Category Archives: GLBTQ

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

black-witchI recently went through the list of the YALSA 2018 Teens’ Top 10 nominees and made a plan to read all of the books I hadn’t yet read.  There are 25 books on the list and I had only read 7 of them.  Gah!  While I recognize that I may not get it done before they announce the winners, what with all the other books I keep on adding to my TBR list, I figured I had to at least try!  I had just finished my audiobook and this one was readily available to me, so I went for it.  I didn’t even read any of the summaries before getting started with requesting books and audiobooks.  I decided I would read them “blind” because they are included on the list of nominees and that is all I need to know to trust that I will enjoy them.  My verdict so far?!?  Wow!  At a time when real world racial tensions are high and the “religious right” are working to pass laws that justify and allow for bigotry in the US, this book sometimes felt a bit too real and less like an escape.

In Erthia, there are many different races — Elves, Fae, Gardnerians, Icarals, Kelts, Lupines, Selkies, Urisks, Vu Trin, etc. — and they have all been raised with certain beliefs and prejudices about each other.  Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the famed Gardnerian Black Witch, though she has been raised in seclusion and without any magical training.  Why bother when she has no magical abilities of her own, right?  When her uncle allows her to attend the illustrious Verpax University to persue her life-long dream of becoming an apothecary, he asks that she focus on her studies and promise him NOT to be wandfasted (think arranged marriage) until after she has completed her studies.  Unfortunately, though, Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian would like nothing more than to wandfast her to a powerful Gardnerian in order to compensate for the girl’s lack of magic and to protect their family’s socio-political standing.

I appreciated the fact that Forest so thoughtfully explored stereotypes and prejudices.  Though it was tough in the beginning of the story to see how accepting Elloren was of the racist ideals and stereotypes with which she had been raised, I think it was very necessary to set the stage for her awakening.  From xenophobia and racism to misogyny and homophobia, this story line pushed Elloren/readers to challenge her/their pre-conceived notions and to see how people in power often try to skew people’s perceptions to suit an agenda.  One of my favorite quotes was from Professor Kristian, when he was talking to Elloren about how history books written by different groups of people had very conflicting depictions of what actually happened:

Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.

Happy Reading!

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The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez

fall-of-innocenceEmilia had a particularly tough childhood… After surviving a horrific attack behind her elementary school, she was so traumatized that she actually stopped speaking for some time.  In the aftermath of the attack, her father also left because he couldn’t deal.  Now that she is in high school, she is frustrated that she still can’t quite get past the attack.  She sometimes finds herself mentally trapped in the time of the attack and reliving it.  Winters are especially bad, since that was when the attack took place. And attempts to be intimate with her boyfriend seem to be particularly triggering.  To make matters worse, she just found out that the person who attacked her was *not* actually the person she identified and who went to jail.  With the knowledge that she sent an innocent person to jail and that she will likely see him around town once he is released, Emilia isn’t sure how she will make it through this winter.

Though this story doesn’t deal with straight-up amnesia, fans of With Malice will likely enjoy the way this story also unfolds bit by bit to reveal how everything happened.  If you’re looking for a book that will keep you guessing, and on the edge of your seat, you should definitely add this to your summer reading pile.

Happy Reading!

Tradition by Brendan Kiely

traditionFullbrook Academy was an elite prep school known for opening doors to the best colleges and beyond.  And though the students at the Fullbrook Academy knew that life there was pretty far removed from the idyllic images provided in all the brochures, everyone seemed happy enough with the way things had always been.  Well…  Mostly everyone.  Jules really would have liked to break some glass ceilings and to challenge the general feeling that Fullbrook is a boys school that girls are allowed to attend, but pressure from both friends and family kept Jules from raging against the machine too loudly. And then Bax showed up.  Bax, who was on a hockey scholarship (and never could have afforded the $50,000 tuition).  Bax, who was just as horrified as Jules when he witnessed the toxic masculinity of his hockey teammates who didn’t seem to see much difference between scoring in a hockey game and “stacking up pucks” in their dorm room windows.  Bax, who seemed to see past the rumors and the reputations people had been assigned in order to judge them by their character.  Bax, who gave Jules hope that things could change.  But, how could a few students make a difference when so many others, including the teachers and administration, were willing to excuse horrible “traditions” and turn a blind eye?

After finishing All American Boys, I said that I was looking forward to reading more by Brendan Kiely.  I was super excited, then, to get my hands on this ARC when I won a raffle basket at the NYLA YSS Spring Conference!  While All American Boys focused primarily on race relations, discrimination, and prejudice in America today, Tradition was more focused on issues surrounding extreme wealth/privilege and misogyny.  Aside from aiding in discussions on wealth and privilege, I think this book would be an excellent conversation starter for discussions on both feminism and consent as well.

Happy Reading!

All We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson

all-we-can-do-is-waitPeople tend to take a lot of things for granted.  We assume our parents or siblings will be there for us when we need them.  We assume we will have time to make up with our significant other after a fight.  We assume that the ride home, to school, or to the mall will be only as stressful as traffic makes it…  But Jason, Alexa, Scott, and Skyler learned a very hard lesson about making such assumptions.  When The Tobin Bridge collapsed — as their parents, girlfriend, and sister were driving over it — they discovered how truly unpredictable life can be.  While they waited at Massachussetts General Hospital, these teens bonded over their grief, terror, uncertainty, and helplessness.  Seeing victims come in via ambulance and watching as other people in the waiting room received news about their loved ones was almost too much to bear.

I think Lawson did a wonderful job showcasing the variety of ways people react to a traumatic event.  Though this wasn’t a fast-paced thriller, I still found myself reading with rapt attention.  I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks that helped readers get to know more about the background of these characters and the people about whom they were worried.  I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this new author.

Happy Reading!

Girl: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Karen Rayne

girlI don’t review non-fiction as often as fiction on my blog, but I had to be sure to include this book because it is both well-written and important on a number of levels. Not only does it promote body positivity and access to non-biased, factual information, but it does so while being inclusive of *all* people who self-identify as a girl. #WeNeedDiverseBooks in YA non-fiction too!

Rayne very openly and honestly discusses topics like gender identity, sexual orientation, dating and relationships, masturbation, and sex. I especially appreciated her non-judgmental tone and how she made it a point to include different points of view [via diary entries from multiple women] so that girls who read this book will be more likely to find someone to whom they could relate. Because this book covers such a wide range of topics, I think it’s awesome that Rayne provides resources for readers who are interested in delving more deeply. Aside from presenting factual information, though, I think it was helpful that Rayne provided questions for self-reflection. It’s important for girls to consider who they are and how they feel before they can move forward with their evolution into becoming the women they wish to be.

Happy Reading!

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

the-beauty-that-remainsTRIGGER WARNING!
Autumn’s best friend, Tavia, died in a car accident. Shay lost her twin sister, Sasha, to a long battle with leukemia. And Logan’s ex-boyfriend, Bram, died by suicide. If you have lost someone close to you, this book is very likely to re-open your own emotional wounds. What may simply have been a “tear jerker” for other readers actually brought me back to my decades-ago loss of my own best friend and the guilt I felt long after her passing. I think that, perhaps, Ashley Woodfolk was a little too good at depicting heartache and grief that come with such a loss. /sigh

Though the three of them lost people in very different ways have different aspects of their identities that set them apart — Autumn is adopted and Korean-American, Shay is black, and Logan is gay — their lives are similarly torn apart by both grief and guilt. They think back about the things they regret saying, the things they regret doing or not doing, and all of the “what ifs” eat at them as they struggle to move on with their own lives. As the story progresses, the characters’ stories begins to overlap and, not surprisingly, come together.  Not only does this book do a fantastic job of showcasing the realities of living through grief, but it does so with a diverse cast of characters.  I look forward to seeing what else this debut author will write in the future.

Happy Reading!

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

unbecomingAlthough I loved this story, I understand that it may not be for everyone.  It jumps back and forth between the past and the present, and there are multiple points of view, so some readers might not be able to follow so easily.  Plus, there isn’t much in the way of action and adventure, which might turn some people off.  But there is love, and loss, and yearning, and learning about self and family and friendship.  So much emotional depth!  I hadn’t really heard anything about this book before I saw the audiobook was immediately available for download via my local library, but I did recognize Jenny Downham’s name because I recalled sobbing my eyes out as I read Before I Die.  (I often search and see which YA titles are “available now” rather than searching specific titles because I like to find hidden gems and, well, I am impatient!)  So, yeah…  I decided to give it a go. And, boy am I glad I went for it!

Katie is seventeen and she is struggling with several things.  First, and foremost, she is struggling with her sexuality.  Not only is she not totally sure how she identifies, but she is being bullied at school because of it.  On top of that, she has an overbearing mom (Caroline), who often needs her to help care for her special needs brother (Chris).  And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she also discovers that she has a grandmother (Mary) whom she never really knew and who now requires a place to live and constant care because she has Alzheimer’s and her long-time partner/caregiver (Jack) just died of a heart attack.  When Katie decides to record stories in a memory book, to try to help preserve Mary’s memories, she discovers so much more than family history and secrets.  She uncovers a variety of reasons her mother is so up-tight and the realization that “truth” varies greatly with perspective.

Happy Reading!