Tag Archives: We Need Diverse Books

Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee26192915

Summary

Mercy lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. Her father spends long hours working in his laundry and expects his children to work hard for the family, too. Mercy dreams of something bigger and with the aid of a Texan lady’s business guidebook, she’s going to stop at nothing to get herself there. She uses her business acumen to secure a place at the local private school for wealthy girls and is on her way to finding success…and then the great San Francisco earthquake hits and everything changes.

outrun-moon

Romance Score: A+ Success

I really enjoyed the relationship between Tom and Mercy because it is the best kind – childhood friendship that becomes something more and then has to deal with family, future, and disaster. Tom and Mercy both have dreams and they selflessly do their best to support each other toward their goals – even at the risk of a future together.

I also appreciated that the romance, while obviously important to Mercy, is not the center of the story. Instead, it only serves to make Mercy a more complex character and to up the stakes of the story.

Feminist Score: A+ Success

This is a story about girls coming together to survive a terrible tragedy and unite communities to serve one another. Mercy doesn’t let racism, sexism, or her family get in the way of her dreams and she uses her wits to devise a plan toward success. I can imagine Mercy as one of the featured ladies in #BygoneBadassBroads because she will surely do even greater things as San Francisco and the Chinese community recover from the Earthquake of 1906.

Diversity Score: A+ Success

Through Mercy, readers get a glimpse into the early 1900 Chinese community in San Francisco. Her parents seek to maintain their traditions while adjusting to the necessities of life in the U.S. Through Mercy and the people in her neighborhood we see the racism, prejudice, and poverty that Chinese people in the U.S. had to (and continue to) deal with.

Plus, Mercy’s classmates at St. Clare’s School for Girls are a diverse bunch themselves – from heiresses from old money to Texan new money, these girls come from different places and families with their own stories. We don’t get to know all of them, but the main girls are more than the “mean” girl or the “friendly one.” I really enjoyed getting to know the ensemble of girls as well.

And, shout out to the headmistress who has her own story going for her!

Awesome Factor: A+ Success

Lee does an amazing job with historical fiction. She personalizes a dreadful day in U.S. history with rich characters and amazing setting details. The story is engaging and you’re rooting for Mercy after just a few pages. I loved that she referred back to a single book as her inspiration and guide for her success (and the twist at the end with regard to this book was fantastic). The reference to the power of books (especially when access to them is limited) makes the story that much more special.


Favorite Character

The Girls – Mercy is obviously a stand out, but the story is made even more amazing by the group of girls that she comes to know at St. Clare’s.

Fun Author Fact

When Lee won the Golden Gate Award at a SCBWI conference, she thought the winner was someone with the same name; she couldn’t believe it was her!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! The characters and story are an amazing and, just like Lee’s other books, the window into history only adds to the richness of the book.

Read These Next

Obviously, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee because she is a boss with historical fiction and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a look at another tragedy with a much more disturbing end.

Post Author: Jess

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Filed under Heavy Topics, Historical

April Raintree

April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier 30732400

Summary

April and her sister Cheryl are Métis living in Canada. They are removed from their parents’ home and custody and we follow them through foster homes, school, marriage, and more. This book doesn’t flinch from showing how poorly Native people have been treated in North America and April’s journey to finding her strength, forgiveness, and happiness is powerful.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

When April finally finds happiness, it is a long time coming and the man she ultimately ends up with is totally swoonworthy with his willingness to wait, to uplift her, to give her support, to be there while she deals with her history, trauma, grief, and recovery. Plus, her romantic trajectory is one I think many people will relate to – innocence and a desire to be safe playing into her first pick and then defensiveness keeping her from a real winner…at least for a while.

Of course, there are also awful dirtbags in the book who contribute to April and Cheryl’s emotional and physical pain, including a rape, so it’s not all sunshine. The end is resilient and hopeful though.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

Women are pretty awful to April and Cheryl in this book – because they are Métis, because they are foster children, because they are poor, because because because…society has taught them to tear each other down. But, both girls rebel against this in their own way.

Cheryl is a spitfire protesting the treatment of Native communities in Canada and searching for the bits and pieces she can find to revive pride in herself and her identity. She offers support to other girls and women and she works within her community for change…until the weight of it all is too much to bear.

