What I’ve Read / One Italian Summer, The Upside of Unrequited & Truth or Dare

I accidentally read three YA contemporary novels all about siblings!

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a love of travelling. I’m happy to report that YA has, too. This year’s summer reads have involved adventures and road trips, and One Italian Summer sounded like the perfect holiday read. I’ve visited Rome and One Italian Summer brought back vivid memories of visiting gelato shops every day, doing the long (and very hot) walk up to the Colosseum, and relaxing around the Trevi fountain with a can of expensive Coke.

Milly, Elyse and Leonie travelled to Rome with their parents every summer. It has been a year since their dad passed away and a year since their last trip. This one won’t be the same, but they’re determined to let the tradition carry on.

One Italian Summer isn’t all gelato and sunny weather. Milly, Elyse and Leonie are dealing with a terrible tragedy that they’ll never fully recover from, and it affects each sister differently. I loved Keris’ way of writing this close sibling relationship. Siblings are completely alien to me and yet these sisters are essentially best friends so I could relate. (I think it must be amazing to have ready-made best friends, although I know it isn’t like this for everyone!). It was great to see such open, supportive conversations about grief, family, sex and sexuality. And hot on the agenda is Milly’s sort-of-relationship with gorgeous boy Luke.

One Italian Summer has everything essential for a splendid summer story: family, friends, boys and a stunning location.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited is all about its incredible characters: twins! Molly and Cassie are adopted twins but, more than that, they’re best friends. So what happens when their lives start diverging?

Molly fears she’s losing Cassie – her partner in crime and the one person that gets her – and has no idea how to get her back. Molly has a crush on flirty Will, but her sister’s a lovesick mess and unavailable emotionally to deal with Molly’s new dilemma, probably because she’s too obsessed with Will’s stunning Korean-American pansexual friend, Mina. But Molly needs help! She’s sick of having so many crushes (26 to be exact) and no boyfriend. When Molly is confronted with co-worker Reid, she doesn’t have Carrie to help her make sense of it. Is she more than friends with Reid? But she’s in love with perfect Will, right? As a fellow introvert who has periods of anxiety, I completely got Molly’s frustration with being single and feeling powerless to do anything about it. Sometimes ranting about it to other people is all you can do, but what’s Molly to do when that’s taken away from her?

In The Upside of Unrequited, all of the characters shine, but I particularly loved Molly and Cassie’s mums – they’ve got the parenting/friendship balance just right. And then there’s their cute little brother Xavier! I enjoyed Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda too, so I’ll be eagerly reading her next book, Leah on the Offbeat, next year.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

Truth or Dare is one story told by two teenagers. Claire Casey volunteers to help Sef Malik create a YouTube channel in order to raise money for his older brother. Kam suffered a severe brain injury after falling into a river and the cost to provide support is astronomical. Sef feels emotionally powerless and fundraising is the only way he can manage the tragedy right now. Meanwhile, Claire’s dealing with her own drama after a nip-slip video goes viral. Hanging out with Sef provides distraction – and so Truth Girl and Dare Boy are born!

Truth and Dare features a whole host of diverse and wonderful characters. I adored Claire’s compassion for Kam, who she’s dedicated to reading to whilst he’s in care, and her willingness to help Sef even though he’s difficult to figure out. I also appreciated the sub plot featuring Claire’s BFFs Seren and Rich. I was super angry at the boys who caused Claire a lot of anxiety after she’s bullied and dubbed ‘Milk Tits’. As she’s a strong, funny, interesting and selfless character, her point of view was my favourite. Although I adored Claire, I probably wouldn’t be Sef’s best friend. I struggled to understand the relationship between him and his siblings, and he’s a not entirely likeable character… but I’ll leave you to read his POV!

Truth or Dare shows us there are always two sides to every story, and it’s not often that we take the time to discover both. It’s another realistic contemporary novel from Non Pratt, tackling bullying, disability, social media, and asexuality.

What I’ve Read / The Hate U Give, The Names They Gave Us & All the Bright Places

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

You won’t have missed how loved and praised Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is. It is taking over the world, having made it to the top of the NYT bestseller list. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give is about 16-year-old Starr, who lives in two worlds: a world of privilege – not her’s, but surrounded by everyone else’s – at her posh, private school. And she lives in a world of injustice and poverty, at home in the poor neighbourhood she’s known her whole life. Suddenly the boundary is shattered when her unarmed friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Everyone knows. Everyone is talking about it. But will Starr be heard?

The Hate U Give tells the experience of a determined young woman and a frightened teenager, forced to be both in a society that values neither. Starr has a strong voice: witty, passionate and inspiring, and she knows how to play a role. It was fascinating to watch her alter how she speaks and acts depending on whether she’s with friends at home or at school. At the heart of The Hate U Give is a strong and poignant family dynamic. It’s the most important thing to Starr, even if not the most stable presence in her life, and it’s what gets her fighting for justice for Khalil. It was really refreshing to see parents feature so heavily in a YA story.

If you’ve not yet picked it up, The Hate U Give is a must-read for those who aren’t already aware of the discrimination that is prolific in our society, from racial bias in the media and justice system to police brutality against unarmed men – it’s not new, and it’s not limited to the USA, but it’s something that won’t go away by ignoring it.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

I raved about When We Collided for months after it brought me out of a reading slump and became one of my favourite books. I wanted more of Emery Lord’s beautiful writing and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Names They Gave Us. (I still haven’t picked up her first two books, but I very recently bought The Start of Me and You!).

Lucy Hansson has her life all figured out until her long-term boyfriend ‘pauses’ their relationship over the summer and her mum’s cancer comes back. To help her cope with the upheaval, her mum suggests that she work for a camp for troubled young people instead of her usual Bible camp, so Lucy heads to Camp Daybreak.

I thoroughly enjoyed the summer camp setting. It made me feel the same way boarding school stories do, probably because it’s something I haven’t experienced. I nearly applied to work for Camp America (and then shortly after remembered that children intimidate me, shh). I wish I had done it because it would’ve been an excellent life experience, as Lucy discovers. I loved watching Lucy make new friends and become more open-minded. I was hesitant about the religious aspect, being an atheist who went to a Catholic school, but there’s still a lot to enjoy about The Names They Gave Us. It has been nearly three months since I read this book but the scene of the campers being sorted into their Hogwarts Houses still sticks in my mind.

The Names They Gave Us hasn’t replaced When We Collided as my favourite Emery Lord, but I adored the entire cast of characters, from the camp counsellors to the campers and Lucy’s family.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I missed out on All the Bright Places when it came out, but I was instantly intrigued after it was described as the next The Fault in Our Stars. It has been more than five years since Hazel Grace Lancaster met Augustus Waters, so I was ready for more!

All the Bright Places sees Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two unhappy teenagers, become friends under unusual circumstances. Theodore is up on the ledge of the bell tower at school, contemplating jumping, when he sees Violet. After talking her down, there’s an unexpected bond between them.

In All the Bright Places, I particularly enjoyed seeing Theodore and Violet bond together. I expected to fall in love with both characters – like the world fell in love with Gus and Hazel – but Theodore and Violet are stuck playing a role with everyone except each other. It’s difficult to explain poor mental health to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, and so Theodore and Violet found solace in each other.

All the Bright Places doesn’t top The Fault in Our Stars for me, but it was wonderful watching them getting to know each other!

What I’ve Read / When Dimple Met Rishi

I cannot resist hype. I get really bad FOMO (I blame Twitter and Instagram) and so when I popped into a bookshop and saw When Dimple Met Rishi on a curated table, I couldn’t help but take it home with me. It had been all over the Twittersphere and so I had to see what I was missing out on. I already downloaded the eBook for review, but it’s just not the same, y’know? I love the cover, which shows a happy Dimple enjoying her iced coffee, and it looked like the perfect summer read – just what I wanted.

Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi is described as an “arranged married romcom”, about Dimple, whose aim in life is to go to university, get away from her traditional Indian parents and take over the tech world, and Rishi – handsome, rich, sensible – who signs up to coding camp in San Francisco to meet his proposed partner. But Dimple has no idea about any of this and is not quite ready to meet her I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband). Cue tipping coffee all over Rishi when he comes up to her for the first time and says “hello, future wife”. Let the romance begin!

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When Dimple Met Rishi is the perfect YA contemporary read, for me. I struggle to enjoy contemporary romance if both characters aren’t super likeable, but Dimple and Rishi are perfect. (They’re not perfect people, but they’re my kind of characters). They’re geeky, albeit in different ways. They’re both smart, funny, talented and interesting. And you know what? They’re lovely. I admired Rishi’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of his Indian heritage, and Dimple’s determination to go her own way: she doesn’t know if she wants to get married, ever. But she knows she has the ability to be among the top coders, she wants to create an app that makes a difference, and she’s willing to work hard to do it. Both Dimple and Rishi are fiercely protective of the path they’ve chosen for themselves – and it was also heartening to see them question it, because life is still up in the air at seventeen.

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I guarantee you’ll fall in love with When Dimple Met Rishi before the end of the first chapter. After a few pages, I knew I was going to love this story. It was wonderful to get that excited, fluttery feeling that comes with discovering something new – and wanting to tell everyone about it. I loved that the story was infused with Indian culture. Being introduced to Dimple’s mum was a pure joy, even if she’s super intimidating and often frustrating. I also loved seeing a girl who was passionate about STEM subjects and a boy who was passionate about art.

When Dimple Met Rishi has made it onto my favourites shelf. It made me happy and that’s what I’m here for, quite frankly.

“Oh no, you go ahead,” he said jovially. “Our brains need a break from all the unchecked, casual misogyny.”