Genre: YA

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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.
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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.

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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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Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

October 2, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. SánchezI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Published by Knopf BFYR on October 17, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley, YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-stars
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (almost everyone is Latinx, specifically Mexican/Mexican-American)
QUILTBAG: 1 (A gay character named Juanga is a minor character)
Disability: 4 (Julia attempts suicide, but it is only vaguely described and her recovery from depression is very therapy/medication-positive)
Intersectionality: 5 (Julia is overweight and her family is pretty darn poor)

Warning: book has a suicide attempt in it, but it goes without description until the final chapter. Even then, it’s only vaguely described.

First off, go read Latinx reviewers’ opinions and reviews of this book, especially if they’re Mexican/Mexican-American like Julia and her family. Boost their voices instead of white voices like mine. I’m reviewing I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter mostly because it’s something that’s right as a reviewer who requested the book, but I also want to say this book is good. There’s a reason it’s made the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature!

White people like me are unlikely to get this book or get much from it either. It’s just a fact because this book is for and about all the Latinx kids chafing in their households and family traditions but still in love their heritage and culture because identity is cimplicated. Some of what Julia lives with because it’s a Mexican thing or just something her mom Amá just does are downright abusive. Even after learning about what Amá went through and why she is the way she is, it’s hard to forgive her for the way she treated Julia. Insulting Julia to her face so many times! Good God!

Julia is an abrasive girl narrating a very character-driven book, so her personality will either make it or break it for readers. She’s also diagnosed with depression later in the book, adding dimension to portrayals of the disease. The mere word makes you think “sadness all the time,” but that isn’t always how you see it. Some people, like Julia, are constantly angry instead. There is no single way depression expresses itself and we can’t forget that. What’s undeniable above all is how well-written Julia is in her fury and familial claustrophobia.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is very pro-medication/therapy for dealing with mental illness too. I swear, I’m going to start a definitive list of books like these for teens because THERAPY AND MEDICATION THAT FIGHTS BACK AGAINST MENTAL ILLNESS IS GOOD. DON’T LET THE STEREOTYPES ABOUT THE TWO STOP YOU.

My one true sticking point comes when Julia insults someone’s hair by saying the woman has an “asexual mom haircut.” I don’t appreciate my sexuality or anyone else’s used as an insult! (Well, except for heteros because it doesn’t hurt anyone, participate in systemic discrimination, or happen all that often, which therefore makes it hilarious. See: white people jokes.)

My best friend is Latina with roots stretching from Mexico to Peru. Her first language was Spanish and she was downgraded from advanced classes in junior high to regular-level classes for the first half of high school because her eighth-grade English teacher didn’t think she spoke well enough to remain in advanced classes despite having excellent grades. Her relationship with her family as of late has also been very complicated.

If she were a fan of prose novels, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is THE book I’d hand to her. Something tells me she’d find a kindred spirit in Julia. I hope its place on the NBA longlist will help get it into the hands of more Latinx teens who need it! If you’re a white person like me, I hope you do your part to get this book to the readers it’s for. If you’re not, I doubt you needed me to tell you this book is worthwhile. You’re smart like that.

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Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

October 2, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda LoA Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
Published by Dutton Juvenile on October 17, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-stars
The line between best friend and something more is a line always crossed in the dark.

Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend. And that’s the most important thing, even if Angie can’t see how Jess truly feels. Being the girl no one quite notices is OK with Jess anyway. While nobody notices her, she’s free to watch everyone else. But when Angie begins to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can see it coming a mile away. Suddenly her powers of observation are more curse than gift.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess discovers more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets and cruelty lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world of wealth and privilege, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences.

When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

“It doesn’t even matter that she probably doesn’t understand how much she means to me. It’s purer this way. She can take whatever she wants from me, whenever she wants it, because I’m her best friend.”

A Line in the Dark is a story of love, loyalty, and murder.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Jess and her family are Chinese, as is Jess’s new friend Emily)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Jess, Angie, and Margot are all queer and none of them die)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3 (Whoo, queer girls everywhere!)

Fun fact: I have a copy of Ash signed and personalized by Malinda Lo, but it’s signed to someone named Whitney. I found it in a used bookstore and it is my precious. Anyway, a mysterious book starring queer girls and someone ending up dead? I’m always here for mysteries! Add queer girls everywhere and I’m on the hook just waiting to be pulled out of the lake.

And no, none of the queer girls end up dead. THE REPRESENTATION BAR HAS BEEN SET SO LOW THAT THIS ACTUALLY EXCITES ME. Gotta love the state of media, y’all.

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Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

September 28, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea SedotiThe Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 3, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
four-stars
Hawthorn wasn't trying to insert herself into a missing person's investigation. Or maybe she was. But that's only because Lizzie Lovett's disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don't happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she'll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie's disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously...at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie's life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie's boyfriend. After all, it's not as if he killed her-or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn's quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Lizzie had depression)
Intersectionality: 0

This book has a bright, frilly cover, right? All sunny yellow and flower petals. THAT COVER IS A LIE, READER. THIS IS A BLEAK, SAD BOOK. Readjust your expectations accordingly and then come back for it. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett isn’t a book you should skip just because it isn’t what you thought it would be! It managed to squeeze a few tears out of my desert-dry eyes and cold heart. Read more »

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