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Book Review: Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura

Publisher’s description

This delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com is a perfect read for fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon.

When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.

That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.

Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.

Amanda’s thoughts

Will I ever get sick of the “fake dating” trope? Nope. Never. There’s just so much room for so many things to go wrong with this probably pretty awful idea. And in this book, things both go as planned and hoped for and in completely surprising (to the characters) directions.

Nozomi, who is queer and Japanese American, is excited to leave Illinois for the summer and spend it with her uncles in San Francisco, helping out at the museum where one of her uncles works. It’s a chance for a summer of transformation, where no one knows her and she can be/become whoever she feels like being. And after she meets Willow, who’s devastated from a recent breakup, the person Nozomi decides to become is Willow’s fake girlfriend. Maybe they can make Willow’s ex, Arden, realize what she’s missing out on. Except, uh-oh, Nozomi actually super likes Willow and hopes that the fake dating will lead to real dating. Definitely a great plan when the girl you’re fake dating is obsessively sad about her ex, right? Right….

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of other things going on. Nozomi’s parents are divorcing and there’s a lot she doesn’t know and a lot she needs to process. Her grandmother, also in San Francisco, is dealing with increasingly bad dementia and the family is trying to convince her to move to an assisted living complex. Nozomi loves her grandma but also knows that her grandma has held incredibly homophobic views and Nozomi worries she will never be able to let her grandma know her full self. And then there’s Dela, a surly teenage artist who Nozomi ends up spending a lot of time with after she accidentally ruins some of Dela’s art installation. Oh, and Dela is now dating Arden, Willow’s ex. Got all that?

The “natural disasters” part of this title is apt. So much of this book is like watching something bad coming from far away and being like, come on, you see this thing is going to come stir everything up or knock things over, get to safety! But instead of safety—making reasonable choices like not desperately hoping a girl hung up on her ex will like you—the characters just walk right into the oncoming storm. And you know what? That’s adolescence, right? And for a while things go okay. And even unexpectedly great. Maybe. Kind of. Because a weird thing that happens when you get excited because no one knows you and you can be anyone, the funny thing that you end up learning is that it’s always best to be yourself. That being who other people try to make you or pretending doesn’t feel good. Nozomi has to grapple with understanding what she actually wants. She has to think about how to be the best version of herself. And, most importantly, she learns that it’s okay to follow your heart, even when that path changes, and not to give up on people. Things don’t always go how you think they will and love doesn’t always solve everything. A great read with lots of depth, humor, and heart.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062991232
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Publisher’s description

dariusDarius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough—then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

IMG_4112I’ve been in a reading slump for what feels like forever, abandoning at least half a dozen books before I can settle in and actually read one. But this book? This book, I burned through in two sittings—and would’ve read it in one, had I not been expected to do things like parent my child. In fact, when I was reading this on the second day, I got so engrossed that I didn’t even look up for the duration of reading, not noticing how my dachshunds arranged themselves in this adorable heap and passed out next to me. Given that I usually look at them about every 30 seconds and exclaim how cute they are, this is an impressive level of reading engagement.

 

 

Darius is a Persian American sophomore living in Portland, Oregon. He works in a tea shop, is bullied at school, has depression, and often feels like an outsider even in his own family. Those are all the traits/facts that seem to define him while at home. His younger sister is fluent in Farsi, but Darius only knows food words and a few other common words and phrases. His blond-haired, blue-eyed father always seems disappointed in him, and they have trouble connecting, relying on nightly episodes of Star Trek to be the quality time they spend together. Like Darius, his father has depression, but Darius feels his dad is ashamed of this fact. He thinks Darius wouldn’t be bullied so much if he would just act more normal. When Darius’s mother tells him their family will be going to Iran to visit the dying grandfather he’s never met, Darius figures it will just be another place that he doesn’t fit in or feel comfortable. While he’s Skyped with his grandparents and other relatives plenty, he’s never met them. As noted before, he doesn’t speak much Farsi, which he knows will isolate him further. To his surprise, it is in Yazd, his mother’s hometown, where he begins to feel comfortable and to open himself up for the first time in his life.

 

 

Though Darius is often awkward and monosyllabic, we get to know him much better when he is in Iran. Darius gets to know himself much better during this time. He becomes friends with Sohrab, a charismatic neighbor boy who draws Darius out of his shell, inviting him to play soccer and helping guide him through life in Yazd. Fairly quickly, Darius feels such closeness with Sohrab, feeling like they really understand each other. Sohrab is easy and comfortable with Darius, so open and affectionate. Though it is never discussed, it is easy to read their relationship as something more than friends, or something that could potentially be more than friends. Though their time together is short, Sohrab and his friendship appear to be life changing for Darius, showing him that he can connect with other people and that there is more to him than just a bullied kid who is always the object of jokes and cruelty.

 

 

The book has a lot of other things going for it. Darius’s depression is handled well. It’s noted over and over that he has been encouraged to not feel embarrassed or ashamed for having depression, that it’s just the way his brain chemicals work. He talks about being medicated for years, about having tried various medications, about side effects, like weight gain, and we routinely see him take his medication. His mother talks to him about the fact that her parents will have a different, less understanding attitude toward depression, which does come up once they are in Iran. It is refreshing to see mental illness depicted in such a matter of fact manner—it’s just one part of Darius. Darius also helps guide readers through Persian culture by explaining cultural ideas, tradition, and Farsi words as the story unfolds. Khorram manages to make this feel like part of the natural flow of the narrative. This quiet story will resonate with readers who feel they don’t fit in, for whatever reason, and can appreciate the profoundness of finally feeling like you can connect with someone. A heartfelt, complicated, and thoughtful look at identity, family, and unexpected connections set in a place, and within a culture, we rarely see in YA. A great addition for all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9780525552963
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/28/2018