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Book Review: Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian

Publisher’s description

just a girlTaking a hard look at the societal constraints on teenage girls, Morris Award nominee Carrie Mesrobian tells one girl’s story with bracing honesty and refreshing authenticity.

By her senior year of high school, Rianne has exhausted all the fun there is to have in small-town Wereford, Minnesota. Volleyball season is winding down, the parties feel tired, and now that she’s in a serious relationship with reformed player Luke Pinsky, her wild streak has ended. Not that she ever did anything worse than most guys in her school…but she knows what everyone thinks of her.

Including her parents. Divorced but now inexplicably living together again, Rianne wonders why they’re so quick to point out every bad choice she’s making when they can’t even act like adults—or have the decency to tell Rianne whether or not they’re getting back together. With an uncomfortable home life and her once-solid group of friends now dissolving, the reasons for sticking around after high school are few. So why is Rianne locking step when it comes to figuring out her future?

That’s not the only question Rianne can’t answer. Lately she’s been wondering why, when she has a perfect-on-paper boyfriend, she wants anything but. Or how it is that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian, understands her better than anyone who’s known her all her life? And—perhaps the most troubling question—why has Rianne gotten stuck with an “easy girl” reputation for doing the same exact things as guys without any judgment?

Carrie Mesrobian, acclaimed author of Sex & Violence and Cut Both Ways, sets fire to the unfair stereotypes and contradictions that persist even in the twenty-first century.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Here are things I consistently like about Carrie’s books: the plots are really just about the day-to-day lives of teenagers (we all know by now I’m a big fan of plots that don’t extend a ton between just talking/daily lives/figuring out what life as a teenager means—you know, that small plot); the endings never tie everything up neatly or definitively; the teenagers talk and act like actual teenagers; the books are set in Minnesota. Given that I grew up in the same area as Carrie at roughly the same time, I always so enjoy the way she captures the feeling of small-town Minnesota and like being able to recognize the details of places and references.

 

Rianne spends a lot of time thinking perhaps she should behave one way and then doing the opposite. She doesn’t think of herself as a “good girl,” whatever that means (we know what that means), and often tries to convince herself to behave better… maybe later. She’s bored and restless and aimless. Welcome to the end of senior year, right? Her friendships aren’t as strong as they once were, her long-divorced parents are apparently now dating each other, and somehow Luke, the boy she’s been hooking up with, thinks he wants to settle down with her. At a time in her life when the big question is “what’s next?” Rianne doesn’t seem to have any answers that actually seem appealing. Move to St. Paul just because some of her friends are going there? Find an apartment in boring Wereford? Move in with Luke? It all seems to sound awful to Rianne. Her mother has basically washed her hands of trying to guide Rianne, telling her once graduation happens, she’s out on her own. Though Rianne has always done her own thing with little regard for consequences, her impending total freedom doesn’t seem exciting or appealing—it just seems terrifyingly uncertain and sort of depressing. She doesn’t really talk to anyone about any of this. Her friends have their own drama going on, she’s never confided much in her parents, and Luke, though attentive and fun, isn’t someone she really feels any big connection to. She can’t even bring herself to call him her boyfriend and is pretty freaked out that he calls her his girlfriend. She’s constantly pretending with him, which she knows. She continues to date Luke, leaving him in the dark about her potential plans—or lack of plans—and also leaving him in the dark about Sergei, the older Russian college student she’s hooking up with. He seems like the only person she really feels any real connection with, though even that is marked by her passivity and inability to decide her life for herself. Rianne is a complex character. Though on the surface she seems bold and confident, she’s actually really insecure. Losing the stability she’s had (a solid friend group, an understanding of her family unit, a predictable but secure life in Wereford) is throwing her for a loop and it’s not clear if she will be able to recover and take some control over her life or just be led where others take her. Readers worrying about their own uncertain futures will particularly relate to Rianne. A realistic but uneasy look at choices, expectations, independence, and everything else that comes with the end of high school. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062349910

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 03/28/2017

Book Review: Pyromantic by Lish McBride

pyromanticThe ARC for this sequel to her 2014 novel Firebug hit my doorstep extremely early, but I still dropped everything to read it – and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed this entry into McBride’s universe every bit as much as her previous novels. Rejoining her characters felt like coming home.

For some context, read my review of Firebug here.  We also have a great interview from her blog tour for Firebug here.

Summary from the publisher:

Ava is having a rough time. Getting rid of Venus didn’t set her free—she’s still Coterie. Her new boss seems like an improvement, but who knows if he’ll stay that way? The Coterie life changes people. And since Ava’s currently avoiding her friends after (disastrously) turning down a date with Lock, well, everything kind of sucks. And that’s not even taking into account the feelings she might have for him.

But when a mysterious illness starts to affect magical beings, it’s up to Ava and her team to stop its spread . . . or else one of them might be next.

I don’t really want to get into the plot here – too many spoilers. What I’d like to reflect on, however is Lish McBride’s ‘dual giftedness’ that makes her one of my favorite authors. As I said above, rejoining her characters felt like coming home. A model of ‘show not tell,’ McBride’s characterizations are delightful. Even her minor characters come fully fleshed with individual flaws and weaknesses. Her main characters are so fully realized that you feel they are close friends after reading the story. Secondly, McBride is gifted in the style of storytelling I like most, where individual threads of story are introduced individually and slowly woven together to form a complete and often bizarrely interrelated story. In the beginning, all you can see are the separate threads. By the end they make a picture so complete and detailed, without ever ‘overtelling.’

If I were you, I would drop everything to get my hands on a copy of Pyromantic. And if you haven’t yet read Firebug, or her other novels in this world Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone, you are in for a treat!

Pyromantic hit shelves on Tuesday, March 21st.

Book Review: Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank

Publisher’s description

armstrongCharlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?” When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.
From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin. There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars.
Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was a fantastic book. While at its heart it’s about serious issues–racism, busing, and school integration–it’s also a book full of humor and is narrated by two characters with great, stand-out voices. Set in 1974 and 1975, Armstrong’s parents sign him up to be bused out of his neighborhood  from his all-black school in South Central LA to an, until now, all-white school, Wonderland, in the Hollywood Hills. Charlie, who is Jewish, is puzzled why suddenly everyone else in his neighborhood is leaving Wonderland to attend private schools or schools out of the area. A neighbor kid tells Charlie that Wonderland is “going downhill” and their parents don’t want them there. Charlie says those parents are racist, but Charlie’s dad says they’re just doing what they think is right for their kids. Charlie’s parents are doing the same.

 

As you might imagine, the integration isn’t seamless and Armstrong, who has a history of fights, is quick to be confrontational and bristles easily. Charlie and Armstrong share a table and, while they don’t get along well at first, end up becoming friends. But the path to that genuine friendship involves fights, theft, and what often feels like reluctant attempts to actually get to know each other. Along the way, the boys are helped out by their loving, compassionate families. Charlie has always been raised to stand up against injustice. His mother (currently lost in a fog of grief over the recent death of Charlie’s brother) is part of a consciousness-raising group. When Armstrong steals from Charlie’s lunch and Charlie gets mad, his father encourages him to stop and think for a second about why Armstrong stole. Armstrong also has the guidance of Mr. Khalil, his 95-year-old neighbor. The road to their friendship isn’t always easy, but then again, whose is? 

 

Armstrong and Charlie is a funny and thoughtful look at differences, friendship, family, and the changing times of the 1970s. This historical fiction story has broad appeal. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544826083

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 03/07/2017

Quick Book Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

quickreview

Basic Synopsis: A teen conceived through IVF goes in search of answers about her past and finds herself examining what it means to be a family.

Karen’s Quick Thoughts: So this book was fun, heartwarming and enjoyable. It covered a topic I have never seen discussed in YA – kids conceived by donor sperm. 5 teens who are conceived via the same sperm donor track each other down and deal with their emotions as they try to figure out what family means to them.

Also, this is one of the few books that has a teen dealing realistically with severe food allergies. As the parent to a child with food allergies (though none are annaphallactic), I thought this did a good job of addressing the concerns and fears.

This book does mention some statistics and science regarding the psychological challenges of teens who grow up knowing they were conceived via an anonymous sperm donor, so if you were interested more in the idea of teens conceived through anonymous sperm donors here are some interesting articles:

MTV teen meets 15 siblings from sperm-donor dad | New York Post

Teen offspring of anonymous sperm donor find each other

Teenager finds sperm donor dad on internet | Science | The Guardian

I Was Conceived Through a Sperm Bank | Teen Vogue

For more on teens and food allergies, see these TLT posts:

Take 5: YA Lit with Food Allergies

MakerSpace: Rethinking Food in Programming, Again? Yes, Again

Let’s Talk Teens, Food and Programming

Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Publisher’s description

radioFrom critically acclaimed author Alice Oseman comes a smartly crafted contemporary YA novel, perfect for readers who love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. This is an utterly captivating and authentic new teen novel from the author of Solitaire, which VOYA said “could put her among the great young adult fiction authors.”

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ll be honest: it took me a while to get into this story. I spent a few days picking it up and finding my mind wandering, so putting it down and working on something else instead. BUT, once I got roped in, I got ROPED IN. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a mystery, but it has elements of a mystery, and that’s what propelled me forward.

 

The summary up there doesn’t do the best job of making this sound appealing (although, yes please to more books about main character best friends who seem like they might fall in love but don’t, and yes please to stories about podcasts). It’s not just that Aled and Frances make a podcast together (think Welcome to Night Vale)—it’s that they make a VERY popular podcast, with a large fandom, and, as creators, stay shrouded in mystery for a long time. The premise of their podcast (which Aled starts and Frances joins eventually) is a student is sending out SOS messages from a futuristic university that they’re trapped inside of. The student goes by Radio Silence and is agender. The podcast grows in popularity, but when word gets out who is behind it, things really begin to fall apart quickly. Aled and Frances have an argument and drift apart (or rather, Aled bails on Frances and refuses to answer her calls etc). It becomes clear that something very troublesome is going on with Aled, and while Frances desperately wants to do SOMETHING to help him, she doesn’t know what to do. Until she does.

 

The small ensemble of characters feature a diversity of sexual identities, including gay, bi, lesbian, and demisexual. Frances is white and Ethiopian, Daniel is Korean, and Raine is Indian. There is also a lot of room for choices, or for rethinking choices, regarding what to do after school ends—namely, there are more options than just going to university and more options than just doing the thing you thought you were supposed to work toward. The story is about the podcast, but it’s also not. It’s about people desperately in need of friends. It’s about identities, desires, plans, expectations, and feeling lost. Frances and friends will easily appeal to teen readers who are also grappling with all these same feelings. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062335715

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 03/28/2017

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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 March 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

 

gentlemans★ The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee.

ISBN-13: 9780062382801 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date:06/27/2017

Gr 9 Up—A trio of high-born, determined, and wildly charismatic teenagers get more than they bargained for in this rollicking 18th-century Grand Tour of the Continent gone awry. Endearing rake Lord Henry Montague (or Monty) and his biracial best friend (and unrequited love), the infinitely patient Percy, leave England to drop Monty’s fiercely intelligent sister Felicity off at finishing school. The friends then spend a year traveling. After the Grand Tour, Monty will return home to help his demanding father run their estate and Percy will go to Holland to law school. If Monty’s dad catches wind of him still “mucking around with boys,” Monty will be cut off from the family. The trip is intended to be a cultural experience. However, no one could have predicted that one seemingly petty theft would set off an adventure involving highwaymen, stowaways, pirates, a sinking island, an alchemical heart, tomb-raiding, and a secret illness. From the start, readers will be drawn in by Monty’s charm, and Felicity and Percy come alive as the narrative unfolds. The fast-paced plot is complicated, but Lee’s masterly writing makes it all seem effortless. The journey forces Monty and friends to confront issues of racism, gender expectations, sexuality, disability, family, and independence, with Monty in particular learning to examine his many privileges. Their exploits bring to light the secret doubts, pains, and ambitions all three are hiding. This is a witty, romantic, and exceedingly smart look at discovering one’s place in the world. VERDICT A stunning powerhouse of a story for every collection.

Book Review: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

star-crossedMattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

COULD WE PLEASE HAVE MORE MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS ABOUT QUEER KIDS? Thanks.

 

Mattie sneaks into mean girl Willow’s Halloween party by attending in full Darth Vader regalia. While in the kitchen, she bumps into cute new British girl, Gemma, who is hiding out because she didn’t know it was a costume party. The two banter and Willow unmasks Mattie, mortifying her. Gemma had definitely been flirting with her—but she probably assumed the person under the Darth Vader costume was a boy. Right? After the party, Mattie finds herself pulled toward Gemma. She’s smart, funny, and cute. Mattie likes how she smells and how her voice sounds. But what does all that mean? Especially given that she spent the past year having a crush on Elijah. Mattie begins to wonder if she only liked Elijah because she thought she had to. She can’t yet articulate what she feels for Gemma, but when her best friend Lucy tells her it’s cool if she has a crush on Gemma, she’s forced to take stock of what she’s feeling.

 

All of that would be plenty, but the 8th graders are also putting on a class play—and Gemma is Juliet to Mattie’s Romeo. Much of the action of the book takes place at play practices, where a nervous Mattie has to figure out how to interact with Gemma. She eventually takes some advice for the play and turns to her own Benvolio and Mercutio—her best friends Lucy and Tessa. While she knows she likes Gemma, she’s still not sure what it actually means for her (or if Gemma feels the same way), but surrounded by caring friends, family, and peers, she’s on her way to figuring it out in this much needed look at a middle schooler questioning her sexuality. The positive, accepting, supportive tone of the story makes this book a must-have for every middle school library. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481478489

Publisher: Aladdin

Publication date: 03/14/2017

Book Review: BRACED by Alyson Gerber

The first time I ever had to wear my backbrace in public, I threw up. That’s what I remember the most. We were going to one of my brother’s baseball games and I was anxious that everyone would be able to tell that I was wearing it. So I barfed, as one does.

The second thing I remember is the clothes I had to wear. I wore elastic waistband pants to fit over the awkward brace and large, oversized shirts that I had hoped hid the fact that I was wearing a brace at all.

One day as we walked to school, a boy and I got into some type of altercation. I don’t remember what it was about, all I remember is that he said he was going to punch me in the stomach. Instead of begging no, please don’t punch me, I got this evil Grinch smile on my face – you know, the one where the Grinch decided he’s going to go down to Whoville and steal all the presents – and I told him go ahead, punch me his hardest right in my stomach. He did and got the surprise of his life as his fist met the resistance of my fiberglass brace. I suppose, looking back, I’m lucky he didn’t break his hand, or at least a finger or two.

I don’t remember my doctors or any office visits. I mostly just remember the brace itself, the way it made me feel about my body, and my attempts to keep it hidden like some deep, dark secret.

braced

So I was very interested in reading BRACED by Alyson Gerber. I can think of very few books that tackle the topic of Scoliosis and what it is like to wear a corrective brace. At the time when I was a teen, the only book I had was DEENIE by Judy Blume, which meant everything to me. Everything.

BRACED is the story of Rachel Brooks, who is a devoted soccer player that has a family history of Scoliosis – Scoliosis can run in families. She soon finds herself having to wear a back brace to help correct her Scoliosis in an effort to avoid surgery, which her mother has had. What follows is the intense roller coaster of emotions that accompany her having to wear this brace 23 out of every 24 hours.

Many of the scenes in this book really resonated with me; I felt that Gerber accurately depicted the emotions of trying to find clothes, telling friends, and adapting to life in a brace. This is not surprising as Gerber herself wore a corrective back brace. I found it remarkable that Rachel is told that she can continue to play soccer; during my time in the brace I was taken out of PE and everything. But I admired Rachel’s dedication and commitment as she tried to continue in a sport that obviously means so much to her.

There were some other parts of the story that felt a little more didactic to me, which can happen when writing an issues based novel. Rachel’s conversations with her parents particularly came across as stilted and unnatural, in part because this is where Gerber reminds the audience what is at stake for Rachel. I did, however, appreciate the narrative arc that led to Rachel opening up to her parents and to all of the members of the Brooks family learning to be better and more honest communicators with one another.

And I really appreciated the strong friendships that Rachel has to help carry her through as she adjusts to life in a brace. I found her friends to be authentic and supportive, though realistic issues do indeed come up.

This book is set in a middle school setting, and it is successfully written to that age range. I wouldn’t call it high quality literature, but I think it hits all the right emotional notes and addresses a topic that is often overlooked so I definitely recommend it. All readers will appreciate Rachel’s emotional struggle and dedication to finding a way to be the best at something she loves despite challenges. I’m glad I read it and wished I had it to read when I was wearing my own brace.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The first contemporary novel about a disorder that bends the lives of ten percent of all teenagers: scoliosis.

Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.

Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.

Scholastic, March 28, 2017

 

Book Review: Secrets and Sequences: Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes, a guest post by Callum (age 10)

If you follow me on Twitter (@CiteSomething), then you’re familiar with my extremely entertaining 10-year-old son, Callum. He’s a big fan of graphic novels and recently has started pulling books out of my TBR pile. It’s fun to get book mail and have so much of it either appeal now to him or know it will soon. He’s excited to write his second review post for TLT (you can read his first one here). I suspect we’ll see more from him in the future. He’s already been on the cover of a magazine and on an episode of The Longest Shortest Time (episode 50, “Mom, It’s Time We Had The Talk”). He loves when people react to stuff I tweet about him. He says it all adds to his “fame.” Have I mentioned he’s super entertaining and loves attention? Anyway, here’s his review.

 

Publisher’s description

secrets-andStately Academy is no ordinary school: it was once home to an elite institute where teachers, students, and robots worked together to unravel the mysteries of coding. Hopper, Eni, and Josh won’t rest until they’ve learned the whole story, but they aren’t the only ones interested in the school’s past. Principal Dean is hot on their trail, demanding that the coders turn over their most powerful robot. Dean may be a creep, but he’s nothing compared to the guy who’s really in charge: a green-skinned coding genius named Professor One-Zero.

 

 

 

 

Callum’s thoughts

This story is about three kids and an evil principal. They’re coders. One kid in class says, keep an eye on your mom to one of the coders. Their mom is a teacher at their school. Later, the principal kidnaps her. They say, you can have your mom if you give me this turtle-ship-thing. Change of plan! The turtle has a screen and the kids need to drive it for the principal. The daughter of the teacher says it will be okay and they’ll go get help.

 

So they drive to this huge castle and there’s a crazy green-faced man named Doctor One-Zero. They go see him and he pretty much puts the kids in a cell and makes the principal drink this stuff that makes him see green. He explains all this code to the kids and the girl’s visualizing it. Then there’s a flashback to when he was younger and he never asked for help or needed help and became evil and went to jail. He escaped and went all over the world trying to see where he fit in. He was on top of a mountain in a green moss cave, meditating and eating nothing but moss. He came out changed with a new name—Doctor One-Zero. They think of a way to get out of the cage. They’re going to go get the ship but One-Zero is flying it away. They’re figuring out how to get out of there. They take a bus back to the city and parents were worried. Back at school, there’s people practicing fighting. They are going to make an army of turtle-things to attack Doctor One-Zero.

 

The art was good and so was the story. Both boys and girls were main characters. One of the main characters is black. It ends on a cliffhanger, so there will be more in the series.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626720770

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 03/07/2017

Series: Secret Coders Series #3

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Publisher’s description

inexplicableFrom the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can manage my towering TBR pile), there are certain books that sit on my shelf for MONTHS and kind of taunt me from their spot. This is one such book. Given my absolute adoration of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, my expectations for this book were high. And I was not let down.

 

I am a big fan of quiet books. Give me good dialogue and interesting characters and I’m in. I don’t need a big plot. I don’t need big things to happen. To me, there is nothing more compelling or more of a “big thing” than just teenagers living their teenage lives–figuring out who they are, changing, finding their people, hurting, loving, and growing. That’s plenty. That’s everything. And for 450 pages, I was so wrapped up in the lives of Sal, Sam, Fito, and their families. Sal and Sam have been best friends forever. It’s never been romantic between them; they’ve always been like brother and sister. Sam knows Sal better than anyone. But lately, Sal feels like he’s changing. He’s developed a quick temper that manifests when he’s righteously angry and trying to protect those he loves. For the first time ever, he’s lashing out and getting in fights. He starts to wonder about his biological dad—maybe he was angry and a fighter. Maybe Sal is acting like him. But his wonderful father, Vicente, is calm and loving and open. Sal wonders about nature versus nurture. He wonders who is he really like. He wonders who he really is. His Mima, his father’s mom, is dying. Heartbroken that he’s about to lose someone he loves so dearly, Sal also ruminates on life, death, and everything that comes in between. Sam is a steadying force by his side, but she has her own terrible things going on. The pair take Fito, a gay classmate who’s had to survive on his own for a long time, into their fold, and together the three lean on each other and on Sal’s dad (and eventually on Vicente’s new boyfriend) while they redefine what “family” means.

 

Beautifully written and told, this is an unforgettable look at life, love, loss, grief, friendship, and family. Vicente may win the award for Best Parent in a YA Book 2017. The friendship between Sal, Sam, and Fito is profoundly moving and rich. Fans of Aristotle and Dante who are eagerly awaiting the sequel will be happy to have another wonderful work from Sáenz to tide them over. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544586505

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 03/07/2017