Tag Archives: friendship

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Summary30038963

(It’s been a while, but HAD to come out of hibernation for Watson’s new book!)

Jade knows that she must use every chance she gets if she wants more for her life, and her mother agrees. So when Jade receives scholarship to a mostly-white prep school, she takes it, along with all the other “help” the school offers. But programs that are supposed to “lift” Jade only seem to make her feel worse about her situation.

She’s given a spot in a mentoring program and learns to find her voice as she pushes against the school and program’s expectations and assumptions.

The book is available February 14 – buy yourself a Valentine’s Day gift!


heart Romance Score: A+ (or Not Applicable)

This book isn’t about romance. Jade is a dedicated student focused on her success – and she knows that it will take all of her attention, so a love interest is not something she looks for. I loved this because it’s an important perspective and one that we don’t see often enough – especially since Jade isn’t ANTI- relationships/love, she’s just focused on something else.

RosieFeminism Score: A+

Jade is an artistic young person and she is surrounded by women that support her, cry with her, and push her. There’s a variety of women in this book and they are all doing different things while being shining examples of how to be your ever-learning, ever-changing self. Jade’s female friendships are strong, special, and allowed to be difficult. Jade’s relationship with Sam highlighted the difficulties that arise in inter-racial interactions and highlight that friendships aren’t always easy and take work. Plus, ALL the female characters are open and honest about their vulnerabilities and the places where they need to learn and be better.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+

This is an #ownvoices book by a Black woman about a Black girl growing up in a poor neighborhood while having to make her way in a mostly-white world. Jade’s world is full of Black Americans making their way through life and the book centers discussions of privilege based in race and wealth. I really feel like this is a book for Black teens (as a white reader, I still LOVED it, but I’m not necessarily the intended audience and that’s ok). Even so, Sam’s character will help white readers unpack their privilege while doing a good job of showing the kind of uncomfortable conversations that true friends need to have to explore identity, privilege, and American systems of oppression (and, while that sounds really heavy, Watson does it with a light touch!).

If you’re looking for other intersections (LGBTQ, disability, neurodiversity, etc) you won’t find much, if anything, here. Even so, because Jade explores, questions, and discusses the systems that affect her and her friends so deeply, I still think this deserves a high score.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+

Watson writes lyrically, creates characters that I want to know in real life, and deftly deals with hard topics. I loved getting to know Jade and the people around her and cheered when she found her voice and stood up for what she needed and wanted. The determination, love, friendship, community activism, and art that makes up this story is why I have faith in the world getting better (eventually, even if it’s after 10 steps back).


Favorite Character: Jade

This is Jade’s book and she is amazing. An artist that sees how to create beauty from the pieces around her, she is determined to be HERSELF regardless of what other people expect or want her to be.

Favorite Line

The whole book. Watson is a beautiful writer. Always.

Fun Author Fact

Watson created the I, Too Arts Collective, a community arts nonprofit in Harlem based in the house where Langston Hughes lived. The organization is doing some very cool stuff.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. Always. Watson creates characters and stories that draw you in and then keep you close until the very end. She weaves words into art while also taking the reader through the difficult journeys of her characters. Plus, because she doesn’t shy away from difficult current events and issues, her books provide a safe place for dealing with your own feelings – and the endings always push you to do something in the real world.

Read These Next

Always, always recommend This Side of Home, also by Watson. All American Boys by Reynolds and Kiely for more directly dealing with current events. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee for a historical look at how a Chinese-American girl pushes toward success.

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Post Author: Jess
I received a free ARC from the publisher for an honest review. I would have read this anyway because Watson is an amazing author.

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October Book Round Up

It’s been a month since my last post and that one was belated, too. To remedy my long-delayed posting, I’m going to do a round up with short reviews of the things I’ve been reading. This way, they still get the kudos they deserve and I can feel less guilty about all the draft posts languishing in my drafts folder.

RUN by Kody Keplinger

This story follows two girls as their friendship grows and they face difficult decisions about 23613983who they want to be and how to escape the expectations their family and town have for them. Agnes is a rule-follower and Bo is the “wild” girl with the “bad” background.

I loved how truthful this was about the intensity of friendships and how they can be both good and bad for you. I thought the strength each girl took from the other was important and that they could take misguided steps that lead them somewhere more healthy/happy. On the diversity level: This takes place in a rural town, so (lack of) privilege is woven into the story, Agnes is blind, Bo is bisexual, and this is #ownvoices (Keplinger was born legally blind and co-founded Disability in Kid Lit!).

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

22020598Earth’s end is finally here – a comet is hurtling toward the planet. Denise, her mother, and sister try to make their way to the government shelter, but delays interrupt their plans and they end up on a grounded ship that will launch into space and save its passengers once it can take off. But without the extensive vetting that the other passengers had, Denise has to prove her worth to keep her and her family safe.

This was an interesting look at how different people deal with the end of the planet and what accommodations needs to be made for all kinds of people to survive and flourish. I so appreciated that, thought it’s an “apocalypse” story,  it’s not explosions and high intensity action – it’s much more drawn out and about the people. Diversity wise: Denise is biracial and has autism (#ownvoices), her sister is transgender, and her mother is a drug-addict. These characteristics are integral to the plot without being the plot, which makes it even better.

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Kahu is born when her grandfather is looking for the next great male heir to the chiefdom.949039 His disappointment at her being a girl is woven throughout everything he does, but Kahu has the love and support of her uncle, grandmother, and father. And through her  perseverance and love in the face of disappointment and the weight of tradition, she may just change everything. Maori stories are woven throughout the book and included in interludes between sections of the plot.

I loved the movie adaptation of this when it came out and was excited to finally read this. I would say this is on the lower end of YA, closer to middle grade, but it was still engaging. This is a great example of how adaptation and gender equality (or progress toward it) can come from within a tradition and a look at how colonialism can affect indigenous peoples. Diversity: This is #ownvoices from a Maori New Zealander.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

20702546Gabi tells her diary about the struggles with boys, food, friendships, and her family’s expectations – and we get to read it all. She writes poetry, figures out what being “good” means to her, and helps her best friend through pregnancy and motherhood.

Gabi’s voice is amazing and her character comes through on every page. She is dealing with a lot, but manages to find optimism through everything. I don’t love diary-type stories, so this book’s style wasn’t really for me, but I still loved getting to know Gabi! Diversity: Gabi is Latina, one of her best friends is gay, she’s dealing with an addict parent, money is a problem, and this is #ownvoices.


Shout Outs

Not going to go into any detail, but you should also DEFINITELY check out:

A Torch Against the Night (#2 in a series) by Saba Tahir

Crooked Kingdom (#2 in a series) by Leigh Bardugo

Court of Fives (#1 in a series) by Kate Elliot (Elliot is a new favorite, read ALL her stuff)

 

 

 

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Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee26192915

Summary

Mercy lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. Her father spends long hours working in his laundry and expects his children to work hard for the family, too. Mercy dreams of something bigger and with the aid of a Texan lady’s business guidebook, she’s going to stop at nothing to get herself there. She uses her business acumen to secure a place at the local private school for wealthy girls and is on her way to finding success…and then the great San Francisco earthquake hits and everything changes.

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Romance Score: A+ Success

I really enjoyed the relationship between Tom and Mercy because it is the best kind – childhood friendship that becomes something more and then has to deal with family, future, and disaster. Tom and Mercy both have dreams and they selflessly do their best to support each other toward their goals – even at the risk of a future together.

I also appreciated that the romance, while obviously important to Mercy, is not the center of the story. Instead, it only serves to make Mercy a more complex character and to up the stakes of the story.

Feminist Score: A+ Success

This is a story about girls coming together to survive a terrible tragedy and unite communities to serve one another. Mercy doesn’t let racism, sexism, or her family get in the way of her dreams and she uses her wits to devise a plan toward success. I can imagine Mercy as one of the featured ladies in #BygoneBadassBroads because she will surely do even greater things as San Francisco and the Chinese community recover from the Earthquake of 1906.

Diversity Score: A+ Success

Through Mercy, readers get a glimpse into the early 1900 Chinese community in San Francisco. Her parents seek to maintain their traditions while adjusting to the necessities of life in the U.S. Through Mercy and the people in her neighborhood we see the racism, prejudice, and poverty that Chinese people in the U.S. had to (and continue to) deal with.

Plus, Mercy’s classmates at St. Clare’s School for Girls are a diverse bunch themselves – from heiresses from old money to Texan new money, these girls come from different places and families with their own stories. We don’t get to know all of them, but the main girls are more than the “mean” girl or the “friendly one.” I really enjoyed getting to know the ensemble of girls as well.

And, shout out to the headmistress who has her own story going for her!

Awesome Factor: A+ Success

Lee does an amazing job with historical fiction. She personalizes a dreadful day in U.S. history with rich characters and amazing setting details. The story is engaging and you’re rooting for Mercy after just a few pages. I loved that she referred back to a single book as her inspiration and guide for her success (and the twist at the end with regard to this book was fantastic). The reference to the power of books (especially when access to them is limited) makes the story that much more special.


Favorite Character

The Girls – Mercy is obviously a stand out, but the story is made even more amazing by the group of girls that she comes to know at St. Clare’s.

Fun Author Fact

When Lee won the Golden Gate Award at a SCBWI conference, she thought the winner was someone with the same name; she couldn’t believe it was her!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! The characters and story are an amazing and, just like Lee’s other books, the window into history only adds to the richness of the book.

Read These Next

Obviously, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee because she is a boss with historical fiction and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a look at another tragedy with a much more disturbing end.

Post Author: Jess

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Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova 27969081

Summary

It’s Alex’s birthday and that means it’s also her Deathday ceremony. But instead of summoning the ancestors and welcoming her bruja gift, she tries to deny it and ends up banishing her entire family (dead ancestors included) to  Los Lagos. She must find her way to the in-between land, rescue her family, and come to terms with her bruja powers, all while dealing with the annoying company of her brujo companion, Nova.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6 – order now!

labyrinth lost

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There’s some good tension between Nova and Alex – and it starts early, so it doesn’t feel like an insta-connection. He’s physically attractive and she’s drawn in by his bad-boy persona and it was nice to see the hints of secrets and things left hidden that slowly appear as the story progresses. I didn’t love their ending, but it was consistent. The other relationship in the story felt a little sudden and underdeveloped, but was still a believable emotional discovery with the way the story played out. Plus – hospital kisses are always kind of fun! (edited: hospital kisses where everyone is celebrating their survival.)

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

Alex lives with her two sisters and mother. Charismatic aunts and grandmothers are important to the story and it’s the brujas that seem to lead the family. While Alex and her sisters bicker, there’s obvious love and strength between them – and it’s Alex’s loyalty and devotion that drives her to look for them in Los Lagos.

It’s also the determination of Alex’s aunt that gives her the final push to do what is necessary, though I won’t say exactly how. Ladies are doing what needs to be done in this book and it’s a sight to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book wins in several different ways.

Firstly, almost all the characters are people of color. I just went back through my copy to see if I can track down the specific country that Alex’s family is from, but I couldn’t find it and I actually think she just says “back home” or “the old country.” Either way, her family is Latinx/Hispanic and so are almost all the characters in the story. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, is Southeast Asian (I think Indian?). I can’t remember a single white person, except for awful classmates.

Then, we have a cultural/religious system that is rarely explored in literature – especially YA. Being bruja is just a thing that is in this book, it’s not exoticized, it’s just something that frustrates Alex because it gets in the way of her being “normal.”

And a main character is BI. On the page.

The one thing I will mention is that Nova’s eyes are referred to as “bipolar” several times. I thought that was a very odd way of putting it since I think it was about color and not like they were flashing two very different or frantic emotions. I would probably choose a different description.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I enjoyed reading Alex’s story and getting to know her family. When she got to the end of the journey and faced the Devourer, I was excited for her to own her power. The immersion in her world was exciting and I thought the premise was really interesting.

However, it did feel a little shallow in some places or underdeveloped. Even though it was an adventure story and Alex and Nova were traveling through a magical underworld, it didn’t feel like the stakes were really that high and things fell into place easily in some instances. I think the characters could have gone deeper and even though there was a lot of world building, it still felt a little more surface level than it could have been.

That being said, I’m excited to see what happens with the rest of the Brooklyn Bruja series and to see how Alex grows into her power.


Favorite Character

Rose – who can resist the creepy little kid with mystical, all knowing insights?

Fun Author Fact

Córdova was born in Ecuador and she was determined to publish her first book before she was 25 (she did! at 24 Vicious Deep was published).

