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Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi
Overview: Pablo's life is a mess. He works at a bodega or a "health food store" depending on who you ask, which is about the only thing he has going right at the moment. He dropped out of NYU, though that debt still follows him, along with the credit card bills from some ill advised buying sprees. He has a good group of friends that he lives with and a family that genuinely does love him, but he has no clue what he's doing. What's the end goal? Who knows... Overall: 5
General Thoughts: This is not a normal part of my reviews, but I had some things I wanted to say that don't necessarily fit anywhere else. 1) I love this book, but I feel like it's for a very particular set of readers. You MUST be a lover of character driven stories because a lot of this book is exploring Pablo's mind. I love that. I honestly don't care about plot if I love your characters, but I know a lot of people aren't like that, so fair warning. 2) I would like Mary's ability to title books because Emergency Contact and Permanent Record are some of my favorite titles of all time. 3) This cover is just beyond gorgeous and the plastic dust jacket and what it does with the art is just remarkable. Anyway, on to the review.
Characters: 5 I was not expecting Pablo when I picked up this book, but I love him now. He's really the book. All of his anxieties, confusion with life, and passion for seemingly useless things fuel the book. While he has nothing figured out life wise, he's miles ahead of most in the emotional intelligence department. He's totally a 20 year old dude but he's so aware of his feelings and the world around him. I want to be friends with Pablo.
The other remarkable thing about this book is how well it balances a huge ensemble cast beautifully. This means I can't get into everyone here, but each character is so effortlessly developed from his million roommates to his whole family to his found family at the bodega. It adds to the feeling of being fully part of more than a story but a world.
I will mention Leanne Smart briefly because she's named in the flap copy. Honestly, she's not as big of a part of the story as a lot of people. The book isn't about dating a famous girl like it might seem, but I'm happier for how it turned out. I also like the different and evolving looks at Lee we get through Pablo's eyes as time goes on.
Plot: 5 Like I said, a lot of the book is in Pablo's mind living in the anxiety, rehashing how he got to where he is. I love it. The book deals with things I feel like we need more of in YA but I've never seen before. It deals a lot with fear of failure and the meaning of success and talent. Reading about Pab's experience at NYU spoke to some of my deepest fears. I think Pab is all of us who are growing up in a world that expects you to describe, have a plan, and stick to a box for everything. What if you want to do everything? I also love all the family stuff in this book. It's so real! Also, all the stuff about debt is a huge realty today and a good warning for teens becoming an adult. There are so many things that no one ever tells you about adulting it seems.
Writing; 5 I loved Choi's writing before, but this was next level. Like I mentioned above on the feeling like you're part of a whole world, the language she uses to write this book feels so New York. Not in a cheesy stupid way but totally effortlessly. It feels authentic in voice, in the story. I can't wait to see where her writing goes next, and I love that she's paving the way for more 18-20 something stories in YA.
This review originally appeared at www.readingwritingandme.com. Looking for a fun contemporary about amazing teenage girls in STEM? This is the perfect book! Come to the store to get a copy of your own!
Screen Queens by Lori Goldstein
Overview: Valley Start takes fewer applicants than any of the Ivy Leagues. Lucy, Delia, and Maddie are three of the 2% who made it. They are also the only female team at the tech incubator. While their personalities originally clash, with mentorship from a female CEO, friendship at a tech camp on the campus, and a new sense of understanding, the girls band together to strive to be the first all female team to win. Along, the way, though, they uncover more sinister layers to the shiny Silicon Valley world they stepped into. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Lucy is headstrong and independent. While she's great at coding, she's even better at presenting, selling, and stylizing. She's on a mission to redeem herself in the eyes of Stanford to get off the waitlist and in the eyes of her icy tech CEO icon of a mother. Lucy is a touch insecure masked by her overconfidence and the experience actually helps her develop closer connections.
Maddie also has a single goal. She wants to win so that she can give her graphic design business the final bit of credibility it needs to boom, allowing her to skip college and care for her brother full time since her parents aren't physically or emotionally available for their family. Like Lucy, Maddie learns more about opening up and being vulnerable to forming connections.
Delia too doesn't want to go to college. She wants to get into Silicon Valley as a programmer so she can support her family and save their theater that her parents love so much.
I love that each of the girls start with a very singular focus and slowly pushes forward to a broader. world view and more emotional intelligence.
Plot: 4 While they're working towards winning the completion, each girl plows forwards to realizing their own goals and reasons for coming to the camp. Sometimes the story splits in three ways where as other times they stand fully united. While the idea of winning the internship at Pulse starts out shining and fascinating, soon the cracks begin to show with CEO Ryan. It's easy to tell he's sceezy from the start, so it's extra fun to see the girls stage their elaborate take down.
Writing: 4 While their were a couple plot holes in shifting details throughout the book, I'm super impressed overall. The book is written in third person, which usually bugs me, but I absolutely loved it here. It's the perfect format to tell these interweaving stories in a concise yet nuanced way. The key here, though, is that it's told in limited third person with super distinct voices that works better for this book than even a triple POV story set. Honestly, the execution of the POV was the biggest win for me in the book.