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.

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue, by Vesper Stamper, tells the intricate story of a young girl named Edyth in the 1300s who sees the world in a different way than most people. She sees colors and vibrations and is filled with sensations when she hears new noises. She hears a constant Sound in the back of her mind. She imagines and draws complex and exciting sketches. After getting teased for explaining the way she sees colors, she realizes that she is different. With both of her parents dead and her brother Henry trying to scramble for food and work in their small town, Edyth is sent away to a priory in hopes that she will be able to live a good, stable life. Her world is completely changed from tending to animals and the house to Latin lessons, prayers every day, and a clean room to stay in. She settles in, not exactly feeling permanent in this new place but glad to have food and a bed to sleep on.

Suddenly, a sickness begins to sweep the nearby towns and eventually reaches the priory. Edyth senses something horrible coming with her visions and her drawings. The Great Plague sweeps up every living thing in its clutches. Edyth knows she is supposed to do something, but she can’t figure out what exactly. Can the way she sees life differently help her? Can the Sound lead her to a miracle to save the hundreds of dying people surrounding her?

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue is a beautiful story of celebrating one’s differences. Edyth learns to embrace her uniqueness and it in turn embraces the world. This historical fiction book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It shares a distinctive side of the devastating Black Plague outbreak in England during the 1300s. The descriptions of how colors feel to Edyth are incredibly delicate and astonishing. Stamper writes a brand new history of this monumental time in Europe, and does so with grace and interest, as well as beautiful illustrations.

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick is a mystery thriller that follows a girl named Anna Cicconi who gets a job nannying in a wealthy, small town in the Hamptons for the summer. However, she soon learns about the disappearance of a local girl, Zoe Spanos, months prior to her arrival who she happens to bear an eerie resemblance to. Anna continues digging and learning more about the case, until she becomes convinced that her and Zoe are connected. Flash forward, we know Zoe is dead and we watch Anna confess, however when Zoe’s body is found, it is clear that there are holes in Anna’s confession. So we spend the length of the novel wondering, what really happened to Zoe Spanos?

    There were multiple aspects of the novel which made it unique and intriguing. For one, I really enjoyed the then and now split timeline. We jump back to then when Anna was nannying the summer after Zoe’s disappearance, to now after Anna’s confession leading up to her trial. Each storyline gives new information and new perspectives for us to theorize with. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a podcast to this story. It provided an interesting source of information about Zoe’s disappearance. I haven’t personally checked out the audiobook, but I’m sure the podcast aspect along with the full-cast recording could make it an interesting way to experience this novel. However, I must admit I’m more of a physical book lover myself, especially with this novel’s beautiful yet mysterious cover art and the blue sprayed page edges.

I must admit I don’t read many murder mysteries or psychological thrillers, but I truly could not put this book down and I ended up reading it in one sitting. This novel had me constantly on the edge of my seat and theorizing the truth, and the ending truly surprised me. There were certain things that were easy enough to puzzle out on your own, however there were also bits that I didn’t see coming. This is honestly one of my favorite recent reads and I would highly recommend this entertaining story.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong

Iris Wang has caught her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend, drunkenly crashed her parent’s car through their garage door, gotten into none of the colleges she had applied to, and failed her senior year of high school. What else could go wrong? For Iris, the main character in “My Summer of Love and Misfortune” by Lindsay Wong, it’s being sent to Beijing by her parents to find herself and her culture. She expects living in a foreign country with her cold cousin and uncle that she’s never met before to be awful, but she finds romance and her family history along the way.

I thought this book was fun and light-hearted, and I enjoyed the story. With this in mind, Iris was not a character you could root for, and none of the other characters in the story were either. Iris was incredibly naive and selfish, and there was absolutely no build to her character transformation. It was a complete 180-degree turn.

Although there were some problems, I did enjoy this book. The exploration of Beijing through Iris’s eyes added a fun element to the story. I would recommend this book to those who like realistic fiction and to any Asian Americans trying to reclaim their heritage.

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!

 

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats is a historical fiction novel set in Wales in 1109. That fact alone was enough to draw me in. I have never read a book set in this time period, let alone heard much history about Wales at all, so I immediately wanted to pick it up. This book is about a girl named Elen who, to quote the synopsis on the back of my copy, “must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family”. Reading the full synopsis does give away a lot of information, including some details which take a long time to be fully explained. So, because of that, I am going to keep my description vague in case you wanna skip the details and go in blind so as to be more surprised by certain aspects.

In my opinion, the novel was quite a bit lacking in depth in everything from the plot to the characters. That said, I still found the story itself very intriguing. After I read it, I was surprised to learn that this is based on a real woman and story in 12th century Wales. Obviously the book is fiction, so some portions were embellished or added to make for a more compelling story, but I still find it incredibly cool that Elen and Nest were real women, and that Owain ap Cadwagan was a real Welsh prince. It was so interesting to learn the history of all the chaos in Wales and its relationships with other countries, however, what I found the most interesting was the accurate portrayal of women during this time period. Nowadays, we are so used to having strong independent powerful heroins as lead characters, so much so that the whole time I was reading, I was expecting Elen to start embodying that. However, I am very impressed by Coats’ decision to write the female characters correct to the time period, almost entirely powerless, because it made the book feel that much more real, as historical fiction novels should.

All in all, although it was a bit lacking, this was still a good book because of its’ unique inclusion of a very interesting lesser known piece of history. If you are a fan of historical fiction and you maybe haven’t read a book from this time period or if the story has just drawn you in like it had me, I very much suggest giving it a try.

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.