In verse, gorgeous, slice of life yet not, amazingly heartfelt and surprisingly lighthearted coming-of-age.
The Black Flamingo totally shocked me. First it shocked me because I bought it and didn't realize it was written in verse. Then it shocked me because I read it in one sitting. And then it shocked me at how amazing it was—which shouldn't have been shocking, but to be honest as it was my first verse novel and I'm NOT a fan of poetry, I thought that would impact my enjoyment. WOW it did not. I loved it.
Michael is half-Jamaican and half-Greek, and growing up in London during the 2010s. His Greek mother raises him and his half-sister surrounded with love and expectations. (One of the most important things to pull from Michael's earlier life is the importance of his mother's presence in his life—I loved its realness and its love.)
As Michael navigates growing up gay and biracial in a predominantly white/straight school district, we as the reader are treated to individual scenes that peel back Michael's thoughts and feelings and simultaneously throw us at lightning speed through his early years, middle school, high school, and most memorably, college.
It's hard to go into the details as the verse format feels so brief and deep. But trust me - this novel is packed with positive messaging, raw emotions, coming-of-age goodness, and the enduring thread of finding your truth.
This was such a beautiful read. In particular, I think it's worth mentioning that this novel is about Michael, for Michael, and ends with Michael. I loved the window into his internal thoughts...this was probably a direct result of the verse format. It felt so intimate.
Also, talk about an important piece of the YA contemporary canon. It's important to have queer tales that focus on all aspects of the teen experience, and this was a wonderful piece of the pie. It was uplifting, lighthearted, filled with positive and loving family relationships, and full of the usual bits of teen life: am I liked? am I loved? who am I? who do I want to be? do I be what my family is, do I follow their path? can I do both? do I need to choose now?
Good questions, and Michael gives great answers. Fantastic debut.
I LOVED THIS. I wish this had existed when I was in high school. The girl I was could have used this happy, hopeful book.
Main character: ★★★★★
The ending: maybe controversial, but I LOVED the ending in particular
Winnie is ready for another summer spent in her grandma's small-town diner, waiting on tables and hanging out with her ungirlfriend. She's comfortable in her space, in her life, and she's just waiting of for the summer's good times to come before she goes off to college.
But the summer has other plans for Winnie.
First off, their small town's annual Queen selection (where one resident is chosen as "Queen" for the summer and has a volunteer "King" to attend events with) takes a twist. Winnie, who didn't enter and hates public speaking, wins. She's a plus-size black girl in a small town, and she DID NOT ask for the spotlight. But when it's thrust on her, there's no choice.
And then things get even more interesting when Dallas, one of the most attractive boys in town, volunteers to be her King.
Winnie and Kara, two partners who refer to themselves as ungirlfriends—also mentioned as "Queerplatonic" in the novel—now have to navigate the complexities of romance, friendship, bonds, and what it means for Winnie, who's attracted to Dallas, and Kara, who isn't sexually interested in anyone but is bonded to Winnie, to deal with the new layers to their life.
I have literally nothing negative to say, besides one tiny tiny spoiler (located at the bottom of this review in italic). Outside of the spoiler, I loved LITERALLY everything about this story. I loved the positive fat girl representation. I loved Winnie's strong sense of self, her purpose, her drive, and her unwillingness to compromise her moral compass for the weak personalities around her.
I also loved the romantic relationships and navigation of queerplatonic (which I learned for this book!) and, in a way, discussions of polyamory and the extremely different permutations of what that looks like. I also loved the strong happy messages at work in this novel. AND, before I devolve into endless streams of "love this love this love this," I also loved the negotiation of families, and how sometimes... you both can grow out of family and realize that family isn't the be all, end all. Very deftly done.
SPOILER: Winnie didn't put her name in the jar to be considered for Queen...and we never find out who put her name in. So that felt like an abandoned plot thread. But at the same time, that didn't matter in the scheme of the plot so I honestly forgot about it until I finished the book and tried to write this review.
5 unlimited stars
Riveting, heartbreaking, soul-mending, and ultimately a beacon of hope.
Black Girl Unlimited should be required reading. I wish I'd read it in school. I would have been a different person earlier, sooner. This was one of the most poignant reads I have ever read, and Echo Brown deserves every standing ovation, every "oh my gosh you have to read this book" friendly push, and every accolade. This was, simply, a showstopper debut.
Part coming-of-age novel, part fabulism, part reflection on the state of being black in America, and part story of female resilience in the heart of abuse and oppression—it's impossible to distill this novel down to a review that means something. I feel almost like a fool for trying, but I want you to read this so bear with me.
Echo lives on the East Side of Cleveland in the 1990s. It's world away from the West Side, at the rich white people school that she's allowed to attend. Her situation is a parable for many other young black women in the city, but at the same time a stunningly personal journey through her own life in and separate from those around her.
