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.

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Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication date: January 2, 2018

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary:

you'll miss me when I'm goneEighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

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

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is a complex contemporary novel that’s gripping and very human. Told in dual perspective, Adina and Tovah both have distinct passions, voices, and characteristics, and you really get to know them and their family before the test results so you feel the impact of it. The alternating perspective really does allow for an understanding of the complex reasoning behind the decisions and emotions each twin has, as flawed as it might be, though often that’s because of information they aren’t privy to. But that wasn’t in a frustrating lack of communication way; it all made sense because of their characters and situations. This made it incredibly realistic, especially as it grappled with intense topics. (TW for self-harm and suicide ideation.) The thought-provoking topics of genetic testing, assisted suicide, religion, family, and relationships are handled very well and will make you think about where the story might go.

For a YA book, college admissions is a major focus, and frankly I very much needed this book when I was a senior. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I found that Tovah’s eventual peace at not having her life completely planned out as she had originally hoped–including with her relationship–was so important and something I REALLY needed at that time in my life. Meanwhile, it was refreshing to hear about a teen pursuing classical music, as you don’t see that too much in media (meanwhile, Tovah’s love for more modern music also adds to the music love which I appreciate). Each twin’s romantic relationship was also well-explored as they navigated the differences between lust and love from different perspectives. Toxic situations are called out, and there are many sex-positive discussions about relationships, desire, and contraceptives.

I also appreciated the many details of Judiasm in this book. Adina and Tovah’s mother is Israeli, and they speak Hebrew with her and to each other at times and are raised as Conservative Jewish. The distinction between this and other forms of Judiasm are explored, as is how American society tends to ignore it. Adina, Tovah, and their parents all have different relationships to their religion and culture, especially influenced by their mother’s declining health due to the genetic disease of Huntington’s. I learned a lot and found this complexity not just interesting, but realistic.

Ultimately, this was such a good read that was not afraid to push its characters to act logically and emotionally when confronting big topics, while still managing to wrangle the messiness into a satisfying ending.

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: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Genre: YA speculative fiction/contemporary (feels more like the latter than a SFF story)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: September 5, 2017 (see what they did there??)

Synopsis:

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

they both die at the end

So this book snuck up on me a little. I’d loved Adam Silvera’s previous two books, but while More Happy Than Not floored me with its plot twists and construction and History is All You Left Me grabbed my interest with its topics on breakups and OCD, I wasn’t as interested in the concept of They Both Die at the End, so I was a little nervous. I’d seen a couple of great reviews and a couple of mixed ones. But then I got to the end, and I’m having troubling coming up with much negative to say about it.

While They Both Die at the End clearly has some sci-fi elements, it reads more like a contemporary, interesting in exploring the “what-if” situation with a realistic story. And yet, the impact Death-Cast has had on the world isn’t ignored–there’s a whole industry out there trying to make money by making the lives of the soon-to-die (called “Deckers”) better, and books, TV, and other stories now have Death-Cast as a plot point. A lot of it serves as commentary for how death is handled on social media, which is something I’ve had to think about recently. Most chapters are told from either Rufus’s or Mateo’s POVs (which are very distinctive), but there are glimpses of other people affected, most of which cross paths somewhere with Rufus and Mateo. Even though it all takes place in a day, there’s so much ground covered that it doesn’t feel rushed or stretched.

We all like to proclaim how emotional Adam Silvera’s books make us, but I’m not sure we give him enough credit for his plotting. More Happy Than Not has a plot twist that reveals so many little details planted beforehand, and They Both Die at the End reminded me of that careful structure. There are a lot of details–especially from the other POV chapters as I mentioned earlier–that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. And how they actually die isn’t quite what you expect.

Even though, yes, they both die at the end, the knowledge of the fact and how it is handled prevents this from being a “bury your gays” scenario. Like History is All You Left Me is about break-ups and grief with a m/m couple, this is a high-concept story about family and friendship and love that also happens to feature two boys. It’s not a “what is it like to be a guy or bi guy?” story. So, as I’m sure you’ve expected, there is a bit of a romance–but it’s a slow-burn, and even though this takes place over just one day, there’s friendship first. Lots of talking about deep, philosophical issues (I mean, what else would you do when your impending death is certain and foretold?) and their lives. Mateo and Rufus are very different characters, but they have plenty of heart and love for their family and friends. It’s cute and tender and pure.

Another thing I appreciated: Mateo likes music and has several songs that he has attachments to, and most of them were the kind of music I listen to, as well, so I had a deeper understanding of their relevancy, even though important lyrics are included. In particular: “One Song Glory” from Rent (regret and last wishes when death is close), “American Pie” (eight-minute epic about an untimely death, anti-60s sentiment aside), and “You’re Song” by Elton John (such a unique choice for a contemporary for its love and friendship song). I was geeking out a bit, I admit.

Review: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Kaleidoscope Song

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: September 19, 2017

kaleidoscope songSouth Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.
When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

Read More »

Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

history-coverLast year, I was fortunate to win a Twitter giveaway from Adam Silvera for a signed paperback of More Happy Than Not and ARC of History is All You Left Me. It was very lovely and I immediately jumped at the chance to read History, one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. So since it’s going to be published tomorrow, January 17, I’m now going to post my (non-spoilery) review!

History alternates between “Today” and “History” sections, both narrated by Griffin. “Today” begins with the funeral of Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, who drowned. Against the odds, Griffin finds that he’s able to cope with his grief by becoming friends with Theo’s second boyfriend, and the two work through the situation together. Meanwhile, the “History” sections are Griffin telling how he and Griffin began dating, broke up, and after. Unlike other books I’ve read, I was very engaged in both storylines, especially once Jackson became more of a presence. I was never like, “Oh great, got to get through another ‘today’ section again.”

I’m not an expert in YA (especially since I almost exclusively read the darker contemporaries), but I think it’s fair to generalize that most YA–contemporary or not–features first love, or at least the beginning of a relationship. I’m also often disappointed by these (especially if they are subplots in a more plot-drive, SF/F book) because the dynamics and even descriptions of the characters are often very similar, not at all representative of teenage relationships (as someone who was in one). Like Griffin, I was also in a significant, long-term relationship in high school on which college and mental health had an impact, though that is about where the similarities end. Yet, I found myself relating very deeply with Griffin’s feelings throughout the history and prsent, and that aftermath of a relationship isn’t something I’ve been able to find much in YA. Some of the conversations were painful to read (in a good way!) because of the memories they brought back, and I really related to the situations of wanting things to work out a certain way, still talking to ask for forgiveness, and wanting Theo to be happy.

Another aspect is that Griffin struggles with OCD, based on Silvera’s own. OCD is a wide spectrum of obsessions and compulsions often unique to the individual (I personally have a mild form iinvolving checking and repetitve thoughts), so it was interesting to see the similarities between Griffin and Molly from Finding Perfect, which I read recently too. Unlike the latter, it is by no means the main focus of the novel, but it is a part of Griffin’s life. I really liked how Griffin came to view his mental illness and its impact on his life and conclude that therapy is not a bad thing. Most importantly, he came to realize that he isn’t just “quirky,” as Theo began to call him, and it’s healthy to become a better self rather than holding onto the one someone loved you for despite the fact it was ultimately unhealthy. In a world where mental illness is often romanticized, this is an important lesson, and at the very least it’s difficult to reconcile who you are despite your OCD and how that impacts your relationships, especially romantic ones.

Grief hangs over the whole novel, but for me, History is All You Left Me ultimately revolves around the messiness of being human. Griffin and others make some impulsive decisions that fracture relationships, at least for a little while, but it doesn’t become a lesson. Things aren’t necessarily right or wrong, sometimes tragedy strikes and there’s no one to blame. Welcome to adulthood!