fiction · YA

Book Review: Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Another reading list treasure! And my library had it. Seriously a great thing, what with interlibrary loan still not being entirely functional. (I’ve gotten one book via interlibrary loan since it kind-of-sort-of went back to normal, but I’ve heard the librarians say that not all libraries are participating in it yet, plus book quarantine recently extended to seven days due to the fact that they’re learning that items like board books and graphic novels carry the virus longer, according to a librarian friend, and if they stack the books, apparently the virus lives on the surface longer, so I’m not going nuts with my requests.) Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon (Simon Pulse, 2019) popped up on a list and sounded amazing to me, and onto the TBR it went. Fortunately, it didn’t have to spend too much time there. 😉

The story begins just before Sophie donates a kidney to her lifelong best friend Peter. Peter’s been sick all his life; Sophie, who’s been in love with him for years, knows that this sacrifice she’s making will mean a more normal life for him, and will bind the two of them together forever. It’s harder than she thought; the pain is intense and lingers long after her incision heals, but Peter’s able to return to public school for the first time in years and Sophie is thrilled that he’s actually able to live.

But life post-transplant is a little different than both of them expected. Life has always been Sophie-and-Peter; now that Peter’s healthier, the two of them have to figure out who they are on their own. Peter’s growing and changing and exploring his options, and Sophie…may have to push herself a little. Or a lot. And her feelings for Peter haven’t changed, but the fact that she gave him an entire organ has complicated things massively. Nothing ever stays the same, and this will be a year of extreme change for Sophie and Peter.

My goodness. This is a lovely, emotional, heartfelt book. Peter’s been suffering from kidney disease since he was young; an earlier transplant failed and dialysis keeps him alive. Sophie knows that donating a kidney to him will help him live a healthier life, but she also knows it’ll tie the two of them together forever, something that appeals to her deeply because of how in love with Peter she is. Peter, who once had a crush on Sophie in middle school, has figured out that he’s bisexual. The new kidney he received from Sophie is giving him a freedom he’s never known before, and he’s feeling a little guilty that he’s exploring so many new things and leaving Sophie behind. The kidney donation, while tying them together, has also complicated their friendship massively.

Ms. Solomon has masterfully woven an emotional account of a friendship that’s entangled by health problems, love, and codependency. Sophie and Peter both nearly leap off the page and you’ll be sighing with sadness and cringing as they make some painful decisions. Peter’s history of kidney disease affects every part of his life and Ms. Solomon affords him dignity while never shying away from the more difficult realities of what his life has been and may be in the future. Even with Sophie’s donor kidney, his future is far from certain, and the reality of this pervades the book (and was like a punch straight to the heart when I read it) and affects everything. Sophie has a little bit of maturing to do, but she’s spent her whole life giving in to what Peter wants, and it’s hard watching her struggle with Peter growing and not needing her as much.

Our Year of Maybe is a bit of a tearjerker for so many reasons. The intricacies of Peter and Sophie’s friendship will yank hard at your heartstrings, but it’s still an easy read that doesn’t necessarily make you work too hard (and I know focusing is an issue for a lot of people right now). It’s a story that will stick with you long after you turn the last page. I haven’t read Ms. Solomon’s other books, but I have You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone on my TBR, and I’m entirely ready to sob buckets over that one.

Visit Rachel Lynn Solomon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

One of the things 2020 has taught me is to balance my reading better, that it’s better on both my mental health and my stamina and ability as a reader to inject plenty of lighter books among the heavier subjects. Although I’m still drowning in the all-my-books-came-in-at-once deluge, it was actually a pretty good thing that my library notified me that my copy of The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books, 2020) had come in about eight weeks ahead of schedule. I needed something on the lighter side after finishing Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Carey has worked for home decor and redesign power couple Melissa and Russell Trip since she was 16; at 26, she’s given a huge amount of her time and talent to them and it’s a bit like trying to keep an angry hippo on a leash at this point. They’re *not* getting along, and with a new show and, of all things, a new book about how to have a great marriage, things are in serious trouble, especially since she and Russ’s new assistant, James, just discovered Russ balls-deep in their last show’s host. OOPS.

Now Carey and James have been thrown together in order to supervise Melly and Russ on their book tour. Carey’s not so sure about this; James isn’t exactly her cup of tea, but after being stuck with him in such a small space and with the common goal of keeping their bosses from destroying their own empire, they find themselves falling for each other. As Melly and Russ fall apart, Carey and James grow closer, but it’s a precarious kind of closeness when the stakes are *this* high…

Cute book. Carey has been with Melly and Russ since she was a teenager; they seem to have somewhat took over some parenting duties and given her opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have. Between that and the fact that she suffers from dystonia, a neuro-muscular disease (for which she needs the insurance they provide), she feels a loyalty to them that won’t allow her to envision more for herself. She’s somewhat trapped in an uncomfortable, semi-abusive relationship with her employers from which she’s not safe enough to leave, and that sums up a lot about what it’s like to be young-ish and employed in the US today, unfortunately.

James is a bit stodgy and self-important at the beginning. He’s an engineer who got shafted by his last employer shutting down due to white-collar crime (I hate that term; it’s insulting. Rich upper-class crime, let’s call it), and he needs this job to improve his now-dismal resume. He was hired on to be an engineer for Russ and Melly, but he was almost immediately shoved into the role as Russ’s assistant and it’s obvious he feels he’s too good for the role. That might have been why I didn’t get immediate warm fuzzies over him like I do about the majority of Christina Lauren heroes. He does come around to value Carey for who she is and what she’s contributed to the brand, but the whole attitude of “I’m too good/educated/classy for this job” is an instant turn-off.

Melly and Russ are a hot, hot mess. They’re a Chip-and-Joanna Gaines-like couple and Russ is absolutely over Melly’s famewhoring, claw-her-way-to-the-top-and-drag-my-husband-behind drive. He just wants to build things and drink beer and watch sports, and this causes him to make some terrible decisions. There’s no excuse for infidelity like that, even if Melly is basically the Cruella de Villa of the design world. I felt bad for him for putting up with so much for so long, but he also let Melly steamroll Carey and let some bad stuff go down for years that he knew wasn’t right (trying not to spoil anything here!), so I had plenty of issues with him too. So while they were both kind of terrible people…they’re well-written. They’re both constantly screwing up and showing their worst selves, and then they let a bit of decency peek out so you can’t entirely loathe them, just mostly.

I didn’t love this the way I’ve loved some other Christina Lauren books- again, I think James’s initial snobbery ruined that for me a bit- but it was a nice read that helped break up some tougher books. I saw that Christina Lauren’s next book is a Christmas-themed one, and honestly, I’m kind of ehhhhhhhh about that. I’ll still end up reading it at some point, I’m sure, but Christmas books don’t really call to me that much. If you’ve read an ARC of it and loved it, though, I’d love to hear about it!

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

Follow Christina.

Follow Lauren.

fiction · romance

Book Review: The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

I am currently suffering from the wonderful problem of having all my books come in at once, and that problem began with the arrival of my library ebook copy of The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez (Forever, 2019). This book hadn’t been on my radar prior to this spring/summer, but as soon as I heard about it on an episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, I hit the want-to-read button and requested it from the library. There was a months-long wait; no problem, I thought, I have no problem virtually standing in line.

And then, of course, everything comes in months before, all at the same time. I’m not complaining…

Kristen is long distance dating a military man who’s due to get out in a matter of weeks and who will be moving in with her, but instead of being excited, she’s hardcore freaking out. How is he going to fit into her life? How will Tyler deal with her constant heavy, painful periods that have pushed her to having a hysterectomy soon? He’s not even the type of guy who feels comfortable making a run for tampons… Kristen’s not feeling great about their future, and then she meets Josh.

Josh is the station’s newest firefighter, best friend to Kristen’s best friend’s fiancé (got that?). After their meet-cute fender bender, sparks fly between them and Josh is in, but Kristen, determined to be faithful to Tyler, keeps him at arms’ length…especially after he talks about wanting a ton of kids. That’s not something she’ll ever be able to give anyone, and thus there’s not even the slimmest chance, even if she were single. Which she isn’t.

But things keep heating up between them, and when the universe yanks away the final barrier, Kristen finds herself in Josh’s arms. It’s everything she could have dreamed of, but how could she be so selfish as to deprive Josh of what he wants most in this world? When tragedy strikes, they’ll have to figure out where each of them stand, and how to move forward in a world where everything has changed.

Wow, are reviews ever mixed on this one! While I enjoyed the book, I totally understand why.

Kristen. She’s bold, brash, in-your-face, doesn’t take crap from anyone…except her overbearing, dragon-lady of a mother. She’s been managing a long-distance relationship with Tyler the Marine for the past two years. She runs her own business designing clothing and items like stairs and doghouses for small dogs. She’s always there for her best friend Sloan, and at 26, fibroids and extremely heavy, painful periods that last for weeks on end are pushing her to a partial hysterectomy. She won’t be able to have kids, something that doesn’t seem to bother her too much until she meets Josh, Sloan’s fiancé’s best friend. The attraction between Kristen and Josh is strong from the beginning, but when he starts talking about wanting a whole passel of biological kids, Kristen knows there’s no hope there, not even if she were single.

Kristen’s inability to talk to Josh about her upcoming hysterectomy is the key problem in this story. If she had been open and honest from the beginning and laid out the facts- I’m having surgery in a few months to remove my uterus- it would have spared everyone a lot of drama. Instead, she choses to avoid that conversation entirely. I see a lot in writing circles on Twitter and in books on writing that if the problems in your book can be solved by a single conversation, your plot isn’t strong enough, but I think Ms. Jimenez’s writing in this story is strong enough and her characters are complex enough that they’re able to carry the book despite this.

Infertility is a huge theme in this book- Kristen’s acceptance of and struggle with it (because both can be true at the same time). It seems like a lot of readers didn’t enjoy the ending; I’m on the fence about it. I understand why the author wrote it the way she did, it’s not entirely unheard of and I know a handful of people who have experienced something similar, but it can also be a giant slap in the face to people in Kristen’s shoes. If you’re struggling with infertility, have struggled in the past, or love someone going through these struggles, this may not be the book for you.

Josh as a hero is pretty great. He unknowingly puts his foot in his mouth about wanting biological kids, pushing Kristen to clam up about her upcoming surgery, but he’s swoon-worthy as a love interest, always looking out for Kristen and taking care of her and anticipating her needs. It’s Kristen’s upbringing at the hands of her demon mother that has rendered her unable to believe that she’s worthy of such care that forces her down the road of problem-avoidance, a detail that I think deserved a little more attention throughout the story, but Josh handles this admirably.

However, I didn’t care for how often Josh veers into ‘she’s not like other girls’ territory with Kristen; he never outright says it, but it comes dangerously close and that made me uneasy. I had thought romance was past that by now, but apparently not?

That said, I did like this. Josh and Kristen are fun together, and their chemistry is off the charts. There’s a major content warning for sudden death, though; if you’re struggling with grief, wait until you’re feeling stronger and ready to read about this topic before picking up this book. These chapters felt like a punch to the gut for me, so I can only imagine how much they would affect someone whose pain is fresh and raw. Take care of yourself.

I enjoyed The Friend Zone enough that I already have its follow-up, The Happy Ever After Playlist, on hold at the library. And that’ll probably come in in about ten seconds…

Visit Abby Jimenez’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

For the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, I needed a book recommended by my favorite blog, vlog, podcast, or online book club, and what a perfect time to pick up Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (Avon, 2020), who had popped up on an episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books that I had *so* enjoyed. She’s smart, funny, witty, and such a joy to listen to; she tells great stories, has an amazing laugh, and I seriously live for the episodes when Sarah from Smart Bitches has her on. I read Ms. Rai’s The Right Swipe last year; I enjoyed it, though it was a little harder for me to relate to Rhiannon’s driven sense of ambition (I’m, uh, way more laid back and go-with-the-flow!). I enjoyed her writing style, though, and was eager to read more from her. And lo and behold, Girl Gone Viral was available via my library’s ebooks with NO WAIT. It felt like I’d won the lottery when I hit that check out button.

Katrina King is more than a bit of a recluse, but she’s working on it. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, and PTSD have steered her life for years, but she’s been working with a therapist and doing everything she can to take back control, and step by step, she’s making it work, adding places outside her home she can travel to. What’s not working is her mad, unrequited crush on her bodyguard, Jasvinder. He’s perfect, beautiful, everything she could ever dream of wanting in a man, and she’s like 99.7% sure he views her as just a client. Sigh. When a photo of Katrina and another customer at a cafe, complete with speculative Twitter thread, goes viral, Jasvinder takes Katrina to hide out at his family farm where she can be safe from the prying eyes of the world and from the people in her past who don’t have the best intentions.

At the farm, Jasvinder’s long-avoided family drama is front-and-center, as are his feelings for the woman he’s been protecting for years. He’s in serious, serious love, but how can he admit that without sounding like a creep? As his past elbows its way forward, his family situation needs immediate attention, and he and Katrina begin to grow closer. But it’s their mutual growth that feeds their mutual attraction…maybe going viral isn’t the worst thing that could have happened…

LOVED. THIS. SO. MUCH. I got Katrina. I could relate. She’s determined and driven like Rhiannon, but in a quieter way, and what really spoke to me was her panic disorder and agoraphobia, both of which I’ve been diagnosed with. I was never as severely affected as she is, but I know the terror of being stricken with a panic attack in public, how scary and embarrassing it is. I’ve had to sit down on the floor while waiting in grocery lines (those used to be my worst places, the places most likely to cause a panic attack. Grocery stores are actually *really* common places for people to have panic attacks), which was really embarrassing at the time. I understood her needing to work to grow her list of places she could visit; I had to do the same, years ago, and there are *still* places that are hard for me to go on my own, but like Katrina, it’s something I try to work on and keep pushing myself. I don’t know that I’ve ever so fully related to a fictional character before. Alisha Rai has done a fabulous job at portraying a character with my exact same brain malfunction, and I’m impressed and grateful to see that so well-written and so expertly crafted and handled in fiction.

Jasvinder.

Jasvinder.

SWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON.

He’s a former Marine who struggles with PTSD and is dealing with something straight out of the headlines today, to which he reacts in completely understandable ways. He’s honorable, not wanting to overstep his boundaries with Katrina, but adorable in the ways that he loves her in secrecy. His love for and frustration with his family work together in such a realistic fashion; Ms. Rai nails family drama and the push/pull of navigating stressful relationships with family members over sensitive topics. Jas is seriously one of the most swoonworthy romance heroes I’ve read recently in contemporary romance, and I so enjoyed his chapters.

To sum it up, I adored this book. Loved Katrina, loved Jasvinder, loved their love story, loved Jasvinder’s dedicated, loving,opinionated family, loved his attempts to make new friends with Samson from The Right Swipe, loved Katrina’s friend group with Rhiannon and Jia (is Jia next???? OMG JIA IS NEXT AND I AM DYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYING! February is when this book is supposed to hit, and I for one am willing to fast-forward EVERYTHING to get there!!!). This was a lovely, lovely distraction from the mess of the outside world, and I didn’t want the book to end. Anyone know how to jump into the world of a book and never leave???

Visit Alisha Rai’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

On rare occasions, books from my TBR match up with books from my reading challenges, and then we celebrate!!! The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt of a book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads wasn’t hard to fill, but I used this category as an excuse to read Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Avon, 2019). I adore Ms. Hibbert on Twitter, so I added this book to my list before it came out- meaning, this was a TBR book I actually got to before it had lingered on the list until it was old enough to drive! (Speaking of which, I need to go in and clean up my list again. Haven’t done that in a year or so, so it’s definitely time, just to make sure I still really want to read everything that’s on it.)

Chloe Brown needs a life. Ever since her diagnosis of fibromyalgia years ago, Chloe’s let her life dwindle down to work, her sisters and family, managing her pain, and little else. First on the list, move to her own place: check, and unfortunately, it’s one with a majorly hot super, one Red Morgan, whom Chloe was not prepared for and for whom she can’t control her attraction. But maybe, just maybe, he can help her complete at least some of the tasks on her list…

Red Morgan was expecting Chloe Brown to be more of a snob, but he’s actually starting to enjoy her surprisingly witty personality right along with her gorgeous face. He’s out here working as a super to get his life back in order after his last relationship tanked badly and left him scrambling for a sense of self. Red and Chloe are two very different people from different sides of the tracks, but they’ve got enough in common to make a go of it, and enough sparks to start a five-alarm fire. If only they can get past themselves and the ghosts of their pasts…

I had a hard time getting into this one, something I fully blame on the state of my brain at the time I was reading this, because the book itself is a delight. Red is just a little bit bad boy (tattoos, motorcycle, comes from a lower class than Chloe, something that is occasionally a point of contention between them but never as much as it was between Red and his last girlfriend), but he’s also got heart and a killer talent as an artist. He’s a study in contradictions and the unexpected, and he’s also just so GOOD. He notices even Chloe’s tiniest grimaces of pain and reacts accordingly (uh, JEALOUS HERE. SUPER, SUPER JEALOUS); he cooks for her, helps her when she needs it (and lets her manage if she can or wants to), he takes care of her. Talia Hibbert has really created a fabulous hero in Red Morgan.

Chloe Brown has retreated from the world, something I could definitely identify with. My back (which is my catch-all term for where my pain is; it starts about mid-spine and goes down, affects my entire pelvis but mainly on the right side, and goes down both legs to my feet but again, mainly on the right) can go from perfectly fine to rendering me almost entirely unable to walk in a matter of hours, which makes it difficult to plan for things- who wants to schedule something you might have to cancel? How can you make long-term career plans if you’re not sure your body will cooperate? The pain is bad enough some days that I have a difficult time focusing; I liken it to trying to watch something on the TV when you also have the radio blasting at full volume. In that aspect, Chloe and her life were familiar to me. When she realizes there’s a problem, that her life has gotten so small as to be ridiculous, she takes charge and creates a list of all the things she would like to do in order to throw herself back into living, something I admire deeply. I had a similar plan this past year to engage with the world more (which is probably why this whole pandemic started! Sorry ’bout that…)- I’ll get back to all of that one day…

It’s a nice change to see chronic pain represented in a romance, although I constantly wondered throughout this book how it would have played if the characters were American instead of British. Insurance would have been a huge stressor for Chloe (and the stress may have exacerbated her condition); she would have worried about how to pay for all her medical appointments and prescriptions and may have worried about her increasing medical debt; it’s possible that Red may have factored in his ability to support her and pay for her medical care into his decision to begin or continue a relationship with her (in the US, people on disability, which often includes being on Medicaid, lose their disability and medical care if they get married, which forces many of them to remain unmarried against their desires). In a country where medical care for a chronic problem means money, money, money, this story may have looked different, and it made me sad to consider this while reading what was, in the right setting, a love story and not a tale of financial stress. Amazing how easily something meant to be fun takes on different dimensions when you change the setting.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a sweet love story between two people who, on the surface, don’t seem to fit, but who work together quite well once they get over themselves. The second book in the series, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, comes out on June 23, 2020!

Visit Talia Hibbert’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Not If I See You First- Eric Lindstrom

My favorite part of reading is getting to live in another person’s head for a while, to experience life from their perspective and see how it differs from my own. It’s fun to meet characters who are just like me, but I prefer it when they’re different from me in some major way and I can see the world anew. That’s definitely something I found in Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom (Poppy, 2015), which I found as a suggestion for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge prompt for a book with a character with a vision impairment or enhancement (a nod to 20/20 vision, something I definitely do NOT have).

Sixteen year-old Parker Grant’s life probably isn’t what she pictured it would be when she was little. Blinded completely at the age of seven in a car accident that killed her mother, her aunt, uncle, and cousins have now moved into her house after her father’s death via accidental overdose. She’s strong, though. Hasn’t cried yet, and she won’t. Her friend group helps to support her, and running- by herself, in the very early morning!- keeps her sane.

To throw more complications in the mix, her ex-boyfriend Scott, who is an ex for a MAJOR reason, is back in her life, though she’s doing a good job at replacing him with Jason, the nice guy from the shoe store who sold her her latest pair of running shoes. Parker can try all she wants, but she can’t outrun her past or the drama of her present for too long…

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Parker is…blunt, and that’s putting it kindly. Her personality comes off as brash and inconsiderate, and while I kept reminding myself that this was a teenager who had only recently lost her last surviving parent, it seemed as though this had been part of her personality her entire life and wasn’t a new quirk caused by grieving and trauma. I don’t mind a character with a sharp, snarky personality (such as Julia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter; I felt Erika Sánchez created in Julia a character whose struggles with depression and anxiety played out well in her sharp mouth and shortness with other characters), but Parker’s constant irritability and lack of tact as her sole personality trait grew tiresome to read. While I would expect a teenager who has experienced so much loss in her life to be belligerent and sharp-tongued, we’re rarely given a chance to see any other side of Parker, even in her own thoughts. A little more vulnerability would have gone a long way for me.

That said, I did feel that Parker’s blindness was covered well, and it almost became a character itself but without being a Major Issue. Her blindness just IS, it’s not something to overcome or struggle with, and that was something I definitely appreciated. Her independence (and occasional struggle for it) is strongly featured and was a pleasure to read. A friend once related a conversation she had with a parent of a blind child, and the parent had said the general rule she lived by was that if she expected something of a seeing child that age, she would expect it of a blind child as well. Thus, if she expected her seeing six year-old to scrape off her dinner plate in the trash and rinse it off in the sink, she would expect the same of her blind six year-old. I kept this in mind as I read and was pleased to see that play out, both in all the things Parker can do, the things she *does* require help with, and the nervousness with which her aunt handles her. Her aunt, who probably never expected to be raising her blind niece, doesn’t seem to have done any research or consulted with any experts on how to be her niece’s advocate and ally, and is a character who will get your hackles up in Parker’s defense. Her same-age cousin, however, doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s almost a relief at how normal (though full of tension!) her interactions with Parker are. Her regular friendgroup, however, is perfection.

The two love interests had me scratching my head a bit. Scott, Parker’s ex, doesn’t seem to have much of a personality beyond his affection for Parker and his desire to help her. Remembering that their major connection occurred when the two of them were in eighth grade puzzled me a bit- I know, I’m an adult reading YA, but even when I was younger, I had the wherewithal to realize that relationships that happen when you’re 13 aren’t exactly the pinnacle of what lifelong romance should be, and so Scott’s dedication as a 13 year-old boyfriend and the way he’s maintained these feelings all these years seemed…a little farfetched. Jason, the shoe store employee, starts out strong, and then fizzles out pretty hard. I wasn’t terribly impressed by either of them, to be honest.

So while I liked this book, or at least parts of it, I didn’t love it as a whole, though I did love the chance to inhabit the world of a blind YA character. One of my favorite books as a child was The Seeing Summer by Jeannette Eyerly, about two girls, one of whom is blind, become friends and then manage to escape a dangerous kidnapping. It’s a middle grade novel, first published in 1981, but my reread ten or so years ago revealed that it had held up decently over time. Other books I’ve read that have featured blind characters or focused on blindness itself include Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings (YA fiction), Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto (nonfiction), and For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney (nonfiction). If you’ve got any recommendations here, especially by blind authors, I’d love to hear them! (I know that author Kody Keplinger is legally blind; she’s a fabulous author and a great person in general!)

Visit Eric Lindstrom’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Two books by Nicola Yoon!

The parent education series that brings authors, clinicians, speakers, and other experts to our area is one of my favorite things about where I live- at one of the last events I attended, the director let us know that they’d just confirmed booking Tara Westover, author of Educated, for next year! Super excited about that. But next week, young adult author Nicola Yoon will be here, and since I’m never one to miss out on an author event, I prepared by reading both of her books.

First up was Everything, Everything (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015), because I own a lovely hardcover copy which I snagged at a used book sale last summer (right after I learned she’d be coming here). Madeline is stuck in the house- literally and quite permanently, a victim of SCID, commonly referred to as Bubble Boy disease. Her mother, a doctor, cares for her with the help of a visiting nurse; the house is equipped with an airlock, a mega-air filter, windows never open, and almost no one ever visits. Madeline does her schoolwork mostly online and spends her days reading, until a new family moves in next door. Olly, the cute teenage son who catches Madeline’s eye, begins to awaken in Madeline the desire for a bigger life, a life outside her bubble, but the risks she takes will end up revealing some long-buried secrets and truths about the health of her family.

After I finished that, it was off to the library to grab their copy of The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press, 2016). In a novel that’s reminiscent in certain ways of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, two teenagers with different backgrounds and ways of looking at the world meet and fall in love in the twenty-four hours before one of them is due to be deported. It’s a race through New York City, a journey to the heart and soul of identity, family, culture, home, and what it means to fall in love and make yourself vulnerable to another person.

Between the two books, I preferred Everything, Everything, even though I called the twist pretty early on. Madeline is a sympathetic character, and I loved the premise of a character who isn’t allowed to live in the normal world. Carla, her nurse, was my absolute favorite; without her, the story would never have gotten legs, and her willingness to take a chance, to defy Madeline’s mother (and her exasperation with her teenage daughter!) made her complex and realistic. Olly’s situation lends even more credibility to the story, and the culmination of it all is nearly perfection.

The Sun Is Also a Star was enjoyable, but I didn’t love it quite as much. While I respected Natasha’s commitment to science and logic (and understood her reasons for doing so), at times, her denial of the importance of emotion annoyed me, and her constant chirping of science facts was tiresome. Daniel is pretty great all around, but just like Nick and Nora, I didn’t find the premise of the book to be entirely realistic. I’m well aware of and remember acutely from my own teenage years the huge emotions that adolescents are capable of, but having these two fall that hard for each other so quickly, when Natasha is trying to square up her family’s situation…I couldn’t *quite* buy that she’d have the mental space for that at that particular time.

So now I’m ready and prepared to listen to Ms. Yoon speak next week! (That is, if coronavirus or the stomach virus with which my daughter is currently plagued doesn’t take us all down…) I’m glad I got these two read beforehand, because once again, I’m so far behind in my reading. I do have these two books and my library book discussion group book done for the month, though, so there’s that, which is nice. 😉

Are you often able to attend author events? I used to go to them fairly frequently when I lived in the Nashville area, especially when the Davis-Kidd bookstore still existed and hosted them (*pours one out for Davis-Kidd, which was an excellent store*). There’s a local-ish store here that plays host to a ton of amazing contemporary authors as they pass through on book tours, but I haven’t managed to make it over there yet; most of the author appearances are at times when traffic would make it difficult for me to get over there. But one day… Most of the events I attend now are through this parent education group (anyone of any age is welcome to attend; it’s not just for parents), so I very much appreciate its existence!

Visit Nicola Yoon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Full Disclosure- Camryn Garrett

It makes my reader heart so happy when books on my TBR match up with prompts in reading challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to learn about new books and new authors; that’s the whole reason I participate in these challenges! But I’m also deeply invested in taming my TBR beast and keeping it under control (*nervous laughter* let’s not talk about how many books I added to the list this month…), so it made me ridiculously excited to find Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019) on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge list for the prompt about a book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (lust, in this case). I added this to my TBR the second I learned about it last year and this was the first time it’s been available at the library when I’ve checked for it.

Simone Garcia-Hampton is doing her best to settle into her new school. She’s made two new best friends and has been named the director of Rent, the school musical. It’s a big change from her last school, where, when word got around that Simone was HIV-positive, the ostracism and hatred, even from the parents, was too much for her to bear and she was forced to leave. She hasn’t told anyone from her new school yet, not even her best friends, but Miles, the handsome lacrosse player, is making her think that someday soon, she’s going to have to speak up in the interest of honesty and full disclosure.

That day may be sooner than she wanted. Simone’s been receiving threatening letters in her locker, letting her know that someone out there is fully aware of her positive status and doesn’t want her hanging around Miles. If she doesn’t break things off with him, her secret will be out of the bag. Simone’s scared, angry, panicked…and worried about what being HIV-positive really means for a long-term future with someone she loves.

I loved this. Camryn Garrett’s voice is fresh and modern (there’s an offhand comment in the book where one of Simone’s friends talks about her dog eating her DivaCup, and I love that menstrual cups are well-known enough amongst teenage girls for this to appear in a young adult novel!), and Full Disclosure is well-researched, timely, and important. I’m old enough to remember the days when HIV was a death sentence, sometimes a rapid one, and the fact that Simone is able to take a single pill per day and live a completely healthy life, her viral load eventually becoming undetectable (undetectable viral load means the virus is untransmissable, as the novel states many times), seems pretty miraculous (yay for science and the hardworking researchers who made this possible). HIV, when treated, is more of a chronic condition these days than the harbinger of doom it once was, and Ms. Garrett really drives that point home in a novel that feels vibrant and alive. It’s education that doesn’t feel like education; it just feels like a really great story, with the added bonus of learning an awful lot about what daily life with HIV looks like.

Despite being HIV positive, Simone is just like any other teenager, worrying about sex and relationships, her future, friends, her teachers, her responsibilities at school, and her parents’ relationship. Though the story centers around her condition and what it means for her immediate and long-term future in terms of romantic relationships, she’s no different than her friends with her concerns and cares. Her best friends, who belong to the school GSA (one is…I can’t remember off the top of my head if she’s lesbian or bisexual; the other is ace- my first time seeing an ace character in a novel, which I appreciated!), are loving and accepting in all ways, and Miles, Simone’s love interest, displays more maturity and acceptance than his parents. As a parent, I understood their concerns, but very much appreciated Ms. Garrett’s showing that younger generations are often far more easily accepting of difference than adults are. I see this often in my daily life, and I work hard to fight it in myself. I don’t ever want to stop learning, stop understanding new information, and become stuck in my ways and refusing to grow and change with the times. The kids are alright, I think, and I’m hopeful for when my son’s and daughter’s- and Camryn Garrett’s- generations take charge.

I’m so looking forward to reading more from Camryn Garrett in the future. Her voice is fabulous, and her characters are so complex and full of life. Her ability to craft a story that demands the reader’s attention while cramming them full of important information is #goals all the way. Keep an eye on this author, folks- only seventeen years old when she sold this book? She’s amazing, and she’s here to stay.

Visit Camryn Garrett’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Love From A to Z- S.K. Ali

Look what was FINALLY in at the library, you guys! I could have put it on hold, but I had plenty of other books to read in the meantime, but finally, FINALLY I went and Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads, 2019) was on the shelf! SQUEEEEEEEEE!!! I really enjoyed her Saints and Misfits this summer and was really looking forward to reading this one. The two books are quite different, but Love From A to Z didn’t disappoint one bit.

Zayneb is headed to Qatar to spend time with her aunt after being suspended from school after an incident with a racist, bigoted teacher. Adam is heading home to Qatar after leaving university, a fresh diagnosis of multiple sclerosis- the disease that killed his mother- taking up the majority of the real estate in his brain. Their brief encounter in the airport and on the airplane sets the tone for what becomes a friendship, because- surprise!- Adam’s family and Zayneb’s aunt know each other. It really is a small world.

Things are always more complicated than they seem, though. Adam’s terrified to tell his still-grieving father and adoring younger sister about his diagnosis, and his condition seems to be worsening. Zayneb is struggling to deal with the fallout of the racism and bigotry she left behind at home (and which seems to have followed her to Qatar as well). Both of them are trying to appreciate the marvels and oddities of life, while learning how to be honest with their parents and with each other, and taking life one step at a time.

(Content warnings for Islamaphobia, racism, bigotry, microaggressions, death of a parent, chronic illness, death of a grandparent, a few mentions of some grisly world events, and grief.)

This? Is a lovely, lovely book. Entirely heartfelt, with characters who seem so very real. Adam is sweet, charming, and grappling with what his diagnosis will mean for his family and for his future. He so badly wants to protect his sister and father from more pain and hates that he can’t. Zayneb is angry at the unfairness of her hideous teacher (who really is a jerk) and hates how powerless she feels, but along with her friends back home, she’s working to take back some of that power. She’s also exploring new aspects of her personality with the new friends she meets in Qatar, while still remaining entirely dedicated to her Muslim faith (her “Of course not, scarf for life” quip made me grin).

This book is representation to the max for Muslim readers, which I love, both for Muslim readers and for readers like me who get to learn and see Muslim characters as the heroes. (And sometimes cringe heavily at the racism, bigotry, and cringeworthy questions, comments, and microaggressions directed their way. There’s a scene where Zayneb wraps her childhood baby blanket around her when she’s sad over the loss of her grandmother and is answering the door with no time to ‘scarf up,’ as she puts it, and a non-Muslim character asks if that was something she had to wear when people die, ostensibly for religious reasons. *cringe* It’s better to ask than to assume, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to learn as much as I can in order to not necessarily be asking questions…like that one.) Qatar is a fascinating place to set a novel and I loved being able to see it through the eyes of two teenagers.

I got to thinking as I was reading the novel… Zayneb and Adam are both religious and very dedicated to their shared Muslim faith (Adam’s father converted when he was young, and Adam eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, which gave the novel a really interesting perspective), but this novel absolutely shines in ways that the Christian fiction I’ve read (most of it, anyway) hasn’t, and I’ve been pondering why these two types of novels, where faith is a major player, feel so different. In Ali’s novels, there’s no proselytizing; there’s no shaming for lower or different levels of observance. Faith is up to each character personally and is portrayed as their own private journey and not something that their neighbor is watching in on, ready to pounce and point them back to the right path. There’s no overall message of having to be or do or believe in a certain way; faith just is, but isn’t pushed. This is fiction where the characters are religious, but whose author has no religious agenda and that’s something I appreciated. It’s been a few years since I’ve read any Christian fiction (Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker was pretty good and, from what I remember, is a good example of Christian fiction that isn’t at all pushy in its message), so maybe the genre has changed since then? Love From A to Z felt like a breath of fresh air in that regard, though, and it’s something I’m still considering.

S.K. Ali goes onto my list of authors I’ll automatically read, and I’m very much looking forward to whatever it is she puts out next. Her characters are vibrant, and she makes them come alive, flaws and all. She’s such an exciting voice in YA fiction and I’m absolutely hooked on her writing.

Today only- that’s December 12, 2019- this book is available FOR FREE on RivetedLit.com, so what are you waiting for? GO GET IT!!!!!!!!!

Visit S.K. Ali’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

The Silence Between Us- Alison Gervais

I’ve been interested in sign language, deafness, and Deaf culture since I was on a fourth grade field trip to some sort of ‘Just Say No!’ retreat when I noticed an interpreter signing to a student from another school across the room. I was so utterly entranced by her signing that I don’t think I heard a word of the anti-drug presentation (no worries, I’ve never done any kind of drugs, so we’re all good). Our teacher mentioned the interpreter later on and said that she was signing to a Deaf student so that he or she could understand what was being said, and I was fascinated. In the next Scholastic book flier was The Gallaudet Survival Guide to Signing by Leonard G. Lane, my mother bought it for me, and I learned the alphabet in one night. Years later, I still know a lot of the signs I picked up as a kid and in the one class I’ve been able to take as an adult (and actually used them this summer when my daughter played with a girl whose parents were Deaf). All that to say, when I learned about The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (Blink, 2019), I was all the way in!

Maya’s in the middle of some pretty serious transitions as the story begins. She’s just moved to Colorado with her single mother and her younger brother, who has cystic fibrosis. If that weren’t a big enough change, she’ll be attending a hearing school for the first time after years at a Deaf school (having fully lost her hearing after a bout with meningitis at age 13). She’s terrified and more than a little cranky about being yanked out of her comfortable world, but she’s determined to make the best of it for her mother’s sake. Nina, assigned to be Maya’s student liaison, becomes a fast friend, and she’s luckily able to strike up a rapport with Kathleen, her interpreter. Both of these help to make the switch a little easier.

But Maya’s not expecting Beau, the popular, good-looking, super-smart student who throws himself into learning ASL in order to be able to communicate with her. Not used to dealing with hearing guys, Maya doubts his intentions at first, until it becomes clear that Beau is all heart. But Maya’s got to learn to trust herself, and to live in the hearing world as a Deaf woman in order to pursue her dreams, and far too many people refuse to make it anywhere even close to easy for her.

While Maya can be short on patience and quick to bite people’s heads off, I enjoyed her. Her instant and complete acceptance of herself as a Deaf woman is so full and so total that it almost feels radical (which is sad to say! MORE HARDCORE SELF-ACCEPTANCE IN ALL GENRES, PLEASE!) and it’s a deep breath of fresh mountain air. I LIKE MYSELF DEAF, she signs when the subject of cochlear implants (a hot topic of debate in the Deaf community) comes up, and I swear, I nearly cheered out loud when I read that. If only we could all love ourselves that much…

Maya’s first suspicions of Beau are understandable; one of his ‘friends’ at school shows her exactly how nasty some hearing people can be towards Deaf people (although there’s a totally victorious call-out scene near the end of the novel that I loved!), and the book does an excellent job at showing all the many frustrations Deaf and hard-of-hearing people face due to lack of accommodations- simple ones!- that society could easily implement in order to make our world more accessible for everyone…but doesn’t. This is really a great book to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is Deaf and learning to live in a more independent way in the hearing world and how much they’re forced to struggle in order to achieve their goals.

Excellent representation in this book, and it’s kind of wild to me that ten months into the year, this is only the second book I’ve read this year with a Deaf character (the other being Victoria’s mother in Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler). Deafness is what’s known as a low-incidence disability, but hearing loss absolutely isn’t, especially among children, and I’m curious as to why I haven’t seen more characters with hearing loss throughout my reading life. I also really appreciated Maya’s bewilderment as to why the kids with cochlear implants hadn’t also learned ASL, as that’s something that has always troubled me as well. Obviously it’s each family’s choice, but technology can fail, equipment can break, batteries and processors are expensive, and if these things happen, the implanted child (or adult!) may be left without a language or way to communicate. Why not give them access to both worlds? I was happy to see that Ms. Gervais had raised those questions and showed how what other families choose to do affects the wider Deaf community.

I also loved the inclusion of Connor, Maya’s brother who has cystic fibrosis. Ms. Gervais shows his struggle, but she also portrays how difficult it is to have a chronically ill sibling (Maya works hard in order to not add to her mother’s troubles), along with showing how stressed out Maya’s single mother gets (but tries to hide it). I did question why on earth one would move a child with a lung condition to Colorado, famous for its high altitudes where it’s harder to breathe, but I don’t know much about the intricacies of cystic fibrosis and thus there may be plenty of reasons why this was a good idea. And sometimes, when your job says go, you go, and that may have been the case for sole breadwinner Mom. Either way, I’m sure she researched the heck out of it and spoke with doctors and other health coordinators, just like any other parent would!

The Silence Between Us is a book that will make you consider and reconsider the hearing world, the Deaf world, how the two work together, and how this cooperation could be even deeper if we’re willing to put in the work (and why not? ASL is gorgeous and fun). I hope this is the beginning of more Deaf characters in YA and beyond.

Visit Alison Gervais’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.