Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: The Resolutions by Mia Garcia

Publisher’s description

resolutionsA heart-expanding novel about four Latinx teens who make New Year’s resolutions for one another—and the whirlwind of a year that follows. Fans of Erika L. Sánchez and Emery Lord will fall for this story of friendship, identity, and the struggle of finding yourself when all you want is to start over.

From hiking trips to four-person birthday parties to never-ending group texts, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora have always been inseparable. But now with senior year on the horizon, they’ve been growing apart. And so, as always, Jess makes a plan.

Reinstating their usual tradition of making resolutions together on New Year’s Eve, Jess adds a new twist: instead of making their own resolutions, the four friends assign them to one another—dares like kiss someone you know is wrong for you, find your calling outside your mom’s Puerto Rican restaurant, finally learn Spanish, and say yes to everything.

But as the year unfolds, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora each test the bonds that hold them together. And amid first loves, heartbreaks, and life-changing decisions, beginning again is never as simple as it seems.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I shouldn’t, but of course I judge a book by its cover. It’s what stops me when I’m scrolling through online catalogs or pulling books off the shelf in a library or bookstore. Sometimes I’m wrong about a book—cover looks great and totally like something I’d love but book is meh—but sometimes the book is just as fun and cute and unique as its cover. Thankfully, that was the case for The Resolutions. I read it in one sitting.

 

Denver Latinx teens Jess, Lee, Nora, and Ryan are best friends. While still incredibly tight, it’s the middle of junior year and a they all have a lot going on in their lives. Ryan is still reeling from his breakup with Jason, Lee is struggling with whether or not to get tested for Huntington’s Disease (the disease that killed her mother), Nora is wondering if she can really handle a future that just holds going to a local college and continuing to work at her family’s restaurant, and Jess is busy, as always, taking on too many responsibilities. On New Year’s Eve, they assign each other resolutions, hoping to push each other out of their comfort zones (in a good way), encouraging each other to do the things they always talk about but never do. It’s been increasingly hard to coordinate time to all be together, and Jess hopes a project like this will help keep their bond strong. But, as you might expect, pursuing these resolutions is hardly uncomplicated, though the gentle pushes from their friends do help them discover parts of themselves they otherwise may have taken longer to know. 

 

There is so much to like about this book. Garcia’s keen ear for realistic dialogue really makes for effortless reading—it’s easy to cruise through lots of pages really feeling like you’re listening to friends talking. Including some of their text messages to each other also lends itself to that feeling. Though many of the friends are involved in romantic relationships—Ryan is recovering from his boyfriend breaking up with him, Lee is suddenly seeing someone old with new eyes, and bisexual Nora is happily dating the same girl she’s been with for a while—this is solidly a friendship story. The love and support and encouragement they offer each other is so great to see. Garcia manages to write about serious subjects, like Lee’s worries about Huntington’s Disease or Nora’s perceived lack of control over her future or Jess’s increasing and frightening panic attacks, with a light touch. These issues (and more) feel weighty and important, but maybe because of the support in their lives they also feel like things that can be conquered or achieved. As the story follows them through part of junior year and part of senior year (from one New Year’s Eve to another), we see them struggle, change, grow, and succeed in ways that feel very honest, real, and inspiring. Through it all, the bond of their friendship helps them grow up and grow together. I suspect teen readers will devour this totally satisfying look at identity, obstacles, and friendship. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062656827
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/13/2018

Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

this is whatThis tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always like a story about complicated friendships. Here, in Barrow’s second book, we get just that; but it’s not just the story of why a friendship broke up, it’s also the story of how a friendship was patched back together.

 

Hanna, Dia, and Jules used to be best friends. Dia and Jules still are. They also used to be in a band together. Super tight, the girls played their mix of punk/grunge/R&B at shows and parties all around town until Hanna’s drinking problem got in the way. The book opens with them having just played a successful show, then jumps to the very end of senior year, 407 days after Hanna got sober. She’s no longer friends with Jules or Dia. The other two girls remain close, supporting each other through a break-up, a baby, and a death. We move around in time, narratively, and see their friendship in the past, see Hanna’s drinking escalate, and see Dia’s relationship with Elliot, the now-dead father of her baby. It’s easy to see how their friendship imploded, but it’s harder to see how the girls can put it back together. Enter the Sun City Originals contest.

 

Dia wants to enter the contest for a chance to win $15,000 and the opening spot for one of their favorite bands. Jules says it wouldn’t be right to enter without Hanna on drums, even though they haven’t even spoken to her in nearly two years. Reluctantly, the girls reform their band, but just their band—not their friendship. But playing together again means spending a lot of time together, and it’s hard to keep those walls up and hang on to those old hurts when they’re around each other so much, and when they’re having so much fun making music again. Dia and Jules realize they don’t even really know Hanna anymore. But can you start over being friends with someone when there’s so much baggage?

 

I loved this book for the painfully honest and authentic look at teenage friendship. The girls are all complex characters dealing with their own things. Dia has a toddler and is trying to protect her heart from falling in love and potentially losing another person. Jules is dating Autumn, a new girl at work who has never been in a relationship and isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian or bi or what. They’ve all just graduated high school and are trying to figure out what the future will bring. They’re not just trying to figure out who they are in relation to each other, but who they are in relation to many other people, and on their own. This story of trust, old wounds, rebuilding, and music is empowering and ultimately a powerful look at support female friendships. A great read.

 

Bonus: The whole time I read this, I was thinking about an amazing local (Minnesota) band that I saw last winter, Bruise Violet. I’m listening to them as I write this review. Check them out!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494238
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/06/2018

Book Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

Publisher’s description

pulpIn 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I really enjoyed this. For a while, I felt conflicted—I wanted more of Janet’s 1955 story, in a more linear way. I wanted more of Abby’s 2017 story, same deal. I wanted more of Janet’s novel, and, sorry Abby, maybe less of Abby’s. But, eventually it all really started to come together and in the end, was super satisfying.

 

In 2017, high school seniors Abby,who’s a lesbian, and Linh, who is bi, are “just friends,” having broken up prior to the past summer, but Abby isn’t happy with that arrangement. It’s complicated, because they’re still best friends and hang out all the time. Linh is driven and doing all the right things to prepare for college applications. Abby is floundering a little—she’s lost her girlfriend, her parents are never around (and seem like they can’t even be in the same room together), and she can’t get started on her senior project. She finally settles on researching 1950s lesbian pulp fiction, deciding she will write about the novels, the circumstances surrounding that time period and the novels, and try her hand at writing a pulp novel, with a twist. Her research leads her to reading a book by Marian Love, which then leads her to kind of an obsession about finding out more about the elusive Love while she also works to figure out her own love life, changing relationships, and her future.

 

Back in 1955, we meet Janet Jones, an 18-year-old who has recently come to the realization that she likes other girls—a revelation that becomes clear to her after she steals a lesbian pulp novel and is amazed to find that not only do other girls feel like she does, but there’s a word for her, a lesbian. Her feelings for her close friend, Marie, are reciprocated, but unlike Abby’s reality, in 2017, of acceptance and support and (for her) the freedom to be out and feel safe, Janet and Marie face a different reality. In 1955, they are in the midst of McCarthyism and the Lavender Scare. There are plenty of reasons to deny their feelings and hide who they are, but despite their fear, the girls pursue a relationship. Janet writes to the author of her favorite pulp book and then begins writing her own book, envisioning a future where she and Marie move to New York, free to be out and accepted by other people like them. But it’s not that simple—and in fact, Janet’s story becomes far more complicated than most readers will see coming.

 

I always enjoy Talley’s books, but I particularly liked this one for the historical perspective it provides. I don’t think anyone would say that being out is necessarily safe or easy, even in 2018, but 1955 was certainly a more unaccepting time. Younger readers may not know much about the lesbian novels of the 50s, McCarthyism, the Lavender Scare, etc. Janet and Abby’s alternate narration provides a clear contrast between the eras while also linking together their experiences. Abby’s quest to learn more about Marian Love is really engaging, especially once she begins to make some (unexpected) progress on her search. Though for a while it seems like so much is not going as Abby or Janet had hoped their lives would go, this is ultimately a hopeful novel about identity, progress, community, acceptance, and the power of reading just the right book at just the right time. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781335012906
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 11/13/2018

Book Review: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

epicA fresh, charming rom-com perfect for fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Boy Meets Boy about Nathan Bird, who has sworn off happy endings but is sorely tested when his former best friend, Ollie, moves back to town.

Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings. Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel—but this strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Like ever-changing relationships? Then this is the book for you. It’s friends-to-lovers-to-friends-again, it’s friends-to-estranged-to-friends-to lovers-to-estranged-to-?, it’s friends-to-crush-to-rejection-to-lovers (I am really not enjoying how much I am using the word “lovers” here, but I’m trying to stick with the phrasing of this kind of trope). Basically, if you like stories that are super about relationships, this is your book.

 

Nate has his guard up, big time. He’s so worried about getting hurt, about getting his heart broken, that he either preemptively ruins things before they can get ruined or doesn’t allow himself to act on his feelings. He and Flo have recently broken up, after dating for a year. Flo would like Nate and her new girlfriend to be friends, but that’s asking a lot, especially when you consider that Nate may still have feelings for Flo (and doesn’t particularly want to be buds with the girl with whom Flo cheated on Nate). But Flo and Nate seem pretty okay—a little tension there, maybe, but still best friends. And speaking of best friends, Nate’s childhood BFF, Oliver James, is back in town. Nate is pretty sure he had screwed up their friendship beyond all repair when Oliver moved, but the two quickly start hanging out again. Oliver is hard of hearing and Nate still remembers a lot of sign language, so the two talk out loud (Oliver reads lips, too), sign, and type out more complicated thoughts that Nate can’t figure out how to sign. Things are a little tense with them at times (do you get the feeling things are often a little tense between various characters in this book?), but they seem like they’re back to being friends. Except Nate has feelings for Ollie. FEEEEELINGS. And Oliver has a boyfriend back in Santa Fe. But… but…. It’s always complicated, right? Even if Oliver winds up single and Nate can act on his feelings, will he? Is he too scared? Too self-protective? Will his meddling friends just let them figure it out at their own pace? Will kissing various friends make things MORE clear or way more complicated? You can probably guess.

 

There’s a lot of great things going on in this book—queer POC main characters, a hard of hearing main character, fluid sexuality that doesn’t have labels or require any kind of “wait, you like boys, too?” kind of conversation, strong friendships, honest feelings, and lots of pop culture references. It’s a good read for those who like character-driven stories, though at times I wanted more from the characters (I wanted to know more about their backstories, their friendships, their thought process). Throughout the course of the book, Nate writes a screenplay, which was hear a tiny bit about but never really get to see any of—I would have liked to see some of it! We don’t get much of a deep dive into Nate’s psychological reasons for being so afraid of relationships (other than his dad died some years ago and his mom is still grieving), so his character doesn’t develop as much as I would have liked to see. But, overall, it’s a fun, quick read full of dating, making out, and breaking up. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062820228
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/30/2018

Book Review: Home and Away by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

home and awayTasia Quirk is young, Black, and fabulous. She’s a senior, she’s got great friends, and a supportive and wealthy family. She even plays football as the only girl on her private high school’s team.

But when she catches her mamma trying to stuff a mysterious box in the closet, her identity is suddenly called into question. Now Tasia’s determined to unravel the lies that have overtaken her life. Along the way, she discovers what family and forgiveness really mean, and that her answers don’t come without a fee. An artsy bisexual boy from the Valley could help her find them—but only if she stops fighting who she is, beyond the color of her skin.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

What a great exploration of heartache, home, second chances, grace, forgiveness, family, race, and identity. This was the first book I’ve read from both this author and this publisher (Page Street Publishing) and I look forward to more from both.

