I 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.
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!
Darius might not be okay, but this book was fantastic! Aside from Darius’ humor-filled blunt honesty, I loved that his story taught me so much about Iranian/Persian culture without being didactic. I was particularly intrigued by the celebration of Nowruz — the Iranian/Persian New Year — which just so happened to be this week. I thought it was interesting that they visited and tended the graves of the dead, went on picnics, did “spoon banging” for treats, and jumped over fires/had fireworks on the holiday eve. It was like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Halloween, and Dia de los Muertos all rolled into one!
Aside from the cultural education, I appreciated the way Khorram presented Darius’ depression so realistically. It is important for readers who don’t have depression to understand that there isn’t always a huge inciting event that triggers a depression. A simple chemical imbalance can be all it takes for a person to retreat inside him/herself. And though taking medication for brain health should be no different than taking medication to assist any other organ, like using an inhaler for asthma, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
This book is so much more than a primer on Iranian/Persian culture and depression, though, so I would hate for people to walk away from my review with that impression. Regardless of their heritage and mental health status, I think plenty of readers will be able to relate to Darius. Some readers might relate to Darius on account of his geeky obsessions (most notably Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings). Others will surely see themselves in his struggle to find his place, both within his peer group and in his family. There are also some very subtle hints about Darius questioning his sexual identity, but nothing overtly sexual, so I am not sure if it even warrants the GLBTQ category but am checking it off just to be thorough. No matter the reason you choose to read this book, nevertheless, I have full confidence that Darius will teach you that it’s okay to not always be okay and that admitting you aren’t okay is the first step to getting better.
Shane Burcaw entered my radar when I read his first book, Laughing at My Nightmare, which introduced readers who were not already aware of his blog [http://laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com] to his unique life circumstances. Living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy means that he doesn’t have enough strength to tend to even his most basic needs, like bathing and getting dressed. As Shane gets older and his muscles continue to deteriorate, he loses more and more muscle function — even in the muscles that help him to chew his food and talk. Armed with a positive outlook, adaptive technology, and assistance from the people around him, though, he manages to live a very complete and fulfilling life. Rather than feeling sorry for himself for the things he will never have, he focuses on his blessings and how he can help others.
By infusing humor and wit into even the most embarrassing stories, he makes it easier for readers to delve into the realities of life with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The title of this book, by the way, comes directly from real life experiences in which servers at restaurants have simply assumed that he wasn’t on a date. Because they didn’t realize a guy in in a wheelchair could go on a date? Because his girlfriend was “too beautiful” to be with him?!? Crazy! Shane caught on at a very early age that many people think his mere existence is a downer, but this collection of essays is proof that he still believes, more than ever, that a twisted sense of humor and a determination to live his life to the fullest can help him conquer the anxiety from within and the negativity from others.
Trying to summarize and categorize this book is rather difficult. It’s not so much because I am worried about spoiling things, but because the story defies all logic. I mean, how could a book that talks about repeated break-ups be absolutely hilarious? And, yet… It was. How could a story that gives away the ending keep readers hooked and wondering what happens next? I don’t quite know, but it did! The biggest problem I had with this book was that I thought it was hilarious and kept stopping to read excerpts aloud to my husband. He was a really good sport about it, but I don’t think he fully appreciated those bits and pieces as they were taken out of context and he didn’t really know what the heck was going on! 😉
Craig was a king among geeks. He had never had a girlfriend before, and it was likely because he didn’t have a social life that extended much beyond playing Dungeons & Dragons with a few other socially awkward people. Amy, on the other hand, was a beautiful and popular girl whom he thought he would only ever dream of dating. And yet, they ended up together. Several times. The opening of the book made it very clear that they would not end up together in the end, so it’s not like it came as a surprise that they kept breaking up. Still… The hopeless romantic in me couldn’t help but “squee” every time they got back together and ache every time things fell apart again. If you’re a fellow hopeless romantic who wants a book with #AllTheFeels, you need to check this one out.
Michael and his dad hadn’t been on good terms for a while, but then his dad made things much worse. Not only did his dad up and move the whole family — AGAIN! — when he had promised that Michael could finish high school in the same place… but he actually enrolled Michael in a Catholic prep school. Aside from the frustration of having to wear a stuffy uniform [including a tie!] every day, there was also that not-so-insignificant fact that Michael was an atheist. He entered the school prepared to be friendless, since he assumed the other students would all be believers and he wouldn’t have much in common with them. Then, a girl named Lucy caught his attention when she challenged their teacher about whether “well-behaved women” make history. She argued that the female saints were NOT well-behaved and that they, in fact, often rebelled against the rules. Definitely a good sign that she might be willing to befriend a misfit! Despite putting his foot in his mouth during their initial encounter, Michael managed to gain her trust enough that she invited him to a special “study group” session with a couple of her friends. Except, it wasn’t really a study group. It was a group that called themselves Heretic Anonymous. And though they didn’t strive for anarchy or to destroy their school, they definitely felt that it was important to challenge some of the things about their school — like the dress code and the blatant lies that passed as a sex ed assembly.
I think that the thing I appreciated most about this book was that it didn’t make fun of anyone, believer or not. There were characters from a variety of religions and belief systems, and the author was careful to show respect to all perspectives. Though pointing out that some people might twist religious teachings to suit their own purposes, the actual beliefs (or lack thereof) were held sacred. And pairing that respect of differing beliefs with a display of how people who believe differently might work together toward common goals? Priceless! Oh… And if you enjoyed reading this story from the perspective of an outsider who is curious yet respectful about people’s religious beliefs, you might want to check out a non-fiction book I read nearly a decade ago — The Unlikely Disciple.
My family is definitely geeky by most people’s standards. Anytime there is a new “comic book movie” in the theaters, you can practically guarantee we will be there opening weekend — if not opening night. We have been anxiously awaiting the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and I was really excited to see that there is a Miles Morales novel for teens who might not yet be familiar with his character. I was even more thrilled to see that Jason Reynolds was the author who took on this project. My husband asked me why I thought it was so important to have a notable YA author write a book about Spider-Man, since Spider-Man is a pretty popular character in his own right. And it was kind of hard for me to explain at first; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… But then I realized what it was. Some teens think that comic books are only for the truly geeky people of the world and might have otherwise not even paid attention to this story. Since Jason Reynolds is more known for his contemporary, urban YA fiction, though, I thought he might help attract some readers who wouldn’t ordinarily give this story a chance. And once those readers give this story a chance, they might find that they have more common ground with geeks than they previously realized. I’m not sure many non-geeks realize quite how strong the social justice storylines of comic books are, but there are a lot of examples of superheroes standing up for equality. This Superman comic is one of my favorite examples:
With funny, relatable characters, Jason Reynolds does a fantastic job syncing Spider-Man into contemporary Urban ya fiction. I liked how Miles Morales was not even close to perfect — with his “wrong side of the tracks” family that has a history of trouble with the law, his trouble controlling his own temper, and even his awkwardness with girls — because it can help teens to see that they, too, can make a difference. You don’t have to be a superhero to stand up for yourself and to help people. And that is especially evident in the fact that Miles’ best friend, Ganke, often needs to give Miles a pep talk when he is feeling particularly defeated! I think that fans of Spider-Man/Miles Morales will be pleased with how this story turned out, and I can only hope that the Miles Morales comics will gain a little more traction with the help of this novel and the upcoming movie.
I loved how this story managed to be laugh out loud funny while still driving home a pretty powerful message — just be yourself and stop worrying about what you think other people might think about you! In this day and age, far too many people are worried about having the #PerfectLife and are spending a lot of time trying to compete with everyone else on social media rather than simply being present and enjoying their lives for real. Instead of worrying about which pictures and captions will get the most likes, people need to focus on what brings them actual happiness. Enter, Millie Porter.
Though Millie lived with her mother, she still had frequent contact with her dad. Her parents actually got along quite well, considering the fact that they weren’t together. Her mom, nevertheless, was always the more balanced and rational parental figure. Everyone kind of thought her practicality had “rubbed off on” Millie, too. But even Millie had a streak of teen rebellion brewing. It began when her mom started turning off the WiFi at night so she would not be online too much. Millie’s frustration truly hit the breaking point, though, when her mom got a clean-freak boyfriend whose obsession with cleaning — and specifically his “relationship” with a robotic vacuum, McWhirter — was simply too much for Millie to bear. She decided that she was going to go and live with her dad for a bit, even if he did live with his father and his crazy sister, Teresa. Surely living there would give her more freedom to explore the creation of a new vlog that would aid in her social media competition with Erin Breeler, who is the reigning Instagram queen at their school. Right?!?
If you are a fan of The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson (think Bridget Jones for the younger set), you will definitely want to check this book out when it’s released next week. While you’re at it, you might even want to add the sequel (My Life Gone Viral) to your TBR list for next summer!
Although Sawyer’s family was both rich and well-known, and although they lived less than an hour away, Sawyer had no experience with high-society. Why? Because her mom was kicked out when she got pregnant during her “deb” season. All Sawyer knew of her family was what her mother told her — and that was only when her mom wasn’t busy running off with one man or another. During one of her mother’s sudden departures, Sawyer got a surprise visit from none other than her grandmother… Who came to give Sawyer the offer of a lifetime. In exchange for going to stay with her grandmother and participating in the debutante season, Sawyer would receive $500,000. The money sounded good, but the whole deb thing was less than appealing. And then Sawyer realized this would also afford her the opportunity to try and figure out who her father was.
Despite the appearances they put forth in public, she quickly found out that the debutantes were far from the meek and mild little ladies they pretended to be. They were vindictive, calculating, manipulative, and wild. And before she knew it, Sawyer found herself both making friends and discovering all sorts of secrets about their high-society families. This story goes back and forth in time, alternating between the debs’ landing in jail and how they got there. (Though the story is not the same, it had much the same feel as Paul Rudnick’s It’s All Your Fault.) High-paced action, lots of mystery, and humor that had me actually laughing out loud. I only wish it was coming out this summer because I think it would be a perfect beach read! (Sadly, it’s not due out until November 6th.)
Twinkle Mehra has big plans. She’s not hoping to make it as an actress or a singer, though. She wants to work *behind* the camera. Via letters to her favorite female filmmakers, Twinkle explains how she plans to change the world by presenting fresh new ideas from the perspective of a female, Indian-American film director. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and we need diverse movies too! Not only does Twinkle get a big break by being invited to participate in a local summer film festival, but she breaks out of her wallflower status when her casting calls generate a lot of buzz. Twinkle is amazed to see that even the cool kids listen when she is directing and she begins to wonder whether this means she will finally get noticed by the über-popular Neil — especially since she is spending so much time with her producer, Sahil, who just so happens to be Neil’s twin brother…
Not only does Menon do a great job of writing authentic and relatable characters with fresh new story lines, but she manages to do so while subtly expanding her readers’ cultural knowledge. This story doesn’t get as far in to Indian culture as When Dimple Met Rishi, but it definitely gives readers a crash course in female movie directors and working to smash the patriarchy! Even if you don’t recognize all of the filmmakers and/or get all of the film references, which I am fairly certain *I* didn’t, it was a very fun read. Grab this book when it’s released next week and put it on the top of your #SummerReading pile.