The Stolen Kingdom (2021)

by Jillian Boehme
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250298836
Publication: March 2, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Mara goes from being the daughter of a well-known vintner to the heir of the Perrin Faye throne after her lineage is uncovered. Her appearance sets in motion a secret plot to free the kingdom from the Thrungraves, which includes killing the king and his two heirs.

The Stolen Kingdom is good but has the potential to be better. The plot is interesting with some twists I saw coming and others I did not. While I enjoyed the novel, especially as the magic system was slowly unveiled, I never reached that climactic moment where I thought it was too good to put down. I was, instead, continually thinking how great it would be as a duology or even a trilogy because there is a lot packed here that could easily be expanded had there been more details. For instance, with minimal descriptions, there lacked a sense of place with the world appearing generic even if the political intrigue and the magic system kept me interested in continuing to the end.

In addition to a lack of detail, there was little build-up to pivotal moments in the plot. I didn’t have to wait long to find out what would happen or how a problem was resolved. I only just inched toward the edge of my seats, and then it was over. While this wasn’t as much an issue in the beginning while the story was being set up, it was more apparent in the latter half when events happened one after the other. This also contributed to a pace I wanted to be slowed down so things wouldn’t just keep flashing by. Aside from these factors, I generally liked Boehme’s writing style, especially as it relates to characterization.

Mara and Alac, with their backstories and aspirations, are compelling characters even if I didn’t particularly connect with them like I have other characters in similar situations. They are similar in their desire to do something different from the paths open to them.  Mara is smart and has compassion for the people affected by Thungraves’ rule although her family has suffered less than most. She’s also quite frank. All these things have her fall into the “not like other girls” trope, but that isn’t a trope I particularly mind, and it’s also what draws Alac to her. Alac is “the spare,” and wants to get away from his princely duties secretly to have his own winery. Unlike his father and brother, he doesn’t appear to be particularly power-hungry and is considerate of others. His status hasn’t gone to his head either–his best friend is head of his guard. Mara and Alac seem like they’d be perfect for each other as soon as they’re introduced in the book. While their time together is sweet–the attraction is instant between them–I questioned how their feelings so easily overcame their common sense. 

I enjoyed the book. The book is written with all the pieces fitting together, which is good but almost too easy. I liked Mara and Alac even if the connection I had with them wasn’t entirely present. I look forward to more from Boehme, with hopes that future books will provide greater detail and keep me on the edge of my seat.  

Six Crimson Cranes (2021)

by Elizabeth Lim
ASIN/ISBN:  9780593300930
Publication: June 6, 2021
Series: Six Crimson Cranes #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.** (Loved it so much I had to purchase a copy though…just saying)

Six Crimson Cranes is a retelling of The Wild Swans that incorporates other legends such as Chang E the Moon Goddess and Madame White Snake. It reads as magical as a fairy tale with a princess, a kingdom in peril, and the deceptions of a stepmother. Lim’s descriptive prose, from the rendering of lush landscapes to the decadent food, immediately transported me to Kiata. I’ve always appreciated this nearly dreamlike quality that accompanies Lim’s novels that make them so enchanting.

After discovering her stepmother’s true identity, Shiori’s brothers are cursed and turned into cranes while she is forced to remain silent about their conditions lest she kills a brother with each word she speaks. Shiori begins as a headstrong troublemaker, used to being indulged by the family and getting her way. The curse forces her to be more thoughtful toward others while still retaining her headstrong tendencies. I appreciated that she didn’t completely transform into someone new because I liked her curious nature and willingness to stand her ground.

The sibling dynamics is another element I enjoyed. Despite their duties forcing them to spend most of their time apart, Shiori and her brothers all love one another dearly. There isn’t as much one-on-one time between her and each brother, but it’s easily discernible that her relationship with each is different, but she is cherished among all her brothers. (Being the youngest and the only girl can be so hard…hehehe.)The curse reinforces how much they love one another as they search for one another and work together to break the curse. 

The romance is both expected and unexpected. I couldn’t help but smile at the direction the book takes in terms of love interests. It’s gradual, beginning soft and subtly, seemingly not like much until a few key lines made me swoon. The book hints at a potential love triangle, and I’m hoping if that becomes the case in the next book, it is short-lived. I dislike love triangles a lot.

Lim includes a letter at the beginning noting the different tales she includes in the book. I grew up with similar tales and also watched some as wuxia movies. Familiarity with the stories does not take away from enjoying the book nor should being unfamiliar with the tales. Lim creatively weaves them effortlessly into each other, although there are a few times when just a bit too much was going on. It was fun identifying details from the various stories as well as trying to figure out how different parts would play out in the novel. Although more still needs to be done, the increase in diverse books creates positive opportunities like this one, allowing readers to not only see themselves in the books they read but also the stories they grew up with. Six Crimson Cranes is now my favorite of Lim’s novels.

Caster (2019) / Spell Starter (2020)

by Elsie Chapman
Series Review

**This is a series review that may contain spoilers for Spell Starter**

Caster_cover


Caster

ASN/ISBN: 9781338332629
Publication: September 3, 2019
3h-stars

Aza is left to ensure her parents’ debt to the Tea District’s gang leader is regularly paid after her sister is killed. Although against the law, she resorts to using full magic to make money while also trying to learn what happened to her sister. When she stumbles upon an underground tournament for casters such as herself, the prize money is too much to pass up. 

Caster grabbed my attention right away. I liked Chapman’s writing style, which immersed me in Aza’s life, even though it takes place in a matter of days only. It’s an atmospheric read that will have you also thinking about the potential demise of our world. The world of Caster is dark and bleak, especially for individuals like Aza. Losing her sister and trying to protect her parents spurs Aza to put her life at risk daily by casting full magic to make ends meet. The magic system Chapman creates is a harsh one, where its use exacts a high price. Not only do casters such as Aza pay with headaches and bruises, but the earth breaks down each time. This made me question why individuals would still choose to cast. From Aza’s perspective, it’s both a matter of choice and survival, but there’s also a need to cast that is created by magic.

Aza is a flawed protagonist, which was why I was both drawn to her and struggled with some of her decisions. Lies easily leave her tongue if her survival depends on it. It isn’t necessarily that she’s only interested in looking out for herself, but her family’s well-being is also her top priority. Don’t expect her to go jumping into a fire to save someone; she’s more likely to look the other way if it means she can keep those she loves safe. I found it admirable but also winced a little each time someone’s life was forfeit because of her. While her actions throughout the book are reflective of her priorities, there are glimpses of her fighting against herself to not care about other people, showcasing that if life were different she had the potential to be the protagonist I wanted her to be rather than straddling the middle.


SpellStarter_cover-rs


Spell Starter

ASN/ISBN: 9781338589511
Publication: October 6, 2020

Aza deals with the aftermath of her decisions during the tournament. Left beholden to Saint Willow, she becomes an enforcer, shaking debtors for late payments, until it’s decided her skills are more useful in one of Saint Willow’s new endeavors. Compliance is mandatory because refusing to do Saint Willow’s bidding could spell disaster for her parents.

Spell Starter feels similar to Caster but more dangerous due to Aza’s new circumstances. Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse, they do. I thought this was clever of Chapman because her magic system already requires such a high payment. While the second book ups the stakes, Spell Starter isn’t nearly as intriguing a book because it was mostly already done (and done pretty well) in Caster. Parts of the book also feels cheaper, but it’s obvious it is meant to feel this way. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean and that it’s not a jab at Chapman because I think she purposefully does it well. Aza’s story is still compelling, but it doesn’t hit the same way Caster does with loss and revenge at the forefront of her decision-making. 

The beginning of the book had me a bit frustrated because it didn’t make sense why Aza didn’t just think about incapacitating or even just destroying Saint Willow until it was too late. She has full magic! My best guess is the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. While she tries to protect her parents throughout both novels, it also gets tiring and even frustrating, especially in Spell Starter. I started to question their obliviousness at so much of what Aza was doing and everything else going on. They couldn’t be that unaware…could they?


Overall Assessment

Caster is a gritty duology with a protagonist who isn’t always likeable. Aza goes to great lengths to protect her parents from the district’s gang leader and to find out the circumstances behind her sister’s death. The world is a bleak one, and Aza’s decisions aren’t always ones I readily approved of, even if I understood why she made them. The duology left me in a dreary state, with a less than positive outlook, as it moved from the impact of losing a loved one to the costs of a world where magic not only destroys the user but the world. Although I enjoyed Caster more than I did Spell Starter, the series is a worthwhile read, and there’s potentially more that can be added should Chapman continue Aza’s story. I’m all in.

Cinderella Is Dead (2020)

by Kaylynn Bayron
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547603879
Publication: July 7, 2020

I’ve been meaning to read Cinderella Is Dead since it was first published nearly a year ago, but being a mood reader means wanting and doing are two different things. I finally finished it yesterday. The premise behind the book is rather interesting, providing readers with a retelling of the fairy tale and what happens after Cinderella and her prince supposedly lived happily ever after.  While I did enjoy the book, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I built around it. 

Sophia is in love with her best friend Erin, and while Erin seems to return those feelings, she is unwilling to rebel. The laws are explicit that young women are to attend balls where suitors will choose them as brides. And just like the fairy tale, they are meant to then live happily ever after with some caveats. The happily is optional, women only have three tries at finding a suitor, and men can terminate the ever after if they choose to. The ball maintains the illusion of what Cinderella had to go through to find her prince including arriving in one’s best dress and finding a life partner at the end of it. For over 200 years, this has been the way of things, and women have been without rights. Forced to attend her first ball, Sophia makes a run for it, choosing an alternate path she carves for herself.

While Sophia is tenacious and daring, willing to risk her life not only for love but freedom for herself as well as those of other young women in her position, I found her character naively idealistic at times. I wanted to yell at her and tell her to consider the consequences including thinking through her actions more carefully before doing anything risky. Maybe it’s meant to be part of her character but I wanted more complexity from Sophia. With the plot moving so quickly, jumping from one thing to the next, Sophia hardly ever gets to think many things through. I was also bothered by how quickly Sophia moves on despite being adamant about her love for Erin and her willingness to risk everything to be with Erin. She jumps from one love interest to the next in a matter of what seems like days. This feeds into the too fast pace of the novel, which I was not particularly fond of. I didn’t get the depth I was expecting in a story with a premise that fascinated me. The lack of depth also extends to Constance, Erin, and a few other characters.

While it lacked depth, I did like the dominant themes in the novel. The recurring theme of empowerment was particularly done well. There are several lines from Sophia that highlighted this that I loved. One of my favorites is Sophia saying, “I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.” I also thought one of the most poignant lines in the book asks who the tale of Cinderella is really for. It highlights how problematic fairy tales can become and the book confronts this through the retelling.

Cinderella Is Dead offers a retelling of the classic fairy tale that turns it on its head. Rather than waiting for a prince or princess, the book emphasizes seizing the opportunity to be your own hero. While not all my expectations were met, those who look forward to alternatives to the stories they’ve heard or watched growing up may enjoy the book.


This Is for Tonight (2021)

by Jessica Patrick
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250757159
Publication: May 4, 2021

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Andi enters a scavenger hunt for social media influencers at a music festival. With a prize that can help pay for college, she’s intent on winning the scavenger hunt so she can attend the same college with her brother. One of the competitors is Jay Bankar, the host of a prank channel and someone she loathes. Jay was kind enough to help her set up camp for the festival. While she’s certain she dislikes him, she also can’t help her attraction to the person she met before she realized who he was.  

