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Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Publisher’s description

ra6Inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this novel that Andrew Smith calls “beautiful, enchanting, [and] exquisitely written” is a new classic about teenage relationships, self-acceptance—and what happens when the walls we build start coming down.

Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a raw, darkly funny, and deeply affecting story about the courage it takes to live your truth.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

releaseYou know one of my very favorite books of all time is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, right? I loved the really strange setup of that book, and when I saw that this book does something similar(ish), I was psyched. Admittedly, this setup of two narratives that seemingly have very little to do with one another will not appeal to everyone. In fact, I suspect that people who are only in it for the realistic main story will potentially skip over the shorter chapters that delve into the supernatural—though they would be remiss in making this choice.

In a dear reader letter at the beginning of this galley, Ness writes, “How do we ever, ever survive our teenage years? Every young person you meet is a walking, talking miracle.” I could not like this more. I agree with him SO HARD and think that the fact that he so obviously truly believes this sentiment is part of what makes him such a profoundly great writer. He understands those teenage years and isn’t afraid to show them in all their glory and horror. He doesn’t shy away from anything—not in any previous books, and certainly not in this new one.

The story here takes place in one day—one monumental, wonderful, awful day full of surprises both good and bad. Adam, nearly 18, lives in Frome, Washington. His dad is a minister and Adam considers himself completely under his dad’s Yoke while he still lives at home. Having homophobic, conservative parents means that Adam hides most of his true self from them. He’s gay and feels about one second away from them sending him to a conversion camp at any given point in time. But he has Angela, his very best friend, and Linus, his boyfriend whom he is trying really, really hard to give himself fully to (if only he could get over his lingering love for Enzo, his crappy ex-boyfriend). He also has a boss who sexually harasses him, a seemingly perfect older brother who is about to drop a shocking revelation on the family, and doesn’t know today is also the day he learns a secret from Angela that will throw him for a loop.

All of this is happening while the ghost of a local girl recently murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend is carrying out her own part of the story, one that involves a giant fawn, visits to familiar places, confrontations, and an unexpected path to release. In anyone else’s hands, I would probably be left thinking, Um, okay, what is this doing here? But it’s Ness. He’s brilliant. He makes these dual but mostly unrelated narratives both work exceptionally well.

In my notes for this book, I noted a lot of passages and just wrote “YES!” or “I’m cheering!” or “OMG, I love Adam.” He is loved and supported (by his friends). He is vulnerable and feels undeserving of love. He is hurting but working through it. He is scared and confrontational. He contains multitudes. His relationship with Linus, sweet, patient, lovely Linus, is a thing of beauty. There is a lot of on the page sex and intimacy, which especially goes to prove the real difference between Linus and Enzo. There are wonderfully frank discussions of sex and sexuality between Adam and Angela, including a fantastic exchange about labels, fluidity, and the liberation that the right label can bring.

I read this book in one sitting. I didn’t want it to be over. It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, funny, odd, smart, and just truly stunning. This is easily one of my favorite reads so far in 2017. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403193

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

Book Review: Slider by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

ra6Competitive eating vies with family expectations in a funny, heartfelt novel for middle-grade readers by National Book Award winner Pete Hautman.

David can eat an entire sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Not bad. But he knows he can do better. In fact, he’ll have to do better: he’s going to compete in the Super Pigorino Bowl, the world’s greatest pizza-eating contest, and he has to win it, because he borrowed his mom’s credit card and accidentally spent $2,000 on it. So he really needs that prize money. Like, yesterday. As if training to be a competitive eater weren’t enough, he’s also got to keep an eye on his little brother, Mal (who, if the family believed in labels, would be labeled autistic, but they don’t, so they just label him Mal). And don’t even get started on the new weirdness going on between his two best friends, Cyn and HeyMan. Master talent Pete Hautman has cooked up a rich narrative shot through with equal parts humor and tenderness, and the result is a middle-grade novel too delicious to put down.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

slider2If you would hand me a book and tell me that it’s about a kid who is into competitive eating, I’d probably say “pass.” The whole idea of eating THAT much THAT fast makes me feel barfy. But add in, “Oh, by the way, it’s by Pete Hautman,” and I’m in. I have yet to read a book by Hautman that I don’t like. And, as I’ve said a zillion times, The Big Crunch is one of my very favorite YA books ever. Also, I’m always saying I want to see NEW things in middle grade and YA, and I definitely have not seen a story about a competitive eater before.

 

14-year-old David means to bid $20, not $2,000 for the remains of a competitive eater’s final uneaten hot dog. Now the proud owner of this bizarre memento and deeply in debt (and about to be deeply in trouble when his mother discovers he used her credit card), he works to turn his eating skills into quick cash to bail himself out. This means lots of training (during which I found myself really wanting some pizza and also never wanting to look at pizza again) and winning a few smaller contests before he can enter the big Pigorino Pizza Bowl contest at the Iowa State Fair, which comes with a cash prize of $5,000. But David can’t spend all summer just stuffing himself with food. He also watches his 10-year-old autistic brother, Mal, and learns some new ways for them to communicate with each other and ways to help Mal feel more comfortable exploring life further from home. He also hangs out with his best friends Cyn and HeyMan, though they’re being kind of strange lately. They’ve always been the Three Musketeers, but suddenly David is feeling like the odd one out. David’s also meeting a few people from the competitive eating community and figuring out more about his place in his family, where, as middle child, he’s often felt overlooked. In typical Hautman style, this book is full of humor, heart, and just enough weirdness. The unique topic of competitive eating makes this perfect for recommending to readers looking for a good story with a strong but unusual plot. Add this one to your fall book talks and be ready for it to have a waiting list. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780763690700

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: Neighborhood Girls by Jessie Ann Foley

Publisher’s description

ra6A powerful coming-of-age story about a girl whose encounters with loss, broken friendships, and newfound faith leave her forever changed, from Printz Honor winner and Morris Award Finalist Jessie Ann Foley

When Wendy Boychuck’s father, a Chicago cop, was escorted from their property in handcuffs, she knew her life would never be the same. Her father gets a years-long jail sentence, her family falls on hard times, and the whispers around their neighborhood are impossible to ignore. If that wasn’t bad enough, she gets jumped walking home from a party one night. Wendy quickly realizes that in order to survive her father’s reputation, she’ll have to make one for herself.

Then Wendy meets Kenzie Quintana—a foul-mouthed, Catholic uniform-skirt-hiking alpha—and she knows immediately that she’s found her savior. Kenzie can provide Wendy with the kind of armor a girl needs when she’s trying to outrun her father’s past. Add two more mean girls to the mix—Sapphire and Emily—and Wendy has found herself in Academy of the Sacred Heart’s most feared and revered clique. Makeover complete.

But complete is far from what Wendy feels. Instead, she faces the highs and lows of a toxic friendship, the exhaustion that comes with keeping up appearances, and a shattering loss—the only one that could hurt more than losing herself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

neighborhood girlsHigh school junior Wendy Boychuck enjoys the protection, fear, and respect that comes from being part of the most popular (and nastiest) clique in school. But Wendy also kind of hates her alleged friends and kind of hates herself for how she is with them. But, in the wake of her cop father’s arrest for torturing suspects, Wendy feels like she has no choice but to remake herself into this hardened girl who doesn’t care what others think. This means leaving behind Alexis, her smart, quiet, violin-playing best friend of nine years. Alexis knows her too well, knows she isn’t tough and hard, and Wendy can’t be reminded of anything from her past. Of course, it’s not that simple—our pasts don’t disappear or cease to matter just because we’d like it to work that way. There are constant reminders of what her father did—the family lost everything to pay for legal fees, so they now live in a small apartment (after having to foreclose on their home) and Wendy’s college savings (and tuition for her private high school) is wiped out. People still whisper about her father. Her last name still makes people raise their eyebrows. And while her friends may offer her some level of perceived protection, even Wendy starts to really realize how awful they are. She begins to pull away from them, but it’s not that simple. Queen bee Kenzie likes to be in control and doesn’t want to lose face, so Wendy finds herself pulled back to the clique. When she finally confronts them and speaks her mind, Kenzie makes it clear she will enact revenge, just as she’s done with everyone else who has crossed her. It takes a while, but things finally start to seem like they might be okay for Wendy… and then a horrific accident changes everything, again. 

