Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

May 5, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: A List of Cages by Robin RoeA List of Cages by Robin Roe
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 10, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (two of Adam’s friends are black)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (Adam has ADHD)
Intersectionality: 0 (though Julian is viciously abused by his uncle and both he and Adam develop PTSD later on, it doesn’t quite fit as disability rep)

I still do my best to avoid YA books with male narrators simply because books written by and/or about guys often get the most marketing and the most awards buzz. See: John Green, Andrew Smith, Jeff Zentner, Jay Kristoff, Pierce Brown. Even though YA is dominated by women, it’s still the men who reap the most benefits because that’s how systemic sexism rolls. Naturally, I’m not worried about giving those guys unpaid, labor-intensive marketing via my reviews and try to focus on the girls and women of YA instead. Well, A List of Cages mixes it up a bit with a female author and two male narrators. It’s… good. Misery Lit to the highest degree, but good.

Read more »

Divider

Review: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel

May 4, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Lucky Girl by Amanda MacielLucky Girl by Amanda Maciel
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 25, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-stars
Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, sexual assault, and self-worth, from the author of the acclaimed novel Tease. Perfect for readers of Sara Zarr and Courtney Summers.

Being a pretty girl is who Rosie is, but it’s the start of a new school year and she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to move on. Plus someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who recently garnered public attention after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never really experienced for a boy before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty.

Then one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, Rosie suffers an assault that tears apart her life and friendship with Maddie. Forced to face uncomfortable truths about beauty, reputation, and what it really means to be a friend, Rosie realizes that change doesn’t always happen the way you want it to—every disaster has consequences. But with a lot of help and the right people around you, there might also be a way forward.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (there’s one black character who’s barely in the book)
QUILTBAG: 1 (Rosie’s other best friend Ryan is gay and he gets a cute football player boyfriend, but they just aren’t in the book much)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

What I remember best about Amanda Maciel’s debut novel Tease is that its ARC and hardcover had covers reflective enough that I could use them as mirrors! I did actually use my ARC to touch up my makeup once when I lost my compact mirror for a bit. Good times, y’all. I’m a complete glutton for books to do with sexual abuse/assault and Lucky Girl clearly falls in that category, so on my TBR it went! I must admit, this one stands out among the crowd with its characters and how it approaches the message. Read more »

Divider

Review: Antisocial by Jillian Blake

May 1, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Antisocial by Jillian BlakeAntisocial by Jillian Blake
Published by Delacorte Press on May 16, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Thriller
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-stars
Alexandria Prep is hacked in this exhilarating whodunit set in the age of social media and the cloud—Pretty Little Liars meets WikiLeaks.

Senior spring at Alexandria Prep was supposed to be for sleeping through class and partying with friends. But for Anna Soler, it’s going to be a lonely road. She’s just been dumped by her gorgeous basketball star boyfriend—with no explanation. Anna’s closest friends, the real ones she abandoned while dating him, are ignoring her. The endearing boy she’s always had a complicated friendship with is almost too sympathetic.

But suddenly Anna isn’t the only one whose life has been upended. Someone is determined to knock the kings and queens of the school off their thrones: one by one, their phones get hacked and their personal messages and photos are leaked. At first it’s funny—people love watching the dirty private lives of those they envy become all too public.

Then the hacks escalate. Dark secrets are exposed, and lives are shattered. Chaos erupts at school. As Anna tries to save those she cares about most and to protect her own secrets, she begins to understand the reality of our always-connected lives:

Sometimes we share too much.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Anna is half-Columbian; her best friend Radhika is Indian and Rad’s boyfriend Andrew is Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 1 (quite a few characters get outed as gay by the leaks, but only one has any major role)
Disability: 3 (Anna has social anxiety disorder and her ex has OCD/anxiety too)
Intersectionality: 3 (Anna is pretty well-written and I’m happy to see all three categories above represented)

In my book, it’s always time for a YA thriller. Putting together the pieces of a mystery, trying to solve it just before or at the same time as the main character, watching everything get worse and worse right up to the climactic scene,… Maybe I’m a bit cruel, but as often as I read YA contemporary novels, YA thrillers and mysteries are a bit above them in my heart. Antisocial is a pretty good one with plenty of representation across the board and its realistic stakes will chill just about every reader.

I’ve always tried to be my best self online, but even I’m terrified at the idea of all my texts, emails, etc. being leaked online. Whether it would expose someone’s two-faced ways or provides enough evidence that they could be successfully convicted of a felony, everyone has something to fear if their name gets attached to their anonymous or private online shenanigans. Anna’s fear: the friends who are just barely starting to accept her back after she abandoned them for her boyfriend will learn how she insulted all of them when talking to him.

Antisocial is a tiny little book at 256 pages and perfectly paced so you’ll feel compelled to read it all in one sitting. In particular, Anna is an incredible character Latin@ and anxiety disorder-ridden readers hungry for representation will love. She’s half-Columbian, has social anxiety disorder, and had a stint in a group home, but she’s still determined to find out who’s leaking students’ online histories, which were gathered via an app the school required students to download. Turned out the app was gathering all their data and storing it and then someone found a hackable hole! Oops.

Even when her ex-boyfriend’s data gets leaked and she finds out how easily he dumped her when he wrecked her with the break-up, she still wants to help him. He has a form of OCD (pretty respectful and nonstereotypical, at that!) and they shared a kinship over their anxieties. No matter how much he hurt her, she’d rather do what’s right than revel in his humiliation. If I explained my history with an ex-friend, you’d quickly learn I wouldn’t be as good of a person in the same situation as Anna.

Too bad it has a lot of stereotypes and cliches going on among both the characters and the events. One twist of an event in particular toward the end of the book failed to make me feel anything at all when it was intended to be gut-wrenching. Honestly, it made me laugh and quote Heathers, which made fun of something very similar. It doesn’t ruin anything for either book or film to tell you I was giggling to myself and quoting “I LOVE MY DEAD GAY SON” as the twist’s aftermath played out.

My giggling was sandwiched between me groaning at how melodramatic and ridiculously corny the whole ending is. This is what Heathers was making fun of almost thirty years ago! Considering everything the data leaks caused at their school, trying to spin it as “everything will be sunshine and rainbows soon” makes me want to gag. You know who things won’t be okay for? The kid who made a podcast out of the leaks and delighted in it. He better change schools or he is screeeeeewed. No one’s gonna forgive him that easily for having fun with someone else’s humiliation.

All in all, Antisocial is a gripping thriller for the modern teen. Its ending may not have left me feeling anything other than mildly amused, but the core conceit of the story is what will make it memorable for readers and get the most praise. I’m excited to read more from Jillian Blake in the future and would recommend this for anyone whose hunger for thrillers still needs to be satiated or is in a bit of a reading slump. This tiny little thrill ride should cure you pretty easily!

Divider

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman

April 28, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 1 ★★

Review: Gemina by Amie KaufmanGemina by Amie Kaufman, Marie Lu (illustrator)
Published by Knopf BFYR on October 18, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Sci-fi
Pages: 672
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
two-stars
The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (side characters have surnames that indicate they’re POC, but none of them are important characters)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (Nik’s genius hacker cousin Ella has bad legs and needs help breathing after getting sick when she was younger)
Intersectionality: 0

To explain something a bit lengthy and complicated in a nutshell, “literary incubator” Paper Lantern Lit’s process operates like this: writers send in their writing samples, the company later contacts them if they have a project they think the writer is a good fit for, and the writer comes up with a chapter or two based on a 1-2 page summary of that project. If PLL likes what they read, the writer is hired to write a few more chapters and everyone works together on a proposal to submit to publishers. If that proposal sells, the writer gets paid to write the entire book.

What does all that have to do with Gemina or The Illuminae Files as a series? I think it would be much better than it is if it had been conceived through a PPL-like process. The person who has an idea for a book may not necessarily be the best person to write it and I’d say that’s the case with this series. The core worldbuilding and events are phenomenal, but everything else is so, so bad. Read more »

Divider

Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser

April 21, 2017 Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie HouserGirl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser
Published by HarperCollins on March 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Perfect for aspiring coders everywhere, Girl Code is the story of two teenage tech phenoms who met at Girls Who Code summer camp, teamed up to create a viral video game, and ended up becoming world famous. The book also includes bonus content to help you get started coding!

Fans of funny and inspiring books like Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular and Caroline Paul’s Gutsy Girl will love hearing about Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser’s journey from average teens to powerhouses. Through the success of their video game, Andy and Sophie got unprecedented access to some of the biggest start-ups and tech companies, and now they’re sharing what they’ve seen. Their video game and their commitment to inspiring young women have been covered by the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, CNN, Teen Vogue, Jezebel, the Today show, and many more.

Get ready for an inside look at the tech industry, the true power of coding, and some of the amazing women who are shaping the world. Andy and Sophie reveal not only what they’ve learned about opportunities in science and technology but also the true value of discovering your own voice and creativity.

If you can’t tell by the sad self-designed blog graphics, I kinda like Photoshop, digital design in general, and web design. I took web and digital design classes in high school, but the web design class kinda devolved into a business class once the teacher left to teach math and her husband took over. We didn’t learn much about websites and coding after that.

Thankfully, Gonzales and Houser didn’t have teachers like that and were able to create the fabulous little game that is Tampon Run. Girl Code is Gonzales and Houser taking us through how the game came about and the aftermath of their viral fame. Whether you’re a STEM girl or firmly on the English/History team like I am, these girls are pretty inspiring!

The linear structure of Girl Code tracks their journey from everygirls to viral stars from start to finish to epilogue: Sophie got into coding to get over her anxiety about speaking and find a new language in which to express herself; Andy was interested in coding from a young age and took it as one of her interests even while listening to her Filipino family’s “doctor, lawyer, engineer” motto for her future. Their paths collided when they attended the same Girls Who Code summer program in the summer of 2014 and decided to partner up for their final project.

Beyond informing me that the incredible original title of Tampon Run was Texas Tampon Massacre and the game was inspired by a Huffington Post article about an abortion vote, the girls take you step-by-step through how it came together as though they’d kept very precise diaries about the process. (To be fair, Sophie did. She keeps a personal diary.) Even when the tech talk got more advanced than rudimentary little me could understand, I stuck to it. Anyone without knowledge of coding games won’t be able to replicate their work very easily, but they’ll understand what the girls are doing and that’s the important part.

The game, once they decided to release the full product online, didn’t go viral solely by chance either. The girls smartly used social media to its fullest by tweeting the link out, posting about the game on Reddit, etc. Marketing: it ain’t always fun, but you don’t get anywhere without it. Girl Code takes us through what it was like to be in the international spotlight and, even better, what they’ve done since those fifteen minutes of viral fame died down. Sophie is pursuing entrepreneurial paths to eventually create her own start-up and give back the same way people gave to her; Andy is sticking with coding.

Oh, and the girls explicitly call out the tech nightmare Gamergate movement as just a tiny, big-mouthed group of cyberbullies. 1000% AGREE, WOULD SCREAM INTO A MEGAPHONE.

In general, the book is very positive about the future of women in tech industries, but it doesn’t address the cultural issues so few women stay in STEM programs and later enter STEM professions. Y’know, rampant sexism and classmates who make them so miserable they bail. To be entirely fair, this wasn’t something I exected the book to address. If they’ve experienced that toxic tech atmosphere besides the cringeworthy radio interview they write about, they didn’t make mention of it or detail it at length.

My strongest criticism is reserved for the book’s prose. Though accessible, it’s also pretty rough and my thoughts wandered away from the text easily thanks to the basic “we did this, we did that, we felt like this” way the girls write. Nonfiction books can have engaging writing that goes beyond that and it’s clear Gonzales and Houser are not top-notch writers. Though it makes reading this short little book take a little longer, that’s still not a deal-breaker.

Gonzales and Houser’s incredible accomplishment and their determination to one day give back to women in STEM is inspiring and will make its readers want to go out and create after they read Girl Code. Video games, writing, paintings, a scholarly article about how this one historical figure was definitely gay–there are no limits on who this book will spark inspiration in. For instance, the original title Texas Tampon Massacre gave me an idea for a short story and I want to work as hard on that as the authors worked on their game.

Spring 2017 Bingo 8 Girl Code

Divider

Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day

April 20, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia DayThe Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
two-stars
Together is somewhere they long to be.

Ash Gupta has a life full of possibility. His senior year is going exactly as he’s always wanted-- he's admired by his peers, enjoying his classes and getting the kind of grades that his wealthy, immigrant parents expect. There's only one obstacle in Ash's path: Eden Moore—the senior most likely to become class valedictorian. How could this unpopular, sharp-tongued girl from the wrong side of the tracks stand in his way?

All Eden's ever wanted was a way out. Her perfect GPA should be enough to guarantee her a free ride to college -- and an exit from her trailer-park existence for good. The last thing she needs is a bitter rivalry with Ash, who wants a prized scholarship for his own selfish reasons. Or so she thinks. . . When Eden ends up working with Ash on a class project, she discovers that the two have more in common than either of them could have imagined. They’re both in pursuit of a dream -- one that feels within reach thanks to their new connection. But what does the future hold for two passionate souls from totally different worlds?

Diversity: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Ash and his family are Indian)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Eden’s babysitting charge Kurt is autistic; his rep is questionable)
Intersectionality: 1 (Eden’s family is dirt poor)

Ugh, I’ve been trying and failing to write this review for ages because The Possibility of Somewhere is just so unremarkable. I’m not even gonna put in a “read more” cut for once because this won’t take long to review.

Though all my initial review notes were negative, reading this novel at first made me feel nostalgic. For various reasons, it reminded me of the YA novel I queried to agents my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Eden is such an unmemorable character that I regularly forgot her name while reading the book, but her cruddy dad earned her my sympathies. Points for her having a good relationship with her stepmother too.

Also? Love that Ash’s “locker room talk” about Eden’s boobs was punished by the narrative. Specifically, punished via his four-year-old nephew telling Eden what he said and embarrassing him. It’s such an unorthodox way to see the sexualization of girls punished in fiction and I’m all for it in the future. Speak of people as though they will eventually know what you said!

Then the book got boring. For being just over 300 pages, The Possibility of Somewhere felt so, so much longer and it should have ended earlier. The last chapter should have been dropped altogether for being unnecessary and ending the book far too sweetly considering the events and the racism that emerges in the community once Eden and Ash’s relationship becomes known.

I’m also concerned about the autistic rep provided by Kurt, one of Eden’s babysitting charges. I don’t have autism or even the knowledge to judge whether Kurt’s disorder is accurately represented, but I’m concerned about his narrative use toward the end of the novel. When Eden needs to interview for a scholarship but still has to watch her charges, she takes Kurt into the interview with her. Inevitably, he wanders into the conversation and Eden uses him to illustrate to the scholarship committee that she’d use her scholarship to become a special education teacher and work closely with kids like him.

Wow, under 500 words for the first time in a while! Book was okay. I’m kinda hoping that last chapter got dropped between the ARC stage I read the book at and its finalized publication, but I’m not able to check right now. Wouldn’t recommend it, wouldn’t tell you not to read it.

Divider

Review: Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson

April 17, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Say No to the Bro by Kat HelgesonSay No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson
Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on May 2, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
two-stars
Ava’s plan for surviving senior year at her new school is simple: fly under the radar until graduation. No boys. No attachments. No drama. But all that goes out the window when she gets drafted into the Prom Bowl—a long-standing tradition where senior girls compete in challenges and are auctioned off as prom dates to the highest bidder.

Ava joins forces with star quarterback Mark Palmer to try and get herself out of the competition, but their best laid schemes lead to self-sabotage more than anything else. And to make matters worse, they both begin to realize that the Prom Bowl isn’t all fun and games. When one event spirals dangerously out of control, Ava and Mark must decide whether shutting down the Prom Bowl once and for all is worth the price of sacrificing their futures.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (minor character Kylie is black)
QUILTBAG: 1 (another minor character named Denise is dating a girl)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2 (Ava is a fat girl and losing weight is never part of the equation)

CHRIST ON A CRACKER, THIS BOOK MADE ME

SO

SO

ANGRY

BIGGEST TRIGGER WARNING IN HISTORY HERE: if you’re highly sensitive to sexism and sexual assault, this book is not for you and I will open the window for you to escape Scott Pilgrim-style before I dig into this quagmire of a book.

Okay, everyone out that wants to be out? Let’s get started. You’re gonna be here for a while.

I hope that bright book cover didn’t make you think this book was going to be a light read because it’s a fury-inducer the likes of which almost led to me giving the book no rating at all. There’s a lot of messed up stuff in here. It’s meant to be messed up, but then there are unintentionally messed up things going on too. Also, most of the book only happens because the two narrators refuse to communicate with one another.

Read more »

Divider