Posted in Book Review

Book Review – Keeper of the Bees by Meg Kassel

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Keeper of the Bees by Meg Kassel, EntangledTeen, 304 pp., $17.99

Rating: Recommend

Content Warnings: Death, gore, physical violence, forced institutionalization, schizophrenia

Sometimes what hooks me on a book is a unique premise. Other times it’s just because I’m into really weird things. I love honeybees, so I had to give Keeper of the Bees, a new speculative/surreal thriller by Meg Kassel and a companion to Black Birds of the Gallows, a chance as soon as I saw the cover.

For centuries, Dresden has been a beekeeper. A hive of bees lives inside his ribcage, the result of a curse put upon him by an evil queen. The bees yearn to sting humans, which drives them to madness and death, their suffering harvested by similarly cursed beings, Harbingers. But when the bees demand that Dresden sting Essie, a young girl whose family has been cursed by a madness that has evaded diagnosis from physicians, Dresden resists, sending him on a journey to fight for his and Essie’s humanity in the face of a looming disaster.

This book was okay. If you’re looking for an interesting Saturday read that has a quirky premise, this book is for you. It has an intriguing premise. It has a few twists. I couldn’t stop reading, because I needed to see how it was going to end and whether or not there was an way for Dresden and Essie to have some kind of a happy ending.

This book is definitely imaginative and gritty in a way I wish that more books were. The system of magic and curses that serves as the backbone of the book was so weird, but it was also so engaging and intriguing. I was a bit hesitant on the representation of mental illness in the book, since I’m not a fan of mental illness becoming conflated with madness brought on by some magical curse. This book definitely walks that fine line. In the end, it works out mostly okay.

The writing was also engaging and descriptive. I would recommend The Keeper of the Bees for anyone looking for a quick, enjoyable rainy day read.

I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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Posted in Book Review

Review – Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

37506437Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CW: Bullying/Harassment, Death, Terminal Illness, Discussions of Depression and Suicide

Representation: Fat MC, Depressed (with medication) MC, Gay MC, Iranian-American MC

Release Date: August 28, 2018

A strong distinct voice and an unforgettable story are two of my favorite things in a YA novel, but to say that Adib Khorram’s debut YA novel Darius the Great is Not Okay checks off both of these boxes would be an understatement. This lovely little book is such a masterpiece about struggling to fit in, exploring one’s cultural identity and finding one’s place in the world. It has incredible depression rep and an overweight, Iranian-American protagonist that you will all root for as he finds himself.

Avid tea lover and Star Trek nerd Darius Kellner feels like he doesn’t belong. He doesn’t belong at school, where he’s bullied by Trent Bolger and his crew of jock friends. He doesn’t fit in at home, where he feels constantly judged for his appearance and behavior by his white dad who also deals with depression and alienated from his mom and little sister who both speak Farsi. When Darius’s grandfather in Yazd, Iran falls ill, the Kellner family travels across the globe to visit him and while there, Darius starts his own journey to find his place within himself, within his family and within the world.

In terms of voice, this book hits it out of the park. Darius is such a full, complex, nuanced character. His thoughts, his cares, his fears jump off the page. He’s gay and overweight. He’s a thinker. He’s a tea aficionado. He’s a thoughtful friend. He’s self-conscious. He’s a good brother. And he loves people so deeply, but doesn’t know how to express it.

I know so many people who are looking for more spot-on internationally set YA. If that’s you, this is your book. As someone who doesn’t get to travel much and would never get to see a place like Iran from the perspective of someone with family there, I love books like this that open that world for me. Darius the Great was a window book for me. It showed me this whole part of the world I knew little about and the richness and beauty and complexities and dark sides of the culture there. The depiction of Yazd felt so complex and nuanced. But it also excites me to no end that this will be a mirror book for Iranian-American teens as well as fat, depressed and/or queer teens. The intersectionality of the representation is fantastic and made me wish all books could be like this. 

One of my great loves in this life is the representation of mental illness in YA books. Darius is depressed. He takes medication and has for years. He’s emotional and I loved the scenes where he cycles through multiple emotions at once because I’ve never seen that aspect of my depression represented on the page before. I had an “Ohhhhh” moment where I realized how my own mind works and how that aspect my mind probably looks from the outside in and it was weird and wonderful all at once. As a reviewer with depression and knowing that that aspect of the plot is also #ownvoices, it felt empathetic, complex and well-done.

Overall, just read this book. Do it. Darius the Great is Not Okay is one of the best YA books I have read in 2018. It is absolutely required reading, for everyone, for those who see themselves in it and those who will see through someone else’s eyes.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

 

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Sadie by Courtney Summers, Wednesday Books, 320 pp., On Sale September 4, 2018

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CW: Murder, blood/gore, violence, child pornography, child sexual abuse, extreme poverty, drug use/addiction

Representation: MC has a stutter

If I was being totally honest, this review would just be me mashing my keyboard and screaming and then driving to the houses of everyone I know in the middle of the night and throwing a copy of this gorgeous, masterful book at them. But that’s not a way to write a review and I can’t drive, so I’m going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Courtney Summers’ new novel Sadie is amazing. The hype is real. The hype is deserved. This book is everything.

I have a lot of friends who love True Crime and detective stories. If that’s you, why are you still here? You’re going to love Sadie, hands down. This is the feminist, voicey, twisty book of your dreams, the book you’ve practically been waiting for. Go buy this book now from IndieBound, Amazon or Barnes & Noble right now. You’ll thank me later.

If you’re still here because you need a little more convincing, let me tell you about this lovely freaking book: it starts with a dead girl. Thirteen-year-old Mattie is found murdered and her nineteen-year-old sister, Sadie, takes off in a beat-up car and a few belongings, thirsty for revenge. The whole plot is framed and paralleled by a podcast called The Girls, in which a reluctant journalist tries to unearth the truth of what happened to Sadie and track her down. Fun fact: Macmillan is producing a real version of The Girls, all about YA thrillers, and you can find more info about that here.

I loved Sadie as a character. Her voice is so strong and so complex. She’s the kind of character that makes shitty choice after shitty choice but every feeling she has jumps off the page and you feel it all alongside her. She also has a severe stutter, which is shown in the dialogue throughout the book and influences how Sadie sees herself and how others loved her.

Sadie is a gritty book that tackles issues like addiction, child sexual abuse, child pornography and emotional abuse with the compassion they deserve and the empathy crucial to showing how these issues psychologically affect an individual. This is a book about the destructive power of the love we have for family and about the strength of girls to get what they want. It’s about the deterioration of families and the impact of abuse on the teen psyche. It’s simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. I couldn’t put it down.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I would call it multifaceted. This book honestly has so many different sides to it and it’s told in a non-linear format that is nothing short of a masterful display of craft and form. I’ve heard such wonderful things about Courney Summers’ books, but you don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve read one. They are masterpieces.

Posted in Book Review

Review: If Only by Jennifer Gilmore

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If Only by Jennifer Gilmore, HarperTeen, 288 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

CW: birth/babies

Representation: adoption 

A new trend I’ve noticed in YA books that are told from a dual perspective where one thread is told in the past, the other told in the present and they connect in some way. It’s a neat narrative tool when it’s done well. One new book where such is the case is If Only by Jennifer Gilmore.

This poignant novel traces the parallel stories of a first mother, Bridget, and Ivy, the daughter Brigitte had at sixteen and gave up for adoption. Bridget’s story takes place in 2000 when she is sixteen and Ivy’s story is told in 2017 when she is the same age. The novel is a story about a mother making the toughest and best choice for her child when she’s just a kid and the magnetic pull that exists between them years later.

What I loved most about this book is how the two plot lines complemented each other. I love that Gilmore chose to set the book at points where the mother and daughter are the same age and showing their parallel journeys that they undergo at the same age. This narrative format made the story more interesting and also created interesting similarities and differences between mother and daughter that were subtle, but lovely.

In terms of form, I loved the “If Only” chapters. Interspersed throughout the book, there are chapters that show alternative lives that Ivy might have lived if Bridget had chosen a different adoptive family for her daughter. What’s most extraordinary about these chapters is the way in which Gilmore then weaves the characters in these chapters elsewhere in the story so they still exist in the world of the narrative and not just in these “what if?” moments.

I also loved the beautiful and poetic writing. I cried many tears reading this book, as so many of the scenes are poignantly tender or utterly heartbreaking. The writing is so rich, too. This is definitely one of those books you can pick up on a Saturday afternoon and get lost in. Overall, If Only was a quick, sweet read about adoption, friendship and what it means to find your family. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn BowmanSimon Pulse, 368 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (Really it’s like ♥ x 100000)

CW: Car accident, family death, drowning, intense grief

Representation: Biracial MC, questioning aromantic asexual MC, grief/depression 

Some books surprise me with their goodness. Other books I go into knowing they are going to be an instant favorite of mine. Akemi Dawn Bowman’s sophomore novel Summer Bird Blue is one of the latter. As soon as I knew that Akemi was writing a book with #ownvoices asexual representation, I was totally on board. Then I saw the beautiful cover and needed this book with every fiber of my being. After reading this gorgeous book, out September 11, I fell completely in love.

Summer Bird Blue is about Rumi Seto, who goes to live with her aunt in Hawaii, in order to give her mom the space and time she needs to process the death of Rumi’s younger sister, Lea, from a car accident Rumi and her mom survived. Consumed by grief, Rumi struggles to function after the loss of her sister, unable to write and play the music that once played a central role in her life. With the help of her aunt’s unrelenting love and support and the help of the cute surfer boy next door, Kai, and the mysterious elderly neighbor, Mr. Watanabe, Rumi starts to find her way back to the music, and in the process, her way back to herself.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written, poignant, inspiring book about the destructive nature of grief, the bond between siblings, the power of music and a girl’s ongoing search for the words to describe her identity, this book is for you. This book is an emotional wave from the first page. I let this book break me and put me back together again, and it was worth the journey. No one writes about struggling with identity and family in quite the way Akemi does. Her debut novel Starfish is one of my all-time favorites, a book that I will remember long after I finish reading it, and Summer Bird Blue, is no different.

Above all else, what made this book special to me was the inclusion of Rumi’s questioning aromantic asexual representation. Rumi struggles to define herself and figure out a label that she feels comfortable with, and she discusses that process at length in the book. These scenes felt so fresh, so validating, so important, to know that you can know all the terms and be questioning where you fit among all the words and labels and still be valid. If you’re looking for a YA book that deals with aspects of aro and ace identity in fresh, brave and innovative ways, you need to read Summer Bird Blue.

I also loved Rumi’s character. Rumi deals with unrelenting anger, grief and guilt after the loss of her sister. I related so much to Rumi’s worries that she inherited traits from her absent father and the experience that she had living in a single parent home with her mother. I never knew that I needed to feel seen on the page in that way and that was just another way that this book was special to me. I also loved the inclusion of music, and the power that music can have, in the book, which is a niche interest of mine. If it’s one of yours too, you are going to love this book because it hits all the right notes.

From Rumi’s guilt to her sadness to her anger to her struggle to find a sense of belonging in her family and the world, the full force of Rumi’s emotions are present on the page. It was refreshing and validating as well to see those feelings present so viscerally on the page and written with so much craft and compassion. This book is an emotional punch to the gut and I loved every second of it. If you love emotionally intense and rich books, this book needs to be on your TBR and radar right now.

All of the elements of this book come together. The gorgeous, atmospheric setting of Hawaii is perfect. Told in the present with non-linear flashbacks that are important memories for Rumi that piece together the backstory of her and her sister, the book is well-paced and one of the first books in a long time that I started reading and couldn’t physically put down because I loved reading it so, so, so much.

So overall, this book was just…wow. I had such high expectations for this book and it did not disappoint. This is a book that I am going to remember (and recommend) for a long time. I hope it becomes one of your favorites too.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs by Jason Porath

35887203Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

As a girl and as a staunch feminist and lover of female accomplishments throughout the ages, I love stories about kickass girls. I also like pretty pictures and well-researched historical writing. If you’re like me and love these things too, you’re going to love Jason Porath’s new Rejected Princess book, Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. Filled to the brim with fifty stories of badass women who got shit done on their own terms, beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched and cited, this book is a feat. The book features women who were mothers, literally and figuratively, and centers on this idea of the fierce maternal instinct. You need this book in your life because you need the stories of these women, and Jason’s funny, thoughtful writing and carefully, gorgeously rendered art in your life. 

I’m a huge fan of Porath’s first Rejected Princess book, Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics and if you want to know why, check out my review of it. I’m also a huge fan of the online project, which features lots of free, awesome content about girls just as badass in the books as well as bonus content and other goodies!

But you should buy both of the books. Seriously. Before I even begin to tell you in detail why these books mean so much to me, add the book on Goodreads. Buy it from Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your local independent bookstore (you all should know that this is the way to go). Strapped for cash? Go and reserve it from your library.

All set? Got your future hands on a copy of this book. Cool. Let me tell you why it’s so fantastic now.

Rejected Princesses, in its online and book iterations, is something I desperately wish I had as a teen girl and even as a kid. Even coming of age in the aughts and teens of the new millennium, I was constantly told by the adults in my life to be “more ladylike” and to “act like a girl.” I was not thrilled with this. I loved Disney movies, especially Disney Princesses growing up. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but basically I dressed up as a Disney Princess every Halloween and had Disney Princess backpacks, shirts, etc. It was bad. And it was especially bad because they were badass in their own ways, but they weren’t…revolutionary to say the least.

The women–young, old and everywhere in between–that Jason writes about in Rejected Princesses aren’t just revolutionary. They’re also real. These are the ladies you should have learned about in history. They come from all over the world. All across time. Reading Jason’s work isn’t just enjoyable and entertaining. It’s downright educational too. I promise you, you will learn so much from this book and it is so worth the wild ride of reading every single story.

I also have to talk about the design of this book, and where do I even start. The cover is beautiful, to begin with. I love the deep, royal blue they chose. It gets even better when you open up the front cover. I loved the inclusion of a map that shows where all fifty of the women are from, and it shows that Jason really picked women from all over the world. My only point of critique is that I wish more South American, African and Southeast Asian women were included, since the map reveals that, while included, these areas are more sparse of inclusion than say, the United States and Europe.

I also love the system of content warnings. It makes it easy for readers to avoid potential triggers or topics they just rather not read at that moment. The ordering by level of maturity and clear indication with color coded and labeled warnings make this SO easy and it is so seamless in the design (these are also included in the online project).

Moreover, the page design of the stories is pure perfection. I loved the inclusion of all the little illustrations in the watermarked frame on each page. This just goes to show the level of detail Jason put into the design of his own book and how seriously he takes this project, its style and its atmosphere. Pushing this level of detail even further, the corners have a fun surprise. Flip the pages to generate a fun little animation. It’s fun and addictive, and so darn cool.

As an art historian and visual culture nerd, the illustrations are my favorite part of the book. They’re colorful. They’re dynamic. And they’re super detailed. Reading the art notes at the end of each vignette and getting to see the thought, the time and detail that Jason put into his images is one of my favorite parts of the project.

This brings me to another aspect of the text that I love: the writing style. The vignettes about each woman is fun and fresh to read. It’s written in an accessible way that people will get, with a touch of humor and ample amounts of empathy. We need more men like Jason in the world, not just as authors but as people. He puts in the time and the work to highlight these historical women. He listens to his readers. You can tell from reading about the project and from one or two entries that he deeply cares about the work that he’s doing, and that in turn makes the experience of it and the joy of reading his vignettes all the better. I am so grateful that these books, this project, exists. I hope you are–or soon will be–too.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

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Sparrow by Sarah Moon, Arthur A. Levine Books, 272 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Content Warnings: Depression and suicidal ideation

I love to read books about mental health. When they’re done right, they feel like talking to a friend. They give me hope. They help me process my own experiences. These books build community. So I’m so excited to talk to y’all tonight about one of my favorite, favorite, favorite mental health reads of 2017: Sparrow by Sarah Moon.

When I got this book a few months ago, the first thing I noticed was the cover, which is gorgeous. They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I do. I so do. I love the pastel blue and coral color scheme that sets up the mood of the novel. The mix of birds and music notes. The silhouette of the girl. And the Brooklyn apartment cityscape with the MC, a WOC, in the window. I don’t usually spend so much of a review talking about the cover, but this one is so on point that I have to give a shout out to the artist Cannaday Chapman. This is cover art at its BEST.

On to the actual book now. Sparrow was found on the roof of her school and now everyone thinks she was trying to kill herself. She has to see a therapist, Dr. Katz, and starts to fall behind in school. Her mom and her have a strained relationship. She spends all her free time imagining turning into a bird and flying above the chaotic streets of New York City where she lives. However, when Dr. Katz starts to break through to Sparrow with music, she starts to find the strength that might help her soar for real.

I loved Sparrow as a character because I connected with her in so many ways. I connected to her fear of people and inability to really talk to people even when I really wanted to connect to them. I connected to her strength and resilience, her wanting to get better even when it felt like an insurmountable obstacle. Her voice was so strong from the very beginning that I felt like I could hear her in my head. She’s also a WOC, although I won’t comment extensively on that aspect of the rep because it’s not in my lane. It felt well done, though, and reflected the challenges of being black and mentally ill that I’ve heard from my friends’ experiences.

I thought the representation of mental illness was spot on, from the way that her mom reacted to it to her navigating the stigma of it at school to the way that encouragement from a teacher or a therapist could be really beneficial. The writing also really helps with the representation because the style is so honest and raw. The dialogue was crisp and felt real. I flew through this book (pun fully intended) and loved every minute of it.

At the risk of spoilers, I just want to talk vaguely about some things that happen later in the book so please excuse my general-ness. There’s one moment that really makes me cry towards the end of the book when a group of girls come together who are all facing challenges come together to make the day of their friend. It was so pure and so well done and it made me want a whole book just in that setting with those characters. In case you can’t tell I’m squeeing.

So if you want a therapy-positive book about mental illness that leaves you humming a good song by the end because it wasn’t dreary and dark but also doesn’t tie up everything in a neat little bow. If you want a nuanced description of how depression can affect a girl’s life, about the challenge of finding your own voice, read this book. And then come find me so we can squeal about it together.

Sparrow is out October 10. Please buy a copy as soon as it comes out from your local indie or you can preorder it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or whatever other site you use.