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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

Book Review: Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath

Publisher’s description

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved this book. It was the perfect mix of funny and serious. Minus the more serious themes, it would have just been a fish-out-of-water prom story, which I would’ve been fine with. But it rises above that (sometimes tired) idea and becomes a more widely appealing story with the addition of some complicated storylines. Mexican-American Minnesota teenager Bree Hughes never expects to grab the attention of her crush, Sean, nor does she expect to get elected to the prom court. It seems like lots of unexpected things are suddenly happening in Bree’s life. After years of fighting, her parents have recently gotten divorced. She’s getting into arguments with Kallie, her best friend, and keeping things from her. She’s becoming friends with the popular crowd. Perhaps most unexpected is the letter Maisey, her classmate who dies from suicide, leaves for her. We don’t know much about the letter until the very end of the book, but it’s intense.

 

Bree also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, something she doesn’t necessarily think she needs help for. Her mother makes an appointment for her with a therapist, but Bree doesn’t see the point in going. Never mind that her panic attacks are debilitating and don’t exactly seem to be going away on their own. When she reluctantly goes to the appointment, she realizes how helpful therapy could be and changes her mind about needing help. It’s a wonderful look at someone being resistant to help, wondering what good it could possibly do to sit and talk to someone, who comes to understand how beneficial mental health care is.

 

Despite dealing with some serious issues, there’s also lots of romance in this story. Bree is so awkward and nervous at the beginning of her relationship with Sean. Their relationship grows in a very believable way. The large cast of secondary characters means there’s plenty of opportunity for drama, cheating, lying, and backstabbing. Bree and her (new) friends prove that what you see is not always the same as what’s going on underneath the surface. Secrets are revealed that show many people in new lights. Maisey’s letter, finally revealed in its entirety at the end of the story, packs a powerful punch as she writes about popularity, cruelty, bullying, and painful secrets. A smart and satisfying read.

 

Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781634501842

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Publication date: 03/22/2016

“Our kisses were seismic”: Positive sexual experiences in LGBTQIA+ YA books

Part of the Sexual Violence in Young Adult Literature Project has included posts looking at enthusiastic consent, positive and healthy sexual experiences, and on-the-page consensual sex scenes (check out those posts here by Karen Jensen, Christa Desir, and Carrie Mesrobian). While it’s important to look at and discuss rape, consent, abuse, and violence, it’s equally as important to present plenty of healthy, positive, and enjoyable experiences for teen readers to show them what desire looks like and how it can play out. The field of books about LGBTQIA+ teens is growing in leaps and bounds. We are lucky that we can hand so many books to teenagers where the characters have happy and fulfilling relationships, where things are not all doom and gloom, and where sexual behaviors actually take place on the page, rather than some fade to black scenes. There is power in representation, in being seen, in seeing hope and happiness.

 

two boysOne of my favorite books that falls into this category is David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. In it, Craig and Harry, former boyfriends and now best friends, set out to break the world record for the longest kiss (32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds). Their kiss is recorded and streamed live to a worldwide audience. Levithan writes, “They are kissing to show the world that it’s okay for two boys to kiss.” And kiss they do.

 

Here are two of my favorite parts:

“Harry has kissed Craig so many times, but this is different from all of the kisses that have come before. At first there were the excited dating kisses, the kisses used to punctuate their liking of each other, the kisses that were both proof and engine of their desire. Then the more serious kisses, the its-getting-serious kisses, followed by the relationship kisses—that variety pack, sometimes intense, sometimes resigned, sometimes playful, sometimes confused. Kisses that led to making out and kisses that led to saying goodbye. Kisses to mark territory, kisses meant only for private, kisses that lasted hours and kisses that were gone before they arrived.”

 

“Two boys kissing. You know what this means … When we kissed, we knew how powerful it was. Our kisses were seismic. When seen by the wrong person, they could destroy us. When shared with the right person, they had the power of confirmation, the force of destiny … And even as it becomes commonplaces, the power is still there. Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little bit more. Your world. The world we left. The world we left you. This is the power of a kiss: It does not have the power to kill you. But it has the power to bring you to life.”

 

gone gone goneHow about a bit from Craig and Lio in Hannah Moskotwitz’s Gone, Gone, Gone:

“He pushes me up against the counter. I’m cold everywhere he touches me, except my mouth, my mouth is burning against his mouth. I’m all wet. I’m melting.”

 

“…I kiss him in my kitchen like I’ve never kissed anyone in my life. It feels a little hilarious, like I’m trying to sweep his whole body into mine. Starting with hands, then arms, then lips.”

 

“We are in the bed, squeaking on the mattress. We are all arms and legs and mouths. I’ve never kissed like this before. I feel like I’m falling into him.

‘I like your hair,’ he says.

‘Mmm.’

His hand underneath my t-shirt. I shiver. ‘However far you want to go, Craig.’

‘Yeah?’

‘It’s fine with me. I’m ready.’

He kisses me hard, for a long time teeth are against my lips.

He whispers, ‘Li? Can we just sleep tonight?’

I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. But it’s all right. There will be other nights. There will be. And again and again and again.”

 

about a girlSarah McCarry’s About A Girl has some great scenes too:

“… But the unmapped landscape I had cross with him that night in his room compared not at all to the country in which I now found myself, to this girl who moved beneath me and above me like a serpent, lithe and strong, her muscles like cables snapping beneath her skin, the exquisite softness of her mouth a sweet counterpoint to the hard plans of her body …. I looked deep into the bright honey of her eyes and found that I had lost myself altogether, that had she not whispered my name over and over as she kissed me … I should have forgotten it altogether, and it was only the sound of my own name in her mouth, her tongue shaping it as she shaped me, that brought me back to myself, and not long after that there was nothing left for her to say at all, and I was nothing more than a body singing, a body reborn and born again, utterly hers in the dark.”

 

 

I asked on Twitter for people to share with me their favorite YA relationships/scenes/books featuring enthusiastic consent and healthy, positive relationships. Thanks for all of the wonderful input! Let us know in the comments or on Twitter your favorite books, relationships, and scenes! 

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Book Review: Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer

 

proofImagine you could go back in time and relive 5 days of your life. Would you make the same choices, knowing what you know now? Would you hope you were altering the future? Would you want to maybe stay in the past? These are the questions the characters in Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer struggle with when a photo booth turns into a time machine and sends them back two years to when they were all 15.

 

Zoe, Joy, Tali, and Luce used to be best friends. They stuck together each summer at Camp Okahatchee. But two years ago, everything changed. Joy dropped out of all of their lives, and they just sort of drifted apart. But now Joy has brought them together, just before they are to head off to college, for the camp reunion. They all have their own things going on. Zoe has just that day broken up with her boyfriend, Calvin, after deciding she just isn’t feeling the relationship (and, if she’s being honest, she’s never really felt into any of her relationships). Tali is a wealthy “ugly-duckling-turned-swan” (her wording) who is about to find out some upsetting news about her family. Luce is gearing up to head to Princeton, where she ostensibly will continue her record of being perfect and excelling in everything she does. She’s also about to have sex with Andrew, her longtime boyfriend, before the camp reunion, but Tali shows up and ruins that plan. And Joy… well, no one knows what’s going on with her. Even though she’s the one who’s brought them together, we don’t really learn what’s going on with her until the very end of the book.

 

When they attempt a group picture in a photo booth, they’re somehow taken back two years in time. They figure they have 5 days to try and recreate the past to obtain the objects they were holding in the picture from the time they were originally 15—that seems like their only hope for somehow getting back to the future. They try to follow the past exactly as it happened before, but that’s a lot more challenging than they’d expected. Frankly, making the same choices and hoping for the same outcomes starts to look incredibly unappealing to most of them pretty quickly. In this extremely unexpected second chance summer, they learn surprising things about themselves that will likely alter their futures. And spending 5 days rekindling what felt like long-dead friendships? It turns out to happen just in the nick of time.

 

The characters are distinctive and all travel their own paths during their repeat week, but come together for the things that matter. It’s a fun, thoughtful, and unpredictable look at who we let ourselves become and redefining ourselves.

 

(P.S–My only quibble is this line: “…some infinities are bigger than others.” It completely pulled me out of the book. Are you intentionally quoting John Green, I wondered? I didn’t like it.) EDITING THIS TO INCLUDE PART OF THE COMMENT LEXA LEFT ON THIS POST: “Did you read the galley version? I just wanted to let you know that I am almost positive I actually changed the “infinity” line you mentioned for the final book (beginning of ch.20, right?)–for that exact reason! I hadn’t read TFIOS when I wrote the first draft of this book but by the time I had, I realized John Green now practically owns the concept (even though it’s something basic everyone learns in high school math).”

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062330376

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 6/2/2015

Book Review: Heat of the Moment by Lauren Barnholdt

I’m going to summarize the entire plot of Lauren Barnholdt’s Heat of the Moment in one sentence for you, okay? Here it is: Lyla really wants to have sex with her boyfriend Derrick while they’re in Florida for their senior class trip, but she’s surprised to find herself suddenly (and desperately) attracted to Beckett, much to her consternation.

 

That’s pretty much it. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Yes, there is of course (a bit more) to it: she ends up rooming with her two former best friends and she’s receiving constant emails that she wrote to herself when she was 14 telling her to learn how to trust. We get a little of her backstory—her family situation, why she’s estranged from Aven and Quinn (the former BFFs), her relationship with Derrick. But really it’s about sex and attraction. Lyla is thinking about sex all the time. She really wants Florida to be the setting for that perfect first time with Derrick—even though it appears they haven’t really ever talked about having sex or wanting to have sex, despite having dated for 2 years and been doing “everything but” for a long time. Really? I suppose it’s possible to have not talked about it. Derrick doesn’t seem nearly as excited about this plan to have sex as Lyla is. He says they shouldn’t rush it and should take some time to think about it (especially now that he’s pissed that Lyla caught a ride to the airport with Beckett after they both missed the school bus that took their class there). Lyla doesn’t seem deterred by Derrick’s attitude (though she does wonder why he is hesitant—what guy wouldn’t be psyched that his girlfriend is initiating a conversation about sex, she wonders). She continues to think about sex, hoping it will be romantic and special, wondering how long it will take and other fine details. She thinks about birth control, wondering if Derrick will have a condom (though, really, Lyla—this was your plan; go buy those condoms yourself, girl), wondering if she should go on the pill, etc. Lyla keeps pushing for it to happen and Derrick keeps holding her at bay (for reasons that never become super clear), asking her if she’s sure, if she’ll regret it.

 

And then there’s Beckett. Lyla, against all rational thought, is unbelievably attracted to him. She thinks he’s hot. Pretty quickly after they start hanging around each other, she’s picturing kissing him, making out with him. Yes, all of this is happening while she’s also getting ready to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. She knows it’s not right, but can’t seem to help herself: she’s into Beckett. Even though he’s sometimes kind of douchey (and so is Derrick, and so is Lyla for that matter), she is drawn to him. And when they eventually (and inevitably) kiss, it’s no surprise. She thinks to herself, “One of my personalities is totally normal and loves Derrick and is excited about this trip. My other personality is some kind of sex-crazed maniac who can’t seem to keep her boobs inside her top and wants to kiss and cheat with every guy she sees.”

 

Personally, I adore Lyla. I love that she’s sex-crazed, that she makes crappy choices, that she lies, she’s confused, she’s stubborn. She’s real. She’s a type of girl we don’t get to see a lot of in YA—someone who’s constantly thinking about sex. I just wish she had more people to talk to about it than Derrick, who doesn’t seem as interested as she does. A lot of her thoughts and desires are kept in her head. Her former friends she’s rooming with, Aven and Quinn, are pretty peripheral characters who only are used for convenient plot purposes in this story, though the cliffhanger ending makes it pretty clear they will play a big part in book two. Readers who don’t mind an extremely thin plot will fly through this story of lust, mistakes, and trust. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062321398
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 5/12/2015