Book Review: Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Eva is obsessed with romance novels.  She’s read over a hundred of them in the years since her father passed away.  They help her escape the pains of her reality.  Swept up in romantic fantasies, she’s thrilled when she meets Will, a boy who not only seems interested in her but also seems to understand her.  Just as she’s falling for him, Will announces that he’s moving across the country to California.  Unwilling to accept losing him, Eva and her best friend Annie embark on a journey that takes them across the country to see Will and do a little growing up of their own.

Margo Rabb’s novel is part-coming-of-age, part road-trip-saga.  It is wholly excellent, with smart, nuanced characters and a generous dollop of emotional authenticity.  Rabb nails how grief works and how people process it.  It’s a story with an excellent investigation of love in all its various forms, offering readers poignancy but no pat answers or hollow platitudes.

What also works exceptionally well here is the gentle exploration of the relationship between mothers and daughters.  Eva’s mother seems to have completely moved on from the loss of Eva’s father, but Eva is still fresh in her grief.  As Eva becomes more obsessed with the world of romance novels, Eva’s mother becomes increasingly enmeshed in her work as a women’s studies professor.  The two don’t see eye to eye and barely communicate, causing them both even more pain.  All of this is done well, with realism and subtlety.  It’s clear that these two characters love each other.

The same can be said for Eva’s realistic, flawed friendship with her best friend Annie Kim.  The two girls are inseparable and have genuine love for each other, but they also have their own issues to deal with.  There’s so much here that readers both teen and adult will relate to when it comes to complications within friendships.  All of it is so well done.

This is a strong piece of fiction, and it’s one that teens will eat up.  It’s smart, insightful, and full of hope.  Chock-full of multidimensional characters, this is a must-buy for any collection.  Recommended.

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb. Harper: 2015. Library copy.


Waiting on Wednesday: Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

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:

Other Broken Things by Christa Desir

Expected Release Date: January 12, 2015

Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

(summary via Goodreads)

This one hits all my sweet spots.  Not only does Christa Desir seem like an awesome person in general (she is one of the rare authors I follow on Twitter), she’s smart and writes incisive fiction about tough stuff.  It feels weird to say that a book that sounds this dark hits my sweet spots, but it totally does: addiction, Bad For You Friends, older dudes…I can’t wait to see what Desir does with all this.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Maya and Nikki are identical twins about to start their senior years of high school.  Their plan has always been to graduate and go to a historically black college together with their best friend.  But as they adjust to changes in their neighborhood (gentrification threatens to uproot their friends and neighbors), they also struggle to adjust to changes within each other.  As they work to reconcile who they are as young adults, they also deal with who they are as individuals and not just twins.

Renee Watson’s debut YA novel is a breath of fresh air with a singular voice that allows readers to explore complex issues in a way that feels mostly naturalistic.  Maya’s narration is very direct and offers readers insight into how families deal (and communities) with change.  The characters who populate Watson’s story are layered, authentic, and successful.  These are smart teens who still feel like teens, and also noteworthy is the fact that they are surrounded by adults who are not only present but feel just as real.

There’s a lot happening in the book, but Maya’s narrative keeps the story grounded.  As the teens deal with diverging interests, gentrification, and interracial relationships, her voice keeps the story centered on her family and the community.  The book offers readers no easy answers but does provide a bit of hope about the future without slipping into the saccharine.

Because of the larger issues explored in the book, it would be easy for Watson to allow her story to lose focus.  But she manages to keep a hold on her characters while also presenting complex illustrations of what happens to a community when wealth begins to seep in.  This is a nuanced look at an important and often overlooked topic.  Watson is an author to watch.

This Side of Home by Renee Watson. Bloomsbury Childrens: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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:

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Expected Release Date: January 5, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

(summary via Goodreads)

The early buzz on this one is super positive, so I cannot wait to get my hands on it.  It’s supposed to be funny and smart and sex-positive, which are all things I love to see in YA.  I can’t wait for this one! January can’t come soon enough!

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Lara Jean didn’t think that when she set up a deal with Peter, she’d actually end up falling in love with him.  But the two of them ended up really liking each other, and now they’re in uncharted territory.  When a boy from Lara Jean’s past comes into the picture, Lara Jean feels more confused than ever before.  Is it really possible to be in love with two boys at once, and how can she ever determine who she’s supposed to be with?

In this follow up to Jenny Han’s popular and sweet To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is back with her treacly sweetness as she navigates her first real relationship.  Han explores what it means to enter into a relationship when the baggage from previous ones dogs the couple, and the lessons Lara Jean and Peter learn about trying to ignore problems will resonate with teens.  There are plenty of sweet moments here, and just like the first novel in the series, readers will swoon over the handsome boys and romantic gestures.

Lara Jean remains very innocent throughout the novel, and her voice is still remarkably young.  The book’s best moments come when she is with her sisters, whose bond is heart-warming and all too real.  Virtually all of the characters from the first novel make an appearance in this one, and Han allows all of them to grow even richer in their character development.  There’s plenty of side plots to entertain readers less invested in the romantic aspects of Lara Jean’s life.

Most notable in terms of characters is the appearance of John McLaren, one of the boys from Lara Jean’s past who gets a starring role in this sequel.  John is sweet and smart and good to Lara Jean, and it is easy to see why she begins to develop feelings for him.  He’s a strong enough character that readers will be split in their opinions about who Lara Jean should end up with.

But an abundance of characters and side plots means that the book suffers a bit structurally.  Too many characters crowd the story and make it harder for Han to hold onto the narrative of the book, making it a little looser than it should be.  As a sequel, it is perfectly serviceable, but it is not as strong as the first novel in the series, and it’s likely that readers will notice this.

Still very satisfying, and absolutely a must-stock for fans of contemporary YA.  Han is a good writer whose strengths come through in her character development.  Recommended.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: 2015.  Purchased copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: For the Record by Charlotte Huang

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:

For the Record by Charlotte Huang

Expected Release Date: November 10, 2015

Chelsea thought she knew what being a rock star was like . . . until she became one. After losing a TV talent show, she slid back into small-town anonymity. But one phone call changed everything
Now she’s the lead singer of the band Melbourne, performing in sold-out clubs every night and living on a bus with three gorgeous and talented guys. The bummer is that the band barely tolerates her. And when teen hearthrob Lucas Rivers take an interest in her, Chelsea is suddenly famous, bringing Melbourne to the next level—not that they’re happy about that. Her feelings for Beckett, Melbourne’s bassist, are making life even more complicated.
Chelsea only has the summer tour to make the band—and their fans—love her. If she doesn’t, she’ll be back in Michigan for senior year, dying a slow death. The paparazzi, the haters, the grueling schedule . . . Chelsea believed she could handle it. But what if she can’t?

(summary via Goodreads)

I just read Ali Novak’s The Heartbreakers and really liked it, so it’s no wonder that I might also want to check out this musical-inspired novel featuring a female lead singer.  It sounds cute and whimsical, which I could use a good dose of, and who doesn’t mind something a little lighter every now and then?

What are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

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:

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

Expected Release Date: October 13, 2015

Winnie Flynn doesn’t believe in ghosts. (Though she wouldn’t mind a visit from her mom, explaining why she took her own life.) When her mysterious aunt Maggie, a high-profile TV producer, recruits Winnie to spend a summer working as a production assistant on her current reality hit, Fantastic, Fearsome, she suddenly finds herself in the one place her mother would never go: New Jersey.

New Jersey’s famous Devil makes perfect fodder for Maggie’s show. But as the filming progresses, Winnie sees and hears things that make her think that the Devil might not be totally fake after all. Things that involve her and her family. Things about her mother’s death that might explain why she’s never met Aunt Maggie until now.

Winnie soon discovers her family’s history is deeply entwined with the Devil’s. If she’s going to make it out of the Pine Barrens alive, she might have to start believing in what her aunt is telling her. And, find out what she isn’t.

(summary via Goodreads)

This seems to be my kind of book.  Dark, smart, and mysterious.  It’s told as an ongoing letter to a friend and includes illustrations, which is also  something that I find very intriguing.  Early buzz is good, and since I’ve been on a darker-YA kick lately, this seems like it might really help scratch that itch.

What are you waiting on this week?