Filled with heart, acapella, drama, and the complexities of young people in love, this was a sweet and engaging read. It gives you the feels, you know?
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Izzy Crawford is just trying to belong. Having spent the past six years moving from town to town to town with her mother after her father died in Iraq, Izzy's tired of feeling like she can't put down roots.
Things change when Izzy starts going to school in Virginia. She's keeping her scholarship status on the down low and she's attempting to play it cool, but high school has other plans. When you've got roots, you've got ties. And some ties get complicated.
Izzy finds herself juggling her school life—she's in an acapella group and getting closer to one of the hottest athletes in school, Sam, which is made more complicated by the fact that Izzy's friend Roz likes him too. If that's not enough, she's also experiencing one of the most exciting things that her family has ever experienced—they've been selected by Habit for Humanity to receive a brand new home.
However, Izzy can't keep all the elements in her life from spinning into each other forever. It's all going to overlap soon. Is she ready to lay down roots and roll with the seasons?
I thought this was a powerful and moving YA novel. Sometimes a YA contemporary reads for its audience and doesn't transcend its age bracket for adults... How to Build a Heart is not one of those reads. There are lessons, fun, and love to be had in these pages and the author shares them beautifully for all ages. Izzy's story of fitting in and growing into her own personhood was a lot of fun. Plus, Maria Padian's writing is amazing. So read it for the writing voice alone.
Recommended for all! Haha. But in all honesty, I really enjoyed this one. Will definitely keep an eye on Maria Padian's future works.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
A powerful, moving novel about the everyday grit of young homelessness tinged with empathy, endurance, and subtlety. Definitely not easy to forget.
Living in the homeless community in San Francisco, Maddy has banded together with a small group of others in the Golden Gate Park. Struggling to survive, the last thing Maddy expects to experience is a murder.
Having been an unwilling yet captive witness of a young man's murder, Maddy quickly finds herself drawn in to the investigation with the local police and with the murdered man's parents. Maddy didn't sign up for this—and she certainly doesn't want to give up the secrets of her history in order to help the police and the family find closure.
But will she decide to open up given the circumstances? If she does, what then?
I know the above description is pretty vague, but I really didn't want to give too much away about the novel. It's one of those that you really need to experience first-hand and not read in a blurb. I was surprised at how much this novel moved me—which sounds callous, as obviously a novel about young homelessness is one that you'd automatically assume would be moving. And I did assume it would be. But at the same, I guess I underestimated how much it would move me as a reader. There's a lingering thread of sadness mixed with hope mixed with a sense of trapped circumstance in this, and it's an intense cocktail to experience.
This is a powerful debut that is grappling with some heavy, contemporary topics. I'm glad I got to follow Maddy's journey, however hard. I occasionally wished for more depth, but overall a very satisfying story.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Drama, drama, DRAMA! This insider's look into the world of teen influencers was a wild ride from start to finish—and I couldn't stop reading it.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Binge-level enjoyment: ★★★★
Delilah Rollins is catapulting to stardom in a major way on Instagram. From her Minnesota roots to her recent move to LA, she's scrambling to find her bearings in a world where hundreds of thousands of people know her name, her face, and her life. Is Delilah really ready for her autonomy to be controlled by the opinion of the masses?
Jasmine Walters-Diaz is used to the fame of being an influencer. From her roots as a wholesome child TV star to her teenage years as a brand's dream endorsement, Jasmine should be used to her life being filtered through the lens of perfection and frozen time... but as her need to be herself and love who she loves grows and chafes against her public image, Jasmine finds herself bending and breaking to get out.
Fiona Jacobs is the perfect casual and funny influencer. She's effortless... right? As she listens to her inner monologue critique her every move, every breath, every calorie, and every step, Fiona tries to desperately maintain the facade of put-together perfection while her OCD and fear of past secrets threaten to tear her apart from the inside. Will she survive her own attacks on herself?
Delilah, Jasmine, and Fiona all have one thing in common: they're living their teenage years through the crystalized lens of public opinion, filters, and judgement.
And then there's Scarlett Leigh. Another teenage influencer but with more sex appeal, more ruthlessness, and more drive to win, Scarlett seems to be the three girls' worst nightmare and competition all rolled into one. But you can never trust what's on the surface...and the girls should really know better.
They'll find out just what exactly the truth means when one of them ends up dead. It's time to show off your best angle, ladies, as the part you're going to play now is one of suspect...
My immediate response to this book was WOW, what a crazy premise and an even crazier plot. This reaction was further cemented when I realized that the co-author to this book, Lilia Buckingham, is an actual bona fide teen influencer herself. That definitely lent a more realistic quality to some of the details used in the novel (besides the murder, of course!).
My interest in this book came from the other author, Sara Shepard, who is best known for her drama-laden series Pretty Little Liars. Fans of Pretty Little Liars should be all over this—the amount of drama, gasps, and trainwreck sitcom moments are at the same level here in Influence. Like a reality tv show, I couldn't look away.
Definitely one to pick up if you like drama, glitz, and murder...
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What a pleasant surprise? I really enjoyed this. A large part of that enjoyment came from treating it like a contemporary novel, though, and not a mystery.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Mystery/Surprises: ★★ 1/2
So, real quick, let me just say this: if you're coming to this book for intense action, devious mysteries, or any kind of edge-of-your-seat thriller vibes, this is NOT the read for you.
The Cousins is Karen M. McManus' fourth YA novel, and it has a really nice set up. Three cousins from estranged siblings receive a mysterious letter from their reclusive wealthy grandmother, Mildred Story. Their parents were kicked off of the Story family's island in their teens and completely cut out of the will and the family legacy, so to hear from the matriarch at all is strange, to say the least. Mildred asks the three cousins—Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah—to come to Gulf Cove island to work on the family's resort for the summer. "To get to know you," the letter says.
What makes things even stranger is that Mildred didn't know they were coming.
And things aren't exactly what they seem on Gulf Cove island. What exactly happened all those years ago, and why did their grandmother cut all ties from the family?
It's time for Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah to find out.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not the read for hardcore mystery/thriller fans. In a way, I wish this had been billed as more of a family drama contemporary than a mystery. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few mysteries in the plot. And they're pretty satisfying and not overly easy to guess—I found the final reveal to actually be a surprise.
But I have to say, I treated the plot like a dramatic contemporary novel. And by doing so, I liked it a lot. If you don't try to focus on the mystery it's a great story. If you do focus on the mystery, I'd imagine elements of this story could be quite frustrating. For example, this 300-ish page novel takes place over multiple weeks of the summer and the mystery itself isn't the main (or even side) focus of each chapter. There's a lot of personal relationship drama, coming-of-age realizations, and family-themed bonding content. It's all really, really well done... but not focused on the mystery?
Because of that, when we do focus on the mystery it's in a WHAM BAM rush of events. Not exactly out of place, but definitely not balanced.
Overall, a great and enjoyable YA read filled with atmosphere, drama, and more... but not exactly as advertised.
Wow. This is the kind of book that makes you wish you could give out more than 5 stars. One young woman's quest to find herself, do what she loves, find love, and break the cycle of female oppression in contemporary Argentina—this was such a glorious read.
Enjoyment: all the stars, it was beautiful
Camila wants to be a female futbol (soccer) player. Raised in a family where her father, her brother, and her close family friend Diego all played and rose to fame on the field, it's in her blood to pound her feet across the field after the ball.
But Camila is a girl. And in Argentina, women are treated very differently than men. Instead of being able to play, Camila is forced to be a pile of contradictions—i.e., the female Argentinian experience. Be this, but not that. Get yourself a good man, but don't be a slut. Cook fantastic homecooked meals, but don't you dare get fat.
Camila decides she's had enough of that. Keeping it a secret from her authoritative father and her family, she joins a female futbol team. And she kicks BUTT. They call her Furia, and when she plays the play flies.
Soon scouts start paying attention, and as her Furia futbol persona rises, Camila's secret life gets harder and harder to maintain. When her childhood friend and long-time crush Diego comes home from his international futbol team, things get even more complicated.
Can Camila keep her dreams, her family, and her love life separate and thriving? Or will it all come crashing down and force her to choose?
The only words I have for this debut are WOW. And spectacular. And stunning. This was a riveting, nearly one-sit read for me as I devoured Camila's story. Her need for personal fulfillment of her dreams, her struggles for identify, individuality, and love in a culture with restricted ideas of the female experience... all of these ideas come to a head in Furia. Camila's struggles to choose her own path are universal for many young girls and young people, and yet her unique story and responses make this tale something special and uplifting.
A powerful, spectacular debut from an Argentinian author to watch.
Thank you the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is kind of an odd review... apologies in advance. (Another case of it's not you, it's me.)
Mayhem had all the ingredients to be a book that I'd enjoy: speculative magic, ocean vibes, female protagonist, witchy vibes, 1980s aesthetic. But it didn't mesh with me, and I'm still not exactly sure why.
Described as a YA feminist mash-up of The Lost Boys and The Craft, this book follows its main character, literally named Mayhem, and her mother, Roxy, as they deal with secrets, hidden magic, and the ties that bind in families.
It's witchy, it's 1987, and it's Santa Monica.
Mayhem and her mother are on the run from her abusive stepfather, Lyle, and its gotten so bad that Roxy decides to bite the bullet and take them home to the Braeburn house. Roxy used to be a Braeburn, but she's spent all of Mayhem's life trying to forget her roots.
Mayhem doesn't understand her mom's reluctance to go home, because her aunt and cousins are awesome. Being a Braeburn means belonging, accepting, and a home of her own. It's a dream come true.
Being a Braeburn also means that Mayhem has a legacy, and one that her mother literally tried to squash out of her—the Braeburn women are magical.
When Mayhem, her cousins, and the Braeburn legacy all intertwine for the first time....things are about to get intense in a major way. And there's also the disappearing girls. That too.
As I said at the beginning, I think this novel wasn't for me. It was written well, the characters leapt off the page, and the plot seemed to mesh well with a lot of other readers, so I'm clearly not the core audience for this one—take my thoughts with that grain of salt.
It was just a case of the novel not fitting with my tastes of YA. I think I'll leave it with that to keep things spoiler-free.
If the description appeals to you, check this out!
Thank you the Wednesday Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
If the title makes you shiver, this is the book for you. Fires, secrets, mothers and daughters and daughters and mothers, the ties that bind and the ties that break, and sinister overtones come out to play in Rory Power's tour de force sophomore novel.
Burn Our Bodies Down comes out on July 7, 2020!
Margot and her mother could be sisters, they look so much alike. Margot doesn't see this as a compliment. Her relationship with her mother, Jo, is anything but sister-like—it is one of flight, hiding, fights, and fear. Margot's mother has been running from something all of Margot's life.
Margot is done with it. Now 17, she's decided it's time to find the family that her mother abandoned, with the hope that anyone—anyone—will accept and love her better than her own manipulative mother. When Margot finds the phone number in her mother's things, she doesn't hesitate. She gives it a ring.
Phalene is the type of Nebraskan small town in the middle of its decline. Once a booming farming community, there's almost nothing left. Margot's family, the Nielsens, used to be the source of the town's success. Now it's just Gram, and her weird golden corn that looks dead yet grows, and the secrets that the Nielsen farm keeps to itself.
Margot doesn't mind. Her mother has made her used to so many weird things. In her desperation for acceptance, Margot accepts everything about her Gram and slots herself into the Nielsen farm.
But Gram's not exactly normal, and Margot found a dead body of a girl who looks just like her on her first day in town. The town thinks Gram's hiding something, and Margot agrees.
Did she jump from the frying pan into the fire? There might be a reason her mother was so afraid after all...
This is a novel that will attract a certain type of reader, but keep only a few as it's not exactly what it appears to be. I think Rory Power might just be that type of author—which works for me, because I'm now 2/2 with her books. I've loved them both.
The story delivers on its advertising: this novel is SPOOKY, and the atmosphere was so taut throughout that I got a kink in my neck from holding myself so tense. If you like creeping suspense and lingering horror, this is the novel for you. There are no jump scares, no dramatic whodunits, but the lingering horror...is intense.
However, the main core of this story is not its plot, its genre, or even its character composition. It's in the character relationships. I make that nuance here because Margot, Jo, and Gram are not the most fleshed out characters. But their relationships with each other ARE, and that's where this novel sings. Mothers and daughters. Manipulation, secrets, and the ties that bind and break. This multi-generational character study of one family's method of parenting is singular in its focus and honestly fascinating in its rot. I would never want these relationships in my life—talk about unhealthy—but in their black and white reality it was easy to see the bones of fights I've had with my own mother, and vice versa. The growing pains of teenage girls versus their mothers is something most women can relate to, and in a way this is a horror novel about that experience amplified by a ton of speculative elements. Extremely cool, and extremely well done.
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.