Book Review: Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Book Review: Lily and Dunkin by Donna GephartLily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on May 3, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Middle Grade
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Author Donna Gephart crafts a dual narrative about two remarkable young people: Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder.

Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

Book Review:

I wanted to read LILY AND DUNKIN because Lily is transgender, and there currently aren’t many Middle Grade books with transgender main characters. The book is told from the alternating POVs of Lily and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder and hiding a big secret.

Going in, I was most interested in Lily’s story. And the first twenty to thirty pages deepened my interest, because I liked Lily a lot. It takes a ton of courage to want to dress as a girl for the first day of eighth grade when she’s already been bullied, and her father clearly disapproves.

But then Dunkin took over the book for me. His character was more vivid and developed and memorable. Even though I disliked him for dissing Lily to be popular, I knew why he did it, and the doubt he had about doing so rang true. And as he stopped taking his meds, he practically vibrated off the page.

I could tell the author had firsthand experience with bipolar disorder. She wrote in the Author’s Note she promised her son (who has it), that she would one day write a book about it. In comparing Dunkin to Lily, I could see that the author didn’t have that experience with someone who is transgender.

I still did enjoy LILY AND DUNKIN. I liked that Lily and Dunkin sort of oriented around each other, rather than being friends right away. I liked that we saw Lily’s parents and Dunkin’s mom; it was especially great that Lily’s mom was so supportive.

But then there was this scene at the end of the book that, if Lily and Dunkin actually did what they did, they would be bullied into the stratosphere in the small-minded world of middle school. I wish the author had put that scene more towards the middle of the book, so she could have explored the repercussions of their show of support for each other. I wanted a bit more resolution.

Overall, while I liked LILY AND DUNKIN, I couldn’t help but want more from it. More personality for Lily. More resolution at the end. And so on.

Socialize with the author:

Donna Gephart:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperTeen on October 6, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

Book Review:

Most of the YA books I’ve read in the past few months have blended together, either just okay or blah, books with a good premise but bad execution, or books that have unrealistic romances (for me) or whatever. I had THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE sitting on my shelf to review, and boy, do I regret not reading it sooner instead of trudging through the sea of blah.

In THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, there’s some kind of supernatural invasion or trouble going on, but instead of following the Chosen Ones, aka the indie kids, the book is about Mikey and his friends. They’re ordinary. They just want to make it through senior year before something blows up the school. Again.

Each chapter starts off with a short bit about what the indie kids are up to, and those short bits read a lot like the average YA supernatural/paranormal romance. And then it’s back to Mikey and his friends, who are trying to sort out their comparatively mundane (but no less important) problems. Mikey’s dealing with OCD, anxiety, and having a crush on Henna. Mikey’s sister, Mel, is a recovering anorexic, whose past is thrust back in the spotlight now that their mom is running for the US Congress. Mikey and Mel are each other’s rock, and they’re both there for younger sister Meredith, because mom’s busy with politics and dad’s an absent alcoholic.

I connected with every character in THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. For the first time in a while, I eagerly flipped each page, because I had to know what happened next. Usually I’m not a big fan of contemporary — I need something extra to spice things up — but here, everything was just so real. The book felt authentic to me in a way many YA books don’t. I appreciated the author’s honesty and realism on various subjects: talking about sex, having sex, friends choosing to be family and being there for one another, that hardness you feel when you’re almost an adult but your parents still make decisions for you, anxiety about leaving behind everything you know, etc.

Plus, there are some great talks between Mikey and his psychiatrist, such as taking medication isn’t a failure, and that mental illness isn’t anyone’s fault, and it’s as real as any other medical problem.

Socialize with the author:

Patrick Ness:
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– leeanna

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

Book Review:

Robin Talley’s first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, was one of my favorites of 2014. When I saw she had a new book, one about a genderqueer protagonist, I couldn’t wait to read it. Books are slowly becoming more diverse, but it’s still rare to find one that explores gender identity. Just like the author’s debut, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that touched me deeply, made me think a lot, and is one I want everyone to read.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND kind of straddles the line between Young Adult and New Adult. Toni and Gretchen are eighteen, just starting their first year of college. That’s an important time for a lot of people, because it’s the first time you’re on your own, with the chance to explore your interests and start to figure out who you really are. I think the author captured the chaos and freedom of that time quite well, when you’re trying new things, juggling old and new friendships, distant parental expectations, and maybe even an ongoing relationship.

I like just about everything in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, but a few things stand out. One is the relationship between Toni and Gretchen. Very rarely do YA books show the meat of a relationship — so much of the time, a book is focused on getting the characters together. In WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Toni and Gretchen have been a couple for two years. So they’re sure they can handle the distance between Boston and New York City. For a couple that loves each other as much as they do, a few hundred miles is no big deal. Nevermind the fact that Gretchen didn’t tell Toni she applied to NYU, instead of following Toni to Boston. That’s fine, because they don’t fight. But when you don’t fight, and you don’t really talk about the issues that bother you, how well does a relationship work? And when you’re used to being Toni-and-Gretchen, what happens when you’re just Toni or just Gretchen? Does love change, or does it always stay the same?

I really appreciated that the author delved into Toni and Gretchen’s relationship. Both of their perspectives are given, and while the adorable first meeting/hookup scene is included, there’s so much more than that in the book. There’s actual relationship growing pains, and while at first their relationship is perfect, it becomes less perfect when Toni feels unable to talk to Gretchen about all the new life things. How can Gretchen be the perfect girlfriend when it seems like Toni doesn’t want to see her?

The second standout of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is Toni’s gender explorations. At the start of the book, Toni identifies as genderqueer. At Harvard, Toni becomes friends with upperclassman who are all over the gender spectrum, which makes Toni think a lot more about where, exactly, Toni belongs. Is Toni gender nonconforming, gender fluid, non-binary, trans? Something else? Toni’s never felt like a girl, but being surrounded by others who know their gender identity, and also having the freedom for the first time ever to explore options, sends Toni on a quest to try everything from different pronouns to chest binding to more. Toni thinks about this a lot, and talks about with the new friends a lot, which resulted in me getting a good introduction and look into all the different labels out there, and why people would identify with/use different ones. Thanks to Toni, I also started thinking a lot more about pronouns, and how they reinforce gender constantly. Here’s a little example — it’s taking a lot of conscious thought to not use “she” or “he” to refer to Toni in this review. For another ah-ha moment, look at how Toni refers to others and how Gretchen refers to Toni in the first ~50 pages.

With Toni’s mad rush to figure everything out, Toni sometimes comes across, as well, somewhat of a jerk. Toni gets super wrapped up in figuring out the perfect pronouns and labels, and also fitting other people into neat little labeled boxes. Toni is often quite judgmental of other people. At first, that bugged me — I wanted to give Toni a good whack — but then I got it. If I wanted to be sure of myself and not constantly trying to figure out what label fit me, I’d probably act the same exact way.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that spoke to me and made me think. I enjoy books like that, especially books that push outside the boundaries of the conventional boy and girl fall in love the end stories.

Upcoming:

In the near future, I’ll have an interview with Robin on the blog, so be sure to check back!

Interview with Robin Talley.

Socialize with the author:

Robin Talley:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Book Review:

DUMPLIN’ is a book with a lot of hype behind it. I tend to be disappointed by heavily hyped books, and unfortunately, DUMPLIN’ was another one of those disappointments.

Willowdean Dickson, self-proclaimed fat girl, is comfortable in her own skin. She’s not going to diet or try to lose weight to make her mother, a former pageant queen, happy. She’s not one of those girls who looks in the mirror and thinks about how to be better. So you’d think that DUMPLIN’ is about body positivity and accepting who you are and being comfortable with that person.

But I thought Willow was quite judgmental. Example: “Mille is that girl, the one I am ashamed to admit that I’ve spent my entire life looking at and thinking, Things could be worse (p. 5).” Or: “Maybe Priscilla’s life is an even bigger mess than mine and I’ll walk away feeling like I’ve at least got it better than this poor girl (p. 91).”

Willow is supposed to be some sort of rebel by entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. In the summary, the pageant’s described as her attempt to take back her confidence. But for an event that’s such an important part of the book, it really has very little page time, which disappointed me. Willow looks down on the pageant a lot, and after she enters, it’s more of an afterthought than anything else. I wish more of the pageant had been detailed, rather than just getting a few pages at the end.

Because instead of seeing a lot of the pageant or pageant prep, Willow spends way too much time angsting about her boy troubles for me to like DUMPLIN’ very much. Her “relationship” with Bo is a big thing, because when he touches her, Willow’s loses the comfort she’s always had with her body. But I saw absolutely zero chemistry in that relationship — and I’m using that term loosely, because Bo keeps Willow a secret. She spends the school year angsting about their summer spent making out behind a fast food place. I looked through DUMPLIN’ a second time, trying to figure out why Bo liked Willow, and I got nothin. Their relationship seemed like pure wish fulfillment to me: yes, the fat girl can have a cute jock! Add in another sort of relationship that I didn’t like either because Willow used the guy, and I was more than finished with Willow.

