"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

22 June 2018

What If It's Us


Albertalli, Becky. What If It's Us. Harper Teen, 2018.

Arthur is in New York for one summer only, assisting his mother at her law firm. Ben is a New York native, but he is reeling from a recent breakup. When the two of them bump into each other at the post office, it creates a perfect storm of teen angst and desire. They like each other; they think they love each other, but can they make this relationship work?

This story is equal parts adorable and frustrating. I love the friend groups that Arthur and Ben each have and how they work through their various relationship struggles. I was bothered both by the self-centeredness of each of the boys (although that aspect was entirely normal considering these are teen characters) and found it a bit difficult to navigate whose story I was reading. This was an e-ARC, however, so it's possible the publisher will change the typeface for each narrator or do something similar.

This book will resonate with teens who enjoy contemporary stories, especially those involving romance and drama, as there is plenty of both in this story.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage drinking, some language
Overall Rating: 4/5

Read-Alikes: They Both Die at the End; Leah on the Offbeat; Let's Talk About Love

18 June 2018

Love Came Calling





Popovich, C.A. Love Came Calling. Bold Strokes Books, 2018

Josie has inherited her dad's rustic Michigan resort, has renovated it, and has turned it into a lesbian retreat center. She has almost paid off the debt on the resort and is hoping that business will start booming. But a strange man starts showing up at her door and demanding that she sell him the land that is "rightfully his."

Kelly is stressed out at her job at a nursing home, so when her boss sends her to northern Michigan to help start a new nursing home, she is glad for the break. However, she does insist that she can still take her planned vacation with her group of friends, who end up at Josie's resort.

Kelly is looking for her happily-ever-after. Josie is not ready for commitment. Can the two of them still make a relationship work?

This is a fairly standard lesbian romance story, and I did enjoy it. I didn't think the added tension of the subplot with Abe, the guy who wanted to take over the resort, was necessary. I can't speak to the accuracy of the Ojibwe elements, either, but they are fairly prominently featured as the cover suggests. This would make a great summer read or a light read during a vacation.

Recommended for: adults
Red Flags: N/A this is an adult book. Abe does once use a slur in reference to Josie's lesbian resort, and a character is shot.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

15 June 2018

Pulp

Talley, Robin. Pulp. Harlequin Teen, 2018.

Abby's magnet school requires every senior to complete a special project connected to one of their classes. Abby chooses her creative writing class and delves into the world of 1950's lesbian pulp fiction. She begins researching one particular author and is captivated both by her story and by the story she writes. Abby is determined to meet this author, if possible, but since she wrote under a pen name, this is proving to be very difficult.

The best word I can use to describe this book is "meta." There is Abby's story of living in 2018 and going to protests and working on her senior project, and then there's the story of Marian Love, the author she is researching, and there is the story that Marian herself is writing in the 1950s. There are times when it feels a bit like one of the holodeck episodes of Star Trek: the reader is not always sure which layer of story they are reading.

I loved Abby's research and the disparity between the world Marian was forced to live in and the world Abby is growing up in. I, too, am now tracking down as many of these pulp novels as I can get my hands on. Although there aren't many teens who can relate to attending a school where they are encouraged to attend protests (or where their teachers join them at protests) or where they can work on such a large capstone project, I think most teens will be drawn in by Abby and her group of friends and will enjoy reading about Abby's research into the "ancient history" that is the 1950s. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: homophobic language, particularly in the scenes of Marian's life; quite a bit of sexism as well in Marian's life - all of this is appropriate for the time period described
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

13 June 2018

Phoenix Goes to School


Finch, Michelle. Phoenix Goes to School. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018.

Phoenix is going to school for the first time, and she is wearing a dress. She is nervous about the way her classmates will react to her since she is transgender, but she need not have worried. She has support from her family, her teacher, and her new friends.

This is a cute book to introduce young children to the concept of gender diversity. Co-written by a transgender child and her parent, this book is appropriate for its age level, although the story tends to go a big longer than many children would have patience for. Colorful illustrations grace every page. This would be a good book to use in a classroom situation along side I Am Jazz or Red: A Crayon's Story. Recommended.

Recommended for: kids
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

11 June 2018

Ready Player One



Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown Publishers, 2011.

It's 2045 and the world is falling apart. Wade is a high school senior who lives at the top of a stack of mobile homes. He goes to school online via the OASIS, a virtual reality world invented by a genius game designer. When the game designer dies, he leaves a cryptic message and puzzle for the world: the first person to find three keys to go through three gates will inherit his fortune. Wade becomes a gunter (egg hunter) looking for this hidden "Easter egg" in the game. But as he gets closer to finding answers, he discovers that others are also searching and are willing to do whatever is necessary to get him out of the way.

I cannot believe I didn't read this book when it came out. I must have picked it up and put it back down a dozen times, but it wasn't until this past weekend that I actually tried to read it. And then I couldn't put it down. And I wasn't paying attention to anything else - food, sleep, sunshine - because I just had to find out what happened. Once I finished it, I turned back to the front and started reading again, which is something I don't think I've ever done. This book is simply fantastic. It is certainly an homage to all that made the 1980s what they were, but inside of that there is the adventure story and the mystery of the different riddles Wade and his friends had to solve. I haven't seen the movie yet, as most of the time when I love a book I do not love the movie, but I do highly recommend this book.

UPDATE: On page 173 of the paperback edition, Parzival and Art3mis are having a conversation, and Parzival asks Art3mis: "Are you a woman? And by that I mean are you a human female who has never had a sex-change operation?" This is unbelievably transphobic and once my spouse pointed it out to me, it left a bad taste in my mouth. The story itself would be fine without this ridiculous line. 

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots of threats of violence, both in the real world and in the game
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Ender's Game, Scythe, Proxy

08 June 2018

The Someday Birds


Pla, Sally J. The Someday Birds. Harper Collins, 2017.

Charlie has a set routine that he thrives on, but when his father is injured overseas and is sent to a hospital across the country, everything about Charlie's routine is thrown off as his family adventures across the country to reunite with his father.

I love Charlie and I love the way his family usually accepts his differences and is willing to accommodate him. The cross-country road trip descriptions were accurate, and Charlie's obsession with finding all the different birds on their someday birds list was adorable. (He should have stopped to see the sandhill cranes when he was in Wisconsin Dells, since there's a crane sanctuary nearby.) This is a sweet story and would make a fantastic classroom read-aloud. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The War that Saved My Life, Rain Reign, Fish in a Tree

06 June 2018

Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows


Calejo, Ryan. Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows. Aladdin, 2018.

Charlie loves studying the mythology of his Latin American culture. He knows all the stories about all the different monsters and gods from all the countries in Central and South America. But when Charlie is teleported into the very mythological world he loves so much, he will have to keep his wits about him in order to save his family and the rest of the world.

This book is a perfect read-alike for the many Rick Riordan mythology stories, and as there are still scores of fans of these books, this will be an easy book to recommend. There is plenty of adventure and fantastical stories in this book, and the compelling, action-filled story will keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: mild fantasy peril
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Storm Runner

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

04 June 2018

Letting Go of Gravity


Leder, Meg. Letting Go of Gravity. Simon Pulse, 2018.

Charlie and Parker are twins, but that's where their similarities end. Charlie has had leukemia twice and is now in remission, although he has one more year of high school to finish. Parker has just graduated first in her class, has an elite internship at the local hospital, and is headed to Harvard where she will be studying to be a pediatric oncologist. As Charlie and Parker clash throughout one summer, each must confront what others expect of them and what they actually want.

Even though Parker is really the main character of this story, she is not the only well-rounded character. Many of the characters are fully three-dimensional, flawed, and real. This isn't a book that is action-packed or compelling reading, but it is a thoughtful character study of what happens to the siblings of people who have serious illnesses. Parker and Charlie's entire family had to make sacrifices for Charlie, but it takes a summer of lying to her parents for Parker to realize the truth about herself and what she really wants. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, underage drinking and drug use, domestic violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, All the Bright Places, My Sister's Keeper
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

01 June 2018

The Storm Runner


Cervantes, J.C. The Storm Runner. Rick Riordan Presents, 2018.

Zane loves his home in New Mexico, even though he isn't a fan of going to a real school again. He is afraid the other kids will tease him because one of his legs is shorter than the other and he uses a cane. At school Zane meets Brooks, a student no one at his school has heard of, and she convinces him that he is a demigod and is destined to release evil upon the world and that it is her job to stop him. All of this is going to take place in the supposedly dormant volcano in Zane's backyard.

This is a great adventure story along the lines of Riordan's many series, but the focus is on Mayan mythology. There is plenty of page-turning action and adventure as well as heavy doses of humor. I can easily recommend this book to tweens who have read all of the mythology adventures on the shelf and need something more.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: mild fantasy peril
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Aru Shah and the End of Time, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

30 May 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez


Spalding, Amy. The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles). Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Abby runs her own plus-sized fashion blog, so she is beyond excited when she is given an internship at a local boutique. Much to her surprise, though, there are going to be TWO interns this summer. Abby doesn't know Jordi very well, but as her fellow intern they spend a lot of time together over the summer. Abby realizes she likes Jordi as more than simply a coworker, and the two begin navigating the tangled world of dating in high school. Can Abby handle being the star of her show instead of simply someone's sidekick?

What I Liked: Lots of diversity, including intersectional diversity. Abby is a well-rounded main character with plenty of flaws, but her friends eventually call her out on those. Abby's friendship with Jax is wonderful and I love it in spite of my initial misgivings over Jax being a dudebro.

What I Didn't Like: This book could have used another major edit to remove some unnecessary side plots (I'm looking at you, Abby's older sister). Abby's relationship with her mother took a backseat to her mother's healthy eating blog, which isn't necessarily a problem except that Abby and her friends mock the healthy eating movement altogether to the point where Abby doesn't want to admit to having ordered a salad at a restaurant. Other readers have complained of bi-erasure, which is certainly apparent once a reader starts paying attention to it. There wasn't much discussion of fashion or the boutique owner's method of designing outfits or seasonal lines, etc., which didn't bother me much because I'm not into fashion, but since Abby likes it so much I was surprised it wasn't featured more. Abby complains that her friends are rich, but she gets to do an unpaid for fun internship in the summer and her mother's "job" is running a food blog while her father is her mother's assistant, so her family isn't exactly destitute. I absolutely agree with Abby that the $375 skirt she was pining for was too expensive, but I doubt I would have bought it even when she found it on "deep, deep discount" because there's no way it came down enough to be in my price range.

If you read this book as a fun, surface level beach read, it's perfect, but once you look beneath the surface, there are flaws that a solid edit would have remedied. The concept is fantastic, but the execution is definitely lacking.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: fat-shaming
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Dumplin', Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy

28 May 2018

The Benefits of Being an Octopus


Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Zoey doesn't usually finish her homework, and the kids on her bus don't sit next to her because they say she smells bad. But Zoey has to care for her three siblings after school until it's time for bed, and when her family has enough money for a trip to the laundromat, she makes sure her brother's and sister's clothes go in first. Zoey's social studies teacher is encouraging her to be involved in the school's debate club, but how can Zoey do that and take care of her family, too?

This book delves into an often-neglected area in children's literature: children who are poor and struggle every day to find food or time for their homework. There is a scene where Zoey is holding her baby brother and his diaper bag, but is across the street from the bus that drops off her other two siblings. One of them tries to run across the street to her and is nearly hit by a car, and all the adult drivers are yelling at her about taking better care of the kids and putting more clothes on the baby, etc. Meanwhile, poor Zoey (who is only 12 or 13, since she's in 7th grade) is trying to carry a diaper bag, a preschooler, a baby, and coax another preschooler to walk home with her.

This is the reality for a lot of kids, and they are not often featured in literature. Quite often we see the opposite - families who send their children to private schools or who can afford fancy vacations, etc. There are very, very few books about kids who are food insecure or who don't get to wear clean clothes to school every day.

I was glad for Zoey's teacher encouraging her to participate in the debate club and for doing it in a way that also let Zoey have her independence. I was glad for the somewhat-happy ending. I was a Zoey, and I had a few teachers like her social studies teacher who went above and beyond to help me, too, when I had to stay home from school because my younger sister was sick, etc.

Bottom line: this is not a happy book, but it is a hopeful book, and it is a necessary book. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: the school goes on lockdown because of gunshots in the parking lot; one character mentions that her mother's boyfriend brandished his gun in front of her; the main character's mother is verbally abused by her boyfriend
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Crenshaw, Maddy's Fridge

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

25 May 2018

White Rabbit


Roehrig, Caleb. White Rabbit. Feiwel Friends, 2018.

Rufus's half-sister, April, calls him late at night asking for help. When he and his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian, arrive at the party where April had been, they find a grisly murder scene. April swears she didn't murder Fox, although the knife in her hand and blood on her clothes tells a different story. April offers Rufus two thousand dollars to solve the mystery and clear her name. Thus the trio begin traveling through the night, searching for clues and talking to suspects, and Rufus finds that things aren't as simple as they seem.

This is a standard murder mystery/thriller story, with the addition of Rufus and Sebastian being LGBTQ+. The flashback scenes provide appropriate spacing and breathing room between intense scenes where the trio question suspects and try to suss out who is telling the truth. Most teens will probably not guess the ending before reading it. Unfortunately, most of the suspects use homophobic slurs in reference to Rufus and Sebastian, which could easily have been avoided even from the mouths of distasteful villains.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: murder, underage drinking and illegal drug use, language, homophobic slurs
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Night She Disappeared, The Killing Woods, The Girl Who was Supposed to Die

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

23 May 2018

Quiver


Watts, Julia. Quiver. Frontlist, 2018.

