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Book Review: The Infographic Guide to College

infographic1Publisher’s Book Description:

For fans of the popular Show Me How series, this illustrated guide to college life has everything a student needs to excel in their first year, from tips on getting involved around campus to advice about applying for loans and studying for exams.

College survival just got graphic!

Get a head start at school with this infographic guide to college life, with colorful descriptions of all the skills you need to survive and thrive in college, and advice about how to:

-Avoid the Freshman 15
-Declare a major
-Get around town
-Apply for a loan
-Ace your exams
-Master study habits
-Stay healthy
-And so much more!

With over fifty colorful, easy-to-read infographics, you’ll know how to make the most of your time in college and be fully prepared for the next step in your education. (Adams Media, 2017)

Karen’s Thoughts:

infographic2

Helping my teens plan for and get ready for college is an important part of my job, so I’m always looking for new and engaging resources to add to my collection. And as my daughter just began her high school career, this task takes on personal meaning as well. So I was excited when I learned about this book. For the most part, The Infographic Guide to College is a pretty straightforward and accessible look at college. It includes things like financial aid, selecting a major and even things like how to do laundry. Because it is presented in infographic format it is a quick and easy to read book, colorful, engaging and in many ways very helpful. I almost handed it to my daughter and her friends who just entered high school and was all set to purchase it for my library, but I had some concerns with a couple of issues that stopped me.

Having Said All That, This is Why I’m Not Buying This Book:

In the midst of all this useful information, there is a stunning lack of information regarding sex and sexual violence on campus. I think these are huge oversights for this publication. The subject of sex isn’t listed in the table of contents or in the index. There is no discussion of consent, sexual violence, sexual safety. Nothing.

There are also two pages about drinking. However, there are no mention in these two sections about the law regarding legal drinking ages. The section on Drinking Games 101 begins like this:

“Parties give you a chance to escape the rigors of classes and meet new people. You’ll also get the opportunity to showcase your drinking skills with popular games like beer pong and flip cup. Here’s the lowdown on the top drinking games played on college campuses.”

Beer Pong, Flip Cup, Quarters and King’s Cup are then explained.

Two pages later there is then a spread on Downing a Drink: What You Need to Know. Some basic safety is included here, like never drink on an empty stomach. But again, there is no mention of legal drinking ages, college rules regarding drinking, concerns about binge drinking and consent, or any type of real acknowledgement of the risks involved with drinking. If you Google “college drinking infographics”, you get a much different view of college drinking. You can see examples of them here, here and here. I think some infographics like this would have presented balance to the information presented.

A Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) of 21 saves lives and protects health

Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) laws specify the legal age when an individual can purchase or publicly consume alcoholic beverages. The MLDA in the United States is 21 years.  However, prior to the enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, the legal age when alcohol could be purchased varied from state to state.1 (Source: CDC)

Keep in mind that the average age of a high school student going directly into college is 18 years old, 3 years below the legal drinking age. Yes, there are older and legal aged college students, but a majority of incoming Freshman are around 18 years-old. Without these discussions, I feel this book is almost advocating illegal behavior that puts a teens college career in jeopardy. This coupled with the omission of the sexual violence epidemic on our college campuses just makes this a no go for me. It seems in some ways irresponsible and negligent; it is not a comprehensive look at college life and those omissions seem like real safety issues.

RAINN: Campus Sexual Violence Statistics

If the author or publisher had included a brief caveat about the laws regarding these issues, I would feel differently about this book. Although it’s hard to overlook any book about college not having a genuine discussion about the fact that one in four college students reports being sexually harassed or assaulted on campus. I have often heard it said that you should review a book for what it is, not what you wish it to be, and for the most part I agree with that. However, this is a work of nonfiction and I think the parts that it leaves out are important and meaningful and, perhaps, dangerous.

Book Review: Feral Youth edited by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

ra6Ten teens are left alone in the wilderness during a three-day survival test in this multi-authored novel edited by award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor-education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come all walks of life, and were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks hiking, working, learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the characters in Feral Youth, each complex and damaged in their own ways, are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

feralFirst things first: the stories in this book are written by Shaun David Hutchinson, Suzanne Young, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley, Stephanie Kuehn, E. C. Myers, Tim Floreen, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Brandy Colbert.

 

Great lineup, right?

 

Zeppelin Bend camp, in Wyoming, is the last chance these characters have to turn their lives around. They’re all there for the trouble they landed themselves in. But as they each reveal their story (or parts of their stories, or dance around their stories), readers come to understand that the characters are (of course) more than just their alleged crimes and that they made the choices they did for very complicated reasons. The stories cover a lot of ground: arson, rape, bullying, revenge, theft, drugs, dress codes, runaways, fairy tales, mythology, other worlds, paranormal activity, ghosts, horror, and more. Some of the stories come in bits and pieces. It’s hard to tell what’s the whole story, if the narrators can be trusted, and who might by lying. But the one thing all these stories do is show the characters to be multifaceted people. At one point, Lucinda notes, “Our parents see us as these problems to solve, delinquents to deal with. But we’re more than that.” But, as another character points out, none of that really matters is if all people can see is what they’ve done. And, is what they’ve done really who they are? Does it define them, shape them, change them? And, even if they’re together at camp, and now together for three days as they wander the woods and share their stories, do they still really know each other? Or can you never really know someone? If nothing else, telling their stories gives them some sense of controlling the narrative about them, of being seen and heard, if only for a little bit by a few people.

 

I really enjoy this multi-author format (like Hutchinson did with VIOLENT ENDS, too). It’s such a smart way to tell a story with a wide cast of characters, one that really benefits from the variety of voices, writing styles, and diversity of identities that the authors bring. This is an easy recommendation, especially for reluctant readers, who may be drawn to the attention-grabbing format and that fast narrative pace. A great choice, too, for those who enjoy unreliable narrators. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481491112

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 09/05/2017

New Releases and Mini Reviews: Little & Lion, The Bakersville Dozen, and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

tltbutton6

Today is a good day for book releases, as apparently all the recent books I have chosen to read release today. Is it fate? Destiny? Hard to say. Let’s dive right in, shall we.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

august83Two step-siblings who were closer than close are reunited after one, Little (the female) spends a year in boarding school so that her step sibling, Lion (the male), can figure out how to deal with his bipolar disorder. At first the two of them deal with tension as they try to navigate who they are now after a year apart and the secrets they are both keeping, but as everything starts to unravel they have to learn to face their various truths.

There’s a bit of every aspect of teen life in this one: friendship, family, siblings, identity (both racial/ethnic and sexuality including frank discussions of bi and pansexuality), mental health, sex, teen, pregnancy, abortion, feminism, drinking and drug use, consent and more. It is in many ways the most authentically fleshed out and inclusive YA book I have ever read. There are a few brief moments where the character’s get a little didactic in how they talk about these various subjects, but it almost has to in order to make sure that the reader fully understands the topic at hand. For example, many readers may be unaware of the difference between bi and pansexuality and the discussion helps flesh out the concepts for the reader. There are moments in this book where teens clearly make bad decisions, sometimes even acknowledging that they are making bad decisions and then going on to make them anyway, and we see the ultimate results of those decisions. It’s a thoughtful look at the very real complexity of teen life with a respectful tone and engaging story. Brandy Colbert is a fantastic author and really does a good job of telling this story and diving into these issues.

The Bakersville Dozen by Kristina McBride

bakersvilledozenWhen compromising videos of several – a dozen to be exact – students go viral, life is not the same for the students in this Ohio high school. Then one of the Bakersville Dozen goes missing. Soon, a note is found with a challenge: find five trophies, follow the rules or everyone dies. It’s a macabre scavenger hunt full of twists and turns that you won’t see coming. Kristina McBride is a good author who deals with issues like online bullying, friendship, rivalries, broken relationships and more in the pages of this mystery thriller. Every step of the way you’re shouting to the teens, no don’t go into the basement and please call the police – which of course they can’t do or else we don’t have a story. And what a story it is.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Lee

august81Genie thought she was just a regular girl trying to get into a good college, until the Monkey King shows up and she discovers that she is a celestial being with a destiny to fight demons. Things get complicated – and snarky. For those of us old enough to know what this means, it definitely has a Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel to it in both storytelling and vibe, but has some unique twists in that it is steeped in Chinese culture and folklore. For the younger crowd, think Shadowhunters with a Chinese folklore infusion. I was not familiar with the legend of the Monkey King and found this story to be both entertaining and enlightening. It’s a fun read and that is high praise indeed. We need more flat out fun reads and this fits the bill.

About the Books

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

A stunning novel on love, loss, identity, and redemption, from Publishers Weekly Flying Start author Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

The Bakersville Dozen by Kristina McBride

You have four days to locate five treasured trophies. Break the rules and you all die. Happy hunting!

Back in September, the town of Bakersville, Ohio made national news when a video went viral featuring thirteen of the high school’s elite in compromising positions. Now it’s May, and every month since the “Bakersville Dozen” made their infamous appearance on the national stage, one girl has gone missing. Officials are no closer to identifying the criminal.

Bailey “Like a Virgin” Holzman is getting really fed up with the scrutiny. She just wants to enjoy the rest of her senior year and have an epic summer before heading off to college. So when she discovers a note in her locker on the last day of school inviting her on a scavenger hunt, she thinks it’s just a sweet surprise from her boyfriend trying to cheer her up.

But following the clue leads her, instead, to the first official casualty. And another sinister envelope. The killer is close, and it could be anyone. Even the people Bailey’s always trusted most—her best friend, her perfect boyfriend, or the boy-next-door she’s always pined for.

With the clock ticking, she faces a terrifying choice: play the game by the killer’s rules—follow the clues, tell no one, and no cops—for a chance to save the rest of the missing girls, or risk becoming the next grisly victim.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Lee

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined… (Amulet Books, 9781419725487)

Book Review: You Don’t Know Me but I Know You by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

ra6Rebecca Barrow’s bright, honest debut novel about chance, choice, and unconditional love is a heartfelt testament to creating the future you truly want, one puzzle piece at a time.

There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.

Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life. Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, full of all the people and pursuits that make her who she is.

But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves.

Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and her best friend Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

you don't knowThis was GOOD. Like, “life is messy and complex and decisions are not easy things” good. One would hope that a story that is about a pregnant young woman would have depth and would show the inner workings of her making whatever choice she makes—and wow, does this book have depth.

Despite using birth control, Audrey winds up pregnant. While she definitely isn’t in denial, a little tiny part of her hopes that maybe she can just pretend that everything is okay and that it just will be. Her boyfriend, Julian, is extremely supportive and loving, but Audrey can’t believe they have to tell their parents this happened. And how does she tell her friends? She and Rose, her best friend, have been drifting apart and just doesn’t think she can tell her about the pregnancy. Audrey is adopted; her mother (who is white) was single when she adopted Audrey (whose birth mother was white and birth father was black) as a baby. Audrey’s complicated thoughts on family, babies, and adoption factor into her struggle to make the choice that is right for her. Throughout it all, her mother and Adam, her mom’s boyfriend, are so supportive and loving. Julian’s parents are, too, with both his mother and Audrey’s going with them to a doctor’s appointment. Audrey is worried that she has disappointed people in her life because this happened, but no one ever makes her feel that way, not even for a second. Audrey grapples with what to do (with no one in her life pressuring her in any way to make any one choice) while thinking about the futures she and Julian had hoped for (his band, art school, music school, etc). There is no clear path forward for her. More than anything, Audrey just worries that someone may stop loving her based on what decision she may make.

 

While Audrey’s pregnancy and choice of what to do are at the heart of the story, this is also about families, more generally, and friendship, especially the ways little rifts can sneak in and suddenly turn into far larger distances than you thought you’d ever have with a friend. Rose, who is bisexual, has recently started dating Olivia, the new girl at school, but Audrey really knows nothing about what’s going on with them, thanks to the fact that she and Rose are barely speaking. Audrey ultimately makes the choice that feels right to her (in a situation where no choice feels “right”) surrounded by love, support, and options. A well-written, necessary, and honest, heartfelt look at making what feels like an impossible choice. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494191

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/29/2017

Book Review: Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Publisher’s description

ra6As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

dress-codesI am not one for posting GIFs in reviews—that’s just not me—but for once I wish that just a GIF would be sufficient—one that captured the feeling of elation and love that reading this book inspired. Looking for some picture that captures those feelings seems way easier than trying to find actual coherent words to say about this fantastic book.

Like the summary up there says, this is a story about the gray areas in life—you know, where everything real and complex and interesting resides. Give me gray areas, and uncertainty, and questioning things any day over black and white supposed truths. Billie and her friends call themselves the Hexagon. Billie, Janie Lee, Woods, Fifty, Davey, and Mash are inseparable. They love schemes and they love each other. In their small town of Otters Holt, Kentucky, Billie, the minister’s kid, stands out. She dresses “like a boy,” is at times mistaken for a boy (or just seen as one of the guys), isn’t sure who she’s more interested in kissing, Woods or Janie Lee, and is willing to be herself and grapple with whatever that means all under the watchful and judging eyes of everyone in town.

There is SO MUCH to love about this novel. It’s a profoundly loving look at friendship, the kind of friendship where friends truly support each other and give each other room to grow, change, and figure life out. It’s also a really complex look at expectations, perceptions, identity, and fluidity. It’s also an incredibly necessary and supportive look at teenagers experimenting with who they are and finding so much love and support in even the most unlikely of places. Like Billie says at one point, “Feeling don’t sort like laundry.” Nor should we want them to. So much of the joy comes from sifting through everything, discovering who you are, in the process of finding yourself. Billie and her friends are unfinished and imperfect, but they’re grateful for what they have and willing to do the hard work of figuring out who they are. This thoughtful look at love, friendship, identity, sexuality, and fluidity is not to be missed. Brilliant. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9780062398512

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/22/2017

Book Review: The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Publisher’s description

ra6The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

authenticsDaria, the main character, and her friends Caroline, Joy, and Kurt feel like they are the only ones that are being their authentic selves all the time. Daria is an agnostic Iranian-American; Caroline is a lesbian performance artist; Joy is Nigerian American and raised by strict parents; and Kurt is super into astrology. They feel like they’re real in ways their peers are not, but a whole bunch of different revelations (both big and small) force them to rethink what’s real, what their identities are, and what it even means to be seen as authentic.

An assignment in English class about family trees and the journey of many students’ families to the United States propels the Authentics (which, yes, they rather insufferably refer to themselves as) to do a cheek swab DNA test to see what they might learn about themselves. Daria gets back information that she doesn’t understand, pushing her to do some digging into her family’s past, uncovering secrets that she can’t believe. While on a mission to reconnect with someone from her past, she meets Rico, a tattooed Mexican artist, who captures her interest (even though there are some very good reasons she should not see him as a potential love interest). As she begins to put together the pieces of her family’s past, Daria also learns that not everything is as it seems for all kinds of people in her life.

 

Examining culture, identity, and family, The Authentics is a compelling look at what happens when everything you thought you knew is suddenly uncertain. A good read full of memorable characters with diverse identities. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062486462

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/08/2017

Book Review: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan

Publisher’s description

ra6A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything

lake effect | n.
1. The effect of any lake, especially the Great Lakes, in modifying the weather in nearby areas
2. The effect of elderly ladies, mysterious girls, and countless funerals, in upending your life, one summer at the beach

It’s the summer after senior year, and Briggs Henry is out the door. He’s leaving behind his ex-girlfriend and his parents’ money troubles for Lake Michigan and its miles of sandy beaches, working a summer job as a personal assistant, and living in a gorgeous Victorian on the shore. It’s the kind of house Briggs plans to buy his parents one day when he’s a multi-millionaire. But then he gets there. And his eighty-four-year-old boss tells him to put on a suit for her funeral.

So begins a summer of social gaffes, stomach cramps, fraught beach volleyball games, moonlit epiphanies, and a drawer full of funeral programs. Add to this Abigail, the mystifying girl next door on whom Briggs’s charms just won’t work, and “the lake effect” is taking on a whole new meaning.

Smart, funny, and honest, The Lake Effect is about realizing that playing along is playing it safe, and that you can only become who you truly are if you’re willing to take the risk.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

lake effectI’ve said it a million times here, but I’ll say it again: if I enjoy the characters, I will read anything. I don’t care at all about plot, whether there is one at all or not, really. The plot of “I am a person learning, growing, and figuring myself out” is big enough for me. I mean, it’s the biggest plot, right? And the most relatable. Present compelling characters, reel me in with an engaging voice that is clever, snarky, and self-deprecating (but not too much of any of those things), and I’m yours. Actually, that’s pretty much how it works for me in real life, too. And with this book, I was hooked on page one.

