Audio book: Give Me Some Truth

by Eric Gansworth
Read by the author and Brittany LeBorgne
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content:  There is a lot of swearing, including some f-bombs, a very very awkward almost sex scene, plus some underage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. 

Set in 1980, this follows two members of the Tuscarora Nation in Northern New York: Carson, whose sole goal is to win the Battle of the Bands and a trip to New York City, and Maggi, whose family has just moved back to the reservation and is trying to figure out where she fits in. There are other things going on: there’s a diner off the reservation called Custer’s Last Stand that is (literally) The Worst, and Carson (and his brother) are mixed up in it. There’s an incident with making turkey in home ec class. There’s Maggi’s (and Carson’s friend Lewis’s) job at the garage. There’s selling traditional beadwork outside of Niagra Falls set against Maggi’s desire to be an artist, rather than just a traditional beadworker.  

Two things: 1) white people are HORRIBLE. And 2) I almost gave this up because of the pedophile. Maggi’s involved with a 31-year-old white guy (she’s 15!) and he was giving her presents and telling her he loved her, and pressuring her to have sex with him, and yet wanted to keep her secret from everyone (“if we don’t tell, it’s not illegal”). I was (literally) screaming at the car radio because of this. But, after talking to A and C about it, I came to realize that the pedophile was part of the larger theme which was my first point. White people (even though this was set in 1980, I’m not sure much has changed) are. the. worst. 

In the end, this was a really good exploration of the way native peoples are treated, and what life on the reservation was like. And, while I thought that Brittany was a much better reader than Eric, I still enjoyed listening to the book. Oh. And finish it. It all does come out right in the end. 

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Audio book: Leah on the Offbeat

by Becky Albertalli
Read by Shannon Purser
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen on Libro.fm
Content:  There’s a LOT of swearing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This is being billed as a sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and it is, kindof, but I don’t think you need to have read that one to enjoy this one. Sure, there’s some little Easter eggs for those who have, but this — first and foremost — is Leah Burke’s story. And 1) because they’re all seniors now and 2) the book is through Leah’s eyes, this is a lot more angsty than I was expecting from this world.

The basic plot is this: it’s near the end of senior year, and everyone — Simon and Bram, Nick and Abby, etc. — is happy. Except Leah. She identifies as bi, and has a raging crush on Abby, which of course is unrequited because 1) Nick’s girlfriend and 2) Abby’s straight. But after Abby breaks up with Nick right before prom and then kisses Leah on a trip to the University of Georgia (where they’re both going in the fall), Leah’s not quite so sure. About anything.

It’s a lot of ups and downs and angst and friendships falling apart, but I think Albertalli got the uncertainty of the second half of senior year, when everything is just about to change and be different. It’s a tough time (change is always tough), and I think Albertalli caught that in Leah’s story. And I really enjoyed the narrator, as well. She got Leah’s voice down — kind of that apathetic, sarcastic front for someone who feels deeply but who doesn’t want to share — and I found it didn’t really matter that she didn’t do voices for the other characters. It made sense: this is Leah’s story, and keeping the focus on Leah’s voice was something I respected.

I didn’t like this as much as I did Simon, but I did like it.

All Summer Long

by Hope Larson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 1, 2018
Content: There’s a little bit of romance, and just some themes of growing up in general. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but the sweet spot for this one is 6-7th graders, I think.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Bina’s not looking forward to it. Her best friend, Austin, is off to soccer camp for a month, and Bina’s afraid that summer will be boring without him. They’ve always spent the summer together, making their own fun, but they seem to be… growing up. And things aren’t the same.

Though, eventually Bina finds her own things to do: she makes friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, gets some babysitting gigs, and practices her guitar. It’s not the way it was with Austin, but it doesn’t suck.

The underlying conflict in the book is Austin and Bina’s friendship: they’ve been friends forever, but Austin’s been getting some grief from other boys (toxic masculinity is the worst!) for being friends with a girl, and so he attempts to push Bina away — which is part of the reason he’s been acting weird toward her. Larson treats all this with kindness and humor, and puts across a message that it’s okay to be friends with whomever you want to be with. Period. It’s wonderful.

And Larson also captures what it’s like to be young and faced with a long summer of doing… nothing. I like that the parents are concerned and responsible, but not hovering (they also change the Netflix password, so Bina can’t just watch TV all summer… that’s not a bad idea!) and Bina has some freedom to go out and find her own fun, but within reason.

It’s really a delightful graphic novel.

The First Rule of Punk

by Celia C. Pérez
First sentence: “Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some lying (by omission) and some middle school drama. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though 6th-7th graders might like it too.

Mariá Luisa (call her Malú please) is NOT happy about moving to Chicago. She wants to stay where she is, in her own school, splitting her time between her house and her father’s record store. But, her mom got a job in Chicago teaching Mexican literature, so they’re moving. And so she has to start over. Which is additionally hard because she’s in a school with a large Mexican American population, and Malú is struggling to find her own identity, especially with her mother always harping on Malú’s love of punk music.

But, she slowly finds her crowd in this new school, and maybe even some friends, although she makes some enemies as well (inevitable). Maybe she can find a balance in this new place.

I loved this one! Malú is a seriously great character, and I loved how Pérez wove in Mexican culture and history through the work. I loved the inclusion of punk music (and lifestyle) and actually really liked the conflict between Malú and her mom (it’s SO hard to let kids be themselves and not what we want them to be). I loved the zines in the book, and Malú’s slow acceptance of her new school and neighborhood. It was just an excellent story all around.

Solo

by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:  There’s some drug use and drinking, mostly by adults. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) at the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th/8th grader who is interested.

Blade Morrison is the son of an aging rocker, whose career has been in a steady decline for most of Blade’s life. Drugs, alcohol, and Blade’s mom’s death all contributed to the decline, and Blade has lost patience with his father. Especially when he shows up, mostly naked, at Blade’s graduation. It also doesn’t help that his girlfriend’s father has forbidden her to see him. So, when a long-kept family secret comes out and Blade ends up half way across the world, he is given a chance to figure out his own life and maybe figure out his relationship with his family.

On the one hand, this was a super privileged book, with its Hollywood sensibilities with parties and drugs (mostly on the part of Blade’s dad) and Misratis and paparazzi. And when Blade gets to Ghana, there’s a LOT of “things are solved through the simple people” going on, which didn’t really sit that well with me. (Maybe it’s me?)

That said, Alexander and Hess’s poetry is lovely, and I loved how they incorporated music. There’s a line, near the end of the book about how, in spite of everything, music is something that binds us and brings us together, and that resonated so very much with me. Rock-n-roll, R&B, jazz, classical… music is universal and helps heal, and Alexander and Hess captured that perfectly. Which, in spite of the little complaints I had, really made this book, well, sing.

Two DNFs

I suppose each  of these could have gotten their own post, but I didn’t want to work that hard.

hatersThe Haters
by Jesse Andrews
First sentence: “Jazz camp was mostly dudes.”
Review copy provided by publisher
Content: So many swear words, including a bucketful of f-bombs. Realistic, sure, but it lands it squarely in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Wes and Corey are at jazz camp. They’re not the world’s best musicians; mostly what they do is mess around on the bass and drums, respectively, and be super snobbish about the music they listen to. They figure it’s going to be a halfway decent camp, until they meet Ash, who is a lead guitarist. But not a jazz one. She’s also the only girl at the camp. And then, one night, she talks Wes and Corey into ditching camp and going on a “tour” as a band — just the three of them.

I wanted to like this one, and sometimes I did. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I thought that Andrews’ observations on music and hipsters and snobs and possibly even teenagers were spot-on. But, that just wasn’t enough to make me care. I made it nearly halfway before I realized that I had no desire to find out what happens on this “world tour of the south” or how Wes, Corey, and Ash deal with everything. It was funny at times. It just wasn’t interesting.

Which is too bad.

maestraMaestra
by L. S. Hilton
First sentence: “Heavy hems and vicious heels swooped and clacked over the parquet.”
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: Um. Well. Let’s just say that it’s a smarter 50 Shades of Grey.  It’s in the Mystery section of all places.

I think there’s a plot to this one. By day, Judith works at an art house as a lackey — she’s super informed about art, smarter than everyone else at the art house, but she just doesn’t get respect. So, by night, she works at a house of pleasure (of sorts). I’m sure more stuff happens, but I bailed after she accidentally killed a guy in France (or was it Italy?) and went on the lamb.

I’ll admit I don’t mind sex in my books. I like sex when it’s smart, when I like the chemistry between the characters, when there’s a plot to attach itself to. I don’t go in for erotica, mostly because it’s sex and no plot. This one, I was assured, balanced the both: hot sex, interesting character, good plot.

Um. I never got past the hot sex part to see the other two. Sure, Judith was intriguing, but 100 pages in there really wasn’t much of a plot. And it’s rumored that this is a series? Seriously? I decided I was much too innocent for this one (the sex wasn’t so much hot as it was disturbing), and since the characters and plot weren’t enough to hold my interest, I bailed.

Husky

by Justin Sayre
First sentence: “Ducks, now would you look at this!”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 22, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: There’s really nothing objectionable, though the subject matter is a bit on the more mature side. It will be in the YA section of the bookstore, though it’s probably good for 5th graders as well.

Davis is an only child, living with his mother — who is gone all the time, working at the bakery she owns — and his grandmother. His father’s out of the picture (dead? I think?) and his grandpa died a few years ago. And his grandmother is one of those Irish Grandmothers: overprotective, nosy, loud. The only real escape Davis has is his opera music (yes, he likes opera. No, it doesn’t come off as weird) and his friends, Sophie and Ellen. Except that Ellen is a sarcastic mean and likes Charlie (whom Davis isn’t really quite sure of), and Sophie has been hanging out with Allegra who is one of those stereotypical Mean Girls. So, where does that leave Davis?

During this summer before high school, Davis tries to figure all of it out.

I wanted to like it. Partially because I like our rep, and she really liked this one. But. I just didn’t get it. Davis was bothered by his weight, but it’s not a fat book. Which is a good thing. It’s not one of those books where he has to Overcome Being Fat in order to be happy. But, it’s also not a Accept Yourself and Be Happy book, either. On the one hand, it’s a process, and it doesn’t have a tidy happily-ever-after, which I respect. But I didn’t like the underlying assumption — especially at the end — that Davis was gay. A boy who listens to opera and whose best friends are girls isn’t necessarily gay. (Way to play into stereotypes.) That really bothered me, in the end.

Davis was a decent enough character; a bit lethargic for my tastes, and prone to being a reactor instead of someone who actually participates in his own life. But, it wasn’t a bad thing.

Aside from the stereotypes, I really can’t pinpoint why I didn’t love this book. It just wasn’t my thing.