April takes a lot longer to find her space as Métis, but she has her own quiet resiliency. She faces slutshaming, betrayal, and more and still manages to retain her hopeful, gentle spirit. She tries to be there for her sister, even if she makes mistakes. And then, when the terrible happens, she doesn’t sit quietly and let things get neatly swept under the rug. Instead, she resolutely plows ahead with her rape trial. When she finally begins to heal – even through her grief – it’s a joy to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book features and centers Métis girls and their community. Through Cheryl, insidious racism is called out and we get a depiction of depression (and tw: suicice) that doesn’t flinch from how destructive it can be. Through April, the experiences of many Native women find a voice. Through the sisters and their experience as foster children, we see families torn apart by poverty and a system that didn’t (doesn’t) provide the support necessary for families to survive and prosper. Teachers and caseworkers expect the worst from the girls, never even offering another future. We don’t often get to see this kind of intersectionality and a clear illustration of the way systemic oppression works to prevent health…to prevent life.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This is a truth book – it’s  hard to read because your heart hurts for the sisters, but you know in reading it that you are being given a truth that needs to be heard. As an outsider, this is a reminder to address privilege and to do what you can to support communities that your privilege allows you to ignore. If your identity is more closely aligned with April and Cheryl, I imagine this is a book for your soul – showing you that you are not alone.

I am glad to have read this book. The writing is very straightforward and simple (not my preferred writing style), and I think this helps in some places to make the story more powerful; at other times, it felt like it was too bare.


Favorite Character

Cheryl – because she fights the system and offers her love and support to her community until it breaks her.

Fun Heartbreaking Author Fact

Much of what happens in April Raintree is based off of Mosionier’s own life. She remains active in Canada pushing for environmental and Native issues.

Is this worth a book hangover?

The story is interesting and the characters are compelling. The sisterhood – with its highs and lows – is one of my favorite parts. This is an important book and, while it’s not necessarily an easy read, I think it’s worth it…but it may be one you linger over as your heart takes breaks from the sadness.

Read These Next

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie offers a more humorous take on Native American life in the US or The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for an ensemble look at life for teens and children in 1970 Alaska.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova 27969081

Summary

It’s Alex’s birthday and that means it’s also her Deathday ceremony. But instead of summoning the ancestors and welcoming her bruja gift, she tries to deny it and ends up banishing her entire family (dead ancestors included) to  Los Lagos. She must find her way to the in-between land, rescue her family, and come to terms with her bruja powers, all while dealing with the annoying company of her brujo companion, Nova.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6 – order now!

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There’s some good tension between Nova and Alex – and it starts early, so it doesn’t feel like an insta-connection. He’s physically attractive and she’s drawn in by his bad-boy persona and it was nice to see the hints of secrets and things left hidden that slowly appear as the story progresses. I didn’t love their ending, but it was consistent. The other relationship in the story felt a little sudden and underdeveloped, but was still a believable emotional discovery with the way the story played out. Plus – hospital kisses are always kind of fun! (edited: hospital kisses where everyone is celebrating their survival.)

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

Alex lives with her two sisters and mother. Charismatic aunts and grandmothers are important to the story and it’s the brujas that seem to lead the family. While Alex and her sisters bicker, there’s obvious love and strength between them – and it’s Alex’s loyalty and devotion that drives her to look for them in Los Lagos.

It’s also the determination of Alex’s aunt that gives her the final push to do what is necessary, though I won’t say exactly how. Ladies are doing what needs to be done in this book and it’s a sight to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book wins in several different ways.

Firstly, almost all the characters are people of color. I just went back through my copy to see if I can track down the specific country that Alex’s family is from, but I couldn’t find it and I actually think she just says “back home” or “the old country.” Either way, her family is Latinx/Hispanic and so are almost all the characters in the story. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, is Southeast Asian (I think Indian?). I can’t remember a single white person, except for awful classmates.

Then, we have a cultural/religious system that is rarely explored in literature – especially YA. Being bruja is just a thing that is in this book, it’s not exoticized, it’s just something that frustrates Alex because it gets in the way of her being “normal.”

And a main character is BI. On the page.

The one thing I will mention is that Nova’s eyes are referred to as “bipolar” several times. I thought that was a very odd way of putting it since I think it was about color and not like they were flashing two very different or frantic emotions. I would probably choose a different description.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I enjoyed reading Alex’s story and getting to know her family. When she got to the end of the journey and faced the Devourer, I was excited for her to own her power. The immersion in her world was exciting and I thought the premise was really interesting.

However, it did feel a little shallow in some places or underdeveloped. Even though it was an adventure story and Alex and Nova were traveling through a magical underworld, it didn’t feel like the stakes were really that high and things fell into place easily in some instances. I think the characters could have gone deeper and even though there was a lot of world building, it still felt a little more surface level than it could have been.

That being said, I’m excited to see what happens with the rest of the Brooklyn Bruja series and to see how Alex grows into her power.


Favorite Character

Rose – who can resist the creepy little kid with mystical, all knowing insights?

Fun Author Fact

Córdova was born in Ecuador and she was determined to publish her first book before she was 25 (she did! at 24 Vicious Deep was published).

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! The story and immersion in a deeply loyal, loving family – even if most of the book they are separated from one another – with an adventure through a mysterious, magical land is fun! The characters and world aren’t smothered in deep details, but there’s enough world building to sink into.

Read These Next

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for another underrepresented cultural mythology and lovers fighting the underworld to be reunited or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig for a different kind of magic and diversity across a time-traveling heist adventure.

Post Author: Jess

I received my copy of Labyrinth Lost for free through Netgalley for my honest review.

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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.

unicorn tracks

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.

Post Author: Jess

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The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

star-touched queen

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Summary

David has always been on the outside of his school’s social hierarchy, but he’s always had his two best friends. And they know his deepest secret.

Leo is starting over at a new school hoping to use the opportunity to get away and find a better life. He wants to stay invisible through senior year so he can work toward that goal.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, everything changes and leads to secrets revealed and friendships born and tested.

art of being normal

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I liked Leo’s relationship with Alicia. I thought it evolved naturally and the reasons they fell for each other felt right. I think that Alicia’s reaction to learning more about Leo was also pretty realistic for the situation, though I don’t think it is an easy or fair reaction. I appreciated that they were both given a second chance and that each was willing to accept that second chance.

David is younger and less mature and that shows in his  longing for the high school hottie, but that also seemed fitting. (Edit: I use “David” here because that is where the character is when the crush is first revealed, but it would be more appropriate to use she/her throughout this review.)

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I liked some things from the story: the characters being true to themselves and finding the friends that care enough about them to let that truth live, the parents that are doing their best to love their kids as well as they can, and the courage to stand up for themselves. But, I felt like some of the stuff was stereotypical and didn’t really expand on much besides what is kind of expected.

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

This book is about transgender characters and characters of color and poverty and privilege and it hits some “right” notes. But, it also felt a little too quaint and like “here’s the story all wrapped up, with drama and closure.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain why things didn’t sit with me, but they didn’t. I think reading reviews from transgender characters may help tease this out, many of them said this is a book about them and not for them.

I did like that we saw how characters from poverty had to deal with something really difficult, though, because access to wealth can make a huge difference in how parts of this story may play out. It is also important that this takes place in England and not in the US, since health care access is very different in the US and access is much more separated.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to know more about the characters and I was interested in their stories, but I felt like they were shallow and we didn’t actually get much in this book.

I really wanted to like it and I appreciate that this book shows that there are layers and layers of difficulty to everyone’s lives. But…it was lacking something.


Favorite Character

Felix and Essie, who really feel like one character full of life and lots of loyalty.

Favorite Line

I’m not sure anything really stood out for me.

Fun Author Fact

Lisa Williamson is also an actor.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure. If you are looking to learn more about transgender people and their stories, there are some great books coming out written by and about transgender people that may hit the notes a little better.

Read These Next

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo for a story falling in love while keeping a secret (this one is #ownvoices and we’ll be reviewing later this summer).

Post Author: Jess

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Note: I received my copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Book Chat: The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Summary

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

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

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

girl from everywhere

Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Read These Next

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

Post Author: Jess

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

Book Discussion: Love is the Drug

Love

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Summary

Bird’s on the path to the life her mother’s always dreamed for her. She’s got perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, and perfect friends. She’s a member of the young Washington elite, attending the prestigious Devenshire school with the vice president’s daughter and other children of privilege. She’s everything her parents wanted her to be.

But one night at a party, her boyfriend hands her a drink, and that’s the last thing she remembers. When she wakes up a few days later, she knows something happened, but can’t remember what. And in the meantime, the world is falling apart. A deadly flu virus is devastating the United States, and only her elite standing has kept her safe this far. With a strange man making odd, vaguely threatening comments to her, Bird doesn’t know who to trust. The only person she can turn to is Coffee, an outcast in their prep school … and her drug dealer. But Bird can’t shake the feeling that Coffee is the only person who understands her, and the only person willing to help her find out the truth about that night.

 

 

Love Is.PNG

heartRomance Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I rarely love YA romance, but this story was an exception. The romance between Bird and Coffee is so emotional and so intense that I could practically feel the tension just reading the pages. I love how Coffee sees Bird for herself – not who everyone else wants her to be. And I love that they repeatedly save one another.

 

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

I love Bird’s transformation throughout the story – and how she really finds herself apart from her school status, parents, and all of the expectations. I was slightly disappointed that the spark for the change came (in part) from a comment by Coffee – but I also realize that’s just one of many factors. But by the end of the book, Bird is exactly the kind of woman that feminists can get behind.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success 

This books delves into the complexities of race and privilege in Washington D.C. in so many ways  – especially through Bird’s complicated relationship with her mother Carol. Bird’s grown up with everything – but she’s still one of a handful of black students at her school. Her mother fought hard to get her where she is, and refuses to let her slip in any way. According to Carol, anything less than Ivy League shows a lack of ambition, and her daughter is “Harvard, not Howard” material.

Throughout Love is the Drug, Johnson dives into complex issues of the racial politics of the drug war, elitism and race, and finding yourself within your culture.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was so impressed by Love is the Drug. Not only was the plot super interesting, but it was beautifully written. The opening and closing of nearly every chapter was written like poetry, and the romance was heightened through it. Johnson’s descriptions of Washington D.C. brought me back to my favorite (and least favorite) parts of the city, and it was absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I read this book.

Favorite Character

Coffee – His loyalty to Bird is incredible, and who can’t adore a guy who loves chemistry? I dig nerds, and (apparently) even the drug dealer kind.

Favorite Line

There were so many beautiful lines throughout this book. Here’s one of my favorite from the beginning:

“You are Bird, the skylight tells her. Emily fears the world. Bird can solve it. Bird will find her memories and break up with Paul and buy that store she’s always secretly dreamed of, and damn what her mother thinks of goals as humble and unambitious as shopkeeping” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. I’m a little wary of end-of-the-world books, but this one is so beautiful. Don’t skip it . 

 Fun Author(s) Fact 

There is not too much information available about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s personal life (which, of course, is a totally valid choice!), but I was blown away by her interview with GayYA on her intentions while writing her first book, The Summer Prince :

Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight.  So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia.  I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.

Much of this still applies to Love is the Drug, and I’m SO impressed by an author that executes so well on these intentions.

Read This Next

This is officially my go-to dystopian book for you now! But if you want to read another impressive black protagonist facing racial challenges, check out This Side of Home by Renee Watson (our review here).

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: Symptoms of Being Human

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Summary

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

Trigger warning: assault/violence to a quiltbag character

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

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

Rosie

Feminist Gender Score: A+ Success

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

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Diversity Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

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

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

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

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read These Next

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

Post Author: Jess

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

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Chat: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman
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Summary

Tara, an Indian-American Jewish girl growing up in New York, is facing a very important event in her religious life: her bat mitzvah. Tara loves both her Indian and Jewish culture, and wants to find a way to integrate both in her special celebration. But it turns out to be more complex than she originally thinks. Tara’s mom thinks her bat mitzvah should be all Jewish, and she should save her Indian side for other times. Her friends question if she’s “Jewish enough” to have a bat mitzvah, and Tara isn’t sure what she should do. Can she trust her gut and include both her Indian and Jewish side in her celebration?
Basmati


Favorite Character

Tara – I love how much she embraces her Indian and Jewish culture, and thinks hard about how to bring both of them into her bat mitzvah. She’s also an amazing friend – even to the girls at her school who are not nice to her.

Favorite Line 

 

Paula J Freedman often uses Tara’s lines to educate the audience to think critically about comments they may hear from their classmates. I particularly love this line,

“Gran once taught me a handy trick that I use all the time. She said to take any remark you suspect might be racist and substitute the word Jew. If you’re insulted by it, it’s probably racist. I wouldn’t stand for anyone saying all Jews were terrorists, or all Indians for that matter, so I stood up and let Ryan Berger have it, accidentally-on-purpose knocking the tray back into his stupid face” 

Fun Author Fact

Just as Tara’s family creates Jewish meals with Indian flavors, Paula Freedman creates Indian-Jewish recipes. On her website, she has a recipe for “Not Your Mother’s Matzoh Ball Soup” – which in Indian sambhar with matzoh balls! She also includes Tara’s favorite snack – popcorn with masala 🙂

Is this worth a book hangover?

I loved this book as a middle-grade read, and would love to share it with any middle schoolers in my life. While it’s not a book I’ll go back to regularly, I’m SO GLAD a book about a bi-racial girl celebrating her two identities together exists. 

Read These Next

For another book about a girl grappling with her identity, check out The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma. Nithya’s life is set – she plans to be a doctor and make her Indian-American immigrant family proud.  Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

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

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Filed under Contemporary, podcast