ARC Review: Our Year of Maybe

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Genre: YA contemporary

Publication date: January 15, 2019

Synopsis:

Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

**Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley**

I read Rachel Lynn Solomon’s debut You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone last year, and while the premise itself didn’t immediately appeal to me, the execution sure was amazing. The same is true of her second book, Our Year of Maybe, full of complex characters, heartbreaking situations, and nuanced explorations of Judaism.

First of all, despite the book’s length (almost 400 pages) and serious subject matter–a kidney transplant, Sophie’s unrequited love–I found it addicting. I just had to know what happened! And when I thought I knew where it was going, something else would happen. (But ultimately, I think it ended in a satisfying place.)

The kidney disease and transplant situation seemed well-researched, and overall the book deals with chronic disabilities. Peter isn’t “cured” because of the transplant–he has to take medication–but his life does drastically change. Sophie, meanwhile, also has to take meds and monitor herself. Meanwhile, Sophie also has dyslexia, which impacted her growing up and still does, as she listens to audiobooks of required reading for school and takes a little longer to read Instagram captions. I loved the inclusion of these details. (Sophie is also such a big social anxiety mood.)

The story as a whole deals with the difficulties and problems of unrequited love, of feeling that someone “owes” you, and of having a codependent friendship that is perhaps no longer necessary and now unhealthy. The issues that arise are not glossed over (it maybe even goes a little further than necessary in exploring things). As the characters develop, they are pushed into new situations and ultimately grow as people…yeah, I don’t want to say more without spoiling anything!

The atmosphere of the novel is also well-realized. It takes place in Seattle, and we come to know the families and home situations of both characters well. I particularly liked how they each had their own experiences with Judaism–Sophie isn’t particularly religious, while Peter is half-Jewish and becomes interest in going to synagogue with his father. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Sophie and her sister, who is younger but has a one-year-old child. Also, this book made my “YA Books that Describe the Magic of Music” post for a reason! Sophie is a choreographer and Peter is a pianist who becomes involved in a band, and I LOVED the many references and general vibe of the music scenes.

Lastly, Our Year of Maybe has a mature attitude toward teenage sexuality and relationships. It allows its characters to experience pleasure, and we LOVE consent! And discussions with parents! Peter is also bisexual and has known this–although he has never found the right time to mention it to Sophie. I liked this, but the simplified mentions of it were all of the “I like boys and girls” variety, without any mentions of those who fall outside of the gender binary (which, yes, many people who identify as bi are attracted to!). This is a pattern I’m noticing in quite a few reads and it’s become frustrating.

So if you want a book that’s addicting, heartbreaking, and moving, Our Year of Maybe is a great bet!

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2018 Reading Wrap-Up! With Charts! And 2019 goals!

Why yes, it is 2019, which means it’s time to wrap up my 2018 reading year. (I read up until Dec. 31st, of course!) This year’s edition is complete with lots of stats and charts, thanks to the reading spreadsheet I got from Book Riot! (Here is the new and improved 2019 one, which I’m really excited about, and stole the graph idea from.)

The inevitable place to start is: how many books did I read? Well, that isn’t just a simple answer. My spreadsheet from which this data is pulled has 74, but my Goodreads has 77. That’s because I marked two textbooks I read a lot from as read, both of which I read a lot of selections from out-of-order throughout the semester and maybe didn’t read the entire thing, but also I had to read a lot that went unmarked anyway, so I figure it’s accurate enough. I also marked the Melville “short” story (it was like 80 pages in my edition) “Benito Cereno.” My Goodreads year in review is here, if you’re into that. The pages are probably inaccurate because I had quite a few audiobooks. My Goodreads goal was 70, so I definitely made that!

The Big Picture

Some quick stats from my handy spreadsheet that help contextualize these graphs:

  • Books completed: 74
  • Pages read: 15,258
  • Audiobook time listened: 2 days, 9 hrs, and 58 mins
  • Average number of days per book: 12.3 (totally read more than one book at once)
  • Average number of pages per day: 41.98
  • Average number of books (finished) per month: 6.25
  • Average number of audiobook hours per day: 0:05:22 (five minutes, since a lot of what I read wasn’t in audiobook format, I guess)

And now, to our first chart…

I often feel like a lot of my reading is devoted to school, and that isn’t false–it’s about a third over the entire year, which means it’s heavy during the times I’m actually at school (see the read per month graph, below; I read the most over the summer). I think is especially true because in the spring I took two heavy (5-7 books each) reading classes on Shakespeare and Modern Japanese Literature, and in the fall I took a literary history class on the 18th and 19th centuries. Still, I managed to read a lot of books (52 of them) not for school, even if they weren’t all full-length novels or books, so that feels pretty good. Last year I read 29/67 books for school, or 42% versus 29% here!

I also DNF’d one book (an ARC of Hearts Unbroken) because I really didn’t gel with the writing style and I felt it was dragging my reading life.

Unsurprisingly, I read the most when I was not at school. (Note: the dates come from when books were finished.)
Only 8 books of nonfiction this year–mostly memoirs–which is down from last year (13 at 19.4%). Probably because most of what I read for school was fiction this year?
(Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of the digital titles are ARCs or from the library rather than the many unread Kindle books I snapped up on deals…)
As much as I’m glad I use the library (mostly for audiobooks, probably), I really need to read more books that I own…especially on
(One will be published in 2019…not sure how/if that was counted here)

Genres

This whole category was pretty skewed by school. I also had trouble choosing genres for some things, since they crossed over. I created the “humor” category because Texts from Jane Eyre really didn’t fit anywhere else, but then I used it for some other stuff, including Good Omens, which could also be considered Sci-Fi/Fantasy (and indeed that’s where I put a Discworld novel). I’m surprised the SFF category is that big, but I think a lot of it had to do with reading several Ms. Marvel volumes. I didn’t read very many sci-fi or fantasy novels. Otherwise, this is all fairly unsurprising, especially considered the role of books I had to read for school (adult, general fiction, classics, novels).

There was no “nonfiction prose” category and I didn’t create one, so memoirs are under “novel”

Reading Demographics & Diversity

The important one! I’m generally pleased about this, although I would like to read over 50% by and about POC and queer people. (I don’t have data on this from last year to compare, though I would guess it has been increasing in recent years as I have been paying more attention to this when reading.) Of course, school compromised some of this. It’s particularly difficult to categorize queer people (I’m surprised it wasn’t higher, but it is main characters), especially if the author isn’t out or hasn’t said so directly. To make it easier, I decided to keep a hard word-of-mouth rule for authors and canon rule for characters, which meant I didn’t count any Shakespeare, even Twelfth Night.

All of the translated fic is from my Modern Japanese Literature class, with the exception of One Hundred Years of Solitude

2019 Reading Goals…

I can never predict what this year will be like, and I don’t want to make a list of too many specific books I want to get to (except they should be ones I own, especially on Kindle). This year, I think an overall goal is not to overthink too much…the best reading I did over breaks was when I didn’t view it as “work.” Still, I have some goals…which are all going to be fairly measurable since I’m using the same spreadsheet and chart system as last year.

  • Read 100 books (I think I can??)
  • Read more nonfiction, especially non-memoir
  • Read at least 50% books by/about POC
  • Read even more queer books!
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy novels
  • Read more books by/about Asian-Americans
  • Read more books I own from my Kindle
  • Read more contemporary literary fiction

Yeah, we’ll see how this goes. What are your 2019 goals? How do you feel about your reading in 2018?

YA Books that Describe the Magic of Music

I know I mostly talk about books here, but I also LOVE music. It’s always been a part of my life and my family’s life, and I have always loved singing in choir and going/listening to musicals. I also used to play piano and I want to get back into it soon. So naturally, I love it when books tap into that magic I feel when listening to music and attempt to put them into words, and I’ve collected a sizable enough list that I can now post it here! I admit I read most of them a while ago and can’t quite articulate why they’re great at music descriptions, but that’s mostly because they can describe it better than I can!

Kaleidoscope Song

Set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song details how music affects and shapes Neo’s life as she discovers her own sexuality. Naturally, the beauty of music is tied in with her attraction to a singer. It’s also part of her independence, as she finds her own “song” (voice) and gets her own radio show. There’s even an extensive list of the songs featured in the back of the book. (Note: This book deals with corrective rape. See my review for more details.

The Beauty That Remains

This novel follows three POV characters, all of whom have a connection to music and have recently lost someone. Music is intertwined with these characters’ lives and their grief, whether it’s listening, viewing, managing, singing, creating, or reviewing. The three characters all intersect satisfyingly at the local music scene. Think battle of the bands and teens rocking out at a club

Summer Bird Blue

Summer Bird Blue follows Rumi’s summer of grief in Hawaii after her younger sister dies in a car accident. The two used to make music together, hoping to make it big one day…but now there’s just Rumi, and she’s afraid to write songs alone. But through the magic of music, she begins to heal through her songwriting, figuring out her own emotions.

Our Year of Maybe

This book is not out until January 15th, but I was able to read an ARC (review coming soon), and it is a dual POV with plenty of music affecting their view of the world. Peter is a piano player and composer who joins a band, and Sophie is a dancer and budding choreographer. There’s plenty of references to music they like, too, from Rufus Wainright to Pink Floyd.

Bonus: The Name of the Wind

While not technically YA, this fantasy book does cover the coming-of-age of its protagonist and has huge crossover appeal. I admit I did not like the plot and characters as much as so many others seem to, but what I did love was the description of music. The main character, Kvothe, plays the lute, and it carries great emotional weight for him–and economic necessity. No wonder Lin-Manuel Miranda is attached to the upcoming adaptation.

Have you read any of these? Or do you have any recommendations? I realize now these are quite serious, sad books…oh well!

Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Hello!! I got super sidetracked by school and theatre and all the stress and anxiety that comes with that, but now I’m back with more time to read and write and blog. This book I actually read a while ago and it came out in September, so…yeah. I’m working on the balancing/time management thing, guys. It’s still not going well. But this new WordPress editor is giving me some inspiration!

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Goodreads

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears has found its place on many year-end best 2018 middle grade lists and while it might not be my favorite, it does deserve a lot of that merit.

Merci and her other brother Roli (who she has a complex and great relationship with that I loved) attend a private school on scholarship, and they’re constantly negotiating how much they can contribute to school fundraisers and odd jobs to earn their keep. They don’t have as much money as the other students and are the children of a Cuban family that all lives together in connected houses. As the blurb says, Merci’s at that middle school transition age where everything is changing. The boys and girls are segregating, and Merci feels like Edna, who she used to be close with, now hates her. I don’t want to get too spoilerly, but a couple of things I appreciated: no romance, Merci gaining new friends, and Edna becoming more well-rounded by the end–something the “bullies” in MG often aren’t allowed to do.

What I struggled with–and I’m fully aware this is skewed by the fact I read it in small chunks over a month because of college–was the driving force and pacing. Compared to some other middle grades I’ve read recently (like Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World and My Year in the Middle), Merci doesn’t have as much of an overarching plot or guiding force, which can always be difficult in a middle grade novel. That said, the thing about Merci is she really doesn’t want things to change, and she’s struggling with her school life and her home life. Early on, I wasn’t sure what to focus on–her need for a bike, her family conflicts, her school friendships and possibly-love-interest, or her grandfather–but in the last third or so some hijinks at school definitely had me reading.

The most affecting part of the novel to me was Merci’s grandfather, Lolo. As an older reader with some experience with this myself, I certainly knew where it was headed, but Merci doesn’t. And that makes the revelation of what is really happening, and how her family has been afraid to tell her, that much more effective.

If you have a younger reader in your life or you’re looking for a good contemporary middle grade, Merci Suarez is a lovely protagonist to hang out with and Meg Medina crafted her with so much care.

ARC Review: The Backstagers and the Ghost Light by Andy Mientus

Genre: Middle grade fantasy

Publisher: Abrams

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Synopsis:

backstagers coverThe stage crew at St. Genesius Prep—or Backstagers, as they like to call themselves—are ready for whatever the theater world can throw their way: the madness of tech week, inevitable prop malfunctions, and all the paranormal activity that goes on behind the scenes. Luckily Jory, Hunter, Sasha, Beckett, and Aziz are up for the job!

But lately, someone—or something—seems set on ruining their production of Phantasm. It all started when an actor brought a Spirit Board to the cast party, and the ghost light blew out. Every good theater kid knows that a ghost light must be left on to keep ghosts from moving in the shadows of an empty theater. To figure out what’s haunting the theater and save the show, the Backstagers will have to use their smarts, bravery, and a little bit of magic!

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

The Backstagers and the Ghost Light is the first in a middle grade series based on The Backstagers comics. I haven’t read the comics, although I can assure you I absolutely want to now! (The illustrations are from the same illustrator as the comics, Ryan Sygh, and they’re delightful.) This book became known to me because the author is Andy Mientus, a musical theater actor I’m a fan of (he was in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, among other things) both for his talent and his openness and advocacy about bisexuality. Needless to say, this theater nerd (and backstager; I do props!) was very excited to get an ARC of this, read it in just a day over the summer, and now that it’s out in the world I can talk about it!

As someone who had not read the comics, I could tell this book is a sequel to them. (The ending of this book also makes it clear there will be a series.) There is an explanation of a recent event that must have been from the comics, and I think it’s explained fairly well. What I didn’t know going into this and you definitely should is that the world of the series is not just quirky, but full-out fantasy. Those marvelous descriptions of the backstage isn’t just figurative language–the backstage actually connects to every other backstage, which is really cool! Plus, as the title indicates, this is blended with theater lore that adds another level to it, and there’s a new character in the form of a teen witch.

The characters are all endearing (and the illustrations help) with their own quirks, skills, and desires, and they’re all good friends. Two of the boys are in a happy relationship and deal with a lot of important and realistic feelings about responsibility and adjusting–one of them, Jory, has recently moved and I really related to his description of visiting his hometown again. Also, one of the boys is subtly indicated to be trans and at least one other is a person of color.

It is a little strange for a middle grade (prose) book to focus on high schoolers which wouldn’t seem as strange in comic form, but the illustrations and the alternate universe the book takes place lends it a playful feel that works. I say “alternate universe” because there are many musical theater references throughout this book, but they are all slightly altered in a humorous way to make any theater kid laugh. Lease? Les Terribles? Amazing.

This is a book for every theater kid that takes great joy with theater mythos, fantasy, and the friendships backstagers form when working on a show. I look forward to reading the rest of the series as it comes out!

ARC Review: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Genre: YA contemporary

Release Date: September 11, 2018

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary:

summer bird blueA mixed race teen struggles to find her way back to her love of music in the wake of her sister’s tragic death in this incisive, lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Jennifer Niven, by the author of William C. Morris Award finalist Starfish.

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley. I also apologize for this being late…school started. I read it in time though!

Summer Bird Blue is a summer book, as the title suggests, but it’s not at all fluffy. Instead, it’s a meditative story about grief, loss, family, healing, and identity. And definite trigger warnings for those first two, because at the very beginning of the book, Rumi’s younger sister dies in a car accident. What follows are raw sadness and emotions captured well in Bowman’s writing as Rumi is sent off to Hawaii to live with her aunt for the summer.

I enjoyed the flashbacks and insight into her life with Lea, especially as it changed as the book went on because her psychological state and processing of the event changed. The flashbacks allowed Lea and their relationship to feel real, preventing her from being too much of a plot point. I admit I was confused about their mother for a bit…there seemed to be contradictory information and I never quite got enough information to fully understand why Rumi felt the way she did about her. Thankfully, that also ended up coming to a satisfying conclusion. That said, I felt the novel as a whole (just under 400 pages) was a bit too long for what it covered?

Music is a huge part of Rumi’s life. She and Lea planned to start a band together and the two wrote songs together–their last idea was “Summer Bird Blue”–but since Lea’s death, Rumi struggles to get into it. I’m really into music myself, and I loved the descriptions of it and Rumi’s creativity. I also really enjoyed her interactions with the old man Mr. Watanabe, as they strike up an unusual but important friendship over grief, healing, and music. Also, there’s a dog!

I was really glad this took place in Hawaii and included the culture and mixed population there (several of the characters have Japanese ancestry). There are unfortunately not many novels set in Hawaii, even though a lot of publishing is US-based and it is a part of the US. As a nerd, I loved that the pidgin language was including, as I remember reading about that aspect of Hawaii in a linguistics class, although I can’t speak to its accuracy.

