Tag Archives: mystery

Book Chat: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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

Note: This is, by far, one of the best books we’ve read this year. You’ll read our review below, but I cannot recommend this book enough. Go read it ! Now!

Simon

Favorite Character

Simon. He’s such a well written character – sweet and kind and naive. The entire time I was reading the book, i just wanted to give him a big hug. He’s officially on my dinner table list… along with dog, Justin Bieber.

Favorite Line

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.”

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Becky Albertalli failed sex education in sixth grade. She is now a clinical psychologist. Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda is her first novel.

Read these next:

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. We reviewed this book last month (check out our post and podcast here). This is another story about gender and sexual identity from the perspective of an intersex girl. A really interesting and educational read!

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES. Absolutely. We could not recommend this book enough – it is a wonderful, well-told story that will make you laugh and cry. Beware, though: When you cry on a plane, people get really nervous. 

Post Author: Anisha

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

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast, Romance

Book Discussion: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Summary18798983

The king keeps getting married. And every morning his bride is murdered. After Shahrzad’s best friend falls victim to the nuptial death, she decides it’s time for someone to do something about it. She volunteers to be the next bride and is determined to survive while ensuring that the king does not. But, as she steals each new morning by telling a story and ending it just as the action climaxes, she gets to know the young man responsible for so many deaths…and things are not what they seem.

heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I liked the slow burn of emotions and the secrets and discoveries that allow the characters to open up with each other. There’s a love triangle here, but it’s not awful since the characters are rarely in the same place at the same time. We’ll see if that stands up in the second book. The romance is sweet, but Shahrzad’s first night with one of the men takes things down a notch. It’s not exactly the most romantic, healthy, or happy way to be introduced to sexy times and, while Shahrzad willingly accepts that it’s a necessity to achieve her goals, it does make me a little sad…even if it gets redeemed later in the story. EDIT a long time later: I don’t know if I would give this score now. The relationship is couched in swoony language and makes it out to be romantic, but Shahrzad is essentially a prisoner and it feels a little creepy that the relationship goes the way it does considering the situation. (See note below in Feminism Score from original post.)

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

I really like Shahrzad – she’s feisty, smart, dedicated, and kind. She knows what she wants (to kill!) and she knows how she’s going to do it (survive!), but she doesn’t let that get in the way of caring about the people around her. She speaks up when she has an opinion and she knows how to use words to gain power (the dinner scene with the king’s uncle is great). I think she does a decent job navigating the difficult place between first love, confusion about love, and being a good person true to herself, but there are still issues. The guys in her life are jealous, their honor is all wrapped up in her behavior, and they want to police everything she does. It’s frustrating but a. something readers still have to deal with while reading today and b. a fair representation of some of the men from the culture the source-story is pulled from. Since Shahrzad is the one (mostly) calling the shots in the story, I’m still giving it a high score.

BUT – I have to point out the power dynamic here and that, even if things change, the king is a king and Shahrzad is in no place to contradict him so sexy-times are not based in an equal and fair relationship. This part of the story was a  big NO GO for me.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book where it depends on who is reading. To many readers, it introduces a world that will be unfamiliar and which includes richer, deeper cultural references than they get elsewhere (cough Aladdin cough). For readers that know Shahrzad’s story from their own bedtime tales, it will feel much more familiar. It is an exciting addition to the list of books that include magic, swords, and royalty outside the European (or European-esque) tales usually available. We don’t get many other representations, however – the characters are mostly wealthy, educated, and of the same background. Ability levels, appearance, and education levels are fairly standard with a few exceptions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I’m very excited by Shahrzad’s story! I like seeing this kind of adventure playing out in an uncommon (for published US books) setting. I think the characters are interesting, the mystery plays out well, and I’m intrigued to learn what will happen in the second book. I think a few pieces could have been more developed – the magic seems a little random and unclear. There’s an interesting parallel between Shahrzad’s father and the father that started everything else; right now, it seems underdeveloped, so I hope that is teased out a little more in the next book. I’m also waiting to see what triggers Shahrzad’s growth in strength/power as well.


Favorite Character

Despina – Yes, she’s that stereotypical straight talking servant girl that tells Shahrzad what’s what, but she’s also great! And, I love her backstory; it’s sad, but not too sad and also illustrates the traveling and mixing of cultures that happens naturally in life. I also appreciate the side plot involving her, love, and big decisions because it rounds her out. I hope it plays an important role in the next book.

Favorite Line

“I am young, and, therefore, I know my words only carry a certain weight with the world, but I do know enough to realize you cannot control the actions of others. You can only control what you do with yourself afterward.”

Shahrzad is a smart girl, but it’s more about the total scene surrounding these words; she’s trying to comfort the king’s old tutor and it’s very sweet and gentle and wonderful.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! I loved the world Ahdieh has built around the source story (A Thousand and One Nights) with great, strong characters and a truly compelling story. Plus, there are SO MANY details! It absolutely felt like palace life.

Fun Author Fact

Renee Ahdieh is a huge fan of Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, too!

Read This Next

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot for a strong lady lead doing what she can to fight the system or Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen for a story about a girl with powers, stories, and a society to change.

Post Author

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

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Book Discussion: I Was Here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman18879761

Summary

Cody and Meg were best friends throughout their childhood. They dreamed of leaving their small, boring town and moving to Seattle together. But once high school ends, Meg is able to leave for college, and Cody is stuck left behind. But one day, the unthinkable happens: Meg commits suicide, and Cody is left with the responsibility of gathering her personal items. Cody is determined to figure out how and why Meg died.

I was here 3

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Because of the relationship between the three main characters, one of whom is a dead best friend, I really couldn’t get into this romance. I just think it goes against friend-code, but I don’t want to give away too many details.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort 

Cody’s a strong, interesting character who wants to figure out why (and how) her best friend killed herself. I liked her determination to find answers, even in hard places.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

One thing I really, really liked about this story was that Meg and Cody were not wealthy. Everything was a struggle for them – from paying off a laptop to getting a bus ticket to the new town. I appreciated that level of diversity – and think it’s one that is often skipped.

wow icon Awesome Factor: You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book tackles a hard topic with grace. You rarely get the perspective of a suicide from a friend’s point of view, and the devastation that it causes on a family and friends. On the other hand, there were definitely some relationships that I couldn’t condone, and that lowered my overall score.


Favorite Character

Scottie (Meg’s little brother). I liked the perspective of a younger child effected by his sister’s death.

Favorite Line

“Amazing Grace. How Vile the Sound.”

I’ve always thought that music at funerals, especially if you’ve been to a lot of them, must be really sickening. This line captured that thought perfectly.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Honestly? I think it would be for some people, but I just couldn’t get very into it. I love one of Gayle Forman’s other books, If I Stay, mostly because of the main character. I would recommend that book as “hangover worthy”, but not I Was Here .

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Gayle Forman bombed the SATs, but is still a world-famous author (with a movie adaption!)

Read This Next

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This book also tackles suicide (and the influence of anonymous online forums), with an interesting romance and suicide pact. I also recommend The Pact by Jodi Picoult, though it’s not a YA book.

Post Author: Anisha

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

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Book Discussion: Origin

Origin by Jessica Khoury

Summary13455112

Pia grew up in a glass house fenced off from the rainforest in the middle of nowhere. Her “aunts” and “uncles” have always told her she was perfect – and it wasn’t just the sweet compliments of family. Pia is the result of a generations-long scientific experiment leading to immortality; she is perfect. But, she is still a teenager and the mix of teenage identity crisis and hints of secrets kept from lead her to start questioning everything she’s been told by the scientists around her. As she rebels against the rules and restrictions hemming her in, she learns more about her origins than she ever imagined.

heartRomance Score: Somewhere between You’re Trying and Good Effort

One night Pia decides she’s tired of following the rules and she sneaks out of the fence. She just happens to run into Eio, a very attractive native boy. Their relationship escalates quickly, which felt a little too like insta-love for me, but also feels totally true to Pia seeing as he’s the first new person even close to her age that she’s ever met. I also felt a little uncomfortable with the “perfect white girl” falling for the “wise native boy” theme, but since Eio and several other villagers are fairly well rounded, it didn’t fall totally into the trope realm.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Pia is smart, strong, and brave – and not just because she’s immortal. She doesn’t let warnings or rules keep her from questioning what she is told to do and, even though it may mean sacrificing her dream, she follows her moral compass. Two negative points for this category: Pia’s extra jealous reaction to Dr. Fields and Pia’s mom – although knowing how they both were raised, these aren’t so unexpected.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

Pia is white and perfect. Just that makes it hard for me to give bonus points, even though it may not be fair since that, unfortunately, is probably what most people would describe if you asked. But, more than that, it was the native storyline and how it played out for me, it just seemed a little too easy and perfect – the native medicine man had all the answers just waiting in his native legends for the perfect white girl to come along and save them from the bad white scientists. But, a couple of the Ai’oan characters were well developed, so it didn’t fall too far…I think. Maybe.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, I liked Pia and reading along as she started to question everything she thought was true. I thought the juxtaposition of Wild vs Normal Pia was a great way to describe the warring parts of her identity; she read very much like a socially isolated, mentally gifted 17 year old – both awkward and appealing at times. I also think the questions raised about science and how far we should go to achieve goals are especially pertinent as science continues to push forward.


Favorite Character

Uncle Antonio because he follows his heart on more than one occasion and has always been a balancing force against the scientific single mindedness the others around Pia have been exerting all her life. I wish he had been developed a little more, but appreciate the small glimpse we did get of his back story.

Favorite Line

Khoury does a great job switching between poetic descriptions of the world around Pia and her analytical, scientific mind.

“Most of all – and this is what I missed most during my nighttime wanderings – is the color. The rainforest is green on green; the color must have been invented here, and in a thousand different forms. Against the green wash, a shot of purple orchids or orange mushrooms stands out vibrantly demanding attention…

Despite all the beauty around me, my eyes keep wandering back to Eio. He pushes every branch out of my path, careful not to let them swing back and hit me.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Once you get into the action, the book is easy to fall into and the pages keep turning. I wanted to know what Pia ended up doing and the mystery of elysia and immortality kept me reading for the answers. In some ways, this definitely feels like a first book because of pacing and heavy-handedness with the “message,” but overall it was a fun, interesting read.

Fun Author Fact

Jessica Khoury’s first book was fanfiction at the age of 4, she has Scottish and Syrian heritage, but grew up in Georgia (USA).

Read This Next

Control by Lydia Kang or Tankborn by Karen Sandler

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 Discussion: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

vera cover

Summary

High school is never easy. It’s even harder when you’re trying to keep your family secrets from getting out and feelings start to get in between you and your best friend. To make matters worse, Vera’s best friend is not her best friend any more. He’s also dead. She struggles to adjust and the book slowly unravels the events leading up to Charlie’s death. The pagoda on a hill, Vera’s dad, and Charlie all also have moments in the narration – which gave greater depth and emotion to Vera’s story. (Trigger warning: domestic and child abuse are both sort of central to the book, although nothing happens “on screen.”)

vera dietz table 2

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

First, Vera has feelings for her childhood best friend and, later, her coworker comes into the picture. Both relationships were sweet and rang true.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

 Vera sticks to her guns when people treat her poorly and tries her best to stay true to her beliefs about doing good. She also knows how she deserves to be treated and doesn’t take crap.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit

There were a couple of single comments that felt off to me. Examples include “the Mexican neighborhood” and the jockey yard ornaments, I think these do build the environment (small town Pennsylvania), but they still come off poorly.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, I really like Vera’s voice and her interaction with her dad. He did his best to raise her while dealing with A LOT of baggage. The story unfolds slowly and giving just enough pieces to keep you turning pages.


Favorite Character

Ken – He’s admirable as a person – recovering alcoholic with his own business – while also being an admirable father. He faces life with humor and does the best he can to look at everything positively. I liked the brief interludes in Vera’s narrative where we heard Ken’s side of things – even if his self help mottos were a little trite.

Favorite Line

Two lines really capture Vera’s voice and story.

“Pretty hot question for eighth graders, if you ask me, but I was excited by it, too, because I liked when teachers asked hard questions. It’s safe to say that when all other students in the class said “Ugghhh!” it was an assignment I was going to enjoy. But this time, there was a problem. I couldn’t picture Romeo and Juliet without picturing Charlie and me.”

“It didn’t work. It didn’t work because I knew not to give the best of myself to the worst of people.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The story had enough romance and mystery to keep me turning pages. I wanted to know the truth about Charlie as much as I wanted to know how Vera turned out, too.

Fun Author Fact

King once ran away with the circus and commandeered a bus at age 9.

Read this next:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is a different take on the high school experience.

Post Author:

1202112022

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

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School