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Book Review: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi

Publisher’s description

Fourteen-year-old Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi sets out to win the ultimate date to homecoming in this heartfelt and outright hilarious debut.

Parvin Mohammadi has just been dumped—only days after receiving official girlfriend status. Not only is she heartbroken, she’s humiliated. Enter high school heartthrob Matty Fumero, who just might be the smoking-hot cure to all her boy problems. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to Homecoming, she’s positive it will prove to herself and her ex that she’s girlfriend material after all. There’s just one problem: Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself hasn’t worked for her in the past (see aforementioned dumping), she decides to start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those women aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk.

But Parvin discovers that being a rom-com dream girl is much harder than it looks. Also hard? The parent-mandated Farsi lessons. A confusing friendship with a boy who’s definitely not supposed to like her. And hardest of all, the ramifications of the Muslim ban on her family in Iran. Suddenly, being herself has never been more important.

Olivia Abtahi’s debut is as hilarious as it is heartfelt—a delightful tale where, amid the turmoil of high school friendships and crushes, being yourself is always the perfect way to be.

Amanda’s thoughts

I started out just writing a little post-it note review for this book, then realized I wanted to be able to say more and make sure this book gets seen by more eyes. One of the best things this book has going for it is that it’s about a 9th grader and FEELS like it’s about a 9th grader. Sometimes it seems like there’s not much younger YA—and it’s entirely possible I’m just not reading the right things and missing these books—and it was really refreshing to read about a 9th grader. My son just finished 9th grade, and often while reading this book, watching Parvin make missteps and try to figure out who and how to be, I thought, YEP, this feels right.

The summary up there is very thorough. It hits the main plot points. And while the plot and the many issue it tackles was solid and compelling, what makes me really love this book is messy Parvin and her growing group of friends. Parvin’s best friends are pansexual, Korean American Ruth and gay, Mexican American Fabian. They all join the GSA at school, Parvin ostensibly to be a better friend/ally, but also because her crush Matty, who is bi, is in the group. Once Parvin gets it in her head that she needs to tone herself down to make boys like her (thanks, Wesley, you tool), things get complicated. She’s ignoring her friends, being completely inauthentic, and fixating on something she thinks she wants while overlooking other great, interesting people. It’s easy to read this as an adult and think, just be yourself! But in order to “just be yourself” you have to try on a lot of personalities, make a lot of mistakes, and figure out what really matters. And Parvin is well on her way to being that self by the time we leave her.

The fast-paced writing, wonderfully diverse cast, and very realistic and age-appropriate thoughts, choices, and realizations make this a solid read. Smart, funny, and full of heart.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593109427
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Why Girls’ Social Struggles Intensify During Adolescence and The Inspiration Behind BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), a guest post by Jessica Speer

Friendships can be challenging, especially during adolescence. When you ask women to recall their preteen and teen social lives, a consistent pattern emerges. There are stories of enduring friendships but also uncomfortable social memories. Women share stories of exclusion, drama, loneliness, fitting in, and friendships lost.

And this rings true for girls today.  A UCLA study of 6,000 sixth-graders found that two-thirds changed friendships during their first middle school year. The majority of adolescents report feeling lonely at some point.

When my daughters entered their tween years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my struggles and the experiences of so many. As a social scientist, this piqued my curiosity. What is it about adolescence that intensifies social struggles, especially for girls?

I dove into books and research on the subject. I talked to experts. What I found was a confluence of events that create an environment primed for social struggles. Tweens learn how to navigate complex social groups alongside the physical, emotional, and intellectual changes that go along with puberty. And all of this happens as peer acceptance grows in importance and confidence levels drop.

Confidence drops

Puberty is a turbulent time for confidence in all genders, but girls experience a more significant dramatic drop. Claire Shipman, Katty Kay, and JillEllyn Riley, authors of The Confidence Code for Girls, found that girls’ confidence levels drop by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. The authors contribute much of this drop to newly formed habits such as overthinking, people-pleasing, and perfectionism. This lack of confidence ripples through girls’ relationships and increases the likelihood of self-doubt, social anxiety, and risk avoidance.

Increased reliance on peers

While confidence is dipping, adolescents are also in the midst of the developmental phase that shifts their reliance on family to a reliance on peers. During this period, friendships begin to replace family as tweens’ primary source of identity and support. Social conformity becomes a typical response to the urgent need to fit in and be accepted into a new replacement “family.”

This process of finding a new group, as psychologist Lisa Damour shares in her book, Untangled, is nothing less than a strategy for survival. Cliques and social drama are often anxiety-fueled behaviors to manage the transition from family as the primary social support to finding a sense of belonging in peers.

Seeking identity

As kids look more to peers to find support and belonging, they need to figure out where they fit in the sea of students, groups, and activities. During adolescence, kids begin to explore their social world, including who their friends are, what they wear, and what activities they do. They start to question, experiment with, and shape their identity.

In early elementary school, friendships often form based on proximity, such as being in the same class or the same neighborhood. Starting in late elementary school and middle school, friendships begin to form based on shared interests and deeper feelings of acceptance. The pursuit of identity ripples into friendships and prompts changes.

“At a time when identity is so very insecure, kids need everything in their lives – shoes, friends, Instagram posts- to project the image of self they’re working so hard to construct. Any deviation is far too dangerous to tolerate. It’s also why old elementary school friendships so commonly and brutally come to an end in sixth or seventh grade – an event that can feel completely mysterious to the person who’s left behind,” explains author Judith Werner in her book, And Then They Stopped Talking to Me.

Physiological Changes

Bubbling beneath the surface of all of this, the physiological changes in adolescence amplify the intensity of teens’ emotions and experiences. The limbic system, or the emotional brain, ramps up quickly in puberty, while the executive functioning part of the brain responsible for self-regulation and self-control lags. During adolescence, we feel our feelings most deeply, which creates enduring memories. As described by psychologist Laurence Steinberg in Age of Opportunity, “the hormones released in puberty affect our “sensitivity thresholds,” how reactive we are to things that happen to us and what we feel.”

Inspiration for BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships

To say a lot is going on developmentally during adolescence is an understatement. It is a period of tremendous change and growth. An enduring pandemic adds another level of change to this already complex phase.

During my research, I uncovered insights about friendship that I thought would help tweens. To make sure these ideas resonated with girls, I started Project Friendships, an after-school program focused on social-emotional skills and awareness. The honest feedback, stories, and voices from program participants shaped BFF or NRF from start to finish.

Friendship requires a variety of skills that take time and practice to develop. It’s a messy process filled with change, mistakes, and misunderstandings. My hope is that BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) serves as a warm and compassionate guide as girls journey through their social worlds.

Meet the author

Jessica Speer is the author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, which grew out of her friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids learn to navigate common struggles. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and focuses her research and writing on social-emotional topics for kids and families. To learn more, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com or @jessica_speer_author on Instagram, @speerauthor on Twitter, or @JessicaSpeerAuthor on Facebook.

About BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships by Jessica Speer

Friendships are tough to navigate, even for adults. The preteen years can be particularly sticky, but we’ve got your back! Packed with fun quizzes, colorful illustrations, and stories about girls just like you, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) is the ultimate interactive guidebook to help you learn the ins and outs of friendship. Explore the topics of gossip, bullying, and feeling left out, along with ways to strengthen the friendships that mean the most to you.

ISBN-13: 9781641701952
Publisher: Familius
Publication date: 08/17/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Publisher’s description

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by debut author Joya Goffney is an own voices story of an overly enthusiastic list maker who is blackmailed into completing a to-do list of all her worst fears. It’s a heartfelt, tortured, contemporary YA high school romance. Fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are will love the juicy secrets and leap-off-the-page sexual tension.

Quinn keeps lists of everything—from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud” and all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . .

Then an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett—the last known person to have her journal—in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.

Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love.

Amanda’s thoughts

I totally and completely loved this book. This is one of my top reads of the year so far!

Quinn’s notebook is full of everything—to-do lists, how-to lists, random thoughts, secrets, lies, and so many things she wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone. When her classmate Carter grabs it instead of his own notebook and takes it home, everything starts to fall apart. The notebook goes missing, someone is blackmailing Quinn into doing things on her various lists, and they’re sharing her personal secrets with the whole school. Even though Quinn still sort of suspects that Carter is behind this whole thing, she teams up with him to do some things on the list and try to track down who has her notebook.

There is just so much to love about this book. The narrative voice is excellent. I was immediately drawn into Quinn’s world and found her so interesting. She’s a complicated character who has built so much of her identity on her lists and her lies. She has a lot going on in her life, beyond just a lost notebook. Her grandma is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and Quinn has really complex feelings about that. Her parents are constantly fighting and Quinn is worried what will happen to her small family once she goes to college. She’s one of only a few Black students at her private school and is surrounded by white kids who are racist, throw around the n-word, and repeatedly say that they see Quinn as basically white. And there’s actually a LOT going on in this book about race, including internalized racism, colorism, and dealing with stereotypes and being the exception to stereotypes. She’s lost her best friend of the past decade but is also making new friends.

Carter sees her losing the notebook as a chance to free herself from who Quinn thinks she has to be. And that becomes true because it turns out when your personal secrets get exposed for all to see, it’s hard to hide behind the lies. Quinn experiences real growth over the course of the story, grappling with loyalty, friendship, identity, connection, privacy, and trust. She learns to let herself feel her true feelings, be her true self, because when you’re forced to come clean, you have to stop lying to everyone, including yourself. A fantastic read. I can’t wait to see what else Goffney writes!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063024793
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

Publisher’s description

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.

When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.

In this charming novel by Emery Lee, Noah will have to choose between following his own rules for love or discovering that the most romantic endings are the ones that go off script.

Amanda’s thoughts

If you like drama, this book is for you! And I don’t say that in any sort of condescending tone. I can’t even begin to count how many times readers have said to me something along the lines of, “I like books with relationship and friend drama/where dramatic things are happening.” It’s exciting. It’s interesting. You can live vicariously through someone else’s drama if you feel like your life is boring, or you can relate and feel a little better to see someone else navigating alllll the drama that can come with growing up.

Noah, who is trans and white, Japanese, and Afro-Caribbean, is in Denver for the summer, spending it with his older brother while their parents navigate the logistics of a cross-country move. Noah runs Meet Cute Diary, a blog that shares stories of trans meet cutes. He thinks of it as “reality-inspired,” making the stories up to help give other trans people uplifting stories of swoon-worthy relationships. But there’s some talk online that Noah makes up all the stories (which, yeah, he does, but he’s presenting them as they he isn’t making them up) and people are starting to turn against Noah and the popular blog. Enter Drew, a cute bookstore boy who suggests he and Noah fake date to provide some fodder for the blog and show a true story. Well, true-ish. True but still fake. Yeah—drama.

Noah and Drew go on all kinds of cute dates and suddenly the line between fake-dating and real-dating has blurred. Enter Devin, who is nonbinary and trying out various pronouns to find the right one. At first Noah and Devin are just friendly, but then it starts to seem like there may be potential for something more. Now what? The blog’s reputation sort of hinges on Noah and Drew currently living out an ideal romantic relationship spawned from their meet cute. What’s a boy to do?!

In addition to all the ups and downs of Noah’s dating life, he’s also experiencing friend drama, with his BFF Becca (at home in Florida) seeming distant and exasperated with Noah. And people continue to attack Noah online and question the veracity of the blog. And his brother’s girlfriend kind of seems like a jerk. And, to top it all off, Noah is only in Denver for this short summer—soon he’ll be moving to his new home in CA leaving behind Devin, Drew, and Becca. What will happen? With everything!

I suspect readers will have FEELINGS about Noah’s various relationships, which are not necessarily the best or the healthiest or the happiest. Lots of self-discovery, exploration, ups and downs, and DRAMA. The story is filled with questionable choices and motivations, lots of self-centeredness, and many missteps—you know, all the stuff that real life is so often filled with. Realistically messy and ultimately happy.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063038837
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

Publisher’s description

A moving YA debut about a trans boy finding his voice—and himself

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, Dean. My heart. This was the kind of book that, once I was finished, I just wanted to hug the main character, or be their parent, or be their friend.

I feel like it’s useful to say that Dean seems like he’s going to be okay, by the end—like he has tons of support and love, like his parents are starting to come around, like his future plans are starting to come together. So even though there’s a fair amount of heartbreak and cruelty and disappointment, Dean will be okay. I know that. And you knowing that before you even start reading may help you.

The very first thing we learn about Dean is that he knows he’s trans—he thinks. And when he gets cast as Romeo in the school play, it just affirms this knowledge. Thanks to lots of YouTube videos, he’s been figuring out his identity over the last many months and wants to transition, but needs to come out first. His best friend Ronnie, who is gay and Black, is completely supportive and cool. His girlfriend Zoe says she loves Dean no matter what his identity. The first teacher he tells immediately asks how he can support Dean. And his parents? Well…. as it is, his mom has never seemed to accept or support his identity, when he just seemed like a “tomboy lesbian.” And his dad may be more accepting, but his mother’s more extreme reactions are the ones that matter. But it’s not just about coming out to friends and family. Dean finds excellent support through a trans teens group, the first place he tries out he/him pronouns and really opens up about his identity. Dean also grapples with how to write his bio for the playbill, what monologue to choose for his NYU auditions, and how to deal with his rich, white, straight classmate Blake, who is an unrelenting ass and constantly harasses and eventually assaults Dean.

It’s a lot. There’s so much up in the air and so much at stake here, and though it’s definitely a rocky path for Dean, he finds the truest, most real version of himself over the course of the story. A powerful, heartfelt, well-written story of identity, community, and friendship. A necessary addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419746017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

“Who do you think you are?” a guest post by Monica Gomez-Hira

The author at her college graduation.

Growing up, I could not leave my house without my keys, my wallet, and the elaborate blessings by Mami gave me to protect me from el ojo malo—the evil eye.  When I was younger and fidgeting while she drew the sign of the Cross on my forehead before I left for school, I took the idea of the eye literally. It would be something like the Eye of Sauron, spanning the horizon until it landed on me and burnt me to cinders.

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the evil eye was actually not our main problem. The evil eye was supposed to be caused by those green with envy, people wanting your possessions, your relationships, your life. But…it seemed presumptuous to even think that about us. We were a working class Latinx family in an area full of them. I couldn’t see that we had anything particularly special.

No. The real problem we always had was way more common. The evil tongue, the whispers that would follow anyone who strayed from the narrow path of whatever was acceptable.  The thing was, unlike the evil eye, the evil tongue was often presented as a positive thing; your community caring enough about you to make sure you watched your step, because if any of us messed up, we might not get another chance to fix it. 

This was doubly true for me as a young Latina. Like my main character, Carmen, I was acutely aware of the assumptions that people made about me, both positive and negative. Sometimes it felt like I only existed within other people’s visions of me. I mean—I tried to do everything right, followed all the rules.  I was a Good Catholic Girl, an honor student who was bound for college on scholarships—but I was also surrounded and fascinated by the girls who weren’t. Girls who talked back to teachers, who wore rings of eyeliner and Spandex bandage dresses (two things I favored as well, but only when I was safely out of Mami’s line of sight.) Girls with wild hair who welcomed the catcalls from boys and even men. (Even back then, I wondered why we never seemed to blame said boys or men for any of this.)

The author, from a photography class

Part of the reason I wrote Once Upon a Quinceañera was to celebrate girls like this—the girls who weren’t like me, desperate for everyone’s approval. Because when I was younger, I believed the stoic wall they presented to the world. And just like so many people around me, my ideas about them were only the surface of the story.

For Carmen, the only way to get herself through the negative assumptions is to pretend she doesn’t care. She walks through the world daring anyone to tell her what they think to her face. She doesn’t care, because she already knows. She knows that a lot of people don’t expect someone like her to go to college, or to have an actual career.  She takes comfort in her summer job playing Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s one of the first times that she feels worthy of admiration, even as she acknowledges that the praise and love are for the role she is portraying instead of for herself.

Still, it feels good. 

Unfortunately for Carmen, there is a voice that is louder than the happy shrieks of party going children. The one inside her own brain, hissing the negative stereotypes and comments that we’ve all internalized.  Sometimes, those comments come from the people with good intentions—some of whom love us the most. Carmen feels like she’s fated to make the same mistakes that her parents did—an angry explosion of love that created her and ruined them.  It’s difficult for her to see them as something bigger than their mistakes.

Despite Mami’s incantations and protections, there really isn’t anyway to protect yourself from the world’s assumptions. People are going to think, and occasionally say, whatever they want, and that’s not going to change. In the book, Carmen tries various strategies, from ignoring the speakers to pushing them to further exaggerations so that she could agree with them and show how little it hurt her.

None of that helped at all.

The way that Carmen finally moved past her locked in beliefs about herself and other people was to allow for the fact that, well, people are complicated, and nothing is the sum totality of what they are. Not a bad history, not a terrible mistake, not a slip off the narrow path to success, not living down to everyone’s worst opinion of you.

This is hard. And for a part of the book, Carmen retreated behind her negative history like a shield.  Sure, it didn’t make her happy, but it kept her safe. Or so she thought.

The price of this safety was high. A betrayal of her own ambitions. An inability to risk.

I know Carmen’s dilemma well. It’s always easier to agree with the voice that asks, “who do you think you are?” when you do anything. That voice was my constant companion while I wrote this book. Honestly, it still is.

It’s hard for Carmen to admit what she really wants in Once Upon a Quinceañera. To risk being told, yet again, “Who do you think you are?” It would have been easier for her to hide behind the role of Belle forever, or worse, to hide in the idea that she’s doomed because of where she comes from, and who she’s afraid she really is.

But ultimately, the only way she can create her own happily ever after is to face down the negative external voices, and more importantly, the negative internal voice, by daring to say “I’m here. I belong. And I’m worthy.”

That’s the blessing I needed. In fact, it’s the evergreen blessing I always need as there is some new person to jeer “who do you think you are?” and so there is always the need to say “I am worthy” every time I leave the house.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Nicole Lamkin

Monica Gomez-Hira is the daughter of Colombian immigrant parents, the wife of an Indian immigrant, the mother of a half Latina/half Indian daughter, and the quintessential Jersey girl who loves her salsa as much as her Springsteen. After getting her BA in English at Wellesley College, Monica spent most of her professional life surrounded by books, and the people who love them. She began her career working for literary agencies, moved to publicity and editorial at Simon & Schuster and Random House, and most recently was a Children’s Lead at Barnes & Noble. She lives with her family in Minneapolis, MN. Once Upon a Quinceañera is her first novel.

About Once Upon a Quinceañera

Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Jane the Virgin, this immediately accessible and irresistibly fun #ownvoices rom-com debut will spin readers into an unforgettable summer of late-night dancing, broken hearts, second chances, and telenovela twists.

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship. Now she has to perform as a party princess! In a ball gown. During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that’s only the first misfortune in what’s turning out to a summer of Utter Disaster. 

But if Carmen can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off an oh-so-unfortunately attractive ex, and stopping her spoiled cousin from ruining her own quinceañera—Carmen might just get that happily ever after—after all.

ISBN-13: 9780062996831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Reckless, Glorious, Girl by Ellen Hagan

Publisher’s description

The co-author of Watch Us Rise pens a novel in verse about all the good and bad that comes with middle school, growing up girl, and the strength of family that gets you through it.

Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring. 

This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?

A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, how I hope middle schoolers pick up this book. Beatrice is asking the biggest question: who am I? Having recently survived parenting a human through middle school, I am convinced that, in general, there is no worse age, no worse time, no worse everything than middle school. What a hard age. Hagan deftly captures how complicated this age is, and how all-consuming the questions of identity and fitting in can be.

I loved this book for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest is Beatrice’s relationship with her grandma (Mamaw) and her mom. It’s loving and inspiring and accepting even when it’s challenging and frustrating and disappointing. With her Mamaw, she has a wonderful role model for embracing eccentricity and being yourself, whoever that is. She encourages Beatrice not to observe life from the sidelines, but to get right in there and live life.

Beatrice longs to show people more of who she really is, the parts that no one ever sees, her multitudes and complexities. She’s feeling a pull between her old self and the new self she maybe wants to be. She knows she sometimes mimics who she’s with, that she changes depending on who she’s around and the expectations. She’s worried about shaving, bras, periods, dating, kissing, and popularity. She wants to be noticed, to be really seen, to be liked by a boy. She does and feels all these things in the company of two totally accepting and unique best friends, friends who let her grow and change and make mistakes. Listen, for middle school? that’s a great depiction of friendship.

The message to be yourself, to be free, to not let others define you, and to not hide yourself away comes across loud and clear as we watch Beatrice fumble her way through early adolescence. This novel in verse will speak to many who so totally and completely relate to how Beatrice is feeling. She’s yet another middle grade character I want to give a hug and say, I know this is hard, but you will be okay. Thankfully, she has wonderful people in her life to do this. A beautifully written book with an empowering message.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547604609
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 11 Years

Book Review: Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Publisher’s description

From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Renée Watson comes a love story about not only a romantic relationship but how a girl finds herself and falls in love with who she really is. 

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC. He’s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary. 

In Love Is a Revolution, plus size girls are beautiful and get the attention of the hot guys, the popular girl clique is not shallow but has strong convictions and substance, and the ultimate love story is not only about romance but about how to show radical love to the people in your life, including to yourself.

Amanda’s thoughts

Everyone knows the best way to start a relationship is with a bunch of lies, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong? And if the boy you’re lying to lists “liars” as one of his pet peeves, it will probably be okay when you DO fess up to lying, right? RIGHT?!

It’s the summer before senior year and Nala is excited to hang out with Sadie, her best friend, and Imani, her cousin-sister-friend (Nala lives with Imani and her parents). She’s got it all planned out. But, as so often happens, nothing ends up going as she planned. Imani and Sadie are spending tons of time with Inspire Harlem, an organization that does community projects and raises awareness about social issues. Nala isn’t part of the group, but through an Inspire Harlem event, she ends up meeting Tye, a cute boy who is super into activism. Nala tells what she feels are small lies, but those lies become the basis for their relationship and become increasingly difficult to maintain the more they hang out. Does Tye like Nala for who she really is or who he thinks she is? Can he even really know her when she’s keeping her real self hidden? And even more importantly, can Nala even know herself in all this mess?

I loved this book for a lot of reasons. It’s full of passionate, dedicated, activist teens. Though Nala doesn’t live with her mother, one of the best parts of this story is how much of a role family plays. From Nala’s relationship with her aunt and uncle whom she lives with to all the time she spends with her grandma (and her grandma’s hilarious and great friends) to the many family get-together scenes, family is important. But most important? The idea of learning who you are, of forgiving yourself for missteps, of loving yourself, of being confident in exactly who you are. Throughout the story Nala learns that it’s not important what a cute boy thinks about her—it’s important what SHE thinks about HERSELF. I love how she eventually prioritizes figuring herself out and loving herself.

You can never go wrong picking up a book by Watson, but this book is really spectacular for its emphasis on growth, love, family, and truth. A great story about finding yourself.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600601
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

Publisher’s description

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell. 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved this. Hand this to readers who like mostly realistic stories with just a bit of magic. Yes, the bad witch plays a big part in the story and Gabrielle’s new friend is a talking rat who wishes he were a rabbit, but it’s MOSTLY realistic.

Readers start out seeing a bit of Gabrielle’s life in Haiti. She is happy and loved, but like many, the hope is to be able to go to America. But instead of going there with her parents, Gabrielle has to go alone, to live with her relatives. And while she’s still so excited about the many opportunities and riches she has heard she will find in America (and, endearingly, she is most excited about free school), she’s worried. She fears she won’t fit in or understand things, so when a witch confirms for her that indeed no one will like her, Gabrielle begins to make some bad deals. The kids definitely are mean to her at school—they’re racist and prejudice and make fun of her—and Gabrielle decides that she will trade losing something small in return for the witch granting her some wishes. Before long, Gabrielle has lost her Haitian accent and is speaking perfect English, she’s fitting in better (thanks to wishing to be “100% pure American”), and she even gets the long, straight hair of her dreams and brand name clothes! Sounds great (maybe), right? Everything comes at a price, and those prices are hardly “small.”

Gabrielle’s story asks what you would give up in order to fit in and shows the dangers of losing yourself. Full of bravery, friendship, strength, and resourcefulness, this story of immigration, identity, and acceptance is one all collections should have.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358272755
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years