Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

by Becky Albertalli
First sentence: “It’s a weirdly subtle conversation.”
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Content: There’s quite a bit of swearing, including a lot of f-bombs, and some teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This one is a difficult one to sum up plot-wise. Simon is gay, but he’s not out. He’s being blackkmailed by another student who found out (accidentally) about Simon’s gayness, because Simon is emailing and flirting with a boy, Blue, online. Their relationship is entirely online, even though Simon knows that Blue is a student at his high school… Blue is just more comfortable with the anonymity.

As the book goes on, Simon juggles being blackmailed, and making and keeping friends, and high school drama, as he falls in love with Blue, and tries to figure everything out.

It’s not a deep or complex plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved Simon and his loveable awkwardness as he tries to figure everything out. (Being a high school junior is hard.) I loved his relationship with Blue, and once he figured it out, their in-person relationship. I liked Simon’s  family — it’s always nice to see a good, functional family in a YA novel — and his friends, and liked that there was conflict between them, but not of the sort that went against their fundamental relationship. It was sweet and wonderful and just happy-making. Which is what I would call this book. Maybe not perfect, but definitely very very wonderful.

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Turtles all the Way Down

by John Green
First sentence: “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time — between 12:37 p.m. and 1:14 p.m. — by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  Lots and lots of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This is a book about OCD and anxiety. This is also a book, I think (having followed John Green for at least 7 years or so on YouTube/Podcasts/Social Media), that channels John Green the best out of all of them. The plot, really, is almost incidental: it’s about a girl, Aza, and her friend, Daisy, who decide that they’re going to find out what happened to this developer who was on the lamb. The catch: Aza knew the developer’s son, Davis, when they were eleven. Mostly, though, it’s a chance to be inside Aza’s head, to experience first-hand what it’s like to be someone with OCD, with anxiety, and how crippling it can sometimes be.

I’m not sure if it’s “good” or not; it made me cry at the end, and I think that it’s probably a more mature book than his other ones. (There really aren’t any pretentious, super-smart teenagers here; everyone, even Davis, seemed relatable and not annoying.) But there was also a disconnect to it that I hadn’t felt in his other books. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable; it was. Green knows how to craft a story, and throw in asides that don’t really feel like asides. But, I didn’t feel totally immersed in it (which may be me more than anything). Still, worth a read.

Daughter of the Pirate King

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “I hate having to dress like a man.”
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Content: There’s some violence, some mild swearing, and references to torture. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Pirate captain, and daughter of the pirate king, Alosa is on a secret mission to retrieve a part of a map from one of her father’s enemies. Which means, she is deliberately captured in order to search the ship. This is not a pleasant experience for her; Alosa is used to 1) commanding her own ship and 2) besting everyone around her. She knows her father is placing his trust in her, though, and she’s determined to succeed. At whatever cost.

Oh heavens, this was fun. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good pirate book (and this IS a good pirate book) where the girl gets to be awesome (and gets to do it mostly on her own terms; the ship Alosa captains is made up mostly of women, and it’s just amazing. She’s just amazing!) AND gets to have the guy (oh the banter was delightful). It was well-written, well-paced, and just OH so much fun.

And the bonus? The sequel’s coming out soon. (In fact, that’s entirely why I picked this one up: I got an ARC of the sequel at work.)  I can’t wait to dive into that!

All the Crooked Saints

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”
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Release date: October 10, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but younger kids might be interested in it.

The problem with this book is that the plot is really hard to describe. There’s a family in the southern Colorado desert, the Sorias, that have basically made a living performing miracles for pilgrims who come to their homestead looking for help. But, it’s much more than about the miracles. There’s a boy who comes looking for help (but not a miracle) and a few pairs of lovers, some who are new and some who have lost their way. In fact, a lot of the plot is about how to find one’s way back from being, well, lost.

It’s historical, set sometime in the 1960s (I had it initially pegged for contemporary, then set in the 1970s… so I was close), but it feels, well, set out of time.

Mostly, though, the best thing about this is, like many Stiefvater novels, the words. She just has a way of telling a story that sucks you in and won’t let you go. And this was no exception. The magic here was less “magic” and more magical realism; it felt like it really could happen, that it was a natural outgrowth of the story, and it made perfect sense.

I’m sure Stiefvater will get some push back for writing a story with Latin@ main characters, but honestly, I don’t think she used stereotypes at all. (Or at least, that’s the way I felt; I’m not a great judge of this.)  I loved all the characters, from the Soria family to the pilgrims, and I loved the way Stiefvater told the story. Everything just seemed to fit.

It’s really a wonderful story.

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.”
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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.

Words in Deep Blue

by Cath Crowley
First sentence: “I open my eyes at midnight to the sound of the ocean and my brother’s breathing.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Content: There’s some inferences to sex, some teenage drinking (it’s legal in Australia) and some swearing (I don’t remember there being any f-bombs, but don’t quote me on that). It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Rachel realized, three years ago, that she was in love with her best friend, Henry. So, she told him, via a letter in his family’s bookstore’s “Letter Library” (the coolest idea ever: leaving notes in books for strangers and/or friends). He never responded, having eyes only for another girl. And then she moved to the coast, so she figured (even though he wrote) they were over.

But, three years later, Rachel’s younger brother has drowned, and neither Rachel nor her mother are dealing with it well. Rachel’s flunked out of Grade 12, and it seems like perhaps the best thing would be to go back to the city and live with her aunt Rose and figure out what the next step should be. She ends up working at Henry’s family’s bookstore, and comes back into Henry’s orbit, again. Rachel’s dealing with too much to get into a relationship right now. But being back with Henry is comfortable, and maybe Rachel can figure out how to heal from her brother’s death. And maybe, this time, it’ll be different with Henry.

I loved this book, mostly because it hit all my sweet spots. Summer romance, bookish characters, second chances at love. I thought Crowley managed both grief and the healing process realistically. And I loved the letters that were scattered throughout the book, how the characters used the books to communicate with each other. I liked that the grief gave it an edge, and I really liked how it resolved.

An excellent summer romance.

Alex, Approximately

by Jenn Bennett
First sentence: “He could be anyone of these people.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of drug use (by a minor character), some teenage drinking, and some non-graphic sex. There is also some mild swearing and two f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Bailey has just moved to California to live with her dad, and it just happens to be in the same northern California surfing town as her on-line BFF (and crush), Alex. He’s everything she thinks she wants: they share the same taste in movies, they love to banter… the only thing is that she doesn’t know who he is.

And then she meets Porter Roth. He’s everything Alex is not: annoying, irritating, and a surfer. And Bailey’s stuck working with him at her new summer job. But then, she finds herself falling for him and starts to wonder whether or not she needs Alex after all.

That kind of sounds lame, doesn’t it? But, truthfully, it’s the perfect mix of retro, sassy repartee, and romance (with a few steamy bits). There’s California surf culture (though it felt more southern than northern, but that’s nit-picky), there’s a bad egg of a former best friend to keep things exciting. There’s a friendship story as well as a boyfriend story and it’s summery and just perfect. And yeah, the “big” reveal at the end is pretty obvious (you can figure it out a mile away), but you know what? I didn’t care.

It hit the spot.