I’ve been reading quite steadily this year, faster than I can blog! Get ready because I’m about to talk about FOURTEEN BOOKS. This includes books I’ve loved and books I’ve reaaaally not loved. Normally I don’t say much about books I’ve disliked, but these have some reasons I want to discuss. I am NOT saying these ‘misses’ are bad books, or that you won’t like them, that’s not what I’m here for, but I want to explain why they were misses for me. But as for the books that I loved, they’ve left a special place on my heart this year and let’s just take a moment to go all heart-eyed first, mkay?
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
I loved Dumplin’ and Ramona Blue, so I was really excited for Puddin’. I really liked this one – it’s interesting though, because I wouldn’t say it stands out for me very much, but it’s a quiet enjoyment. I think I’d like to read this again to see if it sticks more. I love Julie’s writing and her characters. Puddin’ is about a girl named Millie who gained a bunch of confidence after being in the beauty pageant in Dumplin’ and is looking to shine even brighter. Her sights are set on journalism camp, rather than the fat camp she’s gone to every summer for years. But she can’t find a way to bring up her dreams to her mom, who insists on fat camp. Then there’s Callie, resident bad girl cheerleader who takes the fall for the destruction her team brought on to a gym that pulled their funding, which also happens to be owned by Millie’s aunt and uncle. So guess who get stuck together for summer jobs? The two girls spar at first, coming from two totally different worlds, but end up teaching each other how to strive for their best. It’s a great story of unlikely friendship and the strength we can give each other.
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Wow, this book. This book is intense. It’s Black Lives Matter but almost written like a dystopian war at times. It’s like The Hate U Give x10. It’s a really tough but worthwhile read. Moss is struggling with a lot. He saw his father shot by a cop for no reason when he was a kid, and he’s been dealing with extreme anxiety ever since. He’s recognized in public during protests. There’s also Javier, a cute boy Moss meets on the subway. Moss just wants to live a normal teen life, but it gets even more difficult when his school’s employed cop assaults a student and then metal detectors are installed. A huge group of Moss’s friends and family get together wanting to do something but not sure what. I thought it was interesting to show that part, the long talks and strategizing, the reaching out to the community, the planning and outreach, the backlash, the stress. Everything in Moss’s life escalates quickly and he has to figure out what he wants to do about it. I struggled a bit with the style of writing at first – I found myself getting confused a lot either between how many characters there were but not enough defining characteristics to set them apart. But once I got over that I sprinted through the book, needing to know what would happen next. It’s disturbing and powerful, and it will stay with me.
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
I love a Katrina Leno book! The author of Everything All At Once and The Lost and Found has such a soft and loving touch of magical realism in her stories that I dig so hard. In Summer of Salt, a town on a tiny island off the East Coast is preparing for their summer slew of birder tourists who come every year in order to study a rare 300-year-old bird that lives on the island, a bird that is also believed to be a Georgina’s great-great-aunt. Every woman in Georgina’s family has a magical power, and it’s supposed to show up by age 18. Georgina hasn’t seen her power yet, while her twin sister Mary is floating around everywhere, and it’s almost their birthday, so she’s kind of stressed. When the time the bird should arrive comes and goes, and it rains so much it starts to flood the island, everyone in the town starts to freak out. All the while Mary starts acting really distant when she normally is all up in Georgina’s face. This story is so much more than Georgina, but she’s a good person to lead it. She is level and caring, and wants to help everyone. I will say that I found the love interest Prue to be completely unnecessary and lacklustre, but so be it. The relationship between the sisters was way more compelling. Summer of Salt was darker than Leno’s last two books, but I know that her next book is going to be pretty heavy, so I feel like this acts as a smooth transition for her.
The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
I’ve been recommending this one left and right as an upbeat summer read! Seventeen-year-old fashion blogger Abby is beyond excited to have landed her dream internship at her favourite clothing store in LA for the summer. She’s used to existing on the sidelines either as her best friend’s sidekick, or sitting at home updating her plus-size style blog. This internship is Abby’s key to something bigger: her potential first job in the fashion industry. But Abby couldn’t predict having to share the coveted internship with a classmate, Jordi, and Abby certainly doesn’t predict falling for Jordi super hard. Their flirtation and relationship is pretty cute, and they have to hide it from their boss, because only one of them will get the job at the end of the summer. Abby also finds an unexpected new friendship in Jax when he asks her to join him in testing all of the burgers in LA for his dad’s new app. This book shows the possibilities of summer, teens striving for possible career goals, and love for a fat girl. It’s wonderful and is such a feel-good book!
Letting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder
I absolutely adored Meg’s book The Museum of Heartbreak, so I was so dang excited for her next book. This one is about twins who have grown apart since the brother, Charlie, was diagnosed with leukaemia, and the sister, Parker, internalizes the effect it’s had on the family. But Charlie’s in remission and making up for lost time, going back to his reckless ways, while Parker is about to start a prestigious medical internship before going to Harvard. Charlie and Parker (yes they’re named after the saxophonist) don’t know how to get along anymore, and they’re both having melt downs about their lives, but aren’t helping each other. I loved reading about their relationship and how important it was for them to figure stuff out on their own and together. I was invested in them as characters and wanted them to have all the good things. I really look forward to whatever comes from Meg next!
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Oh my, Darius. Darius Who I Want To Hug So Badly. This sweet cinnamon roll of a character. Gosh this book will tug on your heart strings. I loved this book for a few reasons: one, because of Darius and his whole-bodied need for a friend, two, because it’s a YA book that takes place mostly out of the States (something I think we need more of), and three, the friendship that blossoms between Darius and Sohrab is just so freakin’ pure. So Darius is half Iranian, half American. He’s always felt out-of-place, whether it’s at school for being a geek or at home for feeling neglected by his father. Darius has serious daddy issues. When the family finds out that his mom’s father has a serious brain tumor, they go to Iran for a few weeks to spend time with him. Darius hadn’t been to Iran before, and he never really learned the language (a sore spot since his younger sister did), so this fish-out-of-water is now totally bug-eyed. But he soon meets his grandparents’ neighbour Sohrab, a boy the same age as him, and Sohrab welcomes Darius into his life so effortlessly it completely knocks Darius over. He finally feels what it’s like to have a true friend, to feel included, to have someone to confide in. You guys, this book. It’s the sweetest.
Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
This book was so fun! Now, I am not into religion. I don’t like talking about it, I don’t feel it, I am perplexed at how it’s governed the world, etc. So when I heard about this book about an atheist boy named Michael who ends up at a Catholic high school and joins a group of other misfits, I was intrigued. This book was everything I wanted and then some. I didn’t expect it to be so funny and include so many dick jokes, I didn’t expect to learn much about Catholicism in a way that didn’t annoy me, and I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like if the main character actually realized how the school was good for him. The group of misfits are as loveable as you’d hope for – there’s Lucy, who Michael falls for but finds out she wishes she could be a priest; there’s Avi, who is Jewish and gay; Max, who just wants to wear capes and not be bothered about it; and Eden, who practices paganism. Together they form Heretics Anonymous, and they decide it’s up to them to teach the school a thing or two about how they still exist in the Dark Ages about sex ed and silly rules. Seriously, this was really fun!
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
Technically this book is for a middle grade audience, but it’s got crossover. One of my favourite new authors – she’s the lovely mind behind Chaotic Good and You’re Welcome, Universe – has just released her first graphic novel, and it’s adorable. It’s about a boy named AJ who is crushin’ hard on a girl named Nia. Nia is obsessed with vampires, so AJ gets the genius idea that maybe Nia would notice him if he was a vampire. He’s right, she does notice him, but for looking like a sick, bloody kid rather than a brooding vampire. (Lolz.) But when she clues in that he could be a vampire, she’s gotta tell him the truth: she’s a slayer. Ba dum dum. You can tell how much fun Whitney had creating it, and there’s stuff in there for older readers like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Buffy references. Her use of colours was so satisfying and I loved gazing at each panel, as well as giggling through the story.
The Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
I was so excited for this one, soooo excited. But it fell flat. A book about how a plus-size teen witch brings her dead best friend and two other girls back to life for a week to look for revenge on their murderers? Awesome. Done. I’m all for it. Gimme. It all started out okay, but it left me feeling bummed by the time I was finished reading. Mila misses her best friend Riley so hard after Riley is mysteriously found dead but nobody seems to think it was anything other than suicide, just days after two other classmates were found. I was looking forward to Mila’s reunion with Riley but Riley is mean and distant throughout the entire book. I couldn’t really see how they were ever friends in the first place. Neither of them get much redemption or closure either. It turns out the other two girls June and Dayton were way more interesting and gave Mila more character development. Then for the hunt for their killer, I felt like there were so many times that I just wanted to yell at them to go about something a different way, but I will say I was left surprised.
Past Tense by Star Spider
Ugh, this one still bothers me. The main marketing hook for the book is ‘how do you live after death’ which feels awkward, since it’s not referring to the main character. I totally get that it’s catchy, but I hate feeling lied to in this way. I was intrigued by the concept of the book – a girl’s mom thinks she’s dead – but the way it was carried out didn’t live up to the hype. Julie is fifteen, and her mom suddenly goes cold one day and says she can’t feel her heartbeat and she thinks she’s dead. She sleeps under a sheet on a table, is often sitting staring at her hands, drives to the graveyard every night getting Julie to say eulogies, buys a coffin, etc. At first I thought this was postpartum depression, since she has a six-month-old son. And I thought that would be a super interesting thing to read about – a teen whose mom has postpartum. But nope. And the real reason isn’t revealed until the absolute very end and it’s kind of just a shrug. It’s obvious Julie’s mom isn’t actually dead, so I feel alright saying that this tackles mental illness, but unfortunately the way it’s handled more like a quirky catch rather than a way of looking at a serious issue was offensive. I fully understand that most people don’t deal with mental illness properly, but this just felt so off to me. The other tension of the book is that Julie is in love with her best friend Lorelai, who is trying to set her up with a boy named Henry. Lorelai is unbelievable as a character – I couldn’t take her seriously the entire time, nor was it ever really explained why Julie was in love with her. Okay, I get teen hormones. But Lorelai constantly and obviously lies and deceives Julie, which Julie can’t see. That’s fine… but the way that Lorelai is described, all ‘oh dahling’ and teasing and pastor’s daughter bad girl, felt lazy and cliche. Julie realizing she may like Henry was fine and interesting, though I can see that upsetting readers, but I didn’t mind that. Henry was a much more solid side character. Overall, I thought the writing of the book was fine stylistically, but the reasons and directions were really confusing and disappointing. I am assuming I’m taking everything the opposite way from which it was intended, but I can’t deny how uncomfortable all of this made me.
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
This one hurts. It huuuuurts. I am a huge Becky fan, I adore Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, and I was beyond excited to get another Becky book. Yes, I ran to get it the day it came out and then read it in two days. Yes, I still looove Becky’s writing. But most of this book felt forced and read like fan fiction, and honestly I would have preferred the MC of the book to be someone else, even though I was happy there was more queer plus size representation. I can’t say much about this book or about my problems with it without spoiling anything, so you’re free to message me privately if you are interested :p Just know I was disappointed, but it doesn’t affect my love for Becky one bit.
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon
I want to love Sandhya’s books so bad. I really do. I liked When Dimple Met Rishi, but found it kind of forgettable. Turns out From Twinkle, With Love is way more forgettable as I really have to trudge through my thoughts to remember what happened. What I do remember is that the book was just kind of meh, and the way it was written (as letters to Twinkle’s favourite female movie directors) was weird because it didn’t work whatsoever. The writing would start as a letter and then read like a regular book and then remember it’s a letter. It was confusing, distracting, and unnecessary.
Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert
I was really interested in this because it deals with a teen who just wants to work real hard towards getting into university, but is also having a crisis about if she actually wants to do the thing she’s been doing for years (training to be a violinist). But then she finds out she’s pregnant and obviously has to make a major decision. The book just ended up falling flat for me – I never really invested in any of the characters, the writing wasn’t particularly grabbing, and it hasn’t stuck with me after reading it.
When Life Gives You Demons by Jennifer Honeybourn
Honestly, I keep forgetting about this book. :/ Where Heretics Anonymous excelled for me, this one barely hit any notes. It’s a very quick read about a girl who is training to be an exorcist, falling for her math tutor classmate, and trying to figure out the truth behind why her mom left her. It’s contemporary with a demonic twist! It’s not a bad book, but it barely left a mark on me (ha ha). Like, I had to look up the plot again and I’ve already read it. Womp womp.
SO because I don’t want to end on an awkwardly negative note, I’m going to leave you here with a list of YA books I’m SUPER EXCITED ABOUT that are coming out in the next few months!
Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Four Three Two One by Courtney Stevens
The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Pulp by Robin Talley
Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? What do you think?