The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.
At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.
I’m going to be honest here. I almost DNF’d this book. Laila, the main character, was pretty unlikeable at first. I think that’s because I am also someone who really enjoys writing. But she seems to take it a bit too far. Writing seems to almost be problematic for her. She doesn’t do much other than writing and occasionally see her friends outside of school. But I pushed through because it’s a short book and I was reading it for the weekend edition of the ContemporaryAThon.
We follow Laila as she’s dealing with a new creative writing teacher. Her last teacher is out sick for the rest of the year and he was the only person she’d ever shared her writing with. And as I mentioned above, Laila’s sort of obsessive about her writing. So, getting a new teacher (mind you, she’s an award-winning author) really rocked her world. The best part about this book was the character development of Laila. Dr. Nazarenko’s feedback really pushes Laila to get outside of her comfort zone and experience new things to make her writing better. I liked this, but she went too far at times (which she realized and dialed back, but also, she’s a teenager and from my experience, I always took things a step too far.) I really loved Laila’s exploration of sex and attraction. It was really well discussed and things like this just aren’t in enough books. She identifies herself as pansexual and kisses both guys and girls on her journey to experience more things. She also gets drunk and even does molly once. I also really liked that we got to see bits and pieces of her writing as she developed. It was interesting to see how these new things were changing her writing.
Overall, I ended up really enjoying this book. I really related to Laila in the sense of being on the outside (because we put ourselves there) and then getting outside of our box to try new things. I didn’t really write much in high school, but I was a huge book nerd like Laila. I also really appreciated the exploration of her sexuality because it’s something I’m going through right now. I definitely think this is a book that’s going to stick with me.
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.