 

Tasia’s life seems pretty great. The summary up there tells you all about it. But everything is thrown into chaos when she discovers her mother hiding a box of newspaper clippings and more from Tasia’s life. In that box is a picture of her Black mother with a white man—a man who turns out to be Tasia’s biological father. At 18, Tasia cannot believe she’s been lied to this long. Not only is the only father she’s ever known not her biological father, but she’s biracial. There are certainly all kinds of different and totally okay ways to react to both pieces of news. For Tasia, she decides to track down Merrick, her biological dad, and then move in with him for a while. She can’t get past her parents’ betrayal. She moves from her McMansion (her words) in her affluent neighborhood to Merrick’s small apartment, transferring to a public high school as well. Here she makes new friends, including bisexual Kai El Khoury, who was adopted by Merrick’s parents. It’s hard for Tasia to talk to her old friends about any of this, so she kind of withdraws from everyone, throwing herself into her new life. Her new life comes with a lot of introspection and suspicion. Who sent that box to her? Why did her mother never tell Merrick or Tasia the truth? Will she ever be able to forgive her parents? Through it all, she begins to understand just how many different sides people have, and that they don’t show all their sides to everyone.

 

I enjoyed this book for many reasons. Tasia is a football-player, which is hardly a big deal at all except for her new coach, who initially is a total jerk to her. She has all kinds of interesting friends, both old and new, with diverse identities, and makes many missteps with them, learning along the way how to be a better friend, how to trust more, and how to forgive and move on. Though initially I thought maybe the book was a bit too long to sustain the story, once it really got underway, there is so much going on, and so much that Tasia has to process, that I ended up wanting even more toward the end. Her explorations of the many tensions in her life and her many identities is compelling and honest. It was a joy to watch her find so many new truths on her path to healing and learn to reconcile the different pieces of her life. I hope this great book finds a large audience, because Tasia’s story is an important one. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624145957
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 10/16/2018

Book Review: The Collectors by Jacqueline West

Publisher’s description

collectorsEven the smallest wish can be dangerous. That’s why the Collectors are always keeping watch.

The Collectors sweeps readers into a hidden world where wishes are stolen and dreams have a price. Fast-paced, witty, and riveting, this contemporary fantasy adventure has magic woven through every page.

It’s the first book in a two-book series from Jacqueline West, the New York Times–bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere series. For fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak, The Isle of the Lost, and The Secret Keepers.

Van has always been an outsider. Most people don’t notice him. But he notices them. And he notices the small trinkets they drop, or lose, or throw away—that’s why his collection is full of treasures. Then one day, Van notices a girl stealing pennies from a fountain, and everything changes. He follows the girl, Pebble, and uncovers an underground world full of wishes and the people who collect them. Apparently not all wishes are good and even good wishes often have unintended consequences—and the Collectors have made it their duty to protect us. But they aren’t the only ones who have their eyes on the world’s wishes—and they may not be the good guys, after all.

Jacqueline West, author of the New York Times–bestselling Books of Elsewhere series, draws readers into a story about friendship, magic, and the gray area between good and evil. The Collectors is for fans of Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus and Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is totally one of those books where I finish reading it and want to demand the next book be in my hands RIGHT NOW so I can find out what happens. After lots of fabulous twists and turns, and being left uncertain who to trust or believe, I just want to see where this story goes. I suspect many readers will be just as drawn in as I was.

 

11-year-old Van wears hearing aids, and while he may not always hear everything, he certainly sees everything. A keen observer, he notices little things that others overlook, like small, forgotten items that he secrets home to his model stage, where they become part of his imaginary world. His opera singer-mother is often preoccupied with other things, and while shopping one day, Van comes across a strange girl stealing pennies from a fountain. He tries to figure out what her deal is, but his mother appears and the girl disappears before he can learn much. Eventually, his quest to find out more leads him to hidden underground chambers, where he follows the girl to a room labeled The Collection. Here, he finds shelves filled with glass bottles, which turn out to be captured wishes. Van has so many questions: who would steal wishes? Why? Do they help make them come true? Or do they stop them from coming true? What does Pebble, the girl, have to do with all of this? And how come Van can talk to and understand animals? Things grow more complicated when Van meets Mr. Falborg, an Opera Guild member with vast collections of his own. When Van is kidnapped by men from the underground chambers, he’s told he’s dangerous because he knows their secrets. He’s given instructions to prove he’s not their enemy and released. Unfortunately, that proof requires him to steal something from Mr. Falborg, who also tells Van he is in danger. Suddenly, it seems impossible to know who to trust, who is good or bad. Pebble claims that the collectors keep people safe from what could happen if wishes came true, but Falborg is telling Van a different story. And when Van discovers the most secret part of Falborg’s collection, he really doesn’t know what to think or who to believe. Forced to choose a side to align himself with, Van is confused. Wishes are hard to control and could bring chaos, but who can really be trusted to carry them out in the best way? When wishes are tied up with power, control, and good/bad, how can you even make a wish? And when Van finds out Pebble’s big secret, we’re all left wondering what will happen as the book closes.

 

Great characters, interesting world-building, tons of suspense, and leaves readers wanting more. A great addition to any collection. Be careful what you wish for! 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691699
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/09/2018

Book Review: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher’s description

hearts unNew York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Go ahead and place your order for this book before you even read the review. The tl;dr version of this review is that the book is pretty great and when is the last time you read a book with a female main character who is Native? 

 

Louise is a complicated character. Having recently moved from Texas to Kansas, Muscogee (Creek) Louise describes her family as middle middle class. They have a lot of family in Indian Country, Oklahoma, but in her new town in Kansas, she and her brother, Hughie, are definitely in the minority. Louise splits with her boyfriend, Cam, after his disparaging remarks about Native people, and tests out potential crushes on new boys, only to find that the Choctaw boy she thinks is cute only dates white girls and her seemingly-nice classmate Pete conflates Native people with alcoholics. It’s while working on the school newspaper as a features reporter that Louise meets Joey, an Arab American boy she bonds with over their shared interest in journalism. Things at school become increasingly tense when Hughie and two other students of color are cast in the school play, with some white parents forming a group to protest these roles going to non-white kids (for the first time ever). Hughie and the two other students receive threatening notes telling them to go back to where they came from. The newspaper covers the controversy, and Hughie grows conflicted over taking a role in a play by L. Frank Baum after he learns of Baum’s racism and his calls for genocide of Native people. Louise deals with racist remarks, ignorance, and microaggressions, trying to educate others and do her job as a reporter in the midst of cries of “reverse racism” and political correctness gone too far.

 

While Louise never wavers in her quest to educate others, she has a lot of room to grow as a friend. Her alleged best friend, Shelby, is largely absent in the book, usually busy working and not really understood well by Louise, who has trouble seeing beyond herself sometimes. She has a lot to learn about friendships, dating, and understanding others. But these flaws make her real, and interesting. Readers see her grow and change as she makes more connections with people in her new town and stands up for what she believes in and what she knows is right. Mvskoke words are sprinkled throughout the next, with a glossary appended as well as an important author’s note. This book also accomplished the near-impossible: it made me miss high school for two seconds, reminding me of my love for writing for the school newspaper and the frustrations and community that can come with that. This is a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Sure to inspire interesting classroom discussions, this is a must-have for all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780763681142
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/09/2018

Book Review: Lost Soul, Be at Peace by Maggie Thrash

Publisher’s description

lost soulFollowing her acclaimed Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash revisits a period of teenage depression in a graphic memoir that is at once thoughtful, honest, and marked by hope.

A year and a half after the summer that changed her life, Maggie Thrash wishes she could change it all back. She’s trapped in a dark depression and flunking eleventh grade, befuddling her patrician mother while going unnoticed by her father, a workaholic federal judge. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi . . . who then disappears somewhere in the walls of her cavernous house. So her search begins — but Maggie’s not even really sure what she’s lost, and she has no idea what she’ll find. Lost Soul, Be at Peace is the continuation of Maggie’s story from her critically acclaimed memoir Honor Girl, one that brings her devastating honesty and humor to the before and after of depression.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

11th grade Maggie is depressed—not that her parents have taken notice. Her grades are terrible, her only real friend is her cat (who either runs away or just weirdly disappears somewhere in their mansion, never to be seen again), and when she searches “depression” on the internet, she comes across the ever-so-helpful suggestion to just drink more water. You’re not depressed—you’re just dehydrated! She’s out to a few friends, but not to her parents. Her federal judge dad always has his head in a book or is at work, and Maggie is always surprised when her dad uses her name and doesn’t just refer to her as “Ms. Thrash” or “tenant.” When her mother isn’t criticizing her, she’s ignoring her. But when Maggie comes across a hallway in her home that she swears she’s never seen, she meets an important new friend who just happens to be a ghost (though he doesn’t think he’s dead). At first, Maggie thinks it’s only a dream, but quickly the line between dreams and reality blurs, and Tommy, the not-dead ghost, is always around. Maggie isn’t sure what to make of all this. She’s a former sleepwalker who now has night terrors. Is Tommy real? And why are there so many weird details about his life that really make his appearance feel like it’s a mystery meant to be solved? It’s only much later, after her dad’s mother dies, that Maggie begins to understand who Tommy is and why he’s here.

 

Though this is a companion to Thrash’s first graphic memoir, Honor Girl, it’s not necessarily to have read it to understand or enjoy this memoir. With simple yet engaging artwork (that will be in full color in the finished version, which I suspect will add a lot to the readability of the story—my ARC was only in black and white), Thrash tells a compelling and surprisingly deep story about the things we lose, the things we find, empathy, connection, and family. Honest, vulnerable, and ultimately hopeful, this memoir will resonate with a wide variety of readers. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780763694197
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/09/2018

Book Review: Dig by A. S. King, an important reflection on white privilege in YA literature

digPublisher’s Book Description:

Acclaimed master of the YA novel A. S. King’s eleventh book is a surreal and searing dive into the tangled secrets of an upper-middle-class white family in suburban Pennsylvania and the terrible cost the family’s children pay to maintain the family name.

The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First-Class Malcolm. These are the five teenagers lost in the Hemmings family’s maze of tangled secrets. Only a generation removed from being simple Pennsylvania potato farmers, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now sit atop a seven-figure bank account, wealth they’ve declined to pass on to their adult children or their teenage grand children. “Because we want them to thrive,” Marla always says. What does thriving look like? Like carrying a snow shovel everywhere. Like selling pot at the Arby’s drive-thru window. Like a first class ticket to Jamiaca between cancer treatments. Like a flea-circus in a doublewide. Like the GPS coordinates to a mound of dirt in a New Jersey forest. As the rot just beneath the surface of the Hemmings precious white suburban respectability begins to spread, the far flung grand children gradually find their ways back to each other, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.

With her inimitable surrealism and insight into teenage experience, A.S. King explores how a corrosive culture of polite, affluent white supremacy tears a family apart and how one determined generation can save themselves.

This book will be released in March 2019. I read an ARC that I received via the publisher. ISBN: 9781101994917

Karen’s Thoughts:

I just finished reading an ARC of DIG by A. S. King and my mind is blown, as it always is. And I mean I just literally finished reading it. I closed the pages and had to sit down at my computer and talk about this book. It’s a little early to be talking about this book, but talk about it I must. No spoilers.

A. S. King is one of those authors that adults always say teens aren’t reading, in part because they’re always underestimating teens. They say this at the same time that they assign things in class like Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Shakespeare or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There is some real disconnect in the way that adults talk about teens. They often under-estimate them and have zero to little faith in them. Teens know this; they know that many of the adults who claim to love them or value them or be in the process of educating them are doing very few of those things because they don’t actually respect teens. They know this and they resent it. Yes, not all adults and yes not all teens, but on the whole, that’s been the history of adolescence. Adults complain about teens even though they did the same things as teens and we underestimate them even though we resented the ways adults underestimated us as teens and we keep repeating this vicious cycle.

Make no mistake, A. S. King writes seriously weird and trippy books. I mentioned Metamorphosis above for a reason, King does not write straightforward literature. She takes a trippy, winding path with allusions and metaphors and surrealism that takes a while to get to the point but when you get there, your mind is both blown and sure that you missed a lot of stuff along the way. You could read an A. S. King book over and over again and find something new and different every time. And you will probably walk away sure that you didn’t fully get it every time. It’s that type of literature. It’s bold and confusing and maddening and dark yet inspiring and profound and moving.

If I’m being honest, I will tell you that although I name A. S. King as one of my favorite authors, and this is a true fact, I find her books difficult to begin. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of each book, to find out what’s knitting this particular book together, to suss out what’s real and what’s not. This is true for Dig as well, it takes a while to figure out who is who and what is going on. This is part of the reason, I think, that adults think that King doesn’t write YA. And yet King really gets into the heart of what it means to be a teenager in current times. She writes teens more authentically then some of the bestselling YA authors. She isn’t an adult writing YA for the adults that buy YA, she is an adult writing YA for the teens that read YA because she cares about teenagers and the teenage experience. Teen readers feel this in the pages and relate, even when adult readers find the books unrelatable or unapproachable. When I read the thoughts and conversations that the teens have in this book, they correlate to what I am hearing my own teens talk about and in the ways that they talk about them. It’s an authentic voice captured in radically unique ways.

Now I’m writing this and worried A. S. King will stumble across this post and wonder why I keep saying that adults think that teens don’t like her work but the truth is, many YA librarians have said this to me. Every time I post about A. S. King I get emails and replies, “yes but, teens don’t really like her work” or “it’s too intellectual for teens”. I find that to be a worrisome thing for YA librarians to say, because it means from the get go we are underestimating the very people we serve.

Dig is a multi-generational novel that brings together a host of characters and talks about things like racism, abuse, family dysfunction and mental health. It introduces a bunch of incredibly weird characters who seemingly have nothing to do with a cohesive story and then it just blows your mind in the way all the pieces are woven together. Once that final piece of the puzzle is put into place, you see the complete picture and you are stunned. In some ways, this is one of her most accessible books because the topics these teens are facing are so relevant to current events and discussions. Also, some of the more surreal elements are rooted in reality in ways that ultimately make sense to the story. The part of the story that made the least amount of sense to me, that was the most confusing, became an important element of the story that really works. That’s some good storytelling.

A. S. King is also one of the growing number of authors who seek to include frank discussions about sex, sexuality and sexual abuse in their novels because they recognize that this is a very real part of the teenage years. Teens think about sex. They’re trying to figure it out. A lot of them are doing it. This is one of the few YA novels that talks frankly not only about masturbation, but about female masturbation. King’s honesty resonates with teen readers because they feel heard, valued, respected and understood. King acknowledges the truth of adolescence, which makes her books that much more authentic to teens as readers.

I also like that in Dig King shares a lot about the adults in these teens’ lives. They are real, raw, human and flawed, but they are there and an important part of the story. This is, ultimately, a story about family and dysfunction and secrets and finding your own way – of digging yourself out of your genes and your family history – and it is profound. That’s what all teenagers are trying to do, right? Trying to find their own place in this world, to find their own voice, to set their own path, to break free of outside expectations and desires to truly find a sense of self and future. That’s what these teens are doing, and that’s why teen readers will relate.

Some of the topics in this story that are touched on include: racism, poverty, domestic violence, death and grief, secrets, the long lasting effects of trauma, teenage pregnancy, family dynamics and dysfunction, and depression and anxiety. Just to name a few. King really asks the readers to consider things like privilege, especially economic and white privilege. Characters often talk about race and bias and privilege and I think it is valuable and needed, but also handled well in the context of this novel. Even some of the characters who may consider themselves “woke” have personal revelations that indicate that they may not be as “woke” as they seem. I hate to keep using the word profound, but I found it it to be truly profound. As someone who is also wrestling with white privilege and what it means to live in our world in 2018 and how to be a good ally, it is nice to read a book that asks me to think about these issues in real and honest ways.

I keep a journal where I write down a lot of my favorite quotes from books and I marked a ton of quotes that I will be adding to that journal. Dig doesn’t come out until March of 2019 so it’s far too early to share them with you, but I wish that I could. There are some very moving reflections on the nature of self and family that I will be reflecting on for a very long time. The Teen is currently reading this book and I’ll let you know what she thinks once she finishes.

At the end of the day, this is a book I hope that everyone will read as it genuinely asks the reader to reflect on the concept of white privilege and it does not shy away from that discussion. What other books on this topic would you recommend?

Book Review: 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario

Publisher’s description

500 words or lessA high school senior attempts to salvage her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates by writing their college admissions essays and in the process learns big truths about herself in this mesmerizing debut novel-in-verse, perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and Sonya Sones.

Nic Chen refuses to spend her senior year branded as the girl who cheated on her charismatic and lovable boyfriend. To redefine her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates, Nic begins writing their college admissions essays.

But the more essays Nic writes for other people, the less sure she becomes of herself, the kind of person she is, and whether her moral compass even points north anymore.

Provocative, brilliant, and achingly honest, 500 Words or Less explores the heartbreak and hope that marks the search for your truest self.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There is something so satisfying about a novel in verse that is done well. To be honest, they don’t often work for me. I find that my eyes want to skim the lines and I finish in record time, which I like, but feel like I don’t retain a whole lot of what I read. Or, I feel like the story isn’t served well by the structure—like I want more, but can’t get it in this format. Thankfully, neither was necessarily (more on that later) true with this title.

 

The summary up there does a fairly tidy job of giving you the plot. The plot is a lot more of an internal journey than anything, which is fine by me (for the millionth time I’ll say it—go ahead and close people into a room to talk or put me inside someone’s head while they just think and I’m perfectly happy to keep reading). Biracial Nic Chen is at the top of her class. She’s smart, involved, and has applied early decision to Princeton, but she feels like she’s still not perfect enough for her dad and stepmom. She’s also constantly whispered about at school, her locker defaced with the word “whore” on it, feeling totally lost without her lifelong friendships with Jordan and Ben—friendships that fell apart when Jordan and Nic, who was dating Ben, slept together. But Jordan doesn’t seem to be suffering the same fallout as Nic—he’s still adored, no one is writing slurs on his locker, and he is still best friends with Ben, who no longer has anything to do with Nic. It’s all fairly lonely for Nic, who doesn’t appear to have many friends. It’s only because she starts writing college application essays for her classmates that she starts to interact more and realize some things not just about her peers but about herself. By writing about their lives, trying to see the world through their eyes and experiences, she also reveals parts of herself. She begins to realize that there are so many versions of herself that she shows and hides. Though she always felt held at an emotional distance by Ben, even when they were dating, she starts to see that she, too, held not just Ben but everyone at a distance. There are some pretty compelling reasons for this, including her mom’s disappearance from her life, but prior to this, Nic hasn’t thought too hard about them. Though Nic started writing the essays as a way to keep her from ruminating on her own life too much, she finds that this is a time in her life to be particularly reflective, especially once Ben reappears and things grow even more complicated with her feelings for him and for Jordan. 

 

The one part that I felt didn’t work for me was a thing that happens about 4/5 of the way through the book, a tragedy that I will avoid talking about here because of spoilers. I will say that it felt like a bit of a tidy/easy way to help both Nic and Jordan come to some realizations about their lives and their futures. It didn’t make me dislike the book, but it felt contrived and kind of like a cop-out. I also wish that we actually got to know the larger cast of characters better—the peers whose letters Nic writes, her friends Kitty and Ashok, and maybe even Nic herself, who holds the reader at a bit of the same emotional distance she grapples with in her life. The interesting plot of writing letters for others, of seeing through their eyes, thus highlighting and revealing Nic’s own loneliness, is an appealing one. A strong if imperfect look at guilt, regret, and forgiveness. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534410442
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 09/25/2018