Tag: book review

Books

Why You Should Read New Kid, A John Newbery Award-Winning Graphic Novel

Pros

  • Interesting main character
  • Cool art style
  • Good message
  • Handles serious topics well for middle schoolers
  • Well developed cast

Cons

  • Pace could be slow at times
  • It isn’t overly dramatic
  • Somewhat anticlimactic

Have you ever been the new kid? I have been a few times. It can be good and bad, but it isn’t easy at first. I remember meeting a bunch of people and having trouble keeping track of names. I switched schools twice in my life. I transfered from a public high school to a Catholic school when I was in fifth grade, and I started attending a public school in eighth grade. Both of these were my middle school years. Eighth grade was the hardest to transition to, so I can empathize with Jordan there. It takes a while to figure out where you fit in. Even after the first few months, it doesn’t always get easier. Right away, I can empathize with the protagonist, Jordan Banks who is a new seventh grader student at a prestigious private school called Riverdale Day Academy. New Kid was written by Jerry Craft.

I grew up loving to read, and I especially loved graphic novels and comic books. I heard about this book and decided to check it out and write a review. I haven’t read many of the Newbery Award Winners to be honest, I’ve probably read too few, but this one was a great choice. New Kid won the 2020 Newbery Award for the Most Distinguished Contribution of Literature for Children.

A I checked out Craft’s website and to learn more about him. Craft grew up reading comic books and wants to help other kids to experience the same thing.

“One of the most transformative things a child can cultivate is a love of reading.”

Jerry Craft

I also watched Craft’s interviews on his website; I would recommend checking them out. He talks more about his experiences with books and about the story as a whole.

I remember how I felt that way when I was younger. I loved reading as a kid–grabbing a book and jumping into a character’s life. The storytelling for New Kid was good, and I don’t read graphic novels or middle-grade fiction very often anymore, but I’m glad I checked this one out.

New Kid begins when Jordan Banks, a Black seventh-grader from Washington Heights, starts attending Riverdale Academy Day School, a prestigious private school.

This wasn’t his initial dream. Jordan loves drawing comics and wants to be an artist when he grows up. This book is semi-autobiographical, and Jerry Craft wrote New Kid partially based on his experiences growing up in Washington Heights. He wanted to be an artist ever since he was a kid, but his parents thought he couldn’t make a living from it, so they sent him to The Fieldston School. Craft went on to the School of Visual Arts for college and got a BA in Fine Arts. His story isn’t exactly the same as Jordan’s, and he was also inspired his sons, who also attend a mostly white private school.

Jordan, like Craft, dreamed of attending art school. Technically, Jordan can’t start until 9th grade, so that puts his art studies on the back burner for a bit. For now, his mother wants him to go to Riverdale because of its great reputation. Jordan isn’t too happy to start a new middle school; he’s also disappointed that, as his father points out, Riverdale Day Academy also isn’t racially diverse.

Riverdale Academy Day School is a pretty typical middle school, Many of them are also pretty wealthy, they go on ski trips and stuff like that and the students wear pink most of the time. Other than that, Jordan’s middle school is pretty typical. I’m not sure if there is a middle school that is not like middle school, at least in the US. No matter where you go, I’m not sure anyone can escape the petty social dynamics, messy cafeterias, and annoying homework assignments.

Jordan is in the middle of all this, and New Kid is primarily a story of a kid finding his place in a new school and learning more about himself and his relationship with the world around him. Jordan is wondering about who he is compared to his peers and how he can be himself in a school where he feels a pressure to conform. At Riverdale Academy, he meets students with eccentric personalities. There is Alexandra, a girl who carries a puppet around, Maury, a geeky band kid, and an obnoxious bully named Andy. Jordan also meets a couple of guys that seem pretty cool–Liam and Drew.

Although he finds friends to hang out with, life at Riverdale Day Academy is difficult. While Jordan is navigating middle school and figuring life out, he also has to deal with a series of racial microaggressions from the students and teachers around him.

For example, his friend Drew is also Black, and a White teacher frequently calls Drew the wrong name, Deandre, after another black student that was in his class before. This teacher has Drew in her class all year, but she still never makes an effort to correct and remember his name. We see Deandre later and the two kids just don’t look alike. Teachers also call Jordan by the wrong name sometimes.

