October has rolled around once again. Everyone has their “spooky” names on Twitter, people are coveting their ridiculous pumpkin spice products and, at least here in the Northeast, there’s a subtle chill in the air and the leaves are tinged with yellow and red.
And it’s time for a new year of Shattering Stigmas, an annual two-week blogging event dedicated to ending the stigma against mental illness through the sharing of personal essays, media and book lists centered on mental health. If you’re new to Shattering Stigmas, welcome. If not, thanks for coming back. Either way, thank you for your support of this project and I hope you find it useful in some way. Posts will be going up every day until October 20.
Shattering Stigmas was started by the lovely and wonderful Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight three years ago and none of this would be possible without the immeasurable amount of work she has devoted to it since it began. I took over the organization of it because I firmly believe in the power of these stories and the power of offering people a platform to speak their truths without shame and judgement. We can all learn by listening to each other with respect and empathy.
I hope that over the next two weeks, you’ll read and engage with as many of the posts you can as we continue the conversation about mental health. Each year, I’m so struck at the honesty, courage and power that our writers bring to their pieces. Listen to our stories. Share your truth. End the stigma. And thank you for your support.
Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, another of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!
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.
Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, child abuse, depression, performance anxiety, death of a dog
If you enjoy books that have queer protagonists, a whole lot of wit, even more heart, media elements and capture the essence of being a nerdy, overachieving teen…well, you’re going to love this book. Alice Oseman’s newest YA novel Radio Silence is the quirky, poignant and unforgettable story of two British teens, Frances Janvier and Alex Last, who make a podcast together. This is one of those books that I’ve read and its characters and messages have stayed with me. There’s mystery. There’s a touch of romance. There’s a lot of anxiety and angst. Overall, this is a book that brims over with hope. Also, it’s a boy-girl friendship book where there’s no romance. Huzzah!
Let’s start off with the representation in this book. There is bisexual and demisexual (on the page!! My only complaint is that it didn’t appear sooner in the story, especially since I picked up on what was going on pretty early in) representation. I really like the way that the characters discuss their sexuality and that they are given the agency to describe how they identify and what that means to them in the story. Francis is also a WoC. Finally there is representation of depressive symptoms in the book that felt quite strong, especially since they are related to the anxiety and difficulty of transitioning to college, which is a topic I wish was more present in YA.
Central to the plot of Radio Silence is the podcast Universe City, in which an androgynous protagonist is searching for meanping in an unforgiving world. I loved the parts of the book that showed the characters filming the podcast, how they discussed and developed the storyline of the show, the representation of the online fandom of the podcast and discovering what the podcast meant to the character who created it. I’m being intentionally vague in discussing the details so as to be as spoiler-free as possible. I want y’all to enjoy every twist and turn like I did.
Another aspect of this book that I really liked was the setting. The book is set in a small Wnglish town but the characters travel to numerous larger towns and cities, including London. I really enjoyed getting to read a book set somewhere else in the world. I was a little confused by how their school system worked because I’m not familiar with the British educational system, but it was easy to catch on.
I also really loved the quirkiness and preoccupation of the two main characters with grades and school work. This was the first time I saw the part of my teenage self that would stress herself out over studying to the point of literal insanity in a book and it was great. Francis and Alex are also super nerdy and I loved the descriptions of how they became friends through their shared neediness. Its part of what made these characters so unforgettable. There’s also a message about how multiple paths can lead to success in this book, which I think is important for teens who live in a world where getting good grades and then going to and succeeding in a specific type of college in a specific type of program is presented as the best possible option and they are somehow lesser than if they don’t achieve that, which is absolute fucking bullshit.
My biggest issue with this book was its length. Its long for a contemporary and I’m a fan of boos that are pretty quickly paced. This book seemed to drag on for me and it felt like it took me forever to finish it, which ultimately took away some of the joy I had from the story. Still, its a solid read and I really enjoyed the fun, twisty, heartbreaking story. It is definitely a book that I am going to be recommending for a while.
Content Warnings: Police brutality, racism, gun violence, gang violence, grief & loss
This book joins All-American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and others that deal with the topic of black teens confronting issues of racial inequality and police violence in twenty-first century America. However, these novels don’t feel like “issue” books because of the tremendous grace and empathy with which they were written. Powerfully voiced and emotionally written, Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a force of a novel about Justyce, an intelligent black teen dealing with the loss of his best friend Manny during an altercation with an off-duty police officer.
I read this book in one-sitting and was in tears by the end. This book is powerful and it packs a punch in such a short length of a book. The dialogue was fantastically written and felt like actual teens speaking, which is harder to find in YA than it should be. I loved the brutal honesty of Justyce’s letters to Dr. King.
My only issue with this book was the length. While I enjoyed it being such a short read, it just felt like there should have been more of this book. While a lot of books would benefit from being 100 pages shorter, this one would have benefitted from being 100 pages longer. The major plot point of the book doesn’t take place until halfway through. The first half felt like a lot of context and build-up and the second half felt very very quick. I would have liked the pacing of this book to be a little bit more even.
Overall, I loved this gem of a book. It was packed with so much feeling and was written with such urgency that it was so easy to get lost in it in the opening pages. If you a white book blogger who wants to learn more about racial issues in America and why they are important, I highly recommend reading this book instead of trying to get free education from PoC on Twitter. This book approaches discussions of race with nuance and subtlety that taught me so much, and I am so grateful for this reading experience. I highly recommend this book and also recommend you seek out and boost #ownvoices reviews of this book as well.
Content Warnings: Gun violence, gangs, anxiety, death, grief & loss of family members and suicide
I know a lot of you will probably want to shit on me for writing a less-than-perfect review of this book, but I have existential depression and that’s why I feel a lot of the things I do about it, so hear me out. I really wanted to like Adam Silvera’s new speculative fiction novel They Both Die at the End, which follows the stories of Rufus and Mateo, two boys who meet on a Last Friend app on the day they both will die. I wanted to love this book like my friends did, but it just kind of left me numb. I emotionally disconnected from the narrative early on and by the end, I wasn’t crying or feeling sad. I was just kind of exhausted and numb and angry at the time I’d spent reading it, to be honest.
I don’t want to rob anyone of their enjoyment of the book. If you loved it, that’s valid and I’m happy for you. I wish I was one of those people because I loved More Happy than Not and I think Adam is a wonderful author and person.
My biggest issue with this book was that it felt like there was no point to me reading this story about boys who could have this great “day of self-discovery” and know they’re going to die. I’m sorry. It felt like a waste. A waste of their characters. A waste of a story. A waste of my time. I get that this was supposed to be a book about learning to make the most of your life and live every day to the fullest, but I just wasn’t here for it. It wasn’t just depressing. It was infuriating. I get that kids and teenagers die all the time, that life isn’t fair. I think that books about death (i.e. Marieke Nijkamp’s emotionally harrowing novel This is Where it Ends) have value. Still, TBDATE felt empty and hollow to me in the same way you feel cheated when you open up a fortune cookie to discover there’s nothing inside.
I’ve watched my closest family member waste away and die. I’ve passed by accidents on the Garden State Parkway as they’re draping a blanket over someone’s body. One of my earliest memories is 9/11. Death bothers me down to the bone. It is not something I am comfortable discussing or imagining, beyond a few darkly humorous jokes. I reacted to TBDATE in a similar way to Never Let Me Goby Kazuo Ishiguro. As soon as I know there’s no hope for the main characters, I check out and I can’t connect to the characters or the story because I have to protect my brain. These books will drag my depressed brain into a deep, dark hole if I don’t keep that wall up.
This book messed with my head a lot. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I have existential depression, which means that I feel struck by hopelessness and worthlessness when I think about my place in the world and how small I am compared to everything. Reading a book about two boys who are told they are going to die and have no opportunity to fight that gutted me, because life became meaningless for them, too. Sure, they tried to have a good day. Sure, they made some amazing memories. But it meant nothing, in the end, not really, and just traumatized all the secondary characters in their lives for no other reason than to be a plot device and provide some conciliatory message about hope. It also really bothered me that Rufus and Mateo were two queer PoC who didn’t even get a shot at a happy ending.
