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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Before We Go Extinct

"Memory is a word that slithers away suddenly, darting faster than it should be able to move at all." 
-Karen Rivers, Before We Go Extinct

I picked this book up on a whim one day while I was at the library, because the description sounded promising and I think the cover is spectacular. And I am so glad that I did. This book deals with teenage grief in a way that I haven't seen before; Karen Rivers' use of voice in the novel was really what brought everything together, making this a spectacular novel.

JC, who more commonly goes by Sharky due to his love of sharks, has been struggling ever since the death of his best friend, The King. With the speculation on whether or not the death was an accident and the constant media attention, JC spends hours alone, obsessing over shark documentaries and not talking to anyone. Desperate to help JC, his mom sends him off to a remote island in Canada to visit his dad, where he meets a girl and learns how to come to terms with the death of his best friend.

From the beginning, I could tell that this book was going to be a keeper just by the first line: "My foot is stuck in the toilet bowl in the closet-sized bathroom in the two-bedroom walk-up I live in with my mom on the corner about Alf's Bodega." From this line, we're immediately hit with JC's unique voice, a voice that carries the rest of the story. It accurately portrays JC's grief at the death of his best friend, his confusion at how to live and be happy again when your best friend is no longer there to share it with you. Through JC's character, we can see the five stages of grief, we can see him processing and coping with this tragedy, which would be amazingly powerful for any teenager going through a similar situation. 

In addition to the voice, the plot isn't predictable, and all of the elements of the story work together to create something unforgettable. JC's story is definitely one worth sharing.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human

"As for wondering if it's okay to be who you are--that's not a symptom of mental illness. That's a symptom of being a person."
-Jeff Garvin, Symptoms of Being Human

As a scholar interested in the way that gender is represented within young adult books, I'm always on the look out for any book that breaks gender binaries, and this book definitely fit the bill. While browsing at Barnes and Noble one day (a frequent occasion for me), this book caught my eye because it featured a genderfluid protagonist, something that isn't seen often (if at all) in young adult literature. So I obviously had to read it to see if it was any good, right? Right.

Symptoms of Being Human follows the story of Riley, a genderfluid teenager who begins an anonymous blog at the prompting of their therapist, to help deal with anxiety. But the blog takes off in a way that Riley could have never imagined, quickly gaining hundreds of followers overnight, not all of them wishing Riley well. Someone at Riley's new school knows Riley's secret and is threatening to expose them; Riley must decide between shutting down a blog that has become a lifeline for others, or to risk everything and finally come out and take a stand in their ultra-conservative community.

So I loved this book. I absolutely loved it. I thought that Jeff Garvin did a fantastic job writing a realistic account of not only genderfluidity (from my own limited knowledge and perspective), but also realistically portrayed anxiety and panic attacks. Holistically, I think Garvin created a story that many different teens can relate to, one that might be important in showing them that they aren't alone, that others are experiencing the things that they do. Sometimes when authors deal with these kinds of issues it can feel fake or like the book is doing too much, but in this case, I think the elements that Garvin combined worked really well together, not only making the story accurate, but also engaging. I was rooting for Riley throughout the entire book, and I didn't wan to put the book down until I knew Riley's fate.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book is that Riley is never assigned a gender identity besides genderfluid. There are perhaps a few instances where the reader might be able to deduce the gender that Riley was "assigned," but nothing in Garvin's language actually gives it away, and that's definitely not an easy thing to do. I've tried to write stories where the characters aren't gendered, and there are so many little things that you don't really think about being stereotypically assigned to one gender or another until someone else reads your story and points it out. I applaud Garvin for working to eliminate that within his book, and except for a few small (very, very small) scenes, for instance getting dressed for one of Riley's dad's fundraisers or the ending scene of the book, I think the book 100% sticks to Riley's identity. And I think that makes this book even more deserving of praise.

All in all, a great read that I would highly recommend, and one that I might just read again.

5/5 stars

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Carry On

“You have to pretend you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can't carry on at all.” 
-Rainbow Rowell, Carry On

When I started this book, I wasn't expecting it to suck me into that black hole that sucks you in when you've found a truly amazing story. I've loved every single thing that I've read by Rainbow Rowell, and this book was no exception. The moment I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. Simon and Baz and the magical world that Rowell created and fully captured my attention.

Carry On is a spin-off novel from Rowell's last book, Fangirl, giving readers the context to the fanfiction that Cath writes in that book (also a phenomenal book, highly recommend). However, this book completely works as a stand alone book as well. Though this way Rowell's first foray into fantasy, and you can see the influence of Harry Potter (I mean, she used to write Harry Potter fanfiction, and who doesn't love Harry Potter anyway?), but I think it's different enough that you can't say that she completely copied her world from Rowling. The way magic is used in Simon and Baz's world is completely different than Harry's world. 

