From Twinkle, With Love

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Hello, namaste, buenos dias, and bonjour, Mira Nair!
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, and lots of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Twinkle is a budding filmmaker. She loves looking at the world through the eye of her camera lens, and it’s what she wants to do with her life. She has a YouTube channel (though not many subscribers), and a dream. The rest of her life isn’t so hopeful: she’s not really high up on the popularity totem pole at her prep school, her best friend has begun to ditch her for other girls (who are higher up in popularity), and her parents are often gone. Thankfully, she has her grandmother and her crush on the most popular kid in school, Neil.

Then comes the Midsummer Festival. Popular guy’s twin brother, Sahil, talks Twinkle into making a film — they decide a gender-swapped Dracula — and that fact sets a whole lot in motion.

I wanted to like this. It’s got everything that should hit for me in a summer romance: a cute guy, some conflict, a lot of swoony situations… it feels like a Bollywood film with kissing. I should have loved it.

But, I didn’t. I was talking to a co-worker about it, and she said that Twinkle was annoying — and she was, being so obsessed with being popular and getting her friend “back” that she didn’t realize what was right in front of her — and because of that, she couldn’t get into the book. I think that’s a lot of it. Twinkle was very human, and very much a teenage girl, and I appreciated that. I thought the relationships, at least between the girls, were very realistic. Maybe what didn’t sit well with me was the juxtaposition between the friendship arc and the romance arc. The romance was all very “true love”-y; Sahil’s had a thing for Twinkle since they were 11 and he’s finally on it (that’s what came off as unrealistic to me!) and he’s all “you’re my One True Love”, and I think that’s (for a high school book) what didn’t work for me. I understood the friendships, and Twinkle’s desire not to have things change, but when you put that in the same book as a meet-cute, fluffy summer romance that you’r trying to make weightier with declarations of True Love. Maybe that’s also what didn’t quite sit well with me. If Menon had just kept it fluffy, Bollywood-like (with kissing!), then maybe I would have liked it better.

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Scythe

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “We must, by law, keep a record fo the innocents we kill.”
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Content: There is, by the very nature of the book, violence. Some of it is graphic. There is also mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but, like Hunger Games, I’d be wary about giving it to overly sensitive kids.

My co-workers have been on my case to read this since it first came out. A couple of them love it (and Shusterman), but I just didn’t have time. (Sometimes, when I need to sell a book at work, I rely on other people’s opinions rather than just reading it myself, since I won’t have time to read all the books. Unfortunately.) But then, it won a Cybils award, and was picked for my online book club (and then they picked it for one of my in-person book clubs), so I figured it was about time I read this.

And, oh wow, everyone was right. This is an excellent piece of speculative fiction.

The basic premise is this: in the future we will have figured out how to defeat disease and death, thereby becoming immortal (pretty much). However, the earth couldn’t handle the subsequent population growth, so a group of people — called scythes — were organized to deal with that. They have a set of commandments, are outside the general law, and basically get to decide when people should die. There are rules governing that, as well — they have quotas they have to meet and can’t go over, and they can’t do it with forethought or malice. The book follows two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who were chosen as a scythe’s apprentices. As it follows them through the year of their apprenticeship, it’s fascinating reading about their scythe and his philosophies, and then the difference between scythe philosophies (including a radical one who was just horrid). There is a bit of a romance(ish), but that didn’t really go anywhere (thankfully). Mostly it’s about humanity and the meaning of immortality, and how one deals with the power over life and death. There is definitely much to think about and talk about in this book.

145th Street

by Walter Dean Myers
First sentence: “The way I see it, things happen on 145th Street that don’t happen anywhere else in the world.”
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Content: There’s violence but the stories are short and to the point. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll be honest here. I’m not a fan of short stories, and I had to read one for class, and I’ve never read Walter Dean Myers, so I picked this one. All the stories surround people on this street in New York (in Harlem?), their lives and experiences. But, as I sit back and think about this, what comes to mind are the stories in Bronx Masquerade. Which means this one just kind of went in but slid right out. I’m pretty sure I looked at the words and turned the pages, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember what I read.

I’m sure that’s not because Myers isn’t a good writer. It’s more I’m not a great reader of short stories.

Bronx Masquerade

by Nikki Grimes
First sentence: “I ain’t particular about doing homework, you understand.”
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Content: There’s some tough situations, but nothing “objectionable”. The format — short stories with poetry — is great for reluctant readers, as well. It would be in the young adult (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

I read this back during my poetry section of class and was expecting a novel in verse. While I don’t think it’s that, it is a fascinating look into the power of poetry. Set in the Bronx (obviously), the book follows a group of students in an English class as they study the Harlem Renaissance, and then decide they want to try writing poetry themselves. That turns into an Open Mike Friday once a month, which morphs into once a week, as the various students — black, Latnix, and white — learn to express themselves and understand other people throughout the year. Interspersed with commentary from our “narrator” Tyrone, it’s a good look at how poetry not only can help people express ideas and feelings they couldn’t otherwise, it also is a way to understand other people.

I liked how we got a peek into a bunch of different lives, even if that meant we didn’t get to delve deeply into one person. I think the purpose of the novel was to explore connections that poetry makes, not so much to explore one person, and once I realized that, I was able to enjoy the book more. I’ve never read anything by Nikki Grimes before, though I’ve heard a lot about her, and this made me curious. I’ll definitely have to check more of it out.

Legendary

by Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Caraval
Content: There’s some violence and intense moments. It will be in the Teen section (Grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, obviously.

I had high hopes for this one, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve read Caraval and admittedly I don’t remember much. And while Legendary was good, I don’t know if it lived up to my high hopes.

It’s shortly after the Caraval that Scarlett won, and Legend has already set up another one. This one is  in the capital city, and it’s Tella’s turn to play. The prize? Legend’s name. The cost? Tella’s mother’s life. She’s made a bargain with a criminal: the location of her mother in exchange for Legend’s name. She has to win, but at what cost?

I did find this one engrossing; Graber has created a very unique world, full of magic and deception. But, maybe because it wasn’t new like it was in Caraval, I just wasn’t that thrilled by it. It could be that Tella’s journey wasn’t as interesting as Scarlett’s or that I just didn’t find the villain of the book that enticing, or even the final reveal all that shocking. I definitely found the ending unsatisfying. I probably just wanted… more.

It’s not that it’s a bad book; it’s not. And maybe if you read it right after Caraval, it would come off as better. Whatever the reason, I was a little disappointed.

Love & Luck

by Jenna Evans Welch
First sentence: “Dear Heartbroken, What do you picture when you imagine traveling through Ireland?”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some sexual harassment and mild swearing. It is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Addie has been looking forward to the end-of-summer trip to her aunt’s wedding in Ireland. Mostly because she’s going to pop over to Italy afterward (to see Lina from Love & Gelato) but also because it will get her away from the boy who dumped her after their secret summer relationship. She is planning on sitting in the sun and eating gelato and forgetting.

Except, her other brother, Ian (who was supposed to go with Addie to Italy) has other plans: he’s hooked up with an internet friend, Rowan, and they’re going to go on a band-themed road trip in Ireland ending up at the last concert of their favorite band. Addie’s WAY against this (since their parents don’t know), but is convinced to let them drop her off at the airport. But… the car breaks down, the traffic is bad, and she misses her flight. And suddenly, she’s on a road trip with a boy she barely knows and a brother she’s barely speaking to.

I expected this to be a light, fluffy romance, but Welch delivered something… different. Sure there was a small bit of romance, but mostly the book was about bad decisions and healing and forgiveness. It’s a bit much to go into here, but I liked Welch’s descriptions of the sibling relationships, and how hard it is to find out who you are in the middle of a big, boisterous (and loving) family. (It was nice that the parents were actually good parents, too!) I liked the cheesy “travel guide” that is quoted throughout the book, as well; even though it was often corny, there were some good thoughts in it, and yes, it did make me want to go see Ireland.

It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I really liked it.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1

by M. T. Anderson
First sentence: “I was raised in a gaunt houses with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.”
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Content: There’s violence and talk of human bodily functions. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore if we had it.

Octavian had an idyllic childhood, growing up in the house with a bunch of rational philosophers (in the Novanglina College of Lucidity) where his every move was studied and cataloged. He was dressed in the finest silks, taught to play the violin and speak Greek and Latin and French. And he had no idea he was black and a slave. That is, until the sponsorship for the society lapsed and they found a new person to sponsor them, someone who felt that Africans were truly less than people. From there, Octavian’s life changes, and not for the better. He escapes, and gets involved in the Revolutionary War.

I heard lots of good things about this one when it first came out, and it won the National Book Award and a Printz honor. I wanted to like it, to understand what all the excitement was about it. But. Times have changed in the past 12 years, and I’ve changed a bit with them, and the one thing I couldn’t get past was that this felt like appropriation. I like Anderson as a writer (for the most part), but to write a slave story just felt… wrong. Yeah, he made some of the white people sufficiently awful (well, one of them anyway), but he also has a literal white savior narrative at the end of the book which really sat poorly with me. And to be honest, I lost interest. I kind of skimmed through the last third of the book, just to see what happened, but I wasn’t engaged.

And I have no interest in reading the second part. I wish I had liked this better.