Girl Mans Up

posted by: April 24, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover Art for Girl Mans UpWhat does it mean to be loyal to your friends? To respect your parents? In Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard, Pen’s life is governed by the loyalty and respect others demand from her — loyalty to her best friend Colby, even if it means aiding his womanizing; respect to her old-fashioned parents, even if their expectations of who Pen should be don’t match who Pen knows she is.

 

What does it mean to be a girl? A boy? Despite others assuming at first glance she’s a boy, Pen knows she’s a girl who likes playing video games, doing yard work and (if she ever finds someone who’s interested) dating other girls. However, her mother wants Pen to wear dresses and makeup, learn how to cook and find a nice boy to date, like Colby. Colby wants Pen to be his wingman and help him create the illusion he’s a nice guy to date because he’s friends with a girl, even if she dresses and acts like one of the guys.

 

It doesn’t matter to Pen that Colby doesn’t stay in a relationship for long, that is until two things happen: One, she meets Olivia, one of Colby’s former flings who’s keeping a secret; two, she gets a girlfriend in Blake, a fellow classmate who Colby was initially interested in dating. These two new relationships force Pen to reevaluate her role as friend and daughter and her understanding of loyalty and respect. She’ll make some hard decisions about the type of person she wants to be as well as the types of people she wants in her life.

 

Girard captures not only how complicated friendships can become as children grow into teenagers but also how hard it is to struggle with the world’s perception of who you should be and how you should act versus who you know yourself to be. Girl Mans Up is brutally honest from start to finish in its depictions of gender identity, sexuality and bullying as well as the complications that accompany strained family relationships. It’s not an easy book in terms of topic, although it is a quick read, and Pen is a strong, complex character. Readers looking for more books featuring LGBTQ characters and themes should also check out The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey and Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown.


 
 

Rani Patel In Full Effect

posted by: February 6, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Rani Patel In Full EffectRani Patel In Full Effect is the debut young adult novel by author and child psychologist Sonia Patel, a resident of Hawaii and devout hip-hop enthusiast born to Gujarati parents. The novel follows the life of Rani Patel, a teenager living on the island of Molokaʻi with her mother and father. Rani is similarly devoted to '80s and '90s hip-hop music and shares much of the author’s background and heritage, but even with all of the obvious similarities, Rani is a fully developed character in her own right and should not be written off by readers as a “self-insert” author proxy. We see her grow and change over the course of the book, and to say that Rani Patel In Full Effect chronicles a tumultuous period of the titular character’s life would be putting it mildly. At times, the events and subject matter are downright unsettling — which is important.

 

Rani Patel is not a typical young adult novel protagonist. She isn’t white, to begin with, or shoe-horned into any particular high school caste, or fighting to save the world. Patel’s novel is, at its core, about trauma, and she does an outstanding job depicting the realities of recovery, if not the time frame. This book pulls no punches, and I respect the hell out of that and enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Sonia Patel is clearly interested in talking about the realities of being a teenager — not an adult’s notion of what that means — and the end product is dark. Very, very dark. But so is that reality, sometimes. Yet through music and the love and support of friends and family, Rani learns how to express what she’s gone through and finally acknowledge that her feelings and fears are valid.

 

And don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t all darkness. In addition to a cast of characters as culturally rich and diverse as Hawaii itself, Sonia Patel’s narrative is sprinkled through with '90s hip-hop slang and native Hawaiian phrases that let the reader play interpreter (supported by a helpful glossary, of course), and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the poetry and raps that Rani labors over for the entirety of the novel. I would love to see Sonia Patel, who raps herself, drop the Rani Patel mixtape in the future, but the words stand on their own merit on the page and the author’s detailed description of every beat laid down by “DJ Skittles” make it easy for the reader to transport themselves to the pavilion at Pala’au State Park where Rani’s crew performs.

 

Rani Patel In Full Effect is a refreshing and important addition to the culture of YA novels as a whole. It covers so many bases and demographics normally marginalized by the mainstream that I don’t even know where to begin. Rani herself is an Indo-American teenager, acutely aware of her own sexuality, whose life has been defined by men her entire life, just like her mother and grandmother before her. She fights for native Hawaiian rights with her friends and she strives to be the first woman in her family to get an M.D. Interwoven with Rani’s story, Sonia Patel writes about the crystal meth epidemic that has plagued Hawaii for decades and decries a toxic tourist culture that preys on residents. As far as first books go, Rani Patel In Full Effect is a knockout. You can learn more about Sonia Patel’s writing endeavors and work in child psychology at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, where she will occasionally grace her followers with clips of her rap skills and sick dance moves.


 
 

The Way Back to You

posted by: July 11, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Way Back to You Six months after Ashlyn Montiel dies in a bicycling accident, her best friend Cloudy and her boyfriend Kyle are still reeling in The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani and Mindi Scott. Kyle copes with his grief by quitting the baseball team and adopting a feral kitten that he maybe suspects might be Ashlyn reincarnated. Cloudy copes with her grief by not coping with it.

 

Cloudy learns that Ashlyn’s parents have been in contact with a few of the recipients of Ashlyn’s donated organs. When her parents go out of town for winter break, she takes advantage of their absence and embarks on a top secret road trip to visit them and somehow make sense of her friend’s tragic death. And who better to invite on the road trip than Kyle — the one person who understands exactly how much she misses Ashlyn?

 

To complicate things, Cloudy had a crush on Kyle for months before she knew Ashlyn was interested in him. And after she made a fool of herself in front of Kyle when he and Ashlyn were together, things have been awkward. Hours and hours alone together in a car? Definitely going to be awkward.

 

Beginning with a little boy’s play and ending with a young woman’s Las Vegas wedding, with detours to visit family and friends who know them better than anyone (or at least should know them from a stranger on the street), Cloudy and Kyle confront their feelings — about Ashlyn’s death and about each other.

 

Scott is the author of two previous novels including Freefall and contributed to the collection Violent Ends, while this is Andreani’s debut. The duo met in an online writing class and exchanged thousands of emails, texts and Tweets while co-writing The Way Back to You. They chronicled their experiences over the past four years on their website.   


 
 

The Memory of Light

posted by: March 2, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Memory of LightI have been a fan of Francisco X. Stork since I read his novel Marcelo in the Real World. In his latest novel, The Memory of Light, Victoria (Vicky) Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital psych ward not expecting or wanting to still be alive. When asked if she knows how she got there, all of the memories come flooding back —  the sleeping pills, living up to her father’s expectations, her nana leaving and her mother’s death. Vicky feels hopeless and is sure she will “try” again if she goes back home. Against her father and stepmother’s wishes, Vicky ends up staying at Lakeview for two weeks. While there, she befriends the others in her group therapy — Mona, Gabriel and E.M. — none of whom have as privileged a life as she.

 

Vicky’s father does not understand why she is so depressed since he has provided her with a good life. He feels as though she is just not trying hard enough or putting in the effort her older sister Becca has, who is studying at Harvard. In the end, Vicky finally breaks through some of her father’s anger and hurt, and they begin a slow start to building an authentic relationship.

 

The author notes that he has also struggled with depression and a suicide attempt while attending Harvard. This is a real look at what living with the illness of depression is like. This is a powerful, genuine story that will leave you cheering for Vicky and her friends. This is more than a story about suicide and depression — it is a story about loss, family, friendship and hope.

 


 
 

The Smell of Other People's Houses

posted by: February 11, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Smell of Other People's HousesAlyce is trying to figure out how to attend the dance try-outs that could secure her future when she's supposed to be working on her father's fishing boat. Dora is trying to build a life for herself away from her abusive parents. Ruth is just trying to get by and avoid the attention of her domineering grandmother. Hank is running away with his brothers. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel The Smell of Other People's Houses interweaves the stories of four teens as they confront their personal challenges and begin to gain control in determining how their life choices are made.

 

Set in Alaska during the Reagan administration, Hitchcock makes the Last Frontier seem like home with her descriptions of daily life — hanging out with friends, shopping at Goodwill, eating blueberries — interspersed with that which is wholly new to “Outsiders” (anyone from the mainland United States). By writing this story, she brings to light many challenges of Alaskan society — limited resources, Native rights and government representation—as well as many challenges that are not unique to Alaska — alcoholism, divorce, and abuse. Fans of Rebecca Stead will find a compatible voice in the naturalistic way Hitchcock includes the historical aspects of the ’60s, juxtaposing her characters’ development with Alaska’s acceptance of statehood into the U.S., in this emotionally-driven tale. 
 

Liz

Liz

 
 

All American Boys

posted by: January 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for All American BoysJason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely joined forces to write All American Boys, a story about police violence and how individual acts — whether justified or unjustified — can impact everyone in the surrounding community.

 

All American Boys is told from two perspectives: there’s Rashad, who enjoys drawing and hanging out with his friends as he follows in his father’s footsteps through high school JROTC; and there’s Quinn, an aspiring basketball player who also enjoys chilling with his friends. Rashad and Quinn go to the same school and run with some of the same guys, but they don’t know each other. Yet.

 

Rashad makes a quick trip to a corner mart to grab a snack. While he’s deciding on which flavor of chips to get (anything except plain), a woman trips backwards into him. Hearing the commotion and spotting the chips on the floor, the store clerk confronts Rashad and accuses him of stealing. Rashad tries to deny the accusation, but before he gets the chance, he’s slammed face-first onto the sidewalk with his hands behind his back and the full weight of a police officer on his ribs.

 

Quinn and his friends happen to be in the alley beside the mart. Quinn witnesses Rashad being manhandled by the officer, who he recognizes as his friend’s older brother. Realizing the gravity of the situation, he and his friends flee the scene hoping to remain unseen.

 

Thanks to a smartphone video, Rashad’s incident makes the news and goes viral overnight. While Rashad is recuperating in the hospital trying to deal with manic family visits, Quinn struggles to choose a side in a polarized school environment. With a protest demonstration looming days away, will Rashad and Quinn be able to rein in their feelings and set new headings for their lives in the midst of violence?

 

Reynolds and Kiely had a mission from page one in All American Boys, and it was accomplished without sacrificing literary quality or becoming preachy. Quinn and Rashad could be any real boys caught in this alarmingly common scenario — read this book, hear their voices and learn from them.

 

All American Boys is the teen title for BC Reads. Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely are appearing at the Woodlawn Branch on April 19 at 3:30 p.m.


 
 

Dumplin'

posted by: December 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Dumplin'New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy is back with her second teen novel, Dumplin', in which she explores self-esteem and body image against the backdrop of a small Texas town and its popular teen pageant.

 

Willowdean Dickson is fat and happy in her skin. For as long as she can remember, her former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet mother has called her "Dumplin'" and has made suggestions about her appearance in what she thought was a helpful way. Her support system exists in her best friend Ellen, their shared love of Dolly Parton and her resilience.  

 

With Ellen working at a Forever 21-esque clothing store and spending time with her boyfriend, Willowdean takes a job at a popular fast food place called Harpy's. There, she meets Bo, a somewhat brooding and very hot guy who goes to a different high school. What happens when you are comfortable and confident in your own skin and then a guy you like starts paying attention to you? When Bo reciprocates Willowdean's interest, she starts to feel inadequate and experiences self-doubt. Still, the two of them can't resist the magnetic pull between them, even though Willowdean's doubts and Bo's baggage prevent the pair from really getting to know each other. Things begin to unravel further for her when Bo transfers to her high school and she becomes overwhelmed with the thoughts and comments of others, real and imagined. Guys like Bo don't date girls like her. To make matters worse, their romance doesn't extend from Harpy's to school.

 

But if you're Willowdean Dickson, you decide to regain your confidence and screw-what-others-think attitude by entering the most important competition in your small Texas town: the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. At the same time, she and Ellen have a falling out with each other, unlikely pageant candidates gravitate towards her and she ends whatever this thing with Bo is.

