Category Archives: YA Fiction

Girls on the Verge

Finished Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A powerful, timely coming-of-age story about a young woman from Texas who goes on a road trip with two friends to get an abortion, from award-winning author Sharon Biggs Waller.

Camille couldn’t be having a better summer. But on the very night she learns she got into a prestigious theater program, she also finds out she’s pregnant. She definitely can’t tell her parents. And her best friend, Bea, doesn’t agree with the decision Camille has made.

Camille is forced to try to solve her problem alone . . . and the system is very much working against her. At her most vulnerable, Camille reaches out to Annabelle Ponsonby, a girl she only barely knows from the theater. Happily, Annabelle agrees to drive her wherever she needs to go. And in a last-minute change of heart, Bea decides to come with.

Girls on the Verge is an incredibly timely novel about a woman’s right to choose. Sharon Biggs Waller brings to life a narrative that has to continue to fight for its right to be told, and honored.”

I loved this book and it broke my heart and infuriated me.

Camille is pregnant and she doesn’t want to be. She’s seventeen and can’t have a baby. And even if she could, she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want her entire life ruined because of a condom error. So, abortion it is.

Except Camille lives in Texas, where they don’t really let you do that without jumping through a million hoops. So it will require a major road trip and, as it happens, two friends. Annabelle is a new friend and someone Camille really respects; Bea is her best friend, though it’s very complicated right now.

I loved seeing Camille and Bea work on fixing their friendship and I loved Annabelle get to know them. I love all three of them so much, and books about friendship make me really happy.

But Texas doesn’t come across well in this story. It wasn’t ever going to be likely that I’d live there but now I definitely wouldn’t want to. It’s gross the things that Camille had to go through and “crisis centers” are really the worst things and staffed by the worst people.

This is a hard book to read, but so worth it. We need to be diligent to make sure this doesn’t become a reality nationwide.

Highly recommended.

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Serious Moonlight

Finished Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.”

I’ve only read two of Jenn Bennett’s books but I loved both. I overidentified with Birdie (introvert who loves mysteries? Hi, can we be friends?) and I immediately rooted for her and Daniel to get over themselves and be a thing.

The actual mystery plot was the least interesting part of the book (I wanted more time with Birdie’s grandpa and Mona, and with Daniel’s family and with the people at the hotel—except for Chuck. I had more than enough time with Chuck).

Jenn Bennett writes these incredibly sweet love stories but I think the best part of her books are the way she draws these amazing characters and makes them feel real or possibly better than real. They tend to be over 400 pages but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m never ready for the books to be over.

Highly recommended.

In the Neighborhood of True

Finished In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.”

This is historical fiction but feels very, very relevant to today. There are a lot of anti-Semitic hate crimes now and a temple being bombed feels very plausible.

Ruth is Jewish. She’s never had a problem before but once she and her family move to the south, she starts to hide it. She still goes to temple with her mom and sister, but she doesn’t advertise it. She rationalizes it as being fine because it’s not like she’s lying; it’s just that no one asks. (Except that’s not true because someone asks what church she goes to and she mentions her grandmother’s church—her mom converted to Judaism when she married Ruth’s dad.)

She becomes increasingly uncomfortable, though, when Klan activity starts to ramp up. (Someone in her friend group calls cross burnings “lightings” and says they reflect Southern spirit. When Ruth repeats it to her mom, she replies, “I hope she’s not a close friend” and all I can say is I want a spinoff of Ruth’s journalism mother because she is the actual best.)

This is an amazing book and I’m glad I got a chance to review it.

Highly recommended.

You’d Be Mine

Finished You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.”

I am not a huge fan of country music, but this book makes me want to change that. (Or, I guess, makes me a fan of Clay and Annie, especially Annie and her band Under the Willows.)

Because holy crap, you guys, I love Annie. She’s got a tragic backstory and this book is A Star is Born but sweeter. (Clay also has a tragic backstory, but while Annie is Striving to Move On, Clay is Surviving With Help From Girls & Booze. So yes, total A Star is Born, right?)

This story hits a lot of my favorite notes: famous people, love story, awesome friendships, grief. It never feels inauthentic or Lifetime-ish, which is very impressive considering again, tragic backstories.

I hope this becomes a movie.

Recommended.

The Fault in Our Stars

Finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Hazel is a teenage girl with terminal cancer. The tumors aren’t growing and with the drugs she’s taking (and the oxygen she’s on), she has more time. Even so, “more time” isn’t enough time. She’s fully aware that she’s going to die, and sooner rather than later. She’s perfectly content to spend her remaining time at home, with her parents and marathons of America’s Next Top Model, but her mom pushes her to attend a cancer support group. That’s where she meets Augustus Waters, a guy with the “good” cancer (an 80% survival rate) and he’s in remission. And then everything changes.

I completely adored Looking For Alaska and really liked Paper Towns (and didn’t hate an Abundance of Katherines) so my expectations for this book were beyond sky-high. Even so, they were completely blown away.

I don’t want to get too specific because I know this is a highly-anticipated book for a LOT of people and I don’t want to be accused of any spoilers, no matter how benign. So I will just say this: the potential for sappy sentimentalism in a book like this is high. I mean, come on, teens with cancer? And I have a soul; I cried during A Walk to Remember. But this is not that story. This is a story about courage and strength and love and friendship and family, all the best things about being human.

This is a story that will stay with you and one that has become one of my all-time favorite books.

There are not enough superlatives for this, or for Hazel and Augustus or for any of the other characters in this book.

Just Listen

Finished Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“When Annabel, the youngest of three beautiful sisters, has a bitter falling out with her best friend—the popular and exciting Sophie—she suddenly finds herself isolated and friendless. but then she meets Owen—a loner, passionate about music and his weekly radio show, and always determined to tell the truth. And when they develop a friendship, Annabel is not only introduced to new music but is encouraged to listen to her own inner voice. with owen’s help, can Annabel find the courage to speak out about what exactly happened the night her friendship with Sophie came to a screeching halt?”

This was the first Sarah Dessen I’ve read and I still consider it my favorite. Even so, I didn’t remember it all that well. (I knew what had happened between Annabel and Sophie’s boyfriend, but I didn’t remember anything else.)

Like all of her books, there’s so much going on here. This is the only one I can think of where the main focus isn’t friendship or romance; it’s the work that Annabel is doing to heal. Watching her learn to be honest even though conflict with friends and family make her uneasy is inspiring (I definitely relate to this).

All of her books are wonderful but this is my favorite. I love Annabel and Owen so much.

Highly recommended.

The Princess and the Fangirl

Finished The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.”

I really enjoy this series. It’s incredibly fun and sweet, and I love the fandom aspect. I feel like I had a huge smile on my face the whole time I was reading it (which was nice, because I also had major allergies—thanks, pollen!).

I wasn’t a huge fan of the leaked script aspect, but it made a convenient reason for why the two would need to switch places.

I hope there are more books in this world, but I’m really happy we got this one. This is the perfect book for a vacation read and I loved Jess. It takes a bit of time to get to know her (she’s very guarded) but once we do get there, it’s worth all the waiting and the effort.

 

Internment

Finished Internment by Samira Ahmed. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.”

Holy crap, this book. It’s just as intense as you would expect but the scariest thing is how plausible it feels.

We aren’t at this point. I don’t think we’re in immediate danger of detaining our fellow citizens based on their religion…but I definitely see how we get there from here.

This book hinges on Layla and I think a less strong character would’ve made the book fall apart. From the first page, I completely understood who Layla was and I respected her and her bravery. She knew it was dangerous and that she and her parents could very easily be tortured or killed, but she refused to back down. I hope that I would be that brave.

This is such a fantastic book and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Operatic

Finished Operatic by Kyo Maclear. (The illustrations are by Byron Eggenschwiler.)

Summary (from Goodreads):

Somewhere in the universe, there is the perfect tune for you.

It’s almost the end of middle school, and Charlie has to find her perfect song for a music class assignment. The class learns about a different style of music each day, from hip-hop to metal to disco, but it’s hard for Charlie to concentrate when she can’t stop noticing her classmate Emile, or wondering about Luka, who hasn’t been to school in weeks. On top of everything, she has been talked into participating in an end-of-year performance with her best friends.

Then, the class learns about opera, and Charlie discovers the music of Maria Callas. The more she learns about Maria’s life, the more Charlie admires her passion for singing and her ability to express herself fully through her music. Can Charlie follow the example of the ultimate diva, Maria Callas, when it comes to her own life?

This evocatively illustrated graphic novel brilliantly captures the high drama of middle school by focusing on the desire of its finely drawn characters to sing and be heard.”

This is one of my favorite graphic novels. It centers around a middle school girl who’s learning more about music. She develops this huge fondness for Maria Callas and it makes her brave.

I love the idea of little kids (and I’m sorry, middle schoolers count as little!) learning about opera. It makes me feel really happy, like maybe they’re not just listening to uptempo nonsense I haven’t even heard of. (This is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve ever typed.)

This also discusses Maria Callas a little, and basically all I knew was “legendary diva” so that was good, too.

This is all about music and I feel like I always think about how books and movies impact me but I don’t really think about that in terms of music. Part of that is because my personal pop culture choices skew heavily toward books and movies, then TV and my music choices tend to be the same artists I’ve loved for years and there are so many songs that can instantly change my mood (for better or worse) and I love that this book talks about that. Music is so powerful and this honors that.

If you aren’t into graphic novels, this may be a fun way to start. Recommended.

Opposite of Always

Finished Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . .

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this story, but what I got was a sweet story that made me cry a little and laugh a little and smile a ton.

Like with Butterfly Effect, we see that things don’t go well when you attempt to change the past. I loved that aspect because (a) it seems realistic and (b) it’s something definitely worth thinking about: what are things that you can’t lose? For example, if you’re trying to make one aspect of your life work, like a relationship, is that worth more than, say, your friendships? Your job? Your family? Where are the priorities?

But I also love how this story is about loss but also focuses on what makes that loss worth grieving and trying to fix. We see Jack and Kate as a couple and it’s so easy to love them together and Kate separately that we see why he keeps trying to get her back. But it’s not just about them. Jack’s parents are great (and so in love still, which would have MORTIFIED me as a kid and cracks me up now) and his friends are fantastic. I loved everyone in this book and would love to see companion novels for everyone.

Most of us have experience with grief and everyone who does will most likely love and definitely respect this book. It’s a stellar novel and I am fully in for whatever he writes next.

Highly recommended.