Genre: YA Contemporary

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Review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

May 22, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Follow Me Back by A.V. GeigerFollow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on June 6, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary, YA Thriller
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
three-stars
Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts.

Diversity: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 3 (Tessa has severe agoraphobia and it’s written pretty well)
Intersectionality: 0

I’m all about social media-based books and non-romance boy band books. Kill the Boy Band was a favorite  of mine last year despite its fatphobia, but recent release #famous and Ali Novak’s The Heartbreakers failed me. As the first free read I’ve had in months, I chose Follow Me Back. It’s always time for a thriller and the social media aspect was just the icing on the cake! Though it isn’t told entirely through tweets, DMs, and police reports as the jacket copy implies, Follow Me Back was a solid read. Then the ending happened and it went bad.

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Review: Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

May 11, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Unbecoming by Jenny DownhamUnbecoming by Jenny Downham
Published by David Fickling Books on February 23, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
five-stars
Three women. Three generations. Three secrets.

Katie's life is falling apart: her best friend thinks she's a freak, her mother, Caroline, controls every aspect of her life, and her estranged grandmother, Mary, appears as if out of nowhere. Mary has dementia and needs lots of care, and when Katie starts putting together Mary's life story, secrets and lies are uncovered: Mary's illegitimate baby, her zest for life and freedom and men; the way she lived her life to the full yet suffered huge sacrifices along the way. As the relationship between Mary and Caroline is explored, Katie begins to understand her own mother's behavior, and from that insight, the terrors about her sexuality, her future, and her younger brother are all put into perspective.

Funny, sad, honest, and wise, this powerful multigenerational novel from international bestseller Jenny Downham celebrates life like no book before.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 4 (Katie is a lesbian and her arc is written so, so well)
Disability: 3 (Katie’s little brother Chris has an unspecified developmental disability; Mary has Alzheimer’s)
Intersectionality: 1

Early on in my time as a book blogger, I read You Against Me and fell in love with it. The characters were vivid, the story engrossing and complicated, and I was genuinely amazed to look at my shelves and see I don’t have my own copy of it. (That will be fixed shortly.) You’d think I’d be excited for Unbecoming, but you’d be surprised. It’s unfortuantely common that I read a book by an author, love it, and then feel indifferent to or dislike the next book I read from them. Even though it’s absolutely not a betrayal for that to happen, it can sure feel like one sometimes.

Reader, Jenny Downham did not betray me. Read more »

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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.

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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 »

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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!

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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.

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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.

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