Tag Archives: identity

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Summary30038963

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

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

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

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


heart Romance Score: A+ (or Not Applicable)

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

RosieFeminism Score: A+

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+

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

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+

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


Favorite Character: Jade

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

Favorite Line

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Read These Next

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

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

Again, I’m still super behind, so I’m going to do a round up because I REALLY want to share these books with you and if I wait for a full post it might never happen.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Being a teenager during the Summer of Sam is difficult – fun is always limited by how safe 25982606you feel and Nora is struggling to enjoy her last year of high school. She doesn’t know what will come next, her brother Hector is growing ever more unstable, and the family is struggling to pay their bills.

This is my second Medina book and I love how she draws out the small details to gives us a really full world and characters. I felt for Nora and celebrated when she made decisions that lead her toward more happiness. Diversity: Nora and her family are Latinx, Hector is dealing with some mental health issues, and Medina is Cuban American.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Miel fell out of a water tower and Sam was the only one that could make her feel safe. She lives with Aracely now and must face the beautiful Bonner sisters as they try to steal the roses that grow from her wrist and keep their ability to enchant the town’s boys. Sam paints moons that light the town and helps its children sleep while keeping his own secrets.

This is modern magical realism at its most lyrical. Pumpkins in a field turn to glass, roses grow from skin, the river can transform someone into their true self – and at the same time, a pregnancy and the ensuing gossip can destroy a girl, birth certificates are necessary for high school enrollment, and hate and misunderstanding can still tear people down. I’m still letting this book sit with me because I’m not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It made me feel and I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I ultimately liked it. HOWEVER – I will shove it at people looking for magic in the everyday and who love beautiful writing. Diversity: Sam’s mother is Pakistani, his father is Catalan (I think?), Miel is Latina, and there are two transgender characters.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Tara’s best (and only) friend is spending their junior year of high school studying abroad 25802922so Tara hates the idea of schools starting. She doesn’t want to be totally alone. But even as she dreads it, she must also face startling news – an alternate Earth with just a few changes has been discovered. As everyone comes to terms with what that means, Tara finds herself navigating a new group of friends, her mother’s obsession with the new Earth, and just what kind of person she wants to be.

I really wanted to love this book – it’s a great premise and it brought up a lot of interesting ideas, but I never felt fully invested in the story. I think part of it was the writing and part of it was Tara as a character. However, I appreciated the honest look at microaggressions that Tara has to put up with – though that appreciation is slightly decreased by the rather poor way the book deals with anorexia and weight in general. In some ways this felt like an older person’s interpretation of how “mean girls” interact without respecting them as full people. I’m not sure exactly what, but something was off. Diversity: Tara is biracial (Indian and white American) and less well off in a very, very wealthy area. Also, #ownvoices.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda is the new girl and, even though she has a secret to keep, she’s making a bunch of26156987 new friends. She even has a boyfriend – and she can’t hold herself back from becoming invested in the relationship even if it’s dangerous. And when the secret is out – who will stay by her side?

This is generally not my kind of book – contemporary, high school drama, and romance – but Amanda is an engaging character and the time switch across chapters adds an interesting depth to the story. And, even with the discrimination and violence that Amanda suffers, this is still a fairly light book. Russo addresses that in her afterword and I’m saddened that the story has to be made so, so palatable for cis/hetero readers (but I’m also glad that trans readers have something light and happy to read). Diversity: This is one of the (or the?) first YA books about a transgender character by a transgender author with a transgender model on its cover.

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (Book #1 of a series)

23495112Elli has been raised to become Queen of her people and when, on the night that she must accept the magical power that comes with the crown, things go wrong, she must find a way to stay true to her loyalties while saving herself.

This was so good! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters. I am disappointed that this is a series starter because I really thought things were going to be nicely wrapped up, but also – yay! more books! Diversity: Bisexual main character, lots of racial diversity among characters.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (book #1 of a series)

Cas is a trainer of Reckoners, dedicated to protecting ships as they cross ever-growing seas24790901 and the pirates that call them home. But, when her first solo mission goes wrong, she must navigate the difficult obstacles that a pirate captain and a baby Reckoner put in her path.

I thought the concept behind this was really interesting, though I would have liked more explanation about exactly why the person that made a rogue Reckoner possible made that decision (although, the “who” of this mystery was easy to see from the very beginning). Diversity: Cas is of Asian descent (I think Chinese?), there’s a main f/f relationship, and there’s a lot of diversity among the pirate crew.

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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 Chat: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-FattahTen Things I Hate About Me

Summary

Jamilah is Lebanese-Australian and is struggling to understand what a hyphenated identity means in the microcosm of high school. At school, she is Jamie, the blonde quiet girl that lives on the periphery of the popular circle. At home and at madrassa, she is Jamilah, the  darabuka-playing daughter struggling to make a space for herself. When the Lebanese band she plays in is invited to perform at the high school formal, Jamilah’s two worlds collide and she must finally decide who she is to everyone.10 things i hate.png


Favorite Character

Shereen – Since she had more time with their mom and she’s a big sister, her groundedness provides a strong example of how to be proud of all parts of your identity for Jamilah. Plus, I love how she has created an active feminism that respects and fits into the rest of identity while still challenging the parts she finds difficult.

Favorite Line 

“I read headlines describing the crimes as ‘Middle Eastern rape.’ I’ve never heard of Anglo burglary or Caucasian murder. If an Anglo-Australian commits a crime, the only descriptions we get are the colour of his clothes and hair.”

The book may not be subtle in any of the “lessons,” but it is honest.

Fun Author Fact

Abdel-Fattah has worked as a lawyer, an interfaith activist, a consultant for media representation of Muslims and Middle-Easterns, and is not working toward her Ph.D. – I am always impressed by all the things writers do in addition to writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a more surface-level look at identity, racism, and the need to be/fear of acceptance. Jamie/Jamilah’s story is not very complex and sometimes it’s a little too sweet, but over all it’s an interesting look at the process and difficulties of self-acceptance.

Read These Next

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger for another look at a teenager reconciling different identities or My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman for a fun, middle grade look at what balancing Indian and Jewish identities might be like.

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: 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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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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Book Chat: The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summary

Cluck is a Corbeau, a feather-growing, tightrope-walking family. Lace is a Paloma, a family of mermaids that dance in the water. Their families have been enemies for as long as they can remember. Each knows that contact with anyone from the other family would mean infection from black magic. But, when an industrial accident nearly kills Lace and Cluck is the one to save her everything they’ve ever known turns upside down. They have to decide if they can stay true to themselves and let their hearts guide them.

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Favorite Character

Tia Lora – She hasn’t let her past bring her bitterness like some of the other women in the feud and she does her best to give Lace the strength and love she needs to survive within the Paloma family.

Favorite Line

“He was beautiful in ways that made him ugly to his family.”

Fun Author Fact

McLemore has her own mermaid tail! It’s red.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! It is beautifully written with some amazing lines and great characters. The families and their stories are just as interesting as the main characters and the interwoven storylines make it richer and deeper than “just” a story about Lace and Cluck.

Read These Next

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt for another Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in present day Georgia or Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for another couple divided by family and social expectations with a hint of magical realism.

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, podcast, Romance

Book Discussion: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

not otherwise specified

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

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

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 Chat: Summer of Chasing Mermaids

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Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

Summary

Elyse d’Abreau knew what her life was supposed to look like. She was a talented singer living in Trinidad and Tobago with her tight-knit family. She and her twin, Natalie, were on the brink of stardom. They were only days away from going on a world-wide singing tour. Her dreams were about to come true.

But a tragic accident forces Elyse to reconsider her goals. Elyse can’t sing anymore and needs space from her former life. She moves to Oregon to live with her aunt and cousin, and learns to rebuild her life in a new place. When a cute boy comes for the summer, though, she’s intrigued. Their romance blooms over a love of boats, their families, and an unhealthy competition that threatens to destroy the Oregon home she’s come to love.

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Favorite Character

Elyse. Elyse stands up her herself and her friends, and has a clear morale compass for right and wrong. I also love how she owns her sexuality in so many ways (listen to the podcast for more steamy details!).

Favorite Line

Elyse writes poetry, and there are many incredible lines. One of our favorites is excerpted below:

If everyone followed rules

As they were written, as they were said

You wouldn’t be allowed to vote…

Rules are rules, yet still

trumped always by kindness and human decency.

Let. Him. March.”

The full poem is even more beautiful.

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES. This book is beautifully written romance story with unique, diverse characters. We highly recommend it.

Fun Author Fact

According to her website , Sarah Ockler does tarot readers for her characters and plot. Tarot cards appear a few times in Summer of Chasing Mermaids – now we know why!

Read This Next

For another (slightly sadder) romance, check out My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Aysel and Roman are both regulars in online suicide forums, and make a pact to help each other die. But as their romance blooms, Aysel realizes that she’s not sure she’s ready to die. We reviewed this book last April on the blog!

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, podcast, Romance