Tag Archives: depression

April Raintree

April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier 30732400

Summary

April and her sister Cheryl are Métis living in Canada. They are removed from their parents’ home and custody and we follow them through foster homes, school, marriage, and more. This book doesn’t flinch from showing how poorly Native people have been treated in North America and April’s journey to finding her strength, forgiveness, and happiness is powerful.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

When April finally finds happiness, it is a long time coming and the man she ultimately ends up with is totally swoonworthy with his willingness to wait, to uplift her, to give her support, to be there while she deals with her history, trauma, grief, and recovery. Plus, her romantic trajectory is one I think many people will relate to – innocence and a desire to be safe playing into her first pick and then defensiveness keeping her from a real winner…at least for a while.

Of course, there are also awful dirtbags in the book who contribute to April and Cheryl’s emotional and physical pain, including a rape, so it’s not all sunshine. The end is resilient and hopeful though.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

Women are pretty awful to April and Cheryl in this book – because they are Métis, because they are foster children, because they are poor, because because because…society has taught them to tear each other down. But, both girls rebel against this in their own way.

Cheryl is a spitfire protesting the treatment of Native communities in Canada and searching for the bits and pieces she can find to revive pride in herself and her identity. She offers support to other girls and women and she works within her community for change…until the weight of it all is too much to bear.

April takes a lot longer to find her space as Métis, but she has her own quiet resiliency. She faces slutshaming, betrayal, and more and still manages to retain her hopeful, gentle spirit. She tries to be there for her sister, even if she makes mistakes. And then, when the terrible happens, she doesn’t sit quietly and let things get neatly swept under the rug. Instead, she resolutely plows ahead with her rape trial. When she finally begins to heal – even through her grief – it’s a joy to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book features and centers Métis girls and their community. Through Cheryl, insidious racism is called out and we get a depiction of depression (and tw: suicice) that doesn’t flinch from how destructive it can be. Through April, the experiences of many Native women find a voice. Through the sisters and their experience as foster children, we see families torn apart by poverty and a system that didn’t (doesn’t) provide the support necessary for families to survive and prosper. Teachers and caseworkers expect the worst from the girls, never even offering another future. We don’t often get to see this kind of intersectionality and a clear illustration of the way systemic oppression works to prevent health…to prevent life.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This is a truth book – it’s  hard to read because your heart hurts for the sisters, but you know in reading it that you are being given a truth that needs to be heard. As an outsider, this is a reminder to address privilege and to do what you can to support communities that your privilege allows you to ignore. If your identity is more closely aligned with April and Cheryl, I imagine this is a book for your soul – showing you that you are not alone.

I am glad to have read this book. The writing is very straightforward and simple (not my preferred writing style), and I think this helps in some places to make the story more powerful; at other times, it felt like it was too bare.


Favorite Character

Cheryl – because she fights the system and offers her love and support to her community until it breaks her.

Fun Heartbreaking Author Fact

Much of what happens in April Raintree is based off of Mosionier’s own life. She remains active in Canada pushing for environmental and Native issues.

Is this worth a book hangover?

The story is interesting and the characters are compelling. The sisterhood – with its highs and lows – is one of my favorite parts. This is an important book and, while it’s not necessarily an easy read, I think it’s worth it…but it may be one you linger over as your heart takes breaks from the sadness.

Read These Next

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie offers a more humorous take on Native American life in the US or The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for an ensemble look at life for teens and children in 1970 Alaska.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Discussion: The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 22752127

Summary

Dill has had a rough life. He’s the son of a Pentecostal, snake-handling preacher and now the target for the bullies at school that hate him for his father’s faith and crimes.

But, his friendships with Travis, a boy obsessed with an epic book series and its world, and Lydia, a fashion blogger using her internet fame to get out of their Tennessee town, are what keep him grounded…at least until high school is over and Lydia leaves and Dill has no other choice but to accept the family legacy.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The relationship that develops is sweet and natural. And, in a way, it felt like the relationship was not just between the girl and the boy, but also the boy finding a safe, loving home in her family. But, this is an end of high school book, so it’s also a little bittersweet – no one is ever sure what will happen once graduation comes and the final pre-college summer is over.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

The main reason I’m giving this a good score, even though the mothers in this book suffer greatly due to their marriages and community expectations about staying with your spouse, is because Lydia is a mouthy, badass, self-confident example of girls that love something and won’t make excuses for it. Plus, her explanations of the hunt for clothes at shops, her interactions with her internet followers, and her joy in finding the perfect outfit were a great example of how girls don’t have to make apologies for loving something and that the things that are coded feminine are just as difficult and worthwhile as masculine activities. Plus, I loved that her feminist proclamations are coming from a girl in Tennessee – whose parents are also from Tennessee – so it shows that feminism is for everyone.

BUT, I will flag that if she were anything less than she is, the score would go down a grade because of the domestic abuse and women that make very difficult choices.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This book is important because it shows things that aren’t always common in YA: poverty, religious community, and the South. I really appreciated the perspective in this book because it’s rare to read a YA book where college isn’t an assumed next step for the characters. Dill and Travis both plan to finish high school, start working, and stay in their hometown. In fact, they don’t really have much of a plan at all, more like they’ll just keep doing what they already do because they’re not sure there’s much else anyway. Even though Lydia pushes them (from a position of privilege) to aim for something different/higher, it’s still their main consideration.

This is not common!

Plus, Dill talks about his activities in the worship band and about going to church and how the folks that left the community had to find a new, similar church and what that means for their Sunday plans. I appreciated that The Serpent King incorporated the day-to-day of living faith into the story – even if it is not necessarily a positive faith.

Additionally, Dill suffers from depression and has a “family curse” that he’s fighting to stay on top of. Plus, Travis has to deal with a dad that’s alcoholic and abusive and probably also depressed because Travis’s older brother died fighting in the Middle East.

There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book and I ended up crying a TON, but it was so, so good.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book, guys, this book is a heart squeezer. If you don’t cry at least once while you’re reading it, I’m not sure you’re human. Because Dill and Lydia and Travis…they are the trio of friends you wish you had in high school because of their loyalty and love for each other.

The writing is amazing, you can feel Tennessee around them, and the hopelessness of Travis and Dill weighs on you. When Travis gets his birthday present, my little booknerd heart bawled because it is just the.best.ever. And then…and then Travis goes home and then something else happens and I was crying again – very different tears.

Be prepared, there’s a lot packed in here.


Favorite Character

Travis – Because he loves books, lives in his fantasy world, and is doing the best he can to be happy and kind in a world that hasn’t given much to work with.

Favorite Line

Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.

Fun Author Fact

Zentner was a musician first who decided he wanted to give writing a book a try. WHAT a book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s full of hope. It’s also very, very heavy, so be prepared for some sadness and shock. I don’t want to spoil it, but there was one thing that happened and I wasn’t ready at all and…this book will hit you like a ton of bricks, but then you’ll want to make everyone else read it too!

Read These Next

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a book that will also tear your heart to pieces and then give you the shreds of hope you need to move on or When We Collided for another story of two people meeting and coming together just when they need it most.

Post Author: Jess

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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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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: 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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Book Discussion: Conviction

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Summary

Braden believes in God and the promises God makes – especially the one to keep his family together, even though that’s not 18398627what happened. Now, after his father is accused of murder, Braden is questioning everything. And, he needs to get answers fast because he’s the key witness for his father’s trial.

All the while, he has to figure out how to keep up his baseball game to ensure he keeps the scouts interested until his senior year of high school. It shouldn’t be a problem – he’s been playing for years, but the biggest game of the year is also the one where Braden will face Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing.

Braden will have to make difficult choices, ones that will affect him forever.

heartRomance Factor: You’re Trying

Braden has a couple of cute moments with Maddie, a fellow church youth group attendee, but ultimately, he’s not in a place to be fair to her – as a friend or in a relationship. I thought Maddie was well developed, but I deduct a ton of points for the way Braden’s church and father have taught him to interact with girls. But, bonus points because I appreciate that Braden has understood that he is responsible for his own thoughts and behaviors and never blames any of his “impure thoughts” on Maddie’s behavior .

RosieFeminism Score: Not a Bit

The women in this book are foils for the men in the story. They are either cute, mistreated high school girls, old girlfriends rejected because they are painful reminders, cuckolded wives, or mothers that abandoned their children. There’s not much to say about them.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

I originally picked this book because I knew it featured a devout, religious boy – a character we don’t often find in mainstream YA. Religious characters are a minority, but the mainstream Christianity that Braden’s father espouses on his radio show and which Braden believes in is not, so I already knew this was a stretch for “diversity.” But, Braden’s father is the (in my opinion) worst kind of Christian, shouting hate against the people in his community that are most vulnerable. Braden has tacitly accepted his father’s opinions for his own, though we get tiny hints of doubt as the book moves – especially related to one character and his identity. Even so, we never hear a clear rejection of the racist, bigoted views and for readers that identify with any of those communities this book is probably a collection of micoaggressions.

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

I really liked Braden. He’s a compelling character, his innocence is sweet, and I really wanted to find out what he finally decided with regards to his father’s trial. I also found the exploration of family, love, and forgiveness well done; Braden’s faith and love serve as a strong contrast to the selfish, demanding behaviors of his father. My issues come from the lack of diversity, the lack of women, and the ending. I was disappointed by Braden’s decision, considering the aspects of his character that were built up throughout the story.


Favorite Character

Trey – he values self-preservation and recognizes the value of his own happiness over the bonds of family, but he still loves his brother enough to return to help him through the trial.

Favorite Line

“I have that feeling I get sometimes around (someone), that there’s a huge gap between how much you matter to a person and how much they matter to you.”

This speaks SO MUCH to me – it’s like that feeling when you want to be friends with someone, but you don’t know how to even introduce yourself to the person.

Fun Author Fact

It is November, so I have to point out that Loy Gilbert is part of the NANOWRIMO Associate Board.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I loved Braden as a character and I am grateful for the new respect for baseball that he gave me. There are some issues with the book, but it is a decent mystery that dissects love, family, and the bonds that connect us.

Read These Next

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham for a more diverse detective story or Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for an examination of religion, family, and finding one’s self.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

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

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Book Discussion: 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: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

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: More Happy Than Not

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Summary:

Note: Try to read as little as possible about the book. Take my word for it, you want to read this with as little knowledge as possible about the actual plot so this post is as spoiler free as More Happy Than Notpossible.

Aaron is struggling to deal with his father’s suicide. His girlfriend does the best she can to bring him back toward happiness, but then she leaves for art camp and the distance between them pushes Aaron to spend more and more time with his new friend, Thomas. As their friendship grows, Aaron feels his old self returning, but his old group of friends does not approve of the new closeness between their buddy and the “new guy.” As things reach a tipping point, Aaron discovers that some things are inescapable no matter how many times you try to elude them.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There was SO MUCH good here. Aaron and Genevieve are adorable with their “remember when” game and their sweet, thoughtful dates and their joy and panic about their first time. The slow tension of growing close with Thomas and trying to understand what that means is also sweet in its own way. I’m taking points away because of things that happen in the last half of the book (including a rather emotionless repeated action in an alley).

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

Aaron’s mom tried to put herself in between her husband and her kids, and that’s something no mother should ever need to worry about. But, I appreciated her strength, her dedication to her sons’ happiness, and her efforts to do her best. Again, a mother trying to do her best with very few good options.

At first, I was really excited by Genevieve and Aaron’s relationship – they are so sweet, he obviously cherishes her, and the physical moments involve a lot of consent. But once Genevieve heads to art camp, things kind of fall apart and it hurt my heart to see her making choices so that she ends up with less than she deserves. Yet, by the end, it seems like things are turning around for her.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot covered in this book – I got the sense reading that Aaron’s family was Hispanic (and double checked for the review – they’re Puerto Rican). In Aaron’s neighborhood there’s quite a bit of racial diversity – his boss has an “Arab accent” and his friends are varying skin tones. Everyone is lower income and I appreciated that this story incorporated details about that as part of the scenery and Aaron’s life without making it an “issue.” The biggest factor of the story, though, is with sexual orientation – Aaron slowly realizes what he thinks he likes may not be the true or only answer. The unfolding, unpuzzling of his feelings was sweet and painful and sad and joyful and made the story doubly poignant. With this it would seem that an A+ is in order, but events near the end made me dock a point. Yes, I know what happens reflects reality, but this book has just enough of a hint of the future that I had hope that maybe the end-of-book events could be excluded from Aaron’s experience.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

I LOVED this book. All the characters came together perfectly. Before reading, I had only heard that the book was amazing and a must-read, I was totally shocked when things started to come together and, as much of a gut-punch as it was, I LOVED it. Aaron was a sweet character – as a boyfriend and as a confused, sad teen. I wanted to date him or comfort him – or both. His story is going to stick with me for a while as I think about my own life and the things I wish I could escape.


Favorite Character

Thomas – He has amazing date ideas that he’s not too miserly to share with a friend (rooftop planetarium? AMAZING) and highschool-me would totally want to date him. He also is an amazing friend to Aaron, being caring, honest, and gentle when Aaron opens his soul. I loved that he was comfortable enough to react the way he did and I’m so excited that teen readers will have him as an example of how to be a friend or ally.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if…” (270)

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY. I feel silly because I’ve been so enthusiastic about the books I’ve reviewed, but this is really an amazing book with great characters and an intense story. To prove it: it was a cool weekend in the middle of July and I stayed inside and read this book.

Fun Author Fact

Adam Silvera is really, really tall. Unfun fact: he struggles with depression. I mention this because I’m so thankful that authors are speaking up about these kinds of things and providing an opening for their (teen) readers to talk about them.

Read These Next

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli for a cute, secret boy crush story or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for a story about overcoming confusion and prejudice.

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: Devoted

Devoted

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Summary

Rachel Walker is devoted to God and her family. She knows that the only way into Heaven is to follow the words of Pastor Garrett at the Calvary Christian Church. She’s a dutiful daughter, taking care of her numerous younger siblings and dressing modestly to help her brothers and father avoid sin. And she knows her life’s path: One day, she will get married (to a man of her father’s choosing) and be a devoted mother and wife.

And yet, Rachel knows there is a world beyond her insulated Texas church community. And when her insatiable curiosity for the outside gets her in trouble with her father, Rachel must decide if she is brave enough to leave the world she’s always known.

Note: The community and culture in Devoted are based on the Quiverfull movement, a Christian patriarchy movement, perhaps made most famous by 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. The show was recently removed from television due to allegations (and eventually, admissions) of hidden sexual abuse.

Devoted

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This story had a light romance, which was perfect for the context. Rachel comes from a community where she is taught that she is subservient to her father and that it was her job to keep men from lusting after her, so she has a pretty interesting view of men. The gentle romance was sweet background plot and did not distract from Rachel’s growth and self-discovery.

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ SuccessRosie

This book tactfully discusses the challenges facing women leaving a controlling situation. I liked that while Rachel has her own views, and takes time to figure out how feminism and religion fit into her own life. This could have easily been a story of teen rebellion, but instead is a thought-provoking story about finding yourself.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book tackled many incredible challenges in the modern Quiverfull movement, but I was a little disappointed that all the characters were white and straight. I would have liked to see Rachel meet someone of color (or gay) who challenges the views of the church.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite my qualms with the lack of diversity, I loved this book. Rachel is a powerful character, and despite her views from her upbringing, you quickly grow to love her. In fact, I wanted to give her a hug every few pages (just like Simon). I’m particularly intrigued by the Quiverful movement, and this provided one narrative for the lives of women born into the Christian patriarchy movement.


Favorite Character

Rachel. Her bravery (and the bravery of real women who have left controlling religions) is incredibly admirable, and I want to know what happens to her after this story ends. Perhaps a sequel?

Favorite Line

“My older brothers and father are seated in their usual spots, but instead of holding his Bible in his hand like he usually does, my dad is holding something else.

My copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

How stupid I’ve been. How careless.

I left it on the counter amid rolls of paper towels and school books and dirty dishes and a dozen other pieces of evidence that I’ve been struggling with my job of running the household as I should.

But the book is the worst piece of evidence. The most damning thing. Because it proves not only that I am not a young woman of God, but that I’ve been distracted by something my father is sure to believe is sinister. And he’s come to believe that my soul is in danger.”

Rachel’s love of knowledge and books is what gets her in trouble in the first place, and I love that A Wrinkle in Time is the book that her father thinks will lead her to sin.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – especially if you are interested in cult-like religions. Devoted pulls you in from the first line and you’ll be left with a new perspective on religion, feminism, and owning your decisions. I highly recommend it.

Fun Author Fact

According to an interview, Jennifer first got interested in writing about the Quiverfull movement after watching 19 Kids and Counting. After reading the perspectives of real women in the Quiverfull movement, she couldn’t quite see the show the same way again. (Note: I have the same love-hate relationship with the Duggars).

Read Listen to This Next

If you like podcasts, check out The Debrief Society This podcast is hosted by four women in the process of leaving the LDS Church. They discuss the painful process of removing yourself from an organization that was your entire life and belief system. While it is important to remember that many people have wonderful experiences in their conservative religions, this podcast is a fascinating look into one perspective on the Mormon Church.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha 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 auth

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