Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How To Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin (2017)

I listen to By the Book, a podcast hosted by two women who read and live by self-help books for two weeks at a time and then talk about it on their show. It's hilarious! They haven't done this book, but many of their fans have mentioned it in their Facebook community. I'm familiar with Gretchen Rubin because I used to read her Happiness Project blog back before she ever got a book deal (although I stopped when I had had enough of the relentless pursuit of happiness), and I'm always interested in understanding personality types. So I thought this might be helpful.

Rubin has boiled people down to four basic types, or tendencies as she calls them, according to how they meet expectations from themselves and others. Upholders meet both inner and outer expectations; Questioners meet inner, but not outer, expectations; Obligers meet outer, but not inner, expectations; and Rebels basically refuse to meet any expectations.

What this means in practical terms is that, for example, Obligers will be dependable at meeting deadlines set by their boss but may struggle to go to the gym regularly. However, if they have a gym buddy they're supposed to go with, they'll go because they won't want to let that other person down. According to Rubin, most people are Obligers. Questioners need reasons for what they do, so they don't meet expectations from others unless they are themselves convinced that it makes sense. They also tend to be the people who will research something to death before making a decision about it. Upholders regularly meet inner and outer expectations. They are rule-followers who tend to form new habits fairly easily. Rebels are the opposite - they are all about freedom and doing whatever they want in the moment, resisting expectations from themselves as much as they resist expectations from others.

If you know me at all, you'll immediately recognize me as an Upholder, which as far as I can tell, is the very best tendency. I may be biased. We are the ones who are often accused of being rigid. It's true that I like to have a plan and stick to it, even if that plan is going home and putting on my pajamas at 7pm and reading all evening. That is just as legit as what someone else wants me to do.
But I'm super grateful that I happen to find my own expectations just as important as the expectations of others - I rarely, if ever, fall into the trap of saying "yes" too much until my plate is too full and I'm overwhelmed. I also do tend to form habits fairly easily and stick to plans, though I have recently gotten better at allowing myself to drop things when I no longer think they're helpful or relevant. In case you're wondering, my husband is most definitely a Rebel and according to Rubin, the Upholder/Rebel pairing is pretty much the worst combination of tendencies to have in a relationship. So there you have it.

Obviously, not everyone in each category is the same, and there is overlap. (I think I have a little bit of Questioner, for example.) Plus of course, people have other aspects of their personalities that can dilute or mitigate their tendencies. But what I like about this, and other personality-sorting such as the Enneagram, is that it's a tool to take a closer look at why people do the things the they do and act the way they act. In terms of interpersonal relationships, I find it very useful to look at people in different ways. I'm a manager and of course I immediately tried to sort people in my department into categories, although to be honest, these categories are just giving me names for things I already knew about them. (And I thank my lucky stars I don't have to supervise any Rebels.) But for people I don't know as well, it might actually be helpful in figuring out their motivations. This kind of personality analysis is also helpful in understanding oneself too, of course. Upholders are a pretty small group, apparently, and I definitely fall into the trap Rubin (also an Upholder) mentioned, in which I don't understand why people can't just do the thing they've said they want to do, or are expected to do. Just do it! Do the thing! Do all of the things! Make a list and follow it! Yeah, that's apparently not how most people operate, so I need to realize that I'm actually the weirdo in sticking to things I've decided I want or need to do, sometimes regardless of whether it even still makes sense.

Although I found this book fairly interesting and helpful at the beginning, the long sections devoted to each type were a bit bloated and I got especially bogged down during Obliger. It got very repetitive - how many times must you repeat that Obligers meet outer expectations but not inner expectations? It felt like this fairly short book would have been better as a lengthy article. But maybe it's just because I'm not invested enough in the idea that I need such thorough explanations and numerous examples.

If you're interested in learning your own tendency (though you may already recognize it from my descriptions above) you can take the quiz here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Just Mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014)

I first heard of Bryan Stevenson back in 2014 when I read the book No Choirboy, a teen book about teens on death row. Stevenson is an attorney who was mentioned in the book because he's an advocate for people treated unfairly by the justice system. He also appears in the documentary 13th, which is about racial inequality in the U.S. justice system. I've admired him ever since I heard of his work, and recently I finally made a point to read his book.

