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Book Review: The Project by Courtney Summers

Publisher’s Book Description:

“The Unity Project saved my life.”

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying–and failing–to prove it.

“The Unity Project murdered my son.”

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its charismatic and mysterious leader, Lev Warren, he proposes a deal: if she can prove the worst of her suspicions about The Unity Project, she may expose them. If she can’t, she must finally leave them alone.

But as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members, and spends more time with Lev, it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her–to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

Welcome to The Unity Project.

The next pulls-no-punches thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author Courtney Summers, about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister from a cult.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Let’s start with I love all things Courtney Summers and this book does not disappoint. Courtney Summers dives deep into the female psyche and explores the complex nature of growing up in a patriarchal society that puts young girls at risk in a variety of ways. She also does a great job of looking at the complex mental and emotional states of young people, which is why her books resonate with readers of all ages.

The Project does all of things and looks specifically at the idea of a cult, making it one of the timeliest books to come out in 2021. At the risk of alienating some readers I feel like this book really captures the zeitgeist of the current political landscape that we have just seen play out in the 2020 election where there has often been a very real dismissal of provable facts that has come at a great harm to a lot of people, including 250,000 Americans dead from a deadly global pandemic. So this deep dive into the psyche and what makes someone fall into a cult is perhaps the most necessary reading of our time.

Another thing Summers does well is to present us as readers with a complex female character that is realistic. What I mean is, she’s not always likable or perfect in any way, which is true of every one of us. Lo’s journey is complicated and she is a rich, rewarding character that takes a journey through a life many of us could never imagine. There is a tremendous burden placed on Lo because of other people’s external expectations and part of what motivates her is trying to fill shoes she never asked to have to wear. That, more than anything, will resonate with teens who are trying to figure out how to become more fully themselves while living with the expectations of others.

Perhaps the most unpopular I would share about this book is that I don’t think it should technically be classified as Young Adult (YA), as it fits more solidly into what should be the New Adult (NA) category had that ever taken off the way that it should have. None of the characters in this book are in high school, they are all at or over the age of 19, and they live independently, though not necessarily successfully. Having said that, I think that teens will in fact read it, just as teens have always read adult books. In the truest sense of the word this is a crossover novel as it will appeal to a wide age of readers.

This is a moving portrait of loss, self discovery, and sisters trying to find their way back to one another. It’s a passionate exploration of how the mind works and how others can manipulate it for their cause. It’s suspenseful, rich and illuminating.

The Project releases February 2021 from Wednesday Books and it is highly recommended.

Book Review: Thoughts & Prayers by Bryan Bliss

Thoughts & Prayers: A Novel in Three Parts

Publisher’s description

Fight. Flight. Freeze. What do you do when you can’t move on, even though the rest of the world seems to have? 

For readers of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Powerful and tense, Thoughts & Prayers is an extraordinary novel that explores what it means to heal and to feel safe in a world that constantly chooses violence.

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. 

Claire fled to Minnesota with her older brother, Eleanor is the face of a social movement, and Brezzen retreated into the fantasy world of Wizards & Warriors.

But a year ago, they were linked. They all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher. Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can, even as the world around them keeps moving.

Told in three loosely connected but inextricably intertwined stories, National Book Award–longlisted author Bryan Bliss’s Thoughts & Prayers follows three high school students in the aftermath of a school shooting. Thoughts & Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

Amanda’s thoughts

I finished this book feeling both so, so angry and so, so hopeful. Angry because of the state of things and hopeful because of the awe-inspiring resiliency of humans. Angry that school shootings happen and hopeful that expanded conversations and movements regarding gun violence may one day lead us to a better, safer place. Angry as I think back to every library I’ve worked at, whether school or public, and had moments of fear, had lockdown drills, had spots picked out where I would hide, where I would shove kids. I finished the book angry at some characters, hopeful because of others, and really just profoundly sad that this fictional story is the true story of so many schools, so many communities, so many children.

Told in three parts, we meet Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen. All three survived the school shooting together and now are in very different places in their lives. Claire moved from NC to MN, where she lives with her brother and seems to hope to skateboard her troubles away. It’s at the skate park that she meets God, Leg, and Dark, three boys who quickly adopt her as their friend. But Claire is wary of everything these days. She worries about monsters lurking around every corner, worries who she can trust, and worries that pretending to be fine is maybe not working out so great. Her new friendships are tested when she discovers deeply disturbing notebooks full of horrific art and now has to worry that she could be missing the signs or the chance to speak up and prevent something like a shooting from happening again.

Eleanor is still in NC and has become “the face of a new generation of teenagers who would save the world” after she began wearing a shirt that says fuck guns. This third of the story was probably the hardest for me—to see her peers and her community ridicule and harass her even though they too lived through this awful event. My politics are hardly a secret and while I can certainly understand that plenty of people can have something involving gun violence hit so close to home and yet not see guns as a problem (I mean—I can’t understand that, but I do understand this is how some people feel), it is gutting to see the fallout for Eleanor, who has very reasonably taken the stand that our country’s relationship with guns is a problem. Her story is very much about people trying to make her face the consequences of her “choice.” You know, her choice to be outraged, horrified, broken, loud, and hurt.

Meanwhile, Brezzen, the third student we meet, has been out of school for the past year. Going back has been just too scary. He has undergone extensive therapy, and when he does return to school, he can only face it if he approaches the whole ordeal like something from Wizards and Warriors, his favorite role-playing game. He makes maps, rolls his d20, and is always on the lookout for traps and monsters. He doesn’t know if he can actually handle being back at school.

These are teenagers in pain. We watch them remember to breathe, pretend to be fine, try to feel “normal,” and fall apart. Their stories are filled with pain, fear, rage, and grief. But no one is any one thing, no matter what our trauma or seemingly defining moment may be. The characters change, grow, and heal. They need help and they get help. They are not okay, and readers see that that’s okay. They have supportive teachers, parents, and friends. There is talk of therapy and trauma-informed practices. The characters show what is possibly the only true and universal part of grief and trauma: that healing and progress are not linear. In Bliss’s capable hands, we see their stories as intensely personal and individual while also being part of a larger narrative, a shared experience. We see them as broken and scarred but also as brave, fighters, warriors. They are survivors. They are coping. They are made-up characters, but their stories are those of thousands upon thousands of teenagers who live through these school shootings. A deeply empathetic, emotional, and infuriating story full of unforgettable characters (Dr. Palmer, I love you!). This affecting story is not to be missed.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780062962249
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

Every Body Looking

Publisher’s description

“Candice Iloh’s beautifully crafted narrative about family, belonging, sexuality, and telling our deepest truths in order to be whole is at once immensely readable and ultimately healing.”—Jacqueline Woodson, New York TimesBestselling Author of Brown Girl Dreaming

“An essential—and emotionally gripping and masterfully written and compulsively readable—addition to the coming-of-age canon.”—Nic Stone, New York Times Bestselling Author of Dear Martin

“This is a story about the sometimes toxic and heavy expectations set onthe backs of first-generation children, the pressures woven into the familydynamic, culturally and socially. About childhood secrets with sharp teeth. And ultimately, about a liberation that taunts every young person.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Way Down

Candice Iloh weaves the key moments of Ada’s young life—her mother’s descent into addiction, her father’s attempts to create a home for his American daughter more like the one he knew in Nigeria, her first year at a historically black college—into a luminous and inspiring verse novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s a thing that I say probably way too many times on this blog: I’m a character-driven reader who doesn’t need much more plot beyond “a person tries to figure out how to be a person in the world.” To me, there is no bigger, deeper, more compelling plot than that. And this book is such a wonderful exploration of how to be yourself. I read it in one sitting, which is a statement that probably makes authors die a little, given how long it takes to write a book.

While the current timeline of the story is during Ada’s first few weeks at a HBCU, we also see important moments from her life as a young child and again in middle school. Ada has always felt different and alone. Readers learn about her estrangement from her addict mother, her strict and religious Nigerian father, and the pressures Ada has always felt. College will finally allow her some freedom to find out who she really is, away from her family, but of course the idea of “finding yourself” sounds easier than it actually is.

Iloh writes, “when you start growing/further away from/what used to be home/you go looking for somewhere/that lets you be/what’s inside your head.”

I’m not sure I’ve read any better lines in any book this year. There is nothing Ada wants more than to be the person inside her head. She’s always been drawn to dance, but her practical father never saw the point in pursuing it. A chance encounter with Kendra, another dancer, provides connection and the encouragement to follow her desire.

It is both painful and joyful to watch Ada change, grow, learn, and become. At college, she has the freedom to explore her own mind, to find something that is hers, and to be seen. Ada discovers the power of seeing herself reflected, she learns what she wants and will tolerate in relationships, and she seeks to make her own path, uncertain how to do that and making mistakes along the way.

A hopeful, beautifully written, deeply affecting story of what we endure and overcome in the journey to become ourselves.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525556206
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis

Publisher’s Book Description:

One girl and her doppelgangers try to stop the end of the world in this YA sci-fi adventure

When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. They soon learned that if Hazel strayed too far, the rift would become volatile and fling things from other dimensions onto their front lawn—or it could swallow up their whole town. As a result, Hazel has never left her small Pennsylvania town, and the government agents garrisoned on her lawn make sure it stays that way. On her sixteenth birthday, though, the rift spins completely out of control. Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another. Three other Hazels from three different dimensions! Now, for the first time, Hazel has to step into the world to learn about her connection to the rift—and how to close it. But is Hazel—even more than one of her—really capable of saving the world? 

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was a fun read with touches of interesting real world insight. Hazel lives with a bizarre rift in her home that she is somehow attached to, and it seems like the government is keeping a ton of secrets. On her 16th birthday the rift breaks open and she finds herself face to face with several different dimensional versions of herself and a task to save the world. It’s a wild ride, without a doubt. And such a unique concept.

Corinne Duyvis is the creator of the #OwnVoices hashtag as well as a participant in the Disability in Kidlit website and she takes an opportunity to enrich this story with lots of depth, including introducing a character who identifies as asexaul, talking realistically about mental health, and providing the first character that I am aware of in YA lit that struggles with endometriosis and painful periods.

Also, there is a dragon. I feel like everyone should know there is a dragon. And the dragon is really cool.

This was a unique concept with strong characters and some insightful discussion. It’s interesting to see how different Hazel and her life is in different dimensions and yet how alike it is in many ways. Like most teens Hazel is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in this world, she just has to do it with several different versions of herself while literally trying to save the world from a dimensional rift that somehow seems tied to her. It’s a wild ride that I really recommend.

This book releases on September 15 from Amulet books.

Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts:

When I read a book, I can’t help but read it with multiple hats. One hat is me, a person who reads for pleasure and enlightenment. The other hat is me, a librarian who serves teens. Although both recognize a good book, the reasons are often not the same. This is a great book, for all of the reasons.

Told in verse, this is a quick but moving read. Poetry was the exact perfect form for this novel. It captures the essence of this far too common tragedy and related it in stirring, beautiful verses that have perfectly chosen words, format and sometimes even visuals. As I read it I couldn’t help but think of what a perfect book this would be to help teach kids about poetry.

This is also a powerful story about the healing and expressive powers of art. That is one of my favorite topics.

This is also a story that has a Muslim main character and talks about things like prayer, belief and family. Although there is growing Muslim representation in YA lit, it is very few and far between and under-represented.

This is also an insightful look into juvenile incarceration. At one of my library jobs I used to visit a juvenile detention center and have always felt that there should be more YA that investigates the life of teens behind bars, wrongly convicted or not. Monster by Walter Dean Myers is another book on this topic that hopefully everyone has read. We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss is a recent book that looks at a teen who is not only incarcerated but on death row.

That is the librarian hat.

As a reader, this is a moving, powerful and important book. I’m actually old enough to remember the Central Park Jogger case and have been following the story of the Exonerated Five for some time. I recently saw Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam talk about this book as part of the SLJ Summer Teen virtual event. And as our nation, our world, continues to wrestle with topics of racism, policing and incarceration, this is a much needed entry into that discussion made all the more powerful because of the very true perspective that Yusef brings to the narrative.

This book is moving, powerful, thoughtful and important. It’s profoundly well written and emotionally impactful. It is without a doubt a must have for all and will be a classic. Highly recommended. You will be moved by the story of Amal and his efforts to keep hope in a system that is designed to steal it from you.

Releases tomorrow, September 1, 2020, by Balzer + Bray

Book Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling. I actually really hated Caroline, she’s jaded and angry and lost, but it’s all deserved and understandable and I felt compassion for her. I was invested in her story; she is truly a deeply moving and complicated main character.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Although the title of this novel is Throwaway Girls and it is definitely about that, the thing that I am still left thinking about days later is what this book tells us about powerful men. This is a story full of powerful men who keep secrets, abuse their power, and feel like they are entitled to the world. And at the end of the day, when all the truths are finally revealed, the people in their lives are still more worried about protecting the image of these monsters disguised as men then they are protecting the “throwaway girls” who will now have to navigate life broken and struggling with lifelong trauma. I walked away from the pages of this powerful and moving novel shaking with rage at the truths revealed. You can jump on to Google right now and find thousands of real life stories that validate the underlying premise of Throwaway Girls, and that will never not make me angry.

The topic of Throwaway Girls is not new to YA, but it’s definitely dealt with in powerful and meaningful ways here. I would recommend adding Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson to a reading of this book. While Throwaway Girls talks very much about socio-economic disadvantage and how some girls have more worth then others when they go missing, and Monday’s Not Coming adds the reality of race and racism into this discussion. Both points of view are powerful.

In addition to the discussion of missing girls, Throwaway Girls deals a lot with Caroline and her sexual identity. Caroline is a lesbian growing up in a conservative family who has sent her to conversion therapy. She struggles with mental health issues – she takes medication for anxiety – and she has attempted suicide in the pass. She’s just hanging on until the age of 18 so that she can leave and start her real life where she can be her authentic self. My heart broke for her and this book really highlights how lack of support and acceptance can seriously harm our youth.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released September 1st by Kids Can Press

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description:

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

Published July 7 by Bloomsbury YA

Karen’s Thoughts: I spent most of The Teen’s toddler and early childhood years watching Cinderella over and over and over again. I know a few things about Cinderella, both in story form and in the Disneyfied version. I’m here to tell you, this is a wickedly cool twisted tale that will knock every readers socks off. Nothing was ever what I expected and it managed to surprise me at several turns.

This is both an amazing feminist and queer re-interpretation of Cinderella. Well, it’s not so much a re-interpretation as it is a look at what happens later after the story ended and how Cinderella’s legacy is used to manipulate and control women. It’s a dark dystopian in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale or newer feminist YA dystopians like The Grace Year. It’s poignant, chilling and powerful, and it puts a queer Black girl front and center, something that unfortunately doesn’t happen as often as it should in YA fantasy.

For every reader who wants to overthrow the patriarchy, this book is an entertaining read and a satisfyingly cathartic place holder and re-imagining of what that can look like. And it’s full of spooky twists along the way. Recommended.

Book Review: The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Publisher’s Book Description: A sharp and romantic novel about two suburban teens who can’t sleep uncovering the secrets of their neighborhood by night. Think The Summer I Turned Pretty with flashes of Rear Window!

When seventeen-year-old competitive diver Ingrid freezes up and sustains a head injury at a routine meet, her orderly life is turned upside down. Now housebound and sedentary on doctor’s orders, Ingrid can’t sleep and is haunted by the question of what triggered her uncharacteristic stage fright.

