From my 170 reads (so far) of the year, I have whittled the list of favourites down to 22 (see picture below courtesy of Goodreads), and then down to a further five. So here are… More
I keep reading then forgetting to keep notes and write reviews, and then I have nothing new to add to the blog. Oh dear #firstworldbloggingproblems So here are short reviews on five books I recently read, all of which have a focus on friendship, an important element in all teenagers’ lives. They cross a number of different genres, but mostly they are contemporary novels, that resist the temptation to focus primarily on romantic relationships.
Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Released: 24 April 2018 (in the US)
Read: 14 July 2018
While there is a developing romance between MC Amelia and Grady, it is the friendship of Amelia and BFF Cate that creates the tension and identity crisis that Amelia faces. She is an extremely likable protagonist, and we see parallels with Molly, original owner of the ice cream stand and the ways her friends supported her. This back and forth through different times reminds us just how much girls have relied on their friends throughout the ages, with female friendships explored in a number of interesting and realistic ways here. I know some readers complain about how acquiescing Amelia is to Cate, but that just shows you the type of girl she is, and consistent characterisation is very important. I am pleased to see that ultimately she stands by her beliefs about the way people should be treated, and the leadership style she has. I found this novel every engaging and inspiring.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Released: 1 August 2018 (in AUS)
Read: 9 September 2018
Main character Tash identifies as romantic asexual, so it’s not surprising that there’s a strong interest in how she develops and maintains romantic relationships. But really, it’s her friendships with siblings, Jack and Paul Harlow that create the most interesting elements of the story. Tash also has a very love/hate dynamic with her own sister, Klaudie, and Ormsbee ensures their connection is dealt with in depth and authenticity. We also witness Tash’s interactions with other secondary characters who play roles in her YouTube series, Unhappy Families, and again these are not treated in a trite or contrived way. Tash has a lot going on with her sudden Internet fame, and of course this impacts on all her relationships. The online attraction with Thom is a slow moving beast, and when they finally meet towards the end of the novel, readers are given a most satisfying encounter, and Tash finally recognises her own worth. I loved this complex twisty novel a lot.
Tempests and Slaughters by Tamora Pierce
Published by: Lothian Children’s Books
Released: 13 February 2018 (in AUS)
Read: 14 September 2018
This story of the origins of Numair has been a long time coming, and young people who read Dane’s story will want to come back (even if they are now adults) and read this.
It does have a bit of a Harry Potter feel, in that Arram Draper (as he was known then) spends most of this book at the mage’s academy in Carthak. Spanning four years, from the time Arram is 11 till he’s 14, the story shows us his potential, his connection to his masters, and of course, the friendships he develops with Varice and Ozorne, who as we all know,become great enemies of Numair.
The friendship is paramount to all three. They are the most magical, the cleverest and the youngest of all the mages, and it’s this connection that brings them together. But what keeps them together is their understanding of each other’s weaknesses. There seems to be such a strong foundation, it is hard to believe it will be torn apart, and knowing that it is, it is easy to imagine how devastating that chasm will be for each of them, but mostly for Arram–who is humble, generous and free of any malice or envy. I think this book shows a growth in the author’s writing style. It might sent you back to the Realms of the God quartet. It did that to me.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Published by: Katherine Tegan Books
Released: October 2 2018 (internationally)
Read: September 28 2018
This follow up to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is set one year after the adventures of Monty, Percy and Felicity. Now from Felicity’s point of view, we witness her failed attempts to be accepted into medical school in Edinburgh. When the person who she trusts and likes, offers to marry her to rescue her from her flights of fancy, Felicity hightails it back to London and imposes on Monty and Percy and starts again.
The narrow defined roles of women only makes Felicity more determined to succeed, and to do this, she must take advantage of a ruined friendship. I utterly loved how flawed the girls are here. They are not martyrs or saints–they are real girls, motivated, opportunistic, each with their own agendas. Fortunately, Felicity’s align with Sim’s. then with Johanna’s, and the growing relationships between these three willful women mean they are stronger, fiercer, and more able to achieve, even though they are constantly thwarted at every turn by narrow-minded, misogynistic, privileged [insert your own rude name here] men.
As you can tell, I loved this a lot. It’s funny (especially when we meet up with Monty and Percy, the adorable and adoring couple), exciting and entertaining. Girl power for the win (eventually)!
Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vu
Published by: Ford Street Publishing
Released: August 1 2018 (in AUS)
Read: October 3 2018
I read this because it was the only Gold Inky shortlisted novel I hadn’t read. The day before I picked it up, it won! Chosen by Australian teenagers, this novel beat out Take Three Girls, Beautiful Mess and In the Dark Spaces, and I believe it is the depiction of friendship that makes it a winner for young readers.
Adam’s brain tumour has not slowed him down much. Since he’s a brain rather than a sporty kid, he’s been able to continue schooling, reading and achieving well. This latest trip to the hospital right at the end of Year 12 means his two best friends, Tess and Ambrose, are busy studying and taking exams, while he lives out his days remembering and writing.
Adam is a humble and loyal friend. He takes us back to pre-school when he first met Ambrose and Tess, and then subsequently through various significant events, clearly demonstrating the strength and depth of these friendships. Yes, he meets Rachael, another hospital bound teenager, and re-connects with Rosie, a former book buddy, but it’s Tess and Ambrose who he turns to when he gets bad news, and they don’t let him down. Just to let you know, I cried continuously through the story. It is emotionally powerful and inspiring, depicting courage and love. A strong read.
I highly recommend all these books to you if you want a book about teenagers’ friendships.
Here to Stay by Sara Farizan
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers
Released: September 18 2018
Read: September 15 2018
Sara Farizan’s third novel explores a number of the author’s interests, and with her personal passion at its core, the novel is deeper and richer. Bijan, the son of an Iranian dentist mother and a (long deceased) Jordanian father, is a keen basketballer, a high achieving academic nerd, and a little bit keen on the popular Elle. He has lived all his life in America, and attends a private school called Granger, (go Gunners!), and while he might privately wish for fame and popularity, he’s actually quite happy flying under the radar with best friend Sean.
Bijan is a generous, shy and thoughtful character. Throughout the story, we see him consider his choices carefully, and a lot of them come down to how his mother will react. We can see their close relationship is a positive force on him, and when confronted with bigotry, violence or cyber bullying, Bijan often makes the sensible decision. However, she doesn’t expect him to cower or run away, and the conversations between them, when awful incidents start to occur, are excellent examples of two people talking and listening to each other, as there is clearly respect on both sides. Not that he doesn’t keep a few secrets from her. He is after all a teenager, but mostly they are about protecting her from worrying about him.
I mention the ‘Gunners’ above because it Bijan’s involvement in trying to have this name and the accompanying mascot (a colonial soldier carrying a gun) changed to something more appropriate and inclusive that drives the narrative. As well, it’s his starring on the basketball court for the team bringing them to a tournament final. Jealously, ignorance and racism rears their ugly heads, and Bijan has to navigate this journey, but as he discovers, he’s not alone. His friends and peers show support, and Farizan tries to balance the two views evenly, although clearly the bad guys are those who post images of Bijan as a terrorist, and who try to get him expelled from the team.
Interestingly with the gunners sub plot, Farizan doesn’t mention school shootings, and I would be interested in knowing why. Even knowing this was written before the Marjory Stoneman High Douglas school event, there have been others that could have been referenced. On the other hand, the author is more interested in trying to breakdown stereotypes and generalisations, so perhaps bringing that into the mix might have muddied her waters.
Another pleasing aspect to the novel, is the slow moving and very cute romance. I liked how the friendships with other people were equally important to Bijan. There is a lovely mix of ethnicities, which aren’t token or didactic. It’s just a realistic mix of young adults of varying races and sexual orientations. The title of the novel is taken from the slogan that appears to defend the gunners as mascot. Ironically it could also serve as a motto for Bijan. He is here to stay. He is American-born, this is his country, and with the support of his family and friends, he doesn’t need to explain or justify his existence. So move on, nothing to see here.
Thanks to publisher Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley for the advanced copy. Highly recommended for readers who love their sport, especially their hoops, and like a challenging social issues story that makes them think and laugh (Sean is a riot, as well as a very good friend). There are plenty of positive representations, and even some of the bad guys are shown to be misunderstood and troubled. It’s concludes with a satisfying open-ended resolution, leaving Bijan ready to take on senior year from a safe and happy place.
Here to Stay is out on September 18.
The Universe is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Released: 6 September 2018
Read: 1 – 3 August 2018
The first book in this series originally came out in 2003, and barely six months have gone by when we start this one. I haven’t read The Earth, My Butt and Big, Other Round Things, but I don’t think I needed to. All the important highlights are given a short explanation, and away we go. I believe that the first book (such long titles) has been re-vamped to cater for this millennial generation and then re-released in June to pre-empt the new title, but I am still happy to enjoy Virginia’s new story without having to go back to the first one.
