I Believe in a Thing Called Love

by Maurene Goo
First sentence: “When I was seven, I thought I moved a pencil with my mind.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s a propensity to use the s-word. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8; I debated, but decided that it ultimately wen there) of the bookstore.

Desi does it all: she’s student body president, involved in practically every club, soccer star, valedictorian, and a model daughter for her dad (especially since her mom’s sudden death seven years before). The only thing she doesn’t have (and hasn’t ever had): a boyfriend.  And then Luca shows up at her school: reserved, artistic, with a shady past, and that… something… that makes him completley desirable to Desi. The problem? Desi is absolutely lousy at flirting. (Or as her two best friends, Fiona and Wes, call what she does: flailure.) So, Desi turns to one of her father’s passions to get help, and starts binge-watching K-Dramas. She comes up with a list of 28 tried-and-true (and also a bit cliche) steps to Get the Guy and starts her project.

The best part of this incredibly sweet book is that you don’t have to know K-Dramas (though I suppose it helps) in order to enjoy that this is parodying K-Dramas while also following the formula. (It’s  Jane the Virgin in book form!) Yes, there’s a definite arc to the book, but it feels, well a bit wink-wink-nudge-nudge about it all. It’s very self-aware, and that was something I really enjoyed about it. That, and the father-daughter relationship. Sure, there’s a dead mom, but Desi’s dad is the most well-adjusted adult in a YA novel I’ve read in a while. I liked that he was a mechanic with a passion for funny shows (Desi was named after Desi Arnez) and K-Dramas. I liked his relationship with Desi, and the love that I could sense between the two.

It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s a little silly, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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We Are Okay

weareokayby Nina LaCour
First sentence: “Before Hannah left, she asked if I was sure I’d be okay.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 14, 2017
Review copy sent by the publisher’s rep, who is my favorite.
Content: There’s one f-bomb, some inferences to sex and a scene where the main character gets drunk. It’ll be in the Teen Section (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I know from the outset that I’m not going to do this book justice. Partially because the plot is simple: it’s Christmas break, and college freshman Marin doesn’t want to go home for lots of reasons. The chief one being that right before she left for college, her grandfather — her only living family — died. So her best friend (the one who has been texting and calling and Marin’s not answering) comes to see her. And over the next few days before Christmas, and through a series of flashbacks, we find out the depths of Marin’s grief.

Which is really what this book is “about”: the varied ways we all deal with loss, heartbreak, lonliness, and grief. Some ways are healthier than others. Some have friends who are willing to put in the work to rescue them. And sometimes, distance and time can be both the best and the worst thing.

And LaCour gets all those difficult emotions beautifully. The story unfolds bit by bit, giving us small slices at a time, until we see the whole, heartbreaking picture. It’s a remarkable moment, one which brought tears to my eye. And it’s a universal feeling: we have all wanted to be loved, we have all had heartbreak, we have all had grief and been lonely. It’s beautiful and moving and heartbreaking all at once.

Perfect.

Kids of Appetite

kidsofappetiteby David Arnold
First sentence: “Consider this: billions of people in the world, each with billions of I ams.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 20, 2016
Content: There are a bunch of f-bombs, some teenage smoking, and some depictions of domestic abuse. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Vic is many things: a teenage boy, a son whose father has died of cancer, a lover of music and math. He also has Moebius syndrome, but he doesn’t let that define him. No, these days, he lets his dad’s absence and his mom’s new relationship define him. And one night, when things become unbearable, Vic grabs his dad’s ashes and takes off. Out there, he runs into an interesting group of kids, under the protection of a Congolese immigrant named Baz. They fly under the radar, taking people in who need help, give them the help they need, and send them on their way. And Vic most definitely needs help. Especially after he opens his father’s urn and discovers instructions as to where his ashes should be spread. So Vic, with his new-found friends, takes it upon himself to scatter his dad according to his wishes.

Things aren’t that simple, though. Vic gets caught up in the lives of what comes to be called Kids of Appetite, and when the uncle of one kid ends up dead (and Baz is a suspect), Vic finds himself in the police station.

There’s a lot going on in this novel: there’s a main character with a disability, and some discussion on etiquette when dealing with someone who doesn’t look like you. There’s diversity and refugee and immigration issues with Baz and his younger brother as they try to make a new life for themselves. There’s a semi-traditional love story. There’s a murder. But, even with all these weird eclectic elements, it works. It’s such a character-driven novel and each and every character (well at least with the Kids of Appetite) is a gem. The novel alternates between Vic and Mad, an 18-year-old girl who is kind-of a runaway as well, and each of their voices was delightful. I liked that there was a dark edge to this, that there are things to think about, and yet it’s ultimately a story of hope and redemption.

Highly, highly recommended.

Love & Gelato

lovegelatoby Jenna Evans Welch
First sentence: “You’ve had bad days before, right?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: April 12, 2016
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s some drinking (the drinking age in Italy is 16) and a couple of lecherous men that the main character encounters. It’ll be in the YA section of the bookstore.

Lina’s mom has died somewhat suddenly, and several months later Lina has found herself in Florence, meeting the father  — Howard — she never knew because her mother never told her about him. It’s not exactly her idea of a good time. What she really wants is to just go home and live with her best friend.

Then she receives her mother’s journal from her time in Florence, and all of a sudden, things become more interesting. She not only learns about her mother’s secrets, but sees Florence through her mother’s eyes. It also helps that she meets a cute Italian (well, half-American) boy, Ren, to share things with.

This was was just about perfect as a summer romance. Sure, it starts with a dead parent, but after that it’s utterly charming. I loved the mystery of Lina’s father: who was he, what was he like? I loved her getting to know Howard, and I adored Ren as a character. Sure, it was a little predictable (I figured out the twist pages before Lina did), but in a comforting way. Besides, I was reading it as an escape to and a romance in Italy, not for some great literary writing. And Welch served it up (pun intended) delightfully.

 

Tell Me Three Things

tellmethreethingsby Julie Buxbaum
First sentence: “Seven hundred and thirty-three days after my mom died, forty-five days after my dad eloped with a stranger he met on the Internet, thirty days after we then up and moved to California, and only seven days after starting as a junior at a brand-new school where I know approximately no one, an email arrives.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: April 5, 2016
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including a dozen f-bombs, some teen drug use and drinking, as well as talk of sex. It’ll be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Two years after Jessie’s mom’s’ death, her father decides to move on, marrying a woman from L. A. that he met on one of the grief chat boards. What that means for Jessie, however, is being uprooted before her senior year, forced to leave her Chicago home and friends and forced to move in with a stepmother she doesn’t know and a stepbrother who loathes her and go to a private school where everything she does is wrong. Then she gets an email out of the blue from someone who calls himself “Somebody Nobody” and they start a conversation. One that, over the course of the fall, becomes increasingly important to Jessie. `

The big mystery, though, is who this Somebody Nobody is. Jessie’s pretty sure it’s a guy, but which one? And, as they get closer and she spills more of her secrets to him, will the ever meet?

I fell head over heels in love. Sure, it’s a bit 99% with the private school and the rich California kids, and sure there’s the whole dead-parent thing, but it’s a good picture of a girl trying to get past her mom’s death (rather than her mom dying) and moving on. and I liked how Buxbaum dealt with the whole blended family thing. But, what I really liked was the romance. I adored the conversations between SN and Jessie (is it bad that I peeked at the end to find out if it was who I hoped it was?) and I felt that Buxbaum found a creative and clever way to make their relationship grow without it feeling trite or cliche.

It really was a delightful read.

The Key to Extraordinary

keytoextraordinaryby Natalie Lloyd
First sentence: “It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary days.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: February 23, 2016
Content: It’s short(ish) and the words aren’t too terribly difficult, but there’s kind of a little romance, so maybe it’s not for the 3rd graders? It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The women in Emma’s family have had a long history of doing Extraordinary things. They have a dream, which they call their Blue Wildflower dream, and in that dream they are Shown Their Path, the way in which they’ll be extraordinary. At almost 13, Emma’s convinced that in spite of all this, her life won’t be that special. She lives in a smallish town in Tennessee, and while she loves her Grandma Blue and the cafe she runs, where Emma’s older brother is the baker, there really isn’t much else.

Then Emma gets her wildflower dream, and it doesn’t make sense.  Then developers start sniffing around the cafe, wanting to buy it, and suddenly maybe Emma can piece together some lost history and save the cafe while filling her destiny.

I liked Snicker of Magic quite a bit, and I like Southern Quirky (as Ms. Yingling calls it), but this one didn’t work for me.  I’m not sure I can pinpoint why, though. Maybe it’s a bit of a reading slump (I tossed aside about four books partially read before I settled on this one), maybe it’s that I’m a bit under the weather. Either way, Emma and her plight didn’t sit with me. It even had a Nice Moral at the end: follow your dreams and expectations and don’t let the accomplishments of the past make you intimidated (or at least I think that’s the message), but I kind of just shrugged and said, “Meh.”

Which is too bad. I did want to like this one more.

Kill the Boy Band

killtheboybandby Goldy Moldavsky
First sentence: “People have called me crazy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 23, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a LOT of f-bombs, plus an off-screen sex scene. It’ll be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

You ever finish a book and think “Huh. That was a wild, weird, insane trip”?

Yeah, this is that sort of book.

The premise? Four friends — Samantha, our narrator; Erin; Isabel; and Anna — who are all dedicated fans of The Ruperts (a One Direction-like band) have met up in New York City for The Ruperts’ Thanksgiving show. They’ve managed (thanks to Anna, whose family is loaded) to score a room in the hotel where the boys are staying. Their goal? To score tickets to the show, maybe meet the band.

Or at least that’s what it begins like.

Then, they accidentally sort-of on purpose kidnap the most useless member of the Ruperts, Rupert P., and things kind of go (hilariously) downhill from there.

I’ll admit it: I laughed. I laughed a lot. The premise is so ridiculous, so inane that I had to laugh. The fans are called Strepurs (that’s Rupert’s backwards). The four girls got into ever increasingly weird situations. But, at it’s heart, it’s a dark novel. What is the purpose of a celebrity? How much do they owe their fans? How much should a fan expect? You see this all the time with celebrities, finding a balance between being a private person and appeasing their fans, and Moldavsky just takes it to the extreme. It’s also a musing on the extremes that fans — especially teenage girls, but maybe that’s a stereotype — will go to meet and interact with the object of their affection. It’s a fascinating look — albeit satirical — at the current state of culture.

Did I like it? Yes. Did it scare me? Somewhat. (My boss says it’s because I have teenage girls who are fans of things.) Is it good? Definitely.