Tag Archives: young adult

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor

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Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor

Kaylor, Serena. Long Story Short. Wednesday Books, 2022. ISBN 978-1250818416 336 pp. $18.99

***

Homeschooler, math genius introvert Beatrice shocks her parents by applying to Oxford–and getting in, at sixteen. Since she has barely interacted with her peers, or left the house much, really, they strike a deal: She must go away to camp for a month and accomplish a list of teenager goals created by her therapist parents: make a friend, accept an invitation you don’t want, do an outdoor activity, hug three people, even pull a prank. Designed for character growth for a child on the spectrum, these are tame but challenging for Bea.

The camp, of course, is a geeky Shakespeare camp for budding thespians, and the shy girl must not only interact, but ACT, thanks to her photographic memory.

This fun, fast-paced, and witty YA read is ultimately tame, with an interesting cast of characters.

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

Out of the Blue by Jason June

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Out of the Blue by Jason June

June, Jason. Out of the Blue. HarperTeen, 2022. ISBN 978-0063015203. 384 pp. $17.99

***

Merperson Crest is on a coming-of-age journey on land to help a human and earn his return to the sea — if they choose to return after experiencing the wonders of twenty-first century Los Angeles. When Crest, who goes by Ross on land, runs into recently (unceremoniously) dumped Sean, it seems their mission is to help Sean win back his ex, and Crest/Ross becomes a willing participant. Of course, there are rules: no human can find out Crest/Ross’s true nature, and if they return to the sea before the month is up, they will have to remain on land forever. Rules, of course, were made to be broken, amirite?

An accidental reveal at the Hollywood Walk of Fame results in a surprising plot twist that I didn’t see coming–well done on author Jason June, it’s difficult to pull a fast one on someone who has been reading YA romance for 35 years. The writing was a little disappointing overall. Although well-plotted using Sean’s film-making interests and Crest’s time constraints to lay out an agenda, there was a LOT of drama: characters yelling and screaming for emphasis or to TELL us emotion instead of conveying and revealing through action. There was consent in the sexual scenes, but also snapping towels and ass-smacking and a violent outburst from another student.

I’m lumping this into magical realism rather than fantasy, but the worldbuilding for under the water and in the Blue was nicely done, simple and complete. Sometimes the merperson lingo or oceanic references were a little too much, and sometimes, Crest’s/Ross’s dissing of human consumption and environmental concerns struck a didactic note (though I am by no means in disagreement with Crest/Ross’s assessments.

I especially appreciated the diversity of the cast; straight people are the anomaly and like L.A., the book is peopled with real people in all colors, shapes and sizes, and it’s mostly NBFD. I wanted to care more about Crest/Ross and Sean than I did, but the ending definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Like most fake-dating tropes, the characters of course come to care for one another (and are wildly attracted!). When they act on their instincts, it’s developmentally appropriate and safe.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #OutOfTheBlue via #NetGalley

Private Label by Kelly Yang

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Private Label by Kelly Yang

Yang, Kelly. Private Label. Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. ISBN 978-0062941107 416 pp. $17.99

****

Serene, the daughter of a fashion mogul and intern at her mother’s fashion house, is being groomed to take over the business, much to the displeasure of her mother’s senior designers. Lily Lu has terminal pancreatic cancer, and it’s always been her and har daughter against the world, and the white-bred California suburb where they live.

Lian is a new immigrant from China who faces micro-aggressions and outright bullying at their high school. He starts an afterschool club for students interested in learning Chinese, and Serene joins in the hopes it can aid her in connecting with her estranged father. Although Serene has a boyfriend, she begins to fall for Lian, who becomes her rock when things are rapidly going south.

Both Serene and Lian are coping with what their mothers want for them–and the gap between that, and what they want for themselves. Racism and sexism meld with fashion and Chinese culture to produce a novel with a lot of depth. The alternating point of views work well; the teen voices are authentic and unique. The cover art is lovely. The cancer details are all too real. This is a well-written and timely tale about the immigrant experience that will both tug at your heartstrings and have you cheering for the characters.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #PrivateLabel via #NetGalley.

