It’s time for another joint reviews post! I’ve been really enjoying some soft sci-fi reads lately; while they incorporate elements of science into their stories, it’s not the main focus, and it’s not… confusing, like hard sci-fi.
I have two YA books to review, and a webcomic, so without further ado…
When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
A group of teenagers, all united through an explosion that devastated their small town, find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy after they witness a bright light crash into a field…. and slowly begin to change.
The only way I can summarise this book is that it’s nice. When I say soft sci-fi, this is exactly what I mean. It’s almost Super 8 without the evil aliens, focused mostly on the friendship between these teenagers and their love for one another. Again: it’s quiet. Everything about this feels tender and personal, and by the end, it really feels like you’ve seen these characters bare all to each other. There are cheesy moments, but they really do fit in this book. I honestly cared about these characters, and I would have with or without the added plot.
As a big conspiracy fan, I loved how cliched this got with the secretive government officials. The characters also have such realistic reactions to everything going on, especially Levi, who just… uploads that video online. It’s so stupid, but also hilarious, because you wouldn’t really think about it. I also really really enjoyed the explanation at the end, figuring it all out was so FUN and there’s a perfect balance between the sci-fi elements and the more realistic, contemporary parts of the story.
The exploration of grief and loss is also amazing. Everyone of our main cast has lost something or someone important to them, and you see how much some of them latch on to the past, or have forced themselves to move on to cope. There are discussions about opportunity and how, even if you come from the same place, you’re not always going to have the same advantages as others. It’s very real, and I think Emily Henry wrote all of it without ever making it overwhelming or preachy.
I, personally, love this story. I’m a big fan of quiet books and, regardless of the supernatural aspects of this, it is a very character driven narrative.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Romy is the loneliest girl in the universe, the only survivor on a ship travelling to establish a second home for humanity on the other side of the galaxy. Until she gets a message notifying her that a new spaceship has left Earth, with a single passenger called J. Will she finally no longer be alone?
Boy, this book is a wild ride. I woke up one morning and just made the decision to read this in one sitting, and it- at most- took me 3 hours to finish. It has easy sci-fi, with Romy fixing the ship and always setting up new things onboard. This book being set on a spaceship also really emphasises Romy’s isolation from literally everyone else in the galaxy, all the way from time gaps between messages she sends and receives, to just being alone on such a massive ship. Lauren James really knows how to write great sci-fi without making it confusing.
The tonal shift is honestly wild, too. I won’t say much, other than the fact that the last 100 pages are absolutely terrifying and the complete opposite of the first 200, which was great. There’s definitely something not-right the whole book, in my opinion, and I’m glad Lauren James didn’t go for the expected in this. Romy is so badass in this novel, too- what a great main character- and I really like how prominent anxiety is. There are graphic depictions of anxiety and panic attacks, paranoia spirals, something I could relate to a lot, but again: it’s super graphic, so go in with that warning.
My main issue with this is that the relationship feels normalised. The one established in the first 200 pages is treated as OK, somewhat, despite the love interest being 6 years older than Romy’s sixteen. I get she’s lived alone and it’s probably thanks to a lot of other stuff that happens towards the end that makes her like this character, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. Romy has literally never talked to anyone other than her parents and her counsellor on Earth, and I don’t know if that’s the point, but I could never fully enjoy this before the last third because of the romance.
Another read I would recommend!
Save Me by BIGHIT and LICO
Seven boys. Best friends. Their fates intertwined. One will do anything to save them, but can he succeed?
That’s right! I read the BTS universe webcomic and loved it. This connects heavily into their cinematic universe created through their music videos, which I highly recommend getting into as they are all stunning, and includes a time loop where Jin has to repeat the same day over and over until he can save all of his friends from either death or their own separate fates.
It’s a webcomic, so of course I have to talk about the art. Personally, I think the art is great. It’s very much fitting with the videos, and the reliance on muted blues and darker colours contrasts so well with scenes that are predominantly white or have red colouring in places. The colour choice is very purposeful, and I love that. I also think the likeness of the BTS members is captured perfectly, and their characters are both so alike and so unlike them IRL, it’s great.
What I learned through reading this is that I love time loop stories if it’s part of a coming-of-age narrative. It’s all about friendship and the lengths one person is willing to go to in order to save his friends, even if they may not want to be saved- or think they don’t deserve it. It’s very moving and hard hitting, with a lot of triggering material- child and domestic abuse, suicide, violence, disorders and mental illness- but I respect BTS for never shying away from things like this. Most narrative decisions in the music videos are done by them, and that really feeds into this with the material and issues addressed. They’re honest in their lyrics and videos, their speeches and general interviews, so it’s no surprise their webcomic is so raw.
Highly recommend this, although I think it’s a necessity to watch their music videos in the universe before even starting this just so you’re clued in on ‘characters’ and ideas behind the time loop (also, make sure you watch the original 18+ I Need U music video if you can, it’s more graphic but it includes more relevant content to the continuity of the series).
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