Source: eARC via NetGalley

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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: 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: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

August 25, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 2 ★★★½

Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey MillerMask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 29, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: eARC via NetGalley, print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen's personal assassins named for the rings she wears -- Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal -- their world changes. They know it's a chance for a new life.

Except the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: ? (Elise is brown-skinned, there’s a Japan-expy country called Mizuho and some of its people are in the book)
QUILTBAG: 5 (they don’t have the words for any of these identities, but Sal is genderfluid with pronouns depending on Sal’s choice of dress for the day, Elise is either bisexual or pansexual, Ruby skips off with a guy at one point during a party, and there are same-sex relationships all over the place)
Disability: ? (Emerald of the Left Hand is missing an eye)
Intersectionality: ?

(The question marks are because my ebook of Mask of Shadows locked up due to graphic overload and I can’t access any of my notes/highlights. The only category I can completely recall is QUILTBAG, but the book is definitely worthy of a 4 rating.)

Since we heard the words “genderfluid assassin” about this book, pretty much the entire bookish community has been excited for Mask of Shadows. It’s hard enough to get genderfluid characters in contemporary YA, let alone, fantasy YA–and if you want to bring quality into the debate as we always should when discussing the representation of marginalized people, it’s probably going to end with someone crying. I’ve got a few small quibbles with the book, but Mask of Shadows is otherwise a solid debut. Read more »

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Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

August 18, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 2 ★★

Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda FoodyDaughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Published by Harlequin Teen on July 25, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars
A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 1
QUILTBAG: 3 (Sorina is bi, one or two of Sorina’s illusions are QUILTBAG, there are plenty of QUILTBAG people in the background; I take issue with Luca’s asexual/demi identity as someone who is asexual)
Disability: 1 (Sorina has no eyes whatsoever but can still see)
Intersectionality: 1

Well, crud. What do I say about Daughter of the Burning City when I’ve already forgotten so much about it as I write this? I’ve gotta review it. Got a review copy, therefore must deliver review if possible–and it’s very possible. It’s just difficult. There’s plenty to like in Foody’s debut novel, but I have some issues too, particularly with Luca’s identity since we fall under the same queer umbrella.

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Review: Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

August 4, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★½

Review: Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer YuFour Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 2, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
one-half-stars
They're more than their problems

Obsessive-compulsive teen Clarissa wants to get better, if only so her mother will stop asking her if she's okay.

Andrew wants to overcome his eating disorder so he can get back to his band and their dreams of becoming famous.

Film aficionado Ben would rather live in the movies than in reality.

Gorgeous and overly confident Mason thinks everyone is an idiot.

And Stella just doesn't want to be back for her second summer of wilderness therapy.

As the five teens get to know one another and work to overcome the various disorders that have affected their lives, they find themselves forming bonds they never thought they would, discovering new truths about themselves and actually looking forward to the future.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Clarisa is Asian, but I don’t believe her identity is clarified any further than that)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 3 (Everyone is mentally ill, but not everyone’s mental illness is written well)
Intersectionality: 2

I would have loved attending a camp for mentally ill teens like the one presented in Four Weeks, Five People when I was still a teen. Not the being-mentally-ill part, of course, but spending a couple of weeks in the wilderness learning coping mechanisms and interacting with other kids who understood what I was going through. So how in the world did a story idea I was completely open to go so wrong in Four Weeks, Five People?

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Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

March 17, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 1 ★★★★

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid KemmererLetters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars
Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Diversity: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Declan’s best friend Rev was adopted by black parents; Declan’s community service supervisor is Hispanic; Juliet’s friend/photography rival has the surname Cho, presumably marking him as Asian)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0 (Juliet’s thoughts on the refugees her mom photographed are… ew)

Brigid Kemmerer made her name and developed a cult with her YA paranormal Elementals series, but I still haven’t gotten around to reading my copy of that series’s first book Storm. Funny how I end up reading her foray into YA contemporary first thanks to the TBR jar! Maybe it’s setting me up for disappointment to read an author’s most recent work first and then go backwards, but Letters to the Lost was pretty darn good.

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Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

February 6, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee WatsonPiecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on February 14, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars
A timely and powerful story about a teen girl from a poor neighborhood striving for success, from acclaimed author Renée Watson.

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (the vast majority of the cast is black)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 5 (the book is 100% focused on the realities of black girlhood; Jade’s family is also extremely poor to the point of barely getting by)

To a class of creative writing students, half of whom were Those Guys and cited Hemingway as one of their favorite writers, I described Renee Watson’s 2016 novel This Side of Home as “a punch in the face–in a good way.” Saying I’m a big fan of what Watson writes? THAT WOULD BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT. But as much as I loved Watson’s debut, I think I love Piecing Me Together even more. Read more »

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