Book review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Tamaki, Mariko. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. Illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, 2019. 289p. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-250-31284-6. Ages 14+. P9Q9

The on-again, off-again relationship between selfish classmate Laura Dean who keeps cheating on Frederica (Freddy), 16, and then pulling her back has formed a toxic cycle that Freddy doesn’t know how to break, but her communication with an advice columnist and help from best friend Doodle to see a psychic gives her a way out. Black and white panels infused with pink display a diverse, mostly queer, cast of characters in Berkeley and high school who are close to adulthood and searching for answers in both romantic and platonic relationships. Verdict: The realistic depictions of different kinds of love will ring true with readers whether straight or queer, and the illustrations expand the painful story of growing up.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Deogratias: a Tale of Rwanda, by J.P. Stassen, translated by Alexis Siegel

Stassen, J.P. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. Trans by Alexis Siegel. Intro. By Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. First Second. 2018. $21.99. 78p. ISBN 978-1-250-18964-6. Ages 15+. P9Q9

Early in the 20th century, Germans and Belgians made one Rwandan tribe, the Tutsis, the elite ruling group over the poorer farming Hutus. In 1994, the Hutus rose in rebellion to exterminate the Tutsis and killing 800,000 people in 100 days. This genocide is seen through the eyes of Deogratias, “thanks be to God,” a Hutu teenager in love with Apollinaria, a Tutsi. As darkness descends through the brutal revels in the graphic novel, he goes from an ordinary boy to believing that he is a dog, possibly from the toxic banana beer that he drinks to forget the past. The narrative also includes the hypocrisy of whites, some of them priests, who go to Rwanda to help the people but simply use them for their own means. Black bordered panels depict current events, and borderless panels represent the past war and carnage as the boy goes through his transformation by being forced into murdering two Tutsi friends. The heaviness of the boy’s experiences is heightened by the black outlines of people and the dark hues.

Verdict: Some people may consider Stassen’s grim narrative inappropriate for teenagers, but it shows the life of many people in the world as massacres occur throughout the world and people continue their inhumane behavior. This brilliant work communicates the horror and heartbreaking lives of ordinary Hutus who were unable to avoid the tragedy of their country.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

[Editor’s note: Originally published in Belgium by Dupuis, Deogratias won the 2000 Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script.]

Book review: Bloom, by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

Panetta, Kevin. Bloom. Illus. by Savanna Ganucheau. First Second. 2019. $17.99. 353p. ISBN 9781626726413. Ages 13-16. P9Q9

Frustrated with his father’s expectation that he go into the bakery business with him, Ari has plans to move to the city with other members of his band as soon as he graduates high school. His father’s demand that he find a replacement for the struggling business who will do Ari’s work temporarily blocks his plans, but Hector, a culinary student taking a break, walks into his life, both as a worker in the bakery and as a possible boyfriend. At the same time, Ari’s friends begin to change their relationships, and he learns that he may not like them as much as he thought.

Verdict: Author and illustrator believably present the small East Coast town, but sometimes the characters aren’t always well identified. The montages that begin each chapter move the action, but sometimes the action slows down. Even so, the caution that both boys feel in their growing responses to each other is well done and credible. The blue color helps black and white illustrations in the graphic novel. Fitting with its setting, this YA romance is an enjoyable summer read.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Death Prefers Blondes, by Caleb Roehrig

Roehrig, Caleb. Death Prefers Blondes. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250155825. 442 pages. Ages 16+. P6 Q7

In this fast paced, action packed thriller, Margo and her drag queen friends plan several heists. All the friends have valid reasons for being thieves and the heists are not random, there are reasons for each one. Besides the heists, Margo has her own drama with her dad’s ill health and the potential loss of the family business. There are many twists and turns along the way, especially at the end, which make you wonder about the loyalty of Dallas, Margo’s love interest. Every main character is queer, including Margo, a teenage white socialite, who is bisexual. Most of the men are of color. While the adventures are suspenseful, I enjoyed how the relationship between the characters developed and deepened throughout the story. The backstories are believable, including Leif’s story. Leif joins the heists so he can pay his tuition at a dance school since his homophobic family, unaware of his sexual identity, want him to come back home so he is not influenced by the queer community in LA. Davon needs the money to pay off his drag queen mother’s debts, which introduces Found Families, which is an important concept in the queer community. The drag queens do not always agree on the heists, which adds some drama. There is some romance and PG13 language.

Verdict: The adventure, family dynamics, suspense and relationships will keep readers engaged. I recommend this novel for older teens and youth, especially those interested in LGBT+ theme books.

April 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Supervillain and Me, by Danielle Banas

Banas, Danielle. The Supervillain and Me. Swoon Reads, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781250154354. 310 pgs. Ages 12+. P8Q7

Morriston is having a crime wave, and the city’s “supers” (superheroes) are doing their best to fight it. High school student Abby’s brother is secretly one- the Red Comet. A new super in town may not be so super- in fact, it looks like the Iron Phantom is behind some serious crimes, including arson. But when he rescues Abby from an attempted mugging and she gets to know him a bit, she isn’t so sure that he’s a villain. The story feels light, witty and romantic, but has some serious themes too. Mind control, the long-term impact of violence on families, and what makes a person special all are important. I really liked the focus on how imperfect the supers are- they’re real people with super powers, but they have the full range of flaws and noble attributes that we all possess.

VERDICT: Whether they are looking for a romantic comedy or a superhero story, teens will enjoy this fast and fun read.

April 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Young Adult and Adult Fiction Books reviewed by NHS Students

Philippe, Ben. The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. Balzer + Bray, 2019. $18.99. ISBN: 9780062824110. 367p.  Gr. 9-12 P8 Q8  

This book has it all: romance, real-life struggles, inspiration, and LOTS of humor.  It’s also written from the refreshing perspective of Norris Kaplan, a Black French Canadian immigrant to the US.  (Note that the author is writing from his own cultural perspective.) Norris keeps a journal of his smart-alecky observations of the Texas high schoolers he encounters, labeling them as jocks, loners, cheerleaders, et al.  In spite of his reluctance to get involved with and make friends of kids at his new school, he does, and finds out that the labels become real people and real friends.  All goes well until his journal gets discovered and his world falls apart.  It’s up to Norris to figure out how to put it all back together. Genre: Realistic Fiction.

 

De Becerra, Katya.  What the Woods Keep. Imprint, 2018. $17.99.  ISBN:  978-1250124258. 384p. Gr YA P8Q9 

This book is fast-paced, vivid, intriguing, ominous, and other-worldly.  It deals with lots of difficult topics, like disappearances, grief, mental illness and more.  Even though it was creepy and supernatural, the characters were very real and made me feel like they might walk out of my neighborhood; it was scary and so good!  Genres: paranormal/horror.

 

 

 

 

Lemon, Sarah Nicole. Valley Girls. Harry N. Abrams, 2018. $18.99.  ISBN 978-1419729645. 400p. Gr 10+  P8 Q7 

This is a strong story, showing a teenage girl pushing through adversity.  It reminded me a lot of Cheryl Strayed’s novel, Wild, in that the protagonist is struggling to reform herself from drug abuse and low self-esteem by having a wilderness experience that challenges her.  Even though this book has a lot of technical jargon about rock climbing, there’s a glossary in the back of the book that helps explain it. Genre: realistic fiction.

 

 

 

London, Alex.  Black Wings Beating. (Skybound Saga, book 1).   Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018. $17.99.  ISBN:  978-0374306823. 432p.  Gr 7-12  P6Q8 

This well-written book takes place in an alternate universe where those who are expert falconers rise to the top of society.  The plot centers on two siblings who are trying to capture a famous eagle and tame it.  However, more of the story has to do with the siblings’ abusive upbringing, and how they overcome their past.  It’s the first of a trilogy, and I am looking forward to reading more! Genre: Fantasy.

 

 

Westerfeld, Scott.  Spill Zone, book 1. Illustrated by Alex Puvilland.  First Second, 2017. $22.99.  ISBN: 978-1596439368. 224p. Gr 9-12. P8Q8

The Spill Zone is an area that resulted from a chemical spill that led to the destruction of a city and death of many of the residents, including the main character’s parents.  There’s a lot of criminal activity, suspense, and weird stuff; it reminds me a lot of The Hunger Games, but there’s a lot of F-bombs, so probably not good for younger kids.  Genre: Fantasy-SciFi/graphic novel.

 

 

 

Hamilton, Alwyn.  Hero at the Fall. (Rebel of the Sands, book 3). Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018. $18.99.  ISBN: 978-0451477866. 480p.  Gr 7-12  P6Q7

This book is the exciting conclusion to the Rebel of the Sands trilogy, set in a mythical desert world.  This action-packed fantasy centers around a strong female character and contains enough weirdness, suspense, and romance to please everyone.  Nope, it’s not a stand-alone book; readers are advised to check out the first two books before tackling this one, as the characters and setting are too complex for a stand-alone. Genre: Fantasy

 

 

 

Fowley-Doyle, Moïra.  Spellbook of the Lost and Found.  Kathy Dawson Books, 2017. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-0525429494.  368p. Gr 9-12.  P6Q8

Set in Ireland, this book is a narrative about spellcasting, drinking, and wild adventures told from 6 different points of view. It’s pretty twisted and hard to follow at times, but overall a likeable book for mature high-schoolers.  Genre: Paranormal/mystery.

 

 

 

 

McKinney, L.L. A Blade so Black. Imprint, 2018. $18.99. ISBN: 978-1250153906. 384p. Gr 10-12.  P7Q9    

This is an amazing mix of fantasy, humor, and magic that also happens to be an urban, Black version of Alice in Wonderland.  There’s a strong female lead character, obviously, and a cast of “villians” that hover between the real, racist world and Wonderland.  It’s really great fanfiction stuff!  Genre: Fantasy

 

 

Alexander, Kwame.  Rebound. (Crossover series.) HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. $16.99.  ISBN: 978-0544868137.  Gr 7-9  P8Q8 

This series is absolutely awesome, it should be in every library!  The characters are so real and lovable, and even though there’s a “message” here about overcoming difficulties, it’s not preachy at all.  I think younger kids will really be able to relate to this and it’s very easy to read. Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

 

Howard, Greg.  Social Intercourse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. $18.99.  ISBN: 978-1481497817.  Gr 9-12.  P5Q8 

This was a fun book to read. You couldn’t predict what was going to happen from one page to the next.  This was partly because the book is first-person narration from two completely different viewpoints: Jaxon, a star football player and Beckett, his sassy gay friend, against the backdrop of southern, religious conservatism.  That story might sound really clichéd, but Jaxon has 2 moms and Beck is the “man” of his broken family. When the parents of the boys start dating each other, things get complicated, and they unite in trying to undermine that union, afraid that their families will be torn apart. In the middle of all this, the boys discover they are attracted to each other and fall in love.  There are gay sex scenes in this book, so it might not appeal to every reader.  There are also instances where the characters have to confront homophobia in their ultra-conservative community.  I think this book is thought-provoking and sweet.  Genre: LBGQT Romance

Desir, Christa.  Four-Letter Word. Simon Pulse, 2019. $19.99.  ISBN: 978-1481497374. 416p. Gr 9-12.  P6Q5 

This is a story about a group of kids who get involved with a nasty game called Gestapo, which pits them against each other and challenges them to do some amoral things.  This book should’ve been exciting, but I found parts of it confusing, dry, and hard-to-relate to.  Though the leading character is really well-developed and believable, the rest of the kids are dimensionless and flat. Genre: Mystery/thriller/Romance

 

 

Thomas, Kara.  The Cheerleaders. Delacorte Press, 2018. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-1524718329.  384p. Gr 9-12.  P8Q8 

This book is incredibly suspenseful, shocking, and tear-jerking.  I didn’t know, from page to page, what emotion I was going to feel, it was such a roller-coaster.  The characters were very real, which made it even scarier to me.  It deals with so many difficult topics: drug use, abuse, crime, suicide, grief, sex – which makes the story more relevant to what teens go through all the time.  It also made me feel more vulnerable, as a girl – maybe more paranoid about what I don’t always see. Genre: Mystery/Horror

 

March 2019 Young Adult and Adult Fiction Books reviewed by NHS Students.

Book review: What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey, by J. Albert Mann

Mann, J. Albert. What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey. Atheneum, 2019. $18.99. 228p. ISBN 978-1-5344-1932-2. Ages 13-16. P6Q7

Born into poverty in the late 1800s, Maggie Higgins grows up rebelliously helping her mother with the other 10 children while she dreams of being a writer. Her alcoholic freethinking father drives her mother into the grave with his lack of jobs and her many pregnancies, several of them ending in miscarriages, and Maggie is forced to leave nursing school to care for her father after her mother’s death. Although many of the episodes are fictional, Maggie’s life as a child and young adult shows why she becomes a strong advocate for birth control to save other women from the misery that her own mother suffered.

Verdict: An afterword explains why Sanger, a believer in eugenics, did not deserve the stain of racism given her throughout history because she provided birth control for minorities and poor people. The focus on Sander’s childhood without showing how she developed into become an activist leaves a gap in her life.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.