Our April Book Club selection was “The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things” by Ann Aguirre. It’s been a while since we’ve had a love story to read, and most of our readers found it to be as sweet and encouraging as the main character Sage. Aguirre is one of those multi-talented authors who can write in any genre, but as contemporary fans, we are especially glad to read a realistic novel about a girl and a boy who really see each other.
Many thanks to Molly at Macmillan Teen for sending us all review copies of the book! Stay tuned next month when we read and review INK AND ASHES by Valynne E. Maetani.
Sage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past. She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.
Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.
But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again
Reader Average: B+
Amanda graded the book an A+:
Oh WOW! This book was so much better than I expected it to be. The book’s back cover description DID NOT do this book justice. Sage, a teen in high school, is a girl who struggles with the realities of her past and lives in fear of them colliding with her present and future. She goes through life putting on a happy face, being positive, being environmentally green…but who is she really? Through the book, we see her grapple like all teens do with their identity, but her struggles go even deeper as she keeps her distance from anything that she might “hurt” or who might cause her pain. Will her aunt send her back to the black days of her past, will she give into Shadow Sage and hurt those who cause others pain? You need to read to find out.
In the midst of her inner turmoil, she meets a boy who is new to her school. She sees a part of herself in him – loneliness, shyness, the need to be invisible. They connect through his openness with her, his music, and his need to be cared for. She by chance, begins to make friends…and the story unfolds. Truths are revealed…but, does she make it through the story in one piece, or does she fall apart and give into what she fears she is still, “Shadow Sage” – the person who hurts others, and whose anger takes over and lashes out?
Redo the back description of the book so that it appeals to a wider audience and sounds more appealing! Loved it!
Cassie graded the book an A:
Review: There is so much going on in this book, so many big, important questions being asked and explored, and I loved every single aspect of it. Aguirre is tackling a lot here — What is the real definition of family? How do you maintain a friendship when dealing with one-sided romance? Is it possible to escape the past and reinvent yourself? How far is too far to defend and protect the people you love? — and it would be easy for a novel to get bogged down under the weight of all those answers, but The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things never does. The balance is perfectly done. I read the whole thing in two sittings because I was so invested in this story and these characters.
I love Sage. I think she can represent so many struggles for so many people. She so desperately wants to be a good person, a person worthy of love from friends and family and romantic interests, that it’s impossible to not like her and hope for her and root for her every step of the way. Her worries and fears of inadequacy are so heartbreaking but always handled realistically, without veering off course into anything that rings false. You just want to hug her and tell her that she is loved and reassure her that it will all be all right.
And the rest of the cast is just as brilliantly drawn. Gabby is the cool aunt we all wish we had, Ryan is the friend who we’re disappointed in but want to come around in the end, Lila is the friend we all want going to bat for us, Shane is the guy we all fall in love with despite his brokenness, Dylan is bully we can’t help but understand even as we want to see him knocked down a peg or two. Every character in this novel is three-dimensional and masterfully woven together, just like the novel itself.
So give me a post-it note and a purple pen, because I have some words of praise I want to leave on Ann Aguirre’s locker.
Melanie graded the book an A-
In Ann Aguirre’s “The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things,” Sage Czinski has found herself at a new school with a lot of baggage from her past that she would rather no one ever find out about. As she tries to figure out how to make her way and find friends in the new place, she notices a girl being teased about her weight. She decides to do something to make at least a little difference. She takes her purple sparkly pen and a bright pink post-it note and writes a note telling the girl she has a pretty outfit. Before she knows it, Sage has developed a reputation for herself as someone who daily leaves positive, encouraging notes. While she is often called “princess,” no one ever regrets getting a pink post-it note with an uplifting message from Sage.
i love this. I think we all need to develop a practice like this. What are ways we can bring “bright and shiny things” into other people’s lives? How many different ways can we be an encouragement to those around us? What can we do to be “kinder than is necessary”?
Keely graded the book a B:
Sage is an outsider. She may not look it to those at her school or even to those closest to her, but she is keeping her true self under wraps. To anyone looking, she is an incredibly upbeat and positive person and she figures that if she keeps that persona going long enough, she will actually feel that way instead of pretending. Everything changes when Shane moves to town…
This was an incredibly quick enjoyable read, but I did feel that a lot of the storyline was heavily steeped in cliché especially the love interest(s) that develop. Relatively strong character development of Sage and Shane, plus a few other key players definitely added to the readability and provided some necessary depth to keep the reader engaged. Kudos to the Aquirre for developing a heroine who is not model thin and accepting of herself!
I think a lot of teens will find something in either Sage, her best friend(s) or Shane that speaks to them on a personal level and that will make the story resonant with them in a way that it did not with me. Not that I do not remember the awkwardness of the teenage years, but more that it is harder to relate to when you are a few years past being a teen.
This is truly a YA book and I think it will be really well received by that audience. There is not much substantive material here for an older reader like myself and while the characters are somewhat engaging, the storyline is one I have read many times by other authors. Enjoyable, albeit fluffy quick read that I am sure teens would enjoy
Cara graded the book a B-:
There were elements of this book that I really enjoyed. I particularly loved the post-it notes. I love the idea of finding that one thing about a person that is special and leaving them a compliment about it. The main character, Sage’s, desire to hide her dark past also resonated with me. I don’t have quite the secret that she does, but I’ve been the new kid in school, many times, and I know what it’s like to want to start fresh, with no history and only the image you project as the foundation for all relationships. I also like the slow reveal of Sage’s past. We are drawn in to her world, with bits and pieces doled out rather than an info dump in the form of a conversation with a new friend.
Unfortunately, there were also elements of this book that I didn’t especially like. The bad guy was so over the top bad. His beyond evilness felt out of place in this book. It’s a James Bond villain in a Footloose movie. The same ends could have been met far more effectively if this person’s actions had been more subtle and with more rational basis. And the insta-love: that’s a big UGH from me. Yes, hormones, he’s dreamy, we KNOW. Can we just try developing the relationship a little more first? Finally, while I applaud Sage’s dedication to her environmental cause, I rolled my eyes more than a couple of times at her choices.
There weren’t any surprises or big emotional punches for me in this book, and the middle dragged, but overall it was an enjoyable, if not especially nuanced, read.
Meghan graded the book an B-:
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things was better than I expected. It started slow and didn’t pick up until halfway through the book. I felt no connection with the characters until the end, because even though the main character narrated it, secrets were conveniently locked away until it made sense to reveal them for plot purposes.
The characters did not have unique personalities and only seemed to display depth of emotion toward the end of the story. They did not appear to act like real people would if placed in the same situation. Overall, this book kept my interest well enough and the ending wrapped up every loose end the reader may be curious about.