Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue book coverThis moving book by Australian author Cath Crowley is really something. It explores grief and love in a deep way, bordering on philosophical but without straying from the novel that it is. 

Rachel had a huge crush on Henry in Year 9 and she bared her soul the night before she moved away, only to get crickets in return. She was humiliated and never really forgave him for choosing Amy over her, despite their long best-friendship. Now she’s back in town after failing Year 12 after her brother drowned. She doesn’t care about Henry anymore. She’s still numb. 

Henry has been hung up on Amy forever and doesn’t see how she strings him along and uses him. She breaks up with him early on in the book and the only thing he wants is to have her back. 

Rachel’s aunt arranges for her to work in Henry’s family’s bookstore, which she’s unhappy about, and she takes it out on Henry by being quite the grump. He finally calls her out on it and begins to break down her defenses just a little bit. 

Any reader will love the setting of the bookstore, which features heavily in the plot. Henry’s divorced parents are arguing over what to do about the shop, which would pull in a lot of money if they sell. Much of the novel’s ideas are expressed through discussions and character thoughts on books, some obscure, some not so obscure. The bookshop also has an unusual section called the Letter Library, where people are allowed to write in the books and encouraged to leave letters between the pages for others to find. Rachel’s job is actually to catalog that part of the shop. 

Rachel and Henry are both wonderful, fully-developed characters. The secondary characters are great, as well. I loved George, Henry’s sister. And George’s love interest is really nice yet still believable. Even Henry’s parents and Rachel’s aunt and mom are complex despite not really being super important to the story. Where things wind up at the end isn’t really a shock, but you’re never quite sure how it’s going to go. 

This book is definitely worth checking out, especially if you love the meta experience of reading about books, or just want a good emotional journey. 

2020 Books in Review

Here’s my annual review of my year’s reviews, where I look at my favorite five books of the year. 

The first favorite book I’ll mention is Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I reviewed in February. This is a very dark book with an ending I didn’t really see coming. It’s also got an interesting format: two different timelines with two different points of view. 

We Are Okay is another book by Nina LaCour. I pretty much love whatever she does, but this slim book about friendship took me on quite the emotional ride. Here’s my July review. 

Although I am a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I’m not always a fan of fresh takes on it. But I reviewed Pride by Ibi Zoboi in September and really enjoyed it. It’s a really fresh take, featuring two Black teens in modern-day Brooklyn. 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater is a nonfiction book I reviewed in October. This one is also about a Black teen, as well as a nonbinary teen and the unfortunate interaction they have (and then the aftermath). It provides some interesting perspective on justice. It’s really good and has stayed with me. 

The last book I’ll mention I reviewed in November: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. This one is a reboot of Cinderella (obviously), but it is one of the most original books I’ve read in a while and I really enjoyed it. It’s about a Black lesbian girl living in this oppressive post-Cinderella world. It deals with some deep subjects but manages to stay entertaining. 

There you have it: my top five for 2020, dumpster fire year. At least there were books.

Review: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Broken book coverThis is a rare book, featuring a Native American girl dealing with some interesting problems. The fact that her family is Native is important for a lot of reasons, including the plot and her identity. Lou is Muscogee (Creek), which was kind of cool for me because the Creek Nation extends from the southern edge of Tulsa a ways south, and the one time I went to a casino, it was the Creek Nation one that’s less than two miles from parent’ house. Not that I’m saying that casinos=Indian culture by any means, but I always find it fun to see something that is somewhat familiar to me in books I read, which rarely happens because I don’t generally live in cool places. 

Anyways, Lou. It’s the beginning of the school year and she’s a senior while her brother Hughie is a freshman. Her dad is a dentist and her mom is studying to be a lawyer, so she’s solidly middle class. They recently moved to a suburb of Kansas City (I think, could be a different city) from Texas. The book technically opens late the morning after her junior prom. Soon after she manages to rouse her very hungover boyfriend, Cam, they go to have breakfast with his family, where his mom makes some racist remarks against Cam’s brother’s Native girlfriend and then Cam himself makes some stupid generalizations about Indians, as well. Lou’s pissed and breaks up with him. The reader unquestionably cheers her on for this.  

The actual plot gets going once she starts school in the fall. The theater director casts several students of color, including Hughie, in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. This triggers the formation of of a group called Parents Against Revisionist Theater, led by the wife of the pastor at the biggest local church. While this gets started, so does Lou’s role as a reporter for the school paper and her friendship with Joey, the other reporter. There’s a little bit of healthy competition, as well as some sparks, between them. Of course, things proceed from there, with a lot of things happening. One of the things I liked about the book was how honest it was about the number and kind of microaggressions Indians have to deal with. People assuming, generalizing, saying overtly racist things (whether they mean them that way or not), etc. Then there were the ones that weren’t exactly “micro,” too. 

My one complaint about the novel is that her relationships with her boyfriends were not developed enough for my taste. I especially didn’t see what she saw in the first, Cam, who didn’t seem to have a single redeeming quality. Joey was more appealing, but we still never learned what she really liked about him. So they both felt like plot devices. Otherwise, I thought the characters were interesting, if a little underdeveloped. Despite these feelings, I overall quite enjoyed the book. The story was good and it brought up some really interesting history I didn’t know about. One example: that the author of The Wizard of Oz passionately advocated for the genocide of all Native Americans. Which, you know, wow. 

So I’d recommend this to anyone interested in a different perspective you don’t get much in YA (or literature in general, really). It’s a satisfying read. 

Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence book coverThis is a hefty book for a contemporary, coming in at over 420 pages, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Frances is a superstar student at her school in England. She is head girl, which is apparently a thing. She knows the head boy, Daniel, pretty well, and ultimately that sort of puts her in contact with Aled Last, who she accidentally finds out is the creator of her favorite podcast, a story show called Universe City. By chance, he had asked her—before she knew—to be the official artist of the show after admiring her fan art. Soon they start collaborating and Frances finds herself in heaven—she’s working on her favorite thing and now has the first real friend (someone she can be herself with) she’s ever had. Everything’s great. Living the dream.

But what happens if everybody finds out who the creator of the show is? She’s not telling because he doesn’t want anyone to know, but what’s she supposed to do if someone asks her? She’s a terrible liar.

I don’t want to say too much more because a lot happens in the book and it’s interesting and frequently surprising. But it’s about true friendship, finding yourself as you’re finishing up school, and figuring out what you really want to do with your life, even if you think you already know. It also ranks high on the diversity scale. Frances is mixed race (her father is Ethiopian, but he’s not around, and her mom is white). Daniel is Korean. Aled’s white, but none of them is heterosexual. And it all works. I just really felt like this book paints an accurate portrait of an aspect of British teen culture—specifically the university-bound high-achievers.

Overall, I’d recommend this to fans of contemporary, especially if you like settings outside the US. And if you’re at all into story podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale (apparently this was the inspiration for Universe City), you will eat this up.

Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Pride book coverI read this sharp Pride and Prejudice remix quickly because it really sucked me in.

Zuri lives with her parents and her four sisters in their Bushwick (Brooklyn) apartment. The girls have to share one bedroom but Zuri is proud of her Haitian-Dominican family and her entire hood, as she calls it. When a very rich black family (the Darcys) moves into the renovated mansion across the street from her building, the whole neighborhood watches with fascination, especially when they spot the two teen boys, who are both rather fine. Every girl on the block is suddenly very interested in getting to know them. Everyone except Zuri, that is, because she resents the changes their coming represents. Her older sister Janae takes up with the older boy, Ainsley, while Zuri festers with dislike for the younger one, Darius. Darius doesn’t seem to like her much, either, and they clash a lot. After Darius tells Ainsley something at a party, Ainsley suddenly drops Janae, which makes Zuri hate them both even more. Zuri starts hanging out with a guy from her hood named Warren, thinking he’s the real deal next to phony Darius. But Darius has some info on Warren that Zuri needs to hear, even if it takes some time for her to get the news.

As with any remix, it’s fun to spot the plot points and compare them to the original. But Zuri herself is such a strong character that this book doesn’t need a classic to prop it up—it definitely stands on its own as a story. Zuri’s got a great voice, authentic (I’m assuming) and intelligent. She’s a strong personality and even though there were many times I thought she was being a bit harsh and judgmental herself, it totally fit her character. And Darius is a good variation on Darcy, being rather complex and imperfect.

Overall, this is a great book I highly recommend, whether you are an Austen fan or not.

Review: Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila del Duca

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed book coverI was a little surprised to see a graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, but of course I had to check it out. I'm not a superhero fan in general, but I sometimes make an exception for Wonder Woman. I'm glad I did this time. It was illustrated by an artist I wasn't familiar with, Leila del Duca, but she impressed me with her sharp style.

In this one, Diana is sixteen when the barrier protecting the island of Themyscira is compromised and she goes beyond it to help victims of a shipwreck. But she gets stuck outside and can't get back in. So she ends up in a refugee camp, where her language skills (apparently Amazons can speak every language) are super useful. Fortunately, she makes it out of the camp to New York, where she lands with a Polish immigrant and her teenage granddaughter, who Diana befriends.   

The story overall is one about social justice, which isn't a surprise from Anderson. I won't give away what the issues that it deals with are, but it's a good story. My favorite light moment is when Diana is introduced to traditional polka dancing and loves it, and her friend is mortified. Diana is definitely a fish out of water in America, which makes for both some funny scenes, but also an interesting and incisive perspective on society.

This book is a must-read for all you fans of Wonder Woman or Anderson. Also anyone who cares about social justice will likely enjoy it.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi book coverThis is a light romance with two second-generation Indian-Americans dealing with being part of two cultures.

Dimple Shah considers herself a feminist and basically hates everything girly. This is a problem because her mom wants her be girly, so they’re often at odds. Dimple hates all the stupid rules that society (both American and Indian societies, really) expects women to follow. She’s a little judgmental about other people who do follow the rules. She convinces her parents to let her attend Insomnia Con, a six-week program where recent high school graduates (I think) develop an app and compete for money and the chance to get it supported by a well-known female tech giant who Dimple idolizes. What Dimple doesn’t know is that her mom has an ulterior motive in letting her go.

Rishi Patel is really kind of a dork. Maybe a romantic would be a nicer word, but I think dork fits. In the beginning, he completely buys into his parents wishes for and expectations of him, going along with everything—and with enthusiasm. He loves the idea of getting to meet Dimple at Insomnia Con and believes they are probably soul mates since their parents set them up. Of course, he also thinks that she knows the score, too, which she does not.

The first time Rishi sees Dimple, he makes a joke about her being his future wife. She has no idea who he is and throws her iced coffee in his face. Given the situation, it was a tiny overreaction, but not over-the-top. Then it turns out they’re going to be partners for the entire six weeks, so they’re going to have to get used to each other. While they do that, they get to know each other and become friends. Dimple learns that even though Rishi is on his way to MIT in the fall to study computer science, his real passion (and talent) is comics. Rishi has to work on convincing her that just because their parents set them up doesn’t mean they shouldn’t date. They don’t have to get married right away, after all.

There are admittedly some things about the book that are unrealistic and which kind of bugged me. One is that programs like Insomnia Con would fill up right after opening for enrollment, and there’s no way Dimple and Rishi would get in so late. And the thing is called Insomnia Con for a reason—because people have to spend all their time—including that which they should be spending sleeping—in order to be competitive. Dimple would know this and would not spend so much time lallygagging around and socializing. I know this wouldn’t be interesting to readers (well, maybe to me), but I wanted to at least hear about the sixteen+ hours she was putting into it every day.

But technicalities aside, this is a cute story that a lot of people should appreciate. It’s an easy read—chapters and scenes are very short and switch back and forth between Dimple’s and Rishi’s points of view. It paints a realistic picture of second-generation Indian-American teenagers and how they have to deal with living in multiple worlds, which I always find interesting to read about, and many others should, too.

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay book coverThis is another very quiet book from LaCour that punches you right in the heart, much like Hold Still. I’ve read some of her other books and enjoyed them (I’ve given each of them 5 stars on Goodreads, which I rarely do), so I expected to like this one. I did— it got another 5-star rating.

We Are Okay is about Marin, who has just finished her first semester of college in New York. She’s from California and her best friend, Mabel, is coming to visit her. This best friendship has been deeply complicated by the fact that Marin has been completely ignoring all Mabel’s texts since right before her school started. This is a dual timeline story, being told in the present (December) and in the timeline starting in the previous May, so the past unfolds slowly. We know pretty early the basics of what happened: Marin’s guardian and only family, Gramps, died in August and she immediately left California. But it turns out to be more complicated than that.

Mabel is pissed at Marin, but she also understands that Marin went through something really traumatic. The majority of the book’s present timeline is Marin trying to come out of her shell and really reach out to Mabel, but it’s not easy. The past timeline tells the story of their romance and how much Mabel means to Marin, as well as Marin’s life with Gramps. It wasn’t a joyful life, as he never seemed to get over the accidental death of Marin’s mom (when she was three), or his own wife’s death. But life with Mabel was joyful, which is why it hurt her so much when Marin completely pulled away. Now, Mabel wants Marin to go back to California with her. Marin has no family left—and no place to stay—and Mabel’s parents want to fill that void. Yet Marin can’t imagine going.

As I mentioned above, this is a quiet book. It’s not heavy on plot—there are no car chases, for sure—but the character development is amazing. Both Marin and Mabel get uncovered a little bit at a time and so artfully, just enough at the right moments. The emotion of the book is delicately handled and you really feel Marin’s pain and sense of being lost. The other characters in the book are also very well-drawn—Gramps, Mabel’s parents. Even the groundskeeper, taxi driver, waitress, and pottery store owner seem to really come alive on the few pages they occupy.

Quiet doesn’t mean slow, but it does mean that it might take a little to really suck you in. I started reading it last weekend and it took me several days to get about 1/3 into the book, but then last night I started reading and didn’t finish until I’d hit the last page. If you liked Hold Still, you will definitely like this one. And if you haven’t read that but enjoy seeing overpowering and disorienting grief overcome, you will also like this one.

Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass book coverThe title of this book pretty much tells you what it’s about: bullying. But it’s about more than that, too, and it didn’t feel like an issue book to me.

Tenth grader Piddy (short for Piedad) Sanchez keeps a low-profile wherever she is. She’s just started out at a new high school in Queens, having moved with her mom from their old apartment in another part of the same borough. She’s befriended (sort of but not really) by an irritating girl named Darlene, who tells her that Yaqui is after her. Piddy doesn’t know why, but she eventually figures out it’s because Yaqui’s boyfriend leered and catcalled Piddy. Somehow this is her fault (…) and she deserves to be beaten up, according to Yaqui and her gang.

Piddy really just wants to be left alone to do well enough in her classes, work her Saturday job at the hair salon where her mom’s best friend, Lila, works, and occasionally visit her best friend, Mitzi, who has moved out of Queens. She also wants to learn about her absentee father and has an odd friendship with one of the boys from her old building. But things with Mitzi get awkward as Mitzi has made new friends at her new school and Piddy feels left behind. She also learns some things about her father that complicate her relationship with her mom. Then, Yaqui won’t let this thing go, and it haunts Piddy. All of this makes her start acting out a little, against everyone, including her mom and her friends. When Yaqui’s threat finally comes to a head, Piddy reacts understandably, basically going off track because she feels like she has no allies. She struggles with figuring out who she is as a result of this—does she want to try to be tough to fight back, or just be herself—whoever that is, exactly?

In the end, the school finds out about the bullying and they come to a very realistic solution that isn’t really fair to Piddy, but works. She also sorts things out with Mitzi and the subplot with Joey also resolves realistically.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a sympathetic portrait of a girl with a fairly complicated life. She successfully navigates this rough chapter of her life and the book has a very positive ending.

Review: When We Collided by Emery Lord

When We Collided book coverWhen We Collided was at the top of my stack of mental health-related books, so I picked it up this week. Fortunately, it isn’t an issue book—it’s a good story with two main characters in very different situations who “collide” and their lives are forever changed, as the title implies.

Vivi is aptly-named—she’s a vivacious and boisterous girl with a fairly unconventional artist mom who allows her a lot of freedom, which she takes full advantage of. The two of them have temporarily moved to a small coastal California town. We know that there’s something going on with Vivi because every day she throws a pill into the ocean rather than take it, and it’s pretty clear that it’s related to her mental health. And as the book moves along, it becomes clearer what her mental illness might be. When the book opens, she is already in love with the town, has a job at a pottery shop, has made friends with some of the older locals, and is ready to meet someone her own age.

Enter Jonah, a seventeen-year-old who’s been forced to become prematurely adult due to the death of his father, the breakdown of his mom, and the existence of three younger siblings (plus two older). He meets Vivi when he takes his youngest sister, Leah, to the pottery shop, and Vivi befriends Leah and basically inserts herself into their lives. Jonah’s father ran an Italian restaurant with another guy, and Jonah has inherited his father’s interest in and talent for cooking. So Vivi’s first visit to their house is an opportunity for him to show off his cooking skills (though he cooks every meal every day, so this isn’t out of the ordinary). He and his older siblings take turns taking care of their family, while Jonah also covers shifts at the restaurant.

Vivi’s and Jonah’s connection is immediate and believable. They each need something from somebody because they’re both sort of falling apart. Vivi’s mental illness is ramping up while Jonah is feeling the weight of taking care of his siblings more and more every day. Both of them are very compelling characters with great character arcs. The book paints a very realistic picture of the experience of bipolar disorder, both from Vivi’s perspective and from Jonah’s, which I thought was valuable.

I recommend this for anyone who likes to see realistic teen characters go through a lot, but come out even stronger.

Review: Geekerella (Once Upon a Con #1) by Ashley Poston

GeekerellaThe idea of this book is really fun, if you’re into any kind of geeky fandom. And it’s all wrapped up as a retelling of Cinderella, which is cool.

Elle, short for Danielle, lives with her stepmom and two stepsisters, all of whom are mean to her, as you’d expect. She works at a vegan food truck called The Magic Pumpkin. And she’s a huge fan of a show called Starfield (something she shared with her dad before he died), which was first filmed some time in the past and is going to be remade now. Elle is very serious about the show and even runs a blog about it. She’s working on going to the next con in Atlanta, the one her father started. She wants to enter the cosplay contest in her dad’s old Carmindor costume. Elle’s horrified when pretty-boy Darien is cast in the reboot’s lead role, Prince Carmindor. No way can he do the role justice, because he can’t possibly know enough about the show. She rants about it—and Darien—on her blog.

Unbeknownst to Elle, Darien is a fan of the show, even though he has to pretend like he isn’t because it doesn’t fit his image. His father—and manager—is constantly breathing down his neck to keep the perfect image.

The two of them start texting, each having no idea who the other is, when Darien finds Elle’s dad’s old number—which Elle picks up because she inherited her dad’s phone—and tries to get out of doing a signing at the con. They find they have a lot in common regarding Starfield, and ultimately get as close as two people can over texts.

These are all good things, and enjoyable enough, but I did have a little trouble with the book. I felt like too many things relied on coincidences, unlikely behavior, or on situations that were easily fixable. Even the black moment, when it looks like their possible relationship is over, comes about because of something kind of unlikely—but more importantly, it was easily fixable with one more text, which for some reason was never sent.

So although I did enjoy reading the book, I didn’t find the story entirely credible. Still, if you are into any sort of fandom, this may well resonate with you, as it has for a lot of people (it has 4 stars on Goodreads with almost 40,000 reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon with a few hundred reviews).

Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish book coverStarfish is the story of Kiko Himura, a 17-year-old Nebraska girl with a Japanese-American father and an obnoxiously white mother (who’s a total narcissist, but the way). Kiko’s mom has belittled her her whole life for not being “beautiful” like she (the mom) is. By beautiful, she means blonde and blue-eyed. Because Kiko takes after her father physically. To white people she’s too Japanese, and to Japanese people she’s too white. It’s not just her mom—the kids at school make sure she thinks this, too.

Unsurprisingly, Kiko’s anxious and lacking in self-confidence because she believes it all. She also thinks she’s responsible for breaking up her parents. When she was young, her uncle did something to her and she told her mom, who didn’t believe her. Still, Kiko thinks her parents were fighting because of this, and then her dad left. She’s got an older brother and a younger brother, but they’re not close. So she feels guilt on behalf of both of them, too. Kiko’s mom really is a piece of work. She’s so horrible that she’s almost unbelievable—but not quite.

Kiko’s a very talented artist and has applied to an elite art school in New York as her escape plan. But when she doesn’t get in, she’s distraught. And she’s hamstrung by her anxiety. But she’s lucky enough to run into her old friend, Jamie, who’d disappeared from her life when she was eleven and sort of broken her heart. Jamie invites her to come to California with him and she decides she’ll look at art schools out there. Jamie helps her ease out into the world. With a long overdue stroke of good luck, she meets a well-known established artist who takes her under his wing. By chance, he is Japanese-American too, and he helps her connect to her Japanese heritage for the first time. She and Jamie get closer, but there’s something that’s keeping them apart, too. She’s staying with him and his parents, and his parents are fighting and Jamie won’t tell her why. Eventually, everything comes to a head in a way I didn’t expect (but absolutely worked) and we see Kiko coming out of her shell.

This is a solid novel that will appeal especially to mixed-race kids, I’m guessing. The references to art throughout will also be particularly to those artistically inclined. But anybody can enjoy it for showing a girl finding her way.

Review: Burnout by Stacia Leigh

Burnout book coverThis book’s been sitting on my shelf a while (in very good company) and I decided I wanted a quick read that was not for my MFA, so I picked it up. It turned out to be perfect. Even though I’m in a bit of a reading slump, I read it in two days because it’s pretty fast-paced. It’s billed as a contemporary YA romance, but I’d argue it’s romantic suspense, although the suspense doesn’t get started right away.

Will Sullivan, who we met as J.J.’s drunk friend in Dealing with Blue, is having a rough time. His mom was killed by a drunk driver a year earlier and he’s never dealt with it. Instead, he drinks the beer left behind by his dad’s and brother’s biker friends. After wrecking his own bike, drunk, he’s in a world of pain. But he’s part of the Hides of Hell family even though he doesn’t want to join, and when they decide to ride to a rally and at the same time spread his mom’s ashes, he’s got to go with them. But he doesn’t have a bike anymore, so…

Miki Holtz is the daughter of the new president of the club and she’d love to get his attention at least every once in a while. She’s also Will’s ride to the rally. They have some history—they’ve played together since they were little kids, but now Miki likes him more than as friends. But she messed it all up a year earlier, and he’s not forgiven her. So it’s going to be an awkward ride.

This may not sound all that suspenseful, but that comes in once they’ve been on the road a bit. They end up spending the first night in a cheapo motel because Will made the mistake of taking one too many pain pills, and he can barely stay on the bike. The motel clerk acts kind of fishy and seems to recognize Will’s name. The next night, they flee the campsite and backtrack to the motel because they think the motel clerk knows something. That next morning all hell breaks loose.

