Milo’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?!?
I 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.
Stewart was a socially awkward prodigy who attended a school called Little Genius Academy and Ashley was a popular girl who excelled at fashion but wasn’t so great at school. You might think this is a perfect set-up for a story in which Stewart becomes Ashley’s tutor, but that definitely wasn’t how they met. They actually got to know one another because their parents decided to move in together. Ever since Stewart’s mom died of ovarian cancer, he and his father have been struggling with ways to manage their grief and honor her memory while also, somehow, moving on with their own lives. This move seemed to be the ultimate test. Ashley’s situation was very different, but still very traumatic for her — her parents decided to divorce because her father came out as gay. Though upset by her family breaking up, it seemed Ashley was even more concerned about what people would think if they found out the truth about why her parents divorced. After all, being the “it” girl of her crowd was pretty much all she thought she had going for her.
When Stewart and his father moved in with Ashley and her mom, Stewart also transferred into Ashley’s school. She was relieved to think that she would be “safe” from dealing with Stewart at school, even after finding out that he would be transferring from Little Genius Academy, because he was younger… But then he was placed in some ninth grade classes because he was so advanced. Trying to fit in at a new school was tough in and of itself, but it was made even more difficult by Ashley’s insistence that he hide the fact that they were now sort of related. I really enjoyed the emotional journey Nielsen provided. There were moments where I was so sad I nearly cried, times when I got angry with characters, moments where I found myself rolling my eyes, and others where I full-on chuckled. The geek in me also really appreciated the fact that Stewart’s cat was named Schrödinger and that Nielsen included a part in which Stewart explained the joke to Ashley, just in case readers didn’t get it.
P.S. Just in case there are any people considering this book for a younger teen/tween, I feel compelled to mention the fact that there are situations in which both underage drinking and sexual assault come up. I think it was very well written and offers a fantastic conversation starter, but I didn’t feel right not saying anything.
The first Justine Larbalestier book I read was Liar, and I recall being very frustrated with the *completely* unreliable narrator. I just wanted to know what had really happened. And I was a little worried that might happen again — but it turns out that, if anything, I wish I could go back to NOT knowing what I learned of Che and Rosa’s story! Why? Well, to be entirely honest, I’m not so comfortable reading about a teenager (Che) whose little sister (Rosa) is a literal psychopath — especially one who can hide in plain sight because she’s a cute little girl who reminds people of Shirley Temple. Why? Well, with my own son closing in on his own teen years and an adorable daughter who is approaching her 7th birthday, this felt a little too close to home. Granted, my daughter isn’t a psychopath… but Rosa’s parents didn’t think SHE was a psychopath either!
It’s tough enough for parents to hear the occasional “I hate you” as kids struggle to gain autonomy, but it was crazy hard to read about a cute little girl who was only a few years older than my daughter and had absolutely NO problem stealing, lying, hurting, or even killing. With no empathy or conscience to guide her, Rosa literally relied on Che’s guidance to keep herself out of trouble (which was the only reason she bothered to behave and/or to try to be normal). It was particularly heartbreaking to see how difficult it was for Che to keep Rosa in line because everyone else (even his parents) thought he was overreacting when, in fact, he was the only one who saw through her manipulative facade. (/shudder) Yeah… I think I’d like to stick to stories about adult psychopaths for a while, thankyouverymuch! If you enjoy thrillers and you think you’re brave enough to read about an adorable little psychopath, though, I highly recommend this book.
Liesl remembers when she used to go into the woods as a child and play with Der Erlkönig [the Goblin King]. She found it strange that he kept asking for her hand in marriage since she was only a child, but he persisted. As she grew older, she stopped traveling so often into the woods, but she still heard tales of the Der Erlkönig — especially from her grandmother, Constanze, who urged Liesl to respect the “old laws” so that she could keep herself safe as the Der Erlkönig searched for his eternal bride. Though Leisl was primarily occupied with helping to run her family’s inn, she preferred to spend her spare time composing and playing music with her brother, Josef. She didn’t give much thought to Der Erlkönig and his search for an eternal bride, but then her sister, Käthe, was kidnapped by goblins. Suddenly, Leisl’s entire world was turned upside down — because Der Erlkönig had not only taken her sister away, but he had also clouded the minds of everyone around her.
As she struggled to get out of the house and search for her missing sister, the people around her, who didn’t know who this “Käthe” was, seemed to think Leisl had a mental breakdown. Only Constanze could see through this illusion, but her family thought of *her* as an old woman who had lost her own grip on reality long ago. Fortunately, she conspired to sneak Leisl out of the house so that she could find Der Erlkönig and negotiate for her sister’s safe return. Though this book was set at the turn of the 19th century and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest was set in modern times, it somehow made me think of that story. (Maybe it’s because of the forest setting? Don’t ask. I have no idea how my mind works!) All I know is that I recommend fans of Black’s work to check this out when it’s released in February.
Elle Wittimer is a die-hard Starfield fan. It only makes sense, since her father was so obsessed with the single-season cult classic. (Think Firefly.) He was such an über geek, in fact, that he was one of the founders of the geek convention known as ExcelsiCon. Elle has kept in touch with the fandom online and even writes a Starfield blog, under the pseudonym Rebelgunner, but she hasn’t been back to the con since her father died. Now that Starfield is getting a reboot as a major motion picture, though, she has a very good reason to attend — the winner of the cosplay will win tickets to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball (a dream of her father’s) and a meet-and-greet with the actor who plays Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. It’s just too bad the guy they picked to be Carmindor is the annoying teen “heartthrob” Darien Freeman…
Darien Freeman is an über geek in his own right, but no one really knows it. When he was younger, he used to live for Starfield and events like ExcelsiCon… It was always his dream to play Carmindor. But, he feels like a fake because he is seriously lacking in geeky “street-cred” now that he is so well-known for role on a popular teen show called Seaside Cove. It would have been hard enough for anyone to step into that role after David Singh’s amazing portrayal, but the very vocal lack of confidence of the Starfield fans has Darien feeling even more rattled. So much so that he doesn’t even want to make his appearance at ExcelsiCon. If only the number he found to get in touch with the person responsible for running ExcelsiCon wasn’t wrong, he might have been able to talk his way out of attending. At the very least, though, he has “met” a pretty cool girl who seems to love Starfield as much as he does. And, as long as she doesn’t know who is really texting her, he is free to just be himself. (Kinda ironic, right?!?)
This modern adaptation of the Cinderella story is simply amazing. With a falling-in-love via text homage to You’ve Got Mail, and a true understanding of geek culture reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, it’s a #mustread for hopeless romantic geeks like myself. Aside from the story, by the way, I think I am seriously fangirling over Ashley Poston. I already loved her for creating this story, but her acknowledgements hit me right in the feels:
Never give up on your dreams, and never let anyone tell you that what you love is inconsequential or useless or a waste of time. Because if you love it? If that OTP or children’s card game or abridged series or YA book or animated series makes you happy? That is never a waste of time. Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.
It’s funny how life can be so very different and feel so much the same… Last year, I was losing my mind because I was shuffling both kids of to summer camp in the morning so I could work full time doing summer reading stuff at my library. I had days stuffed to the gills with programs, reference, and other responsibilities, and I had precious little time with my kids. I did my best to do fun stuff while also keeping up with house work, but it was hard, y’all! This summer, I’m losing my mind because I’m balancing my WAHM (work at home mom) responsibilities with finding fun and inexpensive ways to entertain the kids so they don’t kill each other. (Right now, we’re actually at our local public library for LEGO Club and I’m posting from my phone… I hope this works!) Though I have plenty of time to keep up on chores if I want to let my kids become screentime zombies, that’s not exactly my plan. So, I’m losing my mind all over again… But in a better way. I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to feel stressed or overwhelmed sometimes as long as I’m, overall, doing what feels right for me and my family. Sure, I forgot to post a book review last week — but my kids and I had an awesome week of spending time with friends and family.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I picked this book up at the *perfect* time. Not only did I want a fun read, but I wanted something with short chapters that I could pick up and read for a few minutes at a time if that was all I could get (which has been the case more often than not lately). On a previous trip to our public library [so my kids could sign up to actually *attend* summer reading events this year!] I saw this book on display. Not only did this book meet my “fun & easy” qualifications, but it SPOKE TO ME right in the introduction — “Binge on the things that bring you fulfillment and happiness and satisfaction and make you feel alive. Binge on people who fascinate you and love that wakes you up from the monotony… Binge on giving, in all senses. Binge on indulging.” Yaaaaaaaas!
I first heard of Tyler Oakley about eight years ago when one of my library teens asked if I had seen “the Tyler Oakley video about why gay marriage is wrong.” I was confused because this teen belonged to the GSA at her high school, and I didn’t realize the video was sarcastic. After watching the video, though, I shared the hell out of it. While I have seen many of his videos through the years, I’m pretty sure this will always be my favorite.
If you need inspiration to start living your life openly, honestly, and unapologetically for yourself, this book is a good place to start. Sometimes heartbreaking, but more often than not hilarious, this book gives readers a bird’s eye view of the many “binges” that have led Tyler Oakley to YouTube fame and general pop-culture notoriety, but also, more importantly, to a life he’s happy to be living.