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! The story and immersion in a deeply loyal, loving family – even if most of the book they are separated from one another – with an adventure through a mysterious, magical land is fun! The characters and world aren’t smothered in deep details, but there’s enough world building to sink into.

Read These Next

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for another underrepresented cultural mythology and lovers fighting the underworld to be reunited or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig for a different kind of magic and diversity across a time-traveling heist adventure.

Post Author: Jess

I received my copy of Labyrinth Lost for free through Netgalley for my honest review.

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Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember 25231892

Summary

Mnemba is recovering from a terrible attack at her cousin’s safari business as one of his most successful guides. Kara arrives with her father to study unicorns in the wilderness – a final trip before she returns to “proper” society and marries. Together, they discover poachers abusing unicorns to exploit the land and must decide how to save the animals and reconcile their growing feelings for one another.

unicorn tracks

heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I thought the relationship between Mnemba and Kara grew slowly and naturally. There were a few lines about skin color that felt a little off, but overall I liked how these two girls found each other and found happiness.

Rosie Feminist Score: A+ Success

Mnemba is recovering from a brutal attack and finds relief with her cousin and his safari business. I appreciated her strength and resilience dealing with her history. Plus, she’s an entrepreneur making sure the business grows and helping Tumelo bring in the best customers. Kara is a scholar pursuing the secrets of wildlife and attempting to avoid her required marriage back home. Both girls are working the system to find their own kind of success.

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

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in the book and its world. This is an alternate Earth, much of it is the same, but there are few changes – the country names, magically animals are real, and, apparently, the fact that girls are legally required to marry back in Kara’s home country. I’m not sure why, but the closeness of the worlds bothered me. This story centers around two women falling in love, which is apparently acceptable for Mnemba’s family but not for Kara’s, so that’s definitely a bonus. However, there were parts of the story that felt…even though there are comments made about the way the pseudo-Europeans that visit for safaris and how the two cultures mix and judge each other, it still felt a little unbalanced. If it’s an alternate-Earth, why couldn’t it be the Europeans that lack technology rather than the Africans?

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

I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t that much. I really enjoyed Mnemba’s character and her family, but I didn’t ever feel like I really connected with the story. I just think the writing wasn’t completely there for me. BUT, I really loved the idea that there are magical beasts in the world and biologists study them just like other animals.


Favorite Character

Mnemba – I loved her resiliency and her head for business.

Fun Author Fact

Ember names her pets (and she has many) after Harry Potter characters.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think many people will enjoy this book – especially if you’re thirsting for lady-lady romance stories and different locations. 

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for pirates, sea monsters, and lesbians or Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst for queens with forbidden magic and forbidden love.

Post Author: Jess

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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: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock19370304

Summary

It’s 1970 and Alaska is changing and so are the lives of everyone that lives there. It’s not an easy life, and secrets make it even harder. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank are teenagers, but they much make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives now…and those decisions will change everything.

smell of houses

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There are two romances: one shows how privilege protects boys/men from the consequences of their choices and the other is a sweet, sort-of-love-at-first-sight-but-not-really story. That they both happen to Ruth makes the second all that sweeter. Usually I think the insta-love is a little silly, but in this case the serendipity and the vulnerable place where each person is at the moment they meet made it seem reasonable to me (plus, my romantic side wants to believe!).

Rosie Feminist Score: Good Effort

Parts of this book are hard. There’s partner abuse, child abuse, a grandmother that thinks she knows best, religious morality restricting choices, and boys that do whatever they want and receive no punishment. But, there’s also women that are respected, women that protect each other, women that work together to benefit the community, a grandmother that acknowledges her mistakes, and several teenagers that make empowering choices.

I feel like this is our most inconsistent category because in other books I would take points off for violence against women. But, it truly depends on the story and how it’s dealt with. Domestic violence/violence against women and, especially, violence against Native women is a fact and Alaska does have higher rates of this, so to ignore it would be a lie. I feel that the community involvement and the character development with this story line make it a strength, not a weakness of the story.

And, most important for me, the women and girls (generally) stand up for, protect, and encourage each other. And, even if they don’t do so at the beginning, they find a place of respect and love by the end.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This is Alaska in the ’70s, it had only been a state for 11 years and things were still settling down. Through the characters, we see how both Native and colonist/settler communities hoped and worked for a statehood that would benefit, not restrict them.

Through the girls, we see what life looks like for some Alaskan Natives – moved off their land, ridiculed, struggling with few resources, but also maintaining traditions through summer camps and sharing winter stores as a community. One of the comments that most struck me, though, was when the girls mentioned that teachers couldn’t even get their affiliations right – that there are many tribes and groups in the area and that one does not equal the other. There was a sense throughout the book of the tensions between the two communities (Native and settler) and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from that.

I also liked that this book featured characters living in difficult economic situations. So often YA features (upper) middle class (white) characters and life looks very different for someone that worries about where their next meal will come from than about which shoes they’ll buy for the dance. I am not saying the wealthy don’t deserve stories, they have important things to say too, I’m just saying that we also need stories of people without wealth.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really enjoyed this book. Almost to A+ Success levels.

I loved the setting and that we see a full picture of the community. I liked the characters and the variety of stories we got from them. I loved how the stories interwove with each other. I think this is an important, lovely book and I will recommend it. I think it touched on a lot of interesting and important topics that, although it took place in 1970, are still relevant today.

I think I’m held back because everything at the end wrapped up very nicely into a little bow and it just felt a little too perfect.


Favorite Character

I think I liked Alyce most. She had big dreams and she loves ballet, but she also guts fish and loves her family.

Favorite Line

….this whole book is beautiful. I loved the writing.

Fun Author Fact

Hitchcock worked in commercial fishing and radio before her book was published.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I really loved the characters, the story, and how much place plays a role in the narrative. I definitely recommend this!

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for a contemporary, place-based story focused on family or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for an ensemble cast set in a fantasy land.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Summary

David has always been on the outside of his school’s social hierarchy, but he’s always had his two best friends. And they know his deepest secret.

Leo is starting over at a new school hoping to use the opportunity to get away and find a better life. He wants to stay invisible through senior year so he can work toward that goal.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, everything changes and leads to secrets revealed and friendships born and tested.

art of being normal

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I liked Leo’s relationship with Alicia. I thought it evolved naturally and the reasons they fell for each other felt right. I think that Alicia’s reaction to learning more about Leo was also pretty realistic for the situation, though I don’t think it is an easy or fair reaction. I appreciated that they were both given a second chance and that each was willing to accept that second chance.

David is younger and less mature and that shows in his  longing for the high school hottie, but that also seemed fitting. (Edit: I use “David” here because that is where the character is when the crush is first revealed, but it would be more appropriate to use she/her throughout this review.)

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I liked some things from the story: the characters being true to themselves and finding the friends that care enough about them to let that truth live, the parents that are doing their best to love their kids as well as they can, and the courage to stand up for themselves. But, I felt like some of the stuff was stereotypical and didn’t really expand on much besides what is kind of expected.

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

This book is about transgender characters and characters of color and poverty and privilege and it hits some “right” notes. But, it also felt a little too quaint and like “here’s the story all wrapped up, with drama and closure.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain why things didn’t sit with me, but they didn’t. I think reading reviews from transgender characters may help tease this out, many of them said this is a book about them and not for them.

I did like that we saw how characters from poverty had to deal with something really difficult, though, because access to wealth can make a huge difference in how parts of this story may play out. It is also important that this takes place in England and not in the US, since health care access is very different in the US and access is much more separated.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to know more about the characters and I was interested in their stories, but I felt like they were shallow and we didn’t actually get much in this book.

I really wanted to like it and I appreciate that this book shows that there are layers and layers of difficulty to everyone’s lives. But…it was lacking something.


Favorite Character

Felix and Essie, who really feel like one character full of life and lots of loyalty.

Favorite Line

I’m not sure anything really stood out for me.

Fun Author Fact

Lisa Williamson is also an actor.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure. If you are looking to learn more about transgender people and their stories, there are some great books coming out written by and about transgender people that may hit the notes a little better.

Read These Next

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo for a story falling in love while keeping a secret (this one is #ownvoices and we’ll be reviewing later this summer).

Post Author: Jess

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Note: I received my copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Book Discussion: Panic

Panic

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Summary

No one knows who invented Panic. But every summer in Carp, New York, Panic is played. The rules are simple: Graduating seniors (and only seniors) can participate in Panic. The games end at the end of the summer, and the winner takes all.

Dodge plans to play and win Panic. He’s seeking revenge, and he knows exactly how he will get it. But what happens when he forms bonds with some of the other competitors?

Hannah did not plan on playing for the pot. Even though she desperately needs the money (and the opportunity to get out of her small town), she has seen Panic maim and kill too many people. She’s not that stupid… until she is.

Panic follows the teenage competitors of a dangerous, stupid, and life-changing game as they see if they have what it takes to beat their own panic.

 

 

 

Panic

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying  

Panic involves romances between several competitors and spectators in an ultra-dangerous sport. As you can imagine, mind games and manipulation are a major part of winning these games. It’s hard to get behind romances built and sustained on lies. Even when the characters showed their reasons for their choices, there wasn’t enough build up to really get behind the romances. I found myself disliking all the characters, and therefore not really able to get behind any of the romances.

Feminist Score:  Between  You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

I hate the reason that Hannah started playing the games (why do so many plot points start with impressing a boy?), but started to like her throughout the competition. Hannah is a strong character – brave, loyal, and willing to do anything to protect her little sister.  Her loyalty to her friends is admirable, even when they don’t deserve it. And I like how she has the mental presence and physical power to compete with the male competitors in Panic.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score:  Good Effort 

This book doesn’t dive deeply into the cultural experiences of any characters (they’re too busy playing stupid, deadly games), but I was surprised and impressed by the diverse cast. Main characters Natalie and Dodge (seem) to be non-white, and other minor characters have non-white sounding names. More importantly, I appreciated the setting of the story. Unlike many YA books, set in wealthy suburbs or big cities, Panic is set in a small, poor, decaying town in rural New York. Teenagers have few opportunities, and the money offered winning Panic is enough to give them a chance at life outside Carp. I appreciated a story in a non-wealthy setting.

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

I wanted to like this book, but it just fell short. First, it was hard for me to get behind the idea of such a deadly and dangerous competition. Most of the competitors were unlikable from the beginning, and this just seemed like such a stupid, teenager-y thing to do. And because I never connected with the characters, it was hard for me to root for anyone throughout the competition. It was as if Katniss was unlikeable from the beginning of Hunger Games… who would you root for then?

While the premise of Panic was interesting enough, I just couldn’t get behind the stupidity of the games. And the ending didn’t give me any indication that the stupidity had been solved (or at least, realized by the characters), so I was left unsatisfied.

Favorite Character

Honestly, I couldn’t stand most of the characters. Hannah’s little sister, Lily, is the closest thing that could come to a favorite character, but only because she was sweet and helpless.

 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Not quite. While I enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series, I don’t think Panic is hangover-worthy. 

 Fun Author(s) Fact 

Lauren Oliver is a co-founder of Paper Lantern Lit, a literary incubator. According to their website’s aptly named “WTF” section,

“[PPL] comes up with story ideas, we plot them using our knowledge and experience with narrative structure, and we coach authors through the writing process. Like architects, we envision, design and layout all the basics of a book, but it’s our writers who inhabit them and bring them to life. When a project is ready, we sell it to one of the publishing giants.”

 

Read This Next

If you’re looking for well-written, diverse dystopian future books, check out Love is The Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (our review here). A deadly flu hits the United States, shutting down the elite prep school world that Bird inhabits. But what if the flu is not what everyone thinks it is?

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: Gena/Finn

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Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Summary

Gena and Finn meet on the internet while bonding over their shared fandom – the Up Below show. They write fanfic and share theories about where the show is going. Slowly, their relationship turns into more than just discussions about the show and into full fledged friendship…or even more. As things progress, Finn’s boyfriend grows concerned with their close relationship. Gena’s transition to college does not go as well as hoped and a visit to a fan convention triggers some big life decisions…leading to an accident and Gena’s mental health taking a turn for the worse.

gena-finn

heartRomantic Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The romance was interesting, but unclear if it was in fact a romance or a very intense friendship. The characters don’t make the “is this or isn’t it” clear from their interactions with each other, but more from conversations with other characters. So, it was a little like we got a sense of how intense the feelings were from others’ reactions (ie. Charlie) rather than from anything actually done within Gena and Finn’s relationship. This is both a blessing and a curse – I believe this story is supposed to represent chracters on the quiltbag spectrum, but it skirts the line of actually showing it which means people can easily deny it if they want to. I’ve seen some reviews complaining about where Finn ends up, but I think that part feels natural considering where she started. Where Gena ends is a little less satisfactory.

However, if we were evaluating the romance of Charlie and Finn? Charlie might (eventually) be the most mature, understanding boyfriend ever.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

So, if you read this as intense lady friendship, this is awesome because we get two supportive, amazing girls giving strength to each other. If you read this as non-platonic lady relationship, then this is also pretty cool because that’s something you don’t often see, but not awesome because it’s just on the edge of unclear.

Gena has a relationship with a male classmate in the beginning and it often involves sex and there’s no judgment about that. Finn struggles with the possibility of marriage and is able to articulate why and talk through it and there’s no judgment about marrying or not marrying (when it pertains to the actual marriage, related to relationships with other people, there’s judgment).

This is feminist in its everyday-ness and in the celebration and appreciation of fandom. This allows girls and young women to love something and celebrate it and immerse themselves in it and fandom is given validity and power. That is rare.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot here and a lot of it is #ownvoices, which makes it extra exciting.

Gena is clearly stated to be Jewish, but there’s no physical description of the characters (that I remember) – the advantage of online friendships. I appreciated that it was left open, though that does mean the default reader will think “white.”

A huge part of this story is connected to mental health/illness. I don’t have much experience with this , so I’m not sure if it’s well done. I am 70% sure some aspects of this are also #ownvoices but I do NOT want to say that for sure. I think the openness and Gena’s discussion about – “it’s ok to say I see a doctor, but not ok to talk about why I see the doctor or how I feel day to day” was really important. If we don’t create the open space for conversations about mental health/illness as a WHOLE, we’ll never get rid of the stigma.

The beginning and end of the story feel a bit like two different narratives, demarcated by Gena’s medication abruptly stopping. I’m not sure how to talk about my reaction to the second half – coupled with the doctor’s opinion that a lower dosage of drugs would be ok and Gena’s resistance to this, I can’t tell if it’s trying to show that ableism includes thinking drugs are a crutch and that medical professionals should listen to the people with the illness or something else that I can’t put my finger on. Finn (and Charlie)’s behavior and support, though, are a great example of someone trying to be there, but not knowing exactly how to do so.

Also, I am a little worried that the thing from her childhood and then the thing that happened may lean a little on the “crazy” people are magical trope.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I generally don’t like books that are new/mixed media and stray from prose, but in this book I saw how it added to the story as a whole. I loved recognizing the pieces of a particular fandom that got pulled in and that fandom in general is given respect, too.

I found both Gena and Finn intriguing characters and I liked seeing their relationship grow. Gena’s parents are awful all around, but her aunt and uncle seem to be peripheral adults that actually have an understanding about what is happening. I wish that Finn was more willing to ask for help, or at least an explanation, from them. I was a little confused why she felt she had to do everything alone. One big hole: she is trying to understand how to pay bills but never considers the fact that Gena’s school was paid for somehow?

Overall, I wanted to know more about the girls and learn how things ended. I was a little surprised by how quickly things unraveled, but loved the exploration of the bond between them.


Favorite Character

Charlie – He shows great understanding for Finn as a college graduate confused about where her life should go, tries to learn about the things she is passionate about, and finds a way to love and respect her while also helping out someone despite the fact that he’s not entirely comfortable with where that friendship lies on the intimacy spectrum.

Favorite Line

I’m going back to my personal failure at collecting lines…

Fun Author Fact

I really suggest following Moskowitz on Twitter (@HannahMosk); she shares a lot of insightful stuff about diversity and her careful efforts to write all of her characters with research, love, and the care they deserve.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is an intense read – the relationship builds and then the story takes a turn toward something very different from the beginning. I think this is a great story about fandom, friendship – and possibly more than friendship, and mental illness. Some readers will love this and others will probably feel it is not their cup of tea.

Read These Next

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz for very clear bisexual representation with an exploration of eating disorder recovery and intense friendships or As I Descended (out in September) by Robin Talley for a Macbeth retelling that also features a girl-girl relationship.

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.

She received her copy of Gena/Finn for free through NetGalley, in return she provided this honest review.

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