Part of this is because we don’t get far into the novel and Virginia is ready to cast aside her boyfriend, Froggy. I suspect it took all of book one for her to win him over, and just like that he’s gone. So yeah, no need to read THAT story. Ha. I am sure there are teenagers who will disagree, and fair enough too. Poor Froggy. Mostly I worry about his name.
The story centres around Byron (did the first one? Oh gosh, do I have to read it after all?) and his alleged rape against a college friend. We agonise alongside Virginia as she struggles with Bryon’s return to court, and his drain on their parents emotions and finances. Virginia is also about to see her sister again who has been in Africa for a year. These turbulent times are exacerbated by meeting a boy who seems to return her attraction.
It’s clear early on that Virginia is a plus size young person. She constantly refers to her body, and although she is okay with how she looks, there are a number of people around her, most especially her parents, who seem determined to bring her down and demean her. I found this aspect of the story most distressing. I wanted her parents to do better, but with all their attention firmly focused on her older siblings, Virginia is free to move around NYC with a freedom of which she takes excellent advantage.
What is shown all the way through the story, but never commented on, is that Virginia walks everywhere. She is active, and eats well, so there’s a disconnect between the way others in the book view her, and the way readers do (if they are observant). She loves her weekly kick boxing class, and feels empowered and part of a group. Of course, her mother spoils that for her, and it’s up to Virginia to take charge of her life and refuse to allow her parents to dictate to her.
While the Bryon storyline is serious and challenging, there’s a light and bright sense of humour and strength that runs parallel. Virginia’s new romantic interest is a decent and caring boy, and the secrets they keep and hide from force Virginia to take some steps forward in maturity level, and it suits her.
Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for advancing me this copy. It’s out tomorrow here in Australia. Recommended to readers who love a realistic love story that is impacted by other people’s problems. Its tone is a mixture of funny and serious, and the setting of New York plays a major role. Virginia is a brave and proactive protagonist who still needs and takes the time to sort through issues. She’s a great role model.
Save the Date by Morgan Matson
Published by: Simon & Schuster Australia
Released: July 1 2018
Read: May 3 – 5 2018
It is very exciting to be part of the #AusYABloggers reading tour for Morgan Matson’s newly released Save the Date. While there are lots of places to purchase the book, I have decided to link my review to Riverbend Books, in keeping with my philosophy to #buylocal and also, to support #indiebookshops. Even if Riverbend isn’t in your local neighbourhood, they have an excellent online service, especially for schools looking to purchase quality texts for their collections.
Here are other #AusYABloggers who are sharing their thoughts and giveaways about Save the Date today:
This is the fourth Morgan Matson novel I have read and loved, and her stories keep getting better. Her books are often classified as summer romances, but they actually deal with serious issues in detailed ways. These aren’t light, thin stories. They are long and complicated, and show the messiness of life. It’s pleasing to see the topics covered are more likely to be actually experienced by the majority of teens—family drama, future career opportunities, and of course, picking the right bloke—which make them more appealing that a book that might use cutting, drugs or an eating disorder as a way for main characters to develop identity and self-growth. Obviously some readers can relate to those kinds of books, but in my everyday interactions with young people, most of them live ordinary middle class lives, and their experience of extremely risky behaviours are confined to watching Riverdale and Game of Thrones.
The first thing to note about Save the Date is its humour. Matson has injected much fun and silliness into this wedding disaster tale. There have been enough reality television programs about bridezillas and getting married to strangers, for us to be aware of potential catastrophes. While it’s helpful to be familiar with American traditions not seen here in Australia, it isn’t absolutely necessary to know about the wedding rehearsal and dinner that occurs the night before, to truly appreciate how awful it is that the wedding planner goes AWOL after her company discovers fraudulent behaviour on that exact day of Linnie and Rodney’s wedding weekend.
Linnie is most definitely NOT a bridezilla, but her younger sister and main character Charlie, is utterly committed to ensuring her weekend is perfect. The obstacles that Charlie has to overcome to save the wedding show so much more about her character than three chapters of exposition. The majority of the novel takes place over the four days of the wedding, so we are given access to every bit of drama and disaster. Of course it’s all very entertaining, but as we cheer Charlie on to rescuing the event, we slowly become aware that we are observing a girl who has always put her family first, and that her perceptions of them are magnified through rose-coloured lenses.
Charlie has a lot to learn about her four beloved older siblings, partly because they have been protective, partly because they love her devotion to them, and partly because they are thoughtless. We can see how flawed they all are, but to Charlie, they are her heroes, her best friends. Which makes actual best friend Siobhan upset, every time Charlie ditches her the minute her family reappear. We discover quite early that one of Charlie’s brothers, Mike might not even come for the weekend because of a ongoing dispute with their parents, causing much of the early tension. But he’s not the only sibling to bring disruption, ultimately challenging Charlie’s sense of safety and comfort.
This is very family-centred, with more revealing complications and secrets, but it’s also a romance, of course. Charlie’s crush on Mike’s best friend Jesse, has lasted forever, and it seems like now, finally, he sees her like a potential girl friend, although Charlie’s encounters with him show us something different. Then there’s Bill, newly appointed wedding planner, with whom Charlie is forced to spend a lot of time as they work together to solve a hilarious number of ridiculous problems. His calm attitude is offset by his growing understanding of Charlie’s situation, and even though he doesn’t judge her, he does question Charlie’s preconceptions and attitudes about her family, friendships and future. Matson doesn’t push insta-love (mostly because Charlie is initially all about Jesse), but she does show a naturally developing friendship, one that Charlie needs and appreciates, that has the potential to be more.
The concluding chapters tie most of the loose ends up satisfactorily and leaves others open-ended. It’s really the perfect way to finish a book—readers should always walk away from a book with some questions, as well entirely happy about the situation involving the protagonist. Here, Charlie morphs from a girl unable to deal with change, to a realist who has to accept that life is change. She finds a way to forgive her imperfect family, and uses that to propel herself into her own future. It’s a really strong message for young people to hear.
I will easily be able to find readers for this enjoyable, thoughtful and romantic novel. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for including me on this blog tour. Save the Date comes highly recommended, and is one I will re-read for sure.
The Tour concludes tomorrow with reviews posted here:
Final Draft by Riley Redgate
Published by: Amulet Books
Released: June 11 2018 (in the US)
Read: June 11 2018
This is an intense novel, introspective and questioning. Redgate’s protagonist Laila, will feel familiar to other authors. Her constant search for the perfect draft, the dread of sharing her work, and the self-doubt multiplied by spending too much time alone, being safe, writing instead of living must be something a lot of them would know about. I know I understood it, and I just write reviews.
The third person narrative constantly forced me to think deeper. Usually young adult novels are written in the first person, and the drama and angst spills over the page blatantly. But here there’s deliberate distance, careful and considered. Even when Laila is feeling her worst, or her best, the emotions are tightly restrained, but written with such beautiful words, they reverberate for ages.
Laila’s life has been steady and safe. Now she faces uncertainty and risk. But she wants to experience the change because she needs to know the impact it will have on her writing. I worried there would coercion and manipulation by the new creative teacher, but there wasn’t. Sure she suggests, she expects, but she’s also largely there for her own agenda, so she has no qualms about the ramifications these kids might face when they go out to ‘experience life’.
Laila’s relationships with her four best friends is a very strong part of the novel. Hannah, Leo and Felix become as real as Laila, and their support of her is unflagging and ultimately, terribly important. Laila’s family are also authentically developed, although the other three missed out on the supportive parent situation. Felix’s father and Hannah’s parents are pretty unimpressive.
I love Redgate’s Noteworthy, and can tell she is an assured and clever writer. I hope she’s around, writing stories for young adults, for many years to come.
Thanks to Amulet Books and Netgalley for the advanced copy. It’s out now in the US, June 11. Highly recommended for teens who like character study novels, not action-paced thrillers. Laila struggles with many issues, but she’s really thoughtful and rational when she examines her thoughts, actions and motives. She does get up to a few shenanigans, such as underage drinking and drug-taking, but she never goes completely off the rails. There is some discussion about depression and other mental health issues, but we leave Laila in a place where she deserves to be: happy and content, surrounded by people she loves and who love her.
Just one of the Royals by Leah and Kate Rooper
Published by: Entangled Teen
Released: June 4 2018
Read: May 24 2018
I didn’t read the first book in this loosely connected romance hockey story, but I don’t think it was necessary. This pair of KMUKS (Crazy, mixed-up kids) are best friends of the previous book, and although both couples appear in each other’s stories, they stand alone. I asked for it because I am a bit of a fan of YA hockey romances, and there was enough about Daniel’s team to keep me happy. But of course, it’s primarily about Daniel and Madison.
Daniel is a great character, and his growth through the book an important element. He really has a chip about his illegitimacy and fair enough too. As far as he knows, his father, the King, has not bothered to form any kind of relationship with him. Visiting every summer means he has bonded with his younger sister Eva who is the only reason he agrees to consider becoming King of Eldonia.
Madison brings welcome diversity, although the trope of her (Korean) parents wanting her to do medicine and her having to convince them of her actual dream, is worn thin now. But still, she’s a take-charge kind of girl, and protective of Daniel, which is lovely to see.
I was annoyed that they clearly had feelings for each other, but were too reluctant to take a chance. The fake relationship gives them leeway to pretend to express their real feelings, and that was cute to watch, but dear me it was also agonising when the mis-communication got out of control.
The scenes in the fictional European country are fun, the villain suitably creepy and narcissistic, and the plot twist easy to predict, but it moves at a sprightly pace and ends satisfactorily. If romance is your thing, and you like that added to your hockey stories, then this is the book for you.
Thanks to Entangled Teen Crush and Netgalley for the advanced copy. It was released on June 4 (sorry I am a bit late).
Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Released on: June 1 2018
Read: April 2 2018
This is only Jenn Bennett’s third contemporary young adult novel, and it’s clear she is on board with the current trends. Starry Eyes includes diversity of ethnicities and offers sex-positive representation in an organic and unpreaching way. MC, Zorie, is a serious astronomer and photographer, and it’s terrific to see the blend of science and art drive the plot and characterisation.
The romantic storyline is based on miscommunication, but fits in perfectly with the personalities of the two love interests. Zorie is a planner – anxious and tightly strung. Her comfort zone relies on safe, predictable and routine. When Lennon stands her up at Homecoming, then disappears and doesn’t talk to her when he returns, Zorie hides her heart-break and embarrassment behind silence and denial. Lennon is presented as a mysterious goth, a boy with wild parents, and his loner reputation allows him to walk away from Zorie with apparent ease.
But we don’t know the truth of Lennon, because everything is through Zorie’s narrative voice, which is funny and self-aware. She is constrained by her inability to be spontaneous, and she is constantly second guessing her thoughts and her actions, especially around other people. But she is also generous, smart and loyal. A flawed, sympathetic girl, and readers will love her from start to end.
Going ‘glamping’ with the popular crowd is certainly well outside her comfort zone, but Zorie finds herself talked into it by her step-mum, Joy, who reminds her to be careful not cautious with her life. Her decision is also spurred on by discovering her father is cheating on Joy, and by the sudden re-appearance of Lennon, who is still treating her with disdain. Zorie desperately wants her life to go back a year in time, and can only obsess about where everything went wrong. Imagine her surprise that Lennon is invited too, and suddenly the trip takes on an extra dimension of stress and torture (of course Lennon is gorgeously fit, and the only one who knows what he’s doing–such a turn on!)
Fortunately this summary only covers the first part of the book. The rest is the hiking trip (which goes gloriously wrong), and its aftermath, and Bennett doesn’t skip any details. We are given the highs and lows, and laugh and cry along with Zorie, as she re-connects with Lennon, and explores her own boundaries and feelings. It’s a terrific journey of self discovery and a little bit survival, when the rest of the crew abandon Zorie and Lennon to find their own way through the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. I can’t wait to see the full sized maps, attributed to Lennon in the book—my kindle didn’t do them justice at all.
Thankfully Zorie and Lennon spill their secrets long before the end, and we are witness to their very healthy and joyful intimate encounters (all off-page, I assure you), and what’s really good is how Zorei expresses herself sexually. She’s funny and clumsy and honest. It’s adorable, really. Lennon proves to be a person she can trust, and their love is clear.
One aspect of the novel that takes us out of the bubble of Zorie and Lennon is the sub-plot involving Zorie’s dad, ‘Diamond Dan’. His cheating had repercussions for the whole family, but notably his relationship with Zorie. I am interested that in the father in her previous book, Approximately, Alex, was one of the best I have read, and here is Dan, an unapologetic womaniser, who refuses to own any his bad behaviour, and is prepared to risk his relationship with his daughter. I wonder if Bennett has been shocked and upset by some of the #metoo revelations and has found a way to present a part of that in this book.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the advanced copy of Starry Eyes. I loved it so much, and recommend it highly to young adult readers who love realistic contemporaries that allow the romance to build slowly. Lennon and Zorie have known each other forever, so their relationship is founded on friendship. The hiking and bushwalking means we think about nature, about getting away from our devices, and of course, offers a bit of danger that challenges Zorie’s instinct to shut herself away. There are lessons here for all of us. Already released in the US, Starry Eyes is out in Australia and the UK on June 1.
Once again I try to encapsulate some of my reading into reviews over a couple of months. None of these are Australian, but that’s because I want to do a post for them separately.
Sam & Isla’s Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Allen & Unwin ISBN: 9781760293857
We’ve been done this road before with David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, but Sam & Ilsa’s stories are a bit darker than Nick & Norah’s, Dash & Lily’s or Naomi & Ely’s (just remembering how much I love all these ‘couples’). Here we have twins who are about to lose access to their grandma’s much adored apartment, given she’s sold it. This is their last party in the unit, and they both want it to be a success, a goodbye, a final hurrah. But the thing is, they have different ideas of what that perfect night looks like, and of course, it ends up being something neither of them expected.
Throughout the dual narrative we learn much about their backstories, and how important they are to each other. It doesn’t mean they think the other is perfect—far from it. Ilsa knows Sam struggles with perfectionism, OCD and depression. Sam knows Ilsa thinks he is the favoured child, the one who gets all the attention, and their rivalries and attempts to prove they know what’s best for the other make for amusing and unpredictable reading.
The other guests at the dinner party provide the entertainment. While the book only spans the one evening, we have many flashbacks, so the plot never slows down or becomes repetitious. We are always moving forward to a revelation, and to self-discovery, and the beginnings of the rest of their lives. It’s sobering and insightful, even though the execution is not always successful. The guy with the sock puppet is confusing, and the worry that Sam’s anxiety threatens to overwhelm him, endangers what should be a fun party.
This is very much of story about teenagers on the cusp of great change. They are very self-aware, but still young enough to make bad decisions. I appreciate that these authors write inclusive books and don’t pander to their audience. It’s a sophisticated read that I loved a lot.
More than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer
Bloomsbury Children’s Books ISBN: 9781408885079
Last year Brigid Kemmerer released Letters to the Lost, and there we met Rev, sidekick and best friend to MC, Declan. It has been excellent that we only had to wait a year to read his story in More Than We Can Tell. I read this for the first time back in October, and had to re-read it just now because, seriously that was over 100 books ago. I loved it even more this second time, and was able to absorb a lot more details, and consider the messages more carefully. This is a well constructed plot with terrific messages for all teenagers.
We knew that Rev had his secrets and a tragic backstory. Learning more about it now makes for an emotional journey for readers. He is matched by fearless Emma, his romantic interest. We are given both points of view and are happy to see them meet outside a church on a day that has been tumultuous for both of them. As strangers, they swap parts of their pain, and it’s interesting to note how astute Emma is. It’s this directness and ability to really see Rev that captures his interest. For her, it’s the way he lovingly treats her dog, and that he challenges her assumptions.
Kemmerer brings a number of different issues into each of their separate lives—Rev gets Matthew, a new foster brother, un-trusting and silent. Emma gets an online troll and a dismantling marriage. These impinge on their time and thoughts, so when they meet up, they find themselves sharing more, and caring more. It’s a lovely slow organic relationship, built over time, and with words.
I liked the way Kemmerer explored the notion of females in an online gaming community. Emma is a game designer, interacting with a diverse crowd, but she remains a flawed sixteen year old—self-absorbed and unwilling to ask for help. Her distress when everything goes pear shaped seemed a little hysterical initially, but reading it this time, I was more aware that she is unable to contact her nearest and dearest, and acts out of desperation, not selfishness.
Rev’s torturous soul is hard to watch. He lives with shame and the continual thought that he will turn into his despised father. The character of Matthew helps him realise how absurd this is, and of course, Declan is also there to keep him grounded. That bromance is such a positive representation. We need more strong male partnerships in YA, and this is not the first time Kemmerer has created generous boys who treat all people with respect. I applaud her for that. But mostly, I recommend her books because they offer strong plot lines, with real characters, and they make us think.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Hardie Grant Egmont ISBN: 9781405291460
Here is a verse novel about slam poetry, so the style of writing utterly suits and indeed reflects its subject matter. American-born, but of Dominican heritage, Xiomara and her twin brother Xavier try very hard to live an authentic life with a mother hell-bent on forcing religion and religious lives on them. While Xavier pretty much keeps his head down and hides all his secrets, waiting for a time when he can leave, Xiomara is much less passive. Her sharp tongue and biting wit ensures she is always in her mother’s sights.
This is a glorious novel of insight and power. Xio’s poems challenge our assumptions about body image and identity. Her constant questioning of the status quo is revealing and welcome. She doesn’t deserve to be treated the way she is, and she stands up for herself and eventually triumphs. I highly recommend this to both public and school libraries to be read by all teenagers.
In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira
Hot Key Books ISBN: 9781471406515
While this is a family story of mother and daughter, it’s also the stories of two girls on the brink of adulthood. Angie’s present-day story is told alongside her mother Marilyn’s, in the nineties, the same age as Angie. We see the reasons why Marilyn has made the decisions she has, at the same time we see the repercussions for her daughter. The locations are different, the social landscape different, but what remains the same is the search for meaning, for love and for connection.
The prose is beautiful, and the social commentary sharp. As the stories weave around each other, both girls capture our hearts and our sympathies. It’s a really strong novel.
The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson
Walker Books ISBN: 9781406377170
This is a terrific travel story, so anyone who has traveled around Europe, or who would like to, will appreciate the way the author uses landscape and history to reflect the inner turmoil of two girls who are trying to salvage a friendship. Both want to re-connect after a year apart, but are their differences too great now?
Abby, always a quiet geeky girl, is transfixed by the history, mythology and culture she discovers when Riya brings her to Europe for their ‘grand tour’. Riya, richer and more worldly, wants more than anything to show Abby the places she has only ever read about. But she also has secrets and a stubborn streak. They are also accompanied by Riya’s older, bossier and annoying cousin Neel, and he often interrupts or distracts them from sorting our their issues. There is also a diversity of ethnicity and social status. A book is only enriched by such inclusive consideration.
This story of a crumbling friendship is helped along by the trip, and we cheer for the pair of them to start communicating more, and to find ways to compromise, rather than ways to snipe and fight. I had a good time with it.
The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
Penguin Books ISBN: 9780141375397
In many ways, this follows a very familiar path traversed in the paranormal genre. We are situated in a country that is ruled by a fearsome and loathsome king whose brother is trying to overthrow him with serious repercussions for the general populace of all the surrounding countries. Rebels and spies are everywhere trying to infiltrate, set to betray. Luckily, our band of heroes have wide range of skills at their disposal, which they need to survive.
But in other interesting ways, it’s quite different. Our five protagonists spend the majority of the book apart, and not all totally committed to the cause. There is the beginnings of a same-sex attraction, and I can count the number of these in fantasy novels for young adults on one hand (ok, lately, maybe two). The secrets discovered are horrifying in nature, and increase the urgency of our main characters’ actions. By the end, they all have their purposes, some separate, some with another, but the set up for the next book is strong and appealing.
Some of the violence is graphic, and unfortunately, all too easily dismissed as war-time behaviour. However, I engaged with this plucky group, and was happy to travel these somewhat predictable but generally exciting paths with them.
A Date with Darcy (Bookish Boyfriends #1) by Tiffany Schmidt
Published by: Amulet Paperbacks
Released: May 1 2018 (US)
Read: April 28 2018
There is much to love about this witty, charming book which offers positive representations and a diverse cast of characters. Our heroine is the clumsy but clever Merrilee who is starting at a (posh) new school, with her best friend Eliza and sister Rory, only to embarrass herself a million different ways on the first day alone. Readers are cringing and laughing and crying at her antics and their repercussions, but we are also warming to her generous and loyal heart.
Schmidt’s attempts to parallel the contemporary story with classics mostly works. I found the first half wherein we follow a Romeo & Juliet narrative not as successful as the second half where we track Darcy and Elizabeth. Merrilee’s impulsive leap into love with the first boy who makes eyes at her is a good introduction to her, and it allows readers to settle into the rhythms of the story. However, the love interest is waay too unrealistic and his attempts at wooing just not plausible at all.
It’s hard to talk about the book without spoiling. However, I enjoyed all of Merrilee’s musings and attempts to fit in and not cause trouble, but also to stay true to her beliefs. The roles of the adults were varied and some were helpful, and others were a hindrance, which is also believable.
It seems this is going to be a two book series, and I understand we will next follow the adventures of younger sister, Rory. But I really hope we also get Eliza’s story too, because she is a most intriguing character. Here she is sidelined to Meri’s wingwoman, and cast in the role of worrying and cautioning. But I really think there’s a lot more to her than that.
There were lots of other issues explored, including privilege and making assumptions about other people (looking at you, Fitzwilliam Darcy), women in politics, and parental expectations (they only do it because they care). I also enjoyed Meri’s personal growth, and how she learnt to stop comparing her life to a book, and starting living the moment, and making her own choices.
A Date with Darcy is lots of fun and recommended for readers who like their contemporaries lighter and more romantic than issued-based. Initially, lots of characters are introduced which is confusing, but eventually they separate into individuals who all contribute to the storylines. It is heavy on the kissing (& more), but it’s not graphic or exploitative. The love interest is well developed and quickly became my favourite character. He is so swoony. The ending is satisfying, and leads nicely into the next book. Thanks to publisher, Amulet and Netgalley for advanced copy. A Date with Darcy is out on May 1.
Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy
Published by: Sourcebooks Fire
Released: April 3 2018 (in the US)
Read: April 16-17 2018
A quality contemporary young adult novel successfully combines a number of converging issues, as well an engaging set of characters and a plot that burbles along evenly. Now a Major Motion Picture starts off as one type of book, then evolves into another and along the way, readers are persuaded to think about several timely matters. McCarthy also manages to infuse the story with meta references, which blends inter-sectional and inter-textual themes effectively. Best of all, the novel is never dragged down by its weighty concerns, managing to balance the heaviness with a strong sense of humour and self-awareness.
Initially, Iris’s resentment at being sent by her father to the set of the film production of her late grandmother’s very popular fantasy trilogy, basically to serve as babysitter to her younger brother Ryder, makes us believe this will be a family drama in which Iris grows as a character, learns things about herself and reconciles with her family dysfunction. And it is that. But it’s also her love story, her guilt story, and her connecting to her past story. Little brother Ryder is pivotal to the family drama, but he is also a connection to the larger world—his attempted kidnapping by a crazed fan of grandma Thorne’s novels has soured Iris’s love for the books, and her parents too. It’s hoped that the film might relieve Ryder of his nightmares, and Iris of her guilt in her role in the kidnapping, but it’s going to take a lot more to solve the problem of their emotionally manipulative father, and their absent mother.
Ireland stands in for the fantasy locations, and it’s in this landscape that Iris finds some peace, and of course, a boy who challenges her self-perception, and her hostile attitude to her grandmother. There are two potential love interests, but this quickly becomes a non-issue, thankfully, and while tensions run hot and cold between our two love-birds, they soon become emotionally connected to ensuring the film gets made, and this bond, as well as their mutual concern for Ryder, means they look out for each other, and make suitable sacrifices to prove their love.
A lot of the story revolves around the adaptation of the book into the film. We are reminded of real life scenarios like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, sometimes literally on the page. The constant crossing boundaries of what is real and what is fictional, creates an additional layer of meaning, and fans of these texts will either love it or hate it. There are always so many compromises necessary when adapting a text, and McCarthy seems to have a genuine understanding and I found these sections authentic. She deepens it when the fans intrude into the filmmaking process, and the duality of their passion is again believable and often frustrating. They love the work so much, they actually become a barrier to the production because they fear too many changes, they don’t like the chosen cast, and their viral exploitation of social media impacts on financial resources. McCarthy includes all this seamlessly through the plot, and it never feels like a rant or a plea.
However, there is a soapbox element, which is forgivable because it’s such an interesting and relevant issue. The director of the film, Cate has longed to adapt the novel because it spoke to her as a young female at film school. McCarthy shows us how hard it is for women directors to get their chance, and it’s really moving how much of a role model and mentor Cate wants to be for Iris. Her discussions about feminism, power and political games guide Iris eventually, but along the way, we see how much Cate has put on the line for this film. Her depiction is sympathetic and once again, very timely in our climate of positive change for women and society at large.
Iris navigates this story as a flawed character. She is unhappy, resentful, and full of self-doubt, particularly in relation to her own dreams of becoming a full time musician. While it seems like there is a lot going on, the different issues are all related and converge neatly with Iris gaining much insight into her family’s past, ensuring Ryder is given the opportunity to follow his dreams, and securing the film’s future. Her own happiness is well deserved, and McCarthy does well to not solve all her problems too quickly or conveniently. There’s still a way to go, with her father, the fans of the novel, and her own musical journey. But we leave her in a happy place.
Thanks to Sourcefire Books and to Netgalley for advanced copy. Now a Major Motion Picture did come out in the US a couple of weeks ago, and here in Australia, I urge you to keep an eye out for this complicated, feminist novel. Recommended to readers who like their contemporaries involving and messy. The secondary characters are diverse, and all treated well, with strong backstories. The interplay between the film and the book are familiar to readers who spend time creating their own fantasy cast for a hypothetical movie. It asks passionate fans to reconsider how they use social media, and is often the case, challenges people to always try to be kind. I really enjoyed Iris’s quest.