Libby is the oldest of her family's six children. They live on a remote farm where their mother home schools the children and their father works at his pest control business. They are a Quiverfull family, and thus they believe that the father is the head of the home just as god is the head of the church. Zo just moved next door to Libby. Zo's family is also home schooled, but Zo is genderfluid and her (when pronouns are used for Zo, they are always feminine, so I will continue that practice here) family is vegetarian, feminist, and socialist. Zo's father and mother share equally in parenting duties, neither one promising to "obey" the other one. When Zo and Libby meet, they become fast friends because they are close in age and there's no one else around for miles. But will they be able to overcome their differences and continue their friendship?

Having been raised in a family eerily similar to Libby's and now living much more like Zo, this book was absolutely right up my alley. I appreciated the way the author dealt with Libby's family's beliefs without ridiculing or belittling them. The descriptions of the way the fundamentalist family functioned - from the purity vows of the children to spanking Libby when she disobeyed - definitely rang true. Zo's family also seemed genuine and accurate. I was a bit disappointed that Zo's gender fluidity wasn't given more focus, but this wasn't a story of Zo coming out as gender fluid, and Zo didn't seem to be bothered with people reading her as female. The ending seemed a bit rushed, and while I was glad it was a happy ending, it seemed to be a bit too neatly tied up in a bow to be reality. If this is a stand-alone novel, though, and not the first in a series, it was good to give some closure to the readers. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Libby's younger sister has some rather "biblical" terms to use in regards to Zo's admission of a past relationship with a girl. Libby's father spanks her with his belt (and requires her to lift her nightgown for this beating). He also storms into the hospital and threatens violence toward several characters.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu; Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

21 May 2018

This Story is a Lie


Pollock, Tom. This Story is a Lie. Soho Teen, 2018.

Peter is a math genius but also deals with an anxiety disorder; his sister has always been his rock, his protector. When they attend an awards banquet in honor of their mom and she is stabbed and Peter is kidnapped, Peter has to decide what is the truth and whom he can trust.

I can definitely recommend this book to teens who enjoy suspenseful stories that are action-packed and compelling to read. This was a difficult book to put down, even though I guessed at a lot of the plot twists before they happened. I don't think teens will likely guess the ending before it happens, and teens who enjoy crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds will likely enjoy this story as well.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence, bullying, language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Naturals, The Rules for Disappearing, Boy Nobody

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of reveiw.

18 May 2018

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden






Glaser, Karina. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

Four of the five siblings are at home for the summer, and they are about to tear each other's hair out when one of their neighbors is hospitalized and they decide to create a "secret garden" to help that neighbor recover upon their return home. Thus begins a summer of hijinx as they attempt to clean up a plot of land and acquire plants and tools on a very limited budget.

This is an adorably clean read, perfect for a summer family road trip or a classroom read-aloud. The four featured siblings are quite distinct from each other, yet united in their desire to help their neighbor. The story definitely has a Disney-esque happy ending, but that doesn't detract from the satisfactory story. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Lotterys Plus One, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Penderwicks
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

16 May 2018

The Gift of Dark Hollow


Larwood, Kieran. The Gift of Dark Hollow. Faber Faber, 2017.

The rabbits are at war with some evil borg-like creatures that take rabbits and turn them into monstrous part-machines. Podkin and his siblings are living in hiding, but they learn that there is a special gift that has been hidden. If they can acquire the gift, then they can forge some weapons and possible defeat their enemies. But there is a long journey between their hiding place and that of the gift.

This is a perfect gift for fans of fantasy involving talking animals such as the Redwall series. The story is intense at times but not overly violent or scary. There is some great world-building in this story and the characters are well-developed. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: minor fantasy violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Watership Down, Redwall, the Warriors series

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

14 May 2018

Illegal

 




Colfer, Eoin. Illegal. Hodder Children's Books, 2017.


This is the tale of a boy and his brother as they traverse Africa in an attempt to find safety in Europe. With powerful illustrations, this story alternates between the current situation, as the boy travels with a group across the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy raft, and the previous situation, where the boy travels across Africa to find his brother and sister and reunite as a family. The graphic novel presentation makes this story accessible to a younger audience, and while the story isn't a happy one, it is told without undue amounts of graphic violence as well. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens and teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: War Brothers, Escape from Aleppo

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

11 May 2018

The Spy with the Red Balloon


Locke, Katherine. The Spy with the Red Balloon. Albert Whitman & Company, 2018.

Ilse and Wolf can work magic with their blood, but their experiments are put on hold by the second world war. Ilse is assisting the Americans in building a bomb, while Wolf is sent behind German lines to sabotage German plans for the same type of weapon. Will they be able to keep each other alive and also maintain their secrets?

This book has some great character development and world building and is a perfect book for those who enjoy reading about the second world war. There are other novels about this time period and other spy novels available, but the magical realism that is added into this novel makes it unique and interesting. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: the violence of war
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Wolf by Wolf, The Librarian of Auschwitz, Code Name Verity

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

09 May 2018

Definitely Daphne


Charles, Tami. Definitely Daphne. Stone Arch Books, 2018.

Annabelle is tired of moving and starting over in new locations, and when her military family relocates to the United States and she has to start attending a public school instead of being homeschooled, she isn't sure how she'll fit in with other middle school students. Her therapist suggests that she start a vlog detailing her exploits, and thus Daphne Doesn't is born. Her blog goes viral and soon Annabelle is secretly popular, because she still hasn't told anyone that it's her blog. But some of her classmates are beginning to suspect things. Will Annabelle be able to keep her secret identity a secret, and does she actually want to?

This is a sweet, safe story for tweens to read. Annabelle struggles with being the new kid and with making friends, particularly when one of her frenemies turns out to be a fellow military brat whose father has been deployed for a year. I love that Annabelle has her own style and sticks with it, even if it isn't what is popular at her school. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars






Read-Alikes: Book Scavenger, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Brave

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

07 May 2018

Copycat


Jayne, Hannah. Copycat. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018.

Addison loves the Gape Lake series, so much so that she has a blog dedicated entirely to the books. When she receives an email from the author asking her to be part of a blog tour, she is ecstatic.

And then the murders began.

Seriously, after that life and art imitate each other as Addison tries to find the solution to the mystery as the body count rises in her hometown.

This book will probably be plenty suspenseful and interesting for teen readers, but I figured out the solution way too early for the suspense to truly be suspenseful. Additionally, the first third of the book or so was rather stilted and clunky; it took a while for the writing to smooth out and become suspenseful. I would give this book to fans of thrillers, especially those who read things quickly and need another book to fly through as they wait for the next book in their beloved series, but this isn't a stand-out title.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: murder (and consequently corpses)
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

04 May 2018

Boy Erased


Conley, Garrard. Boy Erased. Riverhead Books, 2016.