I was bored by a lot of DUMPLIN’. Willow just didn’t grab me. She’s like so many other YA characters with the exception of her body. I was much more interested in her deceased Aunt Lucy, who was also overweight. Or Millie, who seemed much more comfortable with her body than Willow. I wish DUMPLIN’ had been written from Millie’s perspective, because she really was comfortable with herself, and because the pageant was actually important to her as a dream, not Willow’s random reasons.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Murphy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: All We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder

Book Review: All We Have Is Now by Lisa SchroederAll We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder
Published by Scholastic on July 28, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Source: Blog Tour, Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
What do you do with your last day on earth?

Just over twenty-four hours are left until an asteroid strikes North America, and for Emerson and everyone else who didn't leave, the world will end. But Emerson's world already ended when she ran away from home. Since then, she has lived on the streets, relying on her wits and on her friend Vince to help her find places to sleep and food to eat.

The city's quieter now that most people are gone, and no one seems to know what to do as the end approaches. But then Emerson and Vince meet Carl, who tells them he has been granting people's wishes -- and gives them his wallet full of money.

Suddenly, this last day seems full of possibility. Emerson and Vince can grant a lot of wishes in one last day -- maybe even their own.

all we have is now by lisa schroeder blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for ALL WE HAVE IS NOW by Lisa Schroeder. This tour is hosted by CBB Book Promotions and you can visit all the stops here. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway, and also my answer for Make-A-Wish-for-the-Apocalypse.

Book Review:

ALL WE HAVE IS NOW asks one important question: what would you do with your last day on earth? What if you knew an asteroid was going to wipe out North America — would you spend your last day with loved ones, righting wrongs, or hiding? Or would you do something else?

Emerson and Vince, two homeless teenagers, don’t want to wait the last few hours until the end. They’re about to take their end into their own hands when they meet Carl, who has spent his time granting wishes to people. Helping them do something they’d always wanted to, but hadn’t for one reason or another. Carl grants Vince’s wish of having money, and asks that the two pay it forward if possible.

Emerson and Vince have been concerned with surviving on the streets for so long that they’ve forgotten how to really live, how to enjoy themselves. But as they grant wishes and help people, their own wounds start to heal. ALL WE HAVE IS NOW is a hopeful story about the end of the world, one that shows how important human connections can be at the end. I like that the book tries to remind the reader that it’s important to live in the moment and enjoy yourself, rather than always looking to the future.

ALL WE HAVE IS NOW also follows Carl, and I liked that while the book is young adult, we also get the perspective of an adult. It was good to see how he felt about events compared to how Emerson and Vince felt. I was a little let down by the ending, which was too open for me, but overall I liked the message and tone of the book. I think it’s hard for a book about the impending end of North America to be uplifting, but the author accomplished it.

Make-A-Wish-for-the-Apocalypse

Make-A-Wish-for-the-Apocalypse- There’s just a little over 24 hours until a meteor is scheduled to hit the US. What do you wish for?

Okay, so I wish I could say I’d go out and do something like Emerson and Vince. Or that I’d grant some wish of my own, of things I’ve always wanted to do but never did. But in reality? I’d probably just stay in my house all day. Maybe read some of those books on my TBR pile that I’ve always wanted to read, but haven’t. Or maybe I’d read old favorites, so I’d be assured of enjoying a good book before the end. Or maybe I’d take a nap so I wouldn’t have to count down the hours. Yeah, I’m exciting, aren’t I?

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author:

all we have is now author lisa schroederLisa Schroeder is the author of over a dozen books for kids and teens, including the YA novels I Heart You, You Haunt Me and The Bridge From Me to You. She loves tea and cookies, flowers, family hikes, books and movies that make her laugh and cry, and sunshine. Living in Oregon, she doesn’t get nearly enough sunshine, but the hikes are amazing.

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Buy links: Amazon | B&N

– leeanna

Book Review: About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

Book Review: About a Girl by Sarah McCarryAbout a Girl by Sarah McCarry
Series: Metamorphoses #3
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on July 14, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Diversity, LGBT, Mythology, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There's no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?

Book Review:

Based on the cover and summary, I thought ABOUT A GIRL was a contemporary romance about two girls falling in love. That’s somewhat accurate, but there’s also a strong fantasy/mythological element I didn’t expect, which turned out to be my favorite part of the book.

ABOUT A GIRL is the third in a trilogy. Each book is about different characters, so I wasn’t lost. From reading the summaries of the other books, ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS and DIRTY WINGS, I can see the stories are connected, but I didn’t feel like I needed to read those books to enjoy ABOUT A GIRL.

I really liked Tally. She reminded me somewhat of myself — a girl who has no trouble saying she’s smart, a girl who has her life mapped out, a girl who’s rocked to the core when something unexpected comes along and disrupts all her plans. In Tally’s case, it’s a sudden attraction to her best friend Shane. As Tally considers attraction and feelings an inconvenience, it’s quite annoying she can’t ignore her new feelings.

After a fumble with Shane, the mysterious Mr. M sends Tally on a quest to find her possible birth father. But when Tally gets to there, to a place that’s utterly unlike New York City, she’s swept away by Maddy. Another inconvenient romance — but this time Tally’s ready.

One of my big complaints with YA novels is instalove — all too often characters declare they love each other within pages of meeting. Rarely do authors realistically explore the gamut of feelings that can result from sudden attraction. Sarah McCarry does a stellar job of it here, combining the heady feelings of first loves with a mythical, what’s happening here setting. I was never 100% sure of what was going on, and usually that’s something I don’t like, but I enjoyed every page of the ride in ABOUT A GIRL.

The author’s writing style won’t be for everyone, and I did have a bit of adjustment. I recommend checking out a sample if you’re unfamiliar with her work. Her writing is super descriptive, almost purple prose, but I really liked how she had such unique descriptions for everything from weather to sex. Reading ABOUT A GIRL is almost a WTF experience, but in a good way. A “is this really happening, yes it is, no it isn’t, everything is gorgeous and confusing and creative.”

Socialize with the author:

Sarah McCarry:
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– leeanna

Book Review: A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame

Book Review: A Royal Romance by Jenny FrameA Royal Romance by Jenny Frame
Published by Bold Strokes Books on May 12, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Romance
Pages: 264
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
Georgina, Princess of Wales, has always known her destiny, but she never expected duty to call so soon. When her father dies suddenly, she is called back from her Royal Navy post to assume the crown. While the people acclaim their new Queen, Great Britain’s first openly gay monarch, all George feels is the isolation of her station.

Beatrice Elliot’s staunch anti-monarchist views have always been a point of gentle contention with her working class, royalty-loving parents. When Bea—director of a hospice charity—must spend six months working with Queen Georgina, her charity’s new patron, sparks fly and passion blooms. But is love enough to bridge the gap between Bethnal Green and Buckingham Palace?

Book Review:

I was looking forward to reading A ROYAL ROMANCE because I wanted to see how the author would pull off an openly gay monarch. The answer? Pretty easy and plausibly, in my opinion. The book is set in 2053, not too far in the future, but far enough that Great Britain adores Georgiana, and there’s medical advances to take care of that pesky heir issue.

George and Beatrice are thrown together when the new queen picks the charity where Bea works as her main charity leading up to her coronation. Bea isn’t happy that she’ll have to spend time with the Queen — she’s a republican and thinks the monarchy should be abolished. But of course, once the two start interacting on a personal level, and Bea sees that Queen Georgiana is much more caring and responsible than she expected. George, isolated by her position as monarch, finds Bea’s bluntness and honesty refreshing.

A ROYAL ROMANCE was a guilty pleasure read for me. It was just fun to see the relationship develop between George and Bea, to see George’s life as queen and Bea’s as a commoner. It was also refreshing to see that both of their families were encouraging, even when Bea doubted that things could work between them because of their class differences. I did think the ending was a tad rushed, considering all the buildup and back-and-forth on their relationship. But A ROYAL ROMANCE left me wanting a sequel, and romances don’t usually do that to me.

Socialize with the author:

Jenny Frame:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

Book Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia AdlerUnder the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Series: Daylight Falls #2
Published by Spencer Hill Contemporary on June 30, 2015
Pages: 312
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents' wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls ... opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he's trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he's in the spotlight—on everyone's terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents' disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she's painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van's life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she'll have to choose between the one thing she's always loved ... and the person she never imagined she could.

Book Review:

I am picky when it comes to contemporary. Very, very picky. I originally picked up UNDER THE LIGHTS because I knew it had a girl/girl relationship, and those are all too rare in YA/NA.

By the way, this is the second book in a series, but you don’t need to have read the first, BEHIND THE SCENES, because UNDER THE LIGHTS is Vanessa and Josh’s story, not Ally and Liam’s.

I got that relationship and so much more. Honestly, I was surprised at how deftly the author wove in many big important things, including:

♥ Diversity. Vanessa is Korean American. She’s part of the main cast for Daylight Falls — not to fulfill a racial quota, but because she’s a good actress. Her parents want her to quit playing around and go to college, get a real job. But she wants to be an idol to girls just like her. So when she realizes she’s attracted to Brianna, and that she might be gay…

♥ Sexuality. Vanessa’s not so sure she can survive in Hollywood being a minority and being gay. Parts just don’t exist when you fit into those slots. As it is, she’s typecast in movies as the med student or science nerd. Her boyfriend, Zander, has never made her tingle like Bri does, and he’s pushing for her to make a purity pledge so they can be even better role models. Meanwhile, Josh, the other main character, makes no apologies that he likes to have sex with a different girl every night. His sexuality is praised — a reality TV show wants to follow him around.

♥ Celebrity culture and expectations. Josh’s mom, an aging soap star, wants a reality TV show to replace her canceled show. The only condition? Her famous bad boy son must be a part of it. It’s totally okay for him to be a jerk to his fake girlfriend and woo girls in clubs. But for Vanessa? It’s not okay for her to even be seen in a club — it goes against her good girl image.

There’s so much good stuff in UNDER THE LIGHTS. I loved the author’s voices for both characters and her writing style. I was in a reading slump when I started this book, and it helped pull me out. On one level, UNDER THE LIGHTS is fun and includes some very yummy scenes between Vanessa and Bri — including a non fade-to-black sex scene. On another level, UNDER THE LIGHTS has great commentary and observations on so many important cultural and life issues.

UNDER THE LIGHTS has so much of what I want to see in YA and NA that I’ll be recommending the hell out of it. And reading everything else Dahlia Adler writes.

Socialize with the author:

Dahlia Adler:
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– leeanna

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam SilveraMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Published by Soho Teen on June 2, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Romance, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

Book Review:

At first, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT seems like a contemporary novel. Yes, it examines some pretty awesome and important things, such as being a possibly gay boy in the Bronx. Aaron starts off the book with a great girlfriend who’s understanding; she held him when he cried after his father committed suicide. But when he meets Thomas, a boy unlike any he’s met before, Aaron starts to wonder — is he gay? Does he love Thomas?

Aaron’s happier than he’s ever been before, but his old friends aren’t. They don’t like that he might be gay. And that’s when the book transforms, shifting from contemporary to speculative fiction with the Leteo Institute. In a near future world, the Leteo Institute has invented a way to help people forget memories they don’t want anymore. Aaron wants to forget that he’s gay.

About 60% through MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, there’s a real bam! moment. It’s when little things scattered throughout the previous pages suddenly made a lot more sense. It’s when I felt even more for Adam and his family. It’s when I realized the author was a genius. The last 40% or so of the book is heartbreaking, but in the best possible way.

Aaron has such a great voice. He felt incredibly real to me, as did his friends, family, and the Bronx. I enjoyed every uplifting and grueling second of him questioning himself, his sexuality, and loss. MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is a book that really made me think and feel, and I bet you’ll go “Woaaaah” at the end, just like I did.

Socialize with the author:

Adam Silvera:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle ClaytonTiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra
Series: Tiny Pretty Things #1
Published by HarperTeen on May 26, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Diversity, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Book Review:

When books are pitched as X meets Y, the comparisons rarely work for me. But “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars” is SPOT ON for TINY PRETTY THINGS. If you like drama and/or ballet books, this is one for you.

Here’s how much I loved TINY PRETTY THINGS: I read the book twice in a month. Yeah. I reread a lot, but I just couldn’t leave Gigi, Bette, and June behind. I need more of them, stat!

TINY PRETTY THINGS is written from the perspectives of three very different characters at the American Ballet Company school. Gigi is the school’s new student and star, an African American transplant from California. Bette is the rich legacy, the former star student who will do anything to regain her top spot. June is half Korean, a perfectionist who needs to land a lead role or her mother will pull her out.

I appreciated the diverse characters — very rarely have I seen ballet books feature anything other than white main characters. And there’s a reason for that, because diverse dancers do have a more difficult time in the ballet world. But the authors don’t just toss in ethnicities and leave it at that; they show how other students look at Gigi and June, and show the struggles June has as a “halfie.”

There is SO MUCH DRAMA in this book, I ate it with a spoon and loved every second of it. Seriously, I had no idea what was going to happen next, or who was going to attack who. Aside from all the drama and the characters trying to one up each other, there’s plenty of dancing — yay!

And the ending? Oh man. I didn’t see it coming at all. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it did leave me desperately craving the next book.

In case you can’t tell, I loved TINY PRETTY THINGS, and highly recommend it. I don’t usually gush for contemporary books, but this one was perfect for me.

Socialize with the authors:
Sona Charaipotra:
Website
Twitter

Dhonielle Clayton:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna