The Princess and the Fan Girl by Ashley Poston (ARC Review)

Princess and the Fangirl and Geekerella

Information

Goodreads: The Princess and the Fangirl
Series: Once Upon a Con #2
Source: Quirk Books for review
Publication Date: April 2, 2019

Official Summary

The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

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Review

The Princess and the Fangirl, a geeky take on “The Prince and the Pauper,” is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the companion novel Geekerella.  This book has all the fun and all the pop culture references of the first book, but with a bit more of a serious take fandom, responsibility, and finding your passions.

When I reviewed Geekerella last year, I wrote:

However, ultimately the story is just pure fun, and I don’t think readers should over-think it.  The most common description I’ve seen is “super cute,” and this hits the right note.  So, while parts do read as “unrealistic” (I mean, a teenage fashion designer driving a vegan food truck named the Magic Pumpkin who goes on a badass mission with it, mowing over barriers at a country club does strain credulity), that’s part of the appeal. Geekerella is a crazy, improbable, but amazingly enviable adventure where the geeky girl next door has a chance to nab a movie star boyfriend who shares her geeky interests! So, yeah, cute.

And it turns out that re-reading this surprised me because, as much as The Princess and the Fangirl fits into the geek culture world Poston has created, it seems a little less wild and a little less carefree.  The main premise seems unlikely–that a regular girl and an actress would look like twins and decide to switch places–but the rest of the book actually seems a bit more grounded than Geekerella does, and it addresses some heavy issues involving what the main characters Jessica and Imogene want for their lives and what they want for the Starfield fandom they are so involved in.

It took me a little while to warm up to the characters–Jessica because she hates the movie that made her famous and seems occasionally dismissive of the fans and Imogene because she talks like a walking meme, which is one of my primary pet peeves.  Once I got into the story, however, I was gripped.  There’s a lot going on beneath the surface for both of these characters, and it was great to see them work through their feelings and their motivations for actions they had thought they understood and then change.  Both have strong character arcs.  The romance each experiences takes something of a back seat to this, and I think it might have been harder for the author to build two engaging love stories into one book, but I was okay with that because I don’t think it’s the main draw of the story.

The book also expands on some of the questions about fandom and online behavior that were raised in Geekerella (in which the main character runs a popular blog criticizing the new lead actor of the Starfield reboot without knowing much about him).  Here, Jessica Stone deals with a number of online bullies, people who criticize everything from her lack of love for geek culture to her acting to her appearance. She’s obsessed with checking her social channels and can’t seem to draw herself away, even when everything is negative.  Imogene doesn’t love Jessica either and can’t fathom why she’s not a geek, too–until she begins to realize how unwelcoming fandom has  actually been to Jessica.  She also starts to think about the consequences of her passionate campaign to have Jessica’s character appear in a sequel movie, in spite of Jessica’s own desires to leave the franchise.  This books revels in online culture and communication, and there’s a lot for readers to think about in terms of cyberbullying and the interactions of online communities.

Some spoilers this paragraph.  I do have mixed feelings about the ending.  Here, Jessica turns around and starts to love Starfield fandom herself, starts to think she might actually want to be in the sequel.  This is nice and uplifting, and it’s a good message about the value of science fiction and other genres that sometimes get sneered at for being too commercial or too fluffy.  However, as much as I love and value science fiction and fantasy and think other people should see their beauty, too…the implication that Jessica was wrong for wanting to be in a serious literary-based film instead of a sci-fi flick rubs me a bit the wrong way.  No, people shouldn’t sneer at sci-fi, but sci-fi fans also should not think that everyone who prefers other genres is a pretentious snob who needs to see the error of their ways.  Sometimes people just like different things, and I think it would have been interesting if the book had let Jessica just prefer and pursue her more serious films instead of becoming a real Starfield convert.

I did like the story overall. If you liked Geekerella or if you just like fun, contemporary stories that are very in-the-moment and up with pop culture, then you’ll probably enjoy The Princess and the Fangirl.

4 stars Briana

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Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren (ARC Review)

Cold Day in the Sun

Information

Goodreads: Cold Day in the Sun
Series: None
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: March 12, 2019

Official Summary

Holland Delviss wants to be known for her talent as a hockey player, not a hockey player who happens to be a girl. But when her school team is selected to be featured and televised as part of HockeyFest, her status as the only girl on the boys’ team makes her the lead story. Not everyone is thrilled with Holland’s new fame, but there’s one person who fiercely supports her, and it’s the last person she expects (and definitely the last person she should be falling for): her bossy team captain, Wes.

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Review

Cold Day in the Sun is a quick, cute contemporary romance that’s all about the hockey: both the protagonist and the love interest play, and the story is set in a hockey-breathing Minnesotan town.  While the book doesn’t have quite the same character depth or complex family interactions as books by writers like Huntley Fitzpatrick, it does have a steamy (but totally PG-13) romance, as well as a lot to say about the way female athletes are treated when they play on a boys’ team.

The focus, then, is interestingly split between two somewhat disparate things: the fun and adorable romance and the very serious topic of the misogyny and verbal abuse that Holland faces for daring to play hockey with the boys.  I suppose one could argue that that is exactly how the protagonist’s life is split–she has beautiful and fun moments, but the sexism and people gossiping and hurling abuse are always in the background.  Yet readers generally expect books to be a bit more “pat” and cohesive than real life, and I think the sense that this book is being pulled in two different directions is a bit hard to grapple with.

I also think the hockey atmosphere is something that readers may be divided on.  The book truly is a celebration of all things hockey–Holland’s choice to  play for a boys’ team, her romance with her team captain, the big HockeyFest coming up that her team will play in, the school newspaper article she’s writing about HockeyFest, the local foods that are named after hockey players, etc.  If you like hockey (or even if you are/were an athlete familiar with how being dedicated to a sport colors your life–your schedule, your diet, your partying habits, etc.), this book will speak to you.

However, I think there’s an interesting “dark” side of this that is never addressed, is not a theme of the book at all: people who live in this down who do not like hockey or play hockey are probably complete outsiders.  As an example, only hockey players can be elected to the Snow Ball court (similar to a homecoming court).  The town literally thinks they will be cursed if they nominate non-hockey players.  Talk about special privileges.  The book presents this as if it’s a fun quirk of the town, but I couldn’t help thinking about all the students who at the high school who were probably bitter about this and the rest of the glorification the hockey team gets.  I think even a snide comment from a side character would have felt realistic, but I also think that the book isn’t interested in this type of realism.  It tackles the the tough real-world stuff of sexism, and it wants to just leave hockey as a fun thing to celebrate that everyone can love.

But onto the romance: it’s definitely cute. I think the pacing in the beginning is a bit rushed, and there’s some very predictable drama because that, apparently, is what YA romances do, but overall I enjoyed it.  Holland and Wes are great together, and they have real chemistry in their relationship.  The book puts them in some interesting situations involving snow days and such so they can (well, so they can make out), so it is a bit on the steamy side.  I think of it kind of as “hockey romance book lite appropriate for teens.”  (If you need more specifics on the content so you can guide other readers or yourself, there is no sex, but the characters do get to second base, and Holland is *accused* of some vulgar things because people think that’s how she was accepted to the boys’ hockey team.)

Overall, this is a fun read.  I think it’s a great winter romance that isn’t Christmas or holiday-themed.  It’s isn’t 100% light because of the prejudice Holland faces, but it is a cozy and entertaining read.

3 Stars Briana

Paper Towns by John Green

Information

Goodreads: Paper Towns
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2008

Summary

Quentin “Q” Jacobson has had a crush on his neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman forever, but they have not spoken for nine years.  Then one night she appears at his window and asks for a ride around the city she wreaks revenge on her enemies.  The next day, she disappears.  Q believes Margo has left clues to her location, and that she wants him to find her.  But how far is he willing to go to chase an ideal?

Review

I feel conflicted about Paper Towns because I personally hated the main characters and I constantly had the sense that the book was trying a little too hard to be deep.  However, I cannot help but wonder if John Green was actually doing something interesting, despite my visceral response to the story.  The story centers eighteen-year-old Quentin “Q” Jacobson and his obsessive crush on popular girl Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose name is always said in full and intoned like a prayer.  To Q, Margo is badass perfection, a girl who lives life to the fullest in a way no else dares.  He worships his ideal of her.  And, of course, in the end, he must realize his dreams were always only in his head.  Maybe this is a worthy story, a wise coming-of-age tale.  But Margo is so obnoxious, readers know from the start that Q’s ideal must be dashed.  Why read hundreds of pages just to see it happen?

Maybe I would enjoy reading hundreds of pages to see Q’s personal journey, if I cared about Q or about Margo Roth Spielgelman.  But Margo is far from likeable.  She and Q were friends as children, but they do not speak for nine years, until Margo arrives at Q’s window in an obvious attempt to “fix” him by taking him on a spree of revenge and vandalism.  You see, Margo’s idea of “carpe diem” is breaking into homes, playing mean-spirited pranks, and actively harming people.  She spray paints her initials on walls and cars like she thinks she is Zorro fighting for justice.  And Q buys it.  He really believes she has a passion for life, that everyone should be more free-spirited and open and daring like Margo Roth Spiegelman.  And Margo?  Oh, she believes it, too.  Her contempt for poor rule-abiding Quentin who does his homework and cares about college is palpable to probably everyone but Quentin.  And she thinks she is gracing him with her crime spree, teaching the poor boy how to break out of his shell.

Readers will understand that Margo is not as free-spirited as she wants to appear.  She is clearly troubled, possibly in part because of her home life.  But I still couldn’t stand her.  Like Q’s friend Ben, I thought Margo was selfish and playing games to get attention.  And, like Q’s friends, I was annoyed he bought into the game.  Q doesn’t even know Margo–they move in completely different social spheres–but shows himself willing to throw away everything he’s worked for to chase her.  He lies to his parents, starts to skip school, and ignores his friends.  He thinks everyone else should give up their lives to help him get Margo.  And he’s one of those guys who seems to think girls should date him because he’s “nice.” Except I’m not convinced he is.

Now, all of this is very interesting.  John Green, I think, created Q as a protagonist who is supposed to be a sort of “average” teenage boy.  He’s generally “nice” but a little dorky and overlooked.  He’s not perfect.  He is a poor friend and he lies to his parents and he is obsessed with the idea of a girl because he doesn’t actually know her.  And he’s friends with Ben Starling, whose obnoxious sexism (He calls girls “honeybunnies” and talks constantly about how he would pleasure them, if given the chance.  He also likes to joke about getting it on with…Q’s  mom.) will likely make many a reader want to throw the book across the room.  Yes, the teens here are very realistic.  But that doesn’t mean I want to read about them or that I think any girl should ever give Ben Starling the time of day.  (Indeed (spoilers), the fact that popular girl Lacey does start to date Ben reads like a teenage boy’s fantasy, and not like a realistic depiction of how the average female would respond to being called a “honeybunny” and listening to a guy brag about his genitalia just about every time he speaks.

Honestly, I think the only reason I finished Paper Towns was because I was trying a Penguin Mini and I was intrigued by the experiencing of holding my book in one hand and flipping the pages vertically.  I really loved the Penguin Mini!  But, until Penguin Mini releases books not by John Green, I might have to pass on reading them.  Because Paper Towns makes me never want to read a John Green book again.

2 star review

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills Review

Information

Goodreads: Famous in a Small Town
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: January 15, 2019

Official Summary

For Sophie, small town life has never felt small. With her four best friends—loving, infuriating, and all she could ever ask for—she can weather any storm. But when Sophie’s beloved Acadia High School marching band is selected to march in the upcoming Rose Parade, it’s her job to get them all the way to LA. Her plan? To persuade country singer Megan Pleasant, their Midwestern town’s only claim to fame, to come back to Acadia to headline a fundraising festival.

The only problem is that Megan has very publicly sworn never to return.

What ensues is a journey filled with long-kept secrets, hidden heartbreaks, and revelations that could change everything—along with a possible fifth best friend: a new guy with a magnetic smile and secrets of his own.

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Review

Famous in a Small Town combines a slice of life story about protagonist Sophie and her friends as they navigate high school life in, well, a small town with a side mystery plot about why the town’s only famous (former) resident, country singer Megan Pleasant, refuses to return to Acadia.  Sophie really wants Megan to come back and perform a benefit concert to help fund Acadia High School’s expensive trip to the Rose Parade in Los Angeles, so figuring out what Megan has against her hometown is an important part of the plan to get her to come back.

However, I’m not sure the Megan Pleasant story line is an enormously important part of the novel. It does give the book a bit of structure and the sense that there’s a “point,” but the mystery generally takes a backseat to the everyday lives of the characters as they figure out friendship, romance, family, summer jobs, and college applications.  Personally, I like when YA books focus on everyday issues and don’t go crazy with unique plots that are interesting but, frankly, wouldn’t really happen to most people, so this was a plus for me.  Readers who really want a mystery and serious sleuthing might be a bit disappointed, however.

The characters, however, were a bit hit-or-miss for me.  The friend group is bit eclectic, as one might expect from a small town where there may not be enough people for friend groups to form around common interests or personalities.  Sophie is the “average” one (until the second half of the book, when everyone starts making speeches about how good and kind and unique she is, which was a bit baffling to me and also something I generally see in fantasy rather than contemporary).  Brit is the “daring” one, who hooks up and gets drunk and gets fired from every job she gets.  Flora is the “innocent” one who is soft-spoken and still plays with dolls.  What do these people have in common?  Unclear, but they’re close, as well as a couple guy friends.  I assumed they were just close because they’d grown up together, and in another town with more options, they might not have been friends at all.

The banter within the friend group was also a hard sell for me.  Sometimes it was laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes it wasn’t funny or believable at all and simply felt forced.

Overall, my main impression of the book is that it is unmemorable.  I enjoyed myself decently while reading it, most of the time, but I can already tell it’s one of those books that, at the end of the year, I’m not even going to remember I read, much less have an opinion about it.  I couldn’t even remember half the characters’ names while writing this review, which is a bad sign of what’s to come for me.  I’ve seen other people rave about Emma Mills and a few says she’s usually better but Famous in a Small Town isn’t her best work, but I probably won’t be reading anything else by her.

3 Stars Briana

 

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Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

love a la mode

Information

Goodreads: Love à la Mode
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: November 7, 2018

Official Summary

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

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Review

Cooking/baking shows are in, so it’s not surprising to see an increase in books based on the premise.  In Love à la Mode, protagonists Rosie and Henry are picked as two of twenty high school students to attend a prestigious cooking academy in France run by the famous Chef Laurent.  Things do not go as smoothly, as they planned, however, as they face struggles with cooking, academics, and romance.

Love à la Mode is such a wonderfully perfect contemporary novel.  It has, one might say, all the right ingredients: a fun premise, a gorgeous setting, close friendships, and a touch of romance.  Also, food. Lots and lots of delicious food.  I thought I would like Love à la Mode when I picked it up, but I didn’t predict exactly how much I would enjoy it or how excited I would be to see what happens next.

Besides the food, the books biggest strength is the characterizations (and then how that bleeds over into the portrayals of friendships, family relationships, romance, etc.).  A lot of times I read books and the supposed banter isn’t funny or it doesn’t read like something someone would actually say (or it’s like the Disney Channel, where maybe it’s a “witty” thing to say, but the character just comes across as kind of mean).  In Love à la Mode, the characters really are just funny and kind (and, sometimes, insecure, over-the-top, grumpy, and whatever else makes us funny.)  Honestly, this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where I actively wished that I knew this people and that would could hang out, and be friends ourselves.  I also thought these characters were realistically teens, when so often it’s easy to imagine the protagonists of YA novels as being in their twenties.

There was also a reasonable amount of conflict and struggles in the book.  Strohm does an excellent job of inserting realistic obstacles: a character’s struggle with meeting his parents’ academic expectations, a character’s struggle dealing with the pressure of being at this elite culinary school, a character’s semi-unjustified but kind of understandable jealousy of another guy.  There’s tension in the book, but it’s not over-the-top for the sake of drama; the events are things I can believe would happen to any teen everywhere.  Maybe I read too much YA fantasy where the entire world is in danger, but this is kind of refreshing.

There’s also a clear love and knowledge of food in the book, and there’s representation of a wide variety: both cooking and baking, simple foods and more artisanal foods, foods from different cultures, etc.  If you like food or like watching cooking or baking shows, there’s something for you here.

Love à la Mode is going to be one of the last books I read in 2018, and it’s a great way to end the year.  It will likely appear on some of my lists of favorites in the future.

5 stars Briana

The Whispers by Greg Howard (Blog Tour with Author Q&A)

Whispers Banner

About the Book

A middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

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The Whispers

Author Q&A

1. If you had one sentence to convince someone to read The Whispers, what would you say?

Fairies, hobgoblins, and mystery, oh my!

2. What was your favorite scene to write in The Whispers?

Honestly, I think it’s the scene in which Riley helps his Grandma make her famous 5-4-3-2-1 Fruit Salad. There isn’t anything flashy or necessarily exciting about that scene, but boy does it take me back. So often as a kid, I helped Grandma make her fruit salad while Granddaddy sat in his recliner in the living room watching television. I wrote Riley’s grandparents as carbon copies of my own so that scene is very vivid and nostalgic to me.

3. Riley’s dog plays an important role in The Whispers. Can you tell us about some animals that have been memorable or influential in your life?

In The Whispers, Tucker is part guardian angel and part spirit guide to Riley. You get the sense that Tucker knows exactly what’s going on even if Riley doesn’t, and he’s desperately trying to help Riley find the answers he seeks.

There was a real Tucker in my life, and he was exactly as described in the book—a black and tan, one hundred twenty-pound Rottweiler-Shepherd mix. He was a wise old soul, and hands-down the greatest dog in the history of dogs. Smart, loyal, loving, gentle, intuitive—he was special, and a rescue. But I had Tucker as an adult, not as a kid. He passed away about twelve years ago.
And as a kid, we once had a beautiful German shepherd named King who followed us everywhere, looking out for us. I remember many days exploring the woods behind our house with King right by my side.

4. Riley seems to have strong opinions on snacks. What are some of your favorite snacks, and do you snack while writing?

Riley definitely knows his snacks! I was a big snacker as a kid as well, but I’ve always been a potato chip guy. I’ll leave the Flamin’ Hot Funyuns to Riley. We also ate a lot of Nature’s Candy, as Riley calls it—the nectar of honeysuckle blooms, boiled peanuts, berries found in the woods, and sugar cane cut right off the stalk. Since I write from 4AM to 6AM every day, my only writing snack is coffee. Sometimes I’ll get crazy and have a protein bar. But hands down my favorite snack since childhood is potato chips.

5. How do you approach writing what some people might see as “tough topics” for middle grade readers?

I don’t really approach tough topics any differently. You have to write from a genuine place for kids without worrying about what people will think, or if someone will have a problem with it. Kids can spot a lack of conviction a mile away. Especially when it comes to writing for and about queer kids, I feel I owe them authentic portrayals of LGBTQ characters because when I was young, I never saw myself in literature, or televisions shows, or movies. That kind of underrepresentation can make a kid feel immensely lonely and invisible. It’s better today, but middle grade fiction still has some catching up to do in comparison with other genres such as young adult.

Even topics dealt with in The Whispers such as religious oppression, trauma, grief, and mental health, you just have to write it raw and honest and then let your editor guide you during revisions. I’m lucky to have an editor who isn’t afraid of tackling tough topics in middle grade fiction. The fact is, there are kids out there dealing with these issues right this very minute. So, if something isn’t too much for them to handle, it shouldn’t be too much for us to write about.

6. Has your work in the music business influenced your writing in any way?

I came to Nashville to be a songwriter right out of college, so if you told me all those years ago that today I would be writing children’s fiction, I would never have believed you. There’s a lullaby in The Whispers that’s pretty important to Riley’s journey. Originally, I used the lyrics to Billy Joel’s, Good Night, My Angel for the lullaby Riley’s mom sings to him. But after some early reads, my friends encouraged me to use my own words and write the lyrics myself, which ultimately, I’m so glad I did. It made it more honest and personal.

Also, I create playlists and compilations a lot in my music industry job, so I always like to make them for my books as and after I write them. Here is The Whispers Playlist with music I feel captures the heart and spirit of Riley’s story. Enjoy!

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Greg Howard

About the Author

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Week One

Week Two

  • January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture
  • January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review
  • January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A
  • January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic
  • January 25 – Andy Winder – Author Guest Post:  The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Information

Goodreads: Darius the Great Is Not Okay
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Aug. 2018

Summary

Darius Kellner is used to being a disappointment.  His father, he knows, wishes he were tough enough to handle both the school bullies and his clinical depression.  Then his family takes a trip to visit family in Iran.  At first, Darius is skeptical he will fit in.  But then he meets Sohrab, who makes him feel understood for the first time.  And now he’s not sure how he will ever return to his old life in the United States.

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Review

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is  a poignant, heartfelt look at one teenager’s desire to find his place in the world.  Darius Kellner struggles with school bullies and with clinical depression.  And he is convinced his father will never think he’s good enough.  Not good enough to stand up for himself.  Not good enough to be healthy.  But one friendship will help him to see the strength he has had all along.

Many readers, I suspect, will relate to Darius and his worries.  He is having difficulties fitting in socially at school. He feels like his family does not understand him and does not appreciate him.  He wants to know more about his extended family, but feels awkward interacting with people he’s never really met.  Even though Darius thinks he’s no one special he is, in some ways, a reflection of the secret fears of a good many people–and that makes him just the kind of character who feels like an immediate friend.  The kind of character you have a special kinship with.  The kind of character you desperately want to be happy.

The book is a loving celebration of Darius and all the readers like him–the ones who know they are different and who never seem quite to fit in. Darius’s worries are treated seriously and with sensitivity. But they are also revealed to be challenges that do not need to be debilitating, but that can be overcome.  Darius’s journey is one the author invites readers to take, as well.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is a phenomenal addition to any YA bookshelf.  Filled with empathy, heart, and humor, it is the precisely the kind of story the world needs more of.

5 stars