This is Garrard Conley's story of his time in an outpatient program through Love In Action (LIA), a "restorative therapy" program meant to turn gay kids into straight kids. Conley grew up in the American South, aka the Bible Belt, and as such was highly involved in Baptist-esque Christian values that pervade nearly everything in that part of the country. After he was raped in college, his rapist called his parents and outed him; the result of this is his brief visit to the LIA program before he decided it was baloney and chose to leave the program.

I was so excited to read this story because, like Conley, I too was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church. I, too, knew I was gay but kept it hidden because I knew what my church thought about that, so I had the internalized homophobia to the degree that only fundamentalists experience. Not only was my gayness wrong, but it was so wrong it could ACTUALLY CONDEMN ME TO HELL, regardless of my current relationship with Jesus or the fact that I had never acted on my feelings. I, too, came to the conclusion that I needed help with healing from my "same-sex attraction (SSA)." I, too, attempted to use a program like LIA, although mine was entirely online.

So what I can tell you is that his description of the way they treat people at these programs - from dress codes to strict rules to emphasis on finding the source of a person's gayness - rings entirely true. The idea that you just need to pray harder or try harder or want to be straight more in order to be healed by God - this is what was pounded in my head, too. Like Conley, I too decided that this was a lie fed to me by the church, although it took me a good deal longer than Conley.

I feel for Conley in his feeling that he needed to choose: abandon his sexuality and his new found ideas and things he's learned outside his church circle, or abandon his family/faith/church community, the community he grew up in.

So why only three stars? The book itself jumps around from Conley's time in LIA to the time beforehand, including a large portion of time he spent with his father. It's too long to tell his story, and the middle of the book focuses almost exclusively on the past, when I was reading to understand how LIA would be similar to the program I went through. If Conley had followed a typical memoir timeline by starting with a brief peek at his LIA time, then reversing to his childhood and zipping through to the LIA visit again, this would have made sense. But all of that could have been maybe two chapters, not the entire center of the book.

Overall, this is a good book, but not a GREAT book.

Recommended for: adults, particularly those who were raised as Christian fundamentalists
Red Flags: lots of homophobic language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Does Jesus Really Love Me?, Rapture Practice, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate

02 May 2018

Running with Lions


Winters, Julian. Running with Lions. Duet Books, 2018.

Sebastian is excited for his senior year until his old frenemy, Emir, shows up. Determined not to let Emir ruin his last year on the soccer team, Sebastian sets out to befriend him, and their friendship turns into something more.

What I Liked: The teens in this story are out and proud, so there's no kids hiding their sexuality or being bullied by the rest of the team, etc. etc. The sports theme would make this a popular read with teens who might not pick it up otherwise. It's a good slice of life story that would make a perfect afterschool special.

What I Didn't Like: The third person narrative really got to me, because this is supposed to be a romantic story, but it's hard to follow what's going on when I can't see inside the main character's head. That doesn't mean this isn't a good book, but rather that it isn't a book for me.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating; 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

30 April 2018

The Alcatraz Escape


Bertman, Jennifer. The Alcatraz Escape. Henry Holt, 2018

Emily, James, and their friends are going to try an escape room set up by Grizwald himself, set on Alcatraz Island. Once they reach the island, though, there are more mysteries to solve than just the puzzles that are a part of the game. Will they be able to solve the puzzles in time to win the grand prize, and can they do it in time to guarantee that the bookshop receives its large donation?

This is a fantastic middle grade mystery/adventure story, perfect for fans of the previous two installments or Chris Grabenstein's Lemoncello books. The puzzles and the mysterious events keep the reader turning pages to find out what will happen. There is suspense and some mildly scary situations, but this is a clean read that I could wholeheartedly recommend to any child.

What stood out to me the most was a discussion that some of the characters had near the end of the story, where one character says, "If you love something, like a book or a movie, and then you find out the person who created it did something awful or wasn't a very good person--is it still okay to love what they created?" Bertman doesn't provide an answer to this timely question, beyond that "people are complicated," which is certainly true.

I highly recommend this book for kids who like puzzles, for teachers who like to have read-alouds for their classroom, and for those who want their kids to read "clean" stories but still provide them with a challenge.

Recommended for: middle grade and tweens
Red Flags: mild bullying
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Greenglass House, I Kill the Mockingbird

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

27 April 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: Snowsisters


Wilinsky, Tom. Snowsisters. Duet, 2018.

Soph is a rich New Yorker. Tess is from a farm in New Hampshire. The teens room together at a writing conference and together learn more about each others' worlds.

TW: transphobia, homophobia, bullying, misgendering, etc.

Soph and Tess are rooming next to two other girls - Orly and Chris. Chris wants to be an investigative journalist, and when she discovers that Orly is transgender, she decides to investigate; i.e., she digs through Orly's things and spreads rumors to the other girls, trying to turn them against Orly. Never once does she speak with one of the event coordinators or instructors about her problem. This culminates in Chris moving the carrot nose from a snow person to turn it into a carrot penis. There isn't much resolution of this issue; there is an attempt at some sort of restorative justice with Chris and Orly, but as it appears in the last few pages of the book, it mostly falls flat.

The story of Soph and Tess - without the subplot of Orly and Chris - is fine. Soph and Tess come from very different worlds and get to learn about each other through the conference. This plot alone would have made this book fine. However, I take real issue with the transphobia throughout the book. Chris consistently misgenders Orly and is only halfheartedly corrected by some of the other girls. Chris's "come to Jesus" moment at the end does not end with her actually apologizing to Orly; she simply is bothered that no one "warned" her that she was going to have a transgender roommate. The reader is supposed to begin to feel sorry for Chris and this terrible position she was put in, when in fact Chris is the one in a position of power throughout the entire story. I can't in good conscience recommend this book to transgender teen readers. They deserve better.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: transphobia, homophobia (a side character was punched in the face by his father when he came out), misgendering, etc.
Overall Rating: 1/5 stars

Read Instead: If I Was Your Girl, If You Could Be Mine, Beauty Queens

25 April 2018

One True Way


Hitchcock, Shannon. One True Way. Scholastic, 2018.

Allie and her mom move to the South after her brother dies in a car accident and her dad separates from her mom. Allie meets Sam at school, and quickly learns that Sam likes girls and that Allie herself also likes girls. But this is 1977, and it's not safe for girls who like girls to advertise this fact. Allie discovers that two of her female teachers are also not just roommates. She and her mom seek advice from their church regarding Allie's sexuality.

What I Liked: The book reads as a solid middle grade story. It's told in a simple matter. Religion is featured prominently but is not mocked.

What I Didn't Like: The 1970s setting makes this read more like a memoir for Generation X adults rather than a book for middle grade students. There are so many things that date this story - Allie's use of a typewriter, the mimeographed notes that Sam receives from a friend, even simple things like Allie's choice to change into a dress before dinner. These date markers almost mark this as historical fiction, but the topic itself rates this as a contemporary book. I think it would have been more successful as a memoir aimed at adults rather than a cute middle grade story with an important message hidden in a very dated wrapper.

Recommended for: adults, really; middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Annie on My Mind

23 April 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED: Miles Away From You


Rutledge, A.B. Miles Away From You. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Miles fell in love with Vivian, a transgender girl. Vivian attempted suicide and has been on life support for over a year. He takes a trip to Iceland, has sex with lots of people, and deals with the fact that he wants to let Vivian die with dignity while her parents have deadnamed her, taken her off of her hormones, and are continuing to fund her life support.

Why the low rating? This twitter thread by a trans person will help you understand the trans perspective on this book. Also, the main character is not sympathetic, likeable, or relatable (how many teens do you know whose parents can fund a trip to Iceland on a whim?). I could not in good conscience give this book to a transgender teen, an asexual teen, or a nonbinary teen. There are much better books available.

Red Flags: transphobic language is just the start
Overall Rating: 1/5 stars

Read Instead: Autoboyography, Mask of Shadows, Noteworthy, Tash Hearts Tolstoy


20 April 2018

A Closed and Common Orbit


Chambers, Becky. A Closed and Common Orbit. Hodder & Stoughton, 2016.

Lovelace was supposed to be the AI aboard the ship, however, due to events in the first book in this series, her program was placed into a body instead and she has been sent to live with Pepper. Pepper is a human who has a complicated past as well, and this book alternates chapters of Pepper's past with the story of Lovelace adapting to being in a body instead of a ship.

That description makes this book sound really dry, which it definitely is not. Sidra (the name Lovelace chooses for herself) has to deal with all the overwhelming sounds and sights of the beings around her all the time, and she has to adjust to being confined to a body with certain programming protocols (for example, she can't lie). In addition, she's not actually allowed to inhabit a body, so her very existence is illegal. Add that to the descriptions of several alien species and their various languages, habits, festivals, etc., and you get a fantastic mix that's perfect for any Star Trek fan.

On top of this we have Pepper's story. Pepper was bred to be an employee in a factory. She and her fellow workers (it's never clear if they are all clones or whatnot) never see the sunlight and never interact with anyone else. When there's an explosion at the factory, Pepper doesn't even know what to make of the "big blue ceiling" she sees outside the walls. But she escapes and ends up living in an abandoned shuttle, which she works on repairing so she can escape. These sequences are equal parts The Martian, combined with any "escape from a cult" type story you can imagine, because Pepper doesn't know anything about the outside world.

Bottom Line: This book is positively fantastic, and my only complaint is that I've finished reading it and the next one isn't out until later this year. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens, adults
Red Flags: Pepper's language develops around the time she turns 14 - she learns to swear and therefore uses her new language abilities extensively
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

18 April 2018

The 57 Bus


Slater, Dashka. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR, 2017.

I was living in San Leandro, CA, right next to Oakland, when this event occurred. I remember the news stories; I remember hearing about the "skirts for Sasha" day, and I remember being scared for my spouse, who is trans, who also occasionally used the 57 bus to get home when the BART wasn't working or was going to take too long.

This was an amazingly well done account of this event. The story is written in a highly compelling and readable fashion, and the author did a fantastic job delving into the background of both the victim and the perpetrator, to the point where even I felt some sympathy for the perpetrator and the situation he was facing with a possibility of being tried and imprisoned as an adult. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: one teen set another teen on fire on a bus
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

16 April 2018

Head On


Scalzi, John. Head On. Tor Books, 2018.

Head On continues where Lock In left off, with Chris, a rookie FBI agent, and Chris's partner, Leslie, solving cases. This case involves a new sport called Hilketa that is primarily played by Haden's survivors. An athlete dies in the middle of a game - a first for the league and the sport, and Chris and Leslie are rushing to uncover the truth as witnesses die and evidence is tampered with.

This is a standard detective novel with the added twist that Chris and other Haden's survivors navigate the physical world using Threeps, robot bodies that they can control with their minds so they can speak, drive, work, and be with the rest of the world while their bodies are "locked in" in their beds. These Threeps are also what they use to play Hilketa, a game where one player is chosen at random and the other players attempt to remove that player's head and score points with it. I had a bit of a shock when I started reading this book and learned about Hilketa, but had forgotten about the use of Threeps and thought that players were actually ripping each other's heads off. Hilketa is a brutal and violent game, but the damage is only to the Threeps.

I initially read Lock In because it won an Alex Award, which is given for adult books with teen appeal. Since then I have read Scalzi's other novels, including the Old Man's War series, which I particularly enjoyed. Lock In and Head On are detective stories, and they would make great read-alikes for fans of gritty detective novels and crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds, Law & Order, Bones, etc. Another interesting point is that never once during either of the books is Chris's gender revealed. Scalzi wrote on the Tor blog about this choice, and I think it's really interesting. During the first book I assumed Chris as male, probably because Chris is often referred to by their last name, Shane, which is typically a male name.

Recommended for: older teens and adults
Red Flags: language, violence similar to that in crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

13 April 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker


Wang, Jen. The Prince and the Dressmaker. First Second, 2018

Prince Sebastian is supposed to be choosing his future queen and settling in to his duties as the future king, but he is exhausted because he spends each night as Lady Crystallia, a fashion icon. Outside of one servant and his dressmaker, no one else knows that Sebastian occasionally wears dresses and enjoys doing so. Meanwhile, his dressmaker, Frances, dreams of having her designs noticed by the most famous designers so she can make a name for herself and be more than just the prince's secret dressmaker.

This book is simply fantastic. Starting with the cover image (please note that the "spotlight" on the main characters is a dress that Lady Crystallia is wearing), the illustrations carry this story along perfectly. We get to witness the dreary life Frances led before she was discovered by the prince, and her hidden talent later on. The prince is eventually discovered by another member of the court and dragged in front of his parents in one of his Lady Crystallia gowns. However, the parents don't react in the way many of us would expect. This book is fantastic and I highly recommend it. My spouse even suggested we purchase our own copy to keep - a thing we've done with maybe a dozen books outside of the Harry Potter series.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

11 April 2018

My Brother's Husband


Tagame, George and Anne Tishii. My Brother's Husband. Pantheon Books, 2017.

Yaichi's twin brother moved to Canada, married Mike, and then died. Mike travels to Japan to walk in Ryoji's footsteps and meets Yaichi and his daughter, Kana. He visits with them for several days, learning more about Ryoji's family. Meanwhile Yaichi explores what he thinks about same-sex relationships and marriage.

This was a quick read; Kana reminds me a lot of Yotsuba from the eponymous manga series. A lot of the concerns that Yaichi and his neighbors have regarding Mike and Ryoji will sound reheated to queer Americans who have heard it all before, but it was interesting to see someone in another culture wrestle with these questions. Overall, this was a good, quick read and I would recommend it to fans of manga.

Recommended for: teens, adults
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

09 April 2018

Nate Expectations


Federle, Tim. Nate Expectations. Simon & Schuster BYR, 2018.

Tim Federle has created a third installment to the Better Nate Than Ever series. Nate has returned home now that his time on Broadway is over, and he is attending high school for the first time in his life. Nate decides to create a musical of Dickens's Great Expectations for his English project, and he enlists the help of his new friends in doing so. Meanwhile, his Broadway boyfriend is starring in a television show, and they are attempting a long-distance relationship. Oh, and Nate hasn't come out to his parents yet.

I thought the first book in this series was adorable. This book is also adorable, but it's losing some of that simply because the main character is now in high school. Normally, a book with a main character in high school is considered young adult, but this book still definitely reads like a tween book. Nate has a chatty, stream-of-consciousness narrative voice which can be trying at times if a reader simply wants to know what happened next. The Nate books haven't been popular at my library, but I think that is due to the library's location rather than the writing quality of the books themselves. I recommend this book where the first two in the series are popular, or where a librarian sees the need to add more queer literature to the tween section.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: One homophobic slur on Nate's first day at high school
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

06 April 2018

I Am Still Alive


Marshall, Kate. I Am Still Alive. Viking BYR, 2018.

Jess's mother died in a car accident, and after Jess's leg has healed enough for her to sort-of walk again, she is sent to live with her father, a man she hasn't seen in over a decade. Her father lives in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and he has warned Jess that he made some bad choices in life, and that if she ever sees a plane landing on the lake, to stay hidden no matter what. When the inevitable plane arrives, Jess's father is murdered, his cabin is burned, and Jess is left alone in the wilderness. Will she be able to survive the harsh Canadian winter, and what will she do to escape in the spring?

I am a sucker for survival stories - I remember wearing out my copy of My Side of the Mountain when I was in elementary school. This book has a large survivalist plot; Jess spends a lot of her time building shelter, attempting to hunt, trying to stay warm, etc. Much like Mark Watney in The Martian, Jess is completely alone, and her mistakes could be fatal. There's also the element of a thriller in this story, as Jess knows her father's murderers are going to return, and she has to decide if she is going to fight them and steal their plane or hide until they are gone.

I will admit I skimmed the final fight scenes, as I do in every thriller I read. I loved the build up to it, and the "before" and "after" chapters didn't jar me as they have in other stories. This is a compelling read and a great one to give to teens who enjoy survival stories.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Martian, My Side of the Mountain, Peak, The White Darkness

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

04 April 2018

Lighter than My Shadow


Green, Katie. Lighter than My Shadow. Jonathan Cape, 2013.

In this graphic novel memoir, Katie Green tells the story of her lifelong struggle with anorexia and food, as well as her healing and survival. The muted grayscale colors are appropriate for what is a good story, though not a happy story. This book may seem daunting at first due to its size and weight, but it is a quick read and a compelling one. Green brings the reader through her childhood as a picky eater into her teen years when she began her struggle with anorexia, and includes reactions from her friends and family and her continued struggle in her relationship with food.

I appreciated her candor in that she never says she is completely healed. She does, however, find the strength to live each day and to work through each challenge as it comes.

TW: anorexia as well as bingeing (no purging); molestation which, as this is a graphic novel, is a bit graphic in nature

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: fat-shaming, language, molestation,
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars


02 April 2018

Spill Zone


Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone. First Second, 2017.

I have yet to be disappointed by anything published by First Second, and this book is no exception. I haven't read it yet simply because it's been so popular that it hasn't stayed on our library's shelf long enough for me to snag it.

The story is set in post-apocalyptic America. Some kind of "spill" - we're never really told what it was - happened in one town, which means that town is now completely off-limits. The people who lived there did not survive. Addison is a photographer and visits the town to take pictures, which she then sells to wealthy patrons. This is how she is able to care for herself and her sister. Her sister was in the spill zone when it happened and has not spoken since then. But when a wealthy patron offers Addison a million dollars to retrieve an item from inside the spill zone, she can't resist. This would help her care for her sister for the rest of her life. But will she even make it out of the zone to enjoy her riches?

The illustrations in this book are spot-on; I especially appreciated the muted pastel palette used for the spill zone areas. I am glad this is a series, as I am curious to find out what happens next. This book will have wide appeal for teens, and it's short enough that many different readers would find it readable. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, some gore
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

30 March 2018

Ruin of Stars


Miller, Linsey. Ruin of Stars. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018.

Having won the position of Opal, Sal now works for the queen. In the meantime, though, they are also pursuing their own agenda of revenge on those responsible for their family’s death. The Queen sends Opal on a mission: discover why children have been disappearing. Kill those responsible. Sal works to uncover this mystery as they also discover that revenge isn’t always as good as it seems.

This is a well-written fantasy epic that fits in perfectly with the multi-hundred page tomes I devoured as a teen. I know the teens at my library will love it. I enjoyed the discussion of gender and the presence of gender fluid, bisexual, aromantic, and transgender characters. The idea of a land where gender and sexuality are seen as fluid and not binary is truly beautiful.

What I missed, though, was the page-turning intensity of the first book. Sal is already Opal at this point, so people are still trying to kill them, but not with the same frequency as when they were vying for the position. There is a fair amount of political intrigue mixed into this book, which is not something I particularly enjoy, either. Nonetheless, this is a good addition to the series and worth reading. I recommend reading the two books close together so the storyline is not lost.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: fantasy violence (main character is an assassin)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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

28 March 2018

Little Do We Know


Stone, Tamara. Little Do We Know. Disney Hyperion, 2018.

Hannah and Ellory have been best friends and neighbors their entire lives. Now they haven’t spoken for over three months. Hannah’s dad used her college fund to boost the Christian school he founded, and Hannah finds herself falling for the music pastor. Meanwhile, Ellory is cherishing the days until she and her boyfriend head off to separate colleges and is attempting to help her mother plan her wedding. Neither Hannah nor Ellory wants to discuss what happened three months ago.

TW: molestation

SPOILERS AHEAD

It’s impossible to talk about my opinions regarding this book without spoiling the ending; consider yourself warned.

The relationship between Hannah and Ellory rang true for me; also, both of their characters were really well developed. Hannah’s school and church are spot-on for an Evangelical Christian church/school. Ellory’s discomfort at spending time at Hannah’s church also makes sense. I appreciated the discussion of Hannah’s doubts regarding what she believes and whether she believes because it’s true or if she believes because she’s been taught these things her whole life. The church is described accurately without being mocked.

The scene near the end where Ellory and Hannah talk about what happened - Ellory’s stepdad-to-be molested her one day when her mom wasn’t home, and when she told Hannah, Hannah tried to get her parents involved, but a flippant comment from her dad made Ellory feel that she was to blame for what happened. The reveal and consequent dramatic conclusion / Disney-esque ending was a bit much, but probably not over the top for the intended audience. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage drinking, molestation
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-alikes: Devoted; Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature; Speak

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

26 March 2018

Ghost Boys


Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Ghost Boys. Little, Brown BFYR. 2018.

This story opens with Jerome dying as he is shot by a police officer. The rest of the story alternates between Jerome's "life" as a ghost in his own home and the home of the officer who shot him and also Jerome's backstory from when he was alive. Jerome the child did not have many friends at school and was often bullied; he focused on taking care of his sister and spending time with his family. Jerome the ghost wonders whether he can/should help the daughter of the officer who shot him and what needs to happen for him to move on from this life.

This book covers an obviously timely topic and includes references to Emmett Till and other boys who have been killed because of racial profiling. I am going to leave coverage of the race issues to others who are better able to discuss them. I will be adding this book to my library's collection and will recommend it to patrons young and old.

Recommended for: middle grade / tween
Red Flags: violence (the main character is shot; Emmett Till is also a character and his beating/death is discussed as well)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

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

23 March 2018

Heretics Anonymous


Henry, Katie. Heretics Anonymous. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.

Michael, an atheist, has been sent to a private Catholic school. His dad keeps getting promoted within his company, which has sent Michael and his family traveling across the country, and Michael has been promised that this is the last move. Michael ends up making friends with other "heretics" at his school: people who, for various reasons, do not fit the mold of a Catholic school student. They meet together as a sort of unofficial support group, until Michael challenges them to begin changing the system. Thus the group of heretics start fighting back against what they see as injustice at their school.

While Michael himself and his friend Lucy are both well-developed characters, we learn much less about the other members of HA, which is unfortunate. Watching them plan and fight back against their school with mixed results reminds me of Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie. The story is about the group of characters, but mostly it's about Michael and his relationship with his friends and also with his family. Michael's frustrations at being moved across country on the whims of his parents will ring true to teens who have had to move in the middle of a school year. I was impressed by the inclusion of an atheist character, as this is a rare occurrence in teen contemporary literature.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language; underage drinking;
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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

21 March 2018

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone


Solomon, Rachel. You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone. Simon Pulse, 2018.

Adina and Tovah are fraternal twins; Adina's first love is the viola, while Tovah is more science-oriented, hoping to one day become a doctor. Their mother was diagnosed with Huntington's disease when they were fourteen; now that they are 18, they are going to be tested to see if they, too, will one day develop the disease. Once they receive their results, the twin who tested positive heads on a destructive crash-course, assuming that she should squeeze as much as possible out of her short life. The other twin, feeling guilty for not having a disease, isn't sure how to react.

When I started this book, I assumed that somewhere near the end there would be the inevitable call from the doctor's office saying they had switched the test results. I was wrong. I appreciated the diverse voices in this book and the way one sister clung to her Jewish faith while the other did not. I don't think this is a book I enjoyed reading, but it is one I am glad to have read. I could easily recommend it to older teens who still enjoy reading books about other people's suffering.

Recommended for: older teens
Red Flags: underage drinking; Adina has a sexual relationship with her viola instructor, which technically begins after she turns 18 but as she is still in high school and he's her teacher that's still creepy; language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

19 March 2018

P.S. I Miss You


Petro-Roy, Jen. P.S. I Miss You. Feiwel and Friends, 2018.

Evie's older sister becomes pregnant at 16, so her parents send her away to stay with an aunt and plan to send her to a private Catholic school after the baby is born. This book contains Evie's letters to her sister while she is away.

When I heard this was a middle grade book about a queer girl, I was excited, as I have loved Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World; Drum Roll, Please; and Star-Crossed. However, this book was disappointing. The letters do not make for compelling reading, and while it is absolutely possible that there is a strict Catholic family who would send their daughter away while she has her baby, that family is shrinking into a very small minority, so the entire concept tends to date this book a bit.

There are certainly strict families, particularly strict religious families, who would not look well upon their teen becoming pregnant or their tween discovering she is queer, but this book isn't compelling or realistic enough to engage the intended audience. The idea is great, but the execution is lacking. Not recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: other than the inevitable slut-shaming of the older daughter, nothing really
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read Instead: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World; Drum Roll, Please; Star-Crossed

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

16 March 2018

An Unkindness of Magicians


Howard, Kat. An Unkindness of Magicians. Saga Press, 2017.

New York City is filled with magicians who all belong to various houses. When there is a Turning, the houses compete to see who will be the ruling house. Some of the competitions are deadly. Sydney is a magician who escaped from the House of Shadows, and she has more power than can be imagined. Will she beat the others in the Turning and become the new ruler, or is something more sinister at play?

This is a great read-alike for those who enjoyed Lev Grossman's The Magicians series. This is grown-up magic: dangerous, serious, and deadly. It took a while for my questions about the backstory in this novel to be answered, but they were eventually answered. Recommended.

Recommended for: adults and teens
Red Flags: as an adult book, it contains adult themes as well as violence and language
Overall Rating; 4/5 stars

14 March 2018

Time Bomb


Charbonneau, Joelle. Time Bomb. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Six teens each go to their school before the start of the school year. Each of them has secrets and things they are ashamed of. Each is carrying a nondescript backpack or duffel bag, the contents of which are unknown. But when bombs start detonating in their school, they will have to work together to survive.

The description makes this book sound like it is very compelling and intense, and I truly wish it were that way. Unfortunately, the characters were all a bit flat, except for Rashid, and their voices weren't distinct enough to differentiate whose character you were reading in each chapter. The reader is thrown right into the action, which would be intense if we had had any idea of what was going on. Each chapter starts with a time stamp, but as the reader isn't informed how many bombs there are, when they are going off, etc., the time stamp only proves how little time has passed throughout the story.

And the plot itself felt super-contrived. This may be colored by recent events (the most recent school shooting of which I am aware was in Florida in February), but the plot didn't seem intense, and the story didn't keep me turning pages like I thought it should.

All that being said, this would be a good book to spark discussions among teens, and I'm sure many teens would not guess the ending as quickly as I did, so they may be wondering throughout the book and changing their guess of who set the bombs, etc. I won't be purchasing this for my library or book talking it, but it could be popular with teens in another location.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, suicidal ideation, some graphic descriptions of injuries
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

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

12 March 2018

Speak: The Graphic Novel


Anderson, Laurie Halse and Emily Carroll. Speak: The Graphic Novel. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018.

Melinda begins her freshman year a very different person from the one who just finished eighth grade; over the summer she was raped at a party and called the cops. Her classmates don't know about the rape, but they do know about the cops breaking up the party. Melinda is an outcast at the school. She finds herself unmoored without her former friends and is further traumatized by her rapist, who also attends her school. Throughout the school year, Melinda slowly finds her voice and begins to heal.

The novel version of Speak is one of those rare timeless teen books which belongs on every library's shelf. This book is an amazing adaptation of that story. Parts of the book have been updated (references to Instagram, etc.), while the original message of the story is still present. The black and white drawings are appropriate for the serious topic, and the novel manages to portray the ridiculousness of some aspects of high school (such as the constant changing of the school's mascot and the lack of supplies for the art class) while also demonstrating the very real impact the social aspects of school have on a teenager's ability to thrive and learn. Melinda is shown as a very real, developed character who has hidden inside herself; throughout the story we get to watch her unfold and learn to speak again.

I have recommended before that everyone read Speak; I say the same of this graphic novel adaptation.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage drinking, rape, bullying
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

09 March 2018

Reading Challenges


Although I have written before about my choice not to complete the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge, there are other challenges which I enjoy participating in. One of these is YALSA's annual Hub Challenge. Every year the youth media awards - Newbery, Caldecott, Stonewall, Belpre, etc. - are announced during ALA's Midwinter conference. Some people watch the livestream in their pjs and cheer on the winners. I am usually in the middle of something else (sleeping, commuting, etc.) when the awards are announced, but I definitely look at the final list after the announcement has been made. Then YALSA puts together a list of all the books for teens that have won awards or made it to one of several top ten lists, and the challenge is this: read at least 25 of those books between the announcement of the awards and the end of June.

The final list is usually around 80 titles, and because I'm me, I generally try to read every single title on the list. I definitely read 25 that I haven't read before for the challenge itself, but then I attempt to conquer the challenge by reading all the other books, at least the ones I haven't yet read. The fun part of this is looking through the list and discovering which books I've already read (usually everything on the Rainbow list as well as the Stonewall winners) and which books I've never even heard of (generally the Alex award winners).

I like that this challenge exposes me to a lot of books I wouldn't have read otherwise. For example, I loved Andy Weir's The Martian. Loved it so much that I own a physical copy and have reread it probably five times. This is a book I wouldn't have known about until the movie came out, but I read it because it won an Alex award. Another example is Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series. Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones each won an Alex award, and these also are books I have copies of and reread occasionally.

So each year I start with reading the Alex award winners as well as the Great Graphic Novels, and then I will branch out for other books I haven't yet read but think look interesting. This helps me complete the basic challenge, and then I can slowly work my way through the rest of the list for my own personal challenge.

If you'd like to join me in completing the YALSA Hub Challenge, there is a post on their site that can be accessed here.

07 March 2018

Drum Roll, Please


Bigelow, Lisa Jenn. Drum Roll, Please. HarperCollins, 2018.

Melly joined the band at school because her bold best friend Olivia joined. She also signed up for a summer band camp so she could be with her friend Olivia. The day before she left for camp, her parents told her they were getting divorced. Reeling from this news, Melly flounders a bit at camp. Olivia is making friends and spending time with other kids, and Melly isn't quite sure what to do with herself. Slowly, Melly discovers her own interests and finds confidence to speak up for herself, including finding a person that she may like as more than just a friend.

The main story itself is not that different from many other tween books. A quiet girl finds confidence to stand up for herself and do her own thing, spurred on when her bold friend finds other friends and she has to forge her own path. The difference here is that Melly develops a crush on a fellow camper, a girl named Adeline.

There are not many tween books featuring girl characters crushing on other girl characters, so this book stands out for that reason alone. The other important feature here is that when Melly discovers she likes Adeline, she doesn't have a huge identity crisis. She doesn't have to hide her crush, worrying that her friends will hate her or her parents will send her to a deconversion program, etc. etc. I do wish that middle school me had had this book to read as it gives HOPE and provides a great mirror to kids who aren't getting one anywhere else. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens / middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Star-Crossed, Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, Better Nate than Ever

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

05 March 2018

Aru Shah and the End of Time


Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the End of Time. Rick Riordan Presents, 2018.

Aru Shah lives in a museum, and when some frenemies from school visit her and dare her to light the lamp that she has been told she must never light, she does what they ask. Little did she know that this would waken an ancient enemy, that she would be one of the chosen warriors to fight this enemy, and that the fate of the world would be left in her hands as a result.

This book is very similar to Percy Jackson and other demigod stories, but that doesn't detract from the fun. Aru's companion on this journey is a pigeon whose story is similar to the dragon in Mulan; he has lost his status as a guardian, has been demoted, and is hoping for redemption but doesn't believe that will happen with Aru in charge. The ending leaves room for further books in the series, and I can easily see myself offering this book to the Percy Jackson fans in my library who want to read another adventure of a demigod. My only gripe with the book - and this is truly a very minor detail - is that the main character talks about how visiting Muir Woods near San Francisco was peaceful and amazing, and in reality Muir Woods is frequently overrun with tourists and is not the quiet, peaceful forest everyone expects. I would send my main character to a different forest, but as I said, this is an extremely minor detail.

Recommended for: tweens / middle grade
Red Flags: "mild fantasy violence" is the best description; this is a very clean book
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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

02 March 2018

Monday's Not Coming


Jackson, Tiffany. Monday's Not Coming. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.

Claudia and Monday are best friends and practically inseparable, but one summer when Claudia is away at her grandmother's, Monday doesn't write to her, and Claudia can't find Monday once she returns home, either. No one else seems bothered by Monday's disappearance, but Claudia is determined to find out what happened to her.

*** SPOILERS AHEAD***

This book alternates between "before," chapters before The Big Event, and "after," which are after TBE, and things that are labeled "One year before the before" or "two years before the before," etc. etc. It's extremely confusing to read because some of the chapters are short and the time jumps around so much. The bottom line is that Monday was from an abusive home and her mom beat her and locked her in a closet until she died, then stuffed her body in a freezer, and Claudia was the only one who noticed she was gone because Monday didn't live in a nice part of town and no one was willing to say anything. Claudia has a breakdown after Monday's body is discovered, and she loses about two years of her life as she tries to recover, during which time she often forgets that Monday is gone.

What I Liked: The premise is good and necessary, even if it doesn't make for a nice, happy story.

What I Didn't Like: The time jumps in the chapters were difficult to keep track of since there were so many timelines going on at once. This book is also WAY too long to tell the story it was telling. The 400+ page tale could have been reduced to maybe half that. Claudia doesn't read as 14 (the age she believes she is) or 16 (the age she actually is). This may be due to her trauma, but she still sounds so much younger than she actually is.

Bottom Line: I will probably buy it for the library, but it won't go on my personal shelf.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: abuse, domestic violence, murder, bullying, drug and alcohol use, language, homophobic language, ableist language
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars