Monthly Archives: April 2016

Book Discussion: Symptoms of Being Human

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Summary

Riley is struggling to adjust to a new school. Riley left the old school because some of the students decided assault in the locker room was a good idea. Riley is trying not to make waves, but it’s really, really hard when walking down the hallway gathers everyone’s attention and terrible words are spit at you halfway to class. But, once Riley stops putting up walls and lets some people in things change. Bec and Solo are the friends we all wish we had when life gets even rougher.

Trigger warning: assault/violence to a quiltbag character

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Bec and Riley have a possible flirtation going on from the beginning. I liked Bec’s ambiguity – it felt like she wasn’t sure if Riley was interested, wasn’t sure if she herself was ready, and as though she was interested but getting in her own way. Riley’s confused and unpracticed concern about how to flirt was also adorable – something every reader can relate to when faced with someone we might actually like. I thought the build up was strong and the end made sense in the context of the rest of the story.

Rosie

Feminist Gender Score: A+ Success

I renamed this category for this book because, given the plot and characters, using a gendered term didn’t feel right (and, yes, I know that anyone can be a feminist, but that’s not what I’m going for here). Riley’s story does a great job highlighting a lot of things: the pressure to conform to gender expectations, the difficult boundaries that the gender binary places on everyone, the way that not fitting into gendered expectations leaves a wake of troubles, and the fact that gender expectations and the dire pressure to conform inspires violence much too often. I think the story does a great job of talking about all of these things through Riley’s voice – it never feels like we’re getting a lesson or that Riley is reciting a definition (even when a definition does come up, it’s done within context so well that it doesn’t feel awkward). There are, of course, things that happen in this book for which I’ve deducted points in other reviews (example: gendered violence), but here it fits into the whole for a purpose. However, it would be nice to see a story with characters like this without the violence.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book covers a wide range of characters from the full spectrum of life. There are quiltbag characters, characters on both ends of the economic spectrum, at least one character struggling with mental health issues, and one clearly defined character of color. Obviously, as the focus on the book, the quiltbag characters are the most clearly written. I think this is an important book for anyone to read, but a genderfluid character is critical for readers looking for themselves in stories.

Edit: One thing that has been pointed out by others is that Riley automatically assigns a gender to Bec even though Riley is fighting against that very same expectation from everyone else. Fighting the gender binary is difficult, so I’m not really surprised by this, but I am surprised that Riley never addresses this bias in their own thinking.

I also fully appreciate that Riley was seeing someone for mental health help – the more this is shown, the less stigmatized getting help will be and I’m all for that.

I couldn’t give a full score because I was a little thrown by the lack even a hint of Hispanic/Latino culture in the community. Won’t you find some infusion of this in every part of California? (Or am I stereotyping California right now?)

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

I really, really enjoyed Riley’s story. I hadn’t planned to pick up the book the night that I did, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I cried several times – in the beginning because I was happy to see Riley finding a community and then, once the horrible thing was done, because I felt so much sympathy and love for the character. I thought the story did a fantastic job of bringing in all the elements of good YA – high school angst, high school cliques, friendship, a blossoming romance, anxiety about finding out who you are, and social media – while adding elements essential to this story – explanations, explorations, and violence. I will also just add that, while I have written somewhat stilted words to avoid pronouns for Riley, Garvin does an amazing job. Having just read What We Left Behind, I think this book does an even better job of maneuvering around (not)gendering the main character.


Favorite Character

Solo – He managed to get his nicknamed changed – in high school! – and was kind enough to offer up his beloved Chewie backpack…how can you not love him?

Favorite Line

All of Riley’s blog posts – I’m not in the YA/high school population anymore and I’m inspired all the time by the brains, kindness, and empathy being displayed by those that are. (Yes, I know Riley’s blogs are written by Garvin, but I know actual teens that are just as skilled with words.)

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, but be ready for tears. This ends on a high note, but getting there is a tough journey. But, Riley, Bec, and Solo – and Riley’s parents – make it worth it.

Fun Author Fact

Garvin has had several different “lives” – as an actor, a band frontman, and now an author.

Read These Next

I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all on my list for exploring what gender means and how we work to understand our own identities: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (#ownvoices), Every Day by David Levithan, and Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman
My Bat.jpg

Summary

Tara, an Indian-American Jewish girl growing up in New York, is facing a very important event in her religious life: her bat mitzvah. Tara loves both her Indian and Jewish culture, and wants to find a way to integrate both in her special celebration. But it turns out to be more complex than she originally thinks. Tara’s mom thinks her bat mitzvah should be all Jewish, and she should save her Indian side for other times. Her friends question if she’s “Jewish enough” to have a bat mitzvah, and Tara isn’t sure what she should do. Can she trust her gut and include both her Indian and Jewish side in her celebration?
Basmati


Favorite Character

Tara – I love how much she embraces her Indian and Jewish culture, and thinks hard about how to bring both of them into her bat mitzvah. She’s also an amazing friend – even to the girls at her school who are not nice to her.

Favorite Line 

 

Paula J Freedman often uses Tara’s lines to educate the audience to think critically about comments they may hear from their classmates. I particularly love this line,

“Gran once taught me a handy trick that I use all the time. She said to take any remark you suspect might be racist and substitute the word Jew. If you’re insulted by it, it’s probably racist. I wouldn’t stand for anyone saying all Jews were terrorists, or all Indians for that matter, so I stood up and let Ryan Berger have it, accidentally-on-purpose knocking the tray back into his stupid face” 

Fun Author Fact

Just as Tara’s family creates Jewish meals with Indian flavors, Paula Freedman creates Indian-Jewish recipes. On her website, she has a recipe for “Not Your Mother’s Matzoh Ball Soup” – which in Indian sambhar with matzoh balls! She also includes Tara’s favorite snack – popcorn with masala 🙂

Is this worth a book hangover?

I loved this book as a middle-grade read, and would love to share it with any middle schoolers in my life. While it’s not a book I’ll go back to regularly, I’m SO GLAD a book about a bi-racial girl celebrating her two identities together exists. 

Read These Next

For another book about a girl grappling with her identity, check out The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma. Nithya’s life is set – she plans to be a doctor and make her Indian-American immigrant family proud.  Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: We All Looked Up

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Summary

When President of the United States announces that an asteroid has a 66% chance of hitting Earth in eight weeks, all hell breaks loose.

People all around the world go crazy. Riots and looting start, military states are formed, and chaos ensues everywhere.

For Peter, Misery, Eliza, Anita, and Andy  – high school students in Seattle – life falls apart. Suddenly, everything seems like life and death… because it is.  Unresolved romances, tensions with parents, and an increasing police state in their high school become an every day part of life. Each of them copes with it differently – and struggles to find meaning in lives that  may or may not exist in two months.

We  All Looked Up

 

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

This book is filled with some strange teenage non-romance – rumors about “slutty” girls, having sexual intercourse in jail, and some creepy boyfriend behavior. This could have been expected, given that we have a group of teenagers facing the end of the world. While there a few semi-real relationships, none of them were particularly compelling to me.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

This book made some really important statements about how rumors get started, especially about”slutty” girls (of course, the girl is always slutty, even if the boy was in a committed relationship). I liked the progress of the female characters in the book, and what they learn about themselves through the six weeks.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I really liked Anita – the whip-smart black girl who’s always been the perfect student and daughter. I do wish there had been other non-white and non-straight characters, though.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

While the premise was interesting and I really liked a few characters (especially Eliza), I didn’t love this story. It seemed to use the end-of-the-world plot point to explore every ounce of teenage angst possible, and create scenarios that could only occur in that type of world. It felt a little forced to me.

Favorite Character

Eliza – I love how her way of processing events is photograph them.

Favorite Line

 

“There were a lot of countdowns that had haunted her over the past few weeks, from the totally mundane (how many breaths she had left to breathe) to the whimsically specific (how many more time’s she’d get to watch Pitch Perfect), but this was definitely the most depressing statistic of all: Between now and the end of the world, there would be no one else who would love her, and no one else she would love”.

(I know.. it’s a little angsty. But I like counting the mundane).

Is this worth a book hangover?

We All Looked Up offered an interesting premise, but I don’t think the follow-through is quite hangover worthy. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Tommy Wallach is both a writer and a musician. We wrote a soundtrack to the book (available on his website here).

Read This Next

I don’t have a good end-of-the-world book for you, unfortunately! But if you’re looking for some interesting teenage drama, check out Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, the story of Leila, an Iranian-American high schooler who has her first real (female) crush. You can check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Otherbound

16081758Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone – but she doesn’t know it until Nolan finally manages to push his way into controlling her body.

Nolan has always lived in two worlds; his own, struggling to focus on his school work and his family, and Amara’s, seeing flashes of her life as he blinks through his own.

When they finally realize they’re truly connected, both of their worlds are transformed by political intrigue and the race to keep Princess Cilla alive.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Three relationships develop throughout the story. Amara and her fellow servant/slave Maart is the most established. It’s obvious there is true affection and love, but I do sort of wonder if it’s a relationship and love borne out of the dire and lonely circumstances that the two found themselves in. Amara and…the person from the end is a little surprising and there are hints of it throughout the book, but it’s interesting to see how it plays out once the politics are out of the way because of the previous power dynamics. Nolan and his flirtation are very cute and show that Nolan is finally fighting for his own world alongside Amara’s.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Amara and Cilla are doing what they must to survive. If that isn’t the feminist story right there, what is. They fight for what they believe in and for each other. It’s interesting that Cilla doesn’t see her privilege and that Amara must maneuver through the power imbalance to make things work. I see a lot of echoes of the troubles in the feminist movement (white feminism vs inclusive feminism) here, although the skin colors don’t correlate (also, echoes of pretty much any system that privileges people in our world). I liked that all the women in this story are whole characters – even when you only get small bits of their lives (like the Captain’s) you still see them as more than just an empty vessel to move the plot.

I don’t give full points because I do feel like it’s tough when a male character is forcing his way into a woman character’s head and controlling her body – while I know that Nolan wasn’t necessarily doing it on purpose (all the time), it still feels like a kind of mental rape in some sense.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: A+ Success

There is a lot of ground covered in this book. Nolan is suffering from what looks like epilepsy in our world and Cilla has curse-created hemophilia. Nolan is missing a foot and uses a prosthetic; he is also probably depressed since he can’t fully function in any world, but he also can’t leave either behind. I do find it interesting when what is considered a disability in our world has a magical explanation – since we find that Nolan has never had epilepsy, that’s just the our-world diagnosis for a magical malady, I think it somewhat avoids the “magical cure.” BUT, it’s a difficult thing to maneuver.

Nolan is of Mexican-descent. His family speaks Spanish or Nahuatl at home and when they cook a “real” meal he has to call Grandma Pérez for instructions. Plus, his family is financially struggling, something you don’t often see in YA and underscoring the deep problems with healthcare and health-related expenses in our world.

Princess Cilla is dark skinned and there is a wide variety of skin colors in other characters in Amara’s world. As we move through the story, we learn that Amara is bisexual (#ownvoices story) and find what looks like a happy ending with someone. All in all, there is a lot here that gets pulled into the story while always feeling like it has a purpose to the characters and plot.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked the premise of the book and the story. I thought it was an interesting idea and I love parallel universe/magic worlds! I thought the characters and their stories were intriguing and I was pulled in. I loved seeing such a diverse group of characters going along without that being key to the story.

There was a lot of build up to the climax of the story – action happened at the very end and, while it was all really good, it felt like everything happened really quickly. I also feel that some of the things lacked explanation: what exactly pulled the travelers into Amara’s world? why was Nolan only able to “watch” for so long? what made him weak when the other travelers were strong and able to control their “hosts”? I want to know more about the mechanisms!


Favorite Character

Amara – She’s resourceful and dedicated to what she believes is right and wrong. I appreciated her desire to escape servitude coupled with her understanding of the difficult blurring of friendship and servant/master relationships.

Favorite Line

“Amara had chosen to love the Maart of yesterday and today. She couldn’t look beyond that…Amara knew he’d already chosen every version of her.”

The idea of this kind of love = swoon.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is definitely a more character driven story. The world is built on small details with little things pulled in to add to it – like not saying someone’s name after they die – that help underscore the differences between Nolan and Amara’s worlds. The action comes close to the end and, while it’s not as big a climax as you might expect for the length, it’s still good.

Fun Author Fact

Duyvis is one of the co-runners of Disability in KidLit, a site we absolutely recommend. She is also autistic and bisexual and champions the #ownvoices cause in books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for another full cast of folks that represent the real world,  Adaptation by Malinda Lo for a more sci-fi thriller in our world, or  The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more fantasy with pirates, sea monsters, and lady-lady action.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-FattahTen Things I Hate About Me

Summary

Jamilah is Lebanese-Australian and is struggling to understand what a hyphenated identity means in the microcosm of high school. At school, she is Jamie, the blonde quiet girl that lives on the periphery of the popular circle. At home and at madrassa, she is Jamilah, the  darabuka-playing daughter struggling to make a space for herself. When the Lebanese band she plays in is invited to perform at the high school formal, Jamilah’s two worlds collide and she must finally decide who she is to everyone.10 things i hate.png


Favorite Character

Shereen – Since she had more time with their mom and she’s a big sister, her groundedness provides a strong example of how to be proud of all parts of your identity for Jamilah. Plus, I love how she has created an active feminism that respects and fits into the rest of identity while still challenging the parts she finds difficult.

Favorite Line 

“I read headlines describing the crimes as ‘Middle Eastern rape.’ I’ve never heard of Anglo burglary or Caucasian murder. If an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, the only descriptions we get are the colour of his clothes and hair.”

The book may not be subtle in any of the “lessons,” but it is honest.

Fun Author Fact

Abdel-Fattah has worked as a lawyer, an interfaith activist, a consultant for media representation of Muslims and Middle-Easterns, and is not working toward her Ph.D. – I am always impressed by all the things writers do in addition to writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a more surface-level look at identity, racism, and the need to be/fear of acceptance. Jamie/Jamilah’s story is not very complex and sometimes it’s a little too sweet, but over all it’s an interesting look at the process and difficulties of self-acceptance.

Read These Next

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger for another look at a teenager reconciling different identities or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman for a fun, middle grade look at what balancing Indian and Jewish identities might be like.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

 

 

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Say What You Will

Say What You Will.jpg

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Summary

Amy has never let her cerebral palsy limit her.

From a young age, she’s been the star student at her school. She writes tear-jerking essays about her luck in school literary journals, and competes in (and wins) all academic challenges in front of her. She’s the perfect model for a student with CP…but she has no friends.

When a sudden unexpected conversation about her lack of friends happens between Amy and Matthew, Amy has an idea. She’ll have her parents replace her aids with students – seniors who, in return for some extra cash, will help her make friends around school. Despite her parents hesitations, Matthew is the first person on her peer team.

But what happens when Amy and the boy who’s been watching her since elementary school really start to spend time together? Will their single truthful conversation blossom into something larger?.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I really wanted to like this romance, and for a while, I did. Both Amy and Matthew are flawed, and have trouble connecting with other people. Their honesty towards each other helps foster a deep connection between the two. But as the story goes on, the romance breaks down.. and it’s hard for me to get behind it. I think Amy was selfish and cruel, and although I love that this story showed a three-dimensional person with a disability (not just a inspiration-porn), I had a hard time backing this romance.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

While much of her life is controlled by her parents, Amy wants her senior year to be different. She makes as many decisions as possible on her own, and gradually increases her control of her life circumstances. While I don’t agree with all of her decisions, I like that she had the opportunity to make them herself. AND I loved that she had so much agency in her decision to want to have sex!

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

It was really wonderful to see a story written from a perspective of a brilliant girl with cerebral palsy who wanted to find friendship and romance. And Matthew’s own struggles, though more hidden than Amy’s are equally important. Both of these are valuable voices in young adult literature.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I really, really wanted to like this book, and I just… didn’t love it. I think that while the initial story was interesting, and I really got into their initial romance. Once the characters got past high school, though, it just dragged. Amy becomes less likable over time, and even Matthew seems like someone  who just wants to get hurt. And the surprises in the story came out of nowhere… and I don’t think they made sense to the plot.

Favorite Character

Amy’s Mom – Even though she can be a pain sometimes, she really wants what’s best for her daughter. I love a mom who will fight for her kid at every angle.

Favorite Line

My favorite line from this book is about Amy’s agency in situations. In this scene, two teachers are arguing about whether Amy having fun playing with some other kids on the playground… or if she thinks they’re making fun of them:

“‘I thought Amy liked it,’ one of them said. ‘It’s better than sitting by herself the whole recess, isn’t it?

No,‘ the other woman said. ‘They’re making fun of her and she knows it.

Matthew noticed that neither of them asked Amy…”

This line reminded me of a line from Gloria Stemen’s new book, My Life on The Road,  where she talks about how she saved a turtle crossing the road, only to have her science teacher tell her that the turtle had spent a month getting to the road to lay its eggs. Her life lesson? Always ask the turtle.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think Say What You WIll offers an interesting perspective , but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Cammie McGovern’s last name may sound familiar… and it should. Cammie’s sister is Elizabeth McGovern, who plays American heiress and mother of three Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey. How COOL is that?

Read This Next

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstorm (our podcast and review here)! Seventeen year old Parker has created a set of guidelines – known as The Rules –  to keep her life as a blind person in order. But what happens when an old romance (and a new fling) come into her life?

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Romance