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Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

 Gr 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259

Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Publisher’s description

The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

Amanda’s thoughts

Only two months and a few dozen books into 2020 and I’m ready to call something one of my favorite books of the year? Yes, yes I am. This stunning book is easily the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

After their sister Ana falls to her death, the remaining Torres sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, survive only because they have to. Rosa looks for meaning with animals, particularly in an escaped hyena she feels certain has something to do with her dead sister’s spirit. Iridian hides out in books and writing, haunted by her final words to Ana. And Jessica spends her time with the worst possible boy to be with. They see snippets of things that point to Ana somehow being back, wanting something, needing something, though they’re not sure what her message is.

The power and beauty of this book is in the lovely writing and the magnificent, unforgettable characters. This is a story about what happens when girls become ghosts, when girls become animals. This is about what happens when girls embrace anger, when girls attack, when girls grow sick of the imprints men leave upon them. This is about aching, desperate, trapped, screaming girls. This is a warning and a celebration of what happens when girls become feral, become hunters, when girls decide they are not sorry. This haunting story is about sisterhood and death, about power and pain, and about confronting men and boys who are meddling cowards and abusers. A fierce story of heartbreak, grief, connection, and the complications of the human heart. Absolutely not to be missed.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616208967
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication date: 03/24/2020

Ages 14-18

Post-It Note Reviews: Graphic novels, road trips, repeat proms, guides to democracy, and more

I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing. I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary. 

Hex Vet: Witches in Training by Sam Davies

In a world where magic is an ordinary part of daily life, two young apprentice veterinarians pursue their dreams of caring for supernatural creatures.

Have you ever wondered where witches’ cats go when they pull a claw? Or what you do with a pygmy phoenix with a case of bird flu? Nan and Clarion have you covered. They’re the best veterinarian witches of all time—at least they’re trying to be. But when an injured rabbit with strange eyes stumbles into their lives, Nan and Clarion have to put down their enchanted potions and face the biggest test of their magical, medical careers…and possibly lose some dignity in the process.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training is the debut original graphic novel from acclaimed cartoonist Sam Davies (Stutterhug) and explores a truly spellbinding story about sticking together and helping animals at all costs.

(POST-IT SAYS: Large panels and minimal dialogue make this genuinely entertaining story fly by. Fans of magical creatures will love this action-filled story. Ages 8-11)

Sanity & Tallulah (Sanity & Tallulah Series #1) by Molly Brooks

Sanity Jones and Tallulah Vega are best friends on Wilnick, the dilapidated space station they call home at the end of the galaxy. So naturally, when gifted scientist Sanity uses her lab skills and energy allowance to create a definitely-illegal-but-impossibly-cute three-headed kitten, she has to show Tallulah. But Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds is a bit of a handful, and it isn’t long before the kitten escapes to wreak havoc on the space station. The girls will have to turn Wilnick upside down to find her, but not before causing the whole place to evacuate! Can they save their home before it’s too late?

Readers will be over the moon for this rollicking space adventure by debut author Molly Brooks.

(POST-IT SAYS: Smart girls in space! An adventurous 3-headed kitten and a space station possibly under threat mixes with humor and fun, diverse characters. Fans of sci-fi will adore this. Ages 8-12)

The Long Ride by Marina Budhos

In the tumult of 1970s New York City, seventh graders are bussed from their neighborhood in Queens to integrate a new school in South Jamaica.

Jamila Clarke. Josie Rivera. Francesca George. Three mixed-race girls, close friends whose immigrant parents worked hard to settle their families in a neighborhood with the best schools. The three girls are outsiders there, but they have each other.

Now, at the start seventh grade, they are told they will be part of an experiment, taking a long bus ride to a brand-new school built to “mix up the black and white kids.” Their parents don’t want them to be experiments. Francesca’s send her to a private school, leaving Jamila and Josie to take the bus ride without her.

While Francesca is testing her limits, Josie and Jamila find themselves outsiders again at the new school. As the year goes on, the Spanish girls welcome Josie, while Jamila develops a tender friendship with a boy—but it’s a relationship that can exist only at school.

(POST-IT SAYS: Solidly a middle grade novel. The struggles and challenges with race, class, gender, friendship, and adolescence are real and honest. A smart look at bussing, integration, and change. Ages 10-14)

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, Aurelia Durand (Illustrator)

Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? Learn about social identities, the history of racism and resistance against it, and how you can use your anti-racist lens and voice to move the world toward equity and liberation.

“In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist—we must be ANTI-RACIST.” —Angela Davis

Gain a deeper understanding of your anti-racist self as you progress through 20 chapters that spark introspection, reveal the origins of racism that we are still experiencing, and give you the courage and power to undo it. Each chapter builds on the previous one as you learn more about yourself and racial oppression. Exercise prompts get you thinking and help you grow with the knowledge.

Author Tiffany Jewell, an anti-bias, anti-racist educator and activist, builds solidarity beginning with the language she chooses—using gender neutral words to honor everyone who reads the book. Illustrator Aurélia Durand brings the stories and characters to life with kaleidoscopic vibrancy.

After examining the concepts of social identity, race, ethnicity, and racism, learn about some of the ways people of different races have been oppressed, from indigenous Americans and Australians being sent to boarding school to be “civilized” to a generation of Caribbean immigrants once welcomed to the UK being threatened with deportation by strict immigration laws.

Find hope in stories of strength, love, joy, and revolution that are part of our history, too, with such figures as the former slave Toussaint Louverture, who led a rebellion against white planters that eventually led to Haiti’s independence, and Yuri Kochiyama, who, after spending time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII, dedicated her life to supporting political prisoners and advocating reparations for those wrongfully interned.

This book is written for EVERYONE who lives in this racialized society—including the young person who doesn’t know how to speak up to the racist adults in their life, the kid who has lost themself at times trying to fit into the dominant culture, the children who have been harmed (physically and emotionally) because no one stood up for them or they couldn’t stand up for themselves, and also for their families, teachers, and administrators.

With this book, be empowered to actively defy racism to create a community (large and small) that truly honors everyone.

(POST-IT SAYS: Phenomenal resource. I truly wish everyone would read this. Drives home the point that diversity and inclusion are not enough—you have to be actively anti-racist. Empowering and educational. Ages 12-18)

More to the Story by Hena Khan

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.

When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.

Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…

(POST-IT SAYS: A sweet and quiet story of family, friendship, missteps, and identity. Really lovely with plenty of parallels to Little Women, but those unfamiliar with the source material will do just fine. Ages 9-12)

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People by Elizabeth Rusch (3/31/2020)

All of the challenges facing our democracy today… problems with the electoral college, gerrymandering, voter suppression, lack of representation, voter disinterest, citizens who cannot vote, lobbying, money…lead to two questions: why doesn’t every vote really count? And what are we going to do about it?

Author Elizabeth Rusch examines some of the more problematic aspects of our government but, more importantly, offers ways for young people to fix them.

(POST-IT SAYS: Packed full of information, contemporary examples, and appealing visuals. Educates as well as inspires participation and action. For many, this comprehensive book will be an eye-opening look at the abuses and failures of government. Ages 13-18)

The Night of Your Life by Lydia Sharp (3/03/2020)

He’s having the worst prom ever… over and over again.

Does a perfect prom night exist? JJ’s about to find out.

All year, JJ’s been looking forward to going to prom with his best friend, Lucy. It will be their last hurrah before graduation — a perfect night where all their friends will relax, have fun together, and celebrate making it through high school.

But nothing goes according to plan. When a near car crash derails JJ before he even gets to prom, a potential new romance surfaces, and Lucy can’t figure out what happened to him, things spiral out of control. The best night of their lives quickly turns into the worst.

That is… until JJ wakes up the next day only to find that it’s prom night all over again. At first, JJ thinks he’s lucky to have the chance to get innumerable chances at perfecting the night of his life. But each day ends badly for him and Lucy, no matter what he does. Can he find a way to escape the time loop and move into the future with the girl he loves?

In the end, JJ might not get the prom he wanted, but he may well get the prom he needed…

(POST-IT SAYS: I never get tired of stories with a Groundhog Day premise. this light, fun prom story is a quick read all about figuring things out, getting it right, and learning when to move on. Ages 13-18)

All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins (3/03/2020)

In this contemporary YA for fans of Becky Albertalli, one girl decides it’s time to be really be herself–but will that cost her the best friend who once meant everything to her?

Ever since her mom died and her family moved to a new town four years ago, sixteen-year-old Vetty Lake has hidden her heart. She’d rather keep secrets than risk getting hurt–even if that means not telling anyone that she’s pretty sure she’s bisexual.

But this summer, everything could change. Vetty and her family are moving back to her old neighborhood, right across the street from her childhood best friend Pez. Next to Pez, she always felt free and fearless. Reconnecting with him could be the link she needs to get back to her old self.

Vetty quickly discovers Pez isn’t exactly the boy she once knew. He has a new group of friends, a glamorous sort-of-girlfriend named March, and a laptop full of secrets. And things get even more complicated when she feels a sudden spark with March.

As Vetty navigates her relationship with Pez and her own shifting feelings, one question looms: Does becoming the girl she longs to be mean losing the friendship that once was everything to her?

(POST-IT SAYS: This exploration of sexuality and adolescence is quiet but powerful. Realistic, sensitive, and tender, full of really beautiful writing, this character-driven story will be relatable and affirming for many readers. Ages 14-18)

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

A powerful and moving teen graphic novel memoir about immigration, belonging, and how arts can save a life—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.  

(POST-IT SAYS: An insightful look at the life of a young immigrant trying to find where she fits as she redefines home, culture, family, and friendship. Heartfelt and excellent. Ages 12-18)

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle-grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present, perfect for Black History Month and for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds.

How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:

Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.

Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.

Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home.

What Not to Bring:

A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.

Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem—his G’ma included. Real historical elements like the Green Book, the subject and namesake of the recent Oscar winning film, make this an educational and powerful read.

(POST-IT SAYS: An immensely readable inter-generational road trip that reveals secrets, history, and hard truths about race, civil rights, and family. I adore Scoob and G’ma. Ages 9-12)

Book Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope edited by Patrice Caldwell

Publisher’s description

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Amanda’s thoughts

The best thing, to me, about anthologies is that they introduce readers to a wide array of authors and then hopefully send them looking for more of their work. This collection includes so many wonderful writers and oooh will people be in for great treats if they’re just discovering some of these voices.

Standout stories include Amerie’s poignant tale of orcs landing in Central Park and a trip into space (and through a wormhole) revealing not only points of connection, but a paradox and a startling revelation. Alaya Dawn Johnson’s story about a fisherman and his sea maid wife is beautifully written. Justina Ireland’s piece features a girl hoping to be apprentice to a sorcerer, dragons, curses, and murderous unicorns. My favorite story is Dhonielle Clayton’s about a girl with a disintegrating heart and her decision to either grow it back or choose a new one. Danny Lore’s thoughtful story is about a witch who braids hair and “fixes your head” both literally and metaphorically. J. Marcelle Corrie’s piece lets characters use a program to predict how life events will play out. Other stories feature mermaids, vampires, fireball witches, vengeance, healing, uprisings, love, freedom, and so much magic.

Full of hope, strength, magic, and beauty, this anthology is an essential addition to all collections. Don’t miss this powerful look at creation, future, and resistance.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984835659
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/10/2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Publisher’s description

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling—he’s fun, affectionate, kind—but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairytale ending, and to complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right? Right.

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just start with this: Ollie deserves way better than Will. Sure, Will’s life is complicated because his summer fling with Ollie wasn’t meant to ever affect his “real life” at home once summer is over. He’s not out to anyone, so when Ollie shows up at his school as a new student, panic ensues. But Ollie spends the whole book pining for someone who so often treats him terribly. I don’t think literature should be handbooks for how to behave full of nothing but “good” choices and positive outcomes. Life is messy. Stories get to be full of messy people, too. But oooh did I want to holler at Ollie to move on with his life!

Ollie is immediately befriend by three girls at his new school, all of whom are interesting and complicated. He’s juggling trying to figure out what is going on with Will with finding his footing in this new school all while sometimes taking care of his aunt’s kids and dealing with the fact that she’s dying from cancer. Ollie’s cool and weird new girl friends inexplicably hang out with Will’s crew of basketball guys (inexplicably because, well, I’ve been in high school, and they hardly seem like a natural or even particularly friendly friend group). Summer Will was sweet and thoughtful. School Will is insufferable and smug. I guess those facts, combined with the whole summer fling who shows up at school aspect, are what make this story like Grease. If no one had planted this thought in mind, I never would seen it.

Of course, it’s not as straightforward as Will is a jerk to Ollie and that’s that. If it were, not only would there be no story—whatever story would be left would be boring. Again, life is messy, so while it’s sometimes infuriating to watch characters behave in really frustrating ways, they get to be inconsistent and complicated just we real humans are. Will still likes Ollie. Ollie still likes Will, despite the many crappy ways Will behaves toward him. Will starts be nicer to him, then freaks out, then is nicer, then freaks out, etc. until they finally (it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal this) figure out that they want to be together more than anything else.

Coming out often isn’t easy. It feels very real that Will would panic and behave differently toward Ollie in the setting of his school versus when it was just the two of them over the summer. Though Will is so often hurtful toward Ollie, I hope readers will remember that we need to see the whole spectrum of stories and experiences and representations. Confusion is okay. Being mildly terrible to people because of your own fears and insecurities is okay only in the sense that it’s very, very real. And while Will isn’t perfect, he’s VERY real. It was a real nice surprise to see everyone in Will’s life be supportive and loving when he does finally come out as bi.

In the end, sweet with a HEA, but the path there is rough and at times painful. Those who want swoon-worthy perfection in their relationships will be disappointed, but those who are deep in their own messy lives will totally get where both Will and Ollie are coming from.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250315892
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020

Book Review: The Burning by Laura Bates

Publisher’s Book Description:

A rumour is like a fire. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames …

New school.
Tick.
New town.
Tick.
New surname.
Tick.
Social media profiles?
Erased.

There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.

At least that’s what she thinks … until the whispers start up again. As time begins to run out on her secrets, Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the tale of Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft centuries earlier. A girl whose story has terrifying parallels to Anna’s own…

The compelling YA debut from Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and bestselling author of Girl Up.

Karen’s Thoughts:

The Burning is very much designed to be feminist literature that ties in several issues of today – slut shaming, revenge porn, female sexuality and reproductive rights – and links them to historical issues of the past, including witch burning. There was a time when my teen patrons couldn’t read enough books about witches and the witch trials of the past and I would have loved to have had this book to hand to them. It deftly draws a distinct line between the fervency of the witch trials to the patriarchy and the ways in which we try to repress, control and then shame female sexuality.

This book is set in Scotland and Anna and her mom have just moved to escape the intense slut shaming and bullying that Anna was receiving online and in real life. Soon after her father passed away Anna found herself in love, at least it felt like love, and over time with some grooming and intense pressure and emotional coercion, Anna shares some nudes with her boyfriend. When he asks for me she refuses and he retaliates by leaking what she has already shared in an act of revenge porn.

Revenge porn has been defined by the government as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.”

Source: Psych Central https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-is-revenge-porn/

While in her new home and new school, Anna begins researching for a local history assignment and learns of Maggie, a woman who appears to have been accused of witchcraft. Anna develops a strong interest in and seems to have an even stronger link to this young woman, and the parallels between what the two have been and are going through are inescapable.

Because the Internet is forever, Anna soon finds herself once again being tormented by her past. And as her torment escalates, she is drawn even more deeply into the web of history surrounding Maggie. The two events are weaved together and used to talk about the ways in which we have tried to control, shame, and eviscerate young girls who dare to embrace their sexuality. The Burning doesn’t fail to point out, either, the double standard that we hold for girls and boys when it comes to bodies, sex, or sexuality.

Issues touched on include the historical witch trials, sexting, revenge porn, deepfakes, reproductive rights, bullying, slut shaming, and LGBTQ representation. There are frank discussions about sex, nude photos, and pornography in this book, though I think they are all obviously necessary to the book and handled well.

There’s a lot to unpack and discuss in The Burning, which isn’t surprising given the author’s previous work and writings. Laura Bates is an unabashed feminist who founded the Everyday Sexism project in 2012. In The Burning, Bates challenges us all to think deeply and critically about a lot of issues surrounding teen girls. Towards the end of the book several characters make radical choices and powerful statements that made me cheer. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released April 7th, 2020 from Sourcefire Books. I read an ARC of this book and immediately handed it over to my teenage daughter so that we can talk about it.

Book Review: The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer

Publisher’s description

A novel about friendship, feminism, and the knotty complications of tradition and privilege, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Stephanie Perkins.

Jemima Kincaid is a feminist, and she thinks you should be one, too. Her private school is laden with problematic traditions, but the worst of all is prom. The guys have all the agency; the girls have to wait around for “promposals” (she’s speaking heteronormatively because only the hetero kids even go). In Jemima’s (very opinionated) opinion, it’s positively medieval.

Then Jemima is named to Senior Triumvirate, alongside superstar athlete Andy and popular, manicured Gennifer, and the three must organize prom. Inspired by her feminist ideals and her desire to make a mark on the school, Jemima proposes a new structure. They’ll do a Last Chance Dance: every student privately submits a list of crushes to a website that pairs them with any mutual matches.

Meanwhile, Jemima finds herself embroiled in a secret romance that she craves and hates all at once. Her best friend, Jiyoon, has found romance of her own, but Jemima starts to suspect something else has caused the sudden rift between them. And is the new prom system really enough to extinguish the school’s raging dumpster fire of toxic masculinity?

Filled with Kate Hattemer’s signature banter, this is a fast-paced and thoughtful tale about the nostalgia of senior year, the muddle of modern relationships, and how to fight the patriarchy when you just might be part of the patriarchy yourself.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the thing: as an adult, with lots of distance to reflect on my teenage self, there are times I see a lot of myself in a character (or a real teen, for that matter) and feel a sense of connection and nostalgia, but also feel embarrassment and frustration. Enter Jemima Kincaid, strident feminist who makes many missteps and has a lot to learn. Oh, hi there, teenager who is “different” from everyone and proudly so, who totally hates everything related to high school traditions and expectations. I see you. I feel you.

Jemima attends a private school in Virginia. She’s straight, wealthy, and a feminist. She hates the patriarchy (“chauvinistic asshattery”) but doesn’t yet think too hard about the ways she’s internalized things from it, the way she’s complicit in it. Her best friend is Jiyoon, but Jemima is not always a great friend to her, or to anyone. She’s part of the ruling body of the senior class but see’s herself as a total outsider disliked by everyone. Jemima is anti-Powederpuff, anti-prom, anti-dress code, anti-whatever-you’ve-got. She has good reasons to be against those ridiculous traditions and rules, but she’s also just against things, period. She challenges rules and traditions, looking to push boundaries and innovate wherever she can.

Jemima makes many missteps and realizes that, at times, she’s a “crappy feminist.” Jiyoon calls her out for her internalized misogyny. Jemima hooks up with a charismatic but problematic boy, someone she’s super physically into but is not the most enlightened or kind human around. Perhaps Jemima’s biggest revelation over the course of the story is her relationship to the statement “I’m not like the other girls.” What was once a badge of pride for her becomes more complicated as she begins to understand more about herself, her peers, and, yes, her internalized misogyny.

I really loved this very real and honest look at how complicated friendship, feminism, relationships, and high school can be. Full of jealousy, secrets, and conflicted feelings, this novel authentically explores the way we learn to do and be better while making many mistakes along the way. Smart and insightful.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984849120
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly by Meredith Tate

Publisher’s Book Description:

When band-geek Ivy and her friends get together, things start with a rousing board game and end with arguments about Star Wars.

Her older sister Autumn is a different story. Enigmatic, aloof, and tough as nails, Autumn hasn’t had real friends–or trusted anyone–in years. Even Ivy.

But Autumn might not be tough enough. After a drug deal gone wrong, Autumn is beaten, bound, and held hostage. Now, trapped between life and death, she leaves her body, seeking help. No one can sense her presence–except her sister.

When Autumn doesn’t come home, Ivy just knows she’s in trouble. Unable to escape the chilling feeling that something isn’t right, Ivy follows a string of clues that bring her closer to rescuing her sister… and closer to danger.

Autumn needs Ivy to find her before time runs out. But soon, both sisters realize that finding her also means untangling the secrets that lead to the truth–about where they’re hiding Autumn, and what Autumn has been hiding. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I picked this book up thinking I was going to read an engaging psychological thriller with paranormal twinges, which I did. What I did not realize was that I was going to be reading a thoughtful commentary about sexual violence and the long term effects of trauma in the life of teens. I’ve been thinking a lot about this book after finishing it, which is always a positive sign. There are layers upon layers of social commentary that I was not expecting in this book.

At the end of the day, this is a rich, feminist novel that looks at the resiliency of sisterhood, the power of friendship, and the ways that we accept the abuse of our daughters as the collateral damage to live in the patriarchy and the long term harm that does. It’s also a book about healing in a wide variety of ways.

As someone who works with teens and has been reading some about trauma informed librarianship, it’s also a stark reminder that there is always a reason for a teen’s difficult behaviors and that before we dismiss our challenging teens out of hand, we should extend to them grace and help to connect them with the tools they need to unpack their trauma and find their pathway to thriving. The story of Autumn is a shameful reminder that we, as a society, are failing our youth every day in a wide variety of ways.

Although both main characters are white, Ivy is a fat girl who is mostly okay in her body, though she does wish others would stop commenting on her weight and diet. Ivy also has a wide variety of strong friendships and there is some rich LGBTQ representation here as well. I appreciated Ivy’s story in this just as much as I did Autumn’s. Ivy is strong, brave, and inspiring while still being very real and flawed. I thought the various issues she talked about, including her relationship to her body and her complex feelings of self worth in her home and friend relationships, were complex, authentic and relateable.

There’s a lot to unpack in this feminist novel disguised as a paranormal mystery. Strongly recommended for all readers. And then I hope we will all sit with it a while.

This book was released February 11, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: A Teen Reviews He Must Like You, My Eyes are Up Here and Four Days of You and Me

It’s time for another installment of Kicky’s Post It Reviews, in which The Teen reviews some of the recent YA lit she has been reading.

Publisher’s Book Description:

A new swoon-worthy romance following a couple’s love story on the same date over four years.

Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.

Through breakups, make ups, and dating other people, each year’s class trip brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to an amusement park, from New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all. 

Post It Note Review: Super cute and had a very optimistic perspective.

Some Added Info: As you may now, The Teen usually reads murder books. Lots and lots of murder books. So I was surprised when she picked this book out of the ARC pile and even more surprised that she liked it. But when I mentioned that it’s different than her typical read she very astutely replied, “sometimes you just need to read something fun.”

This book comes out May 5th from Sourcefire Books

Publisher’s Book Description:

Libby’s having a rough senior year. Her older brother absconded with his college money and is bartending on a Greek island. Her dad just told her she’s got to pay for college herself, and he’s evicting her when she graduates so he can Airbnb her room. A drunken hook-up with her coworker Kyle has left her upset and confused. So when Perry Ackerman, serial harasser and the most handsy customer at The Goat where she waitresses, pushes her over the edge, she can hardly be blamed for dumping a pitcher of sangria on his head. Unfortunately, Perry is a local industry hero, the restaurant’s most important customer, and Libby’s mom’s boss. Now Libby has to navigate the fallout of her outburst, find an apartment, and deal with her increasing rage at the guys who’ve screwed up her life–and her increasing crush on the one guy who truly gets her. As timely as it is timeless, He Must Like You is a story about consent, rage, and revenge, and the potential we all have to be better people.

Post It Note Review: Talks about a lot of important issues in a good way.

Additional Information: The Teen talked to me about this book and she’s not wrong, it talks about a lot of important issues including social media use and privacy, sexual harassment and what happens when a teen turns 18. We had a lot of conversations surrounding this book and we both highly recommend it.

This book doesn’t come out until July 14th from Viking Books, but you should definitely get it.

Publisher’s Book Description:

My Eyes Are Up Here is YA novel from debut author Laura Zimmerman about a teenage girl struggling to rediscover her balance—and her voice—in the year after a surprising growth spurt.

A “monomial” is a simple algebraic expression consisting of a single term. 30H, for example. 15-year-old Greer Walsh hasn’t been fazed by basic algebra since fifth grade, but for the last year, 30H has felt like an unsolvable equation–one that’s made her world a very small, very lonely place. 30H is her bra size–or it was the last time anyone checked. She stopped letting people get that close to her with a tape measure a while ago.

Ever since everything changed the summer before ninth grade, Greer has felt out of control. She can’t control her first impressions, the whispers that follow, or the stares that linger after. The best she can do is put on her faithful XXL sweatshirt and let her posture–and her expectations for other people–slump.

But people—strangers and friends—seem strangely determined to remind her that life is not supposed to be this way. Despite carefully avoiding physical contact and anything tighter than a puffy coat, Greer finds an unexpected community on the volleyball squad, the team that hugs between every point and wears a uniform “so tight it can squeeze out tears.” And then there’s Jackson Oates, newly arrived at her school and maybe actually more interested in her banter than her breasts.

Laura Zimmermann’s debut is both laugh-out-loud funny and beautifully blunt, vulnerable and witty, heartbreaking and hopeful. And it will invite readers to look carefully at a girl who just wants to be seen for all she is. 

Post It Note Review: Very body positive and shows girls supporting other girls in a great way.

Additional Information: This book moved The Teen to sobbing tears several times, in good ways. Many girls will resonate with this story of trying to learn to love your body and be comfortable with the skin you’re in. We are both so glad that this book exists and it brought about a lot of important, meaningful dialogue for us both. Highly recommended.

This book comes out June 24th from Dutton Books for Young Readers.