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Book Review: Dating Makes Perfect by Pintip Dunn

Dating Makes Perfect

Publisher’s description

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.

If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

Amanda’s thoughts

Somehow I have become the sort of person who finishes a really satisfying book and pronounces it “a delight.” So, can you guess how I felt about this book? Yep—it was a delight. I’ve now read two YA books in a row (and countless adult books in recent months) where the two main characters seem like enemies but are actually totally on a path to a happily ever after. And that’s fine. Give me more. The world is a raging nightmare, so if books want to take me to places of happiness, please, take me!

Winnie refers to Mat, her one-time friend, as “Mr. Tall and Pukey.” They haven’t been close for years, but are thrown together when Winnie’s mom decides she should fake-date Mat to get some practice in dating. Have any characters EVER fake-dated and not actually uncovered real feelings for each other? I doubt it. And also, I don’t care. I truly don’t care if something is totally predictable as long as the journey to get me to that predicted ending is enjoyable. From Winnie and Mat’s rom-com movie-inspired dates to their competing bets that the other will end up actually falling in love to all the amazing descriptions of food and festivities, this book nails it all. Winnie has a fantastic and interesting best friend (Kavya), another potential suitor (new boy Taran), and older twin sisters who always care for her and support her, even though they’re now at college. It’s hard for Winnie and Mat to know what’s truth and what’s a trick as they “fake date” and act like they’re only spending time together because they have to, though readers won’t be fooled about their real feelings for even a second. But while their outcome may seem certain, the real question is if Winnie will learn to stand up for herself and what she wants.

This truly fun book revolves around practice-dating, but delves into other issues like the expectations that can come from immigrant parents, obligation versus passion, friendships, and it paints a rich cultural picture of the Thai community Winnie and her family are part of. People like to use the word “cute” in such a dismissive way, like cute must equal something less-than, something not complicated or smart. But this book is cute in all the best ways, from the romance to the conversations to the eventual outcome. A really great and immersive read.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781682814970
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 08/18/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

The Beautiful Agony of a Slow Burn, a guest post by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I love kissing scenes. But what I love even more than a kissing scene is making the reader think they’re getting a kissing scene—only to rip it away at the last minute.

In a romance novel, a slow burn is a relationship that builds and builds as the tension simmers, until it reaches a wonderful, fiery crescendo. A good slow burn should be torturous, and the payoff should make all that waiting worth it.  

In my YA romantic comedy Today Tonight Tomorrow, the characters don’t kiss until around the 90 percent mark. I was so eager to get there, but because the book takes place over 24 hours, I didn’t want it to peak too soon. It was my first slow burn, and now that I’ve written a few more for future books, I wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

The Buildup

Wherever your two romantic leads start, there’s something preventing them from beginning a relationship. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe they don’t know each other well enough, maybe they don’t know how the other feels, or maybe they hate each other, which is the case in Today Tonight Tomorrow—or at least, they think they hate each other.

Regardless of trope, here are some ways to linger in the slow part of a slow burn:

  • Emotional connection. What do these characters have in common? What do they talk about? How do they push and challenge each other? What do they admire about each other? This might also include a “they’re not that bad” moment—when the protagonist realizes that their budding love interest may have some redeeming qualities after all.
  • Physical touch. Maybe their hands brush, or one of them playfully nudges the other, or one of them sits just a little too close. Is it accidental? Who knows, but wondering about it is definitely something that will make your main character suffer!
  • Questioning. This is when the main character is trying to puzzle out their feelings for the other person. How are they trying to defend their new emotions to themselves or to their friends? I especially love when they try to explain away their feelings—I’m not blushing, it’s just warm in here.
  • Proximity. Maybe they’re forced together or maybe they just keep running into each other, but close proximity is going to take all that great physical and emotional tension and dial it up to a hundred. 

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The Almost

So all of those ingredients are simmering—emotional connection, physical touch, questioning, and proximity—and now it’s time to bring them to a rolling boil. This takes time, time, and you guessed it, more time. There’s no “right” point in 1a YA or adult romance novel for the couple to finally get together, but if it’s a slow burn, it’s probably going to be at least after the midpoint.

You can, however, tease your reader. Put the characters in those close proximity situations, get them hyped on oxytocin, bring their faces together until their lips almost touch—but then something stops them. It doesn’t need to be something tangible that interrupts them; maybe it’s the protagonist convincing themselves that this other person isn’t right for them and they shouldn’t be kissing them. Whatever it is, it should serve to drag out the burn.

