Category Archives: contemporary

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

inexplicable-logicBefore Salvadore started his senior year, his life seemed to make much more sense.  Applying to colleges and thinking about both his history and how his life might change in the near future, though, started him questioning everything he thought he knew and understood.  Sal was adopted, but it wasn’t a “typical” adoption.  His dad, Vincente, and his birth mother were very good friends before she ever met his birth father and became pregnant.  So much so, in fact, that Vincente was the “birth coach” when Sal was born.  Although Vincente was gay, he even married Sal’s mother so that he could adopt Sal more easily before she died of cancer.  Sal never missed his mother too terribly because he had been too young to really remember her, but also because he felt so loved by his adoptive family.  Despite their different ethnicities (he was white and his adoptive family was Mexican-American), he never felt like an outsider.  When a few kids at school started directing racial and homophobic slurs at him and his father, nevertheless, Sal even started questioning his place in his family.

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot for y’all, but I think it is fair to say that this story includes several major, life-changing events that affect Sal and the people he loves most.  As he did with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Sáenz handled coming of age, family dynamics, and evolving friendships with both realism and beauty.  I was especially grateful for the adult characters, like Vincente and Mima.  Sal’s best friend, Samantha, and new friend, Fito, were amazing characters as well, but I find that it’s far less common for a YA novel to have such fully-developed, accessible, vulnerable, and honest adults.  If you haven’t read anything by this author, you need to fix that problem immediately…

Happy Reading!

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

before-i-let-goWhen Corey moved away from Lost Creek, Alaska, she promised to come back to her best friend Kyra.  And Kyra promised to wait for Corey.  But, only a few days before Corey was scheduled to go back, she received word that Kyra had died.  In the middle of the harsh Alaskan winter, Kyra had supposedly fallen through some ice and drowned.  To Corey, who knew that Kyra suffered from Bipolar Disorder (and how very thick the ice could get in the middle of winter), it seemed much more likely that Kyra had chosen to break that ice and taken her own life.  The insistence that it was an accident wasn’t even the most bizarre thing, though, as far as Corey was concerned.  Even more bizarre was the way the small town’s people reacted to Kyra’s death.  For her entire life, the people of Lost Creek had never cared for Kyra or her art, but they were suddenly displaying her artwork all over the place and talking about how well liked and respected she had been.  Instead of acknowledging that Kyra had been suffering from depression, her mother insisted that Kyra was truly happy near the end.  And, even though Corey had grown up in Lost Creek and only moved away a short time ago, people suddenly treated her coldly, called her an outsider, and warned her not to “pry into other people’s business.”  When she carried on asking questions to try and understand what had happened, Kyra’s mother simply said, “Her death was inevitable, and so be it.”  Say what?!?

I absolutely loved Nijkamp’s first book, This Is Where It Ends.  I saw on Facebook that a friend had read this ARC, so I immediately messaged her and asked if she had an actual physical copy and, if so, whether she would *PLEASE* send it on to me.  Luckily, it was and she did!  Just like TIWIE, I could not put this book down!  I read the first 150 pages in a single shot and only stopped at that point because my husband would have been upset if I chose my book over dinner with him and our daughter.  😉  I read the rest of the book in one more sitting and almost considered re-reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  Sadly, this book is not slated to be published until January 2018, so it looks like most of y’all will need to wait to read it.  But just trust me and put it on your TBR list now…  It will be worth the wait.

Happy Reading!

The Takedown by Corrie Wang

takedownKyla Cheng is NOT a likeable character, and she is just fine with that.  She knows that people are sure to be jealous of her for many reasons, including but not limited to her valedictorian rank, popularity, and beauty.  What she didn’t expect, nonetheless, was for someone to hate her so much that they went above and beyond to ruin her life.  How did they ruin her life?  First of all, they found a way to edit a video to make it look like Kyla had been caught having sex with her young/hot English teacher — which most people wouldn’t believe because they didn’t think there was good enough technology to make such a seamless video even though Kyla swore it wasn’t real.  As if that was not enough, they also managed to hack their way into her college applications to submit them early… and with completely horrifying answers to the personal essay questions!  All of this, of course, is multiplied by the fact the viral video is connected to her social media profile, which is also linked to those of her family members.  She is determined to figure out who made the video so that she can get it removed from the internet, but will she be able to befriend her hater and/or track her [she is *sure* it is a her] down in order to delete the original file?

This is a great book for opening a conversation about the implications of living in the digital age and using social media, since it shows just how quickly a picture or video can go viral and how impossible it can be to get these things off the internet once they’re out there.  I recommend this book to fans of MT Anderson’s Feed.

Happy Reading!

