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Book Review: Paper Bag Mask

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review!

This book is about a prank. Kind of. Not really. It’s complicated.

AP student Redmond Fairweather steals the whomper.

Ok, so the ‘whomper’ is this little wooden sword his AP History teacher, Mr. Street, uses as a prop in class. There’s nothing particularly special about it – the origin is different every time Mr. Street is asked about it – but he seems strangely fond of it. And when Redmond sees Mr. Street handing a suspicious little bag full of powder to a student, he decides that Mr. Street deserves a little pain.

And then Redmond, Alice and Deep (his two best (and only) friends) are making a ransom video, wearing paper bags over their heads to disguise their identity.

He didn’t plan it. He actually meant to give it back almost immediately, but then the exremely popular (and hot) Elodia Cruz confronts him about it, telling him he must not return the whomper. It turns out that Redmond isn’t the only one getting weird vibes from his teacher – there are rumours of past interactions with students, not to mention how his current wife was originally a student where Mr. Street was working as a TA.

Bit by bit, Elodia and Red (as Elodia calls him now) gather a team, including members of the school’s most popular band. Red and Alice start dating, Deep is clearly falling for the singer of the band, and Elodia is shocked at how much she realises she likes Red. It’s all very, very exciting.

Then the plan escalates. They decide to steal the giant whomper (a paper-mache debut to the original built by a past class, measuring about ten whole feet). And then, naturally, there’s another ransom video. And finally, Red tells Elodia what he saw happen between Mr. Street and Jasmine (the girl who received the bag of drugs, who also happens to be Elodia’s best friend). Linked with the rumours of the ‘White Whale’, a teacher distributing drugs through a network of students, the gang decide to out Mr. Street. Publicly.

They post all the videos online, including a final one where they destroy the whomper for good, and out Mr. Street as the White Whale. It becomes really quite messy. There are police involved, Alice and Red’s relationship is on the line, and they’re even interviewed on national television. Red thinks this is it, he’s finally been seen, he’s liked by the other students. And then it gets worse. And worse. And worse.

This was a super enjoyable book! It was set in high school (I think the students are around 17, so that’s the equivalent to Sixth Form here in the UK), so it was aimed at a slightly older audience than a lot of other YA books. It had a great sense of humour throughout, and an informal, ‘chatty’ kind of vibe. But there was a lot of more important stuff, deeper topics like drugs and even abuse being broached. And of course, there was the typical kid-messing-up-big-time followed by kid-finding-his-true-self aspect that pretty much all coming of age novels have.

I did notice a few tiny mistakes with grammar, simple typos and such, as well as a few instances where double punctuation has been used. This may have been purposeful, to give that whole teen voice, but I thought it just looked incorrect/immature/unprofessional.

Overall, I really did like this. I found myself feeling genuinely embarrassed on Redmond’s behalf, and although I could see where he was going so wrong at times, I couldn’t help but read on and see what happened. 4.5 stars!

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Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Paperback, 303 pages – Published April 7th 2015 by Penguin

This was really a wild ride. I think this book managed to get me out of a mini reading slump (yay!).

The book starts off with Simon’s private email being read by some guy in his drama club. This may not seem like a huge deal, except Simon’s secretly been emailing this guy who he’s maybe in love with. But they don’t know each other’s real identity, and neither of them have come out yet.

So Simon has to help the guy – Martin – get with one of his best friends. Only she isn’t interested (at all). At the same time, Simon is falling for Blue more and more with each email, and is becoming desperate to find him in real life. He starts to decode the clues in an attempt to figure out his identity – only for Blue to beat him to it.

Simon’s also struggling with tons of friendship issues, a big play coming up, and his family (and the entire school, for that matter) finding out about him being gay. He doesn’t want any of it to be a big deal. But it is.

He’s a great character, portrayed to be a normal human being. His relationships all seem pretty realistic (though I’m sceptical about the situation with Blue. Would anyone really be that lucky?). I really felt for him throughout the novel, and I was so unbelievably pleased for him at the end. I’m so not used to such great, adorable endings.

My biggest issues are that sometimes the teen voice was being pushed a bit too hard – we don’t always say “freaking” or whatever. And the scenarios seemed a little too far-fetched sometimes. (Seriously, has anyone ever experienced people dancing in the crowd at a school talent show?) But generally this was a good representation of life, and I really enjoyed reading it.

very nearly marked this as a favourite, but decided on just 4.5 stars in the end. I loved the book, but there were a few minor details that put me off just a little bit. It is most definitely a fantastic book, though! I’d definitely recommend this book for the YA audience.

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