#ThrowbackThursday: My Favorite Middle School Back-to-School Books

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Last week, I talked about my favorite elementary back-to-school books. This week, I want to discuss my favorite middle school back-to-school books. In middle school, characters always face the uncertainty of fitting in, scary older classmates, and more difficult classes. Middle school characters going back to class are some of my favorites because they tend to be hilarious and full of heart. Here are my top picks:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder

Wonder details a boy named Auggie with a craniofacial anomaly who starts his first year in public school. This is such a heartfelt story that could definitely be considered a modern classic. This book not only accurately depicts a middle school experience, but it also gives a powerful message important to readers of all ages.

  • Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness, and Perfection by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling's It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection

This book is a hilarious take on middle school with a spunky and likable main character. While many characters in this book are exaggerated, you can’t help but laugh since many of them resemble people you probably encountered in middle school. This book provides a good message paired with a fun story line.

  • The Mother-Daughter Books Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

The Mother-Daughter Book Club (The Mother-Daughter Book Club, #1)

The Mother-Daughter Book Club is a fun and realistic series that focuses on four very different girls as the start middle school and are forced to bond over classic books by their mothers. All of the characters in this book are well developed and face scenarios that girls in middle school could face everyday. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a middle school read with strong female friendships.

  • The Boy Next Door by Laura Dower

The Boy Next Door (Candy Apple #2)

The Boy Next Door is a cute, lighthearted read from the Candy Apple series. This book focuses on a pair of best friends, one girl and one boy, as they start middle school. With new friends and new interests, their friendship starts to change. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a realistic, but easy to read, book that focuses on friendship.

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #1)

How could I mention middle school back-to-school books without mentioning Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Even though elementary school students read this series, Greg starts middle school in this book and provides hilarious insights. These books are fun, easy to read, and provides so many memorable characters. Plus, the movies are equally hilarious!

 

What are your favorite middle school back-to-school books?

Wolf by Wolf Review

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Say Yael-o to one of my favorite books of the year so far!

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin imagines a world where the Axis Powers won World War II and Hitler remains in power. Yael, a death camp survivor, discovers her ability to skin shift after forced experiments. In order to end the Third Reich, Yael impersonates a female racer in the annual motorcycle race in order to attend the Victor’s Ball and kill Hitler. Yael’s plans grow complicated, however, when the racer’s twin and the racer’s ex-love interest both join the race.

When I read The Hunger Games for the time time, I told everyone I knew that they needed to read it even before I finished it. I did the same while reading Wolf by Wolf. From the first page, I was immediately invested in Yael and her story. This is a fast-paced book that you won’t want to put down!

I think tone of the strongest aspects of this book is the plot. The race in this book is action-packed and Yael’s background story is well-placed throughout the novel. The writing in this book really pulls you in and takes you away from reality. The world that Graudin builds is extremely well done and the book contains so many twists and turns that it leaves you wanting more.

I also think this book stands so strong because of Yael’s character. A problem that I have with characters in similar books are that they are only strong characters because they are ruthless fighters who lack emotion, even though they end up flopping with those expectations and stray from their motivations. I appreciate that Yael is a fighter, but she never loses her emotions or her humanity. Yael remains devoted to her goal and never loses sight of what is important to her. To me, Yael is one of the strongest characters that I’ve read about and readers don’t have to be reminded of this through other characters in the novel.

I can already say that Wolf by Wolf will most likely be in my favorites at the end of the year. From the plot, the writing style, to the main character, I loved every aspect of this book. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel! I give Wolf by Wolf five out of five stars.

 

Summer Days and Summer Nights Book Review

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Summer days driftin’ away as I struggled through this book.

Summer Days and Summer Nights is the second short story collection edited by Stephanie Perkins. Similar to My True Love Gave to Me, Summer Days and Summer Nights promised twelve cute short stories by well-loved young adult authors, this time focusing on summer vacation. This collection features a variety of short stories in terms of genre as well as a diverse cast of character, the same as my True Love Gave to Me.