 

This book is not an easy or uplifting read in any way. The bad things just keep on coming. Wendy is in a bad situation with her friends and makes a lot of bad choices while with them (or, maybe more accurately, makes no choices, just standing by, which is just as bad). The story is given great depth thanks to how fleshed out Wendy is and how much readers get to know her and see her internal struggle. Neighborhood Girls is a moving and at times frustrating look at faith, love, and forgiveness. Wendy spends a lot of time thinking about uncertain futures, painful pasts, and the terrible and sometimes wonderful present. A good choice for readers who like introspective main characters who spend too long making bad choices even when they know better. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062571854

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: You Don’t Know Me but I Know You by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

ra6Rebecca Barrow’s bright, honest debut novel about chance, choice, and unconditional love is a heartfelt testament to creating the future you truly want, one puzzle piece at a time.

There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.

Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life. Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, full of all the people and pursuits that make her who she is.

But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves.

Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and her best friend Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

you don't knowThis was GOOD. Like, “life is messy and complex and decisions are not easy things” good. One would hope that a story that is about a pregnant young woman would have depth and would show the inner workings of her making whatever choice she makes—and wow, does this book have depth.

Despite using birth control, Audrey winds up pregnant. While she definitely isn’t in denial, a little tiny part of her hopes that maybe she can just pretend that everything is okay and that it just will be. Her boyfriend, Julian, is extremely supportive and loving, but Audrey can’t believe they have to tell their parents this happened. And how does she tell her friends? She and Rose, her best friend, have been drifting apart and just doesn’t think she can tell her about the pregnancy. Audrey is adopted; her mother (who is white) was single when she adopted Audrey (whose birth mother was white and birth father was black) as a baby. Audrey’s complicated thoughts on family, babies, and adoption factor into her struggle to make the choice that is right for her. Throughout it all, her mother and Adam, her mom’s boyfriend, are so supportive and loving. Julian’s parents are, too, with both his mother and Audrey’s going with them to a doctor’s appointment. Audrey is worried that she has disappointed people in her life because this happened, but no one ever makes her feel that way, not even for a second. Audrey grapples with what to do (with no one in her life pressuring her in any way to make any one choice) while thinking about the futures she and Julian had hoped for (his band, art school, music school, etc). There is no clear path forward for her. More than anything, Audrey just worries that someone may stop loving her based on what decision she may make.

 

While Audrey’s pregnancy and choice of what to do are at the heart of the story, this is also about families, more generally, and friendship, especially the ways little rifts can sneak in and suddenly turn into far larger distances than you thought you’d ever have with a friend. Rose, who is bisexual, has recently started dating Olivia, the new girl at school, but Audrey really knows nothing about what’s going on with them, thanks to the fact that she and Rose are barely speaking. Audrey ultimately makes the choice that feels right to her (in a situation where no choice feels “right”) surrounded by love, support, and options. A well-written, necessary, and honest, heartfelt look at making what feels like an impossible choice. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494191

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/29/2017

Book Review: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan

Publisher’s description

ra6A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything

lake effect | n.
1. The effect of any lake, especially the Great Lakes, in modifying the weather in nearby areas
2. The effect of elderly ladies, mysterious girls, and countless funerals, in upending your life, one summer at the beach

It’s the summer after senior year, and Briggs Henry is out the door. He’s leaving behind his ex-girlfriend and his parents’ money troubles for Lake Michigan and its miles of sandy beaches, working a summer job as a personal assistant, and living in a gorgeous Victorian on the shore. It’s the kind of house Briggs plans to buy his parents one day when he’s a multi-millionaire. But then he gets there. And his eighty-four-year-old boss tells him to put on a suit for her funeral.

So begins a summer of social gaffes, stomach cramps, fraught beach volleyball games, moonlit epiphanies, and a drawer full of funeral programs. Add to this Abigail, the mystifying girl next door on whom Briggs’s charms just won’t work, and “the lake effect” is taking on a whole new meaning.

Smart, funny, and honest, The Lake Effect is about realizing that playing along is playing it safe, and that you can only become who you truly are if you’re willing to take the risk.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

lake effectI’ve said it a million times here, but I’ll say it again: if I enjoy the characters, I will read anything. I don’t care at all about plot, whether there is one at all or not, really. The plot of “I am a person learning, growing, and figuring myself out” is big enough for me. I mean, it’s the biggest plot, right? And the most relatable. Present compelling characters, reel me in with an engaging voice that is clever, snarky, and self-deprecating (but not too much of any of those things), and I’m yours. Actually, that’s pretty much how it works for me in real life, too. And with this book, I was hooked on page one.

Briggs, the main character, is charming. Mothers love him. Years of a family that expects success and achievement and of working in a country club have taught him how to fake carefree pleasantness. Briggs is at the top of his class, class president, a star baseball player, and going to college on a full-ride scholarship. In other hands, this ultra-charming boy would be so insufferably charming that I would hate him. But here, he’s wonderful. He’s far more complicated than his accomplishments would make him seem. He has depth. His mother is into lists and schedules and his father is a total hardass, never impressed by Briggs’ achievements or proud of him because he’s just doing what is expected of him. His dad loves to remind him that failure is not an option. Unsurprisingly, Briggs has frequent stomachaches from stress and has taken a summer job an hour away from home. He’ll live with Mrs. B, a funny and quirky Serbian American 84-year-old who enjoys going to strangers’ funerals and lying on her floor. I want her to be my neighbor and friend. Briggs will spend the summer driving her around, painting (and repainting) her rooms, and fixing things. Simple, right? Except, of course, it’s not. He meets Abigail, the enigmatic neighbor girl who seems to be either suffering from or recovering from an illness and doesn’t have time for a boyfriend—which is perfect, because Briggs certainly doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. They have chemistry—like the real good kind, the full of quick banter kind. They both begin to reveal more of who they really are to each other, even though both are wary of where this relationship could possibly go. Briggs also meets other new friends (and repeatedly embarrasses himself in front of them and pisses them off), but no one is as important as Abigail or Mrs. B. Both help him see things about his life, his family, and his future that he hadn’t been able to see before.

 

This is a great summer romance story that’s light on the romance and heavy on the friendship and self-discovery. Mrs. B. totally wins the Best Elderly Character in a YA Novel 2017 award. If you like your characters smart, funny, and open to (maybe reluctantly) embracing change, this book is for you. It’s the perfect read-in-one-sitting-by-the-pool book, too. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780803740525

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 07/11/2017

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

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

 

Book Review: That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Publisher’s description

that-funny-thingThis young adult novel by Sheba Karim, author of Skunk Girl, is a funny and affecting coming-of-age story for fans of Jenny Han, Megan McCafferty, and Sara Farizan.

Shabnam Qureshi is facing a summer of loneliness and boredom until she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack. Shabnam quickly finds herself in love, while her former best friend, Farah, who Shabnam has begun to reconnect with, finds Jamie worrying.

In her quest to figure out who she really is and what she really wants, Shabnam looks for help in an unexpected place—her family, and her father’s beloved Urdu poetry.

That Thing We Call a Heart is a funny and fresh story about the importance of love—in all its forms.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I really liked 2/3 of this book. The first 1/3 was rough for me. It’s slow to really get to the heart of the story, the love interest is (at first) insufferably perfect and manic pixie dream boyish, there were completely unnecessary scenes (the party at the start), and Shabnam, the main character, kept referring to Farah and their falling out but didn’t delve into it more for a long time. BUT. But. Once Jamie (the love interest) gained some nuance, and Farah appeared, and Shabnam started to think harder about her relationships, I was in.

 

Shabnam, whose family is Pakistani-American, just wants to get through the summer and get to U Penn, where she can reinvent herself. At first, we don’t know much about her. We know she’s had a falling out with Farah, whoever that is. She makes out with Ryan, the “hottest boy in school,” who is a total tool and says super cool things like, “What are you?” to Shabnam. We know she is capable of spinning up a really elaborate and horrible lie about her family’s history with Partition. We also know she has complicated feelings about her own background. Her mother is Muslim, her dad is… well, he’s an extremely practical mathematician who believes in numbers and Urdu poetry and maybe not much else. And Shabnam? She says she’s “nothing.” She’s embarrassed by her great-uncle, who’s visiting from Pakistan. She makes several remarks, about him and about Islam/Muslims that are surprising (things like that her uncle looked almost like a member of the Taliban). She meets Jamie, a cute boy whose aunt runs a pie shop, and falls hard for him. Jamie gets Shabnam a job at the pie shop for the month it’s open. They’re in New Jersey and he goes to school in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s only there for the month, but in that time, Shabnam falls in love with him (even though there are plenty of things about him that are really, really annoying and off-putting. But we’ve all been there, right? You like someone so much that you can’t see their flaws… or really understand how one-sided that like may be).

 

For me, the story became much more interesting when Shabnam reconnected with Farah, who was her best friend until Farah decided she wanted to wear a hijab. That drove a wedge between them. Farah is awesome. She’s an outspoken feminist punk girl who sees herself as a “Muslim misfit.” She goes back to hanging out with Shabnam even though Shabnam was and is a pretty crappy friend. She’s dubious about the whole Jamie thing, but Shabnam isn’t going to hear any of that. During the latter part of this story, Shabnam thinks harder about her other relationships, particularly with her parents, and her feelings about what went on with Farah and their drifting apart. She begins to think more about family, history, poetry, and religion. She finally begins to see beyond herself and starts having more open discussions about everything. 

 

My advice: if you feel, like I did, that this book is slow to really take off, stick with it. It’s a good look at the complexity of friendships, love, and family and shows that Muslims and Pakistani-American girls are (of course) not a monolith. Now I’d like a whole book just about Farah, please. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062445704

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017

Book Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Publisher’s description

how-to-makeGrace, tough and wise, has nearly given up on wishes, thanks to a childhood spent with her unpredictable, larger-than-life mother. But this summer, Grace meets Eva, a girl who believes in dreams, despite her own difficult circumstances.

 

One fateful evening, Eva climbs through a window in Grace’s room, setting off a chain of stolen nights on the beach. When Eva tells Grace that she likes girls, Grace’s world opens up and she begins to believe in happiness again.

 

How to Make a Wish is an emotionally charged portrait of a mother and daughter’s relationship and a heartfelt story about two girls who find each other at the exact right time.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read this book in one sitting. I used to do that a lot—read books in one chunk of time—but don’t so much anymore. While I do typically read a book in one to two days, the time is broken up—I need to write something, I need to run errands, I need to parent, I need to do whatever. My busy brain isn’t the biggest fan of letting me settle into any one thing for too long. But with this book, I was hooked from page one and had no interest in moving until I was done reading. I am not a person who says “all the feels.” I do not tend to feel “swoony” over books. As a fairly cynical, scowly person, those kinds of expressions are just not me. BUT. I kept thinking of both expressions as I read. And when I was done, I shut the book and just held onto it, thinking, well, that was a completely satisfying read. And, really, how often do we read books that just feel completely, absolutely, perfectly satisfying?

 

Grace returns to Maine from a two-week piano workshop in Boston to find that her mother, Maggie, has, once again, moved them in with her newest boyfriend, Pete. Never mind that they’ve barely been dating for a minute. Never mind that Pete’s son, Jay, is Grace’s ex (and that he posted all of their sexts after they broke up). Maggie is always doing this—flitting from guy to guy, being impulsive, not thinking of how things might affect Grace, not doing her job as a parent. She’s basically an overgrown kid (with a drinking problem) and Grace is left to do the parenting. But there’s maybe only one more year of this life. At the end of the summer, Grace will be auditioning for the Manhattan School of Music. College will mean a fresh start for Grace—something that she needs—and not in the way her mother is always giving them new starts. But as much as Grace cannot wait to get away from her life, she’s worried about leaving her mother behind. Who will watch over Maggie?

 

Summer on the cape should mean more of the same—hanging with her best friend, Luca, and suffering through her mother’s unpredictable whims—but becomes much more interesting when Eva arrives. Eva is the daughter of one of Luca’s mother’s friends who recently passed away. Emmy, Luca’s mom, is now her guardian. Eva and Grace meet on the beach, where both have gone to process their emotions, and immediately click. Eventually, after Eva tells Grace that she is a lesbian and Grace tells Eva she’s bisexual, their friendship turns into something more. But it quickly becomes complicated by, what else, Grace’s mother. Maggie wants to nurture Eva and becomes buddies with her, something Grace would rather not see happening. Eva doesn’t understand the full story of just how Maggie can be and Maggie doesn’t know that Grace and Eva are dating (oblivious to anything that isn’t her own life, Grace did at one point try to tell Maggie she was bisexual, but Maggie chose to brush that admission off and not understand it). It’s clearly a recipe for disaster. When Maggie eventually makes a(nother) really bad choice—one that affects her, Grace, and Eva—Grace reaches her breaking point and has to decide who she really needs to be taking care of.

 

Blake’s characters are vibrant and multifaceted. Though so much of this book is about pain, loss, and grief, there is also just so much love in this story. Compassion comes from the places we would expect (Emmy, Luca) and from surprising places, too (Jay, Pete). Both Grace and Eva are fragile but resilient. They both find family in new ways—ways neither would have chosen (a dead mom, an irresponsible and alcoholic mom)—and find support and care and love there. And their relationship, though not always easy, is meaningful and achingly lovely. I do not generally want characters who date in YA books to stay together forever (see my earlier remark about being cynical and scowly). But I love Grace and Eva together. This is an easy recommendation for fans of contemporary stories. Again, it’s rare that I find something just completely satisfying, and this book felt perfect in every way. Go read it!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544815193

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 05/02/2017

Book Review: Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Publisher’s description

girl-out-of-waterFans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen will fall in love this contemporary debut about finding yourself-and finding love-in unexpected places.

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home-it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is an excellent book to add to your summer reading lists or summer reading displays you may be making.

 

Anise is not thrilled to be leaving behind her large group of close friends in Santa Cruz to spend the summer helping care for her cousins in Nebraska. Many of her friends will be heading off to college in the fall, so it’s their last real summer together. But Anise loves her family and knows how much her aunt, recently in a car accident, needs the help, so she quickly gets over her attitude and immerses herself in her new, temporary life. Her cousins include busy 9-year-old twin boys and a somewhat secretive and moody nearly 13-year-old girl. For Anise, an only child whose mom bailed a long time ago, it’s a much different pace of life than she’s used to. Prior to this, she had never left California and can’t understand why anyone would want to. Why are her friends going away to college when life at home is so idyllic? Nebraska has a high potential to suck: there’s no ocean for surfing, Anise is away from her friends, and she’ll be spending the summer in the house her absent mother grew up in. But before long, she meets the instantly warm and chatty Lincoln, a skateboarder who loves adventure. He convinces Anise to start skating and they hang out a lot. Despite having kissed her best friend, Eric, the night before leaving CA, it’s instantly obvious that Anise and Lincoln will have a thing. While Anise still feels it’s hard to be away from her friends and all the action back home, she becomes pretty crappy at communicating with her friends now that she’s spending so much time with Lincoln. Lincoln has moved around a lot and wants to travel the world, something Anise just can’t understand, stubbornly clinging to the idea that Santa Cruz is the only place for her. But the summer away isn’t all skating and kissing. Anise grapples with her feelings about her mother’s (repeated) abandonment and eventually starts to worry if she’s somehow like her and if maybe her life is a reaction to her mother’s inability to stay in one place. When she and Lincoln road trip back to Santa Cruz, she also discovers that friendship (and communication) is more complicated than she thought.

 

This is a quick, relatively light read. I found the middle 80%, where she’s in Nebraska and discovering new people, experiences, and feelings to be much more engaging than her time at home with her friends. Anise is a little self-centered and oblivious, but that’s certainly nothing to hold against a teenager (or a person, period). While there are certainly more serious topics that come up in the story, they’re not particularly explored much in depth, resulting in what feels like just a nice, quick summer read—some summer adventure, new experiences, and romance that seems time-limited. Silverman’s debut has wide appeal and will be an easy one to recommend this summer to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492646860

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 05/02/2017