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…
Genre: Middle grade historical fiction
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
In 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!
Genre: YA contemporary mystery/thriller
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: September 4, 2018
A 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!
I’ve been wanting to start a YouTube channel for a while, both for books and more educational endeavors. The Booktubeathon seemed like a great place to start, so here’s my TBR for the week (July 30-August 5). I’m excited to share what I’m reading and my school adventures this way, so please like and subscribe if you feel so inclined 🙂
Genre: YA contemporary/science-fiction/fantasy/graphic novel/historical fiction
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 14, 2018
In partnership with We Need Diverse Books, thirteen of the most recognizable, diverse authors come together in this remarkable YA anthology featuring ten short stories, a graphic short story, and a one-act play from Walter Dean Myers never before in-print.
Careful–you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written–whose next chapters are up to you.
Because these stories are meant to be read. And shared.
Thirteen of the most accomplished YA authors deliver a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play. This collection will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink.
Disclaimer: I was provided an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books.
I think this is the first YA short story anthology I’ve read and I really enjoyed it! Like all collections, what’s inside varies and different stories will appeal to different readers. I appreciated this one included a play and a graphic/comics story. I sort of wish it was longer, but I think its size also contributes to its feeling of immediacy, and the short stories might appeal to struggling or less avid readers. This would be especially great for new YA readers because they can be exposed to many authors and then check out their other works. It’s also great for teens looking to see themselves in literature–I believe all are #ownvoices for people of color, and many are LGBTQ as well. Ultimately, I think this anthology might help students interested in writing their own stories and introduce them to new authors to read.
Now, to talk about each story…
“Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds: This is a cute story about a teen couple in Brooklyn saying goodbye before one of them moves away. It weaves in the backstory of their friendship and romantic relationship, and I loved how I felt I was also sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn while reading it (helps I’ve been there). Unfortunately, there are still occurrences of everyday white privilege that rears its head.
“Meet Cute” by Malinda Lo: This is about a black Dana Scully cosplayer and a female Sulu (from Star Trek) cosplayer who meet at a con and the power goes out. And they’re cute and slowly discover they’re both queer and by the end you’re rooting for them to trade numbers. I loved this because I’m a huge X-Files and Star Trek fan and the commentary was great and hilarious, even if some comments about Star Trek have already become outdated due to the new series Discovery.
“Don’t Pass Me By” by Eric Gansworth: This story about a Native American boy going to a public school outside of the Reservation has lots of great commentary on how the school system treats Indigenous people and the concept of a “normal” skin color being white. It’s unfortunately a viewpoint we don’t see enough in YA or fiction in general. I also appreciated that this wasn’t a romance like so many of the others are.
“Be Cool for Once” by Aminah Mae Safi: This is a really cute story about a Muslim girl attending a rock concert with her friend and her crush shows up. He can’t really be there for her, can he? I loved how fleshed-out the characters were and how Shirin grew.
“Tags” by Walter Dean Myers: This short play was apparently written by Myers before he died. It takes place on a street the young male characters are trying to “tag,” each telling about how they died. The format definitely sets it up for the fantastical premise. Unfortunately, and especially since it’s short, it can be easy to mix up who is who while reading which is a problem I still have with plays and I’ve been reading them for a while. That said, I think it still has the potential to be powerful with young readers and I’m glad this different format was included in the collection.
“Why I Learned to Cook” by Sara Farizan: This was a really sweet story about an Iranian-American bi girl learning to cook Persian food with her grandmother for her girlfriend, though she isn’t out yet to her grandmother. I liked the overall themes, though I found the writing style rather bland.
“A Stranger at the Bochinche” by Daniel José Older: This was definitely unlike any of the others…a fantasy set in something like 1800s Brooklyn with a monster. The writing is very atmospheric and I admit I had trouble following it at the beginning, but by the end I was along for the ride.
“A Boy’s Duty” by Sharon G. Flake: This was a historical fiction story about a black boy during the World War II. I honestly had trouble following it and I don’t think much happened, but I appreciated the atmosphere the writing generated.
“One Voice: A Something in Between Story” by Melissa de la Cruz: This timely story follows the effect two hate speech graffiti incidents at Stanford has on an undocumented Filipina student. I loved that it was told in sections and the messages and discussions were definitely on-point.
“Paladin/Samurai” by Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham (illustrations): This was maybe the shortest of the bunch, but the little narrative trick it pulled was cute and enjoyable. It’s about a group of kids playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like game, the girl some of them like, and their identities.
“Catch, Pull, Drive” by Schuyler Bailar: This story is about a trans boy swimmer who has just come out to the whole world and the team and is navigating his first practice back. Some other boys are welcoming, some are not (tw for slurs), but he prevails. This is a good example of showing what might happen after coming out, as so many stories only cover understanding one’s identity and coming out.
“Super Human” by Nicola Yoon: Maybe this is because I read this last, but I think this is my favorite, and I think it succeeds on a great concept and execution that’s perfect for the short story format. It’s about X, the world’s one and only superhero who has vowed to destroy the world, and the one girl who has been chosen to stop him (because shew as the first he saved). The catch: the superhero is a black teen. There’s some great satire to how the world reacted to this that echoes events like Obama becoming president, but of course, there’s much deeper and heartfelt commentary to be had about the way society treats black teens and their double identities (code-switching). The girl (Syrita) is black too, but from an upper-class background with different experiences. The ending is perfect, too.
I was tagged by Linda over at Linda’s Little Library to do the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag. I’m a little late for this because I was on vacation, so I’m not going to include anything I’ve read so far in July, since the end of June marked the middle of the year.
1. Best Book You’ve Read So Far
I think I have to say Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake! This is such a beautiful, heartfelt middle grade story about a girl whose house has been destroyed by a tornado, and in the aftermath she works through her feelings for other girls and her relationship to her friends and family. It has so many important messages and the tone is perfect.
2. Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far
I haven’t read many sequels this year, but I have to say Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II. I actually read Volumes 3-6 (so far!) this summer and I LOVE them, and they just keep getting better and better. The sixth volume has some really interesting ethical debates (it’s part of a larger Civil War II arc I think) and serious consequences for the characters.
3. New Release You Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To
I really want to read Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child, which came out in March, but I also want to own it and I’m trying not to order books right now. We’ll see how long I make it. This is a middle grade book about a girl born during a storm, considered unlucky (it takes place in the Virgin Islands), who is determined to find her mother. It’s magical realism and I believe the main character is also discovering her sexuality. Also, isn’t the cover beautiful?
4. Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
There are several, but I think I’m going to have to go with What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I love their individual works and found the first chapter to this one (at the end of Leah on the Offbeat) adorable. Most of all, I’m excited for all the Broadway references that have been promised!
5. Biggest Disappointment
Not counting July, I’ve got to say King Lear. There are too many characters and the ending was pretty unsatisfying because the showdowns you wanted to see all happened offstage! C’mon, Shakespeare!
6. Biggest Surprise
Another Shakespeare play, Cymbeline. This is a very strange one and I’m not sure I would consider it “good,” but it was definitely entertaining. It felt like Shakespeare was becoming self-aware of all his tropes and it was pretty ridiculous. And then Jupiter descended!
7. Favorite New Author (Debut or new to you)
I usually consider questions like this to be referring to authors who I’ve read more than one work by, but there hadn’t been any new ones to me that I read more than one book from through June. So for those I’ve read one thing from so far: Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty) or Ashley Herring Blake (Ivy Aberdeen).
8. Newest Fictional Crush?
I always draw a blank on these and frankly, this just isn’t something I look for when reading. So, no one?
9. Newest Fictional Character
I suppose this isn’t completely new, since I read the first two volumes last year, but I have SO MUCH love for Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan right now. I care so much about her and her story and her friends and family.
10. Book that made you cry
Honestly, I don’t think I have a true answer to this because I don’t remember crying to any book yet (it’s not that I’m not a crier…I just didn’t read anything that got me?), but I will say that I was reading Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro and about halfway through a THING happened and I was pretty shaken. I still haven’t finished it, although I plan to. It just wasn’t the book I wanted to read at that time.
11. Book that made you happy
I cheered myself up by reading Ivy Aberdeen next, which did make me very happy, but you’ve already heard about that so I have to say Wild Beauty. That book is so beautiful and lovely with great commentary.
12. Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this year
…So, I still haven’t seen Love, Simon, because my plans kept falling through and I haven’t bought it yet. I honestly don’t watch too many movies. I think my pick will have to be Carol, because even though I didn’t read the book I did enjoy the movie and I watched it on Netflix in like January.
13. Favorite Review You’ve Written This Year
Does this count? I’m really behind on reviews because during the school year I didn’t read much outside of classwork, and now it’s the summer I’m reading lots and can’t keep up.
14. Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought/Received This Year
Well, I have been avoiding buying books, so I don’t have too many to choose from here. That said, I LOVE the Ivy Aberdeen cover (above) with all my heart.
15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
Yikes. So, excluding books for school (lots of 18th-19th century stuff, some contemporary stuff), here’s what I REALLY DO want to read by the end of the year; the rest I’ll be more flexible with, hopefully. Things always are up in the air once I get to school, but I do want to stay focused.
- Hamlet (currently reading. Yes, I’ve never read it before.)
- Finish Anger is a Gift
- 100 Years of Solitude
- The Empathy Exams
- Beneath the Sugar Sky
- Sadie (ARC)
- Unbroken (anthology, ARC)
- How to Make a Wish
I’m not going to tag anyone because it’s a bit too late for this…but feel free to do it if you want to!
This has been a long time coming. Here are some mini-reviews and thoughts about books I wasn’t quite able to cover on this blog because of school. Turtles All the Way Down I read in December, Wild Beauty in January, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear in April/May.
A small update: I’m thinking of doing monthly wrap-up reviews this summer because I’m trying to focus less time on blogging, discuss books rather than review them (focusing on my position as an author and teacher), and spend more time writing. We’ll see how this goes. In the fall when I’m back at school, I plan to finally start a YouTube channel about books and teaching and writing. We’ll see!!
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
I read most of John Green’s books several years ago. I still enjoy his YouTube stuff with his brother Hank–especially when they’re providing educational materials like Crash Course–but I figured I wouldn’t pick up the book he came out with next. And then it was announced last summer, and it featured a girl with OCD, and since I’d seen John Green’s videos talking about his OCD, I knew I had to read it. There aren’t that many #ownvoices depictions in YA, and I’ve enjoyed what I have read (Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here and Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me).
So, mental health is complicated, but as far as I know right now, according to professionals, I’m on the OCD or OCPD (the personality disorder) spectrum. Even though mine doesn’t manifest in the same way Aza’s does, but I definitely found similarities in the “thought spirals” and her obsession with a cut on her finger. I think a lot of depictions of OCD tend to focus on the actions and leave out the thoughts, which are such a key component. Green depicts these by manipulating language/sentence/paragraph structure, which works well.
I really appreciated the specific setting and references to it (Indianapolis). The story addresses issues of money, including how it relates to college, which I really appreciated because it really is on the mind of high school students. At first I found some of the characterization flimsy and there was some unhealthiness in the romance and friendship the story focuses on, but that ended up being addressed. (Unfortunately I read this a while ago and my notes aren’t too clear about it, but I remember being pleased at the directions it took, and also it would probably be a spoiler anyway.) Overall, definitely my favorite John Green book another great addition to the #ownvoices YA books on OCD, because everyone’s experiences are different!
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
This book is as gorgeous inside as it is on the outside. It’s a magical realism story about a Latina family, the Nomeolvides, where the men disappear and the women all can grow flowers. Their land, La Predera, keeps them isolated from the community that is afraid of them and their powers. Then a boy shows up, speaking no English without memories of where he came from, and the Nomeolvides women wonder if it’s one of their male lovers from the past.
The writing is certainly beautiful, but the story also deals with themes of colonialism, immigration, privilege, sexuality, and family. At the beginning, the five girls of the youngest generation all have a crush on their neighbor, a girl (who dresses more masculinely), and this is just accepted–even though the girls know their mothers and grandmothers are not accustomed to this. The main character, Estrella, develops feelings for the mysterious boy named Fel, and it’s great to see a queer girl in a f/m relationship because I feel like that is underrepresented often in stories. And the discoveries and plot twists? Amazing.
There are definitely others better qualified than me to talk about where this book and the rest of McLemore’s novels (which I’m excited to read soon!) lie within the canon of magical realism, but based on my limited knowledge I can see how the story and themes of colonialism and family fit into that Latin American tradition, with the addition of sexuality representation. I can’t wait to read more of her books!
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
I picked this up because I was studying Winter’s Tale and adaptations in my Shakespeare class, so I was curious about how that frankly bizarre story was interpreted through a contemporary YA lens. It’s a rather loose adaptation and focuses on the Hermione character (also named Hermione), who while at a cheer camp her final year of high school is drugged and raped, found unconscious in a lake. She doesn’t have memories of the incident
I know some people feel that this book works out very conveniently; Hermione is not met with negativity from investigators (and the main police officer assigned to her is female). Her choice what to do when she discovers she is pregnant is explored and fully supported (although it is Canada which does have different laws concerning health care, etc). Indeed, that means it often lacks tension throughout, but I also think that’s important because there is this gentle healing tone throughout the book, and lose ends are tied up. (That said, I thought there could have been more atmosphere and work on the secondary characters.) Plus, Hermione struggles with this calmness herself, as she lacks memories of the incident. While it was sensitive and didn’t “shy away” from things (I’m putting quotes because I don’t like how that phrase is used to justify some things…looking at you, 13 Reasons Why), Exit, Pursued by a Bear definitely is important for showing that not all stories about rape have to be brutal, dark, and sad.
That’s it for now! What are you reading? I’m hoping to post my June Wrap-Up soon!
HAPPY PRIDE, EVERYONE!
A note: unfortunately, because of school sucking up my time and dictating what books I read, I haven’t been able to do some of the other minority month-specific celebrations. That said, I work toward discussing and reading diverse books all year long, which brings me to the second point:
This is not going to be very strict. The only one I’m definitely going to read is Ivy Aberdeen, because I have a physical copy and it’s my top priority to read those this summer so I don’t have to move them back to college with me. Accordingly, I’ve added a section of “possibly,” some of which are related, some of which aren’t. And if I end up picking up something like Persuasion because I feel like it, so be it.
These are books that I already own that are LGBTQ related, with priority given to physical copies. Of course, this is more than I’ll realistically read in the month, so who knows.
- Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake: A cute f/f middle grade ! Yay!
- Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro: I think I’m going to break my book-buying habit and get this, like, right after I finish this post. I can’t help it. I have to read about student activism and the school system and intersectionality.
- When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore: I loved Wild Beauty and just got this, so I’m excited to read it!
- How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake: I’ve heard so many good things! Including it will break my heart, apparently.
- Release by Patrick Ness: Another release (…no pun intended) from last year I haven’t gotten around to yet.
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by MacKenzie Lee: Ditto. I’m not as interested in reading this as I originally was, but several of my IRL friends have read it and I look forward to talk to them about it because there just aren’t that many times we read the same books. And I have the ebook anyway.
- We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: And ditto. It won the Printz, too! And it’s short!
- This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki: I checked this graphic novel out from the library and it seems like the perfect summer read.
- Ms. Marvel vol. 4+: I’m continuing to check these out from the library and read them because I LOVE Kamala!
- The People’s History of the American Empire by Howard Zinn: An impromptu graphic novel pick from the library, this is a graphic novel version of Zinn’s famous A People’s History of the United States. I’m sure I’ll learn something!
- Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: I want to get back into audiobooks and this seems perfect, as it’s only about 2 hours (I believe it’s a novel in verse). Though I do eventually want a physical copy for my classroom.
- Other audiobooks I’m looking at: Neil Patrick Harris Choose Your Own Autobiography and Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son, because I want to learn more about these two actors (who have been in two of my favorite musicals) and audiobook seems like the perfect format.
- Plus, my original plans for this summer: A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Hamlet, 100 Years of Solitude, The Bell Jar, An Ideal Husband…
Whew! We’ll see what I get through. What are your reading goals for this month?
Well, I haven’t done some booktalking or reviewing on here because I thought I would catch up on some other stuff…and then I also failed to do said other stuff. I’ve learned some things about productivity, though, even if I’m not great at implementing them…
- Be at desk if needed. This basically set me behind most of May. I cleaned up my desk after a week or two of being back, but after or before a long shift at work this was not really where I wanted to spend my time. Unfortunately, it’s really where I need to be when writing certain scenes, especially if I have notes on paper or am using other resources.
- To-do lists…everywhere. I need to use my Passion Planner less now that my days are less structured, so I’ve taken to keeping to-do lists on my phone and computer, mostly with Evernote because it syncs between the two. I have big goals and miscellaneous at the top, and then I’ve broken it down into writing, blogging, and reading. Sometimes I also need to do plans for specific days. Checking off tasks just makes me more focused and like I have accomplished something, especially if the tasks are not the biggest (like writing/blogging/reading), because I do have other goals.
- Sometimes planning needs to also be on paper. I’ve been planning on journaling my writing projects for a while now, and I’ve finally begun with this current novel because I’ve had notes now for over a year that I really need to consolidate and narrow down, without deleting what I already have on Scrivner. I’m not sure that makes sense to you, but it’s how my brain is working right now–plus, there is less direction. So I’ve designated pages to plots, subplots, characters, and themes, and will be filling them out when I need to figure out what to write next.
- Writing sessions can’t be quick. I need time to immerse myself in the story and focus on what needs to come next. Sometimes, it also helps if I’m alone (see #1).
- Figure out sleep schedule/routine. Last school year I kind of developed a bad habit of staying in bed too late, attached to fragments of dream, and this has carried over to the summer. I’m working on it, but I also need to take advantage of the fact I do work better at night because it’s what I’m used to. So on nights I’m not working until midnight, I’m starting to take some time upstairs to write at my desk before bed.
- Staying off phone if not productive. Of course. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’ve accepted it’s still productive if I’m interacting with others on Twitter or Instagram rather than just scrolling. That’s part of growing my blog and “author brand” or whatever. Still, I need to limit it and not get distracted. I should probably get in a habit of using the Forest app again.
- Keeping myself accountable. Right now, I’m making a thread on Twitter where I update my word count when I write, hopefully finishing the draft by the end of the summer. In the past I’ve used trackers like Pacemaker, but since my schedule is different from day to day I find less pressure in this, and so I’ll probably be less likely to give up.
What I’ve been enjoying lately
I read Dear Martin (review/discussion coming soon) and short story collection The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 (really for my own writing research not planning to discuss much on here). I’m currently reading Six of Crows (finally!) and I’ve also been working through some issues of Ms. Marvel (so good!).
I’m continuing my marathon of Brooklyn 99 which I LOVE so much still, and I think I’ve gotten my family into it. I just watched the episodes where Rosa comes out to the squad and her family and my heart is so full. I’ve also been catching up on podcasts and I’m hoping to try an audiobook soon but we’ll see.
Hopefully see you soon with some sort of booktalk/review!
Genre: YA contemporary
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publication date: April 24, 2018
Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.
When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.
So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
About a year ago, I read Becky Albertalli’s first two books: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, and I really enjoyed them–especially Simon, because his anxieties over coming out were very relatable to me personally. Sadly, my plans to see Love, Simon with friends this spring fell through (darn schoolwork!), but I’m sure I’ll see it soon. So as school wound down this year, it seemed only fitting to read her new release, Leah on the Offbeat. (And somehow no one had checked it out from my library’s Libby yet!)