You see, Echo is a wizard.
She's not the kind of wizard with the wand and the hat. Her magic doesn't appear as a spell or incantation. This kind of wizardry is special—and allegorical. Echo, her mother, her female friends, and a memorable female mentor are all wizards. Black women are wizards. For being able to survive the pain, the circumstance, and the reality and still maintain the inner light that is their voice? That's wizardry.
Black Girl Unlimited is a story about a girl, named Echo, who's learning the steps to be a wizard. The steps are steep, she'll often fall back on herself. But she'll get there, and you'll cheer her on at every step and cry at every hurdle.
"Hard-hitting contemporary" fits in this context, but don't let that stop you. This is the story of a wizard who learns how to channel her own light in a world of darkness. It's beautiful.
Trigger Warnings: Parental drug use, overdose, violence, car accident, sexual abuse, triggering language around sexual abuse, rape, discussions of suicide.
All, I'm at a loss to describe this book.
I've actually not written a formal review for this one on my Goodreads either, but I wanted to include it on this blog to record the fact that I've read it, and that I sobbed my soul out with reading it.
Little Universes is a story of sisters, of pain, of unimaginable grief, and of healing. Two sisters, one driven by logic and one driven by words, trying to survive in the aftermath of both of their parents dying suddenly. On top of that, their lives weren't that simple to begin with. I couldn't believe how much pain was intricately weaved throughout this story. But it also has a persistent glimmer of hope. (Thank goodness, because I needed the hope to make it through.)
If you are a fan of hard-hitting contemporary novels—and I mean HARD hitting—then I recommend picking this up.
This was a fantastic ride, and a serious, heartfelt novel hiding behind the persona of a party narrative. New favorite!
Characters: ★★★★ 1/2
Overall enjoyment ★★★★★
Loveboat, Taipei was honestly a surprise for me. I'd heard mixed reviews and wasn't sure if it was for me, but I decided to go with my gut. I'm so glad I did. This was such shock—like a Taipei-based Gossip Girl, with better themes and refreshingly original cast. Loved it.
Ever Wong is 18 years old, and she's ready to spend the last summer before college dancing her heart out in secret under the nose of her disapproving parents. But then her parents give her a nasty surprise: there will be no Ohio summer, and definitely no dancing. Ever's going to China to learn Mandarin, surrounded by the Chinese-American elite students that her parents always wished Ever would be. No pressure.
Ever imagines that this summer will be filled with studying, unfair academic expectations, and more internal shaming than she ever received at home.
Ever's in for the shock of her life.
Chien Tan, the summer school, is known as "Loveboat" by the students who attend. It's more of a party-all-night, hook-up scene than a school. Thrust into a different version of Asian-American culture than she's ever experienced, Ever wonders if for the first time in her life, she can truly be herself.
Oh, and naturally there are some boys. (Wink, wink.)
I don't know, folks. Maybe I read this at the perfect time, but Loveboat, Taipei knocked me out of the water. I read it in one day. I couldn't stop. Ever's sense of self, her struggle for identity in her immigrant family vs her American ideology was expertly rendered—I felt for her and cheered her on at ever step.
This was so much FUN. I loved the positive representation of sex, the friend dynamics (with their ups and DOWNs, wow), the love triangle that was an actual triangle with equal effort placed in both love interests, growing pains, finding yourself, the sense of familial duty vs individualism in the Asian American experience, and the unique setting of the summer school program itself.
I loved the window into Taipei's culture and its elite summer program. In the author's note, the author discusses the fact that this program does exist (although this novel's version of it is exaggerated for obvious reasons). I can't speak to how Asian Americans would felt regarding this novel's representation, but appreciated the author's context.
Loveboat, Taipei also addressed a lot more serious themes than I was expecting. This was actually a sore spot for many of the negative reviews that I've seen, so I really want to share my thoughts: I thought these aspects were handled well given how they were introduced to the plot. Please see the spoiler below for more thoughts on the biggest aspect of that point. Another dark theme discussed in this novel related to a betrayal between two main characters—Wow, what a gut punch. BUT, again, I liked the author's handling of the subject. Instead of making it a trope'd, two-dimensional girl vs. girl hate issue, there was character growth. It's not a bad thing to have a trope, as long as it's handled well and brings something new to the game. For me, Loveboat, Taipei did that.
A spoiler, relevant to the topic above: There is a distant character—the long-distance girlfriend to one of the love interests—who is struggling with severe mental health issues. It is made very clear that the love interest is in a relationship with this character to keep her from harming herself. This is obviously a very toxic and unhealthy relationship for both parties. Given the fact that the girlfriend is barely in the book, I thought the author handled those sensitive topics well within the context of the story. It did not feel dismissive or seem to promote negative assumptions—but it did not take over the plot, because it wasn't the plot. To make this side character's mental health journey more prominent would have taken the story in a completely different direction, so I did not mind the way it was handled. It read as respectful to me, especially as the male love interest's intentions and actions were always on the right side of the line, and when this situation became known to the rest of the characters, everyone handled it within the realms of respect and understanding.
