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Book Discussion: Carry On

carry on cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Summary

Everyone knows that Simon Snow is the chosen one. A handsome orphan who only realized he wasn’t Normal when he started “going off” – randomly producing magic – at age 11; Simon is the strongest wizard in history. And everyone knows that Baz, Simon’s handsome and rich roommate from a wealthy old-magic family, is his sworn enemy.  One is the Chosen One, and the other – the Chosen One’s Sworn Nemesis.

But Baz has a deep secret: He has been in love with Simon forever. And as they enter their 8th and final year at Watford School of Magicks, the usual danger and antics ensue… but in a moment of deep grief, there is a kiss, and suddenly, everything changes.

Note: Carry On has a really interesting back story. In Fangirl, also by Rainbow Rowell, the main character, Cath, writes fan fiction for a book series very similar to Harry Potter. Cath essentially writes Harry Potter with a twist – a story in which Harry and Draco get together. And now, Ms. Rowell has written this story.

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heartRomance Score: A+ Success

The romantic tension in this story was incredible. Baz pines over Simon in such an intense, sweet, perfect way – and Simon’s connection to Baz is undeniable. I literally could not put this book down (despite my husband’s plea to go to bed). And when the tension finally broke, and “the event” happened, it was totally worth it.  So perfect.

Feminist Score: Good Effort Rosie

Penny, Simon’s best friend, is a rock-star. She’s book smart and loyal (much like her Harry Potter series counterpart). I only wish she had played a larger role in the climax of the story, but in all fairness, the book was focused on Simon and Baz.

Similarly, I was just as impressed with the secondary characters as well. Penny’s mom runs her family (and much of the country) while raising a whole bundle of witches and wizards. Baz’s aunt, Fiona, is hilarious, whip-smart, and cares for her nephew. And who can resist a world in which women ask men to marry them?
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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The two main characters in Carry On are young gay wizards. The third main character is a British witch with Indian heritage. I really appreciated that Simon pointed out that Penny was really British, because calling her Indian would imply that she wasn’t from Britain. As someone who often struggles with how to answer “but where are you really from?”, I appreciated this level of nuance. I do wish there were a few more characters of color, but overall, very well represented.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

Given its beginnings (essentially, Harry Potter fan fiction), I was a little leery of Carry On.  However, the story doesn’t really focus on the wizarding aspects of the world. Instead, it focuses on the intense aspects of young romance. It may be the best young love romance I’ve read in a long time.


Favorite Character

Baz. His backstory is so sad, and his hatred / love of Simon is so sweet. I’m rooting for him from the beginning, and I love when he finally gets what he wants.

Favorite Line

“How can you be like this” I whisper. “How can you even trust me, after everything?”

“I’m not sure I do trust you, ” he whispers back. He reaches out with his other hand and touches my stomach. I feel it drop to the floor. (My stomach, that is.) “But…” He shrugs.

Fun Author Fact

Rainbow Rowell is active with Nanowrimo. The first draft of Fangirl was partially written during this month-long writing collaborative. She gave a “pep talk” for Namowrimo participants here.

Read This Next

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. From our review: 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 cruelly outed on the school’s anonymous Tumblr site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon must 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.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. My only caveat is that this is not a fantasy story. While this book takes place in a wizarding world, it primarily focuses on young love and relationships. So go into it knowing that you’re getting into a romance book, and you’ll love it.

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 Chat: Summer of Chasing Mermaids

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Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

Summary

Elyse d’Abreau knew what her life was supposed to look like. She was a talented singer living in Trinidad and Tobago with her tight-knit family. She and her twin, Natalie, were on the brink of stardom. They were only days away from going on a world-wide singing tour. Her dreams were about to come true.

But a tragic accident forces Elyse to reconsider her goals. Elyse can’t sing anymore and needs space from her former life. She moves to Oregon to live with her aunt and cousin, and learns to rebuild her life in a new place. When a cute boy comes for the summer, though, she’s intrigued. Their romance blooms over a love of boats, their families, and an unhealthy competition that threatens to destroy the Oregon home she’s come to love.

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Favorite Character

Elyse. Elyse stands up her herself and her friends, and has a clear morale compass for right and wrong. I also love how she owns her sexuality in so many ways (listen to the podcast for more steamy details!).

Favorite Line

Elyse writes poetry, and there are many incredible lines. One of our favorites is excerpted below:

If everyone followed rules

As they were written, as they were said

You wouldn’t be allowed to vote…

Rules are rules, yet still

trumped always by kindness and human decency.

Let. Him. March.”

The full poem is even more beautiful.

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES. This book is beautifully written romance story with unique, diverse characters. We highly recommend it.

Fun Author Fact

According to her website , Sarah Ockler does tarot readers for her characters and plot. Tarot cards appear a few times in Summer of Chasing Mermaids – now we know why!

Read This Next

For another (slightly sadder) romance, check out My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Aysel and Roman are both regulars in online suicide forums, and make a pact to help each other die. But as their romance blooms, Aysel realizes that she’s not sure she’s ready to die. We reviewed this book last April on the blog!

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, podcast, Romance

Book Discussion: Better Than Perfect

 

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Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

Summary

Juliet Newman knows that perfection is hard work.

She studies hard, takes part in all the right activities, and practices hard at swimming, all so she can have the perfect application for Harvard University. She’s a good, responsible daughter in a perfect, beautiful family. And she has the perfect boyfriend – with the same drive and goals as she does. She and Jason have “J power” – and will be at Harvard next year.

But then her parents separate, and Juliet’s perfectly constructed life begins to crack. How can she stay the perfect, devoted, driven daughter when her dad is living 30 minutes away, and her mom is turning into someone she can’t recognize? As Juliet faces these new challenges, she also begins to wonder why she needs to be perfect, and to what end?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort (SPOILER)

I’m not a huge fan of any cheating-related romances, especially without any lessons learned. Juliet blatantly cheats on Jason who, despite a few neurotic flaws, seems to be a decent guy. She doesn’t have any real remorse for it. The romance between Juliet and her love interest wasn’t really relatable to me. She has an instant attraction to him (understandable), but I couldn’t understand why she wanted a relationship with him. Not a huge fan.

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

As a hyper-competitive, driven person, I completely related to Juliet. I loved that she was just as (if not more) driven that Jason, and willing to do everything she could to get into Harvard. I loved how she took care of the other people in her life and made her own decisions. This isn’t an adventure book (so we don’t see any bad-ass sword fighting or saving the world), but in the context of a regular high school girl, I think the feminist score is high.
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Diversity Score: Not A Bit

There was… no diversity in this book. White, rich high school with white, rich students.(Though, yes, there’s one Asian friend who makes a racist comment about other Asians). Even the transfer student from China is actually a white kid born in London. I wish there was more to say about this… but there isn’t.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Despite it’s flaws (see Diversity Score), Better Than Before is a good read. I love high school romance stories with smart, driven characters. And even though I couldn’t completely buy into the romance, I enjoyed the family and school related plot. In a nutshell, this is The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen if Macy was just like Jason.

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Favorite Character

Juliet. If you can’t tell already, I can really relate to her, especially her need to be a “good girl” – the perfect daughter, student, and Harvard applicant.

Favorite Line

“Instead of running away from home, I texted my dad. I told him I was okay. I told him I was with Sofia. I told him I would meet Kathy at the house in the morning. I asked him to stop texting me.

Because I was a good girl. And good girls didn’t throw away their phones or leave home or make their parents worry about them for no reason.”

I really relate to Juliet being a good girl – the struggle between following your emotions and doing the rational, “good” thing. I think that is a struggle a lot of young women deal with, and it was well-described in Better Than Perfect.

Fun Author Fact

Melissa Kantor has a great answer to the question “What’s the craziest thing you ever did to get a boy to like you”.

She moved to Zimbabwe. Check out the full story on her blog.

Read This Next

For another high school romance with competitive characters (well, a crazy competitive boyfriend), check out The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. It’s one of my favorites from high school.

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 Chat: Dumplin’

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Summary

Willowdean is trying to figure out life – what is happening between her and her best friend, Ellen? Does the cute guy at work like Dumplin'her or is she imagining the flirtation? Why can’t her mom (and everyone else) accept that she is fat and happy?

We follow Willowdean as she works her way through these questions and more – finally ending with a new group of oddball friends, a boyfriend that loves her for her, and the beginning of a new kind of love between mother and daughter. And Dolly Parton. Always Dolly.

Note: I use the word “normal” to refer to the majority/default white, cis, hetero world. That’s not ok and I’m working on!


Favorite Character

Aunt Lucy – Even though she’s no longer alive, she still serves as a great example and supporter for Willowdean.

Favorite Line

Three stood out to me because there are some great one line zingers:

“Plus, having sex doesn’t make you a woman. That is so freaking cliché. If you want to have sex, have sex, but don’t make it this huge thing that carries all this weight.”

“Marcus mumbles something about PMS and to my surprise, from the kitchen, Bo says, “Why can’t she just be having a shitty day? You don’t need to make up some bullshit reason why.” (THANK YOU.)

“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”

Fun Author Fact

Inspiration for her first book came from a discussion/argument with teens in a library about where they would barricade themselves in said library if the zombie apocalypse came.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – while we both had mixed feelings about, I think the character driven story makes it a fun, quick read. The positive representation of a fat and happy character – as well as her new friends – will be really meaningful for some readers.

Read These Next

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero for a year in high school where everything is changing or Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught for another fat girl owning her size and making others reexamine their assumptions through a school newspaper column.

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 Discussion: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Summary

Minnow’s parents decide to follow the Prophet into the wilderness. As part of the select group lead by his prophecies, they’re17185496 community learns how to live truly and serve the Prophet’s rules. But, Minnow is able to remember life before the Prophet. And when she makes a friend with someone she shouldn’t, the questions that had been slowly growing finally bloom into full doubt. But – that’s not when we meet Minnow. No, we meet her after. After she’s lost her home. Her family. Her community. Her arms. And maybe herself.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Part of Minnow’s relationship with Mr. Woodsman are cute, but ultimately, it’s two damaged teens trying to find solace from situations that are pretty messed up. And, while I’m glad she was able to think through and get over her community’s racism, I still feel like it happened pretty quickly. And, while Mr. Woodsyboy is sweet and there for Minnow when she needs someone, he tries to do the exact same, possessive stuff that she experienced at the community.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

This book is SO MESSED up in several ways – the community’s treatment of women, the perpetuation of rape culture (women are the holders of men’s honor, women need to dress modestly because it’s all their fault), and the ultimate punishment doled out to Minnow – so many wrongs. But, there are a couple of stand outs – Minnow herself doesn’t allow the Prophet to erase her humanity, Minnow’s roommate doing what she can to protect the newbie, and Minnow’s mother finally breaking out of her abuse-induced daze (maybe). I’m going to focus on the positives of Minnow’s resiliency and strength – and willingness to accept her broken spirit to heal – instead of the awful, brainwashed women in the community, especially Minnow’s sister.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

I’m giving this book points for including a minority religious group – although there is something to be said for who gets to decide what is a “legitimate” religion or not. I definitely think the Prophet’s group is an unhealthy, unsafe, cruel place/cult, but I think we should consider not discounting small congregations just because their different from the mainstream. Points also for Minnow arm loss – living without limbs means moving through the world differently, having to adapt everyday tasks, and I think the book did a good job of showing that – especially while Minnow is in detention. I also give points for showing up life in the detention center without making it exotic. The girls in there have done things, but listening to most of their stories we learn – through Minnow – that the world unfairly punishes them for protecting themselves.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

All the pieces come together to make an intense read. The community, the escape to a tree house, finding a sweet, innocent love outside the confines of the Prophet’s rules, and Minnow’s desire to keep her own secrets all create a pretty great whole. It was a little too much at times, but I still have recommended it to several people. I think the ultimate lesson that girls need to take their fate into their own is the takeaway.


Favorite Character

Angel – she does what she can to survive, keeping her hard exterior as protection, but she never really totally eliminated her heart.

Favorite Line

“…and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down. It’s the only kind of lie that I’d be happy to live with.”

Even in a dark place, Minnow can hope…even if it’s sexy times that gets her there.

Is it worth a book hangover?

Honestly, it’s a disturbing read, but I couldn’t put it down. I really liked Minnow’s voice and the cast of characters that joined her.

Fun Author Fact

Oakes based this off the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.”

Read These Next

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for another girl finding her way through (or out of) a religious community or Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert for a boy lead by faith trying to decide how much he should say during an investigation into his father’s actions.

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 Discussion: One

one

One by Sarah Crossan

Summary

“People always want to know.

They want to know exactly what we share

               down there,

so sometimes we tell them.

Not because it’s their business

but to stop them wondering – it’s all the wondering

about our bodies that bothers us.”

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins; though they are two separate people, they share one body. Although they’ve grown up with many challenges – endless medical issues, expensive alterations and adaptions for their needs, and sharing a body – it is the cruel comments from others that they never really get used to.

Though Tippi and Grace have been homeschooled their entire lives, they are suddenly able to attend a private school in Hoboken, New Jersey. And now the twins must navigate a regular high school every day. Between their ever-present health concerns and challenges at school, will Tippi and Grace ever get a taste of teenage normalcy?

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Good Effort  

Given Tippi and Grace’s shared body, any kind of romance has some complications. Yet, there was a sweet, developing romance in the story. Tippi faces all the complications of teenage romance (Can he really like me?) with all the additional complications of her health.

I really appreciated that the story didn’t delve deeply into the bodily complications of any kind of intimacy. From one of the first paragraphs, the author made it clear that this kind of morbid curiosity would not be tolerated, and I liked that this story let us focus on the twins as people.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

This book doesn’t have a particularly feminist lean, but the characters do defend themselves and do not live in a constant world of pity or hatred. I would have liked to see a little more education to the general public on the cruelty they face, but I also understand that this story is more internally focused than a battle for their rights.
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Diversity Score: A+ Success

Tippi and Grace’s story is told with respect. The story focuses on their emotional journey through battling health problem and attending a new school, not the specific details of their bodies. Definitely an A+ for the diversity of the main characters. And even the supporting roles, including new friends Yasmeen and Jon, have their own unique stories and challenges at the school. One did a really good job respectfully delving into a hard topic.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

One is a surprisingly emotional story told beautifully in free-verse. From the first few paragraphs, I was immediately hooked, and remained much more invested that I expected. By reading the story from only Grace’s perspective, you get a glimpse of what it’s like to share a body, but not the mind, of the second sister. Though the ending was a tad bit predictable, I still found myself caught up in the agony and struggles of Grace and Tippi.

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Favorite Character

Dragon. I love her energy, devotion to dance, and her interesting relationship with her older sisters.

Favorite Line

There are so many beautiful verses in this story, but here’s the one that stuck with me:

Sometimes I follow his lead

read along in The Grapes of Wrath

               until I find a dog-eared page

then stop

 

so I can inhabit the rhythm of his reading,

feel how

it must have been for him to

               turn those pages,

               see those words,

trace the outline of his

thoughts.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. One is beautifully written and well told. It is also a fairly short read – you can easily finish it in one day (or one long run on the treadmill, if you read while you run.).

Fun Author Fact

Sarah Crossan runs her own book blog on her website, where she interviews other authors about their books. A+ for promoting collaboration and mutual success, Sarah Crossan!

Read This Next

I don’t think I have a good recommendation in the same theme as One, so instead, I’ll recommend a book from Sarah’s blog that is now on my list. Check out Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, a book an eighteen year old girl who is tragically violated at a party, the aftermath, and the myth of the “perfect” rape victim.

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: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Madeline has allergies – to everything. Really, she’s basically allergic to the world. Her house has an airlock entrance to ensure 18692431contaminants are removed before anyone comes to visit, the air filtration system could probably rival the space station, and Madeline is absolutely not allowed outside. With books and her online classes, she’s fairly content with life. But then! A new family moves in next door and Madeline’s attention is drawn to the outside world. She watches life unfold for her new neighbors, quickly falls for Olly, the parkour-jumping, hat-wearing, teenage guy and their relationship slowly pushes Madeline to reach for the world.

heartRomance Score: A+ Success Good Effort

Madeline’s love for Olly felt a little too fast, but then again – he’s the only boy around and she can stare out her window pining away all day if she wants, so it’s also totally plausible. After the initial butterflies, their relationship develops in the best kind of emotional swirl – I thought the late-night messaging and emails exactly replicated the fraught tension of “what did he mean by that period instead of an exclamation point” social-media, technology-driven “dating.” I thought some of their activities felt a bit hurried, but they also feel very in line with Madeline and her frenetic rush to feel and experience everything. They push boundaries, they take risks, and, ultimately, they make each other reach for a better life. EDIT: I reduced this down because, while I thought it was believable, I’m sad that we couldn’t get two teens taking a serious health condition seriously.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ Success

Madeline is smart and funny and she goes after what she wants – in more ways than one. She doesn’t let her allergies make her bitter. She dreams of accomplishing great things and, even though she may never go outside, she works to understand the world beyond her house. I think she’s a great example of a teen making choices for herself, and knowing that sometimes, you really do have to do things for you. While I could take points away because of Madeline’s mother, I think it’s important to see how tragedy can break a person and how coping (well or poorly) takes many different forms. And, Olly’s mom is a side character without even a name, but with her son’s help, she manages to break free of a truly awful situation and stand up for herself.

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

From the summary and character descriptions this looks like it should be an A+. Madeline is Afro-Asian with an illness that keeps her locked inside all the time. Her racial/ethnic diversity is central to her character and the other main figures in her life are only her mother (Asian) and her nurse (Latina). When Olly comes on the scene, she’s pretty fascinated by his white family – and by him. I appreciate the beginning of the book – the portrayal of someone suffering from a disease that inhibits her interaction with the everyday and what that means for creating an internal world, the few relationships she’s permitted, and her ability to experience life (or not) was well developed. I thought the relationship with Carla, the nurse, a great illustration of how long-term illness brings other people into your life. I thought her mom’s reaction to one of Carla’s decisions also interesting – highlighting the difficult interplay of professionalism and genuine care/love that caregivers balance. However, I found the end a bit of a let down. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but, it’s really hard. So, if you would like to avoid spoilers, skip to the Awesome Factor section (but you really shouldn’t if you care about good rep).

So, I’m going to start by saying that I guessed the end about halfway through. I think I’m a cynic though, because other reviewers are mostly surprised. My issue with the end (SPOILERS): by having the disease be a lie, it feels a bit like the “magical cure.” A character struggling with disease is, ultimately, not actually diseased and she can find happiness and love because she isn’t “abnormal” or “sick.” I also find it frustrating that she discovers the truth because she steps out into the air for a boy instead of doing some sleuthing at home. While I found Olly and Maddy’s relationship sweet and steamy, it makes me sad that a guy was the instigator for finding the truth. I think this would have been even more powerful had Maddy truly had SCID and had to navigate allergies, the outside world, and living more fully with Olly by her side. Of course, that would have been a different story, so…it is what it is. EDIT: I’m really didn’t like the end when I posted the original review and now, it’s even more powerful distaste for this “twist.” To negate the disability rep, to make her treat her life as unworthy of living unless she’s living it like other people, and to have it basically be a story about parental abuse…just all around dislike. And, I’m really sad that this is getting so much love and a movie and a snapchat filter (like…how much money is marketing throwing at this??!?!] For more detailed review of what this means for disability rep, check out this review at Disability in Kid Lit and this review on Goodreads.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort You’re Trying

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to readers who are looking for something sweet, tingly, and exciting. [EDIT: This book STILL (1 year later) sits with me because the ending made me so unhappy. I rescind my recommendation. Please read the disability section for reasons.] Maddy is a bright girl and she’s funny. I like her sense of humor and her realistic twists of insight mixed with optimistic yearning. I thought the characterization was great – neither Olly or Maddy feel flat and, while we don’t get a lot of Olly’s life outside of his interactions with Maddy, he still feels believable, if a little too perfect for her. Madeline’s interactions with her mother and Carla were special – highlighting the difficulty of growing up with only two people in your life and how that can be both intensely supportive and suffocating. Overall, it’s a book about making decisions for yourself, taking a leap of faith, and believing that love is worth having. [BUT, is love worth having over an actual life????]


Favorite Character

Carla – she tries to do her best for Maddy no matter what while remaining within the professional guidelines of her job. She’s been around for most of Madeline’s life and she has ideas about things, but she does whatever she can to make Maddy’s life easier and happier while still giving her hard truths.

Favorite Line

“A universe that can wink into exist can wink out again.” Maddy has lots of quick little lines and I’m sure others about the joy and happiness with Olly will catch reader’s eye, but I thought this one captures it while adding the sadness of reality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Ultimately, yes, I recommend this book. [Edit: Again, I rescind this. I just find the ending too problematic.] It was a fun read and I enjoyed Maddy’s perspective. The book is mixed-media, too, so you get drawings, emails, messaging conversations, and sketches, not just text. I always find this type of thing interesting – some people love it, sometimes it’s gimmicky. Here I think it generally works to illustrate Maddy’s limited exposure to the outside world. This is a sweet, fun taste of first, intense love and it’s tingly in the best way while still making you cheer for Maddy’s strength.

Fun Author Fact

This isn’t about Yoon (sorry!), but I have to share this: When I was in elementary school, my aunt sent me a t-shirt from Hawaii (where she lived). It had the humhumnukunukuapua’a on it and I wore it every Tuesday. I loved that shirt and I loved the fish’s mention in this book.

Read These Next

I’ve heard that Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall provides better representation. The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis for a story about a girl struggling to accept her disability and (according to Goodreads) a surprising revelation or Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy for a book about self-acceptance, fighting expectations, and confidence.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received her copy of Everything, Everything through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

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: Zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Summary:

Carr Luka is a rising star in the future sport of “zeroboxing” – basically MMA fighting in zero gravity. As he continues to succeed, his league invests in him – getting a brandhelm (brand manager) for him and sending him on a marketing tour. But, as his star rises, he also learns a dark secret about a deeply hidden crime-ring. In the middle of fighting his way to the top, Carr also becomes the lightning rod for tensions between people still living on Earth and the populations that have chosen to spread across the solar system.


heart Romance Score: Good Effort

Carr’s attraction to Risha is immediate and fairly superficial at first. The physical attraction is written well, but it’s a little hard to see why the relationship grows into anything more. While Risha seems to be driven by her career, she also has no qualms mixing business and pleasure and I found that slightly confusing. But, she’s also young and she spends most of her time with Carr, so I understand why this unfolds. While their relationship felt natural and Carr’s excitement about it came across as genuine, I feel a little surprised at the depth of their feelings by the end.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

There are a few things that stand out: Carr likes girls and he likes to have fun with girls, so there’s some disrespectful “let’s find girls for fun” talk among other zeroboxers. Carr’s first interest toward Risha is all about her appearance (and he calls her “exotic” several times which made me feel gross), but he does eventually come around and appreciate her for her personality and skill. Risha’s story is intriguing – I was really interested by her position between the Earth-born and the Martians and I wish that story had been expanded on a bit. And, while it’s obvious that she’s very good at her job, we only see her in the “taking care of Carr” aspect of it and that was a little disappointing.

In addition, the other two main female characters are two mothers -Carr’s and Enzo’s- making dubious choices. Carr’s mother highlights the difficult position of women in poverty – they have few choices and often those choices are between “Bad” and “Really Bad.” I appreciate that, but it’s still disappointing to have another struggling mother/woman making choices story. And, Enzo’s mother is another common storyline – a poor woman that cares more about her next hit than about her child. Of course, these kinds of characters exist in real life and Carr’s childhood is part of what inspires him to succeed, but I still wish the lady characters rotated a little less around the men and had a little more strength among them.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot of diversity among the zeroboxers – denoted by name when not by outright description of their families and backgrounds. There isn’t the same kind of clear distinctions we might expect from a present-day story since much of the population and national borders seem to have melted in Carr’s time, but there’s still skin color and ethnic variation among the Earth-born population.

More importantly, there is a clear demarcation between Martian/outerspace populations and Earth-borns. Throughout the story, we see the tensions between the two groups growing and this culminates at the same time as Carr’s personal story. I REALLY wish this part of the plot had expanded, because I find it a fascinating way to explore the perceptions of difference and how we (today) determine who is in- and out-group. I was really disappointed about where the story ended because I was incredibly anxious to see what would happen after the big revelation (I would love to see Carr’s world 5, 10, and 20 years out from his big fight!).

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I found the idea of zeroboxing really interesting and I liked Carr’s character – he was a good mix of earnestness, emotion, and teenage boy – we got the action and drive while still sympathizing with him. I also appreciated the complexity of his position and thought this was a great way to explore identity and politics while still having some intense, awesome fight scenes. A few times during the fights, I got breathless wondering what punch or kick was going to come next, so you know Lee can write some action!


