09/24/16

Why moving to NYC is the best decision I’ve made

As most of you know, I moved to New York City a month ago for school. I’ve been living in the city since the end of August, and now I feel like I can do some early reflections on my time here.

My biggest reflection?

I’m so happy I came here.

Not only to Barnard, which is everything I could’ve dreamed of and more but to New York City as a whole. There’s something about living here that is so remarkably different from visiting and I don’t really know how to describe it.

I think it has something to do with the fact that when you visit a place, you’re in a rush to see everything, eat everything, do everything, and it’s impossible. But when you live in a place like New York City, there’s no rush. There’s always another weekend to go to a Broadway show, another evening to go out to dinner with friends, another afternoon to spend thrift-shopping in the Village. There’s enough time to do everything. And that takes the rush of MUST! DO! IT! ALL! off. For example, I’ve been here a month, and I haven’t even been to Central Park yet. Or a Broadway show. Or eaten at all the amazing places I want to go. Or spent any time on the East side.

But that doesn’t bother me. Instead, I think about it the way I did when I lived in Austin: oh, I have time to do that. There’s no rush. And that is such a refreshing feeling, especially when you’re in a city as wonderful as New York. It takes out the pressure of being in the city all day (exhausting) and lets you enjoy it at your own pace.

Which brings me back to why moving to New York is the best decision I’ve ever made.

There is no other time in my life I will be able to live on the Upper West Side for what I’m paying in Room & Board right now. There is no other time in my life I won’t have to cook OR go out for dinner (cafeterias y’all – they’re better than you think). There is no other time in my life when I am constantly surrounded by my friends and new people to talk to who WANT to talk. Living in New York City while you’re in college is such a valuable opportunity because you experience the city in a different way.

For me, I have a campus – a formal, gated campus. (If you go to NYU and most other schools in the city this isn’t the case.) This means that, usually, I spend about six out of the seven days of my week on campus. I stay in my little bubble of Morningside Heights and Columbia/Barnard. It’s quiet, there are students everywhere, and I spend zero money. But, on the days when I have less homework to do and feel like going downtown and getting lunch, or trying out a new bakery, or going to a coffee shop to study, I just hope on the subway and it takes me 15-30 minutes. And then I come home to my dorm room.

That is so unique. Having a respite in this busy, bustling city, and also not being bombarded with the city 24/7. Instead, you feel like you’re in your little college ecosystem, but you can venture into other ecosystems if you want, when you want, and on your own terms. And I love that part.

The other main reason I’m so happy to be here are the opportunities. I’ve already met amazing people (I met Adam Silvera at an event and died a bit) who can help me in my future career, and I can go to events I wouldn’t be able to go to if I was in Austin. (Ex: SIX OF CROWS LAUNCH PARTY ON MONDAY O M G.) Being connected to the book world is such an important part of my happiness, and so being here is just a dream come true.

So, in conclusion, I just want to reiterate how freaking happy I am to be here.

Like.

So happy.

And now I’m off to study some more because that’s all I do with my life. (And why I’ve read nothing since I’ve been here oooooops.)

09/19/16

An odyssey, a girl, and a greenhouse | KIDS OF APPETITE by David Arnold

20522640Novel: Kids of Appetite by David Arnold | Goodreads
Release Date: September 20th, 2016
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Format: ARC
Source: BookPeople Teen Press Corps

The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.

Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.

This is a story about:

1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.

Somehow, I never got around to reading Mosquitoland, so I promised myself I would read Kids of Appetite. I already knew David Arnold was a fantastic writer, but I didn’t realize what a phenomenal writer he was until I started reading.

There was a moment early on in the book when I stopped reading and thought, “He is one heck of a writer.” (And just for context, I don’t usually do that – stop reading to have thoughts.) The thing that struck me about the writing style was its uniqueness. Not only did each character have a voice characteristic to them, but the book as a whole was beautiful, honest, and utterly raw – all things that arose primarily from the writing itself.

As far as the characters go, I adored them all. Their friendship, their easy banter, how loving and kind they were, how when one person needed help, they all showed up. I loved the little greenhouse where they lived, the journeys they went on to finish Vic’s dad’s list, and how despite their different backgrounds, they all meshed in a beautiful way.

One of my pet peeves in YA is when the parents and family are mysteriously absent, but despite the parents being absent for most of the book, it didn’t bother me. I think this was partly because family was such a strong element of the characters’ growth. For example, despite Vic’s parents not being physically present for the majority of the book, Vic’s relationship with his mother and father was a large part of not only his growth as a character, but also the overall story development. I loved the way Arnold wrapped up the book as well, because it resolved elements of the plot, but left others open to interpretation (my favorite endings do this!)

So, in conclusion, I’m in love with Kids of Appetite. It’s a phenomenal story of growing up, friendship, and being unique,three of the most important things teens need to read about, in my opinion. So, thunderous applause for Kids of Appetite, and I’m already desperately awaiting David Arnold’s next book.

