Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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Amanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee.  Determined to have a fresh start for her senior year, she wants to make friends and fit in.  But she’s harboring a secret and a past that threaten to disrupt her new life, and she’s determined to keep her secret safe so that she can remain safe.  But she doesn’t bank on meeting Grant Everett, and she doesn’t plan on falling in love with him.  Grant seems different, and the two have an undeniable connection. She wants to share everything with him, but she’s not sure she can share the one thing she wants most to tell him: she used to be Andrew Hardy.

Hailed as one of the best YA books of 2016, Meredith Russo’s debut novel about a trans girl trying to make a new life for herself after a brutal attack has earned its extensive praise. This novel offers trans teens and adults a story that is at once sweetly romantic while also very believable, grounded in enough realism without ever veering into the horrifically tragic. The novel offers enough friction in the plot to offer readers insight into the real dangers that Amanda faces as a girl without ever overwhelming the narrative.  There’s good writing here, although at times the dialogue feels a bit clunky, and the exploration of new friendships helps flesh out the narrative beyond the typical romance.

The plot moves quickly, the characters are engaging and interesting, and this is a necessary novel for all readers.  It’s one to stock your shelves with and push into the hands of teens.  There’s lots to discuss here as well, and it’s going to garner those discussions.  Highly recommended.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Flatiron Books: 2016. Library copy.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

25582820Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

Expected Release Date: February 16, 2016

The Breakfast Club gets a modern, high-stakes reboot in this story of four very different teens and a night that changes them forever.

The Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked, tattooed wild child.
The Bully: York torments everyone who crosses his path, especially his younger brother.
The Geek: Tired of being bullied, Boston is obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college.
The Pariah: Choosing to be invisible has always worked for Sam . . . until tonight.

When Andi, York, Boston, and Sam find themselves hiding in the woods after a party gets busted by the cops, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off—the first decision of many in a night that will change their lives forever. By the light of day, these four would never be caught dead together, but when their getaway takes a dangerously unpredictable turn, sticking together could be the only way to survive.

(summary via Goodreads)

These novels that take place over the course of a single night can go a number of ways.  They can be intensely plotted and super excellent, or completely boring and strain credulity.  I’m hoping that this one is the former and has a lot to offer.  The Breakfast Club is one of my favorite movies, and I’m interested to see a fresh take on the topic.

What are you waiting on this week?

 

Book Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

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Jackson is 12 and his family has just taken in a new foster child.  Joseph is 14 and has already been to prison and fathered a child.  He wants nothing more than to find his daughter, named Jupiter, whom he has never met before.  As Joseph starts to visualize a future with Jackson’s loving family, his past catches up with him in the most cataclysmic–and tragic–way imaginable.

Schmidt’s writing takes a serious turn in this sparse, beautifully haunting novel that will have readers glued to the page until the book’s upsetting end.  Jackson’s no-nonsense narration helps keep the novel grounded, even when Joseph’s story threatens to veer into melodrama.  Although the novel begins as a redemption tale, Schmidt offers readers no pat, happy endings here.  The result is a gut-punch of a novel with just a tinge of hope for the future.

Like Schmidt’s other books, the characterization is wonderful in this one.  Both boys develop throughout the course of the novel, with Jackson’s ideas about his own morals developing as he gets to know Joseph.  Although Jackson seems like an old soul for a 12-year-old, the narration is sparse enough to seem authentic.  The result is a knockout of a novel, engrossing and emotionally resonant even as it’s unbearably sad.

Lovely, haunting, and one that readers will want to talk about as soon as they finish.  Give this one to savvy middle-grade readers and YA fanatics alike.  It’s got broad appeal for a wide range of readers and will spark great conversation.  Highly recommended.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion Books: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Little White Lies by Brianna Baker

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

25614196Little White Lies by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie III

Expected Release Date: February 9, 2016

Seventeen-year-old honors student Coretta White’s Tumblr, Little White Lies—her witty thoughts on pretty much . . . everything—has gone viral. She’s got hundreds of thousands of followers; she’s even been offered a TV deal. But Coretta has a secret. She hasn’t been writing all her own posts. Stressed from the demands of the sudden attention, she hired an expert ghostwriter, forty-one-year-old Karl Ristoff, to keep the Tumblr going. Now consumed with guilt, she confesses.

Almost instantly, she suffers a public humiliation. The TV deal disappears. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. Then Karl is thrust into the limelight, only to suffer a dramatic fall himself. Together, they vow to find out who is responsible for ruining both of their lives, and why. But in order to exact justice and a wicked revenge, they must first come clean with each other.

(summary via Goodreads)

Everything about this one looks like a lot of fun.  I love that it features a black girl on the cover.  I love that it’s about a ghostwriter and Tumblr and lies.  I love the idea of exploring what happens after a social media disaster.  It’s going to be a fun read for sure, and it’s perfect mid-winter reading.

What are you waiting on this week?

 

Book Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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Matthew’s mom is dead and his dad is a total wreck.  Just when Matt thinks he can’t handle any more hard stuff in the world, he meets a girl who has dealt with a great deal more than Matt can even imagine–and she just might have some stuff to teach him.  As he navigates his own grief as well as his father’s, Matt starts falling for this girl and learning lessons about life, love, and growing up.

If there’s one thing Jason Reynolds does well, it’s bring a neighborhood to life on the page.  That’s on full display here in his latest offering for teens, and it makes for a rich, immersive read.  Matthew’s voice is authentic, making for a narration that is both compelling and at times searingly real.  A slow burner, like all of Reynolds’s novels, this is one that will stand out to teens who like their stories a bit gritty but wholly real.

Matthew works as a narrator largely because of Reynolds’s skill with his prose.  He also knows Matthew really well and allows his grief to simmer on the page.  As Matthew finds solace in attending funerals at the funeral home he starts working in, his healing process begins, and readers take that journey with him.  The result is a largely successful exploration of what it means to move on after a significant death.

The supporting cast of characters are fairly well fleshed-out, too.  They help bring the Brooklyn neighborhood to life, and provide valuable insight into Matthew and his world.  This is a character-driven novel about slice-of-life Brooklyn, and it is a gem of a novel.  Reynolds is an author to watch, and his storytelling only gets stronger with each offering.

Hopeful, uplifting, and emotionally resonant.  This is a title to keep on the shelves, for sure.  Recommended.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: 2015. Library copy.

Book Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

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Jennifer’s family doesn’t believe her when she tells them she needs treatment for her eating disorder. Reluctantly, they sign her into inpatient, and it isn’t long before she thinks she’s made a terrible mistake.  The locked doors, tough nurses, and harsh rules aren’t exactly what she imagined.  But in order to be discharged, Jennifer must adhere to the rules and work on getting better, which means confronting some uncomfortable truths about herself–and her family.

Based on Johnson’s own life, this autobiographical novel offers an interesting and fresh take on eating disorders and treatment.  Most remarkable is Johnson’s ability to write with clarity about the disorder without delving into the aspects that might trigger readers; a thing that is very common in memoirs about eating disorders.  Johnson also chooses to set her novel in the 80s, when she was a teen herself, and the details are spot-on and help to add dimension to the story.

The setting and the characters are vivid and authentic.  Jennifer’s struggles with her family in particular feels achingly real, and readers will identify with her inability to communicate effectively with them.  It’s clear Johnson did a lot of soul-searching in the writing of this novel, and the payoff is great.  It’s a hell of a story about healing and growing up, and readers will be glued to the page.

There are a few missteps here: the novel abruptly changes from verse to prose as Jennifer enters the second stage of her treatment, and the narration also switches from third to first-person.  These stylistic choices won’t trip up most readers, though.  There are also a few story lines or plot points that seemingly appear and disappear at random, making for an at-times choppy read.  Again, these are minor quibbles with an overall compelling book.

On the whole, this is a powerful story about growing up and getting well.  A bit of unevenness doesn’t overshadow the impact of the story or its characters.  Once again, J.J. Johnson demonstrates her adept skill at writing for young people.  Recommended.

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson. Peachtree Publishers: 2015. Library copy.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

25614492Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Expected Release Date: February 2, 2016

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

(summary via Goodreads)

No one does historical fiction like Sepetys does, so this one looks like it’s going to be an in-demand title.  I’m excited to see what she does with this time period and geographical location.  It looks to be like an exciting read!

What are you waiting on this week?