Book review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, by Tanya Boteju

Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781534430655. 369 pages. Ages 13+.  P7 Q8

Nima has a crush on Ginny, but unfortunately, Ginny is straight and likes boys. Nima wants to declare her love to Ginny, but Ginny stops her and tells her she does not want anything to change the friendship they have. But what if that friendship is not enough for Nima? Nima attends a local festival and finds herself a “special guest” of a Drag queen, Deidre. Deidre takes her under her wing for a “night of gender-bending bliss” and opens her eyes to a whole new and exciting life. She has an instant connection with one of the Drag kings, Winnow. This starts an adventure, full of new experiences, self-discovery and fully realizing what she wants in life. The story is told in first person and includes Nima’s inner dialogue as she has self-doubt over her value, her actions and her desires. I learned a lot about the drag scene, including Drag kings. The text is cleverly written.

Verdict: Celebrating gender bending expression and teens as they explore their relationships, this LGBTQ+ novel will captivate and draw readers in. Readers will relate to Nima’s inner dialogue and realize that they are not the only ones who have insecurity. I highly recommend this book for high school and public libraries.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Sky without Stars, by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Brody, Jessica & Rendell, Joanne. Sky Without Stars. (System Divine, Book 1). Simon Pulse, 2019. $19.99. ISBN 9781534410633. 582 pgs. Ages 12+. P7Q6

I have mixed feelings about this very long reimagining of Les Miserables. I liked the world the story was set in- there is an interesting blend of futuristic technology and historical and cultural detail that hints at French history, along with the feeling of an epic story. The author was good at setting up situations that make you feel the contrast between the affluence and advantages Marcellus grew up with, the poverty and violence that Chatine is use to, and the protected ignorance of Alouette in her underground library. However, I felt that the character development wasn’t as strong- with each of the three main characters, it seemed like the personalities of the three main character shifted around a lot. The inconsistencies in their personalities had me putting the book aside a number of times, wondering if I wanted to finish it.  I really enjoyed the unravelling of the characters’ complicated backstories though. In the end, I liked the book well enough to finish it, and hope the sequel solves some of the character development problems.

VERDICT: Teens who like fiction with a historical influence may like this book.

June 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, edited by Amy Reed

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Ed. by Amy Reed. Simon Pulse, 2018. $18.99. 288p. ISBN 978-1-5344-0899-9. Ages 13+. P7Q8

The non-fiction narratives from these women across the generations—many of them members of ethnic and sexual minorities—related their struggles to survive in a hostile environment, sometimes both within their own homes and within the communities where they lived when they were young. Each one ends with explanations of their survival processes and encouragement for their readers to move forward and fight back against oppression. Because, or perhaps in addition to, their minority status, many also discussed the devastation of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president and how his position has changed their cultures for the worse. One of the most outstanding statements comes from Aisha Saeed, bullied and persecuted while she was growing up as a Muslim. Her mother-in-law taught her “that I am not defined by what others think of me.” As Saeed pointed out, the lesson is not a panacea against pain but it allows her to move on.

Verdict: Powerful and heartfelt yet diverse, these intersectional essays from authors of books that speak to young people give insight into the ways that youth can change the world. Recommended.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles, edited by Jessica Burkhart

Burkhart, Jessica, editor. Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles. Simon Pulse, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781481494649. 309 pages. Ages 14+. P7 Q8

We know what goes on inside our minds, but what goes on inside others minds? What challenges do they go through and how can that help us? Life Inside My Mind contains 31 authors’ essays on their struggles with mental health and how it effects their lives. Since each chapter is written by a different author, the book contains a wide variety of writing styles. Some stories are well written, other stories are simple and don’t have as much substance. Each chapter is 4-10 pages long. This book is helpful for youth who struggle with mental health issues or have family or friends who struggle. The authors simply tell their story and provide encouragement to others who suffer for similar issues. I think youth who struggle with mental health issues will find comfort from this book, realizing they are not alone and others deal with the same things. The essays can start the discussion on how to help loved ones with mental health issues, takes the shame away and brings hope. The essays are relatable, making mental illness not seem as scary.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for high school libraries and public libraries. The essays cover a wide variety of mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, addiction and more.

May 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Rattled Bones, by S. M. Parker

Parker, S. M.  The Rattled Bones.  Simon Pulse, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-4804-8204-2. $17.99. 365 pages.  Ages 14-18.  P8 Q8.

A paranormal novel about the previous inhabitants of Malaga Island, Maine, whom were evicted from the island by the government purely to draw tourists to a brand new hotel they intended, but never actually built.  Seems well thought out and historically accurate.  The cover art is ok.  It led me to believe a girl had drowned in a pond.

An eighteen year old daughter of a fisherman is working through the sudden death of her father, the question of whether or not to go on to college in the fall or stay home with her grandmother and continue her father’s fishing business, and the sudden appearance of a ghost in the form of a young woman.   Her long-time boyfriend clearly wants her to stay home, and her grandmother is pushing her to go and the ghost is clearly, and sometimes painfully, trying to tell her something.

Because the novel is written for young adults, I didn’t appreciate the 18 year old boyfriend spending every night climbing up the trellis to his girlfriend’s bedroom to spend the night for the last several years.  The grandmother knows of this arrangement, but the father apparently doesn’t.  What?!  How does a parent not realize there is a man sneaking into his house every night?  There are no sexual encounters in the book, but it is very much implied that there has been and could be.

Verdict:  Really enjoyed the history and the story overall.  Disappointed in the author’s presentation of a caring father, who is actually clueless.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: Starfish, by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Bowman, Akemi Dawn. Starfish. Simon Pulse, 2017. $18.99. ISBN: 978-1481487726. 352p.  Gr. 9-12. P8 Q8

You can really feel the character’s pain in this book, as she (Kiko) is dealing with severe anxiety, abuse, and depression. She also doesn’t really understand her father’s Japanese heritage, and her white mom demeans her and is incredibly self-centered.  The whole story is told through Kiko’s eyes, so the reader really experiences her emotions first-hand.  Also, the art pieces Kiko creates and describes help tell the story, which makes it almost poetic.  I love how Kiko becomes stronger and independent, even when she falls in love. It’s a great story about culture and understanding how our past doesn’t have to control our future.

May 2018 review by NHS student.

Book review: Boy, by Blake Nelson

Nelson, Blake. Boy. Simon Pulse, 2017. $18.99. ISBN: 978-1481488136. 368p. Gr. 9-12. P8 Q7

I am a real fan of Nelson’s other book in this series, Girl, so I might be a bit prejudiced about this new book, but Boy is really a great read.  Good things about it: it’s interesting, inspirational, easy to relate to, easy to read, hard to put down.  Bad things about it: I knew what was going to happen right away and some of the characters were really unrealistic to me and at times it was preachy. Also, if you don’t like romance, this is not the book for you, because the whole thing is about a guy who develops a crush – almost to the point of stalking – a girl who moves to his school.  I loved the way the boy starts thinking about someone other than himself, though.

May 2018 review by NHS student.