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Book Review: Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Publisher’s description

Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m the kind of human who has to have things done faaaar in advance to even begin to control my relatively uncontrolled anxiety. I’m typing this on April 16th. It has been weeks upon weeks of dogs dying, violent allergy reactions resulting in hives all over my face and eyes, worrying about getting a vaccine (first shot down yesterday!), and being just sick over the state of the world, particularly the state of things here in Minnesota. 13 months into the pandemic, 13 months into guiding my teen through distance learning, 13 months of having even MORE reasons to worry than I usually do. One of my adaptive behaviors has been to just seek out wholly enjoyable things. Endless International House Hunters? Check. Only reading books I find completely engaging and enjoyable? SUPER CHECK. Fiction, take me awayyyyyy!

That looong lead in is to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this book and it was totally what I needed as I sat here today swinging my arm around to hopefully stave off Covid arm. I had attempted to start this book earlier in the week, but my new enemy, hives, overtook my face and left me unable to do anything but sit quietly with ice on my face and listen to tv shows. But today! Today I read this book! All in one go! In the sun! With dogs! And for a few hours, I didn’t feel anxious or miserable or even part of reality. So thanks for that, Dahlia Adler!

The summary tells you exactly what you need to know. The plot may not seem big, but as I always harp on, what bigger plot is there than finding out who you are and what you want? Isn’t that so often THE plot of adolescence? Lara realizes that her group of best friends at school may not actually know the real her, especially as it kind of seems like her defining characteristic, according to them, has been that she’s been obsessed with Chase forever. Sort of one-dimensional. She knows she’s so much more than that. But once she starts dating Chase, and being known as “Chase’s girlfriend,” that characteristic seems to overpower everything. But you know who knows the real Lara? Jasmine, who Lara spent the summer hooking up with AND really getting close to.

Only she keeps what happened a secret from her friends. She tries to write it off even to herself as just something they did for fun, constantly coming up with excuses (even in the moment) for why things happened or what they meant or didn’t mean. But she kind of can’t ignore her complicated feelings now that Jasmine goes to her school. They manage to pretend like they don’t know each other, remain relatively distant, AND have soooo much miscommunication. So much. Good lord, girls. TALK TO EACH OTHER. BE HONEST. (I know, I know—easier said than done and also would eliminate the need for most of the story).

I enjoyed getting sucked into Lara’s world and watching her try to figure out what it all means with Jasmine and Chase as well as what being honest with herself might reveal. Lots of undeveloped and unnecessary side characters kind of only crop up when useful, and I really deeply disliked Lara’s best friend (who, I would argue from the vantage point of adulthood, is maybe not even really her friend at all), but this fun, light look at questioning your identity while not necessarily wanting any labels will surely find many readers.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250765826
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/11/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Publisher’s description

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

Amanda’s thoughts

(The content warning from the book, FYI: The Henna Wars contains instances of racism, homophobia, bullying, and a character being outed. All of these are challenged and dealt with on the page.)

Bangladeshi Irish Nishat, 16, has decided to come out to her parents. After all, they have a “love marriage” (versus an arranged marriage), so maybe they can accept this other form of love. Her parents acknowledge her telling them she’s a lesbian, then dismiss her. She later overhears them saying she’s confused, she will work it out, she will change her mind. Their intent is to carry on as though nothing is different.

But for Nishat, everything is different. She doesn’t want to be closeted anymore, or be anyone other than who she is. And her crush on her new classmate Flávia, who is Brazilian and white Irish, makes it even harder for her to ignore or dismiss who she is and how she feels. But that crush quickly grows more complicated when both Nishat and Flávia decide to create henna businesses for a class project. Nishat is outraged that Flávia thinks it’s okay to do henna; doesn’t she understand that’s cultural appropriation? Flávia says it’s just art, and no one can make boundaries about art. It doesn’t help that Flávia’s cousin in Chyna, the nastiest girl in their class, who is racist and started rumors about Nishat’s family years ago.

This story is equal parts about having a crush on someone who should probably be your enemy and coming out/being outed. The only people Nishat tells are in her family. Her younger sister has known for a while and is totally loving and supportive. Her parents tell a family friend and have her try to reason with Nishat—she’s young, she’s confused, she has a problem, “Muslims aren’t gay” (pg 123), she has a “sickness.” Meanwhile, her parents continue to act as though she never told them anything and this whole “problem” will just eventually resolve itself. After all, according to her parents’ logic, can’t she understand that she’s making a “choice” that is bringing shame to the family? This coming from parents who have made it clear to her that she can be anything she wants… except herself, apparently.

Both pieces of the story, the henna competition and the crush, have many believable and dramatic ups and downs. There are lots of conversations about racism, bullying, homophobia, cultural issues and appropriations, family, and more. The most challenging aspect of the book may be the part about Nishat being outed, which is traumatic and, of course, unacceptable. I do want to say that this has a happy ending, that characters in her life do learn and grow and ultimately support her and show love. The relationship between Nishat and her sister, Priti, is one of the shining points of the book. They are absolutely best friends and the support Priti provides Nishat while so many others turn their back on her is priceless. Though at times painful to read, this is exploration of identity, family, and self is well-written, honest, and, ultimately, empowering.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781624149689
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan

Publisher’s description

ra6A funny, bracing, poignant YA romance and coming-of-age for fans of Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Beginning of Everything

lake effect | n.
1. The effect of any lake, especially the Great Lakes, in modifying the weather in nearby areas
2. The effect of elderly ladies, mysterious girls, and countless funerals, in upending your life, one summer at the beach

It’s the summer after senior year, and Briggs Henry is out the door. He’s leaving behind his ex-girlfriend and his parents’ money troubles for Lake Michigan and its miles of sandy beaches, working a summer job as a personal assistant, and living in a gorgeous Victorian on the shore. It’s the kind of house Briggs plans to buy his parents one day when he’s a multi-millionaire. But then he gets there. And his eighty-four-year-old boss tells him to put on a suit for her funeral.

So begins a summer of social gaffes, stomach cramps, fraught beach volleyball games, moonlit epiphanies, and a drawer full of funeral programs. Add to this Abigail, the mystifying girl next door on whom Briggs’s charms just won’t work, and “the lake effect” is taking on a whole new meaning.

Smart, funny, and honest, The Lake Effect is about realizing that playing along is playing it safe, and that you can only become who you truly are if you’re willing to take the risk.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

lake effectI’ve said it a million times here, but I’ll say it again: if I enjoy the characters, I will read anything. I don’t care at all about plot, whether there is one at all or not, really. The plot of “I am a person learning, growing, and figuring myself out” is big enough for me. I mean, it’s the biggest plot, right? And the most relatable. Present compelling characters, reel me in with an engaging voice that is clever, snarky, and self-deprecating (but not too much of any of those things), and I’m yours. Actually, that’s pretty much how it works for me in real life, too. And with this book, I was hooked on page one.

Briggs, the main character, is charming. Mothers love him. Years of a family that expects success and achievement and of working in a country club have taught him how to fake carefree pleasantness. Briggs is at the top of his class, class president, a star baseball player, and going to college on a full-ride scholarship. In other hands, this ultra-charming boy would be so insufferably charming that I would hate him. But here, he’s wonderful. He’s far more complicated than his accomplishments would make him seem. He has depth. His mother is into lists and schedules and his father is a total hardass, never impressed by Briggs’ achievements or proud of him because he’s just doing what is expected of him. His dad loves to remind him that failure is not an option. Unsurprisingly, Briggs has frequent stomachaches from stress and has taken a summer job an hour away from home. He’ll live with Mrs. B, a funny and quirky Serbian American 84-year-old who enjoys going to strangers’ funerals and lying on her floor. I want her to be my neighbor and friend. Briggs will spend the summer driving her around, painting (and repainting) her rooms, and fixing things. Simple, right? Except, of course, it’s not. He meets Abigail, the enigmatic neighbor girl who seems to be either suffering from or recovering from an illness and doesn’t have time for a boyfriend—which is perfect, because Briggs certainly doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. They have chemistry—like the real good kind, the full of quick banter kind. They both begin to reveal more of who they really are to each other, even though both are wary of where this relationship could possibly go. Briggs also meets other new friends (and repeatedly embarrasses himself in front of them and pisses them off), but no one is as important as Abigail or Mrs. B. Both help him see things about his life, his family, and his future that he hadn’t been able to see before.

 

This is a great summer romance story that’s light on the romance and heavy on the friendship and self-discovery. Mrs. B. totally wins the Best Elderly Character in a YA Novel 2017 award. If you like your characters smart, funny, and open to (maybe reluctantly) embracing change, this book is for you. It’s the perfect read-in-one-sitting-by-the-pool book, too. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780803740525

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 07/11/2017