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Amanda’s favorites of 2018

Yes, it’s list time. What follows are my favorite 2018 books that I reviewed and excerpts of my reviews. I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list reflects. These are the YA books that most stuck with me this year.  Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great titles this year. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

 

 

you'll miss meYou’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781481497732 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 01/02/2018)

I burned through this book, riveted by the girls’ relationship, which is constantly in flux. The alternate narration really lets us get in the heads of both girls and see them both really struggle with all the new things that they are dealing with. Let’s not forget that in the middle of all this there is their mother, whose symptoms are getting rapidly worse. They have to witness her decline, worry about what her future holds, and that’s a constant very real reminder for everyone of what will be ahead of Adina at some point.

I loved the large role religion plays in this family’s life. They are Jewish and often speak Hebrew. Their mother grew up in Tel Aviv and their father is American. Tovah is quite religious and Adina is not. Both speak and think about their religion and culture a lot—whether that’s because they are embracing it or rebelling against it.

This book is heartbreaking in all the best ways. The girls are not always likable (and we all know I hate that word as a judgment, right? That it’s OKAY to be unlikable, because being humans and containing multitudes means we’re not always the best version of ourselves?), they make hurtful choices, they keep things to themselves when what they really need is to lean on each other. This is a complex look at identity, futures, faith, family, and what it means to truly live your life. A brilliant and provocative debut. I look forward to more from Solomon. (Full review here.)

 

 

is this guyIs This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown (ISBN-13: 9781626723160 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 02/06/2018)

Brown takes us back to Kaufman’s youth, showing his interest in Mighty Mouse, Elvis, and wrestling. Kaufman loved to imitate his heroes and always rooted for the bad guy. We see how he became a party entertainer at a young age, his interest in drumming, and his growing interest in subverting expectations and screwing with reality. Kaufman believed in being in character offstage as well, a move that helped him confuse the heck out of people who eventually could never tell if he was putting on an act or being serious. Much of the story is focused on Kaufman’s wrestling career, with Brown taking us through Kaufman arch-nemesis Jerry Lawler’s backstory, too. Throughout it all, we see Kaufman as not just a larger-than-life character who wrestled women and befuddled viewers, but as a sensitive guy into yoga and transcendental meditation. Kaufman, who blurred reality and enjoyed blowing people’s minds, loved playing the negative, hated characters. It was just more interesting to him.

Fans of the absurd will enjoy this book, whether they’ve heard of Kaufman or not. For an older audience, for anyone who looks at this and can immediately picture Kaufman lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme, or Tony Clifton, or Latka Gravis, this look at Kaufman will be a real treat. (Full review here.)

 

 

elenaThe Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson (ISBN-13: 9781481498548 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 02/06/2018)

After Elena confirms she really can heal people (unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard for her to just accept what happened), things grow far more complicated than she could have anticipated. The voices (coming from such places as a girl on a tampon box, a My Little Pony, a skeleton, and more) tell her she needs to heal as many people as possible. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. But for every healing she does, people are raptured—and not just in some 1:1 ration; literally hundreds of people could go missing for each healing. Suddenly, Elena has BIG questions to grapple with. Can she help someone right in front of her knowing others will disappear to an unknown place? Is she being used? Do things happen for a reason or do they just happen? Does nothing matter? Does anything matter? Does EVERYTHING matter? How are things connected? Are people even worth saving (that question will sound familiar to fans of Hutchinson)? Does healing people fundamentally change them? Why should you decide who or what matters? It’s heavy philosophical stuff, which readers of Hutchinson will have come to expect.

As always, Hutchinson populates his story with a diverse group of characters. Elena is Cuban American and bisexual. Her best friend, Fadil, is Mulim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still figuring it out). The big picture themes include mental health/suicidal ideation (and actual suicide), bullying, identity, supportive relationships, and how your choices change you and the world around you. Hutchinson superfans will be thrilled to see cameos of characters from his previous books. This look at making impossible choices and handling moral conflict is already one of my favorites for 2018 (and, as of writing this, I’m still back here in 2017). Riveting, thoughtful, weird, brilliant, provocative, and heavy—just what I have come to expect from Hutchinson. (Full review here.)

 

 

poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (ISBN-13: 9780062662804 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/06/2018)

15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother.She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations.Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

blood water paintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (ISBN-13: 9780735232112 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/06/2018)

17-year-old Artemisia understands the way the world works: women are a beauty for consumption by men. There are many expectations for women and few freedoms. She understands that girls are prey, that they are seen as things and possessions. Artemisia, ostensibly an apprentice to her painter father, though clearly far more skilled than he, begins to paint biblical women she knows intimately from her mother’s stories, knowing a man could never capture the truth of the story the way a woman could. Her mother’s stories made clear the heavy burden of the inescapable male gaze, but they also made clear Artemisia’s (and all women’s) right to be outraged, to act, to push back, to speak up. These woman from her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, come to be her strength and solace when Artemisia is raped by Agostina Tassi, her painting tutor. Artemisia tells her father of the rape and they take Tino to trial. But, of course, it is not Tino on trial, but Artemisia’s virtue. 

Both the stories from Artemisia’s mother and Artemisia’s own story ask the readers to bear witness, to see the truth, to hear the voices, to understand the strength in the stories. The stories are the weapons, the armor, the refuge, and the map. This intensely passionate and powerful exploration of women’s lives, stories, truths, and power is a masterpiece. (Full review here.)

 

 

after the shotAfter the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (ISBN-13: 9781328702272 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/06/2018)

Bunny and Nasir repeatedly approach each other to try to mend their friendship, but each time, Nasir feels like he’s betraying Wallace, that Bunny has plenty of people in his corner, and plenty of resources and opportunities, but Wallace has nothing and no one. Wallace eventually puts Nasir—and Bunny—in an impossible situation, one that will test everyone’s loyalty, and the already high stakes of this story really ramp up. Readers will race through the final chaptersWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss to see what happens to all three of these complicated and conflicted characters.

 

Told through an incredibly effective alternation narration, readers get to see deep inside the minds of both Bunny and Nasir. who show that the situation is much more complicated than just being about two best friends driven apart by Bunny’s choice to change schools. Gripping, suspenseful, and complex, this story of basketball, friendship, courage, desperation, and choices will appeal to a wide audience. A must-have for all collections.  (Full review here.)

 

 

 

fly awayWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062494276 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/08/2018)

As I read, as I watched events unfold, I kept thinking, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” even though I knew something terrible had to happen to get Luke on death row. It all feels so hopeless.

 

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby.His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. (Full review here.)

 

 

girl made ofGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (ISBN-13: 9781328778239 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 05/15/2018)

 

When Hannah says that Owen raped her at a party they all were at, Mara is devastated. She knows her brother would never do that. But she also knows Hannah would never lie about that. She turns to their small group of friends, including both Hannah and Owen, as she tries to process what happened. Mara has her own reasons for fiercely thinking that “believe girls and women” is a good policy (beyond it just being a good policy). She’s held on to a secret for years, a secret that ruined her relationship with Charlie. Mara and Owen’s parents believe Owen when he says he didn’t rape Hannah. They urge Mara to understand the need to be united on this, to not talk to anyone about it, to make sure they all have the story straight. But Mara is sick of not talking about things. She stands by Hannah, especially when Hannah comes back to school and is repeatedly greeted with, “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara, Charlie, and Hannah all have truths to tell. They rely on each other, and the support of girls (particularly in their feminist group at school, Empower) to find the strength to not be silenced. 

 

This masterpiece is gutting. It’s not just the characters, the dialogue, and the writing are all wonderful—they are—but that the story is so real. So true. So common. Maybe not the specifics, but the general story. This is in incredibly important read about the aftermath of a sexual assault, about consent, rape culture, family, friendship, and feminism. A powerful, heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting read. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

deadendiaDeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (ISBN-13: 9781910620472 Publisher: Nobrow Ltd. Publication date: 08/07/2018)

 

Really, this book had me at trans protagonist, graphic novel, talking dog, girl with anxiety disorder, and hell portal. It’s like all my favorite things together in one place. If only they had also obsessively eaten donuts and the dog was a dachshund and not a pug! Barney, who is trans, has recently left home, after it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome there. His friend Norma Khan hooks him up with a job as a janitor at the Pollywood amusement park where she works as a guide at a haunted house (a job she likes because there is a script). It’s the least popular attraction there, in the area referred to as Scare Square. Barney figures it will be a good place to stay while he’s homeless, and it maybe would have been, if it hadn’t turned out that the haunted house was also a portal to a bunch of demons. Before long, Barney, Norma, and Barney’s dog, Pugsley, are constantly battling demons through shifting timelines and dimensions. The planes are described as a “big, interdimensional, supernatural cake,” and it’s hard to know who is mostly harmless, who may be helpful, and who eventually becomes bad in a another timeline. When a demon possesses Pugsley early on, he retains the ability to speak, even after they manage to exorcise the demon. Norma has known about the demons for ages, but for Barney, this is all so new and odd at an especially new and odd time in his life.

 

Complicated emotions, strong friendship, demons, and plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation. All that and bright, bold illustrations AND great writing? Total win. Sweet, funny, and enjoyably, delightfully weird. (Full review here.)

 

 

dariusDarius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780525552963 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/28/2018)

Though Darius is often awkward and monosyllabic, we get to know him much better when he is in Iran. Darius gets to know himself much better during this time. He becomes friends with Sohrab, a charismatic neighbor boy who draws Darius out of his shell, inviting him to play soccer and helping guide him through life in Yazd. Fairly quickly, Darius feels such closeness with Sohrab, feeling like they really understand each other. Sohrab is easy and comfortable with Darius, so open and affectionate. Though it is never discussed, it is easy to read their relationship as something more than friends, or something that could potentially be more than friends. Though their time together is short, Sohrab and his friendship appear to be life changing for Darius, showing him that he can connect with other people and that there is more to him than just a bullied kid who is always the object of jokes and cruelty.

 

The book has a lot of other things going for it. Darius’s depression is handled well. It’s noted over and over that he has been encouraged to not feel embarrassed or ashamed for having depression, that it’s just the way his brain chemicals work. He talks about being medicated for years, about having tried various medications, about side effects, like weight gain, and we routinely see him take his medication. His mother talks to him about the fact that her parents will have a different, less understanding attitude toward depression, which does come up once they are in Iran. It is refreshing to see mental illness depicted in such a matter of fact manner—it’s just one part of Darius. Darius also helps guide readers through Persian culture by explaining cultural ideas, tradition, and Farsi words as the story unfolds. Khorram manages to make this feel like part of the natural flow of the narrative. This quiet story will resonate with readers who feel they don’t fit in, for whatever reason, and can appreciate the profoundness of finally feeling like you can connect with someone. A heartfelt, complicated, and thoughtful look at identity, family, and unexpected connections set in a place, and within a culture, we rarely see in YA. A great addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

dream countryDream Country by Shannon Gibney (ISBN-13: 9780735231672 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/11/2018)

The stories are loosely tied together (in the sense that we’re following the line of one family and returning to the same place over and over), but read like short stories, complete on their own. It feels especially profound, then, when we reach Angel’s portion of the narrative and understand that it is she who has been telling all of these stories as a way to help make sense of her lineage, history, and ancestors. Through her revelations about her writing, readers see the choices she made in telling these stories, her search for explaining people and their actions, her desire for wholeness, for neat intertwining, for being able to know what these experiences were like. The title, Dream Country, takes on new significance through Angel’s eyes, and with Angel’s own story. This powerful and well-written story examines deep human emotions, the desire and fight for freedom, power, and immigrant experiences. Perhaps shamefully, I managed to make it to 40 without knowing much of anything at all about Liberia, but this book has changed that. Gibney’s complex look at one family, told through a wide scope, is moving and unlike anything I have ever read before in YA. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Don’t miss it. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

 

the unwantedThe Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9781328810151 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/18/2018)

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

hearts unHearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (ISBN-13: 9780763681142 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 10/09/2018)

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

 

Book Review: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump by Martha Brockenbrough

Publisher’s description

unpresidentedA riveting, meticulously researched, and provocative biography of Donald J. Trump from the author of Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary.

Born into a family of privilege and wealth, he was sent to military school at the age of 13. After an unremarkable academic career, he joined the family business in real estate and built his fortune. His personal brand: sex, money and power. From no-holds-barred reality TV star to unlikely candidate, Donald J. Trump rose to the highest political office: President of the United States of America.

Learn fascinating details about his personal history, including:

-Why Trump’s grandfather left Germany and immigrated to America
-Why Woodie Guthrie wrote a song criticizing Trump’s father
-How Trump’s romance with Ivana began—and ended
-When Trump first declared his interest in running for President

Discover the incredible true story of America’s 45th President: his questionable political and personal conduct, and his unprecedented rise to power.

Richly informed by original research and illustrated throughout with photographs and documents, Unpresidented is a gripping and important read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An unexpected sick day home with my kiddo provided me the uninterrupted time I needed to read this new biography, aimed at teens, about Donald Trump. While anyone who has paid at least a little attention to politics the last few years will know at least a general outline of what has gone on with Trump’s presidency and his policies, it is the deep dive into his younger years that may prove most revealing. It all certainly illuminates how he got where he is. Brockenbrough looks at Trumps complicated relationship with facts and misinformation, examines patterns of behavior, and shows how his many business and personal choices inform his character. She tracks his family’s rise to wealth starting with his grandfather, who eventually found fortune in the hotel and restaurant businesses, and then outlining his father’s business interests. In the late 1930s, one newspaper called Fred Trump “the Henry Ford of the home-building industry” (pg 32). Trump’s father established their name as a brand, bringing Donald aboard real estate deals starting at a young age.

 

Building on the wealth and business practices of his family (and relying on them to bail him out repeatedly and help hook him up with deals that didn’t always look above board), Donald hustled to make deals, negotiations, and shrewd decisions that would help further the Trump brand as well as establish him as one of the wealthiest men in the country (even if that “fact” was an embellished truth). Chapters delve into his business scandals, financial risks and gambles, the constant wheeling and dealing he was doing to make deals happen, as well as his history of racism and discrimination. Many times throughout his career (prior to the presidential run and win), Trump lies outright about things big and small. It doesn’t matter if they are can be verified or easily discounted—things like his net worth or even locations of property or number of floors in a building—he always presented and believed his own version of the truth. Following his business career lets readers see that he was not only a man on the rise, but he was also a slumlord, a liar, and an entertainer. He just wanted people to talk and think about him. Trump loved the spotlight, and this love grew as he entered the world of reality television and consumer goods.

 

Never slowed by his bankruptcies or his staggering debt, Trump continued to plow forward, eventually running for the presidency, despite no prior political or military experience, figuring the press would be good for his brand. From here, we see more of his contentious relationship with the media, his disregard for facts, research, and data, and his desire to be seen as powerful and important. The chapters on his presidency detail the many ways he was unprepared to take office, his Russian connections, and the scandals, firings, and policies that have defined his administration thus far.  Backmatter includes a timeline of milestones both before and during his presidency, brief biographies of campaign staff, policy advisers, and his legal team, Russian connections, extensive endnotes, a biography, and an index.

 

This well-researched, thorough, and immensely readable biography helps make clear how Trump got to where he is. Brockenbrough uses the facts of Trump’s life to show a deceitful, manipulative, fortunate, and unprincipled man’s rise to fame and power. For me, personally, I was much more interested in the first 2/3 or so of the book that tell a story that I was less familiar with—Trump’s family, his younger life, the details of all of this business dealings/failings—than I was in the chapters dealing with his presidency, mainly because I have ingested such huge amounts of information about his politics and character since he was elected. I hope this biography is widely available to young readers, who need to know exactly who this man is. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author
ISBN-13: 9781250308030
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 12/04/2018

Book Review: The Resolutions by Mia Garcia

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

Book Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

Book Review: Home and Away by Candice Montgomery

Publisher’s description

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

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

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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

Book Review: The Collectors by Jacqueline West

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

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

Book Review: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Publisher’s description

dariusDarius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough—then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

IMG_4112I’ve been in a reading slump for what feels like forever, abandoning at least half a dozen books before I can settle in and actually read one. But this book? This book, I burned through in two sittings—and would’ve read it in one, had I not been expected to do things like parent my child. In fact, when I was reading this on the second day, I got so engrossed that I didn’t even look up for the duration of reading, not noticing how my dachshunds arranged themselves in this adorable heap and passed out next to me. Given that I usually look at them about every 30 seconds and exclaim how cute they are, this is an impressive level of reading engagement.

 

 

Darius is a Persian American sophomore living in Portland, Oregon. He works in a tea shop, is bullied at school, has depression, and often feels like an outsider even in his own family. Those are all the traits/facts that seem to define him while at home. His younger sister is fluent in Farsi, but Darius only knows food words and a few other common words and phrases. His blond-haired, blue-eyed father always seems disappointed in him, and they have trouble connecting, relying on nightly episodes of Star Trek to be the quality time they spend together. Like Darius, his father has depression, but Darius feels his dad is ashamed of this fact. He thinks Darius wouldn’t be bullied so much if he would just act more normal. When Darius’s mother tells him their family will be going to Iran to visit the dying grandfather he’s never met, Darius figures it will just be another place that he doesn’t fit in or feel comfortable. While he’s Skyped with his grandparents and other relatives plenty, he’s never met them. As noted before, he doesn’t speak much Farsi, which he knows will isolate him further. To his surprise, it is in Yazd, his mother’s hometown, where he begins to feel comfortable and to open himself up for the first time in his life.

 

 

Though Darius is often awkward and monosyllabic, we get to know him much better when he is in Iran. Darius gets to know himself much better during this time. He becomes friends with Sohrab, a charismatic neighbor boy who draws Darius out of his shell, inviting him to play soccer and helping guide him through life in Yazd. Fairly quickly, Darius feels such closeness with Sohrab, feeling like they really understand each other. Sohrab is easy and comfortable with Darius, so open and affectionate. Though it is never discussed, it is easy to read their relationship as something more than friends, or something that could potentially be more than friends. Though their time together is short, Sohrab and his friendship appear to be life changing for Darius, showing him that he can connect with other people and that there is more to him than just a bullied kid who is always the object of jokes and cruelty.

 

 

The book has a lot of other things going for it. Darius’s depression is handled well. It’s noted over and over that he has been encouraged to not feel embarrassed or ashamed for having depression, that it’s just the way his brain chemicals work. He talks about being medicated for years, about having tried various medications, about side effects, like weight gain, and we routinely see him take his medication. His mother talks to him about the fact that her parents will have a different, less understanding attitude toward depression, which does come up once they are in Iran. It is refreshing to see mental illness depicted in such a matter of fact manner—it’s just one part of Darius. Darius also helps guide readers through Persian culture by explaining cultural ideas, tradition, and Farsi words as the story unfolds. Khorram manages to make this feel like part of the natural flow of the narrative. This quiet story will resonate with readers who feel they don’t fit in, for whatever reason, and can appreciate the profoundness of finally feeling like you can connect with someone. A heartfelt, complicated, and thoughtful look at identity, family, and unexpected connections set in a place, and within a culture, we rarely see in YA. A great addition for all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9780525552963
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/28/2018
 

Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Publisher’s description

hereticsPut an atheist in a strict Catholic school? Expect comedy, chaos, and an Inquisition. The Breakfast Club meets Saved! in debut author Katie Henry’s hilarious novel about a band of misfits who set out to challenge their school, one nun at a time. Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Robyn Schneider.

When Michael walks through the doors of Catholic school, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow atheist at that. Only this girl, Lucy, isn’t just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism.

Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies one stunt at a time. But when Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, this book was right up my alley. As an atheist, I am always looking for more atheist rep in YA. I picked this book up because the summary sounded super interesting, and also because I TOTALLY judge books by their covers and this cover is amazing. Add in the fact that this book is thoughtful, compassionate, funny, and filled with great characters, and the result was I read this book in one sitting.

 

Michael has moved four times in ten years. He’s starting his new school, a private Catholic school, a month and a half into his junior year. He’s never believed in any god, but his father’s boss got him into St. Clare’s, the best private school in the area. He figures it will be terrible—after all, he’s an atheist—but is quickly proven wrong when he meets Lucy and her friends, an eclectic group of kids who all have their own reasons for not quite fitting in at school. Outspoken Colombian American feminist Lucy, whom Michael initially mistakes as a fellow atheist, wants to be a priest and has many thoughts on how and why the church should grow and change. Avi is Jewish and gay. Korean American Max is a Unitarian who just wants to be able to wear a cape to school. Eden is a Wiccan—well, actually, she’s a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Even though Michael is an apostate, and not technically a heretic, he’s invited into their group, Heretics Anonymous, which is basically a support group serving as a place to air their grievances about school. It doesn’t take Michael long to feel the group should do something more, go public, figure out how they can make things better for everyone at school. They “fix” the sex ed video, challenge the dress code, and begin to leave their mark (literally) all over the school. But shaking things up and starting dialogues has consequences, and soon security cameras are popping up and innocent classmates are getting accused of these pranks. Things spiral out of control, causing HA to go on hiatus, but when Michael’s personal life becomes stressful, he pushes things at school too far and stands to lose all that good that has come out of landing in this most ill-fitting place.

 

I enjoyed that Michael and his friends all came from different backgrounds but worked to understand each other, even as they made mistakes and disagreed over big ideas. This isn’t some story where Michael sees the error of his ways and finds religion, but he does start to understand that God and faith is maybe far more complicated than he had previously thought. Michael may not believe in any god, but he does believe in plenty of other things that are meaningful. At its heart, this is a story about friendship, respect, beliefs, acceptance, and differences, but it’s also a very amusing look at a subversive secret society determined to bring about change and expose hypocrisy. Excellent dialogue and genuine character growth make this layered look at religion sparkle. A great recommendation for those who like their deep subjects peppered with humor. I look forward to more from this author. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062698872
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/07/2018