Tag Archives: girls

Book Discussion: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Summary

Toni and Gretchen have the cutest relationship in their high school and 22082075have set the bar for love and all future relationships that their classmates dream of. But what looks perfect on the outside isn’t always so and when they go off to college, the two find their relationship buckling under the pressure of navigating their changing identities. In high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, but once at Harvard begins to explore other terms and feelings that have always been bubbling under the surface. Gretchen is left trying to understand everything from afar.

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heartRomance Score: You’re Trying & Good Effort

Toni and Gretchen are adorable and sparks fly from the moment they first see each other. The sexy times are hot without being explicit and the kissing is on point. And, because we end up watching them navigate very difficult terrain, it feels like a realistic relationship. However, it also feels realistic because Toni treats Gretchen pretty terribly. It becomes all about Toni’s issues and what Toni is going through rather than an equal relationship.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Firstly, this should probably be changed since the book is not really about feminism. But, both characters are empowered to make choices, own their identities and actions, and to feel free to be themselves – whatever that means. I think the book displays some wonderful examples of what it means to navigate expectations and how difficult it can be to feel like the “lesser” person in a relationship. I admired Gretchen’s struggle with why she chose NYU a lot because it seems to be something lots of people deal with when coupled up. And, Toni’s struggle gives a point by point map for thinking about gender, the binary vs spectrum, and the roles we choose and how we present them – something everyone should consider.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book has genderqueer, transgender, lesbian, and straight characters, so it definitely has that category covered. Additionally, there is a Korean character, several black characters, and a decent representation of regional differences (Northern vs Southern US, urban vs rural). It’s a little lacking on the economic lines and there were a few times where I felt the story was aided by the characters’ privilege, but that’s ok. I think this book is important because it’s not a “seriously traumatic QUILTBAG” book – there’s difficult issues and families aren’t always loving, but it’s not about depression, suicide, or violence.

I will note that, by the nature of Toni and Gretchen’s relationship, it’s a little “time for some definitions” in some sections, but it never crosses into “let me give you a lesson” territory. The explanations fit into the story fairly well and aren’t being shoehorned into the conversations. Rather, they flow from the characters’ experiences and emotions instead of from the need to get a point across.

NOTE: After reading a lot of other reviews, I’ve learned that many readers find the use of “genderqueer” and the portrayal of the community very problematic. I think this is one of those times where my personal lack of knowledge/non-identification was clearly a blindspot. I’m not going to change the score, but encourage you to do your own research.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I loved getting to know the characters and seeing them struggle to find the middle ground (or not) for their relationship. I thought Toni and Gretchen were great examples of what going to college feels like – especially how your life can change drastically in just a few days and it’s hard to translate to someone that’s not there with you just how big those changes are when it happens in the simplest details. I’m excited to see more characters on the gender spectrum and a wide spectrum of family reactions as well. I love Robin Talley’s writing style – the two person perspective works especially well here as we see the confusion on both sides of the relationship and the desperation as things begin to change.


Favorite Character

Samantha – We don’t get to know her well until the end, but I loved that she played against stereotype.

Favorite Line

“Nothing good in the history of ever has started with the words We need to talk.

The characters are well developed and I really loved the dialogue and being in their heads (and I’m not a lover of first person).

Fun Author Fact

Talley is writing a lesbian retelling of MacBeth and I am SO EXCITED.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The characters are engaging and their relationship is beautiful. It’s also a great book for being introduced to what genderqueer and transgender mean – for those not identifying as such and, I think, for those struggling to understand where they live on the spectrum. Plus, the writing is awesome!

Read These Next

I’m going to recommend Talley’s other published book, Lies We Tell Ourselves for more teens struggling to fight preconceived notions and Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz about a girl trying to break off the labels and make a space to live in.

Post Author: Jess

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

 

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

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Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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: 5 to 1


5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Summary

The book takes place in a walled-off state in future-India. Women were tired of watching their world favor men and boys, so they rebelled. They walled off their land and built a women-led government to protect their daughters and those to come after them. They instituted a set of trials to allow the now-revered girls to determine their spouses and all of society now benefits girls, young women, wives, and mothers (of girls). And yet, Sudasa wishes to escape this world of luxury and privilege. At the trials that will determine her future spouse, she meets Kiran, a young man also dreaming of a way to escape the system.

 


Favorite Character

Sudasa’s father – His backstory is heartbreaking, his gentle spirit is sweet, and his love for his daughter(s) is a gentle reminder that the pressures of society aren’t always reflected in individual people. Plus, I love that we realize he hasn’t let the system get him down quite as much as Nani thinks.

Favorite Line

There are so many! If nothing else, this book is beautifully written, alternating free verse and prose, Sudasa’s and Kiran’s voices. It’s really difficult to pick a single sample!

Fun Author Fact

Holly Bodger works on both sides of the book world – as a published author and in publishing.

Is this worth a book hangover?

5 to 1 is a quick read with its beautiful descriptions, quiet poetry, and quick-moving story. The characters are easy to like, if not always to understand and the world Bodger creates is a compelling one. There may be some difficulty understanding exactly what happens because of the imagery in the poetry, but I still think this is an important story that captures what the world could easily look like very soon.

Read These Next

It’s an emotional book, but Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed also features a young girl fighting to break out of family and cultural expectations. Or, try Bumped by Megan McCafferty about what life might look life if only teenagers are able to get pregnant.

Post Author

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations. She received her copy of 5 to 1 as a raffle prize (but doesn’t know if it was from a blog or the publisher!).

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Book Chat: Dreamland

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Dreamland by Sarah Dessen4325

Summary

Caitlin’s life is turned upside down when her perfect sister runs away on the morning of Caitlin’s 16th birthday. In the midst of all her family chaos, Caitlin meets a mysterious boy at a party. Rogerson is cute, mysterious, and most importantly… not like anyone her sister Cass would have dated. But Caitlin’s relationship with Rogerson soon takes a turn for the worst, and her life spirals out of control.  

Dreamland Favorite Character

Caitlin’s Mother. I like characters who surprise you, and Caitlin’s mother is more than she seems.

Favorite Line

“‘Perfect people’, she finally said, ‘live in picket-fenced houses with golden retrievers and beautiful children. They always smell like fresh flowers and never step in dog doo, or bounce checks, or cry.” In a world where we constantly Instagram and Facebook the better part of our lives, it’s important to remember that no one is as perfect as they may seem.

Fun Author Fact

Sarah Dessen is active on both Twitter and (slightly less so) on her blog. She also posts Fun Facts about each of her books. Her facts about Dreamland are personal and inspiring… check them out here.

Read these next:

If you enjoyed this book, but wanted something a little lighter, check out some of Sarah Dessen’s other novels. Anisha’s personal favorite is The Truth About Foreverfollowed closely by The Moon and More

Is this worth a book hangover?

Anisha and Jess disagree on this one! Anisha is a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and re-reads this book every few years. While Jess enjoyed the perspective, she would not regularly re-read Dreamland, but would try a different Dessen book.

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

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Book Discussion: This Is What Happiness Looks Like

This Is What Happiness Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Happiness coverSummary

Ellie lives in a small, tourist town in Maine. One day she receives an accidental email and begins an e-flirtationship with the person on the other end. At the same time, a big time movie star of the most recent wizardly-YA adaptation comes to town to film his next movie. While mistaken identities, paparazzi, and family secrets create obstacles, Ellie finds that her own heart is the biggest barrier to love.

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Ellie and Graham have a cute flirtation going on. They also have a real relationship before the summer sparks fly, so the romance felt more real. Still, I wish there were a little more depth to it.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

I’m conflicted about this.  Ellie’s mom takes charge of her life and encourages Ellie to do so, too. But, I disliked the “don’t trust anyone” (especially men) theme that she also repeated.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

The cast is fairly small and it’s in a small town in Maine. I have family in main, so I know exactly how un-diverse it can be, but I still think there could’ve been more – especially with an LA film crew in town. How cool would it have been if the movie star hottie was a POC?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This book is fun, flirty, and light – just like a good summer romance should be. I’m also enticed to try another Smith book; a definite sign of a good summer love!


Favorite Character

No one really stands out for me. But, I think it might be the pet-sitter taking care of Wilbur, the pig. His (lack of) response to Graham’s increasingly annoying emails actually made me smile.

Favorite Line

“Sunrises over the harbor. Ice cream on a hot day. The sound of the waves down the street. The way my dog curls up next to me on the couch. Evening strolls. Great movies. Thunderstorms. A good cheeseburger. Fridays. Saturdays. Wednesdays, even. Sticking your toes in the water. Pajama pants. Flip flops. Swimming. Poetry. the absence of smiley faces in an email.

What does it look like to you?”

After reading this, I felt like Ellie and I should be best buds. We like a lot of the same things. I wish the story had the same amount of personality that this list did.

Also, I love when I catch the line in a book that corresponds to the title. (Not included here, but on the same page in the book.)

Fun Author Fact

She came up with the premise for the book because her own very common name resulted in some misdirected emails (something I can definitely sympathize with). And, she loves Harry Potter!

Is this worth a book hangover?

It was a quick, fun read. The story wasn’t especially original and it lacked depth, but I still found myself hoping that the two would find a way to make it work. Also, so glad Ellie is following her writing dreams!

Read this next:

Fangirl  by Rainbow Rowell or This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen both have romantic story lines with personality and depth.

Post Author

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

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Filed under Contemporary, High School, Romance