Book reviews, School libraries

Tag: LGBT (Page 1 of 5)

Book Review: Like Other Girls

Like Other Girls – Britta Lundin – Disney-Hyperion – Published 3 August 2021

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Synopsis

After getting kicked off the basketball team for a fight that was absolutely totally not her fault (okay maybe a little her fault), Mara is dying to find a new sport to play to prove to her coach that she can be a team player. A lifelong football fan, Mara decides to hit the gridiron with her brother, Noah, and best friend, Quinn-and she turns out to be a natural. But joining the team sets off a chain of events in her small Oregon town-and within her family-that she never could have predicted.

Inspired by what they see as Mara’s political statement, four other girls join the team. Now Mara’s lumped in as one of the girls-one of the girls who can’t throw, can’t kick, and doesn’t know a fullback from a linebacker. Complicating matters is the fact that Valentina, Mara’s crush, is one of the new players, as is Carly, Mara’s nemesis-the girl Mara fought with when she was kicked off the basketball team. What results is a coming-of-age story that is at once tear-jerking and funny, thought-provoking and real, as Mara’s preconceived notions about gender, sports, sexuality, and friendship are turned upside down.

My thoughts

What does it mean to be a girl? For Mara, growing up in a small, traditional town, being a girl means she has strict guidelines for how a girl looks and behaves and it’s everything Mara is not and hates. Like Other Girls is a novel about accepting yourself, accepting others and learning that there is no one right way to be a girl or to stand up for that right to be a girl in your own way.

This is not a book where the girl joins the football team and is accepted by the team. Just the opposite happens in Like Other Girls. When Mara joins the football team her relationship with her brother (the team captain) which was already unsteady, deteriorates even more. She has a massive fight with her best friend Quinn who initially encouraged her to join the team but who is now one of her greatest opponents. And her mother is no longer speaking to her or attending football games. That’s not to mention all the other responses from the other guys on the team, the coach or the other teams. When four other girls join the football team, Mara is determined that she won’t be cast as similar to them. She deserves to be there while they do not. But the reaction from the team and the sheer determination from the girls starts to prove to Mara that being a girl doesn’t have just one definition.

Alongside the story of rights, sexual harassment and equality, this is also a sexual orientation discovery story. Mara knows she is gay and has a plan for how she is going to come out – when she’s in college and far away from her conservative town. She could never be like Carly who is openly out and champions for LGBT+ rights. When Mara meets Jupiter and Jupiter hires her to do some work on her farm, Mara sees someone who is comfortable in their skin and clothes and who they are, someone in an LGBT+ relationship and Mara envies every bit of that comfort.
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Book Review: Ace of Spades

Ace of Spades – Faridah Abike-Iyimide – Feiwel Friends – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

My thoughts

Ace of Spades is heartbreakingly devastatingly yet as I was reading I knew that this is the reality for so many people and young people. It is thrilling, twisty and kept me guess right up until the last page. My main concern was how on earth the author could give me a satisfactory ending that was still realistic and boy, did Faridah deliver. Absolutely superb.

I was on the edge of my seat while reading this and often had my head in my hands and heart in my mouth. All the emotions and all the feels. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy book to read but oh my gosh it is such a powerful and reflective book of our current political and social landscapes.

Ace of Spades is a thriller, a mystery and realistic novel all in one. It’s #Diverse #OwnVoices #ReadWoke and every other on trend hashtag you could want. It’s gut punching and shows just how much resilience and strength it requires for people to survive in a society that seeks to destroy them. Ace of Spades is a debut novel and my gosh it is impressive.

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Book Review: The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook – Isaac Fitzsimons – Dial – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.

My thoughts

A story about sport, friendship, romance and becoming comfortable with sharing who you are. The Passing Playbook is a trans coming out story but also about belonging and accepting yourself

Spencer is starting at a new school. It’s a fresh start and one he wants to control. He decides to keep secret the fact that he is trans. When he is recruited for the boy’s soccer team, Spencer knows he walks a fine line between passing and being revealed as trans. When the league’s discriminatory policy benches Spencer he has to decide how much he trusts his team mates and how much he is willing to risk to fight the decision.

Sports stories offer such a great backdrop for relationship and character development. It seems to bring out the best and worst in people. As Spencer starts to settle into his new school and tries out for the soccer team he has to decide how much he will risk to protect his new friendships and place on the team. He loves soccer, always has, so he relishes the chance to play on the boys team – something he has always wanted to do.

While Spencer’s school is meant to be pretty liberal and progressive, he is still uncertain how, if or when he wants to come out as trans to his classmates. As he starts to get to know Justice and develops a friendship (and something) with him, he starts to learn more about the risks Justice faces if he were to ever reveal his own true identity.

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Book Review: This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart – Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart #1 – Bloomsbury YA – Published 29 June 2021

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Synopsis

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

My thoughts

This Poison Heart starts with a magical realism vibe but by halfway becomes a thoroughly fun paranormal title with myths, eternal creatures with super speed and strength, and centuries-old feuds. I love books about plants and gardens. I love the vibe they give to books and This Poison Heart brings with it that same plant and garden goodness I adore, with the added benefit that Briseis can control the plants around her – or sort of. She has long hidden her gift and isn’t sure how to master it when she fears it and what it can do.

When Briseis and her mothers receive news that Briseis has been left an estate as an inheritance by her birth family, they think it might be the thing to save their struggling finances. Moving to the country also gives Briseis the first chance to really stretch her powers of controlling plants. Away from the city, she discovers that her birth family have a strange affinity with plants, especially poisonous ones. As Briseis revives the gardens that surround the estate, she begins to learn there is far more to her powers and far more to the secrets that surround her family’s history.

There is a lot to like about This Poison Heart. It kind of felt like two books joined together. The first half is focused on getting to know Briseis, her two mothers, their florist business and their struggling finances. The inheritance is a welcome reprieve for them, as is the move to the country. The banter between Briseis and her mothers is lots of fun, as is the banter the two older women share. They are full on mother-embarrassing, which Briseis pretends to hate but really loves. The move also allows Briseis to experiment with her powers, bringing the garden back to life, learning about the apothecary business her aunt and birth mother were running. She also meets Carter, who works at the bookshop in town and she finally makes a friend who knows the extent of her magical powers and doesn’t shun her for them.

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Book Review: Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire – Destiny Soria – HMH Books for Young Readers – Published 8 June 2021

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Synopsis

Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.

Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.

My thoughts

I do love a good dragon book and this one is unique, taking us away from the traditional fantasy world and into a very familiar landscape of high school, modern society and dragons, of course. Most people don’t think dragons exist – why would they?, but Eden and Dani know the truth. They have been raised as the next generation of dragon hunters. Taught by their parents, legendary slayers in their own right, to keep humans safe from the furious beasts.

When Dani discovers a dragon close to home and becomes soul bonded with it, everything she ever knew or was taught about dragons is challenged. Nox is powerful and can breath fire, with a deadly tail, but he doesn’t wish to harm anyone. Instead, he protects the dragon eggs entrusted to him and wants Dani’s help to hatch and raise them. Dani is torn between her old and new worlds and has no idea how to tell her parents. Eden is Dani’s elder sister. She trained Dani and only wishes it was she that people referred to as destined to be the greatest slayer. Instead, her dedication to the craft is unrecognised and her skills surpasses by the uninterested Dani. When The High Sorcerer enlists Eden’s help she is flattered and wants to use the opportunity to show everyone that she has what it takes to be the best slayer.

Written in alternating chapters, we readers get to see this story from both Eden and Dani’s perspective. They are both equally likeable as much as they are flawed and make some really silly mistakes. They are teens in a world of dragons and magic and choices that mean life or death. I found myself rooting for first one sister and then the other and then switching again. It’s easy to judge Eden’s choices yet harder to know see how easy it is for her to by lured by the promises she is made. Same with Dani, she makes some obvious mistakes trusting the wrong people and then not trusting those allied to her – like Nox, she’s rather mean to him I think – but this is so true to her character and upbringing and it makes both Dani and Eden genuine and authentic teen characters, trying to figure out school (high school for Dani, online college for Eden), friendships, romantic relationships and getting along as sisters – or at least not betraying, capturing and killing each other (though a far big of that does happen).

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Book Review: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal – Anna Whateley – Allen & Unwin – Published 28 April 2020

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Synopsis

At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

My thoughts

For all Peta’s internal turmoil and the sad situations in the book, this is an uplifting and happy story. I found myself enthralled with the plot, loving Peta’s voice and genuinely enjoying every minute of the book. While it does tackle some mature topics, including sexual harassment, relationship breakdown, domestic violence and physical abuse, it is a positive story about accepting your differences and being okay with them and finding your people.

This is not an LGBT discovery or exploration novel. And yet it is. What I’m trying to say that no big deal is made of Peta being gay or not. It’s not really even referenced. She likes guys. She likes girls. There is no exploration of this, it just is, which makes it so authentic and accepting. This is one side of Peta that she doesn’t question or challenge, unlike her diagnosis letters, as she calls them. Continue reading

Book Review: How To Become A Planet

How to Become A Planet – Nicole Melleby – Algonquin Young Readers –  Published 25 May 2021

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Synopsis

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

My thoughts

How To Become A Planet is a novel about anxiety and depression, friendship and gender identity exploration for upper middle graders. Perfect for students just transitioning into high school and confronted with new levels of expectations, new hormones and feelings, and dealing with mental health and complicated feelings from family breakdown and changes in friendship groups.

Pluto has depression and anxiety and at the moment that’s all she really knows about herself. She struggles to get out of bed, and certainly doesn’t want to spend her summer break at her mother’s pizzeria and with a tutor so she can go to eighth grade next year. When Pluto unexpectedly makes a new friend, they each make a list of things they want to do this summer. Pluto’s list is all about returning to the girl she was before her diagnosis. For Fallon, her list is about telling her mother how she feels about having long hair and wearing dresses.

Pluto starts to develop romantic feelings for Fallon – funny feelings in her tummy and wanting to touch Fallon’s face. No labels are applied, but Pluto is supported by and identifies with her tutor who is in a homosexual relationship. Again, no labels are applied to Fallon’s desire to cut her hair short, and wear her brothers’ clothes, but these discussions and feelings are a major part of the book, giving readers something to identify with and relate to without applying labels.

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Book Review: The Hollow Inside

The Hollow Inside – Brooke Lauren Davis – Bloomsbury YA – Published 25 May 2021

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Synopsis

Phoenix and mom Nina have spent years on the road, using their charm and wits to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

After Phoenix gets caught spying, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets, she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth?

My thoughts

The Hollow Inside is completely addictive but I also kind of wanted to read it between my fingers while covering my eyes as there is a near constant feeling of impending dread. Revenges, lies, betrayal, longing – a mystery thriller with so much heart.

I was so caught up in the world and so torn between waning to rescue Phoenix from the woman she calls mother and rescue Nina, both from herself and from the pain of her past. On one hand I was totally, one hundred percent behind the notion of revenge – make that man hurt, ladies. And on the other it’s so easy to see the hurt and destruction Phoenix has to endure while her mother seeks this revenge. There really isn’t a right answer, yet Phoenix has to chose every single day what her right will be. She longs for her mother to acknowledge her and the sacrifices she is making, yet her mother is constantly upset with her, angry and takes it out on Phoenix.

As Phoenix and Nina arrive in Jasper Hollow the truth of what happened there is slowly revealed. Some of this Phoenix discovers as she goes undercover as a sad, homeless girl and finds herself invited to live with the Bowmans. Other, clearer details are revealed through flashbacks to Nina’s childhood. This is what really caught me between wanting a different life for Phoenix and wanting revenge for Nina, as we see the hurt through Nina’s eyes. Does it justify Nina’s actions now or explain them? The reader will have to decide, as does Phoenix.

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Book Review: The Girls I’ve Been

The Girls I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe – G.P. Putman’s Sons Books for Young Readers – Published 26 January 2021

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Synopsis

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage…

My thoughts

Looking for a thriller novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat? The Girls I’ve Been is an exciting novel that is part heist novel, part mystery. It is unique, romantic (lgbt+), and will have you desperate to uncover the truth about the girls Nora has been (and what that even means).

I adore mystery/thriller novels. And sometimes, it is a little hard to find good YA mystery/thriller novels. Books that justify why the teenager is involved in the crime/crime fighting. The Girls I’ve Been does that and so much more. Two main mystery threads run through the story and are told in alternating chapters that span the past and present. It kept me hooked to the pages and eager to learn what had transpired to make Nora the girl she is today (kind of scary, totally cool, wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley, but also totally in awe of her).

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Book Review: Winterkeep

Winterkeep – Kristin Cashore – Graceling Realm #4 – Dial Books – Published 19 January 2021

 

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Synopsis

Four years after Bitterblue left off, a new land has been discovered to the east: Torla; and the closest nation to Monsea is Winterkeep. Winterkeep is a land of miracles, a democratic republic run by people who like each other, where people speak to telepathic sea creatures, adopt telepathic foxes as pets, and fly across the sky in ships attached to balloons.

But when Bitterblue’s envoys to Winterkeep drown under suspicious circumstances, she and Giddon and her half sister, Hava, set off to discover the truth–putting both Bitterblue’s life and Giddon’s heart to the test when Bitterbue is kidnapped. Giddon believes she has drowned, leaving him and Hava to solve the mystery of what’s wrong in Winterkeep.

Lovisa Cavenda is the teenage daughter of a powerful Scholar and Industrialist (the opposing governing parties) with a fire inside her that is always hungry, always just nearly about to make something happen. She is the key to everything, but only if she can figure out what’s going on before anyone else, and only if she’s willing to transcend the person she’s been all her life.

My thoughts

It has been a long time since I read Bitterblue and the rest of the Graceling series. And yet, despite the years, the characters and story have remained fresh in my mind. They are books I regularly recommend to other readers. Bitterblue is a book I so clearly remember finishing and I just needed to sit and soak it in. It is the book I measure all other 5 star reads against. So, when I heard that the Graceling series was getting another book I was thrilled!! I am pleased to say, Winterkeep is a fantastic addition to a wonderful fantasy series. It continues the story of Bitterblue and her rule over her country. But it also expands the series in ways I didn’t expect.

Bitterblue has spent the last five years renewing her country as Queen – trying to repair the damage done by her father. When she hears about lands to the East, countries with strange flying airships and foxes that communicate with humans telepathically, Bitterblue sends out envoys to learn more. But when the envoys do not return, Bitterblue and her trusted Council members journey east. But they find far more deception and danger than they were expecting.

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