FicCentral received a free copy of this book from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (via NetGalley).
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends on April 7, 2015
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance (YA)
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…
It’s no secret that I love kids’ books. Well, not the ones with lessons about eating your vegetables, but certainly the ones about characters who aren’t old enough to vote or drink. However, many of the young adult and new adult books I come across don’t quite feel authentic and are filled with characters and scenarios that are simply too mature to be real teens. It’s the literary equivalent of adult actors playing teen characters on television, and while it may be enjoyable, it’s certainly not memorable. The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things, however, misses that trap by a few million miles.
Sage has nearly perfected the persona of the ideal teenager. She’s friendly, responsible, studious, trustworthy, and kind. She’s also trying desperately to hold onto that facade in the hope that one day she’ll be as good as the mask she wears. She’s getting a second chance after a truly horrible beginning to her life, and she’ll do anything to smile through each day and leave the past behind. It’s taken her a few years of normal to come out of her shell enough to find a best friend, but she’s finally coming into her own and living the life she should have had all along.
Shane, on the other hand, doesn’t care much what people think of him. He has to keep his nose clean after getting into a little too much trouble in his past, but he doesn’t have to play up the perfect student act the way Sage seems to be doing. He’s a loner, content to avoid notice when possible and quickly singled out by the jocks who have nothing better to do than pick on the new guy. It’s a situation that immediately catches Sage’s attention and has her pulling out her trusty pad of Post-Its to add some light to his day.
Sage and Shane at first seem like complete opposites. He’s not the most social guy, not interested in the high school hierarchy or popularity politics, even as Sage is hellbent on reflecting perfection. He’s gorgeous but distant, surprisingly vulnerable, and beautifully loyal. But they both have some darkness in their pasts, and as they begin to confide in and depend upon each other, their lives converge in a way they never expected. They’re simply two rather normal teenagers trying to make up for things that were never in their control to begin with, and it perfectly highlights the pains of small-town living and the luck-of-the-draw social structure that is high school. Sage is kind and quirky but lives in fear of losing the good she’s found in her new life, while Shane is just trying to get through it. They find comfort and camaraderie in each other, and the relationship that develops is incredibly sweet.
I’ll admit that at first I was a little bored and thought maybe I’d picked something too young for me to really appreciate. Sage wasn’t someone I could identify with — or so I thought — but before I knew it, I was so invested that I snacked my way through dinner rather than put down the book for the few minutes it would have taken to heat up leftovers. Once Sage’s mind was more clearly revealed, she was incredibly easy to understand and even more likable than I expected. In fact, I loved all the characters. From Sage’s amazingly awesome aunt to the UPS guy to the freshmen to the older woman that Ryan (Sage’s best friend) should never have been involved with. Even the class bully had a little good shine through.
Some of you know that the dark past bit usually sends me running in the opposite direction, but somehow The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things manages to do it without being overly angsty or frustratingly depressing. I was rooting for Sage from the get-go, and then Shane won me over just as soon as she got to know him better. What they go through together is heartbreaking and healing, and I can honestly say it’s one of the few YA novels that is both appropriate for younger readers and thoroughly entertaining for those of us who are beginning to forget what those younger years felt like. While the characters’ backgrounds aren’t exactly fluffy, somehow the story reflects hope and genuine friendship alongside first love and growing up. And how perfect is that cover?! Now that I know what Ann Aguirre is capable of, I have no doubt more of her books will be showing up in my reviews here, and I’m definitely recommending this one to everyone.