Since I last posted, I’ve finished four books! Two of them were young adult fiction and the other two were sci-fi, so I will be breaking my reviews up into two posts based on genre. Since Midnight Sun was the first of the four books I finished, I’ll publish my YA cluster review first.
What can I say about Midnight Sun? I knew perfectly well what I was getting myself into when I started reading it, but I also knew that there was no way I wasn’t going to read this book. I owed it to my 13-year-old self (who was an ardent member of Team Edward) to return to the world of Twilight and do my best to enjoy what I once called “the best romance of all time.” I am definitely retroactively cringing at myself when I remember that I did at one time say those words out loud. Yikes. However, I enjoyed the feeling of nostalgia as I was reading this book, even if I may not have loved the book itself.
You Should See Me in a Crown was new to me, and I was surprised at how much I fell in love with it! I’m a huge fan of YA fiction (even though I’m not necessarily the target demographic anymore). It’s always such a great escape, and the genre is getting so much more diverse all the time. It’s exciting to see! I was initially drawn to the beautiful cover (it’s purple!), and the story sounded unlike anything I had ever read. I’ll describe more in detail below, but this book was such a pleasant surprise and quickly became one of my new favorites.
Once again, the summaries included in these reviews come straight from the publisher (in this case from the Goodreads website). I have also included the name of the narrator for any audiobooks.
“Midnight Sun” by Stephenie Meyer
- Year of Publication: 2020
- Genre: YA Fiction
“When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.
This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?”
- Format: Hardcover
- Themes: The intensity of young love. Life and death.
- Windows and Mirrors: Vampires? Toxic relationships? An alternate universe in which the Pacific Northwest is virtually “sunless”?
- Overall Thoughts: Where do I even start… The words I would use to describe this book are tedious and unnecessary. This book is nearly 700 pages long, and because it’s a story we’ve read before there was no sense of suspense or anything to make it a real page turner. That being said, I did power through it in about two days. I mostly just wanted to finish it so I could move on to something else.
The book was tedious because it’s almost entirely Edward’s internal monologue, and he thinks pretty much the same things over and over again. He’s a monster, he doesn’t want to be a monster but that’s what he is. He likes Bella and he wants her to like him back, but he also doesn’t want her to like him back because he’s a monster and she deserves better. We essentially get to read these sentiments with slightly different wordings constantly throughout this seemingly never-ending story.
In addition to this, we also get to hear everyone else’s internal monologue (other than Bella’s), since Edward can read minds. And for some reason, everyone thinks in fully formed sentences all the time. Also, because Edward is a vampire, he never sleeps. So we just get everyone’s redundant thoughts all the time. It’s exhausting.
Edward is one very angsty 104-year-old vampire.
The book is clearly trying to correct some of the criticism the series received in the years since the original books were published, but I can’t say it was entirely successful. In order to give Bella more of a personality, we learn more about her through Edward’s stalking and his incessant questioning. There’s literally, like, 20 pages of just Edward asking Bella questions about herself. Her favorite color, favorite scent, favorite everything. Nothing I really cared about all that much. His stalking is also explained. He knows it’s creepy, but he justifies it by convincing himself that he’s just trying to protect her. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less horrifying that he breaks into her room to watch her sleep every night.
The age gap is also explained. Yes, he’s technically been on Earth for 104 years, but since he was transformed into a vampire when he was 17, he was basically frozen at that stage in his life. To me, I compare it to what I’ve heard about how celebrities can often feel like they got stuck or frozen at the age in which they became famous. However, there is still a massive power imbalance in the relationship due to his advanced age (even if he may still feel and look 17). He has several college degrees and much life experience, and clearly looks down on Bella for being immature, not knowing what she wants, and not valuing her youth and life.
Twilight worked because the young girls who were reading it could potentially relate to Bella. Feeling like they don’t fit in in high school, wanting an exciting first love, being intrigued by the mysterious and brooding guy… It’s still a horrible relationship to try to pass off as a healthy romance, but it was fun to read! From Edward’s perspective, any sense of romance was sucked out of it. He couldn’t think about his love for her without also thinking about how much he wants to kill her, which kind of kills the mood.
The most interesting aspect of the story was probably getting to know more about Bella’s relationship with her mom. It explained a lot of her personality and the way she formed relationships with her peers (and vampire peers). So, while I did enjoy reminiscing and re-immersing myself in something I loved when I was young, I can’t say I loved this book or that it really added anything worthwhile to the series.
- Recommendation: Yes, if you are a fan of Twilight. Otherwise, absolutely not. If you’re curious about the Twilight books, check out the original series! It’s not a literary masterpiece or anything, but it’s entertaining. This, however, is several-hundred pages too long. It’s dark, and dull, and tedious to read. For fans of Twilight it’s fun to see the story through new eyes (those of Edward, but also those of our adult selves). So if you want to check it out, go for it! Just know what you’re getting yourself into and don’t take it too seriously!
- Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
“You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson
- Year of Publication: 2020
- Genre: YA Fiction
“Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?”
- Format: Hardcover
- Themes: Love takes courage. Be yourself and don’t be afraid to stand out. Friendship and forgiveness.
- Windows and Mirrors: Black, queer teen living in a small, rural town. Anxiety. Financial hardship. Loss of parents. Sickle cell disease. Racism. Homophobia. Prom.
- Overall Thoughts: I was a little unsure of this book initially. It took a few chapters for me to settle into this small town in Indiana that is majorly obsessed with prom. However, once I adjusted to the setting and got to know the characters, I was all in. Yes, it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief (or maybe this is what small towns in Indiana are like? I guess I can’t know for sure), but the story is so enchanting when you embrace it.
While I loved the female/female romance and queer representation in this book, I also loved that the romantic relationship wasn’t the main focus of the story. This book was also very much about friendship and family relationships. There are two friendships in particular that I felt were really well-done. One was with a childhood best friend. At one point in the story, it becomes very evident that this friend has let Liz down in many ways. Liz confronts her, and there is a time when it seems like their friendship can’t be salvaged. However, after talking things through and exchanging genuine apologies, the girls are able to forgive and strengthen their friendship. I loved that because it seemed so realistic. None of us are perfect friends; we deserve good friends who are willing to learn from their mistakes and continue to strive to grow and be the best friends that they can be. And we owe our friends the same as well.
The other friendship I loved was with Jordan, her guy-friend from middle school. At the beginning of ninth grade, they had a falling out and hadn’t spoken since. Through prom court events they were forced to reconnect. Once they were forced to interact and had the opportunity to communicate, they were able to have an open conversation about what happened. They recognized that they had grown and changed and weren’t the same people they were when they were last friends, but the new friendship they developed was so sweet and supportive. I loved how they were able to form a new bond, and also how their platonic relationship was portrayed. It’s rare that you see platonic boy/girl relationships in young adult books.
Another interesting aspect of this book was Liz’s anxiety. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I never really felt like I saw a realistic portrayal of that in the books that I read when I was younger. It was something that made me feel abnormal, and I would have loved to have been able to read about more characters with mental illness when I was in high school.
There was so much I loved about this book, but I’ll end with this. While I know there are many parts of this book I’ll never truly understand as a white, heterosexual woman, I did see a lot of myself in Liz: someone desperate to blend in due to fear of rejection, a hard worker dedicated to school and family, a rule follower, and someone who is anxious about literally everything. When I was a teen reading young adult books, I never felt like there were any characters that were like me. There were always scenes in these books where a seemingly reserved and level-headed character would go to a party and suddenly make terrible choices that I never would have made. It always reinforced my feeling that I was different, and made me feel like I didn’t fit in anywhere (not even in books). It would have been so powerful to me to read a book like this one when I was a teenager. It makes me so excited to see just how diverse this genre is becoming, knowing what it’ll mean to so many kids who rarely see themselves reflected in the stories that they read.
- Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. I don’t have much to add; I think what I wrote above pretty much sums it up. This story is cute, fun, enchanting, and a powerful representation of the realities of what many teens experience (mixed in with some rom-com fun)!
- Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
Keep an eye out for my next cluster review of sci-fi books!