Leah is a sequel of Simon of sorts, taking place during their next and final year of high school. It’s from Simon’s friend Leah’s perspective, and she’s bi but hasn’t come out to any of her friends yet, even though she’s known since she was eleven. She’s also still a drummer in her band, outspoken, and body-positive. All of this is great. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.
First of all: this was difficult for me to read personally. This isn’t a criticism of the writing itself…in fact, it might be a compliment. The senior year of high school feelings of high school were very on-point, but it reminded me of my own intense feelings from that time, especially when the story dealt with break-ups, college anxieties, and prom. (Ugh, prom. But if Leah taught me anything, it’s that promposals maybe are okay if they’re not as overwhelmingly heteronormative as the rest of prom is?) Leah’s own anxiety was absolutely on point, and I related to that; it was just difficult to read. I really loved her commentary on how expensive college visits/applications/etc were and how she felt left out because she was going to a state school, and how she didn’t want a public promposal because of her anxiety. And that prom scene with the realization that it’s all going to be over soon? Yup. Real.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Simon, so I don’t think I can comment too much on the continuity of the characters between that and this, but I do have some thoughts. Simon and Bram were adorable and had relatable anxieties and were probably my favorite part. Morgan and Anna had a tough and important storyline to play with Leah (“what if your best friends since middle school are not the people you still want to hang out with because they have a tendency to be racist/forgive racist comments easily?”), but I barely remembered them from the first book and felt like I was missing something. I really wish the band had gotten more time, and that was what I thought from the title, and mostly I wish Taylor had been more fleshed out. Nick seems to be who many are disappointed about, but my main concern with him is how he was a loose end kind of tossed away at the end. Seriously, is he okay?? He seems to be heading into self-destructive behavior and alcohol usage and I’m just really worried as someone who went through a big break-up around that time, too. I understand not everything is tied up by the end of high school, but Leah’s “three months later” email to Simon didn’t seem to indicate they were taking the issue seriously as his friends.
Some parts definitely felt like fanfiction, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s nice commentary to see two female characters from the original fall for each other like many had hoped, as there had been hints in Simon. I was more ambivalent about it because I think I just have a limit for shipping and romcom tropes, personally. But…how this was approached was frustrating to me at the least.
THIS IS WHERE WE HEAD INTO SPOILER TERRITORY. HEADS UP.
So…all the Leah/Abby interactions were definitely cute and swoony, and while they only just begin their relationship at the end, I just felt like there was something missing there…mostly, more of an emotional connection. There were opportunities for it, but Leah kept avoiding it in a very frustrating and almost hurtful way.
Abby tries to express the fact that she has wanted to kiss her for a year and a half and is questioning her sexuality, but Leah shuts down and isn’t supportive of this. This makes sense initially, as she’s hurt because her first kiss has possibly been “stolen” by a straight girl, and it’s all consistent with Leah’s brash personality. THEN Abby comes out to her as “lowkey bi” after discussing this with her cousins (from Upside!) and Leah shuts her down, insisting this isn’t a real thing. Which is false, because it’s a spectrum…surely Leah is on Tumblr enough to know about the Kinsey scale and such. And while painful to read, this scene is still consistent with Leah’s character and ratchets up the tension.
But…this never gets addressed. At the end Leah just accepts that their feelings are mutual, and Abby never explicitly comes out and they never have an opportunity to discuss their sexuality, which would have been interesting and honestly a discussion that should be had after Leah’s previous behavior. Because Leah just never apologizes!! That’s just it!! And as a result, their conflict just doesn’t feel resolved but rather brushed aside, kind of allowing Leah’s behavior.
END OF SPOILERY SECTION
Ultimately, while Leah on the Offbeat was as enjoyable to read as any Albertalli book and depicted emotions well, the central love story left many loose ends and issues not addressed, leaving the conflict feeling unresolved in a troublesome way to me.
PSA: THERE IS A PREVIEW OF WHAT IF IT’S US IN THE BACK OF THE BOOK. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. IT IS ADORABLE.