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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

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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: 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: 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.

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

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Book Chat: 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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Book Discussion: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Summary

Many little girls take ballet class, and dream of one dancing as a professional soloist. But there precious few positions in the professional dancing world, and even fewer leads. To become a soloist, you must be mentally and physically strong, and willing to do anything to be the best.

Join the cut-throat, elite American Ballet Conservatory, where every girl wants to be the next prima ballerina. Bette, who comes from an elite ballet family and grew up watching her sister star as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will stop at nothing to remain the favorite.  June is struggling on every front – trying to convince her mother to let her stay at school, maintaining her tiny weight while not alerting the school nutritionist, and learning about her family history. And Gigi is the new girl – new to the school, the state, and the level of competition. All three of them want to be on top, but only one girl can dance the soloist position.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Who knew that there was so much romance going on at a competitive ballet school? Surprisingly, Tiny Pretty Things explores a number of interesting romances, including a few ballerina-ballerhino couples. The power dynamics in the relationship were so complicated and interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing where future relationships take these characters. This isn’t exactly a romantic book (given the cut-throat, competitive nature of elite dance), but it definitely added to the story.

FRosieeminist Score: You’re Trying 

I really enjoyed this story, but some of the tactics really, really scared me. While I think these relationships are likely true to elite competitive activities, I would have liked to see one or two examples of great female friendship.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: A+ Success 

Tiny Pretty Things excellently captured the struggles of being different in a world in which every ballerina is expected to look the same. Many of the characters struggle with their identity in a compelling manner. June struggles to fit in as a half-Korean half-white ballerina, Gigi battles wild assumptions about her race, and even Bette struggles to maintain her level of perfection. I easily related to all three of their struggles, and Tiny Pretty Things perfectly captured the identity confused associated with growing up.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

As a former dancer and current type-A person, I really enjoyed this book. Although there are some parts that were hard to read (especially around certain tactics used to get ahead), I couldn’t put it down. Even if you’re not a dancer, it’s worth the read – the characters alone will keep you thinking long after you finish the story.


Favorite Character

Bette. I love a good villain, especially one as smart, complex, and confused as Bette.

Favorite Line

“It’s finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting all my sixteen years for. The moment that will lift me out of mediocrity and onto the horizon, make me the next prime-time-worthy prima of the dance world, elevate me higher than I ever truly thought possible.

Make no mistake: I’ve fought long and hard for this moment, given blood, sweat, and tears, deprived myself at every turn. I’ve earned this.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes!  Between the interesting setting (the dance studio), the dynamic and complex characters, and the insane competition, this book can easily be finished in one sitting. It was well written and totally worth the read. 

Fun Author Fact

Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton co-authored the book in a fascinating way. In an interview with the School Library Journal, they explained their process: Dhonielle wrote Gigi, Sona wrote June, and they both wrote Bette.

Read This Next
I have yet to find another book that discusses dance so completely. Instead, I’ll recommend Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Check out our review here.

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 authors.

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