Category Archives: YA Fiction

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.

Now That I’ve Found You

Finished Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Now That I’ve Found You is a YA novel about searching for answers, love, and your eccentric grandma in all the wrong places.

Following in the footsteps of her überfamous grandma, eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is poised to be Hollywood’s next big star. That is until a close friend’s betrayal leads to her being blacklisted . . .

Fortunately, Evie knows just the thing to save her floundering career: a public appearance with America’s most beloved actress—her grandma Gigi, aka the Evelyn Conaway. The only problem? Gigi is a recluse who’s been out of the limelight for almost twenty years. Days before Evie plans to present her grandma with an honorary award in front of Hollywood’s elite, Gigi does the unthinkable: she disappears.

With time running out and her comeback on the line, Evie reluctantly enlists the help of the last person to see Gigi before she vanished: Milo Williams, a cute musician Evie isn’t sure she can trust. As Evie and Milo conduct a wild manhunt across New York City, romance and adventure abound while Evie makes some surprising discoveries about her grandma—and herself.”

This book is exactly what I needed. It’s a super fun love story wrapped up in a story about Hollywood (current and classic). (You should know, though, that the movie star parts are definitely a subplot.)

I was sucked into the story well before the first sentence. The cover and the synopsis and everything about it made me know that I would love it, and I was not wrong.

And I LOVE Evie so much. She’s driven and smart and I love both of those characteristics in people. Yes, she made a silly mistake, but I also feel like the fallout was completely ridiculous. She was joking about her director (who has a British accent) but she didn’t use any slurs and she didn’t say anything negative about his personality. (I guess super rich people don’t have anything approaching a sense of humor?) So the aspect of this that shows how best to overcome those mistakes is actually my favorite part of the story.

My second favorite part? Literally everything else.

Highly recommended.

The Weight of Stars

Finished The Weight of Stars by K Ancrum.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Ryann Bird dreams of traveling across the stars. But a career in space isn’t an option for a girl who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. So Ryann becomes her circumstances and settles for acting out and skipping school to hang out with her delinquent friends.

One day she meets Alexandria: a furious loner who spurns Ryann’s offer of friendship. After a horrific accident leaves Alexandria with a broken arm, the two misfits are brought together despite themselves—and Ryann learns her secret: Alexandria’s mother is an astronaut who volunteered for a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system.

Every night without fail, Alexandria waits to catch radio signals from her mother. And its up to Ryann to lift her onto the roof day after day until the silence between them grows into friendship, and eventually something more . . .

In K. Ancrum’s signature poetic style, this slow-burn romance will have you savoring every page.”

There are not enough stars in the world for this book.

This is an absolutely gorgeous exploration of love and friendship and humanity and dreams and everything good in the world and the people in it.

It is the kind of book that reminds me why I love to read, and why I love books so much that my friends and I literally have a podcast to talk about them.

I am absolutely blown away. All the stars and all the praise; highly recommended.

Grown

Finished Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

All signs point to Enchanted.”

I’m a huge fan of Tiffany Jackson’s books. I’ve read all four and they’ve all been amazing. This one may be my favorite but I also think it’s her best yet. (This is a high bar.)

But you should know going in that this is a really hard book to read. As I read it, I kept thinking of R. Kelly. This is definitely not that story, but there are obvious comparisons.

Enchanted has talent and drive, but she’s also 17. And so when Korey Fields (too old for her, but also super cute and also very famous) shows an interest in her, she is sucked in. If I had read this as a teenager, I would’ve been like, “THIS IS SO COOL! They are Romeo and Juliet” but reading this as a 40-year-old, I was like, “He is grooming you. You are in danger. Tell your mom.”

And it’s not even subtle what he’s doing. Korey is clearly a predator and one who uses every technique at his disposal to become the most manipulative person ever. He tells her stories about his pre-famous life and tells her things like “You’re all I have” and “you’re the only person who understands me.” He encourages her to keep secrets and slowly becomes the most important person in her life, isolating her from her family.

Obviously it ends badly.

This is one of those reads that deeply affected me. It’s absolutely haunting and it’s not a book that’s easy to shake off or stop thinking about. Even so, it’s absolutely worth it. Highly recommended.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Finished Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.

But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.

As her college decision looms, Rosa collides – literally – with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?”

I absolutely love this book! First, it’s about so much more than this curse. It’s been compared to Gilmore Girls and I think that’s an incredibly apt and earned choice. This book is all about family, and it was such a delightful read.

Rosa is mostly raised by her abuela, because her mom travels the country for work. (Whether or not the curse is real, it’s clearly too painful for her to stay in the small town for very long, but it’s also Rosa’s favorite place. That’s the solution that her mom came up with.)

And Rosa does love the town, but she’s also fascinated with Cuba, which is where her family initially came from. Her abuela came to Florida when she was pregnant and never returned. Rosa’s so desperate to learn about that part of her heritage and history, but it never happens because her abuela won’t talk about it and obviously traveling there isn’t likely. I love the way that she views Cuba as almost like a part of her family, even though she’s never been there.

This book is a complete joy and I am definitely buying everything Nina Moreno ever writes.

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From


Finished Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon.

Summary (from Goodreads):

First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.

Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.”

I think I literally couldn’t possibly love this book any more than I do.

First, I absolutely adored Liliana Cruz. She’s an absolute rock for her family, and her life is thrown into upheaval. Her dad’s been deported and she’s now at a new school. (She’s gone from having a lot of friends to being one of only a very few non-white students at a new, much fancier school.) She’s trying to adapt, but it’s hard.

There are some political elements in terms of trying to combat racism (which shouldn’t be considered political and yet here we are) and also dealing with immigration and deportation. Liliana’s mom is also clearly going through some depressive episodes, which is also important to see.

It’s such a smart book and it deals with so much, but it never feels forced or like Jennifer De Leon was trying to see how many issues she could cram into one book. Instead, it felt like an accurate representation. Many people have more than one major problem, and I could absolutely understand how Liliana’s mom could maybe not cope perfectly well, given that her husband’s gone and there’s no telling when he’ll come back. (And, due to the dangerous nature of crossing into the country, there’s a decent chance that he would either die or be arrested if he tried. It’s not as easy as conservatives would have us believe.) So she has that fear weighing on her and she also has to protect her children. Liliana’s older and so eventually finds out, but her twin sons are still incredibly little. So yeah, it’s definitely understandable how she wasn’t at 100% all day every day. (Also, you know how Ellen Hopkins sometimes does adult novels about the parents in some of her YA? If we could get a book about the mom, I would preorder that immediately.)

Highly recommended.

Punching the Air

Finished Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.”

I think this has probably been extensively covered, but this is not Yusuf Salaam’s story.

He’s one of the Exonerated Five, the teenage boys accused and imprisoned for raping a woman in Central Park in 1989. They were in jail for years, before finally being exonerated. You can learn more about that case from the Netflix series When They See Us.

Punching the Air is about a boy named Amal, who is charged with and ultimately imprisoned for a crime that he didn’t commit.

His story is told in verse and with drawings; it’s a unique format and one that works really well as it lets us see Amal’s feelings and state of mind in a way that prose may not be able to do. (Margins, spacing and the text’s placement are all used to full effect here.)

This is an incredibly powerful story and I hope that Yusef Salaam writes more books (either with Ibi Zoboi or by himself). If you’ve read Ibi Zoboi, you already know how powerful her work is. The two of them have written an absolutely extraordinary book.

Highly recommended.

Majesty

Finished Majesty by Katharine McGee. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Is America ready for its first queen?

Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it can leave you breathless. Princess Beatrice was born with it. Princess Samantha was born with less. Some, like Nina Gonzalez, are pulled into it. And a few will claw their way in. Ahem, we’re looking at you Daphne Deighton.

As America adjusts to the idea of a queen on the throne, Beatrice grapples with everything she lost when she gained the ultimate crown. Samantha is busy living up to her “party princess” persona…and maybe adding a party prince by her side. Nina is trying to avoid the palace–and Prince Jefferson–at all costs. And a dangerous secret threatens to undo all of Daphne’s carefully laid “marry Prince Jefferson” plans.

A new reign has begun….”

This is an incredibly fast-paced and easy read. It’s effortless to get drawn into the intrigue and drama of this world.

I have two problems with this book, though, and they’re pretty big ones. The more important one is that this is an incredibly white world. The royals are white and in the first book, there is no mention of anyone of color (with the possible exception of one woman who may have been Hispanic–I didn’t remember this at all, but my friend Julia mentioned it). I think someone may have discussed it with the author, because in this one, we learn that after slavery was abolished, the now free people also developed a separate monarchy, which was eventually merged with the Washingtons while the former Black kings and queens received much lower titles. I would’ve liked more information about this, but it really isn’t covered very extensively.

The other problem is that the first book is entirely discounted by events in this one. Every single relationship is different. Samantha, who’s in love with Teddy? Not anymore. Beatrice loves her guard, Connor? Nope. Now she’s all in with her planned marriage to Teddy and they love each other. They got a dog and everything. (I will be honest; I actually love Teddy and Beatrice together.) Nina is now with Ethan and not Jefferson; Daphne loves Ethan and not Jefferson. Samantha doesn’t love Teddy anymore; she’s now dating a descendant of one of the African kings, which was initially to make Teddy jealous, but…

And OK, I do like that it explores the fact that sometimes you don’t want what you thought you did. It’s OK to change your mind and that’s not always explored in fiction. But I don’t think that’s what was going on.

I know it sounds like I hate this book and I really don’t. It’s a fun series to read and I get so immersed in the world (and I’ve not been reading that much this year, so when I tell you that I flew through this, it means something because I haven’t been flying through anything).

If there’s a third book, I hope it’s more diverse and we learn more about the other former kingdom and also that Daphne gets the result she deserves. Because she’s very Cruel Intentions and manipulating everything and she keeps getting away with it.

One Way or Another

Finished One Way or Another by Kara McDowell. I received a copy for review. This book will be released on October 6.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The average person makes 35,000 decisions every single day. That’s about 34,999 too many for Paige Collins, who lives in debilitating fear of making the wrong choice. The simple act of picking an art elective is enough to send her into a spiral of what-ifs. What if she’s destined to be a famous ceramicist but wastes her talent in drama club? What if there’s a carbon monoxide leak in the ceramics studio and everyone drops dead? (Grim, but possible!)

That’s why when Paige is presented with two last-minute options for Christmas vacation, she’s paralyzed by indecision. Should she go with her best friend (and longtime crush) Fitz to his family’s romantic mountain cabin? Or should she accompany her mom to New York, a city Paige has spent her whole life dreaming about?

Just when it seems like Paige will crack from the pressure of choosing, fate steps in — in the form of a slippery grocery store floor — and Paige’s life splits into two very different parallel paths. One path leads to New York where Paige falls for the city . . . and the charms of her unexpected tour guide. The other leads to the mountains where Paige might finally get her chance with Fitz . . . until her anxiety threatens to ruin everything.

However, before Paige gets her happy ending in either destiny, she’ll have to face the truth about her struggle with anxiety — and learn that you don’t have to be “perfect” to deserve true love.”

This story was so fun! But it’s also so sweet and so clever and surprisingly heavy in parts.

On the surface, it’s a Sliding Doors-ish tale set over Christmas. I feel like this ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people I know. (I am very fond of Sliding Doors-type scenarios.) It’s also got a huge crush and a whole lot of rom-com references.

I’m someone who is indecisive so I very much overidentified with Paige. At the same time, though, she is clearly suffering from anxiety. I think that was my favorite part of the book. Paige has panic attacks and also has these techniques to calm herself down. I love that her mental health is a huge part of this story, but at the same time, she has other things, too. She’s not just “Paige who needs an app to make decisions and can’t breathe sometimes.”

I haven’t been reading like myself since we all started staying home all the time, so I think the highest praise I can give this novel is the fact that I read it in about 24 hours. And when I say that, that includes sleeping, book club and a birthday party over Zoom. I couldn’t put it down and I was very invested in the story.

I absolutely adore this book and I need to read her debut soon.

Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Finished Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from review):

In this standalone novel, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he is still alive.

Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.

Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.

Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.”

I absolutely love this book. It’s not surprising, because I’ve also loved her first two books, but I also love how Tiffany D. Jackson’s books are all so different. The common thread is excellent writing, strong plots and characters that the reader will definitely empathize with and root for, but anything else is up in the air.

In this one, three people are fighting to keep their murdered friend’s memory alive. That’s probably a pretty common action, but what isn’t common is that they have recordings of his music and so they work to convince music execs that their friend is alive. It’s hard but also cathartic for them.

I think this book will resonate with anyone who has any experience with grief. It’s such an incredible story and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.