The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (9780545925815)
Released March 28, 2017.
Sumac lives in a very unusual family in a very large house called the Camelottery. Her family is large, very large, with four parents, a baby, several teenagers, even more children and lots of pets. The four parents are really two couples who are all best friends with one another. All of the children are home schooled and there is always something happening around the busy house. Then something changes, and one of Sumac’s grandfathers moves in with them. He’s not used to the wildness of children, the busyness of the large household and his struggle with dementia isn’t helping. Sumac is appointed as the one to help him better understand their family, but after he makes several comments about the color of their skins and the way they live, Sumac decides that it is up to her to find a different place for her grandfather to live where he will be happier and they will be rid of him. It’s really the perfect solution, isn’t it?
Oh how I adored this novel. The creation of a household where the parents won the lottery and no longer have to work but just care for their ever-growing household and volunteer for causes they believe in is lovely. Make it a family with parents who are gay and lesbian and the book becomes something very special. Add in the character of Brian who at age five is just starting to voice his preferred gender. Then mix in even more diversity with adopted children and biological ones all loving and living together.
Donoghue doesn’t just get the mix of characters right, she then gives them all voices that are so honest and true that they live on the page. The fast-paced conversations of the large family around the dinner table are immensely joyful even as they are sometimes strained. The patter of the conversations all have a natural rhythm and flow, something that is very difficult to get this right. And my goodness, it is exactly right.
A grand new LGBT-friendly book that families will love sharing together no matter how many mothers, fathers or children they have. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (InfoSoup)
Best friends, Miel and Sam each have secrets that they wear both outside and inside themselves. Sam was the first person to approach Miel when she was dumped from the town’s water tower the day it was knocked down. She is a girl whose past is tied to the water, whose skirt hem is always damp. She fears pumpkins and was taken in by Aracely, a woman who can rescue people from their own heartache. Miel also has roses that grow out of one of her wrists, marking her a danger to her family. Sam has lived as a boy, serving as the son his mother never had even though his anatomy is that of a girl. At some point, he was expected to return to being a girl but Sam doesn’t know if he will ever be ready. Meanwhile the four sisters in town seek to control Miel and her roses and restore their power, but first they must discover the secret that will make her do their bidding.
Oh my word, this is a beautiful book. It is written in prose that is wildly lush, almost aromatic, so vivid that it remains in your head after you read it. From descriptions of pumpkins as a world of their own to the beautiful danger of the four redheaded sisters to the delicacy of the eggs and herbs that remove heartbreak from a person, each description is its own painting of magic. It creates a world that is ours and yet not, a world of moons and honey, roses and water, stained glass and blood.
To this beautiful and intense writing you add an understanding of the transgender experience and a willingness to write of sexuality and desire and lust for someone who is deciding how they will transition and what their terms will be. It is a book that captures that in-between moment, allows us to linger there with Miel and Sam as their love is just blooming and they are allowing themselves to explore each other in new ways.
Gorgeous, breathtaking and wise, this is one of the most magical and transcendent books I have ever experienced. Bravo for the courage it took to write this and the love that is expressed on each and every page. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Draw the Line by Laurent Linn (InfoSoup)
Adrian works hard to stay invisible in the high school hallways, because otherwise he seems to always get the attention of the school bullies. Adrian uses a lot of his free time drawing his superhero, Graphite and posting new stories and art anonymously to his website. He also has his two best friends who offer him some safety at school, since he is an art geek, sci-fi fan and gay. When Adrian manages to give himself a shocking haircut, he stops being invisible. Then a hate crime happens right in front of him and Adrian has to step forward and speak the truth about what really happened even if the police and others don’t believe him. It’s what any superhero would do.
This book is a dynamic mix of graphic novel, science fiction and LGBT reality. It looks at high school right now, showing that even if people know better there are still gay teens being beaten up just for being themselves. It asks the question of whether being closeted is safer or not, whether putting yourself out there is worth the risk, and whether it is ever suitable to try to be invisible. It also shows readers what a real hero looks like. The type that can’t fly or live in space, but one that walks high school halls and steps up for others.
Linn combines his writing and drawing skills in this book, giving Graphite his own look and feel. I appreciate that the art is well done, but also something that could be done by a talented high school student. It displays a sensitivity that is right in line with Adrian’s perspective as well as a certain theatrical nature too.
An amazing and unique teen novel, this book offers several heroes in and out of costume. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.
Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann
The author of Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty returns with a powerful verse novel. Addie is one of the stars of her Catholic high school’s cross country team and dating a popular boy in a band. Then after having unprotected sex, Addie ends up pregnant and decides to have an abortion. After that everything changes as Addie keeps her pregnancy and decision secret from everyone except her parents and her boyfriend. Addie tries to keep on running, but she has lost her drive to excel at it. She quits the team but doesn’t tell anyone about her decision. Spending time in a coffee shop away from school, she runs into Juliana, an old friend who is having her own troubles.
Heppermann writes superb poetry. I enjoyed the fact that she incorporates the title of the each poem right into the poem itself or makes the title turn the poem a new direction for the reader. She uses each word in the same way, creating tightly crafted verse that is distinct for its powerful message. Addie’s own voice in these poems is consistent, aching at times with pain and defiant as hell in others. It is the voice of a teenager struggling with huge decisions and their repercussions as they lead her to really be true to herself.
Throughout the book, the Virgin Mary is used as a symbol but also as a figure of worship. She is seen as intensely human as well as a religious figure. It is the poems about her that really shine in this novel, each one stunningly fierce and unrepentant. Religion is part of Addie’s life and a large part of the novel. Heppermann demonstrates in her poetry how one’s faith is complex and personal and can get one through dark times.
A great verse novel that takes on big topics like pregnancy, abortion and what happens afterwards. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow.
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.
Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato (InfoSoup)
Two worms have fallen in love and decide to get married. They get lots of advice from other insects. Cricket offers to marry them. Beetle insists on being the “best beetle.” The Bees want to be the bride’s bees. Cricket tells them that they need rings for their fingers, but they don’t have fingers so they wear the rings as belts. There has to be a band and a dance even though the worms don’t dance, they just wiggle. Then come the clothes and the cake. But which worm is the bride and which is the groom?
Austrian has created a completely fabulous picture book. What starts as a look at weddings and marriage broadens to become about the ability to marry whomever we love. By the end, the gender of either worm stays completely ambiguous and all that matters is that they can be married to one another because they love each other. The message is simple and creatively shown. The gender-free worms are a perfect pick for the main characters, offering lots of personality without committing to either gender.
Curato’s illustrations are wonderfully jolly. They capture the rather sanctimonious Cricket and the stuffy beetle with their conservative dress and attitudes. The merry bees are more friendly, but also help insist on a bride and groom. The worms themselves contrast with the others in their plainness and joy in one another. While they are unruffled by the rules of being married, their take on love wins in the end.
A celebration of the freedom to marry, this picture book is sure to cause a new stir among the same crowd bothered by And Tango Makes Three. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.
Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)
This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.
I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!
The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.
A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.
Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (InfoSoup)
Lee is the son of the President of the United States, but he isn’t a teen who is particular positive or popular. A year ago, he tried to take his own life and now is left with a fear of heights. So when he sees a new boy at school balancing on his hands only inches away from the edge of his elite school’s waterfall, Lee is shaken. Later, the boy approaches him and the two become friends. It helps that Lee is immediately attracted to Nico with his Chilean accent and loud laugh. It’s an attraction that his ultra-conservative father will not approve of and one that his father’s national policies has made illegal. In order to get to know one another better, the two boys manage to lose Lee’s security detail a couple of times. But things at school are starting to get weird with one of Lee’s robotic creatures attacking him and a threat from a sentient computer program promising continued attacks. Lee finds himself at the center of the battle for robot rights as the robots begin to turn on him.
Floreen has set his novel in the near future. It’s a future filled with clever devices that keep people connected to the internet at all times, robots that are nearly flesh and blood, and one where terrorist attacks are created by sentient computers. He keeps a tight rein on the setting, an elite prep school where security is tight and the security around Lee is even tighter. This creates a wonderful claustrophobia as well as a paranoia about being watched and spied upon. It’s a great setting for this nail-biting adventure.
Lee is a character I adored immediately. I love his morose sadness and his unwillingness to display emotions unless he is feeling them. He is deeply grieving for the loss of his mother and his suicide attempt is an adept mix of tragedy and humor. He is honest through and through, a complete disappointment to the men in his family, and they don’t even know that he’s gay. Floreen incorporates that aspect of his character throughout the book. His romance with Nico is wonderfully hot and deeply romantic.
A great mix of LGBT, robots and science fiction, this book offers a bleak look at America’s near future with the spiciness of one hot romance. I’m hoping there’s a sequel on its way! Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.
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.