They mix up his name with a boy named Maury, who plays in the band. No one tries to change, even when students outright correct them. This isn’t just a problem with students. One teacher that has been at Riverdale for fourteen years and he still called “coach Rick” by another teacher. He doesn’t coach anything and the teacher didn’t bother to notice.

Jordan also navigates relationships with friends at the predominately white Riverdale with his friendships in his Black neighborhood. In one section, Jordan describes his experiences taking the bus in Washington Heights compared to the bus on the way to Riverdale Day Academy. He is expected to look tougher on the Washington Heights bus. But on the way to Riverdale, he needs to look laid back and chill.

The story talks about issues that occur in Jordan’s day-to-day life in a way that is easy for middle schoolers to understand. It can open up conversations about race between kids, between kids and parents, and honestly with anyone. It could be a good book to read in a classroom. I wish it was something we read at that age. It is a fun read that touches on important issues that not everyone is aware of–I know I wasn’t.

The art style is also cool. The comics are funny, and Craft doesn’t use color for a few of the side scenes where Jordan explains a certain rule or idea like “A Dude Pyramid: A Guide To The Cafeteria Hierarchy” or “Jordan’s Tips For Taking the Bus.” The drawings are in the same art style overall, but they look like they came right out of Jordan’s notebook.

The relationships between Jordan and his friends were sweet and fun to watch. Jordan, Drew, and Liam, a white student, end up all becoming friends. Jordan’s parents are also very supportive. They also have conflicts and disagreements like any other parents. For example, Jordan’s parents don’t initially agree on whether or not Jordan should go to Riverdale. His father wasn’t quite sure at first, but Jordan’s mom wanted him to go.

Both of their concerns are valid. We see how Jordan’s mom thinks it is a great opportunity that he should take advantage of–Jordan got into a prestigious school and his mom wishes she’d had that opportunity at his age–while his father is worried about Jordan leaving behind his old school and friends and moving to a school where most students are White.

I also liked Jordan’s relationship with his grandfather. They go out for Chinese and talk about Jordan opens up to him about how difficult school can be sometimes, and his grandfather comforts him and tells him that it is okay to be himself.

One of the core messages is to be kind to other kids regardless of differences. Jordan ends up befriending the girl who carries a puppet around at the end. She isn’t made fun of or mocked and we learn why she carries a puppet around. Middle school is a time when lots of students are awkward and just have different interests. She could have easily been the butt of the joke the entire time, but she’s not. She’s a pretty cool kid and super nice.

Middle school is difficult and it is nice to see kids bonding regardless of popularity. I feel like this is a message we need to see more often. Especially with kids at that age. That’s not to say that the bullies all apologize and all is perfect, but Jordan and his friends treat other kids with kindness and respect.

If there are any cons for this book, I would say that the pace is a bit slow. Jordan is going through normal middle school stuff, and there isn’t a ton of drama or a high point of tension. Graphic novels usually have that moment, and it can be cool to see a big dramatic scene in ink. Since it wasn’t too long, it didn’t bother me that much that it wasn’t as dramatic. Reading this book felt like watching Jordan go through life. After all, a lot can happen in one day. His interactions with family, friends, and classmates felt real and their relationships were layered and complex and I wanted to learn more.

I think that is why, while this book is written for a middle-school audience, anyone can enjoy Jordan’s story. This book isn’t too long of a read either, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good way to get back into reading after a slump. I know I read this during the semester and it was refreshing to see pictures and graphics after a day of classes. It is also a comic book that I feel like adults would enjoy reading. The message is good, and the book tackles issues well. I’m glad I was able to read this one, even though I’m not within the target demographic. I loved comic strips and books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, and Big Nate back in the early 2010s, but I’m not sure I would reread any of them or recommend them to most people.

New Kid was written to tell a story that Craft didn’t see growing up. Jordan and his friends go to the middle school book fair and see few stories with Black protagonists. He especially can’t find any comedies science fiction, fantasy, or just fun stories with a protagonist that looks like him. Jerry Craft had the same experience as Jordan, so he decided to write New Kid. Craft also wrote a published a sequel in 2020 called Class Act, starring Jordan’s friend Drew.

Links:

To learn more about Jerry Craft and his books, check out his website.

Have you read New Kid? If so, what did you think? Did you read many graphic novels growing up? Let me know down in the comments below.

Books

How to Write a Novel Based on Fanfiction The Right Way: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Pros

  • Witty banter, especially between Adam and Olive
  • Sweet friendships and found family
  • Likable side characters and relationships
  • Fascinating insight into life in STEM and academia
  • Well described tension and chemistry

Cons

  • Characters could have been developed better
  • The plot felt slightly convoluted at times
  • Slow at times
  • Plot is driven by communication issues
  • Her friend, Ahn, was kind of pushy about getting them together

It was a cool February day when I decided to venture to a local library to check out The Love Hypothesis. Bookstagram raved and sung in the streets about this romance. I was a little bit skeptical at first. How good could it really be? The amount of times I’ve seen this online is insane. If this book was advertised in person, it would be as widespread one of those “Where is Peter Parker” posters. But I don’t blame them. I binge read this book in a few days over break and I get it.

Summary

Olive is a brilliant PhD student who wants to be a great scientist. She has loved science since she was a kid, and that love and desire to help others keeps her going through the hours of analyzing samples and writing her findings, all for a low pay that affords her Ramen noodle dinners. There is also another reason she keeps going, a super important one, but I can’t say what it is or I’d be spoiling. Where would be the fun in that?

So, she’s a pretty typical twenty-something, figuring out her life and hanging out with her friends. She works and also partakes in pretty normal hobbies, like watching American Ninja Warrior with her roommate Malcolm and her friend Ahn when she’s got a free moment.

What Olive hasn’t done much of is dating, which is fine. She is not attracted to people very often anyway. She went out with Jeremy a few times, but she didn’t feel anything romantically. But now her friend Ahn likes him, crap. But Ahn is worried that Olive still likes Jeremy. Oh crap. Well, of course the answer to this predicament is to impulsively kiss the first man she sees. This poor man ends up being the absurdly tall, sexy-as-can-be, obnoxious Dr. Adam Carlsen.

Does this sound convoluted to you–like it could be created from fanfiction? Well, if you thought that way, you’re absolutely right. The Love Hypothesis was actually originally written as fanfiction about Rey and Kylo Ren. In this alternate universe, Kylo is a college professor and Rey is a grad student, but it was so good, that the author decided to turn it into a novel with different characters. If you’re surprised, I feel the same way. I actually didn’t find this out until I was halfway through.

I never noticed that Adam looks like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver and the character even have the same first name) until a friend pointed it out. Maybe I don’t get it. I never fantasized about confessing my love to Kylo Ren or of kissing him on the beach, at least, not yet. I was a mild shipper of Kylo and Rey, but I never finished the new Star Wars or cared that much. Maybe that’s why I just can’t picture him in this story.

When I picture a rude dark haired professor, I would think of Severus Snape before I consider Kylo Ren. I didn’t picture Snape as I was reading though; I imagined a tall muscly runner guy. I don’t get Kylo Ren, he’s attractive I suppose, but he’s not Adam. Adam has fluffy hair and he’s tall. That feels different. But maybe Adam Driver is tall? Okay, Google says he’s 6’3. Cool.

Anyway, so back to the story. Olive has to explain the sudden kiss to Ahn, and if Adam becomes her boyfriend–problem solved. Thus, fake dating begins.

The arrangement works out for Adam because he’ll convince the college that he has no plans of leaving for another university. Apparently, he’s a brilliant hotshot science and every college wants him.

Olive is brilliant too, of course. Her friends are also wicked smart and kind. But don’t worry, this story also includes condescending pig-heads too.

Adam and Olive’s story uses many tropes from fanfiction and romance novels, but Hazelwood makes them unique and fun. The lengths that her characters go to show that they are a couple are slightly, but also believably ridiculous, laughable, and full of piping hot sexual tension. Everyone in this story is a shipper, especially Anh. But then this all gets complicated when real feelings begin that they can’t ignore.

In addition to their great romance, these two are also likable characters that I enjoyed getting to know better. Olive is witty and fun and Adam is grumpy and kind. Their situations are also very realistic. They don’t have a ton of time on their hands working in academia. They don’t have hours to spend at coffee shops, on campus meals, and hanging on the quad. But they also attend the same functions and frequent the lab building. So, don’t worry, they aren’t too busy to fall in love.

Structure

The book is broken into chapters and each chapter has a “hypothesis” heading where Olive gives a hypothesis about her fake-dating situation. I enjoyed reading these headings. Each hypothesis is witty and silly and also gives us a hint as to what will happen in each chapter. The chapters are not too long and I got through them pretty quickly. The story also includes a few text messages and emails from characters, and they fit into the grad-school life. Hazelwood uses email and texting when appropriate, and it thankfully isn’t overused.

The Love Hypothesis is definitely made up of more dialogue than description. The plot moves forward through each social interaction between friends, colleges, and fake-dating partners. I wish Hazelwood had been more descriptive of the scenery, but it didn’t harm my enjoyment of the book. She is good at writing dialogue, describing body language, and writing Olive’s internal monologue.

I enjoyed the third person limited perspective that Hazelwood uses. I generally prefer first person, and I generally prefer write in it myself, but with this story, third person just works. We still learn about her thoughts and worries about life. Hazelwood does this by italicizing Olive’s thoughts as she reacts in the moment. I saw a few complaints that this was in third person, but I kind of liked it that way. She often gets nervous about Adam and their relationship, so we get to hear her say funny thing like this:

“Because.” Because my throat will dry up and my brain will shut down and I will be so bad that someone from the audience will take out a crossbow and shoot me in the kneecap.

Olive at page 198

It was a bit odd that Hazelwood sometimes italicized Olive’s thoughts and sometimes she didn’t. The only reason I can guess is that she wanted emphasis for certain thoughts, but if she is a good writer (which she is) those points will stick out regardless.

Olive’s internal monologue is witty and quick. She felt pretty relatable when she describes that feeling of awkwardness and uncertainty that comes with social situations like especially dating and public speaking.

I also found it fascinating how Hazelwood writes about the STEM grad school experience. All Olive’s feelings felt real and I often felt bad for her. I’ve never been there, but when I was reading I felt like I got it. I found the life of a biology grad student fascinating. Hazelwood herself has a P.H.D. in neuroscience and you can tell. She describes both the intricacies, the insecurities, and the isolation that comes from grad school. Hazelwood also shows us the bad parts of academia, the cutthroat environment and harsh professors, the sexism, the obnoxious scientists, and the lack of funding for studies or quality equipment.

Review of Romance

Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, this story is about two lonely people finding each other and growing in a community and understanding themselves. The story is one of found family–one of my favorite tropes. Olive’s friends Malcolm and Anh were amazing and it is fun to watch them all struggle together in the grad-school life. Their interactions and relationships felt realistic and silly. Her friends also had their own lives and interests that were separate from Olive. I feel like sometimes characters in these stories don’t have their own lives. I really liked Ahn in particular, even if she was kind of annoying about pushing Olive and Adam together.

Olive and Adam were adorable. They have funny banter that you could also expect in a coffee shop themed fanfiction. I’m telling you, this ship is the definition of the grumpy-sunshine trope. Olive is much more fun-loving, while Adam has a serious demeanor. Their interactions are filled with mutual pining and total awe of the other person’s bizarre actions. Opposites attract as they say, and these two are obviously very attracted to each other. For instance:

“You ooze moodiness”

“I do not.” He sounded indignant, which struck her as oddly endearing.

This story is definitely more of a slow-burn. While Olive and Adam do move forward in their relationship, it takes a while for them to realize what they want from each other and how the other person feels. If you’re looking for a book about characters who are all over each other right away and then have a ton of sex the entire book–you might end up a little disappointed. I personally like when there is an emotional connection and buildup before they get together. But I will admit, slow-burn romances can feel annoying, especially when they are super oblivious. In this case, I really liked how the romance was slower, especially from what we know about Olive’s character.

Demisexuality Representation

Olive isn’t very experienced in romance at the start of the story, and she hasn’t develop crushes on very many people and she didn’t date or want to date much beforehand this story. Hazelwood shows that that is just the way Olive experiences attraction, and it is normal. Olive never labels herself, but she does say she only becomes attracted to a potential partner when she trusts them and develops an emotional bond. Olive does talk about this with Adam. Although Olive never names her orientation, it sounds like she is demisexual.

I relate to Olive a lot, except for the part where she develops feelings for Adam. I’m not sure I’ve gotten there yet. I think that Olive is demiromantic too. Romantic and sexual attraction are sometimes linked, but not always. From what I interpreted, she doesn’t romantically like anyone before Adam. I liked how this was a slow-burn story and they grow to appreciate each other more over time.

As for representation, I would say The Love Hypothesis is a mixed bag. On one hand, some demisexual reviewers saw themselves in Olive. If Hazelwood wanted to take the demisexuality and or demiromantic route with Olive, she could have been more validating.

