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Book Review: The Project by Courtney Summers

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

The Project

St. Martin’s/Wednesday Bks. Feb. 2021. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250105738.

 Gr 9 Up–A young woman’s determination to reveal the truth behind an apparent cult exposes a more complicated look at doubt and belief than she could have imagined. Lo Denham barely survived the car accident that killed her parents. Her sister, Bea, credits her miraculous recovery to Lev Warren, leader of the Unity Project, an outwardly innocuous religious group that performs acts of service and community outreach. Bea gives up everything to join them. Years after being abandoned by her sister, Lo—who works as an assistant at an investigative magazine—follows in her path, desperate to uncover the truth behind the Project and to save her sister. With promises of atonement, redemption, and salvation, Lev’s message begins to penetrate Lo’s skepticism—how far will she go to get the real story? And once she discovers it, can she bear what it may reveal? Masterfully written and pulling no punches, the narrative moves back and forth in time, showing events from both Bea and Lo’s perspectives. Summers creates and sustains almost unbearable tension, exploring sacrifice, loss, forgiveness, miracles, surrender, grief, and lies. The unflinching look at Bea and Lo’s desperation is devastating, especially as both chase healing and salvation to counteract emptiness and loss. Readers will question the truth and everyone’s motivations in this world full of manipulation and mind games. Secondary characters are of various races; Bea and Lo are described only as having brown hair.

VERDICT A gripping, flawless psychological thriller ready to leave readers shattered.

Book Review: Real Talk About Sex and Consent: What Every Teen Needs To Know by Cheryl M Bradshaw

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

Real Talk About Sex and Consent: What Every Teen Needs to Know

New Harbinger. (Instant Help Solutions). Oct. 2020. 200p. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781684034499.

 Gr 8 Up–This comprehensive guide to the legal, emotional, social, and physical aspects of consent shows teens that this issue is much more complicated than just saying “yes” or “no.” Bradshaw, who is a registered psychotherapist, focuses on creating healthy relationships that are safe and respectful, have boundaries, and involve enthusiastic consent. Readers are given the skills to communicate effectively and clearly. Bradshaw provides many examples of scenarios and scripts that depict what consent looks and sounds like. Aimed at all genders and all sexualities, chapters examine getting to know yourself and your desires, identities, and attractions; gendered stereotypes and dynamics; pornography, nudes, and sexting; laws regarding age, power dynamics, and the ability to consent; warning signals; solutions and approaches to conflict; factors that may affect consent; and how to recognize sexual assault and get help. Conversational, honest, and accessible, with an emphasis on consent as a complete way to approach intimacy, this resource is invaluable. Repetition and summaries drive home which aspects are involved in total consent. The text makes it clear that all people deserve respect and the ability to be in control while emphasizing that consent is an ongoing component of healthy, happy, safe, and respectful relationships. Back matter includes resources (books, videos, articles), sexual assault intervention training and programs, and where to find support.

VERDICT: A truly vital and nuanced guide that is as empowering as it is educational.

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

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

Gr 9 Up—The Finney family’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel as they struggle to hide dreams, disappointment, and deceptions. Primarily set in 1986 Texas, brother and sister Joaquin and Elena live with their single Cuban refugee mother, Caridad. Controlling, volatile, bitter, and always drinking, Caridad creates a culture of dread, manipulation, and lies. Elena’s only escape is babysitting for the Callahans and sneaking off with her new boyfriend, while Joaquin works as a waiter and dreams of finding the strength to break free from his family and leave Mariposa Island. Their difficult home life is contrasted with chapters set in 1950s Cuba, where Caridad lives an easy life full of wealth and love. When she is sent to the United States during the Cuban Revolution, Caridad’s life begins to fall apart. Joaquin makes a discovery that pushes them toward the potential for finally being truthful, but the secrets and silence that feel necessary for survival threaten to destroy the small family as they continue to lie to themselves and each other. With chapters from the perspectives of all three main characters, readers gain insight into the depth of lies, isolation, and frustration they all live with. The flawed, secretive, and well-developed characters make up for a plot that sometimes lags. Mathieu, the daughter of a Cuban refugee, spins an emotional, sensitive, and heartbreaking story about one dysfunctional family’s survival and unhappiness. 

VERDICT Quietly powerful, this layered story full of unreliable narrators will appeal to readers of character-driven stories

ISBN-13: 9781626726338
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 09/17/2019

Book Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

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

 

manic pixieThe Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans (ISBN-13: 9781541512597 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/05/2019)

 

Gr 9 Up—Members of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy) Trope fight for the right to exist—in fiction and in their own lives—in this entertaining send-up of literary conventions. Riley, one of the few Manic Pixie Dream Boys residing in TropeTown (a place filled with familiar literary devices, situations, and characters), has been sent to behavioral therapy for deviating from the expected quirky fun he is supposed to bring to a novel. There he meets Zelda and other whimsical Manic Pixie Dream Girls who have been sent to therapy to learn to embrace their Trope. As a group, they would like to be taken seriously, but since the TropeTown Council has decided their type is problematic, they may be retired. With only a few days to avert their demise, they work hard to show the Council how charming, creative, and vibrant they are. Their plan is complicated by other potential futures, like planting in a novel (staying for good), seeing where the Termination Train may really lead, or accepting the small bit of freedom that being a Trope in TropeTown allows them. Appelhans’s metafictional story asks if Tropes can live authentic lives, if they are doomed to live out other people’s stories, or if they can steer their own path. Affable Riley’s quest to be seen beyond labels and stereotypes and his desire for agency are feelings to which many Readers in Reader World will relate. VERDICT Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

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

 

 

heroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.

Book Review: LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel Madrone

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

 

 

LGBTQLGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel Madrone (ISBN-13: 9781631983023 Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc. Publication date: 09/17/2018 Edition description: Third Edition, Revised)

★ Winter 2018

Gr 6 Up—This affirming guide covers a wide range of topics, educating readers and helping them become better advocates for themselves. Using the acronym LGBTQ and the word queer, this updated and revised third edition includes updated data and emphasizes evolving concepts and understandings of gender and sexuality, advances in LGBTQ rights, cultural shifts and changing attitudes, and a look at a wider range of experience and identity. With information from experts, advice from advocacy groups, and stories from teenagers, chapters tackle accepting and questioning identity, trans and nonbinary teens, what to consider when coming out, harassment and bullying, finding community, dating (including a look at relationship violence), sex and sexually transmitted infections, mental health, and religious life. The part about work and college life contains details on rights and discrimination and tips on finding the right company or college. Pull quotes, text boxes, and subheadings break up the dense text. Some identities, such as intersex, asexual, aromantic, and others along those spectrums, receive less space than the LGBTQ identities of the title. This useful resource is aimed at queer teens, but those seeking to provide a welcoming, affirming environment for LGBTQ youth will also find this indispensable. VERDICT This sensitive, frank, and supportive volume belongs in every library.

Book Review: The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the July 2018  School Library Journal.

 

pride guideThe Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford (ISBN-13: 9781538110768 Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Publication date: 06/01/2018)

Gr 9 Up—This frank, conversational, and often humorous look at sex, sexuality, gender, and expression is aimed at teens who identify as something other than heterosexual and cisgender. Langford, a bisexual therapist, sex educator, and parent, presents a wide range of information in short, if somewhat dense and visually unappealing, sections. Chapters tackle biology; puberty; body image (with a heavy emphasis on trans teens and dysphoria); intersex conditions; gender identities such as transgender, genderqueer, and agender; transitioning; dating and relationships; consent; and more. Sexual expressions and orientations covered include asexual, demisexual, gray-asexual, and bisexual, with conversations about erasure. A final chapter aimed at parents offers tips, a discussion of what not to do when one’s child comes out, and more. Sidebars go into more depth on other subjects (tucking and binding, the singular “they,” homophobia). Langford also discusses outdated terms and slurs. This inclusive, thorough resource respectfully presents information relevant to many queer teens and adults raising LGBTQIA+ kids. VERDICT Shelve this empowering guide where both parents and teens will find it.

Book Review: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the June 2018  School Library Journal.

 

super late★Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (ISBN-13: 9781449489625 Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing Publication date: 05/01/2018)
Gr 8 Up—Cartoonist Kaye, who is transgender, reveals the many ups and downs of starting hormone replacement in this collection of strips from her webcomic Up and Out. In a “Before” section, she writes about her life before fully understanding her identity and transitioning, which helps ground the short, disconnected comics. The strips begin four months into Kaye’s decision to take hormones, and express her joy and excitement along with her impatience, frustration, dysphoria, and internalized transphobia. She describes moving home, changing her name, and coming out and explores self-image, reactions from others, misgendering, and more. Kaye shares many affirming experiences such as her parents using the right pronouns, her forays into trying out different clothes and makeup, and her reminders that she is valid no matter how she looks or is perceived, but never shies away from moments of frustration or self-loathing. The strips are like reading a diary—raw, honest, emotional, and not always uplifting. While Kaye’s feelings are complicated, she is ultimately hopeful. The simple line drawings add warmth and whimsy to the small snippets of text. Though Kaye focuses on her experiences as an adult, teens will relate to her reflections on identity and acceptance. VERDICT An important and accessible work, especially given that relatively few books tackle the process of transitioning.

Book Review: The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni

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 April 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)
K-Gr 4—Written by a clinical social worker specializing in gender nonconforming youth, this comprehensive guide helps children and families explore, understand, and affirm gender identities. This workbook is designed to allow kids to read, write, and draw about themselves, either with a parent or on their own. The thorough text defines terms in context and in a glossary, discusses gender diversity internationally and through history, and includes brief biographies of children who identify in a variety of ways. Through activities, readers can write about their pronouns, pick out clothes and hairstyles that best fit them, explore their feelings about their bodies, draw self-portraits, fill out a birth certificate, and list what changes they may like to make in their lives. Information is also presented on adult helpers (therapists, parents, and school staff), being safe and comfortable at school, and how to handle questions with example answers. This valuable resource clearly explains concepts and is full of activities that are fun and illuminating. Storck constantly reinforces the ideas that gender is expansive and identities are limitless, that any identity on the gender spectrum is valid and should be affirmed, and that children should feel loved, supported, and safe as they explore their identities. Working through this book with an adult would be useful, as the reading level may be much higher than that of the readers, though the text is aimed at young children. VERDICT A sensitive and empowering exploration of identity and expression that both educates and celebrates. Collections will strongly want to consider. —Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN