Stuntboy, In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds & Raúl the Third (Illustrations)

Stuntboy in the Meantime Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: Stuntboy, in the Meantime
Series: Stuntboy #1 (implied by ending)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Portico Reeves has a secret identity. He’s…Stuntboy! He uses his powers to protect the people around him. His best friend Zola from the class bully. His parents from themselves. But Portico is having difficulty processing the fact that his parents are divorcing, and his anxiety is getting worse. Can Stuntboy still save the day when he does not feel his best?

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Review

I am a huge fan of Jason Reynolds, so it hurts a little to say that I do not think Stuntboy, In the Meantime is his best work. The protagonist Portico Reeves comes across as a little too young to be relatable to what seems to be the intended audience. And I am not really sure what the benefit is of having Portico not understand familiar concepts and words. Is it supposed to be funny? Is it just so the narrator can take time out to teach readers the correct pronunciation of words like “anxiety” and define things like “meditation?” Whatever the reason, I found the narration to be grating, though I appreciate the concept of the book and the author’s commitment to writing about real things that affect young readers, from divorce to mental health.

Stuntboy, In the Meantime is apparently marketed towards readers 7-12 (according to the book cover), which is a fairly large range. I think the younger readers might actually appreciate it more. Gen Z and mental health have received a lot of press, and many schools are now trying to teach things like mindfulness and social-emotional learning. So I’m not really sure older readers would be as patient sitting through chapters on how to breathe and meditate, if they’re already getting a lot of that information from other sources. I also think they might be less inclined to find Portico cute when he does things like call his anxiety “the frets” or thinks about his physical responses by referring to his kidneys as “beaner cleaners.” But Portico does not seem to be assigned any particular age, grade, or even school (elementary or middle?) so I suppose readers of varying ages are meant to be able to relate.

Aside from Portico’s strange misunderstandings of basic concepts (like thinking the superintendent of his apartment is a superhero, and apparently maybe actually believing his apartment building is a castle??), the book does have classic Reynolds’ strengths. The characters are vividly drawn, the situations the characters experience are difficult ones readers may also face, and the language flows with a vibrant read-aloud quality. Oh, and this book also is heavily illustrated (though I wouldn’t call it a graphic novel, as I have seen it described), which will be a bonus for readers who like journal-type books like the Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series.

Stuntboy, In the Meantime is not my favorite Jason Reynolds book and it is not a book I can see myself reading again. I do appreciate the effort that went into it, though, and the concern that the author clearly has for readers who struggle with anxiety and who might need some strategies to help process their emotions.

3 Stars

So, This Is Christmas by Tracy Andreen

So, This Is Christmas Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: So, This Is Christmas
Series: So, This Is #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

When Finley Brown secretly updated her hometown’s official website to make the town look more impressive to the students at her fancy new prep school, she never imagined that anyone would book a stay there. But her classmate Arthur does–and he is expecting the perfect Christmas experience from Christmas, Oklahoma. Too bad the parade with the dancing goats and the opportunities to feed reindeer were made up! Now Finley has to provide Arthur and his aunt with the holiday of their dreams, or risk Arthur revealing the deception to their classmates.

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Review

So, This Is Christmas reads pretty much like a Hallmark Christmas film, so I was not surprised to learn at the end that Tracy Andreen actually writes screenplays for Hallmark. From the enemies to lovers trope to the small-town Christmas experience, the elements of a familiar, feelgood story, are all here. Andreen does try to modernize the formula a bit by focusing on the pressures of growing up in a town where everybody knows everybody, as well as by introducing a lesbian romance. But, rest assured. There are very few surprises here. Just cheesy Christmas comfort.

Reviewing So, This Is Christmas actually feels a bit difficult because, really, what you see is what you get. If you like watching Hallmark Christmas movies, you are getting that–just in book form. Yes, the main protagonists are teens instead of adults and, instead of seeing a big city woman learn about the charms of a small town, we see instead someone who grew up in a small town come to appreciate it. But it’s the same. Finley and her crush go on a reindeer sleigh ride, make cookies, attend the holiday parade, and do all the other elements probably on your Hallmark Christmas movie Bingo card–all before breaking up over a misunderstanding, only to reunite once more in time for the annual Christmas party.

What I liked about this book is that readers actually get to see a few romantic relationships in various forms, across generations. So while teenage Finley and her crush Arthur are the main couple undergoing the standard holiday romance, there is also the evolving relationship of Finley’s parents–people in their 30s who might be considering a divorce. And there’s the romance of a lesbian couple, with one partner out to everyone and the other hesitant to make the relationship public. Romance does not happen only one way, despite what the movies say. Romances grow, change, die, and reignite once more. The path to true love never did run smooth.

So, final verdict? If you love a comforting romance where everything is predictable and everyone is happy in the end, this book is for you! It provides the right amount of holiday cheer and romantic hope to keep one’s heart light. It’s the kind of comfort read we all probably need now and then. No thrills. No suspense. Just a bit of Christmas magic.

4 stars

Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Roxy
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway – Goodreads
Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Official Summary

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?

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Review

Roxy, being an exploration of the opioid crisis, is one of those books where the reviews are going to be dominated by discussion of the message of the book, rather than discussion of the story. Already on Goodreads, before the book’s release, one can see reviews ranging from “It’s against drug abuse, so 5 stars!” to “It doesn’t mirror my experience with drugs, so 1 star!” I thought long and hard about whether the book even is trying to tell a story, or just send teen readers a message, and I ultimately I had to conclude that the story just isn’t quite there. The book is interesting and experimental in some ways, but the plot and characters are completely secondary to the commentary on drugs, which is disappointing.

The choice to personify drugs is interesting. There are the main ones, Roxy and Addison, but Shusterman and Shusterman add references to nearly every drug you can think of and even gives some of them their own “interludes” in the book so you can see them as “people.” On one hand, this is extremely allegorical. And allegory is something today’s readers often make fun of, like, “Ha ha, look as those ridiculous medieval writers personifying Fortitude and Charity.” But maybe it’s cool to readers when the allegorical is about drugs.

Personifying them, however, means the drugs aren’t necessarily represented as all bad because they’re “people” with strengths, weaknesses, flaws, hopes, dreams, doubts. I’m sure that makes sense in terms of representing why people do drugs (they seem appealing for whatever reasons), but I imagine readers wanting a very, very strong “these drugs are bad and you certainly should not do them and become addicted” message might think it’s undermined by making the drugs seem occasionally like kind of nice people who make good points about things.

Now, ostensibly, the main characters of the book aren’t just the drugs; there’s also siblings Isaac and Ivy. Isaac is a smart, well-behaved kid who gets his hands on Roxy after busting his ankle, while Ivy is a party girl with a drug dealing boyfriend who can only get back on track once she starts hanging with Addison again. Part of the “hook” of the story is supposed to be having the readers guess which of the two becomes a complete victim of their drug of choice, but there was never any mystery for me, and I felt no suspense in the book. I also just wasn’t too invested in either of their lives, since it all just seemed like a vehicle to pontificate on drugs.

Some of the most interesting commentary in the book, simply because it’s subtle and not spelled out like everything else, is what on earth’s going on with Isaac and Ivy’s parents, letting both their kids get addicted to drugs. The parents are in a weird space where they’re sort of present in their kids’ lives but seem bad at actually . . . parenting. Like they yell at Ivy for sneaking out and having a terrible sketchy boyfriend, but their “parenting” is just arguing with her and not actually solving anything. There’s possibly some cautionary tale for parents in here.

So, Roxy has an interesting premise. I’m not sure it does what readers will want it to do which is BOTH tell a good story and suggest to teens that while drugs might seem alluring and it’s possible for anyone, not just “bad” kids, to become addicted, they should really avoid drugs. However, the story itself is just really buried under the message, and the fact that the personified drugs don’t really seem that bad means any anti-drug message is not necessarily as strong as it could be.

Briana
3 Stars

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Information

Goodreads: Friends Forever
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Shannon is in eighth grade, and life is more complicated than ever. Everything keeps changing, her classmates are starting to date each other (but nobody wants to date her!), and no matter how hard she tries, Shannon can never seem to just be happy.

As she works through her insecurities and undiagnosed depression, she worries about disappointing all the people who care about her. Is something wrong with her? Can she be the person everyone expects her to be? And who does she actually want to be?

With their signature humor, warmth, and insight, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham have crafted another incredible love letter to their younger selves and to readers everywhere, a reminder to us all that we are enough.

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Review

Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham return with another charming book about growing up and trying to fit in. This time, Shannon is in eighth grade and, though she has found new friends, she still lacks confidence. She thinks that, to be likable, she has to be perfect. And she has to have a boyfriend. But she quickly realizes that fame, beauty, and romance are not in her immediate future. Now she has to figure out how to like herself just the way she is. A relatable book that feels like talking to a friend.

I have enjoyed all the books in the Friends series, but this one especially feels really poignant. Shannon initially believes that leaving her old, toxic friend group will mean everything is better, but the reality is that life is never perfect. So, she starts seeking the next thing, the one thing that will make her feel safe, happy, loved, and secure. Teen magazines and the media suggest that she needs to be a certain way to have all that. But, each time she sets out to achieve a goal–to look gorgeous in the school photos, for instance–the results are never what she wanted. Part of growing up is realizing that life is not like a movie, and there is never really any final resolution, but the let-downs are hard for Shannon.

Watching Shannon grow up through the series so far has been bittersweet. She has survived hurtful friend groups, low self-esteem, and undiagnosed depression. Watching her come out on the other side, however, has been both heartwarming and inspiring. I would love to see this series continue into high school so that readers can continue to see that, although there is always a new challenge to be met in life, there are always good friends who can help us along the way.

4 stars

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Krysta’s Review)

Inheritance Games book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Inheritance Games
Series: Inheritance Games #1
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

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Review

I went into The Inheritance Games not knowing what to expect, but hoping for a puzzle-filled mystery that might be something like a YA version of The Mysterious Benedict Society. What I got was more romance than mystery, more character-driven than plot-driven. The puzzles prove not particularly difficult or clever. Even so, The Inheritance Games is worth a read, more for its thriller-like aspects than for the games it promises.

The premise of The Inheritance Games is that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne has left his fortune to teenager Avery Grambs, disinheriting his family in a surprise move that is revealed at the reading of the will. Among the disappointed heirs are Tobias’ four grandsons–two of whom end up in an uncompelling love triangle with Avery. Complicating matters is the injunction that Avery must reside with the Hawthorne family in Tobias’ estate for at least one year, or her inheritance is forfeit. Naturally, some of the family do not wish Avery well, so she must solves the clues left by Tobias to uncover why he chose her, of all people, to receive his money.

The clues, however, are not nearly as clever as I was expecting, both from the premise and from the enthusiastic reviews the book has received. Very often, the solutions are quite obvious and even elementary. For instance, Tobias might leave a message missing a single word, where the word can only be one thing. Since the book starts by suggesting that Avery must be some sort of genius, or at least really good at puzzles, since she plays chess all the time and aces an “impossible” physics test, I thought Tobias’ game would put her to the test. But I think any quick-witted child could play the game and win.

What makes the obvious puzzles even more frustrating is that Avery, the narrator, has a terrible habit of repeating all the information and the answer, as if readers must be dense. So if the message missing a word reads, “The sky is _____,” Avery feels the need to work through the puzzle piece by piece. She might say, “The sky is ____. The message was missing a word. We needed to find out the word to solve the puzzle. The sky is ____. Skies are usually blue. So blue must be the missing word. The sky is blue! Blue was the missing word! Blue was the answer! We had to find something with a blue sky.” This might be excusable if the puzzles were harder, but I really do not need Avery to spell out everything in excruciating detail this way. It takes away from the momentum of the plot, and really does make it seem like the readers are not expected to be able to figure out anything without having theirs hands held all the way.

I suspect, however, that many readers are not reading The Inheritance Games for the puzzles, but for the romance. The summary promises four magnetic Hawthorne boys to allure and entire readers (and Avery), and the plot really plays that up. It does not matter that Avery and the boys have zero chemistry and really no reason to be attracted to each other. The book asserts that the boys are amazing, and readers are supposed to buy into that, and the connected assumption that Avery must want to date them, as a result.

The strongest, most compelling part of The Inheritance Games is really the thriller aspect. Why was Avery chosen? Who is out to get her? Will she solve the puzzle and survive her year living with a house of people who hate her? Those were the questions that kept me reading, more than the disappointing puzzles or the boring love triangle. The book is worth a read. It is just not as clever as the summary suggests.

4 stars

So Done by Paula Chase

So Done

Information

Goodreads: So Done
Series: So Done #1
Source:
Library
Published:
2018

Summary

Tai has been waiting all summer for her best friend Bean to return, but, when she does, things aren’t the same. Bean wants to be called Mila now. And, worse, she’s starting to speak up for herself, instead of agreeing with everything Tai says! Then there are the looming auditions for the new talented-and-gifted program at school. Mila wants to try out for dance. Tai couldn’t care less. Can Tai and Mila repair their friendship? Or are they destined to drift apart?

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Review

So Done is a realistic portrayal of growing up and potentially growing out of old friendships. Mila and Tai have known each other for ages, but after an incident at Tai’s house, Mila seems withdrawn. Worse (in Tai’s eyes) is that Mila is starting to stand up for herself, instead of just agreeing with everything Tai wants. As auditions loom for a new talented-and-gifted program at school, the girls have to decide what they want in life, and if they are going to be together, or stay apart for good. While I enjoyed the complexity of Mila and Tai’s friendship, the ending of the story threatens to undo everything the book works so hard to build. In the end, the book suggests that external factors can save friendships, and that Tai does not need to grow along with Mila. I wanted a story where both Tai and Mila can change, but that promise is never fulfilled.

Perhaps the highlight of So Done is the wonderful way in which Mila and Tai are so very different, yet both get a chance to tell their story and gain some of the readers’ sympathy. Mila tends to quieter, politer, and more focused than Tai. She is afraid living in the Cove, and starts to dream of moving to the suburbs, away from the dealers. Tai, on the other hand, is loud, attention-seeking, and rude. She also loves living in the Cove, where she can flaunt her body on the streets and show her superiority by dissing the other girls. Their interactions are fascinating because they do not really seem to go together, and those interactions become even more interesting when Mila starts to stand up for herself and want she wants.

I admit–I didn’t really like Tai. Her chapters are all about her musing how unfair and wrong it is that she can no longer control Mila. Multiple characters call Tai out for her treatment of Mila, the way she makes fun of her “friend” so that Mila will go along with whatever she wants, just so Tai will stop being mean. But I give credit to the author for making a character so disagreeable. Tai may be petty and selfish, but she is also real. I only regret that Tai shows very little growth throughout the story.

Most of the times in middle-grade friendship stories, one hopes that old friendships can be restored. In this case, however, I was cheering on Mila as she began to pull away from Tai. Tai offers her pretty much nothing in terms of friendship–no kindness and no support. I hoped that So Done would be a story about how it is okay to outgrow friends, especially when those friends are more like bullies. However, that does not happen. The author instead introduces an external incident that the girls can agree upon, instead of having Tai realize how mean she is and apologizing for past behavior.

This book does, regrettably, rely heavily on that old trope of “The Incident.” That thing that happened in the past that casts a looming shadow over everyone, but which cannot be named for ages, because the author wants to build suspense. I hate books with Incidents. In this case, it becomes clear pretty early on that some sort of sexual harassment occurred, which has traumatized Mila, but which Tai wants to pretend never happened. Thus, the end of the book is about Tai agreeing to help Mila speak out. This is all great! Messages about speaking up are important. But does Tai ever look inward and realize that she has been bullying Mila for years? No. It is apparently enough for me to be nice just one time for this friendship to be declared healthy and fixed.

