ARC Review: Fresh Ink (anthology)

Genre: YA contemporary/science-fiction/fantasy/graphic novel/historical fiction

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 14, 2018

Synopsis:

fresh ink.jpgIn 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.

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Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

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

ivy aberdeenI 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

hurricane childI 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

wild beautyI 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!

 

Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Publication date: April 24, 2018

Synopsis:

leahLeah 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.

2017 Reading Wrap-Up, Favorites, and 2018 Plans

I’m behind because I was busy doing the 2017 TV and music wrap-ups (and also I left out The People vs. O.J. Simpson on the TV one! oh no!), but finally, here’s my 2017 reading results, my favorites from the year, and 2018 plans!

The Stats

According to Goodreads, I read a total of 67 books, although that isn’t completely accurate as I explained here…basically, some of the books I counted I read most but not all of for school, but I definitely read enough articles and short stories that wasn’t counted that I figure it’s good enough. Anyway, here is where you can find my Goodreads’ “Year in Books” thing.

  • A total of 29 books/plays/graphic novels I read were for school, although 1 novel and 1 short story collection I chose to read I also used for school projects. Also, I read 1 play because I’m going to be the props master for a production of it next semester!
  • 4 of the books I read were either ARCs or copies sent for review. (Kaleidoscope Song, Kid Authors, Echo After Echo, and 27 Hours.)

Here’s a breakdown of the types of books I read out of those 67

  • 28 novels (fiction)
  • 13 nonfiction books
  • 1 short story (I read more, but this was “The Canterville Ghost” which was long-ish and I marked it on Goodreads)
  • 2 novels-in-verse
  • 9 graphic novels/memoirs
  • 4 short story collections
  • 6 plays
  • 4 epic poems/epics/epic romances

Compared with last year, it looks like I definitely read more diversely (and more–last year I counted 55 books). I read over 4 times the number of nonfiction and over 4 times the amount of graphic novels/texts. I actually read a couple of novels-in-verse (though one was for class). I didn’t read as many plays but I did read more epics, and that’s mostly because of class assignments, frankly. I also, as I had planned, read more African-American literature after I had found myself gravitating toward non-racial diversity in books and deciding that was the demographic I wanted to learn more about. Granted, my school assignments helped a lot with that, too. (Shoutout to a professor who was not only an amazing teacher and lecturer, but made a required survey class be almost exclusively by and/or about POC and queer people.)

Favorites/Books That Have Stuck With Me

These are in the order I read them (more or less), not ranked. Reading so many different types of books makes them really hard to compare against each other! Links to reviews where applicable (some are to come).

  • Rereads of The Great Gatsby and My Antonia, which I still really do love for, sometimes, intensely personal reasons.
  • The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu)
  • Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin)
  • Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead, who I also got to see speak and he was so funny and inspiring!)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli)
  • The March trilogy (John Lewis, et al)
  • Lost in the Funhouse (John Barth)…I liked this probably the least of all of these but it was definitely memorable.
  • We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
  • Star-Crossed (Barbara Dee)
  • Ms. Marvel vol. 1 and 2 (G. Willow Wilson, et al)
  • Angels in America (Tony Kushner)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Braced (Alyson Gerber)
  • They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)
  • Kaleidoscope Song (Fox Benwell)
  • Echo After Echo (Amy Rose Capetta)
  • “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde)
  • Paradise Lost (John Milton)…admittedly I enjoyed thinking/talking about this more than actually reading it!
  • The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman)
  • The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night (Jen Campbell)
  • Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Rachel Lynn Solomon)

I’m noticing a pattern…while I did enjoy a lot of books I read for class, most aren’t up here! I think part of it was the speed at which I had to read them, often on top of other books I was already reading. I didn’t get to fully live inside of them. Similarly, books I read outside of class that were heavy (especially Beloved) I feel like I would have enjoyed more had I read in a more rigorous manner. The books that didn’t make a list that I still gave high ratings to might not be personally my favorite (yet), but I will absolutely recommend them to peers and students where applicable.

Also, this is REALLY LONG and I tried to cut it down but it just seemed rather unfair. I read a lot of great books! And they were all great in different ways.

2018 Plans

  • I am using THIS CHART from Book Riot (in addition to Goodreads) to keep track of my reading. It not only keeps track of titles, when you read it, how long it took you, etc, but stats like if the author/character/both are POC and/or LGBTQ, if it’s #ownvoices, in translation, gender of author, type of book, genre, etc. I’m really excited! It will also make posts like these WAY easier and keep me more conscious of the demographics of what I’m reading.
  • Related to that, I’m going to try to complete some of the tasks from Book Riot’s READ HARDER challenge.
  • I noticed I read a lot of YA this year, and while they were mostly great, I want to read the literary fiction I own, too, because I miss that type of story. Related to that, I will continue to be very selective about review copies/Netgalley because I have a lot of backlist to catch up on and limited time.
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy! I used to love the genre and while I’m not the biggest fan of it outside of middle grade (ah, nostalgia), short stories, and TV and movies, I’ve got some I’ve heard great things about.

 

What are your goals this year?

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Genre: YA science fiction

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Summary:

27 Hours.jpgRumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

**Disclaimer: I received a finished copy of 27 Hours in exchange for an honest review.**

First of all, I want to apologize a little. I took an unofficial hiatus because the latter half of my semester got busy and I needed to focus on finals and readings for class, and I fell behind on everything else. But now I’m done with the semester and ready to get back on track!

27 Hours was a book that I was pretty intrigued about before I was offered to review it. I admit I don’t read much sci-fi or fantasy anymore, mostly because of length and because I just can’t commit to series, but I do love the genres and tend to gravitate toward them in other media. 27 Hours seemed like a good place to jump back into the genre, especially as it centers a diverse group of queer characters. After all, one of my frustrations about YA SFF was the common inclusion of a heterosexual romance subplot that seemed to revolve around the same types of characters.

I enjoyed the action-fast first pages that threw you into the world with lush descriptions. While I personally like this writing style in this genre, I understand it isn’t for everyone. I’m definitely one to be more invested in character and setting than plot (unless it’s an intricate mystery-type book), so I enjoyed exploring the world and getting to know the characters. The romances were absolutely swoon-worthy and lovely. That said, I didn’t think Braeden’s asexuality was presented entirely accurately: it was constantly equated to not having sex, whereas it is only the absence of sexual attraction (some ace people are sex-repulsed, others aren’t, etc). I was also a little disappointed that it was always the men who were physically fighting.

I can’t really write this review without linking to this one, which explored the lack of true racial representation and how the main characters’ species and race affected the themes of colonialism. Wright certainly acknowledges the issue of colonialism, but in my experience reading it, I definitely saw the chimera as some sort of monstrous “Other” even though they turn out to be intelligent and communicable beings. It will be interesting to see how they’re involved in the rest of the series.

I do think Wright tries to explain the lack of connection (most of) the teens have with the ancestry with mention of a generation ship thing, but a “universal” language emerging 150-200 years in the future does leave many questions. There’s a lot of cultural erasing going on when you have to delete languages (and indeed the society portrayed is rather Western), all universal language attempts thus far have really failed to make a difference, and some things just don’t plain translate, making the whole process difficult and leaving a lot of sacrifices behind. Furthermore, Nyx is Deaf and she and other characters communicate in sign language, which itself would not only prove an exception to the “universal language” thing (sign language has its own grammar and syntax!), but also…which sign language survived? There are several versions.

Overall, I enjoyed 27 Hours if I don’t poke too many holes in it. My record at actually reading sequels is pretty miserable, but I am curious to how this might continue.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Note: This is a bit different from my usual posts because it is part of a class assignment!

my heart and otherMy Heart and Other Black Holes is Jasmine Warga’s 2015 debut novel about two teenagers who make a suicide pact on a website for just that, choosing each other because of they live in neighboring towns. Aysel, the narrator, wants to die because she has depression and feels distant from her family, alienated by her community because they fear she’ll be like her father, who killed the town’s pride Olympic-bound teenage track star. Her partner is Roman, who wants to die because he feels responsible for his younger sister’s death and does not deserve to live.

This novel definitely comes with a plethora of trigger warnings in regard to suicidal thoughts. Aysel’s narration has the dark, snarky humor that’s often found with depressed teens (though it did feel familiar to me from reading various YA novels), but that means that dying is tossed around so lightly it’s a very heavy read. (Though I was disappointed she resorted to a negative throwaway line about cheerleaders, and OCD was used as an adjective to describe orderly behavior. Pet peeves of mine.)

The setting of small Kentucky towns was well-realized and specific. I enjoyed how Aysel saw the world through her interest in physics, as well as her reference to the “black slug” in her gut that represented depression. It also did a good job of portraying depression and addressing the potential permanent, genetic aspect of it. However, this book’s premise does walk a very fine and dangerous line that I’m not sure ever resolved (some spoilers ahead). As the synopsis and tagline of the book indicates, Aysel and Roman develop feelings to each other that make Aysel begin to question their pact to see what might happen with them. This is definitely the spark that turns the tables for her, and it’s a dangerous premise because you should never base your reason for living on one person and love–you can’t rely on that. But the book redeemed itself a bit by having her talk to her mother and want to pursue other interests in her life outside of Roman, so she had more to live for. Still, it’s impossible to divorce Aysel’s change in perception from her feelings from Roman, and that’s evident in the packaging of the book.

Links Aysel might visit (not including anything suicidal, for safety reasons):

depression

Video: Book Trailer

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Note: This is a bit different from my usual post because it is part of a class assignment!

march book 1March is a three-part graphic novel memoir from John Lewis, current House of Representatives member and civil rights icon. The first book covers Lewis’s childhood and college involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee orchestrating sit-ins, the second volume covers voting rights and freedom rides, and the third covers the March on Washington. Andrew Aydin helped Lewis write the story, and Nate Powell drew the illustrations.

In Book One, John Lewis is getting ready in 2009 to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. A mother and her children visit his office for the sake of history, and since he is there, he begins to tell them about his life. He grew up in rural Alabama, witnessing segregation and taking an interest in preaching. Lewis greatly admires the nonviolence Martin Luther King, Jr. preaches, interested in how he links religion to social justice. Unfortunately, he cannot attend a local law school because it is segregated, and his family does not agree to take the risk and sue.  Lewis attends nonviolent activist workshops and joins the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). With them, he organizes and participates in sit-ins, refusing to move from the counter at an illegally segregated “whites only” restaurant while enduring abuse–and eventually integrating some restaurants in Nashville.

Racism is depicted in a brutally, realistic way, including language, but Lewis and his company stress taking the moral ground. While I do wish the text would have been bigger because it would have been more comfortable to read, the illustrations do a great job of enhancing and capturing the feeling of the text. For instance, the text of songs wind through the page, growing in strength with the crowd, and powerful moments are captured with blackout pages with a central image and little text. This should be a great read for graphic novel fans, those new to the medium, and those interested in history, social justice, and African-American literature.

Links John Lewis would enjoy:

john lewis.png
John Lewis during the March on Washington

Video: John Lewis’s March on Washington Speech

 

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Note: This is different from my usual posts because it’s part of a class project!

freakboy

Freakboy is a 2013 novel-in-verse by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

(That means it is written

in poetry like

this,

representing the characters’

thoughts, with some

structural changes

l i k e  t h i s.)

There are 3 points of view portrayed: Brendan, a high schooler questioning his gender identity; Vanessa, Brendan’s girlfriend; and Angel, a Latina trans woman working at a LGBTQ youth center who eventually intersects with Brendan. [Note: I use he/him pronouns to describe Brendan because none other are used in the text.] Because this is told in such a stream-of-conciousness manner, there are a lot of dark and uncomfortable thoughts that can be despairing and difficult to read, so definite trigger warnings for homophobia, transphobia, depression, and suicidal ideation. Because the book submerges you in this headspace, it would not be the first book I recommend to a student who might be questioning their gender identity and already going through these thoughts daily.

The story primarily follows Brendan questioning his gender and how that affects his relationship with his girlfriend. Angel’s sections are mostly about her life story, and it takes a while for her to intersect with Brendan. The plot is rather thin as a result. Unfortunately, details of the setting and other characters are also sparse. We get to know Brendan’s family situation, especially his little sister, but not much else. The setting is supposed to be contemporary California (so 2013), and Brendan and Vanessa attend a prep school, but literally everyone encountered in the school–including outside the toxic masculinity of the wrestling team–is homophobic, and brutally so. I find that a bit difficult to believe for the setting and, once again, not my first choice for teens confronting this issue because reading it honestly made me feel sick.

I am glad this book does address non-binary (neither strictly male or female) gender identities, but I think it missed many crucial educational opportunities because Angel enters Brendan’s story in a way relevant to her job so late. Gendered pronouns (he, she, they, etc), which are extremely important for trans people and something many cis people do not understand, are never discussed. Vanessa’s parts were a little unnecessary because we knew more than she did about why Brendan was acting distant, and when she did contemplate her own sexual orientation, it was quickly dismissed (referring to a “phase” from her past, which is highly biphobic language), and never allowed for a nuanced consideration of the complexities of gender and sexuality. The ending isn’t the bleakest it could have been, but I found it frustrating, and I suffered a lot to get there.

Websites Brendan may have visited when figuring out his identity in the book:

trans flag
Trans pride flag

Video: Interview with the Author

 

Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Genre: YA contemporary/mystery

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: October 10, 2017

Synopsis:

echo after echoDebuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

**I received an eARC copy of this from Negalley in exchange for an honest review.**

I excitedly requested Echo After Echo because I’d been looking forward to it; I’ve gotten into theater a lot lately (though not quite in an actor way) and haven’t seen many fictional books about drama kids, which hasn’t been helpful since I’m currently trying to capture some of that community in my own writing. Furthermore, a female/female love story featuring a bi girl always perks my interest.

So, I had the contemporary mindset going in, the genre I read mostly. But oh man, is this a mystery story, and a good one. The atmosphere is creepy from the beginning–I mean, Zara finds a dead body when she first arrives at the theater! And almost everyone in the theater is weird and mysterious–or, at least, not very friendly at first, including the creepy famous director, Leopold, who can get away with way too much power abuse because he’s “brilliant.” He also has visions, and coupled with the theater’s curse, I wondered if there was something supernatural going on. But because of Zara and Eli’s budding relationship, the mystery doesn’t take the forefront in the middle, so it doesn’t drag or rely solely on its (well-constructed) plot, constantly asking you to question it. And then they seem to figure it out, but…it isn’t what it seems. Which was AMAZING because I did not expect the level of complexity to the mystery in a book I regarded as a contemporary–and that more or less tricks you into believing you’re reading one in the middle.

But aside from the mystery, Zara/Eli is written with great amounts of suspense and swoon, keeping them apart for just the right time to keep the page turning without growing exhausting. It’s established early on that Zara and Eli like girls (though Eli doesn’t know Eli does for a while), and that Zara’s dated and kissed boys, too. So this wasn’t a discovery story in that respect, which tend to dominate LGBTQ stories (albeit for a reason–but it’s not the be-all-end-all). Yet, Zara isn’t completely figured out yet; she tries to come out to her family and also says “I’m bisexual” when she’s absolutely sure. THE WORD! It used the word, even when it was easy to infer! (Bi people always have to come out over and over again, or else they’re assumed to be either gay or straight.) Also, isn’t it great there’s queer representation in different genres (mystery in this case) from the usual contemporaries?

Echo After Echo is written in third person omniscient, with different chapters centering on different characters, although certainly Zara is focused on the most. This allowed for plenty of insight into the other characters’ psyches, preventing them from being weird types. Additionally, I just really liked the writing–there were quite a few turns of phrases I highlighted. (I would give examples, but ARCs are not final so we can’t quote from them!)

The theater was a refreshing (albeit dark and mysterious setting); it was nice seeing a YA book where the teenage characters are not in high school. Zara did apply to colleges to attend after she finishes her run in the play, and certainly not everyone can be a working artist at the age, but it was a great glimpse into that life.

I honestly have few negative things to say. I began to wish Adrien had more depth than the shallowness and awareness of fan-pleasing you’d expect from a young, hot male movie star, but then I was pleasantly surprised with more backstory and comments on how he stumbled into the business and how fame affected his life and relationships.

Now I need to get a finished, physical copy for my future classroom…

Review: Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Great Writers

Author: David Stabler

Illustrator: Doogie Horner

Genre: nonfiction

Publisher: Quirk Books

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Synopsis:

kid authorsThe series that includes Kid Presidents, Kid Artists, and Kid Athletes now chronicles the lives of Kid Authors! Here are true tales of famous writers, from long before they were famous–or even old enough to drive. Did you know:
– Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) loved to skip school and make mischief, with his best friend Tom, of course!
– A young J. R. R. Tolkien was bitten by a huge tarantula–or as he called it, -a spider as big as a dragon.-
– Toddler Zora Neale Hurston took her first steps when a wild hog entered her house and started chasing her!
The diverse and inclusive cast includes Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, J. K. Rowling, Langston Hughes, Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, Stan Lee, and many more.

**I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Kid Authors is a new middle grade (on the lower end of that spectrum, I would say) nonfiction book from Quirk Books in their series of fun stories about famous people when they were younger. Written by David Stabler, the book has many delightful color illustrations by Doogie Horner.

The book covers a diverse selection of authors, although most of them would be familiar to children, and they are mostly American. Some of the stories were more focused on specific events than others, which made them stronger in my opinion, and almost all related back to how they became authors. I found Sherman Alexie’s really interesting, and I didn’t know that Edgar Allen Poe was a foster child! Unfortunately, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s was not much new if you’re familiar with the Little House series.

A paragraph in Langston Hughes’s chapter really stood out to me: he was voted class poet in eighth grade unanimously, but he had not written a poem yet, at least outside of his mind. So he went and started writing to prove himself. That’s like some predestination craziness.

One thing I was a little surprised with was the use of “Indians” to refer to Native Americans all the time. It made sense in the Laura Ingalls Wilder story because of the time period, and there’s a great illustration of an exasperated Native American frustrated about how they’d left for a little and suddenly some settlers moved in. But otherwise, I was surprised they didn’t use Native Americans as well, as it is so much more accurate and I think that’s important in a children’s book.

There are also little facts about other authors’ childhoods in the back, which were pretty fun. The best one was absolutely Earnest Hemingway, that All-American Man, who was dressed in his older sister’s clothes until he was 5 and his mother said he was her daughter “Ernestine”!!!

This is definitely something great to have in the classroom!