Love & Resistance by Kara H.L. Chen (Quill Tree Books)
Publisher’s Summary: Seventeen-year-old Olivia Chang is at her fourth school in seven years. Her self-imposed solitude is lonely, but safe. At Plainstown High, however, Olivia’s usual plan of anonymity fails when the infamous Mitzi Clarke (influencer, queen bee, bully) makes a pointed racist comment in class. Olivia knows what she must do: let it go. But Olivia is tired of ignoring things just so she can survive. This time, she defends herself.
That is the end of her invisible life.
Soon, Olivia discovers, and joins forces with, the Nerd Net: a secret society who has been thwarting Mitzi’s reign of terror for months. Together, they plan to unite the masses and create true change at Plainstown High.
But in order to succeed, Olivia must do something even more terrifying than lead a movement: trust other people. She might even make true friends along the way . . . if Mitzi doesn’t destroy her first.
My Thoughts: This book was a perfect summer read. There’s a good balance of ups with the downs throughout. The story contains bullying and racism, but also brings in friendship, love, and as the title would indicate – resistance to the injustices.
Having attended seven schools between kindergarten and graduation, including two in Ohio, there were many things I could relate to in Olivia’s experience. Many readers are likely to connect to her attempts to be invisible and find out the lay of the land when she starts attending new schools. And if not, they probably would at least understand the necessity.
Being new to a school junior year is challenging enough, but having the added layer of race, makes starting over significantly harder in a place like Plainstown. Olivia explains, “When you walk through life wearing a target–your face–there are times when you forget you are different. But there are always reminders.” The little things people do like staring or talking too loudly because they think you don’t know English all communicate that, “You are not one of us.”
Though her grandfather has died prior to the beginning of the book, I appreciated how Olivia shares parts of his immigration story and their relationship. Over the years, he told her many stories and taught a lot about military strategy. She is especially well practiced in the art of non-engagement. And then everything sort of spirals out of control and she has to utilize other strategies she learned from him. She also has to look for and collaborate with allies.
One of my favorite parts of this book was seeing the friendships being built and nurtured. It’s also a plus that there are people working together who have different opinions and find ways to express them without simply laying judgement on someone’s personality. Comparisons are drawn to the ‘us and them’ aspect of modern politics where you are only for or against us and there is no nuance. It’s not easy, but there are individuals who value being able to question and discuss things while also respecting others and being open to seeing people as more than one-dimensional. This doesn’t mean they ignore the vile actions of folks, but they see other ways of interacting with people and ways to work with those who they may have only seen as enemies before.
And yes, there is a romance or two to be found in these pages. The banter is super fun and made me smile. There is one central relationship, but there is also another side couple added to the mix.
Recommendation: Get it soon! Olivia and the Nerd Net are folks well worth meeting.
Review copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves now