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.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

We Are Lost and Found, by Helene Dunbar, explores the dangerous world of being gay in the 1980s, in New York City specifically. Michael, a partially-closeted teenager, lives his life with the same routine: go to school, hang out with his friends James and Becky, go to the club on Friday nights, and
hide the fact that he is gay from his parents so he doesn’t get kicked out of the house like his brother did. He is okay with this repetitive, simple life. But once he finds someone at his favorite club, someone worth giving up his routine for, his outlook changes. He wants more than just school and homophobic parents. He wants to be able to live his life freely without having to worry about the rising AIDS crisis that provides a mystery for everyone, and a blame placed on gay people. Michael is faced with the
menacing decision of staying trapped but safe, or being free and risking it all.
Dunbar writes an incredibly touching story that brings awareness to the struggle of gay people and their discrimination and their constant blame by people looking to make a scapegoat out of them. Michael, and all the other fascinating characters, bring the story of growing up and becoming sexually active in a world bombarded with the AIDS crisis, still new enough for everything about its ways to be a secret except its growing death toll. Michael and the other young people of his time were scared of becoming sick from
any lustful touch, especially one of the same gender. We Are Lost and Found is a beautiful,painful journey of a boy finding himself in a world that is doing everything it can to stop him.

This Is My Brain In Love by I.W. Gregorio

This Is My Brain in Love tells the story of a teenage girl, Jocelyn Wu, struggling to keep her family’s Chinese restaurant, A-Plus, afloat. We follow her along in her journey as she struggles with living up to expectations from her father, growing a dying business, having a boyfriend for the first time, and dealing with mental health issues.

At the same time, Will is an African-American teenager who is struggling with anxiety and social interaction. He wants to be a journalist, but when his editor tells him he has to start asking “the hard questions that make sources squirm,” he takes a job as a management intern for one A-Plus restaurant in hopes of getting real-life experience for a story. That is where our stories converge. Jocelyn and Will fall for each other at first sight, but teenage love isn’t as simple as it seems. With an overprotective father, anxiety issues, the stress of running a business, and jealousy, all playing their part, will the two lovebirds be able to survive?

Gregorio does a great job of bringing us into the world that Jocelyn and Will live in. Her descriptions of sizzling oil, fresh steamed rice, and the smell of homemade dumplings really sets the stage for discovering what these people go through day to day to run a Chinese restaurant. Her book is light and entertaining, but she touches on a lot of important subjects such as immigrants in America, mental health issues, and discrimination against different races. This book creates empathy. For as long as you read it you’re put in the shoes of an Asian-American family struggling to save their business, or a boy, growing up different in a society that wants everyone to be the same.

Although I can’t say that This Is My Brain in Love is a book that I’ll find myself reading over and over again, it definitely holds some gems. I recommend for anyone who is interested in a good love story that inspires dedication and perseverance.

Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

With her bubbly outlook and likeable characters, Becky Albertalli has long been a quintessential voice in YA romcoms. With popular novels like her widely acclaimed Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda and its movie adaptation, Love, Simon, she even managed to break out of bookish audiences. But in my humble opinion this new novel is one of her best yet. The glory can’t all go to her, of course— like her previous work, What If It’s Us, she collaborated with a second author: Aisha Saeed (Amal Unbound). In all honesty, What If It’s Us (Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli), felt somewhat disjointed. Individually, I enjoy Albertalli and Silvera’s work, but their writing styles are so very different from one another that they did not fit well together.
In contrast, Saeed’s writing meshes perfectly with Albertalli’s— lighthearted and sweet while still managing to ground Albertalli. Albertalli writes Jamie, and Saeed writes Maya; childhood friends who fell out of touch years before the start of the book. When their respective mothers sign them up to canvas for a progressive candidate challenging an incumbent, the two teens kindle both a great friendship and a newfound interest in politics. Over the course of the summer the two friends will battle racism and social anxiety as estrangement turns to friendship turns to feelings.
Yes, No, Maybe So is a sweet story (perfect for those slow burners) about friendship and young love that will lift your spirits and serve as a reminder that your voice matters. It is a story of hope and determination that helped get me interested in politics. If you are looking for a shot of fluffy goodness to get you through reality, this is the book for you. I would recommend it primarily to fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han.