"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

28 November 2016

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity

Clark, Kristin. Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR, 2016.

Jess's father is getting married in Chicago, and at the last minute Jess decides to drive across the country with her best friend Chuck to be at the wedding. The only thing is, Jess's father thinks she's not coming. Also, her father thinks Jess is a boy, not a girl.

This was an unusual story involving a trans* character, in that the book wasn't focused on the trans* character realizing she was trans* or beginning her transition, etc. etc. Jess was already out to the important people in her life - her mom, her dad, her best friend - and she had graduated from high school and was in the process of transitioning so she could begin college as a girl. The story, instead, is about Jess coming to terms with her parents' divorce, her father's remarriage, and the fact that maybe, just maybe, she might have feelings for her best friend.

I am glad for a book that features a trans* character that is about things other than her transition. Also, I have driven the I-80 route from the Bay Area to Chicago three times already, and the author got the details perfect, from the stop in Elko (why does everyone stop there?), to the random tree installation in the middle of Utah to the fake fort in North Platte. I'm also glad the characters aren't perfect. Jess is *a little* self-centered, and Chuck calls her on it, and I'm glad he does, because she starts to realize it by the end of the book, which is a good thing. I'm also glad we didn't get the Disney-esque ending of "I met up with my dad and he totally accepted me and everything is roses now!" because that isn't reality for most people.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: teens talk of "hooking up" even though nothing happens in the book; one character smokes; Jess and Chuck are offered (and accept) beer to drink at one point
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Drag Teen (for the road trip), The Porcupine of Truth, Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

24 November 2016

Still Life with Tornado

King, A.S. Still Life with Tornado. Dutton BFYR, 2016.

Sarah is 16 and she's quitting school. She stops going one day and refuses to go back, using her time instead to wander the city. Then she runs into her 10-year old self and her 24-year old self. The other Sarahs help 16-year old Sarah to face some hard truths about her life.

The chapters in this book alternate between flashbacks to when Sarah's family took a trip to Mexico when she was 10 and now, when Sarah is 16. Sarah's father is physically abusive to her mother and her brother, but Sarah wasn't ready to face that until now. She also needs to deal with a bullying situation at her school as well as what to do with herself now that she is not attending school at all. I liked this book much more than previous A.S. King titles and found it easier to follow. I would recommend it to teens who like sad books or books about kids facing hard things in their lives.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, domestic abuse, language, alcohol use by minors
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Speak, Girls Like Us, Split

22 November 2016

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes

Ribay, Randy. An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Merit Press, 2016.

Three friends find themselves on a cross-country trip that binds them together better than their weekly Dungeons & Dragons meetings have over the past several years.

This book was told from the perspective of each of the four main characters, whose backgrounds and personalities are quite different. We get to hear their stories from their own perspectives in a way that helps us understand what is happening better than the characters themselves do. There is a lot of character growth throughout this story; this, combined with some of the unrealistic aspects of the characters adventures makes this an ideal script for an after-school special. It's not a bad book, but it isn't stand-out amazing, either.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: homophobic slurs, one boy is beaten fairly severely because he's gay
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity,Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie, The View from Saturday

17 November 2016

Front Lines

Grant, Michael. Front Lines, Katherine Tegan Books, 2016.

The world is on the brink of a second world war, but something has changed from the history we know: the United States has extended the draft to include both male and female people over 18. This book follows three different girls who all enlist for various reasons and end up running into each other during the course of the war.

Told in alternating chapters among the three characters, this is a fairly standard war story with a small twist. It's still about training and fighting and killing people and questioning your motives, etc. etc. But the difference is that the three characters we follow are female, so in addition to typical soldier issues, they are also dealing with quite a bit of sexism (and racism, and classism, etc.). The three girls are from three very different parts of the country and each have their reasons for enlisting. This story is action-packed, fast-paced, and an easy book to recommend to teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: sexist, racist, homophobic slurs - all fitting with the time period depicted; violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: All Quiet on the Western Front, Wolf by Wolf,Rose Under Fire

15 November 2016

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

Stambach, Scott. The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko. St. Martin's Press, 2016.

Ivan lives in an orphanage in the Ukraine. As a result of the Chernobyl accident, he and the other children at the orphanage are dealing with various disabilities. Ivan himself has only one arm/hand, no legs, and although his mind is unaffected, it is difficult for him to speak. He amuses himself by playing tricks on the other children and on the nurses, until one day a new person arrives who steals his heart away.

Initially when I read this book, I enjoyed it as much as anyone can enjoy an adventure in the mind of a teenage boy. The story was interesting because of the different setting, but it was still "teen boy loves girl and is sad and telling his story so obviously he didn't get the girl for whatever reason." It still had lots of scatological humor and references to masturbation. I wasn't super impressed. But then I read Emily's review and my opinion changed a bit. I had not thought about what this book would look like through the eyes of a parent of a child with a disability. And it's true that Ivan is particularly horrible to the other children, I didn't see this as mocking children with disabilities, but rather showing Ivan to be a particularly normal and not entirely sympathetic character. However, the reactions from the author and a few of his supporters left a bad taste in my mouth. For these reasons, this book receives 2 stars from me.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: profanity (English and Russian), scatological humor, references to male genitalia/masturbation, underage alcohol use, ableist slurs
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

10 November 2016


Keplinger, Kody. Run. Scholastic Press, 2016.

Agnes is a good girl. She always follows her parents' rules and never asks for exceptions. She knows the rules are there to protect her because she's legally blind. Bo, on the other hand, is the type of girl Agnes has been told to avoid. She comes from a family with a bad reputation and her mom is high on meth more often than she is sober. But when Bo and Agnes become friends, both of them realize that there may be more to life than what they have been given so far. It will take both of them stepping out of their comfort zones to realize the importance of their friendship.

This is the book which recently caused quite the brouhaha in the YA and LGBT community. VOYA listed this book as appropriate for older teens, citing mature themes including bisexuality. That entire issue has been discussed elsewhere, so that's all I'm going to say about it. That being said, this is a hard book to read. The characters are dealing with a lot, especially Bo, who just wants to graduate and get out of her house and avoid being sent into foster care again. There is mention of drugs, there is drinking, there is strong language - all of these things cause me to recommend this book to older teens. I wanted this book to be more than it was, to dive deeper. I wanted Agnes to rage against her parents instead of accepting her punishment. I wanted Bo to escape again in order to avoid foster care, as that seemed more fitting with her character. I'd add it to my collection if I had unlimited space, but otherwise I'll just suggest teens put it on hold.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: alcohol and drug use by adults and teens, slut-shaming of Bo (even though she's a virgin), Agnes has sex with Bo's cousin, strong language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, Not Otherwise Specified, Just Call My Name

08 November 2016

The Loose Ends List

Firestone, Carrie. The Loose Ends List. Little Brown BFYR, 2016.

Maddie is ready to enjoy her last magical summer before college when her grandmother calls everyone to her house and gives them this news: she's dying and she's booked them all on a cruise so she can spend time with them before she dies. This special cruise is only for terminal patients and their families, and the patients have all chosen to end their lives on their own terms. Maddie somewhat reluctantly joins her family on this cruise and gets to know the other cruise guests and celebrates their lives and their deaths, all the while knowing her grandmother may choose to end her life any day.

This was an unusual take on the typical "road trip" story in that it's a cruise instead. Also, there are very few YA books about physician-assisted suicide, so I am grateful for the compassionate way in which this tough topic was handled. I am glad Maddie got to grow and come out of her shell a bit and meet other people and come to terms with her grandmother's death. Without this serious topic, flighty Maddie would have gotten on my nerves. Her insta-love relationship with Enzo was not my favorite sub-plot, but it may draw readers to this book who wouldn't pick it up otherwise.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, drug use, drinking, Maddie and her cousin both have sex on several occasions and discuss the size of her cousin's partner's genitalia
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Universe Versus Alex Woods,

03 November 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior

Whaley, John Corey. Highly Illogical Behavior. Dial Books, 2016.

Solomon hasn't left his house in three years. His panic attacks only strengthen when he thinks about returning to the outside world. Lisa is determined to earn a scholarship for college and get out of her small town, and she thinks Solomon, or more specifically, his agoraphobia, is the ticket out. Lisa is determined to cure Solomon, but along the way she finds him to be more of a friend than a patient. What will Solomon do when he finds out that Lisa has been using him for a scholarship essay?

I didn't like Lisa from the start of this book. She's got an irritating uber-ambitious personality that can really grate on a person. I loved Sol and his nerdiness and his Star Trek references and his obsession with the game Munchkin. I loved the way Lisa and her boyfriend befriended Sol and ended up spending time with him because they were all friends instead of just because they wanted to make Sol their "project." I don't think I've read another YA book about agoraphobia, so this was an interesting new topic for me. The depth of characterization combined with the breezy, conversational style of writing would make this an easy book to recommend to most teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Solomon goes skinny dipping in his backyard at one point. Lisa attempts to have sex with her boyfriend on several occasions. Lisa's best friend makes some very stereotyped comments about Lisa's boyfriend's possible homosexuality.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: You and Me and Him, The Inside of OutEverything, Everything

01 November 2016

Lily & Dunkin

Gephart, Donna. Lily and Dunkin. 2016.

Lily (nee Tim) is a girl. Her mother and sister both accept her as a girl, but her dad just can't get over the fact that she was named Tim and proclaimed a boy when she was born. He won't let her dress as a girl outside of the house, and worst of all, he won't sign the papers allowing Lily to receive hormone blockers so she won't go through male puberty. Meanwhile, Dunkin (ne Norbert) moves into the neighborhood and befriends Lily. Dunkin and his mom have moved in with Dunkin's grandma because Dunkin's dad and Dunkin both struggle with bipolar disorder. Dunkin is accepted by the basketball guys at his school because he's tall, but he doesn't really play basketball, that is, until he chooses not to take his antipsychotic medication. Will Lily and Dunkin be able to embrace their true selves?

This book packs quite a punch for a book aimed at tweens. Lily is teased at school constantly, regardless of whether she presents in a more feminine or a more masculine way. Dunkin hears voices in his head and makes a series of poor decisions when he stops taking his medicine. I loved the strong characterization in this novel, Lily's best friend and Dunkin's grandmother in particular. My library will definitely have this book on the shelf because all children deserve both windows and mirrors.

Recommended for: tweens, teens
Red Flags: Lily is teased at school and often called a fa%; Dunkin self-medicates with caffeine and donuts and at one point must be hospitalized because of his choice not to take his medication; Lily is cornered in the boys' locker room at school (she is still being socialized as male even though she has told her parents that she is transgender) and some bullies pull down her pants and underwear to see her genitals.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Cameron and the Girls, George, The Pants Project, Gracefully Grayson