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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: P.S. I Like You by Kasie West (An OwlCrate Book of the Month)

Before I get into my review of Kasie West’s book, P.S. I Like You; I’d like to start off by briefly talking about how I found out about this book. I got my copy of P.S. I Like You in the August OwlCrate box. In case you don’t know what OwlCrate is, it’s a monthly YA book box. There’s a different theme for the box each month; for example, the theme for August was “Fast Times at YA High”. Each month the box includes a recently released hardback YA book, along with three to five items centered around the theme for that month. Here’s a picture of everything that came in the August box that I posted on Instagram to give people an idea of what kind of things they include in the boxes each month.

Plans start at $29.99, plus shipping. The people who run OwlCrate are all very nice, and they’re really great at answering any questions that people may have about OwlCrate on Twitter, or via email. I highly recommend subscribing to OwlCrate, especially if you’re a fan of YA books. If you’re interested in learning more about OwlCrate, or subscribing to it, you can check out their website here. For the record, I wasn’t asked by the people who run OwlCrate to promote their business on my blog; I’m only mentioning OwlCrate here because I really love OwlCrate a lot, especially now that I’m mostly reviewing books for my blog instead of TV shows. In case you’re unaware, back in April I reviewed Jeff Zentner’s debut novel, The Serpent King, which was OwlCrate’s book of the month for March when the theme was Writer’s Block. With all that said, here are my thoughts on Kasie West’s book, P.S. I Like You.

Right off the bat, I have to say that while the overall premise of P.S. I Like You isn’t the most original plot for a story, I really loved this book. One of my aunts sadly passed away somewhat unexpectedly the day before I started reading this book, and I found P.S. I Like You to be a very upbeat and enjoyable book to read that definitely helped cheer me up as I was reading it. Personally, the overall premise of the book being that Lily exchanges notes with a guy, and she doesn’t know that the guy she’s talking to is Cade, who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of her best friend, Isabel, and the fact that she also doesn’t get along with him very well when they’re interacting with each other in person caused this book to remind me a lot of the movie You’ve Got Mail. The premise of the book definitely has a bit of a “Been there, done that” feel to it, which is the main reason I found P.S. I Like You to be somewhat predictable. That being said, I don’t entirely mind that P.S. I Like You felt rather reminiscent of the movie You’ve Got Mail, because I’ve always loved that movie; and I still enjoyed this book immensely, even though the plot of book didn’t feel entirely fresh and original.

Personally, I thought that for the most part West did a great job of establishing key character traits for Lily, and key plot details for the book almost immediately. This definitely isn’t a book where you have to power through the first thirty or more pages of the book before the overall plot really takes off. At the same time, the overall pacing of the plot never felt like it was moving too fast either. The pacing of the book as a whole is perfect in my opinion. I felt like West did a great job of setting up the driving force of the book’s plot, while also kind of dropping the reader right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the book.

A major part of both the book’s plot, and who Lily is as a character, is that Lily has a habit of constantly writing song lyrics in her notebook, even when she’s at school. At the start of the book, Lily’s Chemistry teacher, Mr. Ortega, tells her that since she’s apparently constantly writing song lyrics in her notebook during class, and is subsequently not paying attention to what they’re doing in class; she’s no longer allowed to bring her notebook with her to class. If she brings her notebook with her to class again, he’ll take it. He also tells her that she’s only allowed to bring one piece of notebook paper with her to class every day so she can take notes for class, and she has to show it to him at the end of class every day. The first day that Lily starts following this new rule, she gets the idea for a song lyric, which she writes on the desk since she couldn’t write it on the paper that she was taking notes on. (Hooray for vandalism!) When Lily went to class the next day, she discovers that somebody had written a song lyric on the desk as a reply to the one that Lily had written the previous day; which kicks off the back and forth correspondence between Lily and Cade. As Lily continues to correspond back and forth with Cade by leaving messages under the desk, she tries to figure out who she’s talking to.

West also did a good job of establishing that since Lily seems to constantly be living in her own little world writing song lyrics, it has unfortunately caused Lily to gain a reputation amongst her classmates for being the weird girl at school. Honestly, I thought that was both sad, and something that Lily kind of had coming to her to a certain degree. When it comes to how I feel about Lily and her being the protagonist of P.S. I Like You, I really liked Lily for the most part. I thought she was a really fun and lovable character in a lot of ways, and I was even able to relate to Lily in some ways. However, I also thought that Lily was rather self-absorbed to a certain extent.

Don’t get me wrong, Lily is a very nice person for the most part, but she also constantly came across as not being very good about giving people her undivided attention when she was with them. When she was with her family, or Isabel, it was as if while she would be physically present, mentally she oftentimes seemed to be off in her own little world, writing song lyrics in her head. For example, Lily’s mom asks her at one point in the book about something that she had promised to do with one of her brothers; and she had completely forgotten about it. When it comes how Lily’s tendency to constantly be off in her own little world affects her friendship with Isabel, Lily told Isabel at one point that they should start a tradition where the first thing they would say to each other when they saw each other at school in the morning would be whatever the last thing they had been thinking about as they were falling asleep the night before. While they do indeed start carrying out that tradition, a part of me wonders if Lily suggesting that they do that was her way of trying to compensate for the fact that she wasn’t very good at paying attention to other people. Perhaps I’m reading too much into that aspect of Lily and Isabel’s friendship, but Lily’s tendency to constantly be off in her own little world did really frustrate me at times.

That being said, as weird as it sounds, Lily’s tendency to constantly be off in her own little world because she was writing song lyrics in her head was one aspect of who Lily was as a character that I was able to relate to, to a certain degree. The reason I say this, is because I spend a lot of time basically writing my book reviews in my head. However, the difference between Lily and I in that regard is that I mostly do that when I’m by myself, doing relatively mindless tasks at work; such as bringing in carts since I work at a grocery store, or I’m walking somewhere since I take the city bus to get to a lot of places; which also involves me doing a lot of walking. However, when I’m interacting with other people, I’m able to stop thinking about my writing, and just give people my undivided attention. Lily, on the other hand, is constantly thinking about the song lyrics that she writes or other things, and consequently she doesn’t give other people her undivided attention a lot of the time.

While I thought that Lily was a very well written character for the most part, there were some aspects of West’s writing for Lily that I think could have either been fleshed out more, or simply clarified a little bit. For starters, while I really enjoyed the whole dynamic between Lily and her family, I was rather confused about her parents’ work situation, and I really think that West could have done a better job of clarifying what her family’s financial situation was. Apparently, both her mom and her dad make jewelry and sell it at fairs, since it was established that her dad likes to have Lily and her siblings vote on whose jewelry they like best as a playful competition. There were also various references to her family’s financial situation, such as the fact that it’s mentioned several times throughout the book that Lily and her siblings wear a lot of second hand clothes. Plus, when Lily’s guitar gets damaged at one point in the book, Lily’s mom made it sound like she and Lily’s dad didn’t have money that they could just give her right away to get the guitar repaired or replaced; but Lily could have some of the money that they would be making by selling the jewelry that they make at upcoming craft fairs. Those particular details really gave me the impression that Lily’s parents didn’t have traditional jobs with steady salaries, and that their family consequently doesn’t have a lot of money.

The other thing that I was left feeling rather confused by for a significant portion of the book was Lily’s school life outside of her Chemistry class, since West pretty much only mentioned Lily’s Chemistry class throughout the book; which she didn’t seem very interested and engaged in. For most of the book, I really got the impression that Lily wasn’t all that interested in school, since West put such a strong emphasis on the fact that Lily was constantly writing song lyrics during her Chemistry class. Eventually, it was established that Lily’s favorite class was her composition class, which made a lot of sense to me, since she spends so much time writing song lyrics. Towards the end of the book, Mr. Ortega ended up intercepting the last note that Cade wrote to Lily, and he told her that he would give her the note once her grade in Chemistry class improved. The fact that Lily’s favorite class was her composition class, and the fact that her grade in Chemistry class apparently wasn’t very good are both things that I think West should have established at the beginning of the book.

I’m honestly rather confused as to why West didn’t have Mr. Ortega mention the fact that Lily’s grade in Chemistry class apparently isn’t very good at the beginning of the book when he told her that she wasn’t allowed to bring her notebook to class with her anymore. I think it would have made a lot of sense for West to mention that at the beginning of the book, and I also think that she should have mentioned that Lily’s favorite class was her composition class at the beginning of the book as well. Personally, I would have also liked it if West had at least briefly explored, or mentioned something about Lily’s relationships with some of her other teachers as well, because I really found myself wondering about her other classes a lot as I was reading this book. Did she have trouble paying attention in her other classes, too? Were her grades in her other classes also bad like her grade in Chemistry class apparently was? I don’t think West would have needed to devote too much of the book to exploring those questions; but I do think that West could have definitely fleshed out what Lily’s life at school was like just a little bit more.

As much as I loved P.S. I Like You, one of the complaints that I have about this book is that I found it to be pretty predictable. I figured out that Cade was going to end up being Lily’s secret admirer as soon as he was first introduced at the beginning of the book, and that was before they even started exchanging notes. Because it had been so easy for me to figure out that the person writing the notes to Lily was Cade, it really took all of the mystery out of the plot of P.S. I Like You that I felt West was trying to incorporate into the book. Ultimately, the fact that it was pretty obvious right from the start of the book that Cade was the guy that Lily was exchanging notes with didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. That being said, if West really wanted to make a mystery out of the identity of the person that Lily was exchanging notes with, I feel like West could have done more to make it so that it wasn’t so obvious that it was Cade right from the beginning of the book.

If West really wanted to make the identity of the person Lily was exchanging notes with somewhat of a mystery, perhaps she could have had there initially be a few misdirects about the identity of who Lily was exchanging notes with. I think that would have been especially important for West to do since Lily made a list of the guys she thought it might be at one point in the book. That being said, I thought it was a little weird that Lily initially believed that the person she was exchanging notes with was a girl. That just seemed really random to me. Ultimately, it just felt rather pointless to me that West appeared to be trying to create a sense of mystery regarding who Lily was exchanging notes with, when it was always incredibly obvious that Cade was the person who was writing Lily the notes. That being said, as I said earlier, the fact that P.S. I Like You was very predictable in terms of the mystery of who Lily was exchanging notes with, thankfully didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the book too much.

The sense of duality that Lily and Cade’s relationship had throughout the book is definitely one of the things that I loved the most about P.S. I Like You. It was really interesting and fun to see how they didn’t get along with each other very well when they were interacting with each other in person, compared to how they talked to each other in the notes that they wrote each other throughout the book. As for my thoughts on the notes that Lily and Cade wrote each other, I have to say that I absolutely loved all of the notes that they exchanged back and forth throughout the book. Because I thought it was so obvious that Cade was the guy Lilly was exchanging notes with, I’m really glad that Lily discovered that Cade was the guy she had been exchanging notes with at about the halfway point of the book; rather than West waiting until the end of the book for Lily to find that out. Lily and Cade’s relationship definitely underwent an interesting shift after Lily discovered that Cade was the guy she had been exchanging notes with. The way West handled the development and evolution of Lily and Cade’s relationship throughout the book is something that I thought she definitely handled very well.

The ending of the book was pretty enjoyable for the most part. However, the whole thing with Cade’s ex-girlfriend, Sasha, reading some of the song lyrics that Lily had written about Cade, and the personal details about his life that he had shared with her in confidence, in front of the entire school all felt like nothing more than forced drama. In my opinion, Sasha came across as being incredibly mean-spirited, and a rather one-dimensional character throughout the entire book. It really made me want to know what Cade had ever seen in Sasha that had made him want to date her in the first place. Based on what we saw of Sasha throughout the book, I just found it hard to buy that there was anything that would make Sasha seem appealing to Cade, or any guy for that matter. Maybe we’re just supposed to think that Cade had mostly liked Sasha because of her looks. Regardless, I just couldn’t understand why Cade had ever wanted to date Sasha. Because the whole situation with Sasha reading Lily’s song lyrics in front of all their classmates all felt a bit forced to me, I’m really glad that the whole conflict and misunderstanding that it created for Lily and Cade was resolved relatively quickly. That being said, I thought that the last scene of the book was pretty cute, and it was definitely a great way to end the book.

One thing that I really like about this book, is the fact that despite P.S. I Like You being about a romance between two teenagers, there wasn’t a lot of angst in this book. Personally, I found that incredibly refreshing. So many times, I feel like when it comes to books like this that are about a romance between two people, there’s usually a lot of angst between the couple. The angst in a book like this is oftentimes more contrived than anything else, which can be incredibly frustrating. That being said, I felt like West did a great job of having the plot of P.S. I Like You consist of a fair amount of conflict between Lily and Cade; while also keeping the overall tone of the book fairly light.

All things considered, while P.S. I Like You isn’t the most original book out there in terms of the overall plot of the book; I still really enjoyed it. The interactions between Lily and Cade throughout the book, both in regards to the notes that they exchanged, and when they were actually talking to each other, made this book a really fun book to read. I loved the progression of their relationship throughout the book. While Lily did annoy me at times, I ultimately still really liked her as a character. Lily was definitely a pretty well written character for the most part, but as I mentioned earlier, I feel like certain details regarding Lily’s life at school should have been established at the beginning of the book, and fleshed out just a little bit. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Lily and her family, but I definitely think that there are a few details about Lily’s family that could have used a little bit of clarification and development. Cade was also a really great and likable character, and I thought that he was a great match for Lily when it comes to him being a love interest for her. P.S. I Like You is definitely a book that has a few flaws, but it still manages to be a great book despite those flaws. If you’re looking for a book that makes for some great, light reading, I highly recommend reading P.S. I Like You.

That being said, my final score for P.S. I Like You is 8 out of 10.

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