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Category Archives: Contemporary fiction

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fSixteen-year-old Starr Carter has two selves: one who attends an upscale prep school in suburbia, and the other who lives in a poor neighborhood in gang territory. One night while she’s at a neighborhood party, Starr escapes from gang-related gunfire with Khalil, an old childhood friend. As they are driving home, Khalil is pulled over by the police for a broken tail-light, and a horrified Starr is the only witness to his murder. He was unarmed.

As protests and riots begin and the media frames Khalil as a drug dealer and thug, Starr realizes she is the only one who can speak out for the truth and justice for Khalil’s murder. However, if she speaks, it will change her life and endanger her and her family…

 

This has been THE YA BOOK to read for 2017, so I’ve been waiting a few months to finally be able to get my hands on it.  I was SO not disappointed. This book was so real to me. It’s likely to be one I will never forget and must become a classic for YA, a touchstone for this point in history we’re experiencing. It was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and shows an example of why this movement has happened. Even if you’re against BLM, I challenge you to read this book, to see a different perspective, and then make up your mind on the movement.

It brings to life real people, true emotions, and gives a raw, heartwrenching glimpse into events that have been happening in places all over the country. It forces you to confront your own views or stereotypes of different ideas, such as Khalil’s being framed as a drug dealer and therefore his murder “negated” by him selling drugs.

Tempted to write him off?

Starr wrestles with the idea, because his own mother is a drug addict, and why would Khalil ever sell something he hated that deprived him of a mother? In short, *SPOILER* it was either do this and save his mother’s life or let her be killed for her debts. Mightn’t you do something desperate to save a parent? A sibling? A child?

Readers, be aware that this book pulls no punches. There’s violence, language, drug references…it’s for a more mature audience than middle schoolers. However, this book is full of so much empathy that I was crying and laughing in various points. There were some awesome quotes that I have to share, some are just ones I loved or laughed at (see quotes below slideshow), but others speak to a deeper meaning.

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Note: Some image quotes I created myself on my phone. That is small, so forgive me for not adding quotation marks or the book title. 🙂

* * *

“Problem is it would’ve taken Black Jesus to convince my parents to let me come [to a Garden party]. Now Black Jesus will have to save me if they find out I’m here.”

* * *

“But after Khalil I’m more like a Taylor Swift song. (No shade, I fucks with Tay-Tay, but she doesn’t serve like nineties R&B on the angry-girlfriend scale.)”

* * *

“‘She hasn’t acted like a mom to him! Now all of a sudden, he’s her baby? It’s bullshit!’

Momma smacks the counter, and I jump. ‘Shut up!’ she screams. She turns around, tears streaking her face. ‘That wasn’t some li’l friend of hers. That was her son, you hear me? Her son!’ Her voice cracks. ‘She carried that boy, birthed that boy. And you have no right to judge her.'”

* * *

“Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging shit right there.”

* * *

“Maverick, I don’t give a flying monkey’s ass what your problem is, just be there for your daughter. Please?”

* * *

“A lump forms in my throat as the truth hits me. Hard. ‘That’s why people are speaking out, huh? Because it won’t change if we don’t say something.’

‘Exactly. We can’t be silent.’

‘So can’t be silent.’

. . .

This is bigger than me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil. My silence isn’t helping Us.”

* * *

“Others are fighting too, even in the Garden, where sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot worth fighting for. People are realizing and shouting and marching and demanding. They’re not forgetting. I think that’s the most important part.

Khalil, I’ll never forget.

I’ll never give up.

I’ll never be quiet.

I promise.”

* * *

Acknowledgements by Angie Thomas: “And to every kid in Georgetown and in all ‘the Gardens’ of the world: your voices matter, your dreams matter, your lives matter. Be roses that grow in the concrete.”

 

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

10015384._SY540_In this 2016 YALSA Morris Award winner, theater kid Simon has an online pen pal, known only as Blue, who attends the same school and is also secretly gay. When Simon forgets to logout of a library computer, the boy using it after him, Martin, blackmails Simon into helping him pursue a relationship with Abby, one of Simon’s best friends. As Simon panics about everyone finding out his secret, he also is beyond terrified of the ramifications for the mysterious Blue whom he has grown to love. It’s a beautiful story of fragile identities and strong relationships that will speak to the inner souls of similar teens.