 

Dumplin' is about losing and regaining confidence in oneself no matter what one looks like and relationships between mothers and daughters, best friends and love interests. Willowdean will make readers feel all the feels. Fans of Murphy's New York Times best seller Side Effects May Vary and strong female characters will gravitate towards Dumplin'.


 
 

Stand-Off

posted by: November 5, 2015 - 6:00am

Cover art for Stand-OffStand-Off by Andrew Smith, the sequel to the acclaimed Winger, starts off with our hero, Ryan Dean West, about to return to his prestigious (if strict) boarding school Pine Mountain Academy as the school’s first 15-year-old graduating senior. Along with the normal doubts and insecurity his relative youth to his senior classmates would bring, he feels overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of his bright-eyed 12-year-old roommate Sam Abernathy. Sam’s relentless chipperness is more oppressive than endearing, and to make matters worse, he suffers from extreme claustrophobia that could send him into a panic if conditions aren’t just perfect. Normally warm and friendly, Ryan Dean begins to push friends new and old away, refusing advice from his girlfriend, honor from his Rugby coach and friendship from Sam, who reminds him a little too much of himself three short years ago. The real crux of Ryan Dean’s pain, however, is dealing with the trauma of the previous year, the chillingly real terrors that plague him night and day that force him to accept grief, resolution and humility.

     

Andrew Smith’s first person storytelling is warm, direct and effortless. Ryan Dean comes to life in voice as well as in visuals. Sam Bosma accompanies Smith’s prose with illustrations and comics crafted to fit Ryan Dean’s voice, which takes the storytelling to a new level. A read of Winger first is a must for this excellent, fast-paced sequel. Lovers of imaginative but ultimately down-to-earth and realistic fiction of all levels will find themselves exhilarated, heart-broken and lost in these two books.


 
 

None of the Above

posted by: October 6, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for None of the AboveMale, female or None of the Above? Surgeon and new author I. W. Gregorio explores intersexuality and gender identity in her debut novel.

 

High school senior Kristin Lattimer has it all: her two best friends, a full scholarship to college because of her track prowess, the title of homecoming queen and a boyfriend she loves. She enjoys a life that any teenager would want until she decides to take her relationship with her boyfriend Sam to the next level. But her first time is a painful disaster.

 

Kristin learns the startling truth after a visit to the doctor. She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), a type of intersex condition. After confiding in one of her friends, rumors about her situation spread throughout school. Suddenly, she has to endure crude comments and cyber-bullying from ignorant classmates and people who don't know her. Her diagnosis forces her to question her identity, her relationships and even her athleticism.

 

None of the Above is a great introduction to the topic of intersex for unfamiliar readers as they learn about this biological condition with Kristin. It is also a journey of awareness and rediscovery that is relatable to anyone who has experienced a tough time in high school.


 
 

Finding Audrey

posted by: August 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaSophie Kinsella, of Shopaholic series fame, returns with the new teen novel Finding Audrey. Protagonist Audrey is a 14-year-old British teen who has undergone severe bullying at the hand of her classmates. This has caused her a great deal of anxiety and depression, which leads to her leaving school, wearing dark glasses all the time and rarely leaving her house.

 

Audrey’s family is incredibly supportive of her, even if they don’t always understand her anxiety disorder. Her family, consisting of mom, dad, older brother Frank and younger brother Felix, provide levity throughout the story. Their antics, which Audrey records in a video diary that her supportive therapist suggests she make, are hilarious. When her brother’s friend, Linus, begins coming over to their house to practice for a gaming tournament, Audrey is pushed out of her comfort zone. She finds herself relearning how to interact with people other than her family. As Audrey becomes more comfortable with Linus, she finds herself wanting to push herself more, at times frustrated with what she thinks is her slow progress.

 

Kinsella has written an honest portrayal of a teen with anxiety — Audrey isn’t magically fixed, but has to work hard to make progress with a combination of therapy and medication. Finding Audrey is at times funny, sad and romantic — switching between video diary script and traditional prose. Kinsella has written a novel that will appeal to teen readers as much as it does to adults.


 
 

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