Tag Archives: authors

Book Chat: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon Spier has a secret: he’s gay. While he is coming to terms with his sexuality, he’d prefer to keep it on the down-low from his high school classmates. Unfortunately, he is cruelty outed on the school anonymous Tumbler site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon as face friends he’s known his whole life, mean strangers at school, and his close-knit family. To make matters more complicated, Simon has an crush on a stranger he’s been flirting with online. Follow Simon as he navigates high school in Georgia, Drama Club, and his own real life Drama.

Note: This is, by far, one of the best books we’ve read this year. You’ll read our review below, but I cannot recommend this book enough. Go read it ! Now!

Simon

Favorite Character

Simon. He’s such a well written character – sweet and kind and naive. The entire time I was reading the book, i just wanted to give him a big hug. He’s officially on my dinner table list… along with dog, Justin Bieber.

Favorite Line

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.”

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Becky Albertalli failed sex education in sixth grade. She is now a clinical psychologist. Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda is her first novel.

Read these next:

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. We reviewed this book last month (check out our post and podcast here). This is another story about gender and sexual identity from the perspective of an intersex girl. A really interesting and educational read!

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES. Absolutely. We could not recommend this book enough – it is a wonderful, well-told story that will make you laugh and cry. Beware, though: When you cry on a plane, people get really nervous. 

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. 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, podcast, Romance

Book Chat: The Way We Bared Our Souls


The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn

Summary

Lo recently started dealing with severe pain and symptoms that are probably MS. She tries to ignore the symptoms until she https://i2.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1404960375l/22529157.jpgmeets a mysterious Native dude that offers to do a ritual with her and 4 other people to “remove her burdens.” Immediately, Lo latches on to this mysterious, magical solution and rounds up 4 acquaintances to participate with her. Thomas is a Liberian ex-child soldier, Ellen is a drug addict, Kaya has a medical condition that prevents her from feeling pain, and Kit is depressed and dealing with his girlfriend’s sudden death. The ritual happens and the teens find their pains/burdens switched. We then get to watch as they spend a week dealing with new burdens and “healing.” Except…not everyone finds relief.

NOTE:

This is probably the most difficult podcast we’ve done so far. We don’t normally go into each category for podcast reviews, but this book needs it. Also, I have a feeling we (I) made a couple of missteps in our discussions of the Native characters – we’re (I’m) learning and, in the review, you’ll find a couple of corrections. Also, with more distance from the book, my opinion has shifted more strongly to one end of the spectrum, so be sure to read the full review.


heartRomance Score:  Sort of Trying, but closer to Not a Bit

You sort of want to cheer for Lo and Thomas because she defies her friends to admit her feelings about him, except that it kind of feels like she’s into him only because he’s mysterious and has a story. It feels sort of like a fetish-crush.

RosieFeminism Score: You’re Trying

This score is solely because of Lo’s aunt living her life however she wanted. But, she’s a side character and Lo is the one that uses her friends, lies to them, and steps on old acquaintances to get what she wants.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: Not a Bit

For a book with a Liberian and a Native American in the core group of characters, you would think this should get a winning score. NO. A thousand times no. It doesn’t feel like the author did much research or, if she did, it was cursory and probably did not actually involve materials from ex-child soldiers or current day Natives. In the podcast, I talk positively about the fact that the genocidal history of settler-Native relations forms a core part of Kaya’s story. I appreciated this only because this part of history is so often swept under the rug. With more thought (and conversation with a very helpful, bright lady), I realized this isn’t the kind of narrative we should be applauding. And, the book doesn’t even handle it well. It could easily have been mentioned as a true part of the story, but focusing solely on this does a disservice and actual harm to any Native readers of this book. Instead of giving us a well-rounded, fresh representation of a contemporary Native teenager, we’re given another rehash of violence against Natives. Is there no other narrative (besides colonial-era befriending) for Natives in books? I do appreciate the acknowledgement of this part of history, but I think it could have informed Kaya’s character and experience in the book without being explicit – just like books about contemporary Jewish teens implicitly acknowledge the Holocaust without ever having to mention it (or, we hope they do!).
wow iconAwesome Factor: Not a Bit

This was difficult for us. We don’t want to poop on anyone’s hard work, but when you don’t actually do the work and give readers damaging representations then we feel okay pointing it out.

Favorite Character

None. Lo is too selfish and we don’t get enough information about the other characters to actually like them.

Favorite Line

“In bed that night I touched my body. I wondered if I could still feel true pleasure. Or true happiness, because without knowing the opposite sensation, I was no longer sure. The positive and negative felt like two sides of a coin, and lacking one or the other, I was broke, penniless, with nothing left to wish on.”

Because we needed a reminder about poorly done representation to appreciate the fantastic ones we’ve been reading.

Fact

We recommend you check out this review from American Indian’s in Children’s Literature. The reviewer, Debbie Reese, is way more qualified than we are to talk about the severe issues with this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

No, we cannot in good conscience recommend this. I have a terrible habit of reacting to negativity with defense even if I agree with the criticisms, and you can hear that in the podcast. I mention that I would suggest this as a book only within a critical discussion of the problems, but I take it back. Anisha was right – don’t read this.

Read These Instead

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac or The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

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 Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga My Heart

Summary

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.

Black Holes 2

Note: While the romance score is not quite swoon worthy, the characters are fantastic companions for each other. Their friendship is an important part of the story, and one of our favorite parts.


Favorite Character

Aysel. Her dark humor and passion for physics is very … energetic (insert groan).

Favorite Line

“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood.”

Aysel’s many descriptions of depression are beautiful and sad.

Fun Author Fact

Jasmine Warga recently spoke at the Nova Teen Book Festival in Arlington, VA. Jess was lucky enough to hear her inspiring talk!

Read these next:

This Side of Home by Renee Watson. This is not a book about depression, but is another beautifully written piece about something  you may be less familiar with: gentrification.

Is this worth a book hangover?

100% Don’t walk – RUN to your nearest bookstore and buy this beautiful piece of literature. 

Post Author: Anisha AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. 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, podcast

Why We NEED Diverse Books

The reasons society needs diverse books have been laid out many times in the past few months by better sources than us. While not repeating all of those voices, we still want to lay out why diverse books are important and why we focus on diverse, inclusive books on our blog and in our podcasts.

Firstly – and most importantly – mainstream books currently don’t reflect readers. Diverse, inclusive books are sorely lacking. The fact that a gigantic portion of the reading population cannot find books that tell stories about characters like them is a huge problem. Books about white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian (WCHAC) people (often male) are still the most populous stories. We know that the WCHAC story isn’t the one most young readers are living, as evidenced by a recent study that majority of students in the United States this year will be minorities. We support diverse books because writers, stories, and characters should reflect readers.

Secondly, diverse books have to fight for publishing, placement, and recognition. There is a lot of statistical proof about this, so we’re not going to rehash the data. The fact that books with diverse themes, characters, stories, and authors have to fight for attention – or even to be published – makes it that much harder for readers to find themselves in books. And future writers from diverse backgrounds struggle to find the role models who may inspire them to push on with their writing. It also means that WCHAC readers are less likely to stumble upon a story about lives and characters different from them.

Thirdly, representation in books matters. Since so few books about diverse characters and stories are published, the stories available for non-WHCAC readers are limited. Historically, if non WHCAC characters were in stories, they were often distorted stereotypes or flat characters that were, at best, difficult to relate to and, at worst, hurtful and damaging. As diverse, inclusive books grow in number and availability, readers will be able to find more stories they can relate to and WHCAC readers will be introduced to different ways of living. Also, as diverse stories multiply, readers are able to find multiple narratives which means books are more inclusive overall. Rather than a single story that is supposed to appease them for all their young adult reading years, they will find many stories to reflect the various paths someone like them may follow (check out our coming post for more about this).

Fourthly, diverse books should be just “books.” While we are using this blog to focus on diverse and inclusive stories, characters, and authors, we don’t have it in our tagline and it’s not emphasized in the about section. As noted at Book Riot, calling a book “diverse” sets it apart and places it in the “other” category. This makes it possible for readers from WHCAC backgrounds to ignore them as “not for me” books. But, ignoring such stories and making them other limits and narrows the perspectives and experiences we interact with – limiting and narrowing our minds. We read and review the books featured on our site because they are well-written, engaging stories with interesting characters – and that should be enough.

As always, we’re not experts and we’re still learning. For more in depth research and sources dedicated to speaking about these topics, we recommend:

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in Kid Lit

Diversify YA

Diversity in YA

Gay YA

We Need Diverse Books campaign

Writing with Color

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion: Trickster’s Girl

Trickster’s Girl by Hilari BellTrickstesr

Summary

Fifteen year old Kelsa is still reeling from her father’s death when she meets a mysterious boy. The Raven claims that he has the cure to the cancer that has killed millions of people, including her father. But he needs her help: a human touch is needed to enact the cure.


Trick

heartRomance Score: Not A Bit

To be honest, I’m not even sure that there is supposed to be too much romance in this book. Kelsa and Raven both have trust issues, which seems to be a barrier in their romance. However, there are some hints for romance in the future books.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying 

Kelsa is supposed to be an independent, strong teenage girl. However, these characteristics don’t hold true in the story. Raven leaves her in the dark about everything, and despite not knowing him, she follows his explanations and directions without much question. This was a huge turn-off to me.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between Not a Bit and You’re Trying 

There are only two characters in the story: Raven and Kelsa. Raven is definitely different – he’s more of a mythical creature than a diverse character, though. I can’t give this book many diversity points.

wow iconAwesome Factor: You’re Trying 

This book had a lot of potential. The premise and setting were very interesting, but it just did not live up to it. The characters were not particularly interesting and the plot was okay at best.


Favorite Character

Kelsa’s father. You don’t get to see a lot of him, but I liked his influence in her life.

Favorite Line

She took a deep breath. If she was crazy she was crazy. She might as well go with it. “I’m ready to listen”.

I love the moment, any moment, when a character chooses to believe in the fantasy in front of them. It’s the “You’re a wizard, Harry” moment of a book, and it’s always pure magic.

Fun Author Fact

In addition to writing fiction, Hilari Bell has authored a series of writing and publishing eBooks!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Unfortunately, no. Though I really feel bad saying that, since I really wanted to like this book. But I would skip Trickster’s Girl and check out some other favorites (see below). 

Read these next:

The 5th Wave by Richard Yancey or The Host by Stephanie Meyers.  I’m pretty sure that I recommend the 5th Wave series on 80% of my posts, but it’s one of my favorite post-apocalyptic love stories.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

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Book Discussion: Forever

Forever by Judy Blumejudy

Note from Anisha: I grew up reading Judy Blume books. My mom taught the fourth grade, and along with her classes, I would read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Super Fudge, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Until recently, however, I did not know that Judy Blume wrote books for older teens – books that were often on banned book lists for exploring teenage sex, homosexuality and masturbation. Reading Forever, which was first published in 1975, increased my admiration for Ms. Blume ten-fold. She took risks in this book, and dealt with topics that every teenager wrestles with. This is a must-read for any Judy Blume fan who wants to understand the full spectrum of her brilliance.


Summary

Kath is a regular girl who hangs out with her best friend, spends time with her family, and plays tennis. Then she meets Michael – a cute boy from a local school. They quickly fall in love, and Kat starts to think about taking their relationship a step further. How will sex change their relationship?

Forever

heartRomance Score:You’re Trying 

Although I really liked Kath, I was not very attached to Michael and Katherine’s relationship. It was – very rightfully so – very “high school”. 

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort 

For the most part, Katherine has the decision-making power in her relationship and with her body. She also has an amazing grandmother with very progressive views. I would give an A+ success in the 1970’s, but over forty years later (thankfully), we’ve gotten a little further. But thank you to Ms. Blume for leading the way in fiction. 

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Between Not a Bit and You’re Trying

There is very little racial diversity in this book, but there is a gay character! In the 70s! So … it’s something?

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

For a book written in 1975, it has a lot of awesome factor. I’m not sure Forever would hold up as well if published today, but I have huge respect for a book (and author) that pioneered the way to have conversations about teen sex more openly.


Favorite Character

Ralph. Just Kidding.

Grandma, the fantastic parental figure who understood the needs of her granddaughter and proves that age does not indicate stuffiness.

Favorite Line

“In the hold days girls were divided into two groups – those who did and those who didn’t. My mother told me that. Nice girls didn’t, naturally. They were the ones boys wanted to marry. I’m glad those days are over but I still get angry when older people assume that everyone in my generation screws around. They’re probably the same ones who think all kids use dope. It’s true that we are more open than our parents, but that just means we accept sex and talk about it. It doesn’t mean we are all jumping in bed together.”

This line is timeless: it could have come out of a Cosmo article this year. I like that it identifies two universal truths about youth: Sex is on their minds, and their parents think they are having too much of it.

Fun Author Fact

Judy Blume is a bad-ass. Seriously. She’s 76 years old, sold over 80 million books, has been on banned book lists across the country, and writing another book.  Plus she’s married to a man named George Cooper, who is our favorite character in the Song of the Lioness series.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes ma’am, especially if you’re feeling angst. Nothing like reading some teenage angst to remind you that … and least you’re not a teenager anymore.

Read these next:

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen. Ms. Dessen writes timeless stories of first love. While they are a little less controversial, her characters are solidly real and relatable.

Post Author: Anisha 

Anisha

Anisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

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Filed under Contemporary, High School, Romance