Category Archives: contemporary

Slay by Brittney Morris

slayKiera Johnson is unique in many ways.  Not only is she one of the very few Black students at her elite private high school, but she is also a female who excels in math and computer programming.  There are a lot of reasons why she doesn’t feel like she belongs when she is at school, but she is grateful to have a place where she feels right at home — in the virtual world of SLAY.  Nobody in her “real life” circle knows that Kiera has created/designed this game.  Heck, they don’t even know that she plays!  She is particularly concerned with how her boyfriend might react because he believes that video games are a tool that contributes to the “downfall of the Black man.”  She isn’t quite sure how she could explain to him (and her other friends and family) quite what it means to have a place where she can simply be herself without worrying if she will seem “too Black” to some people or “not Black enough” to others.  But that is exactly what SLAY provides for her and  all of the other players from around the world.

When a teenager in Kansas City is killed over an altercation related to SLAY, though, Kiera finds herself torn.  Should she reveal her identity and actively defend the game now that people are blaming SLAY for his death?  Could she actually be sued for discrimination over the fact that the game is only intended for Black players, as conservative pundits seem to believe?  Would it put a strain on her relationship with friends and family members?  This story does an excellent job exploring racial dynamics in America, particularly the idea of racism and exclusion as it applies to Black people wanting safe spaces in which to explore and celebrate their collective history.  One of the most important ideas that this book puts forth is that Black experiences are unique and varied, and that idea is summed up very well by one of my favorite quotes from this book: 

I think I love SLAY so much because we’re a mutually empathetic collective. As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your Black is not my Black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.

Happy Reading!

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle

let it snowI can’t speak for all of y’all, but I know that this has been one heck of a stressful year for me.  Anxiety + Pandemic + Civil Unrest = Woof…..  And as much as I like to learn from things that I read, I also appreciate and even *need* a good “fluff” read now and again.  I fully intended to read Let It Snow when it first came out, but I somehow kept putting off (for 12 years?!?) because there was always seemed to be something else more pressing, it wasn’t the right season, it wasn’t available when I was ready to read it, etc.  Well, let’s just say I am glad the stars finally aligned and got me to a place where I got back to it.  Not only was I seeing “Christmas in July” posts everywhere, but I also saw that this book was immediately available as an audiobook on OverDrive AND that it has apparently been adapted for Netflix. Though I have been having a heck of a time either finding the time or concentrating well enough to actually sit down and read for the last four months or so, I still have plenty of dishes and laundry to keep up with, so audiobooks work really well for me.  And *this* audiobook?  Well, my only complaint is that it was three short stories and, therefore, ended far too quickly!

Not only are John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle all well known in the realm of YA fiction (and were all especially popular at the time when this book was first published), but their writing styles mesh incredibly well.  Even better?  Their stories overlap, which helped because I was so sad to think I had to leave Jubilee and Stuart behind when the first of the short stories ended.  Some people will probably find these stories to be a little too treacly sweet, but there is plenty of humor and mischief thrown in for good measure.  And whether you’re more interested in a story of a girl whose Christmas was ruined when her parents got arrested in an ornament/Christmas village riot, the guys who risked it all to bring a Twister game to the cheerleaders trapped at the Waffle House during a blizzard, or the Starbucks barista whose friendship depends on procuring a teacup piglet, I think there’s a little something fun in each of the stories.

Happy Reading!

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

the 57 busBetween the fact that it is #PrideMonth and the fact that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is shining a light on the racial disparities of the US criminal justice system, I almost felt like it was kismet that I listened to this audiobook this week.  I had added this book to my TBR list so long ago that I honestly forgot what it was about and simply knew it was something about two teenagers who crossed paths on a bus one day.  Yeah…  It was way bigger than that!

Sasha (they/them/their) was a white teen who attended a small private school where their “genderqueer” identity was simply accepted and taken in stride.  The fact that they preferred to wear skirts was not really a big deal to anyone in their family or their circle of friends.  Richard (he/him/his) was a black teen who attended a large public school and, though he wanted to turn around his life and graduate from high school, still hung out with people who made poor choices (like stealing and fighting).  On the day that Sasha and Richard crossed paths, while riding the 57 bus home from their respective schools, Richard made a stupid and impulsive decision.  Egged on by friends, and not knowing how incredibly flammable Sasha’s skirt would actually be, Richard flicked a lighter and held it to Sasha’s skirt.  He thought it would be funny to see the shock and confusion of that “guy in a skirt” waking up to see their skirt had caught fire.  He assumed Sasha would wake up moments after he flicked the lighter, pat out the fire, and that would be that.  In reality, though, Sasha’s skirt enveloped them in flames and caused severe burns to their legs, and Richard was left facing the possibility of life in prison if he was tried as an adult for this “hate crime.”

The story alternates between Sasha’s and Richard’s sides of the story and presents both factual information about the case and the emotional rollercoaster that they and their families experienced.  Not only did this story provide information about this specific case, but it also provided a great deal of background information about the GLBTQ community and the US criminal justice system.  The author presented a primer on GLBTQ terminology people may not necessarily know (along with a disclaimer that terminology often changes and that people should respect the terminology used by individuals when they describe themselves) and included an abbreviated timeline of issues affecting GLBTQ people, particularly those who are transgender or agender.  I really appreciated how the author focused on the vast disparities between the sentences and future outcomes of white juvenile offenders and black juvenile offenders in America from the 1980s through today.  Unless we recognize the inequality within our criminal justice system, we cannot work to change it.

Long story short, this book gives me hope.  Hope that we can move forward to be more accepting of people whose identities do not match our own and that our criminal justic system *can* be fixed if people continue to insist on reform.  The most remarkable thing about this story, in my opinion, is how Sasha and their parents not only forgave Richard for his incredibly stupid mistake but also fought for him to be tried as a juvenile.  That right there says it all.  By responding with forgiveness instead of hate, and working to understand one another better, we can make this world a better place.

Happy Reading!

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

this is my americaImagine how confused, frustrated, and angry you would feel if your father had been in jail for more than seven years when you knew he was innocent.  At the conclusion of a case based on rumors and speculation, with a stunning lack of evidence, Tracy’s father was sentenced to death row for a double homicide he didn’t commit.  And with less than a year until his pending execution, Tracy was starting to feel desperate.  Because her family didn’t have the money to hire a high powered attorney, she put all her hopes into getting the attention of an organization called Innocence X.  She wrote them letters every single week begging them to take on her father’s case, but it seemed her letters must have been getting lost in the maelstrom of letters coming from other families with the same hope.  And then, something even worse happened…  Her brother, Jamal, is suddenly accused of the murder of a white girl.  Instead of continuing his running career at college the following year, Jamal suddenly finds himself running from the law and running for his life.  Will Tracy’s tenacity pay off now that she is trying to help her brother, or will she discover that it’s impossible to find true justice if you are black and living in a racist Texas town?

I have said it before, and I will say it again. #BlackLivesMatter. Right now, we are seeing a huge surge in protests over violence and systemic racism against black people. I am so happy to see that white allies in all 50 states and in many nations around the world are stepping up and fighting alongside our black brothers and sisters to bring much needed reform to our so-called criminal justice system.  There are a lot of lists of books and movies that are recommended for people who would like to better grasp the reality of American history and to understand the ways that the proliferation of systemic racism is still effecting black people today, and there is no doubt in my mind that this book will join them after it is released next month.

Happy Reading!

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

date me, bryson kellerBryson Keller was the complete package.  Not only was he nice, smart, and good looking, but he was also a jock (a soccer player).  At Fairvale Academy, he may as well have been royalty.  The strangest thing about Bryson, though, was that he hadn’t ever dated anyone.  So, someone came up with a rather interesting dare — that Bryson would have to date whoever asked him out.  Every week, on Monday morning, the first person who asked him out would get to date him for the entirety of the school week and Bryson would have to be their perfect boyfriend.  Though the dare had been going on for months, it was always a girl who asked him out… until Kai Sheridan.  Despite the fact that Kai had never “come out,” and had a crush on a guy named Isaac for a long time, he suddenly felt compelled to ask Bryson out.  There were a couple of things that could definitely go wrong with this impulsive move — not the least of which was being outed before he was ready — but it somehow just felt right.  When Bryson not only said yes but agreed to keep the relationship a secret, I got #AllTheFeels… and I kept right on getting them for the rest of the story.

This was such a well-written story, with characters who felt so real I wished I could meet them in real life.  I don’t know about you, but romantic comedies are probably my favorite way of escaping reality.  There is just something so satisfying about getting an overload of cuteness and humor when it feels like everything is falling down around me in the real world.  If you feel the same way, you’re gonna need to put this book on your #TBR list so you don’t forget to read it when it comes out in May!

Happy Reading!

It’s the End of the World as I Know It by Matthew Landis

it's the end of the world as i know itAs I was preparing to spend A LOT of time at home for #SocialDistancing purposes (because of #COVID19), I saw this book in the new YA section at my library and just knew I had to bring it home with me.  Based on the cover art, I had a feeling it would not be super heavy and actually stress me out.  Luckily, it seems I am pretty good at judging books by their covers!  😉  Though this book discusses potentially heavy topics like death, grief, and #MentalHealth, it handles them all in such a way that it manages to be lighthearted and often humerous.

Ever since his mom died in the line of duty in Iraq, Derrick has been prepping for the end of the world. He even saved up money from building decks all summer and built himself a shed/bunker in his backyard. Derrick is nearly ready, as he has filled his shelter with emergency supplies like food, first aid supplies, HAZMAT suits, and gas masks. And even though nobody else around him seems to believe that it’s coming, Derrick just *knows* it will be happening soon — on September 21st, to be exact. Not only does he have a gut feeling, but he’s been following special apocalypse preparation websites (like a blog/app called “Apocalypse Soon!”). Derrick’s dad has tried bringing him to a therapist, but it isn’t like therapy can halt the apocalypse, so he didn’t see the point.

The closer it gets to the end, the more Derrick is having trouble controlling his feelings of panick and desperation. His dad pretty much ignores his weird behaviors, and his older sister Claudia doesn’t really know how to help either. His best friends, Tommy and Brock, don’t really get it and just want to hang out and play sports or video games while Derrick is certain that they are only wasting time he needs to use more wisely to be ready. The only person who seems to be willing to help is Derrick’s neighbor Misty, who has been out of school for the last year with a life-threatening medical problem of her own. Derrick isn’t sure why Misty was out of school last year, but he is glad that she seems to be doing better and that, while she doesn’t necessarily believe that the end of the world is coming, she is willing to help him get his shelter ready.  But… What will happen once it’s ready?

Happy Reading!

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

darling rose goldReading stories like this simply makes my heart ache.  I cannot fathom the idea of purposely hurting my child — let alone so systematically and over the course of an entire childhood. The scariest thing is that people with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP) don’t even see the wrong in what they are doing.  For more information about MSBP, so that you can better prepare yourself for what you will read in this story, I recommend this page from the University of Michigan.

I’m not gonna lie. When I first saw this book, I was leary that it might be a rip-off of a “ripped from the headlines” TV series I had watched [The Act]. In that series, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, was a chronically ill child who, as it turned out, actually had a mother who suffered from MSBP.  Thankfully, though, the rest of this story [aside from the MSBP and the coincidence of “Rose” being a part of her name] stood very much on its own.  Though MSBP could never be truly “understandable” to me, the flashbacks to Patty’s childhood helped me to better understand the factors that contributed to her mental health issues. Likewise, flashbacks to both the childhood of Rose Gold and the time when she was first on her own, after her mother went to jail, helped me to see how Rose Gold had been shaped into the woman she had become and to make the choices she made. Yeah, I am a little hauted by this story. But, I am also eager to see what else Wrobel will publish and hope it won’t be long until I see another book listed on her Goodreads page…

(Disclaimer — This book is technically considered a book for adults, but I see this having crossover appeal for young adults, since the story primarily takes place during Rose Gold’s teen and “new adult” years.)

