Review: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

3P JKT Geeks_Guide.indd Title: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love
Author: Sarvenaz Tash
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy, Romance
Pages: 252
Review copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: John Hughes meets Comic Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy…

Archie and Veronica…

Althena and Noth…

. . . Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxana, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago, and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Althena Chronicles, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be . . . even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

Review: I truly appreciated the laughs and smiles Sarvenaz Tash provided me through this book. I’ve never been to a Comic Con, but have been to multiple Anime conventions with my youngest child. Panels, costume contests, Artist Alley, standing in lines and many other things reminded me of our experiences although we never ventured into speed dating. Clearly, other readers would appreciate the Comic Con setting more than this 40 something mom, but even if I missed some of the references, the book was a ton of fun. Graham and his friends are seriously geeky and they revel in it. This book is a complete celebration of geekiness.

The author did a great job with the setting. The characters are moving through a vivid place. I had to laugh when Graham walks toward a hot dog stand and “almost get my eyes gouged out by a selfie stick being flailed around by a guy running after an almost-seven-foot-tall Darth Vader, shouting ‘Lord Vader!'” There are many interactions with unique individuals and most of the interchanges are amusing. One in particular was hilarious and involves lines from The Princess Bride. No spoilers here, but rest assured, there are plenty of humorous references to comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, Zelda, Sherlock and the like.

With such an environment, Graham’s plan seems foolproof. Their friendship began with shared readings of Harry Potter and graduated to creating comics together. The NY Comic Con is packed with so many of their shared obsessions and memories. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, many funny and not so funny things happen to throw off Graham’s plans and deal him some crushing blows. Through it all, Graham has supportive friends both new and old. This set of geeky friends are diverse and distinctly themselves. They’re charming more often than not and make this a wonderful book for a light summer read.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re even the slightest bit geeky and want a fun book for summer relaxation.

Extra:

Sneak peek at 1st two chapters + Giveaway

Blog Tour + Giveaway

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Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Gabi a Girl in PIecesTitle: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Genre: Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 208
Review Copy: Borrowed from the library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Review: From the excerpt above, anyone can see that Gabi and her mother have very different opinions about sex and what it means to be a “good” girl. Throughout the book, Gabi is struggling to make her way through her own beliefs and figuring out how to live them. She does want to be a good girl, but what that looks like for her is a different picture than that of her family members. Gabi’s family often drives her crazy, but they are hugely important to her. She does her best to be true to herself, but being respectful of her family almost always takes precedence. She may think all kinds of snarky and hilarious things about her mother’s comments, but that doesn’t mean she’ll say them.

Gabi is a girl full of love – love for her family and love for her friends and boyfriend. A theme that runs throughout the book is that people are contradictory and faulty, but we can walk away or choose to accept them and love them anyway. Those are our choices because we can’t count on changing anyone. Gabi has learned this the hard way as she’s watched her family and father deal with his meth addiction. At one point she writes that her city is known for smog and overcrowded highways and not for it’s love of gay people, “But still…I love my city with the same force that I love my dad. There’s no escaping my roots, and I guess it’s better to embrace them than cut them.”

Gabi wrestles with her roots and the restrictions that they seem to place on her especially in the area of her body image and her behavior as a girl. The cover art includes the words Gordita and Fatgirl though those adjectives are crossed out. Body image comes into play right away. Gabi loves food and writes about it often, yet feels the need to lose weight. The people around her are not always helpful either. Her mother says things like, “You’re getting fatter than a pregnant woman.” Over the course of the year, Gabi’s thoughts and feelings about her body do change. Her weight is not so much a “problem to solve” as I have seen in other young adult novels.

The gender issues also abound. Her brother is younger and has freedoms that she will never have simply because he’s male. It’s not restricted to her family though. The phrase “boys will be boys” comes up more than once with discussion around what actions boys are allowed to get away with that are completely unacceptable.

Beyond body image and gender roles, Gabi also explores what she refers to as her Mexicanness. She has very light skin so people sometimes think she’s white and she has to “give them a history lesson.” People don’t even expect her to know Spanish. Speaking of Spanish, there was quite a discussion about the language use in this book back in January around the Morris Nominations. A reviewer noted, “the lack of a backmatter glossary does strike me as a significant design flaw, and it’s really a shame.” The book is made up of journal entries which are written in a casual voice. Gabi is meant to be her honest, true self in these entries. Her honest true self uses both English and Spanish so there are Spanish words and phrases throughout the book. Sometimes, like in the above excerpt, there is a translation. Other times, the context would help a reader unfamiliar with the language, and sometimes, there is not enough in the context to figure it out. I may not have always fully understood what was meant, but I believe that my reading experience was enriched by the realistic language patterns and usage. Also, a glossary would say this book is designed for people who only speak English rather than a girl like Gabi herself. By writing it this way, the book is like Gabi, standing on its own saying “This is who I am.” If a particular word or passage left me confused, online translations were easily available. I can’t help but remember this same type of experience with the book Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery. With that particular book, the author M. Evelina Galang also wrote text that freely flowed between languages. I loved her explanation of why she didn’t include a glossary.

And then there’s the poetry. With everything that is going on in Gabi’s life, poetry becomes her therapy. She finds meaning and understanding through her writing and the poetry that her teacher is sharing. This is a character trying to find her own voice. Poetry and the writing in her diary are a way that she ventures out to use that voice.

Recommendation: Buy it now. Gabi is a character that everyone should get a chance to meet. Gabi faces difficult situations with vulnerability, honesty and an abundance of humor. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

Extras: 

2015 Morris Award Interview

School Library Journal Interview

Meg Medina shares about Gabi on NPR

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Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

ldsjd Title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Comedy
Pages: 355
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

Review: Romantic comedies can be hit-or-miss for me, especially since my threshold for secondhand embarrassment is pretty low. (And, oh, there are parts of this books that are downright mortifying.) However, I’m happy to report that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was definitely a hit.

Our heroine, Lara Jean, not only has to deal with than the nightmare scenario of her love letters getting sent out, but she also has to figure out how to step into her older sister’s shoes when Margot goes off to college in Scotland. Their mother died when they were younger, and Margot ended up filling in that slot. Lara Jean’s struggle to live up to the standards Margot set for the family—cooking; getting their younger sister, Kitty, to swim meets and school; taking care of Thanksgiving dinner; etc.—is one of my favorite parts of the book. Lara Jean misses her sister fiercely, but there’s also a bit of resentment lurking under the surface since Margot was just so good at everything. Once you add in the fact that Margot’s boyfriend, Josh, is one of the boys Lara Jean wrote a letter to, things get complicated fast.

In fact, the relationships between the sisters are one of the main highlights of the book for me. Jenny Han does a great job of showing how close the girls are while also exploring how distance, teasing, and growing up can strain those relationships. The loss of their mother casts a long shadow in the book, from small things like Lara Jean not being able to make a Korean dish taste like it did when her mother made it to larger things like how the family dropped a huge Christmas tradition after her death. I haven’t read many YA books that dealt with the death of a parent in such a down-to-earth, we’ve-gotten-used-to-it sort of way, but Han handled the topic well.

It’s extremely difficult to talk about the romantic plots in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before without spoiling everything, so I’ll only talk about it in broad terms: it’s messy. Really messy. Things aren’t tied off in a neat bow at the end, which I appreciated, mostly because I was more interested in Lara Jean than any of the boys she’d loved before (or loves now). While the romance is certainly one of the most dramatic elements of the story, what’s really central to the book is how Lara Jean grows up and figures out more about who she is.

Recommendation: Get it soon. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a fun, fast read that strikes a nice balance between the romantic plotline and the family dynamics/drama. It would be a great poolside or beachside read this summer, especially if you enjoy sisterhood stories as much as you enjoy complicated and messy romances. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Jenny Han’s works in the future.

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Favorite Diverse YA from 2013

Narrowing down my favorites for the year was pretty tough. There are so many that I don’t want to leave out. I finally narrowed it down though.

Dystopian

proxy

 

Proxy by Alex London was a fast paced novel that kept me flipping the pages both times I read it. And yes, I did read it twice already. I reviewed it here

prodigy

 

Marie Lu’s Legend series got even more amazing with Prodigy. June and Day are compelling characters and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

unravel

 

Juliette from Unravel Me is another character that fascinates me. Tehereh Mafi is weaving a tale that has completely sucked me in and I’m excited for the next installment.

Contemporary Books

Rogue_JKT_FINAL
Rogue author Lyn Miller-Lachmann visited out blog earlier this year and shared a bit about her writing. After learning about the book, I knew I wanted to read it. This is on the younger side of YA with the main character in middle school. I loved that readers see into the world of a person with Asperger’s syndrome, but Kiara is much more than that. She is an X-Men enthusiast, a loyal friend, a movie maker and much more. Kiara is a character that I wished I could meet in person.

yaqui


In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Piddy Sanchez is bullied. This is a gritty book that tugged at my heart. Fortunately, Piddy has some amazing people in her life. This book brought me to tears, but also brought laughter and smiles. Author Meg Medina was kind enough to grant us an interview and Jessica also reviewed Yaqui on Rich in Color back in May.

 

Historical

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park takes place in the 80s so those headphones are leading to a Walkman not an iPod, thus the historical label. It also earns a romance label. The relationship between Eleanor and Park was simply sweet in contrast to some of the rather horrible things in Eleanor’s life.

If I ever get out of here

 

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here was another fabulous book set in the past – specifically the 70s. I reviewed it on my personal blog here, and we also held a group discussion (with spoilers) earlier this month. Gansworth manages to handle some serious issues like bullying and poverty with a nice balance of humor. Lewis, the main character, is a teenager from the Tuscarora Indian reservation and he is attending a mostly white high school. Watching as Lewis navigates the social life of that school is both humorous and heart-breaking. 

Poetry – Historical

dreamer

 

The Lightning Dreamer is based on the life of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873). She was a feminist and abolitionist. Margarita Engle used this novel-in-verse to express some of Avellaneda’s ideas.

Here is a sample:
Beyond these convent gates, books
are locked away
and men
hold
the keys.

 

Graphic Novels – Historical


Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 9.39.08 PMBoxers and Saints is actually two books, but they should be read together. They are both telling the same story during the Boxer Rebellion in China, but from two different perspectives. The first time I read them, I was impressed, but on a second read through, they were even better. I reviewed them here. They are a set of books that should not be missed even if graphic novels are not something you typically read.

Comedy

Asked

Since You Asked was a bunch of fun. I reviewed it here. In it, Holly Kim writes a column in her high school newspaper. She is a bit snarky and has the goal of shaking things up around school. I loved her interactions with her mother and she also has a great group of friends. This one is sure to have you laughing.

Have you read any fantastic books that I might have missed? What were some of your favorites this year? Please share in the comments.
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Need a Little Humor in Your Life?

When the days get shorter and darker, I often turn to humor for a lift. While some of these titles deal with serious topics, they all have a healthy dose of humor. We often hear that laughter is the best medicine, so here is your prescription.

since you asked

Since You Asked by Maureen Goo

A humorous, debut novel about a Korean-American teenager who accidentally lands her own column in her high school newspaper, and proceeds to rant her way through the school year while struggling to reconcile the traditional Korean values of her parents with contemporary American culture. Reviewed on Rich in Color here.

wrapThe Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

In this modern-day suburban town, one percent of all fatalities come about in the most peculiar way. Deaths—eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures—send a letter (“Dear So-and-So, your days are numbered”) to whomever is chosen for a departure, telling them to wrap up their lives and do the things they always wanted to do before they have to “depart.” When sixteen-year-old Gabriela receives her notice, she is, of course devastated. Will she kiss her crush Sylvester before it’s too late?

ABC

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

diary

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Does My Head Look Big in This

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full- time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.

Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.

cuba

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Violet Paz has just turned 15, a pivotal birthday in the eyes of her Cuban grandmother. Fifteen is the age when a girl enters womanhood, traditionally celebrating the occasion with a quinceañero. But while Violet is half Cuban, she’s also half Polish, and more importantly, she feels 100% American. Except for her zany family’s passion for playing dominoes, smoking cigars, and dancing to Latin music, Violet knows little about Cuban culture, nada about quinces, and only tidbits about the history of Cuba. So when Violet begrudgingly accepts Abuela’s plans for a quinceañero–and as she begins to ask questions about her Cuban roots–cultures and feelings collide. The mere mention of Cuba and Fidel Castro elicits her grandparents’sadness and her father’s anger. Only Violet’s aunt Luz remains open-minded. With so many divergent views, it’s not easy to know what to believe. All Violet knows is that she’s got to form her own opinions, even if this jolts her family into unwanted confrontations. After all, a quince girl is supposed to embrace responsibility–and to Violet that includes understanding the Cuban heritage that binds her to a homeland she’s never seen.

— cover images and summaries via Goodreads

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Review: Team Human

Team HumanTitle: Team Human
Author: Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 344
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Team Human works best if you are familiar with and have a fondness for vampires. Even though I’m only middling on both of those criteria, Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan did a great job of keeping my interest with Mel, their American Born Chinese protagonist.

What I find most fascinating about Mel is how, in a book from Cathy’s point of view, she would fit neatly into the Meddling Second Lead™ role. Most books and Korean television shows have trained me to despise such characters and their repeated attempts to break up True Love™, but I adored seeing the vampire romance play out from Mel’s point of view. The fact that Mel is motivated by genuine concern and fear for her friend (as opposed to romantic jealousy) helps a great deal in this regard. While I was occasionally annoyed by Mel’s insistence that she knew what was better for Cathy than Cathy did, I was still extremely sympathetic to her. In her place, I probably would have acted much the same after my best friend fell in love with and decided to become a vampire (which carried a 10% chance of death and a 10% chance of zombification) in a matter of weeks.

The other character standout was Kit, the vampire-raised human that Mel falls for. Kit’s backstory (and how some of his vampire family treated him) made me rather upset on his behalf and wishing for all sorts of bad fortune upon minor characters. Despite this, Kit was consistently a source of humor and awkward misunderstandings thanks to his lack of knowledge about human society. Some of these misunderstandings were brilliant and hilarious (kissing) and others were disappointingly easy to predict (promising to call).

The world building for this book was unexpectedly delightful, from therapists who deal with vampires who are having trouble transitioning to laws requiring smoked glass in all public buildings to block vampire-killing UV rays. I love that turning people into vampires is a regulated process requiring counseling and you-could-turn-into-a-zombie scare tactics. Mundane details like that really make this world feel like it could exist if vampires were real.

Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding Anna, her mother, and her missing father wasn’t something that held my attention very well. If Anna had been the narrator, I would have been more invested in it, but Mel was constantly distracted by getting in the way of True Love™ or establishing a loveline of her own. While I’m normally not much of a comedy person, I really wish that Team Human had focused more on the comedy/satire of the vampire genre and less on a mystery that I did not find compelling.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Ultimately, Team Human is a quick read, but it doesn’t have much staying power for me. It would be a great beach book for the last part of summer, especially if you are in the mood for some gentle mocking of vampire tropes.

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