Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi (9781534408968)
Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, eager to leave behind her uneventful high school years, her dull boyfriend and her over-the-top mother. Her roommate Jude takes her to a coffee place where her uncle works, and Penny finds a connection with Sam immediately. Their friendship steadily grows as they communicate exclusively through texts with one another. But Sam’s life is not a simple one. His ex-girlfriend has announced she is pregnant, he is sleeping in a small room above the coffee shop he works in, and he is trying to break is alcohol habit. As Penny and Sam continue to text one another, their connection grows more serious and soon they are sharing things that they have never told anyone else. But can their friendship survive meeting in real life again?
I fell completely head-over-heels for this teen romance. Penny is a character who is rather neurotic with her bags of supplies and her need for cleanliness. Yet she is also artistic and has a thought process that is just as unique and wonderful as she is. Choi doesn’t try to fix Penny and how idiosyncratic she is, which is a wonder and a relief. Sam too is incredibly written, grappling with so many things at once. One of my favorite scenes happens early in the book when Penny rescues Sam from a panic attack, which demonstrates the amount of anxiety both of these characters have and how they live and love with it.
As the background of both characters is revealed to the reader, their reactions begin to make more and more sense. It’s as if the reader too is meeting a stranger, building a relationship and falling for both of these characters at the same time. A large part of both of the characters are their mothers from Penny’s sexy Asian mother who acts far younger than she is and is constantly getting into trouble to Sam’s mother who ran up credit card debt in Sam’s name, they are influential and painful for both characters.
Beautifully written, awkward in the best way and entirely empowering and accepting, this novel is a warm hug for readers struggling with anxiety. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
American Panda by Gloria Chao (9781481499101)
Mei is a freshman at MIT. Her Taiwanese-American parents have decided that she will become a doctor, though Mei tends to be a bit freaked out by germs. They also want her only to marry a Taiwanese boy selected by them. As Mei chafes under their expectations and excessive attention, she starts to date a Japanese-American boy at MIT. But her brother was kicked out of the family for dating a girl her parents didn’t approve of, so she has to keep him secret. She is also keeping her love for dancing and her dream of owning a dance studio from her parents. And when she starts to see her brother again, she also can’t tell them that. As Mei’s lies and secrets grow larger, it becomes inevitable that they will topple over and the truth will come out. But what does that mean for her relationship with her parents and extended family, going to MIT and her own dreams?
Chao has created a book that she needed as a teenager, one that reflects the deep-seated expectations of a family. At times, the reactions and actions of the family are horrifying, including the put downs of Mei, the disowning of children, and the expectation that the parents’ opinions are all that matter in every scenario. And still, readers will see the love shine through since Chao allows spaces to form that give Mei and her family hope for reconciliation in the future.
The book is masterfully written allowing readers to see culture as both a foundation but also as a constricting world at times. She imbues the entire novel with humor, since Mei is funny and smart, seeing the world through her own unique lens. The messages from Mei’s mother pop up between chapters, offering their own moments of laughter. The steady growth of connection between Mei and her mother is one of the most vital parts of the book, as Mei’s discovery of her own voice allows her mother to step forward too.
A book that belongs in all public libraries, this novel will speak universally to all teenagers looking to make their own paths. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
(Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.)
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Released February 14, 2017.
Marin left her entire old life behind, arriving at college in New York two weeks ahead of schedule and with almost nothing with her. She tried to leave that life behind and start anew, but now her best friend Mabel is coming to see her. The best friend that Marin hasn’t spoken to in months, the best friend she hasn’t texted or called. Left alone in the deserted dorm as winter break arrives, Marin can only wait for Mabel to arrive. When she does, they are awkward together and the story of their relationship slowly reveals itself. Along the way, Marin’s unique relationship with her grandfather also emerges. Now it is up to Marin to face everything she has run from for the first time.
I knew on the very first page that this was a book that would consume me. LaCour writes with a precision and yet a naturalness that disarms and embraces the reader. She is delicate at times, allowing the reader to explore and learn. At other points she is direct, pointing out pain, tenderness and loss with care. The tone is uniquely hers, a voice that is beautiful to read, filled with poignancy, hesitation and wonder all the while it fights depression and despair.
This is a novel of hope, a novel that shows how difficult it can be to face loss and betrayal. It is a book that speaks of the power of bridging those gaps in our lives, of finding a person we love once again and allowing them back into our lives. It’s a story of slowly opening that door, the door to humanity and joy that had seemed locked forever. It’s a story of transformation that is simple and yet profound.
One of the best young adult books on loss and grief that I have ever read, this one will find a place in your heart. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.
Giant Days Volume 1 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, and Whitney Cogar (InfoSoup)
Susan, Esther and Daisy are new friends having just met a few weeks ago at the start of university. The three could not be more different from one another. Daisy is innocent and naive, just beginning to explore her sexuality. Esther, on the other hand, is part goth and brings drama wherever she goes. Meanwhile, Susan has to deal with a man from her past suddenly appearing on campus. The three friends have lots to face, including illness, a list of the hottest new coeds, and the pressures of their courses too. It will take the three of them supporting one another to get through it all.
This graphic novel is the first four issues of the comic book. This is a colorful and glorious look at the first weeks of college, the friendships that are made, and the way that these friends are some of the most unique and special of your life. The three lead characters all have a lot of depth, surprising readers as they grow as one gets to know them better.
The entire series so far embraces important and timely issues like slut shaming, sexuality, open mindedness, and feminism. But beyond that, this is a book that is about real women, making real choices both good and bad, and learning to live after high school. Beautiful.
Perfect for fans of Lumberjanes, this graphic novel embraces girl power and LGBT issues too. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Was Here by Gayle Forman (InfoSoup)
The author of the very popular If I Stay series returns with another winner of a read for teens. Cody is betrayed and shocked when her best friend commits suicide by drinking poison. Meg had always been the adventurous one, the smart one, the one that Cody relied on. When they graduated from high school, Meg headed off to a private school on a full scholarship. Cody was left behind in their small town and as time went by the two drifted apart. Now it is up to Cody to head to Meg’s college apartment and gather her things to bring back to Meg’s family, a family that was very much Cody’s too. While she is there, Cody discovers that there is a lot that Meg was keeping from everyone back home. There is a bunch of missing emails on Meg’s computer as well as an encrypted file that is in her computer’s trash. As Cody starts to piece Meg’s last months together and solve the mystery of what caused her death, she also grows closer to Meg’s roommates and to a boy who may have broken Meg’s heart. Cody has to figure out what caused Meg to take her own life and also how Cody can go on without her.
Forman’s writing is pure comfort reading. Her writing is solid and strong. Here she creates a small town girl longing for big city life, but it goes far beyond that. As Cody starts to understand Meg, she also starts to understand herself and the mother she has long dismissed. At the heart of the book is of course suicide, and Forman there too manages to make it about more than a tragedy. It is about the inevitable guilt and blame that surrounds a loss like this. The ways that you return again and again to the pain and the ways you manage to deny it for awhile. The story arc is wonderfully fractured, showing the starts and stops as Cody deals with different stages of grief.
Cody is a great protagonist, one who slowly begins to see who she is as the novel progresses. At first she is what she sees herself as, just a shadow of a person without Meg around. Yet as she starts to choose her own path and see her way forward, she shifts and grows. She is a person who is not desperate for a boyfriend, but desperate for the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unable to stop following the mystery, she is also clearly and wholly in denial, creating a tension that carries the entire book forward.
When great authors create more great works, it’s a beautiful thing and this is one beautiful read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer
This graphic novel takes real journals, collages, lists and drawings to show the author’s transitional first year of college. Ramsey grew up in very small Paw Paw, Michigan. She was an artist from a young age and worked very hard at it, earning a spot in one of the top art schools in the country. This meant moving to Baltimore and making new friends for the first time since she was a young child. It also meant that she would no longer be the best artist around, she would be challenged as an artist in her classes, and she would have to find her own way in this new setting. Beyer’s novel shows the difficulties and triumphs of a freshman year of college, and is sure to encourage other little fish to try their luck in the big city.
Beyer’s use of her own personal real-life work that comes directly from that time in her life makes this entire novel work. It carries a weight that it would not have without that honest voice of youth at its core. The mixed media format also makes the entire book compulsively readable. Since you never know what is on the next page or what format it might be in, there is a constant desire to find out more and read longer.
Beyer’s art is done entirely in black and white in the book. She plays with light and dark throughout, capturing both the loneliness of the first days at college and also the dynamic friendships and love interests that come later. Her work is humorous and yet poignant.
This is a very strong, dynamic look at the first year of college. Teens will enjoy looking into their own future plans with a little laughter and lots of optimism. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath knows exactly what she is. She’s a fan of Simon Snow, a magical series of books that rival Harry Potter in popularity. She’s a twin. She’s a college freshman. And she does not want to go out and meet people or party. She’s much happier in her dorm room writing fan fiction about Simon Snow and his arch nemesis Baz, where she has reworked them as a steamy gay couple. Cath’s twin also attends the same college, but Wren does not want to be seen much together and is completely into the college party scene. So Cath spends much of her time alone or with her prickly new roommate, eating protein bars and peanut butter because the dining hall freaks her out. Soon Cath will be asked to choose between writing fiction and writing Simon Snow fan fiction. She will need to figure out how to let her Dad live his own life even though he is fragile. But most of all, she needs to figure out how to live life on her own terms and have it be a life worth living.
Rowell does it again with this second book for teens. Her writing voice is uniquely hers, so that her books could only be written by her. She has a wonderful sense of humor that runs through her books, often popping up in the most serious of moments like humor often does in real life. This book is complicated, about more than one expects from the title. While it is about fan fiction, it’s also about so much more, including being a young writer, the writing process, siblings, broken families, and even first love.
Her characters are deep and worth spending time with. Cath is remarkable both in her own issues that she carries with her but also in the way that she survives and flourishes. Her early days at college echo many of my own fears, though I never succumbed to eating protein bars to survive. Many high school students will see their own thoughts reflected here too. It’s universal and makes Cath immediately relatable and lovable. And I must comment again about how well Rowell writes romance and sex scenes. Sex is part of life in her novels, something to be applauded, where no young women are made to feel slutty because they are sexually active. It is beautifully handled.
I can’t wait to see where Rowell takes us next. She is an author who belongs on lists alongside John Green and Gayle Forman. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Allyson has always been the good girl, following her mother’s expectations of her completely. That’s why she’s on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Allyson is the girl who follows the rules, rarely goes out in the evenings with the others, and fades into the background next to her flashier best friend. So when Allyson suggests that they go see an underground performance of Shakespeare and cut out of the tour, it’s very out of character. When she discovers one of the actors, Willem, on their train the next day to London, the two of them just click. Quickly, she and Willem decide to head to Paris together for just one day before they both have to return home. As they travel together, the spark they had on the train becomes something even stronger. So when Willem is gone the next morning, Allyson struggles to figure out what happened even as she returns home and starts college. But the memory of Willem won’t leave her, coloring everything she experiences.
Forman is the author of If I Stay and Where She Went. Here she explores the world of a sheltered teen girl who decides to take a huge risk and break free of her confines if only for just one day. Forman captures the fatigue of travel where one day blurs into the others and the way that tours can dull the wonder of even the most amazing places. She then shows the difference between that way of travel and the travel of discovery and serendipity where your entire being is caught up in experiencing things. Forman writes of Paris and then also the Netherlands with a true affection, creating moments that are splendid and transformational.
Forman’s writing is assured and skilled. Upon opening the novel, the reader knows that the book will be solid. They will be delighted to also find that her writing is romantic and beautiful, truly recreating the experience of falling in love as a teen. She has also created a very compelling teen heroine in Allyson, who struggles mightily with the expectations set upon her. One roots for her to find her way free and also to find her way back to what she lost.
This exceptional teen novel is a whirlwind romantic trip to Europe that will have you wrapped up in its arms much faster than just one day. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.