Happy Reading!

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp, illustrated by Manuel Preitano

the oracle codeCan you guess why Barbara Gordon is one of my favorite people in the DC Comics universe?  Aside from the fact that I relate to her as a headstrong, curious, and nerdy girl/woman, I love the fact that Batgirl’s alter ego is a librarian!  In addition to being Batgirl, Barbara Gordon is also known as Oracle — and this graphic novel is an Oracle origin story.

In this story, readers are introduced to a teenaged Barbara Gordon (aka Babs) who becomes paralyzed in an accident.  The accident happens in the very beginning of the story, though, so the majority of the action takes place while Babs is working to recover from the accident at the Arkham Center for Independence.  I appreciated how there was a lot of focus placed on the specific limitations that a person would suddenly experience as a result of a major injury like this and how grueling the physical and occupational therapy regimen would be.  I also appreciated that this information was worked into the story seemlessly instead of appearing as clunky asides.  I’d like to wish a happy book birthday to this awesome story, and also wish for some further Oracle adventures from Nijkamp and Preitano in the near future…

Happy Reading!

The Cabin by Natasha Preston

the cabinOh. Em. Gee!  Not only did this thriller of a murder mystery have me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading it — but it even left me there at the end. My biggest complaint about this book, in fact, is that I don’t think there will be a sequel that explicitly tells me what happened next. While I am learning to live with books like this, I thought it was worth mentioning in my review in case it would be a deal-breaker for anyone else. But, yeah. This book was intense! There were so many twists and turns that it kept me guessing, and second-guessing myself, for nearly the entire time.

So, what happened that we readers DO know? Well, we know that Mackenzie found two of her friends dead, in a pool of their own blood, on what was supposed to be a fun weekend getaway to Josh’s cabin. And though she wasn’t Josh’s biggest fan, and knew that some of the others in her small group of friends were less than enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend with him, Mackenzie couldn’t imagine that any of them could have murdered Josh. Let alone his girlfriend, Courtney. Was she just collateral damage? Because everyone seemed to love *her*… The strangest thing is that everyone seemed to sleep through such a violent murder. Surely Josh and Courtney must have screamed, right? So how did no one realize what had happened until the next morning?

Happy Reading!

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

curses-and-kissesI know I just posted the other day that I would be doing fewer book reviews than normal, but I had to push myself to get this one done for #ValentinesDay!  I don’t know if I have outright said this before, but Sandhya Menon is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors.  Between her strong female characters, witty dialogue, character development, and diverse casts of characters, there is just so much to love in Menon’s books!  As soon as I heard that she would be writing a modernized retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which just so happens to be one of my favorite fairy tales of all time, I was sold!  I am so grateful that my request for access to an ARC was granted by NetGalley, because I am not sure how I would have contained myself until this book was officially published.  And how was it?!?  Freaking. Awesome!

Jaya Rao is a princess. Well, kinda.  Hers is one of the “royal” families that still exist even though India is now technically a democratic republic.  To Jaya, nothing is more important than family.  And, ever since the centuries-old feud between the Raos and the Emersons caused her sister to be targeted and slandered, Jaya has been looking for a way to exact revenge on the Emerson clan.  How utterly perfect, then, that she and her sister should be transferred to the same international boarding school as Grey Emerson as they wait for things to blow over. Once there, Jaya expected that she would have plenty of opportunity to get close enough to Grey that she could hurt him as much as his family has hurt her little sister…  But, will even her love for her sister be enough to keep her going with such a nefarious plan?  I won’t tell you how it all ends, but I will gleefully report that it is the first book in a series that, according to Goodreads, is a planned trilogy!  #squeeeeeeee

Happy Reading!