Publisher: Knopf BFYR

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Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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

Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYou're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published by Knopf BFYR on March 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-stars
A vibrant, edgy, fresh new YA voice for fans of More Happy Than Not and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, packed with interior graffiti.

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

Diversity: 3 –  Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Julia is Indian and so is her birth mother)
QUILTBAG: 3 (Julia has two moms who got her via sperm donor)
Disability: 4 (Julia and both of her moms are Deaf and Julia is explicit about the fact she’s not particularly good at reading lips)
Intersectionality: 2 (though I love the intersectionality present in Julia, the deep historical relationship between black culture and modern street art like graffiti goes untouched)

Illustrated YA books are my weakness and will always remains so. Though I lack any artistic ability, cruising art installations and museums and online collections makes me so, so happy. Words will always be my favorite, but being visually engaged by images as well as words? JACKPOT. Plus You’re Welcome, Universe featured a Deaf Indian protagonist and I’m here for that even if it isn’t #ownvoices. Meanwhile, it is pretty darn good.

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Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

November 27, 2015 Diversity 1, Reviews 4 ★★½

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Published by Knopf BFYR on October 20, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Horror, YA Sci-fi, YA Thriller
Pages: 608
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2015
Goodreads
two-half-stars
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Kady’s mentor is Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 0 (quick mention of one gay man with a husband and child on another planet)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

If you like YA novels and are on the Internet, it’s impossible to not have heard about Illuminae right now. It’s one of the most hyped YA novels in recent memory, is still climbing on the New York Times bestseller list and has been there since its debut, and is generally beloved by all for its brutality and readability. I can agree on the brutality and readability–Jesus, no one warned me this is horror in addition to sci-fi–but have to be the black sheep yet again. Read more »

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Review: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

March 28, 2014 Reviews 1

Review: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate HattemerThe Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
Published by Knopf BFYR on April 8, 2014
Genres: YA Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
one-star
Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art's Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art's Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It's up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they'll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.

Because the idea of framing is so important to this novel and my perception of it, I have a little framing of my own to do. I’m hungry for reality-TV-related novels like this one and Something Real by Heather Demetrios (a new favorite because good God, that is the horror people don’t see when it comes to reality TV). A couple of years ago, I read this nonfiction book Reality Bites Back by Jennifer Pozner, which goes through all the ways people are manipulated by reality TV and how this manipulation hampers social progress–and that’s just what it is simplified. It’s much more difficult to explain than that.

Coming in with that sort of experience, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy didn’t stand a chance once I got a few chapters in and realized what kind of book this is: a juvenile attempt at a devious system so complex it’s almost sublime in how it has become so successful and unstoppable. Read more »

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Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

February 26, 2013 Reviews 0 ★★

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane NickersonStrands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson Published by Knopf BFYR on March 12, 2013
Genres: Gothic, Retelling, YA Historical
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
two-stars
The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

Before I read this, “Bluebeard” was a mystery to me, so I did what I do and read the famous fairy tale. That may have been a mistake. Strands of Bronze and Gold needs to go the extra mile thanks to the tale it is based on, but it never mkes up for readers knowing how the great mystery of the novel turns out. Nickerson succeeds in tapping into the dark horror of the original tale, especially toward the end, but those moments are few and far between.

Blubeard’s (here, Bernard de Cressac) characterization and the novel’s lovely, Gothic style are two of its few strong points. The first chapter’s lovely writing had me and though I wavered thanks to the novel’s many other issues, I never stopped loving the writing. As it goes on, the elements of Gothic stories we all love so much, like ghosts who may or may not be real and secrets hidden in a massive manor, take greater and greater precedence. M. de Cressac is appropriately creepy and layered too, showing times of weakness and humanity despite who he is: the monstrous Bluebeard. If only Sophie and the other characters were as strongly established.

The writing can only carry one so far on its own, though. The characters aren’t dynamic enough to keep readers going, nor is the plot enchanting enough. Sophia’s days are spent exploring the house, getting creeped out by her godfather, wandering the woods (and meeting a boy a few times before that gets nipped in the bud), and other such dull things. I nearly DNFed this novel multiple times because so little was happening and the Gothic elements didn’t become well-developed until the latter portions of the novel.

Taking place in 1855 Mississippi as it does, there are plenty of slaves on M. de Cressac’s plantation, and Sophia meets more than a few of them. She has the right ideas about slavery (it’s wrong, she wants to help them escape, etc.), but the slaves only serve to show off how compassionate and right-minded she is on the issue. While exploring the forest, she meets a wise old black woman named Anarchy who gives her advice. The only other purpose she serves is to let Sophia interact with someone new. That’s really… Yeah.

It’s a shame my first read of 2013 is such a disappointment, especially since I’ve been anticipating it for some time. Nickerson will have two more novels set in this world, but I don’t think I’ll be reading them. This might be a novel only those unfamiliar with “Bluebeard” or able to put it out of mind will enjoy.

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