Tag Archives: teen life

Book Discussion: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock19370304

Summary

It’s 1970 and Alaska is changing and so are the lives of everyone that lives there. It’s not an easy life, and secrets make it even harder. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank are teenagers, but they much make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives now…and those decisions will change everything.

smell of houses

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There are two romances: one shows how privilege protects boys/men from the consequences of their choices and the other is a sweet, sort-of-love-at-first-sight-but-not-really story. That they both happen to Ruth makes the second all that sweeter. Usually I think the insta-love is a little silly, but in this case the serendipity and the vulnerable place where each person is at the moment they meet made it seem reasonable to me (plus, my romantic side wants to believe!).

Rosie Feminist Score: Good Effort

Parts of this book are hard. There’s partner abuse, child abuse, a grandmother that thinks she knows best, religious morality restricting choices, and boys that do whatever they want and receive no punishment. But, there’s also women that are respected, women that protect each other, women that work together to benefit the community, a grandmother that acknowledges her mistakes, and several teenagers that make empowering choices.

I feel like this is our most inconsistent category because in other books I would take points off for violence against women. But, it truly depends on the story and how it’s dealt with. Domestic violence/violence against women and, especially, violence against Native women is a fact and Alaska does have higher rates of this, so to ignore it would be a lie. I feel that the community involvement and the character development with this story line make it a strength, not a weakness of the story.

And, most important for me, the women and girls (generally) stand up for, protect, and encourage each other. And, even if they don’t do so at the beginning, they find a place of respect and love by the end.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This is Alaska in the ’70s, it had only been a state for 11 years and things were still settling down. Through the characters, we see how both Native and colonist/settler communities hoped and worked for a statehood that would benefit, not restrict them.

Through the girls, we see what life looks like for some Alaskan Natives – moved off their land, ridiculed, struggling with few resources, but also maintaining traditions through summer camps and sharing winter stores as a community. One of the comments that most struck me, though, was when the girls mentioned that teachers couldn’t even get their affiliations right – that there are many tribes and groups in the area and that one does not equal the other. There was a sense throughout the book of the tensions between the two communities (Native and settler) and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from that.

I also liked that this book featured characters living in difficult economic situations. So often YA features (upper) middle class (white) characters and life looks very different for someone that worries about where their next meal will come from than about which shoes they’ll buy for the dance. I am not saying the wealthy don’t deserve stories, they have important things to say too, I’m just saying that we also need stories of people without wealth.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really enjoyed this book. Almost to A+ Success levels.

I loved the setting and that we see a full picture of the community. I liked the characters and the variety of stories we got from them. I loved how the stories interwove with each other. I think this is an important, lovely book and I will recommend it. I think it touched on a lot of interesting and important topics that, although it took place in 1970, are still relevant today.

I think I’m held back because everything at the end wrapped up very nicely into a little bow and it just felt a little too perfect.


Favorite Character

I think I liked Alyce most. She had big dreams and she loves ballet, but she also guts fish and loves her family.

Favorite Line

….this whole book is beautiful. I loved the writing.

Fun Author Fact

Hitchcock worked in commercial fishing and radio before her book was published.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I really loved the characters, the story, and how much place plays a role in the narrative. I definitely recommend this!

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for a contemporary, place-based story focused on family or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for an ensemble cast set in a fantasy land.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Chat: Dumplin’

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Summary

Willowdean is trying to figure out life – what is happening between her and her best friend, Ellen? Does the cute guy at work like Dumplin'her or is she imagining the flirtation? Why can’t her mom (and everyone else) accept that she is fat and happy?

We follow Willowdean as she works her way through these questions and more – finally ending with a new group of oddball friends, a boyfriend that loves her for her, and the beginning of a new kind of love between mother and daughter. And Dolly Parton. Always Dolly.

Note: I use the word “normal” to refer to the majority/default white, cis, hetero world. That’s not ok and I’m working on!


Favorite Character

Aunt Lucy – Even though she’s no longer alive, she still serves as a great example and supporter for Willowdean.

Favorite Line

Three stood out to me because there are some great one line zingers:

“Plus, having sex doesn’t make you a woman. That is so freaking cliché. If you want to have sex, have sex, but don’t make it this huge thing that carries all this weight.”

“Marcus mumbles something about PMS and to my surprise, from the kitchen, Bo says, “Why can’t she just be having a shitty day? You don’t need to make up some bullshit reason why.” (THANK YOU.)

“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”

Fun Author Fact

Inspiration for her first book came from a discussion/argument with teens in a library about where they would barricade themselves in said library if the zombie apocalypse came.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – while we both had mixed feelings about, I think the character driven story makes it a fun, quick read. The positive representation of a fat and happy character – as well as her new friends – will be really meaningful for some readers.

Read These Next

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero for a year in high school where everything is changing or Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught for another fat girl owning her size and making others reexamine their assumptions through a school newspaper column.

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: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

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: One

one

One by Sarah Crossan

Summary

“People always want to know.

They want to know exactly what we share

               down there,

so sometimes we tell them.

Not because it’s their business

but to stop them wondering – it’s all the wondering

about our bodies that bothers us.”

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins; though they are two separate people, they share one body. Although they’ve grown up with many challenges – endless medical issues, expensive alterations and adaptions for their needs, and sharing a body – it is the cruel comments from others that they never really get used to.

Though Tippi and Grace have been homeschooled their entire lives, they are suddenly able to attend a private school in Hoboken, New Jersey. And now the twins must navigate a regular high school every day. Between their ever-present health concerns and challenges at school, will Tippi and Grace ever get a taste of teenage normalcy?

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Good Effort  

Given Tippi and Grace’s shared body, any kind of romance has some complications. Yet, there was a sweet, developing romance in the story. Tippi faces all the complications of teenage romance (Can he really like me?) with all the additional complications of her health.

I really appreciated that the story didn’t delve deeply into the bodily complications of any kind of intimacy. From one of the first paragraphs, the author made it clear that this kind of morbid curiosity would not be tolerated, and I liked that this story let us focus on the twins as people.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

This book doesn’t have a particularly feminist lean, but the characters do defend themselves and do not live in a constant world of pity or hatred. I would have liked to see a little more education to the general public on the cruelty they face, but I also understand that this story is more internally focused than a battle for their rights.
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Diversity Score: A+ Success

Tippi and Grace’s story is told with respect. The story focuses on their emotional journey through battling health problem and attending a new school, not the specific details of their bodies. Definitely an A+ for the diversity of the main characters. And even the supporting roles, including new friends Yasmeen and Jon, have their own unique stories and challenges at the school. One did a really good job respectfully delving into a hard topic.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

One is a surprisingly emotional story told beautifully in free-verse. From the first few paragraphs, I was immediately hooked, and remained much more invested that I expected. By reading the story from only Grace’s perspective, you get a glimpse of what it’s like to share a body, but not the mind, of the second sister. Though the ending was a tad bit predictable, I still found myself caught up in the agony and struggles of Grace and Tippi.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Favorite Character

Dragon. I love her energy, devotion to dance, and her interesting relationship with her older sisters.

Favorite Line

There are so many beautiful verses in this story, but here’s the one that stuck with me:

Sometimes I follow his lead

read along in The Grapes of Wrath

               until I find a dog-eared page

then stop

 

so I can inhabit the rhythm of his reading,

feel how

it must have been for him to

               turn those pages,

               see those words,

trace the outline of his

thoughts.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. One is beautifully written and well told. It is also a fairly short read – you can easily finish it in one day (or one long run on the treadmill, if you read while you run.).

Fun Author Fact

Sarah Crossan runs her own book blog on her website, where she interviews other authors about their books. A+ for promoting collaboration and mutual success, Sarah Crossan!

Read This Next

I don’t think I have a good recommendation in the same theme as One, so instead, I’ll recommend a book from Sarah’s blog that is now on my list. Check out Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, a book an eighteen year old girl who is tragically violated at a party, the aftermath, and the myth of the “perfect” rape victim.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

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

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Book Discussion: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Madeline has allergies – to everything. Really, she’s basically allergic to the world. Her house has an airlock entrance to ensure 18692431contaminants are removed before anyone comes to visit, the air filtration system could probably rival the space station, and Madeline is absolutely not allowed outside. With books and her online classes, she’s fairly content with life. But then! A new family moves in next door and Madeline’s attention is drawn to the outside world. She watches life unfold for her new neighbors, quickly falls for Olly, the parkour-jumping, hat-wearing, teenage guy and their relationship slowly pushes Madeline to reach for the world.

heartRomance Score: A+ Success Good Effort

Madeline’s love for Olly felt a little too fast, but then again – he’s the only boy around and she can stare out her window pining away all day if she wants, so it’s also totally plausible. After the initial butterflies, their relationship develops in the best kind of emotional swirl – I thought the late-night messaging and emails exactly replicated the fraught tension of “what did he mean by that period instead of an exclamation point” social-media, technology-driven “dating.” I thought some of their activities felt a bit hurried, but they also feel very in line with Madeline and her frenetic rush to feel and experience everything. They push boundaries, they take risks, and, ultimately, they make each other reach for a better life. EDIT: I reduced this down because, while I thought it was believable, I’m sad that we couldn’t get two teens taking a serious health condition seriously.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ Success

Madeline is smart and funny and she goes after what she wants – in more ways than one. She doesn’t let her allergies make her bitter. She dreams of accomplishing great things and, even though she may never go outside, she works to understand the world beyond her house. I think she’s a great example of a teen making choices for herself, and knowing that sometimes, you really do have to do things for you. While I could take points away because of Madeline’s mother, I think it’s important to see how tragedy can break a person and how coping (well or poorly) takes many different forms. And, Olly’s mom is a side character without even a name, but with her son’s help, she manages to break free of a truly awful situation and stand up for herself.

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

From the summary and character descriptions this looks like it should be an A+. Madeline is Afro-Asian with an illness that keeps her locked inside all the time. Her racial/ethnic diversity is central to her character and the other main figures in her life are only her mother (Asian) and her nurse (Latina). When Olly comes on the scene, she’s pretty fascinated by his white family – and by him. I appreciate the beginning of the book – the portrayal of someone suffering from a disease that inhibits her interaction with the everyday and what that means for creating an internal world, the few relationships she’s permitted, and her ability to experience life (or not) was well developed. I thought the relationship with Carla, the nurse, a great illustration of how long-term illness brings other people into your life. I thought her mom’s reaction to one of Carla’s decisions also interesting – highlighting the difficult interplay of professionalism and genuine care/love that caregivers balance. However, I found the end a bit of a let down. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but, it’s really hard. So, if you would like to avoid spoilers, skip to the Awesome Factor section (but you really shouldn’t if you care about good rep).

So, I’m going to start by saying that I guessed the end about halfway through. I think I’m a cynic though, because other reviewers are mostly surprised. My issue with the end (SPOILERS): by having the disease be a lie, it feels a bit like the “magical cure.” A character struggling with disease is, ultimately, not actually diseased and she can find happiness and love because she isn’t “abnormal” or “sick.” I also find it frustrating that she discovers the truth because she steps out into the air for a boy instead of doing some sleuthing at home. While I found Olly and Maddy’s relationship sweet and steamy, it makes me sad that a guy was the instigator for finding the truth. I think this would have been even more powerful had Maddy truly had SCID and had to navigate allergies, the outside world, and living more fully with Olly by her side. Of course, that would have been a different story, so…it is what it is. EDIT: I’m really didn’t like the end when I posted the original review and now, it’s even more powerful distaste for this “twist.” To negate the disability rep, to make her treat her life as unworthy of living unless she’s living it like other people, and to have it basically be a story about parental abuse…just all around dislike. And, I’m really sad that this is getting so much love and a movie and a snapchat filter (like…how much money is marketing throwing at this??!?!] For more detailed review of what this means for disability rep, check out this review at Disability in Kid Lit and this review on Goodreads.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort You’re Trying