Briggs, the main character, is charming. Mothers love him. Years of a family that expects success and achievement and of working in a country club have taught him how to fake carefree pleasantness. Briggs is at the top of his class, class president, a star baseball player, and going to college on a full-ride scholarship. In other hands, this ultra-charming boy would be so insufferably charming that I would hate him. But here, he’s wonderful. He’s far more complicated than his accomplishments would make him seem. He has depth. His mother is into lists and schedules and his father is a total hardass, never impressed by Briggs’ achievements or proud of him because he’s just doing what is expected of him. His dad loves to remind him that failure is not an option. Unsurprisingly, Briggs has frequent stomachaches from stress and has taken a summer job an hour away from home. He’ll live with Mrs. B, a funny and quirky Serbian American 84-year-old who enjoys going to strangers’ funerals and lying on her floor. I want her to be my neighbor and friend. Briggs will spend the summer driving her around, painting (and repainting) her rooms, and fixing things. Simple, right? Except, of course, it’s not. He meets Abigail, the enigmatic neighbor girl who seems to be either suffering from or recovering from an illness and doesn’t have time for a boyfriend—which is perfect, because Briggs certainly doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. They have chemistry—like the real good kind, the full of quick banter kind. They both begin to reveal more of who they really are to each other, even though both are wary of where this relationship could possibly go. Briggs also meets other new friends (and repeatedly embarrasses himself in front of them and pisses them off), but no one is as important as Abigail or Mrs. B. Both help him see things about his life, his family, and his future that he hadn’t been able to see before.

 

This is a great summer romance story that’s light on the romance and heavy on the friendship and self-discovery. Mrs. B. totally wins the Best Elderly Character in a YA Novel 2017 award. If you like your characters smart, funny, and open to (maybe reluctantly) embracing change, this book is for you. It’s the perfect read-in-one-sitting-by-the-pool book, too. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780803740525

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: Madness by Zac Brewer

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

 

madnessMadness by Zac Brewer

ISBN-13: 9780062457851 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/19/2017

Gr 9 Up—Finding a kindred spirit turns chilling in this exploration of depression, suicidal ideation, and toxic love. Seventeen-year-old Brooke is freshly out of a treatment program after attempting suicide. Back at school, her classmates stare, whisper, and write “RIP” on her locker. Brooke’s situation at home is strained, therapy seems pointless, and the only good thing is Duckie, her lifelong best friend. Angry to still be alive, Brooke is determined to die soon. That is, until she meets Derek, who recently moved to town with his abusive, alcoholic father. The two bond over depression and suicide attempts, Derek’s favorite topic of conversation. Brooke immediately falls in love with him and even feels that he has given her a reason to live (though, of course, her therapist encourages her to find ways to live for herself). She also begins to open up at therapy, gets involved in activities, and raises her grades, but she fixates on Derek, who is clingy, jealous, and needy and has a quick temper. Brooke’s story perpetuates the dangerous idea that love will cure mental illness. Even after her eyes are opened, she worrisomely believes Derek is ultimately a good guy but “troubled,” excusing his horrific behavior and conflating controlling, abusive behavior with love. While the novel is filled with suspense and offers a compelling, cautionary look at an unhealthy relationship, the underdeveloped characters and lackluster dialogue detract from the potential impact of the tale. Graphic descriptions of suicide attempts are included. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase only where the author’s work is popular.

Book Review: The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

Publisher’s description

ra6Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

art of starvingFirst of all, I feel like it’s important to know that Sam J. Miller had an eating disorder as a teenager. Had Miller not had a personal experience with an ED, I probably wouldn’t be reviewing this book. I feel like books that deal with eating disorders are so fraught with the potential to be triggering/upsetting/completely done “wrong.” I have no experience with an eating disorder, so I still hesitate to review this just because the subject matter has the potential to be so triggering for readers. All of that said, I also think this book is important because it shows us someone we don’t see much of in YA: a boy with an eating disorder. And, while Matt, our main character, believes that power (and superpowers) can come from pain and starvation, his eating disorder is not romanticized. It’s awful to read about and awful to witness and just plain awful in general.

 

Matt, who is gay, is in dire need of medical and therapeutic intervention for his eating disorder. A school psychiatrist recommends urgent action after a visit with Matt proves he feels both suicidal and homicidal. But Matt swipes the letter from school, hiding it from his mother, just like he hides everything else from her. He’d like to run away, just like his older sister Maya has recently done. He suspects that soccer star Tariq and his bully buddies may have something to do with Maya’s disappearance, so he works to get closer to them to learn more. Matt is in complete denial about his eating disorder. He views his body as the enemy, keeps track of calories, and hates how he (thinks he) looks, but he doesn’t allow himself to ever throw up after eating, because that is what would indicate he has a problem. And, according to Matt, he does not have a problem. Also according to Matt, his hunger gives him clarity, insight, and superpowers that allow himself to get closer to truths, maybe read people’s minds, and allow him to control the uncontrollable. He is starving himself, still in denial, intent on further awakening his mind. He researches online for eating disorder tips and tricks, sharing some of them in his narrative. When he ends up in the emergency room, malnourished, he knows what he needs to do and say to convince people he’s okay. When an unexpected relationship grows, Matt worries that happiness is blunting his powers. He eventually admits to an eating disorder and ends up in treatment, where several months are summarized in broad strokes.

 

Matt is an unreliable narrator. Are his powers real, somehow, or is this all in his head? I found myself repeatedly doubting if he actually did or said something, or if it was just how things played out in his mind. At certain points, I doubted that any of the events were actually happening at all, wondering if maybe Matt was imagining everything (his relationship with the other boy etc). Matt makes some compelling observations about masculinity and social constructions of gender as he thinks about his body and how he tries to control and shape it. He even, at one point, notes that his story is not so much an actual guidebook for the art of starving as it is a desperate cry for help. This unique and well-written book is a dark, upsetting, and moving look at one boy’s experience with an eating disorder that will leave readers hopeful that he’s on the path to recovery, but maybe still doubting what has happened to Matt and what his future will hold.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062456717

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: Who’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh

 Publisher’s description

tltbutton6This laugh-out-loud debut is filled with hilarious awkward encounters, a supportive LGBTQ organization, and too many cheesy lyrics to count—all with the compulsive readability of Audrey, Wait! and Boy Meets Boy.

Junior Nattie McCullough has always been that under-the-radar straight girl who hangs out in the cafeteria with her gay-straight alliance friends. She’s never been the girl that gets the guy, let alone the girl that gets a hit song named after her.

But when last summer’s crush, smoking-hot musician Sebastian Delacroix—who has recently hit the mainstream big-time—returns home to play a local show, that’s just what she gets. He and his band, the Young Lungs, have written a chart-topping single—“Natalie”—which instantly makes Nattie second guess everything she thought about their awkward non-kiss at that June pool party. That it was horrific. That it meant nothing. That Sebastian never gave her another thought.

To help keep her mind off of Sebastian and his maybe-about-her, maybe-not-about-her song, Nattie throws herself into planning the school’s LGBTQIA dance. That proves problematic, too, when Nattie begins to develop feelings for her good friend Zach. With the song getting major airplay and her once-normal life starting to resemble the cover of a gossip magazine, Nattie is determined to figure out once and for all if her brief moment with Sebastian was the stuff love songs are made of—or just a one-hit wonder.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

whos that girl

The publisher’s description up there gives a pretty thorough summary of the plot, but doesn’t really at all capture how utterly charming and compulsively readable this story is. Nattie and her friends are awesome. Her parents are great. The romantic tension (and denial/ignorance of romantic feelings) is pitch perfect. Nattie makes mistakes and bad choices and is unable to see things that appear totally obvious to the reader, but I mean those things in all the best ways; I say those things to mean that she is such a real character, flawed in realistic ways, learning and making realizations just like we all do. Adult me reads about Sebastian and rolls her eyes and thinks, girl, don’t waste time having a crush on him. But teen me is always around, and she’s like, but he wrote a song about her! Eek!

 

Thornburgh writes great dialogue and memorable characters. There’s great humor, banter, and clever little quips. And while this story is about romance, or the potential for romance, sure, it’s really about friendship. This review is short not because I didn’t like the book–I loved it–but because you just need to go read it and discover the excellence for yourself. Pretty much a perfect read, super satisfying and completely absorbing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062447777

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017