Category Archives: fiction

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 12.23.34 PMThis book was delightful! I picked up this book with the intention of leveraging it into some conversations with my dear 12 year old cousin. Not only did it successfully allow us to have some really great conversations together (we talked at length about how it’s unfair that straight people don’t have to come out as straight, a topic mentioned throughout the book), it was a fantastic and fun book to read!

Simon, the main character, is comfortable with and certain of his sexuality (a welcome alternanarrative to a lot of YA books; questioning is definitely important to represent, but I liked getting the chance to read something different), but doesn’t feel compelled to share his romantic preference with others. That is, until he’s outed at school. After writing a series of “anonymous” emails to another high schooler who is also attracted to their same sex, his identity is leaked after someone stumbles upon his emails via an unlocked public computer disaster. Simon navigates being thrust into being out, whilst dealing with other typical teenage problems. 

While the main story is a great read, the backdrop is also fantastic. Simon and his friends quirkily quip amongst each other, leading to many laughs from me. His friends also spend ample time in a Waffle House, one of my favorite hangs while a high schooler, so I found those bits particularly enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read full of interesting and fun characters, this book is for you! It’s also a great way touchstone to use when talking to young people about certain experiences and I thoroughly recommend it for those purposes too! I still haven’t seen the movie that is based upon the book (and has received many glowing reviews), but it’s on my to do list!

Publication Date: 7 April 2015 by Penguin. Format: Paperback.

Author: Becky Albertalli web/@twitter/@instagram/@facebook

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

image1 (12)This is my third shot trying to board the Rainbow Rowell train and I’m finally ready to admit that I will not be buying a ticket to future trains. Despite knowing that I didn’t really jive with Rowell’s stories, I decided to give Fangirl a try after several people recommended that I read it. And I did like it! But only for the first half of the book.

Fangirl follows Cath as she stumbles into her first year of college and is figuring out what life looks like for herself as she is physically separated from her father, who she is very close to and sometimes feels emotionally responsibility for, and emotionally separated from her identical twin, Wren, who attends the same university but wants to instill some distance between them. Cath spends a lot of her time distracting herself from her own life by writing a wildly popular fanfiction for a franchise that is a thinly disguised Harry Potter knockoff.

I liked the stable of characters introduced here far more than I’ve liked those in Rowell’s other books, but I grew tired of everyone about halfway through the book when I became disengaged with the subsequent storylines. I also grew annoyed by the dabbles into the actual fanfiction text (but clearly I’m in the minority because Rowell has written a book based solely off this that has done very well). Of Rowell’s book, this is probably the one that I have liked the most, but I still didn’t like it enough to listen to my peers when they tell me in the future that I really must read Rowell’s works. That said, I will keep reading Rowell’s tweets because they are damn delightful!

Publication Date: 10 September 2013 by St. Martin’s PressFormat: ebook.

Author: Rainbow Rowell web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

Catalina and the King’s Wall by Patty Costello

catalinaCatalina and the King’s Wall is full of BEAUTIFUL illustrations that you and a child can look at for several minutes to point out all of the amazing intricacies. While I did enjoy this book overall, I thought the second half of the book felt stronger and more ready for a young reader. The first half of the picture book introduced many baking terms without illustrations modeling the verbs, which might be difficult for a young reader to comprehend. The tale includes a message against building a wall to separate two lands and potential family members, but could have spent a little more space highlighting why this is cruel to clarify the message for a young reader. However, I can also understand why a message like this might be intentionally vague. All that considered, I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m a little out of touch.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from the author (Patty Costello) via email. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by the author.

Publication Date: 5 May 2018 by Eifrig PublishlingFormat: Ebook.

Author: Patty Costello web/@twitter/@instagram

Illustrator: Diana Cojocaru

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

IMG_8489I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it wasn’t a match for me. I recognized the book and I were not jiving about 30 pages in, but I kept pushing through anyway (does anyone have tips for putting a book down when you know it’s not for you?? Please share with me!!). This book is full of pages and pages and pages of teenage longing from afar. Maybe it’s because I’m passed the point in my life of finding familiarity in these feelings, but I found the longing to be extremely boring.

In the novel, teenager Elio spends most of his time longing for young adult Oliver, a visiting scholar working on his manuscript while visiting Elio’s academic family in Italy. About three-quarters into the novel, the plot picks up when Oliver and Elio tentatively verbalize their perceived connection to each other and begin exploring it further. While I preferred this slightly to the prior pieces of the novel, it wasn’t enough to counteract my boring impression of the novel. The standout piece of the novel is when Elio goes to visit Oliver several years after their summer together and reflects on the many ways their lives could have been different, thinking of the ways lovers do and do not shape our lives even when they are no longer physically present. But was this one beautiful bit enough? Unfortunately no.

Altogether, Call Me by Your Name was simply too slow of a book for me. I didn’t like the characters enough to be satisfied with the slow pace and overall lack of plot for most of the novel. Maybe if I had seen the film version of this book, I would have been more forgiving.

Publication Date: 23 January 2007 by PicadorFormat: Paperback.

Author: André Aciman @twitter

Mini Review: Play with Me! by Michelle Lee

playwithmeEver on the lookout for new and unique books for my young niece, I stumbled upon this at a bookstore and thought it would be perfect. While I absolutely loved the darling illustrations and how the dialogue seemed to dance across the page, I wish the ending was a bit heavier hitting. This is ultimately a story about compromise: learning that what you want to do might not be what others want to do and that sometimes you have to come up with a new idea that either satisfies both of you or pick a solo activity. However, the book concludes with one of the characters suggesting a new activity at the very end of the book, without hinting that it was a compromise at all. Unless an adult works in that lesson, I think it might hard for a very young reader to take away the main message.

Publication Date: 24 January 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author/Illustrator: Michelle Lee web

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

image1 (11)Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is the best book that I have read in 2018 and I have already recommended it to at least 10 people in one week. I liked the novel so much that I’m trying to think of the best way to succinctly describe it without giving away too much of the story… the actual pieces of the story aren’t necessarily riveting enough to make you think that this will be one of the best reads you’ll stumble upon this year, but the nuts and bolts are brilliant! Don’t sleep on this book just because the synopsis isn’t immediately gripping!

The author, Ng, expertly weaves together several characters, revealing snippets of their consciences and actions effervescently. The characters, many of which have different, conflicting personalities and perspectives, are deftly captured, causing the reader to sympathize with characters they may have initially detested. A theme that recurs for many of the characters is their struggle to understand the priorities and beliefs of a character juxtaposed with them and their choice to either lean into rigidity and rules or to seemingly be float away from those expectations. Some of the main bits that characters consider during their sensemaking processes are the nature of parent-child relationships and the underpinning of race at a point in America where many people were claiming not to see race. The latter piece specifically manifests around the differing public opinions about a white couple adopting a Chinese baby, a local issue that ultimately divides the suburb.

Because of the novel’s insightful, biting critique of suburbia and the expectation that a suburb’s implicit ideals are universally upheld by its residents, the book reminded me slightly of Big Little Lies (minus the underlying murderous currents). Similar to that tale, Little Fires Everywhere is also being adapted into a television series with Reese Witherspoon attached and I cannot wait to watch it! I know the vague synopsis alone may not sound compelling enough to read this book, but please snatch it up to dive into this world before it’s on screen! I’ll be sure to also check out Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, before the year concludes too.

Publication Date: 12 September 2017 by Penguin PressFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Celeste Ng web/@twitter/@instagram

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram