Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Run by Kody Keplinger

Title: Run
Author: Kody Keplinger
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Born with severely limited vision, Agnes Atwood is even more protected than most girls in her tiny Southern town. Her parents barely let her step out the front door without someone to watch over her, usually her best friend, who seems to be using their friendship for Christian brownie points. As Agnes gets closer to graduation, she feels like she'll never escape, that she'll be Poor Agnes the Blind Girl forever.

Then she meets Bo.

Bo Dickinson of the Dickinsons, the infamous hellraising family that every tiny town seems to have. Bo swears, drinks, smokes, and sleeps around. But she's also the best friend Agnes will ever have, because she knows exactly what it's like to feel trapped, to yearn for escape, and to fear that the chance will never come.

But when it does, will their friendship survive?

First Impressions: This was incredibly touching, although I feel like I want to chew on the ending for awhile.

Later On: This book is told from two alternating viewpoints - Bo's, in the present, and Agnes', looking backward over the path of their friendship. I generally enjoy this because it's interesting to see the different perspectives. However, I felt like I got more into Agnes' head than Bo's, maybe because I spent so much time trying to work out what was going on during the night of their escape. Also maybe because Agnes' half of the story is slower-paced, and Agnes herself is more given to introspection. But both girls are compelling, flawed, and extraordinary friends to each other and no matter who was telling it, I didn't want to put it down.

SPOILER - what I want to chew on about the ending is that Bo and Agnes part ways. Agnes goes back home and Bo stays where she ends up. You have the sense that their friendship will never again be what it was, but it's not handled in a tragic way or an angry way. Rather, it's a friendship that both girls badly needed at the time, and that forced them both to learn and grow - which is not something that this kind of ending usually declares. SPOILER

More: Disability in Kidlit: The Beautiful Tragedy The author talks about the "beautiful tragedy" disability narrative. That was something I appreciated about this book, is that Agnes is nobody's inspirational disability story, and in fact chafes against a former BFF who just seems to be using her for Christian brownie points.
Teen Librarian Toolbox

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Book Review: Exit Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Title: Exit Pursued by a Bear
Author: E.K. Johnston
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: Hermione is determined to make this the best year ever for her cheerleading squad. At camp, she aims to crush the competition. But it's Hermione who gets crushed - by a faceless attacker who drugged her drink at the camp dance and raped her in the dark, leaving her to be discovered at the edge of the lake in the morning.

With little chance that her attacker will ever be brought to justice, Hermione now has to reassemble herself, to be more than "that girl who got raped", to deal with the horrible choices that come on the heels of her assault - and to find the strength to handle the fact that she'll never be the same again.

First Impressions: What kills me about this book was that she had just about everything on her side - support system, good parents, access to services, sympathetic cops - and it was still dreadful to an unholy degree.

Later On: I've read criticism that this rape story is too "easy," too convenient. The cops believe her, her parents support her, all but a few classmates are on her side. She even (spoiler) figures out whodunit by the end and we are left with the impression that justice will be done. Is this the experience of every raped person? Of course not. But does any of this cancel out that she was violated, that the choice was taken from her, and that she'll never be the same? Again: of course not.

Even with all her sturdy support systems, Hermione is still the one to bear the terrible weight of what was done to her. That's something that remains the same in every story. When we start to say that one rape is more valid than another is when we start to discount the heinousness of the act itself.

More: Not Acting My Age
By Singing Light
Waking Brain Cells

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

First Impressions: Defending Taylor, The Scourge, And I Darken

Title: Defending Taylor
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Kicked out of her ritzy private school, Taylor sees her mistakes splashed all over the front page just as her dad is running for re-election. Now she has to try to make her way in a new school, and try not to fall for her brother's friend Ezra, who has himself mysteriously dropped out of college.

First Impressions: While this was a valuable story about mistakes and working through them, I just kept thinking of how tremendously privileged these kids were. While they got a lot of flak from family for their screw-ups, they also kept getting second chances rarely provided to lower-class kids.

Title: The Scourge
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Ani and her best friend Weevil have been captured, tested positive for the dreaded Scourge, and sent to an island hospital colony. Even there, they're scorned for being River People, and given all the worst jobs.

But Ani is smart and savvy, and she knows something's not right. She's going to get herself and Weevil off this island and back home if it's the last thing she does.

First Impressions: So I saw (most) of the twists coming from a mile away, but that's because I know tropes. I think kids might get a little more shock out of it. And Ani was pretty awesome.

Title: And I Darken
Author: Kierstan White
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In 15th century Transylvania, Lada and Radu are the scorned children of a brutal king - Lada for her gender, Radu for his gentleness. Sent away to the Ottoman Empire as hostages to their father's good behavior, they grow up alongside the captivating Mehmed, the crown prince. As they do, they both find their way into their own identities.

But they'll never stop trying to prove themselves - to their father, to each other, and to themselves.

First Impressions: Very sprawling and epic in scope but it slowed down hard toward the end. Although this is the first in a series, I don't think I'll keep reading it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: All the Feels by Danika Stone

Title: All the Feels
Author: Danika Stone
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Liv, Starveil fangirl extraordinaire, is devastated. Her favorite character died at the end of the most recent movie, and her life is over. But she's not going to take this lying down. She enlists her best friend Xander's help and launches a campaign to bring Captain Tom Spartan back. To her delight, she sees it balloon into an online phenomenon that might actually succeed.

In real life, though, her mother wants her to drop all this silly fan stuff and focus on real world questions, like what's she actually going to do with her life. But Liv has no idea. Isn't there a way to just do what she loves?

First Impressions: Definitely saw Xander coming a mile away. I liked the examination of fandom, of its emotional importance, and that counter to her mother's disdain, it brought her something concrete in the end.

Later On: As someone who's been around various fandoms for years, and has actually had good things come of it professionally, I appreciated the respect and realism in this novel's portrayal of fandom, as well as the broad range of creative fanworks and the part that social media plays in connecting fans to each other.

You also see the other side - besides her mother's disapproval, Liv gets sexually harassed at a con, is shocked to see that some of her online friends are way different than she pictured them, and even gets yelled at by the very actor she's trying to revive.

I was worried that Liv was going to realize she was using fandom as an emotional crutch and discard it for the "real world." Part of her emotional attachment to the movies dates back to her dead father, after all. But the novel is clear that she's also built more out of it. She's taught herself to edit videos, built an online network, and started a grassroots campaign.

To my relief, she never discards fandom wholesale. She learns more about it, but it's woven through her learning more about herself, about what she wants and how people work. (Including the sweet, light-handed romance between her and Xander.)

As she starts to see her beloved movies (and the actors in them) as products of an industry, she sees how the skills she's honed as a fan creator can support an adult career in that industry, without sacrificing her enthusiasm for the created world.

More: Teen Librarian Toolbox

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

Title: The Cresswell Plot
Author: Eliza Wass
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: They are the weirdest family in town. Shut-ins with odd clothes and strange ideas, the the Cresswells know they are special, chosen by God, and will go directly to heaven when the end times come - which will be soon, their father assures them.

But waiting for the end times isn't good enough for Castella. She yearns to be normal, to act in plays, and hang out with people she's not related to. She may not get the chance.

As their father spirals further into his megalomaniac religious fervor, she and her siblings start to fear that instead of waiting for the end times, he's going to make them happen.

First Impressions: So that was weird, but not quite as weird as it really wanted to be, I feel.

Later On: I don't have a whole lot to say about this book, but the thing that made me most violently uncomfortable was the quasi-romance with her brother. Her brother. There's not even adoption, secret or otherwise, to maybe make this a little less icky, this is straight up DNA matching incestuous attraction. They've been told their whole lives that they're fated to marry each other in Heaven, so there's some family brainwashing at work, but it still icked me out so terribly that I kept reading for the moment when she started to break free of that. SPOILER: she never really did. Yiiiiiikes. SPOILER

Beside that, the plot was diffuse and meandering and I kept wondering what exactly was going on and where it was all headed and why so much of it felt like weird for weird's sake. The psychological barriers to escaping this messed-up family were well-done, I'll give you that. But . . . her brother!

More: Not Acting My Age

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Title: If I Was Your Girl
Author: Meredith Russo
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Amanda is moving to a new town - always traumatic for a high-schooler, but she has even more to worry about than most teenage girls. In this small, conservative town, her very life could be in danger if people discover she was originally named Andrew.

She's coming to live with her father after a terrible transphobic incident in her mom's hometown. Her dad wasn't nearly as supportive as her mom throughout her transition, so that will be weird. But at least nobody here knows who she used to be, and for Amanda, it's like the shackles falling off.

First Impressions: This was a fascinating look into the experience of living as a transgender girl. Some of it felt very wish-fulfillment but there were some wrenchingly honest moments too.

Later On: Like George (which, spoiler, I loved) this is a book about a trans character written by a trans person, and I'm told a trans model was used for the cover. Also like George, the value of this shows in Amanda's lived experience.

Like I said, a fair amount of her new life smacks of wish fulfillment. She easily acquires a crowd of popular, genuine friends and an adorable boyfriend, and (spoiler!) she gets named homecoming queen! However, it's not all sunshine and roses. In the brief flashbacks to Andrew's life, you can see her depression and despair, and her new life isn't absent of trauma and harassment once people learn about her past.

I also liked that the people around her, even the sympathetic ones, have realistic, complex emotions regarding her transition, but they aren't allowed to narratively overwhelm Amanda's own journey. This isn't a book about her parents' uncertainty over suddenly having a daughter instead of a son, or her boyfriend's conflicted feelings over the fact that she was once biologically male. While these all clearly impact her, this book is about Amanda finally, openly living life as the person she's always been.

More: Abby the Librarian
Not Acting My Age
Book Nut
Teen Librarian Toolbox

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

First Impressions: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame, The Darkest Hour, P.S. I Like You

Title: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame
Author: Jenn P Nguyen
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When good-girl Taylor wakes up in genial player Evan's bed with no memory of how she got there, she knows her reputation is ruined. The only option is to convince Evan to pretend to be her boyfriend for awhile. It'll salvage her reputation, give him a breather from his predatory ex, and then they'll break up with no hard feelings! Yeah, that always works out exactly as planned.

First Impressions: This was pretty fun, but there was a real "not like other girls" thing with Taylor that made me uncomfortable. It was really heavily implied that Evan had been hanging out with all the wrong girls (dirty nasty sex-having girls like his ex, who did everything but hum "Barracuda" every time she appeared on the page) and he just really needed a Good Girl to fall in love with. See? Uncomfortable.

Title: The Darkest Hour
Author: Caroline Tung
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: A few years ago, Lucie was a regular Franco-American girl, living her life and waiting for her brother to come home so they can escape their oppressive home life. Then her brother died, and she ran away to Paris to help the war effort any way she could. That turned out to be becoming a spy. But now she has to contend with deception and murky moral decisions at every turn - not only from the Nazis but also from the people she's working for.

First Impressions: The pacing was all off in this one. It felt like it should have been a couple of books, or like it started or ended in the wrong places. Just very confusing. I rarely advocate for something to be a trilogy or duology instead of a single title, but this might have benefited from being broken up in that way.

Title: P.S. I Like You
Author: Kasie West
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Lily Abbott is getting love letters every day in Chem class from a mystery correspondent. They write back and forth, sharing parts of themselves that they've never revealed to another living being. She's convinced they're from adorable, soulful Lucas. Just as long as they're not from her best friend's ex and snotty class clown, Cade. That would be horrifying! Right?

First Impressions: So it was pretty blindingly obvious who the letter writer was, but I like the way it played out. Kasie West does really enjoyable YA romantic comedy that unashamedly goes for the tropes and makes them mad fun instead of tired and stale.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Book Review: Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach

Title: Anything You Want
Author: Geoff Herbach
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Taco Keller thinks he's doing okay. Sure, his mom died last year and his dad is never around and his brother has a short temper and drinks too much. But Taco just knows every day is the best day of his life!

When his beloved girlfriend, Maggie, gets pregnant (they didn't use birth control because it was for recreational purposes), he greets this life-changing news with his customary optimism. He can do this! He'll get a job (maybe two) and he'll get excellent grades and also a role in the school play and he'll just be the best husband and father ever. It doesn't matter that Maggie is blowing hot and cold constantly, and that nobody thinks he can actually do this, and everyone is encouraging him and Maggie to give the baby up for adoption.

After all, every day is the best day of his life.

First Impressions: This kid was as dumb as a box of hair. At least he knew it, unlike everyone else.

Later On: One of the reasons I keep reading Geoff Herbach's books is for how real his teen male protagonists feel. (He doesn't do as well with his female characters - they all tend to default to Nice Lady or Crazy Lady in this one.) But there's a lot going on with Taco in particular.

His unflagging optimism both papers over and attempts to compensate for some real pain and uncertainty. The power of this novel is how he gradually comes to realize that he's really, really not ready to be a father, that Maggie's not ready to be a mother, and that he's not abandoning his child (as he feels himself abandoned) by allowing it to be put up for adoption, but instead giving the baby the best chance at life.

While I realize this is Taco's story, I truly wish that the narrative had gotten more into Maggie's head. She was presented as a mystical, confusing creature who makes whimsical decisions and changes her mind the next day. I could see her uncertainty and confusion and could guess at the pressures on her, but it's all filtered through Taco's perception of her. There also seemed to be very little closure with her at the end.

For its flaws with female characters, this is still a wrenching, funny, honest, emotional book. When I wasn't laughing, I was crying.

More: Ms Yingling Reads