This is an ambitious book that tells the story of 14-year-old Mai who, after the fall of South Vietnam, escapes Vietnam with her older cousin to a refugee camp off the coast of Malaysia. There’s a lot going on here: Mai’s relationship with her family takes center stage, as do her worries about losing her innocence and her desire to get to America, where she thinks everything will be perfect. The book also gets into the treatment of refugees, along with, of course, information about the Vietnam War. To me, it felt more like a middle grade novel, because Mai is so innocent and seems younger than her years. While I felt it was a worthy effort – and definitely a book for anyone interested in this time period and area – it felt a little like a textbook to me, possibly because it was told in third person. That meant that I didn’t necessarily connect to the character as much as I wanted to, and as her thoughts jumped a lot – from supernatural to more mundane fears – I didn’t always follow her. I also couldn’t entirely keep track of the time period; the pacing could have been improved, as it apparently took place over a year, but I thought only a few weeks had passed. All of that being said, I haven’t heard of or read anything else like it, and it’s definitely worth keeping on your radar.
This is a mystery about 16-year-old Jess, plucked from her life in London to spend the summer in a tiny coastal English town (that doesn’t seem to actually exist) with her extended family. She doesn’t know her extended family, though: her mother stopped speaking to her twin sister years before, and Jess didn’t even know her cousin Freya, who looked almost identical to her and died a year before in a fall. Jess immediately becomes fascinated with Freya and makes it her summer mission to find out what really happened.
This was a breezy reading experience, but the book has not stayed with me. I had hoped the mystery – and the backstory of Jess’ mom – would add up to more than it did, so that was somewhat disappointing. I also didn’t entirely understand Jess, in that her internal voice was very different from the way she spoke to everyone. She was, to put it mildly, rude for no reason to most people she met, yet seemed to not recognize that. There was nothing in her character that suggested why she would be that way. This is the first in a series that I will imagine be detective stories, and I can see that being appealing, as it’s a fun setting and Jess (despite the rudeness) isn’t unappealing, but I was hoping for more.
This is another one of my “I read this a long time ago and don’t totally remember it” books, but I’m including it because of the international aspect. Like the Gayle Forman books and 13 Little Blue Envelopes (which I have not reviewed), this is a fun summer read about, of course, a summer romance in Europe. Lucy backpacks through Europe the summer before she heads to college and, near the end of her trip in Italy, meets and falls in love with handsome Jesse (also an American). When she goes back to the U.S. and starts college, she can’t stop thinking about him, but will she ever see him again?
To be honest, at this point, I’m getting these books somewhat confused. Was Jesse the one who stole something on the first date with Lucy? Did he threaten to abandon Lucy several times during the encounter? (See: my nemesis, Willem.) No, I don’t think so – Jesse is a good guy, a street musician. Much of the book takes place during Lucy’s freshman year of college, where she struggles with her desire to pursue theater even though the trip to Europe was a bribe from her father so that she would give up theater and go to business school. While her father was a jerk, and I think you can probably guess what Lucy decided to do, as someone who worked in the entertainment industry for a long time, I kind of wanted to say, “You know it wouldn’t hurt to take some business classes, right? I mean, as an actress, you might want to produce your own stuff…” Side point, that. An enjoyable enough romp, although not the book that is going to give you deep insight into Italian culture.