Will and Miki are both cool characters. Miki a bit more so—she’s quite plucky, while Will’s a bit broody and depressed, but not overly so. He’s still quite interesting and it’s rewarding to see him finally deal with his mom’s death. Miki also has her own things to deal with, mostly her relationship with her dad and how she sees herself.

If you’re looking for a gritty (but not too gritty) romance with a couple you definitely root for, this one is for you.

Review: Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky

Anatomy of a Boyfriend book coverI really enjoyed Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which is a modern day Forever (I say that even though it was written in 2007—it’s aged well, I think). I love the cover, with its cheeky annotations. It’s true that some of the love scenes are a bit clinical, but for what the book is trying to do, it absolutely works.

Over winter break during her senior year, Dom meets Wes, who she is immediately smitten with. They start hanging out and Dom keeps expecting her first kiss from him, but it keeps not coming. She and her friend Amy think maybe he’s not actually interested, despite all the signs that point to a Yes, he is interested. Finally, finally, he admits he’s a little chicken and that starts a relationship that heats up pretty quickly, because they’re both into each other so much. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to their sexual explorations. These are the parts that have been described as clinical by some people. I won’t really disagree—they’re certainly not titillating—but I think one of the points of the book is to show a realistic (older) teenage first relationship develop over several months. We see Dom’s high and lows in all aspects of the relationship—including when it breaks down.

The book is solid, with several well-developed characters and a sense of humor about everything. Dom’s friend Amy is so different from her, but still believable. And Wes is a good character, even if he turns into a total butthead. I love Dom and her healthy libido and curiosity and her affection for everyone around her (parents included)—and her attitude when she gets to college.

Perfect for teens who don’t have a absintence-only-believer breathing down their necks (or maybe especially for them).

Review: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

Everything Beautiful book coverRiley Rose is an atheist, a cynic, and quite the rebel. She’s also fat, but she’s determined to make that irrelevant to her life. Her mother died a few years before the book opens and her dad turned all religious and acquired a super-Christian girlfriend. Riley is a bit of a party girl, and when she gets in trouble for breaking into a pool with a bunch of friends, her dad’s solution is to send her to church camp. Obviously.

From the beginning, she plans to be uncooperative and hate all the ridiculous religious people. She says she will “go as a plague” and try to make life miserable for everyone else. She arrives and quickly makes a minor enemy out of her cabin-mate by stealing her bed. Things proceed from there about as you’d expect. Most of the other campers think she’s sinful and therefore a terrible person. But what Riley doesn’t expect is to make friends with a very odd girl (who “performs her ablutions” on the regular), an odd brother and sister pair, or meet a boy she likes even better than her current boy-of-the-month.

When she firsts sees Dylan, he’s wheeled himself onto the stage at the camp and when she throws a sprig of lavender at him, he eats it and she sees a kindred spirit—someone else who’s lost, moody, superior, and charged, as she thinks of herself. It isn’t until she gets in trouble at the same time as Dylan—not with him, just at the same time—that they start getting to know each other. As punishment, they’re tasked with clearing out a house of a recently dead old man’s possessions.

I liked Riley and rooted for her, though I didn’t really identify with her. She isn’t necessarily a very nice person all the time, with all her rebelling. But she’s still interesting to follow. Dylan is also cool to watch—he’s a little enigmatic for a while, but we start to get him more as Riley gets to know him. There aren’t a lot of books with characters in wheelchairs out there, and I learned some stuff from this book (note: do not touch someone’s chair). It’s also entertaining to watch Riley sort of move toward having faith in something—I didn’t take it that she became a Christian, but rather that she started to develop faith in the world, something she’d lost before. The ending is a little vague in that we’re not sure that Riley and Dylan will see each other again, but it’s clear that they’ve each changed as a consequence of meeting.

If you like reading about rebels, you will probably like this one.