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Book Review: "Four of a Kind," by Kellie Sheridan

I started this book fully prepared to dislike it. Between the cover and the description, it seemed like a lot of Bad Waiting to Happen. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Which just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its cover. 

Disclaimer: A received a copy for an honest review from NetGalley. Also, this review does contain spoilers. 

Yes, there is a little bit that could do to be changed. Mainly, the quads' R-names really should have been rethought; I still can't 100% tell the difference between Reilly and Reece. Realistically, new parents of identical quadruplet girls would not name all of them incredibly similar sounding names: Reilly, Reece, Reagan, and Rhiannon. That was the first unbelievable hurdle to jump over (never mind the statistical possibility of identical quadruplets, all of whom are perfectly fine with no lasting difficulties from, I don't know, sharing a womb). 

Another difficulty was the fact that occasionally, the book does veer into sounding just a little too try hard, including the moments when Reagan seems to slip into seeming, well, too much like a narrator. I think that's one of the biggest downsides of the book; occasionally, Reagan will think something that is so incredibly not something a teenager would think about themselves (such as "Curse my teenage hormones!" What teenager says that!?) that it takes you out of the moment entirely. Basically, Reagan's internal dialogue often did not feel natural or normal, probably because of editing.  

The one thing I will say is that it felt like the book ended just a little too abruptly. It was quite a short book; I read it in a total of perhaps 4 hours. It felt like towards the middle a lot of random "drama" happened, such as Reece dyeing her hair and Rhiannon disappearing. Regarding that second incident, I think Reagan's non-anger at Rhiannon was the most disappointing part of the book; talk about being untrue to teenagers! Rhiannon's behavior lead to Reagan having to abandon her first ever date--what a dick move for her sister to pull. It was an incredibly important moment for Reagan and actually felt like the climax of the novel: Reagan, who is shy and nerdy, is on a date with a guy she really likes. That's the ultimate end-game for Reagan, what her narration has been about essentially since the beginning. And instead of anything happening, the moment is ruined, about 5 minutes in, by her sister's disappearance. And we're supposed to believe that Reagan isn't mad?  

Any teenager, or adult, honestly, would be livid, but Reagan was just "too good" for that. It's those moments where she slips (alongside her parents and sisters) into being just a little "too perfect," just a little idealized. I wanted some messiness from Reagan, but it didn't happen. There were a few moments like this where the reactions of characters seemed to be just too fake and unrealistic. No one, absolutely no one, reacts to teenagers breaking rules with, "Well, maybe we need to readjust the rules." No, if my kid disappeared and turned off her phone, she'd be getting grounded until summer at the very least. But not Rhiannon's parents!

Then, after Rhiannon came back and Reagan got to do a date re-do, the book ends. We get a brief scene where Reagan acts in a play, but that's it. It's a bit anticlimactic; there is no big action that creates tension or changes things. Things seem... the same as when the book started, plus a boyfriend. Maybe Rhiannon's disappearance is meant to be the climax, but it didn't feel like it; Reagan found her within 10 minutes of starting to look, so, you know. 

All this being said, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant book to read; I would definitely recommend it as the start of a series to younger readers (I'd say it's definitely written at around 6th or 7th grade level).

A few additional notes: this book does win points for attempting to include a diverse cast. Based on descriptions, Reagan's love interest, Kurt, appears to be biracial (it's never explicitly stated) and one of the quadruplets (Reilly) identifies as gay. These are just two examples. It is always difficult to praise diversity in a book that centers around four, beautiful, identical, white girls, but alas, I have to give Kellie Sheridan credit for at least including diverse characters, even if they are secondary in this novel. (From my understanding, this is the first in a series about the quadruplets. Here's to hoping for more in the sequels!) 

Book Review: The Lauras

I took a break from book reviews for a while, but I decided it was time. I've been reading a ton (thanks to Kindle Unlimited!) and I've been diving into Goodreads. This review originally appeared on Goodreads; you can follow my reviews & reads on Goodreads here. This review does contain spoilers, so if you have not read the Lauras yet, drop everything and go read it. Then read this review. 

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from NetGalley. 

To sum up my feelings about this book in one word: wow. 

I started this book with no preconceptions about it. I had heard of it, vaguely, but hadn't done any research on it whatsoever. When I requested it from NetGalley, I barely read the description. 

