Subscribe to SLJ
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publisher’s description

ra6A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

starfish17-year-old Nebraskan Kiko Himura prefers painting to fitting in (her words). She’s always felt like the odd one out, and her social anxiety hasn’t exactly helped her feel like she can fit in. Her mother is white and her father is Japanese. Her terrible mother is pretty racist nonstop, constantly making Kiko feel awful for everything having to do with being Japanese. She feels like she’ll never be good enough for her mother—her horrible, self-absorbed, hateful, AWFUL, emotionally abusive mother. Kiko also feels completely responsible for her parents’ divorce. Then there’s the fact that she was sexually abused by her uncle (her mother’s brother) and her mother refuses to believe that. Have I mentioned that her mother is unrelentingly TERRIBLE? (In fact, my one real complaint is that Kiko’s mother isn’t given any real depth or exploration, and Kiko just kind of writes her off as crazy, never my favorite excuse for someone’s villainous behavior.) Kiko hopes graduating and moving to New York for art school will give her the escape she wants and a chance to start over, to find out who she really is. When she doesn’t get accepted, she isn’t sure what she’ll do. But a new plan forms after two surprising things happen: One, her uncle, that uncle, moves in with them. And two, Kiko reconnects with Jamie, her childhood best friend, who now lives in California. He invites her to stay with his family while she figures out her future. There, she looks at art schools, gets encouragement from a high profile artist who takes her under his wing, and, of course, realizes she’s totally in love with Jamie. She begins to feel the love and support she never got at home, but it scares it, especially with Jamie. She’s worried she’ll lose him and she doesn’t want to become dependent on him. It’s a summer of big feelings and transformations for Kiko—one that grows infinitely more complicated when some pretty big secrets finally come to light.

 

This beautifully written book is a powerful look at breaking free, finding your voice, and coming to finally understand your own self-worth. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481487726

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 09/26/2017

Book Review: Original Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Thanks to Penguin generously donating some ARCs for Kirstin’s recent visit to my library, I have two extra to raffle off. You can enter via the Rafflecopter, by (re)tweeting this review, or by following me on Twitter (@CiteSomething). Contest runs 4/19 to 4/21. US entries only, please. 

Publisher’s description

original fakeIn this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war.

Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

In summer 2014, Kirstin came to my library to do an author talk. She mentioned that she was working on this book and I was instantly intrigued. Then, in summer 2015, we did a cover reveal for this book right here at TLT. Getting a peek at the art made me even more intrigued. I always like everything Kirstin does and this book was no exception. ORIGINAL FAKE is smart, weird, funny, and, well, original.

 

Introvert Frankie feels like he doesn’t fit in with his family. His mother is a Frank Sinatra impersonator and his father is a fill-in Frank-N-Furter at Rocky Horror shows. Their singing-dancing-acting genes got passed along to Frankie’s younger sister, Lou, who hangs with the drama kids and appears to be everything their parents could have ever wanted. In fact, when she was a baby, Frankie overheard his parents saying that the constellation of freckles in the shape of an F mean Lou’s the real deal—they should’ve saved the name Frankie for her. Frankie’s resentment of Lou’s status as favorite child has been brewing for years. In fact, he’d like to “push her off a cliff into the ocean.” Because of her, he hasn’t shown anyone his own art for a long time. Frankie, who sees himself as just average, works on his art in secret in a mostly forgotten room of their large house.

 

Frankie’s hero is Uncle Epic, a street artist from the Minneapolis area. He can’t believe the wild twists and turns his life takes on when he’s swept up in Uncle Epic’s world when he’s befriended by cousins Rory and David, whose actual uncle is Uncle Epic. “Cool stuff never happens to me,” Frankie thinks. Before long he’s part of Epic’s street team, helping prepare and install art pieces all around the city. That’s pretty cool, and just as cool is the fact that Frankie finally feels like he has friends. Rory is the prettiest girl in Frankie’s grade, with a reputation for using boys then breaking their hearts—naturally he has a crush on her. David is a skirt-wearing gay kid with a quick sense of humor and a creative streak a mile wide. Frankie’s experience with Epic’s art projects combine with his resentment of Lou to fuel his own public art projects—ones whose purpose is both humor and revenge—which end up giving him more attention than he could have expected. Suddenly, Frankie’s helping Rory yarn bomb, helping Epic with his art, drawing attention (under a pseudonym) for his own weird public art, and trying to stay off the police’s radar. Though he keeps landing in hot water with his parents, as he sneaks out night after night, it’s all worth it to Frankie, who finally feels like he has something that’s his.

 

I absolutely adored this book. As a character-driven reader, I was delighted by how fantastic and unique Frankie, David, Lou, their parents, and really everyone was. There is a lot to talk about here about art, gender, and families. And let’s talk about the illustrations for a minute. If you check out the cover reveal post we did, you can peek at more of the art than just what you see on the cover. Using oranges, black, and white, Johnson’s illustrations greatly add to the story and at times take over the telling of the story. It would have been a shame to have this brilliant book all about art not have illustrations showing us that art. Frankie, Lou, and David’s adventures really come to life thanks to the combined skills of the writer and the illustrator. ORIGINAL FAKE stands out in every way—great characters, great writing, great art. Give this to art-loving, oddball, slightly subversive readers who appreciate a good caper. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780399173264

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 04/19/2016

Book Review: This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

Publisher’s description

this songRamona fell for Sam the moment she met him. It was like she had known him forever. He’s one of the few constants in her life, and their friendship is just too important to risk for a kiss. Though she really wants to kiss him…

Sam loves Ramona, but he would never expect her to feel the same way-she’s too quirky and cool for someone like him. Still, they complement each other perfectly, both as best friends and as a band.

Then they meet Tom. Tom makes music too, and he’s the band’s missing piece. The three quickly become inseparable. Except Ramona’s falling in love with Tom. But she hasn’t fallen out of love with Sam either. How can she be true to her feelings without breaking up the band?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

 

Let’s put this right here in the front, just in case you plan to skim this review: THIS BOOK FEATURES AN ASEXUAL MAIN CHARACTER WHO TALKS A LOT ABOUT BEING ASEXUAL.

 

We’ll get back to that later.

 

I burned through this book in about 90 minutes. It’s on the short side and a quick read. The three main characters, Sam, Tom, and Ramona, take turns narrating. Unlike MANY books with alternate narration, their voices are distinctive and it eventually becomes VERY important to be able to see the story from each of their points of view. Sam and Ramona go to a prep school where they don’t really fit in (nor would they want to). They stick together and spend a lot of time practicing with their band (which is just the two of them), April and the Rain. They intend to go to Artibus College of Music and Arts together after graduation. At their audition, they meet Tom, a senior from another area school. Ramona instantly decides that he should be in their band. Tom’s a little overwhelmed by Ramona’s nonstop enthusiasm, but he feels drawn to Ramona and Sam, so joins their band. They changed their name to Vandalized by Glitter and make lovely, weird music together.

 

SKIP RIGHT OVER THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS, OKAY? 

 

Ramona has been in love with Sam basically since the second they met. She doesn’t see any signs that he could maybe feel the same way, and she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship, so she keeps this fact to herself. The thing is, Sam is desperately in love with Ramona, too, and figures the same thing—he’d know by now if she reciprocated those feelings. As an adult, I read this and think, ack! Just tell each other how you feel. But the teenage part of me that lives just under the surface still remembers EXACTLY how they feel and what they’re going through. Enter Tom. Ramona gets a big ol’ crush on him right away. They start to date (seriously, more on this below). She realizes she truly loves both and wants to be with both. Sam and Tom both come to these kinds of revelations too—why can’t they all be together? It’s far more complicated than those two quick sentences, of course, but you can go read all about it yourself. My point is, yes, this is a story with a love triangle, but it’s about a triangle that chooses to stay a triangle.

 

YOU CAN COME BACK NOW—NO MORE SPOILERS.

 

Ramona’s crush on Tom is instant, and he eventually realizes he’s into her as well. Tom recounts (to the reader) what went on in his last relationship with a girl named Sara. Sara talked to him about how he doesn’t want to have sex with her, how he seems bored kissing her and never tries anything else. She wonders if he’s gay. “I’m not gay,” Tom tells her. “I just don’t feel that way about anybody.” He tells her he doesn’t care about sex. Sara doesn’t believe him. She doesn’t think this is possible. So he’s a little hesitant to get involved with Ramona, given what happened before. They get together, and Tom is really into Ramona romantically but not sexually. They kiss and it’s just meh to Tom. YOU GUYS, there is so much about being asexual in this book. Tom really lets us into his brain. He tells the reader all of the things and people he loves and that he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on anything by not having sexual desires. He knows nothing is WRONG with him, but he still grapples with this a little, thinking maybe he should try harder to be into making out etc with Ramona. Eventually, he tells Ramona he’s asexual. And lots of stuff ensues after this (I’m really trying hard to not tell you the whole plot here. I’m not doing a great job of that, am I?), all of it good and positive and loving and accepting.

 

Other things about this book: Sam lives in the rich area of St. Louis. Tom lives in Ferguson. Their families are all different—Ramona’s mom is dead, Sam’s dad took off, and Tom’s parents are older. All three main characters are super duper giant music nerds. Tom is into cool public art projects, like Glitter in Odd Places. They all have secrets. We get to see tiny bits of their home lives and their school lives in relation to other students. The book is funny, too. Sam tells us about Ramona sleeping in the car: “Her mouth was hanging open, and she was frowning like she was dreaming of something that pisses her off, like dubstep.” 

 

This book was a total joy to read. Initially I found Ramona kind of insufferable, but her constant enthusiasm grew on me. I loved how into music they were, I loved their relationships with one another, and I loved getting to see the story through all of their eyes. Nowlin really captured what to me is a distinctly teenage feeling of being instantly completely obsessed with someone, finding everything they do fascinating, and then being confused on what to do next. This book should be in all collections. It’s not often we see an asexual character in YA or see romantic relationships handled the way they are here. A wonderful, quick, unique read. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492602903

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 01/05/2016