The only thing she remembers about the moment before the dive is seeing Van, her neighbor, former best friend, and forever crush, on the sidelines. Then one sleepless night, she sees Van outside her window…looking right back at her. They tentatively begin “not sleeping” together every night but still living separate lives by day.

Ingrid tells herself this is just temporary, but soon, she and Van are up every night together, increasingly intertwined in helping each other put pieces of memory together. As Van works through his own reasons for not being able to sleep, both of them are pulled into a mystery that threatens to turn their quiet neighborhood into a darker place than they realized. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

I read this book yesterday and writing my review now while my thoughts are fresh. For the most part, I would highly recommend this book except an issue regarding consent and the power dynamics of age and position involved, which I will discuss in a moment.

The Insomniacs really grabbed me from the get go. Our main character, Ingrid, has suffered a major concussion in a diving accident and now she can’t sleep at night. She soon learn that estranged childhood friend and hot dude Van across the street also is having problems with insomnia. Van, having been through this issue before and having had counseling, knows a lot about the psychology of insomnia which leads to some interesting discussions about mental health and sleep tucked into this book.

The two soon realize that the reason they can’t sleep may be tied together by the same events and involve an abandoned house next door. So they spend their nights staring out Ingrid’s bedroom window which has the best view and bonding. Secrets are shared and old memories are dissected as they discuss why, exactly, Ingrid stopped hanging around with Van, Max and Wilson. The four of them used to be best friends but they day in which her father very publicly left was the day that changed everything.

On the surface, this book is a moody mystery about neighborhood secrets. But this book is really a deep exploration into emotions, identity, growing up and changing, and family dynamics. One of the things that I truly loved about this book was that it was raw, earnest and felt authentic. Some of the YA I read throws me right out of the narrative because the teens often seem like mini adults that have been arbitrarily and conveniently slapped with the YA label to make it marketable as YA; not so with The Insomniacs, these teens were realistically and messily plodding through complicated age appropriate feelings with the world awareness and experience of a 17-year-old. They were confused by the actions of others, they did things they knew were wrong and continued to do them because they didn’t have the tools to do them differently, and they made mistakes that negatively effected their relationships because, again, they didn’t have the emotional tools to do those things differently. In other words, they were authentic teens trying to figure out how to navigate a world of complex emotions and feelings.

The mystery element was intriguing from page one and it involves a lot of elements that are related for both Ingrid and Van. Every step of the way you want to keep reading to find out what, exactly, is happening in the house next door and why it’s keeping Ingrid and Van awake each night.

The book does involve a discussion about the age of consent and positions of power in an adult-teen relationship that I think could have been more fully addressed. Although a majority of the characters clearly condemn this relationship and parties are held accountable, the teen involved makes comments that seem to minimize or justify the relationship and that made me feel uncomfortable as someone who understands the power dynamics that are often at play here.

Most of the characters are presumed white and straight, though Van is a biracial teen with Japanese and white parents. Issues discussed include mental health, therapy, divorce and parental alienation, adultery, consent and abuse, drug use, and addiction. Family and friendship are big themes in this book as well. Bonus points because it involves a teen involved in a sport we don’t see mentioned much in YA – competitive diving – and it really looks deeply into the pressures that teens face academically and trying to get into college, including athletic scholarships. The Insomniacs really understands the complexity of teen life and the issues that they face.

At times this book reads like a long, languid dream, an apt mood for a book about teens who can’t sleep. It was different in pace and tone and incredibly intriguing. Plus, I liked the characters and wanted them to succeed on their own and as a couple who clearly should and wanted to be together. It’s definitely a deep and complex novel that takes on heavy teen issues with the gravitas I think that they deserve. Overall, I recommend this book, with the caveat that I would have liked to have seen the issues of consent more fully developed.

This book comes out September 1st from Flatiron Books

Book Reviews, Thrillers Edition: Little Creeping Things and Nobody Knows But You

Reading during the pandemic has been hard for me. Very, very hard. But I have managed to finally finish a few books lately and I thought I would take a moment to do a quick review here.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description and Reviews/Praise

“Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

A compulsively readable debut with a narrator who can’t be trusted, perfect for fans of Natasha Preston.

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. She’s pretty sure she didn’t mean to do it, and she’d give anything to forget that awful day. But her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody’s eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.

Then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information about what happened. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what’s really going on before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

PRAISE FOR LITTLE CREEPING THINGS
“Everyone’s a suspect, and no one is safe, in this twisty debut from a compelling new voice in YA, Chelsea Ichaso. Don’t miss it!” —KIT FRICK, author of See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us, and I Killed Zoe Spanos

“Little Creeping Things is a stunning debut in every sense of the word. From the chilling opening pages to the jaw-dropping final reveal, the pacing is relentless, the twists dizzying. Cass is the best kind of unreliable narrator, delightfully acerbic and hopelessly sincere even when she isn’t telling the truth. Chelsea Ichaso has without a doubt written the breakout thriller of the year.” —DANA MELE, author of People Like Us

“Ichaso’s debut is a riveting whodunnit… a psychological thriller worthy of mystery aficionados.”—SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Little Creeping Things, with its cast of creepy and untrustworthy characters, will satisfy the appetites of all manner of mystery fans.”—BOOKLIST

“The reveal…is both well earned and eerie.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

Karen’s Thoughts:

I’ve been on a real run with thrillers for a while now and this one did not disappoint. There were a lot of twists and turns and every time I thought I knew what was going on, I was wrong. This is a compulsively readable book that keeps you invested. This will be a great addition to any teen collection. And for those of you who want a little bit of substance with your books, you will also find themes of childhood trauma, gaslighting, and abuse. It’s dark, but as I’ve told you before, dark is good. Put this in the hands of Karen McManus fans asap. Published in June by Sourcebooks.

Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi

Publisher’s Book Description:

Maybe a killer only looks like a killer in the moment just before, during, or after.

Maybe a liar, a good one, never shows it.

Kayla is still holding on to Lainie’s secrets.

After all, Lainie is Kayla’s best friend. And despite Lainie’s painful obsession with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the ways he has tried to come between them, friends don’t spill each other’s secrets. They don’t betray each other’s trust.

The murder at the end of the summer doesn’t change all that.

Besides—Kayla knows that the truth is not the whole story.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Yes, it’s another thriller. What can I say? Thrillers are my jam right now. Though the ending of this one was less surprising for me, it was still a pretty tight psychological thriller that teens will like. This book is about summer camp gone horribly wrong and for teens missing out on summer camp this year, it’s the perfect anecdote. Fans of Megan Miranda, Karen McManus and Lauren Oliver should be have there thirst for a good murder quenched by this summer read. Publishes September by HarperTeen.

What can I say? A good thriller or two is just what I needed to help me end my pandemic reading slump.

Book Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher’s Book Description: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. 

Karen’s Thoughts: I do love a good twisted fairy tale. And in this case I do mean seriously twisted.*

Having recently read – AND LOVED – The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, I found this to be a great next read in the girl rebel against patriarchal towns genre. It’s by no means a new genre, but this was a really fascinating take on the concept with the way that the legend of Cinderella is woven into the storyline. It is also fiercely pro-LGBTQ in ways that many other smash the patriarchy books have failed to be. And it stars a main character of color, which again is often under represented. So this book definitely helps fill a lot of gaps that are vastly under-represented in YA literature. We need a lot more books like this, books that are intersectional in their feminism.**

Every twist in this tale will delight and astound readers. I had no idea where exactly it was going to go and was amazed at the ways that Bayron could take the tale of Cinderella and use it as the base for her story and then completely change it in such creative and twisted ways. This twisted tale will challenge, delight and thrill readers. Highly recommended.

Epic Reads Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

*When it comes to book reviews, twisted is a compliment. Less so when you are talking about horrific presidents and real life serial killers.

**For more YA with intersectional feminism check out Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, and The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang to get you started.