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Book Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

girlswithsharpsticksPublisher’s Book Descriptions

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Karen’s Thoughts

Overall, I really liked this book and recommend it. It’s a subversive look at the patriarchy through the lens of an all girls finishing school that takes a lot of darkly unique twists and turns. By the end of this book I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for these girls to take up their sharp sticks and use them against the abusive men running the school. I want a very real and very vengeful uprising and trust me, these men deserve it.

Here’s the set up: a group of girls are in a finishing school where they are being groomed to be the perfect companions for men. They are told repeatedly that their greatest glory is this and in the beginning, they have no reason to think differently. They are sequestered, cut off from friends, family and all modern day conveniences. They are abused, manipulated, groomed, harassed, and then . . . things get even darker. That’s right my friends, things get seriously twisted and dark. I won’t tell you how because spoilers, but yeah, dark and twisted.

What I loved about this book is how it takes that dystopian mirror but shines a real light on a lot of modern day toxic elements of the patriarchy. It seems dark and twisted, but it’s also fundamentally rooted in a lot of real life perceptions held by men who want to maintain male dominance. It’s the patriarchy twisted, but also truthful. When you peel back this twisted dystopian curtain you are left with a lot of very real twisted and toxic truths about rape culture, the patriarchy and more. There is a lot of truth to discuss here. It’s like looking at our world through a fun-house mirror. It may seem absurd, but it’s only a mild distortion of reality.

You’ll notice that I didn’t highly recommend this book, because it’s not perfect. I think there is a lot of solid attempt here, but it doesn’t always necessarily come together perfectly. For one, it is a really slow start. I almost put it down but am thankful that I picked it back up again a few weeks later. That slow start really pays off.

Another real problem with this book is that these girls are told repeatedly that they are they ideal girl and that the way that they look physcially is part of that. However, almost all of the girls in this book present as white, which reinforces the very harmful ideal that white standards of beauty are the ultimate standards of beauty. It many ways, while trying to break down these very ideals, the narrative also reinforces the toxic cultural white beauty standards by not including more girls of color in the book. I think this part needed more time and attention to be better and more fully developed.

Another slight quibble I had with the narrative is that the girls are ultimately helped a lot by a male outsider in both their growing awareness that something isn’t right and in their ultimate attempts at escape. It’s unfortunate that a clearly feminist book still has its female characters need so much help from a male character to accomplish their goals. And of course this male character is presented as a possible romantic interest for one of the main female characters. To me, it’s an unfortunate narrative choice, but I understand that a lot of readers also like possible romance in their stories.

There’s lots of good here though. Two of the girls are in a relationship with each other. Although the many girls start out seeming interchangeable, which makes sense given that they are basically being trained to be the same docile version of femininity, they experience a lot of growth and individuation. And the girls do find lots of ways to fight the system on their own. Plus, bonus points here, it is the words of a poem that really help to stir their souls and awaken their intellect, and I loved this because I’m a librarian who believe in the power of the written word.

In the end, I found this book to be inspiring, challenging, and binge-worthy. It’s by no means perfect, but I’m looking forward to reading what happens next as this book is clearly set up for a sequel.

Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Publisher’s description

oppositeDebut author Justin A. Reynolds delivers a hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose, and the moments that make a life worth reliving. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and John Green.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I picked this up initially because I love the cover. Then I read the summary, and as someone who obsessively quotes Groundhog Day, the premise sold me. Reliving the same chunk of time over and over? Bring it on!

 

This completely enjoyable story asks what you would do differently—or the same—if you got a second chance. Or a third, fourth, or twentieth chance. Jack and Kate are only just really getting to know each other, to fall for each other, when Kate dies from sickle cell anemia. Upon hearing the news, Jack rushes from his house, falls down the stairs, and BAM! time starts over again. Suddenly, he’s back at the party where he first met Kate. Kate is clueless as to who he is (though she has a weird feeling that she already knows him), or that they have somehow respawned, but Jack remembers everything. Jack wonders why he’s reliving this time loop and blows off so much to be with Kate, whose time may or may not be limited in this run. When she dies again, Jack really buckles down, trying to figure out how he is supposed to do whatever it is he’s back here to do. Jack has to figure out what risks he should take and try to foresee what the consequences might be. It’s terrible to lose someone over and over, but he’s determined to figure out how to change that. And it’s not like he has a choice—he keeps getting tossed back through this loop no matter what changes he makes. He starts to wonder if he can save everyone—or, heck, if he can even save anyone.  He’ll make mistakes and different choices each time, but is he doomed to spend eternity living the same few months and always losing Kate?

 

This is a fun love story that features strong friendships, great parents, humor, and heartbreak. I loved Jack’s voice, the excellent banter, and the complex and caring relationships he has with Franny and Jillian, his best friends. This warm, smart, unique debut will have an easy wide appeal. I suspect, like me, readers will be drawn to it when they spy the great cover and once they start reading it, they’ll want to race through the whole thing and see if Jack can break the loop and find a happy ending. Or an ending, period. Readers who can suspend their disbelief and just go with the time loop premise will love this character-driven look at choices, consequences, and possibilities. I can’t wait to see what else Reynolds writes. 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062748379
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2019

Book Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

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 an issue of School Library Journal.

 

manic pixieThe Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans (ISBN-13: 9781541512597 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/05/2019)

 

Gr 9 Up—Members of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy) Trope fight for the right to exist—in fiction and in their own lives—in this entertaining send-up of literary conventions. Riley, one of the few Manic Pixie Dream Boys residing in TropeTown (a place filled with familiar literary devices, situations, and characters), has been sent to behavioral therapy for deviating from the expected quirky fun he is supposed to bring to a novel. There he meets Zelda and other whimsical Manic Pixie Dream Girls who have been sent to therapy to learn to embrace their Trope. As a group, they would like to be taken seriously, but since the TropeTown Council has decided their type is problematic, they may be retired. With only a few days to avert their demise, they work hard to show the Council how charming, creative, and vibrant they are. Their plan is complicated by other potential futures, like planting in a novel (staying for good), seeing where the Termination Train may really lead, or accepting the small bit of freedom that being a Trope in TropeTown allows them. Appelhans’s metafictional story asks if Tropes can live authentic lives, if they are doomed to live out other people’s stories, or if they can steer their own path. Affable Riley’s quest to be seen beyond labels and stereotypes and his desire for agency are feelings to which many Readers in Reader World will relate. VERDICT Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

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 an issue of School Library Journal

 

 

heroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

we set theIn this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I WANT THE NEXT BOOK! NOW! And after you read this, you will too.

 

Freshly out of the Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Dani is now the Primera to a promising young politician from a wealthy and respected family. Dani understands her role as Primera, one of two wives in the household, means she will run the home and be her husband Mateo’s equal. She quickly learns that secretive and cold Mateo, who is being groomed to run for president, views her as little more than a personal assistant. She’s not thrilled to be placed with Carmen, an enemy from school, who is Mateo’s Segunda, the second wife. Together, they all live in the heart of the capital, where luxury abounds. Money and power are important in the inner island, and Mateo’s family has both. But not far away, things are very different. Long ago, a wall was built around the inner island, and those suffering on the other side know nothing of the riches afforded to those lucky enough to be inside the wall. Dani knows intimately what life is like there and the risk many take to cross the militarized border that has a shoot-on-sight policy. Now part of the island’s elite, she is appalled at the wealth and resources taken for granted here. Life as a Primera could be extremely dull—be responsible and think of nothing more than supporting your husband—but Dani never gets to experience that.

 

Dani becomes involved with La Voz, a resistance group. The road to her involvement is complex—first she’s blackmailed, then she’s spying, and eventually she has to choose were her allegiances are. Their repeated message of “if we’re not all free, none of us are free” begins to really eat away at Dani, making her think hard about her past, the wall, her role as Primera, and what action she could take to affect change. Dani is supposed to exist to bring order and stability to the home (with Carmen there for warmth and beauty), but with her eyes opened more than ever to the injustices and resistance movement, she knows she needs to act. Being a spy is a complicated enough idea on its own, but throw in the fact that Dani isn’t sure who she can trust, from La Voz to her new family to Carmen, and it’s a real mess full of potential spies, liars, and double agents. As she struggles with her place now, she discovers many surprising revelations about Carmen, not the least of which is that they both have feelings for each other that go well beyond just being a paired Primera and Segunda. But as Dani untangles all of the prejudice, privilege, lies, and hatred around her, she wonders who, if anyone she can trust. And as her roles both at home and within La Voz continue, she worries that every part of her life is now a lie. How and where is Dani the most useful? And what price for freedom?

 

A tense cliffhanger that reveals secrets and sets up book two will leave readers (me!) desperate to see what happens. This well-written book has great world building, strong characters, and so much intrigue. A smart and engrossing read full of twists and turns. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Book Review: Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller

girlsonthevergePublisher’s Book Description

A powerful, timely coming-of-age story about a young woman from Texas who goes on a road trip with two friends to get an abortion, from award-winning author Sharon Biggs Waller.

Camille couldn’t be having a better summer. But on the very night she learns she got into a prestigious theater program, she also finds out she’s pregnant. She definitely can’t tell her parents. And her best friend, Bea, doesn’t agree with the decision Camille has made.

Camille is forced to try to solve her problem alone . . . and the system is very much working against her. At her most vulnerable, Camille reaches out to Annabelle Ponsonby, a girl she only barely knows from the theater. Happily, Annabelle agrees to drive her wherever she needs to go. And in a last-minute change of heart, Bea decides to come with.

Girls on the Verge is an incredibly timely novel about a woman’s right to choose. Sharon Biggs Waller brings to life a narrative that has to continue to fight for its right to be told, and honored.

Karen’s Thoughts

In November of 2016 when they announced that Donald Trump would be our new president I, like many women, went out and bought a supply of Plan B to keep on hand. Fast forward to the year 2019 and access to abortion and to some extent even birth control is very much being challenged. And this is most definitely the case in the state of Texas, where I live, work and raise two daughters who may have a genetic predisposition to a life threatening pregnancy condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the very pregnancy condition that threatened my life and forced my husband and I to access abortion services to end a failing pregnancy and save my life. The fundamental right to full bodily autonomy and to make one’s own medical decisions is a topic that I feel strongly about; I am glad that novels that tackle the topic of abortion head on that are written by people who care about teens are being written, especially at a time when reproductive justice is being threatened.

Abortion is a topic that doesn’t come up often in YA literature, although it has and does occasionally appear. In Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Jonston, a teen girl who is raped finds herself pregnant and terminates her pregnancy with no shame or regrets. In The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, a teen who is forced to protest abortion with her conservative mother has an abortion before she joins her pro-life parents on the picket line. Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin, The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas and What Girls are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold are just a few of the 59 titles mentioned on a Goodreads list of YA titles that deal with the topic of abortion. Out of the 1,000s of YA novels written, this is a very low number of titles.

Girls on the Verge is a no holds barred look not only at abortion, but at the difficulties one teen in the state of Texas has in trying to access an abortion. Her mind made up, it’s not so much about the will she or won’t she, but the how of it. Camille takes a road trip that involves a fake abortion clinic that wants to pray and counsel the teen, a court appearance to try and obtain the right to an abortion without parental consent by a judge who forces his own personal convictions on the teen, and a quest to find abortion pills. Currently living in the state of Texas, this entire journey felt real. And along the way, there is a lot of rich and meaningful conversation about what it means to be female and female friendship that happens in that car. I loved and valued the conversations that these girls had.

This is a controversial subject and I felt that Waller handled every aspect of it so well. Camille is pretty sure of her decision and doesn’t feel a weight-load of guilt, a point of view that isn’t often presented when we talk about the topic of abortion in any form of media let alone YA literature. She is very well supported by one female companion and is somewhat supported by her lifelong best friend who has personal moral objections to Camille’s decision, but also chooses to support her friend so that she doesn’t have to go through this alone. The discussion is meaningful, rich and, I think, important. Each teen is challenged in various ways and the reader gets a lot of insight into their lives and thoughts.

The characters are deeply drawn and readers will be invested in them, but more than anything this is a timely and important novel about the topic of reproductive justice and the current challenges to it that anyone with a uterus faces. Waller shares resources and a personal note that explains why she felt it is important that this novel and novels like it get written. Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

art of losingThe Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

One terrible night throws Harley’s entire life into chaos and makes her reevaluate her relationships, beliefs, and goals. The little summary up there from the publisher does an adequate job of hitting the highlights of the action of the plot, but since this is very much a character-driven story, about change and growth and moving forward, it doesn’t capture the powerfully emotional and resonant connections, struggles, and healing that make up the story.

 

While Harley’s sister Audrey is in a medically-induced coma following a car accident caused by Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, who was driving drunk, Harley is left to figure out her feelings toward both her sister and Mike (who she busted hooking up together at a party) as well as figure out who she is now that she’s no longer Mike’s Girlfriend. She had let herself become defined by her relationship with him over the past few years, losing herself and her real interests in the process. To her surprise, she starts hanging out again with her neighbor, Rafael, who she used to be really close with but now never talks to. Raf tells her he’s recently out of rehab, though he’s not totally convinced yet that he’s actually an alcoholic or an addict. Given Mike’s history of drinking, and that he’s now attending court-mandated rehab, Harley is a little wary of Raf, but quickly gets over any misgivings when she realizes that he still just totally gets her. He’s open, honest, thoughtful, talented, interesting, and not at all certain about his future. He’s also at a bit of a loss right now, just like Harley, because he’s broken ties with his old friends, who aren’t conducive to his recovery. Harley may worry that he’s a mess, and Raf may think that about himself, but he’s not. He’s just trying to figure some stuff out while beginning to understand that sobriety is a lifelong struggle. Harley has her own stuff to be dealing with—she feels guilty about what happened to her sister, feels a little lost without being with Mike anymore, and while she loves hanging out with Raf and is starting to realize her deeper feelings for him, she doesn’t think she should get to be happy right now.

 

Audrey’s progress while in the hospital is extremely slow. She wakes up for a bit a few times before finally coming fully out of her coma. Audrey has a lot of gaps in her memory, including no idea what happened the night of the party. Harley hasn’t even told her parents what actually happened and how Audrey ended up getting a ride home with Mike and not Harley. It’s all so complicated and painful, especially given Mike’s history of drinking and cheating, and the fact that Harley stuck around through all that. She has minimal interaction with Mike post-accident, including a visit to him at rehab while he is supposedly making amends. But unlike Raf, who has some missteps but is committed to sobriety, Mike hasn’t learned much from the accident, rehab, or Audrey’s coma, and goes right back to his partying ways. Thank goodness Harley cuts her ties with him and works through her own stuff in the company of Raf. They both start to understand more about themselves, like Raf likes to avoid reality and Harley is used to stuffing away her feelings. They both have a lot of insecurities (as does Mike) and Harley has trust issues. But she asks to see a therapist to start to work through everything, with the goal of learning how to stand up for herself and say what she actually feels. Together with Raf she learns that both recovery and just overcoming things in general is not an uninterrupted straight line. Life is complicated and messy, but both Raf and Harley are coming to understand that they can change the narrative and move forward, learning from their past and experiences but also not letting them define them.

 

I burned through this book because Mason presents engaging characters who go through real journeys in the course of the story. There is much to relate to here, including working through problems, redefining yourself, taking accountability, and learning forgiveness. There’s a lot of depth to the story and the characters, for the most part, are nuanced and imperfect but willing to work, change, and move on. This realistic look at addiction and its impact on lives is somber but ultimately hopeful. This well-written debut has lots of layers and will be an easy one to recommend to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Post-it Note Reviews of YA Books: Undocumented teen voices, the supernatural, writing advice, a searing memoir, and Joan of Arc’s life told through poems

IMG_3631I 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. 

 

 

 

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We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin

 

The Stonewall Honor–winning author of Beyond Magenta shares the intimate, eye-opening stories of nine undocumented young adults living in America.

“Maybe next time they hear someone railing about how terrible immigrants are, they’ll think about me. I’m a real person.” 

Meet nine courageous young adults who have lived in the United States with a secret for much of their lives: they are not U.S. citizens. They came from Colombia, Mexico, Ghana, Independent Samoa, and Korea. They came seeking education, fleeing violence, and escaping poverty. All have heartbreaking and hopeful stories about leaving their homelands and starting a new life in America. And all are weary of living in the shadows. We Are Here to Stay is a very different book than it was intended to be when originally slated for a 2017 release, illustrated with Susan Kuklin’s gorgeous full-color portraits. Since the last presidential election and the repeal of DACA, it is no longer safe for these young adults to be identified in photographs or by name. Their photographs have been replaced with empty frames, and their names are represented by first initials. We are honored to publish these enlightening, honest, and brave accounts that encourage open, thoughtful conversation about the complexities of immigration — and the uncertain future of immigrants in America.

(POST-IT SAYS: Deeply moving. The interviews/format allow the young adults’ voices to really come through, sharing painful experiences as well as hopes and frustrations. The lack of portraits/names is a powerful commentary on what this presidential administration has done. Ages 13+)

 

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When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry

(pub date 3/12/2019)

 

The Serpent King meets Stranger Things in Emily Henry’s gripping novel about a group of friends in a small town who find themselves dealing with unexpected powers after a cosmic event.

Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren’t a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That’s the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.

In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.

Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn’t fiction–it’s a bright light, something massive hurtling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate…everything changes.

(POST-IT SAYS: I admit to skimming this because it didn’t really grab me. That said, it’s an easy recommendation for fans of supernatural/science fiction. Friendship, loss, and grief in an eerie package.)

 

 

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Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book by Ally Carter

(pub date 3/26/2019)

 

Have you always wanted to write a book, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re really great at writing the first few chapters . . . but you never quite make it to the end? Or do you finally have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure what to do next? Fear not — if you have writing-related questions, this book has answers!

Whether you’re writing for fun or to build a career, bestselling author Ally Carter is ready to help you make your work shine. With honesty, encouragement, and humor, Ally’s ready here to answer the questions that writers struggle with the most.

Filled with practical tips and helpful advice, Dear Ally is a treasure for aspiring writers at any stage of their careers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how books get made, from idea to publication, and gives you insight into the writing processes of some of the biggest and most talented YA authors writing today.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: YA with plenty of wide appeal, because how do you write a book? Lots of great insight and useful advice in an accessible style. A great resource for writers of all ages.)

 

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Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

(pub date 3/12/2019)

 

A searing poetic memoir and call to action from the bestselling and award-winning author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson!Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.
(POST-IT SAYS: POWERFUL. An immensely readable memoir that informs her fiction and reveals her truths. An outstanding and empowering take on surviving, advocacy, and rape culture. Intense.)

 

 

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott
(3/26/2019)

 

Bestselling author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death. Joan of Arc gets the Hamilton treatment in this evocative novel. Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman. Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.
(POST-IT SAYS: A unique perspective on Joan of Arc’s life, trials, and accusers. A strong introduction for readers who may not know much about her. May engage readers who otherwise would not gravitate toward historical fiction.)

 

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Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin

 

From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic–and the chances for another worldwide pandemic.

In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge–and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.

(POST-IT SAYS: A comprehensive and horrifying look at the circumstances that led to this pandemic. Full of archival photos, newspaper clippings, quotes, and diaries/letters, this is a compelling and deeply scary read.)

Book Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

past and otherSix Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. 

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been well established on here that I am a superfan of Hutchinson. I absolutely love his approach to telling a story and his always weird and thought-provoking mix of realism and science fiction. I read in order of publication date—it’s the only chance I stand of keeping my TBR piles and blogging ideas in check—but I always want to jump ahead and read his books the second I get them. If you’ve somehow missed out on reading him, get cracking. You won’t be disappointed.

 

This line up there in the description—A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up—should rope you in. We’ve seen plenty of books of grief, but what happens if the person you are grieving (or not really grieving because things went so awry in your relationship) came back to life? Or not-life. While Dino is helping prepare his former best friend, July, for her funeral (his family members are morticians and 17-year-old Dino is skilled at doing makeup on the dead), she suddenly sits up, alive. Or, more accurately, not-dead. July isn’t really ready to accept that she’s not living, and Dino is mystified how on earth she’s not-dead, but sort of just rolls with what is happening. Together, they spend the evening going around town, trying to keep July hidden from everyone (as it might be just a little unsettling for someone to see a girl who has been dead for a week, as one of their classmates discovers) while they attempt to figure out what’s happening, how to make July be dead-dead in time for her funeral tomorrow, and what exactly went on with their friendship. They talk a lot and do some really regular things—wander Walmart, hit up the gas station for Slurpees, go to a party—only July is not-alive, her skin is starting to fall off, and she smells terrible, like she’s decomposing, which she is. Meanwhile, in the wider world, people are not dying when they should be. The hospital is full of people who are not-dead as are places all around the world. Dino knows there has to be some answer here with July, whether rational or divine, and figures she is somehow tied into what is happening with death everywhere. And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, maybe, and July is ready for her funeral, she sends Dino a selfie from inside her buried coffin, and their plot is back up and running again. Will finding ways to wrap up unresolved issues in their relationship finally make July stay dead? Or is Dino doomed to hide his not-alive former best friend forever? 

 

I just loved this story. Dino’s mortician parents are great (Hutchinson describes his mother as a “Goth Peter Pan,” which I adore), their family profession is obviously unique and full of potential entertainment, and his soon-to-be-married sister is also a fun character. Dino’s boyfriend, Rafi, who is trans, and the other new friends he made after he had a falling out with July are lovely, diverse, and interesting. I wish we had seen more of them, especially Rafi, who patiently tries to work through their relationship with Dino, who is kind of freaking out about it while trying to unpack his other most significant relationship. I really love books that are weird (a word I only ever use as a compliment) and show me a story from a previously untold viewpoint. This book will give you a new outlook on the phrase “best friends forever.” A really readable, engaging, strange, poignant, and funny journey through a relationship autopsy. Highly recommended. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498579
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Book Review: Quarantine, A Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc

quarantinePublisher’s Book Description: Oliver wants a girlfriend, and there’s a girl back home who might be interested in him. The problem is, he has to spend his spring break on a volunteer trip in the Dominican Republic. Flora, on the other hand, isn’t really looking for a boyfriend. She just wants to end a miserable spring break visiting her dad and her new stepmom in the D.R.

The solution to both their problems? Get back home to New York ASAP. Sadly, they won’t be getting there anytime soon.

Their hopes are dashed when Flora’s impulsiveness lands them in quarantine — just the two of them. Now, the two teens must come together in order to survive life in a bubble for 30 days. In that time, love will bloom. But is it the real thing, or just a placebo effect?

In her debut novel, Katie Cicatelli-Kuc delivers an introspective and witty story about finding love in the most unexpected place.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Please note, there are some very real spoilers in this review as I explain to you why I can not in good faith recommend this book as a person who campaigns against sexual violence and for the importance of consent in relationships.

As someone who spends a lot of time advocating for consent education, I can not in good faith recommend this book, even though I believe it will have a lot of teen appeal. This love story begins when two strangers meet on an airplane and are placed in a quarantine hold for a short period of time. The girl, not wanting to return home, fakes being sick so that she will have to stay in quarantine for an additional 30 days. Not wanting to stay in quarantine alone, however, she grabs and kisses the teen boy against his will and knowing full well that he wants to go home and that he has a budding relationship on the horizon, forcing him to stay in quarantine with her for that 30 days. He has, effectively, been denied his free will and freedom by the selfish impulses of this girl and over the course of time, they fall in love. It’s kind of a reverse Beauty and the Beast story, a story that I stopped liking a long time ago because I do not believe that true love can be found in relationships where one person is basically holding another person prisoner.

To be honest, none of the females presented in this book are presented in an overly positive or redeeming light. Flora is presented as an authority who guides Oliver, often sharing with him truth bombs about life and relationships, but she herself is lost and floundering. She does exhibit growth over the course of the novel as they are both given a lot of time for introspection, but I could never get past what she did to Oliver. Oliver’s other love interest, Kelsey, is a selfish, fame obsessed young woman who uses Oliver’s new found notoriety to try and propel herself to social media stardom, spurred on in part by Flora who thinks she is trying to help Oliver nab the girl of his dreams.

Oliver starts out as a more naive and floundering young man, but he also grows. Towards the end as he starts to stand up for himself and express himself more fully, readers seem him becoming a more competent and fully fleshed character.

The most realistic part about this novel is the social media component. Flora and Oliver start the hashtag #Quaranteens and milk (and try to manipulate) their quarantine status for social media likes and for the most part it works; but as always life, truth and social media are more complicated than anyone can predict and it gets messy. This in particular is the part that I find teens will be most drawn to. It truly captures the social media zeitgeist.

I would have felt much differently about this book if at the end of the 30 days the teens would have grown, realized that what Flora did to Oliver was completely unconscionable and gone their separate ways. Alas, this is a love story and that is not what happens. Because this is a relationship that is built upon the very clear violation of one person’s ability to consent about what happens to their life – keep in mind, he is now forced to spend 30 days in a quarantine away from his life, friends and family – I can not get behind it or recommend it. Once the impetus for how these two teens were forced to spend time together became clear, I wanted to tap out of this book. I read it until completion to see if or how the issue was dealt with, and although they do at times talk about consent, I personally could never get past the very clear violation of consent that brought the two teens together.

Out of curiosity to see what other reviewers were saying about this book, I did some research. Booklist says this about this novel: “And since Flora, for some reason, laid one on Oliver after they met on the plane (a dramatic first kiss for them both), he’s stuck right there in quarantine with her. ” They go on to recommend it as a “a sweet, simple romance with a fun concept.” (Booklist, 1/01/2019, Maggie Reagan. 336p. AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, c2019). Kirkus mentions the kiss but doesn’t even acknowledge any concern for an obvious lack of consent and the dramatic impact it has on Oliver’s life. I think it is unfortunate as book reviewers that we continue to fail to acknowledge problematic consent issues and recommend books that have them without any caveats.

I think the novel has a lot of teen appeal elements, but I personally don’t recommend it.

This book is slated to be published in March, 2019.