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to readers who are looking for something sweet, tingly, and exciting. [EDIT: This book STILL (1 year later) sits with me because the ending made me so unhappy. I rescind my recommendation. Please read the disability section for reasons.] Maddy is a bright girl and she’s funny. I like her sense of humor and her realistic twists of insight mixed with optimistic yearning. I thought the characterization was great – neither Olly or Maddy feel flat and, while we don’t get a lot of Olly’s life outside of his interactions with Maddy, he still feels believable, if a little too perfect for her. Madeline’s interactions with her mother and Carla were special – highlighting the difficulty of growing up with only two people in your life and how that can be both intensely supportive and suffocating. Overall, it’s a book about making decisions for yourself, taking a leap of faith, and believing that love is worth having. [BUT, is love worth having over an actual life????]


Favorite Character

Carla – she tries to do her best for Maddy no matter what while remaining within the professional guidelines of her job. She’s been around for most of Madeline’s life and she has ideas about things, but she does whatever she can to make Maddy’s life easier and happier while still giving her hard truths.

Favorite Line

“A universe that can wink into exist can wink out again.” Maddy has lots of quick little lines and I’m sure others about the joy and happiness with Olly will catch reader’s eye, but I thought this one captures it while adding the sadness of reality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Ultimately, yes, I recommend this book. [Edit: Again, I rescind this. I just find the ending too problematic.] It was a fun read and I enjoyed Maddy’s perspective. The book is mixed-media, too, so you get drawings, emails, messaging conversations, and sketches, not just text. I always find this type of thing interesting – some people love it, sometimes it’s gimmicky. Here I think it generally works to illustrate Maddy’s limited exposure to the outside world. This is a sweet, fun taste of first, intense love and it’s tingly in the best way while still making you cheer for Maddy’s strength.

Fun Author Fact

This isn’t about Yoon (sorry!), but I have to share this: When I was in elementary school, my aunt sent me a t-shirt from Hawaii (where she lived). It had the humhumnukunukuapua’a on it and I wore it every Tuesday. I loved that shirt and I loved the fish’s mention in this book.

Read These Next

I’ve heard that Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall provides better representation. The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis for a story about a girl struggling to accept her disability and (according to Goodreads) a surprising revelation or Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy for a book about self-acceptance, fighting expectations, and confidence.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received her copy of Everything, Everything through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

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: Devoted

Devoted

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Summary

Rachel Walker is devoted to God and her family. She knows that the only way into Heaven is to follow the words of Pastor Garrett at the Calvary Christian Church. She’s a dutiful daughter, taking care of her numerous younger siblings and dressing modestly to help her brothers and father avoid sin. And she knows her life’s path: One day, she will get married (to a man of her father’s choosing) and be a devoted mother and wife.

And yet, Rachel knows there is a world beyond her insulated Texas church community. And when her insatiable curiosity for the outside gets her in trouble with her father, Rachel must decide if she is brave enough to leave the world she’s always known.

Note: The community and culture in Devoted are based on the Quiverfull movement, a Christian patriarchy movement, perhaps made most famous by 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. The show was recently removed from television due to allegations (and eventually, admissions) of hidden sexual abuse.

Devoted

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This story had a light romance, which was perfect for the context. Rachel comes from a community where she is taught that she is subservient to her father and that it was her job to keep men from lusting after her, so she has a pretty interesting view of men. The gentle romance was sweet background plot and did not distract from Rachel’s growth and self-discovery.

Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ SuccessRosie

This book tactfully discusses the challenges facing women leaving a controlling situation. I liked that while Rachel has her own views, and takes time to figure out how feminism and religion fit into her own life. This could have easily been a story of teen rebellion, but instead is a thought-provoking story about finding yourself.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book tackled many incredible challenges in the modern Quiverfull movement, but I was a little disappointed that all the characters were white and straight. I would have liked to see Rachel meet someone of color (or gay) who challenges the views of the church.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite my qualms with the lack of diversity, I loved this book. Rachel is a powerful character, and despite her views from her upbringing, you quickly grow to love her. In fact, I wanted to give her a hug every few pages (just like Simon). I’m particularly intrigued by the Quiverful movement, and this provided one narrative for the lives of women born into the Christian patriarchy movement.


Favorite Character

Rachel. Her bravery (and the bravery of real women who have left controlling religions) is incredibly admirable, and I want to know what happens to her after this story ends. Perhaps a sequel?

Favorite Line

“My older brothers and father are seated in their usual spots, but instead of holding his Bible in his hand like he usually does, my dad is holding something else.

My copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

How stupid I’ve been. How careless.

I left it on the counter amid rolls of paper towels and school books and dirty dishes and a dozen other pieces of evidence that I’ve been struggling with my job of running the household as I should.

But the book is the worst piece of evidence. The most damning thing. Because it proves not only that I am not a young woman of God, but that I’ve been distracted by something my father is sure to believe is sinister. And he’s come to believe that my soul is in danger.”

Rachel’s love of knowledge and books is what gets her in trouble in the first place, and I love that A Wrinkle in Time is the book that her father thinks will lead her to sin.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – especially if you are interested in cult-like religions. Devoted pulls you in from the first line and you’ll be left with a new perspective on religion, feminism, and owning your decisions. I highly recommend it.

Fun Author Fact

According to an interview, Jennifer first got interested in writing about the Quiverfull movement after watching 19 Kids and Counting. After reading the perspectives of real women in the Quiverfull movement, she couldn’t quite see the show the same way again. (Note: I have the same love-hate relationship with the Duggars).

Read Listen to This Next

If you like podcasts, check out The Debrief Society This podcast is hosted by four women in the process of leaving the LDS Church. They discuss the painful process of removing yourself from an organization that was your entire life and belief system. While it is important to remember that many people have wonderful experiences in their conservative religions, this podcast is a fascinating look into one perspective on the Mormon Church.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha 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 auth

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Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

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

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

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

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

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

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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: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Summary

It’s finally time to integrate the all-white Jefferson High School in Virginia. Sarah is one of the first 10 black students to enroll. We experience the process of integration through her eyes, feeling the screaming insults, the racist chants, and the awful physical assaults that she, her younger sister, and other students endure. The daughter of a very vocal anti-integrationist, Linda, just happens to be in Sarah’s classes and they end up grouped on a school project. As their work progresses, their understanding of each other grows and feelings both girls never expected begin to bubble to the surface. We get a story of inner strength, personal belief, and inordinate courage in the face of racism, family, and abuse.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The electricity in this book is fitting for the type of relationships that develop – curiosity, confusion, and shame serve to make things realistic and to keep the heat from erupting. Even so, the few kisses and moments of openness are crucial and I wanted to cheer both girls when they let themselves feel.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

There are a lot of moments to cheer for these girls and for the steel backbones they find when dealing with some seriously wrong behavior. I appreciate the different pictures of strength and choice the women in the book exhibit. They may be in high school, but both Sarah and Linda have already started chartering their own paths through life regardless of what family and society says and that is what feminism is all about.  I didn’t like the comments about “that kind of girl,” but they totally fit the time period of the story.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

The book is about integrating a high school in the South. That’s already pretty intense. There are also some social/economic class comments, but the main focus is on race. I appreciate that a lot of the comments and Sarah’s arguments with Linda are still (unfortunately) relevant for today. Some people may find the hater-oppressed falling in love a bit cliché, but the storytelling makes up for any staleness.  And, oh yea, there’s the little fact that a white girl and a black girl find themselves dealing with strong, confusing emotions about one another.

EDIT: This review is from a white perspective. Some Black readers in the community have stated that this book is clearly written with white readers in mind and that a lot of what happens to Sarah is harmful and hurtful to Black readers (obviously it is also hurtful to Sarah, but there’s a way to show history in a way that is compassionate toward current readers). So, as we always try to be better as readers/bloggers, I wanted to point this out.

wow icon Awesome Factor: A+ Success

This book is amazing. It may be about a time 50 years gone, but it is still SO RELEVANT. Sarah and Linda bring a human touch to two very tough positions – one fighting for her humanity against blind hate and the other struggling to reconcile the ideas she grew up with and the truth in front of her. While it could have been bogged down in the politics and history, instead we got a seriously emotional, deep story about two very different girls finding their way along a confusing path. Sarah’s strength, brilliance, and beauty and Linda’s willingness to reevaluate her opinions and life choices are something we all should aspire to.


Favorite Character

I love both main characters, but I think Ruth, Sarah’s little sister, takes the cake. She’s outspoken, determined, and courageous. Plus, while dealing with the stress of integration, she also has a hovering older sister that just will not back off and she deals with it all in the most teenagerly perfect way.

Favorite Line

This book has a ton of great lines, but Sarah’s Mama has a moment that is just too relevant for today to miss:

“Now you listen and you listen good…Nobody’s going to let us be anything. We have just as much right to this world as they have, and we are not going to wait around for them to give us permission. If we have to prove it to them, we will, but I don’t ever want to hear you talk that way again.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I read this in one day because it pulled me in and didn’t let go until Ruth gave me the final word. The story is compelling and the characters are honest and well crafted.

Fun Author Fact

Robin Talley was at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and she talked about the importance of true-to-character book covers. It was important to her that Lies We Tell Ourselves wasn’t white-washed – and she got inspiration for the cover from real archived year books!

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan or Like No Other by Una LaMarche

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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 Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance

Book Discussion – Like No Other

Like No Other by Una LaMarchelike no other

Summary

Jaxon and Devorah grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, but may as well have lived on two different planets. Jaxon comes from a tight-knit black family, attends the local public school, and crushes on the cute Indian girl from homeroom. Devorah is from a Hasidic Jew from the Chabad-Lubavitch sect. She lives in a world dictated by rules, but also surrounded by close friends and family. This unlikely pair meet in an elevator on the night of a hurricane, and their romance quickly takes off. But how can teenagers from very different worlds both respect their own values and be together?

Like No Other

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I had a hard time with the premise of this story. I know it was necessary for the characters to meet in some unlikely way, but it was hard for me to suspend my belief about their romance. That being said, I liked their friendship a lot.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

loved Devorah – her voice, her internal struggle, and her decisions. It’s important to remember that feminism means making your own choices, even if those are not the choices others (readers) would have made. I want to be friends with someone as caring, thoughtful, and brave as Devorah.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

Both characters were multi-faceted and very, very real. I was blown away by the truth of the dialogue. One line, in particular, kept me up at night: “Some people don’t notice anything but an almost-six-foot-tall black man. After Trayvon Martin got shot in Florida, Mom wouldn’t let me wear a hoodie for six months.”  My only concern is the portrayal of Devorah’s family. I understand that Hasidic Jews are very strict, but I think there were some stereotypes introduced – including the idea that they will resort to violence to protect their traditions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story was interesting and I loved all of the internal dialogue. We need more stories with unique voices, and this certainly is one of them.


Favorite Character

Devorah – Her internal struggle between her family and her outside life was really interesting. I really liked that she wasn’t just a rebel – she made rational choices about what she wanted with her life in her particular circumstances.

Favorite Line

“Chabad-Lubavitch is one Hasidic sect” I say. “There are many”. And then – because I can’t resist – I add, “What, we all look the same to you?”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The plot is fast-moving and the dialogue compelling. Definitely check this book out. 

Fun Author Fact

Una LaMarche’s blog has an awesome name: The Sassy Curmudgeon

Read this next:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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: 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.

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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