Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: Summer Days and Summer Nights

Rating:  2/5

One of the best things about summer, especially for bookworms, is laying out in the sun, sipping a cold drink, and reading a book that's just as reminiscient of those warm, mid-July days. One of the most anticipated YA books for the summer of 2016 has been Summer Days and Summer Nights, a collection of twelve short stories written by various popular YA authors, including Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss) Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy), and Nina Lacour (Everything Leads To You).  I was so excited to kick off my summer by diving in this, having read its holiday version antecedent, My True Love Gave To Me.  So without further ado, here is my review of each of the twelve stories in Summer Days and Summer Nights. 

1. Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leah Bardugo:
I have to say, this was a pretty bizarre tale to start off the book.  The story is essentially about a girl named Grace who, one day while sitting on the bank of the town lake, catches a glimpse of what she believes to be a lake monster.  Wanting to uncover the mystery of what she just saw, she eventually looks to a boy named Eli. As they work together and begin their research, Grace and Eli form a romance, and each summer they both return to this vacation town of Little Spindle, continuing where they left off.  Eventually though, their romance fizzles out and they drift apart.  When Grace goes to Eli to try and fix it, he says it's too late.  Why?  Because it turns out he's a sea monster, and at the end of each summer, he must give up his human form and return to the water.  Sound weird yet?  Well, check this out.  It gets weirder.  Grace doesn't want to lose Eli.  So, she gives herself up to whatever mythical power is in this town's lake, and she becomes a sea creature herself.  Later, the police have ruled Grace a missing person.  What no one really knows is that Grace and Eli live out the rest of their days traveling the waters together.

So yeah, that's kind of an eerie ending.  While I definitely think this story is interesting and creative, I just found it to be odd for my liking, and it wasn't the kind of story I was immediately expecting out of this book.

2. The End of Love by Nina Lecour:
Thankfully, after being left completely bewildered with the first story, this next story by Nina Lacour quickly made up for it, and I'd say that this is one of my favorite stories in the collection:
Flora is desperate to keep herself busy this summer, even if that means going to summer school, auditing a geometry class that she's already passed.  Anything to get her out of the house so that she doesn't have to deal with her parents, who are both a little too happy about going through a divorce.  What Flora didn't expect to see on her first day of geometry was Mimi, along with her group of friends, who Flora hasn't seen since freshmen year.  Not since she was dating Blake but realized soon after that she wished she were kissing Mimi ...  At first, things are awkward.  But then, Mimi and friends invite Flora to go camping. Flora thought she was only taking a geometry class this summer.  She didn't expect to be having fun with old friends again, or kissing Mimi and never letting go.  Then again, summer is full of surprises...

I honestly loved this story. It's the kind of sweet summer love story that I was hoping for out of this book, and I also just really appreciated that this story featured a romance outside of the typical boy+girl arc ❤ 

3. Last Stand At the Cinegore by Libba Bray
This was one of those stories where I started off liking it, only for it to quickly get really weird and out of hand...

It's the last night of the Cinegore, a movie theater in town that only plays horror/gore films.  After tonight, it'll be closed down for good, and Kevin only has this one night left to tell Dani how he really feels about her before she'll be off to college and he'll still be stuck in this town, not knowing what he's meant to do with his life.  Sounds nice so far, yeah?  Well, this is where it starts to get strange.  During a showing of an especially popular old horror film, all of the movie-goers suddenly turn into zombies.  Now it's Kevin and Dani against a theater full of the undead.  Can they make it out alive?  Now you'd think this was all actually one big dream, right?  So did I.  Reading through, I kept waiting for that moment when Kevin wakes up and he finds that it was all just a dream, everything as it should be.  But that moment never game.  Things just kept escalating and getting more chaotic until the theater became engulfed in flames.  Oh, but don't worry: Kevin and Dani do eventually get together in the end.   But for me personally, I just wasn't a fan of this story.  Much like anything else involving zombies (sorry!), this story was just a little too campy for me, and I couldn't help thinking after finishing this: Did someone watch a zombie flick stoned and then decide to write this?

4. Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block:
This story is interesting in that you don't actually know any of the characters' real names, since every character is represented by a letter (Well, aside from a few, such as "Mohawk" and "Ratcatcher). It's about a girl, known only as 'I', who falls for one of the boys in a punk gang, Sick Pleasure, whose name is 'A' (No, not quite like Pretty Little Liars!)  Throughout the story, I shows interest in A and is disappointed whenever he doesn't happen to be with the other Sick Pleasure members.  But even when she is with A, there's a part of I that feels detached.  She doesn't want him to view her as a depressed person, even though she openly admits to him that she has to dance like she means it, or else she'll feel depressed, and later tells him that her dad has cancer.  

After that, I and A's romance slows to an end. I later ends up having sex with a guy named Tan, even though she admits to herself that she wishes her first time had been with A, who she still misses.  The story ends with I predicting how life will end up. Friends drifting apart and falling into their own marriages and careers. She then imagines A's life: how he'll probably live in Hollywood and work as a graphic designer, maybe have kids, and have just gone through a divorce.  Meanwhile, I will have lost both her parents, have kids of her own, and like A, have just come out of a  divorce and started thinking about dating again.  But this time, she'll like herself more than she did when she met A, though her journey to self love will still be one she'll have to work at every single day.  The final lines in the story reveal that this is a story for A.  Maybe he'll read it.  While this story was definitely different and incredibly poignant, I just wasn't a huge fan of it, mostly because it was so incredibly bleak, from the beginning to the depressing-as-hell ending.  Because I is depressed, the entire voice of the story reads in this very same way: void of all emotion, flatline.  There doesn't truly appear to be any ups or moments of lightness, so by the end, I just felt this great hollow feeling.  Not quite the happy summer story I was hoping for..!
* Side note: Why does the author keep using the word "skanking"?

5. In Ninety Minutes, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins:
Marigold is back in her mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, and is determined to rescue her ex boyfriend, North. After hearing that North has not only been staying at home rather than going to college, but that instead he's been working as a tour guide at a state park, Marigold brings it upon herself to drive there and convince North to live with her in her apartment back in Atlanta, Georgia, split the rent, and enroll in college. She feels she owes it to him to help get his life back on track. And that's her only reason for doing this. To help out a friend. Not because she misses him and may still have feelings for him. Right?

Okay, this one was pretty cute and I ended up really enjoying it. The only thing is that, between the mountain/alps setting and numerous references to Christmas, this didn't quite feel like a "summery" tale. It seemed like it would've fit in much better in the winter version of this book (My True Love Gave to Me). At any rate, it's still an adorable--albeit a bit cheesy-- love story:

6. Souvenirs by Tim Federle:

Knowing that they will eventually part ways when they both leave for college, Kieth and Matt have decided upon a "breakup day," a designated, agreed-upon day when they will break up. Although, Matt is none too happy about it and wishes Kieth could be more sentimental about the end of their relationship. And try having a breakup day when you work across from each other at the same carnival...

I have to say, this one was pretty "Meh."  I felt like the entirety of the story was Matt complaining about the fact that him and Kieth aren't together anymore: God, I hate Kieth.  He's so dumb and self-centered.  How do I count the ways that I'm soon much better off without Kieth.  Ugh, and you know what else I hate about Kieth?  How he somehow still makes me want him... Stupid Kieth. 

7. Inertia by Veronica Roth:

Imagine if you were chosen to relive your favorite memories with someone for possibly the very last time, before they go... This is the reality for Claire.  After being notified that her best friend has gotten into a car accident and that he has chosen her for visitation--a technology that connects two peoples' brain waves, allowing them to relive and experience past memories together.  Claire has one last chance, one last day, a collection go memories to spend with Matt. She's just not prepared for what that means.

I thought this story was such an interesting concept, and so poignant and compelling.  It's sort of reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and makes you imagine what would happen if you could relive old memories with someone in your life who means a lot to you. Between the science fiction aspect, mixed in with the deep nostalgia, this story was really nice to read.

8. Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron:

I'll be honest: I really couldn't get through this, so I have no idea what happens.  I know, I'm just as disappointed in me as you are.  Believe me though, I tried!  But this story immediately bored me.  It struck me as one of those stories with all of these well-to-do characters who are staying at a country club, and their lives, though glamorous, really aren't exciting at all.  The kind of story where rich people play on private tennis courts, with cashmere sweaters tied around their necks.  Zzzzzz..... I'm sorry but these types of stories just don't do anything for me at all.

9. Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert:

Ever since her mom died, Rashida has been able to count on her cousin Audrey.  That is, until Audrey announces that her girlfriend, Gillian, got a great job in San Francisco. Feeling betrayed, Rashida wonders, How can Audrey even think of moving out of Chicago, let alone across the country away from her?  Rashida can't really be blamed for not being the biggest fan of Gillian...

I felt that this story was just okay.  I honestly found Rashida to be pretty immature.  I mean, I get that she's really close to Audrey, but she just handled everything completely wrong by throwing a brooding tantrum.  I guess she is a teenager after all, and so that makes it more understandable, but even so, she acts completely unreasonable and can't simply swallow her ego, even just got the goodbye party, and doesn't even hide her hatred of Gillian, even to her face.  The other thing I didn't particularly like about this story was that the romance was seriously forced.  I mean, I know it's a short story, so you only have so much space available, but the romance was really forced here.  As in, Rashida's love interest and Gillian's cousin, Pierre (Pierre?  Seriously??) started off hating Rashida--and for good reason.  Then the next thing you know, they're making out and all of a sudden together.

10. Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare:

Like "Last Stand at the Cinegore," this was another story that led me to believe it was going to be normal, only for things to get weirder and weirder... This was also another one that I couldn't quite bring myself to finish for the same reason. Between a scary carnival where demons just nonchalantly exist (and are apparently the biggest attraction) and the fact that the protagonist forms a love interest with and makes out with her step-cousin? EWWW???? For a brief second, Lulu also considers the ick factor of this, but then quickly dismisses it since they're not blood-related. But I'm sorry, for me personally, I still find that so creepy. *shudders* I just... nope, nuh-uh, can't do it. I'm done.

11. A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith:
Annie has been crushing on Griffin for months.  He's someone who remains a mystery, keeping his head down and making it unclear what all he's thinking, and Annie has the urge to get to know him.  Meanwhile, Annie is also spending the summer working with kids at a summer camp.  One little boy in particular, Noah,  is a little different from the others, because Noah is autistic.  As much as Annie tries to make him feel more included and get him out of his shell, it's Griffin who connects with him.  Because Griffin himself is also on the autism spectrum.

I absolutely loved this story. It's so sweet and I think it does a great job of addressing autism. I especially appreciate how the story shows that autism exists not just in children but across all ages, and that autism can be present in various degrees. People have this instant idea in their heads of what autism looks like, so for Annie to discover that Griffin is on the autism spectrum, I think that's a really compelling, teachable moment. And again, it's so sweet how Griffin and Noah instantly connect with each other. It just... right in my heart ❤

12. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman
There couldn't have been a better story to end this book. I loved this story so much. It had an essence that captured the laziness and easygoing nature of summertime, especially since the two protagonists are experiencing the same day, August 4th, over and over again, thus having no choice but to leisurely take in everything within this day for all it's worth. Firstly, I thought the idea of this story was really interesting, even if it's been done quite a few times before. Even more than the whole "Groundhog Day" concept, I loved how it was so grounded in the theme of appreciating and savoring the little moments in life. This is something that I try to live by myself, so it was really special reading this, and there were so many great quotes from this story that I loved.  I wish this story could be written into a full novel!

* * *
So, all in all, did I fall in love with this short story compilation?  Eh, not exactly.  I much preferred the holiday version, My True Love Gave To Me, I think because more of those stories actually got me into the holiday spirit, whereas this isn't necessarily the same for Summer Days and Summer Nights.  Going in, I was really looking forward to reading stories filled with all of the wonderful things that make up summertime: warm weather, sunshine, swimming pools and beaches, fireflies at night, cold drinks, blackberry picking, and so on.  But I found that some of these stories were a bit on the odd side, and most  of them weren't even very reminiscent of summer besides simply taking place during the summertime, which just wasn't enough for me.  Still, there were a few stories in here that I really liked, and I hope this review helps to give everyone a better impression of this book as they consider putting it on their summer TBR list.  Until next time...

Happy summer reading!

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