After reading My True Love Gave to Me, I went into Summer Days and Summer Nights with high expectations despite reading mixed reviews. Even though there were a few stories I disliked in My True Love Gave to Me, I overall enjoyed this collection for sticking true to its theme and delivering adorable holiday stories. Unfortunately for me, I found myself disliking more stories than enjoying them in this collection. Additionally, I found many of this story loosely connected to summer, if at all, which didn’t live up to my expectations considering the bright and cheerful cover of this book.

Let’s start with what I did like about this book. Like with My True Love Gave to Me, I really enjoyed the first story in this collection and it made me want to read more of the author’s work. I think Leigh Bardugo’s Heads, Scales, and Tongue story managed to capture summer, but also providing a fun twist more true to the author’s writing. I also enjoyed the final two stories in this collection, written by Jennifer E. Smith and Lev Grossman. I liked how Jennifer E. Smith’s story was a cute romance that featured a character with autism and I enjoyed the Groundhog’s Day aspect to Lev Grossman’s stories. There were other stories in this collection that I enjoyed aspects of, but these were the three stories that really stuck out to me.

Now, here are some problems I found with this collection. Looking at the author’s on the front cover, you can see there aren’t many contemporary authors listed, which you expect for a summer romance collection. While I liked how many different genres were included in this collection, the execution was poor. I think many of the authors tried hard not to write the typical summer story that they strayed too far from the collection’s original purpose. Some of the stories, like Veronica Roth’s Intertia, seemed completely out of place. Other stories, like Libba Bray’s Last Stand at the Cinegore and Cassandra Clare’s Brand New Attraction, seemed more appropriate for a Halloween-themed short story collections. My biggest annoyance is that most of these stories could have easily be made more summery by adjusting a few details. For example, Libba Bray’s story could have taken place at a drive-in that features a scary movie instead of a strictly horror-themed movie theater.

Overall, I struggled through most of the short stories in this collection. While a lot of readers enjoyed the continuation of Stephanie Perkins short story from the original novel, I barely found myself invested in that one. Needless to say, I was greatly disappointed by this short story collection. I rate Summer Days and Summer Nights as two out of five stars.

Top Ten Recommendations for People who Don’t Usually Read Middle Grade

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is a top ten recommendations freebie. For my freebie, I decided to focus on middle grade books. Usually, I read contemporary young adult books. In the past few years, I’ve really branched out with my reading. Some of my favorite books that I’ve picked up out of my comfort zone have been middle grade books. Middle grades books are humorous, full of heart, and filled with adventure. If you’re thinking about picking up a middle grade book, here are ten great places to start (any books with reviews will be linked to the title):

 Sincerely, Sophie; Sincerely, Katie

I picked up Sincerely on a whim at Dollar Tree from only $1. I anticipated a cute and a fluffy story, but the two books in this collection were a lot deeper than I expected! Sincerely deals with very relevant issues and handles them well. Each character is extremely deep, well-developed, and realistic. I recommend this for anyone looking for a deep, well-written, and incredibly realistic contemporary book.

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

Like with Sincerely, I picked up Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream on a whim at Dollar Tree because I recognized the author’s name. Similar to Sincerely, I expected a cute and fun read, but read a much deeper story than I affected. Clara Lee definitely leans on the younger end of middle grade, but it explores an incredibly deep topic in an understandable way for younger readers. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a book that features a diverse main character and an important message.

  • Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock

Red Thread Sisters

I found Red Thread Sisters at my local library’s book sale at an incredibly low price. I was drawn in by the story line which promised an interesting story about a girl adopted from China as she adapted to life in the United States. Not only did this provide an interesting story, but it also provides a lot of informative information on the adoption process. Since the book’s author adopted her daughters from China, this book also is extremely accurate. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an extremely realistic middle grade book that features a diverse main character.

Moving Day (Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, #1)

I recommend the Allie Finkle series to anyone who wants to laugh out loud. Even though this is geared towards younger middle grade readers, I didn’t read this book until my 20s and I still find myself laughing out loud when I read these books. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of humorous reads or any fan of Meg Cabot!

Jessica Darling's It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection

Like Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls, Jessica Darling’s It List is a laugh out loud middle grade series. I think this book will be perfect for people hesitant to read middle grade books because it may feature a character that you’ve already seen in a young adult series. (Plus, the movie is currently available on Netflix!) If you’re a fan of the young adult Jessica Darling series, this would be a great place to start in middle grade!

The Great Shelby Holmes (The Great Shelby Holmes, #1)

The Great Shelby Holmes is the perfect middle grade book for anyone looking for a mystery! In my opinion, this is one of Elizabeth Eulberg’s best books in terms of writing, characterization, and plot. Every aspect of this book is so clever. As an adult, I even struggled to figure out the mystery at the end! I recommend this book for anyone who wants something a little different than a contemporary read.

Judy Moody Declares Independence (Judy Moody #6)

There are some Judy Moody books that I love and other that I don’t love as much. Judy Moody Declares Independence would have to be my favorite in the series! This book explores history in such a fun and creative way. Additionally, it points out biases in history and introduces a famous female figure in history that is often overlooked. I recommend this middle grade book for anyone who loves history and a book with a message!

September Surprises (Main Street, #6)

The Main Street series is a wonderful contemporary series that focuses on a small town. In this series, you get to know the characters extremely well and each book takes places around a special time of the year. These books are written so beautifully and are written by an author that many people have read when they were younger. I would recommend this series to anyone looking for middle grade books with a classic feel.

Wonder

Wonder is such a heartfelt book with a message that everyone needs to hear. One of the great aspects of this book is that it includes so many points of view, so readers really can see how one person can affect so many. (Plus, the movie is coming out later this year!) Really, I recommend anyone to read this book.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)

Percy Jackson and The Olympians is the perfect middle grade series for fantasy fans. Rick Riordan does a fantastic job of weaving mythology through this book and I absolutely love how he sets the story up. Percy is a hilarious main character and I love the little jokes thrown in the books that older readers pick up on. This is such a loved middle grade series, and it’s no surprise why!

 

What middle grade books do you recommend?

On the Fence Review

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On the Fence is the first Kasie West book that leaves me on the fence.

On the Fence follows tomboy Charlotte “Charlie” Reynolds who is forced into working at a girly boutique to pay off her expensive speeding tickets. With four brothers and an athletic neighbor, Charlie has always been just one of the guys. One night, when Charlie isn’t able to sleep after nightmares about her mother’s death, she ventures out to the fence. There, she starts midnight talks with her neighbor and wonders if they could be something more.

I started reading Kasie West’s books at the tail end of last year and I immediately fell in love with her easy writing style and fun plots. While On the Fence definitely fits in those categories, it’s my least favorite of the books that I’ve read by her. While all of Kasie West’s books lean towards the stereotypical side, this one seemed the most unoriginal and I never felt incredibly invested in the characters. That being said, I still enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick summer read.

One aspect of this book that I really appreciated was the main character, Charlie. Many of Kasie West’s other characters are traditionally girly, but Charlie doesn’t really fit that mold. However, I also appreciated that Kasie West emphasized that even though Charlie’s interests are “traditionally girly,” girls can still play tackle football, know more about baseball than guys, and be interested in movies other than romantic comedies. It made me happy that Charlie’s inner monologue questioned this whenever a male character stated otherwise. Additionally, I liked how Kasie West showcased through Charlie’s experiences at the store that girls with many different interests can still be friends and support each other rather than tear each other down.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed in this book was staying true to yourself. Charlie struggled a lot with her mother’s death and who she was as a person throughout the novel which is relatable to many readers. When Charlie takes the job at the store, she lies about her mother’s death in order to avoid people treating her a certain way. She also dates a guy in the novel, who even though he’s not a bad guy, makes her feel like she can’t really be herself. I liked how Kasie West resolved these issues in the novel and sent a good message to readers.

As for the romance in this book, it reminded of a lot of other books I read and doesn’t really stand out compared to the relationships featured in Kasie West’s other books to me. Braden is a nice guy who likes Charlie exactly the way she is which is a definitely plus. He also had family issues which were hinted at throughout the novel, but were really never explored in too much depth. While Braden and Charlie were cute and I was happy when they got together, it just didn’t have the spark to make it particularly memorable.

On the Fence is one of those books that I finished in one sitting because it was easy and fun to read. This isn’t the most earth-shattering books, but it is perfect if you want something light-hearted that will leave you smiling. I give On the Fence three out of five stars.

 

#ThrowbackThursday: My Favorite Elementary Back-to-School Books

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As summer winds down and a new school year quickly approaches, I can’t help but think of the books that I loved to read when I was in school. This past May, I graduated from college. This is the first year that I’m not buying back to school supplies, dreading copious amounts of homework, or deciding what to wear on the first day of school.

Although I’m not going back to school, I love reading about characters starting a new school year. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss some of my favorite books surrounding school at the elementary, middle school, and high school level. Here are some of my favorite elementary picks:

  • The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Best School Year Ever (The Herdmans #2)

I love Barbara Park’s books about the Herman family! These books make me laugh out loud and bring back so many memories from elementary school. I remember one of my elementary teachers read this book aloud and I still loved and remembered it years later.

  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Wemberly Worried

I remember seeing this book all the time in elementary school and in my fields for teaching. However, I never read it. When I spotted it at a book sale, I picked it up without a second thought. When I finally read it as an adult, I absolutely loved the story. Wemberly is an adorable character that is so relatable to elementary students nervous about the first day of school. No wonder why this book is so popular in elementary classrooms!

  • The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing 

The Night Before Kindergarten

I discovered Natasha Wing’s The Night Before series when I started thrifting books a few years ago. I especially loved her Night Before books surrounding the first day of school, such as The Night Before Preschool and The Night Before Kindergarten. Like Wemberly Worried, these are cute books that give nervous children a reason to be excited about the first day of school.

  • Judy Moody by Megan McDonald

Judy Moody (Judy Moody, # 1)

When I was in elementary school, I devoured the Judy Moody books. To this day, I still remember Judy’s “I Ate a Shark” shirt for the first day of school. This books will always remind me of my childhood and it makes me so happy to see elementary students still reading books in this series today.

  • Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones and the  Stupid Smelly Bus (Junie B. Jones, #1)

Like with Judy Moody, I LOVED the Junie B. Jones series. I’ll always remember my grandma reading these books to me and my sister using her special Junie B. Jones voice. The Stupid Smelly Bus book in particular is one of the most memorable and Junie B.’s comments about school are always hilarious.

 

What are you favorite elementary back-to-school books?

Red Thread Sisters Review

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Red Thread Sisters is a middle grade book that will definitely pull at your heartstrings.

Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock follows Wen, a Chinese orphan adopted by a family in America. Wen’s new life in America is drastically different than the life in her orphanage and she struggles to adjust to her new life. Then, Wen discovers that her best friend from China, Shu Ling will not be adoptable in a few weeks due to laws in China. If Wen does not find a family for Shu Ling, and quick, then Shu Ling’s hopes of finding a family and Wen’s hopes to reunite with her best friend will be lost forever.

I picked up Red Thread Sisters on a whim at my library’s local book sale last summer. With an interesting plot, diverse characters, and middle grade status, it seemed like a book that would have a good message and lots of heart. After finishing this book, I can say that my instincts were correct. Red Thread Sisters possesses a solid story line and great insight on adopting a child from a different country.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the author’s personal connection to the topic. In the author’s note, Carol Antoinette Peacock explains that she adopted her daughters from China and wanted to write a novel that accurately captured the adoption process and adapting to life in America. As a result, Peacock managed to inform readers of the challenges and heartbreak of children adopted from China, but also delivered an authentic and interesting story line. Furthermore, Peacock’s provided very detailed descriptions of life in the orphanage that I could picture in my head. Even though readers may come in with their ideas of what it looks like, it’s very heartbreaking and eye-opening to see what daily life is like for the children who live there.

Another aspect that I enjoyed about Red Thread Sisters was Wen’s character development. Wen was a complex and well-developed character clearly impacted by her life at the orphanage. At first, Wen is completely rigid and only wants to please her family in order not to be sent back to the orphanage. When Wen arrives in America, she is completely overwhelmed by the large houses, schools, and choices in clothing that she often exhibits socially awkward behavior. Wen authentically dealt with the new experiences that she faced. I also appreciated how the author developed Wen’s relationship with a new friend at school and a new sister. Since Wen’s best friend, who she considered a sister, still lives at the orphanage, Wen feels guilty and struggles to form new relationships. Nothing came extremely easy for Wen which resulted in a very character-driven book.

I also appreciated how the author incorporated Shing-Lu’s story. While it was heartbreaking, it really opened my eyes to a lot of issues in the adoption system. Shing-Lu is an older orphan with a physical disability which means she is often not featured on adoption websites along with thousands of other children deemed “unadoptable.” Even when Shing-Lu is featured on a website, the description isn’t incredibly detailed and fails to really humanize her. The book also informs readers of many laws without descriptions that would confuse young readers. Once Shing-Lu reached a certain age, she was legally considered “unadoptable” and would be removed from the orphanage completely. When Wen’s brother was born, she was sent to the orphanage when her family moved to the city with stricter birthing laws. I think reading this book will reveal a new point of view to readers and encourage them to advocate for other children like Wen does for Shing-Lu.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with Red Thread Sisters and definitely would recommend it to readers looking for an authentic book featuring diverse characters and a perspective on both American and Chinese cultures. This book made me smile, broke my heart, and made me want to learn more. I give Red Thread Sisters five out of five stars.

Books I Packed for Vacation

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Last week, I traveled with my family to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach. Since I would be spending a few days in the sun, I had to throw some books in my beach bag! There’s a few summer books that I wanted to read before the summer ends and before they were due at the library, so I decided to take a few of those on my trip. Here are the books that I took on vacation:

  • Summer Days and Summer Nights by Stephanie Perkins

I thought this short story collection would be perfect for the beach because it’s so summery! Since it contains short stories, the stories could be read whenever I was laying out in the sun.  With shorter stories, I could have the perfect mix of reading time and beach time!

  • It’s Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

Like with Summer Days and Summer Nights, this story is very summery and even takes place on a beach! The first book in this trilogy was a quick, easy, and lighthearted read. This was the perfect book to take on vacation because it would be a fun and quick to read at the beach or before going to bed.

  • Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

Even though this book isn’t particularly summery like the books above, it is another book that I have checked out at the library. I’m also excited to read this and Kasie West’s new book, Lucky in Love, because they have similar plots and I want to see how they compare.

What books did you take on vacation this summer?

The Elite/The One Book Reviews

the elite the one

If only Rachel Lindsay could give America Singer some advice.

The Elite and The One by Kiera Cass follows America Singer as she competes a slew of other girls to win Prince Maxon’s heart. However, she also struggles with feelings towards her former love interest who is now stationed as a guard in the palace. America also faces the threat of invaders from the South who wants to kill all the girls in the Selection and their families.

After reading The Elite and The One so close together, their plots mesh into one for me. As a result, I decided to review them together since I found many similar positives and negatives in these two books. When I read The Selection, I was so entertained by the story that it allowed me to look over many of the problems in the book. While I found The Elite and The One entertaining as well, there were many more problems in these books that made them not as fun to read as the first book in the series.

I think one of my largest problems with these two books were the pacing. There were a lot of issues presented in the first book for America: her growing love for Maxon, the presence of Aspen in the castle, and rebels who wanted to kill her. All of these issues were paced so slowly that they scrambled to be resolved in the end. The first half of The Elite moved incredibly slow and seemed with filler chapters of the Selection girls completing random assignments. The Aspen issue blew up too late in the game that the character didn’t really have time to sort out their emotions. I think the last rebel scene, which I’ll describe in greater detail later, literally came out of nowhere. All the action rested in the last quarter of The One and I wished it was spread more evenly in the final two books.

Another issue I had with The Elite and The One would be missed opportunities. These were many opportunities that the author had to spice up the story, but didn’t take. There were other situations that really confused me because they seemed completely out of place in the novel. One example is America’s alliance with the Northern rebels. Their loyalty came way too easily and I expected some sort of deceit or treachery to take place to complicate the relationship, but nothing every really happened. On the flip side, the final attack by Southern rebels was too much for the novel (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD). I thought this part of the book was extremely graphic and violent and it seemed out of place with the rest of the series. Furthermore, even though many big characters in the series died during this scene, their deaths were simply brushed off or barely acknowledged. I thought this was an incredibly unnecessary part of the novel.

One aspect of the finals two books that I did enjoy was America’s uncertainty as Prince Maxon’s favorite and the growing friendships between the contestants. America could say or do anything to Maxon and remain his favorite, but this was not the case in the final two books in the novel. My only slight annoyance was when both Maxon and America questioned each other’s devotion and expressed their aggravations about the other person other other people when they exhibited the same behavior as themselves. I also appreciated the complicated relationships between the Selection competitors. While they became friends, they also were extremely hesitant since they all fought for the same thing. Their relationships reminded me of contestants on The Bachelor which made the characters seem more realistic.

Like I’ve said before, The Selection isn’t the best series that I’ve read by far. However, it is entertaining and enjoyable if you are able to look back several problems and some minor annoyances. Overall, I enjoyed the first three books in this series and plan on reading the next two books following America’s daughter. I give both The Elite and The One three out of five stars.

Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track Review

girl vs boy band

Just like your favorite pop song, this book is up beat and fun, but not extremely unique.

Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track by Harmony Jones follows middle schooler Lark, who moved to Los Angeles from Nashville after her parents divorced and her mother started a new record label. With only one successful artists on the label, Lark’s mother looks across the pond for some fresh voices. She discovers Abbey Road, a British boy band comprised of three unruly teenagers and invites them to stay at Lark’s house as their career begins. Even though most teenage girls would dream of Lark’s situation, Lark finds herself living in a nightmare after the group steals one of her songs.

When I started Girl vs. Boy Band, I was impressed with the easy and quick writing style paired with a promising plot. While I enjoyed many aspects of this book, I was disappointed with the direction it followed. When I saw the book’s title and description, I expected a little more drama, especially concerning the stolen song. While this book started off strong, it slowly turned into a more predictable contemporary book.

I think my largest problem with this book would be its title in description. While Lark and the boys don’t get along, I expected a little more drama with a title “Girl vs. Boyband.” Additionally, the description of this book really capitalizes on the stolen song, however the majority of this book didn’t revolve around this conflict. When this part of the plot arose in the book, I was disappointed that this entire part of the plot unfolded and was neatly resolved in literally a few pages. Instead, the majority of the story focused on Lark’s stage fright. Even though this part of the story line will be more relatable to the audience, this is a plot line frequently used in middle grade novels and this book didn’t provide an original take.

One aspect of Girl vs. Boyband that I enjoyed was the depth added some of the characters. While some characters, such as Lark’s best friend, school crush, and the “bad boy” of the group clung to certain stereotypes, there were several stand out characters within this book. One of the boy band members, Max isn’t that musically talented and struggles with being away from his family. However, Max is also very approachable and a great dancer. I think Max was the most developed character out of the boy band, so I liked him the most out of the group. I think Lark’s mother was also well characterized. Lark’s mother struggles between her country roots and maintaining her new pop appearance. I liked how there were good and bad moments between Lark and her mother because it made the story more realistic.

Overall, Girl vs. Boyband is a cute book and I liked reading it. However, I’m not sure if I’ll be interested in the story that the book is going read, so my investment in this series will depend on the summary of the next book. I give Girl vs. Boyband three out of five stars.