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Book Review: Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

Publisher’s description

Charming as a Verb

From the award-winning author of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager comes a whip-smart and layered romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Jenny Han. 

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.

Amanda’s thoughts

If, for some reason, you were to click on my name and read a bunch of my reviews in a row, you might think, good lord, she just looooves everything. But you know what? I don’t. I abandon probably three times as many books as I finish. If a book isn’t something I’m enjoying, unless I think it’s an actively harmful or horrible book, I’ll just set it aside and move on. I’m going to use my blog time to say, hey, look at this GREAT book. Reviews that just could be summed up as “this book was fine, I guess” don’t serve anyone. SO, that said, guess what? Yep! I looooooved this book.

Haitian American Henri is always hustling, beaming his Smile at everyone, but reserving his real smile for the few that really know him beyond his school persona. He runs a dog walking company that’s not so much an actual company as it is just him with a more professional looking front to get more business. Henri juggles the dogs, school, debate team, and preparing to hopefully attend Columbia, his dream school (well, maybe his. Definitely his dad’s dream school). His dad’s their building’s super and his mom recently traded in her life as a paralegal to become a firefighter. Black and poor, Henri knows he doesn’t have the same opportunities or connections that help his classmates at the Fine Arts Technical Education Academy sail easily through life, but he keeps working hard and Smiling, hoping it all pans out.

Senior year ends up holding many surprises, the biggest (and best) being Corinne, his upstairs neighbor and the most intense girl in his class. She blackmails Henri into helping her revamp her image as someone less uptight and socially awkward, hoping it will improve her college recommendation letters. And while Henri is game, he has no idea what he’s in for. Turns out that Cori is not just brilliant but totally and bluntly honest, hilarious, and almost always gets what she wants (usually thanks to a series of note cards to study from and exceedingly detailed multi-point plans). What starts as a weird transaction between the two turns into a real friendship (and more) as they get to see each other beyond the labels, preconceived ideas, and Smiles. But Henri messes it all up (and I mean ALL of it) when he makes a terrible choice that he justifies as evening the playing field but really is just SO. BAD.

This book has everything going for it. The conversational tone, the standout characters, the excellent (and rocky) romance… everything. I’m a fast reader. Generally my approach is that I have to read as fast as I possibly can so I can keep flying through my TBR pile. But if I take the time to slow down, to make sure I’m really reading and not just skimming, to be sure I’m enjoying every well-crafted sentence and clever exchange, then I know I am loving a book. I stretched this one out over three afternoons, just so I could keep dipping back into Henri and Cori’s world. A completely satisfying, engaging, and memorable read.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062824141
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha

Publisher’s description

An absorbing debut novel about three gay friends in Brazil whose lives become intertwined in the face of HIV, perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Bill Konigsberg.

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has — had — been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.

That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.

Amanda’s thoughts

TL; DR: GET THIS BOOK ON YOUR ORDERS AND TBR LISTS.

Originally published in 2018 in Brazilian Portuguese, this powerful look at three young men and the different stages they are at in dealing with and accepting their own HIV statuses and those of people they love stands out because of the complicated feelings of its main characters.

Those feelings easily transfer to the reader. When Henrique and Victor get involved, Henrique doesn’t disclose his HIV positive status to Victor, even when they sleep together. Henrique justifies this choice because they have protected sex and because his viral load is undetectable at this point, meaning he can’t transmit the virus. Unsurprisingly, Victor is upset at this revelation, and still goes to get tested, to be on the safe side. It’s there at the clinic he meets Ian, who just found out he is HIV positive. He connects Ian with Henrique, knowing that even though he’s currently upset with Henrique, he will be a good shoulder to lean on as Ian grapples with his new status.

It’s reductive to say that this novel is just about processing feelings regarding HIV, but in this very character-driven story, it really is about learning, understanding, working through, sharing, and accepting these feelings. Ian feels guilty and stupid and scared. Henrique is still reeling from a horrible betrayal from a former boyfriend. Victor feels betrayed by Henrique and at one point has a melt down, telling Henrique that his HIV status is his fault, that it’s a consequence for his choices, for not being “careful.” Friends in the boys’ atmosphere are supportive, loving, reassuring, and accepting. Throughout the story, Ian and others are reminded that HIV is no longer necessarily a death sentence. Readers learn about the virus, with lots of talk about treatments (now generally much simpler than in the past), side effects, self-care, futures, and precautions. Though initially Ian encounters a medical practitioner who doesn’t exactly make him feel reassured about any of this, for the most part, doctors and therapists are great, providing information and hope. Even a very ugly incident regarding someone exposing one of the characters’ HIV status is handled in a way that emphasizes the love, support, and acceptance these characters are fortunate to have (despite not necessarily seeing that love from their families of origin or even sharing their status with them).

This emotional read shows that already complicated relationships can become more complicated when HIV is involved, but that that diagnosis doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the characters. Rocha lets his characters make mistakes, learn, fight, grow, change, accept, hurt, heal, and love. An educational, affirming story full of hope and love.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338556247
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

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

Gr 9 Up—Two high school seniors find their voices and first love in this enemies-to-lovers story told from dual perspectives. Brusque and controlling filmmaker Rachel Recht, a Jewish scholarship student at the prestigious Royce School, wants nothing to do with Sana Khan, cheerleading captain and model human being. But when a literal run-in forces them to work together on a film, their tense relationship morphs into something beautiful and unexpected. As they collaborate, they begin to share their most private feelings. Sana, who is Muslim, reveals that she’s been having a crisis about her future, hasn’t sent her down payment to Princeton, and has secretly applied to a fellowship. Rachel knows she’s NYU-bound if the scholarship funds come through, but her future is in jeopardy if she can’t get this last film finished. Working together on this project about a woman forging her own path could be transformative for both, if only they could stop arguing and misjudging each other’s intentions. Determined to find success on their own terms, the ambitious girls learn to stand up for themselves as they challenge, support, and infuriate each other. Immensely readable with strong characters and quick, clever dialogue, this romance has real depth. Though there is no question that the girls will end up together, it’s a joy to watch them fumble toward their eventual happy ending. As much about finding yourself as it is about finding love, this smart, feminist story shows that expectations shouldn’t dictate the future. 

VERDICT This well-written and supremely satisfying romance should be in all collections

ISBN-13: 9781250299482
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 06/11/2019

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

In this captivating story about loss, love, and changing your ways, National Book Award­–winning author Pete Hautman imbues the classic road trip novel with clever wit and heartfelt musings about life and death.

Steven Gerald Gabel—a.k.a. Stiggy—needs to get out of Minnesota. His father recently look his own life, his mother is a shell of the person she used to be, and his sort-of-girlfriend ghosted him and skipped town. What does he have left to stick around for? Armed with his mom’s credit card and a tourist map of Great River Road, Stiggy sets off in his dad’s car.

The only problem is, life on his own isn’t exactly what he expected and, soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads: keep running from his demons, or let them hitch a ride back home with him.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Hautman’s work. I’m also a huge fan of character-driven stories where the plot isn’t really grand or intricate. I’ve said it a million times, but just throw some interesting characters together and let them yammer at each other and ruminate on life and I’m good. That’s plenty for me. Because meeting people, interacting, learning, growing, thinking, rethinking, processing… that’s actually a lot of plot. The plot of “how do I do this whole being a person thing and what on earth am I supposed to think or do or say” is huge and one we can all relate to.

I always like a good road trip book. Stiggy sets off on his own, but spends the majority of his trip meeting people who both literally and metaphorically make him change course. He leaves Minnesota because everything is just really crummy and seems to have no point. His father recently died by suicide, his girlfriend totally ghosted him, and he pissed off his only real friend. Sick of everything and the king of negativity and bad attitudes, Stiggy takes off with a vague destination in mind, some cash, his mom’s stolen credit card, and his dad’s iPod full of old music. Along the way he meets colorful characters who force him to think about things he’d rather not address, like: What are you mad about? Do you know who you are? These people make him think about connections, about the nature of friendship, and other philosophical stuff.

Interspersed with the chapters about his road trip are chapters from his past that inform readers about his relationship with Gaia, a quick-to-anger, emotionally confusing Goth girl a year younger than he is. Their relationship is pretty low-key—they hang out a lot, just sort of aimlessly driving and listening to music. They talk, but there’s a lot they don’t know and don’t understand about each other. When Gaia up and decides to move to Wisconsin to live with a friend, Stiggy is totally thrown for a loop. Gaia offers him nothing, then leaves. He hopes to reconnect with her on his road trip, but it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do on himself before he could ever be ready to have any kind of meaningful relationship. That’s clear to us, the readers, but also seems to become clear to Stiggy as his trip goes on.

Stiggy undertakes his road trip partially because he doesn’t want to think about a lot of things. But, of course, his road trip becomes all about thinking about stuff, no matter how hard he avoids it. What else is there to do while driving through the Midwest but think? Readers who like reluctantly introspective characters who are ultimately good dudes just making lots of mistakes (otherwise known as “growing up”) will be rooting for Stiggy to find a way to ditch his nihilistic attitude and avoid the path in life his father took. And while he learns and grows and changes, he does so in ways that may not even be obvious to him (but are to readers). He doesn’t have particularly profound revelations or come back to Minnesota a new man. But, forced to confront the junk he’d been swerving away from, he now has the potential to change and maybe even the impetus. Hand this to readers who like stories with strong (and sometimes not necessarily super likable) characters.

(The content warning for this book: Stiggy’s father dies by suicide. It is mentioned multiple times, including multiple references to how he died. Readers may want to skip a chapter entitled “Groundhog Day,” which includes a graphic description of his death. )

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781534405905
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Flight Season by Marie Marquardt

Publisher’s description

flightFrom Marie Marquardt, the author of Dream Things True and The Radius of Us, comes a story of two teenagers learning what to hold on to, what to let go of, and that sometimes love gets in the way of our plans.

Back when they were still strangers, TJ Carvalho witnessed the only moment in Vivi Flannigan’s life when she lost control entirely. Now, TJ can’t seem to erase that moment from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. Vivi doesn’t remember any of it, but she’s determined to leave it far behind. And she will.

But when Vivi returns home from her first year away at college, her big plans and TJ’s ambition to become a nurse land them both on the heart ward of a university hospital, facing them with a long and painful summer together – three months of glorified babysitting for Ángel, the problem patient on the hall. Sure, Ángel may be suffering from a life-threatening heart infection, but that doesn’t make him any less of a pain.

As it turns out, though, Ángel Solís has a thing or two to teach them about all those big plans, and the incredible moments when love gets in their way.

Written in alternating first person from the perspectives of all three characters, Flight Season is a story about discovering what’s really worth holding onto, learning how to let go of the rest, and that one crazy summer that changes your life forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I am always a fan of slightly older YA characters, as we don’t see a ton of them. I was pleased to see that this novel takes place the summer after Vivi’s first year of college, and I bet teen readers will be drawn to that, too.

Vivi graduated high school as valedictorian, with a 4.9 GPA, and headed to Yale. Now, one year later, her life is a mess. She’s on academic probation and desperately needs this summer internship at a university hospital if she has any hope of remaining a student at Yale. Things are not off to an auspicious start, as Vivi realizes she has a “weak constitution” and can’t stand the sight of any bodily fluids or medical procedures. That might complicate her whole plan to become a doctor. She and her mother are staying in Florida at a friend’s beach house. Her mother bills it as a fun change of scenery, something they both need, in light of Vivi’s dad’s recent death. But it’s more than that: since his death, her mother has fallen apart. She hasn’t been paying the bills and they basically have no money left. Suddenly Vivi, who has never wanted for anything, has to come to terms with the reality of their new situation and get a paying job in addition to her internship.

Then there’s the issue of TJ. They work together at the hospital and Vivi finds him both completely frustrating and totally attractive. TJ juggles the hospital with studying to be a nurse and working at his family’s Brazilian restaurant. Circumstances put them together more than they expected to be and make them unable to deny what is unfolding between them.

The third narrator of the story,  Ángel Solis, is a Guatemalan teenager in the hospital with a heart infection. Ángel helps bring TJ and Vivi together, and all three come to learn more about each other, their backgrounds, their differences, and their similarities.

This moving, well-written story examines tough topics like grief, loss, immigration, privilege, and illness. It’s a slow-burn romance, but also a great and lovely look at friendship. Complex, beautiful, heartbreaking, and surprisingly joyful, this enjoyable read successfully presents three narrators who have such standout voices and bring so much to the story and one another’s lives. A great read. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250107015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: 02/20/2018

 

Book Review: Here, There, Everywhere by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones

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 the November 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

here thereHere, There, Everywhere by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones (ISBN-13: 9780062314031 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 12/19/2017)

Gr 9 Up—A seemingly lackluster small town becomes more appealing when two musically inclined teens fall in love and realize their time together in Buffalo Falls, Illinois may be shorter than they think. Jesús Bjorn Gunderson (who goes by Zeus), his World War II—obsessed little brother Manuel (whom Zeus calls Grub), and their mother leave Chicago to pursue her dream of opening a vegetarian café. While delivering food to a nursing home, Zeus meets Rose Santos, who’s there playing piano. Zeus begins to volunteer at the nursing home as a way to hang around Rose more, and it doesn’t take long for them to start dating. Their fun summer filled with dates to the county fair, a polka fest, a psychic, and more takes an uncertain turn when Rose reveals that she may go away to a music conservatory in the fall and when Zeus learns his mother may want to move them back to Chicago. They try to abide by the rule of one of their elderly friends—just enjoy today—but that’s easier said than done. The charming Buffalo Falls is populated with vibrant characters—from Zeus’s new friends to the residents of the nursing home—but Zeus and Rose feel underdeveloped. The plot begins to lose steam midway through, and the couple’s dialogue often feels stiff. The story takes some unexpected turns, especially regarding the nursing home patients, and the exhilaration of first love feels realistic if somewhat rushed to fit the compact time line. VERDICT This sweet but unremarkable romance is an additional purchase.

Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Publisher’s description

ra6Inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this novel that Andrew Smith calls “beautiful, enchanting, [and] exquisitely written” is a new classic about teenage relationships, self-acceptance—and what happens when the walls we build start coming down.

Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a raw, darkly funny, and deeply affecting story about the courage it takes to live your truth.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

releaseYou know one of my very favorite books of all time is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, right? I loved the really strange setup of that book, and when I saw that this book does something similar(ish), I was psyched. Admittedly, this setup of two narratives that seemingly have very little to do with one another will not appeal to everyone. In fact, I suspect that people who are only in it for the realistic main story will potentially skip over the shorter chapters that delve into the supernatural—though they would be remiss in making this choice.

In a dear reader letter at the beginning of this galley, Ness writes, “How do we ever, ever survive our teenage years? Every young person you meet is a walking, talking miracle.” I could not like this more. I agree with him SO HARD and think that the fact that he so obviously truly believes this sentiment is part of what makes him such a profoundly great writer. He understands those teenage years and isn’t afraid to show them in all their glory and horror. He doesn’t shy away from anything—not in any previous books, and certainly not in this new one.

The story here takes place in one day—one monumental, wonderful, awful day full of surprises both good and bad. Adam, nearly 18, lives in Frome, Washington. His dad is a minister and Adam considers himself completely under his dad’s Yoke while he still lives at home. Having homophobic, conservative parents means that Adam hides most of his true self from them. He’s gay and feels about one second away from them sending him to a conversion camp at any given point in time. But he has Angela, his very best friend, and Linus, his boyfriend whom he is trying really, really hard to give himself fully to (if only he could get over his lingering love for Enzo, his crappy ex-boyfriend). He also has a boss who sexually harasses him, a seemingly perfect older brother who is about to drop a shocking revelation on the family, and doesn’t know today is also the day he learns a secret from Angela that will throw him for a loop.

All of this is happening while the ghost of a local girl recently murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend is carrying out her own part of the story, one that involves a giant fawn, visits to familiar places, confrontations, and an unexpected path to release. In anyone else’s hands, I would probably be left thinking, Um, okay, what is this doing here? But it’s Ness. He’s brilliant. He makes these dual but mostly unrelated narratives both work exceptionally well.

In my notes for this book, I noted a lot of passages and just wrote “YES!” or “I’m cheering!” or “OMG, I love Adam.” He is loved and supported (by his friends). He is vulnerable and feels undeserving of love. He is hurting but working through it. He is scared and confrontational. He contains multitudes. His relationship with Linus, sweet, patient, lovely Linus, is a thing of beauty. There is a lot of on the page sex and intimacy, which especially goes to prove the real difference between Linus and Enzo. There are wonderfully frank discussions of sex and sexuality between Adam and Angela, including a fantastic exchange about labels, fluidity, and the liberation that the right label can bring.

I read this book in one sitting. I didn’t want it to be over. It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, funny, odd, smart, and just truly stunning. This is easily one of my favorite reads so far in 2017. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403193

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

Book Review: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

Publisher’s description

3P JKT Geeks_Guide.inddJohn Hughes meets Comic Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic, coming-of-age novel about a teenager who is trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him from the author of Three Day Summer.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy…
Archie and Veronica…
Althena and Noth…
…Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxana, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago, and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Chronicles of Althena, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be…even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Things that drew me to this book: Great cover. Great title. Interesting summary. I liked Tash’s Three Day Summer. And I’m a sucker for books that take place either all in one place/day or in a tiny period of time. I’ve been DNFing books like a maniac these days, but happily burned through this one in a few hours.

 

Graham and Roxy are headed to New York Comic Con. It’s the perfect place to finally confess his feelings to her. They’ve been best friends for years. When they find out that reclusive comic creator Robert Zinc, a favorite of theirs, is going to appear, Graham sets his sites on getting tickets to that event, hoping it will help make the perfect weekend for Roxy. Roxy doubts she’ll be allowed to line-up overnight for tickets, chalking it up to her strict parents being “maximum Persian.” But no matter. Graham will go with Casey, his best guy friend, and get tickets. But things don’t go as planned—just the first of many things that don’t quite pan out how Graham had pictured them to. Roxy’s friend Felicia Obayashi tags along to comic con—Graham’s a little confused why she’s there, but another friend being along isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is Roxy befriending a new person, Devin. Graham is appalled at the obvious attraction between Roxy and Devin, referring to him as a “tall British boy-shaped tumor.” Together, they all spend the con seeing panels, entering costume contests, going to signings, and meeting their idols. Graham is having a good time, but simmering in the background the whole time is his plan for confessing his love to Roxy. The added pressure of Devin being around makes him throw caution to the wind. It’s hard to guess if his confession will lead them to building something new or will destroy what they’ve had. 

 

This funny, quick read with a diverse cast of characters will appeal to fans of comics, fan fiction, fandoms, and geeks of all stripes. (Added bonus: Persian main character with many small mentions of things specific to her culture like language and food. Not sure I can name another Persian character in YA other than in Sara Farizan’s books.)

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481456531

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 06/14/2016

Book Review: Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

Publisher’s description

withoutJosie Little has been looking forward to moving halfway across the country to attend Brookwood Academy, a prestigious boarding school, with her girlfriend, Annette, for ages. But underneath Brookwood’s picture-perfect image lies a crippling sense of elitism that begins to tear the girls apart from the moment they arrive.

While Josie struggles to navigate her new life, Annette seems to fit in perfectly. Yet that acceptance comes with more than a few strings. And consequently, Annette insists on keeping their relationship a secret.

At first, Josie agrees. But as Annette pushes her further and further away, Josie grows closer to Penn, a boy whose friendship and romantic feelings for her tangle her already-unraveling relationship. When Annette’s need for approval sets her on a devastating course for self-destruction, Josie isn’t sure she can save her this time-or if Annette even wants her to try.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

15-year-old Josie seems to think that things will be great at boarding school. She and her girlfriend Annette are leaving behind tiny Virginia Falls, Minnesota—and Annette’s abusive, alcoholic mother—for the elite Brookwood Academy in Hartford, Connecticut. But things start to unravel from the very moment they get to school and realize they aren’t roommates. Josie and Annette have best friends since kindergarten and a couple since they were 12. For what appears to be the first time, they are making new friends and spending time apart. Annette pushes them to keep their relationship a secret. She wants people to get to know her first, separate from Josie/the label of Josie’s girlfriend, and wants to feel out how people may react. It seems pretty obvious that being closeted and Annette’s overt desire to be seen as her own person and gain some distance from their relationship will cause heartache. While Annette is immediately embraced by the Soleets (the social elites), Josie feels awkward, left out, and lonely. She finds surprising friendship with Roxanne, her arty and outspoken roommate, and Penn, a boy who includes her in his tight ring of mischief-making friends (and who harbors a crush on her). Though the outcome of the story is pretty predictable, Mason makes the characters compelling enough to make readers invested in finding out just how Josie will end up without Annette.

 

What I liked about this story is that it’s a very complex and nuanced look at a young lesbian couple. The girls have been together a long time and have a long history together. Taking them from their shared hometown and plopping them in the middle of a totally new environment forces their relationship to undergo challenges they maybe could have avoided or have been avoiding at home. Neither character is perfect and both make mistakes and bad choices both in general and in their relationship. They have a sexual relationship—and have for a long time—that also faces challenges both because of their choice to stay closeted and because of Annette appearing to now hold all of the control over what they do and when. Though they have been together a long time, they’re also very young, and they way the treat each other and the changes their relationship undergoes feel real. Flashbacks throughout the novel illuminate previous parts of their relationship and help the reader understand just how far they are from what they used to be. A complicated look at love, truth, authenticity, hanging on, and breaking free. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545819954

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date: 05/31/2016

 

Book Review: Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Publisher’s description

draw the lineAfter a hate crime occurs in his small Texas town, Adrian Piper must discover his own power, decide how to use it, and know where to draw the line in this stunning debut novel exquisitely illustrated by the author.

Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits would only bring him the worst kind of attention.

In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance-art-inspired superhero, Graphite.

But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

About 3/4 of the way through this book, Adrian says, “I’m not going to let people put me in some stupid category anymore, be a blank canvas for them to put on me whatever they think I am or want me to be. I’m going to show them who I really am.” (Am I the only one who immediately thinks of Cameron’s similar speech in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “I’m not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.”) And he does. Adrian spends a lot of the story working himself up to this point where he feels like he has to not only reveal his real self but start standing up for himself and for others.

 

When we first meet Adrian, he’s anonymously publishing an online comic about gay superhero Graphite. He’s gay but not out to anyone but his two best friends, Trent and Audrey. He tries to steer clear of the school bullies, Doug and Buddy, who are constantly spewing homophobic slurs. When he witnesses Doug assault Kobe Saito, the school’s only out gay kid, he’s forced to stop hiding and being anonymous. He isn’t sure what he can possibly do to help, though. Doug’s dad is the sheriff and the cops aren’t interested in what the truth is—clearly Doug was provoked, according to them, and it was self-defense. The administration at school is just as unhelpful. Audrey urges Adrian to speak out about this, make a big deal about what happened, seek out justice. Trent thinks Adrian should just lie low so he doesn’t end up getting beaten unconscious too. Adrian doesn’t know what he can really do—but he’s starting to realize he needs to do something. When he begins dating a classmate (who he never even guessed was gay, much less into him), Adrian starts to feel a little more comfortable in his skin and begins to take his stand. Through his artwork, he sends the message that it’s okay to stand up and speak out. To his surprise, Adrian learns that not everything is as cut and dry as Doug just being a horrible bully. He goes from thinking about revenge to thinking about how villains can turn into heroes, maybe. He continues to use his art to push his message and seek change. Why destroy when you can create?

 

Peppered with pages from Adrian’s comic, this is a powerful story about discovering who you are and standing up for what’s right. The heart of the story centers on a hate crime, but there’s also a lot more going on. There’s a really sweet romance, interesting friendship dynamics, and family issues. Through a local LGBT center and his new boyfriend, Adrian begins to find more of a community and make more friends at school. Well-written and engaging, this is an important addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss 

ISBN-13: 9781481452809

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication date: 05/17/2016