Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi

down-and-acrossScott’s parents, while very loving and supportive, were driving him crazy.  They basically demanded that he give them the best possible return-on-investment for their efforts to emigrate from Iran to the United States.  They expected nothing but the best grades and that he would choose a career path like doctor or engineer.  To that end, his father even arranged for Scott to have a summer internship in a research lab.  But, Scott had problems following through.  After only one week at the internship, he knew he couldn’t make it all summer.  And since his parents had traveled overseas to visit his ailing grandfather, Scott decided that he would do something daring.  Scott took the money his parents had left him and headed to Washington, DC, to seek out an internship with Professor Cecily Mallard.  Why?  Because she specialized in grit, aka the psychology of success.  Scott was desperate for Professor Mallard to teach him how to better see things through.  And, as it happened, there was a whole summer of craziness awaiting Scott in DC that would most definitely test his dedication to becoming more “gritty.”

I am a big fan of “coming-of-age” YA fiction, and this story did not disappoint.  In a crazy, whirlwind summer, Scott explored finding his own path, making new friends, and falling in love.  While his decisions sometimes had me wishing I could step into the story and give him a little lecture or advice from my mom/adult perspective, I also couldn’t help but feel a little proud of Scott for stepping so far outside of his comfort zone to find a life he could be passionate about.

Happy Reading!

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Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly DeVos

fat-girl-on-a-planeCookie Vonn was very into fashion, but she didn’t fit in with most of the fashionista crowd… Literally. Being obese made it impossible for her to purchase the designer duds that she obsessed over. Fortunately, she learned how to make her own clothes and she made them very well. With the help of her grandmother, she created her own wardrobe that showed off her funky sense of style and properly accentuated her figure. While she was still in highschool, Cookie even managed to get a job reporting on fashion for a local blog, and she had high hopes that her work there would help her land a scholarship to her dream school — Parsons. When being too fat to fly required her to scramble for a second plane ticket on her way to an exclusive interview in NYC, though, she began to rethink whether she was truly comfortable in her own skin and if losing some weight might help her in her quest to become a famous fashion designer.

The book jumps back and forth between the old/fat Cookie and the new/skinny Cookie to show how differently she is treated in both the “real world” and the world of fashion design. I hope this book will help people who are struggling with their body image by showing them that outward appearance doesn’t change internal strife and that the people who truly love you do so without conditions.  And, even more than that, I hope it makes ALL people think about the ways in which they might subconsciously treat people differently based on appearance (so that they can work to change their behaviors). Sadly, most of y’all will have to wait until early June for this book, but I think it will be worth the wait.

Happy Reading!

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

genuine-fraudI will never forget the moment when the twist in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars made everything fall into place.  My brain lit up, my eyes flew wide open, and I practically had to drag my jaw back up off the floor.  So, when I realized that E. Lockhart had written another book with crazy twists and dark secrets, I just had to check it out.  Somehow, though, I managed to miss the fact that the story was going to be told backwards.  When I started listening to the audiobook, I literally thought my OverDrive app had malfunctioned and forgotten to play the parts in order.  After all, most books don’t start with Chapter 18!  After looking into it and confirming that it was, in fact, playing the parts in the correct order, I sat back to enjoy the ride.  And what a ride it was!

I’ve said before that it’s rare for me to finish a book in a single sitting, or even in a single day… but to finish a nearly 7-hour-long audiobook in just over a day is quite a feat for this working mama!  I had my headphones on at every opportunity as I found myself looking for solitary chores to complete — washing dishes, folding laundry, etc.  I just had to figure out what exactly it was that Jule (using the name Imogen) was running from and how she ended up in a tropical paradise with money to burn.  Beginning at the end of the story not only worked well for this thriller, but it even allowed for a completely shocking twist.  I kid you not, I literally started the audiobook right over again and listened to the first few chapters to see what clues I may have missed!  If you’re looking for a quick-paced thriller with a surprisingly charming villain, you have GOT to check this book out.

Happy Reading!

Girl: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Karen Rayne

girlI don’t review non-fiction as often as fiction on my blog, but I had to be sure to include this book because it is both well-written and important on a number of levels. Not only does it promote body positivity and access to non-biased, factual information, but it does so while being inclusive of *all* people who self-identify as a girl. #WeNeedDiverseBooks in YA non-fiction too!

