my understanding of how I’m perceived in the world around me. —Review by Varsha R. ’21

For those who enjoyed Normal People, Varsha also suggests Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and The Outline Trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk.

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Review by Lizzie B. ’24)

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’d like to preface this by acknowledging that just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean you won’t. With that having been said, this book single-handedly put me off of reading contemporary for several months.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a contemporary romance novel taking place over the course of a day featuring teenagers Daniel Jae Ho Bae and Natasha Kingsley. They meet through a series of freak coincidences and proceed to fall in love as Daniel follows Natasha around New York City, unaware that this might be her last day in the US. Now let me share my critique.

Firstly, despite all the drama, I could not force myself to care about or like any of the characters. There were some themes that I did enjoy, but the endless stereotypes and unbelievable story overshadowed them. The best segments were the short perspectives of the side characters, as I found them insightful and frankly more interesting than Daniel’s and Natasha’s, but I certainly wouldn’t read the book just for that. Initially, I thought contemporaries might just not be for me but since then I have read several contemporaries that I greatly enjoyed, only furthering the idea for me that this is simply not worth the hype.

Without spoiling the story, there’s not much else to say but honestly, if you’re looking for an inspiring comfort read, I wouldn’t recommend this. It half-heartedly discusses fate to some extent and while I think it might be fun to analyze, it was not fun for me to read. –Review by Lizzie B. ’24

***** 4 STARS *****
Written by Nicola Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star is a novel revolving around two young adults Natasha and Daniel, who fall in love despite the numerous obstacles that come their way. First, Daniel is Korean and Natasha is African-American, which is a racial difference they believe their families would not approve of. Moreover, Natasha is an undocumented immigrant and is to be deported the exact day they meet, forcing the two lovers to separate. Despite the challenges they face, both Natasha and Daniel attempt to make the best of their bad situations. They focus on the present and on each other, cherishing the time they have left together, instead of constantly worrying when they will have to leave each other.

This book is unique and showcases the perspective and thoughts of each character by labeling their names at the top of every page rather than being narrated from only one perspective. This allowed the reader to really feel what the lovers are feeling, and anticipate and fear what will happen to the protagonists. I would definitely recommend this book due to its beautiful concept of how living in the moment is such an important concept that everyone needs to implement in their own lives. – Sachi B. ’21

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Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen (review by Anya W. ’20)

Lovely, Dark, and DeepLovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Viola Li has a Plan. After the end of her first trip with her aunt, to Africa, she’s working on several more bake sales to raise money for the causes she’s written about. A few more of her scheduled vacations, and she’ll have just the right resume for acceptance as a journalism major to her dream school in Dubai.
Except, as it turns out, sometimes the malaria vaccine can give you extreme, permanent, photosensitivity. Thanks to her professional disaster manager parents, Viola’s entire life and all her plans for the future are permanently deconstructed within a week. All that’s left now is figuring out how to cope.

Chen’s novel is a good beach read, and typical YA. The romance, while not badly-written, is not particularly epic-it would have had the same impact as a friendship. However, her writing is excellent at evoking empathy within the reader, and breathes life into her main characters.
-Anya W. ’20

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What’s a girl to do when she’s got too much to say and no one to pour it out to? Fill journal after journal with words turned into verse, spilling her story across pages for no eyes but her own. A diary of free verse is an indulgence Xiomara can allow, one not banned by the strict rules of her cold home, but what about a poetry club? A boyfriend? A crisis of faith? Covering for her brother? As the walls close in, Xiomara has to grow up and decide what’s important, and how far she’s willing to go to keep it.

Acevedo’s freeform masterpiece is a touching and realistic portrayal of adolescence. She perfectly captures the mindset of someone on the verge of adulthood–the contrast between affection and suffocation day in and day out. -Anya W. ’20

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Shine by Lauren Myracle (review by Anya W. ’20)

ShineShine by Lauren Myracle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Victim:
Patrick — Cat’s ex-best friend, currently in a coma the hospital after being found beaten at the gas station where he works, the victim of a hate crime against gay people.

The Investigators:
The sheriff — says it’s probably some out of towners from a nearby college. Case closed.
Cat — has her own ideas about it. After all, the sheriff can’t exactly implicate the son of the man who funds his campaign in a hate crime.

The Suspects, according to Cat:
College Boy — out of towner college boy who mocked Patrick at the gas station before the incident.
Tommy — the richest kid in town. For all that they hung out, he never stopped bullying Patrick. He was present at the party where Patrick was last seen conscious. Also, as Cat can attest, he likes to molest 13 year old girls.

The Witnesses
Beef: Cat’s surrogate older brother, who drove everyone home and isn’t talking.
Bailee-Ann: Beef’s girlfriend.
Robert: Bailee-Ann’s 11 year old brother with fetal alcohol syndrome who was there to watch his sister come home.
Christian: Cat’s older brother. Even if he was willing to talk about what he knew, Cat knows better than to believe in him.

Myracle writes a gritty portrait of small town life. Even her side characters are multifaceted and capable of growth. Shine is well paced and satisfying, with the right number of twists and an ending that is not too neat. Definitely a lovely reason to read away a day. – Anya W. ’20

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The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Village Bride of Beverly HillsThe Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Priyanka’s aunt told her she would be happiest if she didn’t expect too much from marriage if she was obedient and kept quiet and kept the house. So a week after meeting Sanjay, like a good daughter, she packs up for a new name, a new family, and a new country. Of course then, when her new in-laws inform her that she is to take a job and contribute to the household finances, that’s exactly what she does. She’s still not quite sure how she went from a secretary to a reporter, though.

Kavita Daswani’s bittersweet novel is a story about finding oneself in the midst of difficulties. While I first read the novel several years ago, I feel that a second read allowed me to understand better the facets of the characters: how Priya’s hopeless malleability stems from naivetee and fear, but not weakness of character, Sanjay’s blind but well-intentioned misogyny, and how most characters, no matter how kind or cruel they seem, are simply attempting to fulfill their own motivations, even if it means using Priya, and how her failure to completely escape the cycle that chains her down for being a women is not a romantic ending but a precursor to future tragedies.

At its surface level, The Village Bride of Beverly Hills is an enjoyable beach read; beneath, it has enough questions and conflicts to prompt several essays. – Anya W. ’20

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (review by Sara Y. ’21)

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas showcases the current struggles and protests of African Americans through the perspective of a relatable teenage girl, Starr. While driving back from a party, Starr witnesses the death of her childhood friend Khalil after a Caucasian police officer pulls them over and shoots him. Khalil was unarmed. Starr struggles to use her voice to speak up for Khalil and his family amid the chaos that has become her life, facing problems with her friends and family. The writing pulls the reader into the story with its dynamic plot and complex characters. The Hate U Give, which has gotten a movie and will be in theaters this October, is an eye-opening must-read story about race and social class for teenagers and adults alike. – Sara Y. ’21

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A Line in the Dark by Melinda Lo (review by Sofie K. ’20)

A Line in the DarkA Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jess Wong and Angie Redmond are best friends, but Jess wishes they could be more. The two are practically inseparable… until a pretty girl named Margot Adams walks in to the Creamery Angie works at and practically steals Angie from Jess. In an instant, Jess’s world is torn to shreds when Angie falls for Margot and the two start dating. If that wasn’t enough, Jess attends an art program at the same boarding school Margot goes to. As Margot worms her way into both Jess and Angie’s lives, Jess discovers some dark secrets she is hiding- secrets that she knows Angie won’t be able to handle. And despite her unrequited feelings for Angie, Jess doesn’t know if she’ll be able to help her when that time comes.

This book started out really well. Malinda Lo did an outstanding job painting the friendship between Jess and Angie, and I found myself growing attached to Jess’s character. With a diverse main character and a good amount of suspense, I was entertained the entire way. However, towards the end, the story felt detached from the first part to the point where I felt like I was reading a different book. All in all, however, A Line in the Dark was quite enjoyable to those who need a little mystery. – Sofie K. ’20

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What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi (review by Anya W. ’20)

What You Left BehindWhat You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ryden Brooks has a thousand problems. Soccer. Getting a UCLA scholarship. His not technically *together* relationship with his coworker at Whole Foods. His deteriorating relationships with his friends. The fact that his mom is dating again. Getting over his dead girlfriend, who he might as well have killed and finding the notebooks that he is absolutely certain she left him–even if no one else believes him. Making sure his six-month-old daughter, Hope, is being taking care of.

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi is good. It remains truthful. While often selfish and prone to questionable decisions, Ryden felt real. Authors often have a difficult time creating teen characters without making them far too immature, or irredeemable. He was just a kid who wanted a life, but life is forcing him to make adult decisions early, and sometimes, he has difficulty handling it. I would have liked a bit more depth to Jessica Verdi’s other characters, especially Ryden’s mother, Alan, and Joni. I love the way she wrote. –Anya W. ‘20

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The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Other F-WordThe Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well it’s about to get weird cuz I have something to tell u.


R u ready?
I’ve decided to find r sperm donor

When Hollis Darby-Barns gets an email via her dead mother’s account from Milo Robinson-Clark, the half- brother she has met exactly once, she’s most certainly not interested in tracking down their donor. Even using the Donor Progeny Project to see if they can contact any of their other half-siblings is a bit of a stretch . . . so why is she agreeing to all of this?
A unique, heartfelt story about two teens trying to find their place in the world by learning more about their past, and by extension themselves, The Other F-word by Natasha Friend has it all. From family dysfunction to forgiveness, from romance to friendship, Friend handles it all spectacularly. Honestly, my only complaint is that I want more. I want to see the characters interacting and growing and achieving their goals. The open ending left a lot to the imagination and hope. I want more. –Anya W. ‘20

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