Tag: romance

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (InfoSoup)

Willowdean doesn’t spend her days worrying about how fat she is, though her mother’s nickname of “Dumplin'” can be a problem, especially when used in public. Her mother is in charge of the local beauty pageant and has never encouraged Will to enter, though she has told Will’s best friend Ellen that she could win. When a boy at her work at a local fast food joint starts to flirt with Will, she is shocked. Bo is a gorgeous guy and someone that moves in a different social level than Will. When the two of them start to make out after work in their own secret place, Will begins to question her comfort with her body. As Will’s confidence plummets, she makes a big decision. She’s going to enter the Miss Clover City pageant. As she reclaims her self-image, she ends up helping other girls do the same.

Murphy’s novel is simply brilliant. Willowdean is a wonderful protagonist and the claustrophobic setting of a small southern town is also perfection. It’s that setting that lets Will really shine, since it wears on her and the reader. Add in the Dolly Parton songs, the loss of a beloved aunt who served as a second parent, and a handful of red suckers, and this novel will have you head-over-heels in love with Will and everything that she stands for.

Murphy gets the fat-girl personality just right. The feeling of complete self-acceptance that you can have and then the way it can disappear as if it never existed. Murphy though does not accept that. Instead Will fights back, recovers from her funk about herself, insists on relationships on her own terms, and heck even falls in love for good measure.

A book that will have you turning on Dolly yourself, this novel for teens shines and dazzles. It’s for girls of every size, because none of us feel worthy enough. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

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The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (InfoSoup)

Adam isn’t looking for romance at his OCD group therapy session but when Robyn walks in, everything changes. Adam has enough going on in his life with his divorced parents, a stepmother, and a little brother who needs Adam all the time. As Adam starts to teach Robyn about Catholicism, the others in his group become intrigued too. Soon Adam finds himself showing them all the church that he and his mother left years ago. Adam reassures himself that everyone lies, but his lies seem to be increasing each day, from lying to Robyn about where he lives to lying about his mother’s escalating condition. Adam wants to feel in control of his life and to get better, but it is all getting out of control, especially his OCD.

This teen novel won the Governor General’s Award in Canada. It speaks to the OCD condition and the difficult journey towards a healthier mental state. It also has a huge heart and a large dose of humor. Adam’s entire life could be seen as a tragedy but thanks to the writing here that keeps it from becoming morose, the book is triumphant and so is Adam. This is not a book that minimizes the impact of mental illness, instead it embraces the difficulties and concerns, showing how each and every day, each threshold and each twist of panic can change what is happening.

Adam and Robyn are beautiful foils for one another. Adam begins the book as the person with it mostly together while Robyn is freshly released from a residential program. But as the book and their relationship progresses, that changes in a realistic and heart-wrenching way. Throughout, readers see the depth of Adam’s issues and the strength it will take to stop lying to everyone, but mostly to himself.

Funny, deep and immensely satisfying, this novel deals with teens with OCD and how life just keeps on happening no matter how many lies you tell. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Review: A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern (InfoSoup)

Emily prides herself on being a leader in a group at her high school that promotes good causes and explains larger issues. So she is very ashamed when she freezes in the middle of a crisis. When she witnesses Belinda, a developmentally disabled classmate, being assaulted at a football game, she does nothing to intervene. Now she and Lucas, a boy who also failed to come to Belinda’s rescue, have to do community service at a center for people with disabilities. As work at the center, they start to realize the damage that they did through their silence. They search for ways to also directly help Belinda, but Belinda is no longer at school. It will take one big idea that will stretch all of their abilities to start to see serious healing.

McGovern has written an amazing book here. The narration in the novel switches between Emily and Belinda, so readers are able to see the true impact of the assault on Belinda as well as the repercussions in Emily’s life. The book moves readers from the drama of the assault to focus much more on the aftermath and the need for understanding and advocacy.

Belinda is a great character. Her point of view is such an important piece of this novel, showing a bravery after taking time to simply disappear into Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth for awhile. Her disability is never hidden and yet also not exploited in any way. The way she is shown honors the way her brain works and the intelligence that she clearly has. I also appreciate that Belinda is far from perfect. She is demanding of others, often rudely criticizing them in public, and is not subtle at all. Again, this rings very true and honest. She is not a victim but a survivor.

An important teen novel about stepping up and taking action and responsibility but also about the lives of people with disabilities and the place they deserve in our communities. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.

Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.

Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.

Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.

Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (InfoSoup)

Simon has been exchanging emails with Blue for awhile. Simon doesn’t know who Blue is, just that he goes the same school. They have agreed not to try to find one another because they are both not out publicly yet. When Marty discovers Simon’s emails with Blue, he uses them to blackmail Simon by threatening to out not only him but Blue as well. Marty demands that Simon set him up with one of Simon’s best friends. Abby is a new part of Simon’s group of friends and the dynamics are getting more problematic as Leah seems to be more and more jealous of Abby, especially where Nick is concerned. Meanwhile Simon is starting to put together clues about whom Blue might be and keeps on dropping clues of his own accidentally about his own identity. But before Simon can fully figure it all out, Marty makes one final desperate move that outs Simon to the entire school in a very public way, one that might scare off Blue entirely.

I fell hard for this book. Simon is a delight of a character, a brilliant mix of teenage angst, intelligence, great taste in music, and a winning personality. Throughout the book, the writing is bright and sparkling with wit. Albertalli has worked with teens as a clinical psychologist, specifically those who are gender nonconforming and that expertise is reflected throughout this book. She understands teens at a deep psychological level that gives this book a solid foundation from which to build.

One element I have to mention is a spoiler, so look away if you need to. But this book allows two gay teens to actually fall in love, revel in their connection, flirt outrageously with one another, talk about sex, and yes eventually meet and be happy. There are kisses and making out, and both are happy and thrilled to be together. It’s pure bliss to find this in a novel for teens, since it is so affirming. All is not perfect in this world though, there is bullying from other kids at school, the blackmail over sexual identity and a parent who makes gay jokes. It’s complicated and that is the truth of life captured in this novel.

Funny, painful, and pure dynamite, this novel is one of the best teen reads of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (InfoSoup)

Released October 20, 2015.

Kady picked the worst time possible to break up with Ezra: just as their planet was attacked. The two of them manage to survive and are taken into space on two different ships in the fleet. The fleet must keep moving in order to escape the final ship from the attacking forces. As they travel, Kady becomes a hacker, looking at files and documents that only the commanding officers of the fleet would usually see. Ezra becomes a pilot, manning a small spaceship in battles. The two of them can only communicate through texts with one another and when communication between the two ships is shut down, it is up to Kady to reconnect them using her hacking skills. But connecting with each other may be the last thing on their minds as a combination of a deadly plague and an insane artificial intelligence threatens all of them.

This brilliant novel uses documents that recreate the events on the fleet, the hacking of Kady, the piloting by Ezra, and their communications with one another. They are documents from an investigation that takes place afterwards, piecing together what happened to the people aboard the ships. The documents are an amazing mix of different formats which keeps the long novel fresh and fast moving. The documents create a story of mysteries and then horror as the plague takes effect. Horrible and devastating choices must be made that have consequences for many, the tension is tremendous throughout the book and just grows even more ferocious as the novel continues. It’s diabolically plotted in a wonderful twisted way.

The design of this book is gorgeous. Pages loop with text as missiles and space ships weave and fight. Other pages for heartbeats, images made of words. For me, the best part of the book is the artificial intelligence after it has been damaged. It is beyond human, smarter than us all, asking questions that an AI should not be posing, and feeling things that no AI should feel. It is death, life and wonder rolled into one. Brilliance and darkness at the same time.

A glorious science fiction read for teens, this book has romance yes, but at its heart it is a dynamic horror story set in the vacuum of space. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Released September 8, 2015.

Maggie attends the same summer camp that her mother did and her grandmother did. Camp Bellflower for Girls is one of the oldest camps in the South, and nothing has changed there since it was founded in 1922. Maggie spends her summer with friends she made there previous years. She hates the tether she has to wear to keep herself from sleepwalking at night and she’s really into the Backstreet Boys. Maggie lies the rifle range and finds herself getting better at shooting at least when she can stop herself from thinking too much. That gets a lot harder when she notices Erin, a counselor in the younger girls’ camp. Maggie struggles with her feelings for Erin and though she tries to disguise what she is feeling, other girls at camp notice. Some are supportive while others think that it is very wrong. As Maggie’s summer plays out, she finds ways to deal with the pressure of the rifle range, an angry rival, and also to explore her sexuality.

Thrash’s memoir is told with a broad humor about Christian summer camp and how it feels to be a girl different from most of the others there. At the same time, the humor is never pointed and the girls around Maggie are supportive most of the time and in their own ways. Some want to protect Maggie from her crush, others want to just tease. Yet there is no hate here, which is very refreshing. Thrash also does a nice job of allowing a crush to play out, naturally and tantalizingly. Their feelings for one another are clear even as they themselves feel confused by them. The result is a book about the confusion of being a teen, the tensions of both friendships and attractions with the added dimension of being a lesbian. It is a beautifully done memoir.

Thrash’s book is in full color, but the advanced copy I received is in black and white only. Even with that limited color palette, the illustrations are clear and clever. The characters are unique on the page, which is not easy to do with a camp full of teen girls. Each has a distinguishing feature and it all works so that heroine, her crush, her rival, her friend and others are easily recognized. Throughout the entire book, a river of humor carries through and that same humor is evident in the illustrations. This is a book that could have been heavy and still is emotionally charged. The humor helps that be bearable and makes the book a great read.

A strong and important graphic memoir, this book belongs in every public library graphic novel collection for teens who will enjoy meeting such a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.