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Book Review: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

A gorgeous and magical collaboration between two critically acclaimed, powerhouse YA authors offers a richly imagined underdog story perfect for fans of Dumplin’ and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history.

But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands.

So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Amanda’s thoughts

Individually, I love these authors. And together? Perfect. So glad they teamed up to write this magical, lovely, moving story of former best friends who team up to try to end 50 years of blond, white beauty queens.

In Meteor (or is it Meteorite?) New Mexico, the biggest thing in town is the Miss Meteor Pageant. Chicky, a “tomboy” (her term) who lives in flannel shirts and has a short “boy’s haircut” (again, her words) feels friendless. She’s sick of the bullying from the popular kids (mainly Kendra and Royce) and wonders if she could possibly stop queen bee Kendra from winning the pageant. She’d like to see Kendra lose and suffer. Around the same time Lita, Chicky’s former best friend, gets the idea to participate in the pageant. Could a brown girl made of stardust who’s being raised by the local bruja/curandera (who also came to earth with the meteor) possibly stand a chance?

The two old-but-new friends team up with Junior, a talented artist and also secretly talented cornhole player (cornhole being the most popular game in Meteor) who has long had a crush on Chicky (who, we learn, is pansexual but not out for much of the story–until she joyfully and beautifully IS out), and Cole, a kind, outspoken, trans boy, and one of the popular kids (and, it’s worth noting, brother to queen bee Kendra). Chicky’s three sisters get involved too, helping prepare Lita for the pageant and helping look out for her as others try to sabotage and stop her run for the crown.

A lot happens along the way. The characters call out racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They fight stereotypes, they elevate each other, they find unexpected friendship, and they persist in the face of so many small-minded townspeople. The story is about the Miss Meteor Pageant, yes, but it’s really about relationships and finding your place. It’s about bringing light to the town, it’s about finding space for yourself, and it’s about belonging. Together, the four main characters find and offer strength to one another in powerful and meaningful ways. A feel-good story about being proud of your identity and opening yourself to sharing your self and your truth with others. This layered story with fantastic characters shows that trying to blend in sometimes just hides the many wonderful ways you were made to stand out. Like Chicky and Lita find out, there is space for you. You belong, just as you are.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062869913
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling. I actually really hated Caroline, she’s jaded and angry and lost, but it’s all deserved and understandable and I felt compassion for her. I was invested in her story; she is truly a deeply moving and complicated main character.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Although the title of this novel is Throwaway Girls and it is definitely about that, the thing that I am still left thinking about days later is what this book tells us about powerful men. This is a story full of powerful men who keep secrets, abuse their power, and feel like they are entitled to the world. And at the end of the day, when all the truths are finally revealed, the people in their lives are still more worried about protecting the image of these monsters disguised as men then they are protecting the “throwaway girls” who will now have to navigate life broken and struggling with lifelong trauma. I walked away from the pages of this powerful and moving novel shaking with rage at the truths revealed. You can jump on to Google right now and find thousands of real life stories that validate the underlying premise of Throwaway Girls, and that will never not make me angry.

The topic of Throwaway Girls is not new to YA, but it’s definitely dealt with in powerful and meaningful ways here. I would recommend adding Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson to a reading of this book. While Throwaway Girls talks very much about socio-economic disadvantage and how some girls have more worth then others when they go missing, and Monday’s Not Coming adds the reality of race and racism into this discussion. Both points of view are powerful.

In addition to the discussion of missing girls, Throwaway Girls deals a lot with Caroline and her sexual identity. Caroline is a lesbian growing up in a conservative family who has sent her to conversion therapy. She struggles with mental health issues – she takes medication for anxiety – and she has attempted suicide in the pass. She’s just hanging on until the age of 18 so that she can leave and start her real life where she can be her authentic self. My heart broke for her and this book really highlights how lack of support and acceptance can seriously harm our youth.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

This book will be released September 1st by Kids Can Press

Book Review: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens edited by Leigh Finke

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens

Beaming Bks. Aug. 2020. 260p. ed. by Finke, Leigh, ed. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781506465241.

 Gr 7 Up–This indispensable and compassionate guide for queer Christians challenges heteronormativity and cisgender as the default. The text pushes back against a culture of silence, invisibility, alienating theology, and close-minded attitudes. Teens are encouraged to express and explore their authentic selves. Chapters cover topics such as definitions of labels, how teens can deal with and protect themselves from unsupportive adults, self-care, getting accurate information, possible reactions and questions, discrimination, coming out, parental rejection, conversion therapy, and consent. There is some discussion of biblical evidence supporting or refuting various ideas, but the emphasis is on making sure readers know that being queer is completely okay and not incompatible with faith. Additionally, the text stresses that if teens feel fear or shame, their church and community have let them down. Graphs, statistics, text boxes, illustrations, and short personal narratives break up the main text. Back matter includes a glossary as well as a comprehensive resource list. Written by a team of contributors with backgrounds in mental health, ministry, art, education, and LGBTQ+ advocacy, this fantastic resource never stops reminding readers that they have value and deserve to live a full, beautiful life.

VERDICT An affirming, thorough, and supportive guide for understanding one’s identity as well as a pertinent resource for LGBTQ+ allies.

Book Review: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Publisher’s description

Becky Albertalli meets Jenny Han in a smart, hilarious, black girl magic, own voices rom-com by a staggeringly talented new writer.

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s probably not enough to just write a little love note, like, “Dear book, I love you. Love, Amanda,” and consider this review done, is it? Or maybe it is. It gets across the point—I love this book. It’s cute, sweet, and fun while still dealing with serious and upsetting things. It made me remember all the best things about high school romances—the many firsts, the excitement, the joy, the fun.

The Twitter-like app Campbell Confidential catches every important bit of high school drama at Liz’s school. And now that she’s in the running for prom queen, she’s gone from an under-the-radar wallflower who’d rather evaporate than get attention to someone who’s suddenly SEEN by so many people. Liz has always felt so different from her classmates, who are mainly white and rich, and while she has a small, tight group of friends, she’s never been one to mingle with her peers. Until now. Liz finds herself teaming up with and becoming friends with classmates she never thought would like her, connecting with her old best friend, and, yes, falling for a super cool and interesting competitor for that prom queen crown.

But it’s not all fun and hijinks. Liz, who is being raised by her grandparents as her mother died from sickle cell and her dad was never in the picture, constantly worries about money. She worries about the health of Robbie, her younger brother (who also has sickle cell). She feels manipulated and betrayed by Gabi, her best friend, who takes this prom queen candidacy VERY seriously. And, Liz is gleefully falling for Mack, but since she isn’t out to anyone at school beyond her small group, she wants to keep things on the down low, especially because she’s worried that coming out in her small Indiana town would be met with homophobia that could keep her from winning the prom queen crown, and thus keep her from the scholarship money she so desperately needs.

The best thing about this book is how REAL it feels. Liz and friends all mess up. They make bad choices, hurt each other, apologize, and learn what true friendship looks like. The connection and acceptance and support that eventually shines through in this story shows all the best parts of high school and the best parts of people. As Liz fumbles her way toward the prom court, she learns that maybe playing the game differently is the key to it all. And with the encouragement of her friends and the eventual support of her peers, Liz comes to understand that if they won’t make space for you, demand it.

A smart, fun, and sweet look at navigating the unexpected moments and at celebrating being yourself.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338503265
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha

Publisher’s description

An absorbing debut novel about three gay friends in Brazil whose lives become intertwined in the face of HIV, perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Bill Konigsberg.

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has — had — been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.

That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.

Amanda’s thoughts

TL; DR: GET THIS BOOK ON YOUR ORDERS AND TBR LISTS.

Originally published in 2018 in Brazilian Portuguese, this powerful look at three young men and the different stages they are at in dealing with and accepting their own HIV statuses and those of people they love stands out because of the complicated feelings of its main characters.

Those feelings easily transfer to the reader. When Henrique and Victor get involved, Henrique doesn’t disclose his HIV positive status to Victor, even when they sleep together. Henrique justifies this choice because they have protected sex and because his viral load is undetectable at this point, meaning he can’t transmit the virus. Unsurprisingly, Victor is upset at this revelation, and still goes to get tested, to be on the safe side. It’s there at the clinic he meets Ian, who just found out he is HIV positive. He connects Ian with Henrique, knowing that even though he’s currently upset with Henrique, he will be a good shoulder to lean on as Ian grapples with his new status.

It’s reductive to say that this novel is just about processing feelings regarding HIV, but in this very character-driven story, it really is about learning, understanding, working through, sharing, and accepting these feelings. Ian feels guilty and stupid and scared. Henrique is still reeling from a horrible betrayal from a former boyfriend. Victor feels betrayed by Henrique and at one point has a melt down, telling Henrique that his HIV status is his fault, that it’s a consequence for his choices, for not being “careful.” Friends in the boys’ atmosphere are supportive, loving, reassuring, and accepting. Throughout the story, Ian and others are reminded that HIV is no longer necessarily a death sentence. Readers learn about the virus, with lots of talk about treatments (now generally much simpler than in the past), side effects, self-care, futures, and precautions. Though initially Ian encounters a medical practitioner who doesn’t exactly make him feel reassured about any of this, for the most part, doctors and therapists are great, providing information and hope. Even a very ugly incident regarding someone exposing one of the characters’ HIV status is handled in a way that emphasizes the love, support, and acceptance these characters are fortunate to have (despite not necessarily seeing that love from their families of origin or even sharing their status with them).

This emotional read shows that already complicated relationships can become more complicated when HIV is involved, but that that diagnosis doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the characters. Rocha lets his characters make mistakes, learn, fight, grow, change, accept, hurt, heal, and love. An educational, affirming story full of hope and love.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338556247
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Pocket Change Collective books

Publisher’s descriptions

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094655 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, poet, artist, and LGBTQIA+ rights advocate Alok Vaid-Menon deconstructs, demystifies, and reimagines the gender binary.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Beyond the Gender Binary, Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color. Taking from their own experiences as a gender-nonconforming artist, they show us that gender is a malleable and creative form of expression. The only limit is your imagination.

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593095188 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In this powerful and hopeful account, arts writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew reminds us that the art world has space not just for the elite, but for everyon
e.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, arts writer and co-editor of Black Futures Kimberly Drew shows us that art and protest are inextricably linked. Drawing on her personal experience through art toward activism, Drew challenges us to create space for the change that we want to see in the world. Because there really is so much more space than we think.

The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593093689 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)

In The New Queer Conscience, LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli argues the urgent need for queer responsibility — that queers anywhere are responsible for queers everywhere

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, The New Queer Conscience, Voices4 Founder and LGBTQIA+ activist Adam Eli offers a candid and compassionate introduction to queer responsibility. Eli calls on his Jewish faith to underline how kindness and support within the queer community can lead to a stronger global consciousness. More importantly, he reassures us that we’re not alone. In fact, we never were. Because if you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.

Imaginary Borders by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593094136 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020)


In this personal, moving essay, environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez uses his art and his activism to show that climate change is a human issue that can’t be ignored.

Pocket Change Collective is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists. In this installment, Earth Guardians Youth Director and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shows us how his music feeds his environmental activism and vice versa. Martinez visualizes a future that allows us to direct our anger, fear, and passion toward creating change. Because, at the end of the day, we all have a part to play.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ve said it before, but: Almost always, I read books in order of publication date. It’s really the only way I can keep track of everything I want to review and juggle the rest of life. These little books have sat on my shelf for months and I’ve been so looking forward to getting to them. They did not disappoint.

You know who these would be great for? All the great kids you know who are graduating right now. I love giving books as gifts (she preached to the choir) and these are perfect to hand to young readers. And old readers! These books read like really impassioned TED talks, interspersing personal histories and details with factual information and calls to action.

In Beyond the Gender Binary, Vaid-Menon explores the many ways the false idea of a binary hurts everyone and how harmful the disconnect between what people see (and comment on) and who you are can be. They discuss how an emphasis on a binary involves power, control, shame, repression, harassment, discrimination, and more. They look at the laws against people who don’t conform to the gender binary, the access denied, the targeted legislation, and point out how so much of this is all about gender non-conforming people but rarely actually engages with them.

Vaid-Menon shares their own story from growing up, full of shame, fear, and bullying. They also detail common arguments against gender non-conforming people and refutes them. They emphasize the importance for the narrative around nonbinary people to be one of reclamation, acceptance, peace, and celebration in this powerful look at the toxic notion of a binary and the harmony and creativity of embracing a spectrum of gender identities.

In The New Queer Conscience, Eli focuses on providing a hopeful, uplifting message of support and solidarity as he calls for a unified queer community. Drawing parallels to the support and collective sympathy, outrage, and action he finds within his Jewish community, he urges queer people anywhere to feel responsible for queer people everywhere. He writes about being young and feeling confused and uncomfortable and desperately needing the validation, assurance, and support of a community. He addresses the common feeling of being alone that so many queer kids may feel, a feeling that could be alleviated by a stronger and more active community. Eli explores the changes necessary for this kind of community and transformation, including policies of kindness and understanding, acknowledging uneven playing fields and issues of privilege, and the need for there to be solidarity with all oppressed people. A great reminder that there’s a huge, welcoming community that values you and that together it can be stronger and more effective.

In Imaginary Borders, Martinez examines the climate change movement. His message is that we build the world together, especially when we understand that we are part of a larger system, that we need to claim space in the movements, and explores the need for a cultural shift. He details the ways climate change reaches across real and imagined borders and looks as the cascading effects of climate change, environmental racism, and social justice. Martinez focuses on the fact that there are many paths to activism, and that to inspire connection and action, we need to bring our imagination and creativity to the movement as well as diverse tactics.

In This Is What I Know About Art, Drew looks at art, activism, protest, and inclusion through the lens of her own path to a life in the art world. Emphasizing curiosity, engagement, and learning, she pushes for a collective voice and a shared community. Detailing her exploration of art in college and in internships and jobs, she encourages us to ask who is not in the room and how can we get them there.

Illuminating and inspiring, all four books encourage more thoughtful conversations around these topics. Really well done.

Review copies (ARC) courtesy of the publisher.

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: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

 Gr 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person.

VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259