Posted in YA

Two YA Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About

You know when you read a book and it just stays with you for days, weeks, months on end? The two YA books I write about below are great examples.  I read them this summer, along with many other books, and they are just stubbornly refusing to leave my brain. And my heart. Such great books. Read them now, you must.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 

serpent kingEvery once and a while, I read a book that feels like something more. All of my favorite reading boxes are checked: the urge to know what will happen next, an emotional attachment to the characters and, finally, a sense of wonder that transcends the action in the story. The Serpent King did all of those things for me. It tells the story of three teenage outcasts living in small town Tennessee: Dill, the son of a Pentecostal minister in prison for possessing child pornography; Lydia, a budding fashion designer and successful blogger with dreams of escaping small town life; and sweet Travis, obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like series of books and its fandom.  All three lean on each other as they  make their way through their final year of high school.

I listened to the amazing audio version of this book on my headphones while doing a host of mundane things in my life: the dishes, the cleaning, packing my kids’ lunches for camp, washing their clothes, etc. As is the case with all great audio books, I didn’t mind doing these things while I had this story to keep me going. I felt like my heart was being squeezed right out of my chest. And I definitely paused to weep a few times!

Prescription: A gorgeous book full of memorable characters an ideal read for those times when you just want to have your heart broken wide open by a book. A cathartic experience.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

midnight at the electricWhen the world feels like a loud and frightening place, sometimes the best refuge is a quiet book. I picked up Midnight at the Electric this summer during a particularly hectic week in the news and at work. Friends, it was a relief. A quiet but satisfying tale of three distinct times and places: Adri lives in Kansas in 2065, after leaving an underwater Miami; Katherine lives in Kansas in the 1930s, during the height of the dust bowl storms; and Lenore lives in England in 1919, following World War I.  As she is preparing to leave with a group of Mars settlers (yes Planet Mars), Adri finds a trove of letters written from Lenore to Beth, Katherine’s mother. How is everyone related? What are the stories about? You will have to read to find out…

Prescription: Ideal for anyone who loves a quiet story and an intriguing plot. No fireworks here, no heart stopping action. Just a fascinating, peaceful, well-told tale that works like a balm for a trouble soul.

 

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Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Prescription: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishiIt may be past Memorial Day, and into the beginning of June, but here in New England, it’s still raining and cold. We seem to have these little pockets of perfect weather that only last half a day every two weeks.  Otherwise, it’s just raining. Constantly. But no matter, today I am recommending a book that feels like the perfect summer read.  It is smart and sweet and funny and romantic. What more could you ask for in a book that begs to be read on a plane or by the ocean, or even in your bed on a lazy Sunday?

Written in alternating perspectives, this charming read takes us through the summer when, as the title says, Dimple met Rishi. Dimple has just graduated high school and is laser focused on her future dreams of becoming a coding superstar. Her parents, on the other hand, are more interested in her future as a wife. Her mother begs her to wear make up and pay more attention to her appearance so that she will have a better chance of attracting a husband. Uninterested in romance, especially marriage, Dimple wants to attend a summer program, Insomnia Con, where aspiring web developers compete to create the best app. When Dimple asks her parents to go, she is shocked and delighted at their quick and positive response. It’s only when she arrives and is approached by Rishi, who introduces himself as her future husband, that it all starts to make sense: Dimple and Rishi’s parents have arranged a marriage for them. No wonder they were so eager to let her go!

In stark contrast to Dimple, Rishi is a hopeless romantic. He knows his parents have picked out a potential bride for him, and he trusts them enough to be excited.  He respects the tradition of arranged marriages and likes the idea of being part of something bigger than himself.  But it may not be as simple as it sounds. Angry and frustrated and feeling betrayed by her parents, Dimple wants nothing to do with Rishi. At first….But then, as they work together creating an app and getting to know each other, Dimple finds herself in the very unexpected position of falling for Rishi.

Dimple, Rishi and their small cast of supporting characters are well drawn, unique and realistic. The romance between the two young Indian-American teens is thoughtful and sex positive without being overly sentimental or gauche and with just the right amount of swoon. Mendon explores the pressures of family, culture, friendship and self-esteem in a gentle coming of age story that feels altogether fresh.

Prescribed for : YA fans, readers in search of something irresistibly pleasant and transporting.  You will fly through this book. Bring it along on a trip to the beach or a quick airplane ride! Or give it as an easy and uplifting gift for a high school graduate looking to blow off steam and enjoy the summer.

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, ApproximatelySometimes one needs to relax and unwind and be carried away on a light breeze of someone else’s problems–someone else’s not-too-big-to-be-overcome problems, that is. For me, this is what a perfect escapist read is: good writing, good story, minor issues and a tidy little ending. I use these kind of stories for palate cleansers in between heavier books and for days where I don’t want to be disturbed or sad (birthdays, holidays, vacation). So when I read about  Alex, Approximately in several review journals, where it received lots of good reviews, I mentally filed it away for a day that I would need it.

That day, it turned out, was this past Saturday, during my Birthday weekend. It was a warm and sunny day, one of the few we’ve had this season, and I just wanted to relax on the porch with a book. Alex, Approximately, turned out to be the icing on this relaxing cake of a day. Described as a kind of YA version of You Got Mail, this delightful teenage romp follows 17-year old Bailey “Mink” Rydell, as she moves across the country to live with her Dad in an idyllic California coastal town. Bailey is a classic movie buff and has made online friends with a fellow movie buff named “Alex,” who also happens to live in this idyllic coastal town. Unsure whether she is ready to tell this online person that she has moved close by,  the guarded and (literally, it turns out) gunshy Bailey decides to scope him out in person before revealing herself as his online friend. He could be a creep for all she knows! As you can imagine, hijinx ensue as Bailey quickly falls for her cocky, handsome surfer boy coworker.  I’ll let you fill in the You’ve Got Mail parallels for yourself.

I fully expected the usual romantic comedy plot line of meet cute, misunderstanding/breakup, resolution/reunion. While some of the usual tropes exist in this sweet story, it features an edge and a depth that I didn’t expect. Both Bailey and her love interest have a traumatic experience in their past that keeps them from being completely straight forward with each other and others. And a troubled local teen with a serious drug problem frequently shows up to bring real menace to their otherwise idyllic life. Still, Bennett has written an entirely pleasurable story that will keep you interested, invested and most importantly, distracted. I was sad to see it end!

Prescribed for: Anyone in need of a sweet pick-me-up of a story who doesn’t mind teen drama and perspectives. And all YA fans.

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

5 Minute Book Prescription: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

THUGThis book has been blowing up all over social media, and with good reason: it is, simply put, essential. The fact that this is Angie Thomas’s debut novel is so exciting and wonderful because if this is what she can do on her first go, then wow, are we in for a treat.

The Hate U Give tells the story of high school student Starr Carter who feels divided between two identities: the Starr who goes to an exclusive, mostly white boarding school several towns away, and the Starr who lives in a poor neighborhood with bars on the windows and parties that end with gunshots. One night, leaving one of those parties with her childhood best friend Khalil, Starr watches as a police officer shoots and kills her friend during a routine traffic stop.  Traumatized, heartbroken and confused about the reluctance of the authorities to charge the police officer whom she feels murdered her friend in cold blood, Starr’s world is turned upside down.

Sure the premise alone is interesting, but it’s the clear, engaging writing that makes this book so memorable. Yes it is heartbreaking and infuriating and all too familiar, but it is also funny and warm and dead on in its portrayal of family life. Carter also manages to nail her description of and interaction with both privileged white people who want to understand and privileged white people who don’t want to understand. Everyone in Starr’s life is so interesting and complex and well drawn, you will feel like you know them. When the story finally ends, you will be sad to leave them, as I was.

Prescription: Everyone who lives in this country should read this book. It would be particularly effective, however, for people who just don’t understand why people are angry when an unarmed black person is shot by the police. Anyone who doesn’t understand the “Black Lives Matter” movement and why it deserves our attention should read this book. But also: it’s just a damn good story, no matter what your beliefs are. #readitnow!

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

5-Minute Book Prescription: #ProtectTransKids or, Try a Little Empathy

When it comes to the experience of Transgender kids and which bathroom they should be allowed to use, I often hear people say, in an exasperated way, “What is the big deal with bathrooms, anyway? ” and “I don’t care if someone’s trans, I’m just tired of it being in my face all the time.”  In addition to making me grit my teeth, and clench my fists behind my back, this kind of sentiment crushes my soul a little bit. Folks, the issue is so much bigger than bathrooms. The bathroom thing is really just a symbol for a larger movement toward acceptance and understanding.

I get that it can be hard to understand the transgender experience, especially if you don’t know anyone who is transgender or gender fluid. But why not try to understand?  Books, as I’m sure you expected me to say, are an amazing resource for encouraging understanding. What better way to understand the trans worldview, than by walking in their (literary) shoes?   Here are two GREAT reads, aimed at younger readers but very accessible to adults, about being transgender.

George by Alex Gino

31ff9qjnbnl-_sx329_bo1204203200_When the world looks at George, they see a boy. But in her heart, George knows that she is a girl. She has kept this painful secret for a long time, but when her teacher tells the class that they will be doing a production of Charlotte’s Web, George is determined to play Charlotte. Her teacher tells her she cannot try out for the part, because she is a boy. George and her best friend Kelly, hatch a plan to show the class who George really is.

A very sweet, honest look into the mind and heart of a transgender kid. An ideal introduction to a different life experience for elementary-aged kids and grown ups  alike.

If I was Your Girl  by Meredith Russo
if-i-was-your-girlAmanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Fleeing a violent attack in her hometown, Amanda has come to live with her previously estranged father. With the fresh start, she quickly makes friends and attracts the attention of a few boys, one of whom she immediately falls for. But Amanda has a secret and she is terrified of the violence and hatred that might happen if it comes out: At her old school, Amanda was Andrew.

This is such a beautifully written, suspenseful love story. I really, really loved it. Highly recommended.

Prescription: These two books are essential reads for anyone struggling to understand what the “big deal” is with transgender bathroom rights. Or for anyone curious about what life is like for a transgender person, particularly a child or young adult.

 

 

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

Five Minute Book Review/Prescription: My Lady Jane

my-lady-janeSometimes you just need a distraction. And that is exactly where I found myself when I picked up My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows.  Having just started and abandoned no less than three other books (which shall remain nameless!), I was starting to feel desperate.

I was definitely attracted to this book when I saw the cover. But when I read the description, I was ALL IN.  My Lady Jane tells an alternate version of the fate of Lady Jane Grey, who was, in actual history, queen of England for nine days before being beheaded by Mary Tudor, aka Bloody Mary. In this retelling of  Tudor history, the three authors have followed the facts to a certain point before tossing it aside and writing their own, happier ending for Jane Grey.

This in itself is an intriguing and fun idea, but the authors have taken the idea even further out there, by reimaging the struggle between Catholics and Protestants as one between Edians and non-Edians. What, pray tell is an Edian? Edians are humans who have the ability to turn into animals. Some Edians have masterful control and can change at will, whereas others experience their “change” as more of a curse, and have no power over when it comes or goes. Some people in England find Edians to be abominations and would like to see them all rounded up and imprisoned or killed. Others, Lady Jane Grey included, would like to see a hospitable and collaborative relationship between Edians and Non-Edians.

The authors have made no secret of how much fun they had writing this book, and it is evident in the prose. Readers are treated to three points of view in alternating chapters: Lady Jane Grey’s, her new husband Gifford Dudley’s (an Edian who spends his days as a horse) and the sickly teenage King Edward Tudor’s. All three are an absolute delight to spend time with and their anachronistic, hilarious, sarcastic and sweet world view will make you love them. Indeed, I was so sad to reach the end of this book. In all honesty, I could not love it enough.

Prescription: The perfect read for anyone looking for something humorous, romantic and  good natured, but still steeped in historical references. Will also appeal to fans of Tudor history in general, even if everything you know about the Tudors you learned from the Showtime series, as I did.