Title: And We Call It Love
Author: Amanda Vink
Page Count: 200
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 1, 2019 by West 44 Books
Review: I have not read many books in verse, but this one caught my attention because it is being marketed as a hi-lo reader. This is appealing to me because we have many teens that visit my library branch that have a very low reading level. It can be difficult to find suitable reading material that is not only appropriate for their current reading level, but also contains subject matter that is of interest to them.
This book was great because it contained teen characters and teen themes, but did not use overly complicated verbiage. I really liked that the story went full circle and addressed sensitive issues in a relatable and easily comprehensible way. There was also some excellent use of analogy, which I very much appreciate.
I had some difficulty following the formatting, and I am not sure if this is typical of verse style writing or if it was just the formatting on my eReader. It did not prevent me from understanding the material, but it did take some adjustment on my part.
Title: Only a Breath Apart
Author: Katie McGarry
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 22, 2019 by Tor Teen
Review: This was a very sweet love story that tackled the very difficult topic of abuse. Both Scarlett and Jesse have been victimized by a parent, causing deep and lasting trauma.
At times this was a painful read, because it really shows how devastating and self-perpetuating the cycle of abuse can be. Sadly, it is not uncommon for a victim of abuse to blame themselves, and many are trapped in a toxic relationship because of fear, love, finances, and/or a misplaced belief that the abuser can change.
This story also demonstrates that there are different types of abuse, and that emotional/psychological abuse can be equally as damaging as physical abuse.
Scarlett and Jesse show that it is possible to heal, and that reaching out to people we trust can help us transcend a dangerous situation. There are many other important lessons to be found in this story and I think that makes it is a great reading recommendation for teens.
Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Performer: Bahni Turpin
Length: 11 hr, 56 min
Series: Dread Nation, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 3, 2018 by HarperAudio
Review: This book is fantastic, and I loved every minute of it. Bahni Turpin did an excellent job reading it, and I have come to expect nothing less from her than a stellar performance.
Shortly before finishing this book, I browsed through some of the reviews posted on Goodreads and was surprised to find that there has actually been some controversy regarding this book. After reading through these criticisms, I strongly believe that many people misunderstand the difference between author opinion and writing a story that is true to the era in which it is taking place.
Many people took issue with the fact that people of color are spoken of negatively in this book and did not like the way they were portrayed. I saw words like “colorism” being thrown around because of the way the main character describes herself and other people of color, but it is important to remember that people of this time period had been indoctrinated with a very negative view of people of color. It is not surprising that many people of color internalized this negativity, and it deeply affected the way they viewed themselves and others. This is largely the reason that colorism exists, and I think this book was a powerful commentary on how damaging that type of rhetoric is.
It also confused me that so many people considered this an LGBT+ representative book. Some people consider Jane bisexual, but I think that this is a stretch. I think it can be argued that she is curious, but her strong attraction to men is made apparent throughout the book. I understand that sexuality can fall on a pretty broad and fluid scale, but it does not seem that she considers herself to be particularly attracted to women. It is also stated by reviewers that another central character, Katherine, is asexual, but I think this is also a stretch. She admits that she has not experienced attraction to anyone, however, considering her traumatic upbringing and the near constant barrage of sexual harassment she experiences on a daily basis, I do not find this to be especially surprising. My point in all of this is that this book should not be touted as LGBT+ literature. Perhaps this topic will be explored more deeply in the next book, in which case I may change my mind.
There are so many positive things to say about this book. It features strong female characters who are equally clever and badass. It is a truly original story and the character development is quite good in my opinion. The author even hit me with a twist at the end that I did not see coming at all. I feel good about the ending, and I am so excited for the next book in this series!
Title: Belly Up
Author: Eva Darrows
Page Count: 384
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 30, 2019 by Inkyard Press
Review: There are so many things I love about this book. Most importantly, there are the characters. Darrows’ characters are full of personality and spunk and the dialogue between them sometimes had me snickering out loud. Bottom-line, I want all of them in my life for reals.
Teen pregnancy books often fall into the realm of “issue” fiction, but this is so much more than just a cautionary tale. Certainly the main character, Sara, has to come to terms with the repercussions of a single night of indiscretion, but she finds strength in herself and the people in her life as she navigates through some tough choices.
There is a whole lot of representation in this book. The main character is biracial and bisexual/questioning. Her best friend is asexual, another friend is transgender, and her boyfriend is demisexual. I have to admit that I had to look up several of the terms and identifiers used in this novel because I had no idea what they meant. The story really covers a wide spectrum of gender and sexuality, and it is rare to see that kind of fluidity represented in YA fiction.
I highly recommend this book. It is smart, it is funny, and it really shows how important it is to surround yourself with supportive and loving people…people who will be with you through thick and thin (pun intended).
Title: Letters to the Lost
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Page Count: 391
Series: Letters to the Lost, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 4, 2017 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Review: I actually really enjoyed this book. The premise reminded me of the movie You’ve Got Mail in that the two main characters connect anonymously through letters. In actual life, they are initially at odds but slowly start to fall for each other.
This type of book can be infuriating due to all the near misses of “AHA” moments between the two characters, however, I never found myself feeling that way. It takes predictably long for the characters to realize that they are writing to each other, but I nevertheless found myself really liking the story.
There are a some twists in the plot. Some I saw coming from a mile away, but others caught me by surprise. I would definitely recommend this book to young readers because it is a very sweet story that handles topics like grief, trauma, and betrayal in a sensitive and relatable way.
Title: My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life
Author: Rachel Cohn
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: December 18, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Review: This is a cutesy Cinderella-esqe story about a girl who is lifted out of an American foster care system and whisked away to a faraway land by her absent until now, incredibly rich father.
It goes about how you would imagine, with Elle acclimating to a new life in a new place where she does not speak the language. Conveniently she is enrolled in an expat private school where classes are taught in English, but she still has to learn how to navigate through a nuanced culture that is vastly different from what she is accustomed to.
I like that fact that the author made Elle a multiethnic character, and it adds some conflict to the story as her “otherness” initially makes it challenging for her to ingratiate herself with her very traditional Japanese family members. It is also interesting to see how she adapts to a mostly homogenous world where customs and etiquette are a very important part of everyday interactions.
I felt like I learned a lot about Japanese culture (I am trusting that the author did her research), and I thought that overall it was an enjoyable read. I will be recommending this to readers who enjoy loose fairytale adaptations and gossipy teen dramas.
Title: The Girl King
Author: Mimi Yu
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 8, 2019 by Bloomsbury YA
Review: This book falls in the category of well-written with a decent plot, but not as good as I wanted it to be. I should have loved this book. It is a tale of two sisters battling it out for a throne, which in this case means a lot of political intrigue and ancient magic. However, I just could not make myself feel invested in the story or the characters. Though I liked it for the most part, there are a couple things that I found to be problematic.
First, the characters and setting were not nearly as developed as the plot. Although we get some glimpses of the motivation that drives the two sisters, I did not feel like I really got to know either of them beyond a superficial level. This is especially true with the character of Minyi. Although she seemed to have had the greatest character arc, it all still felt very shallow to me and her naivety was annoying rather than endearing.
Second, Lu’s romance was poorly constructed. It did not feel authentic and I personally prefer a slow build over instant love. I think the author attempted to do this by making the characters initially at odds (for a very short period of time), but it just fell flat.
It is unlikely that I will continue reading if this book turns into a series (it most likely will), but there are some positive attributes that made this an enjoyable read. Although I would have liked more from this story, it nevertheless featured strong female leads and closed with some pretty awesome magic.