Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

“Once upon a time, there was a sign.

Three, actually. Too bad Mami missed them all.”

Talk about grabbing attention from the get go. This book was extremely difficult to put down from start to finish. An emotional rollercoaster in the best way possible, it had me alternating between laughter and tears (and alternatively, excitement and anger) practically every chapter. What stuck out to me most, however, was the bare honesty of the protagonist; the story felt achingly real and vivid. And, of course, the author’s use of humorous dialogue and witty sarcasm was wonderfully entertaining.  

The book follows the story of an (almost) graduated high school senior who attempts to complete her last graduation requirement with a summer work-study. Somehow in the process she becomes entrenched in years-old family and romantic drama, all circulating around a sequence of disastrous quinceñeras. I would (and am planning on) reading it again.

Fix by J. Albert Mann

There’s no better word for this story than addictive. Fix by J. Albert Mann tells the story of Eve, a girl who’s had her body, quite literally, ripped apart and then stapled shut again. She’s suffered with sever scoliosis all her life, her spine slowly curving, until one day she decides to have the surgery that will correct her spine and allow her to stand up tall. Months later, as she struggles with physical and emotional pain, she can’t help but wonder if she made the wrong decision. The only thing that allows her some peace of mind is her Roxy, an opioid drug originally prescribed to manage her pain. Her growing reliance on Roxy leads to more pain and suffering as she struggles with mind over matter.

Fixed is a story about addiction, broken friendship, regret, and hope. Told in a mixture of verse and prose, Mann paints a chilling picture of the physical and mental torment Eve experiences after surgery. From start to finish I couldn’t put it down. Mann holds a perfect balance of dark, depressing subjects with light, supportive characters. Throughout the book you follow Eve’s rollercoaster, feeing the grief and loss over her best friend, but also the joy and excitement over the boy next door. Mann uses descriptive, strategic language to connect reader to character. 

The only complaint I have about this book is the seemingly sudden ending. Unlike most novels, Mann doesn’t tie up any ends, only faintly implying that Eve is willing to fight her drug addiction. We’re left forever wondering what happened to Eve and her fractured relationships, hoping she found a way to fix them, and herself. 

All around I’d recommend Fix to anyone looking for a good, quick read. While the subject matter can be a little dark, Mann does a great job of switching gears before anything too heavy. The writing is great, and the storyline intriguing, I highly recommend.

Bruised by Tanya Boteju

Bruised by Tanya Boteju is above all a story about growth. DayaWijesinghe is a teenager who bottles up her emotions and screws the cap on tight. After losing both her parents in a tragic car accident, bruises are the only way she feels in control. And roller-derby, well, that’s a whole lot of bruising. After joining the team she feels her walls begin to crack as she forms deep connections and relationships with figures on and off the rink. Roller-derby evolves from simply being a pain-fest, to becoming something much more. Throughout the book Daya experiences dramatic change in acceptance, love, and healing. 

While the book itself doesn’t necessarily stand out as a clear winner, with the writing being average and the plot not especially intriguing, I’m pleased with the amount of representation from LGBTQ+ characters. Too often our literature excludes characters like this from novels, or reduces them to nothing more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. Boteju includes a wide range of LGBTQ+ characters that have more traits and personality than simply being “gay.” Although Daya becomes romantically involved with Shanti, their relationship does not supersede all aspects of Daya’s personality and thoughts. 

I didn’t find this book to be a fan favorite, but I recommend Bruisedto anyone seeking more LGBTQ+ representation in novels, or interested in roller-derby!

We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian

We Are The Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian is a book about a varsity girls field hockey team and their toxic, controlling coach. It takes place over the 24 hours leading up to their first match of the season, as we see their bonds strengthen. Personally having played on a great deal of high school sports teams, I was truly able to relate to these girls. This novel brought me back to all of the team bonding and sleepovers, as well as to my own experiences with toxic coaches. The varying perspectives were a nice addition as well, allowing the reader to relate to a senior trying to come off an injury, a leader carrying the weight of her team on her shoulders, the freshman with the pressure of proving herself, a misfit trying to find her place, etc. In my opinion, these varying, relatable perspectives mean allow this story to become accessible to any reader, not just someone who has played sports. Although some aspects of the story are a little out there, this was all in all a very enjoyable story of strength and resilience which I would definitely recommend to anyone, but especially to women athletes of the past or present.

Faith Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

A lot of people have told me over this quarantine that they’ve gotten into things that they previously weren’t as interested in. Whether said interest was a new Netflix show, virtual yoga, or becoming a less-than-expert chef, the common theme seems to be that people are trying something new. And as I am no exception, my “new thing” during this pandemic has been superheroes. I was always more of a fantasy person, but recently I’ve become obsessed with these heroic stories. However, as I watched every Marvel movie available and read every comic strip in the house, I noticed something common about every hero pictured in these stories. Almost every single one of them seemed to be straight, white, and thin. And that’s where Faith Taking Flight comes in. 

“Faith Taking Flight” by Julie Murphy is the first in a duology that tells the origin story of superhero Zephyr from the Valient Comics universe. Faith is a pretty average 16 year old, who spends her time volunteering at the local animal shelter, writing for her school’s journalism club, and hanging out with her two best friends, Ches and Matt. However, she has a secret, and it’s a pretty big one- she recently discovered she is able to fly. Throughout the story, Faith must learn to control her newfound powers in order to save everyone she loves from a mysterious group wreaking havoc on her town. 

Faith is a hilarious and witty protagonist, and in addition to her charming personality, she’s also plus-size and queer, two things that are scarce in the superhero realm. And the best part is that these two traits aren’t the main focus of the book. It was really refreshing to see a story about an LGBTQ person where their sexuality isn’t the main focus. Murphy did a great job of making sure readers would see representation, while also making it clear that Faith’s weight and sexuality doesn’t define her. And it makes for some pretty cute LGBTQ romance, too!

Although the beginning of the book was a bit confusing, I really enjoyed Faith’s story. It is rich with suspense, mystery, and action, and although the plot twists were slightly predictable, I appreciated them all the same. I personally can’t see myself rereading this book, but I really liked the diversity and charm it brings to the superhero world. And I really hope to see most superheroes like Faith in the future!

 

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia

We Are Totally Normal” by Rahul Kanakia is a snapshot of Nandan’s life in high school. He begins to question his sexuality after breaking up with his girlfriend, Avani, and hooking up with his peer, Dave. Even though he feels happy with Dave, he misses Avani and is confused about what being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community could mean for him.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it is essential to have diverse characters in books (especially YA and children’s books) so that many different types of readers can see themselves in the narrative and relate to the story. The main character is Indian-American and also under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. That said, I feel as though Dave was not a very likable character. He took his labels and other people and used them to his advantage. Although I didn’t like Dave, the story did keep me engaged.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book, but maybe those looking for romance and realistic fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Wayward Son, I was dubious. After all, the first book (Carry On) was essentially a Harry Potter fanfic from a book about fanfiction, and it seemed as if it had been pretty thoroughly wrapped up. The premise of the second book is a time honored favorite among fanfiction authors as well— a road trip. Hearing this, I naturally assumed that it would be a fluffy, feel-good story about the main characters post-adventure shenanigans. Perfect, I thought, for a quick, cute read as I waited for the final book in my favorite trilogy to be released. I would already know the characters and the world, Rowell is always fun, it will be a fast, fairly easy read. I mean, it’s a road trip fic

    Going in with these expectations I was somewhat surprised when right from the start the book did its best to defy conventions. The initial chapters address the fallout from the events of book one. Simon is suffering from depression as he struggles with a bevy of repressed issues, ranging from the loss of his powers to figuring out that has been in love with Baz this entire time. Stuck between the worlds of Mages and Mundanes by his lost magic and newly gained wings and tail, Simon has been living with Penny and Baz as they all try and figure out their lives after the events of Carry On. As the story progresses, we see development in the characters, but this angst persists in a way that is unusual in books of its kind.

It is here that the series’ quick POV switches and short chapters truly shine, as we alternate between Baz, Simon, Penny and occasionally Agatha away in California. Because of the short chapters and informal format, Rowell is able to switch points of view without disrupting the narrative, a feat few multiperspective books manage to achieve. It is this seamless transition that allows the reader to see different parts of the story, without being taken out of the storytelling. This is incredibly important as a reader, since all of the main charactes are extremely unreliable, and only when we are allowed to compare and contrast their perspectives on a situation does that situation become clear.

Still, the tone doesn’t quite work. It is a subversion of the usual road trip tropes, yes, but the pacing is a little off, and the end result is a book that feels like the author tried to put multiple plots into one novel. It is readable, and it is entertaining, but the plot was weaker than that of the first book. The villains in particular felt like fillers, a big baddie that could be easily defeated in one book and a blaze of glory. Which would have been fine, except that a recurring conflict througout the book was dealing with the four main character’s mental health and their struggle with various traumas. This ended up as a ridiculously underutilized plot point considering that it had so much more potential and was far more interesting to me as a reader than the bad guys ever were. 

So it is that the worldbuilding ends up being the strongest part of the book, which came as a surprise. The first book established a Harry Potter style world, you knew the general rules but that was about it and in the end that was all you really needed to know. But in book two our main characters are in a foreign country (America, which added a running gag of culture shock) and have to learn new rules and come to terms with some of the realities of the magical world. This is aided greatly by the introduction of some new characters of differing backgrounds who pop up in later chapters and give some much needed context. And while a lot of the ideas presented are as yet undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped, I have hope that further exploration will happen in book three. Overall, Wayward Son is a solid YA. You don’t want to think too hard or else it unravels, but it is engaging and fast paced enough to be forgiven.

   

Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Truly Madly Royally is a fairly short and sweet contemporary by Debbie Rigaud. Especially for a debut novel, I thought it was well done. However, as there would be with any beginning author, the novel lacked a certain depth and complexity. All this considered, I still found the novel a fun and quick read. It was the idea behind the story that really caught my attention. The main characters Zora and Owen come from such different backgrounds and cultures that it was interesting to read how they made an effort to learn more about each other. Furthermore, the idea of a small town, empowered, American girl catching the eye of her very own Prince Charming creates a very compelling modern day fairy tail. If you are looking for a sweet romantic comedy about an adorable but unlikely pair, I would suggest this read.

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid is your classic high school contemporary. If I am being completely honest, I had a hard time getting into this novel. I didn’t quite have the time or attention to give to reading it, but when I did, I became entranced. Being a man, Mr. Alsaid has a surprisingly accurate insight into the mind of a modern day teenage girl. The main character, Lu Charles, is your average 18 year old American girl who some would consider an expert on love. I mean, she writes a love column for a magazine! However, as a reader you will soon come to realize that she is still figuring it out like the rest of us.

Having recently broken up with her high school boyfriend, Lu finds herself suffering from a horrible case of writer’s block until she becomes entranced by the relationship of two strangers. To me, the most attractive quality of this book was how relatable the main character is because she is dealing with the same issues which you and I deal with. I highly suggest this read to any teen who is looking for a story to represent their struggles, whether it may relate to love or friends or work or whatever it may be, because it is a good reminder that all the hardships you face, no matter how big or small, are valid.

Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Honestly, I think a lot of us are excited for the day that we finally have a woman president. And in the novel “Most Likely”  written by Sarah Watson, we get a glimpse of what that might look like in the future. The plot follows four friends; Cj, Jordan, Martha, and Ava, one of whom will eventually end up holding office. None of the young women know this at the time the book is set, which is the group’s senior year. As the four struggle to find their identities and futures, we as readers are left to speculate who will end up holding office, until the end of the novel. And let’s just say it’s not who I expected!

All four of the main characters are very relatable, especially for young adults like myself. Watson does a fantastic job of showing different perspectives of the same story, while still tying everything together. Because of the switches in perspective, there is never a lull in the storyline, which ended up being one of my favorite things about the novel. And despite that the plot does get a bit hard to follow at times, it always came back together just at the right moments.