Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.

A Conjuring of Light

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “Delilah Bard – always a thief, recently a magician, and one day, hopefully, a pirate — was running as fast as she could.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows
Content: Swearing (including f-bombs) and violence mostly. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the other two, obviously.

When I finished the second book, I told one of my co-workers, who is also in love with this series, that I wasn’t as happy with the second book. But, I said, it’s a middle book in a trilogy. I bet (I hope!) the third will be great.

And it is.

One of the Antari (those are blood magicians, of which there are only three… now…), Holland, has unleashed a bit of sentient magic on the Londons. It came from Black London (and it’s Kell’s fault as well, thinking Holland was dead and pushing him into Black London), and it’s possessed Holland and taken over White London. And now it — Osaran is its name — has it’s sights on Red London. And maybe even Gray. And it’s up to Kell, Lilah, Rhy, and everyone, really, to stop it. If it CAN be stopped.

It’s a long book — 600 pages — but it flies by, and Schwab spares no one. It’s vicious and emotional and heartbreaking and exciting. It’s just a sweeping epic story, (mostly) well-told, and definitely one I’d recommend.

 

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.

Proxy

proxyby Alex London
First sentence: “Even a perfect machine wasn’t built to go this fast.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of violence, including several deaths that, while not graphic, are a bit shocking. There’s also some futuristic drug use. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this vision of the future, there are those who have and those who have not. Syd is one of those who have not; in order to pay for the debt in incurred by being alive, he was forced to become a proxy for the child of a rich man. It works like this: the rich man takes on Syd’s debt, and in return, Syd takes on the punishments every time the child — Knox — gets in trouble. Seems fair, right? Except, it’s not that simple. It’s people’s lives they’re casually playing with, and Knox is exceptionally reckless. And when he accidentally kills a girl and Syd is condemned to die, Syd’s had enough: he’s going to escape this hellhole. But things aren’t as straight-forward as Syd thinks, either. And soon, Syd and Knox are on the run from a lot of people, and end up way over their heads.

I liked this one. It’s a smart vision of the future — dystopian, yes, but it’s the capitalistic system that’s become the cruel overlord rather than the government. He’s playing with class and debt and the relationships between the two. There’s a bit of chosen-one-ness going on here as well, but I thought London resolved it in a unexpected way. He definitely kept me turning pages, and I found that even the more annoying characters (Knox…) had layers to them. I hadn’t read anything by London before, and this was a great starting place.

And the best thing? I don’t have to wait for the sequel to come out!

The Best Man

bestmanby Richard Peck
First sentence: “Boys aren’t too interested in weddings.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 20, 2016
Content: There’s some bullying and it’s not really action-heavy. But I’d give it to a 4th grader and up. It’ll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Archer Magill is just trying to figure things out. As a 5th (and then 6th) grader, he’s kind of clueless. About girls, about friends, about life. And so, he’s looking for role models and he’s found three: his dad (who’s a really great dad), his grandpa (who’s pretty awesome), his Uncle Paul (who’s incredibly cool). And then, a student teacher, Mr. McLeod comes into his life.

Actually, this isn’t a book about an awesome male teacher, thank heavens. Event though there’s an awesome male teacher. No, it’s more about Life, and Figuring Things Out, and Friendship. And how other people’s lives intersect with ours. And the Chicago Cubs.  It’s a Slice of Life novel, one that is full of charming characters and a great family. And one that, refreshingly, treats a LGBT relationship as something that’s to be celebrated. No, our main character isn’t gay, it’s not a coming out book for kids. There’s no angst in this book. It’s a story where the LGBT relationship is a part of who the people are, and that’s okay.

It’s a funny, sweet, refreshingly charming novel, and I adored it.

And I Darken

andidarkenby Kiersten White
First sentence: “Vlad Dracul’s heavy brown descended like a storm when the doctor informed him that his wife had given birth to a girl.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of violence, an almost-rape, and some round-about talk of sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I would give it to a 7th or 8th grader who was interested in historical fiction.

Historical fiction, set in the 15th century, isn’t always something that jumps off the shelf at me. But the cover of this one was SO pretty… And, I admit: I was expecting a fantasy. What I got was a sweeping history of the Ottoman empire, of two siblings — children of the Dracul line — and the paths they forged for themselves against odds.

What I got was a fascinating love triangle (brother and sister in love with the same man), one that was built on friendship and trust and where none of them could be entirely happy. It was the story of a girl who refused to be coddled and took power for herself — Lada is nothing if not fierce — in unique and interesting ways. It’s a story of forced immigration and learning to be at home in a new place. (Or not.) It’s fascinating.

But it was also long; the book begins with Lada’s birth and goes for twenty years. It’s sprawling, complex, and not a little meandering. There were a ton of characters to keep a handle on, most of which I didn’t care about. I didn’t care about the campaigns and there wasn’t enough of the politics I found fascinating. Perhaps I’ll read the second (yeah, this is a first in a series), but I don’t know.

There was much to like about this book. I’m just not sure if it was enough.

If I Was Your Girl

ifiwasyourgirlby Meredith Russo
First sentence: “The bus smelled of mildew, machine oil, and sweat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some almost sexytimes, teen pot smoking and drinking, and a few instances of the f-bomb. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to get this out of the way, first. Whether or not this book is Good, it’s Important. It’s a book about a trans teenage girl written by a trans woman, and that perspective is invaluable. Period.

It’s an interesting plot, though, focusing not on the act of transitioning, or the reasons of transitioning (those come through flashbacks throughout the story), but the after-effects of the transition. Andrew grew up knowing he was a girl, and that he was just in the wrong body. And after a suicide attempt, his mother approved his transitioning — not just in name, Amanda now, but fully, with hormones and surgery. So, when she’s beaten up by a man for using the “wrong” restroom (because she was known in the their town; also, how very timely…) she heads to rural Tennessee to live with her father, who bailed on the family when Andrew began his transition to Amanda.

The goal is to pass: she is beautiful, and no one really can “tell” she wasn’t always biologically a young woman. And, at first, it all goes well. Sure, she’s hiding her past, but she’s living as her truest self, so it all seems like it will be okay. She has friends for the first time in a long time. She has a boyfriend. The problem is that even though she’s living as her truest self, keeping her past a secret isn’t always a comfortable thing.

(I hope I’m writing about this right.)

What this gave me, as a cisgender straight woman, was perspective. I did enjoy the romance; Amanda and Grant were super cute together and Russo does know how to write some good almost sexytimes. But what I found I enjoyed more was the understanding, the humanizing of Amanda. I’ve said that books are an excellent way to gain empathy for those who are different from you, and this was no exception. I feel like, through Amanda, I got to know one trans person’s story. And while that’s not to be taken as Everyperson’s story — as Russo points out in the note at the beginning of the book  — it’s a start. It made Amanda’s hopes, dreams, and feelings real to me, and that’s important.

So, even if this book wasn’t any Good (and it was very well written; Russo does know her South!), it’s Important. And that counts for a lot.