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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.

HOLDING SMOKE and blurred lines

A month or two ago, Elle Cosimano (whose books Nearly Gone and Nearly Found are some of my all-time faves) sent me an advanced copy of her newest book, Holding Smoke. It’s a book about a young man in a juvenile correctional facility who can separate from his body and travel through walls, among other things. Smoke, the main character, has been convicted of two crimes, but is only guilty of one of them – the other, though, he can’t prove his innocence of. The book follows Smoke slowly uncovering the truth about what happened and also understanding the hazy line between good and bad.

First off, the book is fantastic. It’s gritty and well-written and poignant all at the same time. You fall in love with these characters who have done horrible things, and yet, seem so normal. You question if the “good guys” are actually good, and what it means to even be “good.” You see the things young people grow up with, and no matter how different we are, there are always things that make us the same: grief, loss, and love.

This book made me think a lot about good and bad. In Cosimano’s author note at the end of the book, she talks about growing up as a warden’s daughter, and how she learned that the line (between good and bad) is hazy – just like Smoke does in the book. She talks about meeting inmates at the prisons where her father worked and see the good sides of them – the sides that don’t let you believe people can do bad things. She talked about having to learn that good people make bad choices; choices that can define the rest of their lives.

And this all made me think a lot about recent events and about life in general. It made me think about crime and loss and the criminal justice system. Holding Smoke portrays a variety of corrections officers, and the cruelty and kindness that I saw in them seemed like a reflection of the people we meet on a day-to-day basis. It made me think that there is no such thing as a “good” person in many ways. We are all filled with contradiction and bad choices. Choices we have to live with. Choices that can define us.

The recent events of violence and hatred and fear, they are all a reflection of that in many ways. Whenever there is a shooting (it sickens me to write those words because the word “whenever” means they are common) you always hear about the shooter. How the people that knew them never could’ve seen this coming. How they were kind, generous, did good things. Maybe how they were troubled. Struggling with grief. In a low point in their lives. And I think that that juxtaposition is something to remember.

That very juxtaposition is a part of our daily lives. It’s part of the news, part of what we see when we walk down the streets, part of the sirens we hear in the middle of the night, part of the people we meet and the experiences we have. That juxtaposition is part of what makes us human. Part of what makes us so beautifully and terribly human.

Even as a child, you have friends in school who suddenly, out of the blue it seems, says something hurtful. And there’s that part of us that says, that’s not them. But it is, isn’t it? The part of them that is your friend is them, but so is the cruelty they sometimes exude.

And I don’t think this juxtaposition is bad because it’s part of us. But then, events like Orlando happen. Orlando and all of the countless, horrible, heart-breaking, shooting that have happened before, and we can’t but wonder: why? What is it inside us – inside humans – that can make us do such horrible things? Is there an “On” switch that is flipped in us that turns us into killers? And we start pointing fingers in an effort to understand. To understand the complexities of the human nature.

The thing is that many times, I believe, there isn’t someone or something to blame. And that’s the hardest thing to understand. Somewhere, along the way, a good person made a bad choice. And that bad choice led to another bad choice. And that bad choice changed their life.

And as much as I want to desperately, desperately, find an answer, I don’t know if there is one. And that’s what scares me sometimes. That the line between good and bad is too blurred.


Holding Smoke was published on May 3rd from Hyperion Publishers, and can be found in bookstores. Thank you to Elle for sending me a copy of this incredible book, and I encourage you all to read it. Read it and think. 

Why Awards Don’t Affect What I Read

award winners don't mean anything

I’ve never been someone who focused on awards, especially in the book world. Sure, I was always happy when a book I loved won an award, but I never looked at lists of award winners and thought, “this is an award winner, so I’m going to read it.”

Recently, one of my friends told me she plans to read every Pulitzer Prize-Winning book, and I thought to myself, why have I never been motivated to do something like this?

The answer I came up with is that, because of book blogging, what I read is focused on what the book is about. My interests and my book cravings guide what I read. Sometimes that involves an award winner, but most times I read just about anything and everything.

Honestly, I prefer that. There isn’t this pressure to love the book because it’s an award winner, but rather the excitement of learning if it’s a good book or not. Over the years, my senses have sharpened, and I’m now pretty darn good and knowing when a book will strike my fancy. This is all because I’ve chosen what I read based on what I WANT to read, and not what other people think I should read.

Also, I have a bit of an issue with the concept of award-giving and I’ve been like this since I was a kid. When it would come time to pick a stellar student from the class in elementary school, and I would always have someone in my head that I thought deserved it, but rarely did that person win the award. I always wondered my teacher didn’t see how incredible some students were, and why they didn’t get awarded like other people in the class.

This translates to books, movies, TV shows, songs – everything. Who chooses award winners? Commonly, it’s a panel of “experts” or people who “know a lot” about the category. Sometimes awards are given based on the public’s vote, but this commonly leads to the most popular thing winning, rather than the best one. And these panels of experts sometimes make choices that I just go “WHATT??!!” to because I don’t know how they liked something.

For me, awards don’t signify how incredible something is. In fact, it has absolutely no effect.

Instead, I tell everyone I know about the books I treasure, and if other people agree, then great! But I don’t need my opinion to be validated by an award.


What’s your opinion? Do awards influence your reading habits?

 

In Honor of Valentine’s Day, My Favorite YA Romances

romances for vday

I’m a sucker for a good romance, as I think most readers of YA are. In honor of this day of chocolate, Hallmark, and love, I bring you my favorite YA romances!

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry | Goodreads

This is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite romances in YA. I love Echo and Noah as separate characters, but together they simply are perfection. They care for one another in such a beautiful and heart-wrenching way, and everytime I read about them, my heart heals a little bit.

(Also, any Katie McGarry is a good bet. Literally. ANY.)

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas| Goodreads

Feyre and Tamlin are just.

YES.

Their romance is beautiful, powerful, and utterly unstoppable. I loved seeing them grow and develop over the course of this book, and also learning more about their fantastical world. Maas is a world-builder extraordinaire, and if you somehow HAVEN’T read her books before, do it. The worlds + the romance = FREAKING AMAZING.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Goodreads

This was one of my favorites of 2015, and one of those reasons was the romance. Shahrzad, the main character, is planning to kill 18-year-old Capliph of Khorasan, Khalid. Except, when she gets to know him, she realizes that she may not be able to kill him.

In fact, she may be falling in love with him.

(That was my little summary and if you are like HOLY WOW I NEED THIS, aka me upon reading the actual summary, then GO. NOW. GO GET IT.)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin | Goodreads

Oh, Mara and Noah, how I love you.

This is one of the few paranormal series that I truly love (you’ll meet the other one later in this list) and one of the reasons I love it so is the romance. Noah and Mara are incredibly supporting of one another, and this series is filled with sacrifices, pain, and true love.

I need to reread this series.

A Thousand Piece of You by Claudia Gray | Goodreads

Thisis a recent read of mine and OH I LOVED IT. It’s kind of historical fiction, but also futuristic and also science fiction. And time travel. It’s kind of everything rolled into one book.

Also, the romance between Marguerite and Paul? *heart eyes*

(Get excited for the part set in Russia. Get really freaking excited.)

If I Stay by Gayle Forman | Goodreads

One of my favorite authors and one of my favorite love stories.

If I Stay is stunning. It’s heart-wrenching, poetic, romantic, and packed with a punch. Mia and Adam take my breath away everytime I read their story. I love their fierce love filled with music, and how their love tells the truth about long-distance relationships.

Gayle Forman is also a queen of romance, so all of her stuff is a go-to for me.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater | Goodreads

This is my other favorite paranormal series. It’s about werewolves, something I’m not really a fan of as a general rule, but the wolves of Mercy Falls? YES. Grace and Sam’s love story is all about fighting for the people you love, and oh boy do they fight for each other. It’s a tale of forbidden love against a backdrop of the woods, and it takes my breath away every time I read it.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi | Goodreads

If somehow you haven’t read this book already, go find a copy. I don’t care where you have to go to get one – GO.

Tahereh Mafi is not only a stunningly beautiful writer, she also is a talented crafter of love stories. Whether it be Juliette and Adam or Juliette and Warner, each time I’m as in love with the couples as they are themselves. This story is also one of the first dystopians I read and made me fall in love with the genre.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | Goodreads

You thought you could get away with not seeing Jellicoe Road on this list, hmm?

Well guess what. You failed.

Jellicoe Road is my everything. Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs are also my everything.

Please go read this book. I beg of you.

PLEASE.


I hope you enjoyed my list and let me know yours in the comments!

Have a lovely day of love and chocolate and books.

Why a book isn’t in your bookstore

why a book isn't in bookstore

As many of you may know, I work at Barnes & Noble, and since working there, I get asked one question particularly often: Why isn’t _____ book on the shelves?

Today, I’m going to tackle this question.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on this, but this is what I’ve observed during my time at Barnes & Noble and my own experiences. Also, I could easily be missing a piece to the puzzle – this is just what I know!

Let’s first start out with the one of the most obvious answers to this question: the book is out of print.

This happens more commonly than you think – books that are put out by small presses especially and titles that came out thirty+ years ago. One of the big things to know is that just because you can find a book on Amazon, doesn’t mean the book is in print.

It’s published by a small press.

Barnes & Nobles stores don’t carry EVERY book that comes out – that’s impossible to do. We carry books that publishers pay for us to stock in stores, and it’s expensive. Especially in YA, large presses dominate the shelves, and the possibility of seeing a book not published by the big five publishers is rare.

No one has bought it recently.

This is one of the biggest reasons and one I had no clue about before working in a bookstore.

Whenever we get a new shipment in of books, shelvers have to physically find space on the shelves, because (and if you’ve ever been in a bookstore you’ll know this) Barnes & Nobles shelves are packed TIGHT with books. So we have to pull books from the shelves. The way we choose these? The ones that haven’t been bought recently. The oldest ones come off first, and they come off in order of when we received them and how long it’s been since someone bought them. Then, we send the books back to the publishers and put new books on the shelves for you all to read!

That new title you’re looking for isn’t modeled yet.

“Modeled” means that enough copies have been bought that we will take copies out of the new release section and put them into the main stacks (there is a word for this but I cannot remember it right now). If a book is a new release and it doesn’t sell enough copies, then it isn’t modeled, and therefore, we have to send it back to the publisher.

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TO GO BUY YOUR FAVORITE NEW RELEASES.

Also, sometimes we simply don’t get certain books in, but booksellers can always order them to the store. So if you’re best friends with your bookstore’s staff and are in love with a book they don’t have, let them know. Maybe they’ll order copies and you can spread the love.

I hope that explained some of the behind-the-scenes of bookstores, but let me know if you have any further questions! I’d love to answer them.