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: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

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

Title: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy

Author: Chris Priestley

Category: MG Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury/5 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36150286-maudlin-towers

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Curse-Werewolf-Boy-Maudlin-Towers/dp/1681199327/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/curse-of-the-werewolf-boy-chris-priestley/1127084657?ean=9781681199320

Mildew and Sponge don’t think much of Maudlin Towers, the blackened, gloom­laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity that is their school. But when somebody steals the School Spoon and the teachers threaten to cancel the Christmas holidays until the culprit is found, our heroes must spring into action and solve the crime!

But what starts out as a classic bit of detectivating quickly becomes weirder than they could have imagined. Who is the ghost in the attic? What’s their history teacher doing with a time machine? And why do a crazy bunch of Vikings seem to think Mildew is a werewolf?

Hugely funny, deliciously creepy and action-packed by turns, this brand new series from Chris Priestley is perfect for 8+ readers who like their mysteries with a bit of bite. Fans of Lemony Snicket and Chris Riddell will love Curse of the Werewolf Boy.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book was cute and funny, and it has a lot going for it. It reads a lot like a satire of some magical boarding school books; so many on-the-nose names and silly traditions as well as adults with exaggerated characteristics fill the pages of this one. The all-important School Spoon goes missing, and as Mildew and Sponge try to figure out what happened to it they run into more questions than they do answers. This book has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s very amusing.

At the same time, I don’t feel like this book was the right book for me. Though this is usually the kind of book that I like, I didn’t feel particularly grabbed by this book; it didn’t read as anything particularly unique, and the pacing of it felt a bit too quick for my taste. I think the plot was a bit too all over the place and the writing could have been a little bit clearer. It wasn’t necessarily poorly-written or anything, but it wasn’t quite meshing with me.

Younger middle grade readers who love creepy yet funny mysteries would probably really love this book. Though it’s not one of my personal favorites, it still has a lot going for it and may be very entertaining for young readers.

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 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