Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

past and otherSix Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies. 

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s been well established on here that I am a superfan of Hutchinson. I absolutely love his approach to telling a story and his always weird and thought-provoking mix of realism and science fiction. I read in order of publication date—it’s the only chance I stand of keeping my TBR piles and blogging ideas in check—but I always want to jump ahead and read his books the second I get them. If you’ve somehow missed out on reading him, get cracking. You won’t be disappointed.

 

This line up there in the description—A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up—should rope you in. We’ve seen plenty of books of grief, but what happens if the person you are grieving (or not really grieving because things went so awry in your relationship) came back to life? Or not-life. While Dino is helping prepare his former best friend, July, for her funeral (his family members are morticians and 17-year-old Dino is skilled at doing makeup on the dead), she suddenly sits up, alive. Or, more accurately, not-dead. July isn’t really ready to accept that she’s not living, and Dino is mystified how on earth she’s not-dead, but sort of just rolls with what is happening. Together, they spend the evening going around town, trying to keep July hidden from everyone (as it might be just a little unsettling for someone to see a girl who has been dead for a week, as one of their classmates discovers) while they attempt to figure out what’s happening, how to make July be dead-dead in time for her funeral tomorrow, and what exactly went on with their friendship. They talk a lot and do some really regular things—wander Walmart, hit up the gas station for Slurpees, go to a party—only July is not-alive, her skin is starting to fall off, and she smells terrible, like she’s decomposing, which she is. Meanwhile, in the wider world, people are not dying when they should be. The hospital is full of people who are not-dead as are places all around the world. Dino knows there has to be some answer here with July, whether rational or divine, and figures she is somehow tied into what is happening with death everywhere. And just when they think they’ve got it figured out, maybe, and July is ready for her funeral, she sends Dino a selfie from inside her buried coffin, and their plot is back up and running again. Will finding ways to wrap up unresolved issues in their relationship finally make July stay dead? Or is Dino doomed to hide his not-alive former best friend forever? 

 

I just loved this story. Dino’s mortician parents are great (Hutchinson describes his mother as a “Goth Peter Pan,” which I adore), their family profession is obviously unique and full of potential entertainment, and his soon-to-be-married sister is also a fun character. Dino’s boyfriend, Rafi, who is trans, and the other new friends he made after he had a falling out with July are lovely, diverse, and interesting. I wish we had seen more of them, especially Rafi, who patiently tries to work through their relationship with Dino, who is kind of freaking out about it while trying to unpack his other most significant relationship. I really love books that are weird (a word I only ever use as a compliment) and show me a story from a previously untold viewpoint. This book will give you a new outlook on the phrase “best friends forever.” A really readable, engaging, strange, poignant, and funny journey through a relationship autopsy. Highly recommended. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498579
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/19/2019

Book Review: DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Publisher’s description

deadendiaBarney and his best friend Norma are just trying to get by and keep their jobs, but working at the Dead End theme park also means battling demonic forces, time traveling wizards, and scariest of all–their love lives!

Follow the lives of this diverse group of employees of a haunted house, which may or may not also serve as a portal to hell, in this hilarious and moving graphic novel, complete with talking pugs, vengeful ghosts and LBGTQIA love!

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m always marrying things—a really yummy pancake, a cute dog, a good book. Add this graphic novel to my marriage line-up; I’m in love with this book.

 

Really, this book had me at trans protagonist, graphic novel, talking dog, girl with anxiety disorder, and hell portal. It’s like all my favorite things together in one place. If only they had also obsessively eaten donuts and the dog was a dachshund and not a pug! Barney, who is trans, has recently left home, after it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome there. His friend Norma Khan hooks him up with a job as a janitor at the Pollywood amusement park where she works as a guide at a haunted house (a job she likes because there is a script). It’s the least popular attraction there, in the area referred to as Scare Square. Barney figures it will be a good place to stay while he’s homeless, and it maybe would have been, if it hadn’t turned out that the haunted house was also a portal to a bunch of demons. Before long, Barney, Norma, and Barney’s dog, Pugsley, are constantly battling demons through shifting timelines and dimensions. The planes are described as a “big, interdimensional, supernatural cake,” and it’s hard to know who is mostly harmless, who may be helpful, and who eventually becomes bad in a another timeline. When a demon possesses Pugsley early on, he retains the ability to speak, even after they manage to exorcise the demon. Norma has known about the demons for ages, but for Barney, this is all so new and odd at an especially new and odd time in his life.

 

Norma has nicknames for everyone working at the park—it helps with her anxiety, because she’s always worried she will forget someone’s name, so she just calls them nicknames. Barney has a crush on Logs, Logan, who runs the flume log ride. But it’s hard to start up a new relationship when you’re constantly being visited by faceless echo demons, or an angelic punisher, or turned into an animal, or dealing with a fear-eating skull, or being visited by a happiness vampire. Norma starts hanging out with Badyah, a cute hijabi girl, who helps her move past her social anxiety a bit (though Norma doesn’t like being asked to hang out, is horrified with herself when she can’t come up with an excuse to not hang out, and is disgusted to have “plans” to know facts about Badyah), but she also seems a therapist. When trying to describe to someone why her one day of everything seeming strange and scary is nothing to how every day is for Norma, she says, “It doesn’t make me pathetic. It doesn’t make me weird. It makes me brave.” The main characters all have kind of a lot of real-life things to deal with and don’t exactly need the excitement and drama (and terror) that comes with demons, but, willing or not, they slog through this time-traveling battle royale with each others’ help. Complicated emotions, strong friendship, demons, and plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation. All that and bright, bold illustrations AND great writing? Total win. Sweet, funny, and enjoyably, delightfully weird. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910620472
Publisher: Nobrow Ltd.
Publication date: 08/07/2018

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Publisher’s description

ifi wasA new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different—and a love story that everyone will root for.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

YA novel about a trans main character, written by a trans writer, featuring a trans cover model? YES!

 

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I’ll keep this review short. This book was fantastic. THE END.

 

Just kidding. Here’s a little more: This book is about changes in Amanda’s life, and not just the changes that come from transitioning. She’s in a new town, at a new school, living with a father she hasn’t seen in six years, and making new friends (for the first time in forever). She gets her first kiss and starts her first relationship. We see enough snippets of her past to know some of the things she’s been through, from suicide attempts to brutal assaults. She’s had varying levels of support, from a dad who still hasn’t “come to terms” with everything to a mom who quickly realizes that she’d rather her kid be trans than be dead. We learn a little about Amanda’s journey—understanding from little on that she was a girl, therapy, hormones, surgery, etc.

 

Amanda’s new friends and new start at a new school give her the chance to just live her life, for once, without being in constant fear. It takes her a little while to feel at ease, and there is a degree of worry underlying all the time, but she finally gets a chance to do things lots of teens typically do—go to football games and dances, be in a relationship, share secrets, and be supported and included. There is still fear and some ugly incidents, but for the most part this is a very positive, hopeful look at the life of a trans teen (something Russo addresses in the author’s note). At the beginning of Amanda’s story she tells us her goals for living in her new town: “I would keep my head down and keep quiet. I would graduate. I would go to college as far from the South as I could. I would live.” She soon realizes she has more options than that, than just simply trying to survive. She gets a chance to really start to live her life—the life she’s wanted to live for so long. A VERY welcome addition to the growing selection of books about trans teens—not to be missed. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250078407

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publication date: 05/03/2016