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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: How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

Publisher’s description

how you ruinedA new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An excellent holdover from my surly teen years is that if someone tells me I will like something, or if something is billed as being “hilarious,” I will immediately NOT want to like it and usually not even venture to read/watch/whatever something because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I WILL LIKE and DON’T TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO FIND SOMETHING FUNNY. So, suffice it to say, between the description up there of this book as “hilarious” combined with someone having read this and told me I’ll “love” it, I was all ready to be disappointed. I think Rod, the main character in this book, would appreciate my very (leftover) punk rock attitude of I WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS.

 

You know where I’m going here, right? That’s right—I enjoyed the heck out of this book. 16-year-old Floridian Rod is in a semi-okay punk band with his two good friends, Clarissa and Mel. He’s dating Audrey, who is super smart and sells their merch at shows. Life seems like it’s going fine… and then his cousin Blake shows up to live with Rod and his mom for three months. Blake is ANNOYING. He’s an entitled snob who sends a U-Haul with 42 boxes to Rod’s tiny house, arrives at the airport with a dozen suitcases, and can’t even be bothered to help bring them in or even open his own car door for himself. He is INSUFFERABLE. Blake claims he’s not being insulting, just observant, as he makes snide remarks about Rod’s life. He treats Rod like a servant, and has no understanding at all of boundaries (like he immediately takes down half of Rod’s posters and puts up his own crap, then decides he’ll sleep in Rod’s bed and leave Rod with the air mattress). But to Rod’s mom, he’s a total suck-up. Rod is LIVID. He addresses the reader a lot, which normally would bug me, but really works here. That even works to hilarious effect in the chapter about biology class and animal dissection—it comes with a warning, and I did skip that chapter, because no thank you, but the next chapter provides a brief recap for those of us who couldn’t handle the dissection chapter. Super nasty Blake continues to act like he’s just being observant and trying to help and really working to help make Rod’s life BETTER. But Blake’s version of “better” involves Rod’s girlfriend dumping him, his band ousting him, and an awful lot of “helpful” things that sure seem like sabotage. When Rod just can’t take it anymore, when everything has imploded, he takes drastic action—only Blake isn’t sure if it’s a prank or real.

 

This book is funny, full of digressions and ramblings and lots of ranting. It’s not exactly deep, doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, and Blake’s reasoning for his actions is pretty thin, BUT this book is a lot of fun. A solid recommendation for readers who like unreliable narrators, pranks, and lots of humor. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492662020
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

It’s not often that I find a book completely fantastic. It’s also not often that I find a character in YA and think, yes–finally! I was like that as a teen. I could have been that character. Or that character is someone I would actually have been friends with. Enter Liz Prince’s Tomboy, an utterly fantastic graphic novel memoir about a girl who struggles with what it means to be a “girl.”

 

Tomboy follows Liz from age four through her teenage years. Liz isn’t thrilled to be a girl. She identifies as a tomboy. She writes, “I felt it really defined me. It was a lifestyle that I took very seriously.” She was into traditionally “boy” toys and activities. (I should note here that she also writes, “Obviously, this subject makes a lot of assumptions about gender, both male and female, and trying to define what makes a girl or what makes a boy is what got me so confused in the first place!”) She preferred to wear clothes meant for boys. When she played pretend, she was always a boy character (Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Dennis the Menace). She was often mistaken for a boy. She also hoped she would become a boy–she felt she was supposed to be a boy. She’s bullied and mocked. Unsurprisingly, kids question her appearance, ask her if she’s a boy or girl, make fun of her, call her a lesbian…. It’s all pretty typical fare aimed at someone who doesn’t conform to expectations or social constructs. It hurts Liz, but she steadfastly remains herself. She makes friends over the years–generally other misfit-types (I use that term in the most loving way possible, as “misfit-types” are my people), but continues to have a hard time finding where she fits, especially once puberty hits and not only is she contending with this new undeniably female body, but with the many dramas that come with dating. It isn’t until she starts hanging out with a group of boys who completely accept her and, later, gets into the world of zines and punk shows that she starts to feel like she’d found a community.

 

Prince captures the uncertainty and unpredictability of adolescence perfectly. Liz’s main preoccupation is gender nonconformity, but equally important in the memoir are the stories of making and losing friends, of dating successes and failures, and of just figuring out where you fit, period. As a former teenage misfit who spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about gender and gender presentation (thank you, punk, feminism, and riot grrrl), writing zines, and going to punk shows, this book delighted me. Great for fans of graphic novels, memoirs, characters on the fringes, and anyone who has ever thought “what the hell does it even mean to be a girl, anyway?”

 

ISBN-13: 9781936976553

Publisher: Zest

Publication date: 9/2/2014