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

Image result for History Is All You Left Me

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.”

history

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

LGBTQ YA Review: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

Image result for As the Crow Flies melanie gillman

Title: As the Crow Flies

Author: Melanie Gillman

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Queer, black, and questioning her faith, Charlie can’t help but feel isolated at her predominantly-white Christian summer camp. When she befriends Sydney, another camper whose differences set her apart, the two are determined to change their camp leaders’ mindsets even if they have to cause a commotion.


Image result for As the Crow Flies melanie gillman

(source)


What I loved: This book is a careful critique on white feminism and how much of the female experience it excludes. Although Charlie’s leaders talk about the camp’s history as an “matriarchal” outpost for nineteenth-century women, they use racially-exclusive language and gloss uncomfortably over how those women were primarily served by former slaves. Several closeted queer campers and campers of color keep silent in fear of becoming outcasts, particularly a camper who knows that if the leaders found out that she was trans, they wouldn’t have let her come. The disconnect between the leaders’ brand of feminism and the campers’ marked discomfort builds with every campfire sermon. It complicates Charlie’s search for God, who she can’t seem to find in the way that her leaders hope.

The art style in itself is breathtaking, with beautiful landscapes rendered in colored pencils in a way that, to me, captured the divine better than any of the camp leader’s sermons on God. I think that’s a little of what As the Crow Flies expresses—that the way to find God is to search for Him (or Them) yourself. Charlie associates bird’s feathers with God because she found one while in prayer and, during her spiritual search, she  finds bird’s feathers as she continues to look for and define God for herself. The connection between nature, which is accessible to every person, and God is gracefully expressed through the artistic medium.

My one complaint is that the ending felt unfinished but, after doing a little research, I found out that this is just volume one in a series about Charlie’s experience at summer camp. That could have been made a little more apparent but hey, maybe it was. It’s finals week here, and the unique fatigue that finals week brings does things to your mind. But either way, I am both surprised and delighted to hear that Charlie’s story will continue in subsequent volumes!

Recommended: This was a thoughtful read on who, exactly, feminism stands for and how “white, cis feminism” marginalizes more women than it uplifts. As a queer Christian, I also found Charlie’s struggle to connect with a God she doesn’t fully comprehend powerful. I’d probably recommend this one for younger teens just based on Charlie and the campers’ ages influencing their concerns, but older teens and adults may find the questions raised on inter-sectional feminism and mainstream Christianity poignant.

Next: Ship It by Britta Lundlin

LGBTQ YA Review: Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle

Image result for kissing kate lauren myracle

(Note: Hello friends! You may have noticed I’ve been a little MIA here for the past week. It’s a little more than coincidental that this break conceded with finals week, but I also have some news. As of today, I will be exclusively posting LGBTQ YA reviews on this website, along with writing advice and updates on my personal/professional writing adventures! So if you’ve been reading my posts and thinking “hmm, this is pretty gay but I wish it were even gayer,” your lucky day has come.)

Title: Kissing Kate

Author: Lauren Myracle

Rating: 3.5/5

Two sentence summary: After an accidental, drunken kiss, best friends Kate and Lissa refuse to acknowledge each other’s existence. But Kate can’t keep her conflicted feelings bottled up, and she must rely on new friends to retrace what happened at that party and come to terms with her own identity.

Quote: “You can remove a tattoo; it’s just difficult. And supposedly it’s pretty painful. Some things, on the other hand, can’t be undone.”


kissingkate

 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: As someone who grew up loving Lauren Myracle’s ttyl series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she’d written a queer YA novel early in her career. Like ttyl, Kissing Kate explores friendship and how who we connect with shapes who we are. Unlike some novels with a lesbian protagonist, Kate’s story isn’t dependent on a significant other or romantic subplot. Although she mourns what she had with Lissa and can’t quite let go of her unresolved feelings, she is a minor character and exists more in Kate’s conflicted memories. In the wake of her newly-broken relationship with Lissa, she explores who she is and what that means, eventually confronting her sexuality with tentative acceptance.

