Liebster Book Awards 2018

Hello friends and happy holidays! I was nominated by Meeghan Reads for the Liebster Book Awards 2018. Go check out her blog for book reviews, literary lists, and occasional baking tips and treats!

Rules

  • Answer the 11 questions you’ve been asked
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions
  • Let them know you’ve nominated them!

Answers:

  • What are you currently reading, and are you enjoying it?

Right now, I’m reading Autoboyography by Christina Lauren and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I’m enjoying both very much so far!

  • Who is your all-time favourite character?

Hmm… one is too tough, so I’m gonna give you three YA favorites and three non-YA favorites:

YA:

  • Patrick (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
  • Sal (The Inexplicable Logic of My Life)
  • Connor O’Malley (A Monster Calls)

Non-YA:

  • Alyosha Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov)
  • Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings)
  • Horatio (Hamlet)
  • What are your thoughts on love triangles?

To be honest, I’m not a big fan but I think that’s because they stress me out as a reader. The tension bugs me because no matter what happens, one of the characters is gonna be left lonely unless they die, which is also bad. And at the same time, I’m also not usually interested or invested in that tension. I just like my relationships more one-on-one in stories, I guess.

Also, I feel like they’re weirdly overdone when love triangles don’t happen all that often in real life.

  • What is your fave book to re-read?

Hamlet is one of my favorites to re-read, as is Good Omens. No matter how many times I read either, the story and the characters never get old. And I try to re-read A Christmas Carol every year around the holidays, too.

  • What was the last book you DNF’ed?

I think it was A Brief History of Time because I was trying to listen to it at work but the concepts were too complicated for me to absorb while writing. I’m sorry that I failed you, Stephen Hawking. Maybe on a less busy workday, I’ll give it another go.

  • What is your fave fictional animal?

Griffins. 99% because of Buckbeak (well, hippogriff, but it’s fine). 1% because of My Brother, My Brother, and Me.

  • How many books are on your TBR?

Too many. These are the books I currently own and have not read yet but really need to get on with already:

  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousefzai
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
  • Crux by Jean Guerrero
  • God: A Human History by Reza Aslan
  • My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand
  • Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series by Tyler Knott Gregson
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
  • Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

And that’s just the books I’ve already bought or borrowed from the library. That’s not even dipping my toes into the books I want to read. So many books, so little time.

  • Which book has been on your shelf the longest (read or unread)?

Read: Probably Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. As a preteen, I treasured those books. It’s a hilarious series but also so full of heart and genuinely fascinating characters. Even though I don’t write middle grade fantasy, Eoin Colfer’s still one of my heroes. One of my most prized possessions is a signed copy from when he visited my city library back in 2012.

(I don’t share many pre-transition photos but EOIN COLFER YOU GUYS. Fun fact: my dad had Eoin Colfer sign his book “To Squilliam” and he was like, “I’m not gonna get sued for this, am I?” Not much out there better than getting your childhood idol to sign books to Spongebob characters.)

Unread: Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Someday…

  • What is your fave book to movie adaptation?

Probably Perks of Being a Wallflower, even though I actually saw the movie before I read the book. Such a powerful story and such a good soundtrack.

Also the Lord of the Rings trilogy because, c’mon. It’s Lord of the Rings. And the Harry Potter adaptations may not have been perfect, but they are like the movie version of comfort food.

  • Which character would you swap lives with?

Sometimes I wouldn’t mind swapping with Aziraphale from Good Omens, minus the whole “stop the apocalypse from happening” thing since that sounds stressful. Reading to my heart’s content with a mug of cocoa, making a secondhand bookshop my own personal library, eating sushi with Crowley while Queen’s Greatest Hits plays in the background… doesn’t sound like a bad life.

  • What do you do when you’re in a reading slump?

When I don’t have time to read, I listen to a lot of audiobooks while commuting or doing work projects where I don’t need to talk to people. It can be a good way to get more books in when life gets busy.

Tagging Lovely AudiobooksRed Rocket PandaSophie’s CornerThe Bibliophagist, and Acquadimore Books.

Questions:

1)Which book have you re-read the most often?

2) What was the first book you ever fell in love with?

3) Which book do you think is either extremely underrated or overrated?

4) What’s your favorite book quote?

5) If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be and why?

6) What book are you looking forward to reading most next year?

7) If your life had a book title, what would it be?

8) Which book has left the strongest impression on you?

9) Which fictional character do you identify with the most?

10) Which book is next on your to-do-list?

11) What are your reading goals for 2019?

YA Review: Symptoms of Being Human

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TitleSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When snarky, yet sensitive Riley Cavanaugh starts at a new school, the last thing they want is for people to find out they’re genderfluid. When their anonymous gender identity blog goes viral, however, they worry that their identity is too large a part of themselves to keep secret.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This novel features a genderfluid protagonist named Riley who comes out, first to their therapist and ultimately their friends and family. The author makes a pretty bold narrative choice in that he doesn’t reveal Riley’s birth sex. While some may find this confusing or annoying, I think it emphasized that their birth sex shouldn’t change how you see or define them. Symptoms of Being Human also has several trans minor characters and discusses sexual assault, suicide, and bullying through a queer lens.

What I loved: Riley’s is a powerful story, one that has the potential to help people feel comfortable with who they are and others understand people who identify differently from them. It delves pretty deep into non-binary identity, which is informative without weighing down the text or interrupting the story. It feel like an authentic story about how being a closeted genderfluid teen feels, especially when that identity’s at odds with their community’s values. Even though this book is written by a cisgender author, it felt well-researched, in part because the author consulted non-binary and trans people while writing this story.

Riley themself is a compelling narrator, with a voice that’s equal parts sarcastic and vulnerable. And they grow so much over the course of three hundred pages! Seeing them gain wisdom and courage about who they are and how they can stand for others like them is beautiful and truly inspiring. They begin Symptoms of Being Human closeted and suicidal and, while they go through some truly heartbreaking circumstances, they gain so much strength and compassion for themself and people in general.

The only reason I didn’t give this book a 5/5 was because one scene was so disturbing to me that I skipped a section and would hesitate before re-reading the book again, but that really is a personal rather than quality issue. And if anything, it speaks to the novel’s emotional strength and the relevancy of the topics it portrays. That being said, though, if you’re triggered by sexual assault scenes, it’s worth researching the book’s content before you read it.

Also, this is random, but I listened to the audiobook for this one and found it really cool that they chose a transgender voice actor! In my opinion, it added to the authenticity with which they narrated Riley’s story.

Quote: “As for wondering if it’s okay to be who you are – that’s not a symptom of mental illness. That’s a symptom of being a person.”

Recommended: This was such a powerful read. I don’t think that there’s a person I wouldn’t recommend this to unless its subject matter triggers them. But I’d especially recommend it to two groups of people. First, non-binary people who want to feel a little less alone and a little more comfortable with who they are. And second, cisgender readers who want to understand the diversity of the gender spectrum more, as well as the harassment trans and non-binary people face.

Queer YA Review: Power Surge by Sara Codair

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Title: Power Surge by Sara Codair

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: When Erin discovers that their hallucinations of mythical creatures are real, they must come to grips with their half-Elf identity and new boyfriend. But time is running out, and Erin has to put aside their concerns to fight against a demon-led armageddon.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Power Surge features a non-binary protagonist and discusses other queer identities as well. I can’t comment on the accuracy of Erin’s identity but can say that it was written by a non-binary writer. This is the second YA/NA novel I’ve read by a trans author and the first by a non-binary person, and the representation feels so well done (perhaps because it’s written by someone in the queer community).

What I loved: It’s exciting to see non-binary characters finally receive representation in YA literature, especially by an #ownvoices author! Erin’s character is more than just a LGBTQ stock figure, and while their identity is very much a part of who they are, it doesn’t define them nor their struggles. They’re also grappling with a new partner (and his abusive ex who won’t leave Erin alone) as well as the realization that, as someone with Elven blood, they belonged to a world that they thought was a product of mental illness.

The world that Erin discovers, too, makes Power Surge a fascinating read. It’s just the right mixture of fairytale and the author’s own creativity to make it feel familiar in some ways but still stand out. What tied me most to the novel were how believable its characters felt despite a fantastical setting. And while the book has dark moments, it also has its share of hope, plus enough loose ends to hint at a sequel.

Recommended: In some ways, this book reminded me of The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare (but with its own voice)–which is very much a good thing! If you’re looking for a queer paranormal YA novel or an unique take on the urban fantasy genre, check this one out!

Note: I received an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.

Queer YA Review: What If It’s Us

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TitleWhat If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Arthur’s summer trip to New York City wasn’t supposed to turn into a meet-cute romance, but when he and Ben bump into each other at the post office, he feels like he’s living in the Broadway musicals he always dreamed of. But does the universe really have a love story planned, or will separations, misunderstandings, and an eventual move back to Georgia put an end to their relationship?

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: What If It’s Us is a queer YA romance between two cis gay men. There are also several LGBTQ minor characters, including an ex-boyfriend and a queer female coworker. Heads up that there’s a brief, but intense aggressive scene in the novel—while the characters involved aren’t physical harmed, they do face homophobic insults and threats of violence.

What I loved: Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli are some of my favorite LGBTQ YA authors, and their writing styles meshed perfectly in What If It’s Us. Arthur and Ben both have unique voices and personalities throughout the novel, and their thoughts and feelings are distinct in ways that make them a cute match. With Arthur, you have the optimistic, yet anxious “first love” voice, which complements Ben’s recently-broken-up-and-somewhat-cynical voice well. Their differences make for some awkward, yet entertaining and all-around wholesome moments that capture the title’s feeling. Their budding romance is uncertain, yet hopeful that they’ve finally met “the one” in the way that all relationships start.

This book also features minor themes that adds depth to their story and relationship. It touches on race and privilege through Ben, a white-passing Puerto Rican who feels alienated because others don’t recognize his heritage. Not only does the story validate Ben’s insecurities, but it also check and helps him recognize his privilege as someone who is white-passing. I also loved how it featured mental health themes through Arthur’s discussion of ADHD and another character who’s hospitalized for a panic attack. It made the characters and their lived experience feel all the more real and brought up points worth talking about.

Also, I loved the male friendships portrayed in this book! You don’t always see that in queer YA, but it’s so needed to feature platonic friendships between gay characters and members of the same sex. Both Arthur and Ben have male friends who they feel close to without experiencing romantic attraction. I also appreciated how What If It’s Us explored the complexities of said relationships, however, like how they can change when someone comes out or whether it’s possible to stay friends with your ex-boyfriend. All common experiences that don’t always have a spot in YA fiction, but should.

The only thing I’m frustrated about is (slight spoiler) the fairly ambiguous ending, but I think that shows how well-developed Arthur, Ben, and their relationship was. And having an open ending made What If It’s Us mirror real life while still retaining that excitement, hope, and unlimited possibilities that the story began on. Their relationship in general, from first meet to the end of the novel, developed naturally despite the coincidences and sheer luck that brought the two together. Keeping a foot grounded in reality while still exploring ideas of “love at first sight” and “destined to meet” helps their story feel extraordinary without seeming melodramatic.

This was such a cute book—cute characters, cute story, and cute cover art as well. Plus, I’ve been a sucker for Dear Evan Hansen ever since a friend introduced it to me in college, so the title drew me in pretty fast. Arthur is a big musical theater fan, so if you are as well, this book’s for you. Especially if you like Hamilton, as you may find references to it and its fandom pretty amusing.

Quote: “I barely know him. I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.”

Recommended: What If It’s Us is one of the happiest LGBTQ YA novels I’ve ever read! It’s a story where you read it and feel all warm and hopeful inside after you’ve finished it, like the people we meet and form relationships with matter regardless of how much time we spend with them. If you’re looking for an uplifting, wholesome queer love story, you’ve gotta check this one out. Doubly so if you like stories about missed connections, musicals, and first love.

Note: I received an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.

Queer YA Book Review: Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

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TitleParrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: When Grady comes out as transgender, the backlash from his friends, family, and school overwhelms him. But as he meets friends (and maybe a first love) who see him as he is, he finds the strength to fight for acceptance.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book’s main character is a straight, teenage trans man. While he begins the story using a female name and pronouns, Parrotfish follows him as he accepts his identity and begins transitioning at the start of his junior year. It also features discussion of sexual orientation versus gender identity.

Review: Fun fact: this was the first book I ever read about a trans person, back when I was thirteen years old in 2011. I didn’t recognize that I was transgender until a few years later, but I remember reading about Grady’s experience and thinking to myself, “I’m just like this person. I wish I was a boy, too.” It was a key book for me in recognizing feelings I had about my gender and because of that, it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s just a cute book in general with a loveable, courageous protagonist.

One critique, however, is that this book phrases Grady’s identity more as a “girl who wants to be a boy” than a trans man. That’s part of the reason, I think, I didn’t realize I was trans then. I remembered it more about a girl who felt like a boy than a boy born in the wrong body. It was not likely the author’s intention, but I think portraying trans people like that could spread misinformation about what gender identity means. Wittlinger also refers to Grady as “transgendered,” which is a dated and, depending on the trans person, sometimes offensive term (though it may not have been as outdated when the book as written).

