Book Review: Untwine

untwineTitle: Untwine
Author: Edwidge Danticat
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Support your local library!
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Giselle Boyer and her identical twin, Isabelle, are as close as sisters can be. They are each other’s strongest source of support even as their family life seems to be unraveling and their parents are considering divorce. Then the Boyers have a tragic encounter that will shatter everyone’s world forever.

Giselle wakes up in a hospital room, injured and unable to speak or move. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her sister, to her family, to herself. Trapped in the prison of her own body, Giselle must revisit her past in order to understand how the people closest to her—her friends, her parents, and above all, Isabelle—have shaped and defined her. Will she allow her love for her family and friends to buoy her and lead her on the path to recovery? Or will she remain lost in a painful spiral of longing and regret?

Review: Much talk has been made, erroneously, that YA literature  is not literary enough and for all those folks, I’d suggest they pick up Untwine as Danticat’s novel is the epitome of a moving literary character study novel. It is the story of sisterhood, tragedy, family and ultimately healing. The writing is very chewy, like enjoying a gourmet meal.

While I ultimately enjoyed the novel and was moved by the story, the pacing was a little slow and the beginning, due to the structure of the novel, took a bit to get to. The novel begins with the accident that lends Giselle in the hospital and her time in the hospital. However, because Giselle is in a coma like state, the first quarter of the novel is spent in her mind, which creates a sort of stream of consciousness feel to the novel. That is also when we experience Giselle and Isabelle’s relationship as Giselle spends much of her coma reflecting on the past. She is able to see and hear her doctor and her family members, but she can’t interact with them. And because of that, it seems for the first part of the novel, there is very little movement within the plot and I can understand how some readers would be thrown off by that. Since I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness stories, I will admit that I struggled a bit and was concerned that the novel would be entirely in this style. It isn’t and the plot begins to move forward when Giselle finally wakes up.

It is at that point that the novel focuses on dealing with loss and the eventual steps towards healing. It is also when I fully began to connect with Giselle. I will fully admit that I cried during Isabelle’s funeral as Danticat fully tapped into the pain and sense of loss that Giselle’s entire family was feeling, but more so with Giselle who feels like she has lost a part of herself, a part of her identity. Giselle also struggles with survivors guilt as she also has to come to terms with a life without her sister. She even questions her existence because if her twin is dead, is she still a twin? This existential question that Giselle faces (and the title of the book alludes to) is what makes this novel such an interesting literary character study. And ultimately, what makes this a good read.

Even though I struggled to get into the story, I was deeply moved by the end and even shed a few tears. To me, if a novel brings actual tears to my eyes, then the author has done an excellent job of connecting me to the characters, making me think, but most importantly making me feel. It is the ability to make my heart wrench of her characters is why I love Danticat’s writing and was so excited for this novel. And I was definitely satisfied.

Lastly, on a completely shallow note, I absolutely adore the cover. It is just absolutely beautiful.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of literary character study novels, this is the book for you.

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Book Review: Consent

ConsentTitle: Consent
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Review: To be honest, I was hesitant to read, let alone review, Consent due to the subject matter of a teacher-student romantic relationship because being a teacher these stories tend to make me really uncomfortable. I know these relationships are, unfortunately, all to common and I often wonder what propels these teachers to cross that line. On the flip side, I do know of students who also take it to far in their affections for their teachers (I once came across a site that was about what girls would do to get their male English teachers to notice/date them. It was very disturbing.) With that in mind, I decided I would get over my discomfort and read Nancy Ohlin’s Consent with an open mind and I’m thankful I did.

Consent is a morally complicated novel that explores how Bea and Dane’s relationship is even able to develop. It starts of innocently enough with the connection that many student-teachers have when a teacher sees the potential in a student and helps them see that potential. Bea does acknowledge her attraction to Dane, but stifles it because he is her teacher. The same can be said for Dane as in their interactions, he often realizes he’s about to cross that line and takes a huge step back. I love that Ohlin made the relationship a slow burn, and had both parties recoginize how a relationship between them would be wrong. At no point does their relationship feel salacious, as Ohlin focuses on the conflict between what their heart’s desire and what is the right thing to do. In fact, when they do actually become intimate, the moment makes sense. They are both caught up in the emotion of a successful day, where Bea had auditioned for Dane’s former, very famous, teacher at Juliard, and well, begin their romantic relationship. Ohlin makes their relationship brief, as they decide to wait until she actually turns 18, but end up being discovered anyway. The rest of the novel then focuses on the fall out of the discovery of their relationship.

The fact that Ohlin chose to make the relationship brief, and focus on the build up, and the fallout is what makes the novel work, for me. Bea and Dane’s story becomes real, true, because relationships, particularly student-teacher relationships, are complicated. Bea is at a moment in her life where she is in need of guidance as she is on the cusp of adulthood, and Dane is the person who opens her eyes to a path that she had convinced herself that she couldn’t travel down. Bea’s relationship with the men in her life (her father and brother) is a tense one, and at one point Bea even wonders if her fascination with Dane is because she has daddy issues. It is this thoughtful analysis that Bea has with her relationship with Dane, before they become intimate, is why I greatly enjoyed the novel. Bea is a character is who is fully aware of her issues and owns them. At no point is she pulled into the relationship with Dane; she enters an intimate relationship with him fully acknowledging all the risks and the consequences should they be found out. Olin did a masterful job in her creation of Bea, as she is a character we can relate to, and understand how and why she becomes involved with her teacher.

Despite my hesitation at the beginning, I really ended up enjoying Consent. Bea’s voice pulled me into the story and I connected with this girl who was hiding a large part of herself in order to please her family. Her relationship with her teacher does allow for Bea to find herself, to grow, and become the person she always wanted to be and for me, that is what made the novel, what made me accept Bea and Dane’s relationship.

On a side, much funnier note, Bea and her friend Plum call Dane “Kit Harrington” after the actor from Game of Thrones because Ohlin describes him in that manner. As a fan of Game of Thrones and Harrington’s character, I had a clear picture in my mind of what Dane looked like and every time either girl called him Kit, I couldn’t help but giggle. If you don’t know who Kit Harrington is, google him. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation: If you love morally complicated novels, go buy this book!

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Book Review: Darkness Hidden

darkness hiddenTitle: Darkness Hidden (Name of the Blade #2)
Author: Zoe Marriott
Genres:  Adventure, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Pages: 352
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Nov. 10

Summary: Zoë Marriott’s inventive, Japanese-inflected urban fantasy raises the stakes in a sweeping second installment.

Against all odds, Mio has defeated the evil Nekomata and seen her love, Shinobu, restored to life. But in the wake of the battle, Mio’s unsettling connection to the katana—an ancient sword her family has been compelled to guard for generations—has grown more frightening. And now the Underworld has sent the Shikome—foul women whose feathers carry death—to spread a supernatural plague through London. With her best friend in the hospital, Shinobu’s very existence at risk, and the city in chaos, Mio realizes there is no way she can keep everyone she loves alive. What terrible sacrifice must she make to save the world?

Review: With so many fantasy novels set in European mythology, having a book that breaks the “status quo” is refreshing and Zoe Marriott’s Name of the Blade series is the perfect fit. Candlewick Press was kind enough to send me both books from the series, so I was able to enjoy Name of the Blade and Darkness Hidden back to back. To say I enjoyed both novels is an understatement. When I finished Darkness Hidden, I was ready to read the final installment, because like many authors before her, Marriott left a main character “in peril”, so to speak, and I was not happy. I need to find out what happens to…ha, not going to tell! You have to read to find out. Anyway, onto why Darkness Hidden was such a fun read.

The novel picks up moments after “Name of the Blade” leaves off, and I actually like that bit of storytelling. Darkness Hidden starts out with a sense of urgency right away and doesn’t let up until, well…never. The “big bad” in this novel is truly terrifying and at times it seems like our heroes won’t win. Unlike the first book where only a few people in the “normal” world were affected by the events in the book, with the Shikome, the terror is city wide, which really ups the stake for Mio and her friends. In many urban fantasy novels, it seems like the “normal” world really isn’t effected that much, but in Darkness Hidden, London definitely is. The plague that the Shikome spread through the city has real world effects and London basically shuts down. I greatly enjoyed that Marriott decided to involve more of London in the story because it made her world much more richer than it already was. Milo is learning about the supernatural world that she is a part of, but she still is living in the mortal world and her decisions are effecting not just those whom she is close to, but the larger society. This allows for Mio to truly grow and become more responsible in the book. She realizes the extent that her one moment of curiosity and/or selfishness has brought.

Speaking of Mio, aside from the tremendous world building that Marriott has brought to the series, Mio is a character that we can really relate to. She is a typical teen who sometimes doesn’t make the best decisions, but her intentions are always good. She is doing her best to make sense of a world that in practically the blink of an eye, is one that is so much bigger than she ever thought. And then, Mio receives some news that truly rocks her world, in a perfect plot twist moment. It is one that no one will see coming and I love this book for it. With the twist comes some clarity for Mio, but it isn’t easy. And that is also what makes Mio such a great character and the novel so interesting. Aside from the action and supernatural baddies, Darkness Hidden gives us some deep themes to have us consider as we travel with Mio on this journey to right a wrong. I am very interested to see how the trilogy ends, especially with that ending!

Recommendation: I greatly enjoyed this series as it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait for the third book in the series and so will you. Get it soon!

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Book Review: The Suffering

The SufferingTitle: The Suffering
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genres:  Horror,
Pages: 272
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: In books stores now

Summary:  It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest’, both must resolve their differences and return to that country of secrets to find her.

Because there is a strange village inside Aokigahara, a village people claim does not exist. A village where strange things lie waiting.

A village with old ghosts and an ancient evil – one that may be stronger than even Okiku…

Review: I really enjoyed Rin Chupeco’s debut novel, “The Girl from the Well,” so I had high expectations for her sequel, especially because I didn’t know that she had planned a sequel. I was appropriately freaked out by “Girl form the Well,” and wanted to read more, so I was excited to be able to get an ARC once I learned “The Suffering” was available. And while I found “The Suffering” enjoyable (and extremely creepy at points), I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Chupeco’s debut novel.

I couldn’t figure out exactly why I didn’t fall in love with the novel, but then I realized that it’s Tark’s voice that I didn’t quite connect with this time. “The Suffering” is told from Tark’s perspective and I feel like a lot of the angst that he had in the first novel is now completely gone, making him seem like an entirely different person. Now, I know that the book takes place two years after the events of the first book, and I understand that people heal from their wounds, but he seemed too normal, almost too carefree for someone who is only a few years removed from a serious trauma. He had a darkness in him that I loved, and even though he still travels a dark path because of his connection to Okiku and her drive free the souls of tortured children, even then he seemed a bit too light-hearted for my tastes.  To me, there was just something missing to Tark, and his light-heartedness seemed to take a bit of darkness from the novel.

On the other hand, I just loved Okiku’s and Tark’s relationship. They know each other well, including each other’s quirks, and have developed a beautiful relationship. They have become dependent upon each other, not in a bad way, but in the way that you trust the person closest to you with your life; which in Tark’s case, his life truly in in Okiku’s hands. Their relationship was sweet and loving and built on mutual respect.

Lastly, Chupeco upped the creepy factor in this book by having Tark and Okiku travel to an old village that is full of vengeful ghosts. The mystery of the village is intriguing as a number of young girls were sacrificed for a nefarious purpose and they are rightfully angry. One ghost in particular is the definition of a scorned woman taking her revenge; she scared the living daylights out of me (and anyone that was in her path). With the reveal of what actually happened, my heart broke and I could fully understand why all those ghosts would be so angry; the torture they experienced was horrifying. Despite the horror of the situation, however, the way Chupeco chose to resolve the mystery was beautiful and touching. In fact, the way Chupeco chose to end the novel was touching and even though she has stated that the original plan was a duology, I think fans would love to have another book. I know I would.

Recommendation: Get it soon

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Book Review: All American Boys

all am boysTitle: All American Boys
Author: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 300
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Diouhy Publishers
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Sept. 29th

Summary: In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

Review: First off, let me share this tweet I wrote when I first began reading All American Boys.

No lie, I was sitting on a crowded train, heading into Downtown Los Angeles and I totally wanted to cry. Chills ran up and down my spine as I read the first chapter and when I got to the last 3 words on the page, I was a mess. I wanted to grab Rashad, my nephew, my godson, all of my former male students and hold onto them for dear life, then put them in a room where they would be safe and away from potentially dangerous interactions with the police. Mama Bear came out and she was ready to fight for her youngins’, but alas, I was on a train, so I took a deep breath in, fought those tears, placed the book on my lap, and stared out the window to compose myself. The opening was just that intense and then didn’t let up for the rest of the novel.

I had intended to read the novel slowly, to really digest Jason’s & Brendon’s words, but I got too caught up in the story, in Rashad’s and Quinn’s words, their thoughts, their feelings, that I ended up forgoing sleep to finish the book. And when I reached the end, this time I let the tears fall. I allowed myself to stay in the power of the moment, of the emotion of the two boys, of Quinn’s journey and Rashad’s first steps towards healing. I allowed myself to linger in the knowledge that I had read one of the most powerful books of our time and one that I believe will be considered a classic. A book that will be taught in classrooms (including mine) and talked about in all types of literary circles, and is the perfect example of how reading forces us to become more empathetic. All American Boys is timely and important, and needed in our country’s attempts to talk about racial inequality.

The dual narratives of Rashad (written by Jason) and Quinn (written by Brendan) is what makes this novel compelling. Each narrative could be read as a novel on it’s own, but seeing the event from two points of view just adds to the power of the narrative. The novel spans over a week timeline and we spend a section of each day with both young men. Rashad and Quinn attend the same high school, live in the same neighborhood, but do not know each other. For most of the book, Rashad is in the hospital healing from the attack, so we are mostly in his head as he starts to make sense of what happened to him. Quinn, on the other hand, gives the reader an insight into how a police officer’s family could potentially handle such a case, as well as provide the reader’s link to how the community reacts to the beating. I think the decision to not have the boys interact at all, until the final moments of the book, added to the power of both perspectives, giving the reader insight into a complex situation.

I loved Jason Reynolds first two books, and feel that both he gets the teenage voice perfectly. I loved Rashad’s sense of humor and how perceptive he is to the world around him. And that is why in the moments where he tries to make sense of the beating, that my heart broke for him the most. Rashad’s father had given him “The Talk” and Rashad prided himself on being able to read situations, but yet, he is severely by a cop who couldn’t accurately read his surroundings. Rashad believed, like so many, that if he did what was right all the time, nothing bad could happen. Because of the beating, his world is thrown out of whack and he has to work within himself to try to make it right again. He is able to lean on his mother, his older brother and his friends, but I feel that his relationship with his nurse is the one that helps him the most. Everyone that loves him comes from a place of defending Rashad, but his nurse Clarissa, sees him for what he is – a confused young victim of a crime – and is the only one who treats him normally. Through the quiet of his hospital room Rashad asks himself questions and draws (he is an artist) to find his own answers to explain what happened to him, and many others. The questions Rashad asks himself are the same ones we all have, and while we cannot know all the answers, we find a way to make sense of our world, just like Rashad.

I haven’t read anything by Brendan Kiely, but if All American Boys is any indication of his skills, I need to. Just like Jason, Brendan wrote a beautiful portrayal of conflicted young man in Quinn. Quinn is the oldest in his family and has taken on a more fatherly role for his little brother, but still tries to maintain some sort of teenage social life. He is placed in the tough position of being expected to side with Paul (the cop who beat Rashad), since Paul helped raise him after Quinn’s father died. However, Quinn witnessed the beating and was greatly disturbed by it. Through that experience, he begins to question all that he knows and slowly comes to an awakening of racial inequality in his neighborhood. Quinn initially believes, like well meaning folk, that he shouldn’t speak out because he feels he doesn’t have the right, but eventually realizes that by not speaking out, he only continues an unequal system. He has to make the decision to speak out against his family and friends, which is tough to do at any age, let alone when one is a teenager and your peers are your world. Quinn has to face hard truths in the novel, and like all of us do at some point, must decide how to take action. It’s an awakening to the large ugly of the world, and Quinn’s journey is a beautiful one to experience.

As you can tell, I loved this novel. I think everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should read it. I also think everyone should talk about it and then really think about the meaning behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement, think about systematic racism & police brutality, and how we can all work together to change our world. All American Boys is not only a novel that gets at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but gets at the heart at how we can be compassionate human beings. It is a protest novel of its time, and will survive as a timely reminder for future generations of where our society once was, if we can heal the wounds that racism has brought and move forward, together, as one.

Recommendation: All American Boys is available for order now, so go buy it now and have it delivered to your residence on Sept. 29th. Or, better yet, be there when your local bookstore opens on Sept. 29th. Don’t just buy one copy; buy one for yourself and for someone else who needs to read this book. Let’s make this book debut on the New York Times Bestseller list and get people talking about it ASAP. Go!

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Book Review: Endangered

newbirdTitle: Endangered
Author: Lamar Giles
Genres:  Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 280
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren “Panda” Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer’s little game of Dare or . . . Dare.

But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list.

Review: I had heard only great things about Lamar Gile’s latest book so I had high expectations and they were surely met. Endangered is a fun summer read that I picked up at just the right time. The novel moved at a quick pace as Panda tried to discover who the Admirer is, while her life spins out of control due to her own actions. I am often a bit wary of mysteries because I try, like most readers, to figure out “who done it” before the main character, and with Endangered, I didn’t figure it out who the Admirer was until Panda uncovered the clues. I love mysteries such as Endangered where the reader is consistently second guessing everything and being wrong. Once the Admirer was revealed, I thought back to the little clues that Giles left and marveled how the answers were there all along, but he masterly misdirected the clues keeping Panda, and the reader, guessing.

One of the many aspects of Endangered that I loved was the YA tropes that Giles subverts throughout the story. The first is Panda’s relationship with her parents. Both of her parents are involved, to a certain extent, in her life. Like any modern teen, Panda does have her secrets but when she realizes she needs their help, she doesn’t hesitate to share her knowledge with them. She confesses her double identity and her “game” with the Admirer and how it relates to the murder to a student. This creates tension between her and her parents throughout the rest of the book, but I greatly enjoyed that the parent/child relationship was realistic and present in the novel. Another trope that was inverted was the “romance” angle, if you could even call it that. Panda’s ex-boyfriend Taylor Durham, whom she clearly hates, re-enters the picture and ends up helping her sort out the mystery. While her feelings towards him change through the story, from animosity to friendship, he clearly still has feelings for her. She does recognize her old feelings for him, but the hurt he caused her keeps her guarded around him, initially. Through the events of the story, they slowly rebuild their friendship by forgiving each other and becoming honest with each other. It’s a very mature relationship and also very realistic. I guess, based on these two aspects alone, that I loved that fact people actually communicated with each other in the novel. One of the YA tropes, or rather literary tropes, that bug me is that in order for much of a novel to make sense, people don’t communicate their knowledge with each other creating misunderstandings to drive the story forward. Giles throws that trope out the window effectively showing us that a story can be exciting and entertaining even when folks are honest and communicate.

I loved the characters, Panda, especially. She is fiercely smart girl who believes she is handing out justice, while not realizing she’s doing the very same thing she accuses the bullies of. The reader completely understands Panda’s position and emotionally connects with why Panda exposes the dirt on her classmates, as some of them are truly despicable people. When her life starts to fall apart because her identity is exposed, Panda’s heartbreak and her desire to repair the hurt of others, specifically her friends, is really what makes Panda real. This line “We’re all something we don’t know we are” is repeated throughout the novel as Panda begins to recognize who she was and comes to learn who she really is. She learns to forgive those who hurt her, hurt others, and also learns to forgive herself.

Like I’ve stated many times before, Endangered is a very realistic novel in terms of how the characters relate to each other and the relationships, along with the mystery, is what makes this story so wonderful. I was drawn to not just Panda, but Taylor, and even the Admirer. In fact, once the Admirer is revealed, I actually felt sorrow for the character (and actually that reveal is a wonderful plot twist that I absolutely loved!). Giles wrote a novel that is thrilling and exciting on the surface, but so much deeper when you get to it’s heart.

Recommendation: If you love compelling mysteries with lots of twists and turns, get this soon!

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