Showing posts with label LGBTQ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LGBTQ. Show all posts

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: Social Intercourse

Title: Social Intercourse

Author: Greg Howard

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for my honest review.

Beckett is an out gay teen living with his single dad, desperate to have some relationship experience before he graduates high school. Jaxon is the golden high school quarterback, raised by two moms, one of whom has started dating Beckett's dad. Both Jaxon and Beckett are unhappy with the situation, so they devise a plan to get each of their respective parents back with their original partner. But a different romance starts to brew as the two work on their plans--one that neither of them suspected.

This was such a fun read! A lot of the scenes throughout the novel reminded me of Parent Trap at times, as Beckett and Jaxon concoct this scheme in order to actually stop their parents from dating each other. The story itself is also different than a lot of LGBTQ books I've read; instead of focusing on Beckett and Jaxon's coming out stories, the core conflict is focused on something complete different, and I found that really refreshing.

Despite the refreshing story line, there were some problematic moments throughout the book as well. There were some stereotypes that were perpetuated, specifically with Jaxon and his moms, though Beckett also embodies the typically feminine gay stereotype. There also aren't a lot of female characters throughout the story, which can be fine, but the ones that are presented are generally flat. If they were more complex, it wouldn't have bugged me so much.

Though there are some problematic aspects within the story, it was still an overall fun read, though probably not one that I'll revisit again. If you're looking for a fun, LGBTQ romance for the summer, this one is worth picking up!

3/5 stars

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

"What happens if the world ends?" Freddie said.
"Maybe it already has," I said, "and this is it. Now we have the opportunity to start over and try to do better this time around."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth, scientifically proven. Despite this fact, she has lived a relatively normal life; at least, until she heals Freddie, her crush, because the Starbucks Siren told her too. Now, voices are telling Elena that she has to keep healing people or the world as she knows it will come to an end. But should Elena have the power to decide who is saved and who isn't?

I've loved everything I've read from Shaun David Hutchinson (including We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe), and I loved this book even more. Elena Mendoza is perhaps one of the most compelling of the characters that Hutchinson has created. She's stuck in an impossible situation; every time she heals someone, hundreds of people disappear. But she's told if she doesn't heal, then the apocalypse will come. Supported by a cast of equally colorful characters, I found myself immediately sucked into Elena's world. 

Not only is the premise of the story unique, but there's a lot of good representation in this book as well. Elena herself is bi, she has a conversation with her friend Fadil about being asexual, they have lots of good discussions about the meaning of mental health, and Elena and Freddie talk a lot about suicide. There are so many good things about this book, in fact, that I'm having difficulty finding flaws at the moment. If you like existential young adult novels, this is definitely a book for you.

One of the things I also love about Hutchinson is the way he includes mentions of characters from his other books within the plot. Elena interacts with both Henry and Tommy on her path to figuring out her own decisions, and those that have read his other books will appreciate the references.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza takes its readers on a crazy ride, leaving them with much to think about along the way.

5/5 stars

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

"I romanticize my past and I romanticize my future; right now is always the bleakest moment of my life." - David Arnold, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

Noah Oakman is fascinated by a lot of things: David Bowie, Mila Henry, the Fading Woman, and the OMG. He doesn't like the path he's been set on: swimmer extraordinaire, on track to swim in college. So, on a whim, he gets hypnotized at a party. And now, small things are changing. His friends are into different things, their pasts are rewritten, even his family is affected. But only one thing remains the same: Noah's fascinations.

Let me start by saying this is definitely my favorite book by David Arnold this far. There was something about Noah that felt so relatable; he's on a path that other people have chosen for him that he doesn't really think that he wants to do anymore. The pressure of their expectations has made him unable to make a decision one way or another--something we've all felt at one point in our lives. You have to make huge decisions about your future right out of high school? That's logical.

To support the fantastic characters in the novel (which includes Alan, Val, and Noah's sister Penny), we also get a quirky, original story. Noah gets hypnotized and ends up in this alternate reality where he starts to pull away from his friends and family, isolating himself because he can't figure out to get back to normal. It was a refreshing young adult contemporary, and one I would happily read again because I'm sure there's things I missed, like in any David Arnold novel.

With beautiful lines, quirky, lovable characters, and a fascinating (ha) premise, this is a book that I couldn't put down.

5/5 stars

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Leah on the Offbeat

"That has to be the best part of being in love--the feeling of having a home in someone else's brain."
-Becky Albertalli, Leah on the Offbeat

Picking up where Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda took off, this time we get to live inside Leah's brain. Generally less privileged than those in her friend group, Leah has yet to gather the courage to come out as bisexual. Which makes her crush on Abby Suso increasingly difficult. As they get closer to graduation, their friend group begins to falter. As relationships start to break, Leah doesn't know whether or not to act on her own feelings.

Let me begin with this: Becky Albertalli is one of the best at accurately capturing the voices of teenagers. Leah is snarky and honest and and her voice absolutely carries you through to the very end. The appearance of other characters from Simon help to make the world even stronger and easier to fall into. Those who loved Simon will absolutely love Leah.

Leah on the Offbeat is also packed with a lot of humor and typical high school drama. Leah is desperate to find a relationship like Simon's. Leah is having difficulty learning how to say goodbye to the friends she's surrounded herself with since middle school. Her feelings of being an outsider are extremely relatable as well, and Albertalli also gets props for her portrayal of bisexual characters.

Overall, I blew threw this because I absolutely love Albertalli's writing style and her characters are always well rounded, even the ones included in the background.

4.5/5 stars

Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: And She Was

As Dara begins making preparations to pursue her dream of becoming a career tennis player, she goes digging around in her mom's room in order to find her birth certificate to get her passport. But what she finds is something she was never expecting. Her mother, Mellie, is transgender. Feeling betrayed, Dara heads out on a road trip with her best friend in order to find her lost family--a trip where Dara discovers more about herself than she could have ever imagined.

I'm torn about this book. As someone who doesn't identify as transgender, I was curious about what others said about this book online. The reactions to this book are mixed, mostly because there is a lot of transphobia portrayed in this book, especially through Dara's grandparents. I do think this was done in order to illustrate how many people talk about and to transgender people. At times, though, it felt like it was a bit much and definitely could be triggering to people who read it.

The other thing that bothered me about this story was the main character. As soon as Dara finds out about her mom, she becomes incredibly selfish. Literally everything is about her--probably up until the last 20 or so pages of the book. And while I get that this experience was a growing/coming-of-age moment for her, it took her a little too long to get there. Especially if she was as close to her mother as she proclaimed. To me, it felt like it should have been much harder for her to just suddenly up and leave her mother.

What I did like about this book were the secondary characters and the sources provided at the end. It is clear that Verdi did her research about the transgender community, which I appreciated. I also though Mellie's story, told in emails to her daughter, was really compelling. I wanted more from this story--and almost wish the story was focused there.

Overall, a mixed reaction and a mixed review. I do caution those looking to pick up this book if you might be triggered by excessive transphobic language--there is a lot within this story.

3/5 stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In

"I've squeezed as many bookcases in this tiny space as possible. Being surrounded by books and magazines makes me feel calm. It makes the room seemed wrapped in a layer of protection. As if nothing or no one can get to me."
-Angelo Surmelis, The Dangerous Art of Blending In

Evan Panos is constantly seen as a disappointment by his Greek-American mother. His non-confrontational father never steps in and defends him, so Evan spends most of his days trying to be invisible and do the right thing. But hiding is becoming exhausting, especially since Evan kissed a boy over the summer. And his best friend Henry is becoming more and more attractive to him. As the end of high school nears, Evan has to figure out how to live with his own voice.

So I saw this book at work, as well as Jeff Zentner's mention of it on Twitter, and I knew that I had to pick it up. I mean, just look at the cover. It's gorgeous. This is Angelo Surmelis's debut novel, and I'm hoping that this means we'll get more from him. His writing is so emotionally driven, crafting an impressive amount of empathy in the reader. You want good things to happen to Evan, someone who is constantly beaten down by his mother. His story is absolutely heartbreaking; but it is also ultimately a story of hope.

One of the only things that threw me off about this story was the jump in time in the middle. I think it was like three months or something, but the jump in time felt a bit out of place. I wanted to know what bridged this jump into the future. There were also scenes with Evan's mom that were difficult to read, but that was the point, I think. There are many teens that find themselves in these abusive situations because of their sexuality, and it's important that these stories are getting published.

Surmelis's debut is heartbreaking, brutal, and hopeful. It's this thread of hope that is the most important part. Evan has hope, and is eventually able to craft his own family.

4.5/5 stars

Monday, April 2, 2018

Books for Campus Pride Month

Though Pride isn't officially until June, April is when a lot of college campuses celebrate Pride--mostly due to the fact the majority of students aren't there in June. With the popularity of Love, Simon, there have been lots of lists floating around on books to read after you see the movie, and many of these lists feature LGBTQ characters. The movie opened up a visibility online (though, I admit, I'm in a lot of book communities on social media) that is hopeful, showing that hopefully change is happening.

Admittedly, I've read a lot of the books that are circulating on the internet--and they're all wonderful, you should read them! You can find some of these lists here, here, and here. As someone who's done a lot of academic research in this area, I thought I'd chime in with some of my favorite books that represent the LGBTQ community.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Ari and Dante don't really have anything in common, at least when they first meet at a swimming pool over the summer. But as they start hanging out, they realize they're more alike than they could have ever imagined and their friendship blossoms into something more. Set in Texas in the 1980s, Ari and Dante struggle with stereotypes around the gay community, and as Ari is Mexican American, his culture is brought to the forefront as well. An emotional examination of a coming-of-age story.

2. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Death-Cast calls people on the day they're going to die--but it doesn't tell them when or how. Matteo and Rufus both receive this call on the same day and end up connecting via a friendship app for those on their last day. Rufus is able to help Matteo to come out of his shell and experience life, while Matteo is able to help Rufus deal with the death of his family. Silvera's stories are always incredibly emotional, and this one is no different.

3. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

Quinn's sister, Annabeth, was killed in a car accident, and now Quinn has lost his desire and motivation in writing his movie script. Geoff, Quinn's best friend, is finally able to pull Quinn out of his isolation by bringing him to a party, where Quinn meets and falls in love for the first time. A mixture of humor and grief, Federle's style feels similar to Beck Albertalli's. You'll fall in love with Quinn right from the beginning.

4. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Riley is genderfluid, meaning sometimes Riley identifies as a girl and sometimes as a boy. But not being out is putting a strain on Riley's emotions and anxiety, especially being in the spotlight during their dad's campaign. Not only should Garvin be commended for never gendering his protagonist one way or another (which is incredibly difficult!), but the emotions and anxiety throughout the text feel very real. Riley's predicament is one that many teens will relate to.

5. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

The only fantasy book on this list, Carry On follows the story of Simon and Baz at the Watford School of Magicks, something that was referenced in her book Fangirl. As with any of Rowell's books, Simon and Baz's relationship is the reason to read this book. The tension is built up and built up until you're like: just kiss already! I plowed through this book so quickly, it might be time to go back and revisit it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Representation Matters

The movie Love, Simon was released this past weekend, to an overwhelmingly positive reception. Not only did it receive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, people took to Twitter, exclaiming how much they loved the movie. I was definitely one of these people--I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda awhile ago, and this movie definitely did it justice (from what I can remember. A re-read of the book is now a must).

While there have been high school coming out movies made before, Love, Simon made headlines because it was released from a major movie studio. Mostly, these movies were released by independent companies, meaning that they weren't seen by a large audience. Released by Fox 2000, and featuring well-known actors, Love, Simon got more attraction and advertising than many of the movies mentioned in the list I linked above.

The importance of this is tenfold, and this is something you can see just through searching the tag #LoveSimon on Twitter. Both adults and teens alike can't stop talking about how much they loved this movie--the adults wishing that this was a movie that they had when they were teenagers. As a first major studio gay teen rom-com (that made $11.5 million in its first weekend!), it's on par with the profit of John Green movies in the theater. And that's amazing, for a lot of people.

Jeff Zentner, another fantastic YA author, put it best after seeing the movie:

"We just saw Love, Simon, and it was beyond perfect. I loved everything about it. The performances were pitch perfect, so deeply sympathetic and hilarious. The movie was perfectly cast (1/5).

The musical cues were amazing. The comic beats killed me. The romantic beats killed me. Imagine the best of John Hughes and then turn everything up two or three clicks. Go see this movie!! And read the book!! It's just as delightful (2/5)!!

I forgot to mention how deeply moving it is. It's cliche to say something will make you laugh and cry, but it really will (3/5).

One more thing that kept running through my head while watching it: evil people can win political elections and hold power. But while they do... (4/5).

our country's center of gravity is going to keep shifting out from under them, because good people are better at telling good stories. And stories shift our culture (5/5)."

Featuring these kinds of stories in such a prominent way shows that our culture is shifting in a positive way, despite all the negativity spewed by this administration. Books are important. Movies are important. Stories are important. As a creator myself, I'm going to continue to support endeavors that let oppressed populations be heard. Especially when they're as well done as Love, Simon was. With memorable characters, humor, well-crafted romance, and a fantastic soundtrack, it hit all the right notes. There's probably something for almost anyone in this movie.

The shift toward giving voices to oppressed populations is easily seen within one of my favorite things--young adult literature. Love, Simon has shown that it's possible for these stories to make it to the big screen and be successful. Go see Love, Simon--and then buy the book. And while you're reading the book, listen to the playlist I made for Simon! Maybe download the soundtrack for the movie too, because it also doesn't disappoint.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: They Both Die at the End

"No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end."
-Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End

Both Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive a call from Death-Cast that tells them they're going to die today. They both download the Last Friend app, desperate for a friend on their last day. Together, they're able to conquer their fears and pack a bunch of new adventures into their last day on Earth.

Death was a theme in the books I read this summer, apparently. Adam Silvera is currently the king of writing emotionally devastating books, because every single book he's written makes you feel. He has a way of writing this book that gives you hope that maybe Mateo and Rufus will find a way to defy the Death-Cast call even though you know that that's probably not the case. This is an Adam Silvera book, after all. You often end the book with a lot of different emotions.

The characters in this book are so relatable and well-developed, with characteristics that I think many teens will be drawn to. What's interesting about this book, and connected it to More Happy Than Not, was that we get no explanation as to how we get this technology that predicts death, it's just there. And while that might be frustrating and confusing to some people, I think Silvera's writing allows us to just accept that there's this new technology, and new vocabulary, which allows us to focus on the characters and the story.

Adam Silvera's books are so emotionally driven, and I'll definitely keep reading everything that he puts out. None of his books have disappointed me so far, and I hope that continues to be the case in the future. A beautifully written story about living life to the fullest.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Middlesex

Middlesex cover

"Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind."
-Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Calliope Stephanides has an intricate and complex family history, traveling from Mount Olympus in Greece to Detroit during the prohibition. The key to Calliope's identity is hidden deep within their family history, a secret that leads to a genetic defect that causes Calliope to question her own identity. Told in alternating narratives between the past and the present, readers get the full scope of Calliope's family history, and a deeper understanding of her transformation into Cal.

This is a book that has been on my to-read list for a long time, mostly because I've always been interested in gender analysis, and this book does fascinating things with gender. While it took me a bit to get into the story, once I started to see how everything was connected I couldn't put it down. The story was intricate and detailed, the family history finally unfolding into everything in the very end.

Not only was Calliope's/Cal's story extremely fascinating, but Eugenides is able to accurately capture the various time periods as well. They're described in immense detail, immersing the reader completely in the time period and the story. This is one of those books that makes you keep thinking once it's finished, and it is a wonderfully crafted piece of literature.

4.5/5 stars

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: More Than This

More Than This Patrick Ness

"A's a world all on its own too. A world made of words where you live for a while."
-Patrick Ness, More Than This

Seth Wearing drowns in the cold ocean coast off of the state of Washington, alone. Suddenly, he's awake, desperately thirsty, but alive. But why? What is the place he has woken up in? As he struggles to figure out where he is, if it's real, hope starts to snake its way in. Hope that Seth hasn't felt in a long time.

All I can say about this book is wow. It's hard to provide a summary for it because doing so would give a lot of the plot away, but it's way more than you expect it to be. Like most Patrick Ness novels, this one transforms as you read it, pulling you into the story and not letting go until the very end. And then you don't even want it to end. Patrick Ness has quickly become one of my favorite YA authors because he has yet to disappoint.

The first thing that blew me away about this novel was Ness's description of Seth's drowning in the beginning. It feels so realistic, the small details all coming together to fully encompass the reader in Seth's death. And what a way to begin the novel. Man. The emotions started there and they never stopped coming. It's a commentary on perception and reality and makes you think and it's everything that I love in a novel.

All in all, this book was an intense emotional journey filled by a cast of vivid characters in an absolutely desolate setting that makes you question the difference between reality and perception. Ness delivers an absolutely strange story that despite its desolate setting presents an ultimate message of hope. Definitely a must-read.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Things I Should Have Known

"It's like people have a place in their brain for normal, and they have a place in their brain for something obviously wrong, but they can't deal with something just a little bit different. And that makes them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act like jerks."
-Claire LaZebnik, Things I Should Have Known

Chloe knew that her sister was lonely, and the only way to cure her loneliness was to help her make some friends--maybe even set her up on a date. So, she tries to play matchmaker, setting up Ivy (who is on the autism spectrum) with another boy from her special needs class, Ethan. However, Ivy and Ethan refuse to go out on their own, forcing Chloe to interact with Ethan's brother, David. The four quickly form a bond, making Chloe rethink her own romantic choices and realize it's okay not to follow everyone else's expectations.

Portrayals of autistic characters in YA literature is pretty non-existent--in fact, besides this book, I can't think of a book that has an autistic character off the top of my head. The fact that this book exists does inspire hope for the future, though, and YA fiction is slowly starting to become more inclusive. But that doesn't mean that it still doesn't have a long way to go. 

LaZebnik's creates really realistic characters in her novel, and while it would be even more progressive to have the book narrated by the autistic character, she shows the lengths siblings will go to in order to make their own sisters or brothers feel safe. The character that most intrigued me was David, who had two totally different sides depending on the people he was dealing with. He felt incredibly real to me, and once we learn his backstory, 

There's also a twist in the story that adds even more diversity (one of the characters ends up being gay), and is done in a realistic way. Though stories that deal with this many challenges might become bogged down by the negative aspects of the situation, this story still remains funny, endearing, and hopeful, making it even more true to life. This book definitely deserves more hype than it originally got--and I hope more people are able to discover it.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: True Letters from a Fictional Life

"I've always wanted to wake up one day in a world where I liked the right people, and they liked me in return. I worry it'll never happen." --Kenneth Logan, True Letters from a Fictional Life

James Liddell's written and actual live are two very different things. To anyone who knows him, James is a well-rounded, well liked athlete, dating the equally well liked Theresa. But when he's alone, he tells a different story--he fills his drawers with letters to people that he never intends to send, about things that he could never say aloud. When these letters mysteriously start getting sent, he grows worried that everyone will find out his darkest secret: that he likes boys. Will James ever get to escape his life of fiction?

This book is much more lighthearted than most LGBTQ fiction that I've read, especially recently. I liked the concept of the story, as using fiction as an escape is a familiar notion for a fellow writer. James uses his letters to say things that he never thought he'd be able to say aloud--but, when they actually get out, they allow him to fully accept who he is.

Though he was the protagonist, James wasn't my favorite character in the book. At times, he felt a little flat to me, despite his vivid inner life shown through his writing. Some of the side characters, like James's love interest (the name is escaping me), I found to be more interesting, adding intrigue to the story.

Overall, I think this is a story that many teens will relate to, with heart-melting romantic moments that will please romance fans.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me Cover
"History is nothing. It can be recycled or thrown away completely. It isn't this sacred treasure chest I mistook it to be. We were something, but history isn't enough to keep something alive forever."
-Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

Griffin doesn't know how to cope with his best friend and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dying in a tragic drowning accident. Though Griffin hasn't seen much of Theo since he moved to California for school and started dating Jackson, he believed that they would one day find their way back to each other. Now, that future has gone far off course and Griffin is quickly falling into a downward spiral. His obsessions are getting worse and he is lashing out at people that truly care. In order for Griffin to finally move passed Theo's death, he must confront their history and everything that's tearing him apart.

Adam Silvera has done it again. Though I didn't review it (apparently), More Happy Than Not was heartbreaking and beautiful and this book was no different. Silvera has a gift in writing raw teenage emotion, fully encompassing pain so well that it makes your heart hurt. The story feels effortless, and Silvera has created characters in Griffin, Theo, Jackson, and Wade that drive it forward, drawing you in deeper and deeper as you go. 

The complexity of the characters and the reality of their stories is what makes this novel, I think. Though none of the characters were particularly likable, with Wade as a possible exception, you still become invested in their stories and want them to turn out okay in the end. This is what makes them the most realistic, adding to the realism of the story as a whole.

All in all, this novel is absolutely heartbreaking, much like Silvera's other work as well. A bonus was the portrayal of OCD in the novel, which felt real to me and was something that Griffin always had to deal with. He couldn't just turn it on and off when he wanted, like is portrayed in some young adult literature. History Is All You Left Me feels real, which is essential for young adult literature.

P.S. What is with the theme of friends dying in young adult lit lately? I feel like I've read quite a few books like that recently, more so than usual. 

5/5 stars

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: At the Edge of the Universe

At the Edge of the Universe Cover

"You can choose to be happy with what life gives you...or spend your life miserable. I choose happiness. It’s really that simple."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, At the Edge of the Universe

Tommy and Ozzie have been basically inseparable since elementary school, always dreaming about their escape from their small town in Florida. Suddenly--Tommy disappears, and is erased from everyone's memories. Everyone's except Ozzie, that is.

When Ozzie is paired with Calvin for a science project, he thinks Calvin might know more about Tommy's disappearance than he's letting on. As the two begin to spend more time together, Ozzie can't deny that he's developing feelings for Calvin, even though he's adamant about still loving Tommy.  And since the universe is shrinking, Ozzie is running out of time to figure out what exactly what happened to Tommy--and where he wants to go with Calvin.

Ever since I read We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson has been on my radar. Though these are the only two books that I've read by him, he has a knack for creating rounded characters that completely immerse the reader in the story. Hutchinson does the same thing in At the Edge of the Universe. They're unique and diverse, and I became intimately involved in their lives.

Told from the point of view of Ozzie, readers are just as perplexed at things that keep disappearing as Ozzie is; things like the moon, stars, other parts of the United States. While I thought this was an interesting and unique way to tell the story, but the end of the book I felt slightly frustrated. I am one that enjoys open-ended books, but it felt like this one didn't have much resolution. Though I think this was intentional, as we're supposed to wonder what was real and what wasn't (much like We Are the Ants), I didn't think it was as well executed as his previous book. I was left wanting more resolution at the end of the novel.

Despite this flaw, the diversity and execution of the characters made up for the flaws of the plot.

4/5 stars

Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: The Great American Whatever

The Great American Whatever Cover

"That's actually the most confusing part about being alive without knowing the end of your own hero's journey. You never know if it's time to go home or head into battle. You never know if you've already faced your biggest monster." -Tim Federle, The Great American Whatever

Quinn Roberts has spent the last six months in hibernation; after the accident, he didn't think he could ever face the world again. Enter: Geoff. Quinn's best friend. One haircut later and Quinn is on his way to his first ever college party. Where he meets a guy. The week that follows has Quinn imagining all sorts of scenarios until he can finally take the reigns back and control his own life story.

This book was given to me by a friend for Christmas, and it was thoroughly enjoyable! Quinn's witty, sarcastic take on life shines through the text and hooks the reader right from the beginning. But it isn't pushed to the extent that Quinn feels fake--in fact, they almost make Quinn feel more real, using his sarcasm and humor to hide his true feelings. They make him more rounded, and they make the book difficult to put down.

None of the characters in this story are flat--they all have their quirks that together, create a cast of characters that you wish could be your friends. Federle is able to write with such an authentic teen voice that this book will be sure to remain in your thoughts long after you finish it.

For a YA debut, Federle has definitely hit it out of the park.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: We Are the Ants

"Depression isn't a war you win. It's a battle you fight every day. You never stop, never get to rest."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, We Are the Ants

This is another book that I read with my friend Alyssa for a book club that she's doing for one of her classes. It's also a book that I've had my eye on for a while, and I'm glad that I finally got the chance to read it. It definitely didn't disappoint.

Henry Denton has had a rough year. His grandmother's Alzheimer's keeps getting worse, his brother just dropped out of college because his girlfriend is pregnant, his mother is struggling to keep the family together, and his boyfriend committed suicide. Among all of these things, Henry keeps getting abducted by aliens, who have given him the opportunity to save the world from impending disaster. Henry just doesn't know if its worth saving. Until he meets Diego Vega.

This story is just heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Shaun David Hutchinson has crafted a story that feels so realistic, yet it is intertwined with all of these theories about how the world is going to end, theories that pull the reader from important points in the story. In fact, these interruptions coincide with Henry's own interruptions from his own life, giving the reader a glimpse into Henry's mind and thought process. 

It's just so real. I can't really think of any other way to describe this book. Hutchinson's prose makes you feel so many emotions from beginning to end that by the time you finish the book, you are exhausted. Major book hangover. It was hard for me to get into my next book because I was still feeling all of these emotions from We Are the Ants

Hutchinson also deals with suicide in a very realistic and important way. He not only shows how suicide affects the friends and family left behind, but he shows that the depression that Henry's boyfriend (I think it was Jesse?) was feeling wasn't something that was just going to "go away;" it was a sickness, an illness that Jesse had to deal with, but in the end, he wasn't able to. I can't really think of any other YA books that deal with suicide in this way that I've read, and I think it's incredibly important that this one does.

This is a complex, insightful, all-encompassing book that will leave you thinking long after it's over. And maybe even prompt you to want to read it again.

5/5 stars

Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: None of the Above

None of the Above cover
"The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them." 
-I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above

This particular book was on my to-read list for a long time before I actually read it; school mostly got in the way, and then I forgot about it until I wrote an article about gender non-conforming individuals for The Nerdy Book Club (which will be posted on December 3rd). This might be one of the more important books that I've read recently, mostly because of one thing: it features an intersex individual.

Kristin Lattimer was just voted homecoming queen, and it finally feels like her life is going in the direction that she wants it to. The night of the dance, she feels that she's ready to take it to the next step with her boyfriend--but the moment isn't close to what she wanted it to be. Her experience brings her to the doctor, where she learns she is intersex, meaning that though she looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes and some male features. When her identity is outed to the school, Kristin questions her entire identity. Will she be able to continue on the path she was on before, even with everyone knowing the truth?

Aside from the fact that the plot of this novel is a little high school drama-esque, I think everyone should read this book. Intersex individuals are often left out of conversations discussing LGBTQ+ individuals, so most people are very unfamiliar with the identity. Though at times it leans a little more on the medical side, this book is important for teens who possibly find themselves in a similar situation to Kristin and could help them to explain to others exactly what being intersex means. 

I will say that even though I felt bad for the humiliation that Kristin has to endure, at times, she can be a little annoying and whiny. There were a few points in the book where I just wanted to yell "Get over it! You're just making things more difficult for yourself!" It fit the drama-esque tone of the plot, though. 

Overall, despite the flaws in plot, this book is important and shouldn't be left off high school shelves.

