Audio book: Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo
Read by  Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a scene of sexual assault and one of almost-rape. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic, where her father — who lives in the US — vists every summer. Yahaira Rios lives in the US with her parents, except every summer her father goes to the Dominican Republic for “work”. And then, one fatal day, the plane that their father is on crashes into the ocean, killing everyone on board.

What follows is a story of loss, of grief, of forgiveness, of finding. Told in verse — and beautifully narrated by Acevedo and Marte — it follows the two months after the plane crash, as Camino and Yahaira find out about each other, and come to terms with their beloved papi’s other family, and find their way through their grief in the aftermath of a tragic accident.

Acevedo brilliantly captures not only the grief, but the differences between growing up in the US and growing up in the DR, and the challenges that each one brings. I loved the way both Camino and Yahaira had things they loved about their father, but they also had to come to terms with his deception and imperfections.

Truly an amazing book.

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.

Dear Universe

by Florence Gonsalves
First sentence: “You know that moment when it happens?”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, teen drinking, and talk of teen sex (though none actual). It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Chamomile (call her Cham, please) is a senior at the Gill School, a private school she transferred to after she got kicked out of public school in 8th grade for fighting. She has friends, she has a boyfriend — Gene Wolf, track star and super cute — and everything is Perfect.

Except it’s not, because her father is in denial about his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and doesn’t want anyone to know. So Cham is trying to keep her worlds separate. Of course, that doesn’t work terribly well. Which puts her two worlds on a collision course.

I didn’t dislike this book; I thought Gonsalves balanced the “sick parent” (and “stressed parent” — Cham’s mother is the sole wage earner and is also trying to take care of Cham’s dad mostly alone) with “high school ending” pretty well. I even kind of liked Cham and her attempts to be “normal” by obsessing about sex and prom and spending time with her friends.

But. (And you knew there was a but.) I don’t know. None of the characters had hardly any physical descriptions – Cham had “frizzy” hair, her friend Abigail was a bit overweight and could dance, Brandon had a “man bun” — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone what white. I’m not sure I would have noticed that a few months ago, but I did now. And it bugged me. (I get that authors do this so that people could see themselves, but my default is white, so there you go.) It bugged me that she wouldn’t tell her friends about her dad’s illness. Are they really your friends, then? It was little things like that (like school ended in April for seniors. Really?) that pulled me out of the story.

I guess I just wanted to like it more than I did, and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I hoped.

If You Could be Mine

by Sara Farizan
First sentence: “Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn’t want to play with her dolls.”
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Content: There is some all of sex and drug use. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’ve had this one on my backup TBR shelf for nearly six years. I’m just impressed it didn’t get given away in one of my purges!

Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin for as long as she could remember. She is the only person Sahar wants to be with. Except they live in Iran and being gay — not to mention marrying someone of the same gender — is not only illegal, it’s punishable by death.

Sahar and Nasrin know this so they try to keep their deepening romance secret. That is, until Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage for her. To someone nearly twice her age (which is mid-30s, but still). This sends Sahar into a tailspin, and she discovers that while being gay is illegal in Iran, gender reassignment surgeries are not. So, she decides that the best way to be with Nasrin is to become a man.

While I enjoyed learning about Farizan’s take on Iranian culture and life, it was all a bit, well, convoluted. Sahar didn’t ever ask Nasrin whether she wanted her to change her gender. Sahar just assumed that’s what it would take to stop Nasrin’s wedding, and was bullheaded about going forward with it, in spite of objections from people who have gone through the reassignment surgery.

Maybe it was the lack of communication between Nasrin and Sahar that bothered me. Or the way Nasrin treated Sahar. It really wasn’t a healthy relationship. And I’m glad (kind of spoilers) that Sahar was finally able to let Nasrin go while staying true to who she really is.

It wasn’t a great book, but I finished it. So it wasn’t horrible either.

Juliet Takes a Breath

by Gabby Rivera
First sentence: “There was always train traffic ahead of us and that Saturday was no different.”
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Review copy provided by publisher.
Content: There are a ton of f-bombs, some tasteful on-screen sex, and pot use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

So, while doing some Googling and looking when I finished this, I discovered that it was published four years ago by a small press, but picked up by Dial Press and re-published last year. Which explains 1) how I got an ARC from our Penguin rep and 2) why I missed it the first time around.

Because this a a spectacular piece of feminist LGBT writing.

The premise is this: Juliet has grown up in the Bronx, but gone away to a liberal arts college in Baltimore. Once there, she began discovering her sexuality, and read “Raging Flower” a seminal feminist book by Harlowe Brisbane. On a whim, Juliet decides to write Harlowe and ask if she needs an intern, which Harlowe readily agrees to. So, Juliet takes off across the country to Portland, hoping to be inspired and discover out more about herself.

What she discovers is that Harlowe doesn’t have all the answers, but the experiences — both good and bad — are immensely worth having.

The book was not kind to Portland; the people there were VERY hippie. So much hippie. And maybe that’s the way Portland really is, but I kind of felt like it was overkill. That said, I think Rivera did an amazing job exploring the space between adoring someone and being hurt by them and questioning their motivations. I also loved Juliet’s exploration of her sexuality and her relationship with her mother. But mostly I adored her cousin Ava.

It’s a good feminist book, encouraging girls (and women) to stand up and question not just patriarchy but their own individual responses. It was also a good exploration of intersectionality, and how if we don’t welcome everyone to the table, there’s not a lot of good that can be done. It’s all about taking ownership, and I can get behind that.

And it wasn’t a bad story either.

Fire and Hemlock

by Diana Wynne Jones
First sentence: “Polly sighed and laid her book face down on her bed.”
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Content: There’s some intense situations and mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It took me a bit when reading this to remember that it was a re-read. But I hit a point – maybe about a third of the way in — where it felt familiar, and I looked it up. Sure enough: I had read it before.

Since I already did a thorough review, I’m just going to jot down my thoughts revisiting this book 11 years later. First: Polly’s parents are terrible. Absolutely terrible. So, no wonder she attaches herself to Tom. He’s a father figure, an older sibling, a friend who believes in and humors her rather than shutting her down all the time. And then, in the end, he becomes a romantic interest? Honestly? I found that creepy. He’s at least 15 years older than her, and he’s been with her since she was 10. Creepy.

That said, I did like Polly and Tom’s adventures, and Polly trying to figure out as a 19 year old why she had two sets of memories. I don’t think Jones does romance terribly well, but then, I don’t think this was supposed to be a “romance”. I really appreciated the essay at the end of the book where Jones explained where the idea for Fire and Hemlock came from, and what she was attempting to do. Namely: have a girl be the heroic protagonist of a book. We kind of take it for granted that girls can do that now, but back when Jones was writing (this came out in 1985; I don’t know how I missed it, it would have been perfect for me back then), there just wasn’t a lot with girls playing the hero.

What this did make me realize is that I’ve only ever read two Diana Wynne Jones books, and that is something I should probably fix.

Audio book: You Should See Me in a Crown

by Leah Johnson
Read by Alaska Jackson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some bullying, a race and homophobic-centered hate crime, and one f-bomb. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Liz Lighty has kept her head down through all of high school, avoiding crowds, avoiding any sort of drama. Which isn’t easy in Campbell, Indiana because she is one of only a handful of black kids in the school (and town). But when she doesn’t get a scholarship to the college of her choice, she decides to enter the competition for Prom Queen, since winning that comes with a scholarship. And then, all of a sudden, she’s thrust into the limelight, where she isn’t comfortable.

But there are good things that come out of running for prom queen, too. Like re-kindling her friendship with Jordan, whom she fell out with their freshman year. And the new girl, Mack, who is smart and funny, and whom Liz might just have more than a little crush on.

Oh, this was such a delight to listen to! The narrator is perfect for the book, pulling me in with Liz’s voice and just keeping me there. And Johnson balanced some heavy topics: like a mom who died from sickle cell anemia, as well as the idea of popularity, and overt and covert racism and homophobia. But it’s never an “issue” book. It’s centered in Black joy and excellence, and is just a delight every step of the way. Plus the love story is super super cute. So much cute.

It was exactly the thing I needed and I’m so happy I listened to it.

10 Things I Hate About Pinky

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “The dead body was an especially nice touch.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: July 21, 2020
Content: There’s some kissing and mild swearing. It will be in the YA section of the bookstore.

Pinky Kumar is the different one in her family. With her colored hair, eyebrow ring, impulsive nature, series of not-great boyfriends, and devotion to causes (and creating trouble), her parents — her mother, especially — are at their wits end. So, after being accused (by her mother) of burning a barn down while on summer vacation, Pinky blurts out that she has a boyfriend her parents would approve of. She just needs to find that boyfriend, stat.

Samir Jha has everything planned out: he’s going to DC for the summer to do a high-stakes internship as part of his goal to getting into Harvard. However, when that suddenly falls through, he’s pretty aimless. Then he gets a text from Pinky — who he knows, but not well — out of the blue: come pretend to be her boyfriend for the summer, and she will make sure he gets an internship with her mother, a high profile lawyer. Against his better judgement, Samir accepts. It should be easy, except for one catch: he can’t actually stand Pinky’s impulsiveness. The feeling’s mutual: Pinky thinks Samir is boring. How are they going to survive the summer?

Oh this was cute. Sure, it’s a formulaic rom-com, but that’s kind of what one wants out of a romance story. And it has a couple of additional layers: Pinky’s conflicted relationship with her mom (due to a lack of communication on both sides) and Pinky getting involved in a local dispute with a developer trying to develop a habitat at their summer home. But those just added to the overall cuteness and just happy-making of the book. Menon really does have a gift for making light, fun, sweet romances and I am more than happy to read every one of them.

Dragondrums

by Anne McCaffrey
First sentence: “The rumble-thud-boom of the big drums answering a message from the east roused Piemur.”
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Others in the series: Dragonsong, Dragonsinger
Content: There is some bullying and one very off-screen sex scene. It would be in the YA section of the bookstore if we had it.

Piemur — who was a minor character in Menolly’s story of the first two books — takes front and center in this one. A few turns have passed since we last heard from our friends in the Harper Hall, and Piemur, known for his clear boy soprano has had the worst thing happen: he’s started to go through puberty and his voice is changing. That means, he’s no longer the center of all the choruses, and Master Robinton needs to find something to do with him. That something is learning the message drums. Except precocious Piemur does it too well and he’s bullied. One thing leads to another and Piemur finds himself stranded on Southern lands, without a hold, but with a stolen fire lizard egg. Will he ever find a place again?

In some ways, I felt this was just “Dragonsong: part 2”. I guess McCaffrey felt like Piemer needed an arc ‘like Menolly’s: he was bullied, and pushed out of a place he thought he loved, he went holdless, he found joy in a new place. There are some Pern politics in the backdrop that give it a bit more depth than Dragonsong — the tension between the new dragon riders and the Oldtimers in the south, for instance. But, it was mostly just a reprise. Except that Piemur is a delightful character, and Menolly’s in the background giving him support. So: it’s really a better Dragonsong than Dragonsong is. In fact, this might be my favorite of the trilogy, as much as I want to wholly love Menolly’s books.

It holds up as a triolgy, though.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight

by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
First sentence: “‘Waiting for Black is on your agenda, not mine,’ LaShunda barks as we leave the building.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is violence, some swearing and the use of the n-word. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I would give it to a 7th/8th grader as well.

All Lena wants to do is hookup with her boyfriend Black after halftime at the football game. All Campbell wants to do is sell concessions and get the heck out of there. But when a fight breaks out at the game, Lena and Campbell are thrown together. And when the fight escalates and turns into a protest which escalates and turns into riots, Lena and Campbell are forced to rely on each other to survive the night.

The book this most reminded me of is All American Boys: two kids — one white and one black — thrown together have to figure out how to relate to each other. So, yeah, this has been done before. That said, one of the things I thought Johnson and Segal did well was show how introducing the police actually made things worse. The fight started at the school, police were called, and it escalated. A protest was happening, police came in full riot gear and the situation escalated. Additionally, I thought that Lena and Campbell’s personal unpacking of biases (more on Campbell’s part, which is a good thing) was a valuable thing.

That said, there are books that do this better. Like All American Boys. Or The Hate U Give. Or Riot Baby.

It’s a valuable book, one that I do hope people (probably mostly white people, who I think this book was aimed at) will read. But, it’s not the best one out there.