White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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Rating: [4/5]

This book is ambitious, to say the least. Following two families over the course of over two decades, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a book about culture and human relationships as they develop throughout time. Set in a diverse London neighborhood, Smith really delivers a tight-knit cast of characters that all know each other in some way. In White Teeth, the past merges with the present in everyone’s lives, questioning who is content to live in nostalgia and who wants to move forward along with society. What the book may lack in terms of a structured plot, it makes up for in fully realized characters.

White Teeth focuses on two families: the Joneses and the Iqbals. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal served in World War Two together, both marrying much younger women in the 1970s, Clara and Alsana, respectively. Archie and Clara have to contend with being an interracial couple in the 70s—Clara is Jamaican—while Samad and Alsana struggle to find a balance between their Islamic faith and Bangladeshi culture as first-generation immigrants. Their children, Irie Jones and Magid and Millat Iqbal, face racism and struggle with society and their families over their own identities. Though not a coming-of-age novel, the book does deal with themes of identity and finding oneself. Overall, the book reveals a struggle between young and old, past and present, and technology and tradition that everyone can relate to within the context of this insular community.

Almost sixteen years after its publication, it is easy to see the effects White Teeth has had on popular literature. For example, J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, emulates the microcosmic community Zadie Smith creates in White Teeth. Like Smith, Rowling describes the ugliest parts of characters’ inner worlds without shame. Popular reviewers have said that there are no likable characters in The Casual Vacancy; the same could be said of White Teeth. There is an ironic humor to both novels that lures the reader in, allowing social critiques to filter through this veil of sarcasm. Readers that enjoyed The Casual Vacancy will also likely enjoy its predecessor.

Readers that like learning about social issues will enjoy this book, as will readers that like darker shades of humor. This book will appeal to readers interested in London and contemporary fiction. Readers interested in stories of immigration and colonialism will appreciate the characters Smith creates and the struggles they face. Everyone can find something familiar in this book, as it is primarily a story of humanity. This book has broad appeal, and offers important commentary about the way that people treat other people.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

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I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before this one, which I’m really not sure how that’s possible. I honestly didn’t know what to expect because I’ve heard so many mixed things about her books. This book was actually a really pleasant surprise.

Rating: [3/5]

Summary:

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

Likes: This book deals with a lot of really sensitive issues, including rape, eating disorders, and mental health in a really honest and respectful way. I thought the inclusion of Owen’s anger management techniques into their relationship dynamic was really well-done. The characters are all really interesting, even if not all of them are likable. I also enjoyed all of Owen’s weird-ass music and all the stuff about his radio show. That was just really fun.

Dislikes: I think I went into this book expecting it to be a romance and in that regard, I was kind of disappointed. There were like two romantic scenes that I can remember. So if you’re looking for a book with a lot of romance, this book may not be for you.

Tune in next time for my review of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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I got this book for free, actually. Thanks, work. I really wasn’t sure what to expect because I am admittedly extremely picky about contemporary books, but I actually really love this book a lot. I’m pissed no one got me the sequel for Christmas. Just kidding. But really.

Rating: [4/5]

Summary:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

Likes: I love Lara Jean. She is so funny and quirky and adorable. Like, I kinda wanna be best friends with her. I basically love all the side characters too, especially Kitty and Josh.

I also appreciate the representation. Lara Jean’s family is half South Korean. This story also has a lot of important messages about relationships, sex, and feminism that I wish I would have been able to read when I was still a teenager. It was really refreshing to get that perspective.

Dislikes: I was really unsatisfied with the way it ended, which is why this book got 4 stars instead of 5. I just felt like nothing was resolved at all, but it didn’t end on a cliffhanger either. So mainly I was just left feeling vaguely uncomfortable and unfulfilled by the ending.

Tune in next time for my review of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood!