Book Review: If You Wrong Us

If You Wrong Us by Dawn Klehr
Release Date: October 8th 2015 
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 240 
Source: Library

Becca and Johnny become entangled after a car crash steals the lives of two people they love. Officially, the crash is an accident. But Becca and Johnny are convinced: someone did this.

As they plot revenge against the person responsible, a bond—intense, unyielding, and manic—takes hold of them. And in an unexpected turn of events, they fall for each other.

Or so they think.

In an upside-down world where decay is beautiful and love and hate become one, Becca and Johnny find themselves grappling with reality. Nothing is exactly what it seems, including what they’ve come to believe about the crash. Question is: will they learn the truth before it’s too late?

No. The question is: when they learn the truth, will they care?

This is one of those books that I wanted to like so much, and tried to, but ultimately just couldn’t. The story itself isn’t bad. It’s a weird and twisted revenge plot where nothing is quite as it seems. The whole Gone Girl for teens is pretty accurate. Becca herself is a highly unreliable narrator and by the end it’s quite obvious that she’s mentally ill.  The ending is a bit rushed and it kind of falls apart as well. There were some “suspension of disbelief” moments , but none of that truly bothered me. In fact, it’s a quick fast read that I could have easily sold to reluctant readers had it not been for some highly problematic lines/issues that start popping up.

These issues started showing up pretty fast. In fact, on only page four we get this

I shift around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. It’s impossible because I’m stuffed into this desk-and-chair combo – much like Rosie is, sitting next to me jammed into her two-sizes-too-small bedazzled jeans.

There are so many other analogies that could have used. Why, why, why does it have to be this one? All it really serves is demeaning a female classmate. Sure, it forms an image, but does it have to be at the expense of a girl? Girls already have so many people yelling at them about their body, this does not need to added to their list.

The commentary on women’s body doesn’t end there. Less that 20 pages later, we’re given these lines:

Becca has no idea how hot she is, and that only makes her more appealing. pg 19

“Here, take this,” I add, shoving a granola bar into the chest pocket of her button-down shirt. I like my women with a little meat on their bones.” pg 20

No, no, no. A woman who lacks self-confidence is not sexy, and we do not need to be teaching our girls this. It’s okay, even good, to have self-confidence and know you’re beautiful. Also, can we please stop the commentary on what women should look like. I know this line was in a larger reference to her losing weight because of their revenge plot, but we need to express those words and not comments like “needing more meat on their bones”.

Speaking of weight, there are a couple of problematic lines on that as well. The worse offender is:

My brain is like a fat guy at an all-you-can-eat rib joint. Things are going along just fine, I consume, take things in just as I’m supposed to. But then, without warning, I reach out and grab something – a word, a phrase, a number – and it slips out of my greasy hands. pg 30

Again, I get what she is going at, but does it have to be at the expense of someone else. Why can’t it simply be “someone at an all-you-can-eat rib joint”? Why does it have to be someone that’s fat? It’s a stereotype that fat people eat/consume more than anyone else. It’s false and highly insulting.

The other line that deals with weight/unflattering description is

Mom checked in with an overweight blonde who smelled like perspiration and rubbing alcohol. pg. 49

This one seems not so bad compared to the other, but it still really bothered me. She’s overweight so she sweats more? I tried to find an angle that maybe she’s just moving around a lot, but she’s a hospital check-in desk person. Most likely, she is only manning the desk and maybe doing other light office jobs. Nothing that should make her reek of sweat.

There are other things that bothered me, like calling a psychiatric ward the Nut Hut, but the final nail in the coffin for me was the following passage

Call me sick, but I liked Travis’s dark side and the cloud of mystery and danger than hung over him. Brit didn’t understand this because she always got the attention. For me, it was new and exciting the way he fussed over me. I liked his possessiveness. It made me feel precious or something. pg 76

This passage comes a short time after we find out it’s rumored that he beat up his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps that’s not the dark side Becca  is referring to, but it’s the connection that I made. However, even if it isn’t, a relationship where someone is possessive is never good. This is an emotionally abusive relationship and it should not be spun as something good. Yes, I know there’s a twist to this passage that we learn later, but it still doesn’t make this passage okay. Her sister does try to use this fact to force Becca to break up with him, but it’s spun in a way that Brit just doesn’t want to be linked to the “talk” not that she’s worried he may be abusing her as well.

I know these passages seem small in comparison to the whole book, but I do think it’s still worth highlighting problematic things. It’s by no means an attack on anything, but something I believe we should be talking about.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced read with some problematic passages. It’ll be one that teens can still find on the library selves, but not one I promote/handsell.

Book Review: Boy Most Likely To

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Release Date: August 18th 2015 
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 416 
Source: NetGalley, Publisher

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
– well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters. Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more

This book is like chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth; the kind you wish would never end. It’s no secret that I loved and adored My Life Next Door and was excited to walk back into that universe. And while I didn’t quite get what I expected, Fitzpatrick delivered a fantastic book and reminded me all over again why I love her writing and these characters.

Before I get much further, let me say that this book does kind of push the YA envelope. Not so much in that it’s inappropriate, because it’s truly not, but the tone and the way it’s written made it feel more like an upper YA pushing into the New Adult region. Tim falls in that definite grey area of life; not really a kid, but not quite an adult yet either. He should be attending his last year of high school, but instead finds himself kicked out of school (yet again), kicked out of his house, and then hit with another big surprise. I often had to remind myself that he was still under 18 due to situation, but there is still plenty that the “typical” teenager will be able to relate to. And while we get dual POV, this is without a doubt Tim’s story.

Tim, under all his bad boy, messed-up exterior, is truly a good guy. He’s been handed a crap sandwich in life and up until this point he hasn’t handled it so well. He lost his himself in drugs and alcohol and no one truly thinks he’ll amount to anything. After all, he is the boy likely to do something stupid. When the book starts, we find that Tim has been clean for several months already, but still has a lot of stuff to straighten out. His father has just given him an ultimatum to get his life back on track in the next 6 months or he’ll find himself cut off completely. Tim has lived so long without anyone thinking positively of him that it’s hard for him to see it either. His “Boy Most Likely To” list broke my heart and just made me want to hug him and tell him it wasn’t true.

Of course, that’s kind of what Alice does. While she is used to seeing him as her younger brother’s screwed up friend, she slowly gets to see another side. She takes the risk allowing him to be “more” and offers him the support he’s been missing in his life. Alice isn’t the one to fix him–only Tim can do that–but she starts to show him all his positives. While their romance is a bit hidden among the other storyline, it’s still an enjoyable one. They work well together and I do wish there had been more of them falling in love/going on dates. I do hope that Fitzpatrick writes another book in this universe because I would love to see them more relaxed and without the heavy burdens they had to handle.  And, of course, it would allow me to see all the Garrett’s again; a family I love and adore maybe a little too much!

Warning: If you don’t want to be spoiled please don’t read on.

[spoiler]The true love story is between Tim and Cal. Cal is the surprise of the book: he’s the kid that Tim has supposedly fathered. The whole situation around Cal is pretty weird and there should have been a lot more questions asked, but ultimately Cal was good for Tim. It allowed him to see that he could be reliable and be there when it counted. That while creating Cal may have been another blunder, the way he cares for him is not. I loved watching Tim realize that while he had a horrible father, he wouldn’t be one himself. He stepped up and did the responsible thing, even when others were questioning why or wanted him to walk away.

Another thing I really loved that Fitzpatrick showed is how a mother doesn’t automatically have to love her child. In fact, Hester was most likely suffering postpartum depression and had little to no connection to Cal. He was a pothole in her road and one she hoped to put behind her soon. She knew that she didn’t want to raise Cal and that adoption was the best option. The explanation of why she didn’t give him up right away still doesn’t work for me, but that’s okay and something I can forgive for the greater good. Too often society dictates how a mother should feel for her child and it’s important to remember the everyone is different. Even if she wasn’t experiencing postpartum depression, not forming that connection does not make her heartless. Maybe she just wasn’t meant to be a mother, and that’s okay, too. Either way, it was a bad situation at a bad time and one her grandfather should have let her out of much, much sooner as it was not healthy for her or the baby.

I won’t say how it all ended up, but I do wish that Fitzpatrick had gone a slightly different way. It would have made everything so much more powerful, in my opinion. Of course, maybe Tim wouldn’t have been able to do what needed to be done had it been written differently. Still, it seemed a little too easy in my book.
[/spoiler]

Final Verdict: Not quite the love story I was expecting, but a great read anyway. I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read My Life Next Door.

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Release Date: June 9th 2015 
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 320 
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations S
When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

GN Review: Possessions: The Final Tantrum

Possessions: The Final Tantrum by Ray Fawkes
Series: Possessions #4
Release Date: February 4th 2015 
Publisher: Diamond Comic Distributors
Pages: 88 
Source: Publisher

Gurgazon the Unclean has escaped the feeble confines of the Llewellyn-Vane House. Now she towers over the city, reigning destruction over all! And with the help of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there’s no stopping her from bringing on the end of the world! Except, of course, for all the ghouls, ghosts, vapors, poltergeists, and ectoplasmic entities within the city limits. Do they stand a chance against Gurgazon the Pit Demon? Can the Apocalypse be stopped when it’s only just begun? Find out in Possessions Book 4: The Final Tantrum!

Whew, okay, can I just say it took me way longer to come out of my GN slump than I imagined? I loved being on Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults the past two years, but it was tiring! After finishing my term in the end of January, I didn’t want to touch a GN. Not even ones I’ve been looking forward to forever. But I’m finally, FINALLY, back in the game and it’s a pleasure to jump back in it with Possessions vol 4: The Final Tantrum. If you haven’t heard of Possession before, you need to go and check out my earlier reviews. I absolutely loved the past volumes and volume 4 was no exception.

Gurgazon is finally free from the manor and she’s ready for her reign of terror to begin. I loved being back into this world. This one is not as funny as the past volumes, but it’s not meant to be. After all, if Gurgazon successfully creates her chaos, it’ll be the end of the world! I enjoyed the backstory on Gurgazon and seeing all the characters we’ve grown to love working together to stop the chaos and bring Gurgazon back to their side.While not the best volume of the four, it’s still a very solid read. I had thought this would be the last volume, but it looks like there is (at least) one more as this one ends in another cliff hanger.

The art is also remains solid. This one continues the one main color for the book; this time in tan. As with the past volumes, don’t go in looking for a lot of detail, especially in the background. The panels are sparse concentrating on the main action. It’s one of the more simplistic series that I read, but it works quite well for it.

Final Verdict: Another good addition to the series. If you enjoyed the previous installments, you won’t be disappointed with this one. My only hope is we won’t have to wait another 3 years for the next volume!

Book Review: All Lovely Things

All Lovely Things by Lea Redmond
Release Date: March 3rd 2015 
Publisher: Perigee Books
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher

Think of this book as Pinterest for the inner soul. All Lovely Things asks readers to to consider who they are by way of the diverse items they surround themselves with. Through simple, illustrated prompts, readers are encouraged to create object-based portraits of themselves, or people they know, admire, or imagine. Whether it’s a favorite childhood toy, a piece of clothing worn on a first date, or a book that shaped who they are today, readers will create sketches, collage images, or record descriptions of the key objects in a life. They’ll also find several completed portraits throughout for inspiration. Drawing attention to objects not as mere possessions or shallow stuff, but as fascinating companions in the world that help us develop a unique sense of self, All Lovely Things is a celebration of the way we make objects and how objects make us.

This is one of those books I can’t do a typical review for. The actual text of the book is very sparse, only about 20 pages or so. Of course, the object of the book is for you to explore your own (and others) life via objects. Redmond walks the reader through a series of of examples to get your mind on the right track before starting the actual profiles. After that, you have over 100+ pages that are blank waiting for you to create your own profiles.

I didn’t do a full profile, but I did like thinking about things that were important to me and why. I don’t know that this profiles truly fit my style, at least in the way Redmond meant. However, I do like doing profiles on family/friends as a different style of a memory book. I would love to know what things were important to those I love and why. Also, it’s interesting to see what they would put in a profile for myself.

I also like how you could use this academically/in library with teens. I see more benefits for this in a classroom setting, but it could translate to libraries just as well. Redmond suggests doing a profile on someone famous/someone you don’t know by doing research/reading some bio information. I love how this could be a new way to do a report/presentation for school. It would definitely be a bit more interesting than the typical way. The idea of doing a profile for a fictional character is intriguing as well. I can see how this could be beneficial for writers/people trying to learn who their characters are and who don’t want to write it all out. Honestly, the more I think about the more ways I realize how many ways you could use these profiles. In talking with a co-worker, i thought of about 5 more different situations, which just goes to prove the possibilities are endless.

Final Verdict: An interesting journal that gets you thinking about objects in a new way. Looks of empty pages for those who enjoy scrapbooking/creating things on paper.

Book Review: Alex as Well

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Release Date: January 20th 2015 
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (BYR)
Pages: 224 
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents.

Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex-the boy Alex-has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong. Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014 
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Pages: 208 
Source: Library

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for  months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.

Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.

I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.

You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.

Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.

The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to  keep  her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.

The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should  learn.

Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.