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about So Done. The characterization is wonderfully done, and I appreciated how the author brings up romance (even to the point where Tai thinks of showing herself nude on a screen), since some tweens are worried about going out and maybe are doing things like sexting. These are aspects middle-grade books often leave out in favor of showing platonic friendships. But the ending does take away from everything the rest of the story seems to be saying: that it is important to be yourself, that you don’t have to put up with friends who tear you down. Not having Tai reflect more on her past actions makes it seem like she will just bully Mila again in the future. Maybe the ending is realistic. It just does not feel satisfying.

3 Stars

11 Young Adult Books Set in New York City

Young Adult Books Set in NYC

Looking for a read set in the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps? Check our our list of 11 young adult books set in New York City and set out on your next reading adventures:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

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Dash and Lily

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn

Summary

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

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Beastly

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Summary

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

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Where She Went book cover

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Summary

It’s been three years since the devastating accident… three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future – and each other.

Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I StayWhere She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

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Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Leviathan

Summary

Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Summary

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

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Take Me Home Tonight book cover

Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

Summary

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

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Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Summary

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Summary

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day. 

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catcher in the rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Summary

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Information

Goodreads: From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Review

Initially, I admit that I was unsure I would like From the Desk of Zoe Washington, despite all the critical acclaim. Zoe came across as whiny and immature, and it was difficult for me to cheer her on as she lied to her parents and ignored her best friend. This was compounded by the fact that I was listening to the audiobook, and the narrator seemed to be pitching her voice a little younger than I think someone Zoe’s age would sound. However, as the story progressed, I found myself interested in Zoe’s quest to uncover the truth around her father, and deeply invested in her last-minute attempt to evade her parents and interview a potential alibi witness. The book may not start strong, but it certainly ends in a powerful way.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington is one of those books with an important theme that it can feel awkward to critique. That is, because the book deals with the disproportionate incarceration of Black men, and because it deals with the potential for the judicial system to sentence innocent people to prison, suggesting the desire for things like a more even plotline or stronger characterization may seem, to some, beside the point. Nevertheless, even books that address serious issues should tell an effective story, or they may lose their readers. From the Desk of Zoe Washington almost lost me due to its annoying protagonist.

While I acknowledge that children in books will, of course, come across as young and immature at times because they are children, something about Zoe really grated on me. The book starts with her keeping secrets from her parents; refusing to talk to her best friend for an unspecified reason that she will not reveal to said friend, never mind the readers; and complaining that the professionals at the bakery where she has an “internship” will not let her do their jobs because, even though she’s a child, she’s most definitely just as good as they are. Each of these aspects bothered me for different reasons–Zoe’s constant lies with the aid of her grandmother required a bit of suspension of disbelief, I really hate books where suspense is created by artificially withholding important information from the reader, and I just did not sympathize with a twelve-year-old moping about because her internship does not include her baking complicated cupcakes on her first day. (Also, are twelve-year-olds even legally allowed to hold internships?) Cumulatively, all of these aspects had me considering DNFing the book.

Once the book reaches the midpoint, however, things pick up. Zoe forgives her best friend just in time for him to agree to go on a secret trip to interview an alibi witness that her father’s lawyer ignored during the trial. This subplot, while not really a good idea, adds drama to the story, and managed to keep my interest more than Zoe’s desire to be on a kids’ baking show. Her budding relationship with her biological father also strengthens the story. Zoe goes from distrusting him to wanting to believe in his innocence. Seeing the two reconnect nearly brought me to tears.

While From the Desk of Zoe Washington had a rough start (for me, at least), I was ultimately glad that I stuck it out and finished the book. The story ended up being a heartwarming tale of one girl reconnecting with the father she never knew, and teaching the adults around her to give him a second chance. Recommended for fans of middle-grade contemporaries.

3 Stars

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

Information

Goodreads: Parachutes
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.

Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.

Star Divider

Review

Parachutes is one of those books that you know will break your heart even before you read it. Following two different girls–Dani De La Cruz, star debater, and her new host student Claire Wang, shipped off to the U.S. against her wishes by her wealthy parents–the book explores the effects of sexual assault and harassment, and how wealth and prestige can be leveraged to silence the victims. Reading how two girls experience the shame of being abandoned and disbelieved when they need support the most is difficult, to say the least. But their story still needs to be told, and Kelly Yang does so with sensitivity and insight, once more gifting readers a book that encourages them to do more and be better.

Reviewing such a book can be challenging because the message of the book can overpower everything else happening. However, it is worth noting that Kelly Yang is a talented writer, and that shows through in every aspect of the story. The characters are brilliantly drawn, in ways that make them sympathetic and relatable, even when they make mistakes. And the narrative is tightly woven in a way that builds up drama and suspense. Parachutes is not only a book with an important message; it is a good story, as well.

My main critique with the story is actually one that I have quite frequently: even though the characters take turns telling their stories, their voices are not distinct. If I have to double-check whose chapter I am reading because both characters have the exact same narrative voice, I know that the author has not fully differentiated between the two. In this case, I often only knew who was speaking because of which of their friends they were referring to. It seems unlikely to me that Claire and Dani would both tell their stories in the same way, with the same voice, so I think this aspect could have been improved.

On the whole, however, Parachutes is a wonderfully-told story with a timely message about the need to take sexual assault seriously and to listen to the the stories of the survivors. This book is so painful in part because it reads as so true–organizations and privileged individuals and families do very often leverage their wealth and reputations to silence the people that they have harmed. Too often, protecting someone or something that is deemed more “important” takes precedence over protecting people and getting them justice. Seeing that happen to Dani and Claire is heartbreaking, but it is that emotional reaction from readers that I think Yang is hoping to use to inspire her readers to action.

4 stars

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Love and Olives

Information

Goodreads: Love and Olives
Series: Love and Gelato #3
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Olive’s father left when she was eight–left to chase the lost city of Atlantis. Now, after years of no contact, he wants her to visit him on the Greek island of Santorini. Olive has zero interest in reconnecting with the man who let her down, but her mother wants her to do. Now, Olive has to decide if her relationship with her dad is worth saving.

Star Divider

Review

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch brings the island of Santorini alive as the protagonist, Olive, attempts to reconnect with the father who left her as a child. Like the previous installments, this one focuses more on familial love than on romantic love, though Olive does meet a handsome boy named Theo, who might be everything her current boyfriend is not. Fans of the previous books will no doubt enjoy this one, as well, though, at 500 pages, it is unusually long for a contemporary romance, and can sometimes feel repetitive.

The highlight of this series for me has always been the travel aspect and Love and Olives does not disappoint. Olive explores Santorini and the nearby islands extensively as she helps her father film a documentary about searching for Atlantis. Plenty of information about the lost city is provided, and it is interesting, but I have to admit that I preferred exploring the known, visible islands more than I cared about theories as to why Santorini might be the location of Atlantis. Olive gets to stay in a magical bookstore with a hidden bunk, visit several beaches, go on a sunset cruise, and, of course, experience the local cuisine. I felt like I got to go on a mini vacation with Olive!

Olive as a character regrettably borders on the annoying. She is drawn with sensitivity and depth, shown to be still processing the fact that her father left her and her mother when she was eight–and she has only heard from him recently, when he wants her to do something for him. However, the passages where Olive feels sad for herself and wants to push everyone away come a bit too frequently–I do not know that she needs to think about her sad past every five pages, just so we understand that she is scarred. Also, she has a weird obsession with making sure no one knows her dad is an Atlantis hunter because it is too “weird” and “embarrassing.” This does not really make sense in a world where mainstream media regularly highlights mysteries such as Bigfoot, ghosts, and aliens. A historian interested in uncovering the location of Atlantis is not as bizarre as Olive thinks, and I really had no patience with all the lies she told to try to cover it up.

Aside from Olive’s constant need to feel sorry for herself, however, the book is pleasant. It feels like a love letter to Santorini, with the author wanting readers to understand all its beauty and wonder. I had fun exploring with Olive, and I hope that one day we can have more travel stories from Jenna Evans Welch.

3 Stars