Monthly Archives: May 2016

Book Discussion: The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Summary

David has always been on the outside of his school’s social hierarchy, but he’s always had his two best friends. And they know his deepest secret.

Leo is starting over at a new school hoping to use the opportunity to get away and find a better life. He wants to stay invisible through senior year so he can work toward that goal.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, everything changes and leads to secrets revealed and friendships born and tested.

art of being normal

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I liked Leo’s relationship with Alicia. I thought it evolved naturally and the reasons they fell for each other felt right. I think that Alicia’s reaction to learning more about Leo was also pretty realistic for the situation, though I don’t think it is an easy or fair reaction. I appreciated that they were both given a second chance and that each was willing to accept that second chance.

David is younger and less mature and that shows in his  longing for the high school hottie, but that also seemed fitting. (Edit: I use “David” here because that is where the character is when the crush is first revealed, but it would be more appropriate to use she/her throughout this review.)

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I liked some things from the story: the characters being true to themselves and finding the friends that care enough about them to let that truth live, the parents that are doing their best to love their kids as well as they can, and the courage to stand up for themselves. But, I felt like some of the stuff was stereotypical and didn’t really expand on much besides what is kind of expected.

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

This book is about transgender characters and characters of color and poverty and privilege and it hits some “right” notes. But, it also felt a little too quaint and like “here’s the story all wrapped up, with drama and closure.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain why things didn’t sit with me, but they didn’t. I think reading reviews from transgender characters may help tease this out, many of them said this is a book about them and not for them.

I did like that we saw how characters from poverty had to deal with something really difficult, though, because access to wealth can make a huge difference in how parts of this story may play out. It is also important that this takes place in England and not in the US, since health care access is very different in the US and access is much more separated.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to know more about the characters and I was interested in their stories, but I felt like they were shallow and we didn’t actually get much in this book.

I really wanted to like it and I appreciate that this book shows that there are layers and layers of difficulty to everyone’s lives. But…it was lacking something.


Favorite Character

Felix and Essie, who really feel like one character full of life and lots of loyalty.

Favorite Line

I’m not sure anything really stood out for me.

Fun Author Fact

Lisa Williamson is also an actor.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure. If you are looking to learn more about transgender people and their stories, there are some great books coming out written by and about transgender people that may hit the notes a little better.

Read These Next

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo for a story falling in love while keeping a secret (this one is #ownvoices and we’ll be reviewing later this summer).

Post Author: Jess

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Note: I received my copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Book Chat: When We Collided

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When We Collided by Emery Lord
When We Collided

Summary

Jonah is grieving the loss of his father, a larger-than-life presence and breadwinner in his large, close-knit family. His mother stays in her bedroom all the time, and Jonah feels the weight of his family’s security on his shoulders.

Then he meets Vivi – a light, fun, spunky girl who draws him out. Vivi immediately becomes part of Jonah’s family, and she and Jonah fall deeply in love. But Vivi has secrets and scars of her own. Will their love be able to face the seriousness of the situations they both find themselves in?
Jonah


Favorite Character

Jonah – His dedication to his family is incredible. He cares about his siblings and mother deeply, and is trying to hold everything together (even when he’s in way over his head). His sense of duty and responsibility to his family is admirable, even if it makes it harder for him to ask for help.

Favorite Line 

As we discuss in the podcast, one of our favorite parts of this book is the exploration of issues not often talked about (especially around depression and bipolar disorder). Here’s one of my favorite lines that speaks to that

“Why? Because you once told me you aren’t afraid of the dark places. I’m not, either, Vivi. You know that.” 

Fun Author Fact

I’m interested in Emery’s views on feminism and how they’ve evolved over time. In a 2014 interview on HelloGiggles, Emery Lord discussed her views on feminism in teen novels.

“My main goal is to write fully-formed, flawed girls. It’s hard for me to watch female characters who are struggling criticized as “whiny” or those who cry as “dramatic.” C’mon! They’re human. And in YA, they’re teens! So, I’m going to try to keep writing complicated girls as a means toward what I think is the most important thing: empathy.”

I think Vivi definitely lives up to this – while she’s definitely flawed, is very clear why she has the challenges that she does, and you really empathize with both her and Jonah throughout the book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! This book a “fun summer romance” with deeper meaning. We both really enjoyed this book and recommend it! 

Read These Next

For another story about teen romance with deeper meaning, check out My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga (our book chat here).  Aysel is certain about one thing: she is ready to die. She just needs to decide how. While looking through online forums, she finds FrozenRobot, another teen looking for a suicide partner. FrozenRobot is perfect – he’s local, her age, and ready to kill himself. But as Aysel and FrozenRobot start to spend time together, she starts to see another side of him. Suddenly, she’s not sure she’s making the right decision.

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: Panic

Panic

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Summary

No one knows who invented Panic. But every summer in Carp, New York, Panic is played. The rules are simple: Graduating seniors (and only seniors) can participate in Panic. The games end at the end of the summer, and the winner takes all.

Dodge plans to play and win Panic. He’s seeking revenge, and he knows exactly how he will get it. But what happens when he forms bonds with some of the other competitors?

Hannah did not plan on playing for the pot. Even though she desperately needs the money (and the opportunity to get out of her small town), she has seen Panic maim and kill too many people. She’s not that stupid… until she is.

Panic follows the teenage competitors of a dangerous, stupid, and life-changing game as they see if they have what it takes to beat their own panic.

 

 

 

Panic

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying  

Panic involves romances between several competitors and spectators in an ultra-dangerous sport. As you can imagine, mind games and manipulation are a major part of winning these games. It’s hard to get behind romances built and sustained on lies. Even when the characters showed their reasons for their choices, there wasn’t enough build up to really get behind the romances. I found myself disliking all the characters, and therefore not really able to get behind any of the romances.

Feminist Score:  Between  You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

I hate the reason that Hannah started playing the games (why do so many plot points start with impressing a boy?), but started to like her throughout the competition. Hannah is a strong character – brave, loyal, and willing to do anything to protect her little sister.  Her loyalty to her friends is admirable, even when they don’t deserve it. And I like how she has the mental presence and physical power to compete with the male competitors in Panic.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score:  Good Effort 

This book doesn’t dive deeply into the cultural experiences of any characters (they’re too busy playing stupid, deadly games), but I was surprised and impressed by the diverse cast. Main characters Natalie and Dodge (seem) to be non-white, and other minor characters have non-white sounding names. More importantly, I appreciated the setting of the story. Unlike many YA books, set in wealthy suburbs or big cities, Panic is set in a small, poor, decaying town in rural New York. Teenagers have few opportunities, and the money offered winning Panic is enough to give them a chance at life outside Carp. I appreciated a story in a non-wealthy setting.

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

I wanted to like this book, but it just fell short. First, it was hard for me to get behind the idea of such a deadly and dangerous competition. Most of the competitors were unlikable from the beginning, and this just seemed like such a stupid, teenager-y thing to do. And because I never connected with the characters, it was hard for me to root for anyone throughout the competition. It was as if Katniss was unlikeable from the beginning of Hunger Games… who would you root for then?

While the premise of Panic was interesting enough, I just couldn’t get behind the stupidity of the games. And the ending didn’t give me any indication that the stupidity had been solved (or at least, realized by the characters), so I was left unsatisfied.

Favorite Character

Honestly, I couldn’t stand most of the characters. Hannah’s little sister, Lily, is the closest thing that could come to a favorite character, but only because she was sweet and helpless.

 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Not quite. While I enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series, I don’t think Panic is hangover-worthy. 

 Fun Author(s) Fact 

Lauren Oliver is a co-founder of Paper Lantern Lit, a literary incubator. According to their website’s aptly named “WTF” section,

“[PPL] comes up with story ideas, we plot them using our knowledge and experience with narrative structure, and we coach authors through the writing process. Like architects, we envision, design and layout all the basics of a book, but it’s our writers who inhabit them and bring them to life. When a project is ready, we sell it to one of the publishing giants.”

 

Read This Next

If you’re looking for well-written, diverse dystopian future books, check out Love is The Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (our review here). A deadly flu hits the United States, shutting down the elite prep school world that Bird inhabits. But what if the flu is not what everyone thinks it is?

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: Gena/Finn

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Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Summary

Gena and Finn meet on the internet while bonding over their shared fandom – the Up Below show. They write fanfic and share theories about where the show is going. Slowly, their relationship turns into more than just discussions about the show and into full fledged friendship…or even more. As things progress, Finn’s boyfriend grows concerned with their close relationship. Gena’s transition to college does not go as well as hoped and a visit to a fan convention triggers some big life decisions…leading to an accident and Gena’s mental health taking a turn for the worse.

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heartRomantic Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The romance was interesting, but unclear if it was in fact a romance or a very intense friendship. The characters don’t make the “is this or isn’t it” clear from their interactions with each other, but more from conversations with other characters. So, it was a little like we got a sense of how intense the feelings were from others’ reactions (ie. Charlie) rather than from anything actually done within Gena and Finn’s relationship. This is both a blessing and a curse – I believe this story is supposed to represent chracters on the quiltbag spectrum, but it skirts the line of actually showing it which means people can easily deny it if they want to. I’ve seen some reviews complaining about where Finn ends up, but I think that part feels natural considering where she started. Where Gena ends is a little less satisfactory.

However, if we were evaluating the romance of Charlie and Finn? Charlie might (eventually) be the most mature, understanding boyfriend ever.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

So, if you read this as intense lady friendship, this is awesome because we get two supportive, amazing girls giving strength to each other. If you read this as non-platonic lady relationship, then this is also pretty cool because that’s something you don’t often see, but not awesome because it’s just on the edge of unclear.

Gena has a relationship with a male classmate in the beginning and it often involves sex and there’s no judgment about that. Finn struggles with the possibility of marriage and is able to articulate why and talk through it and there’s no judgment about marrying or not marrying (when it pertains to the actual marriage, related to relationships with other people, there’s judgment).

This is feminist in its everyday-ness and in the celebration and appreciation of fandom. This allows girls and young women to love something and celebrate it and immerse themselves in it and fandom is given validity and power. That is rare.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot here and a lot of it is #ownvoices, which makes it extra exciting.

Gena is clearly stated to be Jewish, but there’s no physical description of the characters (that I remember) – the advantage of online friendships. I appreciated that it was left open, though that does mean the default reader will think “white.”

A huge part of this story is connected to mental health/illness. I don’t have much experience with this , so I’m not sure if it’s well done. I am 70% sure some aspects of this are also #ownvoices but I do NOT want to say that for sure. I think the openness and Gena’s discussion about – “it’s ok to say I see a doctor, but not ok to talk about why I see the doctor or how I feel day to day” was really important. If we don’t create the open space for conversations about mental health/illness as a WHOLE, we’ll never get rid of the stigma.

The beginning and end of the story feel a bit like two different narratives, demarcated by Gena’s medication abruptly stopping. I’m not sure how to talk about my reaction to the second half – coupled with the doctor’s opinion that a lower dosage of drugs would be ok and Gena’s resistance to this, I can’t tell if it’s trying to show that ableism includes thinking drugs are a crutch and that medical professionals should listen to the people with the illness or something else that I can’t put my finger on. Finn (and Charlie)’s behavior and support, though, are a great example of someone trying to be there, but not knowing exactly how to do so.

Also, I am a little worried that the thing from her childhood and then the thing that happened may lean a little on the “crazy” people are magical trope.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I generally don’t like books that are new/mixed media and stray from prose, but in this book I saw how it added to the story as a whole. I loved recognizing the pieces of a particular fandom that got pulled in and that fandom in general is given respect, too.

I found both Gena and Finn intriguing characters and I liked seeing their relationship grow. Gena’s parents are awful all around, but her aunt and uncle seem to be peripheral adults that actually have an understanding about what is happening. I wish that Finn was more willing to ask for help, or at least an explanation, from them. I was a little confused why she felt she had to do everything alone. One big hole: she is trying to understand how to pay bills but never considers the fact that Gena’s school was paid for somehow?

Overall, I wanted to know more about the girls and learn how things ended. I was a little surprised by how quickly things unraveled, but loved the exploration of the bond between them.


Favorite Character

Charlie – He shows great understanding for Finn as a college graduate confused about where her life should go, tries to learn about the things she is passionate about, and finds a way to love and respect her while also helping out someone despite the fact that he’s not entirely comfortable with where that friendship lies on the intimacy spectrum.

Favorite Line

I’m going back to my personal failure at collecting lines…

Fun Author Fact

I really suggest following Moskowitz on Twitter (@HannahMosk); she shares a lot of insightful stuff about diversity and her careful efforts to write all of her characters with research, love, and the care they deserve.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is an intense read – the relationship builds and then the story takes a turn toward something very different from the beginning. I think this is a great story about fandom, friendship – and possibly more than friendship, and mental illness. Some readers will love this and others will probably feel it is not their cup of tea.

Read These Next

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz for very clear bisexual representation with an exploration of eating disorder recovery and intense friendships or As I Descended (out in September) by Robin Talley for a Macbeth retelling that also features a girl-girl relationship.

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.

She received her copy of Gena/Finn for free through NetGalley, in return she provided this honest review.

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Book Chat: The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Summary

Nix travels on her father’s ship as he Navigates across time searching for a way to return to his beloved dead wife, Nix’s mother. Nix isn’t sure what will happen if he succeeds, but he’s the only family she has, so she does what she can to track down the next piece in the puzzle of their journey. Their adventures have taken them to mystic Persia, ancient China, and more, but now they’ve become entangled in political intrigues in 19th century Hawaii and everything may unravel.