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Amadou (15) and his little brother Seydou (8) had already been harvesting cacao for two years before Khadija arrived on the farm.  They came willingly when they thought that they would be working for a single season to help make money for their impoverished family, but they soon discovered that they had been fooled.  The “bosses” told the boys they would only be able to go home after they earned back their purchase price, but no one would tell they boys how much they had cost or how much they earned each day.  Between their long hours of dangerous work — harvesting cacao pods with machetes — and their beatings when they failed to make quota, they boys quickly learned not to focus on anything but the task at hand.  They got along well enough with the other boys, but didn’t exactly make any friends.  All of their time was focused on survival.  Then Khadija showed up and their world turned upside-down.  Not only did a single child show up, when the bosses normally waited for a bigger group before making the expensive trip out to the farm, but Khadija was a girl.  A girl who was determined to escape from the very moment she arrived, and who tricked Seydou into helping her break free from her bindings…  After Amadou took the blame and helped them bring her back, though, he was forced to spend time with Khadija while they both recovered from their beatings.  Would he be able to help her adjust?  Or at least keep her from getting himself and Seydou into further trouble with the bosses?

I really wish I could say that this book was a dystopia rather than realistic fiction… It’s just so heart breaking to read about child/slave labor as it relates to the farming and harvesting of cacao (aka cocoa) in West Africa.  As someone who absolutely loves chocolate, I am going to have to spend some time with the Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List to see which companies they recommend and try to adjust my purchasing/consumption to more ethical companies.  I highly recommend this book for both the lesson in modern day slavery and the message of hope, bravery, and courage despite terrible odds.  I especially like how this book describes the brutality of the farm without getting overly graphic, making it appropriate for even younger tweens.

Happy Reading!

The Sky between You and Me by Catherine Alene

sky-betweenRaesha is not the stereotypical girl with an eating disorder from the “after school specials” of my youth.  She isn’t the super-popular girl who is afraid to lose it all if she gains a few pounds, nor is she the unpopular fat girl who thinks that she will finally be accepted by her peers if she loses some weight.  This story is much more realistic, so I think it’s only fair to provide a *TRIGGER WARNING* for people recovering from eating disorders.

While Raesha doesn’t set out to be anorexic, she is so dedicated to making it to (and winning) Nationals that she decides to lose a few pounds.  After all, being lighter will mean that her horse can run faster.  The worst thing is that she isn’t pressured by anyone else to compete in barrel racing but rather competes to honor the memory of her mother.  Between grieving for her mother and her father’s frequent absences (for work), Raesha is often very lonely.  And, with the change in behavior that accompanies her eating disorder, she only drives her boyfriend and her friends further away.  I would recommend this book for Ellen Hopkins fans and readers of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.

Happy Reading!

Bang by Barry Lyga

bangI am fairly certain that every person has something they look back on with regret.  Some people, though, have much worse regrets than others.  Take Sebastian Cody, for example.  When he was only four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four month old baby sister.  Can you even imagine the shame and depression that could stem from such a horrific tragedy?

This story takes place ten years after that tragedy, the summer after Sebastian’s ninth grade year.  His mom is insistent that he have a “productive” summer, but he really doesn’t see the point.  After all, he plans to kill himself at the end of the summer.  All of his troubles began with a gun shot, and he plans to end them the same way.  But then, a new girl moves into his neighborhood.  Aneesa isn’t like anyone he’s ever met before.  Not only is she a Muslim girl who wears a hijab, but she is so straight-forward that she often surprises Sebastian with her blunt honesty.  It’s nice just to have a friend who doesn’t judge him for what he did all those years ago, but he wonders whether everything would change if only she knew the truth.  Much like Jay Asher’s What Light, this book expertly explores coming of age, friendship, and self-forgiveness.

Happy Reading!

Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

clickdAllie Navarro went away to a CodeGirls summer camp where she learned how to create her very own app, and she was super excited to share it with her friends when she came back home.  Even more exciting?  She would have the opportunity to enter her app into the upcoming G4G (Games for Good) competition!  Her app was eligible because it helped people to find other people near them with whom they “clicked” even if they didn’t know each other yet.  Basically, it was a friend finder and it worked to make the world a less lonely place.

Through a series of questions, much like online dating websites, Click’d was able to match people by their interests.  This way, the kids in her middle school (and anywhere else her app spread) would be able to get to know people outside of their usual friend groups.  When you finished the questionnaire, you would get access to a leaderboard of the top 10 users with whom you Click’d — and then the app would send you on a scavenger hunt to find them!  The app utilized the phones’ geolocation functions to tell people when they were near a match with a series of “bloops” and flashing lights — and then it gave users a photo clue pulled from the user’s public Instagram feed.  Or, at least, that was what was supposed to happen.  Somehow, though, there was a glitch that accidentally utilized private photos from the users’ phones some of the time.  Would she be able to fix it in time to present at G4G?  Would she just present it without admitting to the coding error?  Definitely a good conversation starter about honesty and integrity.

I like the fact that this story raised issues about privacy and phone/internet safety concerns without resorting to R-rated problems.  There were embarrassing photos and screenshots of conversations that were supposed to be secret, but no sex acts or nudity involved.  I am not sure whether that was done intentionally so that parents, teachers, and librarians would feel more comfortable sharing this book with younger tweens, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  I appreciated that there were no quick fixes, lots of hard work, and plenty of growing pains as the story worked up to the G4G competition.  I also loved the fact that it concluded with a happy yet realistic ending.   I thought that since my own middle-schooler is away at a computer programming summer camp this week, reading (and reviewing) this book was definitely apropos!  And, though the book will not officially be released until early September, I think I might just offer to let him read my ARC when he returns.  🙂

Happy Reading!