 

09/12/16

High school drama, but in a futuristic NYC | THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR by Katharine McGee

20522640

Novel: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee | Goodreads
Release Date: August 30th, 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: ARC
Source: Barnes & Noble (employee perk)

New York City as you’ve never seen it before. A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future, where anything is possible—if you want it enough.

Welcome to Manhattan, 2118.

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one?

Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Debut author Katharine McGee has created a breathtakingly original series filled with high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, where the impossible feels just within reach. But in this world, the higher you go, the farther there is to fall….

I really wanted to like this book. I’d heard fantastic things from Margot at Epic Reads and from Grace over at Words Like Silver (her review here), and since I trust their opinions so much, I thought hey, I’ll like it too.

And although there definitely were elements of this story I enjoyed, the majority of it fell flat for me. Essentially, the book felt like high school drama but set in a tower. This book would’ve probably appealed to younger Willa, but after everything else I’ve read recently, this one just didn’t do it for me.

The main reason I had problems with the book was how it felt like a drama-filled contemporary. The story had five narrators, which I didn’t really have a big issue with, but all of their problems revolved around one of two things: their family or romantic problems. Each one of the characters was in a relationship, and honestly, I didn’t really like any of the people they were with (except Mariel – I loved Mariel). I didn’t really care about any of their relationships either – for me, if the book is going to revolve around a romance, it’s got be a romance I am DEEPLY invested in. But, I think the fact that there were five different relationships happening meant that I simply didn’t care enough about any of them.

The family issues I could get behind, but I wanted their familial problems to play a bigger role in the story than they did. They felt like a bit of an afterthought, honestly, and the reader only got to know a couple of the characters’s families. #missingparentsyndrome was in full swing for a few of the characters.

The other issue I had was that a lot of the drama somehow had to deal with class issues. In the tower, the higher up you are the more money and status you have. Two of the narrators, Watt and Rylin are from downTower, but they both become entwined in upTower drama, and it caused so many problems for them. I continually wanted to bang my head against a wall and tell them to just leave the upTower people behind because NONE OF THEM WERE GOOD ENOUGH TO CARE THIS MUCH ABOUT. The tension between up and downTower characters felt so cliche and just…uninteresting, and when it was combined with a relatively superficial relationship it just didn’t work for me.

Then we have the overall setting of the novel, which is Manhattan in a tower. The technology is incredibly advanced – phones in contacts (essentially), self-driving cars, hovercars, automated checks of someone’s vitals. Parts of the technology I loved, mainly because McGee did a fantastic job of immersing you in the setting without outright explaining each little detail of the technology. However, this isn’t my favorite kind of sci-fi. I prefer space sci-fi far more, so this kind just didn’t really do it for me. (Also, what was weird: the rest of the world didn’t seem to be so technologically advanced…? I wanted more on the whole WORLD not just New York, because, you know, The US isn’t the center of the world.)

So, sadly, I was not a fan of this book. The characters didn’t have a lot of growth over the course of the story, it felt like a high-school reality TV show in a futuristic setting, and there’s going to be an unnecessary sequel. (Seriously though. Not only was the book too long, but there’s going to be another one?! Kind of unnecessary, in my opinion, considering I don’t really care about any of the characters.) Also, there’s going to be a TV show apparently, and I kind of feel like it’s going to be a better show than book, considering how much drama the writers will have to work with.

I’m disappointed this one didn’t work out for me, since I had such high hopes, but let me know if you enjoy it! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

09/5/16

Raw, beautiful, and real | SECOND CHANCE SUMMER by Morgan Matson

20522640Novel: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson | Goodreads
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

 

Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

I am such a sucker for books about family. They automatically make any book a MILLION times better for me, and I think Second Chance Summer may take the cake on the portrayal of a family dynamic.

The story is all about Taylor’s family reconnecting during her father’s last months. They go to a lake house where they summered every year until Taylor was twelve, and at first, none of them are all that happy to be there. But once they begin to adjust, find friends, and reconnect, it becomes a beautiful summer. Scenes of Taylor talking with her older brother, having breakfast with her dad at a diner, and having dinner together as a family made me so, so happy. You rarely see moments like that in YA – especially little ones like dinners, heartfelt conversations, and witty banter. Usually, family dynamics in YA serve a purpose, but in Second Chance Summer Taylor’s family feels like a given. Of course they’d be so present in the story, and the story wouldn’t be the same without them in it. I loved the family dynamic that Matson created, and this is something I think all of her books truly excel at – family is always incredibly present in the story.

One of the other things I adored in the book was the focus on forgiveness. Taylor’s main issue with returning to Lake Phoenix was that her former best friend and first boyfriend would most likely still be there, and they aren’t exactly on good terms. Over the course of the story, Taylor has to forgive herself for her actions all those years ago, and also for the way she handles situations when she gets nervous or scared. She has to learn to stop running away, a theme that I and I think many other people deeply relate to.

And then they’re the heart-breaking reality of the cancer consuming Taylor’s father. For much of the book, his cancer doesn’t take a main role in the story. Instead, it’s there, in the background of the story, only brought up when moments remind Taylor of her father’s declining health. However, reading about Taylor watching her father slowly die in front of her just broke me in half. It’s such a raw and honest narration of that experience, and I think a different perspective than many of the “cancer books” in YA. In Second Chance Summer, the focus is on making those last moments hold meaning and purpose. On creating lasting memories and showing people how much they mean to us. I think those themes will be relatable to anyone, no matter if they’ve lost someone or not. The heartbreak of an impending loss of someone we love, I think, is universal.

My only complaint is that as much as I loved Henry and his and Taylor’s relationship, it felt a bit rushed. I didn’t quite ship them together as much as I wanted to, and I think that was because I didn’t know Henry very well. I wish I had seen more of him earlier in the book. However, I adored Taylor’s rekindled friendship with Lucy, because it reminded me of rekindled friendships I’ve had over the years, and how beautiful summer friends are.

Second Chance Summer is an emotional, raw, and beautiful story about love, loss, and family dynamics, and is an absolute treasure.

 

09/4/16

Moving to NYC, making friends, and finding salsa

A week ago, I was standing on the sidewalk outside of Barnard, sitting on a suitcase while I waited for my move-in time to arrive. My parents were with me, standing on the pavement of our chalk-drawn box that indicated my space in line. There were boxes outlined in chalk wrapping around Barnard, other incoming students and their parents and all of their things waiting to be moved in, just like me.

Moving into college, for me, was similar to my birthday. You await the day filled with excitement, wondering if you’ll feel different or look different or be different, but when you wake up, you’re exactly the same. It’s just another day, despite the exciting thing that’s happening. College felt the same way. I’d been looking forward to move-in day since I was in middle school, desperately awaiting the day when I would have a dorm room! a dining hall! new friends! be away from home! And on move-in day, I was struck by the fact that it felt stunningly…normal.

And the first week of college has felt just as normal.

Sure, moving to New York is a shock to the system, just as my parents leaving me at the front gates left me in tears, but it also feels normal by now. Or rather, it feels like I’m at camp. My new friends and I are all feeling this way – that new student orientation week (yes – a week) has simply felt like you’re at camp, with activities and new friends and no school work to do. Although, the idea that I’m at camp may be my way of coping with my new reality, that I’m in college and far away from home and in a completely new place.

So, basically, I’ve adjusted far better than I expected. I haven’t been especially homesick, but I think one of the main reasons I’ve been able to avoid it is that I’ve been so busy. That’s a huge tip of mine for new college students: stay busy. Do all the activities, talk to new people, just milk the fact that you have no classes yet and enjoy yourself. That will help ease the homesickness and also exhaust you so much that you can sleep soundly in your new surroundings.

As for my college experience thus far, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I’ve made new friends, two of which are my next-door neighbors, the others I met through my orientation group, and then more that I’ve met in the dining hall, at school activities, and through other people. I’ve met people from all over the world with unique insights and opinions, and I’m in love with that diversity.

I’m in love with walking through Columbia’s campus at eleven at night with my friends, chattering under the night sky with other students all around us. I’m in love with sitting in the stands at a Mets game two hours before the game starts and having discussions about the complexities of feminism. I’m in love with Meeting another girl from Texas who lives a half hour from Austin and spending an hour searching for salsa, and then having a salsa feast in my dorm room eating the salsa straight from the jar because I don’t have bowls. Going to open mic night and being shocked by my classmate’s talents and insight, snapping along to spoken word poems that discuss the realities of being a person of color in this country. Taking the subway downtown with friends and going thrift shopping and standing in line for cereal milk ice cream at Momofuku because it was around the corner and we didn’t have anywhere to be. Going to the One World Observatory and being in awe of the beauty of this city, and then finding a tiny pizza place and proclaiming yourselves the official fan club of it’s that good. Sitting in parks a block from campus and reading a book you borrowed from a girl with the same name as you while your friends sketch trees and lampposts and work on their resumes.

I’m in love with college.

On Tuesday, I start my classes, and there’s this festering of fear in my stomach. I don’t know if it’s irrational or real, but either way, I’m anxious to start. I want to learn a new language, take my first college history class, broaden my knowledge through intelligent discussions with my peers. I even want to know what the college workload will be like, even though I know it’s going to kill me.

I came into college with a lot of hopes and dreams, and honestly, most of them have come true. I’ve made friends, I love my roommate, New York City is everything I could’ve wanted, and my college continues to make me fall in love with it more.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how we spend a large part of our childhoods now thinking about our futures. I’ve been dreaming of college for long and now that I’m living that future, it feels utterly perfect.