Book Review: Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1) by Cecily von Ziegesar

Title: Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1)

Author: Cecily von Ziegesar

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Genre: Young Adult, Drama, High School

Published: 12 September 2007 by Bloomsbury Australia

Format: Paperback, 208 pages

Synopsis: “Welcome to New York City’s Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, go to school, play, and sleep–sometimes with each other.

S is back from boarding school, and if we aren’t careful, she’s going to win over our teachers, wear that dress we couldn’t fit into, steal our boyfriends’ hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. I’ll be watching closely…

You know you love me,
gossip girl” 

(Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

So I basically needed a quick and dare I say  – trashy – book to get me through this assignment period. Something that didn’t require thinking and I could go through in a day. As I went through my bookshelf looking for just that, I came across my paperback copy of Gossip Girl, bought in store years ago. I don’t really remember having read it before (but at the back of my mind I felt like I have as well), shrugged my shoulders and started reading.

Let me just say, I’ve seen every season of the tv show, loved how glamourous upper east side life is portrayed, but trying to get through this book was like poking myself in the brain repeatedly. It felt a lot like trying to get through the last few seasons of the tv show – you knew it was trashy and not very well written, but you just had to know what happens!

I guess a lot of my dislike for this novel can be attributed to the my age. While I still read children’s fiction and coming-of-age stories, Gossip Girl portrayed characters that felt flat. I could not relate to them at all – not even little J. I understand von Ziegesar is attempting to portray the life of the rich within New York City, but her style of writing was choppy and her characters were so dull. I don’t recall anyone from high school being this bitchy, annoying or sex-driven at all. Perhaps it’s the different cultures (between Australia and America), but I just don’t understand their motivations.

I found the story flowed really weirdly as well. A lot of the time I found ‘Gossip Girl’ narrating a sentence or two here and there during each character’s perspectives. There was no plot at all either.

If you have been keeping up with my recent reviews, such as the one on The 5th WaveI have explained what I think makes up a good story. 1. Plot line. 2. Characters. This novel lacked both. I understand it is the first in the series, and both the plot and the characters will probably be more rounded out by the end of the series. But just like the tv show, this book needed a lot of tightening up.

It was a very quick read, and I’m glad to have ticked it off my TBR pile, but I probably won’t pick up the rest of this series.

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Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Title: The 5th Wave

Author: Rick Yancey

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Genre: Science-Fiction, Mystery & Trillers, Young Adult

Published: 7 May 2013 by Penguin Books Australia

Format: E-book, 457 pages

Synopsis: The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

“We’re here and then we’re gone, and it’s not about the time we’re here but what we do with the time.”

Everyone is raving about this book, because they’re right – this book is great! Some goes as far as calling this the next Hunger Games. While I’m not going to agree with that (nothing can really beat the intensity and originality of HG), The 5th Wave is definitely a good contender for being 2013’s most popular young-adult book, read by the masses.

Two things keep me hooked on a book:

  1. Plot line
  2. Characters

I’m not someone that dissects each and every paragraph looking for the themes the author has scattered through the book. I read for enjoyment, not to analyse. So what I need to keep me entertained is a well thought-out plot with a good pacing, and characters that I can invest my time in. If I’ve gone through 300 pages and want to punch everyone in the face, you know there is something wrong with your characters.

What makes this book great is that it meets both my criterias. Fast paced adrenaline pumping plot? Check! Amazing characters that have made me cry more than once? Double check!

While his writing is a little choppy, Yancey makes up for that with his cast of amazing characters that you just can’t help but root for. There’s Cassie for Cassiopeia, Zombie, Evan Walker and Sammy. Each has such a unique voice of their own, and it was sad to see one go as the chapter with their point-of-view ends.

In the midst of an alien invasion, it was so good to see a very sassy and bad-ass heroine take center stage. Cassie was so smart and intuitive, you can’t help but wait in bated breath every time she does something. It’s refreshing to see a female-lead stand on their own two feet and be able to SURVIVE by themselves, even when the world around them falls apart – literally. My only issue with Cassie was her behaviour after she meets Evan Walker. There was a point where I wanted to shake her and go, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING CASSIE. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THIS!” but luckily, I doubted her too quickly. She is a bad-ass karate girl, I tell you! Her unwavering love for her brother and her need to keep the promise she made to find him was such an emotional part of the story. He is her drive to survive, and the reason she chooses to fight rather than give up.

Then there’s Zombie. I can’t say that his real identity was all that shocking, not with all the hints Yancey kept dropping about him. A lot of the ‘twists’ in the story was quite predictable, but The 5th Wave is much more a character driven story than a plot driven one. I really enjoyed reading the novel through his eyes as well, it was a good change to the pace of the story. What he goes through to survive is entirely different to Cassie, but like she has Sammy to fight for, he has the need to prove that he will not run away again when things get tough. Zombie crawled out of his grave as a new person, and his character grew stronger because of his will to change himself.

Evan Walker; now there’s an enigma. Once again, who he really is was not hard to figure out. Yancey’s plot twists are basically handed to you on a silver platter. At first, I found him extremely creepy, but he definitely grew on me. His devotion to Cassie transcends everything and I really, really need to know what has happened to him. How can you leave it off like that Mr Yancey?!?!!?

I am definitely looking forward to book two, but my gosh, August 2014 is to far away!

Thank you to Penguin Books Australia for providing an e-copy in return for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Quest of the Unaligned by A. L. Phillips

Title: The Quest of the Unaligned

Author: A. L. Phillips

Rating: ★ ★ ½

Genre: Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

Published: 2013 by BorderStone Press LLC

Format: E-book, 356 pages

Synopsis: “In the city of Tonzimmel, where hover-cars zip over anonymous crowds, contracts are king, and education is everything, Alaric has worked hard to make a decent life for himself. As a level nine security chief, he needs no one and nothing, and is in control of his fate. Or so he thinks. When a stranger from neighboring Cadaeren suddenly appears, however, babbling of magic, quests, and long-lost princes, Alaric finds himself contractually obligated to undertake a journey that his training hasn’t prepared him for: the Quest of the Unaligned. Accompanied by Laeshana, a Cadaerian native who has reasons of her own for helping him on his quest, Alaric is soon plunged into a perilous adventure that will force him to confront a seemingly impossible truth and embrace his destiny, even as the fate of Cadaeren hangs in the balance.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

I thought this book started off a little shaky, but definitely picked itself up in the middle. As the story opens, we meet Alaric, a level 9 security officer who has been raised all his life in Tonzimmel. Tonzimmel supports a Gesellschaft culture where each person fights for themselves in order to move up the social ladder. When we meet Alaric, he seems rigid and unimpressionable, similar to the masses in his black uniform and boots. He was extremely bland until he meets Ruahkini, an air mage from Cadaeren who declares he’s the missing prince and heir to Cadaeren. Hearing this news, Alaric is both disgusted and amused as Cadaeren is depicted as a crazy place outside the walls of Tonzimmel. While Tonzimmel boasts hard work and science, Cadaeren encapsulates the ideas of a Gemeinschaft culture where your birth determines your status. Not only that, but the mage declares that he has magic, which Alaric almost laughs himself unconscious at.

Ruahkini convinces Alaric to take on a wager with knife-throwing (Alaric’s best skill). If Alaric won, his bar tab would be pre-paid for a month, but if he lost, he has to attempt the Quest of the Unaligned. This is a quest that the prince of Cadaeren must go on before their coronation ceremony. Of course Alaric takes on the wager as he considers himself the best knife-thrower in Tonzimmel – and of course he loses. And from there, we follow him as he leaves Tonzimmel and journeys to Cadaeren to begin his quest. On his way to Cadaeren, he is accompanied by Laeshana, a friend who he had believed was a mechanic/engineer back in Tonzimmel, but was in fact an aesh (a mage aligned with fire).

At this point, Alaric’s personality was really annoying and rubbed at me in all the wrong places. He was condescending and ignorant, which I knew was intentional. Because of his ‘Tonzemmelian’ traits, he almost gets both he and Laeshana killed when he declares that he would take the mountain path, even after she warns him of a dragon lurking there. Of course, as a person of science, he scoffs at the idea (fair enough) and declares that will do whatever he wants even though Laeshana was there to be his guide. He’s a level 9 security officer, of course he knows best! (Sarcastic) Not surprisingly, they meet the dragon which made for a very exciting read. However, it was pretty unbelievable as I kept wondering why the dragon didn’t bother to use fire to incinerate them. And Alaric definitely defeated it too easily.

Following that encounter, we see a little bit of change within Alaric, he becomes less sceptical of magic and of Cadaeren being as insane as he first thought. While he still exhibits many Tonzimmelian traits, his character was changing. After a while, they arrive at the Temple where the King’s Crown is held, but alas, it’s stolen! The second half of the novel follows Alaric, Laeshana and the apprentice of the temple on their journey to retrieve the crown. This was where everything got much more interesting and where Alaric definitely grew as a character. What I found a little sceptical was how much he changed in just a few weeks – while it was definitely nice to see, 21 years of upbringing within one culture does not equate to immediate assimilation into a culture that is directly opposite to what you’re used to.

What I do applaud is Phillip’s ability to develop her characters. I think character development is one of the most important things within a good novel, right after plot, and she did it really well with Alaric. Throughout his quest, he is faced with the themes of duty, trust, morality and the continual issue of statuses depicting a persons’ worth. This was done extremely well with Alaric. What I had problems with was his parents, the king and queen of Cadaeren and their decision to send Alaric away to be brought up in Tonzimmel in the first place. This was only explained briefly, and not even enough for it to make sense. From what I could tell, they sent him away so he could be ‘unbalanced’ and not lean towards any one element. What they essentially did was send him to a MAGIC-LESS place which was not only idiotic but what kind of parents does that make you when you send your ONLY child away to be brought up parentless. How are they even fit to rule when your actions show you don’t even love your child, let alone your people. I’m surprised civil war did not start while Alaric was away.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read as the action picked up in the second part of the novel. I liked Alaric’s character development but I can’t say I was invested in any of the other characters enough, which is a shame. Especially Naruhan for his selfless sacrifice to buy Alaric time and save him from death. It would have been good to get some insight into the monarchy of Cadaeren as the two rulers seem quite … oblivious to everything. Very fairy-airy to be exact. But the book does have a nice ending, which was a good close to the story.

Thanks to A. L. Phillips for providing an e-copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Other Systems by Elizabeth Guizzetti

Title: Other Systems

Author: Elizabeth Guizzetti

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Genre: Science-Fiction

Published: 1 April 2012 by 48Fourteen

Synopsis: “Without an influx of human DNA, the utopian colony on Kipos has eleven generations before it reaches failure. With Earth over ninety light-years away. Time is short.

On the over-crowded Earth, many see opportunity in Kipos’s need. After medical, intelligence, and physiological testing, Abby and her younger siblings, Jin and Orchid, are offered transportation. Along with 750,000 other strong young immigrants, they leave the safety of their family with the expectation of good jobs and the opportunity for higher education.

While these second-generation colonists travel to the new planet in stasis, the Kiposi, terrified that Earthlings will taint their paradise, pass a series of indenture and adoption laws in order to assimilate the savages.

When Abby wakes up on Kipos, Jin cannot be found. Orchid is ripped from her arms as Abby is sold to a dull-eyed man with a sterilized wife. Indentured to breed, she is drugged and systematically coerced. To survive, Abby learns the differences in culture and language using the only thing that is truly hers on this new world: her analytical mind. To escape, she joins a planetary survey team where she will discover yet another way of life. (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

The premise of this book is truly exciting, I took one look at it was immediately hooked! I haven’t read a lot of science-fiction novels before, but it’s a genre that continues to intrigue me. I was excited to dive straight into Abby’s story, which is why I was a little confused to be reading about someone named Cole, and his children. Although Cole’s story was fascinating, I did not really like the jumps between his perspective and Abby’s. I honestly found that while it was good background information, Cole’s chapters added nothing to the story once I look back at it. It could very easily have been incorporated later on.

A few chapters in, we finally get to the nut and ball of what was described in the synopsis. We are introduced to Abigail Boyd Lei, a mixed girl living on an overpopulated Earth with her family. We are shown what life is like on this futurist Earth, and it certainly doesn’t sound inviting. When Abby and her siblings are offered the chance to visit a colonised planet called Kipos, they jump straight at the opportunity. I mean, who wouldn’t when your life is so monotonous and dull on Earth? Of her three siblings, only the two youngest follow Abby and the Kiposi to a new life, leaving everyone else behind. I felt that while the farewells with her family was moving, it could have been a lot more emotional than it was. For people that Abby would never, ever see again, I had hoped that she would express a deeper understanding of loss, yet we never get to see that. All we were given were a prompt goodbye and then off the siblings go to the awaiting spaceship. I kept wondering why the rest of the family couldn’t follow them and farewell them from there.

As Abby and her siblings traverse through deep space, we are once again back with Cole and his kids. We get some more background information until we’re back again with Abby as she wakes up. It has been a hundred years since they left Earth, so everyone they have ever known is gone. I quite liked the fact that Abby was able to keep her composure in front of Orchid, in order to not scare her. I saw the inspiring older sister qualities in her character at that point. As we progress along, we learn that the Kiposi is extremely worried that the Earthlings would taint their paradise (even though they are Earthlings technically), so they introduced a set of indenture and adoption laws. Abby is ripped away from Orchid, and her younger brother is no where to be seen at all.

Abby is taken to a place where horrible things are done to her. She is alone, scared and have no idea what’s going on. As part of the indenture laws, she has to provide the Kiposi family who bought her ‘bond’ with three children or serve them for seven years. This part of the story is where things get a little confusing for me. Perhaps this was due to my erratic reading patterns for this novel, but I was continuously wondering how Cole’s story even fit in with Abby’s. We were given so much background information, but then we jump to Abby and it’s like he didn’t even exist. In fact, this part of the novel was probably the hardest to get through because I failed to see the link between the two characters and I was frustrated with Abby’s silly personality. She was continuously moaning about loving this person, or that person. I saw her as such a weak ‘Earthling’, which reflectively I now believe was the author’s intention in the first place. But honestly, I could not stand her at all during this section.

However, she does grow and becomes stronger as a person. Abby manages to escape from her bonded buyers and finds her way to a spacecraft docking area (FINALLY), where she happens upon the Alekos crew (Cole’s children). They generously take her on as an intern even with all the risks of losing their licences. I guess this is where the background information finally fits in – although I still think it was unnecessary. While I enjoyed this part of the novel a lot more – seeing Abby grow stronger, more independent and smarter – I felt it was quite lacking of a plot. I kept wondering if Abby would leave and embark on a journey to free all her indentured Earthlings but no such thing happened. We hear a little about the Earthlings back on Kipos revolting, but that’s as far as it goes. In Abby’s case however, she remains on the spaceship and explores new planets. I have to admit that that was pretty boring. I hoped she would at least lead a rebellion, fight to get her sister back, or take revenge on the people that killed her brother … but unfortunately, none of that happened. We see a lot of Abby adjusting to her new life, which is great and all, but not all that exciting.

I think I must commend Ms Guizzetti on creating some very believable and three dimensional characters. However, a novel that is 460 pages long needs to have a discernable and exciting plot. I found myself wondering more than once about where the story was heading, and kept waiting for that one scene where Abby turns into a hero and frees her fellow Earthlings.

Overall, a well written novel with some very interesting explanations of other systems in the universe.

THANKS TO: Elizabeth Guizzetti for providing an e-copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: CyberStorm by Matthew Mather

Title: CyberStorm

Author: Matthew Mather

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Genre: Techno-Thriller, Science-Fiction

Publication Date: 15 March 2013

Synopsis: “Sometimes the worst storms aren’t caused by Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren’t in the ones in our heads…” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into when I started reading CyberStorm — but it honestly blew my mind away. It is a story about survival, relationships and most of all, a terrifyingly real depiction of an event that may be plausible enough to actually occur in our present world.

Set in present-day New York City during a whole city snow-storm that has seemingly wiped out all forms of technological connectivity, CyberStorm presents to its readers a realistic account of one man’s perseverance through what was thought to be a foreign attack on a country governed by technology. When you are so incompletely connected via these networks, it is definitely viable that cyber attacks on those systems would eventually occur. While the loss of such connectivity was a tremendous blow, when partnered with a snow-storm only Mother Nature could conjure up, CyberStorm truly shows its readers a masterfully crafted tale of survival at the most detrimental of times.

I cannot praise this book as well as its author enough. Having had a little taste of Mathers’ work (read my review on Atopia Skies here) already, I knew this was a must-read as soon as I heard about it. Mather has a way of writing that pulls you completely into the story. His characters, environment and plots are so well drawn out that you feel completely immersed in the story as if you were right beside the characters. If you are looking for good books under the science-fiction category, then you can’t do wrong with picking up one of Mathers’ works!

Book Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

Publication Date: 2 July 2012 by Random House Children’s Books

Synopsis: “An new vision of knights, dragons, and the fair maiden caught in between…

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisite debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

I took a glimpse through the ratings for this book on goodreads prior to picking it off my book shelf, and was amazed by the number of 5-stars littered throughout the page. Everyone seemed to love this book and it’s even won a few prizes. I tried not to get my hopes up too high in case the book did not meet my expectations, but unfortunately, I did fall to the hype and was expecting a wondrous story with epic dragon battles akin to other high fantasy novels. It didn’t even have to be filled with battles, I loved The Hobbit for its characters, journey and wit – even though Bilbo blacked out during the final epic battle and basically missed the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong though, I did thoroughly enjoy this story as a whole when I look back on it. It was probably due to my own tastes as a reader that lowered the overall score. This is really a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Seraphina starts off so strongly. I was dazzled by the first chapter in which we learn that she remembers being born. How trippy is that? With a knowledge like that, I was instantly interested in her character. And she doesn’t disappoint. Like every other review out there on this book, I agree that Seraphina meets all the expectations of being a brave, smart and loyal heroine. It wasn’t all words and no action. Hartman has truly created a character that could stand up for herself during hard times, and she’s become one of the best heroines I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a book. She will have a spot on my ‘Top 5 kick ass girls'” list for a long time.

When I think about it, Seraphina’s world is full of fantastic female characters. The royal family is ruled by Queen Lavonda, and the first and second heirs are also female. I love that Hartman has created a world that doesn’t spit upon the idea of females being in power – it is so refreshing to read about female characters that don’t need to be continuously rescued by men.

I would also like to praise Hartman on the beautiful world she has created. While I cannot say that Goredd is a city that I can picture in my mind, its characters are as vivid as they come. They all feel so real, it’s almost as if I’ve known them all my life. My favourite would definitely have to be Orma. His eccentric dragon personality is so quirky and loveable that you can’t help but wish he really existed. Then there is Fruit Bat, Loud Lad and Miss Fusspots – the grotesques of Serphina’s mind who are all so unique and wonderful. And the dragons – the saarantras – definitely a very refreshingly new take on them. If I had to praise Miss Hartman on one thing, it would be on her characterisations and development.

However, and here comes the bad part, I did rate Seraphina a 3.5 star novel for a reason. A part of it was because of me, and I found that half the novel was so slow and boring that I almost gave up on finishing it. If it wasn’t for the lovely characters that I rooted for, I don’t think I could have continued. Miss Hartman’s Goredd is extremely religious, and we learn this through the many religious teachings Seraphina throws at us. There are seriously way too many Saints to even keep with, and if it weren’t for the glossary at the back, I wouldn’t even understand what half of them stood for. While I don’t mind reading about a religious city, there are limits to the amount I’m willing to endure when all these teachings have no relation to the overall plot of the story. Aside from St Ogdo, whose faction hates dragons and despises the treaty of peace made between the dragons and Goredd, all the other Saints play little to no role in the story.

And the plot – my god was it slow! I am someone that loves a fast placed plot with lots of action. While I understand that this is a fantasy story of mystery and politics, it has dragons too. Who can really say that they don’t expect lots of action and adventure when dealing with a story that has dragons? What we get instead is a small mystery about a rogue dragon being sighted, with the main focus on the celebration of 40-years of peace. Seriously, half the story is really about Seraphina organising the music for the celebration of the treaty. Make that around 80% of the story … and the only fight we see is at the end of the novel, which probably lasted two or so pages and was resolved much too easily.

What I really wanted to read about was Seraphina’s ‘mind garden’, which holds these grotesques that end up being other half-dragons like herself. This was the most intriguing thing brought about by this novel, and I wanted to learn so much more about it, but sadly it was barely touched upon, overshadowed by the need to talk excessively about the different Saints being worshipped in Goredd. However, Seraphina is setting out to find her grotesques in the next book so I may just pick up the sequel to find out how that goes. It sounds like a much more promising story with an actual war brewing and potential action. Hopefully that rings true or I would be more let down than I am right now.

Overall, a very well written story that lacks the oomph I was so looking forward to.

Book Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Title: The S-Word

Author: Chelsea Pitcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, High-School-Drama

Publication Date: 7 May 2013 by Gallery Books

Synopsis: “First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.

But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

The S-Word was overall a wonderful debut novel from Pitcher. The concept and execution of the novel was well done, interesting enough that I enjoyed it as a novel in its entirety. The issues the book brings up are not easy topics to talk about, especially for teenagers in high school. The death of a fellow classmate could very well shatter a person – and we see this happening through the main protagonist, Angie, whose best friend threw herself off the school’s clock tower following a series of bullying incidents.

The novel follows some cliche plots but breaks through the mould as well. It’s characters are more human than first expected with a story set in a high school environment. At first glimpse, when seeing ‘the s-word’, I thought, “Oh no, here we go again. A story about the popular people tormenting a girl into suicide…”, but this story was so much more than that. It is a story about survival, secrets and seclusion … well much high school. It is also a story about blame, revenge and forgiveness and about moving on from a tragedy.

We follow Angie as she tries to solve the mystery behind Lizzie’s suicide, laying blame on those that took part and most of all on herself. She spends the majority of the novel trying to figure out who exactly is responsible for pushing Lizzie to the edge and letting her fall to her death. I’ve noticed some reviews portray Angie as hypocritical in the sense that she herself played a major role in Lizzie’s death. This is definitely true, but Angie knows that – the person she blames the most is herself, for ignoring and abandoning her best friend when she needed her most, even when she believed Lizzie had betrayed her and broke her heart. I’m not sure how those reviewers could miss the many pages showing Angie’s torment, and blame on herself – so much so that she had carved ‘killer’ into her own skin for the part she believed she played towards her best friend’s suicide.

I found Angie to be a strong-willed and strong-hearted character. We watch with sadness as she falls deeper into the dark pit of loss and  holds our breath as we wait for her to finally snap and possibly self-destruct herself. If it wasn’t for the eccentric Jesse, she would probably have done so. His friendship and support played a major part in helping Angie get back on her feet. However, I thought the need for Jesse to become a romantic interest was unnecessary. I liked him the way he was in the beginning – free and individualistic. His friendship would have been enough to stabilise Angie’s state of mind, so the little twist of romance was unneeded in my opinion. But he was definitely my favourite character in the novel and it was nice to see a little glimpse of his backstory as well.

Another character that I liked was Kennedy. Portrayed as the most popular girl in school, her motives and actions depict a person that is completely different to the cliched queen bee. What we usually forget about the queen bees are the fact that they’re also people – with a past and their own memories. Readers usually jump to the conclusion that they’re the root of all evil in high school, but Kennedy breaks through this mould. That was refreshing to read about, even though her past was nothing short of horrific.

I think the one thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating was the psych of its main character, Angie. Her need and thirst for revenge in bringing down everyone that played a role in Lizzie’s suicide was a little psychotic, to put it bluntly. I was surprised no one even suggested to her that maybe she should consider seeing a counsellor, especially when everyone knew she was Lizzie’s best friend. You would think that the school would at least hold a session for all of Lizzie’s friends, just to help them through this traumatic situation. But instead, we watch as Angie spirals downwards as all signs point to her going a little cray cray. And her parents, my god! I understand that she’s a neglected only-child, but jeez, there is bad-parenting and then there is what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you parenting. Her mum seemed like she didn’t even know her daughter’s best friend had died. And her dad seemed like he was even worse off in stability of the mind than Angie did. With family that this, it was no wonder the girl was going a little cray cray.

/SPOILER/ I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was necessary to ruin someone’s life completely by ousting them as a rapist at their own graduation ceremony. While I know Drake deserved to be caught, I just can’t help but think the way Angie went about it was totally unfair and a little over the top. Everyone she went after for revenge was portrayed by her as evil-incarnate, but in reality they were just people who made a mistake, know they’re guilty and now have the live with the consequences. But with Angie, she was extreme enough to want to ruin their lives for it. I’m glad she kind of redeemed herself by not ruining everyone’s lives (just Drakes), but even so, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that no one even bothers to think that what she’d been doing was wrong – especially the little twist revealed that she was the one behind the diary drop-offs and writing suicide slut in Lizzie’s handwriting. /SPOILER/

The S-Word is an overall very enjoyable read. It raises many issues for discussion and reveals a human side to many cliched characters that you wouldn’t expect in normal high school novels. I think Pitcher did a wonderful job in her debut novel and I look forward to her future work.

THANKS TO: Gallery Books on Netgalley for providing an eARC for me to read and review honestly.