Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between edited by Laura Silverman

Publisher’s description

A charming and inclusive YA anthology all about games—from athletic sports to board games to virtual reality—from editor Laura Silverman and an all-star cast of contributors.

From the slightly fantastical to the utterly real, light and sweet romance to tales tinged with horror and thrills, Game On is an anthology that spans genre and style. But beneath each story is a loving ode to competition and games perfect for anyone who has ever played a sport or a board game, picked up a video game controller, or rolled a twenty-sided die.

A manhunt game is interrupted by a town disappearing beneath the players’ eyes. A puzzle-filled scavenger hunt emboldens one college freshman to be brave with the boy she’s crushing on. A series of summer nights full of card games leads a boy to fall for a boy who he knows is taken. And a spin the bottle game could end a life-long friendship.

Fifteen stories, and fifteen unforgettable experiences that may inspire readers to start up that Settlers of Catan game again.

Amanda’s thoughts

I love anthologies. And you know what? I know a lot of people are having a hard time finding the time/concentration/bandwidth to really get into a book or even finish a book. Anthologies are the perfect antidote to the that! Lots of short stories that will maybe lead you to discovering a new author to love—that’s a win!

You might be like me and think, sports, whatever, who cares? My interest in sports is non-existent. But my interest in reading about them is there! And guess what? This is actually more about games than sports—so expand whatever you’re thinking of to include card games, outdoor neighborhood hiding games, board games, puzzles, amusement park games, Spin the Bottle, and more. As you would hope and expect out of an anthology, there is a wide variety of representation here as far as sexuality, race, and other identities. As I’ve said before, reviewing anthologies is kind of difficult, especially when you’re not going to detail every story included/review them separately. More than anything, when I review anthologies it’s to point out, hey, this cool book exists, it might not be what you’re imagining when you see the title, and you should go check it out.

So, you know—go check it out! This book knocks it out of the park. Score!

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593352786
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes

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.

Bloomsbury. Dec. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781547607105.

Gr 9 Up–A modern-day gay teen time travels back to 1985 and wonders if he can help change the past without changing his future. Cuban American Luis Gonzalez, student body president, staff favorite, theater kid, principal’s secretary, and general busybody, has an irrepressibly large personality. A day student at a small, conservative boarding school, opinionated and confident Luis is out and proud. Luis’s big hope is to make his school allow people of any gender identity to go to functions as dates, mainly so he can attend prom with his boyfriend Cheng. But before that can happen, he gets knocked out and lands in 1985, suddenly attending school with his future parents. He’s less concerned with solving the problem of how he got there than with what he can do to solve the problems his new 1985-era friends encounter, especially when it comes to homophobia and the fate of his parents’ classmate Chaz. Interfering might change Chaz’s future for the better, but what will it mean for Luis’s own fate? The writing is snappy and conversational, but Luis’s voice sometimes comes off as “teenagery” in a way that feels forced. This engaging read is full of honesty, vulnerability, and truly funny moments, as well as equal parts bravery and potentially dangerous foolishness. Self-centered and prone to acting first and thinking later, Luis gains insight into the present through this trip to the past.

VERDICT An immersive story offering a unique look at second chances, acceptance, and progress.

Book Review: Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales edited by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos

Publisher’s description

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre. 

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet. 

Amanda’s thoughts

There’s something in this anthology for nearly everyone. Characters of all backgrounds and identities find themselves in classic romance tropes. Stories generally run 10-25 pages and are just long enough to capture the moment and feel satisfying. There are so many great anthologies out and I hope readers are finding them and discovering new authors to read.

Stories take place in all kinds of settings and genres. There’s a dog sled race, a mistaken identity on a car ride, a final exam at a magical academy, a secret-ish relationship between opposites, superheroes and villains, a fake Seder date, a birthday trip, an impending asteroid, and more. It’s kind of hard to really review an anthology, but I just wanted to write up this quick post to make sure people see that this fun new book is out. I know for me, concentrating on reading has become really challenging lately. I both want the escape but can’t stop my stress-brain from chattering at me. I’ve found anthologies and essay collection are the perfect thing to dip into. This was an entertaining read with great diversity and inclusion. What’s not to like?!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780762472345
Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers
Publication date: 12/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Book Review: The Insiders by Mark Oshiro

Publisher’s description

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Meg Medina, this debut middle grade novel from award-winning author Mark Oshiro is a hopeful and heartfelt coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Amanda’s thoughts

When I sat down to read this, I still had a long to-do list of tasks. But, oops, I sat there long enough to finish the entire book and all of a sudden it was time to make dinner. Don’t you love when you find a book that engrossing?

Héctor is not loving his new middle school in his new town. He misses San Francisco, his friends, and the school’s drama department. This school doesn’t even have drama! He lands on the radar of the school bully, who really starts to go after Héctor when Héctor says that he’s gay. It so wasn’t a thing at all at his old school, but now that his bully is antagonizing him even more because of this, he’s hesitant to come out to anyone else. He keeps trying to dodge the bully and his crew, eventually hiding out in a janitorial closet. But it’s no ordinary closet—it’s a secret portal/space that links him with two other students seeking refuge—Chinese and Black Juliana, who likes girls, and Filipino and white Sal, who uses they/them pronouns. Small note: Héctor lives in CA, Juliana in SC, and Sal in AZ. Yep, magic. The closet/Room (as they start to call it) seems to be a place that shows up to protect them and provide them with what they need. And the biggest need for all three? To feel like they belong, like they’re accepted, like they have their place in their schools. Together, the three are able to support and help each other. And in non-Room-related school stuff, Héctor begins to become friends with kids who befriended him right away. He goes from lonely, not feeling like he belongs, and wanting to just disappear to learning it’s okay to be himself, to trust new friends, and to ask for help.

Though all three Room kids face uncertainty, confusion, fear, and anxiety, they are all surrounded by support and love. Oshiro’s message is clear: nothing is better than being yourself. Not even a magical Room that appears just when you need it. A heartwarming and fun read.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063008106
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Believing, a guest post by Mark Oshiro

In many ways, I consider The Insiders— my middle grade debut—both the most magical and the happiest book I’ve ever written. That was deliberate; I wanted to challenge myself as a writer after having completed two (frankly) emotionally intense young adult novels. The joy was easy to find, too! At the center of this novel was a magical Room that allowed three queer and/or trans kids to not only find friendship in one another, but to gather the strength to face the problems they were having in their own lives.

Yet there’s a real-life event I experienced in seventh grade that informed the emotional core of Héctor Muñoz’s journey over the course of the novel. And I want to talk about what happens when adults don’t believe children.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of homophobia, bullying/abuse

Some context: The Insiders follows Héctor Muñoz as he is forced to move from the open-minded community of San Francisco to the suburbs of Orangevale, CA. There, he’s not just an outsider because of how he dresses or what he’s interested in, but he becomes the target of a trio of bullies who toe the line with homophobia. So, Héctor does as he is supposed to: He tells an adult (Ms. Heath, the head of security) that he’s being bullied.

Because Héctor’s bully is the ever-popular Mike, Ms. Heath refuses to believe Héctor.

I have no interest as an author in sanitizing the world for young readers. While The Insiders is certainly funnier than my YA novels, I also dig deep into some heavy themes. But I must admit that I did not exactly replicate the incident I went through within the pages of the book. I grew up in Riverside, CA during a time when homophobia had a firm grip on everyone around me. To say it was open and allowed doesn’t quite capture what it was like to be a kid then.

The bullying I was subjected to was consistent, intense, and highly specific. In particular, it was my tight clothing (this was the age of baggy pants and oversized shirts) that gained the most ire, and I came to school each day anticipating that I’d be called a homophobic slur.

One of my bullies escalated to physical attacks around Thanksgiving that year, and it continued until… well, I feel no need to recount what he did in detail here. It was bad enough that I had to go to the nurse, who then encouraged me to speak to our school’s counselor. At that point, I had, like many of my peers, been conditioned to believe that adults were there to protect you in these settings. If you see something, say something. So, as I had been taught, I told the counselor the truth. I explained (in great detail at the time) what this boy had been doing to me and how his actions had sent me to the nurse’s office.

Her response was to tell me that none of this would have happened if I didn’t invite it upon myself.

She proceeded to blame the bullying on me: on my soft voice, on my over-expressive hand gestures, on my “revealing” clothing, on a young boy who could not control who he was. She said I was exaggerating what he did to me; she said that I faked the trip to the nurse’s office.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising that for years afterward, I did not share a single vulnerable thing about me to another adult. Not my parents, not a teacher, not a counselor or administrator. Indeed, as things in my home life got worse, and I became homeless in high school, I more or less had to be FORCED to tell an adult what I was going through.

There are few things more isolating than not being believed. While Héctor’s journey is very different than my own, it was born from the same place. In his case, though, his initial solution is a hint of the speculative: a janitor’s closet that keeps appearing around campus to protect him. And while it serves a necessary role, I never wanted this to be the answer. Not for Héctor and certainly not for the larger story I was telling in The Insiders.

Why don’t we listen to children? Why don’t we believe them? I remember being constantly told that I’d understand something more when I got older, and here I am, not far from my 38th birthday, and you know what? That thing I didn’t like? That act that felt wrong? I STILL FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT IT! It was just easier for the adults in my life to refuse to actually listen to me rather than treat me like… well, a whole person with agency.

The Insiders has many other secrets and surprises in its story (including how Héctor resolves the issue with his bullies). But this aspect is one I’m open about right from the start: I want kids to be believed. I don’t want other people to grow up being afraid to tell the truth or to see vulnerability as a weakness, as something to be guarded against. I am very proud of this book, but I’m most proud of how I’ve written the version of myself I wish I was. If anything, I hope it inspires other queer youth to be more fully themselves so that we don’t need to have metaphorical closets to hide in.

Except the magic ones, of course!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Zoraida Cordova

Mark Oshiro is the Schneider Award-winning author of the YA books Anger Is a Gift and Each of Us a Desert. When they are not writing, they are busy trying to fulfill their lifelong goal: to pet every dog in the world. The Insiders is their middle grade debut. Visit them online at markoshiro.com

Buy link:

https://www.littleshopofstories.com/book/9780063008106

About The Insiders

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Meg Medina, this debut middle grade novel from award-winning author Mark Oshiro is a hopeful and heartfelt coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of friendship, adventure, and just a little bit of magic.

ISBN-13: 9780063008106
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Publisher’s description

Inspired by the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the Grimm fairy tale “Brother and Sister,” Michelle Ruiz Keil’s second novel follows two siblings torn apart and struggling to find each other in early ’90s Portland.

All her life, seventeen-year-old Iph has protected her sensitive younger brother, Orr. But this summer, with their mother gone at an artist residency, their father decides it’s time for fifteen-year-old Orr to toughen up at a wilderness boot camp. When their father brings Iph to a work gala in downtown Portland and breaks the news, Orr has already been sent away against his will. Furious at her father’s betrayal, Iph storms off and gets lost in the maze of Old Town. Enter George, a queer Robin Hood who swoops in on a bicycle, bow and arrow at the ready, offering Iph a place to hide out while she tracks down Orr. 

Orr, in the meantime, has escaped the camp and fallen in with The Furies, an all-girl punk band, and moves into the coat closet of their ramshackle pink house. In their first summer apart, Iph and Orr must learn to navigate their respective new spaces of music, romance, and sex-work activism—and find each other before a fantastical transformation fractures their family forever. 

Told through a lens of magical realism and steeped in myth, Summer in the City of Roses is a dazzling tale about the pain and beauty of growing up.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes a book is so wonderful and lovely and alive that I almost feel angry. I feel angry that I will have to leave the world of the story eventually, that someone can write so breathtakingly beautifully, that someone’s brain was able to come up with such a strange and special story. I finished this book and thought, well, great—now what am I supposed to do with myself? I mean that in the best way. In the way that you just had a great experience, and will never experience it in that same new and amazing way, and what, I’m just supposed to pick up some other book and pretend I’m not thinking about Orr and Iph and all their new friends?!

You can read the summary up above my thoughts. I’m not going to talk about what happens other than to say I felt completely wrapped up and brought along on the adventures Orr and Iph have while apart (and eventually together) in Portland. It’s the 90s, in this book (you know–that time I was a music-obsessed punk teen, an era my brain INSISTS on thinking was maybe 10 years ago—don’t correct me). The story is full of feminism and punk rock and adventure and magic and love. There’s poetry, theater, sex workers, books, beautiful weirdos in crummy apartments, mythology, fairytales, animals, and love love love. It’s a weird, dark, happy, sad, real, fantastical story. It’s serious and upsetting and whimsical and hopeful. Just go read it. This is a standout book about runaways finding what they need in the strangest of ways. Just lovely.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641291712
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke by Andrew Maraniss


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, a STARRED review, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Philomel. Mar. 2021. 320p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593116722.

 Gr 9 Up–A pioneering athlete’s life is examined through the intersection of gay rights, race, and Major League Baseball. Glenn Burke rose to acclaim in the 1970s as part of the L.A. Dodgers. Charismatic, popular, and phenomenally talented, Burke, who was Black and gay but not out, worked his way through the team’s farm system. He longed to reconcile his image with his true self, and in 1982 Burke, who is credited with inventing the cultural phenomenon of the high five, came out in a magazine article and a Today show interview. Burke struggled with drug addiction and eventually fell on devastatingly hard times, at times incarcerated, unhoused, and unemployed. He died of complications from AIDS in 1995. By looking at the social and political climates and incorporating the history of gay rights and activism, Maraniss shows what the world was like for gay people in the 1970s and 1980s, with no openly gay athletes, a homophobic sports world, and the AIDS crisis taking hold. Short sections, photographs, and quotes from Maraniss’s many interviews keep the deeply immersive story moving. Extensive back matter proves to be as essential reading as the main text. Detailed source notes provide more information on people quoted, events of the time, issues in MLB, and explanations of references. A bibliography, baseball statistics, a gay rights time line, selection of Black American LGBTQ people to know and study, and an index round out the work.

VERDICT This remarkable tribute to a trailblazer is narrative nonfiction at its finest.

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

Book Review: Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow

Publisher’s description

In this unabashedly queer middle grade debut, a week-long amusement park road trip becomes a true roller coaster of emotion when Dalia realizes she has more-than-friend feelings for her new bestie.

Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he’s engaged, Dalia’s schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia’s future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding—meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and Lazy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa’s secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani.

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just all admit that I’m really overusing the word “delightful” these days. If it doesn’t actually make it into every review I post, it certainly makes it into my notes. I guess I’m only reading things I find, in some way, delightful. This is not a word I use much in my regular, not-review-writing life. But here we are. So. Guess what this book is? Yep. Delightful. A delight.

This book does such a great job showing Dalia really working through some things. She’s grappling with three main things this summer leading into 8th grade: being ditched by her former best friend, accepting her father’s new relationship, and understanding her feelings for Rani, a new girl on her swim team. Those are three really, really big things, but Arlow gives Dalia plenty of space to work through her feelings while also taking her on a fun amusement park adventure. And it’s actually directly because of this adventure that Dalia is able to figure out how she feels about all these things. She’s on this road trip with Alexa, her soon-to-be stepsister who just finished her first year of college, and Alexa’s BFF, Dhruv. When Dhruv references his boyfriend and then when Alexa’s girlfriend joins them for part of the trip, Dalia begins to hesitantly ask them questions about how you know if you like someone and how to know if that someone might like you back. The “someone” isn’t hypothetical—it’s Rani. But Dalia’s worried that if she tells Rani she likes her in that way, she may blow her one and only friendship. Dalia gets lots of great advice and support from her new, older friends. And you can probably guess that things turn out okay for Dalia, since I’m finding everything so delightful and all.

Readers will appreciate watching Dalia sort out her new feelings about just so many things (liking Rani, her dad’s announcement that he’s getting married, her old friendship with Abby, and more). This book is fun, sweet, and has such great characters. Definitely a must-have for middle school library collections.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593112939
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

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