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Book Review: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

epicA fresh, charming rom-com perfect for fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Boy Meets Boy about Nathan Bird, who has sworn off happy endings but is sorely tested when his former best friend, Ollie, moves back to town.

Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings. Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel—but this strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?


Amanda’s thoughts

Like ever-changing relationships? Then this is the book for you. It’s friends-to-lovers-to-friends-again, it’s friends-to-estranged-to-friends-to lovers-to-estranged-to-?, it’s friends-to-crush-to-rejection-to-lovers (I am really not enjoying how much I am using the word “lovers” here, but I’m trying to stick with the phrasing of this kind of trope). Basically, if you like stories that are super about relationships, this is your book.


Nate has his guard up, big time. He’s so worried about getting hurt, about getting his heart broken, that he either preemptively ruins things before they can get ruined or doesn’t allow himself to act on his feelings. He and Flo have recently broken up, after dating for a year. Flo would like Nate and her new girlfriend to be friends, but that’s asking a lot, especially when you consider that Nate may still have feelings for Flo (and doesn’t particularly want to be buds with the girl with whom Flo cheated on Nate). But Flo and Nate seem pretty okay—a little tension there, maybe, but still best friends. And speaking of best friends, Nate’s childhood BFF, Oliver James, is back in town. Nate is pretty sure he had screwed up their friendship beyond all repair when Oliver moved, but the two quickly start hanging out again. Oliver is hard of hearing and Nate still remembers a lot of sign language, so the two talk out loud (Oliver reads lips, too), sign, and type out more complicated thoughts that Nate can’t figure out how to sign. Things are a little tense with them at times (do you get the feeling things are often a little tense between various characters in this book?), but they seem like they’re back to being friends. Except Nate has feelings for Ollie. FEEEEELINGS. And Oliver has a boyfriend back in Santa Fe. But… but…. It’s always complicated, right? Even if Oliver winds up single and Nate can act on his feelings, will he? Is he too scared? Too self-protective? Will his meddling friends just let them figure it out at their own pace? Will kissing various friends make things MORE clear or way more complicated? You can probably guess.


There’s a lot of great things going on in this book—queer POC main characters, a hard of hearing main character, fluid sexuality that doesn’t have labels or require any kind of “wait, you like boys, too?” kind of conversation, strong friendships, honest feelings, and lots of pop culture references. It’s a good read for those who like character-driven stories, though at times I wanted more from the characters (I wanted to know more about their backstories, their friendships, their thought process). Throughout the course of the book, Nate writes a screenplay, which was hear a tiny bit about but never really get to see any of—I would have liked to see some of it! We don’t get much of a deep dive into Nate’s psychological reasons for being so afraid of relationships (other than his dad died some years ago and his mom is still grieving), so his character doesn’t develop as much as I would have liked to see. But, overall, it’s a fun, quick read full of dating, making out, and breaking up. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062820228
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/30/2018

From Our Mailbox: #MHYALit and POC

FullSizeRender (6)A couple of weeks ago we opened our inbox to see there was a request for titles on mental health that featured POC characters. A brief scan of the #MHYALit Discussion index proved that we didn’t have a good resource for this. Karen, Ally, and I are always talking about what book lists we’d like to see done and what guest posts we’re hoping to find to fill gaps in our project. Before we jump into our post, a communal effort, let us just take a second to say that we are ALWAYS looking for more guest posts and more voices for this project. We have had so much great feedback and seen so many wonderful and important posts throughout the year. We try to pop up on Twitter every now and then putting out calls for more posts. 

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So, in case it’s not clear, let us repeat it again: We’d love to get some more guest posts lined up, particularly posts offering intersectional and diverse views. Find any of us on Twitter (@TLT16, @aswatski1, and @CiteSomething), leave us a comment here, or send us an email (found here). Posts can be on any topic related to mental health. 


That said, let’s jump back to our mailbox question and titles on mental health featuring POC.


While doing some research we came across these facts regarding mental health:

Which is why we put out the call once again for more #MHYALit guest posts with intersectionality. For example, the upcoming Afterward by Jennifer Mattheiu shows us a poorer family with a child on the ASD spectrum who suffers from trauma and his family is not able to get him the therapy he needs and it is directly contrasted with a wealthier victim of trauma who can and does get access to good therapy.

I (Karen) want to point out that one other important thing that I learned while researching this list is that there is much more stigma in minority communities regarding mental health. See, for example, The Stigma of Mental Illness in Communities of Color on NPR. Because of this stigma, people of color are much less likely to seek out treatment, which means it’s even more important that we have more diversity in our mental health titles so that we can help normalize the discussion and let teens of color know that they are not alone in their struggles and they can get good care and support.


Upon discussion, we realized that it was harder to brainstorm titles then we could have imagined. But we got back to the request with a promise that we would post a list soon and a thank you for reminding us to make sure we were addressing diversity. After doing some research and looking at our own reading lists, we came up with a beginning list. It’s a woefully small list and if you have titles to recommend, please add them in the comments. Rather than repeat titles, for a very thorough look at Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community, please see the excellent post by Cindy Rodriguez on Latinxs in Kid Lit.


Anything by Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie Kuehn is a post-doctoral fellow in psychology and she writes excellent YA literature. You can find good discussions of mental health in any of her titles. Her most recent title, The Smaller Evil, comes out August 2nd. She talked about it some in this previous #MHYALit Post. Make no mistake though, you should read all of her titles: Charm and Strange, Complicit and Delicate Monsters are her previous titles.

Kuehn's 4th YA novel, The Smaller Evil, will be released by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 2, 2016

Kuehn’s 4th YA novel, The Smaller Evil, will be released by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 2, 2016

Publisher’s Book Description for The Smaller Evil

Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.


pointePointe by Brandy Colbert

Pointe is a complex and riveting story about a young ballerina whose world was rocked when her best friend went missing. Years later he returns and everyone is left dealing with the effects of tragedy. Pointe also deals with eating disorders, which are far too common in the world of dance.

Publisher’s Book Description for Pointe

Theo is better now.

She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.



tinyprettythingsTiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Tiny Pretty Things is the first book in a duology. The second book, Shiny Broken Pieces came out earlier this year. It also focuses on the world of dance and shares the story from the point of view of three different characters in alternating chapters. In this book, characters deal with eating disorders, addiction and the stress that comes from wanting to be the very best in the highly competitive world of dance.


Publisher’s Book Description for Tiny Pretty Things

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.


nototherwiseNot Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

(From Amanda’s 2014 SLJ review)

High school junior Etta juggles many identities, none of which seem to fit quite right. She’s bisexual, but shunned by her group of friends, the self-named Disco Dykes, who can’t forgive her for dating a boy. She has an eating disorder, but never weighs little enough to qualify as officially anorexic. She’s a dancer, but just tap these days, not ballet, because as a short, curvy, African American teen, she doesn’t seem to have the right look for ballet. She feels like she’s never enough—not gay enough, straight enough, sick enough, or healthy enough. More than anything, she just wants to get out of Nebraska and hopes auditioning for the prestigious Brentwood arts high school will be her ticket to New York. A rehearsal group introduces her to Bianca, a quiet (and extremely sick) 14 year old from her eating disorder support group. Together, they prepare for the auditions and form a surprising friendship, one that embraces flaws, transcends identities, and is rooted in genuine caring. Moskowitz masterfully negotiates all of the issues, never letting them overwhelm the story, and shows the intersectionality of the many aspects of Etta’s identity. The characters here are imperfect and complicated, but ultimately hopeful. Moskowitz addresses issues like biphobia, race, class, privilege, friendship, and bullying in ways that feel organic to the story. Etta’s candid and vulnerable narrative voice will immediately draw in readers, making them root for her as she strives to embrace her identity free from labels and expectations.

Publisher’s Book Description of Not Otherwise Specified

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

The latest powerful, original novel from Hannah Moskowitz is the story about living in and outside communities and stereotypes, and defining your own identity.


boyintheblacksuitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

We’ve gone back and forth with authors and each other discussing whether or not grief could, would, or should fall under the umbrella of mental health. Where you fall in this discussion probably depends a lot on your own experience of grief. For many people, grief can present itself as a period of situational depression. The Boy in the Black Suit is a moving story of one young man’s journey through grief.


Publisher’s Book Description of The Boy in the Black Suit

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.