I am READY for the next book. Can't wait!
This was lightning in a bottle, a gunshot in progress. Loved it with my entire soul.
Writing: wrap me in these sentences, I'll sleep in a bed of these words
The Vibe: ★★★★★
Tigers, Not Daughters comes out on March 24, 2020!
Tigers, Not Daughters hit me from the side with a punch that I wasn't expecting. Magical realism, grief, ghosts, the unshakable reality of sisters, and use of multiple narrators all collided to bring one unforgettable (and new favorite) read.
The Torres sisters were always a set of four. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa. Their mother isn't there, and their father shouldn't be there, but life is life and that's how it goes.
Except it's not. Because Ana's dead.
Ana's death cracks the lines of this fragile family into 3 distinct shards. We have Jessica, who misses Ana so much that she consumes her, becomes her, shoving the angry versions of herself under layers of steely indifference. We have Iridian, who feels more comfortable with words than with people, as it's only ever people who hurt her over and over. We have Rosa, whose magical ways of understanding reality leave her with a different lens, but no less pain.
All three sisters have survived the impact of Ana leaving them in waves, but when a ghostly presence interrupts their fragile grief, the storm arrives again.
This was so, so good. I loved it. Mabry's realism was definitely magical, but it was also earthy and gritty in a way that was so exciting to read. These sisters were raw, they were real, and they had all kinds of aspects—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the bizarre in a way that only girls can be. The vibe of sisters was perfect.
I also loved the writing. This is a tale in the telling, and the snapshots of perspectives and the lyricism in the sentences flowed in such a way that this story was all-consuming. You lived the Torres sisters and you were them at the same time. This kind of writing is a gem to read in any situation, and I loved its deft handling of grief, darker themes, and resilience.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
5 bloody stars
She's beauty, she's grace, she's going to put them all in their place—the grave.
Welcome to Hannah Capin's version of revenge. "For the girls who have had enough," indeed.
Writing style: ★★★★★
I had no idea what I was getting into with Foul is Fair, but I'm here now and it was amazing—twisted in the best way, dark in the best way, and so validating in its satirically dark version of female victim agency.
Elle goes to a party for St. Andrews Prep boys when she was 16. She's chosen as a target for their non-consensual idea of "fun." Imagine what a group of untouchable rich, white boys could do to a vulnerable girl with a drink of who knows what. Yes, that. Yes, in the way it is portrayed in so much media. Trigger warnings for those who cannot handle that subject matter.
They picked the wrong girl.
Elle now goes by Jade, and she's got a plan.
Those boys might be golden, but they're not invincible—all men can bleed. And it's their time to pay up.
Jade enrolls at St. Andrews Prep, and Foul is Fair truly begins.
I honestly cannot distill into words how glorious this novel was. First off, it was brilliantly written. Semi-stream of consciousness, semi-loose form narrative, Foul is Fair has the kind of writing that is hard to get into, but once you're in it you can't stop. It's a rolling train and the brakes are gone. Read this one on a weekend, folks, when you can devote some time to reading it in large chunks.
On top of the writing, we have a Tarantino-esque surrealist violent plot line. Jade's got a hit list, and a swat team of girlfriends who are here to take them down from the inside. Now, obviously, I am not a fan of killing people. That's not the point that Foul is Fair is making. It's not a glory piece on violence. That concept is merely a device the author uses to convey the visceral emotions on behalf of every girl who's been abused, every girl who's been the victim of male violence. In a world where women are still fighting for their right to their own bodies and their own safety, this novel is the best kind of social commentary. I was so, so happy that the author chose to be this unflinching.
What a great novel. This one is unforgettable for many factors, the least of which being that you will never read another novel like this it. New all-time favorite, and a new author to watch.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
So this had some killer punches...including one VERY memorable one at the end. But that doesn’t quite make up for the dead weight.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
One of Us is Next is the sequel to McManus' explosive debut novel, One of Us is Lying. While technically you could read this one by itself, the amount of references to the first book are numerous enough that I would encourage readers to pick up the first one, well, first.
I was EXTREMELY excited for this sequel. I loved, loved, LOVED One of Us is Lying, and I enjoyed her follow-up mystery/thriller, Two Can Keep a Secret.
But I didn't love this one.
We follow a new cast of characters at Bayview High School, including Maeve (Bronwyn's younger sister, who hacked the gossip site in the first novel), Knox (Maeve's best friend and ex-boyfriend), and Phoebe (a popular-ish twin with an interesting family life).
Maeve, Knox, and Phoebe find themselves at the heart of a twisted game of Truth or Dare when a new faceless gossip monger begins a texting alert with the student body.
Let's play a game - truth or dare?
With Simon's death fresh on their minds, the students of Bayview High are intrigued—but not intimidated—by the new faceless dealer. But then Phoebe doesn't respond to her Truth or Dare request, and the dealer reveals a secret that's way too cutting to be fun...
Uh oh, here we go again.
How well do you know your classmates?
One of Us is Next didn't hit the mark for me, most likely because it was a lesser aftershock of the debut. Too many references, too many reflections, and then the "game" of gossip—in this case, Truth or Dare—was executed with less suspense, less intensity, and less intrigue than One of Us is Lying. I feel bad comparing the two so intensely, but the book itself does so with its continual references to the events of the previous book. If this novel had reflected less, my memory of it might have been softer and I would probably have rated this higher. But if you're going to throw the comparisons in my face, I'm going to...compare them. And this one just doesn't hold up.
Also, the pacing was really tough. For the first half, I found myself slogging through it, waiting for the author's characteristic intrigue and intensity to kick in. It took a longgg time. I LOVED the final reveal, but the last 70 pages doesn't make up for the fact that the first half was mind-numbing.
This was one of the most amazing YA contemporary novels that I have ever read.
The Last True Poets of the Sea hit me hard, knocked me out, and left me in the dust of its emotional magnificence. Like the coastal Maine, aquatic version of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, I couldn't stop the feelings. Talk about an unputdownable one-day read.
Violet Larkin grew up in a family of shipwrecks. Her great-great grandmother Fidelia was the sole survivor of a shipwreck off of Maine's coast in the 1800s, and the family has become known for disaster—and perseverance—ever since. They leave disaster in their wake, but they never get knocked down. Until this summer.
After her younger brother, Sam, tries to take his own life, Violet's family shuts down to crisis mode. Party-hard, reckless Violet is sent to remote Maine to live on the family's ancestral home with her Uncle, Sam is sent to a rehab facility in Vermont, and their parents attempt to tread water at home in New York City.
Violet's not excited to be in Maine, and she's unwilling to process the events that led to her arrival. To pass the time, Violet joins the local aquarium as a part-time volunteer—where she meets the best-looking boy she's ever seen: Orion.
This meet-cute isn't all that it seems, however, as Orion's had a crush on his long-time best friend for years. Orion invites Violet into the fold of his friend group, where Violet meets his crush, Liv. Violet discovers that maybe Orion's on to something--Liv is an entrancing bay filled with hidden rocks, and Violet can't seem to pull her ship out of the tide leading her to the rocky shore.
Will she do what she does best and create a shipwreck disaster, or will she discover what it means to be herself?
Add in a quest to find Fidelia's sunken ship, some ridiculously poignantly and quietly funny scenes from a bisexual love triangle, and a few moments worth more than a few tears, and you have one hell of an amazing debut. This will remain one of my all-time favorites.
Thank you to Disney Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review!
Come for the concept, stay for the drama. This was a near-perfect blend of Gossip Girl, modern day royalty, and drama.
Drama: ★★★★ 1/2
What would have happened if George Washington had accepted the offer to become America's king? As our history books state, he said no, and the Presidency was created.
But what if...
American Royals follows the modern-day lives of America's royal family—the House of Washington. A perfect mishmash of British royalty with a distinctly American twist, American Royals was SO MUCH FUN.
Beatrice Washington is the first born, and the first woman chosen as next in line for the throne. An 18-year-old with her life planned out down to the man she's supposed to marry, she secretly dreams of being allowed the freedom of choice in the land of the free. But what's a princess to do when the whole world is watching?
Samantha Washington is one part of two—her twin brother, Jefferson Washington, is America's heartthrob—and Sam's the mess up. Known as the spare, Sam realizes that the only way to carve her mark into history is to be the loudest, the worst, the most—anything and everything that Beatrice isn't. What's a spare to do when all she wants is to make an impact?
Nina Gonzalez is Sam's best friend and the daughter of the royal court's Chamberlain. She's grown up in the halls of the palace all her life, and Sam and Jeff are her closest friends. It's not her intention to fall in love with the prince, but when one night crosses the line, will she take the plunge and risk the wrath of the American people to be with her knight in shining armor?
Daphne Deighton was born to be a princess. Scraping her way to the top with a smile on her face and steel in her eyes, she was Jeff's perfect porcelain girlfriend until it all came crashing down and Nina stole his heart. What's a girl to do but take things into her own hands?
Following the POVs of these four women entangled in the palace, American Royals was something else. I couldn't get enough of the clever world-building, the hate-to-love-it cliched drama, and the scheming. Nina's window as a Hispanic woman attempting to following her own path was my favorite part of this story, seconded by Beatrice's stoic exterior/mad mess interior dynamic.
This series is going to make a splash, and I can't WAIT for the next book.
Thank you very much to Penguin Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.