These books have a few things in common, hence the dual review! First, they are two of my most anticipated 2017 releases, which doesn’t really explain why they’re in this post together. The other reason, however, does: They both feature some really tough, often sad and unpleasant topics. In fact, each of them cover multiple heavy issues. One I adored. One.. not quite. But hey, that’s okay, it’s life! Plus, who knows, maybe they’ll both end up working for you- my fingers are crossed!

After the Fall by Kate Hart
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR) on January 24th 2017
Pages: 336
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

Ah, this book. So important. So heartbreaking. So honest. I really enjoyed this book, and at times, I was really angry, but in the good “this book is making me think, and I am now mad at society at large” way. I felt so many emotions throughout the book. It’s also a really hard book to review because a lot of it is spoilery.  So let’s just talk about what I liked, shall we?

  • The book talks about serious, real issues facing young people today. It doesn’t shy away from talk about consent, and rape, and race relations, and privilege, and women’s issues, and it is pretty awesome. There are moments when the characters are even having these discussions, and the reader is privy to them. I think this is great– showing honest discussion among friends, learning, growing.
  • Along those lines, I think that having the hard conversations about consent is so, so important, and this book jumped right into them. One of my favorite interactions in the book is Raychel wondering why they don’t teach these issues in school aloud to her friend Asha. Asha’s sarcastic line is so spot on:

    “You can’t talk about sex in school! It makes those horny teens want to…. ‘do it'”

  • So. Many. Feels. The characters, as you can imagine, go through a lot during the course of the book. And my heart broke for all of them, for so many reasons that I cannot tell you. (Sorry, not sorry.)
  • Raychel just… she was a character I felt sympathy for, a character who I rooted for. I wanted to give her a big hug throughout… well, the entire book. Even when she made choices that maybe weren’t super, I understood her choices, they made sense for her story. I didn’t always completely connect to her, but I still felt for her.
  • There was a great deal of attention given to family relationships and friendships. The thing was, they were incredibly realistic, too. The changes that we undergo as we move out of high school, into college, Raychel and her friends were living through some of these situations. And I really think that is something important to stress to young adults, who may be looking for some realistic depictions of “what comes next”.  Relationships change, some for the better, some not, and I think this book really drives that home. Truly, it is a life lesson, not just a teen life lesson.

Bottom Line: This was an impressively strong debut, with strong characters and vitally important topics. A definite must-read for anyone looking for a grittier contemporary.

Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR) on February 21st 2017
Pages: 336
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review

Remember the places you touched me.

Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca's world, and that some things are better left untouched.



Remember when I said that I wanted to love one of these? Yeah, this is that one. I adored the author’s debut, After the Woods, and was expecting to love this one just as much. But alas. The premise was promising, and I was very excited to jump in. But it was rocky from the start for me, as I was kind of bored at the beginning. Ben just didn’t… speak to me, as a narrator. I had trouble connecting to him, his personality was a bit lackluster for my taste. But, I was curious enough about what happened to the sisters to keep reading.

The problem was, I kind of started to not even care what happened? As awful as that sounds, they just did not seem like nice people. And while I didn’t wish them harm… I wasn’t super invested in what became of them either. Part of it is that Ben (along with everyone else in the town, basically) has put the girls on pedestals, but I couldn’t figure out any reason why, other than the elusiveness of them. And while that may have been good enough for the local boys, it wasn’t really good enough for me.

He’s also not doing great himself. He not only lost Mira, but had been sexually assaulted years earlier, which is frustratingly underexplored. There is also a bit in the story where antidepressants are shamed by Ben and his “friends”, and that did not sit well with me. I know there is a general stigma surrounding medication for mental health issues, and introducing this dialogue can be helpful… only Ben never heard or saw anything but justification for ignoring his doctor’s directions to take his medications. So there was no message that came out of it…. just “Zoloft Bad”.

Things took a… weird turn, too. I want to say so much more, but I wouldn’t want to give away too much. But the bottom line is, Ben is determined to figure out what happened, and he is doing so through these notes Mira left him- only they’re more about her sister than her, which frustrates Ben. He makes a lot of really bad choices in hopes of finding the truth. In fact, everyone in this town seemed to be making bad choices and were messes in general. I can believe that everyone has some issues, but this was… extreme, to the point of disbelief.

I will say, I enjoyed that the book kind of veered in a few directions before ultimately landing on the final one. I was pretty interested by some of the middle bits, before I realized where it was headed. I pretty much knew how it was going to end about halfway through. So that didn’t help. I was, at that point, just kind of reading to see if I was right, and hoping that Ben would take his damn meds. One out of two isn’t bad?

Bottom Line: Though I enjoyed the author’s writing, I had too much trouble with the characters and plot in general to really care for the book. 

 Love books with tough topics? What is one that you always recommend? 

Um also, GORGEOUS covers, both of these books! Thanks so much to Macmillan for sending the pretties!! 😀 

Posted January 19, 2017 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Dual, Review / 20 Comments

20 responses to “Dual Review: Tough Topic Tacklers

  1. Grace Osas @ Somewhat Reserved

    I don’t really recommend many books but The Kite Runner is a well written book with tough topics.

  2. This is the first time I’m hearing about Before the Fall, and it sounds wonderful. There are so few books out there that address rape and consent, so I’m definitely adding it to my tbr. As for Beautiful Broken Girls, I’d been super-excited for it – especially after seeing it was pitched for fans of Virgin Suicides – but all the negative reviews made me take it off my to-buy list, and after your review I’m glad for that.

    Wonderful review!

  3. Sam

    I really liked your review, because I just finished Beautiful Broken Girls this morning and you have me thinking about a lot of things that happened in the story. My take on why the girls were so sought after is because they were off limits. You know, everybody wants what is forbidden. And part of me feels that Savage did not explore Ben’s molestation more, was because he was in denial. I liked this book more than you did. It didn’t blow me away, but it made me want to read more from Savage, because I agree with you, the writing is beautiful.

  4. I already wanted to read After the Fall but now I must read it. I agree that talking about consent is so important. It sounds like it handles relationships beautifully. I need to read it asap!

    Sorry you didn’t like Beautiful Broken Girls as much as you wanted to.

  5. Yikes! That’s unfortunate to hear about Beautiful Broken Girls…I have an ARC of this and was super stoked to read it! I still haven’t read the author’s previous novel, but have heard only great things about so I’ll probably be picking that up when I get the chance, and maybe reading it before Beautiful Broken Girls.

    I read After the Fall and thought it was pretty good! It really was a hard hitter in terms of serious issues, and think the author did so with plenty of honesty. Glad you liked that one, too!

  6. Anna Weimer

    I hadn’t heard of either of these, but I must read After the Fall now! Your review made it sound must read!! Just requested my library purchase a copy when it’s released.

  7. After the Fall sounds awesome. Is it Young Adult or New Adult? I’m glad there are books about consent and the dialogue we should be having regarding it in schools and families, friendships. It’s definitely not discussed enough. Very nice review. You’re brilliant!

  8. Sorry you didn’t love the second book, but After the Fall sounds really good. I wasn’t totally convinced by the summary but your review has me wanting to read it now. I love that it focuses on tough issues and it’s done WELL.

  9. After the Fall looks great and I’ll probably read that now. I do like some contemporaries these days and now that we’re in the shadow age I think it’s more important than ever to read and discover and expand our horizons. Boy that sounded trite but seriously… and I remember the going from high school to college phase. Nice to see it addressed in a real way.

    As for Beautiful Broken Girls, I wanted to read After the Woods too (and still haven’t). This one doesn’t sound like it would be for me though. And it’s so frustrating that in 2017 we still have a stigma about mental health issues, so if they’re bringing up anti depressants and are not with the program about it, I think I’d agree. Not good enough.

    Nice reviews! I’m definitely going to look for After the Fall!

  10. I love books that tackle real issues, it always shows a true strength of character, even fictionally. After The Fall sounds like my kind of read Shannon, I love the gritty realism and exploring teen sexual relationships rather than the fade to black that so many authors tend to rely on. With sexual assaults in the news almost nightly, it’s such an important conversation to have. Probably a great book for parents to on how to approach talking about consent with their teens. Wonderful reviews Shannon and sorry that Beautiful Broken Girls had let you down, it sounds as though it had so much potential <3 <3

  11. Awesome reviews, Shannon! I’ve been anticipating After the Fall, so I’m really glad to hear you loved it. I love that the author didn’t shy away from any of those heavier topics, and that the book has a focus on all different kinds of relationships.

  12. I completely agree- discussions of consent are so important, and it’s great that YA authors aren’t shying away from those topics because it means readers are less likely to shy away from them too. Both books sound like potential additions to my tbr list, but I think After the Fall might be winning out (you sold me!)

  13. I’m such a huge fan of emotional stories that showcase tough topics, so I’m all over After The Fall! The discussions about consent, rape, privilege, etc, kinda reminds me of the some of the discussions that take place on twitter, which really has me excited about picking this up. I just finished I’ll Give You The Sun, (as you already know) and I’m very much still in the mood for a gripping, emotional title. I so need ATF. The second book doesn’t really appeal to me. I remember seeing the cover and thinking, ” oo this looks good! ” but I read the synopsis and your review and immediately went ” eh ” definitely something that would’ve been up my alley, but it just didn’t grab my attention. I’ll pass on that one lol.

Leave a Reply