Review: Infinity Son (Infinity Cycle #1) by Adam Silvera

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Published by Simon & Schuster
Released on 14 January 2020
ISBN 9781471191565

Read 9 – 10 January 2020

Adam Silvera has built a strong following of fans due to his diverse characters and strong writing. His gay boys express feelings, have genuine, complicated lives, and his plots are original. So far, they have all been situated in contemporary settings, although the magic realism aspects of They Both Die at the End should have clued us into his interest in writing a broader range of genres.

There is no doubt that Infinity Son is fantasy, superhero and magical. Readers are dropped straight into this alternate world and have to do the hard work figuring out the rules and the state of the nation (hint: it’s not good). There are many elements that will be familiar – social media platforms are integral, as are the boroughs of New York, and the political manipulation of the public to allow those in power to retain and increase their control.

However, once terms like, ‘celestials’, ‘spectres’ and ‘The Blackout’ are thrown around, we quickly realise we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! Silvera has created a world where some people come into their powers, usually because of a genetic family line, and manifest in recognisable ways—telekinesis, flight or healing—but they can also be in the form of magical creatures’ powers—hydras, phoenixes, or dragons—and the range of ability and power is explored with great detail.

But of course humans once again prove we can’t have nice things because ordinary jealous people decide to experiment with actual magical creatures’ blood and create the ability to become powerful through consuming these ingredients, and the world is divided between those who believe it’s okay to kill these beautiful beings for human desires, and those that don’t.

Emil and Brighton, twin brothers, very different, both longed for powers when they were young, but now, turning 18, it’s only Brighton who still wishes and believes they will manifest. Emil just wants to survive a world that is increasingly violent and uncertain. He observes the disintegrating society with disquiet and fear, while Brighton uses every opportunity of chaos to build his social media influence. Silvera sneakily comments on our growing addiction to everything virtual, and it’s not a pleasant reflection on us at all.

The narrative drive develops quickly and we have barely come to come up for air, as Email and Brighton are continually pushed to their limits, and most telling of all, the growing divide between their reaction to the events that consume them. It transpires that they look at the world through completely different lenses, and it’s also very clear that they do have each other’s backs and continue to rally for each other, even when everything descends into even more madness.

The concluding chapters are very thrilling and not everyone is safe. Another aspect to this novel is the large number of secondary characters who become important and all have their own personalities and agendas. This means it’s difficult to tell who we should be cheering for, and who will live, but this also serves to create a real community who may or may not survive. If we invest in these people, we might find ourselves not very happy at all. Be warned, the cliff hanger ending will infuriate. I don’t know why I believed this was a duology, but it’s not. There will be (at least?) three books.

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy. I found it compelling, but also a bit confusing. Everything happens quickly, and I kept hoping for more downtime to reflect on events and wanted them to have more time to plan. But alas, not to be. Also, the romance elements are small, but of course, who has time to fall in love with the fate of the whole world nearing crisis point. Recommended for readers who love LGBTQIA characters fitting into the world order, and who can help save the world. There are a lot of magical and mystical elements and gorgeous creatures who need rescuing. The brothers’ love for each other is highly visible, but that also foreshadows a darker conclusion that will be spotted by keen speculators. Infinity Son is due out today.

Ten Books One Decade

Putting myself out there to share my highlights of a decade of reading #loveozya novels. These were originally posts on my Instagram and Litsy feeds from Dec 28 to Jan 6.

Tenbooksonedecade

2010

I cannot remember 2010. I was working in a secondary boys’ library and had already been there for 4 years. Enough to feel comfortable. I remember @childrensbookdaily had talked me into returning to uni to complete a Masters of Ed. ‘We need to update our degrees’. Sigh. I only got through one semester because I knew taking on the role of Qld Judge for the #cbcaawards would mean I would be reading (and not much else). I read over 400 books that year, and nearly as many the following.

Melina Marchetta’s return to the world of Francesca and her buddies completely bowled me over—emotional nuance, messy family, and the story of Tom. Shockingly real. I could have picked Marchetta for about four of my years, so it’s only right she’s my first pick of the decade.

2011

While The Piper’s Son didn’t win OR category, my pick for 2011 did. It would be remiss of me not to select at least one Scot Gardner book. His writing over the last 15 years reflect much of the change in YA trends. His male protagonists are often lost (literally), certainly flawed, but always deserve the opportunities to put their lives in order. I especially appreciate that romantic love isn’t a major concern and that friendship, identity and family are strong and welcome features of Gardner’s themes.

The Dead I Know features Aaron, a young man looking for a role model, searching for answers, and the simmering thread of violence is always lurking, ready to pull him into a darker world. Luckily his apprenticeship with John gives him the sense of security and stability he needs. Big shout out to Sparrow (2017) and Changing Gear (2018), which both challenge toxic masculinity norms.

2012

My oldest son slacked his way through Year 12, and I spent the year carting him to gymnastic training and events, choral and orchestra rehearsals and performances, and I took a deep breath after judging for two years, stepping down from reading over 80 #loveozya novels to only 29. Jaclyn Moriarty released a fantasy novel that started the quirky, original warm-hearted series, The Colours of Madeleine which I completely embraced.

Her two lovely main characters, Elliot and Madeleine, swapping letters through a tear between their two worlds, show feisty tenacity, kindness and courage. They are clever novels seemingly light and witty, but that are actually and ultimately multi-layered and terrifically insightful. Her work continues to speak to ordinary people with extraordinary imaginations and startling inner lives. I love everything she writes.

2013

Confession Time: I didn’t read The First Third until 2017. After I read The Sidekicks. After I had conversed with Will. After I left my boys’ school library, where I had pitched it and promoted it. All I can say to 2013 me is what the hell? I didn’t miss the hype. I watched it receive both critical and popular acclaim. All my peers lauded it and the kids loved it and when I finally read it, I accepted its greatness. The First Third is a perfect blend of humour and emotion. Will treats his audience with respect, and he does not pander or preach.  Will is a person of many opinions and a marketing acumen I envy. His stories are authentic, his style is his own, and I can’t wait to see what else he has for us.

Special mention to my other favs: Wildlife by Fiona Wood, Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil and Girl Defective by Simmone Howell.

2014

II went back to study part-time in 2014. My younger son completed Year 12 at the same school as me, both pressures making it a difficult time. Probably the reason why I only read about 24 #loveozya novels. Having said that, I actually predicted 5 of the 6 OR shortlisted books that year (#humblebrag), so there’s that.

The Protected explores grief in exquisite and infinite sharpness. Hannah’s pain is raw and real. Conversing with her dead sister Katie creates unbearable connection. Her parents’ absence is understandable, yet also unforgivable, and it’s astonishing the relief we feel when Hannah starts talking to Anna. Josh’s appearance brings much needed sunshine to what is in essence of story about confronting death and accepting loss. Claire Zorn is an assured, master storyteller. I hope we don’t lose her entirely to the picture book genre.

Other favourites of 2014 include Intruder by Christine Bongers, Are you Seeing Me? by Darren Groth and Tigerfish by David Metzenthen.

2015

This was my most difficult year professionally. I found myself without a job in August, just in time to sort my youngest son into Calvary basic training a week before his 18th birthday. That and study kept me from despair and trauma. Finding a new job after turning 50 seemed an impossible dream. I only read 18 #loveozya novels, but the highlight was Fiona’s third book in the aptly named Six Impossiverse trilogy, Cloudwish. There was something elusive and mercurial about Van Uoc’s inner voice, such a contrast to her external presentation – wild versus compliant, risky versus accepting, bold versus quiet. She’s a rare find.

Just as important as Fiona’s writing skills, is the fierce support she offers other Australian authors and to the YA community at large through her thoughtful examinations of books and trends. She promotes diversity and inclusivity, and I have gained insights every time I hear her speak.

Other notable mentions of 2015 for me are A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, The Flywheel by Erin Gough and Lili Wilkinson’s Green Valentine.

2016

I found validation and purpose this year when Pauline from Riverbend Books asked me to read for RSO. I will be ever grateful for her confidence in me. I continue to read for this amazing service – I mean come on; someone asks me to read YA! #luckyandgrateful I also completed my MEd (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innnovations) while I started the process of becoming a supply/relief teacher.

This was a tough year to pick from the 36 novels I read. Three high quality stories, all exploring grief over the unexpected tragic loss of a loved one, could easily have been the one, but two authors have already had other books highlighted (demonstrating their mastery), but on top of that, Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue also focused on books! And bookshops! And the power of words! And included swoony Henry! So, winner. I love this book so much.

The other two excellent #loveozya novels for me in 2016 are One Would think the Deep by Claire Zorn and The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis.

2017

If I thought 2016 was a difficult year to pick a best book, 2017 has been even harder. I read 45 #loveozya books through my ongoing association with RSO and was able to spend significant time looking after other people’s lovely libraries. This made me realise that being able to share my love of teen novels was still something I wanted to do. But I was also asked to speak at several network meetings, PD events, and I started to believe that I would be able to fill my time valuable by helping other library staff. I started applying more seriously for full time work, but also started to formulate a possible plan b. And was less stressed, less anxious.

But back to the wonderful books of 2017. How do I pick between some of the amazing books that were released this year? I could easily select any one of ten books, and if you want to see them all, go here. I made a ridiculous number of lists, two specifically related to Australian YA.

The book I ultimately chose, Because of You by Pip Harry rates highly for a number of reasons. I am going to go back one of many ravs about this book to try to explain… Harry’s inclusive and diverse cast of minor characters carries a subtle message about stereotyping and judging others. The tone is warm and gentle, but the subject matter is harsh and uncomfortable. However, readers aren’t made to feel pity or guilt. Instead they are inspired by the way individuals rise to the challenge to help others… It’s an astonishingly powerful story.

2018

In a year of Lenny (Book of Everything), Merrick (Changing Gear), and Ana and Jono (from Between Us), it is the protagonist of The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge who stays with me most of all. I apparently read 49 #loveozya novels this year, helped by me judging the Young Adult category of the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards. Vanessa’s intellectual curiosity about her sexuality and her navigation through unwanted advances was a highlight. The novel also covered environmental issues, parental mental health, and authentic friendships. I loved every complicated, messy thing about it!

This year I returned to a library on a part time basis. It was a perfect re-introduction back to school, and I settled into a rhythm of juggling a number of roles—I haven’t really mentioned my active involvement in CBCA Qld, and this year, I took on President of the Branch, in a year where we hosted the Shortlist and Winner announcement functions. I really fluked it in, because Jenny Stubbs’s team did the work, and I got to be the front line of the credit taking. Seriously, Qld achieves way beyond its means in these spaces. Such a great year!!

2019

This was a tough year – health issues, death of my dad, and returning to work full time meant I was often stressed. However, some new good things happened too – Rhianna Patrick (@ABCRhi) invited me to be a regular on her radio book chat panel and that has been such good fun. Another year as Qld Branch president, a trip to Canberra for the National CBCA conference and judging the Qld Lit Awards kept me involved in kids’ lit while school encouraged me to learn more about coding and programing (eek). There were fewer YA novels released, but more MG, and I have many opinions about that.

This is How We Change the Ending represents Vikki Wakefield’s contribution to YA this decade. Starting with her debut novel. All I Ever Wanted in 2011, all five novels reflect a genuine representation of Australian teens—their desires, their fears, and their triumphs. Her latest sub-verts our expectations and challenges us all to listen to the teens in our lives and support them to find their best selves.

I also completed loved It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood.  

So farewell to the short-sighted twenty-teens. May we all save the planet in the twenty-twentys!

Review: We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding

We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

Published by: Amulet Books
Released on January 7, 2020 (in the US)
ISBN: 9781419738661

Read: December 28 – 30, 2020

Amy Spalding is a great author. I have read almost all of her lighter, romantic comedies such as Kissing Ted Callaghan (2015) and The Reese Malcolm List (2013), and always enjoyed her fully developed characters and those awkward but often hilarious scenarios that were easy to relate to. Her latest novel We Used to Be Friends, takes a more serious approach to what is often treated as a sub-plot in many YA contemporaries—the friendship between two teenage girls.

James and Kat have been friends forever. But it’s easy to see right from the start, that they are very different people—James is a runner, introverted committed to her five-year plan. Kat is outgoing, popular, living day to day. Her mother died a few years back and her older brother is now away at college, and she just wants the best senior year experience she can have. James, an only child, is the offspring of high school sweethearts and as we start the novel, everything is about to unravel.

We read Kat’s story from the beginning of senior year, right through to leaving home for college. Arriving home after summer break, Kat’s boyfriend confesses to cheating on her ‘because (he) was bored’… and …’it meant nothing’… Dumping him will result in huge changes, including meeting a vivacious girl (so, actually I am bi? Okay then), changing lunch tables and broadening her social circle.

But before we meet Kat, we hear James’s narrative voice. And she begins at the end. She is about to head off to her chosen college, her friendship with Kat is over, and as she leaves her house with her father, she asks if they can drop in to visit mum before we go… what the? It’s all topsy‑turvey. And from there, alternately, we are with Kat as she moves forward to the end of senior year and move backwards with James to the beginning.

I felt more sympathy towards James’s plight, but feel I received more information about Kat’s. Clearly the backwards timeline didn’t satisfy as much especially because there’s a strong sense of anxiety growing as we get closer to the disaster that occurs to completely overwhelm her. Kat’s acceptance of her true sexual orientation and of the new woman in his father’s life never feel as tumultuous as James’s situation. As well, as is reflective of James’s nature, her voice is starker, more direct and not as emotional. Whereas Kat shares and shares (and shares).

There are many gaps in a narrative like this, which I very much appreciate and admire. It’s the author’s skill that allows readers to follow the threads and fill in spaces, and I like a book that keeps me actively engaged. While some might not want to work that hard, rewards are there for people who persist. Of course, my bug bear is again on display—a book like this is much better as a print copy. I wanted to flick back through James’s section when I finally reached Kat’s versions, and sometimes it was impossible to find the corresponding bit (Did James talk about prom? It’s a crucial element of Kat realising how far she and James had lost their way, and I wanted to review James’s input, and no amount of searching took me there).

Thanks to Netgalley and publisher for this advanced copy. Highly recommended for readers who want more depth about non-romantic relationships. While both girls’ love interests play a part, the focus is on the breakdown of James and Kat’s inability to reach out to each other when their own world view shifts significantly. It’s a mature read, with discussions about sex and underage drinking at parties. Bisexuality is representative positively, and diversity is strong and convincing. We Used to be Friends is released in the US on January 7. I hope we see it here in Australia soon.

Best Books 2019

I have read 180 mostly young adult and middle years fiction books (so far) in 2019. I have cut those down to a list of 24 (how? I do not know). See picture above. The most important concerns that were felt in the YA community this year seem to be #ownvoices and positive representatives of rarely seen or heard minority groups. I believe I have included excellent examples of these, including How We Roll, How it Feels to Float, and Ghost Bird. I seem to also have a bias toward LGBT stories (too many to list), and am happy to see an increasing number of books for younger teens.

I then whittled that crazy long list down to only 5. Look, on any given day, it could have been a different five. I cast my eye over my choices now, and I find myself second guessing decisions. So basically I loved them all a lot.

Three of them are squarely contemporary YA, and reflect a range of intensity — from full on gritty realism (This is How We Change the Ending) through to happy, flirty romance (It Sounded Better in my Head). Call it What you Want fits neatly between these two #loveOzYA books, developing strong social issue story lines as well as a realistic love story. All of these books demand that their protagonists confront some very harsh truths about themselves and the choices they make, and organically allow them to navigate their own way through. I hope they find readers who will not only identify with their anxieties, but who will also be able to conquer some of their own life stresses. Reading is both therapy and escape.

To Night Owl from Dogfish represents my growing interest in books for 12 to 14 year olds. Honestly, they are the largest audience for my school library borrowing, and seeking out the full range of genres for them, to try to cater for every different reading taste, has become a priority and a godsend. These readers are so appreciative of efforts to provide them with accessible and satisfying material. There is much job affirmation to be gained from what might seem to be a chore (but clearly isn’t). Anyway, it is a funny warm novel, developing a terrific friendship between two unlikely girls. Their care and support of each other shines through their scrapes and sulks. The fact that it is written entirely through emails, text messages and a variety of other epistolary means, challenges this age group initially, but I have only heard glowing reviews from students. It’s a really enjoyable read.

I cannot make a list of favourite reads without including a new Marchetta. Those of us who started way back in 2004 with Saving Francesca have been waiting patiently for Jimmy’s story, and The Place on Dalhousie lives up to all expectations. A slim, tight novel, Marchetta nails what she always does best: creating complicated, messy families from air, bringing them together even when (especially if) they don’t want it. So much laughter is here. But also a feeling of nostalgia for people gone. It struck me with all the feels, but that is typical of this author. Her writing seems to tick every one of my reading boxes.

I wonder if next year we will be showered with more climate novels–not in the dystopian, set in the near future scenario–but in the right-now, it’s happening and what can be done situation. It seems highly likely given it’s the number one concern for teenagers across the world. And of course, it’s not only young people facing up to an uncertain future, it’s all of us.

Review: Chasing the Shadows (Sentinels of the Galaxy #2) by Maria V Snyder

Chasing the Shadows (Sentinels of the Galaxy, #2) by Maria V Snyder

Published by: HarperCollins
Released: November 18 2019
ISBN: 978148925276

Read: November 1- 3 2019

This is a really great second book. It doesn’t feel like filler, or as if we are being dragged along waiting for the third book. Lyra/Ara continues to grow as a character, and as ‘the chosen one’, as do other characters who support her. This is especially true of people like Officer Radcliff, Niall’s father and Chief of Security, who develops into a kind-of second father to Ara. Elese, Beau and the other guards and crew soon have personalities and quirks and of course, we learn more about Niall, the boyfriend, and readers will love that we don’t see any romantic angst between them. The focus remains squarely on the obstacles they face created by Jarren to keep them isolated on Yulin with the Protectorate and the DES believing they are all dead.

Ara’s snarky narrative voice sets a cracking pace, and even when we are being brought up to speed with the events of the previous book, Navigating the Stars, it’s fast and concise. But this is still a long book because in order to develop Ara’s new gifts organically, Snyder cleverly sets up a number of layers so that there are plots within plots, and we are kept busy figuring out the meaning of the terracotta warriors all the way on the other side of the galaxy, Ara’s struggle with the physical training in her new role as a security guard, not to mention wondering where the murdering looter, Jarren has hidden himself. We know it’s only a matter of time before he makes an appearance, and the whole team must be ready to confront that reality.

Snyder’s books follow a certain path, and it’s all good. There’s a feisty female lead who is self-depreciating while still having the most power in the room at any given time. She brings together a group of loyal supports who have her back, but never let her forget her humble beginnings. When she starts to speak of weird conspiracies and displays talents no one should have, they shrug off the unusual nature because they quickly learn that to ignore what she says leads to bad things happening. In this case, Ara is a beacon of hope. Her ability to navigate the Q-Net is their salvation. While she stays a few steps ahead of Jarren most of the time, nothing is ever too easy. This is very important in a suspenseful novel: readers have to feel tension and anxiety and truly worry that at any moment one of the good guys could die. Snyder is a master at balancing this fine line.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for the advanced copy of Chasing the Shadows. If you read Navigating the Stars this book will be obligatory reading. If you have enjoyed any one of this author’s other books, you might like to try this sci-fi mystery mashed up with an Indiana Jones treasure hunt. Recommended to other readers who like their heroes snarky and generous, and who enjoy original ideas about how the Earth connects to other life on other planets. The romance is solid, yet sweet, and the action thrilling. Chasing the Shadows is out everywhere on November 18.

Review: Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

Published by Entangled: Teen
Released: November 5 2019
ISBN: 9781640637320

Read: October 14 – 15 2019

I have been reading Hannah Moskowitz’s quirky yet entirely authentic novels since her debut Break, in 2010. To see that she is now with a publisher who can give her more exposure is terrific. She writes beautifully with both humour and insight, and I hope loads of people read this, and then go back and find her other, shall we say, less conventional but more challenging, novels.

Sick Kids in Love will probably pick up The Fault in Our Stars and Five Feet Apart readers. I read a review that said exactly that. And it does fit into that trope. Both Ingrid and Sasha suffer from chronic pain, and their lives are to some extent, bound by their condition. Their very different family lives also play a role in how much their diagnoses control them, but at its heart, it’s a story about risk.

We see a lot about chance. Isabel often muses on the coincidence of meeting Sasha. She also thinks about destiny and fate, and of course, about the way her mother chose to leave rather than stay for the long haul. Ingrid’s father, a doctor, might seem to be the ideal parent for a child who suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis, but in fact he has developed into a medical administrator who is in denial about how much Hannah needs in terms of support and acknowledgement, and a confrontation between them is inevitable.

Sasha, in comparison, seems to be surrounded by love and support. But lately his father, seeing a new woman, is leaving Sasha to care for his younger siblings more and more. Sasha remembers how much his parents were around and present for him, and he is dismayed that his younger brothers and sisters are not getting that same attention. So, both Isabel and Sasha dealing with parental issues, builds and develop a stronger connection.

Of course, it is attraction that initially brings them together. Meeting at an infusion clinic, their flirting is adorable, funny and real. Having decided a long time ago that a romantic relationship is not for her, Isabel is in real trouble when their second chance encounter turns into a thing. But her healthy friends sometimes make her feel less, and connecting with Sasha who knows what it’s like to have limitations, appeals to her lonely self. Their honest discussions about having an ‘invisible’ illness are a strong element of the book, however, of course, they do keep a few secrets, so that eventually there is miscommunication and conflict before it is all resolved with a high degree of satisfaction.

I loved this book a lot because all the characters are depicted with flaws, they make many mistakes but always try to do better. The adults are just as important as the teen characters, and the story has layers of complications that never seem unrealistic (although one particular coincidence was a niggle for me). Thanks to Entangled Teen and Netgalley for the advanced copy. It appears that it will be available in Australia this month as well, and I am going to seek it out for my library. My older students will love it. Recommended for readers who look for in-depth narratives with several issues all vying for attention, and who appreciate a mature relationship that develops between the romantic leads. It is not exploitative or graphic, instead offering a loving and accepting depiction. Sick Kids in Love will be out on November 5.

Review: The Love Playbook by Suze Winegardner

The Love Playbook by Suze Winegardner

Published by Entangled: Crush
Released: November 4 2019
ISBN: 9781640638563

Read October 29 – 30 2019

This is unashamedly romantic but following all the tropes doesn’t make it a predictable story. Avery and Lucas swap points of view throughout the book, which allows us to see the secrets they have and those they chose to keep. There are a lot of secrets in this book, and they are not only kept by the two main characters. Each of the secondary characters have their parts to play in ensuring there are lots of misunderstandings, which makes it a pretty tense read.

Lucas’s backstory is detailed and terrible. He has made some seriously bad decisions and he is now paying the cost. Unfortunately, this affects his mother’s life, something for which Lucas finds hard to forgive himself. He is at a very low point in his life, and the appearance of Avery as saviour and support confuses him. He doesn’t know if he’s attracted to her because she seems able to solve some of his immediate problems, and there’s also the issue that she is his new football coach’s daughter which makes her doubly off-limits. It’s a mess all right.

Avery only wants to help her dad. And her brother. Helping Lucas seems like an easy way to do that. But she is also fighting an intense attraction to him, and readers can see they are good for each other, but firstly they will need to be honest. And as we know, this is a long way off. As the tangled webs entwine further, readers will wonder how on earth can they ever find a way to forgive each other once the truths are ultimately spilled.

The story is about football, about a small-town community, about a boy who is treated badly, and about a girl still grieving the loss of her mum. It has depth and we see that life is messy and complicated. These factors lifts it above a simple romance novel where the angst is often superficial and quick to overcome.

The Love Playbook is out on November 4. Thanks to Entangled Crush and Netgalley for advanced copy. Recommended to lovers of teen romance novels, and who love their boys hot yet supportive, and their girls clever and bossy. I enjoyed it a lot.

Review: Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Published by: Page Street Kids

Released: October 8, 2019 (in the US)

ISBN: 9781624147999

Read: October 6, 2019

I seem to like to pick these books that offer diverse characters. Torrey is a black, gay boy and bloody heck, has his life been tough. We are thrown right in the deep end (just as he is). He has just arrived at his college campus and he receives a phone call from his beloved Aunt Lisa telling him the land on which his bees reside is about to be taken from him due to unpaid land taxes.

There are so many backstories and family threads that Torrey weaves between his narrative of now and present. Sad but realistic situations involving his bed-bound mother (due to a coma), his deceased uncle Miles and his narrow-minded grandfather Theo (one of the reasons the taxes have not been paid). These flow in and out of his worries. One thing, Torrey is an over thinker, a worrier, a boy who burdens the problems of the world. So really, he’s an achiever. He gets things done. But this, it’s way out of his league. Luckily, he has CAKE—four STEM girls, black girls, loyal friends—with knowledge and connections he draws on to try to find a way to keep his bees.

Torrey’s voice is full of modern slang and acronyms. Sometimes I felt quite old, unable to take meaning even with context and a solid vocabulary. But that’s ok. I am old. Younger, hippier and edgier readers will immerse themselves completely in Torrey’s determination and resilience.

The beginning of the novel moved slowly through his first few days of College. He connects to a friend and potential love interest, and his roommate is another support person. He draws the ire of one of his lecturers, who develops into an interesting character, although we can presume she challenges and supports him, unfortunately, the relationship is under-developed.

This is how I felt about the last third of the book, actually. It rushes past and problems are solved quickly, and the love story miscommunication sorted easily. The storyline involving his mother is left open, although we have no doubt how Theo feels (‘and don’t come back!’). I wanted the conclusion to feel stronger. I wanted to see Torrey more grounded, and I wanted to see more of those darned bees!

Thanks to Netgalley and publisher for advancing me a copy. Torrey has really put up with a lot in life, mostly grief and rejection, so he absolutely deserves all the excellent things that come his way. Recommended for readers who like their novels diverse and inclusive. These characters are out of school, and it’s lovely to read about college-aged young adults. We really thought New Adult was going to be a thing, but it seems to have stayed in the romance realm and hasn’t really taken hold in the ‘contemporary issues’ space (let me know if I am wrong here). I loved Torrey and Gabe, Desh, Clarke, Auburn, Kennedy and Emery (the aforementioned CAKE), and Aunt Lisa. They are all terrific people. Any Means Necessary is out on October 8 in the US.

Review: How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

Published by: Duet Books Imprint of Interlude Press
ISBN: 9781945053801
Released on: September 10, 2019 (in the US)

Read on: August 3 – 5, 2019

Remy Cameron is a happy-go-lucky 16 year old, with a great family, excellent best friends, and the best dog in the world. He believes he has the best taste in music and is the president of the school’s GSA group, being out and proud since he was 14. From this position of settled, grateful and in control, Remy’s life starts to blur.

The narrative drive develops when Remy’s AP English teacher demands an essay from him, defining who he is. Suddenly everything that seemed so certain is no longer clear-cut. Remy starts to doubt and question everything, and the longer he procrastinates with the essay, the more demanding every part of his life becomes.

While there is much humour and pop cultural references to amuse and appeal to nerdy readers, Winters also manages to throw in come serious talking points, but never comes across as didactic or preachy. Yes, he wants young people to know that it’s never a cool thing to out anybody, or to bully more vulnerable individuals, but he does it in such a way that it emerges from the storyline organically and with style (just like Remy).

It’s all about labels given to us. Remy has many: Black, adopted (into a white family), and gay. But he’s also a brother, a friend and boy who has suffered a broken heart. He starts to notice how people define him by the labels they apply to him, and he realises that he does the same to other people. We are all guilty of lumping people into categories because we are lazy or easily influenced. Winters wants us all to be more nuanced with how we deal with the people around us, and to take the time to dig beneath the surface levels that are shown to the world.

When Remy starts a secret relationship with a closeted boy, another really important topic emerges: that of consent. I loved the way they asked each other questions, ‘can I hold your hand?’, ‘may I kiss you?’. These things may appear simple, but behaving in this way shows respect and care, and we have seen a lot about these issues in the media to know that many people seem ignorance of basic manners and etiquette . Things do get hot and steamy with this pair, but it’s very positive and done sensitively and with care.

Remy’s self-awareness and growing sense of a true identity are dealt with extremely authentically. Yes, some people could argue that Winters tries too hard with his slang and musical and cultural references. But Remy is such a genuinely good kid, it’s hard to let these little niggles stop us from cheering him all the way to discovering his best self.

Be true to you. It’s a concise and strong message.

Thanks to Duet Books and Netgalley for advanced copy. Recommended for teenagers who love their contemporary full of diversity and inclusiveness. There are lots of laughs to be had, and lots of triumphant moments for more people than just Remy. The secondary characters have their own arcs to pursue. I loved its happy and satisfying resolution. How to be Remy Cameron will be out (in the US) on September 10.

Review: No Barriers: A Blind’s Man Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon (the young adult adaptation)

No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon (The Young Adult Adaptation) by Erik Weihenmayer

Published by: St Martin’s Press

Released on: August 27, 2019

ISBN: 9781250247728

Read on 26 – 27 August 2019

Those of you who visit my blog regularly will know this is pretty much a fiction-only zone. And a young adult fiction only zone to boot. But I have found myself reading a few of these YA editions of books for adults recently, and they tend to be memoirs or biographies. Which is okay, yeah, but for sure, I would rather be reading fiction.

I asked for this one because we want to (and are going to) give it out in our standing orders. It’s a terrific account of a person who lives life to the fullest, who demands a lot of his body and his mind, and who seems keen to ensure other people reach their potential too.

It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know anything about this man. The first chapters takes readers through Erik’s early years, when and why he loses his sight, and his triumphant conquest of Mt Everest. We discover the importance of family, and recognise the admiration and affection he has for the team who surround him, and support his endeavours.

For me, it was difficult to read about the way he throws himself into danger since I am generally a cautious and lazy person. But Erik is always heading directly into situations that not only challenge his blindness, but also open him up to a multitude of wondrous natural beauty. The mountains, the ski slopes and the river rapids are easily visualised by readers, by the language and emotion used to describe them.

Erik’s attempts to kayak down the entire river of the Grand Canyon is thrilling and inspiring. He meets every obstacle with thought and precision, but he doesn’t ever let us think he does this alone. Always there is a team around him, providing access to expert knowledge, equipment, and support. Nor does he shy away from showing us when his fears try to suppress his courage, and there are times when he fails. But he picks himself up, learns from the mistakes, and continues to move ahead. Very inspirational.

His own understanding of what scares him is a strong aspect of the story. To be able to accept what might stop him from pushing on is well documented. As is his ability to work through the mind blocks. We see him consciously force his brain to ignore instinct, and to listen to the instructions of the guides to ensure he navigates the terrifying and unpredictable rapids. The feelings of success and achievement every time he overcomes adversity are a real highlight of the narrative. We cheer Erik on time and again.

I hope the actual copy includes images of Erik’s journey because reading about the glory of the river running through the Grand Canyon made me seek out YouTube videos of it. I know there’s a film called The Weight of Water that follows the whole journey. Based on the book, it would be an amazing visual experience.

Thanks to St Martins and to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. Out everywhere on August 27, which is already today here in Australia.

Recommended to readers who like true life stories about people overcoming adversity and challenging themselves to test the limits of human endurance. It’s a trip all right.