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Book Review: Madness by Zac Brewer

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

 

madnessMadness by Zac Brewer

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

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062456717

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: Who’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh

 Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

whos that girl

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062447777

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation by Anthony & Annmarie Young

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

 

youngredstarROBINSON, Anthony & Annemarie Young . Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation. photos by Anthony Robinson. 144p. chron. filmog. further reading. maps. websites. Interlink. Jul. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781566560153.

Gr 7 Up –A number of Palestinian kids and teens discuss their hopes and dreams and what it is like living in an occupied country. An introductory chapter explains the Occupied Territories, provides an overview of the history of the Palestinian land, and explores the impact of occupation on subjects such as human rights, citizenship, education, housing, land ownership, and the economy. The authors visited or held video conferences with participants from nine Palestinian cities and villages. Their meetings took place in schools, community centers, libraries, and homes. Robinson and Young devote a chapter to each city or village. Each chapter briefly examines the area’s geographic makeup, history, and location, then provides a transcript of the conversation. The kids speak about school, aspirations, family life, safety, and the difficulties of living in the Occupied Territories. Many answers are typical of young people anywhere, but most touch on the experience of living under occupation. In addition, excerpts from some of the young people’s writing are included. Photographs, maps, and art are interspersed throughout, enhancing the text. Beyond the initial information in each chapter, there is very little commentary from Robinson and Young; the voices of the Palestinian youths are what drive and shape this work. A time line of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is appended, as are references for films, websites, and books. VERDICT A straightforward, compelling, and eye-opening look at life in Palestine for all nonfiction collections.

Book Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

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

 

tash heartsTash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

ISBN-13: 9781481489331 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date:06/06/2017

★ Gr 9 Up—Seventeen-year-old Kentucky filmmaker and Tolstoy superfan Tash Zelenka’s summer takes an unexpected turn when her web series, Unhappy Families (a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina) goes viral. The newfound fame causes tension between Tash and her best friend Jack, who also works on the series. Tash is easily caught up in the increased social media attention, her fans’ expectations, and the criticisms. She is also grappling with her complicated relationship with her sister, Klaudie, who drops out of acting in the series to more fully enjoy her last summer before college. Plus, Tash must deal with her flirtation with vlogger Thom, her confusing feelings for Paul (Jack’s brother and Tash’s other best friend), and her worries about the end of the series and her impending college applications. Tash is also beginning to come out to people as romantic asexual and needs to figure out how to share her identity with Thom, whom she will be meeting soon at the Golden Tuba independent web awards. Tash and her group of artsy theater friends are vibrant, creative, and thoughtful. They may not always totally understand one another, but their admirable and complicated friendships have so much heart. The much-needed asexual representation plays a significant role in the story, with readers privy to Tash’s thoughts on identity and conversations with friends about what the term means. VERDICT Funny, well written, and compulsively readable, this will especially appeal to readers with an interest in web series. A strong choice for YA shelves.

Book Review: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Publisher’s description

ra6Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Ali - Saints and MisfitsThis excellent book manages to be both about BIG things (faith, family, sexual assault) and about very everyday things (friendship, tests at school, crushes). Ali does a great job of weaving the big and little things together as we watch sophomore Janna Yusuf learn, grow, and find her voice.

 

We first meet Janna, wearing a burkini, while she’s in Florida with her dad and his family. She’d rather not be hanging out with them, but after her friend’s cousin sexually assaults her at a gathering, she needs to get out of town. Farooq, who Janna mostly just refers to as “the monster,” is well-respected in their community, a sort of golden boy at their mosque, who has memorized the entire Qur’an (but doesn’t appear to actually understand any of it). Janna keeps the assault to herself for much of the story, busy navigating the many parts of her life, but the monster is always around and Janna is fearful and angry. Janna’s brother, Muhammad, has recently moved home, taking a year off from college, and is courting Sarah, a study circle leader at their mosque, who Janna feels is, annoying, “the most perfect Muslim girl.” Janna spends time with Mr. Ram, her elderly Hindu neighbor, tries to figure out what to do about her crush on white, non-Muslim Jeremy, and hangs out with friends. She takes part in an Islamic Quiz Bowl team, too, getting to know more about people like Nuah, a nice dude who is friends with the monster, and Sausun, a niqab-wearing girl who becomes a surprising ally for Janna.

 

As Janna finds her voice, she struggles with how to fit in (both with her Muslim friends and her non-Muslim friends, as well as within her divided family), with what is important to her, and with how to make real connections with the people in her life. This is a thoughtful and engaging look at identity and finding your footing in your own life. As with the other books from Salaam Reads, this should be in all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481499248

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 06/13/2017

Book Review: Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Publisher’s description

ra6An engaging and relatable novel for the digital age that perfectly captures the complicated interaction between what goes on in our real lives and what we say online.

Internet sensation Madison Nakama has it all! Her pop-culture rewatch site has a massive following, and fans across the world wait on her every post and tweet. And now Laurent, a fellow geek (and unfairly HOT French exchange student!), has started flirting with her in the comments section of her blog. But Laurent’s not the only one watching for Madi’s replies…

Internet fame has a price, and their online romance sparks the unwanted attention of a troll. When Madi’s “real life” hits a rough patch, she feels her whole world crumbling. With Laurent’s support, can Madi rally her friends across the globe to beat the troll, or will he succeed in driving her away from everything—and everyone—she loves?

Internet Famous is a fresh, contemporary young adult romance for the iGeneration from Danika Stone, author of All the Feels.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

internet famousA great display idea would be YA books with stories that revolve around blogging/vlogging/fanfiction/social media. The list of them is growing and there’s something about them feeling so very *now* that makes them enjoyable.

 

Madi’s blog, MadLibs, is all about her love of pop culture. She watches movies and liveblogs them. She has an enormous following but manages to stay anonymous in her real life. Her full name hasn’t ever leaked and she’s glad—her dad is a newspaper columnist with a rather conservative readership and, while it’s not like Madi’s blog is anything controversial, she worries about anyone connecting her to him. While her internet life is pretty cool, her real life is less interesting. She’s in the final weeks of her senior year (she attends online school) when her mother breaks the news that she’s leaving for a few months for a fellowship at Oxford. Madi’s worried what her mother’s absence will do to Sarah, her younger sister who has autism and does well with predictability and routines. While we’re on the topic of the parents: her mother is terrible. She’s selfish and doesn’t appear to do much parenting at all. Madi and Sarah’s dad is also almost entirely checked out, leaving Madi many of the adult responsibilities, though he becomes a better parent as the book goes on. Anyway. Madi becomes friends with Laurent, one of the readers of MadLibs, and pretty quickly realizes she’s totally crushing on him. At the same time, an unpleasant thing begins to happen, too: an online troll starts harassing Madi. He leaves nasty comments on her blog, sends her horrible emails, and eventually reveals he knows where she lives. She also begins having an issue with school that might keep her from graduating on time. Though her online life is thriving, everything in Madi’s real life suddenly feels like it’s falling apart.

 

Without reading the flap copy, the cover and the title make this look much lighter than it is. Yes, it’s still a romance at its heart, but it’s also a really suspenseful story about the downsides of internet fame. Readers may guess who the troll is, but Stone makes it seem like there are multiple possibilities. Text conversations, blog posts, emails, and photos are interspersed, which, combined with the suspenseful plot, make this a quick read that will appeal to fans of romances, those invested in fandoms, and teens who like books with nontraditional formats. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250114372

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 06/06/2017

For your summer TBR: Backlist YA you don’t want to miss

tltbutton6The amount of books that appear here cause me a fair amount of anxiety. And that’s not me whining about getting so many great books sent to me to consider reviewing for TLT; that’s me saying that my anxiety disorder can turn anything into something to worry about, even something seemingly good like towering stacks of books. I am constantly updating lists—what books came in, what I for sure will review, what I need to skim to see if I want to review it, etc. Plus I keep putting books on hold at the library, like I have time for them. Then I go to Edelweiss to request more. Then I decide to fall down a research hole as I write. I know I’m speaking to my people when I say that there are just SO MANY books and why can’t I read them all? WHY?

 

One of the lists I started making was recent books I’ve missed but for sure want to make time to read this summer. I tend to read in order of publication date and review about 6 weeks into the future, so if a book appears here after it’s been published, I might not get around to reading it. Sad but true. So, as I started to make a list of books, I began to think of what books I’d want to tell people they should go back and seek out if they somehow missed them when they first came out. I went back just a few years to make this list and tried to keep it from growing totally out of control. I’m including a teeny excerpt from my review of the book and you can click on the title and author to go to the full review, should you want to learn more. If you’re looking to build your list, or make a display of great recentish books (from the past year or two) that definitely deserve to be discovered this summer, here is a good place to start. Have some favorites from the past few years that people should pick up this summer? Let us know! Leave a comment or tweet me @CiteSomething

 

out of darknessOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

The novel begins in media res (you know—in the middle of things). It’s March 18, 1937. Did you need some time to adjust to how completely emotionally obliterating this book will be? Too bad—welcome to page one, where we are faced with the rubble of a recently exploded school littered with bodies. No, check that—it manages to be worse than that: riddled with bits of bodies. Let’s make it worse: bits of children’s bodies. Sufficiently upset? Perez is just getting started.

We leave this heart-wrenching and gruesome scene to jump back to September 1936. Naomi and her twin siblings Beto and Cari are new to town, having recently been relocated from their San Antonio barrio to an oil-mining town by the twins’ father (and Naomi’s stepfather), Henry (their mother is dead). Naomi, who is Mexican, and her biracial siblings are instructed by Henry not to speak Spanish. The children seem to pass as white, but Naomi faces the town’s ugly racism. African-American Wash, the siblings’ one friend, is no stranger to racism either. The foursome quickly become friends, but keep their friendship secret, mainly getting together in wooded areas removed from the judging and gossiping of others. Wash is the one saving grace in Naomi’s fairly unhappy life. Her classmates are constantly whispering about her. The girls hate her because she’s pretty and the boys just want to get in her pants. She does make one girl friend, and a few of the neighbors are friendly, but even if she had a thousand friends, it wouldn’t erase what is happening at home. 

 

 

kissing tedKissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

The thing I loved best about this book was how seriously funny it was. Riley is as bold as she is awkward. Her little inner voice, often speaking to the boys she likes, made me laugh. She can’t help but blurt out things that she knows are weird or embarrassing. She talks about having a second brain that takes over when she’s around boys she likes and makes her come off sounding like a babbling idiot. I also loved that Riley and Reid are best friends with zero potential for something more. They are JUST friends. And this book doesn’t take what could be a very predictable route of having them realize, over the course of writing in the notebook and seeking out dates, that they actually love each other. They don’t. As someone who has had a boy BFF since I was 12, I appreciated the hell out of this storyline. I kind of wished this was a flip book and I could have finished Riley’s story and flipped it over to start Reid’s story.

 

 

gabi a girlGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

 

 

see no colorSee No Color by Shannon Gibney

Kit is the one who really pushes this conversation, asking her family what they actually think about Alex being the only black person in an otherwise white family. She says she sees how people stare at their family. “But it’s like this secret, you know? Like no one is supposed to actually admit that she’s black, or maybe more that she’s not white.” Of course, we all know what her father does, right? “Alex is only half black,” he says. Just in case anyone forgot. But this family doesn’t see color. Later, Alex exasperatedly says to Kit that she doesn’t even know what “mixed,” her dad’s favorite word, is supposed to mean. “Mixed. As far as I can tell, it means closer to white for Mom and Dad, and the lightest shade of black for everyone else.” Later, her father, apparently trying to be loving and reassuring, tells her, “I just want you to know that your mother and I, we will always see you as just you, as Alex. There’s nothing black—or particularly… racial–about you to us because you’re our little girl and always will be.” Alex notes that the way he says “black” is cringe-inducing, “like it was the worst thing a person could be,” but that when her dad says “mixed,” he sounds prideful. More of these conversations happen over and over with her family.

 

 

what we sawWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

There is a lot to talk about here. I have pages and pages of notes. Hartzler’s novel addresses the role social media plays in rumors and bullying, rape culture, slut-shaming, speaking up, and consent. He pushes Kate to think about what consent looks like and models both what it does and does not look like in her relationship with Ben. There is a wonderful scene where Mr. Johnston takes Reggie to task for making it seem like he couldn’t help himself if he were to rape a drunk girl. “You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist,’” Mr. Johnston says to Reggie. He asks the boys in class to brainstorm what you could do with a drunk girl instead of rape her. Bring her water, drive her home, find her friends, just walk away. THIS is the conversation that we all need to be having—not girls, here’s how you don’t get raped, but boys, here’s how you don’t rape.

 

 

cut both waysCut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

This is where I want to point out that all of this is Plenty of Plot. These are not small things. They are also not Too Many Things going on. The plot reads like a very realistic look at the life of any teenager—many small daily dramas and an overall sense of feeling equal parts lost and excited. The plot is basically A Teenager Lives the Life of a Teenager. Anyone who has read Mesrobian’s previous books also knows that she writes truthfully and graphically about sex. (I hate that easily shocked pearl-clutching censors have stolen the word “graphic” as a descriptor and given it a negative connotation. I just mean “graphic” as in a clear and realistic picture.) Given that pretty much the basis of the entire novel is Will’s newly awakened sexuality, and the fact that he has two partners he’s sexually involved with, there are plenty of descriptive sex scenes here. The characters stay out all night, swear, lie, drink, smoke pot, and do all of the other stuff that happens in real teens’ lives.

 

 

original fakeOriginal Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

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.

 

 

ask meAsk Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

Sometimes I read a book and it’s so glaringly obvious that this is an adult writing a teenager—nothing feels natural or genuine or believable about the teen voice. That isn’t the case here. Addie shines as a “real” teenager. She’s secretive and touchy and honest and curious. She makes a choice that she isn’t willing to allow to define her, then learns that the things that define her are changing. A gorgeous, smart, achingly real look at the things that make us who we are and reminds us that who we are is always changing.  

 

 

 

meet me hereMeet Me Here by Bryan Bliss

MEET ME HERE will inspire important conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, expectations, friendship, and toxic masculinity. On the surface it could seem like Thomas and Mallory’s friendship just fizzled out, or like Jake just isn’t himself, or like our main characters are feeling an uncertainty about their futures that might come from it being graduation night— a time for endings, beginnings, and thoughts of the future. But Bliss infuses every one of those things with much deeper issues that get explored more thoroughly as the story goes on and as secrets are revealed. This well-written and affecting book is a must-have for every collection. Teen readers may not be in exactly the same situations as Thomas or Mallory but will recognize the feelings of uncertainty and the pressures of expectations as well as appreciate the quiet thread of hope woven throughout. 

 

 

wild swansWild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

There is a lot I love about this book, but the things I love best are Ivy’s friendships. She has three best friends–Claire, Abby, and Alex. Mexican American Alex and his mother live in Ivy’s granddad’s carriage house. They’re basically family. Tension arises when Alex begins to have feelings for Ivy that go beyond the realm of their brother-sister relationship. Ivy isn’t feeling it–or maybe she is, but she won’t let herself feel it because she’s too afraid of what it might do to their friendship. Alex is hurt by her rejection, and that hurt multiples when Ivy begins to date biracial Connor, a poetry protege of her granddad. Ivy’s friend Claire is GREAT. She’s my new book best friend. She’s outspoken and brilliant and unabashedly a feminist. She nudges Abby and Ivy toward conversations on sex, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, birth control, feminism, agency, loyalty, and double standards. She has no problem calling people on their garbage. She supports other girls—she and Ivy have a pact not to talk trash about other girls. The girls are GREAT. Ivy feels annoyed at the expectation that she be “nice.” Claire, who is bi, makes sure no one defaults to heteronormative comments. And both girls speak up when Abby has trouble accepting that her 6-year-old sister Ella (formerly Eli) is transgender. All of the other stuff–the disastrous days with Erica, the new sibling issues, the boy drama–make this book extremely interesting and well-done, but it’s the friendship that I’m here for. Give me more of this, please, YA novels. Girls TOTALLY sticking up for each other, looking out for each other, having frank conversations about huge issues. MORE. PLEASE. 

 

 

badThe Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

Part of the real joy of this book was seeing how events unfolded, so I won’t tell you too many plot details. The story wasn’t predictable—or when it was, I was roped in enough to believe it wouldn’t take that turn or play out that way. Austin is a great character who experiences a lot of wonderful things in this story (when he’s not busy falling down hills and nearly being killed by a lawnmower, or breaking expensive instruments, or getting in trouble for stealing a car) and even though I KNOW he makes bad decisions, and that people in his life make bad decisions, I thought maybe they’d turn it around. His relationship with Josephine is fantastic. She’s smart, funny, and his total opposite, but they connect through music and when she’s able to see past Austin’s reputation. She’s in his life at just the right moment, as he grapples with the reality of his father and is able to be as involved in making music as he’s always wanted to be. Austin’s journey isn’t an easy one to observe. I spent a fair amount of time wincing and lecturing him in my head. The ending of the book isn’t tidy or necessarily completely happy, but it is satisfying. You know me—I’ll take a realistic ending over a “happy” ending any time. A fun, smart, at times heartbreaking read about families, love, choices, consequences, and the power of music.

Book Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager and Zoe More O’Ferrall

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This first-ever LGBTQ history book of its kind for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

queer thereThere is a LOT of information packed into this book! The introduction explains how often assumptions are made about historical figures’ sexuality and gender identities, erasing their real identities and erasing the important contributions made by LGBTQIA+ people. The introduction also discusses the choice to use the word “queer” to encompass all of these people and provides a quick overview of the language related to queerness and terms/labels used.

 

We get a quick tour through worldwide queerness throughout history (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latina America, Oceania, North America) and the effects of colonization and religion as well as looking at how LGBTQIA+ people were accepted, persecuted, and criminalized throughout history. There is also plenty of emphasis on the activism and achievements of queer folks throughout history.

 

Each chapter focuses on one individual from history and begins with a short tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) summary to grab your interest. The chapters give in-depth information about the subjects’ lives. Readers will learn about people they may already be familiar with, such as Joan of Arc, Ma Rainey, Frida Kahlo, Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and George Takei. Other historical figures include Roman Emperor Elagabalus (born a boy, lived as a woman, married 5 women and 2 men while a teenage emperor); Kristina of Sweden (a “gender-bending” queen who romanced men and women); Juana Ines De La Cruz (a Mexican nun who fell for her benefactor’s wife); Abraham Lincoln (and his “intimate friend” Joshua); Lili Elbe (one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery); Josef Kohout (a gay Holocaust survivor); and Glenn Burke (a gay baseball player). A glossary is appended as is an extensive bibliography and notes. Written in a very conversational tone, this book is an important addition to library collections. Get this one up on your displays—there are plenty of teens who will be so glad to see a spotlight being shone on the important contributions of LGBTQIA+ people throughout history. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062474315

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/23/2017

Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This charming and bittersweet coming-of-age story featuring two girls of color falling in love is part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and part Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy…what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

it's not like16-year-old Sana Kiyohara has recently moved from Wisconsin to California. Her parents sort of dropped the bomb that the family was moving and expected her to be fine with it. Her mother’s motto is to endure things and bear them without complaining. Sana isn’t sure that’s exactly the best or healthiest way to go about life, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. Life in Wisconsin wasn’t great, but it was all Sana knew. She had a crush on her former best friend (who’s now too popular to really be her friend) and always stuck out as one of just a few Asian kids in her otherwise very white school. Her peers say crappy things to her like that it’s cute that she went “woohoo” to the “Midwest farmer’s daughters” part of “California Girls” because it’s not like she looks like one (says her “friend”). Her former bestie says it’s like Sana forgot she’s Asian, but that’s okay, because they forgot she is, too.

 

Now, in California, Japanese-American Sana is surprised to find that her new school is super diverse. This different student body brings different problems. There is a lot of racism and embracing/believing stereotypes going on, from a lot of people. Sana’s mom makes a TON of racist comments about the Mexican kids in Sana’s school (and, eventually, Sana is forced to confront the fact that she believes some of these same racist ideas). Teachers make assumptions about kids because of their race. Sana is instantly befriended by a group of Asian girls (Vietnamese American and Chinese American), just as her new friend Caleb (a white goth guy) predicts (a prediction Sana finds silly). She likes feeling like her new friends understand her in ways her white friends didn’t, but negotiating the new groups and attitudes takes a lot of adjustment.

 

Sana’s biggest adjustment to everything comes from her relationship with Jamie Ramirez. She goes from telling herself it’s just a “girl-crush” to admitting (to herself) that she likes her but doesn’t “need this” right now to dating her. Jamie is out to her friends and Sana tells her small group of friends they’re together, but she’s not out to her parents or the school population in general. The girls are really into each other and have a sweet relationship, but issues of race and identity keep coming up and making them have to recalibrate things. But when Jamie hangs out with her ex-girlfriend, Sana gets some mixed messages about what may be going on and makes some questionable choices (at the urging of her friends who pull the whole “yeah, but how do you really KNOW you only like girls?” thing). Everything seems like it’s falling apart and Sana no longer feels certain about anything–not her new friendships, not things with Jamie, and not her life at home. As mistakes and secrets and lies pile up, Sana has to have many big conversations to help set things right, going against her upbringing of enduring things in silence.

 

There is SO MUCH packed into this book about race, culture, family, identity, silence, and truth. I do wish some of the secondary characters had been allowed to develop more fully and to feel less like they were jut there to teach Sana about racism and race beyond her own. Though the second half of the book felt less tightly plotted, overall this is a book worth adding to all collections for its look at intersecting identities, grappling with racism, and finding your way to your truth.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
ISBN-13: 9780062473417

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017