A Word on My Diversity Ratings

November 28, 2017 Announcements 2

To keep this short, as starting my first-ever job has kept me heinously busy, I’m no longer going to be rating books on their diversity.

Thanks to Twitter’s not-always-great feature of showing you what tweets the people you follow liked, I saw one tweet from a reader who was cringing at someone’s diversity ratings in their book reviews. Checking out that tweet and seeing the reader elaborate on how the ratings were divided into QUILTBAG, racial-ethnic, disability, and intersectional representation made it hit that yeah, they were talking about me and my reviews.

A while back, I started using the diversity ratings in order to give readers a way to tell at a glance whether a book has representation present as well as whether that representation was good. It was meant to be a starting point, but I got complacent, never tried to evolve it, and it never occurred to me how much it hurt other marginalized people to see their identities reduced to quantitative data like that. It doesn’t matter that I was okay with it as an aromantic asexual woman with GAD and OCD. If it hurts another marginalized person, it’s not okay.

So that’s it. No more diversity ratings. I will find a better way to get the point (an at-a-glance tool denoting the presence and quality of marginalized representation) across without causing other people harm.

I offer both my deepest apologies and my deepest thanks to the lovely people on Twitter who were criticizing my diversity ratings. I mean it: never be afraid to tell me when I’m fucking up. I will listen to you and make improvements. (Unless you’re, say, the TERF that tried to comment on my recent review of Echo After Echo, but that’s different. TERFs are inherently wrong.)

The people remain unnamed and unlinked to protect them from harassment, but if you find them, don’t you fucking bother them or I will end you. If they give me the OK, that’s when I’ll name and/or link them. They are the readers, reviewers, and writers we need in YA.

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“Where Are You, Paige???”

November 2, 2017 Announcements, Links and Silliness 0

So, yeah. I haven’t been around for a bit, especially in October. What have I been doing to keep me from posting?

Not reading. Lately, I simply haven’t wanted to read. One of my current reads is one I started over a month ago. Hell, I’ve read so little lately that I genuinely have no reviews to write or publish at the moment other than one for a book that comes out in 2018. It’s waaaay too early to publish that review, so I’ve got no current content.

Looking for a job. Starting in June, I went through a mass hiring process for a company that was bringing a ton of jobs to my city. My drug test came back clear, I had all my documents in order, and they’ve been emailing me periodically since late July with updates as construction on their building was delayed by the seasonal rains and Hurricane Irma, among other things. In each form email, they assured me my job offer was still active and they would have a Hew Hire Orientation date for me soon.

I finally got a different email over a week ago saying they’d hired all the workers they planned to, but I was welcome to go through the mass hiring process again for a seasonal job at the warehouse. After months of being left hanging for a job I was assured I had, they cut me loose and I decided I would rather work somewhere else than go through that experience again.

Now I’m back to actively applying for jobs.

Gaming. Yeah, I haven’t been in a reading mood, but I’ve definitely been in a gaming mood in the lead-up Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon. I’ve replayed the Gen 6 Pokemon games, gone legendary-hunting with excellent results, and been tracking Pokemon news in addition to wasting a lot of time on Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It’s a really relaxing game and the daily shitstorm of politics courtesy of our illegitimately elected president/his spineless supporters in Congress mean I need to fucking relax.

Going to the doctor. October was my month of doctor visits. Saw my primary care physician, got blood draawn, saw the PCP again to get referrals to dermatology and psychiatry as well as some new meds to help with my sleep/OCD issues, and saw that dermatologist Monday. I got the official diagnosis of having cystic acne as well as a cyst on my earlobe, so now I’ve got more meds to treat those problems. If they don’t work, we’ve got other methods to try in 2018. I’ll be seeing the psychiatry people shortly to get stronger meds for my generalized anxiety disorder and hopefully work through some of my issues.

SO MANY DOCTOR VISITS. SO MANY NEW MEDS. I’VE BEEN ALL ASKEW ADJUSTING, Y’ALL.

Screaming about the latest Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon news. I MEAN COME ON, A SUPER TEAM MADE UP OF THE VILLAINS OF POKEMON GAMES PAST. I am literally writing fanfic about how Giovanni brought them together and informed them he’d be leading as well as calling their group Team Rainbow Rocket. It’s a name so utterly silly and lacking in gravitas that I just had to explore how the hell that happened. See this Twitter thread for some of it.

Screaming about everything, both good and bad. The Last Jedi. Arrests being made and charges being brought in the Trussia collusion investigation (I AM NOT CALLING THAT SHIT RUSSIAGATE). My cats being assholes and constantly picking fights because Nala is just a tiny ball of furry fury. My senator Marco Rubio and representative Ted Yoho being SUCH ENORMOUS GODDAMN PENISES I DEEPLY DISLIKE HAVING THEM REPRESENT ME IN CONGRESS. Literally everything Trump does because he makes the worst possible choice in every situation.

There’s a lot to scream about.

Well, that’s what I’ve been up to and will continue to be up to.

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Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

October 27, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose CapettaEcho After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta
Published by Candlewick Press on October 10, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-stars
Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Eli is Puerto Rican, Zara is culturally Jewish)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Eli is a lesbian, Zara is bi, and there are plenty of QUILTBAG side characters)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3

Much like we now own every rainbow in existence, queer people own the world of theater. We may not always be visible, but we’re definitely there. (I’m always in the audience. I may be ridiculously dramatic, but I can’t act in front of a crowd to save my life nor reliably work backstage.) If you’ve been waiting around for a theater book starring queer girls–because the gay guys who make up the G in QUILTBAG get almost all the queer rep–you’ve got that rep now in Echo After Echo and it is good.
Read more »

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Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

October 25, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi WientgeKarma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on August 15, 2017
Genres: MG Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Karma is Sikh through her father and turns to her faith to help her cope with being bullied)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2

They are truths universally acknowledged that middle school is terrible and body hair is annoying. I don’t actually have much of an issue with body hair, luckily. Armpit hair is so nonexistent it’s only a twice-a-year thing and my legs get taken care of every three months just so I don’t feel like bugs are constantly crawling on me. (I use hair-removal lotion due to the traumatic incident of me cutting open my pinkie toe with a razor when I was four.) Not here for that TMI? TOO BAD, THIS BOOK IS ALL ABOUT BODY HAIR. And also one adorable little girl named Karma whose best friend is dumping her for the new girl. Read more »

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Review: Now is Everything by Amy Giles

October 23, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ½

Review: Now is Everything by Amy GilesNow is Everything by Amy Giles
Published by HarperTeen on November 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
half-star
Now Is Everything is a stirring debut novel told in alternating THEN and NOW chapters, perfect for Sarah Dessen and Jennifer Niven fans, about what one girl is willing to do to protect her past, present, and future.

The McCauleys look perfect on the outside. But nothing is ever as it seems, and this family is hiding a dark secret.

Hadley McCauley will do anything to keep her sister safe from their father. But when Hadley’s forbidden relationship with Charlie Simmons deepens, the violence at home escalates, culminating in an explosive accident that will leave everyone changed.

When Hadley attempts to take her own life at the hospital post-accident, her friends, doctors, family, and the investigator on the case want to know why. Only Hadley knows what really happened that day, and she’s not talking.

Trigger warning: Now is Everything is about child abuse and also features a brief but graphic moment of self-harm via a suicide attempt.

Whoo, what a disappointment! Now is Everything had me excited to begin with, seeing as it opens with Hadley being pulled from the scene of a plane crash followed by pieces of interviews with her friends as investigators try to figure out what caused the crash. It doesn’t stay good for long. Instead, it devolves into a book flatter than the paper it’s written on.

The characters are flat enough to be described by their roles rather than who they actually are. Hadley is the Main Character, Charlie the Boyfriend, Meaghan and Noah the Best Friends (Noah is the Gay Best Friend specifically), Claudia is the Slutty Mean Girl, and so on.

Claudia’s characterization is especially appalling. I’ve gotten used to YA books that break down the boundaries of the trope and make sure the antagonistic role is filled by a more nuanced character readers can’t dismiss so easily as the Mean Girl. Meanwhile, we have Claudia, who very openly offers Hadley’s boyfriend a blow job while she’s drunk.

Our most noteworthy example of bad characterization actually comes from Lila, Hadley’s angelic, precocious ten-year-old sister. Lila exists not as a character but as a plot device, something precious for Hadley to protect from their abusive, controlling father. There’s nothing wrong with her, but there’s nothing right either. I was dealing with bullies and getting my first school referral at ten, but Lila doesn’t seem to have anything of her own going on! She’s just kinda there and cute.

There is some merit to the book as an exploration of parent-child physical and emotional abuse, but when other books can approach the same issue and actually draw you in with the skilled writing and deft characterization, why bother with this one?

After half the book, I started skipping the more plentiful “Then” chapters to read the “Now” and it didn’t feel like I was missing much. I gathered what was going on: increasing tension between Hadley and her abusive father, her mom not helping, her little sister Lila being a sweet angel she wanted to protect, her friends and boyfriend being around, etc. But then Hadley realizes that her father is planning to make Lila “shape up” into a proper daughter now that she’s ten years old–the same age at which he literally beat Hadley into the perfect lacrosse-playing, plane-flying child he wanted, breaking her bones until what came back together was to his liking.

She’s not going to let precocious little Lila go through the same hell she did.

Set-ups like this are literally what Battered Woman Syndrome is made of! It promises a glimpse at how far an abused person will go to save either themselves or their most precious person–in Hadley’s case, Lila–from their abuser. In fact, we do see Hadley make preparations to do what she has to in order to keep Lila safe from years of beatings and conditioning and the loss of the little girl sweetness Hadley loves her so much for.