 

This book has been among my must-read-soon books ever since it won awards the year I was helping in YALSA, but usually, it’s heavily checked out, so it’s been some time to be able to get my hands on it! It was everything I’ve expected, especially hearing how much a few librarian friends truly loved this story. While finally LGBTQ teens have a main character who has similar struggles and feelings as themselves and thus will love this brave book, other teens will also find this speaks to them through the similarities of keeping secrets (and secret online relationships), being afraid of rejection from friends for their true selves, and those tender feelings of first love that can make or break you. I enjoyed Simon and Blue’s correspondence and descriptions of daily life, which rang very true to any teen keeping a journal (me! 🙋🏻) though Simon’s frequent apologizing drove me bonkers. (This is a personal hypocrisy as I thoroughly admit I probably would have done the same.) Much of the references to technology are modernly accurate but without being too closely defined, which hopefully will lead to a more timeless quality of a classic YA book of its age. I also quite relished how Simon is so caught up in his own whirlwind that he fails to connect some obvious differences in his friends and the final ending was satisfying for these many revelations. I was horrified by Creek Secrets, Martin’s blackmail, and poor Simon’s spot backed into a corner. There are bullying incidences but a courageous teacher and sympathetic friends make you believe in the power of good.

I had two favorite moments in this book that I can recall:

*context: Halloween and Simon’s talking to his younger sister, Nora*

Nora looks up from her book. “Simon. Eww.”

“It’s a dementor robe over my clothes. I think you’ll survive.”

“What’s a dementor?”

I mean, I can’t even. “Nora, you are no longer my sister.”

“So it’s some Harry Potter thing,” she says.

Ms. Albright, Simon’s teacher, in response to a bullying incident:

“Okay, well,” she says quietly. “Just know that those assholes are getting suspended. I’m not even kidding. I will make it my hill to die on.”

Look out, because we’re sure to see a trailer for this movie soon, possibly by this Christmas, since it’s set to release in March 2018!

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

51-HArKnTQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Lara Jean is approaching the end of her senior year. She and Peter are still happily together, and all of her classmates are planning their futures. Lara Jean has dreamed for years about going to the University of Virginia, with its classical architecture and picturesque library. Peter is already headed to UVA after signing with the lacrosse team, and Lara Jean can’t imagine a better future, especially since she’d be only fifteen minutes from home and still watching her little sister Kitty grow up. She does have a few other schools she’s applied to, but in her mind, nothing compares to UVA. Even her best friend Chris is planning on being untraditional and traveling somewhere to work like Costa Rica to explore and enjoy life while she’s young. It seems like everyone has the perfect future planned out, and Lara Jean is anxiously waiting on hers.

She’s also experiencing new changes in the rest of her life. Her father gets engaged to their neighbor and Lara Jean throws herself into wedding planning to keep herself distracted. However, when Lara Jean finally hears from UVA, she hasn’t been accepted and suddenly she doesn’t know where she’s going to go or whether she and Peter can stay together.

It’s our final story about Lara Jean *crying emoji!*. I’m terribly sad about it, but also because I don’t know what Jenny Han is going to write next! I love her books. What I love about this one is how every teen can relate to the feelings of uncertainty about their future–their college plans, their relationships if they decide to move away, the unknown possibilities that could occur. Plus, it all feels very real and heartfelt for Lara Jean and the turmoil she’s in at the end of senior year faced with some big life changes and the unknown. This novel has a lot of great advice for teens approaching this step in life without being about giving college advice. In fact, everyone in Lara Jean’s life sort of teaches her some truths, whether about her relationship, herself, or just good advice for the future.

One of the biggest hurdles in the book (and in the series) is her relationship with Peter. Though she and Peter have been together for quite some time (and gotten back together after the events of the last novel), this new unknown future has affected both of them. Their relationship, while important, may not survive. And Lara Jean’s mother once told her, don’t go to college with a boyfriend because you’ll lose out on a true freshman experience (Articles discussing the case in point: The Guardian, the Independent). When they were both potentially going to UVA, it was easy to see themselves being together, albeit with different lives led at college (lacrosse and fraternity for Peter, friends of her own for Lara Jean and studying at the library and on the grounds). However, Lara Jean’s other choices mean a long-distance relationship for much of the time, even when she is trying to convince herself to transfer to UVA soon after being accepted somewhere else. Plenty of teens have this battle where they know, realistically, their relationship may not survive the stress of being long-distance and/or they might meet someone better suited at college. However, as Lara Jean and Peter discover, it’s not up to others and their opinions. They are the two in the relationship and those decisions are up to them.

The ending was beautiful, and perfectly wraps up the series that began with a love letter by ending with another love letter.

Further note:

This is also one of the few books out there that has racial diversity of an Asian American family but doesn’t deal with issues or a lens caused by race. It’s normal, and that’s great because just a few years ago, there were not books with racially different characters who didn’t have problems through a racial lens. Yay for #weneeddiversebooks.

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

23305614Finding Audrey

Fourteen-year-old Audrey has had a traumatic past few months. She’s left school due to a bullying incident, one that left her hospitalized and living with an anxiety disorder. She wears dark glasses, can’t leave the house except to visit her therapist, and reacts badly to everyone else except her family. In trying to get better, Audrey begins a film project where she has to view her family in their ordinary life and in so doing starts to tell her own story. Her brother Frank is a gamer, her mum is obsessed with the Daily Mail and convinced something is wrong with Frank and his computer games, her father is sweet but dragged along with her mother’s hysteria and her little brother Felix is a typical preschooler–one minute loving and delighted with the world and the next minute a demanding little dictator. When Audrey’s therapist Dr. Sarah tells Audrey she needs to make more effort in contact with others, Audrey begins to talk to Linus, her brother’s best friend, and she finds him to be a real friend who understands some of her “lizard brain” symptoms, the description she uses for her ‘flight’ response and anti-social reactions. Through her relationship with Linus and at Dr. Sarah’s direction, Audrey begins to really gain momentum in her recovery and understand how to cope with her extreme anxiety, making this an inspiring and relatable story for any tween or teen.

I listened to this book on audio and it was hilarious. Spectacular audio acting job. Audrey’s mum sounds just like a more hysterical Molly Weasley. The characters are well-drawn and real-to-life, though the romance between Linus and Audrey is a bit too predictable. This book will appeal to both teens and tweens and depicts dealing with a mental disorder with frankness and careful consideration. The one downside is we never discover the real scenario where Audrey was bullied or see her in her new future. Otherwise, readers will find this refreshing, real, and delightful.

 

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The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer

25094429The Season

In a fun twist on the classic Pride and Prejudice tale, The Season follows Megan McKnight as she is reluctantly drawn into a debutante ball to please tradition and her mother. All Megan wants to do is play soccer, but since she thinks her parents might be fighting about their ranch and pressures to sell, she agrees. Megan must go through a series of events in a month designed to teach her how to be a debutante and act like a lady to best show herself off for her family and to young men with the best pedigrees looking for wives. However, Megan is not your typical Southern belle, unlike her twin sister Julia. She’s got attitude and determination, and this gets her into some trouble. Megan has to learn to be the perfect debutante also while avoiding the drama and scandal from other contestants, but when she meets Hank Waterhouse and her sister has an upset, Megan must set things right for her family, or they could even lose all of their futures.

Recently this novel has been optioned for film! This is sure to be a hit, rather similar to She’s the Man. I’m pretty excited to watch that when it comes out. It’s funny, unique, engaging, and sure to tempt girls who like sports as well as those who like traditional romance and contemporary/realistic fiction. You’ll be surprised at how the book fits in with the Pride and Prejudice tale, but I really enjoyed it! There’s some sex and alcohol mentioned. This is also great for teens anticipating going off to college/graduating/leaving home, right on the edge of figuring out their future.

 

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