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Teen Friendship: It’s Complicated, a guest post by Kit Frick

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

When I was a teen, I clung tight to my small, close-knit friend group. I liked to describe the sandstone walls that surrounded us as “Abercrombie and Fitch High School,” and by nature and by nurture, I did not fit in with the mainstream aesthetic. Social interactions with anyone outside of my little group of misfits made my anxiety spike big time. It didn’t matter how kind or thoughtful the other person was being; I was convinced that niceness was a trap. I lived with the pervasive fear that anyone and everyone was judging me. Sometimes, they probably were. Most of the time, I was my own harshest critic.

I was a few weeks into my life on a residential college campus in New York when a worldview-shattering realization hit: I had spent the last few weeks talking to strangers, sometimes strangers with backgrounds and experiences very different from my own, and the world had not ended. Quite the opposite—I was building an expansive, life-affirming network of new friends. I was newly nineteen, and for the first time, I wasn’t consumed by social anxiety.

I’m known for writing YA thrillers, but my books are also about complicated female friendships. I put my characters through a lot, but in a way, they’re lucky: they learn to foster important peer relationships outside of their comfort zones earlier than I did, and thank goodness for that, because these friendships are key to these teen girls’ ability to save themselves from the perilous situations I’ve written them into.

Amanda and Rosalie, the co-protagonists in All Eyes on Us, begin the novel at serious odds. These two girls from opposite sides of Logansville, West Virginia have pretty much nothing in common aside from the intense, harmful pressure they’re being subjected to by their families and communities. Pressure that has driven both of them into staying in unhealthy relationships with real estate heir and town golden boy, Carter Shaw.

When Rosalie and Amanda are targeted by an anonymous harasser out to get Carter and take the girls down with him, they come together to end their stalker’s reign of terror. I have to give it to Rosalie especially; Amanda hates her when the book begins, and Rosalie knows it. Amanda’s only seeing a small sliver of the truth, but Rosalie’s actions, while justified by the physical and emotional necessity to shield herself from the conversion “therapy” she’s already been subjected to as a younger teen, are nonetheless hurting Amanda. And if I were Rosalie as a teen, I don’t think I would have allowed myself to trust Amanda’s olive branch when it comes. I probably would have run for the hills, and without the uneasy alliance the girls form, who knows where they would have ended up. (Nowhere good!)

I Killed Zoe Spanos also explores an unlikely friendship between two teen girls—this time bonded by a search for truth and justice. When local teen Zoe Spanos goes missing, Anna Cicconi confesses to playing a role in her death and the concealment of her body, but her story is riddled with holes, and teen true crime podcaster Martina Green is determined to uncover the truth and get justice for Zoe’s family. Here’s the thing, though: Martina isn’t convinced of Anna’s innocence, just that Anna couldn’t have killed Zoe in the way she described to police. Either the wrong girl is in juvie awaiting trial, or what Anna did is a lot worse than the accident she confessed to. Throughout the course of the novel, Martina puts her friendship with Zoe’s younger sister Aster in jeopardy in her quest for the truth, and Anna allows herself to trust Martina, despite the reality that Martina’s not necessarily out to exonerate her. It’s a lot. Way more than I would have been capable of dealing with as a teen, where the most explosive fall-out in my friend group involved a punk rock hoodie. Don’t ask.

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

As a writer of YA thrillers, it’s important to me to not just write girls into peril, but to also allow them to fight their way out of danger. Often that involves high-stakes relationship building, and I think that has a lot to do with my own adolescent experiences as a very timid relationship-builder. I would not have fared well in one of my own books, okay? Don’t drop Teen Kit in a thriller; it’s going to end badly. But fiction allows us to explore our shortcomings as well as our successes. And important teen topics shouldn’t be limited to realistic YA contemporary. Genre fiction allows us to write about issues important to real teens—such as complex female friendships—against the backdrop of thrills, chills, and twisty mysteries. Thrillers can be both an escape and a space for social engagement. This capacity to “walk and chew gum” is part of what makes engaging with the genre so exciting to me as a creator writing for a teen audience.

Meet Kit Frick

Photo credit: Carly Gaebe, Steadfast Studio

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow from Pittsburgh, PA. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and edits for private clients. She is the author of the young adult thrillers I Killed Zoe SpanosAll Eyes on Us, and See All the Stars, all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs from New American Press. Kit is working on her next novel.

BUY LINKS:

Signed pre-orders from Riverstone books: https://riverstonebookstore.indielite.org/pre-order-signed-copies-kit-fricks-new-book

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-killed-zoe-spanos-kit-frick/1134080087

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/i-killed-zoe-spanos/9781534449701

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781534449701

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1534449701/

SOCIAL:

Website: https://kitfrick.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kitfrick

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kitfrick/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kitfrickauthor/

About I Killed Zoe Spanos

For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.

ISBN-13: 9781534449701
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/30/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

Publisher’s description

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not right to say that I’ve been in a reading slump. I’ve been in a life slump (I write, gesturing at everything all around us causing these feelings). Books are, as they always have been, where I seek refuge. But I set aside a lot of them these days because they just aren’t right. I find myself reading horror, because it’s so far removed from reality, or books on depression, because why not really lean into this. I shift my TBR pile around like maybe I will make it land in some magically appealing configuration that will engage me long enough to get out of my own head.

Not only did this book do just that, but getting out of her own head is something that Greer, the main character here, also needs to do. I won’t say she overthinks things, but she is rather consumed with thoughts about her boobs. Her best guess is she’s a 30H, and her boobs quite literally get in the way of her life. They are both physically uncomfortable and mentally?… theoretically?… emotionally? uncomfortable. She’s worried they’re all people can see when they look at her and she spends her life hiding under giant sweatshirts, trying to make herself smaller or maybe invisible.

I was a hardcore My So-Called Life fan. It came out when I was around 17 and felt so SEEN by it. One of the best lines is, “So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ‘Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.” For Greer, it’s not her hair, it’s her boobs. But the same idea applies. She sticks to what she knows she’s good at—school and really only being friends with the outspoken and argumentative Maggie. She sort of gets used to living a smaller life than she’d maybe like because she’s being held back, because she’s holding herself back.

But a cute (and funny and smart) new boy, Jackson, seems to maybe like her, and Greer definitely likes him, but she can’t imagine actually pursuing things with him because her boobs will get in the way. Again. Like, she panics at the idea of physical intimacy and possibly ever revealing just what’s under the big sweatshirts. And she worries her boobs are all anyone notices (though she really needs to give Jackson more credit because he’s pretty much a perfect YA novel boyfriend). And she even backs out of going to a formal dance with him because there is no way she will ever find a dress that will fit her body.

Greer is rather shocked to find out she has an aptitude for volleyball and that she actually wants to make the team. But again, it’s her body that holds her back. All of her bras seem horrible and completely mess up her ability to play the game. Even when she finally gets a good bra, the team jersey is just WAY too tight for her to wear. Eventually Greer has to decide if she’s going to let her body stop her from experiencing life or just learn to deal with what she has and see what happens.

While this is so much about self-esteem and bodies, it’s also about finding new interests and making new friends. Greer learns to see herself as a team of girls (and not just literally as part of a volleyball team of girls), she learns how to stand up for other girls and let other girls have her back. And while it’s easy to say things like “all bodies are good bodies” and want someone to feel nothing but 100% positive about 100% of the pieces that make up a body, we all know it’s much more complicated than that. It’s complicated for me as an adult, never mind how complicated it was for me at 15, like Greer. Greer talks about finding YouTubers who share her experience and how one isn’t angry at her body but is angry on behalf of her body (she doesn’t need her body to be “better” or different, but she needs the world to be better and different), and for the most part, much of how Greer feels reflects that—she wishes she could find better bras, that clothes come truly made for a bigger variety of shapes, that society’s obsession with women’s bodies isn’t the way it is. But she also really would like her body to be different, to cause her less physical pain, to fit better, to feel better. She’s not ashamed so much as she’s 15, so much as she’s built so unlike anyone around her, so much as she’s just trying to figure out how to fit in her own body—the way so many of us have to figure this out.

Not only is this book well-written with great banter and interesting secondary characters, but I suspect it will speak to all readers in SOME way, since it’s very likely we all have a “thing” we obsess over or grapple with with our own bodies. A smart and honest look at the various ways we hide ourselves as well as an empowering look at strong friendships. Highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

Publisher’s description

A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends? 

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the really easy way I will sell this middle grade book at my school: If you enjoyed Save Me a Seat by Gita Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks, check this out! Save Me a Seat has been a local reading award nominee so many of our older students have read and enjoyed it.

Sixth grade is a rough time. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive when my kid was in sixth grade. There’s so much going on. For many, it means a new school, new friends, likely drifting apart from old friends, and often an increased awareness of family issues and the world around them. These are all true things for Sara and Elizabeth. Both feel a little out of place in their suburban Maryland middle school. Sara is new to public school after years at an Islamic school. Now she’s one of very few Muslims at her school. And Elizabeth is being ditched by her best friend, in addition to worrying about if her British mother ever intends to become a citizen or may go back to England. When the two girls meet, their friendship is not immediate. It’s not some kind of instant relief or intimate understanding of the other. They are friendly-ish, on their best days, and maybe not cut out to be friends at all, on their worst days. After all, Elizabeth’s possibly former BFF is constantly saying horrific racist things to Sara, and does she really want to be friends with someone who could call a girl like that her best friend?

But they connect over cooking, and as they begin to get to know each other beyond surface impressions and quickly hurt feelings, they begin to really like one another. Their mothers become friends, too, as they both study for the citizenship test (Sara’s mother is from Pakistan). They learn about each other’s religions (Judaism and Islam), backgrounds, and families while preparing for their schools’ international festival and a cooking competition. Both girls deal with many large issues—Elizabeth’s mother is depressed after the death of her own mother and her father is often gone for work, while Sara knows that her family is not doing well financially. Having one really good friend helps both girls feel better about life in middle school, and the adults do the work of figuring out their issues and reassuring the girls that things will be okay.

I particularly value this story for showing how complex making a new friend can be, but showing characters who push through their discomfort and hesitations to make a real connection. Another strength of this story is that secondary characters work through their own issues and learn to be better friends, showing both growth and working to unlearn what they may hear at home. A valuable look at friendship, family, and fresh starts.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358116684
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years


Little Gangs, a guest post by Lauren McLaughlin

I was supposed to be on a book tour right now for my YA novel, Send Pics. But, like every other author with a book hitting the shelves right now, I’m in lock down. So instead of hanging out with librarians, booksellers and fellow book nerds, I’m hunkering down with my family. Instead of reading aloud to a classroom full of teenagers, I’m homeschooling my ten-year-old daughter (using the loosest possible definition of “homeschooling”).

One of the reasons I was looking forward to getting out into the world and talking about Send Pics was because at heart it’s a story about friendship. Not just one-on-one friendship, but group friendship. It’s about the little gangs we form and how they get pressed into service in surprising ways. Friend groups are often forged in good times through shared interests (choir, sports, partying, etc), but it’s when things go awry that a loose association of buddies becomes a life raft.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a handful of little gangs, from the the neighbourhood kids I played with as a child, to the mother’s group I meet up with for dinner—and mutual support—every month. Along the way, I’ve drifted into and out of little gangs that were of such intense connection and intimacy it seems odd that they’re not all still a part of my daily life. But time, circumstances, and the natural arc of life have their way. It’s not permanence that defines these little gangs, it’s intensity.

So it was interesting, but not really surprising, when, in the midst of a global pandemic, two of my former little gangs reached out for Zoom chats within a week of each other. The first was a group of singers from my high school choir. I’ve kept in loose contact with a few of them over the years, but I haven’t hung out with the whole gang since the eighties! We span three different countries and four time zones. Staring at these familiar faces arrayed in a grid on my laptop, it felt like I was back in the high school music room. I half expected our old choir master to step in and tap on her music stand. We got each other caught up on the basics—jobs, families, etc—but there was no formality,  no politeness. We got straight into the heart of the matter, sharing our fears and frustrations, and looking for ways we could help each other. Lockdown has strained all of us in different ways, and the urge to reach out (even when thousands of miles made it physically impossible) was overwhelming. 

We could have done this at any time over the past ten years. Video conferencing is not exactly new. I think there was something about the pandemic that made us yearn for that connection, for that sense of belonging. We are a social species. For all our talk of American individualism and our tendency to worship lone heroes, we need each other.

In Send Pics, varsity wrestling captain Tarkin Shaw drugs and photographs his classmate Suze Tilman then uses the nude pictures to blackmail her into a sexual relationship. It’s a fictional story, but the crime is common enough. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, the influence of alcohol, and the illusory sense of invincibility conspire to put teenagers (especially teen girls) in a great deal of danger. When I first came up with the idea, I dove into the data on these types of crimes. Time and again, I found parents, teachers, coaches, even law enforcement, rallying around the perpetrators while the victims were blamed, disbelieved, and, in some cases, driven out of town. I wasn’t about to sugar coat my story. It wouldn’t have been realistic to portray the town rallying around the victim when the perpetrator was a popular all-state wrestling champion. But as soon as I decided to pit Suze against the whole town, I discovered that I couldn’t bring myself to leave her completely on her own. Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to protect my own psyche from a story that would have been too dark. But no sooner did I sketch out the foundations of the story, than a little gang emerged. Of course Suze wouldn’t be completely on her own. She’d have her friends. While everyone else is conspiring to discredit and shame her, she finds shelter in her little gang of four. They may be vastly outnumbered but the strength of their bond is equal and opposite to the forces working against them. “Shields up” is their motto, their defiant stance against an unfair, unjust world they’re only beginning to understand. 

As we all hunker down in our social isolation, trying to keep the virus at bay—a virus we still don’t fully understand—don’t we need our little gangs too? I’ve read about people forming Zoom meet ups and WhatsApp groups with neighbours they no longer pass on the street since lockdown began. They just need that sense of connection, of belonging. Last week I Zoomed with my old “Happy Hour” gang, a group of New Yorkers I haven’t hung out with since I moved to London ten years ago. We’ve added spouses and children and a grey hair or two, but for all that’s changed, the group dynamic was the same. We could have been sipping martinis in the East Village. This weekend, I’m Zooming with my choir friends again. Nothing has materially changed since our last Zoom. I doubt anyone will have much in the way of news. But that’s not the point. We’re here for each other. That’s what it’s about. And even if the forces working against us are a gazillion particles of virus we can’t even see, and even if our only defence is our isolation, at least for a little while we can slip back into our little gang and say, hey, shields up. I’ve got your back.

Meet Lauren McLaughlin

LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN is the author of Send PicsThe FreeScored, and Cycler. She has also written the children’s pictures books Wonderful You and Mitzi Tulane Preschool Detective, both of which feature adoptive families. She is an adoptive mother herself. Prior to her career in fiction, she spent ten years in the film business. She produced commercials and music videos for such artists as Nas, The B52’s, the Spin Doctors, and Monie Love, then went on to write several screenplays, including Prisoner of Love starring Naomi Campbell, Specimen starring Mark Paul Gosselaar, and Hypercube (the sequel to the cult favorite Cube). She also produced American PsychoBuffalo 66, and several other feature films. She is a member of the improv comedy troupe Amorphous Horse, which performs in a variety of venues in and around London, UK. 