Rayne very openly and honestly discusses topics like gender identity, sexual orientation, dating and relationships, masturbation, and sex. I especially appreciated her non-judgmental tone and how she made it a point to include different points of view [via diary entries from multiple women] so that girls who read this book will be more likely to find someone to whom they could relate. Because this book covers such a wide range of topics, I think it’s awesome that Rayne provides resources for readers who are interested in delving more deeply. Aside from presenting factual information, though, I think it was helpful that Rayne provided questions for self-reflection. It’s important for girls to consider who they are and how they feel before they can move forward with their evolution into becoming the women they wish to be.

Happy Reading!

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

All-American-BoysReynolds and Kiely have written a fantastic primer and conversation starter for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  By alternating between two perspectives — Rashad, a victim of police brutality, and Quinn, who was both a witness and a close family friend of the officer involved — they even helped to address the #BlueLivesMatter rebuttal.

Rashad was a good kid.  He did well in school, was in JROTC, and generally stayed out of trouble.  All it took was one moment of confusion in a corner store for a police officer to think he was a thief and a punk who may have attacked an innocent woman.  The next thing he knew, he was pinned to the sidewalk and getting pummeled.  Mind blown and body battered, Rashad had to face both his physical recovery and his awakening to the racism that still existed within his country and even his own community.

Despite having witnessed the arrest/beating and [later] the videos that other people had captured, it was still very difficult for Quinn to process.  He had always thought of Paul as a good guy.  He knew that what he saw went over the line…  And yet, how cold he turn his back on someone who had helped him so much when his own father died?  With friends and family pressuring him to side with the officer and his conscience begging him to side with the victim, Quinn had some very tough decisions to make.  Would he join the protest march?  And could he live with himself if he didn’t?

After finishing Long Way Down, I knew that I had to read something else by Jason Reynolds, and the cover of this book jumped right out at me.  I definitely wasn’t disappointed.  I look forward to reading more from both of these great authors.  After all, what’s a few more books added to my never-ending TBR list?!?  😉

Happy Reading!

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

long-way-downWith a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, Will gets into the elevator of his apartment building and heads down to go and get his revenge.  On whom?  The person who murdered his brother, Shawn, of course.  He knows the rules of the hood.  “No crying. No snitching. Revenge.”  So that is what he sets out to do.  But, he doesn’t take the ride alone.  At each floor, the elevator stops and a ghost gets on to ride along with him.  As each ghost enters, they share their own story and how it relates to Shawn’s death.  These stories help to provide a wider picture of how the cycle of violence in their neighborhood has been perpetuated thus far and, much like the computer’s epiphany in War Games, that the only way to win is not to play this game.  But will this elevator ride be enough to change the heart and mind of a boy who has never known any other way?

Timely, thought provoking, and powerful.  It’s no wonder this book has received so many awards.  

Happy Reading!

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

the-beauty-that-remainsTRIGGER WARNING!
Autumn’s best friend, Tavia, died in a car accident. Shay lost her twin sister, Sasha, to a long battle with leukemia. And Logan’s ex-boyfriend, Bram, died by suicide. If you have lost someone close to you, this book is very likely to re-open your own emotional wounds. What may simply have been a “tear jerker” for other readers actually brought me back to my decades-ago loss of my own best friend and the guilt I felt long after her passing. I think that, perhaps, Ashley Woodfolk was a little too good at depicting heartache and grief that come with such a loss. /sigh

Though the three of them lost people in very different ways have different aspects of their identities that set them apart — Autumn is adopted and Korean-American, Shay is black, and Logan is gay — their lives are similarly torn apart by both grief and guilt. They think back about the things they regret saying, the things they regret doing or not doing, and all of the “what ifs” eat at them as they struggle to move on with their own lives. As the story progresses, the characters’ stories begins to overlap and, not surprisingly, come together.  Not only does this book do a fantastic job of showcasing the realities of living through grief, but it does so with a diverse cast of characters.  I look forward to seeing what else this debut author will write in the future.

Happy Reading!