Publisher: HarperCollins

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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: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon ThomasLong May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas
Published by HarperTeen on February 21, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
four-stars
The Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power.

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 4 (Freya has panic attacks and Madeleine has depression)
Intersectionality: 3 (Freya has to confront the massive economic class gap created by her greedy predecessors)

Really, I think I’ve made it clear that Thomas’s Wicked Thing duology, a Sleeping Beauty retelling that doesn’t skimp on the dragons, was my thing thanks to its character-driven first book and defiance of typical fantasy tropes. Of course I was going to read Long May She Reign! And ooooooh, it was just as good as I was expecting. You know that Beyonce gif from one of her songs that has her singing “Who run the world? GIRLS!” with an explosion happening behind her? Pretty much Long May She Reign in a nutshell.

Read more »

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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: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

June 23, 2017 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi MeadowsMy Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows
Series: Lady Janies #1
Published by HarperTeen on June 7, 2016
Genres: Comedy, YA, YA Fantasy, YA Historical
Pages: 512
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
three-stars
Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

I like Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly trilogy. I like Brodi Ashton’s Everneath trilogy. Jodi Meadows’s books… Well, I gave two of them a try and they weren’t for me, which happens sometimes. But this collaborative effort still got my attention with its magical take on history. Not even gonna bother with a “read more” cut because this review is gonna be that short.

My Lady Jane is a quick read despite its size and entertaining for as long as you’re reading it. Even if I didn’t feel pressured to finish it quickly because it was due back at the library soon, I think I would have devoured it in short order anyway. Every now and then, it even elicits a giggle!

Even as I say that, the book isn’t particularly engaging or remarkable. I had no attachment to the characters or what was happening to them because they were fairly flat. Edward is the one who gets the most development and he’s still not that interesting to begin with. Even Bess, Edward’s sister whose main character trait is being nice and on her brother’s side, couldn’t get me to cheer for her. Maybe that’s because I recalled the Atlantic slave trade blossomed during her rule as Queen Elizabeth I?

So why did I keep reading if that’s how I felt about it? Reader, not even I can answer that question.

The Eðian/non-Eðian conflict–basically people-people versus animal-people–was a poor metaphor for the Anglican/Roman Catholic tensions that divided England in the mid-1500s. The book is clear about its disregard for the history we know, but in this case, actual history and its context is of much greater interest than its oversimplified metaphor. With the conflict softened thusly, it doesn’t really get why the tensions were so fierce and can’t translate it into the metaphor. Everything falls apart.

Speaking of softening things, the humor felt much more middle grade-level than YA. Most of the moments that got me laughing were actually references to other media–and references aren’t jokes in and of themselves. There’s one to Game of Thrones‘s Red Wedding, another to Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and plenty more. That’s all well and good, but references still aren’t jokes on their own!

Honestly, I disliked Ashton and Hand’s most recent books, Diplomatic Immunity and The Last Time We Say Goodbye (respectively). Is it possible I’m growing out of two of my favorite paranormal YA authors like I grew out of the Twilight books as a younger teen?! Say it ain’t so! But regardless of everything I just criticized about the book, I did give it three stars. For all its flaws, My Lady Jane is very readable fluff and a good way to get your mind off the troubles of modern times.

Summer 17 Bingo 5 My Lady Jane

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Review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

June 13, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca ZappiaEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Published by Greenwillow on May 30, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
five-stars
Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Wallace’s stepmom and half-sister are black)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 5 (Eliza and Wallace are both living with anxiety disorders)
Intersectionality: 3

A couple of years ago, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell came out and everyone loved it and I thought it was pretty awful, honestly. That the fictional fandom in the book got its own massive book last year mystifies me. But Eliza and Her Monsters? Yeah, I’d pay good money to enjoy the entirety of the fictional webcomic since it’s an original story all its own rather than the barely-even-veiled Harry Potter fanfic that Carry On was. Since Zappia’s debut novel Made You Up merely whelmed me, I wasn’t expecting Eliza and Her Monsters to knock me off my feet the way it did.

Read more »

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Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

May 8, 2017 Reviews 1 ★★★½

Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah PragerQueer, There, and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
Published by HarperCollins on May 23, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
This first-ever LGBTQ history book for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like  Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 22 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

As a queer chick, I think I’m qualified to say that queer people rock. We write your literature (Oscar Wilde), we start modern civil rights movements (Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson), and we’ve been so overwhelmingly present in the military that in 1947, General Eisenhower found out lesbians were everywhere in the Women’s Army Corps and gave up on “ferreting them out” because he’d lose a lot of people. (No seriously.) Too bad he banned LGBT people from occupying federal government positions when he became president. Now queer teens have their own small history book detailing queer people in history! Well, kinda. 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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