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The Payoff

In a slow burn, it’s not when the pot boils over that the characters finally get to kiss and confess their feelings—it’s the moment right before the smoke alarm goes off.

And in my favorite slow burns, it’s usually not just a quick peck, either. They don’t need to jump right to ripping off their clothes, but if we’ve spent 300 pages waiting for these people to kiss, we’ve earned more than a couple sentences.

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I’m a fan of all kinds of romance in YA, but I continue to be drawn to the slow burn because it’s just so satisfying when the characters finally figure things out. In Today Tonight Tomorrow, though the characters uncover their true feelings for each other over the course of 24 hours, their romance has been simmering for much, much longer—and I hope that payoff is as thrilling to read as it was for me to write.

Meet Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Our Year of Maybe, and Today Tonight Tomorrow. She is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, her tiny dog, tap dancing, old movies, red lipstick, and books with flawed, complicated characters. Learn more at RachelSolomonBooks.com.

Her local indie bookstore is Third Place Books.

About Today Tonight Tomorrow

Today Tonight Tomorrow | Book by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Official ...

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

ISBN-13: 9781534440241
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 07/28/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 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: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Publisher’s description

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved Gregorio’s first book, None of the Above, and have been waiting to see what she would do next. When this book showed up, along with a letter about the importance of happy books about mental illness, I rearranged my reading schedule (a literal printed out schedule right now, as I write this review, as schools are closed and I’m home with far more unstructured time than I’ve had in years) to read this right away. And I loved it.

Chinese American Jocelyn lives in Utica, New York and is finally used to life there versus her old life in the city. So when she learns that her family’s restaurant is struggling and that they may have to closed up and move, she takes it upon herself to help the business thrive. That is A LOT for a high school junior to take on. She puts out an ad for help wanted to grow the business and give them a social media presence, and Will answers it. Nigerian American Will goes to a local private school and brings lots of skills to the table. Before long, the two are not just working on the business together, but falling for each other. But it’s complicated. Jos’s dad doesn’t want them dating for a variety of reasons, both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues that interfere with their communications and interactions, and the pressure to save an entire business looms large.

Will starts to notice Jos seems like she has depression. He has generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. He’s been in therapy for years, which is great, but he’s not medicated, which is not great because his symptoms seem to need something else other than CBT for him to thrive. He’s wary of medication for all of the classic reasons, but also because his ob-gyn mother seems wary of medication. Jos is slowly growing more miserable, drowning under the pressure of the restaurant and clearly depressed. She is into Will be also appears to resent him—-she feels he’s more successful than she is (better grades etc). She begins to feel like she has to watch her mood around him because of how aware he is of her changing moods. She wonders if she has to appear happy for him to be happy.

I loved this story for how very real it was. Not everyone is having open conversations at home about mental health. Not everyone who is being treated is getting the full spectrum of what they could to help them feel their best. One thing that everyone is doing, however, is still living complicated, multifaceted lives that have a lot more going on than just trying to address any one thing. While this is a romance, and the story of children of immigrants juggling multiple cultures, norms, and expectations, it’s also a very affecting and complex exploration of mental health. Jos and Will’s story is warm and supportive, even when things get all mixed up. A smart story that shows that while people don’t fix people, they can support them, and that may lead to getting help. Gregorio makes it clear that not only is getting help okay, asking for help is good, too. Highly recommended.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Crave by Tracy Wolff

Publisher’s description

My whole world changed when I stepped inside the academy. Nothing is right about this place or the other students in it. Here I am, a mere mortal among gods…or monsters. I still can’t decide which of these warring factions I belong to, if I belong at all. I only know the one thing that unites them is their hatred of me.

Then there’s Jaxon Vega. A vampire with deadly secrets who hasn’t felt anything for a hundred years. But there’s something about him that calls to me, something broken in him that somehow fits with what’s broken in me.

Which could spell death for us all.

Because Jaxon walled himself off for a reason. And now someone wants to wake a sleeping monster, and I’m wondering if I was brought here intentionally—as the bait.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here is the passage that really sums up what is happening to Grace and should hook readers:

“Five weeks ago, Heather and I were shopping for homecoming dresses and complaining about AP English. Now I’m an orphan living with half an encyclopedia of supernatural creatures and dodging death on the regular”(341).