Favorite Character

Uncle Polly – how can you not love the dedicated old coach with grit and just enough tenderheartedness to earn his athlete’s respect and love? I also appreciated his struggle to come to terms with the secret.

Favorite Line

“Victory was a better high than a hundred bliss bombs. Perfect and real, lasting for days, even weeks, before being polished and stored in its own special nook of his soul, each win unique and everlasting, wanting nothing except more neighbors.” (79)

This is exactly how the best days of life get stored in our souls (also, reminds me of Inside Out and the core memories).

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES! I started this and struggled to put it down for bed. I took it on the metro and almost missed my stop. There’s a ton of action and it really does feel like a cage fight is happening in front of you.

Fun Author Fact

Fonda Lee once wrote a book on a graphing calculator. ‘Nuff said.

Read These Next

Dove Arising by Karen Bao about a girl living on a Lunar colony and fighting for her family or Origin by Jessica Khoury about a girl who discovers a secret and has to make a difficult choice.

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 Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

Matthew is a high school student dealing with a lot – his mom recently died and his dad isn’t handling it well – and Matt is just looking The Boy in the Black Suitfor a way to handle all his emotions. When he’s offered a job at the local funeral home, he decides to take it and finds a strange sort of comfort in the grief and pain of others. Then, he meets a girl and things get even more complicated.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Matt gets a crush very early in the story and it slowly unfolds in the sweetest way possible. I really liked their relationship and the great dates they went on. I appreciated that Matt had his parents’ relationship and Mr. Ray to give him guidance, and the advice from his best friend, Chris, made me laugh. The relationship is central to the story, but also ancillary to the emotional roller coaster and growth that Matthew goes through.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

The women in this book affect Matthew a lot – he is reeling from his mother’s death and she was a force to reckon with – but they aren’t the main characters. There’s a strong score here because Matt respects the women in his life and treats them kindly – this could have gone very wrong since it’s high school age boys being depicted, but even Chris’s advice is more encouraging banter than crude awfulness. I appreciated that all the older men respected and loved their wives as well. The one tough part is a key experience from earlier in all the characters’ lives; unfortunately, it reflects a truth that, hopefully, will be less and less true as time goes on.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book that really depends on the reader for its diversity score. It takes place in New York City, in a predominantly black and low income community. To some readers this will have a score of “Not a Bit” because it reflects their community, family, and life exactly; to others it will score “A+ Success” because it tells a story through a character in a setting they may not have ever met or experienced. I’m giving it this score because I think it respectfully portrays the people involved while successfully capturing the life of the community and depicts life and people that aren’t very common in the printing/publishing world.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

As someone that went to lots of funerals as a child and teen, I understand where Matt is coming from in his need to connect with others (but not claiming my experience as even closely similar). I also saw Reynolds speak at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and he talked a lot about how grief and humor aren’t mutually exclusive. I think he did a great job balancing the two here and loved Matthew’s journey through his grief. I loved the cookbook and the use of the kitchen and food to reflect his emotional process.


Favorite Character

Mr. Ray – He’s such a great role model for Matt, is a foundation for the entire community, and I love his care and concern for everyone, but especially Matt. I also really appreciated his backstory – I think it’s so important for there to be adult characters that have history. Sometimes teenagers (heck, EVERYONE) forgets that adults have their own difficulties, pains, and sorrows – and Mr. Ray is a great example of how our beginnings affects us through the rest of our lives.

Favorite Line

“Of course, I couldn’t tell him the truth. The truth that I was having a hard telling myself. I liked the funerals…I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow, it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn’t only mine. That my life isn’t the only one that’s missing something it will never have back.”

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I definitely recommend this! I also reviewed Reynolds’s When I was the Greatest and I think I’m putting him on my “must read” list. He does a great job creating sweet, earnest characters with deep, heartfelt stories. Plus, I love the sense of place and community that he builds.

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds talks to himself on the way home from the train so he doesn’t forget new characters and plots. He was also “forced” to read because an aunt kept giving him books as gifts and he decided to finally give them a chance.

Read This Next

Obviously, check out our review of When I was the Greatest, but also try Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

Post Author

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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: 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