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: 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: 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: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

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

Title: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

Authors: Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

Category: Non-fiction comic (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Limerence Press/12 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36580693-a-quick-easy-guide-to-they-them-pronouns

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Quick-Easy-Guide-They-Pronouns-ebook/dp/B07DD6H2WQ/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-quick-easy-guide-to-they-them-pronouns-archie-bongiovanni/1128110826?ean=9781620104996

Archie, a snarky genderqueer artist, is tired of people not understanding gender neutral pronouns. Tristan, a cisgender dude, is looking for an easy way to introduce gender neutral pronouns to his increasingly diverse workplace. The longtime best friends team up in this short and fun comic guide that explains what pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. They also include what to do if you make a mistake, and some tips-and-tricks for those who identify outside of the binary to keep themselves safe in this binary-centric world. A quick and easy resource for people who use they/them pronouns, and people who want to learn more!

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. This book has content warnings for depictions of misgendering (not condoned).

As someone who uses they/them pronouns and has to deal with getting misgendered on a regular basis, this guide was incredibly validating and also very thorough. Not only does it give solid examples of how to use they/them pronouns in conversation, but it also addresses why people should use them when they are asked and how it feels if they don’t. Archie and Tristan present two different perspectives — one from someone who uses they/them pronouns and one from someone who doesn’t — that are intricately woven together to form the narrative, and it really works because it is hard to get people to understand this stuff. People argue that it’s “bad grammar” (it’s not) or “unnatural” (nope) or “too hard” (you probably do it every day), and it’s demeaning and exhausting. Tristan’s portion of the narrative shows exactly what being a good ally should look like, and Archie’s portion also shows a variety of methods that they/them pronoun-users can utilize to advocate for themselves.

Additionally, this book is just a delight to read. The text is fantastic, and the illustrations are wonderfully done and a joy to look at. It’s informative and funny, and the comics form does an excellent job of utilizing emotion to get the point across. This book is one of the reasons why I love comics — there are few other forms that can get emotions across like this.

I have two small criticisms. First, I do wish that more people involved with this book besides Archie used they/them pronouns, although I really appreciate how everyone credited for working on this book had their pronouns listed out to make it clear who was working from personal experience and who wasn’t. Second, I don’t actually recommend asking people to say their pronouns in public situations because that is essentially asking someone to out themself, and not everyone is comfortable with that. In many cases, it’s possible that someone will either be forced to come out or forced to misgender themself, and neither of those options are very appealing to us. Dealing with this is a tricky thing, but I think more discussion needs to take place around it.

Aside from those two small things, I adored this! I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for something to hand to those people who insist on misgendering you repeatedly (or insists that “theirs” is not a real word… Yes, I actually got that once) and you want them to knock it off.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

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

Title: White Rabbit

Author: Caleb Roehrig

Category: YA Mystery (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Fiewel & Friends/24 April 2018

Edition: Kindle

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34499210-white-rabbit

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/White-Rabbit-Caleb-Roehrig-ebook/dp/B0763SVCJW/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/white-rabbit-caleb-roehrig/1125855934?ean=9781250085658#/

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

This book has content warnings for violence, stabbing, gun violence, murder, attempted murder, drugs, ableist language, homomisia, unhealthy relationships, sexual assault/rape (described but occurred off-page), and a whole lot of blood.

This book was definitely a mixed bag for me — there were things that I really liked and things that I truly hated. Starting with the positives, the mystery itself was quite intriguing. It was a gory mess and not light on the descriptions, which as someone who is a fan of horror I enjoyed, and I was genuinely interested in finding out what happened as Rufus and Sebastian untangled the strings to solve the mystery.

Another thing I really liked was the queer rep. Rufus is gay and has had to deal with a lot of bullying at school and has lost friends because of it, and with Sebastian we have a Black questioning character who thinks he might be bisexual but isn’t really sure, and I LOVE that he’s still questioning by the end of the book. He still acknowledges his feelings for his ex-girlfriend and he acknowledges his feelings for Rufus, but he still doesn’t know exactly where he fits, and I love seeing that in YA. We need more characters who are still trying to figure themselves out. The relationship between Rufus and Sebastian was less appealing to me — Rufus’s attachment to Sebastian felt unhealthy and Sebastian’s behavior at times was stringing Rufus along, and I did not like that power dynamic. I felt that it was a LITTLE better towards the end of the book, but not much.

One other thing I really liked — poverty rep! This book requires a LOT of suspension of disbelief if you’re going to go along with a teenager getting paid by his half-sister’s mom to sidestep the police to solve a murder, but the one thing I did really like about this is that Rufus didn’t downplay how much the fact that his mom needed the money so that they could keep their house factored into his decision to actually do it. He felt so desperate at this point to get the money for his mom that he chose to risk his life to find evidence that April did not murder Fox, and it was kind of heartbreaking. Though the situation otherwise feels kind of ridiculous, this part of the situation rang really true to me.

On the negative side of things — I didn’t feel like I actually knew anything about any of the characters, including our main character, Rufus. The focus was primarily on the mystery itself, and while the mystery was intriguing it fell flat in some places because some of our suspects were little more than just names to us. Aside from their relationships with each other and that some of the characters were drug dealers and such, there was very little differentiating one character from another because none of them actually had a distinct personality. This is definitely a book powered by plot rather than character, so if you’re a character-driven reader you’ll probably want to pass on this one.

Additionally, the writing style itself didn’t mesh with me — the pacing was off and the book felt much longer than it needed to be, and Rufus would often just freeze the scene to describe a scenario that happened in the past to contextualize things and then restart the scene that was playing again, and this felt really forced and awkward and didn’t fit with what should have been a fast-paced novel. Had this been a screenplay instead of a novel I think this flashback technique would have worked better, but within a novel it felt out of place and really slowed things down. I didn’t want Rufus to stop describing what was happening to infodump details of the past on me — I just wanted to get to the story.

Despite the negatives, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit while I was reading it. It’s not one of my favorites, but it was all right. Recommended for those who like plot-driven horrific murder mysteries with little characterization, as long as you don’t mind a bit more of a leisurely pace than you’d expect with this kind of book. If that kind of book isn’t your thing, you might want to consider passing on this one.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Review: The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

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

Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Category: MG Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky/1 March 2017

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30095473-the-pants-project

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Pants-Project-Cat-Clarke/dp/1492638099/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pants-project-cat-clarke/1123725848

Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.

Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.

“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”

I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me. 
The issue was the first word. Girls.

Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.

This book has content warnings for transmisia, homomisia, sexism, and bullying.

I just loved this book! It’s a book that has a clear message that it wants you to understand, and it manages to get that message across in a way that’s straightforward without being too in-your-face about it. Liv has a very large personality that shines through on every page, and I loved seeing him be so sure of himself. With how pervasive the idea that eleven is “too young” for a kid to know their gender, it was fantastic to see this book directly addressing that.

The sexism in this book is intense — Liv isn’t out for the majority of the book, and the stereotypes that are projected onto genders is blood-boiling. It was a constant battle for Liv, and while the antagonists of the story were aggravating it was great seeing Liv get support from others as he tried to figure out how to get the policy changed. The friendship between Liv and Jacob in particular was wonderful to see.

The diversity in this book was really nice as well — in addition to a trans main character, we also have sapphic women parents and a disabled side character, both of which we don’t see enough of in children’s lit. I was really happy with the rep, personally, and would love to see more of this.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I want to see more middle grade books like this one — it’s definitely a must-read.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars