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Book Review: Lost Soul, Be at Peace by Maggie Thrash

Publisher’s description

lost soulFollowing her acclaimed Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash revisits a period of teenage depression in a graphic memoir that is at once thoughtful, honest, and marked by hope.

A year and a half after the summer that changed her life, Maggie Thrash wishes she could change it all back. She’s trapped in a dark depression and flunking eleventh grade, befuddling her patrician mother while going unnoticed by her father, a workaholic federal judge. The only thing Maggie cares about is her cat, Tommi . . . who then disappears somewhere in the walls of her cavernous house. So her search begins — but Maggie’s not even really sure what she’s lost, and she has no idea what she’ll find. Lost Soul, Be at Peace is the continuation of Maggie’s story from her critically acclaimed memoir Honor Girl, one that brings her devastating honesty and humor to the before and after of depression.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

11th grade Maggie is depressed—not that her parents have taken notice. Her grades are terrible, her only real friend is her cat (who either runs away or just weirdly disappears somewhere in their mansion, never to be seen again), and when she searches “depression” on the internet, she comes across the ever-so-helpful suggestion to just drink more water. You’re not depressed—you’re just dehydrated! She’s out to a few friends, but not to her parents. Her federal judge dad always has his head in a book or is at work, and Maggie is always surprised when her dad uses her name and doesn’t just refer to her as “Ms. Thrash” or “tenant.” When her mother isn’t criticizing her, she’s ignoring her. But when Maggie comes across a hallway in her home that she swears she’s never seen, she meets an important new friend who just happens to be a ghost (though he doesn’t think he’s dead). At first, Maggie thinks it’s only a dream, but quickly the line between dreams and reality blurs, and Tommy, the not-dead ghost, is always around. Maggie isn’t sure what to make of all this. She’s a former sleepwalker who now has night terrors. Is Tommy real? And why are there so many weird details about his life that really make his appearance feel like it’s a mystery meant to be solved? It’s only much later, after her dad’s mother dies, that Maggie begins to understand who Tommy is and why he’s here.

 

Though this is a companion to Thrash’s first graphic memoir, Honor Girl, it’s not necessarily to have read it to understand or enjoy this memoir. With simple yet engaging artwork (that will be in full color in the finished version, which I suspect will add a lot to the readability of the story—my ARC was only in black and white), Thrash tells a compelling and surprisingly deep story about the things we lose, the things we find, empathy, connection, and family. Honest, vulnerable, and ultimately hopeful, this memoir will resonate with a wide variety of readers. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780763694197
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/09/2018

Book Review: Dream Country by Shannon Gibney

Publisher’s description

dream countryThe heartbreaking story of five generations of young people from a single African-and-American family pursuing an elusive dream of freedom.

Dream Country begins in suburban Minneapolis at the moment when seventeen-year-old Kollie Flomo begins to crack under the strain of his life as a Liberian refugee. He’s exhausted by being at once too black and not black enough for his African American peers and worn down by the expectations of his own Liberian family and community. When his frustration finally spills into violence and his parents send him back to Monrovia to reform school, the story shifts. Like Kollie, readers travel back to Liberia, but also back in time, to the early twentieth century and the point of view of Togar Somah, an eighteen-year-old indigenous Liberian on the run from government militias that would force him to work the plantations of the Congo people, descendants of the African American slaves who colonized Liberia almost a century earlier. When Togar’s section draws to a shocking close, the novel jumps again, back to America in 1827, to the children of Yasmine Wright, who leave a Virginia plantation with their mother for Liberia, where they’re promised freedom and a chance at self-determination by the American Colonization Society. The Wrights begin their section by fleeing the whip and by its close, they are then the ones who wield it. With each new section, the novel uncovers fresh hope and resonating heartbreak, all based on historical fact.

In Dream Country, Shannon Gibney spins a riveting tale of the nightmarish spiral of death and exile connecting America and Africa, and of how one determined young dreamer tries to break free and gain control of her destiny.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Confession: I have been staring at the blank screen now for 18 minutes. I’ve been writing book reviews for 16 years, since I was in graduate school at Simmons. How many reviews have I written in those years—many hundreds, maybe more than a thousand? And yet here I sit, trying to put together even just one useful, coherent sentence that might begin to sum up how powerful, unique, and phenomenal this book is. I’m frowning as I type, because those words don’t even begin to do this novel justice.

 

The first thing you should know is that this novel will challenge readers, and I mean that in the best possible way. We move around in time and in place, and though there are parts of a family tree shown, I had to draw my own to start to make the connections clearer. You know who is up for challenging reads? Teenagers. They’ll be fine.

 

We’re first introduced to Kollie, a 16-year-old Liberian boy living in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota (just outside of Minneapolis) in 2008. His family fled Liberia during the Second Civil War and lived for three years in a refugee camp in Ghana. Many of his friends and classmates are Liberian, and there’s a lot of tension between the African immigrant kids and the black American kids. Kollie and his friends are regularly called slurs, called “jungle animals.” Things are not easy for Kollie, but he’s getting by. His parents have high hopes for him, that he can help be a positive influence in the community. His mother warns him that America may be the land of opportunity, “but if you want to destroy yourself, they will give you that opportunity too.” She says the world will do its best to convince black boys that they should destroy themselves, but she’s proud he’s working to better himself. Of course, this speech is before Kollie is involved in a violent incident at school, suspended, and working for William, a neighborhood “degenerate.” Devastated and ashamed, his parents send him away.

 

From here, we weave back and forth in time and location, meeting some of Kollie’s ancestors and following their struggles, losses, and achievements as they try to make their way through a world that doesn’t seem to want them to succeed or even to exist. Readers meet Togar, in 1926, in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, fleeing from Congo soldiers. We follow the story of Yasmine, who we meet in 1827 on a plantation near Norfolk, Virginia. The American Colonization Society’s new idea is to send “the coloreds” back to Africa’s Gold Coast to share their knowledge, experience, and salvation with the people there. Though this opportunity seems rife with potential, another woman there warns Yasmine that their new town is a hell and to stay away from hope. Yasmine and her family quickly realize that their new life is one filled with tension and fighting, and that the white men who came up with this idea weren’t looking to better anyone, but rather to ship people away to eliminate them. We also spend time with Evelyn and Ujay, in 1980, in Monrovia, Liberia, where we see Ujay’s work as an activist with the Progressive Alliance of Liberia and the hope for indigenous, not Congo, rule. We flash forward to 1994 with Ujay, now in a refugee camp near Ghana. And finally, we hear from Angel, Kollie’s sister, in 2018, ten years after Kollie was sent away from their family.

 

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. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735231672
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/11/2018

 

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: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Publisher’s description

girl made ofFor readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

BILLY STARS

There’s what I tweeted after I finished this book. What a powerful and memorable read. I read a LOT of books. Often, as the weeks and months pass, the details get lost to me. I’ll remember I liked something, but not necessarily all of the reasons why. Or I’ll forget characters’ names or how the book made me feel. But this book? This book will stay with me. All of it.

 

Relationships in twins Mara and Owen’s world are closely-knit. They attend an arts magnet program with all the most important people in their lives. Hannah, Owen’s girlfriend, is one of Mara’s best friends. Charlie, Mara’s very best friend, is also her ex-girlfriend (Mara is bisexual; Charlie is nonbinary). And Owen’s best friend, Alex, has always been there, but Mara finds herself turning to him more and in new, unexpected ways. 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. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781328778239
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/15/2018

 

 

Book Review: Antipodes by Michele Bacon

Publisher’s description

antipodesWhen Erin Cerise steps off her plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, she’s determined to overcome her losses of swim team captainship, her boyfriend Ben, and her reputation. Her mother is certain studying abroad will regain Erin’s chances of a good future. Once Erin meets her uninspiring host family and city, though, she’s not so sure.

Before Christchurch, Erin wasn’t always intense and focused. When had her priorities gone upside down?

Now, Erin balks at NZ’s itchy school uniforms, its cold houses, and her hosts’ utter inability to pronounce her name correctly. Christchurch does boast amazing rock climbing, gorgeous scenery, and at least one guy who could make her journey worthwhile—if she lets him.

With months ahead of her, Erin slowly begins to draw on the years behind her, one step back into her memories at a time. As she rebuilds herself from the other side of the world, she finds that although her life has been turned upside down and she’s far from home, every way she moves takes her closer to where she came from.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

When Erin moves from Chicago to New Zealand to study abroad, it’s mainly because she’s fleeing what has gone on in her life. It seems like a drastic move, but one her parents fully support. They’re already mortified at her behavior and choices, and besides, studying abroad will help make Erin’s college applications unique. And if she’s going to get into Columbia (and eventually get into med school, become a doctor, make lots of money, and have a perfect life), she’ll need something to help her stand out. Just a handful of weeks ago, her life had been different. Erin had felt like she had it all—a great boyfriend, her swim team spot, and excellent college prospects. But that was before she gained viral fame for an embarrassing and hardly life-ending incident. Now, everything is different.

 

Erin’s time in New Zealand opens her eyes to a lot of things. Erin is extremely privileged and totally unimpressed with her host family, their home, and really all of Christchurch. Her parents, both lawyers, have always been very intense and focused on Erin’s success and her future. Her mother lives for to-do lists and goal-setting. She wants Erin to use her time in New Zealand not to sightsee but to focus on being exceptional and unique. It doesn’t take Erin long in New Zealand to start to understand there is more to life than a constant fixation on goals she never even set for herself. Before long, she’s cast aside her cello, is excelling on the much more relaxed than she’s used to swim team, taking fun classes she never had time to consider before, and falling for a boy who falls far outside the bounds of what her parents would consider acceptable. For the first time in her life, Erin is being asked—and is asking herself–about what she enjoys, what she is interested in, and where she’d like her future to take her. These are confusing revelations, and Erin feels a bit lost as she navigates a new world not just far from home but free of expectations and demands. 

 

It may take readers a while to warm to Erin, who is spoiled and entitled, but her journey toward understanding herself and breaking free from her parents’ rigid rules is a genuine one full of heart and excitement. This engrossing story of self-discovery is bolstered by the unique (Erin’s mother would like that word) setting of New Zealand and a great cast of secondary characters who come to support and encourage Erin in ways it felt like no one at home truly did. An excellent and engaging look at what we can gain when it feels like everything is lost. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781510723610
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

hurricanCaroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child.

Being born during a hurricane is unlucky, and twelve-year-old Caroline has had her share of bad luck lately. She’s hated and bullied by everyone in her small school on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, a spirit only she can see won’t stop following her, and — worst of all — Caroline’s mother left home one day and never came back.

But when a new student named Kalinda arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, becomes Caroline’s first and only friend — and the person for whom Caroline has begun to develop a crush.

Now, Caroline must find the strength to confront her feelings for Kalinda, brave the spirit stalking her through the islands, and face the reason her mother abandoned her. Together, Caroline and Kalinda must set out in a hurricane to find Caroline’s missing mother — before Caroline loses her forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

How great is it that we are starting to see more LGBTQIA+ main characters in middle grade books?

 

The summary up there does a fairly efficient job of presenting the major plots points of this novel. The summary doesn’t, however, convey how rich the narrative voice is or how vivid the characters are. Caroline lives on Water Island, a place she refers to as “a dumb rock.” Her mother left one year and three months ago, though Caroline isn’t particularly sure why or where she may have ended up. Caroline attends Catholic school, where she says she is “the littlest girl with the darkest skin and the thickest hair.” She’s always been the odd girl out, but the arrival of Kalinda, a new student from Barbados, changes that. The other girls don’t suddenly accept her once she and Kalinda become best friends, but they do kind of ignore her. More importantly, Kalinda seems as taken with Caroline as she is with her. Caroline can see things that other people can’t (specifically a woman in black who seems to show up all over the place, including the bottom of the sea) and suspects maybe Kalinda can, too. Also, it doesn’t take long for Caroline to realize she has a crush on Kalinda, and can only hope that maybe Kalinda could feel the same (a hope that fades after hearing Kalinda say it was disgusting, gross, and wrong when they see two women holding hands). When a letter Caroline writes to her confessing her feelings falls into the hands of the mean girls, suddenly the small bits of happiness Caroline was finding are threatened. With her feelings now exposed and their time together potentially limited, Caroline thinks it’s more important than ever to find her mother, even if that means searching the spirit world (and maybe not returning from it). Caroline has spent so long just wanting some answers, but now that she’s uncovering them, they may be too much to handle.

 

Readers will instantly be drawn in by the narrative voice, the strong characters, the various mysteries (like where is her mother, are there ghosts, what does her father know, and what will happen with Caroline and Kalinda). The setting, packed full of evocative details, add further richness to this unique story. Caroline is dealing with a lot—racism and poor treatment because of the darkness of her skin, absent parents, homophobic classmates—all things that make her feel very alone, bullied, and unloved. Though it was difficult to read how she was treated, the ending begins to provide hope that Caroline will have more people in her support network than she could have guessed. An intense look at relationships and self-discovery. Give this to introspective readers who may relate to Caroline always feeling on the fringes. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338129304
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/27/2018

 

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Publisher’s description

night diaryIn the vein of Inside Out and Back Again and The War That Saved My Life comes a poignant, personal, and hopeful tale of India’s partition, and of one girl’s journey to find a new home in a divided country

It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This was another of those rare books that I read in one sitting, ignoring all of the other things I was supposed to do, allowing myself to be sucked into this book and its world.

Nisha, an introvert who rarely speaks to people outside of her family, begins keeping a diary in July 1947, after Kazi, the family chef, gives her a blank book for her 12th birthday. She narrates her life and the events unfolding around her in letters to her Muslim mother, who died while giving birth to Nisha and Amil, her twin brother. Nisha’s father is Hindu (as are Nisha and Amil), and Kazi is Muslim. Nisha is used to being friends with Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, but that all changes when Partition happens. Nisha struggles to understand how India will soon be free from British rule, but will be divided up into two countries, one for Muslims and one for Hindus and Sikhs. Where they live will now be part of Pakistan, where Muslims will live. Nisha and her family must leave behind Kazi and make the perilous journey to their new home on foot. The trip is long, and they have very little food or water. As they grow more exhausted and dehydrated, Nisha becomes sure that she, Amil, her father, and their grandmother will all die. Their destination, while ultimately the new India, is first making it to Rashid Uncle’s house, halfway to the border. Rashid is their mother’s brother, someone Nisha has never met before. Their time there is precious, with Nisha recognizing so much of herself and her mother in Rashid. Leaving his house, being displaced yet again, is hard for Nisha. The remainder of their trip is horrific and frightening, but they arrive safely in their new home, where an unexpected surprise helps Nisha feel like this is more like home.

 

This intimate look at Partition, families, and identity is beautifully written and especially engaging due to the diary/letters format. A solid read for those looking for historical fiction, books about India’s history and culture, or refugees. 

An author’s note explains that this novel is loosely based on her father’s family’s experience. A glossary is appended.

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228511
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

you'll missA moving, lyrical debut novel about twins who navigate first love, their Jewish identity, and opposite results from a genetic test that determines their fate—whether they inherited their mother’s Huntington’s disease.

Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s, and the other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The novel opens with Adina and Tovah on the brink of turning 18. 18 may feel significant for many teenagers, but for these girls, it has a special significance: they’re old enough now to undergo the genetic testing that will determine if they will eventually develop Huntington’s disease, like their mother. They have a 50/50 chance they will. Adina and Tovah haven’t been close for a long time, thanks to an act of betrayal in their past, so they’re going into the test without the support of each other. Adina doesn’t even want to do the test–why she does/has to do it is complicated. When Adina tests positive, everything begins to fall apart. Their already strained relationship is further tested by guilt, anger, frustration, and revenge, all brought on by this diagnosis.

For Adina, a conservatory-bound viola player, the diagnosis pushes her to seize the moment, scared of just how many good moment she may have left. She also actively makes the rift between the sisters greater, figuring it will be easier on everyone if, when she gets sick and begins to deteriorate, they aren’t close—the loss won’t hurt so much (she thinks).

For Tovah, she’s left in the wake of her sister’s destructive impulses, but also struggling to adjust to her own life-changing news. A tightly-wound type A student who has been meticulously crafting the perfect resume her whole life, Tovah suddenly begins to see that there is life beyond grades and goals. She begins her first relationship and, while she has to adjust to new thoughts about what her future may now hold, it’s not on the same level as what Adina is adjusting to—something both sisters are constantly aware of.

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. 

FYI, this novel includes self-harm, suicidal ideation, and a discussion of death with dignity.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481497732
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 01/02/2018

Book Review: Welcome Home edited by Eric Smith

Publisher’s description

Welcome Home collects a number of adoption-themed fictional short stories, and brings them together in one anthology from a diverse range of celebrated Young Adult authors. The all-star roster includes Edgar-award winner Mindy McGinnis, New York Times best-selling authors C.J. Redwine (The Shadow Queen) and William Ritter (Jackaby), and acclaimed YA authors across all genres. The full list of contributors includes: Adi Alsaid, Karen Akins, Erica M. Chapman, Caela Carter, Libby Cudmore, Dave Connis, Julie Eshbaugh, Helene Dunbar, Lauren Gibaldi, Shannon Gibney, Jenny Kaczorowski, Julie Leung, Sangu Mandanna, Matthew Quinn Martin, Mindy McGinnis, Lauren Morrill, Tameka Mullins, Sammy Nickalls, Shannon Parker, C.J. Redwine, Randy Ribay, William Ritter, Stephanie Scott, Natasha Sinel, Eric Smith, Courtney C. Stevens, Nic Stone, Kate Watson, and Tristina Wright.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

welcome homeI generally read and review books in order of publication date and rarely go back to fit in anything I had missed previously. I just get too many books to consider to not just keep plowing forward. Unless someone finally figures out how to have reading all night make me feel as rested as actually sleeping does, that’s just the way it will stay—I try to read as much as humanly possible, but miss an awful lot. That said, I wanted to sneak in WELCOME HOME before the year ends because it’s such a unique and important collection.

As with any anthology, the stories are somewhat uneven, with many stories standing out better than others. Also, stories of just a handful of pages are not always really given enough time to actually develop in a satisfying way. BUT, I happen to love a good anthology. You can pick and choose, go back later, skim things, discover new writers (to me, that’s always the most exciting part of an anthology), and get what feel like extra bonus stories you wouldn’t otherwise get from old favorites. I’m glad to see anthologies making a comeback these days. They really appeal to a certain kind of reader, so I hope this book, and others like it, land in all libraries and get talked up and promoted.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Multiple genres are featured and though all of the pieces revolve around adoption, foster care, family, and love, there is a lot of variety in tone and content, which keeps the collection from feeling repetitive. Plots include an adopted superhero, a nearly too late reunion, a mother in prison, the death of an adoptive parent, a mute child in an orphanage, transracial adoption, a child taken back by a birth parent, a pregnant teen trying to decide what choice to make, a genealogy assignment, and more. Themes of love, support, friendship, family, and belonging permeate all of the stories. This diverse collection of short pieces is a welcome addition to YA, where we don’t necessarily see a lot about adoption. Get this on display in your libraries to help it get into the hands of kids who will recognize their own stories in this collection. A great look at the many ways families are made up and come together. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781635830040
Publisher: North Star Editions
Publication date: 09/05/2017

Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Publisher’s description

i am not yourThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian meets Jane the Virgin in this poignant but often laugh-out-loud funny contemporary YA about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures, expectations, and stereotypes of growing up in a Mexican-American home. 
 
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Julia is blunt, funny, sneaky, and also fairly miserable. Her sister, Olga, was recently killed and Julia feels more off-kilter than ever. She’s grieving, of course, but also intensely feeling her parents’ disappointment in her and trying to find ways to get a little breathing room, especially in respect to her judgmental and strict mother. All Julia wants to do is graduate and move to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, but it’s hard to feel like that dream could become a reality since her parents think a good daughter would be happy to continue living at home and attending community college. That’s what Olga did, and especially as far as her mother is concerned, Olga was perfect. Julia, who talks back, is unabashedly a feminist, and isn’t particularly concerned with consequences, knows she is far from her parents’ ideal. She carries that weight while trying to just live her life in spite of her grief and her increasing depression. And while Julia certainly doesn’t think she has her own life figured out, she did think she had Olga’s nailed: boring secretary who attends one class at a time and was her parents’ pride and joy. But while trying to get to know her now dead sister a little better, Julia must face the fact that she didn’t actually know her sister at all–that no one in their family did. Julia assembles clues based on her limited findings and follows them until she is able to put together a more realistic picture of who Olga was. 

 

Overall, I liked this book. Julia is a complex character. Her struggles as a first generation American teenager and as someone living in poverty are just as complex and well-drawn as she is. However, once I realized the part mental health would play in her story, I wanted more from it: I wanted it woven in throughout, instead of just kind of dropped in, and explored more fully. The plot suffers a bit from being overstuffed—not that she can’t have multiple things happening in her life at once (friends issues, grieving her sister, her first real boyfriend, mental health stuff, a trip to Mexico)—I kept wanting Julia to either really hone in on the mystery with her sister OR explore her grief and hopes for her own life more fully, something to make the plot feel tighter to me. Maybe it just needed to cover less time. At any rate, as a character-driven reader, Julia’s emotionally complicated journey held my attention even when the plot meandered. Her desire for something bigger in life as well as the reveal that people aren’t necessarily what they seem will resonate with teen readers. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781524700485
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/17/2017