Monday, August 22, 2016

YA Review: Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Published: April 21st, 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers which is a division of Penguin.
Genre: Contemporary YA.
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 328 in my ARC, plus the acknowledgements, and goodreads says there are 336 in the finished version.
Part of a series? As I said in my review for that book, this is the companion to Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters. About 50 pages in, Kelsey from the last book shows up, which is nifty. There are a couple spoilers for that book, but you could honestly read them as standalones. Nothing in this review will spoil that book.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. Last year. Before it was out. I'm still terrible, and still sorry. But less terrible than I've been?

Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.

Review: Holy cow, this was awesome. It was like little elves read my review of the other book before I even wrote it and fixed almost all the things I had problems with in that one in this one. You know, this one just worked way better for me. And I did like the first one, even with my issues! This is just... wow. I am so surprised and impressed by it. It's so funny I actually hurt my throat and my jaw laughing at one point, but there are parts that also legit had me tearing up and needing to take a minute because I was crying.

Plot Talk: Girl goes to Greece for six months. Girl makes friends, meets family, has some romance, big plot stuff that's kind of spoiler-y. It's straight-forward, but works well for the story, and doesn't try to do too much. I really liked the pacing of the book only taking place over about six months, as it's a bit quicker than a full year. You have lots of time for character growth and stuff to happen, but it doesn't feel slow, or like you're missing too much of the story because so much time has to pass between the beginning and the end of the book. It works well. No complaints.

Characters: Remember I talked about Kelsey and her friends being relatively privileged white girls? Well... Zona kind is too. She's a relatively well-off teenaged white girl. At one point she says that she and her father are considered "poor" at her school. Sweetie. Your father is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and you live in an apartment in New York. That you can afford to keep while living in Greece. GREECE. You aren't poor. And you kind of have to work with that for a bit, because honestly it takes a minute to not be a little jealous about the girl who gets to live in Greece for half a year and keeps complaining about it.

But the growth works really, really well. Zona has her world view challenged, including her views about her family and herself, and she really has to think about how she's going to react to things. There are a lot of very interesting characters, and Zona's large Greek family is amazing, and lovely, and they really do shine. Zona's relationship with her father is super sweet, and I really adored how much time was spent on her relationship with family. Zona is also so, so funny, and I really liked the newspaper aspect. She's very passionate about it, but she's also experiencing some writer's block, and that is so relateable.

For the most part, the characters are pretty strong in this. Some fall down a little, but some are amazing. I would read like eight books just about Zona spending time in Greece with her family. The author is great at writing a large cast of characters without them blending together.

And (this is a bit of a spoiler so just skip to the next section if you don't want to see it) I really liked that the romance in the book is generally a bit casual. Zona has lots of crushes on boys, but family is more important to her, and it's shown that just because you like a boy doesn't mean you date them forever. It works so well, and I love that message. It's not treated as a bad thing that dating doesn't last forever, either, or even something to really be sad about. It just is. (End spoiler.)

PG-13 stuff: There's some underage drinking, and I like the way it's handled. The drinking age in Greece is 18, but the attitude is very different than in the US, and it is not strictly enforced at all. That attitude is reflected in the book, and Zona talks a lot about how since it's not as big of a deal, her Greek friends don't feel the need to do it as much. It's a really interesting concept to see a character be basically allowed to drink freely without consequences, and... decide that that's kind of boring, and they're okay sticking with moderation. The discussion of the forbidden fruit aspect is really mature and interesting, and I really liked it.

Zona does now and then think about safety type stuff - not accepting drinks from strangers, being nervous about hitchhiking even though everyone said it was safe - and there is a subplot about a character with an eating disorder. (Which I promise isn't a spoiler - it's very clear the direction it'll go the first time you meet the character.) I wouldn't say that there's anything that a mature young teen couldn't handle, and a lot of it is really great conversation starters, or things that they might be seeing in their friends.

For the record - I never want to say that those things are bad (cursing is not a moral failing), but if you're an adult reading my reviews for teens, your teens may not be ready for certain things and that's okay. Books should never be banned, or taken away from kids, but not all kids are ready for things at the same time, and we should be aware of them when we recommend books.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I do think that there could have been more main characters who weren't white. A few side characters are POC, but the ones who are generally just show up for one scene and then disappear. Most of the characters are white. And it is Greece, but still, she goes to a school where the whole thing is that the students come from all over the world. There could be more than one vaguely not-white character who has more than one scene. The world is not that white.

Also, I like that the author seems to always have at least one queer character, and I appreciated the discussion Zona had with her Greek friends about the different cultures regarding that, but. But. At one point one of her Greek friends calls Matty "your gay friend" and Zona argues against that. The problem is, he has basically no personality besides being the gay best friend. Literally the book tells us nothing about him besides that he's gay and he has a crush on a guy. When Zona talks about missing her friends, she only talks about things he does for her, not who is is, or what he's like, or anything. It's disappointing especially because the other characters are really good.

Also, nobody is fat, and everybody is able-bodied. The discussion of the cultural attitudes regarding eating disorders and sexuality is good, but more representation would be nice besides characters who basically are very tokenized because they're the only ones in the book who represent those things.

Cover comments: I was so disappointed that this doesn't have Zona's ugly suitcase on the cover! In all seriousness, this is an adorable cover. It fits very well with the companion book so they look uniform overall, and it suits the book very well. It is perfect for reading when it's warm out, even though not all of the book is like, super fluffy or anything. (Seriously. I cried.) It feels like a perfect summer book.

Conclusion: This was so much fun to read, honestly. I loved the setting so much, and I feel like I learned a ton about Greece. The discussion, also, of some of the politics of modern day Greece is so smart and maturely handled. I thought the eating disorder subplot is also handed incredibly well, and the depth of many of the things in the book really surprised me. It's going to lose a rose for the cons I mentioned earlier, but overall, I liked this so much.

I feel like I'm always better at pointing out problems than I am at telling you the good things. The funny moments in this, guys, my neighbours were seriously about to start yelling at me because I was laughing so hard. There are a lot of (white, straight) girls in this, and they are all very different and unique. The setting is so amazing, and the description of that is so good. It's just so, so much fun to read.

Since we have two books and two years of high school, there better be two more! Junior and Senior, right? I look forward to those if they're going to happen, and I think the author has nowhere to go but up. I would read all four books if it went that long. This one gets a strong three and a half roses, and a strong recommendation as long as you take into mind the things I mentioned.



Other Notes:

- Did I mention I got two wisdom teeth taken out recently? That's a thing. Doing well, though.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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