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

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You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Thao, Dustin. You’ve Reached Sam. Wednesday Books, 2021. ISBN 978-1250762030 340 pp. $18.99

***

On the precipice of graduation, Julie and Sam can’t wait to go away to college, get an apartment, and live the rest of their lives together. But Sam dies in a tragic accident, leaving Julie behind to cope with her grief and guilt–they had a disagreement before he died. Julie skips the funeral, school, and throws away every memento, and then, in a moment of anguish, calls his cell phone number. Sam ANSWERS.

The universe either magically gives Julie and Sam a way to say goodbye and find the closure they need… OR she is delusional in her grief and created the world she needs to live in to get through. It’s never explained, but it doesn’t matter; I believed that JULIE thought she was connecting, and it was what she needed to move on.

On the surface, Julie comes across as selfish, but the truth is, she’s just a young girl who lost her first love and boyfriend of three years. The path of grieving is different for everyone, and that has to be respected. There are friends (and sadly, teachers!) who don’t seem to understand this.

Something about the characters and their relationship didn’t quite resonate with me. It might be due to the distance;l we only see Sam through Julie’s eyes. Their intimacy is assumed but never really divulged. The epilogue is short sweet and frankly, unnecessary: a young adult novel should end with a sense of a new beginning, even if there is closure around a plot point or character’s development.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #YouveReachedSam via #NetGalley.

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Solomon, Rachel Lynn. See You Yesterday. Simon & Schuster, 2022. ISBN 978-1665901925 432 pp. $19.99

*****

Barrett (named for the poet) Bloom is looking at her freshman year of college as the opportunity of a do-over. High school was hell: her expose in the school paper on a corrupted grading system for star tennis players led to her being a social pariah, but also bullying, the loss of a good friend, and a deceptive, mean prom date who took her virginity just so he could brag about deflowering her as revenge for her getting his brother kicked off the tennis team. On her first day of classes, Wednesday, September 21, Barrett discovers her no-show roommate is Lucie, the former friend (whose boyfriend was the one who got kicked off the team!) and the day gets worse from there. She botches her interview with the school paper, is unprepared for physics 101, and accidentally sets fire to a frat house. She runs away, gets lost, finds her way to campus, passes out in the common room, and…. wakes up again on Wednesday, September 21.

Stuck in a Groundhog-Day like time loop, the only bright and shining part of her day is getting to know Miles Kasher-Okamoto, the son of her physics teacher, who seems to be stuck in a time loop of his own. Their bristly temperaments towards each other slowly become sparks as they try to figure out why they are stuck, and agree to approach getting unstuck together from Mile’s more scientific leanings and Barrett’s magical ones. They enjoy going on adventures with no consequences, traveling, exploring, getting tattoos, buying a lot of rescue dogs, and narrowly escape death.

Another approach to find their way back to their reality is to right past wrongs, and this becomes an opportunity for Barrett to try to repair her relationship with Lucie, for Miles to allow his addict brother Max to make amends, and for Barrett to face the shitty things that happened to her on prom date–including confronting Cole Walker– and clue both Miles and her Max in, so she can begin to heal. The pair even tries to track down a former professor from UW who taught a very popular class on Time Travel for Beginners, and while her advice is ultimately helpful, nothing helps, until a missing sock provides an epiphany.

I was thinking of this book as Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop: while only two are about the college experience and two are about time loops, all three novels have deeply fleshed out, real new adult characters alongside interesting and non-stereotyped supporting characters strong setting, a compelling story, a sweet, strong first time romance, great pacing, and honestly? just perfect voice and writing.

I loved See You Yesterday for the theme of acceptance and the author’s normalizing what might still be considered marginalized people. Barrett’s mother has dated both men and women, and her current love interest is on the verge of proposing; another character isn’t so sure she likes men all that much and is looking forward to exploring; Barrett is curvy and (mostly) unashamed and gets comfortable being adored as she is; Miles is Asian American, and both are Jewish, but Miles says he is not half anything when he’s telling Barrett about some of the comments he’s heard (presumably from other Jews) about not being a matrilineal Jew. As a Jew by choice, I love seeing myself reflected back in what I’m reading, and their improvised Shabbat on a Wednesday was just so lovely. Barrett’s observation that “Much of Judaism is about making do with what you have, and I’ve always loved that there are so many ways to observe” resonated with me. It should be noted the setting of the book takes place close to the High Holidays, and while they are not mentioned, it is a time of reflection, apologies, atonement, and new beginnings.

