Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book Review: George by Alex Gino

Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

A note: While she's called George through most of the book, Melissa is the name she's chosen for herself, so that's what I'll use in this review. Please see: How to Talk About George at

Summary: Melissa knows she's a girl, even if the whole world seems to think she's a boy named George instead. She's scared to tell anybody - her mother, her brother, even her best friend - the truth that she knows in her heart. But when the chance to play Charlotte in Charlotte's Web comes her way, she realizes that this may be a way to be who she is.

First Impressions: This was so quietly sweet, and yet so comprehensive in how the world was enforcing gender on her. I keep getting the sniffles over it. I also loved how unexpected some of the reactions were.

Later On: The thing that kept running through my head was how thoroughly this is a children's book. Melissa is in the fourth grade. The class play is Charlotte's Web. There's little to no discussion of sexuality or attraction - it's this vague, misty thing that feels as far away as the moon. There's a little discussion of genitalia: she hates taking a bath and having to see "what's between her legs", and she talks briefly and vaguely about transitional surgeries and medication with her best friend. But Melissa is primarily and appropriately concerned with a child's world - her family, her friends, school woes, why nobody seems to know who she really is.

Her gender is a source of constant stress - not confusion. I think it's important to clarify that. She knows her own gender, even though everything from the bathroom pass to the play's casting call conspires to shout at her, boy boy BOY BOY BOY. It's this constant screaming that makes her miserable. When she gets the chance to be her real self, in public, with her loving and accepting best friend at her side, I swear that I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

I know that strictly because of the topic, this will be shelved in some YA sections. That's the wrong place for this book. This is a tender, beautiful, relatable book for children of all gender identities.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Interview with Alex Gino at School Library Journal

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Review: The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Title: The Taming of the Drew
Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Headed out to play Kate in a summer stock theatre's production of The Taming of the Shrew, Cass runs afoul of her very own Petruchio . . . who of course turns out to be playing Petruchio in the show. Drew is a persnickety know-it-all who's just begging for a setdown - and Cass is more than up for the challenge.

First Impressions: A cute but slight retelling of Taming of the Shrew. The ending came way too fast and I didn't quite believe it.

Later On: The more I think about this book, the more I'm coming down on the "meh" side. While Drew was pretty obnoxious at times, some of the pranks Cass played could have been genuinely dangerous, such as the one that irritated his extreme allergies. (As someone with allergy-related asthma, I got really worried that he was going to wind up in the hospital.) If I were a guy who'd been having a really awful summer and found out that one girl was behind my inability to sleep because of phantom noises, my clothes all being dyed pink, and other annoyances, I wouldn't be kissing her at the end.

At least some of that emotion is probably my feelings about the source material, which with its themes of emotional and physical abuse, is one of the Shakespeare plays that make modern audiences very uncomfortable. There's some attempt to examine the complexities of putting on the play in a time of wildly different gender roles, but Strohm mostly abandons that in order to uncomplicatedly replicate the original with a gender reversal.

Still, the summer stock theater tropes (wacko director, varying stereotypes of actors) are pretty funny and Cass does have an encounter with fame that forces her to rethink who and what is worth being attracted to. If you can switch off your brain and your nitpick engine (not my strength, obviously), you could probably enjoy this novel.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, September 17, 2016

First Impressions: Where You'll Find Me, March Book 1, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Title: Where You'll Find Me
Author: Natasha Friend
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley
Summary: After her mother's suicide attempt, Anna winds up living with her father and her brand-new stepmother. She's determined to hate it (among other things, her father left her mother to be with her stepmother) but she soon finds that things aren't uniformly awful in her father's house.
First Impressions: Gaaaaaaaaah this was honest and tough. I liked the stepmother, Marnie, a whole lot more than I expected to.

Title: March Book 1
Author: John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin
Published: 2013
Source: Public Library
Summary: The civil rights leader and congressman's early life and first forays into peaceful demonstration, presented in graphic novel format.
First Impressions: Interesting to see the intra-movement divisions of the mid-century civil rights movement as well as the intensive training they went through in order to hold to their credo of non-violence.

Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author: Melissa Keil, comic sections by Mike Lawrence
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: A dot on the map in Australia is supposed to be the last holdout of humanity when the apocoalypse hits on New Year's Day, or so says a sketchy TV psychic. Alba watches with her friends as hippies and doomsday believers flood to their tiny town. At the same time, she tries not to brood about the end of high school and the beginning of her adult life, and the changes and separations that will inevitably go with it.
First Impressions: Awww, this was sweet. It felt realistic especially set on the end-of-the-world backdrop because it did feel like her world was ending.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Title: Two Summers
Author: Aimee Friedman
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: It all comes down to a phone call at the airport gate. In one universe, Summer answers it, and discovers that her unreliable father has putzed out once again, and she shouldn't board the plane to France to spend the summer with him. Unwilling to face the idea of another boring summer at home, she takes a photography class with her aunt, sees her relationship with her best friend undergo some strain, and reconnects with an old crush.

In another universe, she ignores the phone call and gets to France, looking forward to a summer of quaint villages, beautiful scenery, and her father's art. When she arrives, jet-lagged and miserable, she discovers that her father has flitted off to Berlin for several weeks. She's forced to stay with her father's business partner, Juliette, and her unfriendly daughter.

In both universes, she spends a summer of self-discovery, including truths both painful and beautiful.

First Impressions: Hmm. The interesting part was that she changed in the same ways whether she went to France or not.

Later On: I saw the twist regarding the business partner and her daughter's true identity a long way off, given what we knew of the father. I wasn't terribly surprised but I was pleased with the honest (and not entirely mature) reaction to it from almost all participants.

The French boyfriend was so amazingly charming and attractive and perfect that he bordered on smarmy, and I was waiting for him to do something scuzzy. When she dumped him without much of a second thought and went back home, I was relieved that she wouldn't be pining.

Overall, this book is a funny mix of Deep Thoughts, Life Changes, and fluff. Summer is changing drastically, coming out of her rather unpleasant mid-teen self into a person who actually has interests and compassion outside her very small world. But it's also a lot of wish fulfillment. It was a fun, quick read and might be just what you're looking for.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Book Review: The Star Touched Queen

Title: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Scorned and overlooked in her father's court because of her inauspicious horoscope at birth, Maya is set to be married off for political gain. Then Amar sweeps her away to his mysterious castle, full of magic and secrets and traps for the unwary. And Maya is very unwary.

First Impressions: Very atmospheric South Asian retelling of Cupid and Psyche.

Later On: I fell in love with the first part, which felt as if it had a lot of setup (a tense political situation, Maya's father, evil horoscopes, awful aunties, her mysterious mother, her relationship with a beloved sister) for things that ultimately never played out fully, or played out on the sidelines of the rest of the book.

After Amar married her and took her away, it all started to feel quite standard fantasy stuff, dressed up with a lot of magical and exotic-to-me surroundings but ultimately nothing I haven't seen before. If I had to grade the two sections separately, I would call the first part a 10 and the rest of it a 7 or an 8 . . . still pretty good but not quite keeping up.

On the strength of that first section, I'll be watching out for more of Chokshi's writing, in hopes that she can sustain it through the whole story next time.

More: Waking Brain Cells

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Book Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

Title: Down With the Shine
Author: Kate Karyus Quinn
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Lennie's uncles are moonshiners. Scandalous, but in an everyday way. That's what she thinks anyway. But when she steals a case of the family product for a party, in hopes of purchasing a little popularity, she finds out differently. Turns out that the quaint toast her uncles repeat every time they sell to a customer isn't just a quaint toast after all. It's the ritual for granting wishes, a gift that's passed down through the family.

And because the wishes of drunken teenagers are about what you'd expect (for her to love me, to be taller, to be more athletic, to turn everything I touch into Cheetos) they come true in nightmarish fashion. Now it's up to her and the brother of her dead best friend to find some way to reverse these wishes before it gets any worse.

First Impressions: This was kind of a mess. An enjoyable mess, but a mess.

Later On: This book was positively overstuffed. Murdered best friend, serial killer father, magical moonshine uncles, wishes with horrifying consequences. Any one of these could have been their own book. Jumbled together like this, they were just a mishmash of plot points for Lennie to ping-pong between. It still could have worked if the different threads had woven together well, but as it was, they just sort of trundled along concurrently.

SPOILER The time-rewind ending was sort of a cop-out, but also a relief because things had fallen apart so spectacularly that it was the only chance for any kind of decent ending.SSPOILER 

Finally, I have to say something about Dylan, Lennie's murdered best friend who gets brought back to life by the wishes. I honestly couldn't figure out why they were such good friends. Dylan was so selfish and unpleasant when she returned from the grave that I didn't know why they hadn't left her there, and given that the tragedy of her gruesome murder underpinned so many of Lennie's other relationships with her peers, it weakened the book for me.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Book Review: Nightstruck by Jenna Black

Title: Nightstruck
Author: Jenna Black
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When Becket follows a baby's cry into a dark alley, she unwittingly looses demons on Philadelphia. Things get grimmer and grimmer for her and for her city until finally her own best friend is within their grasp. Is it possible Becket is the only one who can end this?

First Impressions: Why do I keep requesting horror books. Whyyyyyy. And the ending was a pointless cliffhanger.

Later On: This started very promisingly, but Beckett spent most of the book in a puddle of helplessness, punctuated by moments of horrific gore. And the pointless cliffhanger ending just made me furious, since we arrived at the cliff because Becket was so busy dithering. Still, if you love blood-splashing horror, you might as well give this a try.

More: Kirkus