Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Hi Her Campus readers! My name is Renée, and I like books. Last month, I reviewed four festive themed books. This month, I didn’t intentionally choose a theme, I just picked four random books that seemed to be interesting and they just so happened to all have heavy themes, ranging from poverty to abuse to death. However, the themes are intertwined with interesting characters, humor, romance and underlying themes of self-growth and self-worth. I hope you enjoy them!

Disclaimer: In the name of unbiasedness and integrity, I do not read any book reviews before reading and reviewing a book for myself. 

I am in no way any sort of professional book reviewer. I am a young university student who likes books. I like to think that other university students who like books look for the same things in a book as I do, or if they don’t, they will at least be prompted to engage in a discussion with me regarding the piece. 

*All ratings are given out of five.

1. Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

Genre: Romance

Goodreads Rating: 3.66

My rating: 2

Synopsis: A series of challenges regarding parenting, money, relationships, fate and religion happen to draw two people from opposite sides of the globe to the Camino, a notoriously challenging European trail. The pair do their best to navigate the challenges of the Camino while also figuring out what the hell they’re going to do about their own lives.

What You’ll Like: I really enjoyed the last quarter of this book. It was a very feel-good ending, and everything came together. I appreciate the effort the authors put into ensuring accuracy regarding the locations where the story was taking place. The main characters are not teenagers or young adults, but midlife adults, which I thought offered a different perspective and new conflicts that I don’t see in the stories I usually read. I also really liked the theme of new beginnings, which is especially fitting for the New Year.

What you’ll Dislike: As much as I liked the ending of this book, I can’t give it a higher rating than I did because I don’t think I would have had the willpower to finish the book had it not been for the purposes of this article. I found that it got really slow, and frankly, I got bored. 

2. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

Genre: Young Adult

Goodreads Rating: 3.81

My rating: 3.7

Synopsis: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night follows the story of a 19-year-old and her twin brother from impoverished 1990's Montréal. This is a rather heavy story that touches themes of poverty, sex, abuse, parent-child relationships (or lack thereof) and Québecois politics.

What you’ll Like: Having never experienced poverty or any of the issues the characters in the novel struggle with myself, I cannot confirm whether or not O’Neill portrayed it accurately. I do, however, believe that she did a respectable job illustrating these issues with less sugar-coating than I have seen in other works. I also appreciated how each of the major characters were so much more than just the issues they were facing: they were thought-out and complex. Despite all the serious topics touched upon in this book, O’Neill did a good job of inserting humour throughout the story without making a joke of the issues themselves. 

Moreover, I’m not used to reading books set in places that I am actually familiar with. I recognized the Montréal street names in the story, and I even remembered the atmosphere O’Neill described from when I visited Montréal myself. It made the whole story feel that much more real to me, and it made my heart happy to read a book with a scope on Canadian issues and politics.

What You’ll Dislike: If you are into cute romances, happy endings, or feel-good stories, you would probably be better off picking another book. Personally, I liked the ending because it was a testament to the reality that happy endings don’t come easily, or sometimes, not at all. Some people, however, may feel dissatisfied by the ending, as none of the main characters really get the guarantee of having a happy or secure future ahead of them. It’s also rather anticlimactic, and without any twists or shocks: it ended pretty much how I expected it to.

3. Free From the Tracks by K.T. Bowes

Genre: Young Adult, Romance

Goodreads Rating: 3.73

My rating: 3

Synopsis: Dane and Sophia are two teenagers who are both dealing not only with intense high school drama, but also with a plethora of issues behind closed doors. Their paths intertwine, first inside the classroom and then out, leading them to learn much more about one another and how they can help each other.

What You’ll Like: Out of all the books I read this month, this one had the most action. It was an easy read that kept me interested the whole way through: I never felt like it was getting slow or boring. While I think that the characters could have been worked on a little bit more (clearer motivations, more complex personalities and more character development), I did like them and cared about what happened to them.  

What You’ll Dislike: I thought that Dane and Sophia’s relationship was rushed. It seemed like Sophia just suddenly fell for him without much justification as to why she was drawn to him. Like I said, I think that there could have been more room for all of the characters’ development. One of the antagonists, Sandra, really bothered me: she lashed out dramatically over and over again, but I didn’t really see her motivation for doing so, besides the fact that she was supposed to be the bully. I like when villains are complex, and I love it when you can see why they do the awful things they do. I did not get this sense with the antagonist in Free From the Tracks: she just seemed to be mean for the sake of being mean. 

Last but not least, this month’s winning book is…

4. Before I Go by Colleen Oakley


Goodreads Rating: 3.80

My rating: 4

Synopsis: Daisy, a master’s student with lots of plans and dreams regarding her own career and her life with her husband, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The story follows her during the next few months while she mourns the life she’ll never get to live. She makes it her mission to ensure that her husband, Jack, will not be left alone after her death. 

What You’ll Like: I fell in love with the characters of this book, especially Daisy. All the characters were likeable and funny, but still authentic and well-rounded, as were their relationships with each other. I am a fan of Oakley’s style of writing, which kept me captivated the whole way through.

What You’ll Dislike: This book’s ending isn’t surprising or happy (which I personally appreciated: this book made no pretenses of being a fairy-tale, and I would have felt cheated if it ended on that note). It’s another book with heavy themes (death and cancer), which is a genre that definitely isn’t for everyone. It’ also a story of character development and self-realization, not of action, mystery, or adventure, which may be boring to some readers. 

A new year calls for new books! Now that you have this review I hope I’ve introduced you to your new favourite book or at least made your 2019 read list. 




Renée Elson

Carleton '22

Renée is currently pursuing a degree in journalism and humanities at Carleton University. She is an avid writer and coffee drinker, and likes to spend her free time binge-watching Netflix.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️