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.
Imagine how confused, frustrated, and angry you would feel if your father had been in jail for more than seven years when you knew he was innocent. At the conclusion of a case based on rumors and speculation, with a stunning lack of evidence, Tracy’s father was sentenced to death row for a double homicide he didn’t commit. And with less than a year until his pending execution, Tracy was starting to feel desperate. Because her family didn’t have the money to hire a high powered attorney, she put all her hopes into getting the attention of an organization called Innocence X. She wrote them letters every single week begging them to take on her father’s case, but it seemed her letters must have been getting lost in the maelstrom of letters coming from other families with the same hope. And then, something even worse happened… Her brother, Jamal, is suddenly accused of the murder of a white girl. Instead of continuing his running career at college the following year, Jamal suddenly finds himself running from the law and running for his life. Will Tracy’s tenacity pay off now that she is trying to help her brother, or will she discover that it’s impossible to find true justice if you are black and living in a racist Texas town?
I have said it before, and I will say it again. #BlackLivesMatter. Right now, we are seeing a huge surge in protests over violence and systemic racism against black people. I am so happy to see that white allies in all 50 states and in many nations around the world are stepping up and fighting alongside our black brothers and sisters to bring much needed reform to our so-called criminal justice system. There are a lot of lists of books and movies that are recommended for people who would like to better grasp the reality of American history and to understand the ways that the proliferation of systemic racism is still effecting black people today, and there is no doubt in my mind that this book will join them after it is released next month.
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!
As I was preparing to spend A LOT of time at home for #SocialDistancing purposes (because of #COVID19), I saw this book in the new YA section at my library and just knew I had to bring it home with me. Based on the cover art, I had a feeling it would not be super heavy and actually stress me out. Luckily, it seems I am pretty good at judging books by their covers! 😉 Though this book discusses potentially heavy topics like death, grief, and #MentalHealth, it handles them all in such a way that it manages to be lighthearted and often humerous.
Ever since his mom died in the line of duty in Iraq, Derrick has been prepping for the end of the world. He even saved up money from building decks all summer and built himself a shed/bunker in his backyard. Derrick is nearly ready, as he has filled his shelter with emergency supplies like food, first aid supplies, HAZMAT suits, and gas masks. And even though nobody else around him seems to believe that it’s coming, Derrick just *knows* it will be happening soon — on September 21st, to be exact. Not only does he have a gut feeling, but he’s been following special apocalypse preparation websites (like a blog/app called “Apocalypse Soon!”). Derrick’s dad has tried bringing him to a therapist, but it isn’t like therapy can halt the apocalypse, so he didn’t see the point.
The closer it gets to the end, the more Derrick is having trouble controlling his feelings of panick and desperation. His dad pretty much ignores his weird behaviors, and his older sister Claudia doesn’t really know how to help either. His best friends, Tommy and Brock, don’t really get it and just want to hang out and play sports or video games while Derrick is certain that they are only wasting time he needs to use more wisely to be ready. The only person who seems to be willing to help is Derrick’s neighbor Misty, who has been out of school for the last year with a life-threatening medical problem of her own. Derrick isn’t sure why Misty was out of school last year, but he is glad that she seems to be doing better and that, while she doesn’t necessarily believe that the end of the world is coming, she is willing to help him get his shelter ready. But… What will happen once it’s ready?
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.
Although this book was only published about a month ago, it has already received a Listening Library Earphone Award for the full cast audio recording. And I am going to assume that there are all sort of awards that just haven’t been given yet, because Sepetys has received over 40 awards for her other books, like Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea. Set in Madrid in 1957, this books tells the true story of Spain under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. After the Spanish Civil War, many Spainiards were living in both poverty and fear, especially those whose family members had been outed as Republicans, aka Reds. The American tourists either turned a blind eye or simply didn’t even notice the disparity between their lavish lifestyle, full of parties and shopping sprees, and the abject poverty and subsistence living of the locals.
Daniel Matheson traveled to Spain with his parents; his father, who was a Texas oil tycoon hoping to make a deal with Franco, and his mother, who had grown up in Spain and wanted to visit her home country. Daniel, a photographer and aspiring photojournalist, hoped he might use this opportunity to get some photos that could help with a contest entry. Though his mother supported his love of photography, his father refused to pay for journalism school and insisted that he go to business school instead. If he won this contest, though, he could win enough money to attend j school without his father’s help. Little did Daniel know the opportunities he would find…
Once again, Sepetys has taken a time and place in history that oft goes neglected in US history classes and written a novel that will stick with readers far better than any simple lesson. Interspersed with vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more, this book is sure to both educate and entertain.
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.
Freya is an up-and-coming [teenaged] singer who has inexplicably lost her ability to sing. Harun is a young Muslim man who thinks he may have just lost the love of his life due to his resistance to “come out” to his family and date James openly. And Nathaniel is a guy who has just arrived in Manhattan with only a backpack, a small amount of money, and a desperate plan. Three very different people, with very different baggage, but seemingly fated to come together. You may be wondering, “Why does it seem these three were ‘fated’ to come together?” Well… While it may seem a bit cliche, Freya literally *fell* into Harun’s and Nathaniel’s lives when she tripped off a pedestrian bridge in Central Park and landed on top of Nathaniel. And though he was not directly involved in the accident, Harun seemed to believe that his unhappiness and wish that other people would suffer like him caused the accident. Feeling guilt over his possible role in things, he went over to help before he suddenly recognized Freya — the singer from YouTube whom James watched obsessively. James would always daydream about someday meeting Freya and professing to be her biggest fan, so Harun took it as a sign… Maybe he could get James back afterall!
Though the story alternates between characters and travels back and forth between the past and present, I didn’t find it the least bit confusing. Gayle Forman has a way of bringing her characters to life and making them relatable despite their unique backgrounds and characteristics, which is incredibly helpful in fostering empathy and/or the sense that one is not alone in a particular struggle. I think my favorite thing about Gayle Forman’s writing/books, nevertheless, is how even the saddest of storylines have a thread of hope woven throughout. It’s almost as if she is reaching out from her books to assure her readers that they, too, can overcome the obstacles in their lives with enough hope, grit, determination, and love.
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.