The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
Abby has always seen herself as more of a sidekick than the heroine of a story. She has a glamorous best friend who is clearly the lead. And after all, Abby is plus size, crazy about fashion and gay. Abby has landed a coveted summer internship at her favorite local boutique, but she has to share it with a girl from her class, Jordi, whom she barely knows. Abby has her eyes on landing some free dresses as well as a job at the boutique next year, but she didn’t plan on falling for Jordi along the way. In fact, her entire summer is entirely different than she had planned. Her best friend is absent thanks to her boyfriend and Abby finds herself helping a boy named Jax with his dad’s app by ranking the best burgers in LA. Abby lives her life in bright colors and pink hair, but when others compliment her she can’t see the truth in what she says, until her whole summer comes tumbling down.
Spalding’s writing is entirely fresh. She writes characters who are anything but stereotypical. She gives her characters zinging senses of humor. She makes eating a pleasure for her female characters rather than something to be ashamed of or avoided. Through all of this, she also tackles being a plus size girl, self-esteem issues, how to figure out if someone you like is also gay, and how eating burgers can lead to an unlikely friendship with a jock who drives a BMW.
It was the romance here that will sweep readers off their feet. From the initial moments of noticing someone else to the first kiss to the joy of continued kissing and being girlfriends. It is all presented as a traditional rom-com format, something that teen lesbian books need more of. Add in the wonderful cover and you have a book just right for rainbow-filled summers.
A joy of an LGBT read that will give you all the feels. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss.
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.)
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (9781616958473)
Maya is a young documentary-film maker who longs to go to NYU for college, but her traditional Indian parents want her to go to college much closer to home, even better if she can live at home while she attends school. As a senior in high school, Maya spends her time making short documentary films and hanging out with her best friend, Violet. She has a crush on a boy at school, Phil, someone whom her parents would never approve of. When she meets a very appropriate boy though, the spark just isn’t there. Meanwhile, something awful is about to happen and when it does, Maya finds her family and herself a target of hate crimes and Islamophobia. Maya will have to find a way to make her plans for her future come true at the same time she stands up to others who would silence her.
This teen novel is wonderfully readable. It invites readers into Maya’s world, demonstrating the way that she sees her experiences through the lens of films. Readers will also learn about Indian culture, but the focus is on Maya as an individual. She struggles with parental expectations and the hate crimes of modern America. Though at times it has the feel of a Bollywood romance, there is no softening of the hate that is aimed at Maya and her family, much to the author’s credit.
The book reads at first as a pure romance, with a bit too much blushing and twinkling eyes. It really gains strength when the suicide bombing happens and Maya’s family is targeted due to their last name. The pace at this point turns from dreamy romance to drama and tension. The violence towards Maya and her family has repercussions deep into Maya’s future plans that force her to make a very difficult decision. While the book eventually returns to a more romantic tone, the tension never truly disappears again.
Deftly plotted and well written, this book is an important look at diversity in America. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Soho Teen.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (9781101994979)
Set in a world slightly in the future, this teen novel explores what might have happened if the British Empire had continued to be in power. Canada is part of the empire and the United States is a struggling land of revolutionaries and poverty. When Victoria-Margaret is allowed to have one year of freedom and visit Canada incognito, she discovers new friends, plenty of balls and parties, and a new understanding of the empire she will one day govern. One of her new friends is Helena, who doesn’t know who Victoria-Margaret actually is and who is also keeping her own secrets from Margaret and her beau, August, who also has troubles to occupy his time. As the three of them head into the Canadian country to spend time at their families’ lake homes, the truth must eventually be shared in between newfound love, country dances and letter writing.
Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, has created a novel that could have been entirely frothy and filled with dresses, dances and divas. Instead it is a book that explores many aspects of life from honesty to family honor to the truth of who someone actually is, deep inside. Set in the near-future, the book also has a computer that finds genetically beneficial matches for people. For Helena, this computer reveals that she is actually intersex. That fact almost topples Helena, but as she lives with it for awhile she finds herself exploring new parts of her personality and of romance.
Written with grace, this novel for teens is a lovely introduction to alternative history science fiction. The flair of the debutante season, the touches of British life throughout the realm, and the pressure on all three teens to find proper matches create a whirl of a novel. The two female lead characters are refreshingly different from one another and yet make ideal friends. There is a quiet to them both, an introspective quality and also a merriment and delight in simple pleasures.
A great book for fans of The Crown and Victoria, get this into their hands. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)
Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.
Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.
Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.
A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (9780062398512)
Billie lives in a small town where each year a worthy woman wins the “Corn Dolly.” Billie knows she will never be chosen to compete for it, since she is not the type of girl or woman who gets picked. She is the preacher’s daughter, but she’s also part of the group of teens, the Hexagon, that started her father’s church on fire. Billie loves her friends, taking comfort in their ease with one another. Still, when her best friend Janie Lee confesses that she has a crush on Woods, Billie is devastated. Billie isn’t quite sure what she wants though, could it be that she loves Woods too? Or maybe Janie Lee? As Billie wrestles with her sexuality in a small town, she discovers unexpected allies, new friends, and the power of being yourself.
As someone who grew up outside of a small town, Stevens captures small town life beautifully, from the comfort of knowing everyone to the suffocating nature of everyone knowing you. The micro-world of the small town is so well drawn, demonstrating why one would never leave at the same time showing why some run as soon as they can. This tension plays throughout the book, offering a scaffold for Billie’s questioning of her sexuality that is supportive and evocative.
Billie is exactly the heroine we need right now. She is strong beyond belief, a clear anchor for those in her life. Still, she wrestles with so much, from what it means to be a girl and be feminine to what it means to be in love with a person but not want to “be” with them. There is nothing easy about Billie, she is complex and wondrous. She’s an artist, an inadvertent activist, a hard worker, one-of-the-guys and clearly unaware of her own appeal and beauty. She’s incandescent on the page, a fire to be warmed by.
Complicated and incredibly poignant, this novel for teens rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.
Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9780062393548, Amazon)
Released June 13, 2017.
This is a novel told in three different time periods, each featuring a woman finding love and yearning for change. There is Adri from the year 2065, who has been selected to live on Mars. She is aloof and prickly and spends her last weeks on Earth with her sole surviving relative, an older woman she has never met. Adri discovers the letters of the other women and is soon drawn into their lives and the mysteries of what happened to them. Catherine lives in 1934 in the midst of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the midst of dust storms, she manages to fall in love and then has to decide whether to stay with her mother on their deteriorating farm or leave and take chances in a large city. Lenore lives in England in 1919, recovering from the loss of her brother in World War I. She meets a scarred young man who is living in an abandoned house on her family’s estate and isn’t sure what parts of his story are true.
The stories of these three characters are vivid and remarkable. Adri’s story is told in prose while the others are done in letters. The book folds out into a series of letters, origami-like and wondrous. Anderson cleverly creates a point in the book where one isn’t sure if the ending of the women’s stories will be fully revealed or not. It creates a breathtaking moment of mystery and inconclusiveness that adds to the already appealing story. Throughout, Anderson demonstrates her skilled writing and gorgeous prose that is full of emotion and possibilities.
The three female characters whose stories are told in the novel are vastly different from one another and yet the stories nest together into one complete whole. While they are distinct and unique women, the stories all speak to their tenacity, deep caring and independence. Even as they make critical decisions in the midst of impossible situations, there is a sense of community and connection that weaves throughout the novel, showing that we are all stronger together.
Engrossing, intelligent and incredibly rich, this novel for teens is truly exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.
At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781481449663, Amazon)
Ozzie is the only one who remembers his boyfriend Tommy. He’s known Tommy since they were young children and they started dating in middle school. Now though, no one remembers that Tommy existed, including Ozzie’s family, his friends, and Tommy’s parents. Ozzie has figured out that the universe is shrinking around him, erasing people like Tommy from existence and rearranging history as if they were never there. Meanwhile, Ozzie’s world continues to change. His best friend Lua is becoming a rock star, his brother is headed to basic training, and his parents’ marriage is breaking up. One bright spot in Ozzie’s life is Cal, a confusing boy he is paired with for a physics project but the feelings developing between them complicate his ongoing search for Tommy.
This book sweeps you up, whisks you into Ozzie’s world and you believe, oh my, do you believe. Even though it’s impossible, questionable, and strange, you are along for the ride and the wonder of it all. This is because the emotions are so strong and real, the terror of life changing and the lack of control, the love between people that survives even though one is gone, the joy of new connections and friends. It’s all there, exactly what young readers are experiencing themselves but shown in a way that no one has seen before.
While Ozzie may believe the universe is shrinking, readers will question that right up to the end. What they won’t question is the world that Hutchinson has created here, filled with vibrant characters that you want to love and befriend. The LGBT themes are strongly written and beautifully presented. While the main character is gay, his friends are just as diverse. Lua is gender variant, striking and dramatic, changing pronouns with outfits. Other characters are asexual, presented in just the same frank and unquestioning way. LGBT characters in the book talk about sex, have sex, explore sex. It’s all brilliantly normal in a book that is anything but.
This is a book you must read to completely understand it. I hope you find it just as compelling and wondrous as I did. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 14-18.