But it isn’t super positive either, Olive also wonders if there is something wrong with her and she never fully realizes that it is valid and normal to experience sexual and/or romantic attraction differently than traditional romance tells us–or to not experience sexual and romantic attraction at all. Those moments felt a bit odd and underdeveloped when I was reading them. I’m not sure Hazelwood handled demisexuality the best, but she does give it more awareness. Olive’s feelings could also be relatable to someone who didn’t date until later in life regardless of their sexuality. This story also has LGBTQ+ representation with other characters, but I can’t say anything specific without giving spoilers.

Thoughts on the Ship as a Whole

Overall, the romance was well written. A few reviewers have said that the characters are somewhat bland. I wish I’d gotten more development from them in general. They felt a bit cliché at times, but it didn’t bother me that much. The story is supposed to be fun and a lighthearted read.

The witty banter is great and the coffee shop dates were freaking adorable. Olive likes Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Adam gets black coffee, which was pretty amusing. They have so many silly moments together, and they’re just fun and you can unapologetically enjoy them. I liked how Adam got out of his shell after spending time with Olive. They’re so happy and goofy and they can be themselves together and grow together. I love them.

I also enjoyed how we got to see Olive’s career and her growing as a scientist and person. She struggles with public speaking and feels insecure, for instance, and we see her grow more confident. Hazelwood balances Olive’s science journey and romance–of course, since this is a romance novel, the romance part is given the most words, but the parts with her in grad school were given plenty of time and care. You can tell that Hazelwood has been there.

Plot/Communication Issues

So many of the problems in these characters’ lives occurred because they don’t talk to each other about anything. Olive did say that she doesn’t get close to many people because of her past and everything, but her reasoning still felt kind of like lazy writing. People deal with things emotionally in different ways, but it is still annoys me. Communication issues are probably my least favorite trope in any romance story. Also, since we knew they liked each other, it was irritating to see either of them even considering that the other seriously had feelings for anyone else instead. The story’s pacing also felt a little slow.

How to Publish a Fanfiction-Based Novel Right

The Love Hypothesis uses and plays with many conventions that exist in fanfiction, there is the coffee shop, the “there is only one bed” trope, the grumpy-sunshine trope, etc. All of these tropes and fanfic themes could have been cringe-worthy and badly-written, but they are not. Hazelwood has a sense of humor that makes their fake-dating interactions both awkward and filled with real tension. We obviously see that Adam cares about Olive and vice versa and they are kind to each other from the start. Olive is also her own person, she doesn’t feel like an Ali Hazelwood stand-in or a complete blank slate. She is the one to begin the fake-dating relationship and she doesn’t let things just happen to her. She is a pretty active character; Adam isn’t inactive or boring either and he’s a total sweetheart. We do get to understand why both of them act the way they do.

Unlike Fifty Shades and Twilight, the couple are pretty honest with each other, as long as the conversation topic isn’t whether or not if one has a crush on the other. While Adam has a reputation for being harsh with undergraduates, he is always sweet to Olive. The two ask for consent at every turn and take the other’s feelings into account. When we see them get together, it is deeply satisfying. But then the drama heats up, so we don’t get the happily ever after for too long.

Overall Thoughts and the Ending

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun read, and it is one that kept me turning pages. The writing is witty and fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously—but all the serious issues are treated with respect and care. I loved how Hazelwood writes stories within the STEM genre. Hazelwood creates a love story from a familiar setting and it works wonderfully. I had never read a book about grad school before, and this one was funny, sweet, and well-written. I’m not sure if I’d say this book is one that you need to read before you die, but I’m personally glad that I did.

As to the ending, I personally liked it. I thought it was good, maybe they could have added more story, but I didn’t mind leaving things a bit open. I also loved Malcolm’s ending too and Ahn’s. Although I expected to see her interact with Jeremy more. He was kind of just there.

Observations:

-This book contains sexual scenes/content. If you want to skip those parts, they occur on Chapter 16 and a bit of 17.

-I liked how Olive and Adam are marathon runners. That’s a cool hobby to include, even if it wasn’t necessarily part of the plot.

-People might find it unrealistic. The fake-dating trope can feel fake. If you’re looking for a more serious/plot driven story, this might not be for you. The Love Hypothesis is very relationship and romance driven and the premise isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously.

Have you read The Love Hypothesis? What did you think? Let me know down in the comments below!

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