Saturday, June 11, 2016

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda 
by Becky Albertalli
Release date: April 7th 2015
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Purchase on: Amazon


Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Review

It took me 7 1/2 days to finish Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. 7 days to get to the middle but just half a day to finish the rest. I really struggled with the first half. I know this is a popular book that is well-loved by many, but I just couldn't get into it. I liked the idea of the anonymous email exchanges. It reminded me somewhat of Tell Me Three Things, but compared to TMTT, I found this book to be lacking. If it wasn't for the fact that I only have access to my Kindle cloud reader for the whole week with no other tempting titles to read, I would've flat-out abandoned this.

With the way things were going (read: cliché) in the first half, I thought that I had it all figured out for the rest of story, but I was so glad that I was no Becky Albertalli because this proved to be not as predictable as I thought. It exceeded my expectations and then delivered some more.

I didn’t think I would get so invested into these characters because I found them really bland in the beginning. I felt equally nervous as Simon did whenever he planned about coming out to his friends or family. And I felt like my whole world just crumbled the same time his did when his secret came out. But there were also the moments when I’d get so absorbed into the story that I would forget that reality still exists like I’d randomly catch myself curling my toes giddily or grinning widely or sighing contentedly or three of those at the same time.

Pretty much all characters in this book are either easily likable or the kind that gradually grows on you. I loved the relationship within Simon’s family although I felt like it was too perfect to be real. His friends, Abby, Leah, and Nick, are very supportive friends but I didn’t really think that there’s anything remarkable about them. I even enjoyed Martin’s character more though I liked them all the same. And there’s also the matter with Blue. Ohmygod Blue. I lived for their subtle flirtatious emails. I probably would’ve read the second half faster had I not been squealing at their every conversation especially when they finally met! Even though it was totally obvious who Blue was, it never made the story less exciting instead I was even more hyped about their inevitable meeting.

I’m so glad Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda didn’t turn out to be the usual school bullying book where the formula is almost always protagonist + bff vs. the whole student population which eventually evolves to protagonist + love interest – bff vs. the whole school population. In Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, more than half of the school population are non-bigot and they actually have common sense. There’s even a teacher who stands up to her students’ bullies!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fantastic take on a coming of age (and a coming out) story with lovable characters and an inexplicably sweet romance. It doesn’t sport heavy drama but at the same time it doesn’t take matters too lightly.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres

Sula's Voyage
by Catherine Torres
Release date: May 2016
Published by: Scholastic

Synopsis:

Fifteen-year-old Sula has always known she is different. Even though her parents have shown her nothing but love and acceptance, she sees her dark skin as a reminder of how she doesn’t fit in with the rest of her family.

What’s worse is she also feels that her parents are hiding something from her. After getting expelled from school, Sula reluctantly goes to stay with her mother’s friends. There she unexpectedly finds herself on a journey of self-discovery — a journey that keeps drawing her to the sea. Sula must not only figure our her parents’ secret, but also just how different, and possibly magical, she really is.

Review:

I was so excited to read Sula’s Voyage because:

     1. The author is a Filipino and Sula’s Voyage was a finalist in the 2014 Asian Book Award.
     2. The setting of Sula’s Voyage is in the Philippines (!!) and most of the events that happened in the book are inspired by real life events that happened in the Philippines (!!).
     3. Sula’s Voyage features Filipino mythology – one that I’ve never heard of before!

Needless to say, I was really hyped about Sula’s Voyage. And the fact that the book is actually a really engrossing read helped me to devour it.

Sula's Voyage revolves around our protagonist, Sula, but as the book is set in the Philippines, it also spotlights the Filipino culture. And part of our culture is our obsession with white skin, so Sula getting ridiculed by her classmates about her dark skin is not uncommon, though it doesn’t make it justifiable.

Sula's different skin coloring was given emphasis in the beginning of the book that I feared that it will be the sole focus that made Sula different compared to others. I guess I just didn’t want this to be another book about racism and I’m glad that it was just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and that this subject became less and less relevant as the story progressed in regards to how other people see Sula physically and eventually, it paved way to the more important aspects of what ultimately makes her different from others. As well, Sula is the kind of character that grows on you. In the beginning, I was hesitant whether I’d fall in love with her or not but I did. I admired her unpredictability the most. Mira, Pedro, and Pablo are also the kinds of characters that will slowly creep up on you. I really didn’t like them at first what with how Sula portrayed them but as Sula grew and she became able to see through things, I was able to see through the three of them as well.

Sula’s Voyage also has romance but the plot doesn’t revolve around it. Sula’s love interest isn’t even around for the most part of the book, yet it doesn’t make the romance instant or forced as even though he’s absent pretty much over all, he still plays a big role in Sula’s self-discovery. His physical absence merely gives the readers time to focus on Sula’s growth as an individual.

Other things I love about this book are: Sula’s parents! They’re not the perfect parents and their family has issues of their own, but damn, are her parents savage! Also, Sula’s dreams. She tends to dream laughably weird dreams and Sula lampshading their weirdness but still getting scared by them is just so hilarious. With the kind of tone the book set in the beginning, I didn’t think it has the ability to have such ridiculously funny moments, but there they were and I am so pleased. But now that I’ve said it, still, don’t be fooled. Because Sula’s Voyage also has the power to make you weep like a little kid! As well, I can relate soooo hard with this book. Granted, the setting is the Philippines and I’ve been to some of the places the author mentioned in the book like the University of the Philippines Diliman. It’s a 15-min ride away from my place and we used to jog in the Oval and have taho or dirty ice cream. There is also the iconic Sunken Garden which is said to sink some millimetres every year.

Also, GUYS YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ THIS WHEN YOUR STOMACH IS FULL BECAUSE THIS BOOK IS GONNA STARVE YOU WITH ALL ITS VIVID AND MOUTH-WATERING DESCRIPTION OF FILIPINO FOODS. I had to urge to take a jeepney to Antipolo to get a taste of that Antipolo suman and then fly to Puerto Galera just for the kinilaw na talaba, lechon de leche, and champorado. I’ve had lechon de leche and champorado, but I got a bit depressed because all those times my mother’s friends gave us talaba (oysters) and I didn’t take one bite because they all looked slimy and ew. Alas, this book was too good I couldn't stop reading to get myself out of bed even if I wanted to. But I did ask my mom to buy suman for breakfast the next morning so all was well. ;)

Sula’s Voyage delves deep into familial relationships, tragedy, and self-discovery. Those, combined with Catherine Torres’ beautiful writing style that flows so smoothly makes Sula’s Voyage a captivating read. And if you want to get a taste of what Filipino culture is like (because I swear this book is so spot-on in that part) then you really need to read this book.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from Scholastic PH and Catherine Torres for free in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!


About the Author



Catherine Torres (Catherine Rose Torres) is a diplomat and writer from Manila. Her work has taken her to postings in New Delhi, Singapore, and now, Berlin. When foreign affairs, as well as domestic ones, permit, Catherine travels around the world on boats made of words. Occasionally, as with these books, she even builds the boat herself.

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