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: Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

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

Title: Esme’s Wish

Author: Elizabeth Foster

Category: YA Fantasy

Publisher/Date: Odyssey Books/30 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33634667-esme-s-wish

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Esmes-Wish-Elizabeth-Foster-ebook/dp/B07DBMD258/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/esmes-wish-elizabeth-foster/1127273417?ean=9781925652246

“A fresh new fantasy of an enchanting world.” – Wendy Orr,author of Nim’s Island and Dragonfly Song.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all. 

This fresh, inventive tale, the first in an MG-to-YA series, is an ideal read for 10-14 year olds.

Esme’s Wish recently won first place in the fantasy category of the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, which recognises excellence in children’s literature.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Readers program. This book has content warnings for parental death/drowning/disappearance (lost at sea), grief, some violence, and some gender binarism.

This book was an okay read for me. The writing itself was really good — the book is on the cusp of being MG and YA, and it felt like it was well-written for its intended audience. I was also really enchanted by the worldbuilding; the alternate world that Esme ends up in where she learns her mother, who was lost at sea some years ago, had apparently spent a lot of time is a really well-developed setting. It’s immersive and leaves you feeling very curious about the people and beings and secrets that are hidden in this world, and the concept and execution of Gifts was something I also really liked. The world itself is really fascinating, and that kept me reading.

I was less entranced by the story itself. This book has a really slow pace and it doesn’t really map out where the story is headed as well as it should. It’s definitely character-driven instead of plot-driven, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for me it felt that it was a little bit too close to the former than the latter. Additionally, the ending itself felt like it came and went way too quickly, and while I get that this is the first book in a series I still felt like it wasn’t resolved enough and the rush of the ending of the book didn’t feel very satisfying.

The other thing that bothered me was how the gender of the sirens was discussed within the book. The sirens are apparently genderfluid, though the early part of the book claimed “Their sex is … indeterminate” (p. 55). There are at least two places in the book where the genders of the sirens are determined by their pronouns (“she’s not really a he” or “she became a he” or something of that sort), and that really bothered me as a nonbinary trans person because it ignores that pronouns aren’t gender and that there are more than two genders. If you’re sensitive about nonbinary erasure and genders being referred to by pronouns, this is something to consider before reading.

I didn’t mind this book, but it wasn’t the best read for me. If you’re looking for a light fantasy upper MG/lower YA with no romance and solid worldbuilding, this might be the book for you.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution by Ann Travers

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

Title: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution

Author: Ann Travers

Category: Nonfiction/Children’s Studies/Transgender Studies (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: New York University Press/5 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36747917-the-trans-generation

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Trans-Generation-Parents-Creating-Revolution-ebook/dp/B07C6898VH/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-trans-generation-ann-travers/1127195306?ean=9781479885794#/

A groundbreaking look at the lives of transgender children and their families

Some “boys” will only wear dresses; some “girls” refuse to wear dresses; in both cases, as Ann Travers shows in this fascinating account of the lives of transgender kids, these are often more than just wardrobe choices. Travers shows that from very early ages, some at two and three years old, these kids find themselves to be different from the sex category that was assigned to them at birth. How they make their voices heard–to their parents and friends, in schools, in public spaces, and through the courts–is the focus of this remarkable and groundbreaking book.

Based on interviews with transgender kids, ranging in age from 4 to 20, and their parents, and over five years of research in the US and Canada, The Trans Generation offers a rare look into what it is like to grow up as a trans child. From daycare to birthday parties and from the playground to the school bathroom, Travers takes the reader inside the day-to-day realities of trans kids who regularly experience crisis as a result of the restrictive ways in which sex categories regulate their lives and put pressure on them to deny their internal sense of who they are in gendered terms.

As a transgender activist and as an advocate for trans kids, Travers is able to document from first-hand experience the difficulties of growing up trans and the challenges that parents can face. The book shows the incredible time, energy, and love that these parents give to their children, even in the face of, at times, unsupportive communities, schools, courts, health systems, and government laws. Keeping in mind that all trans kids are among the most vulnerable to bullying, violent attacks, self-harm, and suicide, and that those who struggle with poverty, racism, lack of parental support, learning differences, etc, are extremely at risk, Travers offers ways to support all trans kids through policy recommendations and activist interventions. Ultimately, the book is meant to open up options for kids’ own gender self-determination, to question the need for the sex binary, and to highlight ways that cultural and material resources can be redistributed more equitably. The Trans Generation offers an essential and important new understanding of childhood. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for discussions of transphobia/queerphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, bullying, abuse, and suicide, and for a graphic description of a trans child dying by suicide.

I usually get incredibly frustrated while reading academic work on trans people because most of the time it’s littered with binarism and outdated/offensive terminology, so this book was a breath of fresh air for me because it was pretty spot-on for most of the book. Travers, who identifies as trans, did their research and their best to ensure that this book was as respectful toward trans kids as possible, and it was really effective. Overall, this book is very good and one that most trans people like myself will find reflective of their own experiences to some degree.

My favorite thing about this book is that it not only was respectful towards trans people, but it is also intersectional — Travers goes into deep discussions about how race, class, disability, and sexuality all play a part in a trans person’s experiences and acknowledges that these experiences are going to vary widely because of these factors. For instance, during one moment Travers tells a young trans person that things will get better as they grow up and go to college and move on with their life, and then later Travers realizes that the assumption they made that college is a certainty in that person’s future was incredibly classist and they felt guilty for how they had phrased that conversation. The trans kids and teens who were interviewed have a variety of gender identities and backgrounds, and the mix of different perspectives from these kids and teens were a huge boon to the book and to our understanding of trans people’s childhoods.

My largest issue with the book was how Travers approached being trans as being “disabled” by society — in a sense, I get where they were coming from. They very eloquently discussed the medical vs. social models of disability and how with the social model it is society that creates barriers rather than the disability itself, and Travers expanded this to society “disabling” trans people as well. I get what they were going for here and agree that that is the essential effect that society has on trans people, however as a disabled person I felt that the terminology around trans people being “disabled” was co-opted in a way that tries to equate transness and being disabled when these are two very different things, and I don’t feel that an abled trans person should really be describing themselves as “disabled” when they mean that society is creating barriers that cause them to be discriminated against. I felt that better terminology could have been used here. I did, however, appreciate the good understanding of how ableism comes into play regarding trans disabled people, and felt that that added to the larger discussion as a whole.

Aside from that larger terminology issue, this book adds a lot of value to discourse about the lives of trans kids and was a really thoughtful and insightful read. Though I disagree with some of the definitions of terms in the glossary, this book in general is a really great overview of how intersectionality affects trans youth and how trans youth are growing up in this generation. It’s a great read, and I definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4.5 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 Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Image of book cover from GoodreadsTitle: The Girl and the Grove

Author: Eric Smith

Category: YA Paranormal

Publisher/Date: Flux/8 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35059797-the-girl-and-the-grove

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Girl-Grove-Eric-Smith-ebook/dp/B07BHQHXHB/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-girl-and-the-grove-eric-smith/1127035191?ean=9781635830187

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for mental illness/anxiety/depression/Seasonal Affective Disorder, depiction of panic attacks, child abuse (mentioned), rape (mentioned), ableism, racism, and death.

I absolutely loved this book. The writing style is incredibly strong, and I connected with the characters near-instantly because of it. Leila’s mental illnesses were relatable, and her struggles with fully accepting her new adopted family tugged at my heartstrings. Her new adoptive parents, as much as they struggled with Leila’s difficulties with referring to them as “mom” and “dad,” were very sweet and tried very hard to give her a good home. Her best friend, Sarika, is also amazing and lovable and I want her as my own best friend.

There was lots of diverse representation in this book, from Leila being Black/biracial to Sarika being South Asian to group home/adoption rep to mental health, and I really appreciated it. Leila’s Seasonal Affective Disorder was especially relatable for me, and I loved seeing a character use a light therapy box as I regularly use a HappyLight while I’m at home and it really helps me a lot.

The fantastical elements in the book worked well within the world within the book; Leila’s interests are largely environmentally-related, and the magic within the book segues from there really nicely. It made the whole narrative tie together in a way that felt true to the story. Though the story is very environmentalist it was written without feeling preachy or overbearing; rather, it’s very immersive as if you were getting lost in the forest itself.

Overall, this is a lovely book with colorful characters and a well-rounded setting that is easy to fall in love with. Those who love outdoorsy stories with realistic teenagers and just a dash of magic will love this.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope

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

Title: Song of Blood and Stone

Author: L. Penelope

Category: NA Fantasy

Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Press/1 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36347830-song-of-blood-stone

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Song-Blood-Stone-Earthsinger-Chronicles/dp/1250148073/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/song-of-blood-stone-l-penelope/1127397977?ean=9781250148070

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart. 

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps. 

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation. 

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for attempted rape, violence, death, war themes, sex, self harm (one short sentence), and racism (societal issue that is addressed).

This was a solid book! It read a lot like a fairy tale, and was a wonderful blend of love, family drama, and larger societal issues. Jasminda, the main character, is biracial (Elsira are light-skinned people who do not have magic, and Lagamiri are dark-skinned people who do have magic, and her parents came from both sides), and she has a complicated status within the society that’s well-explored throughout the book. The romance is very sweet and it was nice to see a healthy relationship with communication and apologizing for mistakes (although there are some lines in the sex scenes that sound more painful than pleasurable to me? Overall they were good, but they weren’t excellent), and I really enjoyed Jasminda and Jack’s interactions.

Although it’s set in the past, I also really loved how the book brought up contemporary issues such as racism on a societal level as well as refugees, and I think that it has a lot of potential for starting discussions around these topics. I thought these topics were handled really well within the text; there were no watered-down descriptions of how these things affect the people in the book, and I really want to see more of this because it’s all too easy to get stuck looking at the world from just one perspective.

My main issue with the book is pacing; I thought the pacing was excellent through the second half of the book, but felt that the first half was a little too uneven and slow. It held my attention and kept me reading, but I thought that if it were a little tighter my reading experience would have been better.  Additionally, there’s a part very early on in the text where Jasminda thinks about how she had worried about herself getting raped by some dangerous man but she became suddenly preoccupied with preventing them from raping Jack, and it sort of read like she felt it would be worse if Jack were raped than if she were, and that was a little uncomfortable. It’s not a persistent thing throughout the book; just one little moment.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: On The Edge of Gone

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Category: YA Science Fiction

Publisher/Date: Amulet Books/8 March 2016

Edition: ebook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22020598-on-the-edge-of-gone

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Edge-Gone-Corinne-Duyvis/dp/1419719033/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/on-the-edge-of-gone-corinne-duyvis/1122622007#/

January 29, 2035.

That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

This book has content warnings for death, ableism, drug abuse, parental neglect, racism, natural disaster, near-drowning, and animal death (humane euthanization).

I had some pretty mixed feelings about this book but overall I really liked it. I loved Denise as a character — she’s autistic, biracial, and incredibly fierce. She more or less has had to take care of herself because her dad is gone and her mom doesn’t take care of her, so when she has to fight for her survival her instincts take over and she does whatever she can to protect herself and her mom, and to find her sister. Denise was a fantastic character, and I really enjoyed seeing through her eyes in this story.

My largest issue with this book was the pacing — I loved the story, but the pacing in the middle was rather uneven and often slow. This isn’t at all a short book, so having to slog through the middle of the book really made it drag for me, and this wasn’t very pleasant. I felt like the middle of the book could have been trimmed more without losing the heart of the story and the book would have been better off with this. I didn’t feel like this hurt the book enough to make me not enjoy it, but it certainly made it a bit harder to read.

I really felt that this book was worth reading — the premise was interesting, the cast was dynamic, and additionally the book did an excellent job of discussing stereotypes of autistic people through the eyes of an autistic character. It was, however, a bit too long and would have been more enjoyable if it were a bit shorter. I recommend it, but you may want to break this one up into several sittings more than usual because the middle can be challenging to get through.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

Movie Review: Love, Simon (Spoiler-Free!)

I didn’t feel safe coming out to myself when I was a teenager, let alone to other people. Even now when I’m comfortable being out on the Internet, there are only certain people I feel safe being out to in my personal life, and they’re almost all people that I met after I reached my 20s. People from my hometown? Not a chance. I feel way too afraid to come out to almost anyone who knew me as a teen, and because of this I tend to avoid the people I grew up with because I don’t believe that they would like me for me anymore.

Enter Love, Simon.

Love, Simon movie poster
Source: https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/love-simon

Based on Becky Albertalli’s award-winning book Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, This movie tells the story of Simon Spier, a seventeen-year-old closeted gay teen who starts emailing (and falling for) an anonymous gay teen at his school and then gets blackmailed when one of his classmates discovers his secret. Every ounce of what I feel about being in the closet was embodied in Nick Robinson’s portrayal of Simon Spier in Love, Simon, and I felt simultaneously in love AND punched in the gut. There’s something special about seeing all of the feelings you felt as a teenager up on the big screen, be it the feeling of love, the feeling of terror, or the feeling of heartbreak, and Love, Simon manages to do this with a perfect blend of happiness and angst. Though Simon’s family and friends are wonderful, I felt his stress over what they would think about his coming out — even when a queer teen has supportive people around them, before they come out there is still the anxiety over whether things are going to change after they come out, and it can be a huge deterrent to doing so. This was beautifully handled, and I loved every second of it.

This is the kind of movie that I needed at seventeen. I needed a movie showing someone like me who was afraid to be theirself. I needed a movie that showed that being queer didn’t mean I couldn’t have a happy life. I needed a movie with a sweet queer romance that told me yes, happy endings are possible. I needed a movie that showed me that all of the pain that I felt was normal — completely normal — and that life didn’t have to be like that. I cried at least six times during this movie (it may have been more — by the end of it I stopped stopping and didn’t know how to count whether I’d started crying or was still crying anymore) — at the sad parts, at the happy parts, and at the parts that I knew I could have used when I was in high school.

This is a movie that is more than worth your time. I plan to go see it again at least once more after it opens — maybe more than once — and I urge you to go see it, too. This movie isn’t just important topically, but it is also beautifully acted and directed and it will melt you into a little puddle by the end of it. It melted me. Even if I don’t feel safe coming out where I grew up still, I felt more secure about myself from watching this movie. I just wish I had had that before 23.

Love, Simon opens on 16 March 2018 in the US. Stock up on Oreos and get your tickets now! 

Review: How To Make A Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

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

Title: How To Make A Wish

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: HMH Books For Young Readers/2 May 2017

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26626118-how-to-make-a-wish

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Make-Wish-Ashley-Herring-Blake/dp/054481519X/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-to-make-a-wish-ashley-herring-blake/1124079723?ean=9780544815193#/

All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

I received this book from the publisher as a prize for the 24 in 48 Readathon last summer. Thank you! This book has content warnings for death, car accidents, child neglect/abuse, and sexual harassment.

I loved this book! I especially loved the relationships and the friendships in this book — they were not perfect, but they were supportive and caring when few support systems were available for Grace and Eva. There was effort, although often misguided, and I really appreciated the direction in which those relationships went.

Grace and Eva were lovely. Grace is bi and Eva is a Black lesbian, and I absolutely adored the way they interacted with each other. It was clear from the start that they had chemistry, and their interactions were really touching and sweet and progressed in a nice manner.

For as difficult a character as Grace’s mom is, I think Blake managed to pull her off quite well. She’s a person who is very self-absorbed and doesn’t take the time to see how her actions affect those around her, but it’s also clear that she genuinely believes that her actions are fine and that she’s acting for the best. She’s not intentionally malicious and it’s easy to tell that she does care about Grace, but she isn’t showing it by giving Grace what she actually needs. She is into the idea of giving Grace what she needs and makes promises, but when opportunities arise that sound better to her, she writes off Grace’s needs as things that maybe weren’t so important to begin with regardless of how important they actually are. It’s really frustrating, but I really like how her attractive side also shows through with her interactions with Grace, who doesn’t want to abandon her mom, and with Eva, who is getting sucked up in her tales.

I also really loved the musical passions of the girls! Grace is a gifted piano player and Eva is a ballerina, and I loved how those identities played out in the book as they struggled with each of them — Grace through the prospect of having to give up her dreams, and Eva through her struggling with the loss of her mom. Their hobbies and talents weren’t surface-level — they were deeply ingrained in their characters, and that’s something that I really appreciated seeing.

This book was darker than I expected it to be when I picked it up, but I still really loved it! It’s a very touching romance with some sadder elements and some scenes that will frustrate you, and it’s very much worth reading. The writing and pacing are fantastic, and the story sucks you in. I highly recommend this one.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars