Category Archives: YA Fiction

Where the Road Leads Us

Finished Where the Road Leads Us by Robin Reul. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Robin Reul, the author of My Kind of Crazy, comes an uplifting YA contemporary about two teens on an unexpected journey to forge their own paths.

Jack has always known what he wanted: to follow in his father’s footsteps to Columbia University and become a doctor. But when his father unexpectedly dies, Jack’s careful plans start to unravel. Then, on the eve of leaving for college, he discovers a letter his father wrote to his estranged brother, Alex, stamped and unsent. Jack sees an opportunity: if he goes to San Francisco and finds his brother, he might be able to heal the past and truly move forward.

Hallie is sitting on huge news that she isn’t ready to share with anyone. And she doesn’t want to think about it, either; she’s just learned that her closest friend from her online cancer support group has taken a turn for the worst. There’s a small window to travel to Oregon to see him and say goodbye, but she knows her protective parents would never let her go. Hallie’s life suddenly feels like it’s spinning out of control, so she does the only thing she can think of: she buys a bus ticket to Oregon, and tells her parents she’s going to a friend’s for the weekend.

Jack and Hallie had a class together years ago, but haven’t seen each other since. But fate puts them into the same rideshare to the bus terminal, setting off a whirlwind road trip that may lead them to their own true selves…and maybe to each other.”

The synopsis is a little bit misleading. Yes, it’s all accurate but it may lead you to believe that this is a heavy book; it’s really not. It’s actually such a fun book and just a real delight to read.

It’s been a hard year for everyone (I read the book and wrote this in 2020), and I really needed this story. I can’t even tell you how many times I laughed out loud and how many times I smiled and how many times I hugged my Kindle. (No judgment–hard year.)

Everything about this story is completely perfect and exactly what I needed to read. It’s a very fun book but, at the same time, there are really quietly profound parts. There are thoughts about grief and how to change your life’s path, basically how to break inertia and to start trying to actively choose how you want your life to go. (I think a lot of us can remember the time before college, and how it can sometimes feel like it’s an expected choice and not a deliberate one.)

This is exactly what I needed and I hope you read it soon. This is even better than her debut, which is the highest bar.

Highly recommended.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire

Finished We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts–a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice.

But the victory is lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence “makes me want to use a fucking sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.”

I love this book. I was pretty sure I would when I read the synopsis, but I had no idea just how much I needed to read it.

I’m going to be honest now, I’ve been angry for a long time. I could say since 2016, but probably before that. Everything about this world feels insultingly wrong sometimes and I hate it. And if this is how you also feel, this is the book for you.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book is perfection. Highly recommended.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly

Finished A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer; it is the final book in her Cursebreakers trilogy.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Face your fears, fight the battle.
Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.

Fight the battle, save the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and an old enemy resurfaces who could destroy them all, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.”

I loved the first two books so much and I’m going to be honest, I was excited and nervous for this one. I adored Rhen so much in the first but then the second one put me firmly on Grey’s side and I didn’t know what was coming in this one, but I knew that it would be hard and that I would probably cry a bunch of times.

Which…yes. But also my loyalty kept flipping and it didn’t take me long for me to just decide that somehow I wanted everyone to be alive and happy, even though I had no idea how that would happen and also I doubted it was even possible.

This book was wonderful and intense and I loved every page (even the ones I also hated because Brigid Kemmerer is maybe not always the nicest to her characters or readers). This is a finale that’s somehow even better than the other two.

I can’t wait to see what she writes next, but I hope I see it soon. Highly recommended.

Every Single Lie

Finished Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this gripping YA novel about social media bullying and half-truths, one girl’s discovery of a dead baby in her high school locker room rocks an entire community.

Nobody in Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts and might be cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag-Jake’s gym bag -on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her. And as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.”

This was one of my most anticipated books this year, and it didn’t disappoint.

I immediately loved Beckett. She’s prickly and she doesn’t take anything at face value–seriously, not ever; she is the actual definition of “trust but verify” and I over-relate–and she is thrust into a completely impossible situation. She finds a dead baby, which is traumatic enough, but it’s in her boyfriend’s duffel bag. And, of course, it takes no time for everyone to assume that she’s the baby’s mom.

It’s not surprising that the baby (soon dubbed Lullaby Doe by Twitter, because of course it was) becomes more of a symbol than a person who died about as soon as she was born. That was the hardest part to read for me, because very few people actually seemed to understand that Lullaby Doe was a person, even if only for a few seconds, and she wasn’t part of any type of crusade. (I should also note that she was stillborn. Yes, her body was hidden, but it’s not one of those things where someone gives birth at prom and kills the just-born baby.)

This book is so tense and it was impossible to stop reading. This will be one of my favorites this year. Highly recommended.

When You Look Like Us

Finished When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“When you look like us—brown skin, brown eyes, black braids or fades—people think you’re trouble. No one looks twice at a missing black girl from the projects because she must’ve brought whatever happened to her upon herself. I, Jay Murphy, can admit that, for a minute, I thought my sister, Nicole, got too caught up with her boyfriend—a drug dealer—and his friends.

But she’s been gone too long now.

If I hadn’t hung up on her that night, she’d be spending time with our grandma. If I was a better brother, she’d be finishing senior year instead of being another name on a missing persons list. It’s time to step up and do what the Newport News police department won’t.

Nic, I’m bringing you home.”

This is a really good and really intense book. I don’t think it’s a new revelation that some cases get more attention than others, and it’s not usually hard to guess which ones will.

And when Jay’s sister Nic goes missing, he knows that she won’t be one of those faces plastered all over the news, which means that he’s probably her best shot of being found.

It reminded me a little bit of that movie The Vanishing. It’s not a perfect parallel (Nic is Jay’s sister, not his girlfriend) but the single-minded obsession is similar and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that his detective work puts him in serious danger, too.

It’s hard to believe that this is Pamela Harris’ first book. I love the way that she drew this story. The characters, the pacing and the word choice are all completely perfect. Every twist and turn is surprising but also makes complete sense. Nothing feels forced or rushed and I seriously cannot wait to read her next book. I hope there’s an announcement soon.

Highly recommended.

One of the Good Ones

Finished One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.”

I’m very happy that one of my friends has already read this because I have some feelings that are very, very spoilery.

This is a book that works on multiple levels. You can read it just for plot and you’ll have a good time. It’s a good commentary on society and law enforcement and the way that people are treated differently based on perceived race. But there’s a lot more going on under the surface.

(Well, the idea of “the good ones” or respectability politics isn’t, obviously; it’s in the title.)

And that’s one of the most interesting things to think about. There have been a lot of Black people killed by police (or from injuries sustained while in police custody or mysteriously committing suicide in police custody) and the reaction of some people depends on what they were doing shortly before the death occurred. Were they ignoring orders? Were they someplace they maybe shouldn’t have been or committing a crime or even possibly committing a crime? If so, they “deserved it.” This is completely ridiculous because they were human beings and generally speaking, we don’t circumvent the legal process and shoot someone dead in the street unless they are a major threat or perceived as such and many times “perceived as such” is code for “they were Black.”

But it also presents a problem because then there are the people like Breonna Taylor or Botham Jean, who were murdered in their homes because of mistaken identity. And then they’re presented as “one of the good ones” and their murders are mourned differently than, say, George Floyd’s. (But also, sometimes there’s character assassination on them, too. There is literally no way to win.)

That’s what the book is discussing. Kezi is “one of the good ones.” She’s smart and passionate and does everything “the right way.” And she’s still killed at a protest. And it’s ridiculous that her death is somehow more important or worse because of the life she had before she’s killed. It’s horrible and insulting. Any life lost senselessly is a tragedy.

This is such a powerful book and I really need people to read it and talk to me about it. Highly recommended.

Concrete Rose

Finished Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. This is a prequel to The Hate U Give; I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.”

So like pretty much every single actively literate person I know, I loved Angie Thomas’s first two books (The Hate U Give and On the Come Up) and when I learned that we were getting a prequel to The Hate U Give, I was pretty sure I couldn’t possibly be any more excited…until I learned it was going to be about her dad, Maverick.

I didn’t even know.

This is her best book yet, by a lot. And that’s a bold statement because her other books are beyond amazing. But this is just the best book I’ve read in ages. To put this in perspective, I read it in under 24 hours, and I couldn’t even tell you the last time that happened. Pre-COVID, for sure.

I was completely drawn into the story immediately and getting to see Mav and Lisa and Mav’s mom and Seven…it just felt like such an amazing gift.

This is going to be one of the best books of 2021 and I’m so grateful I got to read it early.

Highly recommended.

Happily Ever Afters

Finished Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant. I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Jane the Virgin meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this charming debut romantic comedy filled with Black Girl Magic. Perfect for fans of Mary H. K. Choi and Nicola Yoon, with crossover appeal for readers of Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert romances.

Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing—in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader.

When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just…gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming.

But as Tessa checks off each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about—including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?”

This book is such a delight to read! I absolutely loved Tessa and the way that she loves romance novels, even though she knows that they are heavily looked down upon. And when she realizes that the stories she adores don’t feature people who look like her, she decides to write her own. It’s something she’s passionate about and it’s also where her talent lies. Except once she gets into a prestigious school and its create writing program, she immediately stops being able to write. And that’s where the world’s silliest idea comes in.

Yes, you’ll know exactly how it ends. But you’ll also really love the entire journey. I can’t wait to read everything else Elise Bryant writes. She’s already wonderful.

Highly recommended.

Concrete Rose

Finished Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. This is a prequel to The Hate U Give and will be released on January 12; I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.”

So like pretty much every single actively literate person I know, I loved Angie Thomas’s first two books (The Hate U Give and On the Come Up) and when I learned that we were getting a prequel to The Hate U Give, I was pretty sure I couldn’t possibly be any more excited…until I learned it was going to be about her dad, Maverick.

I didn’t even know.

This is her best book yet, by a lot. And that’s a bold statement because her other books are beyond amazing. But this is just the best book I’ve read in ages. To put this in perspective, I read it in under 24 hours, and I couldn’t even tell you the last time that happened. Pre-COVID, for sure.

I was completely drawn into the story immediately and getting to see Mav and Lisa and Mav’s mom and Seven…it just felt like such an amazing gift.

This is going to be one of the best books of 2021 and I’m so grateful I got to read it early.

Highly recommended.

Dear Justyce

Finished Dear Justyce by Nic Stone. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the stunning and hard-hitting sequel to the New York Times bestseller Dear Martin, incarcerated teen Quan writes letters to Justyce about his experiences in the American prison system.

Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan’s story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone’s newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.

I finished Dear Martin last night and I was so happy to be able to start Dear Justyce right after. I tore through this sequel and I ended up loving it even more than Dear Martin.

In Dear Martin, we didn’t really get a good sense of who Quan was, only what he did. We knew that he shot and killed a police officer and that he was in a gang, Getting to know him was a really valuable thing for me. We see him as a kid and we see just how much he wants to take care of his younger siblings and how desperate he is for family. (His dad is in prison, his mom is pretty much checked out and her new boyfriend is awful.)

Quan is almost the anti-Justyce. Both teens are incredibly smart, but Justyce has a good support system and that’s something Quan didn’t have. Between the lack of concerned adults in his life and his longing for family, it’s understandable how events unfolded as they did. We also see the effects of racism on him (he got a 98 on a math test and his substitute insisted that he must have cheated; no one believed that he just studied hard).

When I finished Dear Martin and realized the sequel centered around Quan, I was a little disappointed. I was so, so wrong.

I definitely need to read everything that Nic Stone has ever written. Her books are incredible.

Highly recommended.