This Is for Tonight is a cute YA romance that takes place in the span of a few days. Although the burgeoning romance between Andi and Jay is the central focus of the story, it also touches on grief, family, and the inevitability of growing up. However, I wouldn’t quite categorize it as a coming-of-age story. The elements are present, but the exploration of the themes is surface level.

I enjoyed the book for the light romance. Andi loves crafting, which serves as the main content of her YouTube channel. She makes no apologies for what she likes to do and also speaks her mind. When she first meets Jay, she doesn’t realize who he is, and they’re attracted to each other nearly instantly. The scavenger hunt plays a minor obstacle in comparison to Andi’s dislike of Jay, which is completely understandable. While Jay initially comes off sweet, Andi notes there are so many sides to him that it’s difficult to trust him. Who is he exactly? He appears genuine and helpful in person, but his personality runs opposite to how he appears on his channel–obnoxious and misogynistic. The only thing certain about him is how confusing he is. The bulk of the book is about trying to figure him out and whether a relationship is even possible. There are a few moments in the book that were frustrating because Andi would be on the cusp of finding out only to be left hanging.

One of the other highlights is Andi’s relationship with her brother Jordan. She is the more responsible twin, while he is the sociable and popular twin. He also doubles as her best friend. Although somewhat unreliable and more than willing to blow her off for a pretty girl, Jordan is also there for her when it counts, but is that enough? She also feels like she has to take on more responsibility than she has to, especially when one of the reasons for going to the same college as her brother Jordan comes to light. While the sibling relationship is a highlight, it isn’t thoroughly examined, and any tension that might exist gets resolved rather quickly.

This Is for Tonight is a light romance set within the backdrop of a music festival. It is relatively short and doesn’t delve deeply into some of the topics it touches on, but I still had a good time reading it.

Under A Painted Sky (2015)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9780606383912
Publication: March 17,2015

Under A Painted Sky is Lee’s debut novel. I’m a few years behind, but it could have been worse. I might have missed it altogether. It’s a stunning debut that immediately hooked me from the first line: “They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike a scrubbing brush. This harrowing tale of the long and dangerous trek west on the Oregon Trail is told through Samantha, a young Chinese girl who accidentally kills a man in self-defense. Although only trying to protect herself, she knows she will be charged with murder simply because the law will not take the side of a Chinese girl. Samantha is rescued by Annamae, a slave who seizes the opportunity to pursue her freedom, and together they flee west disguised as young men, Sam and Andy. En route to their destinations, they’re joined by cowboys Cay, West, and Peety, individuals also fleeing from circumstances of their own.

Lee is able to convey the harsh realities of the Oregon Trail from stampedes to the threat of bandits on the loose, but she provides a more nuanced tale by having the main character be Chinese American, someone born in the U.S. yet still viewed as perpetually foreign. Utilizing a person of color as the main character provides a different perspective of the world during this period. Anti-Asian sentiment is featured prominently in the story beginning with the predicament Sam finds herself in and the all-around vitriol environment from the use of racial slurs to how she is generally treated. One of the more pivotal moments strikes when Sam appears on a wanted poster except the picture isn’t her at all, feeding into the stereotype that all Asians look alike. Lee also captures the U.S.’s racist history through Andy’s stories about her siblings, which are heartbreaking as she relates them to Sam. 

Sam and Andy’s relationship is the highlight of this story. They start as strangers thrown together by extenuating circumstances and are forced to trust one another. This shared experience forces them to bond with each other but eventually, it grows into something stronger. They look out for one another and inspire courage in each other. They begin to regard each other as more than friends; they begin to feel like sisters.

Found family is a heartwarming trope I love, and I especially enjoyed it here as Sam, Andy, and the trio of cowboys slowly worm their way into each other’s hearts. The conversations they have are often hilarious, and Cay’s antics provide much-welcomed comic relief. As their fondness for one another grows, Sam also develops a crush on one of the cowboys. Unexpectedly, I was gutted by the romance in this novel and was left upset for a few days. It wasn’t even a full-blown romance but more of an unrequited crush. I would reread some of the scenes over and try to make better sense of why it affected me so much but would come away slightly more devastated each time, repeatedly breaking my own heart. (I don’t understand why Lee did this to me!! Why???) I’m attributing it to having connected with Sam and the pain that comes with having a crush.

Overall, this was such a wonderful read centered around loss and friendship. I couldn’t put it down, and even after I finished reading it, I still didn’t want to. I just kept right on thinking about it. Stacey Lee is a phenomenal writer and reminded me why I used to adore historical fiction. If she is at the helm, I’ll be reading more books from this genre.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021)

by Suzanne Park
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728209424
Publication: June 1, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Sunny Song spends an inordinate amount of time on social media and her phone. With nearly 100K followers, content creation is high on her list of things to do this summer. However, her plans go astray when a cooking video goes viral. Sunny must either attend a digital detox camp or face expulsion from school so she’s shipped off to a farm camp in Iowa. 

Suzanne Park proves once again why I immediately add her books onto my TBR as soon as they’re announced. She’s able to create relatable characters and provide insight into current problems related to the digital age all while making me laugh along the way.

Sunny Song is the average tech-savvy teenager and generally doesn’t seem to cause her parents much grief except she’s always on her phone, often leading her to tune out those around her. I think many of us can relate to paying too much attention to our phones that we unintentionally shut out those around us. She’s also a social media influencer with a relatively large following. Smart and driven, she’s determined to increase her online influence even though she’s prohibited from having electronics at camp. This leads me to one of my favorite relationships in the book, Sunny and Maya. Although we don’t get to see much of Sunny’s best friend Maya, I absolutely loved their relationship. Maya is such an amazing friend and helps manage Sunny’s accounts and content while she’s away at camp. Only a true friend would be willing to do that and go the extra mile to mail you care packages with your crush’s picture. The other relationship I enjoyed was with Sunny and Theo. It was cute how sweet on each other they were. It wasn’t instant love but a month-long attraction and I liked it. It played out somewhat realistically. She definitely received extra special attention from Theo.

As much as I liked Sunny, I was more invested in the problem addressed in the book. The focus on social media and reliance on digital devices is especially poignant as social media is now an integral part of our lives. Many kids grow up wanting to become the next social media star as opposed to more traditional occupations. Of course, this growing dependency on electronics and social media isn’t just particular to kids and teens. Adults also face similar struggles. Park never comes off preachy even though she uses the characters to question the extent to which our lives revolve around electronics and social media. It even made me question how often I’m on social media and this blog! Gah! While Sunny is initially resistant when she arrives at the detox camp, she eventually begins to recognize how social media has influenced her behavior, both positively and negatively. Rather than completely writing off social media, Sunny’s experience at the camp suggests that a balance must be sought with a focus on understanding or remembering who we are outside of our social media persona. The focus on our identity beyond the one we present on social media was especially thought-provoking.

While the book touches on a complex subject, the novel remains relatively light as Sunny struggles with trying to get online and mainly focuses on the romance. I adored the book. I enjoy Park’s storytelling and her humor is always welcomed. I can always expect to laugh when I have one of her books is in my hands. As much as I liked the book, the ending felt rushed. Things were just getting good and then it has already going to be over. I was looking at the 75% mark wondering if there would be enough time for the story to wrap up. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a solid read, and I greatly enjoyed it; however, I could have used another 50 pages to flesh out the events that happen at the end.

Luck of the Titanic (2021)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781524740986
Publication: May 4, 2021

Valora Luck has dreamt of reuniting with her twin Jamie since he ventured off on his own, leaving her to take care of their father. After finding out Jamie will be on board the Titanic, she stowaways on it, intent on convincing him that it’s time they pursue their lifelong dreams of becoming acrobats.

The fate of the Titanic is well known but not all survivors’ stories are. Lee centers the story around the relatively unknown fact there were Chinese passengers also on board the Titanic. She sets the tone of the novel with a simple line: “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.” I went into the book with a wall built around my heart but cracks still formed to topple it down. Lee carves out a piece of history and makes it her own with a bittersweet tale.

With Lee at the helm, I should have known it was a lost cause to protect myself from the fates of the characters. Who was going to live? Who was going to die? I tried to stay as disconnected as I could, but still found myself drawn into Valora’s story as she tried to convince her brother to pursue their dreams while trying to escape notice of the crew as well as other passengers. I was still able to laugh and I cheer all the while knowing tragedy was only pages away. Then, I cried.

Valora is a dreamer like her father, chasing down her dream of becoming an acrobat. Smart and determined, she’s always prepared to make her own luck, refusing to allow fate to stand in her way. While I liked Valora and appreciated her daring nature, I was slightly irritated with her constantly pushing her brother to see things her way, insistent he drop everything for their childhood dreams too. Her unwillingness to see beyond her own desires and to to try to understand who Jamie is now prevented me from fully supporting her efforts. It’s always difficult when the person you remember is both the same and different from who they have become, and throughout the novel Valora struggles with this.

Like Lee’s other novels, there is a bit of romance sprinkled in but it doesn’t overpower the central story. It left a lasting impression that hit me harder than many romance novels I’ve read. I don’t know how Lee does it because I felt this way about most of the romances that appeared in her other books too. In this particular novel, it’s likely I felt this way because it only just scratches the surface of the potential relationship so the promise of what’s to come left me wanting more. There are additional subplots included that make the story interesting, each weaving well into the other and supporting the overall story rather than feeling disjointed.

As the Titanic’s demise neared, it was difficult to keep my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the characters. It was never a matter of whether Lee would stick close to history and allow only six Chinese passengers to survive even as I tried to convince myself she would find some way around it. I knew it was always going to be who would be part of the six. Luck of the Titanic demonstrates once again Lee’s ability to give faces and names to the past, connecting me with people and stories across time. She took me down a journey that only lasted a few hours but left me heartsick for days.

The Summer of Broken Rules (2021)

by K.L. Walther
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728210292
Publication: May 4, 2021

Although still grieving her older sister’s death, Meredith and her parents finally return to Martha’s Vineyard for her cousin’s wedding. When the family’s summer tradition of playing Assassin commences, she’s determined to win for her sister. The summer brings with it an added surprise when she finds herself bonding with a groomsman and can’t help spending more time with him throughout the week.

The Summer of Broken Rules was a lovely escape not only for Meredith but for me as well. For a few hours, I was at Martha’s Vineyard enjoying a week-long game of assassin with a close-knit family while celebrating a wedding and on the edge of a meaningful relationship. While the book isn’t perfect, it provided an unexpected but welcomed distraction from reality.

Assassin as a family tradition was the initial draw for me, and the game did not disappoint. Not only was it hilarious to see the lengths players would go to “kill” each other, the things individuals did to avoid their assassin were just as amusing. One scene in particular made me laugh out loud as a standoff took place and then a chase ensued. This was the perfect setting to demonstrate how close the families were to each other and how Claire’s death affected everyone, not just Meredith. It pushed the book to more light-hearted territory even though Meredith was still trying to navigate life without her sister. Walther realistically portrays what grief is like, not as something that can be overcome, but something we learn to live with daily. It’s a constant ache, often hidden away, but can hit at any moment as it does to Meredith repeatedly throughout the week as her happy moments on the island are often interspersed with bouts of grief.

I was thankful Walther didn’t give me instant love nor was the romance packaged as true love but only suggests the possibility of it. Not only is Wit good looking with a playful demeanor but he is attuned to Meredith, more so than her ex had ever been. Without the expectation of a relationship, Wit and Meredith are honest in their interactions with each other. Sometimes it’s the people you’ve just met that you can tell nearly anything to, without the fear of judgment precisely because they don’t know much about you. I enjoyed their banter and the positive changes Wit appeared to have incited in her, helping her recognize what she’d been missing in her previous relationship as well as offering her a peek at what it means to effortlessly click with someone. The evolution of their relationship, even though it was only a week, felt genuine, as though it could lead to something long-lasting. (I’m a total romantic so I’m always hoping for that forever after.)

With Meredith’s path to romance the focus of the book, there left little room for her to mend her relationships with the friends she pushed away. They felt more like props that appeared only when needed, but were nonexistent most of the time. I had hoped her friends would be given a larger role. In addition to her friends (when they were present), there are also many side characters that contributed to a fun read. Be forewarned though, there are a lot of them, and it was difficult to keep them all straight. But, it’s a wedding, so it’s reasonable that there would be so many people. Also, assassin is just a lot more fun with more people.

I enjoyed the book immensely, smiling after it was over. The Summer of Broken Rules is probably one of my favorite May reads. It’s one I can see myself reading again just to enjoy the crazy antics to win the game. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read, something that will provide a momentary escape from life’s obligations.

Prom Theory (2021)

by Ann LaBar
ASIN/ISBN: 9781534463080
Publication: March 30, 2021

Prom Theory reminds me of classic teen movies like Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and She’s All That. There’s the regular lead, the best friend(s), the popular potential interest, and the popular rival. They’re all variations of the same teen romance and I can’t ever get enough of them. Prom Theory also adds its own twists to the story. Iris Oxtabee isn’t interested in Theo Grant, the popular athlete who recently became single, but she is interested in proving to her best friend Seth/Squeak that love, like many things, is a product of science and can be explained through the use of the scientific method. She comes up with a social experiment to get Theo to ask her to prom, which will also help her other friend Esther to get her crush to ask her to prom.

I’m always excited to see diversity in all its forms. In this case, we have a neurodiverse protagonist in Iris. She has nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), which has many traits associated with autism. Individuals with NVLD struggle with social skills, with one difficulty being an inability to fully comprehend social cues (NVLD.org). Science and structure help Iris to make sense of the world. It’s why she is committed to her experiment and unwilling to put an end to it even after she recognizes things aren’t going exactly as planned.

I also couldn’t help but crush on how sweet Squeak/Seth was. Prom Theory succeeded in giving me butterflies because Squeak/Seth is really sweet. While he is Iris’s best friend, there are multiple hints throughout the book that he might possibly see her as more than a friend. He goes above and beyond to be with her when she needs him, and I was completely all for it. Can we have more sweet best friend/potential love interests like this?

Despite how much I liked it, by about halfway I was ready for several things to happen. I needed the experiment to come to an end or at least be interrupted, preferably indefinitely. I was ready for Iris to pay better attention to her experiment and all the things that weren’t going the way she planned it. I appreciated the thoroughness in Iris’s experiment but it became redundant (for reading purposes) after a while. She would implement a new variable and readers would get to read the experience. Then there would be observations written down by Iris and Esther, and the process would start over again. This continued for many chapters.

Iris is super smart for someone her age and has taken a psychology course so…it wouldn’t be a stretch for her to know about human subjects regulations and the difficulty of determining the effect of a variable when dealing with human subjects. There is a lot of variability in a social experiment, especially when the environment cannot be easily controlled. I am sure I am just being nit picky but I had to put it out there since science is her thing.

I needed Squeak to stop being so evasive and just spit it out. What I wasn’t a fan of was his insistence that she understand certain nonverbal social cues. Uh, hello? You’re her bff and knows she doesn’t do very well with them but you expected what now?

It’s a cute story, and I came away with a lot of fluttery feelings. I was also stretched thin with frustration so couldn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. If you like teen romances, Prom Theory puts its spin on it but also be prepared to be a bit frustrated as well.