Category Archives: book review

The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

other-f-wordMilo’s moms are really great, but he sometimes wonders what life would be like with a mom and dad instead of two moms.  I mean, he loves his moms and all.  And he knows that they love him too.  But he just feels like they don’t “get” him sometimes and that maybe a dad, by virtue of also being a guy, would understand him more.  So, when Milo’s doctor suggests that genetic testing of his biological father could help develop a better treatment plan for his insanely varied and severe allergies, Milo latches onto the opportunity to find his bio dad.  The first step of which is to reach out to his half-sister, Hollis, whom he had met as a young child.  Hollis also had lesbian mothers who used the same sperm donor, which is how they came to meet in the first place, but she wasn’t really interested in finding her dad.  Nevertheless, reconnecting with Milo and his moms seemed to be the first thing to make Hollis’ mom, Leigh, happy since Hollis’ other mom, Pam, died years before… So, she decided to roll with it and see how things turned out.

What started out as a suggestion to request genetic testing relating to Milo’s allergies quickly morphed into something else.  After posting to a message board for the clinic their moms had used, Milo and Hollis discovered that they had three more half-siblings.  What were they like?  Would they get along?  Would they be able to work together and find their donor/dad?  What would this new “f-word” (family) look like in the end?!?

Happy Reading!

After the Fall by Kate Hart

after-the-fallImagine being smart enough to get into a really great college, but watching your single mother struggle to simply keep up with the bills every month.  Imagine being popular enough to be invited to lots of parties, but knowing that showing up will likely just add fuel to the flames of the various rumors about you.  Imagine having a best friend who has known you for practically your whole life, and who lets you curl up in his bed every time you have a nightmare, but feeling like he doesn’t really understand you.  Imagine going through an experience so traumatic that you aren’t even sure which pieces of your life you’d like to pick up, let alone how you might manage to accomplish such a feat.

This coming of age story tackles a variety of important topics like under-age drinking, consent, and grief.  Not only does it present a realistic/modern view of friendship and dating in high school, but it also provides a no-hold-barred examination of the sexist double-standards and slut-shaming that are so prevalent in our society.  I recommend this book to readers who liked Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) and/or Inexcusable (Chris Lynch).

Happy Reading!

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

furiously-happyAlthough Jenny Lawson is technically writes for “adults,” I think there are probably a great many teens who would benefit from reading this memoir.  Although some adults might cringe to think of teens reading or listening to Lawson’s cursing, I know that most teens probably wouldn’t be the least bit bothered.  I mean — I know, from experience, that many teens’ speech is peppered with “f-bombs” to the extent that they don’t even realize they are swearing… But, I digress.

As someone who personally struggles with OCD and depression, I think this book is very important for at least three reasons:

  1. People who live with depression and anxiety might find some solace in knowing they are not alone (and will likely experience a feeling of hope that their own lives can improve if they are feeling low);
  2. People who do not know what it is like to live with depression and anxiety can get a no-holds-barred look at the realities of living with mental illness…  you know, #EndTheStigma and all that; and
  3. Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and will help all readers recognize that even the most dire of situations can be improved with a little perspective and a lot of levity.

I often find myself wanting to share quotes and little snippets with my husband, but I find myself compelled to play so many parts of this audiobook aloud that he really just needs to listen to it himself.  Aside from the fact that I am sure he will find it absolutely hilarious, I think he will find solace in knowing that the author’s husband, Victor, has been dealing with someone just as crazy as me and seems to be doing just fine.  😉

Happy Reading!

This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang

where-the-world-endsMicah and Janie have been best friends since elementary school… Not that anyone would ever suspect, though, because their friendship has been one of their best-kept secrets.  After all, Janie is one of the popular girls and Micah is a bit of a social outcast.  They seem to be opposites in every way, but it “works” for them.  I found it strange to see how confident Micah was that Janie would always be there for him even though he knew better than to even try to talk to her at school.  Ack!  Talk about a terrible friendship.  I will say, though, that there are probably plenty of so-called friendships like this, since adolescents are often willing to compromise their own feelings and integrity for the sake of fitting in and/or feeling wanted.  The biggest problem with this arrangement, nevertheless, was when Micah woke up in the hospital with no recollection of how or why Janie went missing.  All he seemed to remember was a big party and a bonfire… But where did Janie go, and why won’t she even answer his texts?

I recommend this story to readers who enjoyed the Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year, John Green’s Paper Towns, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.  Though these stories are all unique, there is just a little something about Zhang’s characters, plot, and/or storytelling methodology that reminded me of these books.

Happy Reading!

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

lily-and-dunkinI was thinking about saving this review for Pride Month, but current events lead me to believe people need to read this book NOW!  Why?  Because it is not only working to #EndTheStigma of mental illness with a realistic portrayal of a teen boy who has bipolar disorder (Dunkin), but it also details the struggles — both internal and external — of a trans girl (Lily).  I am not trying to make light of Dunkin’s struggles, because he does truly struggle with finding a balance between feeling like himself and properly controlling his bipolar disorder with medication and therapy, let alone feeling like he needs to hide his diagnosis from his peers… but I am going to focus mostly on Lily for this review because think fewer people recognize the difficulties faced by the trans (T) portion of the GLBTQ community.

Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection that doesn’t match the *real* you — the person  you know, in your heart, you were born to be.  Even as a small child, Lily always knew she was really a girl.  But, she was born with a penis and labeled a boy at birth.  Her parents named her Timothy McGrother, but she would much rather people call her Lily Jo McGrother.  In fact, her mother once walked in on her trying to cut off her penis with a pair of nail clippers after her bath because she felt so certain that it didn’t belong.  Can you imagine the pain of hearing the “wrong” name or pronoun all the time; even from your own father?  Can you imagine the embarrassment of being forced to use the bathroom and locker room of the “opposite” gender?  How painful would it be to be scolded for painting your nails, growing your hair long, or trying to wear a dress outside of your home when you just want to feel pretty?

Adolescence was painful enough as a cisgender girl; I can’t even imagine the additional complications of being transgender.  Between the lack of acceptance and the outright discrimination and bullying they face, it’s no wonder 1 in 3 transgender youth try to commit suicide.  I think it is very important, therefore, for people to get the word out about stories like Lily and Dunkin. Not only so cisgender kids (and adults) can better empathize, but also so that transgender kids can see that they are not alone.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks because we need to #ProtectTransKids.

Happy Reading!

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June

started-with-goodbyeHave you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time?  If so, you’ll probably empathize with the crazy mess Tatum got herself into.  She went on a shopping trip with her best friend, Ashlyn, and Ashlyn’s boyfriend tagged along.  Sick of watching them make out, she decided to purchase her own items and wait out front, in her car, for them to finish up and join her.  When they came out, though, they were followed by security — because Ashlyn’s boyfriend had been shoplifting.  It didn’t matter that Tatum wasn’t in on his plan.  She and Ashlyn were with him, so they were arrested too.  Not only did she receive a large fine and compulsory community service, but she and Ashlyn stopped talking after she agreed to give testimony for a lighter sentence.

Despite the fact that she didn’t “do” anything, her father grounded her (pretty much indefinitely) right before he left town for business.  Can you imagine?  Just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, her entire summer was ruined.  When she wasn’t out doing her community service, she was stuck on house arrest with her stepmother, Belén — who seemed to hate her and to look for any and every opportunity to punish her — and her stepsister, Tilly.  Tilly basically existed solely to dance [ballet], and was the apple of her mother’s eye, so it was kind of a given that the girls didn’t form any sort of sisterly bond.  There were two bright spots in this whole mess, though.  First of all, her step-abuela, Blanche, would be coming to stay for the summer.  Even though Blanche was coming to help keep an eye on Tatum, she seemed to be more of a “fairy grandmother” than a warden.  Second, there was the fact that Tatum would have plenty of time to spend on her web design skills and creating a company/portfolio to use for her college applications.

Although there were obvious Cinderella vibes, this story didn’t feel like it was *just* a modernized retelling.  I loved the diverse cast of characters, the look into the complications of blended families, the realistic teen angst, and the swoon-worthy romance.  I recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary romances by authors like Sarah Dessen, Carolyn Mackler, and Sara Zarr.

Happy Reading!

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

seventh-wishThis is a book that I might have overlooked, had it not been for Facebook.  You see, I was scrolling through my feed recently and happened across a story about an author’s Skype visit that fell through.  On January 17th, Kate Messner posted:

This afternoon, I  had to cancel a Skype visit about THE SEVENTH WISH because the teacher doesn’t want to mention the fact that the main character’s older sister is fighting opioid addiction. She told me that in her class read-aloud, she’s been ‘skipping’ the parts of the story that deal with that, so while the students are aware that there’s a drug issue, most of them think it’s probably marijuana. I told her I wasn’t comfortable with misleading kids in my presentation and suggested that she share the author’s note, which offers a factual and kid-friendly explanation of what opioid drugs are, how they affect the brain, and why they have such a devastating effect on families like Charlie’s.

She opted to cancel the visit instead. She’s never known anyone with a drug issue and believes she’s doing what’s right for her students. She was very kind in her emails, but I have to admit, I’m crushed. I can’t tell you how sad this makes me, mostly for the kids in that class who might already be living in a situation like Charlie’s.

If you have the opportunity to share THE SEVENTH WISH by recommending to a teacher or for a state list or really anywhere, I’d truly appreciate that. I so wish more kids who need this story could have access to it.

I was heartbroken to see that those kids were misled, despite the fact that their teacher had good intentions.  Research shows that it’s best for adults to have an open and ongoing conversation about topics like drug abuse starting at an early age, rather than “having the talk” in adolescence.  Parents and caregivers should look for spontaneous/everyday situations and teachable moments to start open and honest conversations.  In this story, we get a nice combination of of fantasy (Charlie finds a magical wishing fish), Irish culture (Charlie is very involved in Irish Dancing), and some important teachable moments (Charlie’s older sister has been using heroin).  I appreciated the fact that this story didn’t only focus on the drug problem but rather incorporated the problem into how it affected the rest of Charlie’s life, so that it felt much more genuine.  There were times when you could sort of forget what Charlie’s sister was going through, and I think that is very true to how it might be for a person whose family member is battling addiction.  It seems to take over sometimes, but there are moments when you can actually get caught up in the joy and madness of everyday life.

In good news, Kate posted yesterday:

I’m so looking forward to my school visit today. It’s in Brandon, Vermont, where THE SEVENTH WISH was chosen by the entire school district (Rutland Northeast) as a community read for 5th and 6th grade students, in collaboration with Brandon Cares, a local organization responding to the region’s opioid crisis.

This book is a perfect “teachable moment,” and I applaud the Rutland Northeast School District for choosing it as their community read!  Considering the fact that there is a major opioid epidemic all around our country, and not just in Vermont, I think it is important that this book get into the hands of as many people as possible.  Please do your part by reading this book and then passing it along to parents, teachers, and middle grade readers.  I don’t often buy books, since I am a librarian and can’t really afford my reading habit, but I just ordered a copy of this book to add to my personal library so that I can share it with my own children and pass it around to other young people who might benefit (with their parents’ permission, of course).

Happy Reading!