Off the Map by Trish Doller

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Off the Map by Trish Doller

Doller, Trish. Off the Map. (Beck Sisters #3) St. Martin’s Press, 2023. 320 pp. ISBN 9781250809490 $16.99

****

Though not a Beck sister, Carla is Beck-adjacent, working with Anna at the pirate-themed bar in Florida that Anna skipped out of to sail the world in her dead fiance’s boat in Float Plan. Now Anna is getting married to Keane in Ireland, and Carla is going to be the maid of honor. Eamon, Keane’s brother, has been tasked with picking her up from the airport, but instead, invites her to meet him at the Confession Box, a tiny hole in the wall bar. She taps Eamon as her fake boyfriend the moment he walks in, kissing him to deflect unwanted advances from another barfly, and drinks turn into dinner, which leads into making love at his apartment.

A world traveler, Carla regales Eamon with stories of her single dad, a history teacher with summers off who took his little girl to nearly every state park in the country to stave off loneliness. Eamon has always longed to backpack but feels obligated to do what his family expects of him. With several days before the wedding, Carla talks Eamon into a little car camping and sightseeing. There’s a deadline to their fling, and the best man/maid of honor hookup is totally cliche, but this story works.

Like other novels in the series, this is highly character driven, and the journey motif is physical and geographical as well as internal. Carla’s dad is suffering from dementia, and she hasn’t been home to see him in six years–at his encouragement. She lives her life by a traveler’s code he ingrained in her from a young age, like “if it doesn’t fit in your backpack, you don’t need it,” and there is no such thing as being lost. After meeting Eamon, though, she begins to question her rolling stone gathers no moss philosophy and mourns that she met The One at a time in her life when she still doesn’t want to settle down. She also recognizes she might not want to be a seasonal bartender at retirement age. She breaks it off with Eamon… and goes home to see her dad, where his second wife and caretaker is all too happy to get a break for a few days. Details about caring for someone in mental decline are sensitive and authentic. Fans of the series may find this is little lighter and a little faster paced, but very satisfying nonetheless. Making a choice to forge a new path might be the plan, after all, and Carla may not be as off the map as she thinks.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #OffTheMap from #NetGalley.

Infamous by Minerva Spencer

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Infamous by Minerva Spencer

Spencer. Minerva. Infamous (Rebels of the Ton, #3). Kensington, 2021. 352 pp. ISBN 9781496732873 $15.95

***

A prank gone wrong results in a marriage of convenience, banishment, and hurt feelings; can the perpetrator be redeemed? Celia Trent, a nasty backstabbing debutante trying desperately win a rich husband to raise her station in life, meant to trap her intended’s annoying and odious twin Richard with the dull wallflower Phyllida Singleton as a joke at a ball, but instead it’s Lucien (Lord Davenport) who is comprised overnight in a locked room with Phyl. They make the best of it, marry, and even have two children, but something is off.

It takes sister Toni’s engagement to the unsavory bully Sebastian, Lord Dowden–the mastermind behind the mean behavior so many years ago–to uncover and set right the wrongs of ten years ago. Celia, now a widowed working girl playing maid to an ornery, elderly member of the ton, has been invited to the wedding festivities, to take place over the Christmas holiday. If she can just make it to the year’s end a bonus is hers. Once back in society’s orbit, Celia is shocked to feel a pull not towards Luce, but to Richard, now an naturalist whose risque paper on the breeding imperative makes him still weird, but not as odious as in his gawky young adulthood. She slowly realizations her fascination with him may have been chemistry, not aversion, all those years ago. One by one, Celia makes her apologies to each wronged party and is wonderfully accountable.She is reluctant to disclose the existence of her daughter (results of an unplanned pregnancy via Dowden), her history as a mistress, and her growing feelings for Richard, resulting in an air of mysteries unravelled throughout the novel. Will she–or someone else?–spill the beans about Dowden’s true nature, or will young, naive Toni marry in haste?