Stevenson's passion for justice is clear and unwavering and he has spent his entire career helping those who need it the most. He started the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides representation for prisoners who were wrongly convicted or didn't receive a fair trial. We learn about many of these case in the book, and they are all horrifying.

The story focused on the most is that of Walter McMillian, a black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death. At the time of the murder he was at a fish fry with many friends and family, but their testimony was completely disregarded and he was convicted on the basis of one witness who was obviously lying, but he was white and everyone wanted to convict someone for this terrible murder. It was obvious to Stevenson that McMillian's trial had been a farce, but even so it took quite a while to get McMillian set free.

Other stories are equally as horrifying. A 14-year-old girl accidentally started a fire in which two people died and was sentence to life without parole. An intellectually disabled woman was charged with killing her baby and, facing a capital charge, took a plea for life in prison - but there was no baby. She had never even been pregnant. A 13-year-old boy shot a woman (she lived) and was sentence to life without parole. He was sent to an adult prison and because such young prisoners are often targets for abuse, he was put in solitary confinement and kept there for 18 years.

Although Stevenson won some of his cases, he didn't win them all. He wrote about one death row inmate he wasn't able to save. He visited the man on the last night of his life and then witnessed his execution. He reflected:

"In debates about the death penalty, I had started arguing that we would never think it was humane to pay someone to rape people convicted of rape or assault and abuse someone guilty of assault or abuse. Yet we were comfortable killing people who kill, in part because we think we can do it in a manner that doesn't implicate our own humanity, the way that raping or abusing someone would. I couldn't stop thinking that we don't spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually involves."

I learned about so many terrible things from this book. Black defendants having all-white juries at their trials, and racist jurors not being excluded. That by 2010 the state of Florida had sentenced over 100 kids to life without parole. Kids! That between 1990 and 2005 a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days. That the drugs used for lethal injection had been banned for animal euthanasia because they caused a painful and tortuous death, which led to correctional authorities obtaining them illegally for executions.

I knew that our justice system was flawed. I've read The New Jim Crow. But reading this...I felt like it's more than flawed. It's completely broken and useless. Why hasn't there been a huge outcry? Why hasn't it been fixed? Do other people who work in the system not care? Thank goodness for people like Bryan Stevenson and the other attorneys at his organization who are trying to fix the horrible injustices that have been allowed to take place.

It was very hard to read, especially in the current political climate in which the current administration seems determined to undo the social progress we've made. But I also think it's very important to read - Americans need to understand that this is happening. I know there's a strong movement against mass incarceration and towards prison reform, and I only hope it can result and real and lasting change.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole (2018), narrated by Karen Chilton

Busy, working graduate student Naledi starts getting emails claiming she's betrothed to an African prince, which she deletes because of course they're spam BUT THEY'RE NOT SPAM. Prince Thabiso has to travel to New York on business and decides to seek her out in person, which goes terribly awry when she mistakes him for a new hire at her waitressing job and he plays along with it only to set a table on fire. Needless to say, it's not a good impression. But when he turns up in the apartment next door to her and offers to cook her dinner, they smooth things over and soon it starts heating up between them. But she still thinks his name is Jamal and he doesn't reveal his real identity, or their shared background, so that's rather a ticking time bomb.

Naledi only remembers New York. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was very young and she grew up in a series of foster homes. None of them stuck and she is without family, struggling to complete her education. She needs an internship and hasn't heard back from the person she's supposed to be interning for, and this is a great source of stress, in addition to the demands on her time with school and two jobs. Even as she becomes more and more attracted to the guy she knows as Jamal, she is convinced that their relationship won't go anywhere.

The setup alone was enough to get me to read this book, but the execution was fantastic. Naledi definitely has some self-esteem issues when it comes to relationships, and the knowledge that Thabiso was lying to her about such huge issues really hung over me throughout the story. But not too long - this isn't one of those stories where it all comes out very late in the book and then they get over it and live happily ever after. No, there is a lot more to this story and that's what makes it so good.

When all is said and done we learn about Thabiso's country and his life, the issues facing them and why they're all counting on him to get married, the whole story behind Thabiso and Naledi's childhood betrothal and, finally, why Naledi's family fled Thesolo and started a new life. Throughout, Naledi tried to come to terms with Thabiso's lies, her attraction to him, and how the situation would affect - or not? - her life. They were both such great characters. Naledi down-to-earth and practical, but passionate about her work in public health, Thabiso raised to have his every need served but still empathetic to the needs of his people.

Literally the only thing wrong with this book is that when Naledi learned Thabiso's real identity she never expressed concern about what happened to the real Jamal, who probably really needed that job. (Thabiso intercepted him outside and paid him something like $20k to not go in, so he's fine. She just doesn't know that.)

The audio narrator was great (she did the accents, though I have no idea if she based the Thesaloian accent on a real African language) and I thought this was a great choice for audio. I mean, there were some sexytimes that were fairly graphic and I always feel a little weird listening on the bus even though I know nobody can hear what I'm hearing. But overall it was a fun and satisfying listening experience.

Fun fact: Alyssa Cole is known for her great dresses, which she buys from an Etsy shop called Adorned by Nicole. The dress on the cover is actually a dress designed by that shop. So if you love it (and why wouldn't you?) you know where you can get one.

The book I've been reading in print at the same time as this one is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which is all about our horrible broken justice system and innocent people being executed. But we have to also read things that make us feel good and remind ourselves why life is even worth living in the first place. So do yourself a favor and pick up a story that you know is going to end well - like this one. As much as we need to pay attention to horrible stuff happening around us, sometimes we also need to escape for a little while.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith (2013)

This is the first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, who initially published it under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I've heard great things about it - about the whole series - and I love all of Rowling's other books, so it was only a matter of time before I read it. Of course it's fairly long so I kept putting it off, and it ended up on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list.

The story opens on the aftermath of an apparent suicide. A famous model has jumped from her balcony, and police and paparazzi swarm the street outside her London home. But her brother refuses to believe she killed herself and hires private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate. One witness, a resident of the building's first floor, claims to have heard Lula Landry arguing with a man before falling to her death, but is this witness credible? Is there something suspicious about Landry's down-and-out friend Rochelle, who seems like she doesn't want to be found? And what of Landry's estranged boyfriend? The police consider it an open-and-shut case of suicide, but to Strike too many unanswered questions remain.

Cormoran Strike is in the midst of his own difficulties. As the story begins, he's just begun living in his office after a devastating breakup, business not healthy enough to support his renting an apartment. He has a new secretary sent by a temp agency, Robin, who is fascinated by Strike's work and dreads being moved on to her next job. This tension permeates the novel, as Robin proves herself worthy of more than just administrative duties due to her cleverness and resourcefulness, but Strike knows he can't afford to keep her on. Robin is engaged to a guy named Matthew who disapproves of her working for Strike, and I kept hoping she would dump him. It's a sketchy situation really, working for a guy who is clearly living in his office but trying unsuccessfully to hide that fact. He also tries to hide his prosthetic leg, crankily urging Robin to leave when he's been walking a lot and just needs to take his leg off for some relief but refuses to do so with her there. I loved seeing their very different personalities interact, especially as the story progressed and they got more comfortable with each other.

Along the way, we learn a lot about Landry's life. Her adoptive family, as well as her reconnection with her birth mother and search for her biological father. We also meet her friends, both the unlikely - Rochelle, who she met in rehab - and the other models as well as a designer she modeled for and had a close relationship with. We also learn about Strike's life: the son of a groupie and a rock star, everyone knows who his father is and mention him whenever they meet Strike, but he himself has only met his father a couple of times. The similarities between Landry's and Strike's life were apparent, but so were the vast differences, but both characters were fully realized even though one was already dead when the book began.

It was long, as I mentioned, but not unnecessarily so. The mystery of Lula Landry's death had many twists and turns and it took Strike - with Robin's help - a long time to investigate all the leads. It did take me a long time to read, but it was definitely worth it. There are two more books in the series, with a fourth to come later this year, so I look forward to picking those up at some point.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Wrap-Up and Plans for July



It already feels like summer is flying by too fast!

Reading


I haven't completed anything from my TBR Pile Challenge this month. I finished A Short History of Nearly Everything at the very end of May, and I'm just now starting the next book for my challenge.

I read a couple of very new books - The Outsider by Stephen King and The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood. Another great book I read this month was Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, which was quite timely as it dealt with immigration.

I only completed 6 books in June, which is a little less than usual for me, I think because the Stephen King book was so long. I really thought I'd start flying through my TBR list now that I don't have a book group and therefore have one less book to read per month, but it was a busy month.

Listening


My only audiobook was Forever, Interrupted, which is now my least favorite book by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Otherwise, it's been the same old music and podcasts. Oh! I did add one new podcast - Slow Russian, which is a Russian language-learning podcast. I've been wanting to brush up on my Russian but I don't necessarily want to just listen to the regular language-learning sources and their boring conversations about your flight and how to get to the museum or whatever. On this podcast the host, Darya, reads a short piece about some aspect of Russian culture. Then she goes through it sentence by sentence and explains things that might be unfamiliar. Of course, there are also words I should know but don't that she doesn't explain, but I'm trying to just let it go and soak in what I can.

Watching


The Handmaid's Tale might be slowly killing me. I'm so very worried about the state of our union right now and I love this show, but it doesn't help. I thought it would be over after 10 episodes like last season, but apparently it's going to go for 13. So my trauma is being prolonged.

We've started watching Poldark, one of those historical British shows that is right up my alley. I had heard of it before, but then a friend mentioned liking it a lot and told me more about it and it's actually something Eric and I are both interested in and can watch together, which doesn't happen often. It's great so far!

I also began watching Parts Unknown, the Anthony Bourdain show where he travels to different places and eats interesting things. I knew very little about him, but after he died everyone had such great things to say. I almost wish I had watched this while he was still alive, but then I'd be as upset as everyone else. What really spurred me to watch wasn't just his death, but the fact that my Cookbook Club at work is going to be doing his book for our next meeting, so I thought I'd try to familiarize myself with him a bit more. He's so incredibly unpretentious, which I love. On the second episode of the show he goes to Koreatown in Los Angeles and eats at a Sizzler. A Sizzler! No matter where he goes (so far) he loves everything he eats. The guy just loved to eat, apparently, which I totally understand.

Knitting


Um. Let's move on.

Cooking


Lots of pickles
There was a lot going on this month, so I haven't cooked very much. June started out with a birthday party that I threw for myself, but we had it catered because I didn't want to spend the entire day slaving over food. We also went camping one weekend, and there have been a few other social activities. The weekend is really when I have time for cooking so if I end up having a lot of plans on the weekend then I don't have as much time to cook.

I did make pickles for my Cookbook Club at work, which was easy and delicious. We were cooking from Flour, Too by Joanne Chang. I also tried a couple of new recipes from Melissa Clark's Dinner but no real favorites, I don't think. Below is a photo of a Colombian-inspired chicken dish that has a lot of great flavors, but was kind of awkward to eat so I'm undecided about whether I'll make it again.

Doing


As I mentioned, the month began with a birthday party for my 45th. It was great, but I stayed up waaay too late and spent the entire next day - my actual birthday - in my pajamas, eating leftover party food and feeling out of sorts. The following weekend I went to a friend's 40th birthday party, which was a 90s dance party. I was a bit concerned about being able to pull together a good 90s outfit, since I was determined not to buy anything, but I borrowed some boots from a coworker, found a pair of lace tights in my drawer (where the heck did they even come from?) and the outfit really came together from there. So, lots of birthday fun in June!

Eric and I also took our first camping trip since we adopted Petri. We bought a new, larger tent which I love. I had no idea how she would behave on a camping trip, especially with the potential for so many other dogs around, but she was surprisingly well-behaved and really liked sleeping with us in the tent. The trip was cut short because of impending rain and thunderstorms, but I wasn't sure we'd make it through more than one night anyhow so it wasn't too much of a disappointment. It also gave us some extra time back at home so we went to see Deadpool 2, which was pretty good.

At work, a lot of the month was spent in interviews for a new Assistant Director and Teen Librarian. I'm amazed that we managed to cram in 2 rounds for 2 positions AND keep the reference desk staffed (more or less) but now the worst is over. Interviewing can be so exhausting. I'll be hiring another person in my department later this summer, but it's a position we've been without for about 5 years, so now it feels like it's extra. Exciting times!

It's halfway through the year, and I've mostly done ok at sticking to my goals. I need to remind myself that part of the reason I wanted to become a better cook is to be healthier, because recently my eating habits have not been great. (Birthday = giant cake for days. Camping = s'mores with lots of leftovers and I've been toasting marshmallows on my gas stove.) I won't beat myself up for not doing a lot of cooking recently, because part of enjoying summer is making plans with people on those precious weekend days. My other major goal this year was to be better about getting together with friends, especially those I don't see often, and I have definitely been doing that.

From Dinner by Melissa Clark
I may have mentioned that this year I switched from a bullet journal to a Passion Planner, and I'm still trying to decide if this planner will work for me. I do love the setup and the focus on goals (although I admit I haven't been filling everything out recently and I need to do better on that!) but I don't have enough space for my daily to-do lists. There's not even a space for that actually, because the way it's set up every day is a schedule. I don't have a ton of scheduled events, so I've just been covering the time slots with washi tape. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave a ton of space to write so I have to try and write very tiny. I think the larger size planner would work better, but I'm not sure it would fit in my bag. I might try the larger size next year and if it doesn't work, maybe just incorporate everything I like into a bullet journal? I don't know, but I really don't want to lose the goal-setting aspects of this planner. I also really like the weekly quotes and directives, all of which are great reminders. For instance, the quote next week is "Sometimes you have to find the good in goodbye." Then it says "Let go of the negativity you have towards someone by reflecting on the lessons you've learned from them. Believe that your experiences have made you stronger and that your future deserves to be shaped by positive experiences instead of being weighed down by negative ones."

Plans for July


One annual activity that I always look forward to is a day on Georges Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands. Some friends and I take the ferry over and just spend a relaxing day together, walking around, sitting in adirondack chairs staring at the ocean, and catching up with each other. Then we take the ferry back to Boston and usually wrap up with dinner at a local restaurant. I always end up exhausted and sunburned and it is totally worth it.

My same friend who organizes that excursion also has a birthday later in July and this year we'll be spending her birthday at a Janelle Monae concert. So exciting! We've seen her perform before when she opened for Prince back in 2013 and it was a great show. Her new album is fantastic and I can't wait to see her perform these songs.

I am hoping to do a little more cooking than I have been, especially since I've made a list of recipes I've been wanting to try but that are very summery. I've been waiting for in-season tomatoes, corn, and other produce so I want to be sure I make use of them while I can. I went to the Farmer's Market near work on its first day of the season and bought some rhubarb and chard for a recipe. I haven't gone in the couple of weeks since then, but would like to make it a habit.

How was your June? 


Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2014)

It seems everyone has been raving about this book - and Backman's other books - for quite a while now, but I never paid much attention for some reason. Then I realized it was supposed to be an uplifting heartwarming story about a quirk curmudgeon, which sounds exactly like the sort of thing I'd read.

As you may have gathered from the title, it's about a man who is named Ove. He is a widower who is very set in his ways, and makes it his business to patrol his neighborhood (he lives somewhere in Sweden) to ensure nobody is breaking any rules and he thinks anyone who doesn't drive a Saab is an idiot. When the story opens, a new family is moving into a nearby house and much of the story is his association with this people who are determined to be his friends, even though he is incredibly rude to them. Also, he keeps trying to commit suicide but is always interrupted, often by his new neighbor Parvanah who, unlike her husband, is not a complete idiot. Ove sort of grudgingly likes her. Oh, and there's a cat who keeps hanging around who Ove also grudgingly likes, mostly because he wife Sonja loved cats and literally the only thing in the world that it seems he has ever loved was his wife.

Everything I've read about this book talks about how heartwarming and uplifting it is. It's even on a list of "Books on the bright side" that we made at work (well, it was, I've taken it off.) I did not find it to be terribly uplifting. Ove's backstory is sad and tragic and he doesn't know how to relate with people and seems to not ever feel any feelings except for his wife, and their story wasn't an especially happy one either. Plus he literally keeps trying to kill himself through most of the book. So yes, eventually things get better for him and he makes connections with people but at the risk of being a bit spoilery, it doesn't have a very happy ending. So I have rather mixed feelings. It's a good book, but not what I expected it to be. I like dark and sad books, but went into this expecting this happy, uplifting story I got neither of those things.

The writing style is the clever, witty sort that I do really like. Here's an example early on, about one of Ove's neighbors:

"The Blond Weed, Ove calls her. Tottering around the streets like an inebriated panda on heels as long as box wrenches, with clown paint all over her face and sunglasses so big that one can't tell whether they're a pair of glasses or some kind of helmet."

That's sort of how it all sounds, exaggerated and satirical, and I liked it because I was delightfully surprised at how everything was described. And I'll admit, I did not necessarily disagree with some of Ove's views of things, which maybe makes me a curmudgeon too.

He was a great character in some ways. The story goes back and forth between present day and his earlier life, and he had a hard upbringing. But he took his father's lessons to heart and has always been a person of strong principles. He may be abrupt with people, but his sense of right and wrong is unwavering, which is what really matters when you get down to it. I felt sort of sad that his wife was really the only light in his life. I have no idea why this woman actually wanted to be with him to be honest, but it can't have been easy for her. He seemed like he was missing a lot in his life. He didn't seem to really enjoy anything, and much of the time just used routines to get through his days. I think he had some happiness, but it was so very limited.

My feelings are obviously very mixed. Have you read this? Or other books by Backman? What did you think?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls

The Last Summer of the Garrett Girls by Jessica Spotswood (2018)

Four sisters, orphaned and living with their grandmother, share a transformative summer. The oldest, Des, works full-time in the family bookstore and has been handling most household responsibilities while their grandmother has been recovering from an injury. Bea has just graduated and will be going to Georgetown with her boyfriend Erik, except she can no longer tolerate even thinking about this long-standing plan. Kat has been dumped and is formulating a plan to get her (jerk of an) ex-boyfriend back. Vi has a deep crush on a girl named Cece who seems super nice, but also seems to have a boyfriend.

These were all such good story lines, and I really loved these characters. Des is this totally dependable mom-figure who takes care of everybody at the expense of really living her own life. The book never comes out and uses the word "asexual," but she makes it clear a few times that she is uninterested in pursuing romantic relationships with anyone of any gender. She is, however, interested in a friendship with Paige, new to town, and different from anyone Des has known before. Her grandmother warns her away from this girl, claiming she is trouble, but Des ignores her, tempted by all the fun times she can have with Paige.

I loved how imperfectly realistic these characters are. Like Bea, who has been with her boyfriend since she was 13 (!!) and they've totally planned their lives together, but she is no longer interested in that life. She has also met a very attractive boat-dwelling guy named Gabe and has been spending some time with him. She can't bring herself to break up with Erik though. His family is like her family and vice versa. It would be like two families splitting, rather than just two people. And Erik is a super nice guy. There's nothing wrong with him, it's just that Bea is no longer in love with him. It would be much easier if he was actually a terrible person. 

Like Adam, Kat's ex-boyfriend. He cheated on her and is now dating the girl he cheated with. Kat is determined to win him back and realizes that the person to help her do it is Mason. Mason is bisexual and recently went through a breakup with his own boyfriend, who he also wants to win back. Kat's idea is that they will pretend to date and make their exes jealous. This will be especially easy since Kat and Mason got the lead parts in a play - a perfect situation to construct a romance! But it starts being difficult to tell what is acting and what is real.

The youngest sister, Vi, has been an out lesbian for a while now, and it's no big deal. The girl she is crushing on, however, is Latina and has a pretty conservative family. Also, a boyfriend. Vi has no idea if Cece is even interested in her and is SO angsty about it and tries to avoid Cece and gets all weird when they actually interact. (I mean, you remember being 15, right?) Cece is so great and they have a ton in common but Vi can't tell if Cece is being friend-nice or more-than-friend-nice. I feel you, Vi - we've all been there! I liked that some little things were included about Cece's life, like how annoyed she gets when people ask her where she's from and compliment her on her English. (Hint: she is from the United States and has always spoken English.)

I love small town stories and stories about sisters, which Jessica Spotswood is so good at (see also: The Cahill Witch Chronicles.) She's also good at creating individual, diverse characters who are realistically flawed and who I always root for. I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a perfect summer read. I know the title says "the last summer" but I would absolutely read another book about these characters and how things are going a year or so down the road. I want to make sure they're all ok!