But at this pivotal moment that offers the one point of moral complexity in the entire book, we lose it all. View Spoiler »

There are better books out there that cover similar topics to Now is Everything, like Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore. Though it covers abuse by a sibling and drug addiction rather than abuse by a parent and the ending is similarly disappointing, its characters are more complex and the book remains memorable even a year and a half later! Even “tragedy porn” books like A List of Cages by Robin Roe does it better thanks to vivid characterization and an ending unafraid of letting characters suffer long-lasting consequences! Reader, you can easily find books more worth your time than this one.

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Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

October 9, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin by Nic Stone
Published by Crown on October 17, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley, YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Blackness is centered through the novel by Jus’s own experience with police brutality and his friend’s death halfway through; his love interest Sarah Jane is Jewish)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (after being shot halfway through the book, a bunch of nerves in one of Justyce’s arms are messed up and he has to relearn use of the limb)
Intersectionality: 4 (covers a lot of what black boys and men face but neglects the black woman’s perspective)

First off, black teens’ opinions on Dear Martin are worth much more than mine and you should seek out their reviews first before bothering with my white woman opinion. Being that I am a white woman, this book isn’t for me and there are a lot of small cultural touchstones that I won’t get but that black teens will. Doesn’t make it any less brilliant! I wanted to flip through some quotes in my eARC before I wrote my review, but I ended up rereading the entire book.

Read more »

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Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

October 5, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 5 ★★★½

Review: Warcross by Marie LuWarcross by Marie Lu
Series: Warcross #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR on September 12, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Sci-fi
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-half-stars
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Emika is Chinese, Hideo is Japanese, Hammie is Latinx, Roshan is Indian)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 3 (Asher is paralyzed from the chest down; another disabled player is mentioned for all of once scene)
Intersectionality: 2 (Emika is living in poverty)

Marie Lu’s series starters have a funny thing with me. Legend was underwhelming, but I liked its series as a whole. The Young Elites had some fatal flaws, but its sequel The Rose Society is literally my next read. Needless to say I didn’t know what to expect from Warcross. Now I can say it’s Lu’s strongest novel yet, but it’s got some significant flaws too.

Emika Chen, a Warcross bounty hunter with a dead dad and a mom who left to move on to richer men, is broke, in need of rent money, and good at hacking. Her attempt to snatch a valuable power-up from a player in the all-star opening game of the Warcross championships gets her glitched into the game for the world to see instead. That’s how she ends up a hot topic across the globe with a $10 million job from the Warcross creator himself, Hideo Tanaka. Emika’s desperation to live comfortably rather than surviving on nothing is palpable and her character development is fantastic. A girl who has been on her own since she was eleven or twelve has to actually work with other people and let them in. Though such territory is familiar, it’s no less interesting or affecting for it.

Her love interest Hideo (whom I kept visualizing as Hideo Kojima because there’s only room for one gaming giant named Hideo) is similarly well-written. He presents himself to the world as a very serious, quiet twenty-one-year-old man, Emika’s peek into his Neurolink-recorded memories reveal an angry, pained man who keeps the sad reason for Neurolink and Warcross’s creation close to him. If you prefer your sci-fi with only light romance, Warcross and its prominent romantic subplot may not be for you.

Sadly, only Emika and Hideo get solid characterization. Supporting characters like Emika’s teammates Asher, Roshan, and Hammie exist more in the way of facts about them, like Asher being paralyzed from the waist down and Hammie and Roshan being Latinx and Indian, respectively. The games of Warcross themselves bored me, though they’ll translate well into visuals if a movie gets made. The pacing is uneven, moving the story along slowly at some points and lightning-fast at others. Emika’s two trips to the Dark World, the VR equivalent to the deep web/dark web, stand out as high points, as does the book’s ending.

And maybe it’s just me, but I’m really disappointed this rainbow-drenched book has no queer characters? The cover is rainbow and Emika’s rainbow-dyed hair is regularly mentioned, but we get no QUILTBAG rep whatsoever. QUEER PEOPLE OWN THE RAINBOW NOW, IT’S JUST A FACT. That’s why you find all-inclusive queer orgies at the end of rainbows now instead of pots of gold. (I know it’s implied Roshan and opposing team player Tremaine were once in a relationship, but I only deal in explicit, on-the-page-using-the-words representation, not implications and subtext.)

The fact remains that Marie Lu’s books are always fun despite their flaws. Warcross, in a nutshell, is an entertaining sci-fi adventure with a strong romantic subplot and a dystopic twist right at the end. She’s got me on the hook for another of her series and I don’t mind that one bit! An excellent book to pass some time with.

Fall 2017 Bingo Warcross

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