The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
After her older sister's death, Lennie finds herself in a love triangle with a talented musician and the only boy who truly seems to understand her grief. I really enjoyed the characters in this book, with all of them carrying complexities and motivations and flaws - all except Rachel, who annoyed me because there didn't seem to be any depth to her or reason for her and Lennie to hate each other. Grief and the guilt that comes with it was very effectively portrayed and I felt Lennie's emotions along with her. Plot-wise, things moved a little slow for my liking and although the drive behind Lennie's mistakes was explained, there was one I didn't find convincing enough. The family relationships that are bubbling in the background for most of the book are an understated gem, and this is what tipped it into 4 star territory for me.
15-year-old Esme's search for her mother leads her to another world - one with magic, dragons, the best friends she's had and the greatest danger she'll face. This book has a literary bent and there are detailed, evocative descriptions that I'm able to recognise even if I can't fully appreciate them**. In places the language and vocabulary seemed very difficult for lower YA (which is the age this book is pitched at), although I am conflicted about that because I think there's value in extending young readers. There were times that I felt the ideas and events were summarised (and instances where they were unnecessarily repeated in summary), rather than experiencing them in Esme's head, but as action increased this became less of a concern, and for a debut I think the author has promise. The character arc was satisfying and I really appreciate that the friendships between Esme, Lillian and Daniel were free from unnecessary romantic tensions.
*NB: I was given an advance copy of this in exchange for an honest review. While I didn't know the author beforehand, I will be having a conversation with her in the coming weeks as part of my interview series - stay tuned!
**I have aphantasia, so physical descriptions of people and places are the aspect of literature that has little effect on me. But I wouldn't have been successful in studying, writing or teaching if I didn't know good description when I see it!