Review: Long Way Down

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Review for "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Not the first novel in verse I’ve read but certainly one of the best.

Will is a teenager who has just lost his older brother in a shocking act of violence. The morning after, he finds his brother’s loaded gun and gets on his building’s elevator, going down, in pursuit of his brother’s murderer to kill him. At each floor, the elevator stops and a different person from Will’s past “gets” on, imploring him to think about his choices before it’s too late. It’s a fascinatingly interesting story, one that I think I actually respected more for the fact that it was written in verse–extraneous details skipped, only the bare bones here. It’s 300 pages or so but only took a couple of hours to read. The ending was a bit confusing, but after several reads I came to appreciate it for what it was–completely and superbly ambiguous to the reader.

As a former teacher I can see this being used in middle or high school classrooms, because there’s so many dialogue and discussion possibilities present with this book. It takes place during anytime and anyplace and anywhere and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Despite inevitable criticism to the contrary, I don’t see why this book should make the problem of violence a simple one, as everyone knows that it’s a complicated cycle that repeats itself over and over again. It’s also great reading for adults like me, I loved this book immensely.

This novel sets a pretty high bar for all other YA poetry books, which is good because I am starting to feel that this form of story-telling is becoming somewhat over saturated. Definitely recommended.

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Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House

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Review for "There's Someone Inside Your House" by Stephanie Perkins (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Whew Lawd this was bad

First off, I love YA thriller/horror. If you spent your high school days reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, then you know what I’m talking about. So when this book came out, I was on it faster than a speeding ticket.

This is my first Stephanie Perkins novel. From my understanding she mostly writes YA romance and this was her first foray into horror. After reading this drivel, it’s my determination is that she should probably stick to writing romance.

The run-down: Makani Young, the main character, is sent to live with her grandmother in a small Nebraska town following her parents’ divorce and a mysterious incident in her Hawaii hometown that’s not revealed until the end of the book. She has eyes for Ollie, a pink-haired emo kid, and they make like rabbits for most of the book. Oh yeah, meanwhile there’s a psycho running around killing members of the high school student body for reasons unknown.

So where do I begin? For the whole “Who will be next?” hook, this book had only about 5 deaths and still turned out to be 99.9% romance. The book pivots between Makani and Ollie’s relationship and the killer’s next victim, which we follow in a brief chapter as it happens. We’re never told why the killer is picking people off, and his identity is fully revealed at about 60% into the book. What happens after this? Nothing. For me, it’s was a hazy blur of wtf moments and skipped pages.

And Makani and Ollie…what a mess. For a romance writer, the author manages to make their relationship strictly about lust and nothing else. Despite all the physical fun these two are having, it’s mindlessly boring. Even an old pervert like me started flipping pages after awhile. On to the next slashing please…

I was expected more blood and gore here. Two stars.

Review: Moxie

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Review for "Moxie" by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I know this book has gotten glowing praise from many of its readers, but I was underwhelmed with this one. I know I’m jumping off a cliff by saying this, but this book was just ok for me.

Vivian is an average teen living with her single mother in a small town in Texas. Aided by her mother’s Riot Grrl memorabilia and fed up with sexist administrators, Vivian makes an anonymous zine to protest the unfair treatment of girls at her high school and empowers them to fight back. The zine catches on, and most of the girls at the school eventually join in her fight. In the middle of all of the brouhaha, Vivian manages to snag the hottest artsy guy in school, who, it turns out, is sympathetic to her feminist goals.

My main concern with any feminist text is how it addresses intersectionality. As a woman of color, I’m critical of any text that claims to be feminist, yet focuses exclusively on the voices of White middle class women. Fortunately the author does address the issue, about midway through the novel when Vivian reveals that her mother once said that “Riot Grrls weren’t as welcoming to other girls as they could have been.” Well, no ma’am, they weren’t. There is a Latina and and Black girl at Vivian’s school who join the Moxie movement, yet we’re supposed to believe that their perspectives and concerns (jerky football players and dress code checks) are the exact same as Vivian’s. Sorry, but I simply don’t believe this. Where is race here? How does the author manage to make women of color so one-dimensional in this book? Gimme a break.

Which brings me to the last issue: race. While she does addresses the problem of inclusivity, Mathieu’s fictional small-town Texas world is devoid of any mention of racism. I praise the author for addressing the elephant in the room, but I just don’t think it goes far enough. As far as gender, there is a reference to a lesbian character, albeit a brief one. The problems that arise from race, class, sexuality, and gender will always overlap (hint: why it’s called intersectionality), and I simply wanted more from the Black, Latina, and LGBTQ characters here. What you get instead with this book is a lot of romanticizing on the 90’s Riot Grrl movement, which, let’s face it, was not as inclusive to race and gender as it should have been.

Overall, not a bad book, but not a great one either. Three stars is my best recommendation here, though I look forward to (possibly) reading more of this author in the future.

Review: Life as We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1)

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Review for "Life as We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Dumbest. Apocalypse. Ever.

I’m not a one star kinda gal unless I hated the book. Needless to say, I really really really hated this book.

First off, I love dystopian lit. This one rang a bell because it’s two of my favorite things: dystopian and YA. So I read it. And man, that’s where the problems began.

NOTE: Spoilers abound & I don’t care…

Part of the thrill of reading dystopian fiction is reveling in the fact that it COULD happen–you just never know where or when. Another part of the game is that the scenario presented has to be scientifically sound, even on a basic level. Not so with this book, because there ain’t no way in hell any of this shit in this book could actually happen. In this one, the moon is knocked off course by an asteroid (which, strangely, no one sees coming), which brings it closer to Earth. The tides fall out of whack, bringing massive tsunamis that kill most of the population in low lying and coastal areas.

Then there’s mosquitoes (huh? why?) that threaten the population with malaria, massive earthquakes around the world, and finally Yellowstone volcanoes, seemingly triggered by the gravitational chaos. There’s a little bit of ash, it’s dark early, and it’s cold out. Umm…excuse me…WHAT? A massive eruption in Yellowstone would spell death by burning ash and darkness for much of America within WEEKS. Not just a slight temperature change like it’s an early winter. And it certainly would not involve characters strolling around in their Pennsylvania hometown, going to the library and ice skating like there’s nothing going on.

And oh…the characters. Miranda is a 16-year-old high schooler whose diary makes up this book. She whines about not seeing her friends and being unable to eat as many chocolate chip cookies as she wants while the end of the world is going on. Her mother rails against the government and her daughter seeing boys. Somewhere in the middle of all the earthquakes and the electricity going out, the family still manages to send her little brother to baseball camp. Another one of Miranda’s friends is a religious psycho-nut who doesn’t want to eat because God will take care of her. As a matter of fact, nearly everyone in this book who holds Christian beliefs is portrayed as a delusional weirdo. Not that I care about the author’s personal beliefs about organized religion, but all the proselytizing didn’t help the narrative. At all.

There’s other improbable scenarios. There are no police, yet Miranda takes it on herself to wander around her hometown alone, going swimming and ice skating, seemingly unbothered. When the power comes on intermittently, the internet (somehow) works also. Services such as the post office and the library are still open, yet we’re told there is no gas. A deadly flu epidemic kills most of the people in the town and several members of Miranda’s family fall ill, but miraculously Miranda never falls sick and no one dies. When the family runs out of food at the end, Miranda spends her last bit of energy going to city hall and learning about all of the food shortages and crop failures out in the world–and then receives a bag of food that city hall has been giving out every Monday. How is this possible? If there is a shortage of crops, where does this food come from in a land of no gas?? The final abasement here is when the power comes on at the end of the book–despite the fact that we’re told most of the country is either dead and/or lying under ash. 

And the story just plain sucks. Page after page in the middle of the book is nothingness, just play by play details of the family’s life in their sunroom, having conversations about food and books and what not. Yawn.

Apparently there are three other books in this series, however, I won’t be reading them. I don’t recommend this, I’d stay far away from this book.

Review: The First Rule of Punk

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Review for "The First Rule of Punk" by Celia C. Perez (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved this book!

Maria Luisa (or as she wants you to call her, Malu) is a Mexican American girl who loves punk culture (zines, clothing, music). She is uprooted from her life in Florida and moves with her mother to Chicago, where she comes up against a principal and social queen who hate her punk look, her punk band, and pretty much everything about her. With the help of her dad, as well as people in her neighborhood, Malu learns to be herself and embrace the many aspects of her personality–punk, the Spanish language, and her Mexican heritage.

When people say that ‘we need diverse characters in YA literature’, this is truly it. I have read many books with punk characters as well as many books with characters of color, but never a YA book that blends it together quite like this. I also loved the inclusions of Malu’s zines all throughout the novel, which really gave it a touch of realism. I also loved the fact that I learned quite a bit about Mexican culture through reading this, without it sounding heavy-handed or preachy.

Do read this this. You’ll thank me.

Review: Bad Romance

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Review for "Bad Romance" by Heather Demetrios (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book. Despite the content I jumped in head first, and perhaps that was the wrong way to read this. Regardless, I found this book dead on in its accuracy of how emotionally abusive relationships work.

Grace is a teenage girl from a troubled home. Her mother is an obsessive nitpicker and neat freak, her stepfather unrelenting in his own dominance and control over her mother and the rest of the family. She eventually meets Gavin, an emotionally unstable rocker who, through jealousy, threats of suicide, and his own insecurities, begins to control everything about her: what she wears, where she goes, who she can talk to. There is no physical abuse but there is a steady emotional violence here, an erosion of her dignity, a trampling of her personhood. It’s hard to watch. It’s even harder to read about.

The ghost of my 16-year-old self made this book so difficult to read. I was Grace in high school–insecure, eager to please, in a relationship for 3 years with a person who was very much like the Gavin of this book. I think the genius of this novel is the way the author shows how impossible it can seem for the victim to get out of these kind of relationships. Thankfully Grace has a support network in her friends, who act as an anchor for her.

I definitely recommend this book to teens, as well as adults.

Review: Aftercare Instructions

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Review for "Aftercare Instructions" by Bonnie Pipkin (to be published on 27 June 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this book. A couple of online reviewers have called this book “brave,” and I will capitulate on that. This IS a brave book. There is friendship, heartbreak, an abortion, and a teenage girl in the middle of it all just being herself. What more can I say? I get it, and it’s great.

“Aftercare Instructions” is about Genesis Johnson (called ‘Gen’ throughout the book), a high school senior who is abandoned by her boyfriend immediately following an abortion at an NYC Planned Parenthood clinic (wtf?). Her father has died of a heroin overdose and the whole school has found out. Her mother is not handling his loss well (pill popping, locking herself away, etc). She can’t stand her grandparents, who take care of her sister and whose faux-religiousness she despises. Genesis’ life is pretty much her friend Rose and her boyfriend Peter. And Peter has just left her in the middle of Manhattan and won’t take her calls.

To top all of this off, another friend has been cozying up to Peter in Genesis’ absence. There’s drama. There’s a catfight. Genesis is suspended from school. In the meantime, she discovers herself and her true passion: theater. As the story flashes back to the past, it is completely in play dialogue. I liked it.

I loved the fact that Genesis was a strong character, yet unafraid to be vulnerable. She has issues, and yes, those issues hurt. I liked that. I can’t tell you how many YA books I’ve read in which the author seems so stuck on the idea of a strong female voice that he/she forgets to make the character believable. I also liked the fact that abortion was explored in the book, minus any yay or nay political message or proselytizing by the people in the character’s orbit.

Anywho, read this book when it comes out. You won’t regret it.

[Note: A free digital copy was provided to me from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.]