And oh my god, the characters. The dialogue. The descriptions. If there's anything that Rowell does uniquely well, it's these three things. Definitely had a book hangover after this book, because I just didn't want to stop reading about Simon, Baz, and Penny. Rowell slowly draws you into the story at the beginning, and once Baz enters the picture, you've lost all hope. The chemistry between Baz and Simon was magnificent, adorable, and shows Rowell's ability to write romantic relationships. 

All in all, I absolutely loved this book, and it's been awhile since I've read a book that I fell completely head over heels for. So go! Read it! And then go and read all of Rowell's other books too, because they are just as good.

5/5 stars.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun

"Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story." 
-Jandy Nelson, I'll Give You the Sun

It's definitely been a while since I've updated this blog, but now that I've finished my Master's, I actually have the time to read what I want to read (gasp). And trust me, the list is ever growing. A common side effect of being a book lover.

I've read a lot of new YA stuff this summer that I've been meaning to read, but I'm going to start with the most recent one I finished, as that one is most fresh in my mind, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

At the age of 13, twins Jude and Noah are almost inseparable; Noah is quiet and isolated, always sketching and following around the neighbor boy, where Jude is daredevil enough for the both of them. Flash forward 3 years, and their relationship has completely disintegrated. As Noah tells the story of the past, and Jude tells the story of the future, the twins learn that the only way they'll be able to move forward is by reconciling their relationship.

The major aspect I think this book gets props for is its use of the multi-narrator. This narrative device has become all the rage in the YA world; looking through this section in any bookstore, a good majority of the books that you pick up are going to have at least 2, if not more, narrators. If done well, this isn't a bad thing, as it allows authors to bring more voices into their stories, maybe include more diversity, etc. This book stands out from those because the two narrators are also from two different points in the narrators' lives: when they are 13 and when they are 16. This device pulls the reader in right from the beginning, sparking curiosity and moving the plot forward at a nice pace.

This wasn't the only strength of this book: there were some really beautiful lines, and the characterization was phenomenal. As you get more and more into Noah and Jude's heads, you keep moving forward because you just want them to get back to where they used to be, to mend their relationship. Their pain, their struggles felt so real, and I think they're relatable, no matter who picks up this book.

I think the only major critique I have is that some of the supernatural stuff threw me off slightly at the beginning, but it didn't take long for me to adjust to it in the narrative. Otherwise, this is phenomenal read, and a story that will linger in your mind once it's over.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Elizabeth has always known that he was a guy, and once he gets through graduation, he can finally live his life as Gabe. He's trying to transition, but without acknowledgment from his family and with all of the harassment from his peers, the transition is difficult. He only gets support from his friend Paige, who he incidentally has a crush on, but can't act on it without the risk of losing their friendship. So all Gabe is really left with is his music, his radio show, "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children," and his neighbor, John. But is that enough to get him through the end of high school and onto the next step in his life?

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills is probably one of the best novels I've read this summer, so far. The story was engaging, as were the characters. Gabe was probably my favorite. And what I liked was that he is a trans* character who was complex, who worried about transitioning, but worried about other things as well. I think it's important to have characters like this in the young adult genre, because teens need to be able to see themselves in the literature, no matter what.

I don't normally comment on the cover art, or the design of the book, but the design of this book particularly stood out to me. The cover is visually pleasing, and that element of design can be seen throughout the rest of the book. It really drew everything together. I really think this is a powerful book, one that everyone should read. And teachers, I think this is one to keep on your shelves. :)

Next, I will be reading Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Until next time, happy reading!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Scars by Cheryl Rainfield follows the story of Kendra, a girl who has survived sexual abuse and is currently in therapy to help her cope. Despite the therapy, Kendra feels that she has to cut in order to not feel the pain. Despite her pain, she meets a girl named Meghan and falls in love. But when her abuser seems to be catching up to her, Kendra must face her past in order to overcome it.

So this book was recommended to me by one of my professors, and I have to say, while it deals with issues that are important to address in young adult literature, I wasn't exactly impressed with the writing in this book. A lot of the dialogue seemed forced to me, and the story line seemed like something that has been done many times before. I believe there are better books that deal with this topic available out there, that are better written.

I also didn't really seem to connect with the main character in this book, and I don't think this helped my reading. While I do think there are people who would connect to this character, I think Kendra was too defined by her cutting. To me, she seemed like a flat character, one that needed more complexity as the main character of the book. And while this book can be applauded for it's inclusion of a lesbian couple, I felt it was too closely connected to Kendra's abuse, like that was the reason she liked women more than men, which is problematic when it comes to LGBTQ literature.

While there were a lot of things I didn't like about this book, I do still think it can be a powerful book for someone who can strongly relate to this character. It still deals with issues that teens need to read about in literature, and I still think that's important.

Next, I will be reading Eve & Adam by Michael Grant. Until then, happy reading! :)