Source: YA Books Central

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Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

October 27, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose CapettaEcho After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta
Published by Candlewick Press on October 10, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-stars
Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Eli is Puerto Rican, Zara is culturally Jewish)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Eli is a lesbian, Zara is bi, and there are plenty of QUILTBAG side characters)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3

Much like we now own every rainbow in existence, queer people own the world of theater. We may not always be visible, but we’re definitely there. (I’m always in the audience. I may be ridiculously dramatic, but I can’t act in front of a crowd to save my life nor reliably work backstage.) If you’ve been waiting around for a theater book starring queer girls–because the gay guys who make up the G in QUILTBAG get almost all the queer rep–you’ve got that rep now in Echo After Echo and it is good.
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Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

October 25, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi WientgeKarma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on August 15, 2017
Genres: MG Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Karma is Sikh through her father and turns to her faith to help her cope with being bullied)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2

They are truths universally acknowledged that middle school is terrible and body hair is annoying. I don’t actually have much of an issue with body hair, luckily. Armpit hair is so nonexistent it’s only a twice-a-year thing and my legs get taken care of every three months just so I don’t feel like bugs are constantly crawling on me. (I use hair-removal lotion due to the traumatic incident of me cutting open my pinkie toe with a razor when I was four.) Not here for that TMI? TOO BAD, THIS BOOK IS ALL ABOUT BODY HAIR. And also one adorable little girl named Karma whose best friend is dumping her for the new girl. Read more »

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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: Spin the Sky by Jill MacKenzie

September 18, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Spin the Sky by Jill MacKenzieSpin the Sky by Jill MacKenzie
Published by Sky Pony Press on November 1, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-stars
Magnolia Woodson wants nothing more than to get her and her sister, Rose, out of the pitifully small, clamming-obsessed Oregon town that hates them—she just doesn’t know how. Forced to put up with the snide comments and hateful looks the townspeople throw at them, Mags thinks she’s destined to pay for the horrible, awful thing her mom did—and that she’s left her and Rose to deal with—until the day she dies.

But when a nationwide televised dance competition posts tryouts in nearby Portland, Mags’s best friend, George, says they have to go and audition. Not only have they spent the past fourteen years of their lives dancing side-by-side, dreaming of a day just like this, but also it could be Mags’s chance of a lifetime—a chance to win the grand-prize money and get her and Rose out of Summerland, a chance to do the thing she loves most with everyone watching, a chance to show the town that she’s not—and has never been—a “no-good Woodson girl,” like her mother. But will the competition prove too steep? And will Mags be able to retain her friendship with George as they go head-to-head in tryouts? Mags will have to learn that following her dreams may mean changing her life forever.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (identities unclear; I think Rio is black and Magnolia is biracial?)
QUILTBAG: 0 (a few queer characters, but the book is seriously biphobic)
Disability: 1 (Mags’s mom is a drug addict but only appears in the book via flashbacks)
Intersectionality: 1 (Mags and her sister are pretty poor)

Dance remains an underappreciated art and it’s an especially difficult one to translate into writing because it’s so visual. You can list off what the character is doing as they dance or be vague to let the reader’s imagination to do the job, among other things. Does Spin the Sky nail it? Definitely! Other problems in the book, like rampant biphobia, create a major sticking point, however. Read more »

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Review: Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

August 11, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: Without Annette by Jane B. MasonWithout Annette by Jane B. Mason
Published by Scholastic Press on May 31, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
A gorgeously written, witty, and poignant YA novel, about a girl who must forge her own path in the wake of a crumbling relationship.

Josie Little has been looking forward to moving halfway across the country to attend Brookwood Academy, a prestigious boarding school, with her girlfriend, Annette, for ages. But underneath Brookwood's picture-perfect image lies a crippling sense of elitism that begins to tear the girls apart from the moment they arrive.

While Josie struggles to navigate her new life, Annette seems to fit in perfectly. Yet that acceptance comes with more than a few strings. And consequently, Annette insists on keeping their relationship a secret.

At first, Josie agrees. But as Annette pushes her further and further away, Josie grows closer to Penn, a boy whose friendship and romantic feelings for her tangle her already-unraveling relationship. When Annette's need for approval sets her on a devastating course for self-destruction, Josie isn't sure she can save her this time -- or if Annette even wants her to try.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 4 (Annette and Josie are lesbians and so is an adult in the book)
Disability: 1 (Annette’s mom is a literal raging alcoholic)
Intersectionality: 1

Remember a while back when Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy inspired fury from readers who thought it would engage in bi erasure or lesbian erasure based on its original jacket copy? Yeah, me too, but I stayed out of it. From the sound of reviews, the book was actually very good and didn’t commit either crime in a story about a girl questioning her sexual identity. While reading Without Annette, I described it as “Ramona Blue in boarding school” and kinda regret it because that’s not the case at all. Oops? Still a good book, though.

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Review: Keeping the Beat by Marie Powell and Jeff Norton

July 17, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: Keeping the Beat by Marie Powell and Jeff NortonKeeping the Beat by Jeff Norton, Marie Powell
Published by KCP Loft on April 4, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 372
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
two-stars
Fame. Love. Friends. Pick any two.

It was supposed to be the best summer of her life. Instead, seventeen-year-old Lucy finds her best friend, Harper, shot dead in an LA swimming pool. How did things go so wrong? Their band, Crush, was once the top prospect to win an international talent contest. But things fell apart when Lucy discovered Harper’s real reasons for starting a band — which had nothing to do with music. Meanwhile, her other bandmates are throwing themselves into sex, drugs and rock and roll. Can Lucy get the rest of the girls to play to her beat?

One-part wish fulfillment, one-part cautionary tale, readers will be thrilled to go behind the scenes of “reality” TV.

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (a single Mexican man who’s hired help in a Hollywood exec’s household)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Robyn gets addicted to drugs)
Intersectionality: 0

Once a sucker for books about average kids ascending to superstardom, always a sucker for books about average kids ascending to superstardom. They can be cliche, but they can be a lot of fun if they embrace their natures or at least put a twist or two on things. Keeping the Beat initially left a positive impression on me when I first finished reading it. Thinking on it now, however, I’m less impressed with its story. Read more »

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