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The Amateurs ~ Sara Shepard

July 23, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Thriller
Publisher: Freeform
ISBN: 9781484742273
320 pages
Source: Barnes and Noble

It’s been years since I picked up a Sara Shepard book and I can’t remember why I ever took a break. I’ve been on a rewatch binge of Pretty Little Liars so it was perfect serendipity that I stumbled across Shepard’s most recent series.

True to her brilliant form, The Amateurs pulls together a somewhat ragtag, albeit brilliant, young crew of solution-driven crime solvers, hellbent on figuring out personal cases of their own.

After meeting on a website for amateurs (ah ha, therein lies the title, yes) in the detection arts, the crew meets up, face-to-face, to solve a mystery of a five-year-old cold case in a small, tight-lipped New England town that more than a few people who like to remain unsolved.

The book isn’t anything earth-shattering, nor is it particularly literary in nature, but those aren’t really the things that drive me to pick up Sara’s books. No, that would be the unwavering mix of witty banter, small-town politics, steamy flirtations, and a ridiculous amount of twists and turns.

Because it was the first book in a new series, I felt like I was lost some of the time and had to remind myself that things were just being set in motion. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed it and I already have the second book in my lap.


The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things ~ Carolyn Mackler

July 2, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
ISBN: 9781681197982
288p pages
Source: Target

I have sat on this review for almost a full week.

I waited because I believe in the pure objectivity of the human experience and hate to send up a negative review for a book that someone else might get a lot out of.

That said, we all have our own reasons for loving or hating books.

I danced around this bok for a while and, upon reading it, I understand why.

Let me start by saying that the writing style, itself, was great. The actual artistry of the book was not my issue.

Even the subject matter was fine. I read books about addiction, racism, violence, abuse, assault, and all manner of social issues that both directly affect me and direct me in a sort of “step-apart”, spiritual, communal way.

But this one was too close to home and I’m not entirely sure who it would be for.

The protagonist, Ginny, spends over 300 pages hating her body and absorbing the hate about her body from those around her.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve known my fair share of body shaming, both inside and out. But there was something too raw and real and, quite frankly, unnecessary about the manner in which this book portrayed it.

Again, it might be that it was too close to home.

I struggled with Bulimia Nervosa for many, many years. I can’t begin to explain to you the self-hatred, the pure rage at my own body, needed to binge and purge but just know that it is a whole heck of a lot.

The conversation that went on chapter after chapter in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things was basically like having someone stick a microphone inside my head during my sickest days.

Yeah, not very pretty.

All of this is to say that I don’t think I was the right target for this. After about a day and a half of reading it, I was, as we say in AA, “restless, irritable, and discontent”. Perhaps someone who hasn’t struggled with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors would find it enlightening and a bridge to empathy. For me, however, it was too much.

Sunday Wrap Up: A Week In Pictures

July 1, 2018

Kind of a lazy, hazy week, here.

I found out, on Monday, that I would need to change my internship position for this coming school year due to some restructuring at my previous place. I actually ended up at a much better site, working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault so, everything happens for a reason.

I did not get to the Atlanta rally for immigration justice, yesterday, due to some health stuff but I’m joining my friend, tomorrow, for a sit in at the Atlanta Detention Center to help the fight for making our city’s current ban on working with ICE a permanent reality.

In book news, I’m reading The New Jim Crow and The Diviners both of which I’m loving (for very different reasons).

Tomorrow, I’m going to be writing about a hiccup I had this week in reading a few books that dealt with fat shaming and eating disorders. It’s taken me all week to process my thoughts on several books but I think I will finally be able to do my review for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things.

So, yeah, kind of a heavy but necessary week here. Here are some cute puppies to make you smile for a minute.

Dumplin’ ~ Julie Murphy

June 27, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
ISBN: 9780062327192
400 pages
Source: Little Shop of Stories

First things first: Go I’m ahead and put on the Pentatonics version of “Jolene”. No, it’s not a dumb cover; Dolly is actually singing along with them.

Alright, now we can continue.

I have had Dumplin’ on my To-Be-Read shelf since it came out. I ended up meeting Julie, the other night, and it immediately jumped to her top of the list because she’s just so darn cool.

The basic synopsis for the book goes something like this:

Willowdean (or “Dumplin'” according to her former literal beauty queen mama), owns her title as “the fat girl” at her small town high school. She’s always been self-assured about this and carries on confidently until a an otherwise relationship with a coworker begins to sow seeds of doubt in her head.

As a way to attempt to put her confidence back on track, she and a few friends decide to enter their town’s beauty pageant, turning heads and upending paradigms at every turn.

Nothing too deep or earth shattering from the outside.

I thought I knew what it was about.

Small town Texas.

Reclaiming the word “fat”

High school drama.

Beauty Pageants.

And sure, all of those things play a part but it is so much more than that.

We tend to think everyone else is so confident and comfortable in their own skin but the reality, we have NO idea what’s going on inside someone else’s head.

Even though Will outwardly smiles and snarks at teasing from her peers, even though she has close friends, even though she has multiple boys trying to get attention, life is far from perfect.

As you can imagine, being a heavy daughter of a pageant winner, in a town obsessed with beauty competitions, is a lot of emotional labor.

She describes the town’s obsession as some creeping vine of a cultural phenomenon, strangling out all other options of focus.

“Sometimes I think the pageant is like Christmas, and we just keep trying to celebrate it earlier and earlier until it turns into a year-round event.”

Even (or especially) at home, she gets no relief. Her mom is a fan of “thing transformation” stories (think Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover) which has always driven a wedge between the two women. One of the hardest lines to read in the whole book came up after her mom’s discussions about Will going to the gym.

“Have you ever walked into a building that is dedicated to being everything you’re not?”

That line, I think is so important in terms of building empathy for myriad bodies. And it’s something people who are comfortable in their bodies don’t think of, often.

Her saving grace had been her mother’s sister, Lucy. Until Lucy passed, she had been closer to Will’s body type than her mother’s, shared Willowdean’s love of Dolly Parton, and showed “Dumplin'” nothing but fierce, loyal, unconditional love. Without her, the tension between mother and daughter rises and Willowdean is completely adrift.

At some points, I got frustrated because Will is incredibly hard on herself. As the reader, through her eyes, you can see two things: 1. that she is pretty dang cool and 2. She can’t see it at all.

She has a habit of pushing people (her best friend, her partners, and her mother) away from her in vicious self-hatred.

I realized that the reason I was getting so frustrated with her was largely due to the fact that I could see myself in those feelings. Self hatred feels so real inside our heads but seems so irrational when we see it on others.

I could probably go through way more analysis but it’s better to probably just read the book. Though I got a little bored in the middle, it eventually turned into one of the sweetest, most impactful books I’ve read in a while.

Little & Lion ~ Brandy Colbert

June 25, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780316349000
336 pages
Source: Charis Books

Have you ever read a book so outstanding that you need to physically catch your breath when you finish reading?

I just did.

Brandy Colbert’s Little & Lion was that book, for me.

In the simplest description, the book can be summed up in the usual YA buzzwords of the day.

“Teenager struggles to define her sexuality while also dealing with her brother’s mental illness.”

It seems like every other book I read has orientation or mental health or a whole lot of both mixed in.

There is something so dramatically different about Little & Lion, though. I’ll see if I can try to do those differences justice without rehashing the entire book.

The story begins as Suzette (known affectionately by her older stepbrother as “Little”) returns home to Los Angeles from her first year of boarding school in Massachusetts.  Lion (Suzette’s term of endearment for her brother, Lionelle) has had a full school year, back on the west coast, to begin managing his newly diagnoses Bipolar Disorder. The reunion is a little tense, partly due to the distance and time apart, partly due to the heaviness that is families learning to cope with mental health hurdles, and partly due to Suzette’s less than perfect departure from school, mostly involving a disastrous break-up with her former roommate and girlfriend, Iris.

Yes, right off the bat, you get the sense that there is a lot weighing on the siblings, in addition to the normal burdens of existing as teenagers.

The summer unfolds in swirls of reunions with old friends (and crushes), tense but fond family dynamics, hormones run amok, and the disastrous potential for things to spiral out of control on several fronts.

While I can speak to the awkward awakening that is being a queer (especially bisexual, more on that in a minute) kid, the specific challenges of bipolar are not my story to tell. In that way, I related strongly with Suzette, as my younger sibling does, in fact, get to tell that story from the perspective of someone living with the disorder.

Colbert does a spectacular job of creating empathy for the kiddo struggling with bipolar while also getting at the harshness of being on the other side. It’s a difficult dance to weave in both, especially in adolescence and especially in the first few months and year of figuring out meds and therapy and managing the illness.

In so many ways, both parties are fumbling around in the dark, navigating through the murky waters. The medication trials and side effects, the stigma attached to bipolar, self-medicating (with risky impulses, overspending, substance use, etc.), warning signs, and the reality that mental illness is the one illness that tries to convince the sufferer that they are not sick.

From the perspective of the family surrounding the member with bipolar, Colbert tackles the dangerous dance of protective codependency disguised as “loyalty”, as well as understanding when to ask for help. There has been a great deal of media conversation around peers reaching out to their friends who are struggling which I wholeheartedly support (hey, therapist, here) but only with open channels for adult communication as backup. Not specifically with family, but I have, several times, been in the position of weighing when to disclose secrets and when to let someone ride out the wave.

Woven in under the mental health umbrella, Little & Lion creates this enormously intricate and accurate portrayal of modern life. There are smaller threads like how we identify independence and adulthood. There is also an underlying current of how we define our faith in connection to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

And, of course, there is the bisexual piece of the puzzle. That part is my story to tell. Colbert just nails the stereotypes bi kids are up against, while gently painting this picture of blooming into one’s own identity. Being a teenager is confusing, enough without the world shouting that we have to “pick” one half of the world to be attracted to and dismiss the rest.

Phew! I knew this was going to be a lengthy, detailed review but I didn’t mean for it to get quite this long. If you haven’t picked up on it, by now, I will just be super blunt and say “everyone needs to read this book”. It’s stunning and beautiful and so well done that I was genuinely distraught that it was over.

Thank you Brandy, for writing a gorgeously relatable story. If I could somehow find a time machine, my fifteen-year-old self would be incredibly grateful for its existence.

Anger Is A Gift ~ Mark Oshiro

June 23, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Tor Teen
ISBN: 9781250167026
464 pages
Source: Little Shope of Stories

Everone just sit down.

Mark Oshiro basically just won the year.

Anger Is A Gift is intensely powerfully but also incredibly sweet.

It is a bit of a coming of age story, a coming out story, and ultimately, a coming into one’s own story.

There is a lot of representation, through a rainbow of skin colors, a range of physical abilities, class variations, beliefs, and faiths, and a whole bucket of gender identities and sexual orientations. Oshiro’s character building, especially given such a large cast, is exceptional, giving full respect to each human being, in turn.  I feel like there is often this discrepancy in the way teens and friends are written. Like, there can only be one person of color, one queer kid, one kid dealing with trauma. Mark does such a beautiful job of making his story real.

There is also some very real, honest, beautiful, awkward teenage queer romance and it just makes my heart tickle. In a way, it is both a blessing and a curse for a kid dealing with so much.

And now we get to the “so much” part.

In the tradition of Dear, Martin and The Hate U Give, Oshiro paints a beautifully brutal portrayal of the struggles teens of color are facing on a normal basis. I have read many reviews of the book that say the content is too violent or too unbelievable. However, reading the news and working in the field of Social Work, especially in Atlanta, I can assure you that there is nothing outlandish about the events in the book.

It is incredibly difficult, in moments, that is true. But it honest and important.

Thank you for this incredible story, Mark Oshiro. You are so very loved.

Furyborn ~ Claire Legrand

June 22, 2018

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Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

ISBN: 9781492656623

512 pages

Source: Barnes and Noble

Hold on to your seats, kiddos, because Furyborn is a WILD ride.

I have taken to calling it the lovechild of Throne of Glass and Ember in the Ashes.

It’s is gloriously long and complex, switching chapters back and forth, seamlessly, between one thousand years.

One one hand, we have the accused (or proposed, depending upon whose side you’re on) Sun Queen, Rielle, callee upon by her kingdom to prove she is, in fact, the benevolent Sun Queen and NOT the prophesied horror that is the foretold Blood Queen. She is tasked to go through a series of grueling trials to prove just that (very reminiscent of our all powerful Sarah J Maas for those following along). She managed to secure a few loves and more than a few enemies along the way.

On the other hand, we have the fearless assassin and all around mercenary, Eliana, coming into her own ten decades after Rielle has left the scene. She has been a sword for hire for the kingdom in power for most of her life, her only ambition: to survive and make sure her family does, too. Her priorities shift when a handful of women (including her from town go missing and she throws in her lot with the plainly people willing to help.

The book weighs in just over 500 pages but it feels like much more than that because the world building is just completely all consuming. I lost myself inside the story and my god I was glad when I remembered it was just the first in a trilogy.

I HIGHLY recommend Furyborn if you haven’t read it, already.