Category Archives: Heavy Topics

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.

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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: 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.

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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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

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

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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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Book Discussion: Say What You Will

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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.

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Book Discussion: Pointe

Pointe

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Summary

Ever since her best friend went missing four years ago, Theo has been trying to have a normal life. She spends nearly all of her free time in the dance studio, competing with the other elite dancers  for lead roles and  spots in summer intensive programs. She knows if she trains just hard enough (and eats just little enough), she can obtain her dream of joining a professional ballet company.

But suddenly Donovon reappears from his captivity.. and he’s not talking. But as details of his case start to unfold, Theo realizes that she may have a connection to his abduction. And as she starts to relive the months around his disappearance, her life story starts to unravel.

 

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

While I didn’t find the romance itself particularly swoon-worthy,  Theo’s (current) love story seems very true to high school: unstable, uncertain, and lacking communication. I appreciated how realistic it seemed, even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted!

Feminist Score:  A+  Rosie

Theo kicks ass. Without spoiling anything, I loved the way this book ended. Theo spends a lot of time working through her own history, but ultimately makes important decisions to help herself (and her friend) in a very tough situation.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score:  Good Effort 

One of the things I loved about Pointe was that it seamlessly integrated thoughts on race and diversity without seeming formulaic or preachy. Theo’s a black dancer in a nearly all-white dance school (and, it seems, public school). Like Misty Copeland and other athletes and artists of color, she faces immense barriers in her professional goals. She acknowledges the challenges, but continues to work hard to overcome them. I particularly like the scene in her middle school, where a teacher asks for her opinion on segregation because of her race.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort  

This book really surprised me. I picked up Pointe expecting a narrative of a ballet dancer trying to accomplish her dreams. The story was all of this, and so much more. Pointe is beautiful, tragic, funny, and dark…you won’t be able to put it down.

Favorite Character

Theo – Everything about her devotion to dance, her confusing past, and her friendship with Donovan is beautiful, and sad.

Favorite Line

I’m a sucker for well-written passages about dance, and Pointe is full of them:

“I spin around on one foot, the room swirling by me in blurs of color and light. My leg extends from my hip in a straight line before it whips around to meet my body, over and over again. Spotting saves me from a serious case of dizziness; I train my eyes on a specific point around the room and never look away, not until the last possible second when I have to turn my head to keep up with my body. Air speeds by me so fast that it clicks in my ears, strong and steady like a metronome.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Pointe surprised me, and exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It’s completely worth the read. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Brandy Colbert has a Tumblr (link here) with smart, on-point, and beautiful posts. Check it out!

Read This Next

Oh, man. This is hard – I still have a Pointe hangover!  If you’re looking for another dance-related book, try Pretty Tiny Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton. This book is hyper-focused on competitive dance and filled with a diverse cast of cut-throat ballerinas.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Chat: All American Boys


25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Summary

Rashad stops into the corner store to buy some potato chips and another shopper trips over him, sparking the store cop’s attention and leading to a brutal beating on the sidewalk outside the store. Quinn was heading to the store to ask someone to buy alcohol for him and his friends and, instead, ends up witnessing the horrible violence commited by the policeman. The story unfolds over the week that follows the beating – both boys trying to come to terms with what it means and trying to understand what they must do in the aftermath. The community and school reacts and Rashad and Quinn must decide what part they will play. all american boys.png


Favorite Character

Spoony – He’s the best kind of big brother. He watches out for Rashad – he gives him a couple extra dollars for snacks when he needs it and makes sure the media have a “respectable” picture of his little brother when the situation calls for it.

Favorite Line

This book has so much we need to hear.

“Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,” Jill said, determined, “I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.”

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds and Kiely were put on a tour together and didn’t know each other. It was right after the Martin-Zimmerman court decision and Reynolds was concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool if Kiely said something insensitive on tour…but an ongoing conversation and friendship happened instead and this book is the result.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. All the time. Please read it. Then share it. Then make that person share it. It’s a well written story but it’s much more than that.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson deals with gentrification of a neighborhood and dealing with the collision of communities or anything by Jason Reynolds, like When I Was the Greatest or Boy in the Black Suit.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Book Discussion: Finding Audrey

Finding Audrey Cover Jpeg

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Summary

After facing a traumatic incident at school, fourteen year old Audrey develops an anxiety disorder. She barely leaves the house, gets extremely uncomfortable talking to anyone outside of her family and counselor, and avoids eye contact with everyone except her four year old brother.

And therefore, it is extremely inconvenient when Aubrey’s older brother makes a new friend. Linus, a complete stranger, regularly comes over to her house and even wants to hang out and talk to her. And Audrey is completely torn – she develops feelings for Linus. But how will her disorder effect her relationships? Aubrey

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

I’m torn at this score. On one hand, Audrey and Linus are cute. Their romance is sweet, and very  age appropriate. Sophie Kinsella has a knack for writing comedic, fun stories – and she portrayed their romance in that way.

And  that’s also the downfall of this story – it’s a little too fun when dealing with a hard topic. Audrey is facing a seriously debilitating condition, and it’s written about somewhat trivially. Audrey romance nearly cures her disorder – and that’s not how social anxiousness works. I can’t speak for someone with social anxiousness, but I don’t believe the seriousness of the disease is appreciated.

Feminist Score:  You’re Trying  Rosie

Audrey is only fourteen, so her own decision-power is pretty limited by her (overbearing) parents. This is a rom-com style book (author Sophie Kinsella is best known for her Shopaholic series)… and pretty fluffy. I don’t think you can give this a high feminist score.

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

Despite my qualms (see romance section), I really did like that a best-selling author wrote a fun, romantic story about a teenager with a mental illness. And while I don’t think it’s a perfect portrayal, I do think it’s a step in the right direction.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

This was a fun, quick read. Sophie Kinsella is a hilarious author – and some of the conversations between Audrey’s mom and dad made me laugh out loud. I wish the book delved into the actual mental illness (and the counseling process), but it’s a good start and a fun read.


Favorite Character

Frank, Audrey’s older brother. His logic when arguing with his mom is perfect, and the conversations between Frank, Audrey’s mom, and Audrey’s dad are hilarious.

Favorite Line

One thing I really appreciated about the story is that Audrey doesn’t have to explain what happens to her.

We don’t have to reveal everything to each other. That’s another thing I’ve learned in therapy: it’s okay to be private. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to share that.’ So, if you don’t mind, let’s just leave it there.”

What happened to Audrey isn’t the focus of the book – it’s her recovery. And while I don’t think telling her story would be disability porn per se, it could be done tastelessly, and the author chooses not to go into detail. And I really, really liked it.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Finding Audrey was a fun, fast read – especially for a snowy day! But I don’t think it’s particularly hangover worthy. 

Fun Author Fact

Sophie Kinsella, most famously known for the Shopaholic series, also wrote and published several books under her real name, Madeline Wickham. In an interview with Time Magazine, she explains her decision to write as Sophie:

“I didn’t want to confuse my existing readers. I felt instinctively that this was a new, fresh voice and it should be under a different name. It was like I was starting again. So Sophie is my middle name, Kinsella is my mother’s maiden name, and when I put them together, they just seemed to fit perfectly.”

Read This Next

For a more serious look at depression, try My Heart and Other Dark Holes by Jasmine Warga (our podcast discussion can be found here). Aysel knows she is ready to kill herself, and is looking for a suicide partner. 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: The Secret Sky

18350034The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Summary

Fatima and Samiullah have been friends since childhood – even though his family is Pashtun and own the land that Fatima’s Hazara family and friends farm. When Sami returns from the madrassa a young man, Fatima realizes they’ve both grown. But neither realizes just how much trouble trying to keep their friendship alive will cause. Sami’s cousin discovers their secret meetings and triggers a swirl of events that brings in the local Taliban, violence, dishonor, and death.

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heart

Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship between Fatima and Samiullah is pretty cute and I appreciate that it builds on their childhood friendship rather than on a fleeting glance or an instant connection. They have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going which bumps up the sparks. But there are things that happen that make it difficult to give a higher score. The relationship springs from real respect and love, but they’re forced into a decision that is rooted in a very unromantic cultural situation.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Again, it is really difficult to give a score for this. Fatima herself is awesome and I love her determination to live the life she wants. But, there are so many things stacked against her socially and within her family that I can’t give it anything higher. Fatima studies and cherishes her reading lessons from her best friend’s grandmother. The small part that the grandmother plays is important because she shows what life could be like and encourages Fatima to dream of a life more than the farming, wife-ing, and mothering that is her likely future.

But, when her family finds out that Fatima and Samiullah have been meeting and he’s interested in marrying her, things rapidly go downhill. Horrible things happen, and one of the worst parts is her mother’s behavior.

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

This book is set in Afghanistan with Muslim characters, one family is very poor and the other is wealthy. In many ways it’s winning in the representation field. But, the Taliban comes into the story and things just go downhill. I’m really excited to see more international characters with stories giving us a fuller picture of the world. But, I’m a little concerned that we’re falling into the “one story problem” with young girls from South Asia. I know these are important stories, but they’re also the only stories we see in the news and mainstream media. I’d love to see something counter to the mainstream stories. That being said, I know that the authors do struggle with their decision to write these stories – Aisha Saeed has talked at length about her fear of writing her forced marriage book, Written in the Stars, because she didn’t want to be providing another negative story. It just illustrates our need for greater breadth of representation for all groups.

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

The writing in this book in beautiful and I think Abawi captures the people and landscape beautifully. I really liked Fatima and her determination to carve her own path. I liked the alternating point of view and that, while the story is centered on Fatima and Samiullah, Rashid gets a lot more depth as the story proceeds. It’s also great to see characters redeemed, though it’s a rather sad redemption. I would still recommend this book, but I’d emphasize that it continues the narrative of Afghanistan that is most prevalent in the media.


Favorite Character

Fatima – because she’s determined and hopeful and optimistic even when the situation is terrible.

Favorite Line

“This is when I realize that my mother doesn’t love me anymore. Her children aren’t people to her. We are her accessories, like a new payron or bangle. She wanted me to marry the boy in the other village because it would have made her look good, not because she was looking out for my welfare.”

I know this is kind of a depressing line, but it struck me because it is so true for some mothers everywhere. Sometimes they forget that they are bringing people into the world and not beings to maneuver.

Fun Author Fact

Atia Abawi has worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN in Afghanistan, Israel, and many other countries. Her work experiences inspired this story.

Read These Next

Like No Other by Una LaMarche for another couple fighting cultural and social expectations to be together or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another South-Asian girl fighting cultural norms to fulfill her dreams.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics

Book Discussion: Lovetorn

Lovetorn

Lovetorn by Kaita Daswani

Summary

 

Shalili’s family moves from Bangelore, India to Los Angeles, California right before her junior year in high school, and everything is different. Shalili has to leave her  home, where she lived a comfortable life with her large extended family, plenty of servants, and a happy childhood. She also has to leave Vikram, a boy she’s been engaged to (and in love with) since she was three years old.

Although Shalili puts  on a brave face for her parents, she’s not happy in America. Her classmates tease her, her mother’s health is deteriorating, and she feels like she’ll never fit in. Will she ever feel like she’s at home in Los Angeles?

 

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I found the romance between Shalili and Vikram a little hard to believe. I do know that there are still girls who are engaged at a very young age in India, but to my knowledge, families that are that conservative don’t allow their sons and daughters to have extensive contact with each other before they are married. It was hard for me to picture the relationship between the two of them, and honestly, Vikram was a little boring for me. Shalili’s other love interest in the book was a bit more interesting, but I think the romance was rushed and a bit staged, and I didn’t feel closure at the end of the book.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

One thing I really liked about Lovetorn is that no one rescues Shalili – she learns how to feel at home herself. She makes an effort to take care of her family, stand up to bullies, and make friends without changing who she is via a makeover or pretending to like things she doesn’t.

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Diversity Score:  Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was surprised and impressed with a book that covers mental illness and depression in the Indian (and Indian-American) community, as well as the topics you’d expect in a book about an immigrant family.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite it’s title, Lovetorn is ultimately an immigrant story of a family learning to live in the United States. Shalili, her sister, and parents are sympathetic characters who have to face the everyday challenges of immigrating to a new place. Although the romance wasn’t really a highlight of the book, I enjoyed reading a new immigrant story. As I discussed in our earlier post, we need more stories about Indian-American kids, so more people can feel like their stories are reflected in YA literature.


Favorite Character

Shalili, the main character of the book. Not only does Shalili have to face a new school in a new country, but she quickly takes on the major domestic respo’nsibilities when her mother gets ill. She balances a lot of pressure at school, in clubs, in her love life, and at home. I really liked her earnest and (sometimes cringe-worthy) sweetness to the people she cares about.

Favorite Line

‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ Mr. Jeremy continued. ‘India is great. My grandparents are there, lots of relatives. It’s totally booming, especially cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. Compared to what it was ten years ago, it’s crazy how much progress there is. But I have to tell you, I wouldn’t give up in American for anything. India can be kind of aggravating, trying to get anything done. It’s still a Third World country. You guys are lucky you’re here. ‘ He paused for a minute to place an overflowing spoon full of rice into his mouth. 

I turned to look at my mother. Her nostrils were flared, her jaw clenched.

‘You think you have done us a favor, do you?’ she said bitterly. […] ‘You think you have done us a great favor by bringing us here, as if we were beggars in need of rescuing? Is that what you are saying?’ my mother asked again.”

I think too many Americans (immigrants included)  get trapped in the idea that the United States is absolutely the best place on Earth, and everyone wants to come and live here. I like how this passage tackles that stereotype, and reminds us that the places that not everyone in other countries is poor, unhappy, and desperately trying to live in the Western world.

 Fun Author Fact

According to her website, author Kavita Daswani is an international journalist who writes about  fashion, beauty, travel, design and celebrities for a range of global publications.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. From our review:

Leila feels like an outsider. She is the only Iranian-American at her ultra-rich, preppy private high school. She is also attracted to women, but is worried that her conservative immigrant family and her high school friends would not accept her. One day, a beautiful, wild new girl named Saskia joins the class. Saskia is full of adventure and fun – and Leila quickly falls head over heels for her.

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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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School