Thus, I didn't really know what to expect. That's usually the best way to start a book: fresh. 

The Lauras is a sweeping story, romantic in that way that it is invested in relationships, both small and big, and the ways in which our lives spread out from us, reverberating over and over again. It's about America, about choosing to live your life your own way. It's touching and frustrating, all at once. 

I have to give Sara Taylor credit for portraying characters outside the binary: Alex, the main character, is genderless, preferring to exist as an either-or-neither. (For the sake of this review, I will refer to Alex by the singular "they" pronoun. Alex's mother, called Ma throughout the novel, will be referred to by the pronoun "she/her.") This is the first book I have read with such a character--one that is still vibrant and loving, sexual and full. Just not defined by a singular gender. I also appreciate that Alex's mother is attracted to both men and women, referenced multiple times throughout the book in the form of the Lauras, and that many periphery characters are portrayed as bisexual as well. 

Alex's mother decides, one night, to leave her husband, Alex's father, and take Alex on a cross-country road trip to pay her debts, visit her old haunts, and generally tell Alex a little more about her life. In many ways, it is sweeping; in other ways, it is purposefully vague, featuring older Alex butting in as the narrator, pointing out times where they are not sure if they remember things correctly or purposefully hide things to avoid shame. It's a charming way to write a story, sure, but I found myself unfulfilled at the end for a few reasons (and perhaps that was the point after all--rarely in life are stories like this, stories where your mother wakes up in the middle of the night and drags you away from the life you've known, tied up neatly at the end).

Mostly, I just wanted to know that Alex was okay, that after such an uprooting they were able to make sense of their life. Did Alex become a reporter, a musician, a professional roadtripper? 

Mainly, the concept of the Lauras is a little confusing, again, perhaps purposefully. Throughout her life, Ma met a variety of "Lauras" (whether they are all named Laura or she just renamed them "Laura" is up for debate, even to Ma and Alex), women that impacted her life in some way.In the end, they travel to Canada to meet one of the Lauras, the Laura that Ma wants to spend her life with. It's never made clear which Laura, described by Ma/Alex previously, it is, but I suspect it is the College-Laura. They all, ultimately, blur into one face, one name. Some are never revisited. Some, Ma dwells on. 

The title suggests that the journey is about the Lauras, but really it's just about one Laura (the Laura in Canada, hinted at earlier in the novel through a map that Alex inspects). However, the most compelling parts of the journey are not related to the Lauras at all, or even tangentially. After they leave Florida (their first pitstop for a year to earn money), they travel to Mississippi, where Ma had worked one summer on a crab boat with her two friends, Anthony and Marisol. Marisol is one of the most vibrant characters in the books--one I wish that more time had been spent on. That summer is romantic and vibrant, sweaty and southern; I want to read more about it. But it's glossed over in favor of a water funeral, performed by Ma, at sunset. 

Next, they travel through Texas, where their car loses a wheel, leaving them stranded, conveniently, in a town where another of Ma's college friends lives. This college friend, Mary-Margaret, was once a bisexual college girl who, after losing both her parents, got caught up in a strict, Christian cult (for lack of a better term) that reminds me of the Duggars. She has a horde of children, including a 17-year-old girl named Anne-Marie. 

Ma and Alex help Anne-Marie escape before she can be married off to someone of her father's choice. This is one of the best parts of the novel--the anticlimactic moment where Ma helps Annie escape, leaves her with her older brother (who also, as children of cults tend to do, escaped), and then worries about her incessantly for the rest of the trip. I wanted to read more about Annie, about her life post-cult, but that's another book.

My point is, these compelling, interesting moments have nothing to do with Lauras. But maybe (maybe) Marisol is a Laura too. And maybe Annie is a Laura for Alex. 

Like most good novels, this made me think. It made me sad. It made me not miss being 13, 14, 15 at all. It made me want to road trip around America, work in dingy bars and stay in cheap apartments--be a little dangerous. Excellent, compelling, and worth a read. Highly, highly recommended to anyone who loves a good road trip, reading gripping motherhood-based stories, and just loves good writing in general.

The Lauras is not available through Amazon at the moment, but the last time I checked, it's still available for a digital copy via NetGalley!