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Book Review: The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Publisher’s description

ra6The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

authenticsDaria, the main character, and her friends Caroline, Joy, and Kurt feel like they are the only ones that are being their authentic selves all the time. Daria is an agnostic Iranian-American; Caroline is a lesbian performance artist; Joy is Nigerian American and raised by strict parents; and Kurt is super into astrology. They feel like they’re real in ways their peers are not, but a whole bunch of different revelations (both big and small) force them to rethink what’s real, what their identities are, and what it even means to be seen as authentic.

An assignment in English class about family trees and the journey of many students’ families to the United States propels the Authentics (which, yes, they rather insufferably refer to themselves as) to do a cheek swab DNA test to see what they might learn about themselves. Daria gets back information that she doesn’t understand, pushing her to do some digging into her family’s past, uncovering secrets that she can’t believe. While on a mission to reconnect with someone from her past, she meets Rico, a tattooed Mexican artist, who captures her interest (even though there are some very good reasons she should not see him as a potential love interest). As she begins to put together the pieces of her family’s past, Daria also learns that not everything is as it seems for all kinds of people in her life.

 

Examining culture, identity, and family, The Authentics is a compelling look at what happens when everything you thought you knew is suddenly uncertain. A good read full of memorable characters with diverse identities. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062486462

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/08/2017

Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Publisher’s description

radioFrom critically acclaimed author Alice Oseman comes a smartly crafted contemporary YA novel, perfect for readers who love Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. This is an utterly captivating and authentic new teen novel from the author of Solitaire, which VOYA said “could put her among the great young adult fiction authors.”

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’ll be honest: it took me a while to get into this story. I spent a few days picking it up and finding my mind wandering, so putting it down and working on something else instead. BUT, once I got roped in, I got ROPED IN. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a mystery, but it has elements of a mystery, and that’s what propelled me forward.

 

The summary up there doesn’t do the best job of making this sound appealing (although, yes please to more books about main character best friends who seem like they might fall in love but don’t, and yes please to stories about podcasts). It’s not just that Aled and Frances make a podcast together (think Welcome to Night Vale)—it’s that they make a VERY popular podcast, with a large fandom, and, as creators, stay shrouded in mystery for a long time. The premise of their podcast (which Aled starts and Frances joins eventually) is a student is sending out SOS messages from a futuristic university that they’re trapped inside of. The student goes by Radio Silence and is agender. The podcast grows in popularity, but when word gets out who is behind it, things really begin to fall apart quickly. Aled and Frances have an argument and drift apart (or rather, Aled bails on Frances and refuses to answer her calls etc). It becomes clear that something very troublesome is going on with Aled, and while Frances desperately wants to do SOMETHING to help him, she doesn’t know what to do. Until she does.

 

The small ensemble of characters feature a diversity of sexual identities, including gay, bi, lesbian, and demisexual. Frances is white and Ethiopian, Daniel is Korean, and Raine is Indian. There is also a lot of room for choices, or for rethinking choices, regarding what to do after school ends—namely, there are more options than just going to university and more options than just doing the thing you thought you were supposed to work toward. The story is about the podcast, but it’s also not. It’s about people desperately in need of friends. It’s about identities, desires, plans, expectations, and feeling lost. Frances and friends will easily appeal to teen readers who are also grappling with all these same feelings. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062335715

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 03/28/2017

Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

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

 

Hop on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win a copy of THE YOU I’VE NEVER KNOW. Contest ends January 27th. 

 

the-youHopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known

ISBN-13: 9781481442909 Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books Publication date: 01/24/2017

Gr 9 Up—Ariel and her father, an abusive, homophobic alcoholic, never stay in one place very long. Miraculously, though, they have spent Ariel’s entire junior year in Sonora, CA, and she hopes that, for once, they can stick around. Here, she has finally experienced a bit of stability and made friends. She has also begun to explore her sexuality with both new guy Gabe and Monica, her “queer Mexican American” best friend. Ariel keeps her feelings for Monica from her father, who never lets her forget that her mother left them when Ariel was two to “run off with her lesbian lover.” The teen longs to break free from her father’s control and be herself—whoever that is. Seventeen-year-old Maya, a Texan whose cold and abusive mother is increasingly involved in Scientology, seeks escape, too, and she finds it when she meets Jason, 10 years her senior; gets pregnant; and marries. But Jason has an escape plan of his own, one that will bring Ariel’s and Maya’s stories together in a startling way. Themes of identity, family, and truth are interrogated as readers slowly learn more about Ariel and Maya. Writing in verse (Ariel’s tale) and prose (Maya’s), Hopkins uses skillful pacing and carefully chosen words to conceal the most important truth of the novel. The reveal arrives just as readers may be putting the pieces together themselves. VERDICT A sharp, gripping read sure to please Hopkins’s legions of fans.—Amanda MacGregor

Book Review: Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath

Publisher’s description

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved this book. It was the perfect mix of funny and serious. Minus the more serious themes, it would have just been a fish-out-of-water prom story, which I would’ve been fine with. But it rises above that (sometimes tired) idea and becomes a more widely appealing story with the addition of some complicated storylines. Mexican-American Minnesota teenager Bree Hughes never expects to grab the attention of her crush, Sean, nor does she expect to get elected to the prom court. It seems like lots of unexpected things are suddenly happening in Bree’s life. After years of fighting, her parents have recently gotten divorced. She’s getting into arguments with Kallie, her best friend, and keeping things from her. She’s becoming friends with the popular crowd. Perhaps most unexpected is the letter Maisey, her classmate who dies from suicide, leaves for her. We don’t know much about the letter until the very end of the book, but it’s intense.

 

Bree also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, something she doesn’t necessarily think she needs help for. Her mother makes an appointment for her with a therapist, but Bree doesn’t see the point in going. Never mind that her panic attacks are debilitating and don’t exactly seem to be going away on their own. When she reluctantly goes to the appointment, she realizes how helpful therapy could be and changes her mind about needing help. It’s a wonderful look at someone being resistant to help, wondering what good it could possibly do to sit and talk to someone, who comes to understand how beneficial mental health care is.

 

Despite dealing with some serious issues, there’s also lots of romance in this story. Bree is so awkward and nervous at the beginning of her relationship with Sean. Their relationship grows in a very believable way. The large cast of secondary characters means there’s plenty of opportunity for drama, cheating, lying, and backstabbing. Bree and her (new) friends prove that what you see is not always the same as what’s going on underneath the surface. Secrets are revealed that show many people in new lights. Maisey’s letter, finally revealed in its entirety at the end of the story, packs a powerful punch as she writes about popularity, cruelty, bullying, and painful secrets. A smart and satisfying read.

 

Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781634501842

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Publication date: 03/22/2016

Book Review: Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Finding Paris by Joy Preble

Spoiler-free part of the review:

Sisters Paris and Leo (Leonora) always look out for one another. Throughout their mother’s many boyfriends and their many moves, they’ve found comfort in sticking together. Paris has recently graduated from Las Vegas High. Leo is focused on her future, busy studying for the SATs and dreaming of going to Stanford and then becoming a doctor. She can’t wait to leave Las Vegas, and her gambling stepfather (Tommy) and blackjack dealing mother, behind. She gets to do just this, even if just for a handful of hours, much sooner than she expected when her sister disappears and send her on a wild chase across Las Vegas and LA.

 

What seemed like a routine night out—stopping at the diner Paris works at for some pie—takes a giant turn when they meet Max, a boy sitting in another booth, reading a physics book. Paris encourages Leo to talk to him, then ditches out, taking the car and leaving Leo without her wallet, her phone, or a way to get home. It seems like Paris is maybe playing some dumb joke—leave Leo with the cute new boy—but when they find a note she left behind, it becomes more confusing. “Stay calm, Leo. This is the only way. He’s making me. You have to find me.” Understandably, Paris’s message worries Leo. Why is this the only way? Who is “he”? Where is Paris? To find out these answers, Max and Leo set off on a scavenger hunt, finding note after note urging Leo along, eventually sending them to Los Angeles. Along the way, Max and Leo, who just met hours earlier, slowly reveal bits of their personal stories. It seems odd that Max would be game for trying to find the sister of a girl he barely knows, but it all makes sense once the entire story comes to light.

 

The whole story has a constant undertone of desperation and sadness. Things seem seedy, possibly ominous, and revelations about big pieces of the plot and major aspects of the characters are slow to come. Careful readers will quickly understand that this is not just some mystery or caper story. There is something else going on. And even if you think you know what that something else is, you are probably wrong. The dramatic culmination of the chase makes everything (heartbreakingly, horrifyingly) clear, with a major plot twist that won’t necessarily be seen coming at all. The tension will make readers race to the end of the story, and the conclusion will make them want to start the book over again to see what they may have missed. While this is a mystery and (less so) a romance, it is the much darker and more serious elements of the story that make this a hard book to put down and an even harder book to forget.

 

The spoilers:

Don’t read this if you want to go into this story not knowing what the major reveal is. I hadn’t read anything about this book, so while I could see some things going on under the surface, I wasn’t prepared at all for where the book took me. This is a good thing. It was unexpected and truly caught me off guard. So really, go away right now if you want to read this book and discover on your own what happens. GO NOW!

 

 

Still here? Okay. You sure? Okay. Hi, here are spoilers:

 

Something is up with Tommy, the stepdad. He seems creepy. Preble has done an outstanding job of having this character that we don’t see a whole lot of come across as completely icky. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Paris is trying to protect Leo from someone. It starts to seem likely that the story we are not seeing is that Tommy has sexually assaulted Paris in some way. Leo starts to put this story together as she and Max drive all over. Near the end, Leo finds out Paris has taken a gun from a friend’s house and Leo is sure that this whole scavenger hunt was just designed to keep Leo out of the way while Paris hunts down and kills Tommy for whatever he has been doing to her.

 

When Leo and Max find Paris, Leo repeatedly tells her it will be okay, that Tommy won’t hurt her anymore, that he won’t touch her again. But it’s not Paris that Tommy has been raping—it’s Leo. It’s Leo. In the chapters that follow, we learn that Tommy has been repeatedly sexually assaulting her. Paris has kept waiting for Leo to say something to her about it, but Leo never has. Now the truth is out and it remains just Paris and Leo together, watching out for each other. Their mother, who always sides with Tommy, keeps asking Leo, “You’re telling the truth?” It is heartbreaking to watch her mother doubt her, to watch the girls move out, to hear from Leo what has been going on. Leo feels that Max’s protection during this horrible scene that reveals the truth is “a gift I do not deserve.” She can’t imagine Max will want anything to do with her now that he knows the truth about her. She thinks about how she trusted Max “because if a random stranger was good, then so was I.” Watching her process (slowly) what has happened and think about what this means for her life and her relationships is so painful.

 

There is so much to discuss here—the family dynamics, the silence, the secrets, the distrust, the suspicion, the denial, the shame and more. Because of the late reveal about the sexual violence, it forces readers to rethink what they think they know about the story and the characters. It also makes readers think about what the future will hold for Leo. This is a great addition to the list of titles that discuss sexual violence. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062321305
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015