You can follow Lauren at:

www.laurenmclaughlin.net

Twitter: @LaurenMcWoof

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauren.mclaughlin.books

Instagram: @laurenmclaughlin3

About Send Pics

At Jonesville High, casual misogyny runs rampant, slut-shaming is a given, and school athletes are glorified above all else. Best friends Suze, Nikki, Ani, and Lydia swear they’ll always have each other’s backs against predatory guys—so when Suze suddenly starts dating wrestling star and toxic douchebag Tarkin Shaw, it’s a big betrayal.

Turns out, it’s not a relationship—it’s blackmail. At first, Suze feels like she has no choice but to go along with it, but when Tarkin starts demanding more, she enlists the help of intelligent misfits DeShawn and Marcus to beat Tarkin at his own game. As Marcus points out, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer: everything. And by the time the teens realize they’re fighting against forces much bigger than the Tarkin Shaws of the world, losing isn’t an option.

ISBN-13: 9781948340267
Publisher: Dottir Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Praise for Send Pics

“A gritty read for a woke generation” — Kirkus Reviews

A relentless and fierce thriller crossed with an incisive story of gender, class and race. It grabs and grabs and never lets go. —CORY DOCTOROW, author of Little Brother and Radicalized

McLaughlin has crafted a compelling novel that is somehow both timely and timeless: a perfect storm of topical issues affecting our society―and especially connected teens―today, but also an enduring lesson in empathy which reminds us that the truth behind the clickbait headlines often is hidden. —E.C. MYERS, author of the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six, and more

Book Review: Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

Publisher’s description

A hilarious, snarky, and utterly addicting #ownvoices debut that explores friendship, sexual orientation, mental health, and falling in love (even if things might be falling apart around you).

When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate.

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster . . .

Amanda’s thoughts

You know how I’m always going on and on about how what I really want is just a book of endless dialogue because that’s what I like—strong characters just talking? Well, with this book, I get that. The entire novel is told through texts between Martin and Haley. It was supremely satisfying to me, a character-driven reader who always just really wants people plopped down in a space and talking. This review is going to be really short, which isn’t because I didn’t enjoy the book (I did! So much!), but because there isn’t a ton to say other than “I really liked this book!” I like that it’s people who get to know each other through texts and that we only see their story that way. I like that it’s about mistaken identity. I like that the characters have interesting, complicated families and friendships. I like that Martin is bi and Haley is demisexual. I like that the two develop a quick banter with instant little inside jokes. This is a cute and fun story that’s a perfect summer read (it’s also summer in the book). One of my very favorite hobbies is eavesdropping, and reading this book gave me that giddy feeling of getting to spy on someone and also knowing things they don’t know. Hand this to readers who like different formats and their romances more on the cerebral side. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781338335460
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 06/25/2019

Book Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

past and otherSix Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. 

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been well established on here that I am a superfan of Hutchinson. I absolutely love his approach to telling a story and his always weird and thought-provoking mix of realism and science fiction. I read in order of publication date—it’s the only chance I stand of keeping my TBR piles and blogging ideas in check—but I always want to jump ahead and read his books the second I get them. If you’ve somehow missed out on reading him, get cracking. You won’t be disappointed.

 

This line up there in the description—A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up—should rope you in. We’ve seen plenty of books of grief, but what happens if the person you are grieving (or not really grieving because things went so awry in your relationship) came back to life? Or not-life. While Dino is helping prepare his former best friend, July, for her funeral (his family members are morticians and 17-year-old Dino is skilled at doing makeup on the dead), she suddenly sits up, alive. Or, more accurately, not-dead. July isn’t really ready to accept that she’s not living, and Dino is mystified how on earth she’s not-dead, but sort of just rolls with what is happening. Together, they spend the evening going around town, trying to keep July hidden from everyone (as it might be just a little unsettling for someone to see a girl who has been dead for a week, as one of their classmates discovers) while they attempt to figure out what’s happening, how to make July be dead-dead in time for her funeral tomorrow, and what exactly went on with their friendship. They talk a lot and do some really regular things—wander Walmart, hit up the gas station for Slurpees, go to a party—only July is not-alive, her skin is starting to fall off, and she smells terrible, like she’s decomposing, which she is. Meanwhile, in the wider world, people are not dying when they should be. The hospital is full of people who are not-dead as are places all around the world. Dino knows there has to be some answer here with July, whether rational or divine, and figures she is somehow tied into what is happening with death everywhere. And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, maybe, and July is ready for her funeral, she sends Dino a selfie from inside her buried coffin, and their plot is back up and running again. Will finding ways to wrap up unresolved issues in their relationship finally make July stay dead? Or is Dino doomed to hide his not-alive former best friend forever? 

 

I just loved this story. Dino’s mortician parents are great (Hutchinson describes his mother as a “Goth Peter Pan,” which I adore), their family profession is obviously unique and full of potential entertainment, and his soon-to-be-married sister is also a fun character. Dino’s boyfriend, Rafi, who is trans, and the other new friends he made after he had a falling out with July are lovely, diverse, and interesting. I wish we had seen more of them, especially Rafi, who patiently tries to work through their relationship with Dino, who is kind of freaking out about it while trying to unpack his other most significant relationship. I really love books that are weird (a word I only ever use as a compliment) and show me a story from a previously untold viewpoint. This book will give you a new outlook on the phrase “best friends forever.” A really readable, engaging, strange, poignant, and funny journey through a relationship autopsy. Highly recommended. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498579
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Book Review: Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

our yearFrom the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone comes a stunning contemporary novel that examines the complicated aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends.

Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie, too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I am a character-driven reader who honestly doesn’t care if there’s much plot beyond watching characters live out their daily lives and all of the complexities that come with that. Because that’s PLENTY of plot. Hinge the story on one thing, let them talk and feel and grow a lot, and I’m good. Much like with Solomon’s first book, I absolutely loved this book. Do yourself a favor and go read You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone if you haven’t already. Really great.

 

The summary up there does an adequate job of hitting all the major parts of the story, but does nothing to convey how deeply complicated Peter and Sophie’s relationship is. That’s what this story is about—a lifelong friendship, love (in its many forms), growth, pain, joy, and possibilities. Sophie has spent most of her life ignoring all other social interaction in favor of always being with Peter, her homeschooled neighbor with kidney disease. Now 18, she’s able to donate a kidney to Peter, which she of course does. He’s her best friend, she’s in love with him (a fact he doesn’t know), and she thinks that this will make them closer than ever. But, of course, life rarely goes as we wish it to. After the transplant and recovery time, Peter is able to go back to attending public school, where he has new experiences and meets new people, including intriguing musician Chase, who invites Peter to join his band. There’s a spark there between them; Peter is bisexual and out to his parents but no one else (including Sophie). Peter knows he really loves Sophie, but maybe not in that way. So much of his hesitation and thoughts revolve around wondering how their friendship would survive if they dated and then split up. Sophie confesses how she feels and suggests they just give it a try, but Peter can’t do that.

 

So maybe that’s it. They just stay friends, Peter starts to date Chase, that’s the journey. But it’s not that simple. Peter’s life becomes complicated by beginning to think about exploring religion, by his newfound freedom, and by his new friendships and having a boyfriend. Sophie makes friends with some of the girls on the dance team and begins to start to consider a life not entirely based around Peter and his plans. She grows closer with her younger sister, who lives at home with her toddler, and watches her parents reconnect with Peter’s parents after years of distance. And then, when Chase tells Peter he has got to figure out all his stuff with Sophie, things collapse after something that seems like it might finally solidify them as a couple helps drive them apart and make feelings clear.

 

Readers who like really complex relationships and lots of wonderful, well-developed secondary characters (and warm, supportive, interesting families) will love this book. It’s emotional and complicated and thoughtful. The characters grow and change in ways that are both realistic and unexpected. Great writing, unique characters, and a vivid Seattle setting all make this book one not to miss. With wide appeal, this is an easy one to recommend to teens who love realistic fiction. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481497763
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 01/15/2019

Book Review: The Resolutions by Mia Garcia

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

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

Book Review: 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