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Book Review: Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala

Publisher’s description

Project Runway goes to Comic Con in an epic queer love story about creativity, passion, and finding the courage to be your most authentic self.

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making—for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything—and everyone—else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store—or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Amanda’s thoughts

This book was a lot of fun. Yes, there was depth and drama and romance, but ultimately, it was the good fun that won me over. I was able to totally get wrapped up in Raffy’s world of crafting and cosplay and feel like I was right there at the con, witnessing everything unfold. What more can you ask for than for a book to take you away from reality and show you a different time and place?

There’s a lot going on in this story. Raffy’s super snobby artist/gallery director mom is horrible for most of the story. Never mind that he seems to mostly be raising and caring for himself while she disappears repeatedly to go do Important Things; she’s really awful because she actively does not support his interests and belittles his talent and ambitions. But Raffy doesn’t let her awfulness deter him—he continues to work in secret on all his builds and his social media. He’s hoping to get a sponsorship deal at some point to help pay for art school. His mother, of course, doesn’t think people should go to school at all, much less ART school—her being a snob extends to her looking down on formal arts education. Sure.

The now/then format of the story shows us how he got together with Luca, a bisexual soccer bro who’s a secret nerd, and how it all dramatically fell apart. In the “now” time, we’re at the con with them, watching them compete against each other until—TWIST!—they team up to work together.

They’re an easy couple to root for. Raffy’s total Type A personality and obsession with working on his crafting gets in the way of having a really good relationship. Luca has to keep lots of things about his time with Raffy secret, mainly from his family. But they really are into each other and are so cute together. And once they end up working together at the con, it’s easy to see how they will be able to overcome their past problems.

Full of messages about hiding yourself, authenticity, identity, being in costume to really be seen, trust, creation, and accomplishment, this fun read has wide appeal. Make sure the cosplay fans in your life get their hands on this!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492682691
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: All The Feels by Danika Stone

Publisher’s description

all the feels2College freshman Liv is more than just a fangirl: The Starveil movies are her life…and her last tangible connection to her deceased father. Thus, when her favorite character, Captain Matt Spartan, is killed off at the end of the last movie, Liv Just. Can’t. Deal.

Tired of sitting in her room sobbing, Liv decides to launch an online campaign to bring her beloved hero back to life. With the help of her best friend, Xander, actor and steampunk cosplayer extraordinaire, she creates #SpartanSurvived, a call that ignites the fandom. But as her online life succeeds beyond her wildest dreams, Liv is forced to balance that with the pressures of school, her (mostly nonexistent and entirely traumatic) romantic life, and her disapproving mother’s new boyfriend. A trip to DragonCon with Xander might be exactly what she needs to get away from it all… and figure out what (and who!) she really wants, in this geeky romance by Danika Stone.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

We sure are seeing an uptick in books about fandoms, fanfic, and cons, aren’t we? It’s about time.

 

Liv is in her first year of college. She’s living at home with her mother, who doesn’t approve of her involvement in the Starveil fandom. She thinks Liv dedicates too much of her time to it—it’s what ruined her grades senior year and it’s what’s threatening to tank her first year of college. But the Starveil fandom is Liv’s whole life. In her not-online life, she really only has one friend, bisexual steampunk cosplayer and “Victorian gentleman” Xander, whom she met at college. Xander has a girlfriend who shows up from time to time, but let’s be real: even without reading the book you know Xander and Liv are going to probably have a thing. They have a great friendship, though I’m not sure how Liv manages to look beyond Xander’s annoying as hell way of speaking (see: Victorian gentleman). Anyhow, Liv creates a super popular video/movement positing that maybe Spartan didn’t actually die at the end of the movie. She enlists Xander to act in her call-to-action film and asks fans to find further evidence that Spartan survived. The movement gets crazy popular. Liv keeps quiet about being the person behind the vid and watches the internet go wild for her idea. Even MRM, the creator of Starveil, seems to have paid attention to it. He’ll be at Dragon Con and is planning to make a major announcement. That all seems pretty cool, right? Except Liv is low-grade miserable. Her mom’s always on her case about her Starveil interest, the boy she likes rejects her, and the break she tried to take from vidding only makes her more depressed. So what will change things for her? A bunch of awkward dates? Further involvement in the fandom? Going to Dragon Con? Revealing her secret as the creator of the #SpartanSurvived movement? Meeting her idols? You’ll have to read it to find out. 

 

This will appeal to readers who like a little bit older characters, relationships that are like 98% sexual tension and 2% finally getting together, and anyone who identifies with any fandom. Want to make a display with other similar books? Check out Gena/Finn, A Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, Scarlet Epstein Hates It Here, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, Kill the Boy Band, and Fangirl. 

ISBN-13: 9781250084095

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 06/07/2016