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Young Adult reviews from the Bookshop Santa Cruz Staff! Read more Young Adult staff recommendations on our website.

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

Quinn and Cora, the main characters in The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga, used to be best friends. Until Quinn’s older brother shot himself and three others at the local high school— one of which being Cora’s older sister. Since then, Quinn and Cora have not spoken and Cora blames Quinn for her sister’s death. This all changes when Quinn begins to research the possibility of time travel. They realize they must work together to hopefully reverse what Quinn’s brother did that day. In order to make things right again, they have to put aside their past issues with each other in order to save their lives. 

This book kept me turning the pages until the very end. The storyline was very interesting. I thought that the concept of time travel being real was fascinating. It had never occurred to me that traveling forward or backward into time could be possible which made this book all the more riveting. I also thought that reading about Quinn’s life as the sister of someone who had committed such a horrible act was very unique. I had never read a book from a perspective such as this one before. 

I would without a doubt recommend this book. It was a real page turner that kept me enthralled until the end. It would be great for those interested in time travel. – Sophie Cornish

Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom

Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom is a heart-wrenching story, literally. It’s filled with darkness and unimaginable pain, yet in the midst of it all is an ever-clear message that love conquers all.

Charlie is a young boy forced to assume the role of a man as his older brother, Theo, is taken as a solider to fight in WWII. Struggling to take care of grandpa, comfort mom, and complete the daily chores and housework required, he’s grateful to hear news of Theo returning. All will go back to normal. But something’s wrong with Theo; he screams in the middle of the night, is coarse and callous, and seems empty and hollow. War wolves—ancient beasts that feast on grief and loss—have eaten his heart. Determined to save Theo, Charlie must venture into the unknown and face the wolves himself. What is he willing to sacrifice for his brother’s heart and will it be enough?

I enjoyed this book as more of a thematic and thought-provoking read than an exciting and entertaining story. The plot itself is interesting enough, but I feel like Sandstrom put more effort into the concept of war wolves and soldiers eaten hearts, than the actual story. Part of the reason I found this book so powerful and emotive was through Sandstrom’s metaphor and imagery of the war wolves. It’s not hard to imagine that the brutality and lasting effects of war—PTSD, isolation, depression—could be caused by a horrifying beast as Sandstrom describes.

I read this book in shades of gray. It was dark and gloomy with a tone of loneliness, but there was a glimmer of hope sprinkled throughout the chapters. The pure, innocent, unconditional love Charlie feels for his brother Theo pushes back against the gloom even at the worst of times. It brings balance and color to the pages, allowing our final thoughts to be hopeful and happy.

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a deeper, emotional read. Keep your mind open and your heart raw and I guarantee you will whole-heartedly enjoy this book. – Kira Kaplan

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan is a combination of almost every rom-com storyline built into one. Bad boys turned good, enemies to lovers, fake dating turned real, these classic tropes all appear within this novel. To be honest, I would’ve found this book basic and unoriginal without the unique perspective it’s told in.

Karina Ahmed is a Bangladeshi American teen, crippled by anxiety of disappointing her parents. She feels like she’s living a lie, pretending to enjoy science and premed, when in reality her heart yearns for English and writing. When her parents leave for 28 days to Bangladesh, it’s the perfect opportunity to let down her guard and breathe. But when she gets roped into fake dating Ace Clyde, the resident bad boy, things start to spiral out of control. She realizes that her feelings matter too, about college, about freedom, about boys. As the clock keeps ticking, will she have the courage to stand up to her parents and tell them the truth? Or will she continue putting on an act and risk her happiness?

As I said before, I didn’t find anything especially new or exciting about the plot. I felt like I had read or seen the story all before, the saving grace being the different characters. Bhuiyan writes in the opening that this book was her “love letter to young brown girls.” She meant it as a way to increase representation in books, and show the strength and courage she didn’t always have as a younger girl. The vulnerability and strength in Karina’s life, specifically struggling with her anxiety, is important for all young girls to see and be able to relate. I admire and support the message behind Karina’s character, just feel that the overall plot could’ve done with a little more work.

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a classic rom-com with more representation and greater vulnerability. – Kira Kaplan

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

Terrifying creatures, noble quests, fearsome knights, and pure evil, Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard is exactly what a fantasy novel should be. From start to finish I devoured this book with fervor. Aveyard includes intriguing and loveable characters, fun and exciting adventures, and plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning.

Long ago the Spindles—gateways to other realms—were sealed to protect the Ward, but someone’s opening them up, desperately trying to find the pathway to the greatest evil the realms have ever seen. Kings and Queens refuse to fight what they feel is a hopeless battle, turning the responsibility unto an unlikely group of heroes. Corayne is a pirate’s daughter, longing for adventure and the sea. Dom is an Elder prince, immortal, noble, and full of strength. Sorasa is an exiled assassin, full of tricks and wit. Andry is a squire, the only survivor of a brutal and bloody battle. Together they form the only hope to save the Ward from complete destruction.

The plot itself is remarkable, with new ideas and concepts never seen before. The story arc keeps at a fast pace, leaving no room for dawdling or boredom. With narrow escapes, plenty of fights, and constant journeying, there’s plenty of adventure for all. Each character presents something new to the table; Sorasa with fire, Corayne with strength, Dom with duty, and Andry with innocence. The villains too are intriguing in their own disturbing way.

Aveyard has created a novel that immerses you completely in another world and makes you never want to leave. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good fantasy novel! – Kira Kaplan

We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS

by Rachel Lyn Solomon

“We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS”by Rachel Lynn Solomon, is a comfort novel, an easy read that is perfect for a chilly day. Quinn, a high school graduate is a shy, sarcastic girl who decides she wants to differ from her family business of wedding planners and follow her own path, whatever that is. But when a familiar face, a man named Tarek, shows up as a caterer at one of the weddings her family planned, Quinn finds it difficult to resist her fascination with him, even though she wants to hate him. Quinn is just a girl who does not know how to leave her business without leaving her family; a girl who can’t help but fall for someone she wants to hate. 

One of Miss Solomon’s best writing traits is how she portrays the personality and emotion of her characters. Solomon did not only give her characters’ emotions but the reader as well. “We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS” includes sexual, religious, and cultural diversity, which is admirable among authors. Overall, Solomon’s novel is a quick read, perfect for getting someone out of a reading slump. – Zoe Cloar

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

If you took His Dark Materials and smashed it together with the serious, yet silly writing style of Neal Shusterman, then added A Wrinkle in Time to the mix, Game Changer is what you would get! About a boy who somehow becomes the center of the universe, Game Changer will open your mind’s eye to the world around you, focusing on some of the many problems our current world holds. Touching on racism, sexism, and everything in between, Game Changer is a must-read for anyone who wants to read, pretty much. In the introduction, Shusterman says that he’s scared of this book, and who could say it any better? If every move you made could possibly shift worlds beneath your feet, how would you know where to go? – Oliver W.

The Meet Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson

Haven’t we all dreamed at some point of finding our perfect half by reaching for the same book, or by clumsily bumping elbows? Unfortunately, these daydreams rarely come true and we’re left searching on our own. But what if we could plan the perfect meeting place, becoming like an actor in our own lives? The Meet Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson does just that.

Mia’s got other things on her mind that don’t include obsessing over boys and cheesy rom-coms, but when her sister, Sam, requires her to find a date to a fast approaching wedding, she has little choice but to change her attitude. With the help of her friends, Mia devises a plan to create various “meet-cute” opportunities to find the perfect guy. Surely one of them will work out? As the wedding date approaches and Mia’s frustration with her bridezilla sister grows, she realizes she might’ve been searching in the wrong place. Was the perfect boy in front of her all along?

Overall, I thought this book was ok. The premise of the book itself is interesting enough, and Richardson does a good job of moving the plot along, but the writing itself is mediocre and I didn’t find myself turning pages with fervor. There are plenty of humors situations coupled with romance, but for all the rom-com’s out there, this isn’t high on my list. I will say that Richardson fleshes out all her characters with multi-dimensions, making the book a better read.

I’d recommend this book to anyone searching for a light rom-com with an interesting storyline and intriguing characters. – Kira Kaplan

None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

As someone who’s never seen a horror film in her life and cringes away from Halloween decorations, None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney was an experiment. Mysteries, specifically thriller mysteries are not high on my list, but this book surprised and intrigued me. While I don’t have much background to judge and make comparisons, I thought the plot was unique and the characters interesting.

The FBI recruit two teenagers—one of which is a previous serial kill survivor, Emma Lewis, and the other a US Marshall candidate, Travis Bell—to interview juvenile killers in hopes of gaining insight for cold cases. But with a new serial killer, The Butcher, on the loose, Emma and Travis become increasingly tangled within an active case. While Emma grapples with her survivor’s guilt and contact with notorious killer, Simon Gutmunsson, a game emerges between two killers and Emma isn’t sure who she wants to win.

The writing and pace of the novel are perfect for what a psychological thriller should be. Marney provides just enough information and suspense to keep the pages turning. While the content was at times extremely disturbing—as it should be in a novel focused on serial killers—Marney does a good job of sprinkling in peaceful and hopeful scenes that balance the disgust we feel at the gruesome murders.

Overall I’d recommend this book to anyone who appreciates psychological thrillers. The story is good, the characters well-fleshed out, and the book well-written. However, I’d also extend a hand to those (like me) who are looking to experiment with a new genre. Psychological thriller is not a genre that frequents my bookshelf, but after reading this book I might need to reexamine. – Kira Kaplan

Better Than The Movies by Lynn Painter

Cute, funny, light, and happy, Better Than The Movies by Lynn Painter is everything a romantic comedy should be, and more. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough with this book, every chapter bringing a grin to my face.

Liz Buxbaum’s most prized possession just might be the stack of rom-coms left behind from her mother’s passing. She seems to have inherited the same extreme love and passion for rom-coms as her mom, which might be why she assumes she can create her own when the nearly perfect Michael Young moves back to town. In order to execute her perfect movie ending, she must team forces with her annoying neighbor, Wes Bennet, a torture to her since second grade. But as time goes on, she realizes that her picture of Wes might be entirely wrong. How had she missed the funny, cute, and kind boy just across the street? Struggling with her newfound feelings for the boy next door and the absence of her mother at the most important milestones, her life doesn’t feel like a rom-come at all.

I’ll give Lynn Painter props for knowing exactly how to write a good rom-com. The storyline itself, albeit a classic, is fun and full of interesting twists and turns. The characters are easily loveable and swoon worthy, the dialogue between them often hilarious and squeal-worthy. The “boy-next-door” and “enemy to lover” tropes are often overused, but Painter has managed to put her own twist on it to create a really good read.

This is definitely a book I’d read again when searching for an adorable romance or in need of a little fun. I’d recommend to anyone who loves romantic comedies, and even those who don’t! – Kira Kaplan