ARC Review: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Darius the Great is Not Okay

Author: Adib Khorram

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Dial Books/28 August 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37506437-darius-the-great-is-not-okay

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Darius-Great-Okay-Adib-Khorram-ebook/dp/B077WZ46TC/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/darius-the-great-is-not-okay-adib-khorram/1127582464?ean=9780525552963#/

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for racism/xenophobia, homophobia, fat-shaming, depression/depression-related ableism, bullying, terminal illness in a family member, and strained family relationships.

This is one of those books that, after reading it, you want absolutely everyone to read it. Darius is such an intriguing main character, and Khorram managed to balance how Darius doesn’t feel like he fits in with either side of his family in a very delicate manner. Darius feels disconnected from his Persian heritage because he wasn’t taught to speak the language from birth like his younger sister was and because the culture doesn’t really “approve” of his medication for depression, and he also feels disconnected from his white father who doesn’t seem to approve of Darius’s life, constantly policing him for being fat and for choices he makes in his life. The feeling of being a teenager, especially a fat teenager of color, who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere was very well-done, and I really empathized with Darius.

As someone with depression, I also really loved the depression rep and the discussions around mental health in this book. Many people who don’t have depression don’t understand that it’s not a matter of “just being happy” and getting shamed for trying to treat it can be incredibly overwhelming. This part of the book in particular was one that I felt very deeply; it almost felt like a weight was dragging my shoulders down as I continued to read because this kind of talk is SO common and so harmful for someone who is just trying to seek help.

The romance in this book was very light and sweet, and I’m actually rather glad that it kind of took a backseat to the other themes in the book because this book covered so much ground and I think was stronger for having the romance be a little less prominent. This is a story about a gay boy, yes, but it’s a story about that gay boy’s Persian heritage and his family and how he’s viewed as a fat person, and I’m really glad that those things took the stage in this one.

I absolutely adored this book. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you really should.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: See All The Stars by Kit Frick

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: See All The Stars

Author: Kit Frick

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: McElderry Books/14 August 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32718970-see-all-the-stars

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/See-All-Stars-Kit-Frick-ebook/dp/B075RQ3FQC/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/see-all-the-stars-kit-frick/1127208720?ean=9781534404373

Part love story, part thriller, We Were Liars meets Goodbye Days in this suspenseful, lyrical debut.

It’s hard to find the truth beneath the lies you tell yourself.

THEN They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

NOW Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

THEN Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

NOW Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

The path forward isn’t a straight line. And moving on will mean sorting the truth from the lies—the lies Ellory has been telling herself.

I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for drug use, alcohol use, unhealthy relationships, and death.

loved this book — it’s one of those books that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the very end. This book alternates between two timelines: Ellory’s junior year and Ellory’s senior year. The switching was handled really well and really created tension and mystery surrounding the story, and it had me on my toes as I read.

The emotion in this book is raw and gut-wrenching; there is so much sadness and loneliness and it all really rang true to me. There is a stark contrast between the friend-surrounded Ellory of junior year and relatively-isolated Ellory of senior year, and it hurts to read, but it hurts to read in a way that made me want to share Ellory’s pain as I read.

See All The Stars dives deep into first love and teenage friendships in a beautifully heartbreaking story. There is a twist at the end, which I will not spoil, that really changes the way you see the rest of the book that you’ve just read. It’s wonderfully-crafted and engaging, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Anger is a Gift

Author: Mark Oshiro

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Tor Teen/22 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36142487-anger-is-a-gift

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Anger-Gift-Novel-Mark-Oshiro-ebook/dp/B0756JKLF1/

Barnes and Noble: https://smile.amazon.com/Anger-Gift-Novel-Mark-Oshiro-ebook/dp/B0756JKLF1/

A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death (including but not limited to the sudden death of a character), police brutality, racism, transphobia (including misgendering)/homophobia/queerphobia, ableism, anxiety/depictions of panic attacks, and graphic violence.

I have been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I don’t know if anything I write about this book will do it justice. This is one of those books that will make your heart melt and then proceed to tear it into a million little tiny pieces. The characters in this book are a delight — one thing that really makes a book great for me is when all of the characters in the book feel like whole, well-rounded people rather than just the point-of-view character, and this book nails this. The teens in the cast are almost entirely queer people of color, and I really love this because while many people claim that having so many queer characters in one place is “unrealistic,” it’s really representative of how queer teens tend to find each other and become friends rather than having a token queer person or two within the friend group.

The romance in this book is sweet and my heart is still aching from it. Moss is a Black gay boy and Javier is a Latinx gay boy, and they are just so damn cute together. The two of them absolutely shattered me, and my heart still aches because of how much I loved them.

A lot of this book can be hard to swallow because much of it is very graphic. Episodes of graphic police brutality in the book don’t just focus on race (though they definitely still do); they also show how that racism is combined with queerphobia and ableism and how these communities are affected. The intersectionality of this book is beautifully done and it opens up a lot of discussions about how institutionalized oppression works on multiple axes. It’s good to know going into it that these scenes are brutal, though; if you’re sensitive to violence toward trans or disabled people, this is something to be aware of.

This is easily one of my favorite reads of 2018, and it’s definitely one that I will want to read again in the future. Please read this one.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Final Draft

Author: Riley Redgate

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Amulet Books/12 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35960813-final-draft

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Final-Draft-Riley-Redgate-ebook/dp/B078W61YYV/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/final-draft-riley-redgate/1126960304?ean=9781419728723

The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.
 
At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for car accidents (off-page), hospitals, and death (off-page).

This book was really really good, but definitely not one of my favorites. I’m struggling to pinpoint what exactly it is that I didn’t like, though — I think it might have mostly been the writing not clicking for me, especially in relation to Laila’s interactions with her teachers. Something about those interactions felt off to me, and the pacing of the book felt incredibly slow through the middle of the book. Tighter writing would have made this a better read for me, overall.

I loved the characters themselves — Laila is a fat, bi-racial (Ecuadorian), pansexual teen with mental illnesses, and she was such a joy to spend time with. She is a writer and a nerd, and seeing her geek out over her favorite shows and books with her friends was so much fun. Her relationships with her friends were complicated; they loved each other, but they struggled to get everyone to get along all at the same time.

Laila’s frustration with the writing and editing process after getting a new teacher really hit me. Writing is something that can be incredibly enjoyable, but certain parts of the process can really suck the fun out of it even though it can make the writing itself a lot stronger. Watching her try to figure out where that line is for her felt very true to me; finding that line is not easy, and it can potentially ruin writing for some people. I also loved seeing how this affected not just herself but also her relationships with those around her.

Though this isn’t one of my favorite reads from this year, it had a great story with really solid characters. If you’re looking for stories about teenage nerds and writers, this is a good choice for you.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: When the Beat Drops by Anna Hecker

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: When the Beat Drops

Author: Anna Hecker

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Sky Pony Press/1 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35217468-when-the-beat-drops

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/When-Beat-Drops-Anna-Hecker-ebook/dp/B073XTGZFX/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-the-beat-drops-anna-hecker/1126763769?ean=9781510733336#/

Seventeen-year-old Mira has always danced to her own beat. A music prodigy in a family of athletes, she’d rather play trumpet than party—and with her audition to a prestigious jazz conservatory just around the corner (and her two best friends at music camp without her), she plans to spend the summer focused on jazz and nothing else.

She only goes to the warehouse party in a last-ditch effort to bond with her older sister. Instead, she falls in love with dance music, DJing…and Derek, a gorgeous promoter who thinks he can make her a star. Suddenly trumpet practice and old friendships are taking a backseat to packed dance floors, sun-soaked music festivals, outsized personalities, and endless beats.

But when a devastating tragedy plunges her golden summer into darkness, Mira discovers just how little she knows about her new boyfriend, her old friends, and even her own sister. Music is what brought them together…but will it also tear them apart?

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for drug use, abusive relationships (between a teen and a college student), overdose, death, and hospitals.

I loved this book. I was immediately captivated by Mira, our biracial (Black and white) classical musician-turned-DJ main character who used music to escape the stress of her family life. One of my favorite things in books is when characters are passionate about something, and Mira’s passion for music steals the show. Even better, the evolving nature of her interests rang so true and showed wonderful growth in her character.

Mira’s complicated relationships with the people around her were also fantastic. She struggled with feeling inferior to her college-aged sister, with her parents who seemed to favor her sister over her, with her best friends who went off to music camp without her, with her new friend who got her into DJing but her new boyfriend keeps trying to warn her away from, and with her new boyfriend whom other people keep trying to warn her away from. She clearly cares very deeply about the people around her, and her relationships are intimate and complex.

The writing itself is also enchanting and really draws you in — this was a really quick read for me because the writing itself was just so lovely and drew me in. This made the story even more heartbreaking at points; if you’re at all sensitive to reading descriptions of drug overdoses, this probably isn’t the book for you. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a really good book about people and rave culture and teen angst, this is a good choice.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The History of Jane Doe

Author: Michael Belanger

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Dial Books/5 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739332-the-history-of-jane-doe

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/History-Jane-Doe-Michael-Belanger-ebook/dp/B075HY7LTT/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-history-of-jane-doe-michael-belanger/1127085536?ean=9780735228818#/

A poignant, deeply funny coming-of-age story about first love, first loss, and the power of history to give life meaning.

History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville’s past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girl–we’ll call her Jane Doe.

Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane’s darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herself–from past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.

Mixing humor with heartache, this is an unmissable coming-of-age story from an exciting new voice in YA.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for suicide, mental illness, and depression.

This one is tough for me to review because while overall I really liked the writing style and the characters, it fell a little flat for me as a whole. I think that the counting down/counting up alternating timelines was interesting, but it would have worked better if what was going to happen with Jane wasn’t so obvious based on the “after” timeline. I knew what was going to happen to her by the end of the first chapter. This made the “reveal” a bit anticlimactic for me, as most of the surprise left was just gone.

I really liked the tone of the book — it was funny at times and yet didn’t hesitate to get serious when it needed to be, and I think this was handled very well. I think it highlighted how it’s not always easy to tell if someone is suicidal or not — a lot of people leave hints or ask for help, and others don’t. Sometimes you just don’t know, even if you sense that something is wrong. And it sucks.

One thing that I really enjoyed was the recurrent therapy storyline in the book — in the “after” chapters, Ray often found himself in therapy, and he wasn’t always happy to be around his therapist. I loved that he stuck through it, though. It’s easy to quit therapy when it just feels uncomfortable and wrong, but he gave it more than just one chance despite his attitude towards it and it worked out for the better for him. It felt very real to me, and I really enjoyed seeing that.

Overall this was a solid read for me in general, although the climax didn’t hit me as hard as I wish it did. It’s a good read, though probably not one of the most memorable.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Down in the Belly of the Whale

Author: Kelley Kay Bowles

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Aionios Books/5 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36540511-down-in-the-belly-of-the-whale

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Down-Belly-Whale-Kelley-Bowles/dp/0998084476/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/down-in-the-belly-of-the-whale-kelley-kay-bowles/1127903090?ean=9780998084473

A contemporary story about family and friendship for fans of Eleanor Porter and L.M. Montgomery.

Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? She can’t predict her best friend’s depression or her mother’s impending health crisis. Being helpful is all Harper ever wanted, but she feels helpless in the face of real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this irrepressible, high-spirited teen in her journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for child sexual assault/rape, self harm, attempted suicide, body shaming, cat dissection, and hospitals.

Unfortunately, this book was not only incredibly poorly-written, but it was also extremely harmful in multiple areas. To start with the writing: this book was all over the place tonally. It dealt with some very dark topics in a rather carefree tone that came off as extremely flippant. The main character, Harper, is said to be intelligent but doesn’t seem to understand anything about the world around her, and this makes the book seem encyclopedia-like in places as she waits for the people around her to explain things to her. For example, after accusing her uncle’s new boyfriend of being a druggie because he needed to give himself a shot of insulin at the table and is explained the medical necessity of shots, she is STUNNED just a few pages later at the thought of a totally different character needing to give themselves shots on a regular basis, something that is incredibly unfathomable even after having the concept explained to her literally earlier the same day. It wasn’t charming; it was extremely annoying, and it felt poorly-executed.

The book’s handling of child sexual assault was even worse. Harper is constantly in “savior mode” despite having no idea what she’s doing, and even though nearly every move she makes is dangerous to someone or another she faces no consequences for any of them. Her best friend Cora attempts suicide and ends up in the hospital; it’s unrealistic because no one is actually keeping an eye on her despite her being suicidal, and Harper had ignored all of the signs of Cora being suicidal previously. After Cora admits that her uncle had sexually abused her and tells Harper that she does NOT want to report it because her father believes her uncle and not her and she doesn’t feel safe reporting because of that, Harper immediately ignores Cora’s wishes and takes it upon herself to report it. And Cora’s father lashes out physically on someone else because of it. The really strange part is Cora isn’t even the slightest bit upset with Harper for completely ignoring her and Harper feels no remorse or guilt for ignoring her friend like that. Reporting an abusive relative of a friend isn’t necessarily the worst course of action, but the way in which it was handled here where the person who reported against the victim’s wishes receives no consequences at all for her actions was incredibly unrealistic, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Some of the other characters were… Interesting… Harper’s lab partner, whom Harper insists regularly that she’s going to marry, has this weird infatuation with the cat they’re dissecting, and it’s pretty gross. Harper’s uncle, who is probably the most likeable character in the book despite not being super likeable, is essentially the token gay character placed to show that being gay is “normal” and that’s about it. Most characters are forgettable messes without much in terms of personality, and those that weren’t forgettable were either caricatures or overly annoying.

The book also had multiple instances of fat-shaming and skinny-shaming that grated on me, and the book had a “discussion” about cultural appropriation that essentially stated that as long as you know where the thing you’re misusing came from, then misusing it is not appropriation. That’s… not how that works. At all. In fact, that’s deliberate appropriation, and it’s gross.

The only borderline redeeming quality about this book was some (and I mean some) of the discussion of multiple sclerosis, which is the only medical part of the book I even sort of trust because the author herself actually has MS. There were some learning moments there, but they really got buried in the disaster that was the rest of the book. This book didn’t really work for me, and it’s not one that I can recommend to others.

Final rating: 1 of 5 stars