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Book Review: Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali

Publisher’s description

love fromFrom William C. Morris Award Finalist S.K. Ali comes an unforgettable romance that is part The Sun Is Also a Star mixed with Anna and the French Kiss, following two Muslim teens who meet during a spring break trip.

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

First thing first: this is easily in my top five for books I’ve read so far in 2019. EASILY.

 

Second thing, well, second: I am in the very fortunate position to receive a ton of books to consider for review. And while I am so grateful to get them, look through them, tweet about them, include them in posts for collection development, and read them, there is just no way I can actually read most of them for review here unless I quit my job to be a stay-at-home dog mom and then do nothing but read (hmm…). So I sort through options and almost always choose something that I already assume I will like (because of the content or the author’s previous work or the genre or a particular issue). I don’t “have” to review anything and certainly don’t want to waste my time reviewing something that isn’t good or doesn’t hold my attention—unless I find it so problematic or concerning that I want to review it to warn people away from bad rep etc. Alllll of that is to say I went in assuming I would like this book and it totally blew my expectations out of the water. And what a joy when you think you’ll love something and get to find out that you LOVE it.

 

Am I just going to gush at you for multiple paragraphs? Maybe. I save my academic review writing for SLJ. Here at TLT, I get to be conversational and less professional and GUSH. So yeah, my notes include things like “I’M IN” and “I am so here for this!” and hearts and exclamation points.

 

The summary up there is really thorough. It captures the plot points really well, but does nothing to capture the real spirit of the story or the characters. All it took was the first few pages, meeting both Adam Chen and Zayneb Malik and seeing their marvels and oddities journals, and I was swept up into the story. I scratched the rest of my to-do list for the day and just read this book straight through. There is so much heart to this book, whether with family or friends or support or passions or convictions. It is full of strong feelings, of passionate convictions, and of complicated characters who don’t always do or say the right thing, but make choices for logical and important reasons. This book is about love, family, and the changes and challenges life throws at us. It’s also about Islamophobia, justice, peace, activism, social justice, civilian casualties of war, righteous anger, and being Muslim. It is SO MUCH about being Muslim. Zayneb was raised Muslim from the start and Adam converted, along with his father, a handful of years ago. Zayneb’s father is from Pakistan and her mother (who also converted) is Guyanese and Trinidadian. Adam is Canadian by way of China and Finland.

 

There was so much in this book that either I was cheering for (Zayneb repeatedly calling people out for their racism, Islamophobia, white feminism, and cultural appropriation) or marveling (sorry) over (have I read a book set in Qatar before? Have I read a book where there are characters who converted to Islam before?). Despite their bumps along the road, it’s so clear to the reader that Adam and Zayneb were meant to meet and be in each other’s lives. For very different reasons, they both feel so alone, but find more connections than just each other. This is a beautiful, complex, and important book. I hope that all libraries will get this on their shelves and on display. A wonderful story that centers the Muslim experience and shows the power of anger, peace, and connection. 

 

 

Review copy (e-ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534442726
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/30/2019

Book Review: Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher’s description

night music2Music has always been Ruby’s first love. But has it ever loved her back?
Slip behind the scenes of the classical music world one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer.

Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok: future classical pianist and daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after her horrendous audition for the prestigious music school where her father is on faculty, it’s clear that music has publicly dumped her. Now Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants away from the world of classical music for good.

Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who’ve watched him conduct on YouTube—or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who’d name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok—not for a crush. He’s all too aware of how the ultra-privileged world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor’s white daughter.

But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. Can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first note for this book was “Ack! This book is SO LOVELY immediately.” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the read. Later I wrote, “Their banter! I love them!” I’m old. My reading tastes haven’t really ever changed and probably won’t ever. I like realistic stories with strong characters, good banter, and lots of emotions. This book hits all three.

 

Oscar has all the reasons in the world right now to be egotistical and insufferable. He’s a composer and conductor whose YouTube video went super viral. The music world is treating him like a genius superstar. He’s spending his summer training with one of the greatest living composers, Martin Chertok.

 

Ruby Chertok comes from a family of talented, famous classical musicians. Until recently, she thought this was her path too, until a less than stellar audition at her father’s school makes her break up with music. She needs to distance herself from that world, from her famous last name.

 

So when Ruby and Oscar meet, neither of them are looking for a relationship. Oscar is supposed to be completely focused on composing and the last person Ruby needs to get involved with is a musical protege studying under her father. But, of course, life makes its own course. With their attraction rather immediate, we know they will get together before too long, but both have so much else going on that they need to deal with. First love is great, but it’s hard to juggle that enormous thing with Oscar’s sudden fame/career and Ruby’s complete fixation on what on earth she will do with her life if not be a classical musician. She hopes to spend the summer figuring out her life (an ambitious summer project when you’re 17). Does she even have the option to travel her own path? Her whole life has been music. Now, without her, she needs to find other ways to fill her days—she takes up running, reconnects with an old friend, hangs out like a regular teenager, and, of course, falls for Oscar. Their relationship is beautiful and intense and profound, but it’s not without its issues. Both could come off looking like opportunists here. And dating Oscar certainly ropes Ruby further into the world of classical music, not exactly giving her the distance she expected this summer. And if she’s Oscar’s muse and his girlfriend, will this get in the way of forming her own new identity? 

 

There’s a lot more going on, too, that starts to come to light as the story unfolds, including financial questions about the music school and a push for the school to sell its “diversity” with Oscar as the face of that. But how genuine is their commitment to diversity? And why are their rewriting Oscar as some poor kid from the rough streets of DC instead of who he really is—an affluent kid from the suburbs?

 

This look at pressures, identity, first love, and the desire to be seen is heartfelt and moving. This great romance with a lot of depth is an easy one to recommend widely to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228771
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019

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: 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: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Publisher’s description

ra6Fox Benwell delivers a harrowing and beautifully written novel that explores the relationship between two girls obsessed with music, the practice of corrective rape, and the risks and power of using your voice.

Neo loves music, and all she ever wanted was a life sharing this passion, on the radio. When she meets Tale, the lead singer in a local South African band, their shared love of music grows. So does their love for each other. But not everyone approves. Then Neo lands her dream job of working at a popular radio station, and she discovers that using your voice is sometimes harder than expected, and there are always consequences.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

foxHere is all I knew about this book going in: I like Fox. I like this cover. I know this book, at some point, deals with corrective rape. 

Neo lives in Khayelitsha, South Africa. She’s best friends with Janet, absolutely bonkers in love with music, and dreams of hosting her own radio program. When she goes to see Umzi Radio live at a local bar, she develops an enormous crush on Tale, the singer of one of the bands that night. She knows being in love with another girl is not something her family (or friends or community) will accept, but that doesn’t stop Neo and Tale from embarking on a lovely, passionate, and semi-secret relationship. Tale’s bandmates instantly become Neo’s friends, too, and for the first time in her life, Neo feels a real sense of acceptance and community. She starts to see a bigger world than she knew was possible for her. At one point she thinks, “There is so much more to life than school and work and dirty laundry. And I want it all.” She begins sneaking out to meet up with Tale. Her mother eventually installs a padlock on the door to try to stop her from going out (and working under the assumption that she is going out to hear music and meet up with a boy). As far as her parents are concerned, Neo’s life should be about school, grades, and good behavior. Loving music and dreaming of a life in radio is a waste of time. Her father works at the security desk  at the radio station and takes Neo along to try to prove some kind of point about the reality of working there. It backfires when Mr. Sid, the station owner, lets Neo have an unpaid internship there that eventually involves her having her own show. Though she’s had a falling out with Janet and her grades are rather terrible, everything else seems to be looking up for Neo. She’s blissfully happy with Tale, even if they can only hook up in the shadows and must hide their love. She’s terrified of being found out, but when she learns about Pride, she desperately wants to take part in the protest and celebration of the event. But her increasing boldness and determination to live her life in the open, and her message on the radio about being proud to sing your own song and loving who you love, land her in more trouble than she could have imagined. What follows is devastating, brutal, and heartbreaking.

This is a powerful, harrowing look at the desire to live an authentic life and the many ways taking that risk may be judged and punished. I am always banging on about wanting new stories, and I think this is the first YA story I’ve read that deals with corrective rape… and, I think, also the first YA book I’ve read set in South Africa (I feel like that can’t possibly be true, but I’m coming up with nothing). I felt like I was holding my breath this entire book. Benwell includes an author’s note addressing his privilege as a white Brit—how some elements of the story overlap with things from his own life and from the lives of those around him, but this is not his story. LGBTQIA+ resources are appended, too. Well-written and deeply affecting. Give this to readers who will be able to look past the bleakness and brutality to see the love and joy at the heart of the story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481477673

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

 

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062445704

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/09/2017

Book Review: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana Arnold

Publisher’s description

what-girls-are-madeThis is not a story of sugar and spice and everything nice.

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now Nina is sixteen. And she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, just to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of?

Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are. She’s been volunteering at a high-kill animal shelter where she realizes that for dogs waiting to be adopted, love comes only to those with youth, symmetry, and quietness. She also ruminates on the strange, dark time her mother took her to Italy to see statues of saints who endured unspeakable torture because of their unquestioning devotion to the divine. Is this what love is?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There are people who are going to read this book and judge Nina harshly. Here is who I suspect those people will be: people who are not teenage girls; people who have never been teenage girls; people who completely forgot what it’s like to be a teenage girl; people who literally cannot imagine being a teenage girl; and people who don’t understand the realities of teenage girls. Reading this book requires being aware of the fact that being a teenage girl means processing, internalizing, and subverting a lifetime of your gender being socially constructed. It means bending and breaking under the weight of expectation. It means digging deep to find your worth when you’re surrounded by an entire world that tries to define it for you. It means being fed conflicting and dangerous messages, then being left to untangle them, alone, and find out the truth for yourself. Being a teenage girl is not easy; Elana Arnold shows us exactly why in this stunning and thoughtful book.

 

Nina is told by her mother, at age 14, that love is always conditional—that there is no such thing as unconditional love. She’s not just talking about romantic love; her mother tells her that she could stop loving her at any time for any number of reasons. Nina spends the next few years grappling with this statement. For her, in her relationship with Seth, love is very conditional and involves games. Or, I should say, it’s conditional from Seth’s perspective. As far as Nina is concerned, her love is unconditional. Her love of Seth is worshipful. She admits that all of the decisions she makes are based on Seth, and she knows “it isn’t okay to care this much about a boy. I know it’s not feminist, or whatever….” But knowing something and applying that knowledge are two different things. They have been dating for three months and Nina has made him her whole world. It is uncomfortable to see her so absorbed in this not particularly satisfying relationship—not because I feel she is being foolish, but because I recognize my teenage self in her choices and feelings. Maybe that’s the best summary of being a teenage girl: it is uncomfortable.

 

Nina volunteers at a high-kill dog shelter (I fully admit I had to skim the parts that talked about surrendering, harming, and killing dogs). She mentions a few times that she was ordered to volunteer as part of an incident from last year—an incident that we don’t learn the truth of until quite late in the book. There is a lot to be said about Nina and working at the shelter, about how, much like the attention-deprived dogs, she just wants someone to love her, to choose her. There are also entire papers just begging to be written about women’s bodies, what fills them and empties from them, and metaphors dealing with her large but often empty home, her mother’s miscarriages, and Nina’s own abortion.

 

Between the main narrative of Nina’s story are short pieces mainly about virgins, martyrs, and saints. These are stories Nina’s mother told her and are stories of sacrifice, unconditional love, and the happily ever after that comes from dying for what you are devoted to. Nina is writing these, along with other short pieces, for an English assignment, only she doesn’t think she can bear to share them with her teacher. I suppose some readers may be inclined to skim them, not seeing them as integral to the main story, but skipping them would be a mistake. These stories, which have left such impressions on Nina, are powerful, important, and revealing. As Nina’s mother says at one point, “As long as there have been women, there have been ways to punish them for being women.”

 

This meditation on the idea of unconditional love—whether it is, indeed, unconditional, whether this idea is dangerous or appealing (or both), and determining who sets conditions and why—is devastating, smart, complex, and utterly real. Nina is aching, learning, screwing up, holding on too long, letting go, bending, breaking, and recreating. Arnold shows us that none of that is simple. It’s not easy, in any way, but she is doing it all, largely alone. She is hurting and growing and being. She is becoming. Her story is so painfully familiar and common and will surely resonate with readers. A powerful and unforgettable look at the things that define teenage girls.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512410242

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017

Book Review: At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

at-the-edgeFrom the author of We Are the Ants and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes the heartbreaking story of a boy who believes the universe is slowly shrinking as things he remembers are being erased from others’ memories.

Tommy and Ozzie have been best friends since the second grade, and boyfriends since eighth. They spent countless days dreaming of escaping their small town—and then Tommy vanished.

More accurately, he ceased to exist, erased from the minds and memories of everyone who knew him. Everyone except Ozzie.

Ozzie doesn’t know how to navigate life without Tommy, and soon he suspects that something else is going on: that the universe is shrinking.

When Ozzie is paired up with new student Calvin on a physics project, he begins to wonder if Calvin could somehow be involved. But the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to deny the feelings developing between them, even if he still loves Tommy.

But Ozzie knows there isn’t much time left to find Tommy—that once the door closes, it can’t be opened again. And he’s determined to keep it open as long as it takes to get his boyfriend back.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s a well-established fact that I love everything Shaun David Hutchinson writes. I make myself read through my TBR pile in order of publication date, or I’d never be able to keep any kind of handle on it, but knowing this book was sitting there for months was taunting me. I burned through this and when I was done, all I could think about was how jealous I was of all the grad students who will enjoy sitting down to write long papers on the common ideas and symbols in Hutchinson’s brilliant books.

 

Ozzie’s boyfriend Tommy disappeared a few months ago. He didn’t run away—he literally disappeared. No one has any memory of him. But Ozzie remembers everything. He’s determined to wait for Tommy to reappear, even if that means giving up his future to stick around in his small hometown. He’d search for him, but most of Ozzie’s theories about where Tommy went involve quantum physics, so it seems dauntingly impossible to even begin to look for him. Then there’s the whole issue of the universe shrinking. Stars, the sun, the moon—they all disappear. The land beyond Florida disappears. Eventually, everything beyond Ozzie’s small town disappears. No one but Ozzie notices. They can’t. They have no memory of there ever being anything different—no memory of stars, or other states, or space exploration. History rewrites itself to adjust for all these changes. It’s terrifying and depressing. Any chance Ozzie had a creating a life beyond his tiny town is disappearing. Imagine being a teenager whose life has shrunk down to just his high school and the people in his town. Terrifying, indeed.

 

Of course, life goes on, despite these outrageous changes. Despite the many changes in the universe, nothing seems to change the fact that Ozzie’s parents are getting divorced. Or that his brother, Warren, is joining the Army. While he tries to figure out what is happening, Ozzie still hangs out with Lua, his genderfluid rock-star-in-the-making best friend (who goes by whatever pronoun best fits how she is dressed for the day). He still has work at the bookstore (where he repeatedly interacts with Tommy’s mother, who of course has no memory of there ever being a Tommy). Ozzie still has school, where he gets paired up for a project with Calvin, a mysterious and depressed classmate who used to be the king of everything at school. As Ozzie gets to know Calvin, he becomes the keeper of Calvin’s dark secrets and grapples with what to do with this information.

 

Once again, Hutchinson has created an incredibly smart, weird, complex, and deeply affecting look at teenage lives. While they might not spend nearly as much time as Ozzie thinking about quantum physics, most teenagers will be able to relate to the fear and uncertainty that comes with facing a changing and unpredictable future, as well as the claustrophobia of feeling like you have no choices. A mind-bendingly fantastic examination of life, loss, risk, and perception.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449663

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 02/07/2017

Book Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

carefulPublisher’s description

The girls of Devonairre Street have always been told they’re cursed. Any boy they love is certain to die too soon. But this is Brooklyn in 2008, and the curse is less a terror and more a lifestyle accessory—something funky and quaint that makes the girls from the shortest street in Brooklyn special. They wear their hair long and keys around their necks. People give them a second look and whisper “Devonairre” to their friends. But it’s not real. It won’t affect their futures.

Then Jack—their Jack, the one boy everyone loved—dies suddenly and violently. And now the curse seems not only real, but like the only thing that matters. All their bright futures have suddenly gone dark.

The Careful Undressing of Love is a disturbing and sensual story of the power of youth and the boundless mysteries of love set against the backdrop of Haydu’s brilliantly reimagined New York City.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I know better than to judge a book by its cover. But in the case of A CAREFUL UNDRESSING OF LOVE, you can look at it and make a completely accurate judgement: lovely cover, lovely book. Come for the cover, stay for the devastatingly moving story about love and loss.

 

Lorna and her four closest friends (Delilah, Charlotte, Isla, and her brother Cruz) are a package deal. The fact that they live on the same street and all have dead fathers would be enough to unite them, but it’s the traditions and beliefs of Devonairre Street that solidify them. It’s their Shared Birthday. It’s the keys around their necks. It’s the Curse: if a Devonairre Street girl falls in love with a boy, he will die. The proof is in all the widows on their street. Angelika, the 70-something head of their street, never lets the girls forget that love will only cause unspeakable pain. But Lorna and her friends aren’t entirely sure they buy into the Curse. They aren’t afraid of love—or they don’t want to be. Or maybe they don’t actually know how they feel about any of it at all. Lorna enjoys her boyfriend Owen. She likes to be around him. She likes to have sex with him. She knows she loves things about him, but that’s not the same as being in love. And she’s not sure that there’s any appeal for her in love, anyway. Look around.

 

When Delilah’s boyfriend, Jack, is struck and killed by a taxi, all of their relationships with the Curse and with being Devonairre Street girls change. For Delilah, it makes her believe. She aligns herself with Angelika and carries the guilt of having caused Jack’s death. It changes her, driving a wedge between Delilah and Lorna, who she now wants to save from love. Lorna’s mother thinks it’s time to stop going along with all of Angelika’s silly Curse nonsense. She begins to stand up to the street, breaking Angelika’s rules and giving Lorna the courage to think of the Curse and the traditions as something she can opt out of. But it’s not that easy, especially as revelations throw everything Lorna thought she understood into doubt. And untangling love from curses, grief and loss from life, proves to be more difficult than she could have imagined. It’s hard to try to move on with your life when you’re surrounded by a world  that won’t let you. How can you possibly live in a present when you are constantly reminded of your past and warned of your future?