Nix may find the answers she’s looking for, the family she’s always wanted, or…she could find the end to everything.

WARNING: Our podcast has SERIOUS SPOILERS and you don’t want to mess up your first read of this book – STOP LISTENING and GO GET THIS BOOK if you haven’t read it yet.

girl from everywhere

Favorite Character

Nix! – She is smart, resourceful, passionate, caring, and committed to making the best life choices she can. What a great character for readers to have!

Favorite Line

And once everyone agrees something is one way, all the other ways it could have been disappear.

I love the idea of unending possibilities and that dreams can create worlds if we believe in them.

Fun Author Fact

  1. Heilig has an MFA in Muscial Theater Writing which is very cool and she has posted some songs on her blog.
  2. She is open about her mental health struggles on twitter and is helping to break stigmas and start conversations about lots of important topics!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! Nix is amazing and her story is exciting. Time travel is one of those things that can turn non-SFF lovers away, but here the people and intrigue are so good, you just want to keep turning the pages!

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more sailing adventures with intense lady characters and interesting beasts or Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis for a story that is driven by characters living in different worlds.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Adventure, Heavy Topics, Historical, podcast, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Love is the Drug

Love

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Summary

Bird’s on the path to the life her mother’s always dreamed for her. She’s got perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, and perfect friends. She’s a member of the young Washington elite, attending the prestigious Devenshire school with the vice president’s daughter and other children of privilege. She’s everything her parents wanted her to be.

But one night at a party, her boyfriend hands her a drink, and that’s the last thing she remembers. When she wakes up a few days later, she knows something happened, but can’t remember what. And in the meantime, the world is falling apart. A deadly flu virus is devastating the United States, and only her elite standing has kept her safe this far. With a strange man making odd, vaguely threatening comments to her, Bird doesn’t know who to trust. The only person she can turn to is Coffee, an outcast in their prep school … and her drug dealer. But Bird can’t shake the feeling that Coffee is the only person who understands her, and the only person willing to help her find out the truth about that night.

 

 

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heartRomance Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I rarely love YA romance, but this story was an exception. The romance between Bird and Coffee is so emotional and so intense that I could practically feel the tension just reading the pages. I love how Coffee sees Bird for herself – not who everyone else wants her to be. And I love that they repeatedly save one another.

 

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

I love Bird’s transformation throughout the story – and how she really finds herself apart from her school status, parents, and all of the expectations. I was slightly disappointed that the spark for the change came (in part) from a comment by Coffee – but I also realize that’s just one of many factors. But by the end of the book, Bird is exactly the kind of woman that feminists can get behind.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success 

This books delves into the complexities of race and privilege in Washington D.C. in so many ways  – especially through Bird’s complicated relationship with her mother Carol. Bird’s grown up with everything – but she’s still one of a handful of black students at her school. Her mother fought hard to get her where she is, and refuses to let her slip in any way. According to Carol, anything less than Ivy League shows a lack of ambition, and her daughter is “Harvard, not Howard” material.

Throughout Love is the Drug, Johnson dives into complex issues of the racial politics of the drug war, elitism and race, and finding yourself within your culture.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was so impressed by Love is the Drug. Not only was the plot super interesting, but it was beautifully written. The opening and closing of nearly every chapter was written like poetry, and the romance was heightened through it. Johnson’s descriptions of Washington D.C. brought me back to my favorite (and least favorite) parts of the city, and it was absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I read this book.

Favorite Character

Coffee – His loyalty to Bird is incredible, and who can’t adore a guy who loves chemistry? I dig nerds, and (apparently) even the drug dealer kind.

Favorite Line

There were so many beautiful lines throughout this book. Here’s one of my favorite from the beginning:

“You are Bird, the skylight tells her. Emily fears the world. Bird can solve it. Bird will find her memories and break up with Paul and buy that store she’s always secretly dreamed of, and damn what her mother thinks of goals as humble and unambitious as shopkeeping” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. I’m a little wary of end-of-the-world books, but this one is so beautiful. Don’t skip it . 

 Fun Author(s) Fact 

There is not too much information available about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s personal life (which, of course, is a totally valid choice!), but I was blown away by her interview with GayYA on her intentions while writing her first book, The Summer Prince :

Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight.  So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia.  I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.

Much of this still applies to Love is the Drug, and I’m SO impressed by an author that executes so well on these intentions.

Read This Next

This is officially my go-to dystopian book for you now! But if you want to read another impressive black protagonist facing racial challenges, check out This Side of Home by Renee Watson (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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