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Book Review: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Publisher’s description

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

Amanda’s thoughts

(The content warning from the book, FYI: The Henna Wars contains instances of racism, homophobia, bullying, and a character being outed. All of these are challenged and dealt with on the page.)

Bangladeshi Irish Nishat, 16, has decided to come out to her parents. After all, they have a “love marriage” (versus an arranged marriage), so maybe they can accept this other form of love. Her parents acknowledge her telling them she’s a lesbian, then dismiss her. She later overhears them saying she’s confused, she will work it out, she will change her mind. Their intent is to carry on as though nothing is different.

But for Nishat, everything is different. She doesn’t want to be closeted anymore, or be anyone other than who she is. And her crush on her new classmate Flávia, who is Brazilian and white Irish, makes it even harder for her to ignore or dismiss who she is and how she feels. But that crush quickly grows more complicated when both Nishat and Flávia decide to create henna businesses for a class project. Nishat is outraged that Flávia thinks it’s okay to do henna; doesn’t she understand that’s cultural appropriation? Flávia says it’s just art, and no one can make boundaries about art. It doesn’t help that Flávia’s cousin in Chyna, the nastiest girl in their class, who is racist and started rumors about Nishat’s family years ago.

This story is equal parts about having a crush on someone who should probably be your enemy and coming out/being outed. The only people Nishat tells are in her family. Her younger sister has known for a while and is totally loving and supportive. Her parents tell a family friend and have her try to reason with Nishat—she’s young, she’s confused, she has a problem, “Muslims aren’t gay” (pg 123), she has a “sickness.” Meanwhile, her parents continue to act as though she never told them anything and this whole “problem” will just eventually resolve itself. After all, according to her parents’ logic, can’t she understand that she’s making a “choice” that is bringing shame to the family? This coming from parents who have made it clear to her that she can be anything she wants… except herself, apparently.

Both pieces of the story, the henna competition and the crush, have many believable and dramatic ups and downs. There are lots of conversations about racism, bullying, homophobia, cultural issues and appropriations, family, and more. The most challenging aspect of the book may be the part about Nishat being outed, which is traumatic and, of course, unacceptable. I do want to say that this has a happy ending, that characters in her life do learn and grow and ultimately support her and show love. The relationship between Nishat and her sister, Priti, is one of the shining points of the book. They are absolutely best friends and the support Priti provides Nishat while so many others turn their back on her is priceless. Though at times painful to read, this is exploration of identity, family, and self is well-written, honest, and, ultimately, empowering.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149689
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

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

Gr 9 Up—Two high school seniors find their voices and first love in this enemies-to-lovers story told from dual perspectives. Brusque and controlling filmmaker Rachel Recht, a Jewish scholarship student at the prestigious Royce School, wants nothing to do with Sana Khan, cheerleading captain and model human being. But when a literal run-in forces them to work together on a film, their tense relationship morphs into something beautiful and unexpected. As they collaborate, they begin to share their most private feelings. Sana, who is Muslim, reveals that she’s been having a crisis about her future, hasn’t sent her down payment to Princeton, and has secretly applied to a fellowship. Rachel knows she’s NYU-bound if the scholarship funds come through, but her future is in jeopardy if she can’t get this last film finished. Working together on this project about a woman forging her own path could be transformative for both, if only they could stop arguing and misjudging each other’s intentions. Determined to find success on their own terms, the ambitious girls learn to stand up for themselves as they challenge, support, and infuriate each other. Immensely readable with strong characters and quick, clever dialogue, this romance has real depth. Though there is no question that the girls will end up together, it’s a joy to watch them fumble toward their eventual happy ending. As much about finding yourself as it is about finding love, this smart, feminist story shows that expectations shouldn’t dictate the future. 

VERDICT This well-written and supremely satisfying romance should be in all collections

ISBN-13: 9781250299482
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 06/11/2019

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

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

Book Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Publisher’s description

summer of jordiSeventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosseplaying bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

If you are not reading Amy Spalding’s books, you are totally missing out. Her dialogue is A+ and I always want to be best friends with all of her characters. This book was no exception.

 

17-year-old Abby has always viewed herself as the quirky, funny sidekick in her own life—the one who watches cool things happen to other people and is there for advice and clever one-liners. Because of this view of herself, she kind of can’t believe it when Mexican American Jordi Perez, who is cute, cultured, serious, and seems to have it all together, reciprocates her crush. Both girls get a summer internship together at Lemonberry, a faux vintage clothing store. Abby runs a fashion blog and Jordi takes excellent photographs. Though they’ve gone to high school together, they don’t really know each other—in fact, Abby can’t even remember Jordi’s name at first. It’s a summer full of unexpected things for Abby, who also ends up becoming best buds with Jax, a lacrosse-playing friend of her best friend’s boyfriend (Jax is convinced this makes them friends-in-law, so of course they should hang out). Jax ropes Abby into eating and rating burgers all summer as part of his dad’s new Yelp-like app. Jax is a gem of a character—funny, supportive, and so much more than the cliche that it seems like he may be. While Abby has a cool internship, a rad girlfriend, and great friends (including some unexpected new ones), it’s not all roses. Abby repeatedly mentions that she’s fat. When she says something about being fat and Jax starts to say she’s not, she points out to him that she is, which isn’t bad, but “acting like fat’s an insult is.” She’s cool with her body and her weight, for the most part, though she is a little self-conscious especially when she and Jordi start making out (a not-so-unusual feeling for anyone). Though she runs a fashion blog, she never posts pictures of herself on it. She’s particularly self-conscious about pictures of herself, not because she doesn’t like to look at them, but because she would like to avoid all of the fat-hating comments from people who may view them. It just seems easier and safer to not put herself out there. Then there’s the issue of her mother, a food blogger, who seems to constantly view Abby as a disappointment. Abby is pretty sure her mother would prefer her to be straight and thin, things she more or less says outright to her. But despite the feeling of being a disappointment to her mother, things are mostly going great… until they aren’t.

 

This book has a super wide appeal—it’s an excellent romance full of joy and happiness. Abby’s zest for fashion is contagious—my own closet is full of mostly black and extremely boring, but I loved reading about Abby’s outfits and the clothes at the shop. Though there is a fight and some fallout/heartbreak, this is a feel-good book with tons of charm, humor, and heart. This funny, sweet, summer read was the perfect thing to spend a blizzardy day off of work reading. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781510727663
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

hurricanCaroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child.

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

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

 

Book Review: P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Publisher’s description

ps i missA heartbreaking—yet ultimately uplifting—epistolary novel about family, religion, and having the courage to be yourself.

 

Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters.

Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy is a heartfelt middle grade novel dealing with faith, identity, and finding your way in difficult times.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, friends. We need SO MANY MORE middle grade books about LGBTQIA+ kids. I can’t wait for the day that kids of all identities can see themselves joyfully and lovingly represented and embraced.

Evie’s path to discovering who she really is is a very complicated and painful one. The entire book is told through letters to her sister Cilla, who at first has no internet/phone access and then later just isn’t responding. At first I couldn’t get past how extremely dated it feels to only be able to communicate through snail mail, but I did get past that once I got caught up in the story. Cilla got pregnant at sixteen and has been sent away from their home in Massachusetts to their great-aunt’s home in Virginia, to have the baby in secret, then to head to an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school after the baby is born and adopted. Evie desperately misses her sister and sends her endless letters, despite only rarely (and tersely) hearing back from Cilla. Evie’s extremely judgmental and withholding parents have retreated into work and baking/hiding away crying since Cilla left, leaving Evie so alone as she navigates some new feelings toward new classmate June. But it’s not like her parents would be comforting or loving to Evie during this time, anyway. The version of Catholicism that they practice is a strict and punishing one, one that makes them shun their pregnant daughter and, Evie is sure, would make them just as quickly disown their lesbian daughter. So she writes to Cilla, despite the silence back, trying to work out her feelings for June and process her sister’s absence. Evie is not at all prepared for what she finds when she goes looking on her own to find her sister. Uncovering a betrayal so profound that it’s hard to imagine it actually happening, Evie is forced to face the lengths some people will go to to maintain appearances and hide secrets. It’s a revelation that will change her life and her perception of her family, religion, and her thoughts on her own identity.

 

There is so much shame, stigma, and embarrassment here. Their parents constantly talk about how horrible Cilla’s “mistake” and “sin” is. They are mortified, deeply ashamed, and do everything to hide what has happened, including the very outdated-feeling move of sending her away to have the baby in secret. They have completely turned their back on Cilla, not communicating with her, showing any love, or even uttering her name. They remove her pictures from their walls, spin lies to the community about where she is, and even tell an old friend that Evie is their only child. The constant onslaught of shame and judgment toward teen pregnancy honestly got really hard to stomach.

 

Evie is very, very young-sounding and naive. The story takes place during 7th grade, but quite often, she feels much younger. She initially thinks in pretty simplistic ways (“bad girls get pregnant”). When she meets June, she notes that she’s never met anyone with dyed hair. When she learns June is an atheist, she again notes that she’s never met one. She observes that her sister broke commandments and sinned, but that she’s learned her lesson and won’t sin again. It’s clear how much of her thinking early on in the book has been influenced by her (awful) parents. Her thoughts on everything change and progress as the story unfolds, but for quite a bit of the story she is sheltered, naive, and parroting her parents’ beliefs. This development, this change to having her own opinions on right and wrong, on religion’s role in her life, on things like teen pregnancy and homosexuality, is believable if not always easy to read.

 

Evie’s relationship with June also develops in a believable, if not always happy, way. Though she recognizes and struggles with the crush she has on June early on, she is so worried that her parents will disown her, that she’s a sinner, that she’s doing something wrong. But she pushes past that and lets herself feel what she feels. Their relationship follows a very typical trajectory for 7th graders—they’re hesitant, nervous, excited, and happy. They hold sweaty hands, kiss (once, then Evie decides she isn’t ready to be doing that), and spend tons of time together. But for much of the book, it’s all in secret. Thankfully, when Evie does tell her best friends what is going on, they react positively. But even when Evie has told June how she feels and they are girlfriends, Evie notes that she still feels a little ashamed of herself for liking a girl.

 

My hope is that readers can see past the onslaught of shame and stigma, even felt and perpetuated by Evie herself, to see the joy of discovering someone you have a crush on and see how Evie eventually learns to not hide or be ashamed of who she is. A well-written, if deeply uncomfortable and often disheartening, look at identity, family, and secrets. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250123480
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 03/06/2018

Book Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Publisher’s description

one trueWelcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices. Presented in the voice of a premier storyteller, One True Way sheds exquisite light on what it means to be different, while at the same time being wholly true to oneself. Through the lives and influences of two girls, readers come to see that love is love is love. Set against the backdrop of history and politics that surrounded gay rights in the 1970s South, this novel is a thoughtful, eye-opening look at tolerance, acceptance, and change, and will widen the hearts of all readers.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s 1977 in North Carolina and new girl 12-year-old Allie is immediately taken under the wing of gregarious Sam, a star basketball player who moves easily between all the social groups. She helps Allie get a spot on the school newspaper, with her first assignment being a profile about Sam. As the girls get to know one another, it quickly becomes obvious that they like each other. Sam’s parents are very close-minded, and Sam knows they would never approve of her liking girls—she says they’d immediately get put on the prayer list at her church, One True Way. Her mother calls her basketball coach, who is a lesbian and dating a fellow teacher, a pervert and an abomination. Allie thinks maybe she can be open with her parents; after all, her uncle is gay and everyone seems okay with that. But telling her mom doesn’t go how she hopes it will—her mother tells her she’s too young to know if she likes girls, that maybe it’s just a phase. It all becomes very complicated as the girls try to stay away from each other and Allie tries to see if it really is a choice, if she can maybe make herself like boys instead. Thankfully, through this painful and confusing time the girls have some very open, smart, loving people looking out for them, including the reverend from Allie’s Methodist church, Coach Murphy and Miss Holt, and, eventually, Allie’s own parents.

 

One of the things I like best about this book is the conversations Allie has with the adults in her life, especially her mother. Her mother’s initial disappointment and fear change as Allie repeatedly discusses with her her feelings for Sam. Her dad’s reaction is wonderful and loving, the therapist they all go see (for many reasons, including the death of Allie’s brother and her parents’ impending divorce) is supportive and kind, and Sam’s sister reaches out to Allie to see how to best accept and support Sam. Though worried about being gay in a small town in this era, the girls get plenty of love and support, never forgetting for too long that the important thing is to be true to yourself. We desperately need more middle grade novels with LGBTQIA+ main characters, and Hitchcock’s book is a very welcome addition to the small but growing selection. An affirming look at discovering who you really are and finding love and support when you learn to speak your truth. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338181722
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/27/2018

Book Review: I Love This Part by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

Two girls in a small town in the USA kill time together as they try to get through their days at school.

They watch videos, share earbuds as they play each other songs and exchange their stories. In the process they form a deep connection and an unexpected relationship begins to develop.

In her follow up to the critically acclaimed The End of Summer, Tillie Walden tells the story of a small love that can make you feel like the biggest thing around, and how it’s possible to find another person who understands you when you thought no one could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

love this partI was sent this by Avery Hill Publishing, in the UK. This is a hardcover rerelease of Walden’s 2015 book. It’s still available in the US in paperback and comes out in March in hardcover.

This book will take you all of five minutes to read, but the art is lovely and the brief story is heartbreaking. The little summary up there tells you all there is to know about the sparse story. While the narrative is spare, the expansive art, full of cities and outdoor landscapes and open spaces, contributes so much to the tone and feel of this short look at love and heartbreak. This is the kind of book that, for older readers, will make you think of breathtaking and devastating first love—how it encompassed everything, how every connection felt so significant, and how it could hurt like nothing you could imagine. Younger readers experiencing their first crush or heartbreak will see themselves reflected in this brief, beautiful look at love. Emotionally resonant despite its brevity. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910395325
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2018

Book Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Publisher’s description

ra6Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

that inevitableEvery so often a book will come along that I read and want to review to help promote it, but all I really want to say is “SO GOOD. GO READ IT.” Usually that’s because there is so much that happens in the plot and so many revelations and I don’t want to spoil anything—I just want to direct people to the book so we can freak out together.

THAT INEVITABLE VICTORIAN THING IS SO GOOD. GO READ IT.

Okay. I’ll attempt to do better than that.

Like history? Like alternative histories? Set in the near future? That feature multiethnic and LGBTQIA+ characters? Then this book is for you. I will admit that it took me a good 50 pages to really get into the story. The slow start was, for me, mostly just figuring out and remembering who the characters were, what their relationships were to each other, and what this new version of the world looked like. The story really picks up as it goes on, and about 1/3 of the way through, a detail is revealed that makes every relationship in the story all the more interesting.

If you’ve ever read any of other Johnston’s other books, you know she excels at world-building and at crafting dynamic characters, and this book is no exception to that. Margaret, Helena, and August are complicated people trying to figure out their path forward while realizing they all need to reevaluate their futures as events of this monumental summer unfold. And while the interplay and movement of various relationships satisfy, it is the relationship between Margaret and Helena that truly shines.

If you don’t want to know anything more about this book because you plan to read it, this is a good time to stop reading this review, particularly if don’t want to know more about the main relationships in the book.

 

Still here? Hi.

 

When Helena logs in to the Computer to find out more about her genetics and her matches, she sees a detail, previously unknown to her, that stops her in her tracks: Helena has XY chromosomes. She’s not immediately sure exactly what this means, but she does think that perhaps this may change things with August, who she has always planned to marry, knowing he wants a big family. Then there’s the fact that she’s chatting on the -gnet with someone—Helena has logged on as a boy (because of the XY thing; it is only later that she comes to know the term “intersex” and begins to understand herself better), calling herself Henry. The person she is chatting with, her genetic match, is also using an alias. She’s actually using multiple aliases.

Just when it seems like things could not get more convoluted, everything starts to fall into place. The characters begin to see the possibilities of their new paths, including a plan that may give all three main characters what they want in life.

 

This clever, smart, and romantic story is a fantastic exploration of identities, futures, and obligations. Readers who push through the somewhat slow start to the story will be swept up in this interesting near-future world and likely surprised by the resolution the three young adults settle on. Richly imagined and completely compelling. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

 

ISBN-13: 9781101994979
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/03/2017

Book Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

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

 

line in theA Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (ISBN-13: 9780735227422 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/17/2017)

Gr 9 Up—Friendship, romance, obsession, and crime all get tangled up in this complicated mystery about love and lies. Angie Redmond and Jess Wong are best friends, though Jess harbors a desperate and rather obvious crush on Angie. Their relationship becomes complicated when Angie begins to date Margot, a wealthy student at a nearby boarding school. Jess, a talented artist who creates a dark, supernatural comic about a love triangle, has her doubts about Margot, who seems cruel and controlling. Margot drives a wedge between Angie and Jess, but eventually, a murder brings them back together. As the police interview all three girls, the details of the night a student is killed highlight the tension among Angie, Jess, and Margot, but do not clearly point to who may have committed the crime. Just when it seems like the truth is coming to light, the story takes another turn, forcing readers to reassess everything they think they understand. Dark, twisty, and unsettling, this book almost begs to be read in one sitting, and then instantly reread. The pace picks up in the second part, with higher tension and uncertainty propelling the story forward quickly, encouraging teens to race to the whodunit conclusion. Though the final few chapters feel rushed, they provide a satisfying—and shocking—finale to this scandalous examination of jealousy, secrets, and untrustworthy characters. VERDICT A high-interest thriller with wide appeal recommended for all collections.