Source: YA Books Central

Divider

Review: Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

May 11, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review: Unbecoming by Jenny DownhamUnbecoming by Jenny Downham
Published by David Fickling Books on February 23, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
five-stars
Three women. Three generations. Three secrets.

Katie's life is falling apart: her best friend thinks she's a freak, her mother, Caroline, controls every aspect of her life, and her estranged grandmother, Mary, appears as if out of nowhere. Mary has dementia and needs lots of care, and when Katie starts putting together Mary's life story, secrets and lies are uncovered: Mary's illegitimate baby, her zest for life and freedom and men; the way she lived her life to the full yet suffered huge sacrifices along the way. As the relationship between Mary and Caroline is explored, Katie begins to understand her own mother's behavior, and from that insight, the terrors about her sexuality, her future, and her younger brother are all put into perspective.

Funny, sad, honest, and wise, this powerful multigenerational novel from international bestseller Jenny Downham celebrates life like no book before.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 4 (Katie is a lesbian and her arc is written so, so well)
Disability: 3 (Katie’s little brother Chris has an unspecified developmental disability; Mary has Alzheimer’s)
Intersectionality: 1

Early on in my time as a book blogger, I read You Against Me and fell in love with it. The characters were vivid, the story engrossing and complicated, and I was genuinely amazed to look at my shelves and see I don’t have my own copy of it. (That will be fixed shortly.) You’d think I’d be excited for Unbecoming, but you’d be surprised. It’s unfortuantely common that I read a book by an author, love it, and then feel indifferent to or dislike the next book I read from them. Even though it’s absolutely not a betrayal for that to happen, it can sure feel like one sometimes.

Reader, Jenny Downham did not betray me. Read more »

Divider

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 »

Divider

Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

May 5, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: A List of Cages by Robin RoeA List of Cages by Robin Roe
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 10, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 2 (two of Adam’s friends are black)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (Adam has ADHD)
Intersectionality: 0 (though Julian is viciously abused by his uncle and both he and Adam develop PTSD later on, it doesn’t quite fit as disability rep)

I still do my best to avoid YA books with male narrators simply because books written by and/or about guys often get the most marketing and the most awards buzz. See: John Green, Andrew Smith, Jeff Zentner, Jay Kristoff, Pierce Brown. Even though YA is dominated by women, it’s still the men who reap the most benefits because that’s how systemic sexism rolls. Naturally, I’m not worried about giving those guys unpaid, labor-intensive marketing via my reviews and try to focus on the girls and women of YA instead. Well, A List of Cages mixes it up a bit with a female author and two male narrators. It’s… good. Misery Lit to the highest degree, but good.

Read more »

Divider

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 »

Divider

Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser

April 21, 2017 Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales and Sophie HouserGirl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser
Published by HarperCollins on March 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Perfect for aspiring coders everywhere, Girl Code is the story of two teenage tech phenoms who met at Girls Who Code summer camp, teamed up to create a viral video game, and ended up becoming world famous. The book also includes bonus content to help you get started coding!

Fans of funny and inspiring books like Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular and Caroline Paul’s Gutsy Girl will love hearing about Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser’s journey from average teens to powerhouses. Through the success of their video game, Andy and Sophie got unprecedented access to some of the biggest start-ups and tech companies, and now they’re sharing what they’ve seen. Their video game and their commitment to inspiring young women have been covered by the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, CNN, Teen Vogue, Jezebel, the Today show, and many more.

Get ready for an inside look at the tech industry, the true power of coding, and some of the amazing women who are shaping the world. Andy and Sophie reveal not only what they’ve learned about opportunities in science and technology but also the true value of discovering your own voice and creativity.

If you can’t tell by the sad self-designed blog graphics, I kinda like Photoshop, digital design in general, and web design. I took web and digital design classes in high school, but the web design class kinda devolved into a business class once the teacher left to teach math and her husband took over. We didn’t learn much about websites and coding after that.

Thankfully, Gonzales and Houser didn’t have teachers like that and were able to create the fabulous little game that is Tampon Run. Girl Code is Gonzales and Houser taking us through how the game came about and the aftermath of their viral fame. Whether you’re a STEM girl or firmly on the English/History team like I am, these girls are pretty inspiring!

The linear structure of Girl Code tracks their journey from everygirls to viral stars from start to finish to epilogue: Sophie got into coding to get over her anxiety about speaking and find a new language in which to express herself; Andy was interested in coding from a young age and took it as one of her interests even while listening to her Filipino family’s “doctor, lawyer, engineer” motto for her future. Their paths collided when they attended the same Girls Who Code summer program in the summer of 2014 and decided to partner up for their final project.

Beyond informing me that the incredible original title of Tampon Run was Texas Tampon Massacre and the game was inspired by a Huffington Post article about an abortion vote, the girls take you step-by-step through how it came together as though they’d kept very precise diaries about the process. (To be fair, Sophie did. She keeps a personal diary.) Even when the tech talk got more advanced than rudimentary little me could understand, I stuck to it. Anyone without knowledge of coding games won’t be able to replicate their work very easily, but they’ll understand what the girls are doing and that’s the important part.

The game, once they decided to release the full product online, didn’t go viral solely by chance either. The girls smartly used social media to its fullest by tweeting the link out, posting about the game on Reddit, etc. Marketing: it ain’t always fun, but you don’t get anywhere without it. Girl Code takes us through what it was like to be in the international spotlight and, even better, what they’ve done since those fifteen minutes of viral fame died down. Sophie is pursuing entrepreneurial paths to eventually create her own start-up and give back the same way people gave to her; Andy is sticking with coding.

Oh, and the girls explicitly call out the tech nightmare Gamergate movement as just a tiny, big-mouthed group of cyberbullies. 1000% AGREE, WOULD SCREAM INTO A MEGAPHONE.

In general, the book is very positive about the future of women in tech industries, but it doesn’t address the cultural issues so few women stay in STEM programs and later enter STEM professions. Y’know, rampant sexism and classmates who make them so miserable they bail. To be entirely fair, this wasn’t something I exected the book to address. If they’ve experienced that toxic tech atmosphere besides the cringeworthy radio interview they write about, they didn’t make mention of it or detail it at length.

My strongest criticism is reserved for the book’s prose. Though accessible, it’s also pretty rough and my thoughts wandered away from the text easily thanks to the basic “we did this, we did that, we felt like this” way the girls write. Nonfiction books can have engaging writing that goes beyond that and it’s clear Gonzales and Houser are not top-notch writers. Though it makes reading this short little book take a little longer, that’s still not a deal-breaker.

Gonzales and Houser’s incredible accomplishment and their determination to one day give back to women in STEM is inspiring and will make its readers want to go out and create after they read Girl Code. Video games, writing, paintings, a scholarly article about how this one historical figure was definitely gay–there are no limits on who this book will spark inspiration in. For instance, the original title Texas Tampon Massacre gave me an idea for a short story and I want to work as hard on that as the authors worked on their game.

Spring 2017 Bingo 8 Girl Code

Divider

Review: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

April 13, 2017 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie MorrillThe Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill
Published by Blink on February 7, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Historical
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-stars
Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0 (the only POC is a black woman employed by Lydia’s family as a servant and her 1-2 lines of dialogue have a rather stereotypical phonetic accent)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0 (Lydia has seizures due to an unidentified disease or disorder)
Intersectionality:  0

The 1920s was a big, extravagant mess of a time in American history. We had the Harlem Renaissance going on and we tend to associate the decade with glamour, but we also had Prohibition and organized crime basically owned the city of Chicago. That’s the setting of The Lost Girl of Astor Street and the background for one girl’s search for her best friend. It was an alright novel, I guess. I have a few bones to pick, though. Read more »

Divider

Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato

March 31, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages AmatoThe Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 21, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother's charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (love interest Nathan is black and his adoptive parents are Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Nathan’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s)
Intersectionality: 0

YA is not dumb no matter how many Jonathan Franzen-esque literary dweebs come out of the woodwork saying so. They claim it’s juvenile (no duh, it’s written FOR teens, who are classified as juveniles), simple, brainless fluff, or otherwise lesser than adult fiction. Quite frankly, they need to stop looking at their anuses and accept that different people like different things. The Hidden Memory of Objects is one of the smartest YA novels I’ve ever read, but it’s perhaps a little too smart for me.

If you want something like The Da Vinci Code with fewer conspiracy theories and gaping holes, this book is for you. Though it’s a contemporary YA novel, its plot spreads its roots deep in American history–specifically, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Before his death, Megan’s brother Tyler got obsessed with John Wilkes Booth and the assassination, seeing it as something of an inspiration because it seems Booth genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. What readers learn about the assassination from this book only barely goes beyond what we learn in history books, but it brings the night Lincoln was murdered to life.

Megan’s grief for her brother runs so deep in her that when she touches things that once belonged to Tyler–later any objects with an emotionally charged history–she can see the memories attached to it. For instance, she touches some small silver balls she found in Tyler’s room and sees when he stole those balls while in a senator’s office. Other charged items specifically related to Lincoln’s assassination dance in and out of the story, like the gun Booth shot Lincoln with and a scrap of the bloody dress of Clara Harris, a woman in the box with the Lincolns that night.

No solid explanation is offered for Megan’s sudden development of psychometry, creating confusion about exactly which genre the book might fall into. For magical realism, such things simply are, like footprints literally left on the heart of someone heartbroken. Psychometry on its own is typically classed as paranormal, but the theory Megan’s friend Eric proposes would take the novel into sci-fi territory a la X-Men. Its inability to fit comfortably in any of the three makes it difficult to recommend the book to the right reader.

But as smart as the book is, it’s also boring. Megan, her grief, and her dangerous dealings with historian Dr. Brightman inspired nothing in me. The only character who brought me to any emotion was Eric and he really just made me want to strangle him. You know the pixie type character Zooey Deschanel gets typecast as? The love interest in every John Green novel? Yeah, that’s Eric except he’s the best friend, not the love interest. Despite being a relatively short 336 pages, the novel felt almost endless.

Like I said earlier, it’s all very reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code but without any screams of HISTORICAL CONSPIRACY!!! coming from the pages. It’s a great read for teens who want an especially smart read. It may not have been my particular fancy, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile for another reader. Now if I could just figure out whether it’s trying to be magical realism, paranormal, or sci-fi for ease of making recommendations…

Spring 2017 Bingo 6 Hidden Memory of Objects

Divider