Book Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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Matthew’s mom is dead and his dad is a total wreck.  Just when Matt thinks he can’t handle any more hard stuff in the world, he meets a girl who has dealt with a great deal more than Matt can even imagine–and she just might have some stuff to teach him.  As he navigates his own grief as well as his father’s, Matt starts falling for this girl and learning lessons about life, love, and growing up.

If there’s one thing Jason Reynolds does well, it’s bring a neighborhood to life on the page.  That’s on full display here in his latest offering for teens, and it makes for a rich, immersive read.  Matthew’s voice is authentic, making for a narration that is both compelling and at times searingly real.  A slow burner, like all of Reynolds’s novels, this is one that will stand out to teens who like their stories a bit gritty but wholly real.

Matthew works as a narrator largely because of Reynolds’s skill with his prose.  He also knows Matthew really well and allows his grief to simmer on the page.  As Matthew finds solace in attending funerals at the funeral home he starts working in, his healing process begins, and readers take that journey with him.  The result is a largely successful exploration of what it means to move on after a significant death.

The supporting cast of characters are fairly well fleshed-out, too.  They help bring the Brooklyn neighborhood to life, and provide valuable insight into Matthew and his world.  This is a character-driven novel about slice-of-life Brooklyn, and it is a gem of a novel.  Reynolds is an author to watch, and his storytelling only gets stronger with each offering.

Hopeful, uplifting, and emotionally resonant.  This is a title to keep on the shelves, for sure.  Recommended.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: 2015. Library copy.

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the internet-y things that got me reading and thinking this week.  Without further ado:

Read Harder 2016, Feminist-Style (Feminist Texan Reads)

An inventive and awesome take on the BookRiot Read Harder Challenge for this year.  Plenty of great title recommendations as well as ways of looking at each category.  This is a great blog to check out, if you haven’t already:

But is it me, or is everyone stuck in a feminist rut? The main titles being bandied about are:

  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (good book!)
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (good book!)
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (good book!)
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (PLEASE GOD NO WHYYYYY)

Anyone who takes issue with Caitlin Moran is more than okay in my book.

The Brand Keeping Oprah in Business (Vulture)

This is an excellent piece about Tyler Perry and his cultural relevance, and it’s totally worth your time.  It’s well written, thoughtful, and incisive.  I might hate Perry and his work and how damaging his messages are, but there’s no denying he’s a cultural force:

To Perry, though, it seemed as though the more powerful he got, the more his career was undermined. His fans could never shout their reasons for liking Tyler Perry at the same volume as those who thought his material was bad — and many of the most vocal critics are themselves black, angry at what Perry is peddling, the characters they see as caricature, the narratives his stories reinforce.

What Goes Through Your Mind: On Nice Parties and Casual Racism (The Toast)

So excellent and so upsetting:

Every Asian American has fielded some variation on “all look the same.” As racial microaggressions go, it’s common as dirt. I know I should be able to come up with an answer, something brisk and witty, and bury this moment in the same place where I keep all such awkward memories. But for some reason, my brain just won’t cooperate. My face is burning, my heart pounding too loudly, and it’s painful to even consider making eye contact with anyone at the table.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

Book Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

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Jennifer’s family doesn’t believe her when she tells them she needs treatment for her eating disorder. Reluctantly, they sign her into inpatient, and it isn’t long before she thinks she’s made a terrible mistake.  The locked doors, tough nurses, and harsh rules aren’t exactly what she imagined.  But in order to be discharged, Jennifer must adhere to the rules and work on getting better, which means confronting some uncomfortable truths about herself–and her family.

Based on Johnson’s own life, this autobiographical novel offers an interesting and fresh take on eating disorders and treatment.  Most remarkable is Johnson’s ability to write with clarity about the disorder without delving into the aspects that might trigger readers; a thing that is very common in memoirs about eating disorders.  Johnson also chooses to set her novel in the 80s, when she was a teen herself, and the details are spot-on and help to add dimension to the story.

The setting and the characters are vivid and authentic.  Jennifer’s struggles with her family in particular feels achingly real, and readers will identify with her inability to communicate effectively with them.  It’s clear Johnson did a lot of soul-searching in the writing of this novel, and the payoff is great.  It’s a hell of a story about healing and growing up, and readers will be glued to the page.

There are a few missteps here: the novel abruptly changes from verse to prose as Jennifer enters the second stage of her treatment, and the narration also switches from third to first-person.  These stylistic choices won’t trip up most readers, though.  There are also a few story lines or plot points that seemingly appear and disappear at random, making for an at-times choppy read.  Again, these are minor quibbles with an overall compelling book.

On the whole, this is a powerful story about growing up and getting well.  A bit of unevenness doesn’t overshadow the impact of the story or its characters.  Once again, J.J. Johnson demonstrates her adept skill at writing for young people.  Recommended.

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson. Peachtree Publishers: 2015. Library copy.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

25614492Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Expected Release Date: February 2, 2016

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

(summary via Goodreads)

No one does historical fiction like Sepetys does, so this one looks like it’s going to be an in-demand title.  I’m excited to see what she does with this time period and geographical location.  It looks to be like an exciting read!

What are you waiting on this week?

Best Books of 2015

 

These are the best books I read in 2015.  Links go to my review, if I wrote one.  Without further ado:

21853636All the Rage by Courtney Summers: I said in my review that Courtney Summers is a damn treasure, and that remains true.  Her writing grows and gets stronger with every novel she publishes, and this is her best one to date.  Gritty, raw, furiously angry, and emotionally resonant, this is a heart-stopper of a book that will grab readers and won’t let go until the last page is turned.  Put this in the hands of teenagers and adults alike, everywhere.  This one tackles rape culture, girl culture, and everything in between.

 

 

18369851Infandous by Elana K. Arnold: One of the most striking, disturbing novels I can remember reading in quite some time, Elana K. Arnold’s Infandous is not for the faint of heart.  It is, however, a huge success of a novel, full of absolutely gorgeous writing, solid characterization, and the all-too-real pain of growing up.  Interspersed in the narrative of Sephora Golden are versions of fractured fairy tales that will have readers clamoring to seek out other versions.  All of this works exceedingly well, resulting in a novel that is beautiful, upsetting, memorable, and kind of perfect.

18304322Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: Julie Murphy’s book is notable for many reasons, but perhaps it’s most noteworthy for its enormous heart.  Willowdean is a refreshing narrator, full of love for herself and her weird Texas town.  Full of heart, humor, and a ton of great romance, this is a fun read with a great message for teens, and it will be gobbled up by readers because it’s so much fun to read.  A true delight of a novel, Murphy is an author to keep an eye on.25330323

 

See You Next Tuesday by Jane Mai: I just
discovered Mai’s work in December, but she’s already made a huge impression on me.  Working from her own life, Mai crafts mini-comics about her depression, anxiety, bowel movements, and her dog, Stinky.  The result is a hilarious, sad, and brilliant look into a mind full of chaos.  Mai is one of my best discoveries of 2015, and I hope she publishes more work soon.

18659623Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: This is a graphic novel with teeth and more than a little bit of a bite.  Carroll wrote and illustrated all five stories in this collection, and she draws from folk and fairy tale, but provides sharp twists and takes on each of the stories.  Creepy, memorable, and wholly engrossing, the illustrations are striking and the sparse prose will keep readers up at night.  This is a lot of fun and offers a lot to think about late into the night.

 

Movie News and Randomness

It feels like a good week for some movie news that has me all aflutter.  Without further ado, here are 5 movie-related things I’m looking forward to right now:

1. A Monster Calls Teaser Trailer

I loved Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, so I’m very excited to see what the movie version brings.  The monster is voiced by Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones stars as the boy’s ailing mother.  I can’t wait!  It’s a long ways off yet.

2. Emma Stone to star in another Matthew Quick adaptation

The book being adapted is Love May Fail, which I know next to nothing about (when are we getting Sorta Like a Rockstar made into a movie, HMMMMMM?).  At any rate, I like her and I like Mike White, who wrote the script, so I’ll probably see it.  (Deadline)

3. The Boss Trailer

Melissa McCarthy stars in this comedy about a Martha Stewart type of mogul who is jailed and released into the care of her assistant, played by Kristen Bell.  Ben Falcone directs from a script he wrote with McCarthy.  I’m sure it will be dumb, but I love them all, so…

4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Trailer

The first teaser is out for the eagerly-awaited Potter-universe-adjacent film, which stars Eddie Redmayne (IDK about him, still) and looks like it’s going to be some fancy shit.  I don’t actually have a lot to say about this one, but I know I’ll see it because of its presence in the pop culture cannon.

5. The Bronze  (Red Band) Trailer

I haven’t heard much about this one, which seems to have garnered mixed reviews, but it looks like it might be funny and a total button-pusher, which I’m always down for.  I like gymnastics stuff in general so I’ll definitely check this one out once it’s on demand.  There are enough comedy cameos to make it worth it in that regard alone.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

22449806The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

Expected Release Date: January 26, 2016

Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

(summary via Goodreads)

The book is being compared to Sarah Dessen, which remains to be seen, but I can’t lie: this looks like a pretty compelling contemporary YA read.  I’m looking forward to seeing the exploration of the friendship between these two characters, as well as a hopefully rich portrayal of the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters.

What are you waiting on this week?