Impact of Romance Novels on Young Readers

Twilight. Divergent. Matched. Pride and Prejudice. Romeo and Juliet. These stories are classics; known by readers everywhere for their intricate detail and swoon-worthy love interests. However, is it possible that these stories have ruined the young reader’s current perception of relationships?

I’ve thought a lot about the role of YA romance novels in the last couple years. I once praised the gooey-feel-good, yet often simplistic plot line of romantic comedies and the “bad boy/good girl” archetype I read throughout my tween and teen years. While these books are wonderful for many reasons, I couldn’t help but realize as I got older that the protagonists were much younger than myself, and yet they had their life easily figured out by the end of 300 pages. This led me waiting throughout my teen years to be older; but as I grew into my late teens, I found the end of high school didn’t mean the completion of my self development—and more importantly—no attractively mysterious love interest would randomly come into my life. 

In a blog post about why they hate YA novels, Vivian DeRosa discusses two important points surrounding the typical themes within teen-romances: first, teenagers are inherently awkward, underdeveloped, and immature people; second, YA relationships are pure fiction. I don’t think there is a single person who looks back at their early teens and thinks they were at their peak. Being a teenager, even well into someone’s twenties, is awkward both physically and mentally; developing into who we are and finding who we want to be is a lifelong process that doesn’t conclude when one problem is solved. It is difficult for young adults to read these iconic stories and not receive the impression that they are supposed to be stunningly attractive and fully mentally developed, especially when Hollywood casts older actors to play these characters. It is impossible to think that 16-year-old Tris, while just beginning to understand her “Divergence,” could possibly build an actually sustainable relationship with Four. Or that 17-year old Bella not only found true love with a 104-year-old Vampire but gets married and fights in an ancient feud between the vampires and werewolves all while still in high school.

To this point, “YA tends to treat teenage relationships like they’re going to last forever. Many epilogues show the main character and their love interest happily married. But that’s not how most teen relationships shake out…” (DeRosa, 2017). Most teenagers are focused on typical high school and young adult things, and if they are in a relationship usually it doesn’t develop into a life-altering love story that will take precedence of their life and last forever. However, these stories have young readers believing that not only are relationships purely built on “finding the one,” but that there is no effort involved in finding, cultivating, and sustaining an actual romantic relationship. This thought process is detrimental to the perception of good relationships because it doesn’t offer the difficult perspective of how much work and time relationships actually take; it gives young readers a false foundation that life is just like these stories and all two people need is an attractive counterpart and one very passionate kiss.

Additionally, the perception of love through not just YA romance novels but all romance media is dangerous for all genders and sexualities. Because while Twilight, Divergent, and Romeo and Juliet are all coming of age stories where the protagonist’s journey takes the reader on one of self discovery as well, these mediums are often excluding the storylines of non-cis gendered, racially diverse, or gay protagonists. That a male protagonist without abs might fall in love with another male, female, or nonbinary peer who might have a diverse set of beliefs or culture is almost unheard of in YA romances, while today this is the reality of relationships. These stories, while considered classics, cater to a specific female fantasy—and without the diversity of representation, there is a whole population who may either lack a well-rounded understanding of relationships and/or see love as an unreachable fantasy.

This is not to say that these stories aren’t good. They are. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is continuously taught and referenced through different mediums; why John Green’s “Okay? Okay.,” line reference has taken off with readers; and why the promotion of “sparkly, chiseled-abed vampires” has become a teen cliché. These stories are beautiful, incite strong emotions, and are oftentimes powerful. Despite having contradicting emotions about the genre, I still love and appreciate these stories. Don’t stop reading them, but don’t take them as a bible to your literary world. Teach each other that these books are not a guide for how to look, act, or love—and, most importantly, expand to local and diverse authors dedicated to telling the story that is not only special but realistic. In this way, we can indulge in the beauty and power of love, but remember that love is nothing without a relationship—which is often much more complicated than 300 pages would suggest.

Aviles, G. (2019, March 10). The rise of young adult books with LGBTQ characters – and what’s next. NBCNews. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/rise-young-adult-books-lgbtq-characters-what-s-next-n981176

DeRosa, V.P. (2017, June 21). I’m a teenager and I don’t like young adult novels. Here’s why. Huffingtonpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_b_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

Magic and Mysticism

For everyone out there who learned to ask deep philosophical questions at the age of twelve or thirteen after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I would like to impress upon all readers the great power of young adult fantasy novels to teach the juvenile mind about ethics and existentialism. I have not come across a history or political science textbook that has explained a tyrant’s psychology as well as Albus Dumbledore: “Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!”

A frequent argument I have heard from skeptics is that fantasy books fill their readers’ heads with unrealistic nonsense (dead flies and bits of fluff), while the truth is that these stories deliver some of life’s most crucial lessons in the form of allegory.

When Dumbledore points out to Harry that not every prophecy in the Department of Mysteries has been fulfilled, he reminds us that our decisions, even at a microcosmic level, are what shape our future in the end. The entire arc of the prophecy is a caricature of how human beings have always tried to predict and control the future. But as every time travel movie has proven, attempting to change the past or the future always comes at a great price. Even though it is not realistically possible to change the past, we like to think that we can alter our future if we can predict it. But these attempts to change our fate are the very things that set us on the path that was predicted for us.

Many lessons can also be gleaned from these books that are delivered in simple, straightforward sentences. These are usually extraordinary characters talking about the ordinary aspects of their lives. “People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right,” is an example of a quote that rings with truth.

In addition to being a catalyst for philosophical discourse among youths, the fantasy genre constantly crosses paths with science. This is quite different from how science fiction presents science. While sci-fi books and movies try to depict what the advancement of technology based on current discoveries would look like, fantasy is more about staying true to the primordial laws of physics and chemistry—even in the world of magic.

As any Rick Riordan fan could tell you, The Kane Chronicles is easily the most existential of his works. Although these books echo some of the happy-go-lucky zaniness of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series, the Egyptian pantheon comes off as more obscure than the Greek or Roman ones. For starters, the deities are not necessarily “good,” which challenges the established notion of an all-powerful entity being all-benevolent.

Riordan cloaks the duality of life in the story of the Duat—the endless river which is like a second skin beneath the world that we perceive. All mortals exist in both worlds, simultaneously. This is a graceful ode to the scientific theory that matter can exist as both particles and waves (proposed by Louis de Broglie in 1924). Furthermore, there is Ma’at and Isfet, order and chaos, two inexorable forces that perfectly balance each other, coinciding with Newton’s third law of motion.

But the finest point of this series is when Sadie learns that there are conflicting stories about how the gods came to be and did what they did. For example, in one story, Isis and Osiris are siblings, while in the other, they are husband and wife. This is actually true for mythical stories in most cultures, because they began as folklore and were created by different people whose names cannot be found anymore.

But Riordan explains it in a way that does not break the illusion of the magical world he has created. In this universe, the Egyptian gods need mortal hosts to operate on the earth. Depending on the relationship between these hosts, the gods’ relationships change. As Iskandar says, “The gods do not think of relationships the way we humans do. Their hosts are merely like changes of clothes. This is why the ancient stories seem so mixed up. Sometimes the gods are described as married, or siblings, or parent and child, depending on their hosts.” This theory gracefully maintains the illusion of fantasy while also respecting the different views held by experts in this field.

It is in stories like this that magic and science blend into what was taught ages ago by ancient philosophers and what is now called mysticism. After all, modern technology may appear to be magical to someone who is not acquainted with the engineering behind it, as shown by The Wizard of Oz. Maybe, what we think of as magic is simply advanced science in another universe.

Short and Spooky: 4 Horror Anthologies To “Fall” For

“The Spooky Season”

Every October a craving begins for pumpkin spice-flavored anything, sweet tooths start aching, and harmless orange fruit becomes the bearer of terrifying and toothless grins. The yearning for a good scare also grows as full as a harvest moon as we flock to haunted houses and corn mazes, or even to Netflix to give us that shot of fear-based adrenaline. Another surefire way to create some chills is simply turning to some classic horror stories—and there are a plethora of short story anthologies to get your spine tingling and your heart racing. In this classic selection of oldies-but-goodies, there will be aches (but not the sweet tooth kind), the bittersweet taste of revenge, mad men, and weird women a-plenty. Enjoy, but be sure to read with the lights on.


Norman Bates has nothing on some of these psychos…

Psychos—Robert Bloch. Not to be confused with Bloch’s classic Psycho, this collection centers around madness and its many forms. Whether it comes under the guise of a seemingly benign object with murderous intention, the most intense road rage on record, a meticulously planned revenge plot on a drunk driver, or a “oops” of an autopsy, these stories will genuinely freak you out. A notable tale from this anthology is “Grandpa’s Head” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, which will make you rethink the pasts of every single person in your family, even the most innocent-seeming! 


These ladies were ahead of their time…

Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers (1852-1923). More recently published, yet by no means modern, Weird Women is a collection from the female perspective. Compiling work from such greats as Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, these stories are beautiful, bold, and brooding. From ghostly little girls in locked rooms, unrequited wishes coming true through dreamscapes, and the beauty of wistaria (the old-fashioned spelling) covering sinister deeds, these tales are all supernaturally stunning. The stories are helpfully annotated to bridge the gap in some vernacular differences as well. If you appreciate lush writing, descriptive details, and the suspense of a slow burn, you will love this collection.


A little naughty, not nice…

I Shudder at Your Touch: 22 Tales of Sex and Horror. For those who like a little risque with their risk, I Shudder at Your Touch features distinguished writers such as Stephen King and Clive Barker. With such disturbing topics as devilish weight loss programs, a not-so-little mermaid, a yearning for youth gone dark, and perverse revenge on an ex-lover, these stories spice things up more than that latte at Starbucks. A notable tale here is “Keeping House” by Michael Blumlein, with a creepy look at a woman’s descent into madness. If you like “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, you will be sufficiently spooked by Blumlein’s story. There is also a follow up edition, Shudder Again.


The indisputable king of macabre…

Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales—Stephen King. No list of short story anthologies would be complete without one from the king of horror, Stephen King. Everything’s Eventual is a collection featuring what you would expect from King—the unexpected. A lunch date gone gruesomely wrong, wish fulfillment for a quarter, and a traveling salesman debating his own self-inflicted untimely death, this is one diverse batch of dark tales indeed. Notable stories are “1408,” which explores just how creepy a hotel room can be, and “The Man in the Black Suit,” which is King’s nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” Incidentally “1408” was adapted into a decent film starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.


So, curl up with your favorite blanket and a pumpkin spiced latte, turn the lights down low, and give yourself the willies. Just don’t blame me when you lie awake in the dark wondering what those strange sounds are!

A Series of Unfortunate Events Ranked

When I was little, my mother bought all 13 books in this series because it was the first series we found to have a character named ‘Violet,’ my sister’s somewhat unusual name. This was what began my love for this series, and I have endlessly consumed the books, movies, and TV shows based on it ever since. From Klaus’ distaste of bread pudding to Violet tying her hair up when inventing, and from Sunny transforming from an infant who loved to bite into a brilliant chef to Lemony Snicket’s endless wit, I love everything about this series. That being said, I love some of the books more than others. Here is my ranked list of every book in the series.


13. The Vile VillageThis book just didn’t do it for me. It was lacking the humor and the storyline, and characters were just not as engaging as the other books on this list. In each of these books, ridiculous and comically unfair things happen; here, it felt like just unfair things happened. It is somewhat of an outlier in the series, both in terms of plot and tone, which is why it ended up near the bottom of the list. Also, the book seems to taunt the audience by naming the town “VFD,” but it isn’t the real VFD we don’t even learn anything about VFD!

12. The Miserable MillAs much as I enjoyed Count Olaf dressing up as Dr. Georgina Orwell, this book just was not as interesting as some of the others. I found the tone depressing, but not in Lemony Snicket’s classic, darkly humorous way. In general, this book felt like filler and it didn’t have much of a real and lasting impact on the broader plot of the novels. Overall, it was not my favorite and was pretty hard to get through without feeling sad.

11. The Slippery SlopeWhat this book is missing is the dynamic between the Baudelaires and their guardians. Though naturally they need to be on their own at some point, as well as the plot needing some diversification, this book lacked many of the elements that make A Series of Unfortunate Events books so wonderful. I also felt like this book dragged on a bit too long, and with the exception of meeting Quigley, it was not as integral to the plot of the series.

10. The Carnivorous CarnivalThis book definitely isn’t bad, but it just isn’t my favorite. I really liked the “freaks” who were really just relatively normal human beings, and I love the sheer absurdity of feeding the Baudelaires to the hungry lions. However, despite these humorous moments, it was simply not as engaging as some of the others, and I did not leave this book desperate to read the next one like I did with the books further up on this list.

9. The EndThough this book is rather sad and I wish things could be different, the ending of the series is fitting. I found it bittersweet to learn the answers to some of the secrets that had plagued the Baudelaires since the beginning of the series. Part of the fun of the books was the thrill of the secrets and reading until late hours in the night hoping to find answers. Secrets were a driving part of the plot, and, while my curiosity was satiated, I was slightly saddened to learn the answers because it meant that the series was over. That being said, it is a good and interesting conclusion to this 13 book series.

8. The Hostile HospitalWe are now getting into the section of this list where I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books listed here. Cutting off Violet’s head is a stroke of genius and Lemony Snicket’s writing perfectly blends humor and horror. The library is also one of the best parts of this book because it makes the mystery of VFD even more intense.

7. The Penultimate PerilThe morality of this book is a lot more gray than some of the earlier ones, with some characters not exclusively good or evil. Though I like this development a lot, it does not lend itself to as much wittiness as the stricter binaries that the earlier books do. My favorite part of this novel is how close we get to unraveling the secrets without actually revealing them. This makes it very intense and engaging. It’s also a stroke of sheer inspiration to organize a hotel based on the Dewey Decimal System!

6. The Bad BeginningThe first book in this series is a classic for a reason. Meeting iconic characters like the Baudelaire orphans, Count Olaf, and Mr. Poe is the reason why this book is number six on the list. It establishes the amazing dichotomy between children and adults, good and evil, and smart and stupid. I really adore how the children need to convince an incompetent adult that Count Olaf is evil. This is not present in some of the later books and it is detrimental to them. Though the plot is not as complex and interesting as some of the later books, it is still amazing, absolutely hilarious, and sets the tone that we all know and love for the rest of the series.

5. The Grim GrottoThis book sets up the ending for the next two books and introduces the newest danger: the Medusoid Mycelium. I also love the mystery of the Question Mark, which only shows up on the radar as a “?.” I’m still angry at the TV series for telling us what the question mark was, because the ominousness of not knowing was why it was so terrifying. Overall, this was an excellent addition to the series and I love the shenanigans—albeit rather frightening ones—that accompany the Baudelaires and Count Olaf on a submarine.

4. The Reptile RoomWho can forget the whole page of “ever?” The Reptile Room is full of wonderfully executed twists and turns, and I adore that it almost reads like a classic mystery novel. Uncle Monty is also one of my favorite adults in the whole series, and his charm is one of the reasons why I love this book as much as I do. This is also the first novel where we get one of Count Olaf’s disguises. The disguises are a hilarious constant throughout the series. When I was reading the series the first time, finding out his latest disguise was always one of my favorite parts to each novel so needless to say, the very first disguise he donned was particularly exciting.

3. The Wide WindowThere is something deliciously hilarious about Count Olaf dressing up as a sailor named Captain Sham and having none of the adults notice his disguise. This book really sets the precedent that the adults either can’t or won’t help the Baudelaires, something that remains constant throughout the series. Thus, in this book, we find the orphans coming into their own. 

2. The Austere AcademyThis was our first introduction to the Quagmires! I absolutely love the Quagmires, and their introduction leads to even more knowledge of VFD and the secret lives of the Baudelaires’ parents. It is also where we first meet Carmelita Spats, who is undoubtedly one of the most hilariously entitled characters that I’ve ever read. The ideas of an “Orphan Shack” and a Vice Principal named Nero who plays the violin are similarly brilliant. Overall, this book is amazing and one of my favorites!

1. The Ersatz ElevatorThis book is my all time favorite! I love the constant fluctuation between what is “in” and “out.” It also exemplifies the narrator’s dark humor and both clever and hilarious writing style.The Ersatz Elevator is also perfectly paced and highly suspenseful and it was honestly difficult to find anything wrong with it. I also love how it introduced us to Esmé Squalor, a recurring character. She adds a lot to Count Olaf’s pretensions of grandeur and their relationship creates two compelling villains for the remainder of the series. This book represents everything that is great about the series!


I hope you enjoyed my ranking of these childhood classics! Feel free to comment your list or to disagree with me in the comments! If you want to purchase any of these books, go here!

Perfect Imperfections

If Sense and Sensibility were a twenty-first century novel, Marianne would be the heroine, not Elinor. There is no way a woman with perfect composure who never offends anybody would take the spotlight. Marianne always speaks her mind, sometimes to the degree of incivility. She wears her heart on her sleeve and gets it broken. This brings a drastic change in her personality as she adopts discretion for the first time in her life. Elinor, whose perspective we have the most access to, and can therefore be considered the primary character, is politically correct from the beginning. She is fully functional when she’s down in the dumps and low-key patronizes her sister for indulging in a mourning period.

Granted, it’s Jane Austen. But even Thomas Hardy with his candid, earthy writing could not do worse than Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, whose only fault is that she dares to run a farm without consulting a man. She is punished for it by being put through a series of toxic relationships that break her spirit and rob her of her independence until, spoiler alert, she finally submits to the man she spurns in the first chapter.

Many of our revered classics—The Picture of Dorian Gray, Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby for example—were highly controversial when they were first published and received mixed reviews. It had a lot to do with the fact that the main characters sinned repeatedly without obvious remorse, and that readers of that time could not stomach the acres of moral grey area that these fictional worlds presented. One could say that they were ahead of their time, like most great works of art. They paved the way for eminent writers of our time to create realistic characters with quirks, vulnerabilities, and impulses.

It’s more than just the artistic cliche of romanticizing pain. I think society became more accepting of imperfection as time went by—or at least less ashamed of it. We finally admit that we relate well to flawed characters because they give us hope that we too can experience amazing, extraordinary things, battered and dented as we are. The last thing the modern reader wants is a morally unscrupulous hero or heroine. What we want is to witness growth.

Percy Jackson Books Ranked

As I’m sure many of you have already heard, Rick Riordan recently announced a Percy Jackson TV series coming to Disney+. This is a much-deserved reward for the loyal fans who have read and loved the books, only to be sorely disappointed by the film counterparts. Our patience has finally paid off—now, we’re getting a series comprised of one season for each book, produced by Riordan himself! In honor of the wonderful news and to help pass the time before it comes out, I have put together a personal ranking of the books in Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Bear in mind that this list does not include the books from the Heroes of Olympus or Trials of Apollo spin-off series. It also goes without saying that this list is rife with spoilers—read on at your own risk!


5. The Sea of Monsters. Starting things off at number five is The Sea of Monsters. Granted, this book has plenty of memorable moments: Annabeth listening to the sirens, the team’s fight with Polyphemus, and—of course—Tyson’s introduction as Percy’s cyclops half-brother. This book was also a beautiful ode to The Odyssey, and featured a host of callbacks, from the sorceress Circe to Polyphemus’s anger with being thwarted by Nobody. This book is last on my list, however, mainly because it largely focuses on setting the stage for the books that follow—aside from the few interactions with Luke’s assembled army, there is little development in regards to the war with Kronos and the Titans. Despite this, The Sea of Monsters has perhaps one of the best endings in the series, with Thalia being resurrected by the Golden Fleece, adding a twist to the Great Prophecy.

4. The Lightning Thief. Oh, The Lightning Thief. Where do I begin? When ranking a series, it’s worth mentioning that the readability of a series is largely dependent upon a captivating first book. If we didn’t like the first book, we wouldn’t want to read the rest. This book is singular in the series in that the reader is immersed in a world of modern-day Greek gods for the first time—from discovering Percy’s godly parent to learning that Mount Olympus now resides above the Empire State building, there is a certain level of novelty and whimsy that can’t be replicated in the other books. Overall, The Lightning Thief is a mostly-lighthearted introduction to life at Camp Half-Blood and the world of modern Greek mythology. It places fourth on the list only because I find the books get better as the plot thickens, which is why my top three picks are the last three books in the series.

3. The Battle of the Labyrinth. This book is centered around one of the coolest (and also creepiest) myths out there, which is why it is one of my favorites. Nearly everyone knows the story of Icarus and Daedalus, which means Riordan could spend less time on the backstory and fully focus on advancing the plot. This book was full of shocking twists—from the revelation that Quintus is actually Daedalus to Luke becoming the host for Kronos’s spirit, this book was certainly not lacking in action. The Battle of the Labyrinth itself was also a satisfying conclusion to the buildup of the preceding books regarding the two armies preparing for war. It was also refreshing to see Annabeth finally lead a quest of her own. The only aspect of this book that didn’t sit well with me was Rachel’s addition as a love interest for Percy—to me, this felt forced and unnecessary.

2. The Titan’s Curse. I truly can’t sing enough praises for this book. There are just too many wonderful things, where do I begin? We’re introduced to the hunters of Artemis, Thalia, and—of course—the di Angelo twins. We get to meet Nico and discover yet another child of the Big Three. Not to mention, there are some good dam jokes in this book. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The Titan’s Curse also serves as a bridge between the light-hearted books in the beginning of the series and the higher stakes characteristic of the later books. This is the first book featuring a major character death, and shows that war has casualties and nobody is safe.

1. The Last Olympian. I know, I know. Perhaps its cliché of me to choose the last book as the best, but come on. Finding out that Silena was Kronos’s spy at Camp Half-Blood still remains one of the greatest plot twists of all time. Percy taking on the Curse of Achilles was an amazing decision, and allowed for a much-needed exploration into Luke’s past. Plus, Percy and Annabeth’s relationship has such a beautiful progression throughout this book—Annabeth being Percy’s anchor to the mortal world? Percy turning down immortality for Annabeth? The underwater kiss? It was unbelievably satisfying to see these two finally get together. This book also has a wonderful redemption arc for Luke, and has a satisfying conclusion with Rachel’s status as the new oracle. It also sets the stage perfectly for the Heroes of Olympus with the next Great Prophecy.


So, there you have it! There’s definitely room for discussion regarding this list, but I hope you enjoyed this one reader’s thoughts. I’d love to hear your own ideas about the series, too! If you haven’t read these books, or are looking to reread them, you can find all of them at Changing Hands website here.

John Green Books Ranked

By now, most of us have at least heard of John Green, even if you haven’t read any of his books. His novels have won multiple awards and many have made it to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. Almost all of them have been adapted into a movie or TV show, and for good reason—he has a way of writing that transports the reader into the novel immediately. I am quite the John Green fanatic (if you couldn’t tell), so I decided to create a ranking of his solo novels, ending with my all time favorite at number one. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


5. Paper Towns. Starting the list at number five is Paper Towns. This novel is great, as all of Green’s are, but I find myself drawn to the others more. As vibrant as the characters are in this book, I always find the ending more anti-climactic than I expected. The novel takes you on such a wild ride to get there, though, that it is absolutely worth it, so I still highly recommend it!

4. An Abundance of Katherines. Next on the list is An Abundance of Katherines. This is Green’s second novel and one of his least well-known, but it is still a great book. My favorite thing about the comic novel is that the main character, Colin, isn’t immediately likable. When you open a book and start reading, there is a pressure to like the protagonist because they are who you’ll spend the book with, so I love that this particular novel breaks that expectation. As much as I love it though, the other three novels on this list have a special place in my heart.

3. Looking for Alaska. Coming in at number three is Looking for Alaska. This is Green’s first novel and the second I ever read. One of the best parts about this book is the characters—they are unbelievably vibrant and alive; you can’t help but feel for each and every one of them. It is a heartbreakingly real story and each time I read it I am moved in a different way. The story is raw, and I think that is what makes it such a page turner. I will always recommend this book. (T/W Suicide)

2. Turtles All the Way Down. Next on the list is Turtles All the Way Down. This is Green’s most recent novel, and naturally I picked it up as soon as it was released. I hold this novel close to my heart because it deals with mental illness, specifically anxiety and OCD. Both of these are hard to write about accurately because there are so many different ways they can affect someone’s life. In my opinion, he did this exceptionally well, creating a character that is relatable and eye-opening. I feel like there aren’t a ton of YA books that deal with these topics, and I am glad Green helped change that. This novel is definitely a must read!

1. The Fault in Our Stars. Rounding out the list at number one is my all time favorite novel, The Fault in Our Stars. This is most likely Green’s most popular novel, but there is good reason for that. At this point, I have probably read it around seven times, and I always end up crying. As I get older and continue to re-read it, I always find new passages that resonate with me. It is truly a timeless novel with beautifully written characters. I think Green tackled the topic of cancer well by showing how awful and ruthless it can truly be. I will always recommend this novel to anyone, just make sure you have your tissues ready!


As always, this list was difficult to make as I love each of his novels so much. However, I am drawn to some more than others and kept that in mind throughout. I did not include any novels Green has co-written either, but those are exceptional as well. Feel free to leave a comment with your ranking, we’d love to know what you think! If you’re interested in purchasing any of these novels, you can do so on Changing Hands website here.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Book-to-Film Adaptation

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society” – Paul Jellinek, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

In Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Bernadette Fox is a menace, both to herself and society. A lost soul, she finds a unique solution to rediscovering her creativity and the family whom she’s been neglecting by literally running away to Antarctica. As a woman right about Bernadette’s age, I am drawn to books and films that portray the protagonist in the throes of a breakdown or midlife crisis. It is highly satisfying to follow along on a character’s journey of self-discovery, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette is no exception. As an architectural-genius-gone-recluse after several setbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed her path to enlightenment. 

So, when they announced a film version starring Cate Blanchett in the titular role, I was cautiously optimistic. In truth, I would probably pay to watch Blanchett read the back of a cereal box, but I had my reservations about this particular book-to-film adaptation. As Semple’s novel is largely a collection of emails, letters, and police reports, I was unsure how writer and director Richard Linklater would translate that to the screen. In addition, the novel’s success is credited to the strong, multi-dimensional characters. As it turns out, I had some cause for concern. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead!


Blanchett rose beautifully to the challenge of portraying the quirky, vulnerable, and misguided genius Bernadette Fox. For me, Blanchett was Bernadette—with huge, dark sunglasses and a scarf draped over her hair, she was the epitome of the reclusive genius. She wears all of Bernadette’s absentmindedness, and eccentricities as portrayed in the novel as easily as she dons her rubber rain boots and fishing vest. 

Some of Blanchett’s best scenes, in my opinion, are the ones in which she composes frantic emails to Manjula, the identity thief posing as a Delhi personal assistant. The filmmakers make the wise decision to have Bernadette use voice to text email to communicate her exhaustive requests while she plods about her decrepit home making the odd repair, and sopping up rain from the constant roof leaks. The witty, and mostly manic, monologues from the novel surrounding planning her daughter Balakrishna’s (Bee) gift trip to Antarctica are hilarious. Most telling are the verbal detours that Bernadette takes in the form of tirades about Seattle and the gnats (otherwise known as the other parents). These rants, to a non-existent Manjula, reveal so much about Bernadette’s insecurities, paranoia, and anti-social behavior.

It is that true-to-the-novel attitude that works in telling Bernadette’s story. A fine example comes in the form of the video essay: after a chance meeting with a fan of her architectural work, Bernadette discovers a biographical video essay to commemorate one of her biggest accomplishments and heartbreaks, the Twenty Mile House. Done documentary-style, the video gives the audience a much-needed glimpse into Bernadette’s architectural past, offering an explanation as to why she has chosen to hide herself, and her talent, away. At one point in the film, the video and Elgin’s real-time discussion with a shrink about Bernadette’s self-destructive behavior toggle back and forth—this editing choice makes his concern for Bernadette all the more believable.

With Blanchett’s larger-than-life Bernadette, the other characters of the novel get short-changed, in my opinion. Bernadette’s husband, Elgin, played authentically by Billy Crudup, gets a bit of a makeover. In the novel, he is a self-absorbed Microsoft workaholic with little time for Bernadette and her shenanigans. His frustration leads to an affair with his assistant, Soo-Lin, who in the film is relegated to just being overly involved. The filmmakers choose to present him as more kindhearted and loyal, which works for the movie’s happy ending. 

Emma Nelson as Bee has some important scenes which establish the mother-daughter bond that is so evident in the novel. Unfortunately, in the movie, that bond manifests itself as mostly defending Bernadette’s actions. The two actresses however, are at their best when driving through the rain singing along to “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper. Bernadette’s love and affection for Bee is clear here, and evokes enough vulnerability to balance out her quirky recluse persona. She again taps into this vulnerability when the two lock eyes during Bee’s school performance. I found those scenes to be more affecting than the film’s parting, in which Bernadette’s letter to Bee from the novel becomes a voicemail message—Bernadette rambles into the telephone receiver as Elgin and Bee look on. While the reunion is sweet, I much preferred the novel’s ending that features Bernadette’s letter filled with hope, love, and the promise of a new future for all three of them.

A pivotal character that is far more prominent in the novel is Audrey Griffin, the gnat from Galer Street School which Bee attends. Played by Kristen Wiig, Audrey, like Elgin, is a little more palatable in the film than in the novel. The thorn in Bernadette’s anti-social side, Wiig provides the film with some standout moments from the novel including the injured foot, and the no trespassing billboard. Wiig does a good job of balancing out Audrey’s detestable personality with a vulnerability that comes through in an important moment during the escape. After Bernadette jumps out of her bathroom window, she and Audrey patch up their differences in a revealing and funny way that I preferred to the novel’s. Add the backdrop of Audrey’s filthy home thanks to the mudslide (as funny on film as it is in the novel) and you have a great scene between two confused women.


Overall, as a film about a woman rediscovering herself, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a success, in my opinion. It is wildly funny, and touching where it counts—thanks mainly to the strong lead performances, particularly Blanchett’s. Where the novel surpasses the film is in its development of the supporting characters and their contributions to the story. As you often see with a book-to-film adaptation, the novel offers more depth than its movie counterpart. Not a runaway hit, but still good fun.

The Heroines of Olympus

In 2005, Rick Riordan had the brilliant idea to write about a fantastical universe where ancient Greek mythical characters are “alive and kicking.” However, the gods have adapted to the growth of civilization and developed some new characteristics: Dionysus, god of wine, is on withdrawal and drinks nothing but Diet Coke. He is unhappily in charge of a summer camp for demigods, children of gods and mortals. Mount Olympus, home of the gods, is perched atop the Empire State Building (invisible to mortal eyes), which, of course, means that the entrance to the Underworld, land of the dead, is in L.A.

Growing up as a Riordan fan, I developed a keen interest in Greek and Egyptian mythology. But, as enraptured as I was with his three series—Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus (a spin-off of PJO) and The Kane Chronicles—I couldn’t help but notice a pattern in his character sketches that really bothered me.

No one can deny that Riordan has created some very powerful female characters. He places fierce warriors like Annabeth Chase and Clarisse La Rue on the frontline in battle scenes. His depiction of Artemis, goddess of the moon, and her immortal troupe of maiden hunters (who have swapped their tunics for camo pants and combat boots) is bordering on reverent. But he also, maybe inadvertently, puts down several female characters who are traditionally more feminine—Aphrodite, goddess of love, is portrayed as an affected diva who likes to meddle in people’s love lives. Most of her demigod children are vain and have skills that are of little use to Camp Half-Blood, and their cabin is described as “decorated like a Barbie house” where “supermodels go to die.” The final insult comes in the form of her daughter, Piper McLean, who is revolted to find out her godly parentage.

This demonization of femininity is not unique to Riordan. Many male authors find the need to create heroines who are unmistakably “tomboyish,” and who despise all things pale pink or frilly. Although the intent behind this is to empower these characters and, consecutively, the preadolescent girls who idolize them, it is inherently sexist because it assumes that femininity is weak. I can’t stress enough how damaging a message like this is to a young girl’s psyche—finding your identity as a teenager is confusing enough as it is. Adding to it, characters like Piper McLean, who has a huge “not-like-other-girls” complex, shame young girls with naturally feminine tastes. It also suggests to young boys that women who don’t show outward toughness somehow deserve less respect and are, therefore, at the mercy of the men in their world.

To Riordan’s credit, however, the vilification seems to reach its peak with Piper. Sadie Kane, who first appeared in 2010 in The Red Pyramid, the first book in The Kane Chronicles series, is more realistic. At twelve, she is moody, chews a lot of gum and wears combat boots. But she also wears a chic dress and light makeup to her school dance. She is much closer to the idea of a real adolescent girl than most of the heroines in the other two series because her personality grows and changes substantially through the series. More importantly, she’s respectful of other people’s tastes, even when they don’t match her own.

Despite giving the impression that they were all initially built from the same mold, Riordan’s heroines are inspirational to say the least. In the world of Greek mythology, which is the definition of a patriarchy, the idea of female heroes who go on quests with their male peers as equals is a novelty that the heroes take in their stride. The three series also address issues like racism and homophobia, which is rare for young adult fiction published around the same time. As a loyal reader who stuck with Annabeth and Sadie and their respective gangs till the very end, I hope to see more strong women with diverse personalities on the pages of Riordan’s future books.

Happiness Under Cover

In times of uncertainty and stress, I’ve always found myself with my nose in a book. But somehow, amidst the stress of working remotely and social distancing from the people I love the most, I found myself pushing away reading. Of course I would do some mild reading in my free time, but I couldn’t focus on the stories or get involved with the narrative the way I used to. Seeing my lack of motivation, a friend shared a podcast with me about how the objects around us can make us happy. I learned that the colors, shapes, and physical spaces we surround ourselves with have much more to do with our happiness than I ever imagined. Being the determined book lover I am, I decided to take this new knowledge to my bookshelf. Out of the nearly one hundred books I own but have not yet read, I selected the three with the covers that made me feel happiest. My hope was that seeing these covers would help me get involved with the story and give myself an escape from other daily stresses. The three books I discovered were The Nix by Nathan Hill, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, and Untamed by Glennon Doyle. These authors did not disappoint.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

With its bold, colorful font and homage to 1960’s “hippie” culture, the cover of The Nix called to me. I’m certainly glad it did. Within the pages of The Nix, I found an important story about a son’s re-connection with the mother who abandoned him. But, more importantly, I found characters I could relate to. Nathan Hill’s characters are the definition of flawed: they are selfish, lazy, untruthful and somehow they are exactly what I need at a time when I am distanced from the people I love. Within these flawed characters, I found people I could relate to and cheer on through their troubles. Reading The Nix was an oddly similar experience to listening to that one friend who always seems to have drama despite their good heart. I wanted to give Hill’s characters advice and became so wrapped up in their lives I forgot I was reading a seven hundred page novel. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a realistic story about love and redemption.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

The cover of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth appealed to me with its simple beauty. This was not my first time enjoying Patchett’s work, so I wasn’t surprised to find the novel engaging and heartfelt. As always, Patchett’s characters are realistic and the plot felt important. However, I did have a tougher time getting through the work compared to some of her other novels; it almost felt like Commonwealth was written to be consumed slowly. There were many moments when tension between characters made me want to take a break in my reading to give myself and them a moment to breath. Although the work was slow paced, it did give me much of the same comfort as Hill’s novel, that comfort being knowledge that I am not alone in my inevitable human flaws.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle felt like a simultaneous breath of fresh air and a much needed slap in the face. Doyle is most famous for her work as a blogger and her memoir Love Warrior. I picked up Glennon Doyle’s newest memoir, Untamed, a few weeks after it came out in March 2020. I haven’t read Doyle’s other popular works, but this one had interested me because it supposedly told the story of her marriage to retired soccer star Abby Wambach. As an avid soccer fan, I was compelled to purchase the memoir, but it had been quickly forgotten on my bookshelf. Forgotten, that is, until I searched for the happiest covers I owned and found Untamed with it’s collage of glittery paint. Under this bold cover, I found Doyle’s voice summing up the lessons I had already been teaching myself through the other two novels I read; we all have setbacks, but they will not stop us. Although her memoir is aimed at women, it seems to apply to anyone who has experienced a disruption in their life they weren’t sure they would overcome. In a time where nearly every person in the world is experiencing a disruption of their normal lifestyle, Doyle’s words feel vital. Untamed was a memorable read that I am still contemplating even as I write about it.

Thoughts

Everyone has been warned not to judge books by their covers, but if it might bring you happiness, then why not? I’ve never been the type of reader to select a book at random. I usually have a list of which books I will be reading next based on recommendations, new releases and reviews I read about them. Defying this usual routine felt liberating in a way that allowed me to enjoy the novels for what they were instead of what I expected them to be. Who knows, I might even make it a habit to read a book every once in a while simply because looking at it makes me happy.