Lastly, one of the defining aspects of Summer Bird Blue is sexuality. Rumi thinks she’s asexual and aromantic, but she feels a lot of pressure to know for certain, especially since mortality is so clear to her. This definitely resonates with a lot of LGBTQIAP+ folks, including myself. The novel explores a possible relationship but ultimately it’s a story about friendship, which we just don’t see enough in YA. I also really appreciated how Rumi frequently calls out heteronormativity, too, which was great.

Summer Bird Blue is a raw and painfully sad book, but one that ultimately is about healing and figuring yourself out, and it’s a worthwhile addition to the YA marketplace.

Booktubathon Wrap-Up: New Video!

I made another video! I’m noticing my enunciation/articulation is pretty bad because, frankly, I’ve never had much training in speaking/acting/etc…but hopefully doing these will help! Bless video editing for allowing me to cut out awkward pauses and rambles. And, yes, Stephen King’s On Writing had some glaring problems…

Review/Discussion: My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

Genre: Middle grade historical fiction

Publisher: Candlewick

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Synopsis:

my year in the middleIn a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend — and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques.

Miss Garrett’s classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. I’m one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference.

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately — acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state — and in the classroom — mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

Disclaimer: I was provided an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

My Year in the Middle is a new middle grade novel set in a fictional Alabama town during the 1970s governor primary race featuring known racist and segregationist George Wallace. Lu’s family immigrated to the area from Argentina when she was young, like the author herself. Her school is now integrated, but in every class the white kids sit to one side, the black kids sit on the other, and Lu and other students–including the cute son of an anti-racist pastor, Sam–sit in the middle to show their solidarity. In this tension-filled environment where many of her former white friends are drifting away, planning to go to an all-white private school, Lu trains to win a race on field-day and her running buddy and new friend is a black girl.

Weaver illustrates the time period well, from music and fashion, to Lu’s vibrant voice filled with the cliches of the time, to microaggressions and more blatantly stated racist and sexist attitudes by adults and even fellow students. And yet, the comparison to attitudes of today are not far. Students today are most likely to socialize with those of their own race, and private schools and other options create the “white flight” we see in this novel. At one point, Lu attends a Wallace rally because she was promised a cakewalk and is horrified at the candidate’s speech where he calls his opponent by an offensive nickname and talks an awful lot about, well, making Alabama great again.

I found it interesting how Lu classifies herself as white, although a “foreigner,” because today the United States has very different attitudes toward Latinx people, many of which are sadly not positive. Lu does face some of this, but it’s also demonstrated that many don’t see her ethnicity and read her as white–her gym teacher is surprised to discover she speaks Spanish, and she knows adults seeing her talking with a black boy will think she is threatened. Mostly, her conflict about speaking up comes in part from her mother’s warning that people don’t like when foreigners get involved. Still, the concept of “the middle” applies to her own identity, and this was such a unique perspective to read from.

And yet, as a pivotal moment late in the novel demonstrates, being in the middle isn’t enough. Lu discovers she has to stand up and speak out for what’s right or justice won’t happen. She could avoid humiliation and unpopularity if she aligns herself with the privilege of the white students (something marginalized ethnicities have done in the history of America), but she doesn’t, despite how difficult speaking up can be. There is a LOT to think about here, and I kept reflecting on how this would be a fantastic book to teach with all the real-world connections.

The politics in this book come organically and very much through the eyes of a sixth-grader who is also occupied with school, friends, a crush, and sports. Interactions with her peers–especially with black students she connects with over common interests in running and music–are political and stir up tension just by existing. Her older sister is an intern for the candidate running against Wallace, she has to pay attention to the race for her social studies class, and the parents around her talk about it. Her scope of the election relates to how the it can impact her sixth-grade world…that a lot of white people really don’t want her black friends to go to school with her.

AND there is another major plot thread throughout the book that I loved! Lu, inspired by Olympic Gold Medalist Madeline Manning, desperately wants to win a long-distance race on field day and convince her parents to allow her to run on a track team being formed for the high school, even though their cultural values have led them to believe she should focus only on school and that it isn’t proper for girls to play sports. Plus, the older bully on the bus keeps talking about how his cousin is third in the state and will beat her. Lu pursues this goal with encouragement from her gym teacher and lengthy training sessions, first with her new friend, Belinda, whom she bonded with over their love for running in gym class, and later with her father’s and sister’s help. I loved that this emphasized all the hard work and small steps that go into accomplishing a larger goal, and the climactic race is worth it.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles with this book, however. An essay, a poem, and a song play major roles, and I would have loved to see these actually included in the text to give more insight into the characters. For instance, I wasn’t entirely sure what angle Lu took on her report on the Wallace rally and I’m still not sure, especially since essays today–even at the sixth-grade level–are much more than a recounting of events that I suspect was popular back in the 1970s. I also was a little conflicted of the treatment of Lu’s friend Abigail in the story…there’s an acknowledgement of the (white) privileges of fashion/glamor, and her tale is certainly one of conformity that sadly includes racism, but I wasn’t sure how to untangle these observations in a way that didn’t look down on her interest in boys and fashion. Perhaps because Lu also has a big crush? I think she just came across as a character without much depth and that certainly relates to her path to conformity, but it’s all tangled up in a “silly” crush and so on. Lu is wise enough to see that Abigail likes him more than he likes her, and I don’t blame her for being upset, but it veered pretty close to some anti-teen-girl tropes. Perhaps something else to talk about with readers. The knowledge and worldliness Lu has in comparison is definitely because of her different experience with racism and inability to fully benefit from white privilege, while Abigail can cast that aside and come away from the Wallace rally only caring about the cakewalk experience. Yeah, the more I think about this, the more her character development and lack of shades makes sense, and boys and fashion should be interpreted as an extension of that, rather than evidence for it.

My Year in the Middle is a book that I think all upper elementary/middle (and beyond!) students and teachers should read for its important messages, historical account, and wonderful protagonist!

ARC Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Genre: YA contemporary mystery/thriller

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: September 4, 2018

Synopsis:

Sadie coverA gripping novel about the depth of a sister’s love; poised to be the next book you won’t be able to stop talking about.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she’s left behind.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

Sadie comes out in September and there’s already quite a bit of hype around it…and I’m just going to add to it, turns out. I have no regrets.

Sadie is split into two formats to tell its narrative: a investigative reporting podcast called The Girls in which West McCray–over a year after the incident–attempts to solve the murder of Mattie and the appearance of her older sister Sadie, and Sadie’s own first-person, present-tense narrative account. What’s great about this is you not only see how people were affected by the events, but it’s also constructed in a way that makes you feel like the reporters are just one step behind figuring out what happened to Sadie.

I think it’s best to go into this with knowing as little as possible about the plot, and that certainly worked for me, but I will say: major trigger warnings for child molestation, child pornography, and child neglect. I don’t think descriptions of such incidents are graphic, but Sadie does have flashbacks and the undertones are always there. Your mileage may vary.

It was kind of a slow-burn at first, but then I found I just needed to know. I absolutely tore through about the last two-thirds or half of the book. The great thing is the podcast chapters weren’t just recaps or the aftermath of what Sadie’s chapters told us…they uncovered things she wouldn’t tell because she was so upset and traumatized. No space was wasted. Even the podcast host got some character development! Plus, the writing was descriptive and atmospheric.

I really want to highlight some aspects of Sadie I found unique and important. There are plenty of books I haven’t read yet, but I do believe I’ve never seen abject poverty like this represented in YA. Sadie and her sister grew up in a trailer in a small Colorado town. Their mother is young, a heroin addict, and alcoholic, and they are often undernourished. Sadie “grew up” at a young age, taking on mothering responsibilities over her sister and dropping out of high school to work. All of this is dealt with from many perspectives thanks to the podcast. I also really liked Sadie’s description of her sexuality (a label isn’t mentioned, but it’s close to pansexuality, or another fluid/multiple-attraction identity) and appreciated that was included.

Speaking of the podcast–I admit I haven’t listened to Serial, the hit podcast The Girls seems to be based on, but I listen to a lot and it’s great to see this medium entering YA. Even more exciting: apparently, The Girls is being adapted to an actual podcast by the publisher! Despite the podcast’s title, there’s a lot of commentary in it about missing and dead girls in thrillers–a topic we’ve been discussing recently with hit titles like Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, et al–and it explores Sadie with the nuance she needs. I’m not much of a thriller or mystery reader in part because of these plots, so if you have that trepidation like I do, I recommend checking out Sadie!