4/5 stars

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Katniss Everdeen is Asexual--And Why That's Important

The Hunger Games made a big splash in the young adult world back when it was first published in 2008. Since then, a lot of authors have been trying to recreate the success of The Hunger Games series, but none have quite reached the same rate of popularity.

As happens with most popular YA series lately, The Hunger Games was made into a movie franchise; and it wasn't nearly as disappointing as it could have been. The most disappointing thing was the way the love triangle was treated in the media (and the various make-up and fashion lines that were created for the movie, but that's a story for another day).

So in the books: Katniss does legitimately have to decide between Gale and Peeta; she cares for the both of them, for different reasons. Where the movies get this wrong is the amount that Katniss actually thinks about these things.

She has a lot more on her mind than whether she's going to end up with Gale or Peeta. But, that's what much of the media was focused on with the release of the movies, which can be seen here, here, and here.

This emphasis on relationships is damaging for multiple reasons: it trivializes the very real problems that The Hunger Games deals with, it reduces Katniss's power as a female character, and shifts the emphasis of the series as a whole. And, the purpose of this article, it erases Katniss's asexuality from the series.

While there are several hints dropped throughout the series that hint at Katniss's identity as an asexual, the strongest support for her identity comes from the final book in the series, Mockingjay:
"Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can't survive without."
This quote, from Gale, shows how Katniss thinks about love and romance throughout the entire series; in the beginning, she uses her relationship with Peeta to survive the first Games. In Catching Fire, she is prepared to use her relationship with Gale to run away from the Capitol and from the Games. In Mockingjay, she's confused about her feelings for both Gale and Peeta, and as Gale points out, she will choose who she needs to survive. This is even seen in her quote when she realizes that she needs Peeta:
"That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that."
These moments are lost in the movies, which are much more focused on the romance (kind of like the Capitol is in the books). It's important to note that Katniss shows these traits throughout the entire series, and they are not just something that happen because of Katniss's trauma.

The erasure of Katniss's asexuality in the movies follows a trend of erasure of asexuality in the media in general. And this is dangerous. In a society that is extremely sexually driven (just watch pretty much any fragrance commercial), the asexual community needs these models, to show them that they are not alone and their feelings are valid. We need to keep including these characters in the literature, even if they keep getting erased when they make it to the big screen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Review: Junior Hero Blues

Junior Hero Blues cover

Title: Junior Hero Blues

Author: J.K. Pendragon

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Release Date: November 7, 2016

"I, Javier Medina--or Blue Spark, as I'm known to the citizens of Liberty City--am one-hundred-percent dork, through and through. The mask only makes it worse." -J.K. Pendragon, Junior Hero Blues

I received this book for review from NetGalley, and just let me say, I was so excited when this was approved. It breaks the mold from the traditional superhero story, and gives readers a different type of hero to look up to, which is especially fantastic for its targeted audience. The voice is remarkable, and the action was paced well throughout this book, making this a highly entertaining read.

Javier Medina is a Junior Hero in Liberty City, and he's still trying to figure out how to navigate from being an awkward gay high schooler to a newly buff and attractive superhero, hiding his identity from his school mates and his parents, all the while trying to learn how to navigate the dating world when his boyfriend keeps mysteriously disappearing. Javier gives an unflinching account of the sacrifices needed to become a superhero--something that didn't quite fit his original expectations.

Let me begin by saying the voice in this book was absolutely fantastic. Javier is so real and honest, and downright hilarious at times. It honestly reminded me a little of the Spider-man comics, and the sassiness and snarkiness of Peter Parker, thought maybe not quite as quick witted. Pendragon also created very real characters throughout, incorporating a lot of diversity that is slowly making it's way into the superhero world in the ways of sexuality. It's refreshing to read a book with a gay male superhero that isn't afraid to hide his sexuality. 

The only critique I have of this novel is the formatting at the beginning. Though I liked that it jumped right into the action, it took me a while to realize exactly how far back in time Javier jumps. Add in a little more transition there, and think this book will be golden. Absolutely golden. And I would love to read more stories from Javier, because I think he has lots more to tell!

4.5/5 stars