The story takes part in winter on an estate in regency England and captures the long weekend feeling with its’ food, fun and games; rivalries and romances. Period details feel authentic, as does the unsavory behavior. For the most part, the characters are quirky and interesting. I haven’t read the others in the series, but did not find it a hindrance to enjoying this novel.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #Infamous from #NetGalley.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin, Gabrielle. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Knopf, 2022. ISBN 978-0593321201 416 pp. $28.00

*****

In 2007, when I wrote a book about gaming in libraries, Will Wright was exploring how games could make people feel emotions (like guilt), and the US was slow in recognizing video games as an art form while the UK had already established an award category for video games at BAFTA, while I was arguing they were valid ways of telling a story that involved the player in the creation of that story. Zevin pesents a world where creators set out to make works of art, even based on the style of a famous work of art, in this brilliant, intricately plotted novel about friendship and gaming.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows the trajectory of two friends who love one another but never get together. Their partnership at Unfair Games, their video game company, is more important At twelve, Korean-American Sam is recovering from a car accident in the hospital while eleven-year old’s Sadie’s sister Alice is getting cancer treatment. They form a friendship playing Super Mario Bros. and the staff begs Sadie to come back and visit–Sam, coming to terms with his mother’s death and a crippling injury hadn’t spoken until she showed up. She makes him her bat mitzvah volunteer project and wins a community service award from Hadassah. When he finds out, they don’t talk for six years, until he spies her in a subway station–she’s attending MIT and he is at Harvard. Hollering “you have died of dysentery!” gets her attention, and they resume their friendship and eventually talking about designing a game together. His friend and roommate Marx bankrolls an apartment and they name Marx their producer; he takes care of many details for their company, their friendship, their lives. The narrative follows their intertwining paths through the games they design together.

With characters that attend Ivy league schools, the vocabulary is smart and lush: nihilistic, verisimilitude, deictic, obfuscation, jejune, azure, simulacrum, portmanteau, fecund, echt, tautology. The allusions reference The Phantom Tollbooth, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, the Illiad… and indirectly, Grand Theft Childhood. The timeline spans nearly twenty years and is set squarely in Generation X, with many familiar touchstones: Tamagotchis, Magic Eye, texting, same-sex marriage, MMORPGs, groundbreaking video game titles, September 11th.

The writing is spectacular and frequently, beautifully profound as the characters reflect on their abilities and disabilities; their identities and ethnicities; love and loss; mazes, puzzles, and maps; immortality and do-overs; art and sex and death and play. The narrative moves back and forth in time and yet never gets lost. So many details come back full circle, like when you die in a game and go back to the save point. Throughout the novel, the narrator breaks the fourth wall, such as when the reader is invited to consider an interview with game designer Sam Mazer in Kotaku. This also allows us to review events through a more modern lens of systemic racism, appropriation, and sexism. Another section goes meta like a game and changes the perspective to second person, playing on interactive text adventures. Another is in third person, narrating the lives of the avatars the characters create. Full disclosure: this book made me weep.

Sometimes the writing reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, with its detail on coding and debugging akin to the drudgery of magic drills at Brakebills Academy and flawed dynamic characters who stick together no matter what. Sometimes it called to mind Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, with it’s LA setting and evocative lists of things and strong sensory detail. And as a gamer about to turn 48, who cut her teeth on the Oregon Trail on a classroom’s Apple IIe and Donkey Kong on a cocktail arcade table at the local Papa Gino’s, I kept seeing this as a love letter to gaming that recognizes video games for the art they are.

I checked this out through OverDrive at my local public library and logged onto bookshop.org to order a copy and it’s currently out of print and backordered! I blame Harry and his 2 million copy first print run.

Love and Other Flight Delays by Denise Williams

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Love and Other Flight Delays by Denise Williams

Williams, Denise. Love and Other Flight Delays. Berkley, 2023. 432 pp. ISBN 9780593441077 $18.99

***

This group of three interconnected stories set at an airport had good intentions, but I had trouble keeping the characters and their timelines straight. Chapters alternate male/female points of view.

In “The Love Connection,” risk assessor and romance novelist Bennett falls for the business manager of a pet grooming business near the gate he always flies into in Atlanta. She’s unsure she wants to have a long distance relationship and they have witty banter and a series of compelling dates on his layovers.

In “The Missed Connection,” a weather delay sends Ben’s best friend Gia, chemist, to the airport bar on New Year’s Eve where she asks a cute stranger to pose as her husband to gain herself a seat. By midnight, they’re dancing and kissing. Fast forward three months, and Felix turns out to be A.F. Ennings, the new colleague joining her work team–the one she dislikes through their correspondence. When they get sent as ambassadors together to tour multiple universities, the forced proximity brings some grudging respect and rekindles their mutual admiration.

In “The Sweetest Connection,” best friends Silas and Teagan both work at the airport; he in and she at an upscale chocolate boutique. They’ve been in love with one another for years but haven’t taken the leap. Silas hasn’t told Teagan yet that he’s broken up with his long term girlfriend. Teagan’s about to leave for a semester abroad in France, and has discovered a traveler’s pro/con list on whether to make feelings known and make the leap from friends to lovers. It never occurs to her it might be Silas’s–but she engages his help in trying to solve the mystery, convinced it must belong to a friend, co-worker, or regular traveler. This was my favorite story. Their story moves back and forth in time, and then crosses paths with the other stories.

Elements of the story reminded me of Love, Actually. I did have to pay close attention to how everyone was interconnected. The plotting and pacing are excellent, and if anything, I wanted longer stories about each set of characters, and could see peripheral characters getting their own spinoff.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #LoveAndOtherFlightDelays from #NetGalley.

In Love with Lewis Prescott by Sarah Smith

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In Love with Lewis Prescott by Sarah Smith

Smith, Sarah. In Love with Lewis Prescott. Carna Press & Carina Adores (Harlequin), 2023.352 pp. ISBN 9781335984883 $8.99

***

Architect Harper Ellorza is renovating her grandparents home in San Francisco as a love letter to her family, but an unscrupulous contractor did a shoddy job without her oversight and she can’t afford to lay out her renovation on repairs too. She forms an unlikely alliance with disgraced actor Lewis Prescott when she not only doesn’t fangirl over him, but helps him hide from crazed fans. He conveniently did contracting work before his big break, and in return for a place to hide out, he will right the wrongs and finish the job with her help. It has to be a secret, due to the paparazzi stalking him — he was abruptly fired from his tv gig and no one knows it’s for being a whistleblower on the director’s sexual harassment of female cast and crew members. He offers to pay her, and she urges him to give his million dollars to the charity she works for.

Forced proximity is always a device to build physical and emotional intimacy; theirs is heightened when Lewis goes along with Harper’s suggestion to control the narrative with a nude calendar charity fundraiser and scantily clad teasers on social media. The drama comes when Hannah breaks her promise not to tell anyone her contractor and roommate is a celebrity.

Smith channels Olivia Dade in a press conference scene near the end, and also in some ways through the commentary on fame, celebrity, immigration, race, and the #metoo movement. Deeper discussions such as these always add depth to story for me. The details of the renovations, Filipino culture, and California setting are delicious. The sex is consensual, smutty and detailed, and the characters move past their trauma and insecurities to make their relationship work.

I received a free advance reader’s review edition of #InLoveWithLewisPrescott from #NetGalley.

The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

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The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

Taslim, Priyanka. The Love Match. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 9781665901109 $19.99

****

The wedding scene in the opening chapter reminded my of the many receptions at the Knights of Columbus hall that I attended in my childhood–except at 18, my parents were encouraging me NOT to date, but to focus on my studies, sort of the opposite for Zahra, who still lives at home, works in a Pakistani tea shop, and has deferred her admission to Columbia to help support her family, since her dad has passed away. Her well-meaning mother has another idea: if Zahra makes a profitable match, the family will benefit. She uses WhatsApp to connect to the Auntie network, a circle of female friends and relatives looking to arrange the marriages of their daughters, and they come up with smart, wealthy and well-connected Harun Emon. The two teens are ambushed when their families set them up at a joint dinner. Harun appears to want to be there even less than Zahra, but both respect their elders and want to please their impossible to please families, so they agree to eight dates. Meanwhile, Zahra has a real connection with Nayim Aktar, the new dishwasher at the teashop. He is world traveled in a way that Zahra longs to be, and wants to be a musician like Zahra wants to be a published author. He is also a poor immigrant with no family and no reputation. They sneak out of a work a little early one night so she can work on a story and he can work on his music… but then she has a TGI Friday’s date where she and Harun cover a duet, and it’s fun. They bond over their losses (his girlfriend, her father) and they decide they are friends, at least, until they have a falling out. Everyone who’s ever read a fake dating novel knows where this is going, right?

I loved the Bangladeshi traditions set against contemporary culture: double standards, good Muslim girls who avoid pork and alcohol but sneak out on dates (or date other girls), and the juxtaposition of following your dreams and pleasing your family. I felt another pass from the editor would have elevated the novel. Lots of telling to set the scene at the beginning, the Auntie text thread would have been great at the end of each chapter. The book hits its stride about a third of the way in.

Pride and Prejudice references are not far off; Amma wants to make a good match for her daughter. “It is a truth universally acknowledged among Bangladeshis that a guest on one’s doorstep must be in want of at least two helpings of curry” is a very funny nod to Jane Austen’s most famous work.

At first, I was annoyed at having to look up so many words I didn’t know that were not described or defined in context, particularly, food and dress. And then I got over myself and started Googling–it is not the author’s job to do the work of white people to explain other cultures, and I now know what a bodna, janamaz. I made a quick adjustment to shari for sari and saa for chai, and understood bedisha to be an insult before I looked it up. I loved all the pop culture references: Frozen, Gilmore Girls, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie, Legally Blonde, Amar Jaane Tomake Dhake, Jane Austen, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, To All The Boys, Bridgerton (season two), Great Gatsby, even a subtle Star Wars allusion when Harun says he should call Zahra General instead of Princess when she takes charge of rearranging their arrangement.

This is truly a love letter to the Bangladeshi diaspora in Paterson New Jersey, describing the personalities, shops, culture and geography of the town that’s home to a large Bangladeshi population. Stereotypes exist in part because they are true, and Taslim vividly portrays the marriage market, arranged marriage, passive-aggressive parenting, generational culture wars, and class hierarchies. Overall this was an authentic, satisfying read, with a great plot twist at the end.

I received a free advance reader’s copy of #TheLoveMatch from #NetGalley.

Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around by Sarah Ready

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Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around by Sarah Ready

Ready, Sarah. Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around. Swift & Lewis, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 9781954007437 $15.99

*****

Josh and Gemma made a baby, and now they are about to get married. Gemma hasn’t been feeling well for days, but chalked it up to excitement and nerves. Apparently their hippie-dippie hypo-birthing class instructor–who in a moment of getting real has the foresight to warn the assembled couples that everything is going to change–fails to mention warning signs of pre-eclampsia. Gemma passes out in the new gazebo in her parent’s backyard on the verge of saying her vows. Josh’s voice begging her not to leave him is the last thing she hears. She comes to three months later.

After her sensory-deprivation coma, Gemma is super-sensitive to sound, light, and people. Her short-term memory is shot and she can no longer multitask. Down 30 pounds, she’s lost her bangin’ curves–and her ability to feel emotion. According to her doctor, that’s not abnormal, and while some things lost may return over time, here’s another reminder that everything changes, and she should prepare for a new normal. The medical details and recovery are accurate.

Oh, and Gemma’s never even met her daughter Hope. It’s a lot to bounce back from. Josh, on location for the filming of the sitcom based on his popular webcomic Grim and Jewlie (based on their relationship), isn’t even on the same coast when she opens her eyes, and his relief is tempered by her admission she doesn’t think she loves him anymore. She doesn’t feel anything. He’s determined to make it work, and while it’s what Gemma wants too, there’s a lot of fear, and a lot of doubt from friends and family that their relationship could continue. To complicate matters, her old boss Ian, who is now the most hated man in America, shows up in her rehabilitation center, where he claims to be a volunteer, now that’s he’s out of a job. He is a self-centered jerk, and must have been so much fun to write; it’s certainly a joy disliking him, but like all of the characters, he, too, is multi-faceted.

Gemma’s description of glimpses of the light she’s lost, the stars that shine through, and her journey to find the sun again is damn poetic. I found a few issues, like repetitive descriptions and word usages, that closer editing might have caught. The drama high but realistic: I wasn’t sure they would actually make it through, and I wasn’t sure that Ian wasn’t a figment of Gemma’s imagination at first (honestly, I was hoping the whole thing was just another stress-induced nightmare.)

Ready writes with both dark humor and optimism, a healthy dose of realism and a lot of hope (and not quite enough Hope!). Gemma works through her trauma, and helps heal Josh’s and Ian’s as well. Like in the first book, quotes precede each chapter. This is an incredibly satisfying sequel that I devoured in one sitting.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #JoshAndGemmaTheSecondTimeAround from #NetGalley.

Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

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Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

Bailey, Tessa. Unfortunately Yours. (A Vine Mess #2). Avon/Harper Voyager, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN 9780063239036 $18.99

**1/2

I picked this up, read the first two chapters and put it down — August and Natalie were just too mean to one another. When I realized this was a companion book to Secretly Yours, and after re-reading It Happened One Summer, I decided it was worth another chance.

Natalie Vos has come home to Napa Valley fired, broke, drinking too much and not engaged anymore. She had a hot moment with Navy vet and former SEAL turned vitner, August Cates, back in Secretly Yours, but since their one-night stand didn’t turn into something, and it turns out he makes terrible wine, they snark–nastily–at one another. (Side note: I couldn’t remember the details of their previous encounter, and a recap would have been helpful). They cross paths again at a wine competition she’s judging, are mean to each other when she doesn’t like his wine, but he’s still desperately attracted to her brains and beauty. He needs her help with making drinkable, profitable wine, and she needs to be employed and married to get access to her trust fund to finance an investment deal back in New York. They decide on a marriage of convenience–but no sex. Okay, just orgasms for her. Okay, just oral for him… the lines keep getting drawn in the sand and smashed through because of their off the charts chemistry. The sex is a little rougher and a little spicer–August is a consummate dirty talker and not squeamish about rimming, and his new wife goes wild for it.

In general, the characters are not as three-dimensional, likeable or mature as Hallie and Julian. I think I liked the cat the best, though I don’t believe it sat docilely through their wedding ceremony. Some depth of story comes from Natalie’s character growth and desire to make something of herself independent of her famous family, and August’s commitment to honor his fellow soldier’s vineyard dreams. They do seem to have each other’s back as the story progresses: she won’t allow her mother to insult him, and he is very protective of her. Her family’s dismissal of her is frustrating, and so are August’s self-deprecating remarks about his own intelligence.

Those close to them see through their sniping to their true love… but it was hard to watch people who cared about one another be so unkind. An emergency near the end of the book puts August in a life or death situation to force them to reveal their feelings, and it just felt a little too contrived. The pacing is fast and not terribly believable, either. August’s calling Natalie “Princess” reminded me of Han Solo calling Leia “Princess,” and then that’s who I imagined them as in my head, and it didn’t jive with how they are described in the book. Also, August is so exaggerated in his physical stature I actually couldn’t picture him at all.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #UnfortunatelyYours from #NetGalley.

What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale, Illustrated by Loni Harris

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What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale, Illustrated by Loni Harris

Hinsdale, Emily L. Hay, illustrated by Loni Harris. What Is My Plant Telling Me? An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them From Dying. S&S/Simon Imprint, 2022. ISBN 978-1982189815 $18.99

****

I have this perception of myself as having a black thumb of death, thoughtlessly murdering cacti, spider plants and aloe through neglect and overeager attention. I forget to water, then overwater, fertilize one month and not the next, put the plants outside for the summer and leave them to burn in the sun… but we want greenery year round, so I’ve been trying to step up my houseplant game. I’ve been wondering for months why my peace lily stopped blooming and why my bamboo is looking yellow. I do have good luck with growing philodendron from clippings, and two plants have become five in the last year. I am proud that I used sunlight and neem oil to get rid of an infestation over the the summer and didn’t lose a single plant. The money tree while not growing, is not dying. In short, I need to learn to assess what my houseplants need and pivot accordingly.

What Is My Plant Telling Me? is an authoritative, straightforward guide to fifty of the most common houseplants, listed alphabetically. Each entry includes the optimal light, water, soil, food and potting needs of each plant, a brief description of the plant and overview of it’s care, and then, indicators of problems and how to solve them. The introduction is funny and affirming, and the clever conclusion has a you can do it tone and recommends some specific plants for specific personality traits to maximize plant parenting success. The indexing is a little incomplete. I couldn’t remember what type of lily I had, and peace lily is only under peace lily, not lily.

I love Harris’s charming and clear illustrative style but found the drawings inconsistent in scope. Every entry has an illustration of the ideal healthy plant, and the majority of the time it’s right on the first page with the common and Latin names… but sometimes you have to flip to the next page to see the picture. I own some items that I can’t remember the name of, or the label has washed out. was hoping that each and every problem was illustrated so I could discern from the color of the leaves if overwatering or underwatering was the culprit, but only about one in ten entries go to this depth. For example, the burro’s tail and peace lily entries depict a plant with four typical issues and how they present, while an entry on coleus cleverly shows one plant with two variations: faded coloring from too much sun, and too much green from too much water. But–there are no additional reference illustrations for the first eight entries!

The fern fried from a stint outside this summer and is making a slow recovery; the succulent is way overwatered, the pepper plant is past its prime; the Chinese evergreen is doing great!

I did learn that my bamboo plant might need a complete change of water, and maybe the water should be distilled or stand for a day. The Chinese evergreen that looks like autumn leaves year round, and that I fell in love with at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill, is very healthy but is ready for a bigger pot, and the spot it’s currently in provides just enough indirect light–but the peace lily next to it, all droopy and not producing flowers–is just not getting enough light. I immediately gave it a drink and relocated it to the kitchen table. In general, I think I do not repot or fertilize often enough.

The swiss cheese plant needs more consistent watering and a snack; the droopy peace lily needs more water and more light.

While I do know a plant doctor who makes house calls (or who will diagnose from a picture on my phone, I felt very empowered after flipping through this book and making some changes. I was also surprised and pleased to realize I have more plants (and more types) than I thought, and I have kept them alive longer than I anticipated! We will see how things look in a month.

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

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You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

Whitney, Diana (editor). You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves. Workman, 2021. ISBN 9781523510993 $14.95

*****

I bought this in a bookstore and devoured it in several sittings, sharing a few choice poems with my 10-year-old daughter and then slipping it on the bookshelf of young adult literature outside of her room for when she’s ready to explore it. The collection is of affirming voices that editor Diana Whitney confesses to wanting to have had in her formative years (when she wrote bad poetry). Arranged by emotional experiences, she encourages readers to use the categories as suggestions, not prescriptions. Each section is prefaced with some words of wisdom and highlights from the chapter to come.

In “Seeking,” transgender poet kayleb rae candrilli both admires their body and wishes for it to change shares the coming to oneself through surgery, Sahar Romani writes of coming out, and Elizabeth Spires wishes Google held all the answers. Filed under “Loneliness” Erin Batiste shares increasingly invasive inquisitions, presumably from peers, that tear a young woman’s identity apart and Elizabeth Acevedo worries about the first day of school.

The section titled “Attitude” features Lucille Clifton, Amanda Gorman, and Maya Angelou. Within “Rage,” Whitney encourages for anger to lead to action: “Let the poet’s furor give you courage.” And Dominique Christina has a brilliant stream of consciousness take down for the dude on Twitter who disparaged his girlfriend for having the audacity to get her period while having sex. “Longing” involves desire and yearning, romantic and platonic, for people, places and things. Marie Howe writes of a first encounter of a girl with another girl; Sharon Olds longs to warn her parents from one another before they even meet at college in the 1930s. Under “Shame,” British Indian poet Nikita Gill writes in Wolf and Woman “Some days / I am more wolf / than woman / and I am still learning / how to stop apologizing / for my wild.” Other poets write about government assistance, eating disorders, gossip, trying to be liked, assault. In “Sadness” JP Howard addresses what to say to a friend with suicidal ideation. “Belonging” concludes the collection with poems by Naomi Shahib Nye, Mary Oliver, and Joy Harjo.

This is a beautifully designed volume, with vibrant colors and illustration. The text sometimes flips to horizontal, literally forcing the reader to consider another point of view. While not all the poems are perfect for my pre-teen, it is a perfectly well-rounded collection and I know she will pick and choose from them as she needs these words like beacons in the wilderness of adolescence.