I also really loved the pop culture woven throughout–the age of the protagonist means she has a mom that grew up in the 2000s and her introduction to the Gilmore Girls and love of all things from the turn of the 21st century is a nicely woven thread throughout the narrative.

The title is great and I don’t love the pink cover, which features a sketch of the characters at three points in time and coordinates with the author’s last YA book, Today, Tonight, Tomorrow.

I flipped to Good Reads to note I’d finished the book, and realized Rachel Lynn Solomon wrote my favorite book (thus far) of 2022: Weather Girl! As in Weather Girl, the Seattle setting features strongly into the narrative.

One of my favorite things to tell kids embarking on their higher education journey is that college is what YOU make of it. Watching Barrett come to this realization that it’s not college that will change her, but that she will change, is so satisfying.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #SeeYouYesterday via #Netgalley

The Charmed List by Julie Abe

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The Charmed List by Julie Abe

Abe, Julie. The Charmed List. Wednesday Books, 2022. 304 pp. ISBN ‎978-1250830098. $18.99

****

This magical realism young adult friends-to enemies-to-lovers romance is utterly, well, charming. Author Abe imagines a reality where some small percentage of the population is able to pull raw magic from a source to imbibe food or potions or salves for a little something extra: a boost of confidence with your tea or quicker healing for a rash. Those with magic tend to band together in small communities and those without are oblivious but benefit.

Artist Elie is looking forward to a road trip with her non-magical bestie Lia. the magical convention she and her family will be exhibiting at is near Lia’s relatives and Elie will have a chance to accomplish the goals on her new Anti-Wallflower list. But a prank gone wrong exposes Lia to magic and one of the consequences is Elie now has to make her road-trip with her former bestie, Jack, who has become her worst enemy in the years since he lost his mother and starting licking on her.

Worst of all, Jack has seen the List, has a near-photographic memory and recall, and now has something to hold over Elie. Instead, he seems intent on helping her check off items. Something (magical?) happens on the trip down the California coast: sparks of the friendship they once had and maybe something more?

Abe writes with empathy and honesty about family and friendship, trust and betrayal, trust and vulnerability. The world she imagines and builds feels wholly believable. The beauty of California comes through and Asian-American readers may see themselves in this story.

Supporting characters, like Jack and Elie’s younger siblings (who are best friends like they used to be), and potential customers along the road, have depth and are finely drawn in few words. Even with the tropes of Forced Proximity and Just One Bed, the story is fairly chaste.

While the shift from dislike to attraction seemed pretty fast given how mean Jack was to Elie, and she may have been too quick to forgive, readers who can suspend their disbelief for magic all around us can let that go, too. The Charmed List is a sweet story and a quick read.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheCharmedList from #NetGalley.

Rivals (American Royals #3) by Katherine McGee

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Rivals (American Royals #3) by Katherine McGee

McGee, Katherine. Rivals (American Royals #3). Random House, 2022. ISBN ‎ 978-0593429709 400 pp. $19.99

*****

This next installment of the American Royals series, which imagines a United States where the founding fathers established a monarchy instead of a democracy, features Beatrice as reigning Queen, hosting a major diplomatic event and not making enough time for fiancé Teddy; Princess Samantha stepping up in a major way into her own royal role, in love with a Black Duke who would have to give up everything, and their brother Jefferson who is back with scheming Daphne. Meanwhile, he and Nina are growing to be close friends again.

Romance, drama, international politics modern day court intrigue, unlikely alliances and deep betrayals advance the plot. Least you think it’s all fluff, the series also addresses racism, misogyny, climate change, and media/fame. The writing is excellent, pacing perfect, and I devoured it in one sitting.

The cliffhanger ending promises a sequel that I personally can’t wait for; purchase where the series is popular.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Rivals from #NetGalley

The Matchbreaker Summer by Annie Rains

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The Matchbreaker Summer by Annie Rains

Rains, Annie. The Matchbreaker Summer. Underlined, 2022. ISBN 978-0593481554 288 pp. $9.99

***

Paisley is acting like a spoiled brat. Her mother has found romance and is going to sell the family’s legacy, a bird-themed summer camp, to uproot the family and follow the boyfriend she met online to to care for his ailing mother. It feels like the end of the world, as these things do at sixteen. To make life even worse, she discovers her high school’s troublemaker graffiting dragons on the cabins on Camper’s Eve. In spite of selling him out to her mom, who is familiar with Hayden’s antics, his punishment is to fill an unexpected vacancy and become a counselor during the first session, which is geared to 12-15 year olds.

Somehow, Pais ends up entering a pact with her frenemy turned crush to break up her camp director mom and Dave by focusing on his incompetence as an outdoorsman. What he lacks in skill he makes up for in enthusiasm, and comes across as the nicest and most placidest of guys. But when a series of pranks befall Dave that cause discomfort and even harm, the incidents mirror the ill-wishes Pais has jotted in her insecurely hidden journal, so of course all evidence points to her–but she never wanted Dave to actually get hurt or anything. When she gets what she wanted (a breakup) she also loses the respect of the artist rebel she’d come to care about.

The boy-crazy girls act more like high schoolers that middle schoolers, especially best friend Nora. The modern day setting doesn’t quite align with the amount of time the counselors seem to abandon their charges, even if they are teenagers themselves. The short time frame seems very unrealistic for all of the drama, changes of heart and plausibility of the novel.

The ending is predictable–had the plot been spread over an entire summer, I’d have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheMatchbreakerSummer from #NetGalley

Here’s To Us by Becky Albertelli & Adam Silveria

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Here’s To Us by Becky Albertelli & Adam Silveria

Albertelli, Becky & Adam Silveria. Here’s To Us. Quill, 2021. ISBN 978-0063071636 480 pp. $19.99

****

In the two years that have passed their short-lived meet-cute romance in What If It’s Us? Ben and Arthur have left each other all the way to another love(s), not maintaining contact or even mutual friends… until they end up in New York City for the summer. Ben is in college (although all he wants to do is write his fantasy novel) and Arthur has a theatre internship (that involves spreadsheets and tracking props). As before, in a series of coincidences, their paths keep crossing, and their friendship, connection and attraction expands exponentially until it’s too big to ignore.

Meanwhile, Ben’s hottie Mario wants his to move to L.A. to pursue a screenwriting career, while Arthur’s quiet Mikey, who doesn’t even want to hold hands in public, is on the verge of confessing feelings.

This is a sweet, angsty dramatic big gay love story that gives Ben and Art the happy ending they deserve.

Ride with Me by Lucy Keating

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Ride with Me by Lucy Keating

Keating, Lucy. Ride with Me. Clarion, 2022. ISBN 9780358468318 320 pp. $18.99

****

This was a book that made me feel like, dammit, I don’t have enough time to read all the YA novels I’d like to!

Aspirational architect / designer Charlie is saving up to leave this town -and prides herself on her near-perfect ratings on the local rideshare app she works for. When she accidentally runs into the piece of shit that passes for a classmate’s car, Charlie begs Andre to let her pay for the repairs and leave insurance — and app ratingst — out of it. Instead, he suggests she drive him around at his beck and call. Forced into proximity, they become friends, and Andre’s series of trips helps Charlie to see her boring Massachusetts hometown–and him–in new light.

Two subplots don’t feel crowded, because they are so well tied in: Charlie’s idol and possible mentor invites her to take on a project to improve her chances of landing a competitive internship, and Charlie accomplishes not one but two renovation projects, and learns a lot in the process; And, her parent’s oddly undefined relationship and level of satisfaction with their own life and artistic goals serve to further Charlie’s wants, needs, and drives: educational/career, artistic, and romantic become interwoven.

There is so much for me to love as a MA native, as an appreciator of architecture and design and as a fan of YA coming of age stories. The camera app and rideshare app may become dated when and if Instagram and Uber are replaced by the next big thing, but the themes of first love and figuring out your place in the world are eternal.

I read an advance reader’s review copy of #RideWithMe from #NetGalley.