Publisher: Balzer + Bray

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Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

July 13, 2017 Diversity 5 0 ★★★★★

Review: American Street by Ibi ZoboiAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 14, 2017
Genres: Magical Realism, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
five-stars
The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Diversity Rating: 5 – Diverse as Fuck

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (the entire cast is black save Kasim, who’s Middle Eastern)
QUILTBAG: 4 (Princess is a lesbian)
Disability: 3 (Matant Jo recently had a stroke that’s caused some paralysis)
Intersectionality: 5 (also includes police violence, the difficulties of black girlhood and immigrant girlhood mixed, and so many more intersectional issues)

Back in the fall of 2015, I took a course called Literature by Women of Color, which was specifically focused on Caribbean authors thanks to the professor’s specialization in that field. It was one of the toughest courses I took in college because she demanded the best from my papers, but it was also one of the most rewarding for the same reason. I still own two of the four books we read in the course and I’d like personal copies of the other two.

What does American Street have to do with all that? It’s such an intelligent, gorgeously written book in touch with the modern immigrant’s experience that it would fit right into the course. If I weren’t such a coward, I’d email that professor and let her know about it if she didn’t already know. Maybe she could teach it in a future section or suggest it to students who are enthusiastic about the subject. Taking that class enriched this book for me and I think American Street would enrich the course too. Read more »

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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: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato

March 31, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages AmatoThe Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 21, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother's charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (love interest Nathan is black and his adoptive parents are Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Nathan’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s)
Intersectionality: 0

YA is not dumb no matter how many Jonathan Franzen-esque literary dweebs come out of the woodwork saying so. They claim it’s juvenile (no duh, it’s written FOR teens, who are classified as juveniles), simple, brainless fluff, or otherwise lesser than adult fiction. Quite frankly, they need to stop looking at their anuses and accept that different people like different things. The Hidden Memory of Objects is one of the smartest YA novels I’ve ever read, but it’s perhaps a little too smart for me.

If you want something like The Da Vinci Code with fewer conspiracy theories and gaping holes, this book is for you. Though it’s a contemporary YA novel, its plot spreads its roots deep in American history–specifically, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Before his death, Megan’s brother Tyler got obsessed with John Wilkes Booth and the assassination, seeing it as something of an inspiration because it seems Booth genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. What readers learn about the assassination from this book only barely goes beyond what we learn in history books, but it brings the night Lincoln was murdered to life.

Megan’s grief for her brother runs so deep in her that when she touches things that once belonged to Tyler–later any objects with an emotionally charged history–she can see the memories attached to it. For instance, she touches some small silver balls she found in Tyler’s room and sees when he stole those balls while in a senator’s office. Other charged items specifically related to Lincoln’s assassination dance in and out of the story, like the gun Booth shot Lincoln with and a scrap of the bloody dress of Clara Harris, a woman in the box with the Lincolns that night.

No solid explanation is offered for Megan’s sudden development of psychometry, creating confusion about exactly which genre the book might fall into. For magical realism, such things simply are, like footprints literally left on the heart of someone heartbroken. Psychometry on its own is typically classed as paranormal, but the theory Megan’s friend Eric proposes would take the novel into sci-fi territory a la X-Men. Its inability to fit comfortably in any of the three makes it difficult to recommend the book to the right reader.

But as smart as the book is, it’s also boring. Megan, her grief, and her dangerous dealings with historian Dr. Brightman inspired nothing in me. The only character who brought me to any emotion was Eric and he really just made me want to strangle him. You know the pixie type character Zooey Deschanel gets typecast as? The love interest in every John Green novel? Yeah, that’s Eric except he’s the best friend, not the love interest. Despite being a relatively short 336 pages, the novel felt almost endless.

Like I said earlier, it’s all very reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code but without any screams of HISTORICAL CONSPIRACY!!! coming from the pages. It’s a great read for teens who want an especially smart read. It may not have been my particular fancy, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile for another reader. Now if I could just figure out whether it’s trying to be magical realism, paranormal, or sci-fi for ease of making recommendations…

Spring 2017 Bingo 6 Hidden Memory of Objects

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Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

March 31, 2016 Diversity 4, Reviews 1 ★★★½

Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff GarvinSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Riley’s new friend Solo is Hispanic)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Riley is genderfluid, a friend’s sister is trans, lots of other trans, genderfluid, and genderqueer people)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3 (pretty good discussion of the intersections and complications of identity)

What, you thought I wouldn’t be all over this novel like a cat on a bag of catnip? It just took me a while to get around to reviewing is all. A very long while in my time.

First things first: major warning for sexual assault in this book! Read more »

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Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

November 13, 2015 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2015
Goodreads
three-stars
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Hannah is half-Dominican)
QUILTBAG: 1 (Hannah is a lesbian)
Disability: 1 (One of Amanda’s legs is shorter than the other and she has a special boot for that)
Intersectionality: 1 (See above for Hannah; Bo and Willowdean come from lower-class backgrounds)

Life as an English major who doesn’t enjoy reading works written before 1900 has been a four-year game of balancing my dislike of/indifference to a work and my recognition of the work’s literary value. I don’t come across YA novels that make me need to perform the same act very often, but Dumplin’ is one of those rare YA novels. It has a lot of value and yet I don’t give two hoots about it.

Read more »

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Review: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

June 19, 2015 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne BlankmanConspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #2
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 21, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Historical
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
three-stars
The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Daniel is Jewish, which is pretty important)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 4 (Daniel has problems with one arm after an attack in the first book)
Intersectionality: 2 (see above)

Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of my favorite novels of 2014 overall as well as (possibly) my favorite debut of the year. Its character-driven nature and choice of setting in a time we see explored so little in fiction clicked with me and had me on pins and needles waiting for its sequel to come out. Of course, it set the bar high, but I expected Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke to rise to challenge. Sadly, no. Much of what enchanted me in the first novel is missing from the second. Read more »

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Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

September 25, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★½

Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather DemetriosExquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios
Series: The Dark Caravan Cycle #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on October 7, 2014
Genres: YA Fantasy
Pages: 480
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
two-half-stars
Forced to obey her master.
Compelled to help her enemy.
Determined to free herself.

Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.

Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

Inspired by Arabian Nights, EXQUISITE CAPTIVE brings to life a deliciously seductive world where a wish can be a curse and shadows are sometimes safer than the light.

After the roundhouse kick to the feels that was Heather Demtrios’ YA contemporary debut novel Something Real, I was really looking forward to the first book in the Dark Caravan trilogy. Jinni lore with an evil sexy master, a revolutionary trying to overthrow the ruling class that is even worse than the ruling class that came before it, and the enslaved royal jinn trying to figure out how to free herself? It’s holding a lot of keys and all of them fit my heart. It is a solid novel, but it didn’t quite make it all the way into my heart. Read more »

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