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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+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality by Kirstin Cronn-Mills and Alex Jackson Nelson

Publisher’s description

athletesIn 2015, the world watched as soccer star Abby Wambach kissed her wife after the US women’s World Cup victory. Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league first baseman David Denson came out as gay. And Caitlyn (born Bruce) Jenner, an Olympic decathlete, came out as transgender.

It hasn’t always been this way. Many great athletes have stayed in the closet their whole lives, or at least until retirement. Social attitudes, institutional policies, and laws are slow to change, but they are catching up. Together, athletes, families, educators, allies, and fans are pushing for competitive equity so that every athlete, regardless of identity, can have the opportunity to play at their very best.


Amanda’s thoughts

I am always especially glad to see new nonfiction for teens on LGBTQIA+ topics. It’s hard for me to name more than a small handful of recentish nonfiction on this topic. The book begins with an introduction by Alex Jackson Nelson, a trans man who works with LGBTQIA+ youth and trains others who do, too. He talks about the importance of sports in his younger life and how once he identified as trans, he wondered if sports was just another place he wouldn’t fit in or be able to see himself represented. He goes on to discuss gendered sports teams and not really feeling comfortable on men’s teams now because of his experience growing up participating on girls’ teams. He also addresses how fraught the question, “What sports did you play in high school?” can be for a trans individual (for instance, if you’re a trans man but answer “volleyball” or “softball,” are you then coming out to someone who might not know you’re trans? Is your a risk to your safety in answering this question? etc). His intro nicely sets up the forthcoming chapters that address all of the subjects he mentions.


The bulk of the book focuses on homophobia and transphobia in the sports world, early pioneers, contemporary players who have come out, stereotypes, challenges LGBTQIA+ athletes face, and so much more. As a person with little to no knowledge of sports and even less interest in sports, I found this whole book super interesting. I really had no idea of how few professional athletes have come out over the years. I had heard various names, of course, but was still kind of staggering to read about Michael Sam, the first Division I football player to ever come out while still actively playing and the first openly gay man in the NFL. All of this was in 2014. 2014! Two years ago! THE FIRST. It kind of seems impossible. There are many more stories like Sam’s throughout the book. Cronn-Mills doesn’t just talk about players, either. She looks at how discrimination affects coaches, too, such as this story about coaches at UMD (my alma mater) from a few years ago. She also discusses the WNBA and its LGBTQIA+ fan base, as well as looks at women’s soccer. It’s in this passage, where she also looks at men’s soccer, that another jaw-dropping statistic shows up: Robbie Rogers, a soccer player who came out in 2013, “joined basketball player Jason Collins as one of the first two out athletes in all five major North American sports leagues.” IN 2013! 3 years ago! ONE OF THE FIRST TWO! The world has come a long way, but HOLY CRAP is there still so far to go.


Other chapters look at early out (or not out) LGBTQ+ athletes, such as Bill Tilden, who came out publicly in 1948 after retiring from tennis, Dave Kopay, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Glenn Burke, Greg Louganis, and more. Chapter 3 looks at transgender and intersex athletes, sharing the stories of Gabrielle Ludwig, Caster Semenya, and others. This chapter also addresses specific issues these individuals face in sports, such as people fearing trans people have a competitive advantage (for example, if assigned male at birth but identifying and competing as a female) and gender verification practices and issues. Another chapter looks at the gatekeepers—those who regulate the rules of play and eligibility. I found this a particularly illuminating chapter as it examines changing policies. The book wraps up with a look at where we are now and where we can go from here, including some solutions and strategies for combating homophobia and transphobia in sports. An open letter from a gay college football player, timeline, source notes, glossary, selected bibliography, and further information round out this title.


This thorough look at LGBTQ+ athletes includes lots of color pictures, personal stories, and is immensely readable. Despite looking at the long history of discrimination and the current issues that plague LGBTQ+ athletes, the overall tone is one of hope and progress. All public and school libraries would benefit from adding this to their collections. Be sure to pull it out when making Pride displays or LGBT History Month displays. The focus on athletes may help this find readers who may not otherwise pick up a book on LGBTQ+ history or issues. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781467780124

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 08/01/2016

Book Review: Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

jerkbaitEven though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself. Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world.

Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer. As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path.

How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?


Amanda’s thoughts

I overuse the phrase “rage blackout.” I’m sure I’ve claimed that 2/3 of all things in existence have given me a rage blackout. I’m easily annoyed. BUT. BUT. This book gave me a rage blackout. The parents are AWFUL. The way Robbie’s teammates treat him is AWFUL. And did I mention that the parents are AWFUL? Because they are. But we’ll talk about them later.


Tristan has always felt like he’s lived in Robbie’s shadow. Though they both play hockey (and their former hockey player father is their manager), Robbie’s the star, the one who will be drafted and go on to a huge career. But not if it gets out that he’s depressed. That he’s tried to kill himself three times. That he’s gay. At least, according to their monster of a father. All of that is bad press for Robbie, so the obvious thing to do is cover it up, not address any of the very serious issues, and focus on that goal: getting drafted. Sure. Great parenting. Your kid will be fine. You’re doing a good job. 


(You can come join me in my rage blackout—it’s kind of satisfying to get so mad.)


I could yell for paragraphs about their cruddy parenting and extreme denial, but I won’t. You get the idea already, I’m sure, that they suck. They pull him from the hospital early after attempt number one so he doesn’t miss a hockey game. They cover up the truth with lies, don’t do anything to help Robbie, and basically blame Tristan for what’s going on with Robbie AND make him responsible for watching over him to prevent future issues. Tristan, who quits hockey after some epic homophobic bullying, just wants to focus on his burgeoning theater career. He loves theater, has a knack for singing, dancing, and acting, and wants to grab the opportunities in front of him. But that’s hard to do when you’re supposed to be keeping your depressed wreck of a brother from committing suicide. Things become even more complicated and convoluted when Tristan learns Robbie is gay. Robbie is terrified of what coming out will mean for his life and his career—but not so terrified that he doesn’t out himself in an effort to save Tristan from some bullying. His teammates react just as terribly as you can possibly imagine. And when his parents find out? It’s a nightmare.


There’s a lot to talk about with this book. Siegert is tackling big topics: teenage sports careers; being not just a closeted gay teen but a closeted gay teen athlete; sibling/twin relationships; depression and suicide attempts; crappy parents; crappy friendships; homophobia; stigma with mental illness, and so much more. Plus, the book takes a big twist near the end when Robbie gets the brilliant idea that the answer to all of their problems is running away to go stay with this older dude he met online. That never turns out well, does it? And in this case, it REALLY, REALLY goes badly. Though it ends on a hopeful note, this is not a light read at all. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario for all things with the exception of the way Robbie and Tristan grow closer and more supportive of each other. It’s a dark, upsetting, frustrating, painful look at the pressure on teen athletes, at what happens when mental illness is ignored and untreated, and at how horribly scary coming out can be, especially for teens whose parents are hateful and unsupportive. Bleak but powerful. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781631630668

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Publication date: 05/03/2016