 

Haydu has written a profound story examining grief, doubt, tradition, expectation, and identity. Haydu’s story brings up huge questions about sacrifice and protection, about truth and perception. We are asked to consider, right alongside Lorna and crew, if love if a decision. Lorna and her friends know grief and pain, but they are still young. They are still learning that loss and heartache are inherent in love. And they can’t protect themselves from that—not by chalking things up to a Curse, not by drinking certain teas, not by building cages around their hearts, not by anything. They don’t yet know that we are all Affected, that we are all Cursed. In their isolation, they don’t understand that everyone has lost loved ones, that everyone blames themselves. Thanks to the relentlessness of Angelika, the Devonairre Street girls feel like they are the only ones protecting themselves, denying themselves, and stumbling under the dizzying weight of grief and guilt. Lorna, Delilah, Charlotte, and Isla’s whole lives are filled with people making them feel Other because of this. They don’t yet understand these are the prices we pay for being alive, for being the survivors. Their search for this understanding, their stumbling for answers and finding new pain, is heartbreaking. This beautifully written story is not to be missed. A powerful and deeply profound exploration of love, tragedy, and life itself.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780399186738

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 01/31/2017

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Publisher’s description

history-twoFrom the New York Times bestselling author of More Happy Than Not comes an explosive examination of grief, mental illness, and the devastating consequences of refusing to let go of the past.

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There are not enough positive words in the universe (this one or alternate ones) to convey how I feel about this book. I was torn between burning through it, so I could see what happens, and forcing myself to slow down, so I could be sure to read every single beautiful word. I absolutely loved More Happy Than Not, but I think it’s possible that I love this book more.

 

The novel begins with Griffin gearing up to go to Theo’s funeral. Theo is his ex-boyfriend, one of his best friends, and his first love. In an act of self-sabotage (or self-preservation), Griffin broke up with Theo when he moved to California over a year ago for college, but they’ve remained in each other’s lives. Griffin thinks of Theo as his once and future love. He figures Theo will find his way back to him at some point. That theory is obliterated when Theo drowns. Griffin unravels. Toggling between their history and the present (where Griffin is directly addressing Theo, who he believes is with him even in death and observing him), Griffin fills in every detail of their relationship and everything that happened after they broke up (though it’s a slow reveal).

 

As I read, I kept thinking of that Stevie Smith poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” specifically the lines “I was much further out than you thought/And not waving but drowning.” I was thinking of it not in the context of what happened to Theo, but what’s happening with Griffin. As we get to learn more of Griffin’s story, both the history and what he’s currently experiencing, we learn that he’s a real mess. He’s keeping a lot back from everyone (including the reader). He’s doing worse than anyone realizes, for so many reasons. Even when it seems like he’s letting people in, coping a little, trying to process and heal, he’s not. And who can blame him?

 

Both the history and the present are riveting, unexpected storylines. Griffin and Theo’s relationship is powerful and complicated, especially once they break up. I loved seeing them get together and watching their close friendship morph into intense first love. They have loving, supportive families. The third member of their squad, Wade, barely blinks when the two start dating—he just doesn’t want to feel like a third wheel with his longtime best friends. When Theo begins to date Jackson while in California, Griffin tries to keep his cool, jealous, but figuring the relationship won’t last. After Theo dies, Griffin has the love and support of his family, Theo’s, and Wade, but it’s through Jackson that Griffin tries to seek solace. Though at first not really excited to get to know Jackson at all, Griffin realizes that he’s really the only person who can understand exactly how he feels. Plus, he believes Theo is watching him, and he thinks Theo would like to see him working so hard to get along with Jackson and to understand what they had.

 

Predictably, growing closer to Jackson and learning more about his time with Theo is agonizing for Griffin. It’s all hard to hear and pretty heartbreaking. Through this entire grieving process, Griffin is growing more and more heartbroken, learning things about Theo that hurt him and avoiding pretty enormous things that need to be dealt with. One of those things is Griffin’s “quirks,” as he thinks of them—really OCD and depression and the whole thinking Theo is currently with him somehow thing. Though surrounded by love and support, Griffin is hellbent on forging his own way through the quagmire of grief.

 

This profoundly devastating, heartbreaking, and brilliantly rendered look at love and grief will captivate readers. An absolute must-read. Bump this to the top of your TBR lists and be ready to not move until you finish it.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781616956929

Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 01/17/2017