Not only did Fable watch her mother drown during a horrible storm, but then her father (a powerful trader named Saint) abandoned her on a desolate island full of thieves. Using the skills her mother had taught her, Fable survived by diving and mining pyre that she could trade for coppers. After scrimping and saving for a time, Fable suddenly found herself under attack and in need of a quick escape. Fortunately, she managed to find passage through the Narrows on a ship with a trader named West. Something seemed off about this ship, though. And it wasn’t just the fact that West was so young, or that he had a particularly small crew… When they stopped in a port to do some trading, Fable couldn’t help but notice some further abnormalities about their business dealings. When this stop also revealed something peculiar about Fable, though, it became clear that she and the crew would have to learn to trust one another if she was going to stay alive, let alone find her way back to her father.
I loved so many things about this book. From the strong female characters, to GLBTQ+ representation, to the fact that it was such a well-paced and adventure-packed story, there are doorways to attract all sorts of readers! I can’t wait to read the sequel, Namesake (due out in 2021).
Between 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.
At first glance, Henry and Flora would not seem extraordinary to most people. Love and Death, nevertheless, saw great potential within them. For centuries, Love and Death had been playing a game. Each would pick a human player, and then they would roll the dice to determine the end date of the game. There were limitations to how much, and in which ways, they could interfere — but they certainly acted to influence the situation so that they might win the bet. Regardless of how much love there seemed to be between the people, Death always prevailed. Though previous games have included such famed, star-crossed pairs as Anthony and Cleopatra or Paris and Helen of Troy, Love seems to think that Henry and Flora will finally beat the odds.
There were a few things about this story that made it particularly compelling. First, that Love and Death were beings who seemed to be almost fighting an attraction between themselves. They often took human form, and it struck me that this author chose to have Love as a man and Death as a woman. Since men tend to be associated more with aggression and women tend to be associated more with nurturing, it was very interesting to see this dynamic reversed. It was also rather amazing to see how well the author managed to weave together themes of socioeconomic discrepencies, race relations, gender norms, and GLBTQ struggles as they related to Americans in the 1930s. If you enjoy historical fiction with a touch of magical realism and a healthy heaping of romance, look no further.
Bryson 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!
Annie Boots has one year left in the system, and then she will finally be able to live her life on her own terms. It’s just too bad that one year can feel so dang long. Though Annie is in a long-term foster care placement with a loving family, the Howards, things have become very strained. In fact, she is afraid that her ongoing connection to her bio-family has been straining her relationship with Pop Howard so much that she might not last another year in that house. Pop Howard is always arguing with Momma Howard about how to handle Annie’s rebellious behavior and lies, and he thinks they should just completely cut ties with the entire Boots clan. Annie is torn, though, because she is holding out hope that she can somehow save her mom and sister from themselves and their self-destructive choices so that they can be a family again — especially since her nephew, Frankie, is in the mix. Thank goodness she has a strong support system (including her foster brother, a few close friends, a social worker, and a local youth services librarian) to help her navigate the chaos in her life.
One of the things I love most about Chris Crutcher’s books is just how real all of his characters feel. It’s not truly surprising to see how accurately he portrays young people in his books, though, when you take into account his experiences as a family therapist and child-protection specialist. He’s not just guessing at how kids and teens might react to these terrible sitations; he has been in the trenches and seen kids and teens living stories just like these. This novel is relatively short and weaves in sports, action, and mystery, so it has multiple doors through which to attract readers. Best of all, the heaviness of this story is balanced out with humor and a sense of hope.
OMG, y’all… If you have been looking for a book that will give you #AllTheFeels, you can stop looking! Frankly in Love manages to be both hilarious and deeply touching as it deftly handles topics like coming of age, friendship, love, racism, and grief. I can’t even tell you how many times I laughed out loud and then turned to my husband and made him stop what he was doing so that I could read him a funny passage aloud. Though I don’t really share much with the main character, since I am a 40-year-old white woman whose parents were not immigrants, rather than an 18-year-old Korean-American guy who isn’t fluent in the same language as his parents, I still felt a strong connection to Frank on a human level. Perhaps it’s because I was also an honor student and overachiever, though not quite at Frank’s level. Perhaps it was Frank’s tendency to feel like he didn’t quite belong that spoke to me. Or, perhaps, Yoon simply crafted a character who felt so real that my inner-teenager wanted to be his friend and the mama in me wanted to protect him as if he were my own high-school-aged son. Even though I can’t put a finger on *why* this book was so amazing, I am more than prepared to give this title as a recommendation to anyone who will listen.
Finishing this book on Halloween was definitely a good call. Just the right kind of creepy for me, since I’m not so much of a horror fan but love me some dystopian fiction! And the best news of all? Elizabeth Banks and Universal have already optioned the movie rights!!!!!!!!
You probably want to know what this book is actually about, though, right? Well… In Garner County, people believe that young women have magical powers. Powers that can corrupt even good men and drive other women insane with jealousy. In a place where women are supposed to be humble and subservient, that just won’t do. So the girls are sent off for their 16th year — the grace year — to burn off that magic in the woods. After that year, they are supposedly cleansed of their magic and ready for marriage, but not everyone survives. And though none of the girls knows what to expect, since it is forbidden to discuss the grace year, Tierney isn’t so sure she believes in these so-called powers. This story felt like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Flies joined forces to explore the transition from girlhood into womanhood. In a word? Amazing.
Being a teenager in the 90s provided me with more openness about sexual orientation than previous generations had been afforded. Still, questioning one’s sexuality, and especially gender identity, was somewhat taboo. When I was questioning, I could have really used a book like this to show me that I was not alone. Eventually, I came to realize that I identify as bisexual, though I am a partner in a heteronormative marriage and, to outsiders, I can easily “pass” for straight. I try to remain vigilant in both my advocacy for all people in the GLBTQ+ community and to specifically counteract bi invisibility, and I am extremely grateful to authors like Nic Stone who use their platform to do the same while also embracing and guiding the next generation.
There are three “books” in this story, each narrated by one of the three main characters — Courtney “Coop” Cooper, Rae Evelyn Chin, and Jupiter “Jupe” Charity-Sanchez. “Jupe-n-Coop” have been best friends for nearly forever and are so close people might assume they were deeply in love if not for the fact that Jupiter has always been an out and proud lesbian. But, is she?!? Both Jupiter and Rae find that there are *so* many shades of gray in the middle and that labels can sometimes be restrictive. While trying to negotiate friendships and romantic feelings can often be confusing, this little triangulation was particularly fraught. I absolutely loved this story and thought it was the perfect book to review on #ComingOutDay. Hope y’all enjoy it too.
The book starts off with Melody’s coming out ceremony, but it doesn’t just follow her story. It goes back and forth between the past and present, and also alternates between characters so readers can grasp the full magnitude of what Melody’s coming out truly means to her family. Her birth, after all, was what joined two very different families together. Her mother, Iris, was fairly well-to-do and was supposed to have her own coming out, but fell from grace when she got pregnant with Melody. Iris was forced out of her Catholic high school and ended up going away to college and leaving her child behind with her parents to try to get her life back on track. Melody’s father, Aubrey, on the other hand, was being raised by a poor single mother who was doing her best to keep him from relying on “the system” that she was embarrased and ashamed to need herself. It was amazing, really, to see how those two families had gotten to the point in history where their stories merged and astounding to see what all of these characters had overcome in their personal experiences.
Exploring themes of racial identity, racism, class, status, familial love, romantic love, sexual identity, and more would be a tall order for most writers, but Jacqueline Woodson is such an amazing writer that it came together without feeling the slightest bit contrived. I am continually impressed by the way Woodson can write compelling stories that increase a reader’s understanding of history and their empathy for the struggles of their fellow humans and manages to do so with absolutely beautiful prose. If this book isn’t considered a “classic” in years to come, I will be shocked.
Adam Thorn’s whole life seems to be falling apart. First and foremost, his heart is broken. His ex-boyfriend, Enzo, is moving away — which should honestly be more of a relief when you consider the fact that Enzo began to claim that their relationship was nothing more than messing around and that he wasn’t even truly gay. Pretty harsh when he knew very well that Adam was in love with him and had even said, previously, that he loved Adam too. Secondly, there is the fact that Adam is hiding his true self from his Evangelical Christian family. His father is a pastor and his brother is in training to be a pastor, and even though it’s pretty clear that everyone is just pretending not to know the truth, Adam is happy to play along to avoid a full-on confrontation and the possibility that they would disown him. Add in the fact that he is being sexually harrassed by his creepy boss and that his best friend, Angela, is about to drop another bomb on him, and it really doesn’t seem as if this day could get any worse…
Juxtaposed with Adam’s story, nevertheless, is that of a local girl, Katherine, who was recently murdered. It seems her spirit got caught up with that of a queen whose servant, a faun, is trying to disentangle them before it’s too late. Katherine is exploring the woods in which she was killed and discovering/reliving what happened. There are a few small bits where the stories overlap, but I found the magical realism storyline a bit distracting from the main plot. All in all, though, this was a great coming of age story because it touched on being truthful to one’s self and explored love in the context of friendship, family, and romantic involvement.