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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.

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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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Book Chat: The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Summary

Nix travels on her father’s ship as he Navigates across time searching for a way to return to his beloved dead wife, Nix’s mother. Nix isn’t sure what will happen if he succeeds, but he’s the only family she has, so she does what she can to track down the next piece in the puzzle of their journey. Their adventures have taken them to mystic Persia, ancient China, and more, but now they’ve become entangled in political intrigues in 19th century Hawaii and everything may unravel.

Nix may find the answers she’s looking for, the family she’s always wanted, or…she could find the end to everything.

WARNING: Our podcast has SERIOUS SPOILERS and you don’t want to mess up your first read of this book – STOP LISTENING and GO GET THIS BOOK if you haven’t read it yet.

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Favorite Character

Nix! – She is smart, resourceful, passionate, caring, and committed to making the best life choices she can. What a great character for readers to have!

Favorite Line

And once everyone agrees something is one way, all the other ways it could have been disappear.

I love the idea of unending possibilities and that dreams can create worlds if we believe in them.

Fun Author Fact

  1. Heilig has an MFA in Muscial Theater Writing which is very cool and she has posted some songs on her blog.
  2. She is open about her mental health struggles on twitter and is helping to break stigmas and start conversations about lots of important topics!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! Nix is amazing and her story is exciting. Time travel is one of those things that can turn non-SFF lovers away, but here the people and intrigue are so good, you just want to keep turning the pages!

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more sailing adventures with intense lady characters and interesting beasts or Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis for a story that is driven by characters living in different worlds.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Adventure, Heavy Topics, Historical, podcast, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Symptoms of Being Human

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Summary

Riley is struggling to adjust to a new school. Riley left the old school because some of the students decided assault in the locker room was a good idea. Riley is trying not to make waves, but it’s really, really hard when walking down the hallway gathers everyone’s attention and terrible words are spit at you halfway to class. But, once Riley stops putting up walls and lets some people in things change. Bec and Solo are the friends we all wish we had when life gets even rougher.

Trigger warning: assault/violence to a quiltbag character

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Bec and Riley have a possible flirtation going on from the beginning. I liked Bec’s ambiguity – it felt like she wasn’t sure if Riley was interested, wasn’t sure if she herself was ready, and as though she was interested but getting in her own way. Riley’s confused and unpracticed concern about how to flirt was also adorable – something every reader can relate to when faced with someone we might actually like. I thought the build up was strong and the end made sense in the context of the rest of the story.

Rosie

Feminist Gender Score: A+ Success

I renamed this category for this book because, given the plot and characters, using a gendered term didn’t feel right (and, yes, I know that anyone can be a feminist, but that’s not what I’m going for here). Riley’s story does a great job highlighting a lot of things: the pressure to conform to gender expectations, the difficult boundaries that the gender binary places on everyone, the way that not fitting into gendered expectations leaves a wake of troubles, and the fact that gender expectations and the dire pressure to conform inspires violence much too often. I think the story does a great job of talking about all of these things through Riley’s voice – it never feels like we’re getting a lesson or that Riley is reciting a definition (even when a definition does come up, it’s done within context so well that it doesn’t feel awkward). There are, of course, things that happen in this book for which I’ve deducted points in other reviews (example: gendered violence), but here it fits into the whole for a purpose. However, it would be nice to see a story with characters like this without the violence.

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Diversity Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book covers a wide range of characters from the full spectrum of life. There are quiltbag characters, characters on both ends of the economic spectrum, at least one character struggling with mental health issues, and one clearly defined character of color. Obviously, as the focus on the book, the quiltbag characters are the most clearly written. I think this is an important book for anyone to read, but a genderfluid character is critical for readers looking for themselves in stories.

Edit: One thing that has been pointed out by others is that Riley automatically assigns a gender to Bec even though Riley is fighting against that very same expectation from everyone else. Fighting the gender binary is difficult, so I’m not really surprised by this, but I am surprised that Riley never addresses this bias in their own thinking.

I also fully appreciate that Riley was seeing someone for mental health help – the more this is shown, the less stigmatized getting help will be and I’m all for that.

I couldn’t give a full score because I was a little thrown by the lack even a hint of Hispanic/Latino culture in the community. Won’t you find some infusion of this in every part of California? (Or am I stereotyping California right now?)

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

I really, really enjoyed Riley’s story. I hadn’t planned to pick up the book the night that I did, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I cried several times – in the beginning because I was happy to see Riley finding a community and then, once the horrible thing was done, because I felt so much sympathy and love for the character. I thought the story did a fantastic job of bringing in all the elements of good YA – high school angst, high school cliques, friendship, a blossoming romance, anxiety about finding out who you are, and social media – while adding elements essential to this story – explanations, explorations, and violence. I will also just add that, while I have written somewhat stilted words to avoid pronouns for Riley, Garvin does an amazing job. Having just read What We Left Behind, I think this book does an even better job of maneuvering around (not)gendering the main character.


Favorite Character

Solo – He managed to get his nicknamed changed – in high school! – and was kind enough to offer up his beloved Chewie backpack…how can you not love him?

Favorite Line

All of Riley’s blog posts – I’m not in the YA/high school population anymore and I’m inspired all the time by the brains, kindness, and empathy being displayed by those that are. (Yes, I know Riley’s blogs are written by Garvin, but I know actual teens that are just as skilled with words.)

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, but be ready for tears. This ends on a high note, but getting there is a tough journey. But, Riley, Bec, and Solo – and Riley’s parents – make it worth it.

Fun Author Fact

Garvin has had several different “lives” – as an actor, a band frontman, and now an author.

Read These Next

I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all on my list for exploring what gender means and how we work to understand our own identities: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (#ownvoices), Every Day by David Levithan, and Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz.

Post Author: Jess

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

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Book Discussion: Otherbound

16081758Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone – but she doesn’t know it until Nolan finally manages to push his way into controlling her body.

Nolan has always lived in two worlds; his own, struggling to focus on his school work and his family, and Amara’s, seeing flashes of her life as he blinks through his own.

When they finally realize they’re truly connected, both of their worlds are transformed by political intrigue and the race to keep Princess Cilla alive.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Three relationships develop throughout the story. Amara and her fellow servant/slave Maart is the most established. It’s obvious there is true affection and love, but I do sort of wonder if it’s a relationship and love borne out of the dire and lonely circumstances that the two found themselves in. Amara and…the person from the end is a little surprising and there are hints of it throughout the book, but it’s interesting to see how it plays out once the politics are out of the way because of the previous power dynamics. Nolan and his flirtation are very cute and show that Nolan is finally fighting for his own world alongside Amara’s.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Amara and Cilla are doing what they must to survive. If that isn’t the feminist story right there, what is. They fight for what they believe in and for each other. It’s interesting that Cilla doesn’t see her privilege and that Amara must maneuver through the power imbalance to make things work. I see a lot of echoes of the troubles in the feminist movement (white feminism vs inclusive feminism) here, although the skin colors don’t correlate (also, echoes of pretty much any system that privileges people in our world). I liked that all the women in this story are whole characters – even when you only get small bits of their lives (like the Captain’s) you still see them as more than just an empty vessel to move the plot.

I don’t give full points because I do feel like it’s tough when a male character is forcing his way into a woman character’s head and controlling her body – while I know that Nolan wasn’t necessarily doing it on purpose (all the time), it still feels like a kind of mental rape in some sense.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: A+ Success

There is a lot of ground covered in this book. Nolan is suffering from what looks like epilepsy in our world and Cilla has curse-created hemophilia. Nolan is missing a foot and uses a prosthetic; he is also probably depressed since he can’t fully function in any world, but he also can’t leave either behind. I do find it interesting when what is considered a disability in our world has a magical explanation – since we find that Nolan has never had epilepsy, that’s just the our-world diagnosis for a magical malady, I think it somewhat avoids the “magical cure.” BUT, it’s a difficult thing to maneuver.

Nolan is of Mexican-descent. His family speaks Spanish or Nahuatl at home and when they cook a “real” meal he has to call Grandma Pérez for instructions. Plus, his family is financially struggling, something you don’t often see in YA and underscoring the deep problems with healthcare and health-related expenses in our world.

Princess Cilla is dark skinned and there is a wide variety of skin colors in other characters in Amara’s world. As we move through the story, we learn that Amara is bisexual (#ownvoices story) and find what looks like a happy ending with someone. All in all, there is a lot here that gets pulled into the story while always feeling like it has a purpose to the characters and plot.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked the premise of the book and the story. I thought it was an interesting idea and I love parallel universe/magic worlds! I thought the characters and their stories were intriguing and I was pulled in. I loved seeing such a diverse group of characters going along without that being key to the story.

There was a lot of build up to the climax of the story – action happened at the very end and, while it was all really good, it felt like everything happened really quickly. I also feel that some of the things lacked explanation: what exactly pulled the travelers into Amara’s world? why was Nolan only able to “watch” for so long? what made him weak when the other travelers were strong and able to control their “hosts”? I want to know more about the mechanisms!


Favorite Character

Amara – She’s resourceful and dedicated to what she believes is right and wrong. I appreciated her desire to escape servitude coupled with her understanding of the difficult blurring of friendship and servant/master relationships.

Favorite Line

“Amara had chosen to love the Maart of yesterday and today. She couldn’t look beyond that…Amara knew he’d already chosen every version of her.”

The idea of this kind of love = swoon.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is definitely a more character driven story. The world is built on small details with little things pulled in to add to it – like not saying someone’s name after they die – that help underscore the differences between Nolan and Amara’s worlds. The action comes close to the end and, while it’s not as big a climax as you might expect for the length, it’s still good.

Fun Author Fact

Duyvis is one of the co-runners of Disability in KidLit, a site we absolutely recommend. She is also autistic and bisexual and champions the #ownvoices cause in books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for another full cast of folks that represent the real world,  Adaptation by Malinda Lo for a more sci-fi thriller in our world, or  The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for more fantasy with pirates, sea monsters, and lady-lady action.

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: Say What You Will

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Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

Summary

Amy has never let her cerebral palsy limit her.

From a young age, she’s been the star student at her school. She writes tear-jerking essays about her luck in school literary journals, and competes in (and wins) all academic challenges in front of her. She’s the perfect model for a student with CP…but she has no friends.

When a sudden unexpected conversation about her lack of friends happens between Amy and Matthew, Amy has an idea. She’ll have her parents replace her aids with students – seniors who, in return for some extra cash, will help her make friends around school. Despite her parents hesitations, Matthew is the first person on her peer team.

But what happens when Amy and the boy who’s been watching her since elementary school really start to spend time together? Will their single truthful conversation blossom into something larger?.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I really wanted to like this romance, and for a while, I did. Both Amy and Matthew are flawed, and have trouble connecting with other people. Their honesty towards each other helps foster a deep connection between the two. But as the story goes on, the romance breaks down.. and it’s hard for me to get behind it. I think Amy was selfish and cruel, and although I love that this story showed a three-dimensional person with a disability (not just a inspiration-porn), I had a hard time backing this romance.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

While much of her life is controlled by her parents, Amy wants her senior year to be different. She makes as many decisions as possible on her own, and gradually increases her control of her life circumstances. While I don’t agree with all of her decisions, I like that she had the opportunity to make them herself. AND I loved that she had so much agency in her decision to want to have sex!

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

It was really wonderful to see a story written from a perspective of a brilliant girl with cerebral palsy who wanted to find friendship and romance. And Matthew’s own struggles, though more hidden than Amy’s are equally important. Both of these are valuable voices in young adult literature.

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

I really, really wanted to like this book, and I just… didn’t love it. I think that while the initial story was interesting, and I really got into their initial romance. Once the characters got past high school, though, it just dragged. Amy becomes less likable over time, and even Matthew seems like someone  who just wants to get hurt. And the surprises in the story came out of nowhere… and I don’t think they made sense to the plot.

Favorite Character

Amy’s Mom – Even though she can be a pain sometimes, she really wants what’s best for her daughter. I love a mom who will fight for her kid at every angle.

Favorite Line

My favorite line from this book is about Amy’s agency in situations. In this scene, two teachers are arguing about whether Amy having fun playing with some other kids on the playground… or if she thinks they’re making fun of them:

“‘I thought Amy liked it,’ one of them said. ‘It’s better than sitting by herself the whole recess, isn’t it?

No,‘ the other woman said. ‘They’re making fun of her and she knows it.

Matthew noticed that neither of them asked Amy…”

This line reminded me of a line from Gloria Stemen’s new book, My Life on The Road,  where she talks about how she saved a turtle crossing the road, only to have her science teacher tell her that the turtle had spent a month getting to the road to lay its eggs. Her life lesson? Always ask the turtle.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think Say What You WIll offers an interesting perspective , but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Cammie McGovern’s last name may sound familiar… and it should. Cammie’s sister is Elizabeth McGovern, who plays American heiress and mother of three Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey. How COOL is that?

Read This Next

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstorm (our podcast and review here)! Seventeen year old Parker has created a set of guidelines – known as The Rules –  to keep her life as a blind person in order. But what happens when an old romance (and a new fling) come into her life?

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: Pointe

Pointe

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Summary

Ever since her best friend went missing four years ago, Theo has been trying to have a normal life. She spends nearly all of her free time in the dance studio, competing with the other elite dancers  for lead roles and  spots in summer intensive programs. She knows if she trains just hard enough (and eats just little enough), she can obtain her dream of joining a professional ballet company.

But suddenly Donovon reappears from his captivity.. and he’s not talking. But as details of his case start to unfold, Theo realizes that she may have a connection to his abduction. And as she starts to relive the months around his disappearance, her life story starts to unravel.

 

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

While I didn’t find the romance itself particularly swoon-worthy,  Theo’s (current) love story seems very true to high school: unstable, uncertain, and lacking communication. I appreciated how realistic it seemed, even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted!

Feminist Score:  A+  Rosie

Theo kicks ass. Without spoiling anything, I loved the way this book ended. Theo spends a lot of time working through her own history, but ultimately makes important decisions to help herself (and her friend) in a very tough situation.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score:  Good Effort 

One of the things I loved about Pointe was that it seamlessly integrated thoughts on race and diversity without seeming formulaic or preachy. Theo’s a black dancer in a nearly all-white dance school (and, it seems, public school). Like Misty Copeland and other athletes and artists of color, she faces immense barriers in her professional goals. She acknowledges the challenges, but continues to work hard to overcome them. I particularly like the scene in her middle school, where a teacher asks for her opinion on segregation because of her race.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort  

This book really surprised me. I picked up Pointe expecting a narrative of a ballet dancer trying to accomplish her dreams. The story was all of this, and so much more. Pointe is beautiful, tragic, funny, and dark…you won’t be able to put it down.

Favorite Character

Theo – Everything about her devotion to dance, her confusing past, and her friendship with Donovan is beautiful, and sad.

Favorite Line

I’m a sucker for well-written passages about dance, and Pointe is full of them:

“I spin around on one foot, the room swirling by me in blurs of color and light. My leg extends from my hip in a straight line before it whips around to meet my body, over and over again. Spotting saves me from a serious case of dizziness; I train my eyes on a specific point around the room and never look away, not until the last possible second when I have to turn my head to keep up with my body. Air speeds by me so fast that it clicks in my ears, strong and steady like a metronome.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Pointe surprised me, and exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It’s completely worth the read. 

Fun Author(s) Fact

Brandy Colbert has a Tumblr (link here) with smart, on-point, and beautiful posts. Check it out!

Read This Next

Oh, man. This is hard – I still have a Pointe hangover!  If you’re looking for another dance-related book, try Pretty Tiny Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton. This book is hyper-focused on competitive dance and filled with a diverse cast of cut-throat ballerinas.

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 Chat: Under the Lights

Under the Lights!

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

Summary

Vanessa Park knows that she’s a role model.

As one of the only Asian-American actresses on a teenage drama, her image has to be perfect to pave the way for other minority actors. And while she loves acting, there are also a lot of pressures – the drinking, the drama, and her disapproving parents. And when her best friend leaves for college on the East Coast, Vanessa is suddenly alone.

Well.. not quite alone. She has Josh Chester, her co-star on Daylight Falls, a Hollywood bad boy who she loathes. She also has Brianna, the daughter of her publicist and current PR intern. And as Vanessa, Josh and Brianna start to spend more time together, Vanessa realizes that she may be developing feelings for someone she never expected to fall for.

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Favorite Character

Brianna – I love Bri’s confidence, and her honestly and directness is refreshing in a teen-drama novel.

 

Fun Author Fact

Dahlia Adler wrote a draft of Under the Lights for NaNoWriMo. In the original draft, the novel was written from three character’s points of view: Liam, Vanessa, and Josh. Needless to say, Liam’s POV was scrapped from the book before the final publication.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Under the Lights is a fun, refreshing read about Hollywood. This is definitely a book that can be finished during a day on the beach, a long car ride, or a rainy afternoon. It’s note quite hangover worthy to me, but definitely fun!

Read These Next

Behind the Scenes is on my list! This is the companion novel for Under the Lights – and tells a story about a teen superstar and an assistant falling in love under the drama of Hollywood.

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: Truthwitch

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Truthwitch (Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

Summary

Safiya and Iseult are a team. And they do ok for themselves until they plan one heist too many and are put on the run. They try to escape, but get pulled into bigger and bigger plans – Safi is a Truthwitch and a domna with rights to an earldom and people want to use that to stop the return of global war. Iseult is a Threadwitch but she can’t do what every other Threadwitch can. And they have a Bloodwitch, a king, a queen, and a prince trailing after them.truthwitch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I was actually pretty excited in the beginning because it seemed like maybe there wouldn’t be a romance. When it did show up, parts really sparked, but as a whole it felt like a convenience rather than a true build up. I also find the “I hate you…oh, now actually I think I love you” thing pretty difficult to believe unless there’s a lot of strong character development. I didn’t feel it here.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Safi and Iseult are best friends and I really liked that they worked together to protect one another and to reach their goals. I thought together they exhibited a good range of being women – and neither was the “better” character. A few things rankled – Safi being used as a political pawn without her full knowledge and the situation of women in all of the kingdoms was implied to be less than the men. There was one odd scene – at one point Safi’s clothes have been destroyed and a man she is with (her captor/protector) thinks to himself that he shouldn’t see her legs or something of that nature. It was really random and seemed to be added in just to give him something to complain about and to shame Safi since there was no prior context or mention of clothing taboos or keeping things covered.

The score here probably could have gone lower just because women get treated like crap and are victims in a lot of situations, but Safi and Iseult do manage to work their way out of most of the terrible situations and stand up for themselves, so I’m leaving it here.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

The book gets mega points for featuring a large cast of characters that are people of color – they’re described as tan or golden or brown in many cases. Iseult is very pale and that marks her as part of a group that everyone hates. I give negative points because it honestly just felt like “oh, let me switch their skin colors!” The ruling families/kingdoms felt like all other (Euro-analogue) kingdoms just with POC. There was no explanation for why Iseult’s people were disliked – because they were nomadic? because they were poor? because…I’m just not sure and the reasons that I could find made it just seem like a skin color-switcheroo without much else behind it.

In a fantasy world, you have a giant opportunity to create new cultures and to really subvert things. I didn’t see that. Also, there weren’t many (any?) other forms of diversity that I can recall. I suppose you could say economic diversity, but…it doesn’t get called out in the story much at all. I suppose you could maybe say it discusses privilege and the responsibility that comes with having it, but…that’s a stretch.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story had an interesting premise and I really liked that this was about two lady friends that are on an adventure and pulled into bigger and bigger things. There is, however, a lot to be desired in the world building and explanation department. I wanted to know more about where the powers come from, why the wells dried up, and more explanation of the side effects of the powers. (Like – why did Iseult always need to maintain her emotional balance? There are tiny, tiny, vague hints, but not enough for how often she talks about staying in stasis.) A lot of things are left out or only sketched for us. I will assume that this is because it’s a series and the intention is to leave lots of questions for explanation later, but it made the story feel like it was only a surface exploration of the world.


Favorite Character

Iseult – She has a level head and balances Safi’s impetuous, stubborn, and haphazard actions.

Favorite Line

The writing just wasn’t there for me. I liked the idea of this story, but I’m not sure I liked this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure – if you don’t mind a more shallow dip into a fantasy world, this could be for you. If you prefer deep world building with lots of background information, then probably not.

Fun Author Fact

Dennard was a marine biologist before becoming a full time writer.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a fantasy world with more depth and a ton of diversity in the characters or The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi or The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine for more diversity and adventure

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 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

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Book Discussion: Shadowshaper

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summary

Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.

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heart

Romance Score: A+ Success

The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.

Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.

The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.

I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.

Also – THAT COVER.


Favorite Character

Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)

Favorite Line

This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family  – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.

Fun Author Fact

Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Contemporary, Science Fiction & Fantasy