Acceptance meant very different things in the early 2000s when this book was written. Both Kate and Lissa have a strained relationship with their sexualities, with the latter rejecting it outright and the former still unable to shake the idea that being lesbian is “inferior” to heterosexuality. But I think that just highlights Kate’s bravery as she faces her identity for what it is and admits to herself that what she felt for Kate was more than friendship. Even though we’ve made so much progress in LGBTQ activism in the fifteen years since Kissing Kate was written, I think having stories where the protagonist works to accept their feelings as valid can be healing.

Recommended: This book was published back in 2003 and is one of the earliest healthy portrayals of LGBTQ relationships I’ve found in YA literature. The target demographic of contemporary YA fiction wasn’t likely alive when this book was published, but I think despite its more conservative portrayal of queer identities, Kissing Kate is still relevant. Whether you can relate to Kate’s unrequited, uncertain love or you want to see how much LGBTQ YA has changed in fifteen years, it’s a powerful story.

Next: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

One Lovely Blog Award

Hey guys! I was nominated by Book Lover Blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award. Thanks so, so much! Check out her blog for book reviews and beautiful pictures, both are lovely.

one-lovely-blog-award-1.png


RULES:
  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Share seven facts about yourself
  3. Nominate other bloggers and inform them of the nomination

SEVEN FACTS ABOUT ME:

1. I’m the oldest of five children and have four little sisters. They make me feel like the luckiest person in the world—I don’t know what I’d do without my crazy, wonderful family. Here’s all of us at my grandma’s for Easter!

fam

2. As a freelance writer, one of my favorite things to do while working is listening to podcasts. It reminds me of when I was young and my dad would listen to talk shows while working, and it makes time pass faster. Some of my favorites are Modern Love, The Moth Radio Hour, Beautiful/Anonymous, On Being, and Philosophize This.

3. One of my guilty pleasures is watching cooking reality TV shows, especially The Great British Bake Off. They’re just so kind to each other and they try so hard. I love that show so much.

4. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite YA books was It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. It was such a raw portrait of depression, and it helped me a lot while navigating the depression and anxiety in my own life. I appreciated its humor and its honesty, and I remember how much it hurt when I learned that the author had taken his life. It made me wish that he had realized how much catharsis and hope his book had given others and also inspired me to write YA fiction as a means of helping queer teens feel less alone.

5. I may or may not be a closet Trekkie (and a very open twenty-one pilots fan). Live long and prosper, friends, and stay alive!

6. I’m a bit of a chocolate snob, which is both a vice and a virtue. My favorites are Ritter Sport, Chocolove, and those chocolate oranges you can get at Christmas time. I also really like Kit-Kats, which is kinda basic but ah, well.

7. Even though I know that they’re not accurate, I like personality tests. They help my simple mind understand a little more about myself and find areas to improve upon in my life. I know they’re not scientifically accurate, but they make me happy—and that’s important, too, on some level. In case you’re wondering, I’m an INFJ Enneagram type 6 wing 5 and, according to the Big 5 test, could probably stand to be less neurotic.


MY NOMINEES:
  1. Pages Below the Vaulted Sky
  2. Malanie Loves Fiction
  3. Bookish Connoisseur
  4. Forty Two Thoughts
  5. Des’ Random Thoughts

LGBTQ YA Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Image result for art of being normal

Title: The Art of Being Normal

Author: Lisa Williamson

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Fourteen-year-old David Piper is hiding a secret: even though she was born male, she would give anything to be a normal girl like her sister. When her school’s new student Leo Denton stands up for her in a fight, she finds that “normal” is much more messy and complicated than she thought.


art
 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I thought that this novel did a great job handling heavy themes with grace and respect. Often, trans YA books deal only with gender identity and the consequences of coming out. That is a strong element of The Art of Being Normal, but Leo and David’s stories also deal with poverty, childhood neglect, absent parents, and bullying. I liked how the novel didn’t gravitate around gender because it made David’s trans identity seem less isolated. She’s not just this stock character who has nothing going for her besides her gender identity. She’s connected to Leo, her friends and family, and others in her life in a way that adds dimension to her personality. Her gender identity is important, but it’s not her defining feature. I think it’s important to broaden trans YA from “trans coming out stories” to “trans characters having rich, complex experiences” and this book does so very well.

The Art of Being Normal is written in a dual POV, with chapters switching off between David and Leo. I’m not always in love with this format because it can be difficult to make the two voices separate. In this book, though, it’s effective. Both Leo and David have distinct, well-developed voices and their POVs add important elements to the novel. If the story were told from just one POV, it wouldn’t feel as compelling.

Quote: “Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ‘Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.’”

Recommended: This is a book I’d recommend for people who want more insight into the trans experience if they’re not as familiar with the LGBTQ community. It’s a great “beginner” book for delving into trans YA. It’s insightful and offers a strong window into David’s story without bogging the text down with too many definitions. I love that it normalizes the trans experience while still voicing unique experiences that teens may face while coming out. Balanced, a little bittersweet, but ultimately a beautiful read.

Next: The Weekend Bucket List by Mia Kerick

Over Raging Tides Review and Q&A with Jennifer Ellision

Image result for over raging tides jennifer ellison

Title: Over Raging Tides

Author: Jennifer Ellision

Release date: March 20, 2018 (Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review)

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Grace Porter, quartermaster to the all-female pirate crew aboard the Lady Luck, enlists the help of a young nobleman named Leo to destroy the Mogdris, malicious sea monsters who stole her mother. As Grace and Leo use the omniscient Map of Omna to find and kill the Mogdris, she must choose where her loyalty lies—with her kin or her crew.


 tidesPhotos via Unsplash

What I loved: As soon as I saw the description for Over Raging Tides, I was pumped to read it. An all-female crew of pirates? Is there anything more deserving of the word “BAMF” than that? There absolutely is not. It’s one of those things that you didn’t know that you needed in your life but you absolutely do. Grace Porter and the crew of the Lady Luck feel as though they stepped out of a sea shanty. They’re dynamic and larger-than-life in a way that every good pirate character is. Yet they also feel believable enough to empathize with, particularly the conflicted Grace as she struggles to resolve her tragic past at the potential cost of betrayal.

I also enjoyed the dialogue in this book. Good dialogue is pretty tough to pull off, especially for pirates, without sounding gimmicky. With pirates, you’ve got to balance the sharp wit and colorful slang with authentic-sounding phrasing. Over Raging Tides has got wit in droves. Sometimes the wit is humorous and sometimes it’s biting, but it’s always well-crafted. The dialogue drives the plot swiftly and feels as though it was pulled from an eighteenth-century ship log. It helps ground the reader in Grace and the Lady Luck‘s world without feeling too forced.

Without giving anything away, I will say that I appreciated the ending. It stops at a satisfying point while setting up a compelling story for when the series picks up again. As with many firsts in a series, it was a tad abrupt but I have faith that any unanswered questions will be pursued in the next book, Through Fathoms Dark and Deep.

Quote: “From the ship’s articles of the Lady Luckshe who attempts a mutiny will have her throat slit and be tossed overboard for the sea to feed upon. Unless, of course, she succeeds.”

Recommended: Oh, boy. This book is packed with so many good things—pirates, magic, sea monsters, sharp wit, and maybe even a little romance. If you, too, grew up in love with the Pirates of the Caribbean series but wished its female characters were more complex, you’ll love Over Raging Tides!

Next week: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson


Q&A with the Author, Jennifer Ellision


Jennifer Ellision is the author of the YA fantasy series Threats of Sea and Sky and the New Adult contemporary novel Now and Again. Over Raging Tides is the first book in her YA fantasy series, Lady Pirates. Check out her website to read her blog, discover upcoming release dates, and sign up for her newsletter!

1) Over Raging Tides is the story of an all-female pirate crew who sail the Lady Luck. How did you get interested in pirate history, and what inspired you to write about an all-female ship?

I confess, a large part of my interest in pirate history came about because I was inspired to write this book. While I’d already had a scene jump into my head that sparked the idea for the book, the idea didn’t come to create an all-female crew until I was rewatching Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl one day. It struck me that Keira Knightley was the only central female character in that movie. I resolved to make a pirate story where there were plenty of women around.

2) Were you inspired by any (in)famous female pirates in history while writing Over Raging Tides? If so, which ones?

I was! In fact, my main character, Grace, is named after Grace O’Malley, the Irish “Pirate Queen.” If you keep an eye out in the novel, you may notice some minor characters named for a couple of other well-known lady pirates.

In my research, I also came across other, less well-known pirate women, some of whom have got me toying with the idea of extending the series past Grace’s duology… but that’s a story for another time.

3) What was the researching process like for this book? How did you include historical accuracy and the logistics of seafaring while retaining the novel’s adventitious, action-packed style?

The beauty of writing fantasy is that I had a little bit of flexibility because Over Raging Tides is set in a fictional world. However, I knew that I wanted it to feel like it could be real.

I spent a lot of time examining the layouts of different types of sailing vessels and familiarizing myself with different deck and mast names. I also read up a lot on the different roles of sailors and pirates on board ships during the “Golden Age of Piracy.” Likewise, I read about the democratic systems of pirate ships. (Did you know they functioned as early democracies? Because I didn’t.)

Research I did that didn’t wind up panning out (in this book at least) was making a point during my trip to London to visit The Royal Observatory; better known as the location of the Prime Meridian, where there is a museum documenting the history of maritime navigation (early drafts of Over Raging Tides included this element, but it didn’t ultimately make sense for the story). I also read a book documenting real pirate trials.

For lady pirates, in particular, I have a nice little stack of books devoted to the non-fiction subject of female pirates.

As for keeping the novel moving while including these elements, I think of much of the logistics as a backdrop. It’s important that they’re there to lend atmosphere to the story and make it engrossing, but I prefer to keep the story pace tight with setting details woven in.

4) This book is full of strong, powerful female characters. Who were your favorite fictional heroines growing up?

Oh, I love this question! So, first of all, I have to say Sailor Moon. I cut my writing teeth on Sailor Moon fanfiction. I’m a huge Sailor Moon fangirl to this day and think that a big reason incorporating female friendships into all of my novels comes from growing up with the Sailor Senshi as an example. Secondly, Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and Daine were heroines whose stories I reread again and again. I loved the fantasy world she created, with girls who got to save the day.

Thank you for having me!

Thanks so much, Jennifer Ellision, for your time and your thoughtful answers—it was a pleasure and an honor! Over Raging Tides made my heart happy from start to finish. If you want a story that speaks to your adventurous side, you can order it online or read it for free through Kindle Unlimited!

YA Review: Risen by Cole Gibsen

Risen_1600.jpg

Title: Risen

Author: Cole Gibsen

Release date: March 27, 2018 (Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review)

Rating: 3/5

Two sentence summary: When vampires kidnaps Charlie’s aunt, she must rely on the immortal Sebastian to get answers involving her aunt’s disappearance in exchange for helping him uncover his past as a human. But with mounting tensions in this underworld, she must find her aunt quickly before she is pulled into a war between covens.


Risen13 (1)

What I loved: Here’s a little fun fact that, if asked about in public, I will probably deny—as someone who was a preteen during the whole “late 2000s Twilight craze,” I have a slight guilty pleasure for paranormal romance. I don’t write it and generally don’t read it anymore, but it makes me nostalgic. Risen was a pleasant surprise because it didn’t feel like a guilty pleasure. Which, y’know, as a twentysomething guy with what some would call “fragile masculinity,” was a relief.

Risen starts off in a way that makes you think it’ll turn out like every other YA paranormal novel on the market—girl discovers that vampires exist, falls in forbidden love with a broody (read: attractive) vampire, and finds herself in peril that somehow works out so she can get it going with said broody vampire by the epilogue. While Charlie and Sebastian’s relationship is a heavy element of the story, it doesn’t follow the typical formula. Charlie is a strong character who doesn’t fall hopelessly in love with Sebastian because he’s handsome. Their relationship’s development is complicated and flawed in a way that ends unfinished, yet satisfying.

The only complaint I had about this book is that sometimes, the romantic subplot was just a little too heavy for me. I enjoy a good love story but sometimes felt like Charlie and Sebastian’s relationship overwhelmed all other elements of the plot. It’s not a criticism so much as a personal preference. If romance novels are your thing, then this will be a strength.

Quote: “You humans are all so afraid to die. You spend your entire lives dreading it. Fighting to embrace death for the gift it is, you would have nothing to fear.”

Recommended: If you’re a paranormal romance fan, you’ll enjoy the ways that Risen takes traditional conventions of paranormal romance and twists them in a way that makes it unique. It’s a quick, compelling read, and perfect for an evening in when you want to lose yourself in a story.

Next week: Over Raging Tides by Jennifer Ellison

YA Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Image result for release patrick ness

Title: Release

Author: Patrick Ness

Rating: 4.5/5

Two sentence summary: Adam Thorn, seventeen-year-old son to a family of preachers, is reeling in the wake of a fractured relationship with his ex-lover and fears that his conservative parents will find out about his sexuality. Release follows Adam over the the course of a day as he faces his past and jumps into a confrontation that may either shatter his heart or finally mend it.


release.jpg

Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I always love me some Patrick Ness, and this was no exception. Release is an accurate title for this book. Adam knows that the strong emotions he carries about his situation weigh him down—growing up with his parents’ conditional love, escaping sexual assault from his supervisor, and working through heartbreak have left him with deep wounds. It’s difficult for him to love others, even himself, because affection shown to him has often been warped and always temporary. But this day we follow Adam on sparks something from within—as he lets go of those who have hurt him, he opens himself to feeling all of the pain he’d been blocking at once. And yet, despite this, he is free. His is a bittersweet story, with hope that this day will lead to better ones for Adam.

The stream-of-consciousness narrative of this book was also enjoyable and, I think, a really good way to tell it. Ness was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to write this story, and it has a similarly psychological, internalized feel. Because this book follows Adam from morning until nighttime, we as readers glimpse his thoughts in a way that’s a little more unstructured than most third-person narratives. It heightens the rawness of emotions in a way that fosters deep empathy for Adam and his flawed, conflicted heart.

Quote: “They’re your parents. They’re meant to love you because. Never in spite.”

Recommended: Some books are just beautiful, and Release is one of those. If you want to savor the words, characters, and emotions, this is a hard-hitting yet satisfying read. It is hurtful and healing in a way that only Patrick Ness’s books could be.

Next week: Risen by Cole Gibsen

YA Review: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

 

Related image

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: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Image result for if i was your girl meredith russo

Title: If I Was Your Girl

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Amanda Hardy moves to live with her father after transitioning to female, she just wants a peaceful and low-profile high school experience. But when she falls in love with her kind, complicated classmate Grant, she wonders how deeply you can love someone while hiding so much of yourself.

What I loved: For a novel that deals with some heavy topics (including suicide, sexual assault, and drug abuse), this is a wholesome story. I enjoyed how the chapters alternated between Amanda’s senior year and her memories realizing, coming to terms with, and finding confidence in her trans identity. It felt like If I Was Your Girl explored the complexities that come with transitioning well… which makes sense, since the author is a trans woman herself and has lived it.

At the beginning of the novel, Amanda considers herself “fully transitioned”—she socially transitioned, takes hormone therapy, and received gender confirmation surgery. Unless she wants to tell others, nobody would ever have to know that she’s trans. Yet she questions to what extent her trans identity is part of her story and, if it is, whether telling others is worth her safety. None of the questions have easy answers, but Amanda works through them in a way that gives her comfort.

Also, side note that has nothing to do with the story, but not only is this written by a trans woman (the first trans YA book I’ve read by a transgender author, by the way), but the model on the cover is also a trans woman. Not to speak for trans women but as a trans guy, that feels like positive and much-needed progress in YA publishing.

Quote: “Either way, I realized, I wasn’t sorry I existed anymore. I deserved to live. I deserved to find love. I knew now—I believed now—that I deserved to be loved.”

Recommended: One hundred times yes! I almost hesitate to say this just because there are so many good queer books but, if you choose to only read one transgender YA novel, I think it should be this one. We need more books about trans/non-binary people written by trans/non-binary authors. You can feel the authenticity of this experience in a way that I haven’t felt in other trans YA books before. The author doesn’t just feel sympathy for trans people but genuine empathy, and I think you can pick up on that.

That being said, I would love to read more books by trans and non-binary authors. If anyone has recommendations, be sure to leave a comment!

Next: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman