June 17, 2024

Writer, Jemma Van Grol

Here is some background information on myself to prove my book reviewing credibility. I grew up reading and fell in love with it:  Robert Munch, Dr.Seuss…all the classics. I broadened my horizons with chapter book series: Junie B. Jones, The Rainbow Magic Fairies, Percy Jackson, The Land of Stories, and Harry Potter. And I can’t forget my brief Raina Telgemier/graphic novel phase. Until I read Murder on the Orient Express which flipped my genre interest entirely and caused me to spiral into a murder mystery obsession. Now here we are, present-day and here I am, a 16-year-old girl who loves romance novels. Predictable (and respectable), I know. But enough about me and onto my top 10 reads from 2021…

*I must warn you that I contradict myself a lot, so keep in my mind that these are my favourite books from this year and I would recommend all of them!*

10. “Normal People” By Sally Rooney

Ratings: 3/5

genre(s): a love story (but not a “romance novel”), YA

*TW: Abuse*

“At school, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other. Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.”

This book is loved and hated for many (valid) reasons. I think I am somewhere in the middle. I didn’t love it, I liked it. I didn’t hate it, I disliked certain parts. I’m going to get my negatives out first, it bothers me that Sally Rooney doesn’t use quotation marks when characters are speaking. It seems like a very tiny issue but it made the book rather confusing at times and I do not understand why the author couldn’t use them, it is rather unnecessary to not use them. Other than punctuation, this novel was well written but I wouldn’t say I “enjoyed” the book because it was very somber and downhearted. Connell and Marianne’s relationship captures the vulnerability and awkwardness of love, as they bounce on, off, and around each other for years. It is a very “will they, won’t they” relationship. The first half of the book was superior to the second half. The development of the characters was quite unsuccessful and the pair kept repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again. Their lack of maturity was infuriating but ultimately kept me hooked. 

9. “The Summer I Turned Pretty” By Jenny Han

Ratings: 3/5

Genre(s): coming of age, young love, pre-teen/tween fiction

“Belly measures her life in summers. Everything is good, everything magical happens between June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer—they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.”

Jenny Han is undeniably an incredible writer, but as silly as this sounds, I found the choice of names quite odd. It’s not a huge deal but I couldn’t take the boys seriously when their names were used, especially Conrad. Moving on…throughout the book, you feel very connected to Belly. Although the book starts when Belly is fifteen, Jenny Han does a great job weaving stories from her childhood through the book; it feels like you’re watching her grow up as you read. I wish she chose Jeremiah over Conrad though. Conrad was a very moody and mysterious, typical “bad boy” character. But I am curious to see how this series will develop and will read the rest of the books. This book depicts heartbreak and first love all at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it just isn’t my style of book at this moment in my life. But let me tell you, if I had read this book a couple of years ago I would’ve been obsessed with it! 

8. “They Both Die at the End” By Adam Silvera

Rating: 3/5

Genre(s): dystopian, young love, YA fiction, switching POV

“On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.”

I hate to say it but, this book was overrated in my opinion. Don’t misunderstand me, it was an amazing story and very well written. I just personally expected more. There was so much build-up for a very, dare I say, weak ending. Although, I do believe that Adam Silvera intended for the ending to be peaceful, the reviews were just deceiving. The problem for me was that I read it after all the hype and attention it received, so I was expecting a big heartbreaking ending that would leave me crying in bed for days. If I had read this book before it gained popularity I think I would’ve liked it more. Other than the ending, this book not only pulls but yanks at your heartstrings. The whole time you read you’re waiting for someone to say “sike” and hoping that Mateo and Rufus beat the odds and survive, but they don’t. It’s truly heartbreaking and is a tear-jerker. Also, the fandom created an Instagram account resembling Rufus’ (@rufusonpluto). If you look in the comments of the most recent post people have commented the date, time, and location of when they finished the book; it’s truly beautiful.

7. “One of Us is Lying” By Karen M. McManus

Rating: 3.5/5

Genre(s): Murder Mystery, YA fiction, switching POV

“Pay close attention and you might solve this. On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention. Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule. Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing. Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher. And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.”

Karen M. McManus wrote this book with switching POV’s allowing you to delve into the thoughts and lives of each character. Although it is not the most elaborate murder plot (I predicted the killer about halfway through), it reached its targeted audience and was very enjoyable to read. I was very engaged while reading this book, not necessarily for the plot but for the characters. Each individual “suspect” was very well developed through the book and their perspectives were the glue holding this book together. I immediately fell in love with Nate and Bronwyn’s relationship and it made the book more interesting to read. This book depicts the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a teenager and how no matter how perfect somehow appears you will never truly know what’s happening in their life and why they are the way they are.

6. “Six Angry Girls” By Adrienne Kisner

Rating; 3.5/5

Genre(s): feminism, political activism, YA fiction, switching POV’s

“Raina Petree is crushing her senior year until her boyfriend dumps her, the drama club (basically) dumps her, the college of her dreams slips away, and her arch-nemesis triumphs. Things aren’t much better for Millie Goodwin. Her father treats her like a servant, and the all-boy Mock Trial team votes her out, even after she spent the last three years helping to build its success. But then, an advice columnist unexpectedly helps Raina find new purpose in a pair of knitting needles and a politically active local yarn store. This leads to an unlikely meeting in the girls’ bathroom, where Raina inspires Millie to start a rival team. The two join together and recruit four other angry girls to not only take on Mock Trial but to smash the patriarchy in the process.”

I found this book in my local library and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I’ve never read a book quite like it. It’s far from being a “literary classic”, nevertheless I enjoyed this book and found myself getting personally attached to the characters (especially to Millie). If girl power could be described in a book it would be this one! It was simply refreshing to read this book and was a palette cleanser for me this year.

5.“People We Meet on Vacation” By Emily Henry

Rating: 3.5/5

Genre(s): friends to lovers, YA novel

“Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car shares home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together. Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since. Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees. Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?”

I loved them then and now. Emily Henry is one of my authors when it comes to romance novels. Her writing is so real and effortless. I adored how you got to bounce back between their past vacations and the present until you reach the end where the past and present collide, it resulted in a very engaging and well-rounded story. The humor! The angst! The banter! The chemistry! I would simply die to have a connection as wholesomely passionate as Poppy and Alex. I fell in love with Alex’s character with each chapter and wanted him all to myself, but I will note that I find it funny how every incredibly kind, surprisingly athletic, and nerdy male love interest is almost always named Alex…I refuse to believe that I am the only one who has noticed that. Overall I enjoyed this book and I would recommend this book!

4. “Beach Read” By Emily Henry

Rating: 3.75/5

Genre(s): academic? Rivals to lovers, YA romance

“Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block. Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.”

Once again we have another book written by Emily Henry…*chefs kiss*. I loved this book and I love love love how it was written. Emily is undeniably talented and writes so effortlessly. Reading this book I felt like I was actually there, feeling all the emotions, seeing all the events, and talking to all the characters. I adored Pete and Maggie, they added a much-needed dash of spunkiness. This book is exactly what it seems to be: a cute heartwarming romance.

3. “Turtles all the way down” By John Green

Rating: 4/5

Genre(s): YA mystery, romance

TW: OCD, anxiety, intrusive thoughts

“It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.”

John Green, you have done it again. WOW! Holy moly this book…my heart was torn apart and was pieced back together by the end. Aza and Davis’ relationship is so pure yet so utterly heartbreaking. I started reading this book thinking it would be more plot-focused, AKA finding Mr.Pickett. But I soon realized it heavily focused on the main character’s (Aza’s) development as a person through the story. It started a little slow for me but the more you read and get to know the characters the more invested you get. John Green is an incredibly talented writer and writes the teenage characters in a very realistic and relatable way. Most authors writing YA get lost and write the most horribly inaccurate and rather insulting teenage characters but John Green should pat himself on the back because he hit the nail right on the head with this book. I plan on rereading this book soon and I would recommend it!

2. “Today, Tonight, Tomorrow” By Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rating: 4/5

Genre(s): Academic rivals to lovers, romance

“Today, she hates him. It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time. Tonight, she puts up with him. When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other. As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams. Tomorrow … maybe she’s already fallen for him.”

I. Loved. This. Book. I am biased because rivals to lovers is my favourite trope but the evolution of their relationship is *chefs kiss*. Unlike Rachel Lynn Soloman’s other two books, this one is very light and fun. It is slightly PG 13 towards the end but overall made my heart smile and run around in circles and do a little dance. Please read this book ASAP!

1.“All the Light We Cannot See” By Anthony Doerr

Rating: 4.25/5

genre(s): historical fiction (WWII), switching POVs

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them, they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.”

This was my favourite book of 2021 and one of my favourite books I have ever read! I cannot do it justice by explaining it in-depth but Anthony Doerr is an astounding author and did an amazing job with this novel. It is so heartbreaking and so heartwarming all at the same time. On one page I was smiling and on the next page, I was crying. It was beautiful writing that conveyed a story between two completely different people who don’t know of the other’s existence and how the actions of the pair can affect each other’s lives. READ THIS BOOK!!! But if you hate it just don’t tell me because I won’t be able to handle it.

If you have made it this far…congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back and cozy up in a blanket with your beverage or snack of choice and bury your nose into a good book!

Thanks for reading!

*ALL book summaries found on goodreads.com*

About Author


Heyo! My name is Jemma, I am a grade 11 student-athlete at WGSS as well as an editor for GNN this year! Outside of school, I enjoy playing sports, reading, napping, and listening to music (Taylor Swift to be specific).

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