Review: My True Love Gave To Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

   Overall Rating: ★★★☆          Difficulty Rating: ★★☆☆

   If you want some easy going stories of romance to curl up with during this chilly season then this book is perfect for you. My True Love Gave To Me comprises a collection of twelve short tales of love that will make you feel all warm inside even with the numbing cold outside.
   Whether you celebrate the Winter Solstice, New Year, Christmas or Hannukah; whether you are a believer or non-believer of magic, there is something here for everyone. This book features stories from twelve young adult writers - including Ally Carter, Gayle Forman and Myra McEntire - that have been edited by international best-selling author, Stephanie Perkins.
   The best thing about this short story collection is the exploration of contrasting writing styles. Each author is wonderfully unique and has a different take on the subject of wintry romances. You can really see how their minds tick.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell
   Mags is hiding from Noel but why? Venture through the preceding New Years Eves they have spent together to find out why Mags is feeling hurt and, for the first time ever, set on missing the excitement of the latest New Years Eve party.
   Rowell's non-linear structure aided in effectively breaking up the story thus maintaining interest. There was a clear focus throughout the tale with no waffling and no plot holes (both of which, I consider to be vital attributes to short stories). The romance is quite cheesy but I liked the humour and character development, which achieved its potential with the time lapse over the years.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link
   As Miranda's mother is in jail, she spends every Christmas with her godmother, Elspeth Honeywell and her son Daniel. Every year - but only when it snows - a stranger pays them a visit and it is not Santa Claus. The more Miranda encounters him, it becomes increasingly obvious that he does not age and he is trapped by forces unfamiliar to her. He may have given up hope but she is determined to set him free.
   I found this story to be quite extraordinary because there is a long build up to what I believed would be a huge climax revealing all but, truth be told, it amounted to disappointment. The plot goes off on a tangent when describing the scandals that the Honeywells are involved in, which is great in terms of character development but not for a short story when the focus must always be on moving the plot forward. This meant that the ending - the pinnacle of the plot - was rushed as opposed to the build up and it left me asking a lot of questions regarding the antagonist's motives and characters' lack of ability to challenge what is happening around them.

Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena
   Broke student, Shy, gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to cat-sit for his manager in his brand new apartment. The pretty girl in the apartment upstairs is in regular need to use his shower after her's breaks. With every visit, they learn more and more about each other but will they like what they find out?
   As a student myself, I found that I could relate to Shy's money problems to a great extent. There is lot more edge to this tale as it questions how far one would be willing to go to pursue love even if it goes against their morals. The dishonesty of the characters can get under your skin as, often, you might find yourself asking, Was there really a need for that? However, the ending does compensate for this with a really sweet message about treasuring every moment of the present.

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han
   Natty is a young human girl adopted by Santa Claus as a baby and she has always struggled to fit in with the elves. With the annual Snow Ball approaching, she is anxious to ask the handsome elf, Flynn, to the ball but she feels cast away into the shadows of the beautiful Elinor, who seems just perfect for him. Will it work out in the end or are elves and humans just not meant to be together?
   A truly heart-warming story about fitting in and types of love you might not expect to find, whether it is between an elf and a human or Santa Claus and an abandoned baby. Han's narrative, sweeter than gingerbread biscuits, wakes up the child within you. What I admired most about this tale is that it does not end in the way you would expect, which creates a strong contrast with the rest of the collection and, for that reason, it stays with you.

It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins
   The shy and down-to-earth girl, Marigold Moon, is out shopping in the Christmas tree lot, only it's not for trees. It's for a voice. Since she first heard the young man a month ago, she became mesmerised and has been making regular visits since. She makes animated short films so his deep and confident voice would be perfect for her to use. One thing leads to another after her accidental purchase of a Christmas tree but maybe the whole thing wasn't a mistake after all.
   Seeing as Perkins edited the entire collection, the bars were certainly raised for this tale and she did not disappoint. Marigold is both a likeable and amiable character with hopes and dreams like anyone else and she has that naturally awkward streak that makes you relate to her throughout the story. The characters were both unique and compatible and, in terms of romance, the plot definitely has the swoon factor without any over-the-top gooey scenes.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan
   Despite being Jewish, the protagonist reluctantly agrees to visit his boyfriend's younger sister, Riley, as Santa Claus to keep the magic of Christmas alive for her. However, he is terrified of Connor's other sister, Lana, who is more than cynical. Will she spoil everything?
   A shorter but very endearing tale about making a little girl's Christmas. Taking into consideration the length of the story, the character development, particularly with the protagonist and twelve-year-old Lana, is impressive. However, seeing as the collection possesses an ongoing theme of romance, I felt that there was not enough about the protagonist's relationship with his boyfriend. Seeing as this is the only tale featuring a gay romance, I believe that was a missed opportunity to do something more with it.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black
   It is Fairmont's second annual Krampuslauf and Hanna and Wren are determined to get revenge on the boy who cheated their friend, Penny. In Norse mythology, Krampus is the son of Hel and is part goat. As opposed to Christmas, which focusses on rewarding the good children, Krampuslauf is about punishing the naughty children. Someone is definitely about to pay for their bad behaviour...
   This short story is definitely one of my personal favourites. The exploration of an alternative culture is quite captivating and I enjoyed learning about it as the plot unfolded. The satirical narrative essentially captures the teenager train of thought and the incorporation of magic creates an interesting twist at the end of the tale.

What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman
    "Big city" Sophie Roth feels like an outsider at the small town University of Beirut. She misses her family and Jewish traditions and constantly questions her life choices. That is until she meets another fellow misfit, who makes her reconsider the judgements she has made about her new surroundings.
   Forman's narrative is incredibly funny and sarcastic; a lot of the humour seems to be aimed towards younger readers (so fitting for me) with its references to certain cartoons and various pop artists. In this way, I feel that this places limitations on the impact of the story in terms of comprehensibility. The plot, on the other hand, effectively conveys morals about prejudice and closed-mindedness.

Big Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire
   Ever since Vaughn Hatcher had his first taste of trouble in the first grade, he became hooked. He pulled prank after prank after prank, each time daring to get more adventurous. Dangerous. One day, he lands himself into real trouble after a prank goes horribly wrong and he ends up accidentally setting the church alight. Now, he must redeem himself by assisting the Pastor and his rather attractive daughter in rescuing the Church's annual nativity performance. Another fire is brewing but is Vaughn about to get burnt?
   McEntire hilariously takes on the sarcastic persona of a typical rebellious teenaged boy. This tale not only amuses but teaches important lessons about redemption and being held down by the weight of others' expectations.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White
   Living in a place called Christmas and working in her mother's all-year-round Christmas themed restaurant, Maria couldn't feel more nauseated if she overloaded on sickly sweet gingerbread. It is Christmas in Christmas and she dreams of getting far away from her poorly paid job and her mother's boring boyfriend. Life as she knows it, however, is all about to change when a young, charming new chef arrives. He is about to cook up a storm.
   White's story brimming with romance and tasty treats will leave you watering at the mouth. I loved how she incorporated the senses by playing on feelings of nostalgia through various foods. It is like being served a dish that your mother used to serve you as a child. Essentially, this tale conveys how hope paves the way for the future.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter
   Two girls. Two completely different lives. One chance encounter at an airport. Both similarly looking girls are desperate to flee their impending dooms so the solution seemed simple. Lydia exchanges her ticket to New York with an Icelandic stranger - who was eager to meet her lover in the big city - and soon finds herself on a flight to Oklahoma. Who knows what awaits her when she steps off that plane and how long will it be before her past catches up to her?
   Carter's thrilling story will excite you with its unexpected twists and plot circling around spontaneity. Her tale touches on sense of belonging and it's dramatic structure will leave you feeling warm at the end.

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Liani Taylor
   Every year on the Isle of Feathers, it is tradition for every bachelor to leave his sweetheart a gift on each of the twenty four days of Advent. On 1 December, the last thing the lowly but beautiful Neve Ellaquin expected to find on her doorstep was a present. The only problem was that this present happened to be from the vile Reverend Spear. He, a rich man of high status, exerted fear with his thunderous, grotesque and petrifying deliveries of sermons about hell. Feeling utterly helpless, Neve turns to an ancient power and awakens something dark. It is only too willing to snatch up her affections...
   The sensational shift in context in terms of time and setting makes Taylor's tale a suiting and climatic finish to the collection. The dark supernatural twist and multitude of distinctive characters certainly made the story stand out to me. I especially admired the vehement distaste evoked from me as Taylor described the antagonist, Reverend Spear - a sure sign of successful characterisation! Without spoiling anything, the ending brought to mind the original tale of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, only not so tragic.

   All in all, the collection makes a very easygoing read with a constant romantic theme throughout. I found it a little difficult to pinpoint a target audience for the entire collection as some of the tales are a little edgy with incorporation of recreational drugs and sexual references, whereas others are more childlike with use of magic, elves and Santa Claus. Whilst the diversity of writing styles is there, I would ensure consistency with the target audience if I were to put together a collection.

   If you need a reason to put your feet up and have a cosy night in, look no further because you now have twelve!

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