I love Christmas! Christmas & YA seem like they should be an obvious match, a warm & fuzzy union. But there aren’t too many YA Christmas books, the big popular one being Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, & Lauren Myracle (review for that one coming up next). But then this baby was born! It’s a lovely Holiday anthology of cute little novellas. I really enjoyed about seven of them, two were okay, & the others not so much. The genres are sometimes hard to pin down, but the majority of them are contemporary. I’m going to review each individually & then do an overall wrap up. The photos above each review are the chapter illustrations done by Jim Tierney who did the cover. So in order of appearance…
Midnights by Rainbow Rowell
I’ve only read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell & I loved it because the writing style read very much like an early 2000’s rom-com movie. This was pretty similar, but definitely for a younger reader. Mags slowly develops a friendship turned something-possibly-more with a boy named Noel. It spans several years in twenty-two pages by describing the events that take place each New Year’s Eve party at a fellow friend’s house. The plot was cute, probably one of the better ones in this collection. The characters were incredibly likable. It was a little slow to start, but by about eight pages in it picked up. It’s the perfect start to this book even though it isn’t necessarily Christmas themed, it sets the tone for the type of cheesy stories you’re about to read. Both characters were the slightly flawed, but cutesy type & it felt like the sort of thing most kids can relate to.
The Lady & the Fox by Kelly Link
Every single review I’ve read so far hates this one, but it’s easily my favorite. This one also spans several years in about twenty-six pages. Miranda starts as a young girl who visits her relatives, the Honeywells (how great is that last name?!), every Christmas. The description of the family drama is probably my favorite. I would read a whole story about them. There’s a mysterious man outside the window whenever it snows each Christmas & this was basically the main plot as the reader is slowly revealed Fenwick’s (I really love these names) backstory. Almost sort of a classic orphan girl story, the writing actually started giving me some Lemony Snicket vibes. My one complaint is that the side story of her mother in jail was a bit out of place & unnecessary. Its mix of fantasy & contemporary was a bit off-putting, if it was strictly fantasy it could’ve done a lot more with the limited pages given instead of trying to incorporate so much. But overall I loved it. The ending was a bit rushed, but it wasn’t unsatisfying. It made me crave more Kelly Link though, so I’m debating between buying Get In Trouble & Stranger Things Happen. Suggestions please!
Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena
This one was okay. I really loved the main character, Shy, but the romantic interest, Haley, was annoying. It was a cute plot, but a bit stretched out. Shy is cat sitting his boss’ apartment over the Holidays when a snow storm hits. Haley is the wealthy chick upstairs whose not that into her long distance boyfriend back home. Eventually romance ensues. I appreciate the NYC references, especially the love of fresh fallen snow before it turns into ugly gray slush, but it wasn’t that great of a romance. I want a mushy, happy, love story. I’m sick of reading stories about girls that just aren’t into their boyfriends. I’m sick of reading about how immaculate white girls are. But it wasn’t completely awful, Shy’s stream of conscious monologues were super relatable & lovable. Matt de la Pena’s writing style makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a real version of him. But the plot’s classic idea, while promising, was boring in execution.
Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han
I wasn’t really looking forward to this one. I know a lot of people loved Han’s book, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but it wasn’t that good in my opinion. However, this story is my second favorite in the collection. The idea was an original spin on a classic misfit character type & the story was beautiful. A little girl is adopted by Santa, & then is raised in the North Pole alongside elves. Think Elf or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Natalie doesn’t feel like she belongs, but she falls in love with Flynn, a very charming & popular elf who has been kind to Natalie over the years. I really wish this one was longer. I loved everything from Han’s description of the magical Great Hall to her ability to normalize very odd characters & situations so that they’re relatable. Thirteen pages was not enough!
It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins
Eh. It wasn’t that great. The plot relied a lot on the character backstory & development, which doesn’t do much of anything if the characters are boring. The setting was cute. A hippy town in North Carolina, zooming in on a family-owned Christmas tree lot. Marigold frequents this lot because she thinks she could use North’s voice for her animation videos she makes for fun. She ends up buying a tree which North helps her move into her apartment. The subplot centers around Marigold’s family life & her tiny apartment she & her mom are planning on moving out of. But the subplot is a whole lot of telling & not a lot of showing. North never seemed all that wonderful to me. Marigold was boring & the story was stretched out. A lot of people seem to like this one, but there wasn’t anything special about it. Perkins doesn’t really seem like she had any specific quirk she was trying to add, it’s just kind of there, a contemporary romance that’s easily forgettable.
Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan
I enjoyed Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (review is up on my Goodreads!) & I’m in the middle of reading Everyday, so I was looking forward to this one. I liked it because there wasn’t really much conflict. Instead it focused on the unnamed narrator & his struggle with his covered up relationship, all while he pretends to be Santa for his boyfriend’s little sister on Christmas Eve. He sneaks around Connor’s house & places presents while having interactions with Connor’s family. The two little sisters have contrasting personalities & the brief encounter with Connor’s sleepy mother was touching. The story comes to a warm & snuggly conclusion. I loved this one so much I read it twice.
Krampuslauf by Holly Black
This one was another slow starter, but I ended up liking it a lot. The dialogue is typical YA, you’re very much inside the teenage girl’s head. I don’t normally like that style, I prefer there to be some distance between my characters & the narrator, but it worked well with the story. The plot was a good mix of teenage social/class conflict & fantasy vs reality musings. Twenty-five pages long, but every sentence pushed the character development forward. I think a lot of Black’s personality is fused in there. Hanna & her friends attend a Krampuslauf, which is an event celebrating the Krampus, a demon-like Holiday creature. Hanna’s friend Penny is dating a real two-timing douche-king & Hanna, along with their friend Wren, invite him to this party to blow his cover. Hanna & co are a classic Powerpuff girl trio. But the plot doesn’t really go into their friendship much . Instead it focuses on Hanna’s struggle with her lack of wealth & her desire for something more magical out of life. It reads kind of like Black’s ultimate wish-fulfillment & by the end the more fantasy based characters come to center stage. Not my favorite, & I don’t think I’m itching for more Holly Black, but the story itself was cute & perfect for this collection. (If you like the idea of a Krampus, see Krampusnacht: A Christmas Krampus Anthology)
What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Foreman
I’ve never read any Gayle Foreman, but the writing style of this story was similar to Perkin’s story’s style. However, this story actually had interesting characters. Sophie Roth is a freshman in some middle-of-nowhere, white-washed college. She’s originally from New York City so obviously I have some biased attachment to her already. Once again, the main plot here is character development, but this story is extremely successful at it. Sophie learns her lesson through her romantic interest, Russell, as they make fun of ugly Christmas sweaters & chow down on weird diner food. There’s some racial, religious, & class conflict in here, without it every losing the cutesy, Christmas tone. I never had any desire to read Foreman’s If I Stay, but this story was so well told that I am considering I Was Here.
Beer Buckets & Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire
I liked that this one was from a guy’s POV. That’s a bit rare from female authors, but it should be done more, it usually gives the narrator a cheeky voice. Vaughn is a prankster who has to do community service for the local church. The love interest is the classic Preacher’s daughter/Footloose-type girl. It was twenty-four pages & sometimes kind of choppy. It could’ve used some more editing, but the overall story was cute. Vaughn ends up saving the annual nativity show & proves himself to be a nice guy so he can date Gracie. There wasn’t really any big conflict, the reader knows everything will be resolved, but it was a quick & enjoyable read.
Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White
I really wanted to like this one, but it was so dull. Maria lives in a place called Christmas & works in a run down diner while her mom & her mom’s boyfriend try to save up money because they’re poor & what not. Blah, blah, very Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. There is a slight magical element: the new cook, a young boy out of juvie, can psychically predict a person’s favorite food & slowly the diner becomes a beaming hotspot & the townspeople get all sweet & jolly. It has a very good premise & the small town thing normally works for me, but the characters were so boring. Obviously in a collection like this, you’re not looking for full rounded, thoroughly shaped characters with amazing backstories & crazy personalities. Most of the characters are going to be a little cookie cutter-esque, stereotypical, a bit flat. But Maria was whiney & dull. Ben never really seemed to come into his full quirky potential. The mother & boyfriend are mostly out of the storyline until the very end. Probably one of my least favorites in this collection.
Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter
When I bought this book, this was the sort of story I was picturing it would be filled with. Cheesy romance, outlandish airport scenes, improbable pop-stars who fall in love with cowboys during the holidays. Lydia switches her ticket last minute with Hulda, a foreign exchange student from Iceland. Lydia ends up in Bethlehem, Texas under the roof of Hulda’s ex-boyfriend, Ethan. She pretends to be Hulda as she gets closer to Ethan’s family, until bam! At the annual Christmas church-service, her manager shows up. Liddy is revealed to by Liddy Chambers, a pop-star made famous from her You-Tube recorded rendition of Holy Night. There’s a bit of a backstory with her mother (damn there’s a lot of mommy/daughter stuff in this thing), but ultimately she gains a new family, a boyfriend, & a place she belongs. Awwwww. I don’t mind spoiling this one because it’s fairly predictable. It’s cheesy, but it’s supposed to be. Carter doesn’t set out to have this story achieve anything other than what it’s supposed to be. The characters are cliche, but cute. The plot is extreme & the writing style is straightforward. I really enjoyed it.
The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
This was a good one to save for last (I always wonder how these things are organized? Like do they try to make them flow, or are they trying to even out the ones they think are better with the less-than-great ones?) because it didn’t have too much to do with the Holiday season. Apparently it’s set in the world of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, which I have not read. I think I might though because I really liked this one. Taylor’s writing style is a bit long winded, slightly pretentious at times. However, there are some really great lines in there. “I will free you, and I will lift you. I will learn a thousand ways to make you laugh. Your smiles will be honey in my mead, your enchantment my delight.” I mean how sweet is that? The story is a fantasy genre, & it’s probably a better read if I don’t describe much of the plot. But spans the twenty-four days of advent preceding Christmas on the Isle of Feathers. The girls are pursued by suitors who leave gifts on their doors & they can reject or accept them. The backstory about the twins was a little unnecessary, but I liked the ending a lot. I think it’ll be good to see how Taylor paces herself when she has a whole book to work with so I’m going to give her novels a try.
& that’s it! The stories were cute & wonderful overall. Not all of them gave me the same warm fuzzies as I would get while watching Love Actually, which is kind of what I originally expected, but they were great none the less. It’s hard switching from a certain author’s writing style to another’s so quickly; a few have more distinct voices than others. The ones that don’t really stand out tend to blend together a bit, but it gives you a good exposure to some popular YA authors out there right now. I wouldn’t say I like this more than Let It Snow, but I will say that certain parts of it are more spectacular than even the biggest, cheesiest parts of Let It Snow‘s three stories. But lastly, am I the only one trying to match up the couples on the front with the characters in the stories? I swear I can only get about eight out of twelve of them down for sure.