Grady also engages in some unsafe transitioning practices—particularly using Ace bandages to bind his chest, which can cause bruised or cracked ribs and long-term breathing issues. The safe way to bind is using a chest binder or kinesiology tape, either of which would have been better options to portray when writing for teens. I understand why the author wrote this, as this was published eleven years ago when binders weren’t as common and even then, lots of trans people who can’t afford them still use Ace bandages. That being said, I think if a young trans guy read this, it could give him harmful ideas about binding. Maybe not the biggest complaint for a story, but something I felt concerned about since it’s a YA novel.

That being said, Parrotfish is also heartwarming and spreads a message of unconditional love and acceptance, which is groundbreaking considering its older publication date. It was written in a time when very little about trans acceptance was talked about in the media or mainstream queer community, let alone YA fiction. It probably helped a lot of young trans teens, myself included, come to terms with their identity and feel less different or alone. Overall, a sweet and uplifting story written when trans identities were seen differently than they are now.

Quote: “You can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.”

Recommended: This is one of the oldest trans YA books (2007) that I’ve been able to find, and the oldest in general about a trans man. It tells a compelling story and has a positive message for both trans teens and those unfamiliar with the trans community. But because of the way trans identities are portrayed and some unsafe transitioning practices, I feel like this is a good introductory book for people just learning about the trans community but not the ideal first book for trans teens.

Monthly Wrap-Up, October 2018

Hey, friends! While planning some upcoming queer YA books to review on this blog, I thought about how there are a ton of non-queer (or even non-YA) books I read that are still notable and worth sharing. I don’t want to shift the focus of my reviews, but I do want to spotlight some of those books each month and give a paragraph review about the notable parts for others who might want to read it. So without further ado, here’s a few books I read and enjoyed last month:

YA:

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green: Several of my friends have called this their favorite John Green book, and I think it’s my favorite now, too, even though it made me tear up at parts. It’s just one of those books that proves YA fiction can be just as literary and meaningful as adult fiction. And even though it has heartbreaking moments, it’s got some seriously funny scenes, too. Also, it had one of the most powerful YA fiction lines I’ve ever read: “Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: This one’s about Sam, a junior who has purely-obsessional OCD, as she discovers the Poetry Corner and her high school and makes friends who understand what it’s like to feel alone. As someone with pure-O OCD, I was really excited to find this book. Mental illness has received a lot more understanding over the past few decades, but I think there are still some misconceptions about OCD. Every Last Word felt like an authentic story about one person’s struggle with OCD without letting that define her. It has a lot of sad, vulnerable moments but is overall a hopeful book.
  • Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne: Even if you’ve never thought about the potential a sci-fi Jane Eyre would have, Brightly Burning doesn’t disappoint. It’s just as emotionally intense and enticing as the original novel, except with a slightly more sympathetic Mr. Rochester. And it ends a little more hopefully than the original, too. Which is kind of a bonus. If you’re more of a classic literature fan but are trying to venture into the YA genre, this could be a fun choice since it actually translates the original plot and characters into a futuristic setting pretty well. Also, I don’t think the author plans on making a Wuthering Heights in space next, but man do I want it a lot now.
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck: A Short History follows freshman Matt Wainwright as he copes with his first unrequited crush and brings his emotional turmoil into his high school basketball court. This book was, above all, two things: sad and sweet. It’s full of unrequited love, loss, and uncertainty in the future that I think everyone feels at some point. It actually kind of reminded me of a younger teen version of Looking for Alaska in that it struggles to answer similar questions about why life can be so hard sometimes and whether there’s meaning in the pain.
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins: Reading Crank was a meaningful experience because, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read books by Ellen Hopkins. Considering that Hopkins’ books are some of the most banned and challenged YA books in print, I’m probably not the only one. Following Kristina from her beginning as a shy, emotionally-neglected teenager into a meth addict was harrowing. It was emotionally powerful experience to read how drug addiction can take away a person’s innocence, self-control, and ability to feel happy at all, even when high. After reading it, I felt sick to my stomach, but I didn’t regret reading it. This seems like a book that could either help teens have compassion for someone with struggles different from their own or help those with drug addictions feel heard and find hope.

Miscellaneous:

  • Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard: Maybe it’s all of that The Good Place I’ve been watching lately, but I’ve felt motivated lately to study philosophy more in hopes that it will help me become a kinder person and find stronger meaning in life. This book presented some interesting thoughts, especially the idea that faith begins when you step away from reason and trust in something, even though you’re afraid. It also discusses the difference between resignation and faith, the first being sorrow when confronted with seeming hopelessness and the second being trust in the infinite despite your fears.
  • That We May Be One by Tom Christofferson: In case you’re not as familiar with Mormon culture, this one is a memoir written by a brother of one of the church’s apostles who identifies as both gay and Mormon. It was powerful to follow his journey in life as he followed his heart and drew closer to God in a way that felt right to him. Being gay and spiritual can be hard, and this felt like a book that could help queer Mormons struggling to accept their sexual orientation feel like they are loved just as they are and belong in their religion.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: One of my professors recommended that we read this one at least once in our life. It was pretty enjoyable, considering the pretty dark subject matter! I especially liked the stream-of-consciousness narrative and felt like it worked well for what he was trying to achieve. It places you firmly into each character’s mind and makes their thoughts and emotions feel distinct. For some reason, though, I think I like his short stories a lot more than I liked this novel. Probably just a personal thing.

And, just to keep up with what’s going on in my life, here are some notable things that happened this month:

  • Finally found a job! I’m starting a technical writer position at The Waterford Institute next week and am super grateful to be working for a company that promotes a love of learning.
  • Played Kingdom Hearts I and II for the middle school nostalgia factor. Currently trying to figure out if there’s a phone app that would let me play 358/2.
  • Tons and tons of thunderstorms. As I’m writing this, it’s super cloudy and stormy outside. It looks like a perfect day to curl up by a window with a cup of apple cider and a book.
  • Got to see my boyfriend perform at the opening night for Evermore, an interactive fantasy park in Northern Utah. Super proud of him for working hard to pursue what he loves and for being a very spooky zombie.
  • Spent a lot of time in Park City. The leaves are starting to change color up there and it’s really beautiful, like the personification of a pumpkin spice candle.
  • Took some time to catch up on all of my favorite podcasts while cleaning, especially Beautiful/Anonymous, Modern Love, and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. If you guys have any podcast recommendations, by the way, I’d love to check out some new ones!

Any book recommendations for November’s book haul?

LGBTQ YA Review: Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

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Title: Devil and the Bluebird

Author: Jennifer Mason-Black

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After losing her mother to cancer, Blue Riley makes a deal with the devil to find her runaway sister Cass. With the help of her mother’s guitar and a pair of boots that lead her to her heart’s longing, she embarks on a journey with both temptation and hope waiting on every corner.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book featured several prominent queer characters. What I loved about it was how seamlessly the author weaved their LGBTQ identities into the story without making it a major plot point. Being queer affected, of course, who they were as characters and how they acted, but it didn’t consume their identities. Without spoiling anything by mentioning the character’s name, I especially enjoyed the depiction of a gay trans character, maybe because trans characters are generally portrayed as straight in queer YA and I like that we’re seeing some diverse identities within the genre. And, of course, as a queer trans guy, it felt validating to see an identity like mine portrayed in a book—everyone deserves to feel that.

What I loved: For whatever reason, one of my favorite Halloween songs when I was a kid was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, possibly because it had two good things: a spooky and compelling story and a good rhythm. Devil and the Bluebird mirrors the Southern Gothic feel of that song, with the rhythm coming in the beautifully-crafted imagery. In some ways, this novel captures the essence of a folk song. Its core story of a girl named Blue betting her soul against the devil for her sister may be fantastical, but the emotions and characters feel so real that it’s devastating at times. Even minor characters are described so well that they click perfectly with the plot and make the entire novel feel purposeful in every word it uses.

Quote: “Remember that the devil is the one who tells you to play a tune that’s not your own, and you can drive him right on out into the cold by playing what’s in your soul.”

Recommended: It’s getting close to Halloween, and if you’re looking for queer YA with a fairly spooky plot, this book is for you. And if you’re looking for an artfully-written novel with diverse, lifelike characters and a bittersweet story, you’ll find that here, too.

YA Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Griffin’s best friend and ex-boyfriend Theo dies in a drowning accident, the only person who understands is Theo’s current boyfriend, Jackson. But between his grief and obsessive compulsive episodes, Griffin is stuck processing Theo’s loss in a history of painful memories and broken “what-ifs.”

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What I loved: Notice how that quote by Nicola Yoon on the cover says, “Will make you cry, think, and then cry some more?” That about describes the emotional waves that this book put me through. History is All You Left Me creates a great balance of thought and raw emotion. Not only does it depict Griffin’s grief following an unexpected tragedy but also how memories and relationships shape us into who we are—in good and bad ways. The pain is striking in a familiar way for those who have fallen in love with someone they eventually had to let go of.

When a relationship ends for any reason, part of yourself dies with that just as another part starts growing, and this novel tracks Griffin’s full growth as a human being from his first kiss to his resolution to love Theo, but let him go. The novel also features a complex depiction of OCD that goes beyond the “cleaning” and “organizing” compulsions in a way that more matched my own experiences with it. Not only did this make Griffin a more complex character, but it gave depth to a mental illness that is often cliched in pop culture.

Quote: “People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense.”

Recommended: This is a little heavy of a read, so I would recommend this novel if you’re in a good mental “headspace.” It’s a beautiful and meaningful book, but one that could take time to process without letting it weigh you down. But as with every Adam Silvera novel I’ve read so far, perfect if you want a complex, thought-provoking queer YA book!

Next: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

YA Review: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

 

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Title: If I Tell You

Author: Alicia Tuckerman

Release Date: March 1, 2018 (Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review)

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Closeted teenager Alex Summers doesn’t expect to find love in her rural Australian town but can’t help falling for Phoenix. As they navigate their budding romance in their close-minded community, they make choices that will irreversibly change them.

What I loved: As the recent release of Love, Simon suggests, it seems like the trend in LGBTQ YA media is moving from externalized homophobia to internalized conflict the protagonist faces while coming out. But If I Tell You handles homophobia in a way that’s still relevant in 2018. As a young lesbian, Alex fears that her loved ones won’t treat her kindly she comes out. This fear is confirmed when her friends and family treat the more openly queer Phoenix with disgust. Alex debates between coming out and remaining safe, but closeted for much of the novel, knowing that this is something she can’t take back.

Regardless of their family situation, I think a lot of queer readers can relate to the worry that those they care about won’t see them the same way after coming out. Coming out is a serious decision, especially if you’re not sure how your loved ones will react. Most of the time, relationships do change—for better or for worse. Alex’s story is one many LGBTQ teens experience when others reacts not as they hoped but as they expected. If a reader out there lives in a similarly homophobic community, this could help them feel heard and understood.

Quote: “I feel the anger deep inside of me as I begin to understand the notion—the idea of being proud of who you are in a world that tells you to be ashamed; brave enough to be seen when people wish you were invisible.”

Recommended: Yeah, this was a good, heavy novel. I will say that it includes a lot of LGBTQ YA stereotypes, including a specific stereotype I’m not always fond of (spoiler alert: “bury your gays”). It isn’t necessarily groundbreaking but still very heartfelt. If you’re triggered by homophobic slurs or verbal abuse, though, tread carefully with this one.

Next: Release by Patrick Ness

YA Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: In a near-future world where people get a phone call the day they are going to die, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio go on an adventure so they don’t have to spend their last day alone. But as they grow closer to each other in their final hours, their focus shifts from dying to, for a few brief hours, finally living.

What I loved: This book. I loved this book. But I also hated it because it struck my emotions hard and wrung them with every page. You know exactly what to expect from the first page: even as you get to know Mateo and Rufus, you know that they’re going to die by the end of the book. The question is when, which keeps the book so captivating. Mateo and Rufus are just as aware as the reader that their time is limited and, in the course of a day, their relationship becomes so intimate and authentic despite how short-lived it is. It’s an equally beautiful and painful musing on how we define life as well as its end.

Quote: “I always wanted to stumble into someone like you.”

Recommended: This book was devastating but in such a necessary way. I’d warn anyone who wants to check this out that it’s a difficult read. Ever since I started hormone replacement therapy last year, I’ve cried a lot less than I used to but this one had me tearing up. If you want an emotional reflection on how mortality can make us love and lose hard, it’s a good book for that. Or if you want to bawl your eyes out. It’s a great book for that, too.

On an unrelated note, Adam Silvera is quickly becoming one of my favorite current LGBTQ YA writers. After reading this book, I couldn’t get my hands on History Is All You Left Me fast enough… which was also a painful, meaningful read. So expect a review on that soon as well!

Next: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro