Reviews

Review: THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

1Title: THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY
Author: Laura Creedle
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
ARCS?: Yes, provided by HMH in exchange for an honest review.
TW/CW: Depression, medication abuse, mentions of suicide (MC is put on suicide watch), self-harm (LI hits his head on the table)
Rep: ADHD, Aspergers, broken families, single parent families, depression.
Rating: 3/5

When Lily Michaels-Ryan ditches her ADHD meds and lands in detention with Abelard, who has Asperger’s, she’s intrigued—Abelard seems thirty seconds behind, while she feels thirty seconds ahead. It doesn’t hurt that he’s brilliant and beautiful.

When Abelard posts a quote from The Letters of Abelard and Heloise online, their mutual affinity for ancient love letters connects them. The two fall for each other. Hard. But is it enough to bridge their differences in person?

This was another really hard book to rate.

First of all, I loved the characters. I think this is probably the most honest portrayal of how two sixteen year olds falling in love for the first time behave. Yes, it’s fast. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, those are some extreme feelings… because that’s exactly how most teenagers react to their first love. And I enjoyed every second of it.

Creedle did a great job in fleshing out all of her characters. Not just Lily and Abelard but all of the side characters. I loved Lily’s little sister and her mom, and it was great to see Lily’s mom support her and still be frustrated with how Lily behaves. In a lot of stories, we see the parent be unconditionally patient but it was great to see Lily’s mom behave like a real human and respond to things that we’re hard for her to handle.

I’ve talked with a few people who have said the ADHD and autism rep were very good. The author herself has ADHD and apparently has done her research very well when it came to writing Abelard who has Aspergers.

The book lost two stars for me for two different reasons.

The first was when Lily said the phrase “-my personal spirit animal.” Y’all. This is 2017. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, should be including the phrase “spirit animal” in their book unless they are an Indigenous person whose tribe has spirit animals, and only if they are using the term in the proper context. Laura Creedle does not fit any of that criteria… nor does her book. That’s an automatic star loss, every single time.

The next thing that caused ABELARD AND LILY to lose a star was Creedle’s demonization of medication. Lily constantly goes on and off her meds and claims they don’t work. Fun fact: If you don’t take them regularly and get used to them, they do make you feel like a zombie! It was also very, very hard to read other characters encourage Lily to stay off her meds, too. But on the flip side of that, Lily was willing to have an electrode put in her brain. So, electroshock therapy and invasive surgery is good but medicine that you can change and adjust is… bad? It was also really concerning that leading up to the surgery, Lily kept referring to herself as a monster who needed to be fixed. I think this could have been handled very well if Lily had said this to someone and they corrected her. Anything on paper to show people in the same position as Lily that they are not broken monsters.

Again, this was a great book with some really problematic elements that I think probably would have been caught by some attentive sensitivity readers.

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Reviews

Review: TIMEKEEPER

25760792Title: TIMEKEEPER
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Pages: 414
ARC?: No
Format: Hardback
Release date: 11/08/16
TW/CW: Death, blood, physical violence.
Rep: Queer, poverty.
Rating: 5/5

I was in an accident. I got out. I’m safe now.

An alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, where a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

A prodigy mechanic who can repair not only clockwork but time itself, determined to rescue his father from a Stopped town.

A series of mysterious bombings that could jeopardize all of England.

A boy who would give anything to relive his past, and one who would give anything to live at all.

A romance that will shake the very foundations of time.

Just like THE SERPENT KING, this book was pitched to me wrong.

“It’s kind of steampunk and it has clocks and Queer characters.”

Here’s a hint: I only like one of those things.

But after being browbeaten over it for a few months, I finally plopped it on my wish list to appease everyone and my dearest friend, Mason, was kind enough to send it my way. And getting this book was an adventure itself. After UPS delivered it to the wrong house and said we would have to contact Amazon, Amazon balked up a little on it and wouldn’t speak with me directly. Listen, calling them myself was hard enough and I wasn’t about to push someone with equal amounts of anxiety to do the same. I thought the book would just, you know, die and slowly fade from mind. So sorry, dear TIMEKEEPER, it just wasn’t meant to be.

But a week later, an elderly gentleman showed up on my front porch, package in hand. UPS had delivered it across town but now it was safely in my hands… and I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to read it.

But I did during #MiniMoji and I loved it.

It’s more historical than steampunk, and yes, there are clocks. Danny is our main character and he is a mechanic- a skilled clocktower repairman who can maintain time, a rare gift in this story. We meet Danny months after he’s had an incredibly traumatic accident involving a clock tower essentially exploding in his face. He’s lucky to be alive and still suffering from PTSD- something he deals with continuously throughout the book.

Sim does an incredible job of giving us a background story on Danny, his family, and the history of the mechanics without ever bogging the story down with information. I find it really hard to slog through info dumps but it’s also hard to care about a story if there isn’t enough backstory to make me feel for the characters and their positions. It’s a precarious line that runs between too much and not enough, and Sim toes that line perfectly. I loved hearing about the mythology behind the mechanics.

I was also surprised at how much she made us care for Danny’s father, a mechanic in a Stopped town (essentially frozen in time and can’t leave the town because the clock tower is irreparable), without us ever meeting him. She does this through glimpses of what it’s like when time skips and jumps and trembles, and several times I caught myself thinking, “If a small fracture in time is this awful… imagine what it’s like when it Stops.”

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve already seen my jokes about the love interest. Spoilers inside the asterisks.

************************************************************************************

I was both horrified and amused that the love interest is… a clock tower. He’s literally a clock who can present as a human and I just… I couldn’t stop laughing. Danny is literally clocksexual. I think that’s loving your job a little too much.

**************************************************************************************

Overall, this was a great read. When I finished, I immediately preordered the sequel, CHAINBREAKER, which comes out 01/02/2018.

If you like Queer characters, an interesting love interests, and some fancy clockwork, this might be the one for you!

 

CaptureTara Sim is the author of the TIMEKEEPER trilogy (Sky Pony Press) and writer of all things magic. She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California.

When she’s not writing about mischievous boys in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and occasionally singing opera. Despite her bio-luminescent skin, she is half-Indian and eats way too many samosas.

Tara is represented by Laura Crockett at TriadaUS Literary Agency.

She also sometimes blogs for Quirk Books.

Name pronunciation: “tar-ah” (not “terr-ah”).

Reviews

Review: NOT A DROP TO DRINK

1Title: NOT A DROP TO DRINK
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Pages: 309
Format: Paperback
ARC?: No.
Published date: 9/24/13
TW/CW: Blood, death of a parent, animal death, guns, sex trafficking, implied rape, childbirth.
Rating: 4/5

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

I bought this book back in January when I was buying a bunch of books for SE-YA fest. I ended up not reading it before the festivals and after I got it signed, I just stuck it back on my bookshelf and honestly… kind of forgot about it. McGinnis will be back at SE-YA in 2018, so I decided that maybe I should read it so that I either have the excuse to buy the next book in the series or can confidently say “Nah, this one isn’t for me.”

But I read it.

And it’s definitely for me.

I love dystopians. When YA and middle grade was saturated with them, I read every single one I could get my hands on. As that dystopian rush has dampened, though, I find that I’m not nearly as excited to pick up the ones I do find because they’re all written with heavy sci-fi elements, something I’m just not into.

NOT A DROP TO DRINK, however, does not have sci-fi elements. We’re introduced to a our very familiar world… albeit one without readily available water. I liked how McGinnis gave us little snapshots of what went wrong throughout the book. Water shortages, corporate and government greed, overcrowding and cholera. This is a world where people do terrible things, like shooting strangers too near the pond, in order to survive.

I loved Lynn. I think she was a great main character who was learning and unlearning the entire book. McGinnis gives us a whole cast of characters but she did a great job in making sure Lynn’s voice was well heard above the rest. It was interesting to see Lynn as the protected and Lynn as the protector, but McGinnis was very loyal to who Lynn was as a person. Her experiences changed but Lynn was still Lynn at the end of the days.

This lost a star for me because we lost a character very early on that I feel would have added a whole new layer of issues and conflict. It would have been great to see how Lynn would have reacted to everything that was going on around her if her mother had still been around during the events.

Overall, I loved this book and I can’t wait to read the sequel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST!

This book is perfect for dystopian lovers and anyone who roots for the underdog.

Capture

Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion, and sees nothing wrong with owning nine cats. Two dogs balance things out nicely.

Mindy runs a blog for aspiring writers at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire, which features interviews with agents, established authors, and debut authors. Learn how they landed their agents, what the submission process is really like, and how it feels when you see your cover for the first time. Mindy does query critiques every Saturday on the Saturday Slash for those who are brave enough to volunteer.

Reviews

Review: THE SERPENT KING

22752127.jpgTitle: THE SERPENT KING
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Release: 3/8/16
ARC?: No.
TW/CW: Death of a major character, mentions of pedophilia, religion (Christian/Pentecostal), snakes, mentions of suicide and suicide ideation, child abuse.
Rep: Poverty, religion (Christian/Pentecostal; believing differently than parents), depression, mental illness, first generation college student, single parent household, parent in prison, child helping provide for the family.

Rating: 4.5/5

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia, neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending- one that will rock his life to the core.

Y’all. This book.

When this book first came in March 2016, I had a few friends who read and loved it. They also demanded I read it, too. But to be honest, between the synopsis and my friends’ descriptions of the book, I wasn’t that impressed and kept giving them that “Yeah, sure, maybe when my TBR isn’t so overwhelming.”

After YallFest, I decided to actually read it since I had purchased it months ago when it was on sale on Kindle. Plus, Zentner is going to be at Se-Ya Fest in March and I figured… maybe I’ll like it enough to want a hard copy signed. But in all honesty, I went in this with low expectations.

And I was so wrong.

It takes a lot for a book to immediately hook me. Like, unless you’re Becky Albertalli or Leigh Bardugo, I’m probably not going to be cheering at you on twitter until I’ve finished the book, but I was screaming THE SERPENT KING’s praises about 10 pages in.

The poverty rep in this book is probably the best I’ve ever read. Weeks earlier, I had threaded on twitter that poverty rep in YA was pretty meaningless to me because it generally involves someone who lives in a crumbling house but seems to have a fair amount of disposable income. I can only imagine that poor characters are written this way because the author has never been poor or had friends who were poor, but living in a crumbling house doesn’t equal poverty. There are plenty of impoverished people who live in decent houses. But the one thing nearly all poverty stricken people have in common is a lack of disposable income. Whenever I’m reading a book that is supposed to be poor but they have money for eating out with friends or expensive car repairs, I instantly disconnect from that character because I don’t know any poor person who has idle cash. Zentner does a great job in showing how valuable money is to Dill, how he faces struggles that his more privileged friends do not. There’s a great scene when Lydia asks Dill and Travis if they want to stop and eat somewhere. Dill makes a face and says “No, I’ll eat at home.” Another scene shows Dill through Travis’ eyes as he has to pay for a $70 car part and Travis notes that Dill looks physically pained to have to pay for it. Dill isn’t frivolous with money anywhere in the book. It’s mentioned several times that the food he and his mother eat are discards from the store, and in one scene, Dill makes a casserole with cheese that he had to scrape mold off of. THAT is poverty rep. That is what made this novel so real to me.

I also deeply enjoyed the religious rep in this book. While I don’t think Dill and his family were United Pentecostal, they were Pentecostal and that’s something that I rarely see. I enjoy stories where people grapple with the faith they grew up with and what they believe now, but Dill still believes in God throughout the book. It was interesting to see him fight with what he was taught (such as blindly obeying your parents) when he knows that his parents are leading him deeper into ruination. I liked that nothing was a simple answer for Dill and while worried for a while, I was glad that he chose what he chose for himself in the end.

The family dysfunction in this one is astounding and horrifying. Through the three set of characters, we get a wide variety of what life can be like between teenagers and their parents. Lydia’s parents are fully vested in her well being, Travis has an abusive relationship with his father and a deep bond with his mom, and Dill has basically been abandoned by both parents.

As mentioned above, there is a death that involves a main character.

If you like stories of friendship, dysfunctional families, and finding your way… THE SERPENT KING might just be for you!

 

JeffZentner_SerpentKing_Nashville__JHernandez-19-199x300

Jeff Zentner is the author of the William C. Morris Award winning and Carnegie Medal longlisted book The Serpent King (2016) as well as Goodbye Days (2017). He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.

Reviews

Review: CHICKADEE

13503214Title: CHICKADEE
Author: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 224
ARC?: No.
Format: Paperback
Rep: Ojibwe
Rating: 5/5

Twin brothers Chickadee and Makoons have done everything together since they were born—until the unthinkable happens and the brothers are separated.

Desperate to reunite, both Chickadee and his family must travel across new territories, forge unlikely friendships, and experience both unexpected moments of unbearable heartache as well as pure happiness. And through it all, Chickadee has the strength of his namesake, the chickadee, to carry him on.

I love Louise Erdrich.

When I decided to order CHICKADEE, it was definitely an impulse buy based on two things: It was by Erdrich and the cover was cute as a button. I didn’t quite realize that it was part of THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE series or I would have read those first but thankfully this one definitely holds up as a standalone.

The story follows Chickadee and his family as spring rolls around once more. While his family is collecting maple sap, Chickadee is kidnapped by two men who are mad that Chickadee’s grandmother and brother insulted their very unlikable father. A series of incidents allows Chickadee to escape and he starts his long journey home. Along the way, he makes friends, is kidnapped yet again (this time by missionaries), and finds there is no place quite like home.

While Chickadee is making his way home, his family is rushing to find him. When they realize that Chickadee is missing and figure out who took him, the whole family heads across the plains to reclaim their boy. It was definitely refreshing to see such tight familial bonds in middle grade fiction. Most MG stories these days have distant parents or siblings who don’t get along but Erdrich really captures how much Native families stick together and how unbreakable those bonds are.

I was also pleased with how she presented the missionaries. Yes, not all of them were terrible, but all of them felt that they could “save the souls” of “the savages” and it’s very telling that that instead of trying to find Chickadee’s parents, they just snatched him up from a cabin. While I was reading this with my godkids, Sidda made the remark “It’s like they found a stray puppy and decided to take him home” and that’s exactly how the missionaries treat Chickadee. Like a stray, wild animal.

This has a happy ending that everyone will enjoy and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

Reviews

Review: MY BRIGADISTA YEAR

34427289Title: MY BRIGADISTA YEAR
Author: Katherine Paterson
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 208
ARC?: Yes, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Format: Paperback ARC
MG/YA/Adult: Middle grade- historical
TW/CW: Death (mentioned, non-graphic, non-detailed)
Rep: Cuban
Rating; 4/5

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

When Candlewick asked if I wanted to review this book, I jumped at the opportunity. Katherine Paterson was one of my favorite authors growing up, even though her books (like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and JACOB HAVE I LOVED) pretty much ripped my heart out.

Her newest book follows thirteen year old, Lora, a young girl living in Cuba. The story takes place right as Castro is coming into power. Lora signs up to travel to the country to teach people how to read and write.

Paterson, as usual, did a great job in creating a cast of characters that younger readers will actually care about. The story is engaging and moves along fast enough that I think even readers as young as 7/8 would be entertained.

It lost a star for me because while Paterson does a good job describing the way of life and the big things happening in Lora’s life, without the context of what the political climate was like in Cuba during that time, it falls slightly flat. I read this with my 3 oldest godchildren and they were pretty confused about why there was such upheaval. A chapter or even a foreword about the changing regime in Cuba would have been a nice, needed touch.

Since I personally don’t know much about the rise of Castro, I can’t comment on the accuracy of this story. Lora does mention her friend’s family fleeing after Castro takes control of the government, but he is looked at in a positive light throughout this novel. I’m not sure what the feeling in Cuba was during this time and welcome any reviews from Cuban readers!

 

Reviews

REVIEW: YOUR ONE AND ONLY

33413958Title: YOUR ONE AND ONLY
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 320
ARC?: Yes, provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 2/6/2018
MG, YA, ADULT: YA
TW/CW: Abuse, violence, blood, euthanasia.
Rating: 4/5

Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack? While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?

Apparently I am falling back into my dystopian phase.

To be fair, I saw the word clones and hit request. I think the whole premise of clones is pretty fascinating, so I definitely wasn’t going to miss the chance to read a YA story about them.

Our story begins in a classroom where Althea-310 is sitting with her sisters (all nine of them… all clones) and the rest of her generation of clones. It’s been 300 years since the last of the humans died out, leaving only 9 “clone types” left. So imagine their surprise (and terror) when in walks a human- a boy named Jack. They are instantly fearful of him because unlike the clones, Jack can’t commune with them (sharing feelings/emotions telepathically) and after a disastrous encounter with the Carsons, Jack is deemed dangerous and is secluded away from the clone children.

Finlay does an excellent job with world building and giving us history and background without info dumping. I’m generally a little lost when it comes to the whole generational thing but Finlay breaks it down easily enough- every 10 years, 10 clones are made. There are 9 prototypes (4 males, 5 females) so there are 90 clones per generation. As the story progresses, we get a better feel of the clones and their governing systems.

It was really interesting to see how when the clones tried to remove the “undesirable” parts of humanity (anger, sadness, illnesses), they actually lost their entire humanity. Even though they are able to commune with each other, it’s an ability that provides no privacy. It’s also a controlling method. Several times in the story, Althea-310 talks about her sisters overwhelming her with calm so that her own true emotions are tamped down.

There’s also a Binding ceremony… and that was probably the most horrifying thing about this story. If a clone sibling was thought to be “fracturing” (that is, feeling their own emotions or being able to block their siblings from pushing down their emotions), the remaining nine siblings could decided to have the “fractured” sibling euthanized. This was supposed to be a gift to the fractured sibling- a respite from their affliction and a chance for the siblings to bond without them. While reading, you realize that the clones don’t ever feel sadness. Not when someone dies, not when they’re deciding to murder their sibling.

Jack, however, is completely human. We find out later exactly why he was born and raised the way he is, but Jack is dangerous to the community because he represents all the parts of humanity the clones have tried to stomp out in themselves. He’s a little reckless and passionate and he has a great need for love. When Jack realizes he’s nothing more than an experiment, he tries to escape only to be caught and accused of something he knows he couldn’t possible have done.

Which makes him wonder… are there other humans?

While this book is INCREDIBLY heterocentric, I still really enjoyed it. There were a few little twists that I weren’t expecting… but really made this an enjoyable read.

If you’re into clones, dystopians, and scrappy humans fighting back… this is probably the one for you.

15299782Originally from Ithaca, New York, Adrianne Finlay now lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa with her husband, the poet J. D. Schraffenberger, and their two young daughters. She received her PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and is an associate professor of English at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.
She is also an avid soap maker, and sells handmade soap locally to raise money for type 1 diabetes research.

Reviews

Review: DEAR MARTIN

24974996Title: DEAR MARTIN
Author: Nic Stone
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 210
Format: Hardcover
ARC?: No
MG, YA, ADULT: YA
TW/CW: Racism, death of a character, violence, gun violence, underage drinking.
Rating: 5/5

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

DEAR MARTIN is a masterpiece.

I usually can’t connect with characters in books that are as short as this one, especially when they contain such heavy themes. But Nic Stone makes you care about Justyce from the very beginning. She makes you care about his story, his letters to Martin, and who he shares his heart with.

What really makes this book work, despite how short it is, is how realistic Justyce is. He could literally be your classmate, your best friend, that kid down the street- he’s just real. He had a strong character arc and I loved seeing his thought process as he dealt with every day stuff like classes and girls, but also dealing with heavier things like being Black in a predominately white school, police brutality, and intercommunity issues. Stone did an amazing job showcasing how Justyce felt excluded at school and at home.

It was also so important to see Sarah Jane apologize for speaking over Justyce in class and I hope more books focus on this. Yes, she was sticking up for him, but white allies need to learn how to boost PoC/Native voices without talking over them. To see a white character do that and then realize their mistake was pretty awesome.

I’ve seen a lot of people compare DEAR MARTIN to THE HATE U GIVE and while I agree there are a lot of similarities (characters living through police brutality and having their lives changed forever), DEAR MARTIN packed a harder punch to me. It says so much without saying much at all and while I loved THUG, DEAR MARTIN made me openly cry. This should be required reading for every student.

I can’t write a review that would adequately explain how important this novel is. I just can’t, so I won’t try.

Read this book.

 

13525503Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

You can find more about Nic on her website or on twitter.

Reviews

Review: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY

34068481Title: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: TRAVELING THE WORLD TO FIND THE GOOD DEATH
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
ARC: No.
MG, YA, ADULT?: It’s a book about death practices all over the world. Proceed with caution at any age.
TW/CW: Um, I mean, death?
Rating: 4/5

Fascinated by our pervasive terror of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty set out to discover how other cultures care for their dead. In rural Indonesia, she observes a man clean and dress his grandfather’s mummified body. Grandpa’s mummy has lived in the family home for two years, where the family has maintained a warm and respectful relationship. She meets Bolivian natitas (cigarette- smoking, wish- granting human skulls), and introduces us to a Japanese kotsuage, in which relatives use chopsticks to pluck their loved- ones’ bones from cremation ashes. With curiosity and morbid humor, Doughty encounters vividly decomposed bodies and participates in compelling, powerful death practices almost entirely unknown in America. Featuring Gorey-esque illustrations by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity introduces death-care innovators researching green burial and body composting, explores new spaces for mourning— including a glowing- Buddha columbarium in Japan and America’s only open-air pyre— and reveals unexpected new possibilities for our own death rituals.

After finishing SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, I knew I wanted to pick this one up right away.

Unlike SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY isn’t quite as personal. We get more death customs and less “I really liked this guy and it went badly”. Which is a good thing if you’re more into the death stuff than the love stuff (like me!).

Doughty did a really great job of alternating death customs. We went from Western cremation to having dead relatives in the living room for years to Japan’s high tech funeral homes. Even though I am not interested in westernized death practices, I still found those chapters interesting enough and they didn’t slow the book down. Doughty definitely has a way with pacing.

There was also a self-awareness in this book that I really loved. At one point, Doughty is talking about a tourist who was basically interrupting a death ceremony to get a picture. When the opportunity arises for Doughty and her friend to get a “backstage view” of an exhumation, she realizes that she isn’t much better than that tourist. It was nice to see her realize that even though she was invited and many places do have death tourism, we’re still interlopers.

I personally hope Doughty continues her search for the good death… and brings us along every step of the way!

7802044Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which has spawned the death positive movement. Her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, was a New York Times best-seller. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA. 

Born on a balmy August evening on the decidedly un-morbid shores of O’ahu, Hawai’i, Caitlin was an even-tempered, bookish child. Her parents had little reason to believe that she would ultimately seek a life tiptoeing the line between the living and the dead. It was only when she began to ask the pertinent questions that her parents suspected a proclivity toward the macabre.

(Example: “Mommy, if I was on the edge of that cliff and I fell off and on the way down screamed, ‘Mommy, Mommy, I need you Mommy why won’t you help me,’ and then smashed my body on the rocks, would you be sad? Yes or no, Mommy?”)

After high school, she fled east to the University of Chicago, where she graduated in medieval history. Her thesis, entitled “In Our Image: The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory,” is the summer must-read for all lovers of demon sex and the late medieval church.

After graduation, Caitlin moved to California, where she has worked as a crematory operator, funeral director, a body-van transport driver, and returned to Cypress College for her second degree, in mortuary science. Unhappy with the state and offerings of the American funeral industry, in 2015 she opened her own alternative funeral home, Undertaking LA, to help people help themselves (handle a corpse).

Caitlin’s webseries “Ask a Mortician” and her work to change the death industry have led to features on National Public Radio, BBC, The New Yorker, Vice, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Forbes.

She frequently gives talks on the history of death culture, rituals, and the funeral industry, presenting for groups as diverse as the TED, SXSW, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and universities and libraries all over the world.

Reviews

REVIEW: THERE’S SOMEONE IN YOUR HOUSE

15797848Title: THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Pages: 287
Format: Hardback
ARC?: No
MG, YA, ADULT?: Young Adult
TW/CW: Blood, death, gore, abuse, sex (consensual), drug use (by a minor character), sexual abuse (mentions of a minor having a sexual relationship with an adult), trans character having their “legal” name mentioned, heavy violence.
Rep: Biracial MC (Indigenous Hawaiian/ Black), trans (side character)
Rating: 4/5

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

So, I never actually intended to every read a Stephanie Perkins novel. Ever.

When I went to the Southern Festival of Books and saw that Perkins had a panel, I was kind of like, “Yeah, ok, maybe I’ll check that out” since there weren’t any other panels I was interested in. It’s not that I think Perkins is a bad writer… over the top contemporary YA with big sweeping romances just isn’t my thing. I was especially turned off by the cheating in ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and just sort of gave up on anything Perkins related.

But.

But then I sat in on her panel and she is charming and engaging and an adorable little gem… that’s also full of spook. It felt like finding a kindred spirit, so I knew I wanted to get her last book and her sign it. Would I ever read it? I mean… maybe. Probably not. But when my friend wanted to buddy read it, I decided to give it a go. A few chapters a day wouldn’t kill me, right?

I finished the book in one day.

My friend is so mad.

I’ve seen a lot of negative things about this book but I absolutely adored it. In all honesty, I think you have to be a fan of cheesy, B-movie slasher films to truly appreciate just how good this book is. This isn’t meant to be a psychological thriller. It’s not to be some grand mystery. This is Cherry Falls meets I Know What You Did Last Summer.

I was really impressed with the killer’s “tell”. If you don’t know what a tell is, think of every slasher movie you’ve ever seen. How do you know when the killer is just around the corner? Some movies use music. Some movies go silent. Perkins used a really great tell- things just slightly askew, not quite where the character remembered putting them. That’s pretty genius. Not only does it confuse the character, but it gives the reader a heart stopping “heads up” that… well, someone’s about to die. It also makes us paranoid! How many of us have sworn the cup of water was JUST RIGHT THERE but now it’s not? Now I have to think “Did I actually put it somewhere else… or am I about to get whacked…”

There have been lots of complaints that there isn’t much of a plot and… I mean, I agree. I think most slasher films don’t have a plot either. Sometimes just staying alive in the midst of a tragedy is a good enough plot. Perkins isn’t claiming to be Stephen King- she wanted to write a campy slasher book and she got it right. The other complaints I’ve seen are that there was too much romance and not enough murder. In 287, we see 3 teenagers get murdered and 5 others be brutally assaulted. That’s an average of 1 stabbing every 35 pages. Y’all. As for the romance, it’s not overdone. Every slasher film has a romantic element to it… it kinda makes you root a little harder for the young lovers to survive.

I also want to address some of the issues around Darby’s character. I am not trans so this is definitely not my lane and I am open to linking reviews done by trans people that talk about Darby. Before I read this, I knew there was some controversy surrounding Perkins using Darby’s deadname. In the book, the MC is talking about her friends and she mentions that Darby’s legal name is still Justine Darby but that he goes by Darby. My friend who is reading the book with me (Or, well, was… I’m so sorry, Seth, I can’t help that I read it that fast) is trans and saw no problem with the passage. I have other trans friends who saw problems with it. I have other other trans friends who said that it wasn’t the best way to handle it but it wasn’t exactly problematic. I think it goes back to the point that we aren’t a monolith and there’s no 100% right way to handle every character. Another thing people were upset with was the fact that Grandma Young doesn’t allow Ollie into Makani’s room but has allowed Darby in her room in the past. The feeling is that Grandma Young is misgendering Darby or still sees him as being female. I feel like it was more poor wording than malicious intent by Perkins. Growing up, I was allowed to have male friends in my room but not boys that my parents thought I was interested in (joke’s on you, parents, you should have been watching the girls). I definitely felt more like “I know you’re interested in this boy so y’all stay down here” than anything else.

This lost a star for me just because I thought revealing the killer half-way through the book was, eh, a little too soon. Perkins made this reveal work, but I still like being surprised at the end. Product of the Scooby-Doo generation, I like my bad guys to have their masks ripped off at the end.

Again, I loved this book! If you’re looking for a little romance, a lot of gore, and some teenagers getting whacked, this one is for you!

SP_Blau_Medium

Hi, there! I’m Stephanie Perkins, and I’m a New York Times and international bestselling author of books for teenagers and for adults with teenage hearts. I was born in South Carolina, raised in Arizona, and I attended universities in California and Georgia. Since 2004, I’ve lived in the mountains of North Carolina.

I’ve always worked with books—first as a bookseller, then as a librarian, now as a novelist and editor. My best friend is my husband Jarrod. Every room of our house is painted a different color of the rainbow, and we share it with a feisty cat named Mr. Tumnus.

You can find more about Stephanie on her website, instagram, and twitter!