Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine

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Review: Antisocial by Jillian Blake

May 1, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Antisocial by Jillian BlakeAntisocial by Jillian Blake
Published by Delacorte Press on May 16, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Thriller
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-stars
Alexandria Prep is hacked in this exhilarating whodunit set in the age of social media and the cloud—Pretty Little Liars meets WikiLeaks.

Senior spring at Alexandria Prep was supposed to be for sleeping through class and partying with friends. But for Anna Soler, it’s going to be a lonely road. She’s just been dumped by her gorgeous basketball star boyfriend—with no explanation. Anna’s closest friends, the real ones she abandoned while dating him, are ignoring her. The endearing boy she’s always had a complicated friendship with is almost too sympathetic.

But suddenly Anna isn’t the only one whose life has been upended. Someone is determined to knock the kings and queens of the school off their thrones: one by one, their phones get hacked and their personal messages and photos are leaked. At first it’s funny—people love watching the dirty private lives of those they envy become all too public.

Then the hacks escalate. Dark secrets are exposed, and lives are shattered. Chaos erupts at school. As Anna tries to save those she cares about most and to protect her own secrets, she begins to understand the reality of our always-connected lives:

Sometimes we share too much.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Anna is half-Columbian; her best friend Radhika is Indian and Rad’s boyfriend Andrew is Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 1 (quite a few characters get outed as gay by the leaks, but only one has any major role)
Disability: 3 (Anna has social anxiety disorder and her ex has OCD/anxiety too)
Intersectionality: 3 (Anna is pretty well-written and I’m happy to see all three categories above represented)

In my book, it’s always time for a YA thriller. Putting together the pieces of a mystery, trying to solve it just before or at the same time as the main character, watching everything get worse and worse right up to the climactic scene,… Maybe I’m a bit cruel, but as often as I read YA contemporary novels, YA thrillers and mysteries are a bit above them in my heart. Antisocial is a pretty good one with plenty of representation across the board and its realistic stakes will chill just about every reader.

I’ve always tried to be my best self online, but even I’m terrified at the idea of all my texts, emails, etc. being leaked online. Whether it would expose someone’s two-faced ways or provides enough evidence that they could be successfully convicted of a felony, everyone has something to fear if their name gets attached to their anonymous or private online shenanigans. Anna’s fear: the friends who are just barely starting to accept her back after she abandoned them for her boyfriend will learn how she insulted all of them when talking to him.

Antisocial is a tiny little book at 256 pages and perfectly paced so you’ll feel compelled to read it all in one sitting. In particular, Anna is an incredible character Latin@ and anxiety disorder-ridden readers hungry for representation will love. She’s half-Columbian, has social anxiety disorder, and had a stint in a group home, but she’s still determined to find out who’s leaking students’ online histories, which were gathered via an app the school required students to download. Turned out the app was gathering all their data and storing it and then someone found a hackable hole! Oops.

Even when her ex-boyfriend’s data gets leaked and she finds out how easily he dumped her when he wrecked her with the break-up, she still wants to help him. He has a form of OCD (pretty respectful and nonstereotypical, at that!) and they shared a kinship over their anxieties. No matter how much he hurt her, she’d rather do what’s right than revel in his humiliation. If I explained my history with an ex-friend, you’d quickly learn I wouldn’t be as good of a person in the same situation as Anna.

Too bad it has a lot of stereotypes and cliches going on among both the characters and the events. One twist of an event in particular toward the end of the book failed to make me feel anything at all when it was intended to be gut-wrenching. Honestly, it made me laugh and quote Heathers, which made fun of something very similar. It doesn’t ruin anything for either book or film to tell you I was giggling to myself and quoting “I LOVE MY DEAD GAY SON” as the twist’s aftermath played out.

My giggling was sandwiched between me groaning at how melodramatic and ridiculously corny the whole ending is. This is what Heathers was making fun of almost thirty years ago! Considering everything the data leaks caused at their school, trying to spin it as “everything will be sunshine and rainbows soon” makes me want to gag. You know who things won’t be okay for? The kid who made a podcast out of the leaks and delighted in it. He better change schools or he is screeeeeewed. No one’s gonna forgive him that easily for having fun with someone else’s humiliation.

All in all, Antisocial is a gripping thriller for the modern teen. Its ending may not have left me feeling anything other than mildly amused, but the core conceit of the story is what will make it memorable for readers and get the most praise. I’m excited to read more from Jillian Blake in the future and would recommend this for anyone whose hunger for thrillers still needs to be satiated or is in a bit of a reading slump. This tiny little thrill ride should cure you pretty easily!

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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.

Read more »

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Review: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

November 4, 2016 Diversity 5, Reviews 1 ★★★★½

my-sister-rosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
Published by Soho Teen on November 15, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary, YA Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-half-stars
What if the most terrifying person you know is your ten-year-old sister?

Seventeen-year-old Aussie Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he’s also certain that she’s a diagnosable psychopath—clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently Rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he’s the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the violence she’s capable of.

Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa’s “acting out.” Now that they have moved again—from Bangkok to New York City—their new hometown provides far too many opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Alone, Che must balance his desire to protect Rosa from the world with the desperate need to protect the world from her.

Diversity Rating: 5 – Diverse as Fuck

It’s been so long since I read the novel that I can’t recall everything well enough for a proper explanation, but it includes Korean-American sisters, one of whom is a lesbian; a character named Elon whose pronouns are just Elon, putting the character somewhere in the ballpark of agender; a black love interest with lesbian mothers; Che’s ethnic Jewish identity through his paternal family; and serious consideration of whether Rosa’s condition is a mental illness or disability in itself due to her exhibiting symptoms once she hit toddlerhood. It’s earned the 5 rating.

Children creep me out on a good day, so it goes without saying that a tiny, sociopathic child like Rosa would terrify me. Honestly, Larbalestier’s latest wasn’t even on my radar at first! My buddy Lili recommended the book to me and I just happened to have access to it, so I dove right in. Wow. In a nutshell, My Sister Rosa is fucked up and impossible to put down. Read more »

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Review: Smash & Grab by Amy Christine Parker

August 26, 2016 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Smash & Grab by Amy Christine ParkerSmash & Grab by Amy Christine Parker
Published by Random House BFYR on July 19, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
two-stars
Ocean’s Eleven meets the star-crossed lovers of West Side Story. Grab some popcorn and get ready for an adrenaline-filled heist!

LEXI is a rich girl who loves a good rush. Whether it’s motorcycle racing or BASE jumping off a building in downtown Los Angeles, the only times she feels alive are when she and her friends are executing one of their dares. After her father’s arrest, Lexi doesn’t think twice about going undercover at his bank to steal the evidence that might clear his name. She enlists her hacker brother and her daredevil friends to plan a clever heist.

CHRISTIAN is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The local gang has blackmailed him and his friends into robbing banks, and he is desperate for a way out. When the boss promises that one really big job will be the last he ever has to do, Christian jumps at the chance for freedom. In fact, he’s just met a girl at the bank who might even prove useful. . . .

Two heists. One score. The only thing standing in their way is each other.

Told in alternating points of view, this caper is full of romance and fast-paced fun. Hand to fans of Perfect Chemistry, The Conspiracy of Us, and Heist Society.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Christian and his friends are Mexican stereotypes; twins Elena and Whitney have “dark brown skin” and Oliver is Japanese)
QUILTBAG: 1 (Leo is gay)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0 (as part of the stereotype, Christian and co. are poor)

Saying my family is a fan of the 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels is an understatement. WE LOVE THOSE FILMS (but not really Ocean’s Twelve because it’s not that interesting). By happenstance, my parents were staying in the Bellagio for a business trip while Ocean’s Eleven was being filmed there. They got to watch the “chaos in the casino” scene be filmed and my mom shook Andy Garcia’s hand! Sadly, her attempts to hunt down George Clooney were unsuccessful. He was hiding in one of the nightclubs.

ANYWAY. I was raised on those films. If you compare a book to Ocean’s Eleven, there’s a very high chance I’ll read it. Everyone loves a good heist book! Too bad Smash & Grab isn’t a good heist book. Read more »

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Review: Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar

August 1, 2016 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay RibarRocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar
Published by Kathy Dawson Books on June 7, 2016
Genres: Magical Realism, YA, YA Paranormal
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-stars
Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family's secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.

Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he's affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he'll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they'll go to keep their secrets safe.

With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won't see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are.

“Rocks fall, everyone dies” is the classic joke about how to end a series. Harry Potter? ROCKS FALL, EVERYONE DIES. Game of Thrones? THE ROCKS, THEY’RE FALLING. It used to be semi-serious and a way for game masters in tabletop RPGs to end things when they’re fed up, but now we just know it as something funny. So a dramatic novel with that title from an author I know and love? Of course I’m in!

Read more »

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Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

July 18, 2016 Reviews 1

Review: American Girls by Alison UmmingerAmerican Girls by Alison Umminger
Published by Flatiron Books on June 7, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
DNF
She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she's had it with her life at home. So Anna "borrows" her stepmom's credit card and runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn't quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls―and although the violence in her own life isn't the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

In Anna's singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America―in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn't, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.

…No. I gave it fifty pages. Here are quotes from my ARC that illustrate my decision:

I found [Leslie Van Houten] by accident, reading an article in the waiting room of the lady-parts doctor my mom was going to when she was trying to get pregnant with my brother. (ARC, p. 1)

Lady-parts doctor. The prologue this comes from is written as though Anna is older now and is reminiscing on the moment. If so, surely she can use the proper title (OBGYN, fertility doctor, or something else that’s correct). Just not this.

Nasty, filthy America, where you could put a person on trial for being an asshole, and supersize transsexuals ate dog shit off of lawns, at least in the movies. (ARC, p. 2)

This is about the film Pink Flamingos, in which drag queen Divine legendarily eats real dog shit. No stuntwork or fake poop for her! HOWEVER. Divine was a gay man and a drag queen. He explicitly said he was not transgender or transsexual, so the use of “transsexual” to describe Divine is both inaccurate and gross. It’s not a word we commonly use anymore and it’s seen as bad by some.

It had crossed my mind that my sister might be a slut, but a really nice-smelling, clean, and carefully closeted slut. (ARC, p. 8)What?

When my mom became a lesbian[…] (ARC, p. 23)

Before my mom decided she was a lesbian, I thoughts lesbians were all these nice, earthy, crunchy, “let’s smother you with our extra twenty pounds of lady love and fight the power” people.

Emphasis mine. Again, WHAT?

No matter how the story is intended to be read or told, all these quotes rub me entirely the wrong way.

All quotes were double-checked against the finished copy.

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Review: With Malice by Eileen Cook

July 7, 2016 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: With Malice by Eileen CookWith Malice by Eileen Cook
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children on June 7, 2016
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-half-stars
It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (Jill’s roommate Anna is Mexican)
QUILTBAG:
Disability: 2 (I believe Anna was paralyzed from the waist down when her boyfriend pushed her down from the stairs)
Intersectionality: (Anna; see above)

Once upon a time, this little book called Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas was a cult hit among book bloggers. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell very well at all and most casual readers had no idea it existed. If you haven’t read that book, go read it right now. If you have, congratulations! If you were into that true crime-inspired tale and its unreliable narrator, then With Malice here should be next on your TBR. Read more »

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