My other issue with this book is that while the Leteo Institute in More Happy Than Not was believable, the entire time line and way this world was set up doesn’t make much sense. There’s no back story for the sudden development of this Death-Cast thing, which is heralded as “progress.” If anything, this is a novel about why “progress” is often bullshit. Anyway. Death-Cast calls you on the day you’ll die. However, this call makes you live your life differently that day and might set you up to make decisions that ultimately lead to your death. This happens to quite a few characters in the book. So, that means that in this world, there is no free will. Because one, you don’t get a chance to challenge this “pre-destined” death and two, if the call leads to you dying, than death is foreseeable and thus the entire space-time continuum is set in stone with no room for change. Many faiths (Christianity included) hinge their beliefs on the notion that we are able to make choices, that we are in charge of our fates, that we have free will and the ability to redeem ourselves. For me, that is what makes religion so empowering. In this world, that can’t possibly exist and even the churches are suspicious of Death-Cast. That’s because you basically have to be 17th-century Puritan believing in predetermination or a Nihilist for this world order to gel with yours. I know I’m reading into it. This is why speculative fiction doesn’t work for me when I can’t completely connect with it.
Overall, the entire cast of characters seemed kind of blah. The fact that Mateo and Rufus didn’t have living, conscious parents seemed kind of cheap. Lidia, Mateo’s best friend, was okay, I guess. I couldn’t tell Rufus’ friends Malcolm and Tagoe apart, to be honest. There were a lot of different view points, which was nice for a while, but became kind of confusing and just added to what felt like the pointlessness of this book. I even stopped caring when characters died. Usually when I’m reading, the world feels real and I like to imagine the characters living on after the end, but TBDATE just felt like ink on paper and I was relieved when I reached the end because it was over and I could say I read it.
I think that covers the main stuff. The actual writing wasn’t bad and kind of good at parts. Me not enjoying this book won’t turn me off from buying and reading Adam’s books in the future or impact my opinion of his other books. It was just a miss for me. Overall, it felt like a cool concept handled too cruelly and a joke gone too far. If you deal with existential depressive thoughts or have difficulty reading about death and loss, I 100% don’t recommend you read this book or if you do, proceed with caution. If you love Adam’s books and don’t think it’ll bother you, go ahead and read. I hope you love it more than I did. And if you like dark humor but also want a story with rib-aching laughs and tender hope, I highly suggest Lance Rubin’s YA novel Denton Little’s Deathdate.
This review doesn’t need a hook because I’m just going to say it: Tristina Wright’s novel 27 Hours is my overall top pick of 2017. Keep in mind that I read this book in June and I know I’m not going to change my mind. This book stole my heart in the best way and if you are reading this, I hope you are either requesting, buying or begging your friend to loan you a copy of this book ASAP.
Pitched as “queer kids in space” (there are no allo cishet MC’s and it’s AMAZING), 27 Hours is a stunning, high concept sci-fi novel about a mismatched band of teens who must save the human population on their alien moon in the course of a single night. The narrative structure of this novel, told hour by hour, kept me on the edge of my seat until the end. I’m not usually a science fiction reader, but this book literally made me want to go out and read every good science fiction book I could get my hands on. I still haven’t totally ruled that out.
Let’s talk about the characters because I love each and every one of them. If you’re a fan of Six of Crows or novels with big casts that have characters with lots of personality, then you are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. Rumor is arguable the main main character of this book. After watching his dad sacrifice himself to monsters, he escapes his city on a mission to save his moon. He’s so full of angst and broodiness. So much love for him! And then there’s Jude, a book who has lived among the chimera in the trees. He’s soft and amazing and adorable. There’s Trick, who’s protective and adorable.
And *happy sigh*, there’s Braeden, who’s smol and bighearted and so, so, so freaking ace. I read this book after two books with ace rep that disappointed me and hurt me in ways that I didn’t even know were possible. One of them made me feel the worst about my orientation that I have ever felt in my entire life and this book, and Braeden’s rep in particular, validated me and healed me ways that I vitally needed. Legit, he fiddles with his black ace ring in the fourth paragraph of his first chapter and I had to throw the book down because I do that ALL the time and I never expected to see it represented in a book. I was in actual happy tears. I can’t tell you all how much it means for me that Braeden exists as a character. He was the kind of ace rep I’ve always wanted and needed.
Moving on…….Dahlia is a black trans girl who is sweet and kind and I had so much love for her. Nyx is a pansexual Deaf girl who can hear the moon speak to her. She was my second favorite character in this book and from her love for Dahlia to her friendship with Braeden, I just couldn’t. It was all so good.
I am in awe and admiration at how Tristina pulled all the elements of this plot together. It is so intricate and complicated with interwoven subplots. Seriously, just based on power of storytelling, this book is a masterpiece.
I also loved the setting. I’m not usually a fan of books that are set in space, but this one just left me wanting more and more and more of this world. From the forest people to the colonies to the HUB’s, it was all so vivid and beautiful. I’m really, really looking forward to more books set in this world. Plus the writing is amazing. Seriously.
In terms of my critique, the only critique I had about this book was that while Braeden is clearly identified as asexual, it feels like he is aromantic as well and that’s never mentioned in the text. I wish that his romantic orientation was clarified in the book because if is aroace, aroace readers deserve that explicit identification.
Additionally, Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks wrote an amazing and nuanced review that critiques the race rep in this book that I think everyone who reads 27 Hours should read because it raises some really crucial issues.
Overall, my heart is bursting with love for this book. While it’s not perfect (and no book is), this is the book that was clearly written with the intent of inclusivity and damn good storytelling. It’s the kind of book that so, so, so many different kinds of teens will be able to find themselves in. If you want a book about love, friendship, family or fighting for what’s right, this book is for you. Also a note that I look forward to whatever Tristina has out next, because I know I’m going to be reading it.
27 Hours is out October 3, but you can pre-order now it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local indie!
We should all know by now that diversity and accurate representation are super important in YA. However, diversity in books also makes for kickass storytelling and is a way to start learning about and understanding various types of people. Also, intersectionality is key, meaning showing layered diverse experiences. If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend Whitney Gardner’s diverse debut You’re Welcome, Universeenough.
Julia, the main character, is a Deaf Indian girl with two moms. Oh, and she’s a kickass graffiti artist. After tagging her school to defend her best friend Jordyn’s honor, Julia is expelled and sent to public school in where she struggles to make friends and relies upon Casey, an interpreter, to communicate with those around her. Her only outlet is graffiti, which she must keep a secret, and even that seems like it may be taken away from her by a rival.
One of the parts I loved best about this book is its representation of Deaf culture. I can’t speak to its accuracy because I’m a hearie and thus not Deaf, but I felt like I learned a lot about the experience of being Deaf, signing and some of the struggles of living without hearing through reading this book.
Building off of that, I loved Julia’s voice. She’s a teenage girl who doesn’t take any shit, but she’s also vulnerable and still coming into her own. I loved her descriptions of working with her art and her sarcasm. Her personality jumped off the page and I liked feeling like I was going on this journey with her, as she learned what it meant to be both a friend and an artist, no matter the cost.
If you’re looking for a contemporary read where romance isn’t the central plot line or even a sub plot line and isn’t totally sad, this is the book for you. It has so much heart and at its core is a tale of friendship and reaching one’s potential, whatever that might mean.
The other characters were all depicted in a way that was nuanced and intriguing. YP was one of my favorite characters. I found Jordyn and Donovan to be super annoying, but I can relate to having a fallout with a friend who you felt closer to than they did to you. I also loved Mr. Katz, as I found that my art teachers were always some of the most supportive when I was in high school. Mee and Ma, Julia’s moms, were also highlights.
Gardner spun a tale that was pieces funny and sad, but always honest and unflinchingly real. I loved the little details that exposed some of the character’s struggles in a way that was impactful even if they were only a sentence or two. From the discrimination Mee and Ma face to comments Julia must endure at her job at McDonald’s,
The design of this book was also phenomenally done. The girl on the cover actually matches the description of Julia in the book, down to her signature yellow Docs. I also liked that the cover uses Julia’s tag in the book and shows that she’s a WOC. The chapter headings were adorable emoticon faces, which Julia uses throughout the book as well. Finally, the illustrations are gorgeous. I just wish there were more.
This isn’t to say the book was without its flaws. A little bit more background on graffiti culture was needed, as Julia’s concerns didn’t always seem to line up with the situation. Additionally, there were some parts of the book that fell flat for me. Julia should’ve just ditched on Jordyn right away and the drama between Kyle and Julia didn’t come to any kind of satisfying conclusion. The bad guy who turns out to be kind of a good guy trope is getting old. Parts like this felt a little forced, but they didn’t overpower what was otherwise a very strong book.
This book is super worth the read. It’s quick, it’s fairly light and it’s super good. You’re not going to want to miss out on this gorgeous contemporary. Plus, the last scene is super, super cute, but you have to read it yourself to find out why. 😉