Tag Archives: sexuality

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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October Book Round Up

It’s been a month since my last post and that one was belated, too. To remedy my long-delayed posting, I’m going to do a round up with short reviews of the things I’ve been reading. This way, they still get the kudos they deserve and I can feel less guilty about all the draft posts languishing in my drafts folder.

RUN by Kody Keplinger

This story follows two girls as their friendship grows and they face difficult decisions about 23613983who they want to be and how to escape the expectations their family and town have for them. Agnes is a rule-follower and Bo is the “wild” girl with the “bad” background.

I loved how truthful this was about the intensity of friendships and how they can be both good and bad for you. I thought the strength each girl took from the other was important and that they could take misguided steps that lead them somewhere more healthy/happy. On the diversity level: This takes place in a rural town, so (lack of) privilege is woven into the story, Agnes is blind, Bo is bisexual, and this is #ownvoices (Keplinger was born legally blind and co-founded Disability in Kid Lit!).

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

22020598Earth’s end is finally here – a comet is hurtling toward the planet. Denise, her mother, and sister try to make their way to the government shelter, but delays interrupt their plans and they end up on a grounded ship that will launch into space and save its passengers once it can take off. But without the extensive vetting that the other passengers had, Denise has to prove her worth to keep her and her family safe.

This was an interesting look at how different people deal with the end of the planet and what accommodations needs to be made for all kinds of people to survive and flourish. I so appreciated that, thought it’s an “apocalypse” story,  it’s not explosions and high intensity action – it’s much more drawn out and about the people. Diversity wise: Denise is biracial and has autism (#ownvoices), her sister is transgender, and her mother is a drug-addict. These characteristics are integral to the plot without being the plot, which makes it even better.

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Kahu is born when her grandfather is looking for the next great male heir to the chiefdom.949039 His disappointment at her being a girl is woven throughout everything he does, but Kahu has the love and support of her uncle, grandmother, and father. And through her  perseverance and love in the face of disappointment and the weight of tradition, she may just change everything. Maori stories are woven throughout the book and included in interludes between sections of the plot.

I loved the movie adaptation of this when it came out and was excited to finally read this. I would say this is on the lower end of YA, closer to middle grade, but it was still engaging. This is a great example of how adaptation and gender equality (or progress toward it) can come from within a tradition and a look at how colonialism can affect indigenous peoples. Diversity: This is #ownvoices from a Maori New Zealander.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

20702546Gabi tells her diary about the struggles with boys, food, friendships, and her family’s expectations – and we get to read it all. She writes poetry, figures out what being “good” means to her, and helps her best friend through pregnancy and motherhood.

Gabi’s voice is amazing and her character comes through on every page. She is dealing with a lot, but manages to find optimism through everything. I don’t love diary-type stories, so this book’s style wasn’t really for me, but I still loved getting to know Gabi! Diversity: Gabi is Latina, one of her best friends is gay, she’s dealing with an addict parent, money is a problem, and this is #ownvoices.


Shout Outs

Not going to go into any detail, but you should also DEFINITELY check out:

A Torch Against the Night (#2 in a series) by Saba Tahir

Crooked Kingdom (#2 in a series) by Leigh Bardugo

Court of Fives (#1 in a series) by Kate Elliot (Elliot is a new favorite, read ALL her stuff)

 

 

 

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Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember 25231892

Summary

Mnemba is recovering from a terrible attack at her cousin’s safari business as one of his most successful guides. Kara arrives with her father to study unicorns in the wilderness – a final trip before she returns to “proper” society and marries. Together, they discover poachers abusing unicorns to exploit the land and must decide how to save the animals and reconcile their growing feelings for one another.

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heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I thought the relationship between Mnemba and Kara grew slowly and naturally. There were a few lines about skin color that felt a little off, but overall I liked how these two girls found each other and found happiness.

Rosie Feminist Score: A+ Success

Mnemba is recovering from a brutal attack and finds relief with her cousin and his safari business. I appreciated her strength and resilience dealing with her history. Plus, she’s an entrepreneur making sure the business grows and helping Tumelo bring in the best customers. Kara is a scholar pursuing the secrets of wildlife and attempting to avoid her required marriage back home. Both girls are working the system to find their own kind of success.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in the book and its world. This is an alternate Earth, much of it is the same, but there are few changes – the country names, magically animals are real, and, apparently, the fact that girls are legally required to marry back in Kara’s home country. I’m not sure why, but the closeness of the worlds bothered me. This story centers around two women falling in love, which is apparently acceptable for Mnemba’s family but not for Kara’s, so that’s definitely a bonus. However, there were parts of the story that felt…even though there are comments made about the way the pseudo-Europeans that visit for safaris and how the two cultures mix and judge each other, it still felt a little unbalanced. If it’s an alternate-Earth, why couldn’t it be the Europeans that lack technology rather than the Africans?

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

I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t that much. I really enjoyed Mnemba’s character and her family, but I didn’t ever feel like I really connected with the story. I just think the writing wasn’t completely there for me. BUT, I really loved the idea that there are magical beasts in the world and biologists study them just like other animals.


Favorite Character

Mnemba – I loved her resiliency and her head for business.

Fun Author Fact

Ember names her pets (and she has many) after Harry Potter characters.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think many people will enjoy this book – especially if you’re thirsting for lady-lady romance stories and different locations. 

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for pirates, sea monsters, and lesbians or Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst for queens with forbidden magic and forbidden love.

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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.

diversity people circle icon

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.

wow icon

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: 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

heart

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

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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: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Summary

Taisin and Kaede are studying to be Sages while the kingdom’s lands and 9415946people suffer and dwindle due to fluctuating weather and the arrival of strange new beasts. Neither knows exactly where their path will lead, though Taisin’s strong skill with dreams is promising. Kaede, with little skill, must fight the growing pressure to make political alliances through marriage. But, when a message from the Fairy Queen pulls them into an adventure, everything may change. Together, they face many obstacles, including growing feelings between them and a dream-promised loss that might tear them apart.

huntress


Favorite Character

Taisin – she’s powerful, she’s determined, and there’s a lot roiling beneath the surface that we don’t get to see. I like that her background gives us a bit more commentary on privilege and that her unease with her growing feelings allows the romance to burn slowly.

Favorite Line

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

It’s not especially “new,” but I appreciate that this is repeated and gives both girls strength and self-confidence. Plus, it’s too true.

Fun Author Fact

Malinda Lo is a rockstar and does a lot (A LOT) about queerness in YA. For the past few years, she’s pulled together all the numbers she can on published books with queer characters to show how representation is lacking. Here is her post for 2014.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think so – it’s a fun adventure and the romance is perfect – a slow burn with lots of feeling behind it so when you finally get there, it’s super satisfying. There are also good side characters to give the story depth. It’s a little quick with the storytelling and lacks some depth, but I had fun getting to know Taisin and Kaede.

Read These Next

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee for two very different girls traveling across the US as settlers expand West or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a group adventure with full of character and a touch of fantasy.

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: Carry On

carry on cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Summary

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

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

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

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heartRomance Score: A+ Success

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

Feminist Score: Good Effort Rosie

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

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

Diversity Score: Good Effort

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

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

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

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Book 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, podcast, Romance