Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: The Ocean in My Ears by Meagan Macvie

Publisher’s description

ra6Meri Miller lives in Soldotna, Alaska. Never heard of it? That’s because in Slowdotna the most riveting activities for a teenager are salmon fishing and grabbing a Big Gulp at the local 7-Eleven. More than anything, Meri wants to hop in her VW Bug and head somewhere exciting, like New York or L.A. or any city where going to the theater doesn’t only mean the movies. Everything is so scripted here—don’t have too much fun, date this guy because he’s older and popular, stay put because that’s what everyone else does.

But when her senior year should be all boys, SAT prep, and prom drama, Meri feels more and more distance between herself and the people she loves. Her grandma dies, her brother gets hurt, and even her best friend checks out to spend more time with some guy. As she struggles with family, grief, friends, and hormones, Meri must decide if she really is ready for the world beyond her backyard.

Meagan Macvie’s debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears , raises questions of love, purpose, and the power to choose your own future even when your future’s the thing that scares you the most.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

the oceanMeri is complex. Heading into her senior year of high school, she’s desperate to leave her tiny Alaska town (a town known for two things—salmon fishing and having the highest per capita teen birthrate in the nation), but also terrified of leaving behind everything she knows. She has sex with a creepy older guy she’s dating but is also worried that it’s a sin and she might regret it (also, he’s a terrible human being but she hangs out with him for waaaaay too long). She doesn’t reveal anything about her life to her distant (both emotionally and physically) parents but longs for someone to do some parenting and for them to maybe understand her or even just see her. She has big dreams and big doubts. She’s been raised in a religious setting, having gone to Christian school until junior high. Her mother, and the church, repeatedly drive home the point that sex outside of marriage is a sin. It’s terrible, awful, you will go to hell, you will get diseases, you will get pregnant. Meri hears all of this but still wants to make her own choices, come to her own conclusions. It’s never easy stumbling your way through adolescence (the only way through is by stumbling, I think), but Meri is having a particularly hard time senior year. Her dad is either always off working in the oil fields or at home ordering her around, her grandma is dying (and her mom is gone for much of the book in Idaho tending to Meri’s grandma), her best friend has ditched her for a boy, and she likes Joaquin, a nice dude who she worries her parents won’t approve of, but instead dates jerky oaf Brett. She’s trying to figure out what she wants in life, but that’s hard to do in her tiny, isolated town with the constant talk of judging, sinning, and Satan.

 

Set in 1990, this look at a small town girl feeling trapped, frustrated, and ready to explore bigger horizons will appeal to fans of Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl and other realistic YA where the main plot is the day-to-day existence of a teenager just trying to figure it all out. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781932010947
Publisher: Ooligan Press
Publication date: 11/07/2017

Book Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Publisher’s description

our-ownFifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it’s mostly about sex.

No, it isn’t that kind of theory. Aki already knows she’s bisexual—even if, until now, it’s mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki’s theory is that she’s got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she’s got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It’s time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you’re in love? It’s going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Maryland 15-year-olds Aki, who is black, and her white best friend, Lori, are spending a month in a teeny town far outside of Tijuana. They’re there on a mission trip with their church, helping to build a new church, along with groups from two other churches (from Maryland and West Virginia). Aki’s dad, the youth minister, is on the trip, as is Lori’s aunt, as a chaperone. Lori’s excited about the chance to meet some new boys and hopefully have a summer fling. Aki is apprehensively excited to maybe finally start feeling like she’s living her life. She feels like everything is hypothetical, just ideas, and that she never actually lives out anything, instead stuck endlessly debating everything in her head. Last year, Aki told Lori she thinks she might be bisexual—but Aki feels that her identity, like everything else in her life, is only hypothetical. This all changes when she meets cute white, pansexual Christa, who is a year older and seems far bolder and more experienced than Aki. The girls start hooking up, deciding that what they are having is just a summer fling. After all, Christa has a boyfriend back home, though they decided to be on a break for the summer and see other people. Christa has heard that Aki is a talented musician, and Aki, who gave up music a while back for complicated reasons, allows Christa to continue to think she’s still actively playing and composing. It’s just a fling—there’s no harm in some little lies, is there? Before long, the two are sneaking away every chance they get, despite being worried about being found out. Christa has always hidden her sexuality from her very conservative parents and is worried it would somehow get back to them that she’s hooking up with Aki. Aki’s brother, also on the trip, says their parents wouldn’t be okay with Aki being queer. So they keep it a secret. Or try to.

 

Meanwhile, Aki’s relationship with Lori is falling apart, as she’s pretty much completely bailed on her to be with Christa. The two get in a major fight when Lori reveals who she has been secretly hooking up with—someone that is such a bad choice, Aki thinks they should turn to an adult for some guidance. And while Aki is pretty obsessed with Christa, she’s also working on the things they went to Mexico to do—painting, building a fence, working with children—and growing more interested and involved in some of the social justice issues the national convention will be voting on. She and Jake, a bi boy from another church, start some petitions and work on putting together a debate to educate their group about the issues.

 

A big part of Aki’s story is trying to figure out exactly what her identity is and what it means for her. She spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be bisexual. She knows she is “not straight.” She knows she is attracted to girls–or at least to Christa. She has a lot of questions and thoughts about the fluid nature of sexuality, about labels, about identities shifting, about what it means to be bisexual. I think these thoughts and questions make this an especially valuable book for teens. Aki is young, just starting to figure out her identity, and completely open to asking herself questions. She is just starting to meet other queer teenagers (closeted Christa, possibly-soon-to-be-out Jake, and openly queer Madison). She is starting to reveal her identity (whatever it is or may become) to people in her life. She is also learning a lot about sex—not just from first-person experience, but from research. As she and Christa grow closer, Aki spends some time researching safer sex options. She tracks down what she needs while the youth group is at a college for two days for a conference. She’s informed and takes charge.

 

It’s a big month for Aki, one where her life finally starts to feel real and not just hypothetical. The underlying themes of changing people’s minds, truth, honesty, and love are reinforced through multiple storylines with Aki and many secondary characters. This exploration of love, sex, and identity is thoughtfully told. Aki’s interest in and thoughts on both religion and social justice issues help show just how much growing she is doing while taking a more active role in her own life. Talley has a knack for writing really complicated, authentic characters. Readers will appreciate the obvious respect for teenagers as smart, thoughtful, complex, sexual, and politically-aware beings. A great story about first love and a growing awareness of both self and the greater world. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780373211982

Publisher: Harlequin

Publication date: 01/31/2017

Book Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Publisher’s description

georgiaJoanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s not perfect—sometimes the plot felt convoluted, sometimes characters acted in ways that felt inconsistent—but this is a great story that feels really fresh and, super bonus, is a f/f romance with a happy ending. I find it easy to forgive minor flaws when the other many positives far outweigh things I found lacking.

 

The plot is pretty well summarized in that description up there, but it’s all of the nuance that makes it worth reading. The fact that the story is so much about faith and identity was really interesting and, again, feels like something we don’t see a whole lot of. Joanna moves to small Rome, Georgia for her senior year. She thinks of it as “where queer girls go to die.” For a lot of reasons (none of them particularly great), her reverend dad would like Joanna to go back in the closet, or “lie low” as he calls it. Tied to this is the fact that Joanna intends to start her own radio ministry, like her dad, to help support kids like her—gay kids of faith and teens in general. If Joanna “lies low” for the year, she can eventually share her true self again with people and come out on her radio show.

 

The whole deal seems kind of bonkers, but she goes along with it. She gets a makeover to appear more “normal,” in a kind of “why not go for broke?” move. Joanna starts attending the youth group at her new stepmother’s church, quickly becomes friends with a close-knit group of girls, and suddenly is doing things like going to football games, parties, and sleepovers. The story could stop there—could just be about a girl who was out but now isn’t, and how faith ties in with all of it—but it takes the much more interesting step of having Joanna fall for Mary Carlson, a seemingly straight girl and the sister of Joanna’s one other real friend, B.T.B. She keeps getting signals that maybe Mary Carlson could be into her—something she finds almost impossible to believe but readers sure won’t—and before long finds herself in a super weird position: dating a girl who wants to come out, but pretending her (Joanna’s) attraction to girls is also a new revelation, and really needing to not be out herself, to keep up her part of her agreement with her dad.

 

For the most part, the story follows a predictable path, but it’s completely fun, cute, and satisfying the whole way through. Despite Joanna’s dad’s desire for her to hide her sexuality for a while, he is supportive and loving (which is part of what makes his request seem so weird and inconsistent with who he actually is), as is her stepmother, other family members, and nearly all of her friends old and new. Me telling you the girls get their happily ever after isn’t meant to spoil anything, but is meant to reinforce how important this book, and the girls’ relationship, is. Funny, thoughtful, sweet, and complicated, this book is a necessary addition to all YA collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062270986

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/30/2016