Year on Fire by Julie Buxbaum (Young Adult)

Writing: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4/5

A quartet of students at the elite Los Angeles Wood Valley High School — each facing their own coming-of-age difficulties. Twins Immie and Archer, so close they tend to think conjoined thoughts; Paige, the strong, fearless, and ultra-competent; and Rohan, newly arrived from London with his father as a result of some pretty serious marital discord. And around them fires always seem to be burning — one wildfire after another and even a fire within the school itself as a none-too-subtle reminder of the fires that are raging within.

The dramas that comprise the story are more-or-less typical dramas faced by teens today — some run-of-the-mill first kisses, small betrayals, secrets (all still deeply felt regardless of their commonality) as well as a good array of home situations — all problematic in their own never over-the-top but nevertheless deeply felt way. I am impressed by the way Buxbaum treats these situations and experiences directly from the perspective of the student characters — each of whom have their own personalities and coping mechanisms. We are treated to their anger, sadness, confusion and the sometimes slow realization of their own parents as individuals with their own flaws and capacity for error.

Well-written with plenty of slowly gained insight and fun dialog / text streams.

Thank you to Delacorte Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on April 12th, 2022.

Last Couple Standing by Matthew Norman (General Fiction)

Mitch and Jessica are the last couple standing. When the other three couples in their set all divorce within a couple of years, suddenly their own previously happy marriage seems almost up for grabs. With infidelity at the root of most of their friend’s problems, they decide to experiment with a temporarily open marriage to see if they can forestall what feels like the inevitable. Jessica — a therapist — points out “Love is a feeling. Monogamy is a rule. One we came up with twelve-thousand years ago when we started worrying about property rights.”

While the first chapter is a kind of leaden background — explaining how all four couples got together and what went wrong in the other three — both writing and content picked up after that. Lots of humorous and interesting dialogue and plenty of non-gender conforming behavior. In fact, I really appreciated the fact that each character was an individual with his/her own ideas and standards — none of which felt stereotypical to me. Scarlett — one of Mitch’s wilder students (and simultaneously Jessica’s client — they work out of the same high school) — really throws some good curve balls at them both with her own ideas about sex, love, and the #metoo movement.

I found the book increasingly insightful and relevant and enjoyed how it portrayed a wide variety of viewpoints.

Some good quotes:
“Like we used to before the kids sucked the life out of us like vampires.”

“For Mitch, being married to a therapist had some advantages and some disadvantages. She was unfailingly reasonable. She was incredibly smart. But sometimes it felt like he was talking to a robot that had programmed to read WebMD pages aloud to him.”

“I haven’t had sex with a guy once since my divorce who hasn’t tried to come all over me.” “Same,” said Sarah. “Which is such a delight, because God knows that’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”

“How much easier would life be if, the moment you get married, you take a pill, and everyone else in the world turns plain and boring?”

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 17th, 2020.