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Book Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of School Library Journal. I am SO EXCITED to now be able to rave to everyone about this book. 

 

tash heartsTash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

ISBN-13: 9781481489331 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date:06/06/2017

★ Gr 9 Up—Seventeen-year-old Kentucky filmmaker and Tolstoy superfan Tash Zelenka’s summer takes an unexpected turn when her web series, Unhappy Families (a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina) goes viral. The newfound fame causes tension between Tash and her best friend Jack, who also works on the series. Tash is easily caught up in the increased social media attention, her fans’ expectations, and the criticisms. She is also grappling with her complicated relationship with her sister, Klaudie, who drops out of acting in the series to more fully enjoy her last summer before college. Plus, Tash must deal with her flirtation with vlogger Thom, her confusing feelings for Paul (Jack’s brother and Tash’s other best friend), and her worries about the end of the series and her impending college applications. Tash is also beginning to come out to people as romantic asexual and needs to figure out how to share her identity with Thom, whom she will be meeting soon at the Golden Tuba independent web awards. Tash and her group of artsy theater friends are vibrant, creative, and thoughtful. They may not always totally understand one another, but their admirable and complicated friendships have so much heart. The much-needed asexual representation plays a significant role in the story, with readers privy to Tash’s thoughts on identity and conversations with friends about what the term means. VERDICT Funny, well written, and compulsively readable, this will especially appeal to readers with an interest in web series. A strong choice for YA shelves.

Mini Book Review: Roar by Cora Carmack

roarPublisher’s Book Description:

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

Karen’s Thoughts:

I actually read a pre-bound copy of this book to give it an advance blurb. There was a lot I loved about this book and this was the blurb I gave it:

“Roar is a swoon worthy tale with a fierce female lead who wants to take control of her own destiny and once she does, you will cheer to hear her Roar!”
I always love a book with a strong female protagonist and Roar delivers an authentic portrait of a young woman, Aurora, slowly realizing who she is and what she can do. She is not perfect or perfectly empowered, but she does eventually develop into a more empowered young woman, which I think perfectly mirrors the challenges of growing up female. There some solid world building with a variety of interesting magical powers – I mean, who doesn’t want to control the storms?. And for those who love a little swoon with their fantasy, Roar does not disappoint.
Published by Tor Teen, June 13, 2017

Book Review: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Publisher’s description

ra6Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Ali - Saints and MisfitsThis excellent book manages to be both about BIG things (faith, family, sexual assault) and about very everyday things (friendship, tests at school, crushes). Ali does a great job of weaving the big and little things together as we watch sophomore Janna Yusuf learn, grow, and find her voice.

 

We first meet Janna, wearing a burkini, while she’s in Florida with her dad and his family. She’d rather not be hanging out with them, but after her friend’s cousin sexually assaults her at a gathering, she needs to get out of town. Farooq, who Janna mostly just refers to as “the monster,” is well-respected in their community, a sort of golden boy at their mosque, who has memorized the entire Qur’an (but doesn’t appear to actually understand any of it). Janna keeps the assault to herself for much of the story, busy navigating the many parts of her life, but the monster is always around and Janna is fearful and angry. Janna’s brother, Muhammad, has recently moved home, taking a year off from college, and is courting Sarah, a study circle leader at their mosque, who Janna feels is, annoying, “the most perfect Muslim girl.” Janna spends time with Mr. Ram, her elderly Hindu neighbor, tries to figure out what to do about her crush on white, non-Muslim Jeremy, and hangs out with friends. She takes part in an Islamic Quiz Bowl team, too, getting to know more about people like Nuah, a nice dude who is friends with the monster, and Sausun, a niqab-wearing girl who becomes a surprising ally for Janna.

 

As Janna finds her voice, she struggles with how to fit in (both with her Muslim friends and her non-Muslim friends, as well as within her divided family), with what is important to her, and with how to make real connections with the people in her life. This is a thoughtful and engaging look at identity and finding your footing in your own life. As with the other books from Salaam Reads, this should be in all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481499248

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 06/13/2017

Book Review: Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Publisher’s description

ra6An engaging and relatable novel for the digital age that perfectly captures the complicated interaction between what goes on in our real lives and what we say online.

Internet sensation Madison Nakama has it all! Her pop-culture rewatch site has a massive following, and fans across the world wait on her every post and tweet. And now Laurent, a fellow geek (and unfairly HOT French exchange student!), has started flirting with her in the comments section of her blog. But Laurent’s not the only one watching for Madi’s replies…

Internet fame has a price, and their online romance sparks the unwanted attention of a troll. When Madi’s “real life” hits a rough patch, she feels her whole world crumbling. With Laurent’s support, can Madi rally her friends across the globe to beat the troll, or will he succeed in driving her away from everything—and everyone—she loves?

Internet Famous is a fresh, contemporary young adult romance for the iGeneration from Danika Stone, author of All the Feels.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

internet famousA great display idea would be YA books with stories that revolve around blogging/vlogging/fanfiction/social media. The list of them is growing and there’s something about them feeling so very *now* that makes them enjoyable.

 

Madi’s blog, MadLibs, is all about her love of pop culture. She watches movies and liveblogs them. She has an enormous following but manages to stay anonymous in her real life. Her full name hasn’t ever leaked and she’s glad—her dad is a newspaper columnist with a rather conservative readership and, while it’s not like Madi’s blog is anything controversial, she worries about anyone connecting her to him. While her internet life is pretty cool, her real life is less interesting. She’s in the final weeks of her senior year (she attends online school) when her mother breaks the news that she’s leaving for a few months for a fellowship at Oxford. Madi’s worried what her mother’s absence will do to Sarah, her younger sister who has autism and does well with predictability and routines. While we’re on the topic of the parents: her mother is terrible. She’s selfish and doesn’t appear to do much parenting at all. Madi and Sarah’s dad is also almost entirely checked out, leaving Madi many of the adult responsibilities, though he becomes a better parent as the book goes on. Anyway. Madi becomes friends with Laurent, one of the readers of MadLibs, and pretty quickly realizes she’s totally crushing on him. At the same time, an unpleasant thing begins to happen, too: an online troll starts harassing Madi. He leaves nasty comments on her blog, sends her horrible emails, and eventually reveals he knows where she lives. She also begins having an issue with school that might keep her from graduating on time. Though her online life is thriving, everything in Madi’s real life suddenly feels like it’s falling apart.

 

Without reading the flap copy, the cover and the title make this look much lighter than it is. Yes, it’s still a romance at its heart, but it’s also a really suspenseful story about the downsides of internet fame. Readers may guess who the troll is, but Stone makes it seem like there are multiple possibilities. Text conversations, blog posts, emails, and photos are interspersed, which, combined with the suspenseful plot, make this a quick read that will appeal to fans of romances, those invested in fandoms, and teens who like books with nontraditional formats. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250114372

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 06/06/2017

For your summer TBR: Backlist YA you don’t want to miss

tltbutton6The amount of books that appear here cause me a fair amount of anxiety. And that’s not me whining about getting so many great books sent to me to consider reviewing for TLT; that’s me saying that my anxiety disorder can turn anything into something to worry about, even something seemingly good like towering stacks of books. I am constantly updating lists—what books came in, what I for sure will review, what I need to skim to see if I want to review it, etc. Plus I keep putting books on hold at the library, like I have time for them. Then I go to Edelweiss to request more. Then I decide to fall down a research hole as I write. I know I’m speaking to my people when I say that there are just SO MANY books and why can’t I read them all? WHY?

 

One of the lists I started making was recent books I’ve missed but for sure want to make time to read this summer. I tend to read in order of publication date and review about 6 weeks into the future, so if a book appears here after it’s been published, I might not get around to reading it. Sad but true. So, as I started to make a list of books, I began to think of what books I’d want to tell people they should go back and seek out if they somehow missed them when they first came out. I went back just a few years to make this list and tried to keep it from growing totally out of control. I’m including a teeny excerpt from my review of the book and you can click on the title and author to go to the full review, should you want to learn more. If you’re looking to build your list, or make a display of great recentish books (from the past year or two) that definitely deserve to be discovered this summer, here is a good place to start. Have some favorites from the past few years that people should pick up this summer? Let us know! Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething

 

out of darknessOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

 

 

kissing tedKissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

The thing I loved best about this book was how seriously funny it was. Riley is as bold as she is awkward. Her little inner voice, often speaking to the boys she likes, made me laugh. She can’t help but blurt out things that she knows are weird or embarrassing. She talks about having a second brain that takes over when she’s around boys she likes and makes her come off sounding like a babbling idiot. I also loved that Riley and Reid are best friends with zero potential for something more. They are JUST friends. And this book doesn’t take what could be a very predictable route of having them realize, over the course of writing in the notebook and seeking out dates, that they actually love each other. They don’t. As someone who has had a boy BFF since I was 12, I appreciated the hell out of this storyline. I kind of wished this was a flip book and I could have finished Riley’s story and flipped it over to start Reid’s story.

 

 

gabi a girlGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

 

 

see no colorSee No Color by Shannon Gibney

Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.

 

 

what we sawWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

There is a lot to talk about here. I have pages and pages of notes. Hartzler’s novel addresses the role social media plays in rumors and bullying, rape culture, slut-shaming, speaking up, and consent. He pushes Kate to think about what consent looks like and models both what it does and does not look like in her relationship with Ben. There is a wonderful scene where Mr. Johnston takes Reggie to task for making it seem like he couldn’t help himself if he were to rape a drunk girl. “You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist,’” Mr. Johnston says to Reggie. He asks the boys in class to brainstorm what you could do with a drunk girl instead of rape her. Bring her water, drive her home, find her friends, just walk away. THIS is the conversation that we all need to be having—not girls, here’s how you don’t get raped, but boys, here’s how you don’t rape.

 

 

cut both waysCut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

This is where I want to point out that all of this is Plenty of Plot. These are not small things. They are also not Too Many Things going on. The plot reads like a very realistic look at the life of any teenager—many small daily dramas and an overall sense of feeling equal parts lost and excited. The plot is basically A Teenager Lives the Life of a Teenager. Anyone who has read Mesrobian’s previous books also knows that she writes truthfully and graphically about sex. (I hate that easily shocked pearl-clutching censors have stolen the word “graphic” as a descriptor and given it a negative connotation. I just mean “graphic” as in a clear and realistic picture.) Given that pretty much the basis of the entire novel is Will’s newly awakened sexuality, and the fact that he has two partners he’s sexually involved with, there are plenty of descriptive sex scenes here. The characters stay out all night, swear, lie, drink, smoke pot, and do all of the other stuff that happens in real teens’ lives.

 

 

original fakeOriginal Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Frankie’s hero is Uncle Epic, a street artist from the Minneapolis area. He can’t believe the wild twists and turns his life takes on when he’s swept up in Uncle Epic’s world when he’s befriended by cousins Rory and David, whose actual uncle is Uncle Epic. “Cool stuff never happens to me,” Frankie thinks. Before long he’s part of Epic’s street team, helping prepare and install art pieces all around the city. That’s pretty cool, and just as cool is the fact that Frankie finally feels like he has friends. Rory is the prettiest girl in Frankie’s grade, with a reputation for using boys then breaking their hearts—naturally he has a crush on her. David is a skirt-wearing gay kid with a quick sense of humor and a creative streak a mile wide. Frankie’s experience with Epic’s art projects combine with his resentment of Lou to fuel his own public art projects—ones whose purpose is both humor and revenge—which end up giving him more attention than he could have expected. Suddenly, Frankie’s helping Rory yarn bomb, helping Epic with his art, drawing attention (under a pseudonym) for his own weird public art, and trying to stay off the police’s radar. Though he keeps landing in hot water with his parents, as he sneaks out night after night, it’s all worth it to Frankie, who finally feels like he has something that’s his.

 

 

ask meAsk Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

Sometimes I read a book and it’s so glaringly obvious that this is an adult writing a teenager—nothing feels natural or genuine or believable about the teen voice. That isn’t the case here. Addie shines as a “real” teenager. She’s secretive and touchy and honest and curious. She makes a choice that she isn’t willing to allow to define her, then learns that the things that define her are changing. A gorgeous, smart, achingly real look at the things that make us who we are and reminds us that who we are is always changing.  

 

 

 

meet me hereMeet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

MEET ME HERE will inspire important conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, expectations, friendship, and toxic masculinity. On the surface it could seem like Thomas and Mallory’s friendship just fizzled out, or like Jake just isn’t himself, or like our main characters are feeling an uncertainty about their futures that might come from it being graduation night— a time for endings, beginnings, and thoughts of the future. But Bliss infuses every one of those things with much deeper issues that get explored more thoroughly as the story goes on and as secrets are revealed. This well-written and affecting book is a must-have for every collection. Teen readers may not be in exactly the same situations as Thomas or Mallory but will recognize the feelings of uncertainty and the pressures of expectations as well as appreciate the quiet thread of hope woven throughout. 

 

 

wild swansWild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

There is a lot I love about this book, but the things I love best are Ivy’s friendships. She has three best friends–Claire, Abby, and Alex. Mexican American Alex and his mother live in Ivy’s granddad’s carriage house. They’re basically family. Tension arises when Alex begins to have feelings for Ivy that go beyond the realm of their brother-sister relationship. Ivy isn’t feeling it–or maybe she is, but she won’t let herself feel it because she’s too afraid of what it might do to their friendship. Alex is hurt by her rejection, and that hurt multiples when Ivy begins to date biracial Connor, a poetry protege of her granddad. Ivy’s friend Claire is GREAT. She’s my new book best friend. She’s outspoken and brilliant and unabashedly a feminist. She nudges Abby and Ivy toward conversations on sex, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, birth control, feminism, agency, loyalty, and double standards. She has no problem calling people on their garbage. She supports other girls—she and Ivy have a pact not to talk trash about other girls. The girls are GREAT. Ivy feels annoyed at the expectation that she be “nice.” Claire, who is bi, makes sure no one defaults to heteronormative comments. And both girls speak up when Abby has trouble accepting that her 6-year-old sister Ella (formerly Eli) is transgender. All of the other stuff–the disastrous days with Erica, the new sibling issues, the boy drama–make this book extremely interesting and well-done, but it’s the friendship that I’m here for. Give me more of this, please, YA novels. Girls TOTALLY sticking up for each other, looking out for each other, having frank conversations about huge issues. MORE. PLEASE. 

 

 

badThe Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

Part of the real joy of this book was seeing how events unfolded, so I won’t tell you too many plot details. The story wasn’t predictable—or when it was, I was roped in enough to believe it wouldn’t take that turn or play out that way. Austin is a great character who experiences a lot of wonderful things in this story (when he’s not busy falling down hills and nearly being killed by a lawnmower, or breaking expensive instruments, or getting in trouble for stealing a car) and even though I KNOW he makes bad decisions, and that people in his life make bad decisions, I thought maybe they’d turn it around. His relationship with Josephine is fantastic. She’s smart, funny, and his total opposite, but they connect through music and when she’s able to see past Austin’s reputation. She’s in his life at just the right moment, as he grapples with the reality of his father and is able to be as involved in making music as he’s always wanted to be. Austin’s journey isn’t an easy one to observe. I spent a fair amount of time wincing and lecturing him in my head. The ending of the book isn’t tidy or necessarily completely happy, but it is satisfying. You know me—I’ll take a realistic ending over a “happy” ending any time. A fun, smart, at times heartbreaking read about families, love, choices, consequences, and the power of music.

Blog Tour: Shattered Warrior by Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag

blogtour (1)

 

From the publisher:

It is eight years after Colleen Cavanaugh’s home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet’s mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it’s worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets … in Sharon Shinn and Molly Knox Ostertag’s Shattered Warrior.

My thoughts:

Colleen lives in a world ravaged by war. The survivors are basically enslaved by the alien race and live in constant fear. She still lives in the half-ruined grand old mansion Avon, in which her family used to live, isolating themselves from the poorer families except for the annual parades when they would toss gold coins to the masses. Now she is one of the masses, struggling daily to earn enough money for food and avoid the notice of the Derichets, who regularly make people ‘disappear.’ This is what happened to her sister and niece, Lucy. When she is able to retrieve Lucy from the Derichets, her anger over what has happened, both to her sister and Lucy, but also to her world, motivates her to begin to resist the Derichets.

At first glance, this world seems so different from the one in which we live. Indeed, it is easy for me to avoid acknowledging this same world exists in places on our own planet. It is an effective and brilliantly written and illustrated way of introducing this world to those of us who are fortunate enough not to live in it, while saying to those who do, “I see you.” Even in our own country, there are young people who are basically enslaved by minimum wage, lack of child care, lack of access to medical care, etc. They live in constant fear, both of the authorities and of the criminals the authorities should be policing. They struggle daily just to provide food for their families and a safe place to live. One wrong step, one unfortunate circumstance, and it could all come crashing down around them.

In short, Shinn and Ostertag have done an amazing job in creating a classic science fiction narrative which both imagines new worlds and shows us the realities of the one in which we live. While I’d highly recommend this title for any collection serving teens in grades 7 and up, I’d also recommend it as a possible class read for a high school civics, modern history, or world cultures class as a way to introduce these concepts and foster discussion.

ShatteredWarriorCoverImage

 

SharonShinnSharon Shinn has published more than twenty-five novels, one collection, and assorted pieces of short fiction since her first book came out in 1995. Among her books are the Twelve Houses series (Mystic and Rider and its sequels), the Samaria series (Archangel and its sequels), the Shifting Circle series, and the Elemental Blessings series. She lives in St. Louis, loves the Cardinals, watches as many movies as she possibly can, and still mourns the cancellation of “Firefly.”
MollyKnoxOstertagMolly Knox Ostertag grew up in the forests of upstate New York and read far too many fantasy books as a child. She studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys the beach year-round but misses good bagels. While at school she started drawing the award-winning webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, which continues to update and be published through Kickstarter and Top Shelf Comics. She draws comics about tough girls, sensitive boys, history, magic, kissing, superpowers, and feelings.

Book Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager and Zoe More O’Ferrall

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This first-ever LGBTQ history book of its kind for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

queer thereThere is a LOT of information packed into this book! The introduction explains how often assumptions are made about historical figures’ sexuality and gender identities, erasing their real identities and erasing the important contributions made by LGBTQIA+ people. The introduction also discusses the choice to use the word “queer” to encompass all of these people and provides a quick overview of the language related to queerness and terms/labels used.

 

We get a quick tour through worldwide queerness throughout history (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latina America, Oceania, North America) and the effects of colonization and religion as well as looking at how LGBTQIA+ people were accepted, persecuted, and criminalized throughout history. There is also plenty of emphasis on the activism and achievements of queer folks throughout history.

 

Each chapter focuses on one individual from history and begins with a short tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) summary to grab your interest. The chapters give in-depth information about the subjects’ lives. Readers will learn about people they may already be familiar with, such as Joan of Arc, Ma Rainey, Frida Kahlo, Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and George Takei. Other historical figures include Roman Emperor Elagabalus (born a boy, lived as a woman, married 5 women and 2 men while a teenage emperor); Kristina of Sweden (a “gender-bending” queen who romanced men and women); Juana Ines De La Cruz (a Mexican nun who fell for her benefactor’s wife); Abraham Lincoln (and his “intimate friend” Joshua); Lili Elbe (one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery); Josef Kohout (a gay Holocaust survivor); and Glenn Burke (a gay baseball player). A glossary is appended as is an extensive bibliography and notes. Written in a very conversational tone, this book is an important addition to library collections. Get this one up on your displays—there are plenty of teens who will be so glad to see a spotlight being shone on the important contributions of LGBTQIA+ people throughout history. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062474315

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/23/2017

Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This charming and bittersweet coming-of-age story featuring two girls of color falling in love is part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy…what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

it's not like16-year-old Sana Kiyohara has recently moved from Wisconsin to California. Her parents sort of dropped the bomb that the family was moving and expected her to be fine with it. Her mother’s motto is to endure things and bear them without complaining. Sana isn’t sure that’s exactly the best or healthiest way to go about life, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. Life in Wisconsin wasn’t great, but it was all Sana knew. She had a crush on her former best friend (who’s now too popular to really be her friend) and always stuck out as one of just a few Asian kids in her otherwise very white school. Her peers say crappy things to her like that it’s cute that she went “woohoo” to the “Midwest farmer’s daughters” part of “California Girls” because it’s not like she looks like one (says her “friend”). Her former bestie says it’s like Sana forgot she’s Asian, but that’s okay, because they forgot she is, too.

 

Now, in California, Japanese-American Sana is surprised to find that her new school is super diverse. This different student body brings different problems. There is a lot of racism and embracing/believing stereotypes going on, from a lot of people. Sana’s mom makes a TON of racist comments about the Mexican kids in Sana’s school (and, eventually, Sana is forced to confront the fact that she believes some of these same racist ideas). Teachers make assumptions about kids because of their race. Sana is instantly befriended by a group of Asian girls (Vietnamese American and Chinese American), just as her new friend Caleb (a white goth guy) predicts (a prediction Sana finds silly). She likes feeling like her new friends understand her in ways her white friends didn’t, but negotiating the new groups and attitudes takes a lot of adjustment.

 

Sana’s biggest adjustment to everything comes from her relationship with Jamie Ramirez. She goes from telling herself it’s just a “girl-crush” to admitting (to herself) that she likes her but doesn’t “need this” right now to dating her. Jamie is out to her friends and Sana tells her small group of friends they’re together, but she’s not out to her parents or the school population in general. The girls are really into each other and have a sweet relationship, but issues of race and identity keep coming up and making them have to recalibrate things. But when Jamie hangs out with her ex-girlfriend, Sana gets some mixed messages about what may be going on and makes some questionable choices (at the urging of her friends who pull the whole “yeah, but how do you really KNOW you only like girls?” thing). Everything seems like it’s falling apart and Sana no longer feels certain about anything–not her new friendships, not things with Jamie, and not her life at home. As mistakes and secrets and lies pile up, Sana has to have many big conversations to help set things right, going against her upbringing of enduring things in silence.

 

There is SO MUCH packed into this book about race, culture, family, identity, silence, and truth. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been allowed to develop more fully and to feel less like they were jut there to teach Sana about racism and race beyond her own. Though the second half of the book felt less tightly plotted, overall this is a book worth adding to all collections for its look at intersecting identities, grappling with racism, and finding your way to your truth.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
ISBN-13: 9780062473417

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017

 

Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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If you want to skip the lengthy review, let me just say this: I love this book and think everyone should read it.

Now for the real review.

thenamestheygaveus

Publisher’s Book Description:

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Karen’s Thoughts

I love this book and think everyone should read it. Yep, that’s where I’m still at with this book.

Lucy begins our story as a devout somewhat conservative Christian with an equally devout and amazing boyfriend. And then the rug is pulled out from under her on prom night when she learns that her mother’s cancer has returned and it is more aggressive then ever. This makes Lucy angry. Angry at the universe, angry at her parents for keeping secrets, but mostly angry at God because she prayed for her mother to be healed and she thought she was and now she isn’t.

Lucy’s rage at God and the questioning of everything she ever believed in is the most real expression of faith I have ever read in a YA novel.

In a deal with her mother – who plays the cancer card – Lucy goes to a summer camp next to her family owned church camp. This camp is for “troubled youth.” She goes to be a camp counselor, but she ends up being helped just as much as the kids she ends up helping. Along the way she meets a pregnant teen, a male to female transgender teen, and a variety of kids struggling with broken homes and issues that our far outside the realm of what she knows. And although Lucy makes many missteps along the way, we see Lucy expressing the grace and compassion that underlines her faith to each and every one of them. In our current reality when people of the Christian faith are often seen yelling down those who are different and calling them monsters, it’s nice to have a Christian character on the page reminding us all what that is supposed to look like. It’s especially nice because we know and understand that she is in fact struggling with her personal faith, but it is still an important part of who she is.

Lucy also meets a new boy who seems capable of handling Lucy’s true expression of emotions, including the doubt and anger that comes with having a severely ill parent. This new boy, Jones, is possibly my favorite boy in YA literature ever. Every teen readers will swoon at Jones, and they should.

There are more family secrets revealed. There are tears. There are lessons to be learned. But they are learned in the most organic and authentic way possible, through rich storytelling, complex character development, and beautifully put together words on a page. At the end Lucy is changed, as is her expression of her faith, but she remains true to who she is every step of the way and it is a beautiful thing.

Faith is very important to both The Teen and I. And I can personally tell you that I have had intense periods of anger at God. It happened when I almost died in pregnancy and lost my baby. It happened when we had to leave our life and move to start over. And this book really spoke to the very core of me. After reading this book I immediately handed it to The Teen who read it that very day. It took her less than 24 hours and she too loved it. We talked about it. We gushed about it. We talked about our faith. We talked about being mother and daughter. We talked about family and boys and love and secrets. I love that this book exists in this world.

Some of my favorite things about this book:

  • A healthy, intact family
  • Good mother/daughter relationship
  • Good friendships
  • Authentic faith expression
  • Healthy communication about sex
  • Richly developed supporting characters, including characters who are not white or cisgender
  • Richly developed teens who talk about their feelings and mistakes

I love this book and think everyone should read it, in case you haven’t heard me say that yet.

Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Publisher’s description

that-funny-thingThis young adult novel by Sheba Karim, author of Skunk Girl, is a funny and affecting coming-of-age story for fans of Jenny Han, Megan McCafferty, and Sara Farizan.

Shabnam Qureshi is facing a summer of loneliness and boredom until she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack. Shabnam quickly finds herself in love, while her former best friend, Farah, who Shabnam has begun to reconnect with, finds Jamie worrying.

In her quest to figure out who she really is and what she really wants, Shabnam looks for help in an unexpected place—her family, and her father’s beloved Urdu poetry.

That Thing We Call a Heart is a funny and fresh story about the importance of love—in all its forms.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I really liked 2/3 of this book. The first 1/3 was rough for me. It’s slow to really get to the heart of the story, the love interest is (at first) insufferably perfect and manic pixie dream boyish, there were completely unnecessary scenes (the party at the start), and Shabnam, the main character, kept referring to Farah and their falling out but didn’t delve into it more for a long time. BUT. But. Once Jamie (the love interest) gained some nuance, and Farah appeared, and Shabnam started to think harder about her relationships, I was in.

 

Shabnam, whose family is Pakistani-American, just wants to get through the summer and get to U Penn, where she can reinvent herself. At first, we don’t know much about her. We know she’s had a falling out with Farah, whoever that is. She makes out with Ryan, the “hottest boy in school,” who is a total tool and says super cool things like, “What are you?” to Shabnam. We know she is capable of spinning up a really elaborate and horrible lie about her family’s history with Partition. We also know she has complicated feelings about her own background. Her mother is Muslim, her dad is… well, he’s an extremely practical mathematician who believes in numbers and Urdu poetry and maybe not much else. And Shabnam? She says she’s “nothing.” She’s embarrassed by her great-uncle, who’s visiting from Pakistan. She makes several remarks, about him and about Islam/Muslims that are surprising (things like that her uncle looked almost like a member of the Taliban). She meets Jamie, a cute boy whose aunt runs a pie shop, and falls hard for him. Jamie gets Shabnam a job at the pie shop for the month it’s open. They’re in New Jersey and he goes to school in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s only there for the month, but in that time, Shabnam falls in love with him (even though there are plenty of things about him that are really, really annoying and off-putting. But we’ve all been there, right? You like someone so much that you can’t see their flaws… or really understand how one-sided that like may be).

 

For me, the story became much more interesting when Shabnam reconnected with Farah, who was her best friend until Farah decided she wanted to wear a hijab. That drove a wedge between them. Farah is awesome. She’s an outspoken feminist punk girl who sees herself as a “Muslim misfit.” She goes back to hanging out with Shabnam even though Shabnam was and is a pretty crappy friend. She’s dubious about the whole Jamie thing, but Shabnam isn’t going to hear any of that. During the latter part of this story, Shabnam thinks harder about her other relationships, particularly with her parents, and her feelings about what went on with Farah and their drifting apart. She begins to think more about family, history, poetry, and religion. She finally begins to see beyond herself and starts having more open discussions about everything. 

 

My advice: if you feel, like I did, that this book is slow to really take off, stick with it. It’s a good look at the complexity of friendships, love, and family and shows that Muslims and Pakistani-American girls are (of course) not a monolith. Now I’d like a whole book just about Farah, please. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062445704

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017