Blog Tour Stop: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales

Welcome to one of the stops on the blog tour for author Leila Sales’ latest young adult novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say! Read on for my thoughts about this timely novel…

 

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Book Description:

A novel about public shaming in the internet age, the power of words, the cumulative destructiveness of microaggressions, and the pressing need for empathy.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.

We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. But what happens when we’re seen and heard saying or doing the wrong things?

When Winter Halperin—former spelling bee champion, aspiring writer, and daughter of a parenting expert—gets caught saying the wrong thing online, her life explodes. All across the world, people know what she’s done, and none of them will forgive her.

With her friends gone, her future plans cut short, and her identity in shambles, Winter is just trying to pick up the pieces without hurting anyone else. She knows she messed up, but does that mean it’s okay for people to send her hate mail and death threats? Did she deserve to lose all that she’s lost? And is “I’m sorry” ever good enough? Decide for yourself.

“It was just a stupid joke!”

In this era of social media, how easy is it to declare hatred for someone for something they’ve posted? Or to dismiss them outright as an evil person unworthy of another chance? And just how easy is it to compose a post on social media that might inadvertently change the course of your life forever?

“You probably shouldn’t have posted it online, though…”

In If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, the latest contemporary young adult title from Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets are Ours), the author explores the breakneck speed and magnitude of internet shaming and the repercussions of a teen posting something gone unintentionally, horribly viral.

“…I’m asking, why did you put it up on the internet?”
And this was the humiliating part. Because there was no good reason for it. “I just hoped people might think it was funny,” I mumbled.

The morning after posting a comment online regarding the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the recently-announced winner, high school senior Winter Halperin wakes up to online pandemonium. Winter’s posted comment- just shared to her relatively small group of followers (i.e. mostly friends)- has gone viral thanks to an influencer’s share. Overnight, Winter Halperin has gone from (self-described) good girl, good student, good daughter, proud past winner of the National Spelling Bee, to a nationally known, supposedly evil, racist, thoughtless, spoiled individual who is now at the center of a maelstrom. An individual who is now at the receiving end of internet strangers making threats to her life, threats that she should be raped, threats that she should burn in hell. Winter has become, within a span of hours, a public disgrace and subject to a spectrum of harassment. As Winter tries to process what has even happened, and her parents and older sister try to assess and help, Winter’s previously comfortable life and life plans take one major hit after another. Winter experiences just how quickly the general internet public (as well as some friends) are able to vilify, condemn, and name-call (whether justified or not). The extent of the social media furor and outrage at Winter reaches a boiling point, leaving her college plans, and thus future plans, in relics. This is when Winter, to the initial skepticism of her parents, turns to Revibe, a ‘reputation rehabilitation retreat’ in Malibu, that seeks to help ‘victims of public shaming’.

“Here’s why [your apologies] didn’t work: because none of you were really apologizing. Or, I should say, you weren’t just apologizing. You were also explaining and defending yourselves. You were saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to do it, and it’s not my fault, and it’s not as bad as you think it is.'”

I would argue that the character of Winter might incite feelings of deep discomfort, anger, bewilderment, sympathy and intense dislike. The character’s course of actions, especially in the last third of the novel, are, shall we say, surprising. Sales has written a complex story here, and how the reader processes Winter herself is also complex. Intention is a core concept of this story: Winter expresses multiple times that she didn’t mean her comment to come across as racist or mean-spirited in any way, she just meant to be funny- and Sales offers no simple truths or answers on whether the lack of intent is enough. Is the fact that Winter claims she didn’t mean any harm enough to excuse her? Does her comment- argued by a journalist to be “pretty thoughtless” but not “outright malevolent” – warrant the backlash, threats, public vitriol, and major fallout? Is her feeling and saying sorry enough?

While it is made clear that Winter is indeed sorry for her comment, how Sales writes and leaves Winter’s apologies and final actions makes for fascinating, if not vexing, reading. We are left, in the end, with a feeling of unease. Is Winter’s forever-changed life warranted given her course of actions post-Revibe rehabilitation? Sales does not necessarily excuse or forgive Winter, nor does she make her out to be irredeemable and contemptible, leaving everything uncomfortably unsettled…which I suppose, in the end, might have been what the author was aiming for!

“…It will keep happening forever, as long as there are humans and the internet and anonymity…”

Sales is at her best in the novel when combing the grey, often difficult and fraught areas that Winter has to wade into- especially notable during the course of Winter’s time at Revibe.  The discussions and arguments involving intention, inherent privilege and internalized prejudice, sincerity behind apology, justified punishment and penance, etc.- all wrapped up in the chaos of social media fallout- are very well done and the standout here. The material is absorbing, quite compelling, and it is clear that Sales herself has spent much time thinking about these issues. In her acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, YouTubers, writers and podcasters “who informed the ideas that appear in this novel”. Sales also makes it clear that “issues of privilege, microaggressions, and culpability are nuanced and complicated”, and recognizes that she “did not get everything right” in the novel. On the whole, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say proffers thought-provoking, if not sometimes contentious, subject matter up for discourse. Readers interested in exploring these topics further in a complicated, reflective, contemporary YA novel, or those who have previously read Sales’ other titles, might want to check this novel out.

Blog Tour Schedule!

April 29th- Page Turners Blog

April 30th- Books and Ladders

May 1st- Who Ru Blog & Evie Bookish

May 2nd- Fab Book Reviews

May 3rd- Good Books and Good Wine & Across the Words

May 4th- Alexa Loves Books

May 5th- The Book Bratz

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Coming Up: Blog Tour for Leila Sales’ latest YA & more!

The blog tour for Leila Sales’ latest young adult title, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, begins on April 29th and it will be stopping here on May 2nd! Do stop by and check out my thoughts on Sales’ contemporary, timely story.

I have had such a string of wonderful- truly excellent- reads lately: P.S. I Miss You; Be Prepared; Speak: The Graphic Novel; the picture book Petra. It’s looking like the streak might just be continuing! I recently finished reading K.A. Holt’s terrifically moving House Arrest, and am diving into the follow-up Knockout. Look forward to a new great picture books round-up post, as well as review posts talking about the latest books from Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe, David Wiesner, Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad, and more!

Review: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales

oncewasatime25777460Review: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 5, 2016 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte’s scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place?

Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.

If you are ever given the opportunity to go through a portal, you had better be absolutely certain that you can handle never coming back.

If you are a reader of young adult novels, you may recognize author Leila Sales from her well-received titles such as Tonight the Streets Are Ours, This Song Will Save Your Life, or Mostly Good Girls. I have been a fan of Sales’ novels since her debut so I was delighted when I read that she was set to release a middle grade title in 2016. Once Was a Time, a time-traveling story with a young English protagonist, is indeed a big departure from Sales’ more known work in contemporary YA; a departure that absolutely succeeds. At its heart a story about a deep friendship between two kindred spirits, Once Was a Time is another surprising, beautiful and memorable read of 2016.

The story begins in 1940’s England, where we meet our ten year old protagonist and narrator Charlotte. Charlotte and her very best friend Kitty are endlessly fascinated by the strange and wonderful-sounding work of Charlotte’s father. A professor of science and working with the British government, Professor Bromley’s area of intense focus and research is that of time travel and portals. One night, Kitty and Charlotte are kidnapped by sinister, threatening forces who want Professor Bromley’s research. Facing down the possibility of imminent death, Charlotte saves her own life when she makes an irreparable decision: seeing the elusive, nebulous, shimmery shape of a portal, Charlotte decides to JUMP. Without Kitty.

Charlotte ends up in Sutton, Wisconsin, year 2013. An entire seventy three years away- gone- from her past life in Bristol. While I don’t wish to get into too many details here due to spoilers and space, I will say that Sales does quite an incredible job of placing Charlotte from one distinctive decade and country into another completely different time and place. In a plot device I particularly appreciated, a local library, its resources, and a kind-hearted librarian become a key factor in how Charlotte survives, begins and maintains her new, strange, surreal life in Sutton- and also how she starts to uncover more about her ‘old’ life, …and what happened to her family and friends. Charlotte’s narrative voice here is so well done: a curious, resourceful, bright young narrator who never, ever forgives herself for leaving her dearest friend Kitty behind. As time goes on in the present for Charlotte, her memories of Bristol and her family begin to dim slightly, though her intense, aching pains of regret and sadness never do. It is not until a prescient discovery in the pages of a book, however, that Charlotte comes face to face with yet another life-changing possibility: that there may be some way that she can find Kitty again.

Overall, Once Was a Time is a moving, wonderfully written, tenderhearted middle grade read. While some of the time-traveling/portal aspects of the novel are a wee hazy, that had no bearing on how much I genuinely loved the experience of meeting Charlotte and reading her extraordinary story. Unexpectedly emotional, written with sophistication and elegance, Sales has done a tremendous job here with her middle grade debut. I hope she continues to write for both YA and children’s genre as she clearly has the terrific ability to do both very well.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (31): The Passion of Dolssa & Once Was a Time

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: Julie Berry‘s The Passion of Dolssa and Leila Sales‘s Once Was a Time. I was absolutely enthralled by Julie Berry’s gripping young adult title All the Truth That’s In Me– the year I read it, it was a top YA read of year for me- so I am very much looking forward to read her latest, an historical fiction title. Tagged as medieval, dark and thrilling, with a number of terrific reviews already out there, I can’t wait to dive in. Popular YA author Leila Sales (a must-read author for me!) moves into the middle-grade/children’s genre with the upcoming Once Was a Time. Described as a time-traveling historical title, I am very curious to read what Sales does with this new genre foray! As I mentioned in my review of Janet B. Taylor’s Into the Dim, I have had a pretty wobbly relationship with time travel fiction. But! I really enjoyed Into the Dim, and given the fact that I am a fan of Sales’ writing, I think Once Was a Time holds great promise!

PASSIONOFDOLSSA25902198The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Expected publication: April 12, 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.

Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she’s on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too.Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas.

When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers. But all of Botille’s tricks, tales, and cleverness can’t protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa’s passion and Botille’s good intentions could destroy the entire village.

From the author of the award-winning All the Truth That’s in Me comes a spellbinding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page and make you wonder if miracles really are possible.

 

ONCEWASATIME25777460Once Was a Time by Leila Sales
Expected publication: April 5, 2016 by Chronicle Books

In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte’s scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place?

Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.

Best Books of 2015, Part 2: Young Adult Fiction

Welcome to Part 2!

Another year of reading is inching its way to an end! All around, I would say that it has been a pretty solid year of reads: from brilliant and moving picture books, to gems in young adult, children’s and adult fiction, there have been a number of winners.

LastTimeWeSayGoodbye17285330

SenseoftheInfinite23015948

vengeanceroad23719270

tonightthestreetsareours23310761

 

 

 

 

 

thetruthcomm23229427

ThriceBurned22915872

simonvs19547856

Conviction18398627

 

 

 

 

 

I am so happy to say that though I did not read a ton of YA, there were a number of terrific– smart, sharp, meaningful, innovative- teen titles in the relatively small selection I did get to. Great crop! In no particular order, here are my picks for best young adult fiction:

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby
Thrice Burned (Portia Adams Adventure #2) by Angela Misri
Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

 

*Some titles may not have been published in 2015; the books are titles I read over the last year. Some titles may have been gifted from publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this had no impact on placing in this list.

Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

tonightthestreetsareours23310761Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 15, 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Verdict: Very Good
Book Description:

Recklessly loyal. That’s how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Caring for her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she’s grown resentful of everyone—including her needy best friend and her absent mom—taking her loyalty for granted.

Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn’t even met her.

Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him. During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.

Since reading and enjoying Mostly Good Girls when it first came out, Leila Sales’ young adult novels have always been on my radar. The author’s novels are contemporary, containing some of the more common teen elements of high school romance, friendship and coming-of-age- but with a tendency toward slightly edgier narrations or unexpected/unusual arcs.

Atypical of YA novels, Sales’ novel is written in third person; for some readers, this could be unwelcome, but for me, it is a treat. I personally love that this novel was written in third person; our protagonist, Arden, is so much more intriguingly presented this way. Angry about her mother’s recent departure from their family to go and explore herself and find a life in New York, Arden is in flux. Taking care of her younger brother while her father drowns himself in work, Arden is expected to be dependable. Loyal. In a relationship with a handsome and by all accounts talented classmate, Arden feels that that side of her life is…okay…safe. But when a strange and sad question she poses on the internet about love leads her to a hypnotizing personal blog of a young man named Peter, Arden starts reevaluating herself in relation to everyone around her.

What could have been either a cautionary story of misplaced obsession or a tale of fated young lovers becomes something so much more interesting. Arden does indeed track down the writer of Tonight the Streets Are Ours, but that ends of being just one facet of a layered story. It is the build up to Arden’s decision to find Peter in New York City that is so compelling and moving, and how she confronts carefully crafted truths. The relationship between Arden and her mother, of learning half-truths, Arden’s history of ‘saving’ her best friend Lindsey, and her questions about the depth and reciprocation of love– all of these essential elements and points come together and culminate after her night of meeting Peter.

Overall, I found myself pretty engrossed in Tonight the Streets Are Ours. While I felt that the plot and character arcs (especially that of Lindsey) started to whither and drift a tad toward the end, I think the novel as a whole is very interesting, well-crafted and well-written. I feel as though Sales tried to go beyond the expected in YA- in terms of narrative structure and story arc- which led to something surprising and accomplished. The way in which Sales combined the third person narration of Arden and first person blog entries of Peter is so well done here- and made this novel all the more interesting. Readers and fans of authors such as Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, and Jennifer E. Smith might especially enjoy this young adult title.

I received this book as an ARC from Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.