You in?

Confession: I’ve never read Twilight. Well, that’s not entirely true. I read about 1/3 of it as an ARC while working at a bookstore, said, meh, this isn’t for me but will probably be popular, and moved on. I am very much a contemporary/realistic reader. I am also very much a fan of Buffy. Every once in a while, I try to read outside of my preferred genre, so I gave this a try. I read the final 150 pages in one go, my house growing dark as I finished, my dogs whining at me to get up off the couch and feed them. I found this book totally enjoyable. There were many points while reading that I did shake my head at how quickly Grace gets wrapped up in powerful vampire Jaxon, but that’s the 42-year-old human/parent of a teen reading, which is not who this book is aimed at.

Jaxon is frustrating and terrifying and exciting. Grace is instantly attracted to him, despite him warning her that she should leave, that she should watch her book. He doesn’t exactly seem friendly, but there’s just something about him that she’s drawn to, even when he outright tells her he’s made her a pawn in a game. Jaxon is deep, he’s in pain, he tears pages out of an Anais Nin diary to give to her. He flips chairs around to sit on them. Grace repeatedly notes that he’s “damaged.” He’s notorious and powerful and growly. Grace is very into all these things.

The very distinct groups at school all seem to be against Grace, or at least wary of her. In fact, it would appear that someone may be out to get her. It’s hard to know who to trust, especially when it seems like Grace isn’t being told some very important details about life at her new school. Once she learns the truth, she continues to fall for Jaxon, even though everything about him is a warning. Everything about him also makes her swoon. (A few times in my notes I have written, “NO. THIS IS NOT A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP.”) And while Jaxon rescues her and cares for her a lot, Grace is pretty self-aware, and certainly not helpless.

The story of life at the academy is that of history, secrets, power, distrust, prejudice, genocide, lies, plots, and protectors. In the one week or so covered in this book, Grace gets an intense crash course in what it means to fall in love with a vampire. The first in a series, this ends with lots of drama, action, and a dramatic reveal. A satisfyingly engrossing read, especially if you can get past wanting to tell Grace to just pack up and go back home to California.

Also, friendly reminder: Twilight came out in 2005. That’s a loooong time ago. While this might seem derivative to many adults who lived and read through the vampire craze of that era, today’s teens were not even necessarily born when that book came out.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781640638952
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Year

Book Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Publisher’s description

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them?? — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes the thing that I just really want to say about a book is “this was really enjoyable and cute.” Guess what? This book was really enjoyable and cute. The summary up there covers all the highlights and plot twists, but does nothing to capture just how much FUN this story was. The layers of their relationship really made the story—their Twitter battle, their chatting on the Weazel app, their real-life interactions, and the many little twists and turns that happen in all of those ways of communicating. Pretty much my favorite form of people falling for one another is via sarcastic banter. Pepper and Jack nail this—and they also do honesty and vulnerability pretty well, too.

That’s it. That’s the review. This was a really fun, cute, sweet story that was exactly what I was looking to read in one afternoon while curled up on the couch with the dogs. I tend to gravitate toward more serious YA, or YA featuring underrepresented identities and voices. But sometimes, I just want something light, and this rom-com totally hit the mark. It’s not often I keep my reviews this short, but honestly, the plot is totally summarized in the publisher’s description and I just wanted to share that this book was enjoyable and just what I needed. Good fun.

ISBN-13: 9781250237323
Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/21/2020

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

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

Amanda’s thoughts

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

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

Book Review: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

hot dog girlA fresh and funny contemporary YA rom-com about teens working as costumed characters in a local amusement part.

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland—ever—unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love—and themselves—in unexpected people and unforgettable places.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read for and write posts many, many weeks before they publish. I’m a Type A human who is always expecting catastrophes (thanks, anxiety!), so getting things done as early as possible is my method of operation. Right now it’s early March. I’ve had a sinus infection for three months, we’re getting yet another foot of snow here in Minnesota, and I am so cranky and sunlight-deprived that almost nothing seems fun. But you know what was fun? Reading this book in one day. So fun. This book is cute and fun and set in SUMMER, a time I seem to vaguely remember and hold out a small bit of hope that it will ever appear again in Minnesota.

 

Like romances? Like queer romances? Like books set in a workplace? Like frustrating characters who sometimes make cruddy choices? This book’s for you!

 

Elouise (Elle to some, Lou to others) is always scheming. She’s pretty sure that people are wrong—the summer after senior year isn’t the one that’s supposed to be the most epic ever (there’s too much stress that comes with the transition time). It’s the summer BEFORE senior year that should rule. As such, she is determined that this summer will be amazing. Even if she is once again employed as a giant hot dog at her beloved theme park. Even if she has to watch Nick, her crush, with his girlfriend every day. Even if her beloved theme park is going to close after this summer. Even if she ropes her best friend, Seeley, into a ridiculous scheme that could maybe ruin everything. Yep. Most epic summer ever!

 

Or maybe it could have been, if Lou could just live her life without constantly coming up with schemes. Her worst one, currently? Pretend that she and Seeley are dating (Lou is bisexual and Seeley is a lesbian). In Lou’s mind, this will let her somehow get closer to Nick, her crush. How? Well, they could all go on double dates! And Nick seems a little jealous, or something, when he misinterprets something he overhears and thinks Lou and Seeley are dating. So, sure, solid plan (she typed sarcastically): pretend to date someone else and your crush will fall for you and you’ll end up together!

 

It’s not a great plan. It’s not even a good one. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. It’s made worse by the fact that poor Seeley is kind of forced into this farce and it’s clear she hates it. It’s clear to the reader that Lou is being oblivious and self-centered when she makes this plan. Their fake relationship gets in the way of their real one, with the scheme making everything confusing and complicated, as well as revealing some truths. The publisher’s summary bills this as a queer romance, so you can probably guess what the complication is and where the story goes. But even if it’s obvious where the plot is going, it’s still great fun (if somewhat frustrating at times) watching it all unfold. The unique setting, workplace drama, and changing relationships all make for a cute story that will be the perfect summer read. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516255
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019

Book Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Publisher’s description

serious moonlightAfter an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, ApproximatelyMystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Look, the two main characters, Birdie and Daniel, are adorable, flawed creatures who solve mysteries, eat pie, and fall for each other (with many bumps along that road). I feel like you can booktalk this to your students/patrons/customers with just that summary and watch it fly off the shelves.

 

Birdie spent her childhood being raised by her mother (who got pregnant at 17) and her mother’s best friend, Mona. But when her mother died, when Birdie was ten, she went to be raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Now her grandmother has recently passed away and, left with her more lenient grandfather, Birdie is finally enjoying a little freedom. Freedom for Birdie means getting her first job (overnights at a historic hotel in downtown Seattle), being left home alone, swearing, and, oh yeah, meeting and sleeping with a cute boy and then immediately fleeing in mortification. That’s the “awkward first encounter” the publisher’s summary refers to! Birdie writes it off as a mistake, a very unlike her thing to do, and hopes to never see him again. Besides, he’s probably forgotten all about her, right? Well, surprise! She does see him, he hasn’t forgotten her, and now they’re coworkers!

 

The universe is funny like that.

 

Birdie loves mysteries and Daniel loves magic tricks. Both are keen observers. Daniel thinks fate brought them back together and Birdie chalks it up to random chance. While they try to figure out how to act around each other, or if they can even be friends, they decide to team up to try to solve a mystery in their very hotel. They also go on cute dates like live action Clue, reveal parts of their pasts to one another, hook up, and have lots of misunderstandings/hesitations to work through. Their relationship feels so honest and real and lovely. When Daniel eventually reveals a secret about his past, he worries it will drive Birdie away, and for her part, Birdie wonders if she’s strong enough to support him or if he’s just another person she’s bound to lose.

 

Birdie grows a lot over the course of the story. Both Birdie and Daniel are surrounded by loving, supportive characters—grandparents, Daniel’s mother, Birdie’s godmother Mona—who help them navigate not just life in general but specifically their relationship together. They learn a lot of new things together, about their relationship, yes, but also things like Birdie’s narcolepsy diagnosis and the reveal of one of Daniel’s secrets. They’re sweet, supportive, and encouraging of one another. They make mistakes, are awkward, and are insecure.

 

I enjoyed this book so much. Trust me, you won’t have to work hard to move this book off your shelves. That cover! A quick summary! Happy ending! Romance! Mystery! Pie! Recommend this one widely.

 

And now I want pie. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534445284
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/16/2019

 

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