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Book Chat: All American Boys


25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Summary

Rashad stops into the corner store to buy some potato chips and another shopper trips over him, sparking the store cop’s attention and leading to a brutal beating on the sidewalk outside the store. Quinn was heading to the store to ask someone to buy alcohol for him and his friends and, instead, ends up witnessing the horrible violence commited by the policeman. The story unfolds over the week that follows the beating – both boys trying to come to terms with what it means and trying to understand what they must do in the aftermath. The community and school reacts and Rashad and Quinn must decide what part they will play. all american boys.png


Favorite Character

Spoony – He’s the best kind of big brother. He watches out for Rashad – he gives him a couple extra dollars for snacks when he needs it and makes sure the media have a “respectable” picture of his little brother when the situation calls for it.

Favorite Line

This book has so much we need to hear.

“Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,” Jill said, determined, “I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.”

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds and Kiely were put on a tour together and didn’t know each other. It was right after the Martin-Zimmerman court decision and Reynolds was concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool if Kiely said something insensitive on tour…but an ongoing conversation and friendship happened instead and this book is the result.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. All the time. Please read it. Then share it. Then make that person share it. It’s a well written story but it’s much more than that.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson deals with gentrification of a neighborhood and dealing with the collision of communities or anything by Jason Reynolds, like When I Was the Greatest or Boy in the Black Suit.

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: 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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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.

 

black beauty

heart

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.

Rosie

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 Discussion: Carry On

carry on cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Summary

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

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

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

carry on

heartRomance Score: A+ Success

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

Feminist Score: Good Effort Rosie

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

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

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

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. From our review: Simon Spier has a secret: he’s gay. While he is coming to terms with his sexuality, he’d prefer to keep it on the down-low from his high school classmates. Unfortunately, he is cruelly outed on the school’s anonymous Tumblr site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon must face friends he’s known his whole life, mean strangers at school, and his close-knit family. To make matters more complicated, Simon has an crush on a stranger he’s been flirting with online. Follow Simon as he navigates high school in Georgia, Drama Club, and his own real life Drama.

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book 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: Zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Summary:

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


heart Romance Score: Good Effort

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

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying

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

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

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

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read These Next

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

Post Author: Jess

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

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Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

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

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

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

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

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

Post Author

1202112022

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

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Book Discussion: When I was the Greatest

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Summary:

Ali lives in Brooklyn with his mother and sister. He’s a decent kid and stays off the street. His mom works two jobs and isn’t home17428880 much, but she’s still a strict disciplinarian and Ali fears her wrath. He spends most of his time on the front stoop of the house hanging out with his friends, Noodles and Needles, learning to box in a neighbor’s living room, or hanging out with his little sister. His neighborhood isn’t great, but folks watch out for each other…even when it means jumping into a dangerous situation that you’d much rather avoid.

heart Romance Score: You’re Trying

This is a book with fifteen and sixteen year olds, it’s not about romance as much as it about excitement and enjoying the view. There was a lot of description about how girls looked and about how they were dressed, but not so much about enjoying their personalities or interacting with them as people.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying?

It was hard to place this one since the boys do objectify some (most?) of the girls they interact with, but Ali’s mother, his sister, the upstairs neighbor, and Kim all serve to give examples of strong, kind, smart women surrounding Ali with great examples of ladies. Noodles and Needles’ mom also serves to highlight the situation of women in the neighborhood – she is out a lot and her job is never clearly defined, we’re given enough information to surmise, but not enough to know for certain. Noodles is obviously sensitive about her work, but there’s never any judgment or criticism of the situation, mostly just sympathy.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

The characters here cover a fairly wide range of attributes: different income levels, dis/abilities, family shapes. Skin color in the book is pretty homogenous, but it should be; many readers will feel their own lives reflected in the neighborhood and Ali’s interactions on his block. Needles has Tourette’s Syndrome and it’s woven in and central to the story in a powerful way. His character feels like a side story in the beginning and then it slowly builds momentum. Ali’s dad was in jail for several years, but he is still fairly involved and comes back at somewhat regular intervals to check on Ali and Jazz. The boys’ way of speaking is captured in away that is both recognizable  and accessible.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

This is a book about Ali and the people around him. There’s some action, but it unfolds slowly and wraps up fairly quickly. I was drawn in by the characters – I felt like I could walk down Ali’s street and know exactly who he meant when he described each person. I loved the juxtaposition of innocence and teenage bluffing that Ali and Noodles must find their way through. The relationships really made this story what it was.


Favorite Character

Ali because he is not afraid to stand up for what he knows is right, stick to his friends and family, and still do what he needs to while navigating the rules of the neighborhood/street. As a parent obeying, rule follower myself in high school, I appreciate Ali’s struggle to balance what would be fun and what he knows his mom would allow. I admired his strength and his willingness to hold on to the softness within himself.

Honorable mention: Jazz because she’s a good cook, makes up great nicknames, and takes care of her big brother like a little old lady would.

Favorite Line

There were several great lines:

Most of our neighborhood accepted Needles for who he was. No judgment. I mean, it’s New York. A man walking down the street dressed like Cinderella? That’s nothing. A woman with a tattoo of a pistol her face? Who cares. So what’s the big deal about a syndrome? Whatever. It’s in our blood to get over it, especially when you’re one of our own, and by that, I mean, you live on our block. (17)

The first thing we had to figure out was where to get yarn from. It’s funny. When you don’t know nothing about something, you really don’t know where to even begin to find stuff that goes with the thing you don’t know nothing about. (28)

“And I’m only gonna teach you because I know you won’t abuse it, like some of the other kids around here. You love first, and that’s always a good thing. You’re not fighting the war that so many of the other kids are fighting. You’re rebelling against it, like Muhammad Ali. You know who that is?” (51)

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really enjoyed this book and think that it will be absolutely a favorite for some people. It may be a life line, too. It portrays place and people beautifully and really captures Ali’s community. I definitely recommend it! I also love that he’s nicknamed after Muhammad Ali.

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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Book Discussion: Saint Anything

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Summary

Sydney Stanford has grown up in the shadow of her older brother. Peyton has been getting in trouble for years, his infractions growing larger and larger, and eventually, landing him in jail for crippling someone during a drunk-driving accident. With her brother in jail and her mother focused on his comfort and safety, Sydney finds herself alone in her guilt over what her brother did. To make matters worse, her brother’s older, strange friend is always around, and Sydney can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about him. Saint Anything is a high school story about family, friendship, consequences, and the importance of listening to your gut.

 

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’ll admit that I’m partial to some of the couples in Sarah Dessen’s stories (Wes & Macy, Remy & Dexter). Mac and Sydney’s romance is sweet, but slow. It’s not as large a part of the story as usual Dessen novels, but I appreciated it.

FRosieeminist Score: Between Not a Bit and You’re Trying [Note: SPOILER BELOW]

I’m a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and looked forward to this book for months. I really enjoyed the story plot, and about 90% of the book went exactly as I expected. But… the ending. I just can’t understand the ending of this book. [SPOILER]: I just could not believe that after all of the months of stalking, and everything that happened, Sydney didn’t press charges against Ames.

Sarah Dessen is a YA author who writes about both sweet, fun, summer love stories and serious, hard topics. In many of her books, she tries to weave between both, and is relatively effective. The teens in her novels tend to be a little more passive than I’d like, but overall, they seem to get the justice they deserve (see: Annabelle in Just Listen). In that regard, this book really falls short. I was so disappointed by the lack of action at the end. Thousands of teens rely on Sarah Dessen to help them navigate through tough teenage years. One of the hardest things a person can face is knowing that someone is creepy, but not being able to do anything about it. I wish Sarah had followed through and proven that there is something you can do, but instead, I’ll give my own advice.

If he’s creepy, or lurking, or just seems off, tell an adult. If that adult does not listen, tell another adult. Call the police. File charges, and get him in jail. There is no need to be polite, or good, or sweet, or give him the benefit of the doubt, when your life or body is at stake. 

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Sydney, like most of Dessen’s protagonists, is white and wealthy. I don’t believe any of the main characters of the story aren’t white. That being said, I appreciate a story that talks about violence in wealthy, white communities. It’s easy to believe that bad things don’t happen on the nicer side of town. This story highlights that fact well.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: You’re Trying 

I really, really wanted to like this book. I actually did like most of it. But I can’t get over my views about the ending (see: Feminist Score).


Favorite Character

Layla. I loved her obsession with french fries and finding the perfect combination of junk food. I think we could be friends.

Favorite Line

“You get used to people being a certain way; you depend on it. And when they surprise you, for better or worse, it can shake you to the core.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really, really wanted to like this book. I’m a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and I love the way she writes. I was absolutely in love with this book until the last 30 pages. I would say it’s worth the read (especially if you’re a Sarah Dessen fan), but be prepared to be a bit disappointed. 

Fun Author Fact

Lakeview, the setting for Saint Anything (and most of Sarah Dessen’s other books), is based in Sarah’s home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Read This Next

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. This book captures all of the magic of Lakeview in typical Dessen fashion, but with a more satisfying ending.

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 Chat: Dreamland

[audio https://508b3cb9dddb5dd059dc9394589a7b755353c53f.googledrive.com/host/0B1btH5LeZjziOG1rM3VFYndrZVU/Dreamland_Both.mp3]

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