Category Archives: YA Fiction

What You Hide

Finished What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…”

I loved this book. The strange happenings at the library is much less central to the plot than the synopsis would have you believe, so be aware of that going in.

What’s actually going on (and what’s far more interesting anyway) are the internal issues with Spencer (what does he want to do with his life?) and the external issues with Mallory (her stepfather is awful and her mom isn’t much better—she’s initially a lovely woman, but she is so cowed by her husband, Charlie, that she becomes a lousy mom).

I was very concerned for Mallory. There’s nothing overtly awful with Charlie. He seems maybe a bit overprotective but there’s nothing he says that seems threatening. It’s more the way he says it and what’s in the pauses between his words. Mallory is so scared and this seems like a very rational response. I was so worried that Charlie would figure out where Mallory was. I didn’t know for sure what he would do, but there’s nothing that’s off the table, really.

I wasn’t worried for Spencer, really, but I hoped that he’d figure out how to be happy.

Everything about this book is completely gripping and even though it’s close to 400 pages, it felt so much shorter. Recommended.

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Love a la Mode

Finished Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.”

This book is beyond charming. It’s basically begging to be made into a Netflix movie and I would take the day off work to watch it repeatedly.

This premise and execution is perfect. It’s very food-centered, but there’s also great friendship and one of the sweetest love stories ever.

I loved Henry and Rosie and I loved watching their mutual crush bloom. I like the fact that Bodie is a good guy and that almost everyone in their cooking class are also good people. There’s someone who’s a jerk but there’s always someone who’s a jerk.

This would be a great present for anyone, although it will definitely make you want to (a) cook or bake something, (b) befriend someone who will cook or bate something (if you’re like me and useless in the kitchen) and (c) go to Paris.

Recommended.

The Poet X

Finished The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

I really enjoyed this story. I’m a fan of people finding their voice, and Xiomara’s arc is fantastic. She’s never felt like she was allowed to be anything other than a sweet, obedient, Christian daughter, and she’s also never felt particularly sweet, obedient or Christian. She’s got a lot of questions about a lot of topics, and they’re not particularly encouraged. More than that, she enjoys writing and her mom is not a fan of that, either. (She’s even less a fan of boys, and Xiomara’s currently in the midst of her first crush.)

This isn’t horrible. She’s got her twin brother and a best friend she loves. They may not 100% understand her (and vice versa, to be fair) but she’s got people on her side. And it doesn’t take long before she realizes that she (a) loves poetry and (b) is good at it. Her fierceness and her inquisitiveness are great assets, not the liability they’ve previously been.

This is a novel in verse, but don’t let that deter you. You don’t want to miss Xiomara. Highly recommended.

That Night

Finished That Night by Amy Giles. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“One night in March, a terrible tragedy shakes the Queens neighborhood where Jessica Nolan and Lucas Rossi live.

The year since the shooting has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar, and deeply personal, ways. Lucas has taken up boxing and lives under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, while trying to put good into the world through random acts of kindness — to pay back a debt he feels he owes the universe for taking the wrong brother.

Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother, with the help of her elderly next-door neighbor, and tries to make ends meet. Without her best friend, who’s across the country at a special post-trauma boarding school, and her brother, who died that night, Jess feels totally alone in the world.

When Jess and Lucas’s paths cross at their shared after-school job, they start to become friends… and then more.

Their community — and their families — were irrevocably changed by a senseless act of violence. But as Jess and Lucas fall in love, they’ll learn to help each other heal and move forward — together.”

I feel like there have been so many books about mass shootings, and it’s probably easy to feel burned out on the topic, especially if you’re someone who reads to escape from the real world. If so, still consider this one.

That Night is different from most other books in that the mass shooting is never really discussed. We know what happened, somewhat (movie theater shooting, 18 people died) but we never see that event occur. Instead, we join Jess and Lucas afterward, after the initial shock of grief is over. They aren’t over it—I don’t think you’re ever over it; they both lost brothers in the shooting—but it’s not an ordeal to get through every single day anymore.

Their new relationship helps (and hurts) and they have other coping mechanisms that help (and hurt).

You may think you know how this book will go; you don’t. It may not be the sweetest love story you’ll ever read, but I’ll take “real” over “sweet” any day.

Recommended.

Imagine Us Happy

Finished Imagine Us Happy by Jennifer Yu. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Some love stories aren’t meant to last. 

Stella lives with depression, and her goals for junior year are pretty much limited to surviving her classes, staying out of her parents’ constant fights and staving off unwanted feelings enough to hang out with her friends Lin and Katie.

Until Kevin. A quiet, wry senior who understands Stella and the lows she’s going through like no one else. With him, she feels less lonely, listened to—and hopeful for the first time since ever…

But to keep that feeling, Stella lets her grades go and her friendships slide. And soon she sees just how deep Kevin’s own scars go. Now little arguments are shattering. Major fights are catastrophic. And trying to hold it all together is exhausting Stella past the breaking point. With her life spinning out of control, she’s got to figure out what she truly needs, what’s worth saving—and what to let go.”

This was an impulse grab at ALA, and like many of my impulse grabs, it ended up being one of the best books I’ve read.

There are a lot of books about teen relationships that break up because one person is abusive or maybe just a jerk. Stella isn’t awful and neither is Kevin. They’re just two people who are good together until they aren’t anymore.

The narrative is told out of chronological order. It begins toward the end and goes back to the beginning but random chapters are outside of a linear timeline. It keeps us from fully investing in their relationship but it doesn’t keep us from liking Kevin and Stella.

This is the kind of story that makes me sad, because there’s no real reason for them not to work. It’s just that it’s not the right relationship (or maybe the timing’s bad). But there’s no villain in the story.

Imagine Us Happy is an unexpected favorite. I’m going to read everything Jennifer Yu writes, and I also just realized that her first book ($7.50 on Kindle!) is also about Stella (she’s one of five people at the camp mentioned in this novel). So I’m excited for more time with her.

Recommended.

Quiver

Finished Quiver by Julia Watts. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Set in rural Tennessee, QUIVER by Julia Watts is a brilliant YA novel that focuses on the unlikely friendship between two teens from opposite sides of the culture wars.

Libby is the oldest child of six, going on seven, in a family that adheres to the “quiverfull” lifestyle: strict evangelical Christians who believe that they should have as many children as God allows because children are like arrows in the quiver of “God’s righteous warriors.” Like the other families who adhere to this philosophy, Libby’s family regards the father as the “Christian patriarch” and leader and the mother as the “helpmeet” who gives birth to, cares for, and homeschools the children.

Meanwhile, Zo is the gender fluid offspring of Libby’s new neighbors who have moved to the country from Knoxville in hopes of living a slower-paced, more natural life.

Zo and hir family are as far to the left ideologically as Libby’s family is to the right, and yet Libby and Zo, who are the same age, feel a connection that leads them to friendship—a friendship that seems doomed from the start because of their families’ differences.

Through deft storytelling, built upon extraordinary character development, author Watts offers a close examination of the contemporary compartmentalization of social interactions, and forms a story that resonates far beyond its pages.”

I love books that focus on religion, but it’s hard to do well. I don’t like it when people are one-note characters, and that can tend to happen with this topic.

I love Zo and her parents but I also love Libby and her mom. Both families are full of good people who genuinely believe what they believe and are unwilling to listen to other viewpoints. (Which I totally identify with because sometimes I do, too.)  And then there are Zo and Libby, who are holding firm to their own beliefs but who are able to see other stances, too.

This is such a fun story, but it’s also got incredibly tense parts. I would definitely show up for a sequel or a Claire-centered companion novel. OR BOTH.

 

Eleanor & Park

I apologize in advance; this may literally be my gushiest review ever.

I seriously can’t even talk about this book. I was pretty sure I was going to love it because it has so many things I like (set in the 80s! Compared to a John Hughes movie! AND a John Green book!) AND Steph loved it. I tried to keep my expectations low, but I failed.

And even though said expectations were probably ridiculous and most likely impossible to meet, I am dead serious when I say that Eleanor & Park exceeded them. By a LOT.

I love everything about Eleanor & Park. I love the characters and the sweet love story and the way that it really does perfectly evoke the way it feels to fall in love for the first time, the way you fall when you’re in high school and everything is so real and immediate and Important. The way that the feeling is so strong that it’s like you invented it, because if anyone ever felt like this before you, nothing would ever get done. And the way it feels to discover someone and know that they are the one essential thing in your entire life, and that everything you’ve done up to that point has been killing time.

This book has given me crazymouth (or, technically, I guess “crazyhands”) and I want everyone to read it. I don’t care if you don’t read YA or if you hate the 80s or if you think that John Green is the most overrated person ever and so you are honor-bound to hate everything he has ever loved. Read this book anyway.

This is the kind of book that I will use to explain why I read all the time. I enjoy most of what I read. I love a few more (it’s safe to say that I love dozens of the books I read in any given year). But in a good year, I get the kind of book that makes me practically yell at strangers that this is a book they need to read.

Because you guys? THIS IS A BOOK YOU NEED TO READ.

Highly recommended.

From Twinkle, With Love

Finished From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.”

When Dimple Met Rishi was one of my favorite books when I read it, and so I was very excited for this one. I’ve been really busy with review books but I finally decided to sneak this one in anyway and I’m so glad I did.

I may actually prefer this to her debut novel and part of it is because of Twinkle. I also love movies, though I’ve never wanted to make them. Twinkle has so much passion and so much inherent skill. Her self-esteem isn’t great but I think that’s true of a lot of people. And oh, can we talk about Sahil? This is the sweetest guy, and the best romance.

This book had me smiling the whole time. Even when I wanted to shake Twinkle and even when I was angry at her friends on her behalf and even when there were a ton of other things going on that are spoilers, I was on Twinkle’s side.

This book was completely charming and swoon-worthy and I cannot wait for Sandhya Menon’s third book.

Highly recommended.

How She Died, How I Lived

Finished How She Died, How I Lived by Mary Crockett. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

I was one of five. The five girls Kyle texted that day. The girls it could have been. Only Jamie–beautiful, saintly Jamie–was kind enough to respond. And it got her killed.

On the eve of Kyle’s sentencing a year after Jamie’s death, all the other “chosen ones” are coping in various ways. But our tenacious narrator is full of anger, stuck somewhere between the horrifying past and the unknown future as she tries to piece together why she gets to live, while Jamie is dead.

Now she finds herself drawn to Charlie, Jamie’s boyfriend–knowing all the while that their relationship will always be haunted by what-ifs and why-nots. Is hope possible in the face of such violence? Is forgiveness? How do you go on living when you know it could have been you instead?”

I couldn’t possibly have read this book faster than I did. It’s such a creepy thing, the idea that you easily could have died if you had answered a text message. How would you ever feel safe again? And how would you ever stop thinking about what happened to the girl who DID answer the text message?

So it’s not very surprising that she’s not doing well. (The narrator isn’t named throughout the book.) She’s best friends with another girl who Kyle texted, and that makes sense because who else could possibly understand?

I didn’t necessarily love the fact that she started dating Jamie’s boyfriend, but it wasn’t a major sticking point and they were actually pretty sweet. (Overall though, her friendship with Lindsay made me so happy.)

This is an excellent book and also incredibly timely (unfortunately). Recommended.

Pulp

Finished Pulp by Robin Talley. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.”

I’ve been a fan of Robin Talley’s since I read an ARC of her first book, Lies We Tell Ourselves. I’ve read and loved her others, but this one became my favorite. BY A LOT.

It’s got dual narrators in dual time frames, which I always love. But this also shows just how far we’ve come as a society. Yes, we have so far to go (SO FAR, you guys) but seeing how much better things are than they were in the 50s has left me completely grateful to be here, in this time.

It also reminded me of when I was a little bit older than Abby and finding all these stories that reflected my life. I mean, OK yes, they were all smarter and cooler and funnier than I was but still. It was a revelation. Today’s kids are so lucky that they’ve got Robin Talley books to do the same for them.

Highly recommended.