Book Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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Title: Queens of Geek
Author: Jen Wilde
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Genre: YA Contemporary

Summary:

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

My Thoughts:

Queens of Geek is fun rainbow unicorn fluff. In a good way! It’s a fun read for anyone who is a cosplayer, attends conventions, belongs to a fandom (or two, or three, or ten), or just loves healthy doses of pop culture references in your literature. The diversity is fantastic, and I really appreciated the realistic portrayal of anxiety. Taylor is on the Autism spectrum and has anxiety. Charlie is Asian-Australian and bisexual. The two girls are the narrators and their voices are quite distinct from each other. I could definitely relate to Taylor’s social anxieties and adorkableness. As someone who has dealt with social anxiety myself, Charlie’s portrayal felt very honest and real.

Despite the light tone, the story is filled with support for anyone grappling with mental illness, healthy relationships, sexuality, body shaming, and/or identity. Charlie especially seems to tackle an extraordinary number of hot button issues, including bullying and misogyny.

Despite this awesomeness, I felt there were a few drawbacks. There is very little character development with the secondary characters. Additionally, I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot to the story. The story takes place entirely at the convention, and largely consists of the characters standing in line, hanging out at the hotel, or going to cosplay competitions or panels.

I always hate to say this, but I also felt the writing was fairly mediocre, and ultimately, this was the biggest drawback for me. There was a lot of discussion of important and timely topics, but the dialogue felt clunky. Ultimately, it left me wishing there was more to it.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Contemporary

I dip into contemporary YA only on occasion, and YA rom-com even less. So there has to be a really unique take on the genre to grab my interest. This one has been making the rounds in the blogosphere for months, and it definitely caught my eye when I first heard about it earlier this year. It turned out to be a fantastic pick to bring along on my June vacation!

Told from two different perspectives, When Dimple Met Rishi follows two Indian-American teenagers during their summer break after graduating from high school. Dimple is ready for a break from her family, and can’t believe it when they give her permission to attend an expensive summer program for aspiring app developers. Little does she know, it is all part of her family’s plan to introduce her to Rishi…the young man her parents have secretly arranged to be her future spouse.

Rishi is, almost refreshingly, a hopeless romantic. He knows all about the arrangement between the two sets of parents, and attends the same summer program as Dimple in the hopes of getting to know her.

Little does he know that Dimple has been left in the dark as to who he is or what has been arranged, and deservedly freaks out when he first introduces himself.

What follows is a cute romantic comedy, with two really fun and enjoyable characters. It is made even better because by branching out from just being a love story, as it also brings up questions of culture and tradition, family relationships, and coming of age independence.

When Dimple Met Rishi tackles a controversial tradition, that of arranged marriages. I believe this is the first book I have ever read that doesn’t treat arranged marriage solely in a negative light. I have enough Indian friends who are in some form of arranged marriage to know that, although there are many bad arranged marriages out there in which girls were forced into the arrangement and/or treated terribly, there are many good ones as well. It is a complex issue, and while I can’t speak to the cultural accuracy in the story, it appears to be very well done.

The other thing this book did was Make.Me.Hungry!!! When I lived in New Jersey, our apartment was in a predominantly Indian and Pakistani neighborhood, and we had 3 different types of Indian restaurants and a grocer just within a 1/2 mile walking distance. Oh, how I miss that! Khatta Meetha! Nom-nom-nom.

Speaking of food, there is an amazing bar mentioned in the story, 2 sisters bar and books. A bar with tons of books to browse while you sip, and Sandhya Menon makes it sound like an adorable and amazing bar to visit. So I looked it up to find out…this is a real place in San Francisco!! And it just closed it’s doors in March. NOO!!!!

Ultimately, I found When Dimple Met Rishi to be an adorable, heartwarming story about two Indian American teenagers finding their way in life.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

TTT: Summer Freebie

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the theme is a Summer freebie, and i have chosen to focus on the Top 5 book I recommend for your summer reading list, and the Top 5 books I have on my summer reading list!

However, before I get into my TTT, I want to take a moment to show my respect and profound sadness over last night’s bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. I had a highly unusual evening last night; I was at my local Target when a fire started inside the store. I was among the hundreds of people safely evacuated; the inside of the store has sustained major water, fire and smoke damage and will be closed for the foreseeable future. I came home slightly shaky, feeling like I missed a close call, only to look down at my phone and see a Washington Post alert about the Manchester bombing. That quickly put things in perspective.

I have a 9-year-old who loves Ariana Grande, and to hear one of the first two named victims was an 8 year-old child separated from her family is heartbreaking. My thoughts are with all those affected by the tragedy.

There was some good news hiding amongst the headlines this morning, which I would also like to highlight. A group of 82 girls who were kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram in the town of Chibok , Nigeria back in 2014, have recently been freed. This is only a small number of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, but it is heartening to see some of the girls reunited with their families. I can’t imagine their ordeal, and I hope they are on the path towards healing and recovery.

Top 5 Books For YOUR Summer

Reading List

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Young Adult: I like quick reads in the summer, but they don’t necessarily have to be light and fluffy. The Hate U Give is a thought-provoking story that I can’t help but continue to mention on my blog! It is THAT good! And I am definitely not alone, THUG has spent the past 11 weeks at the top of the NY Times YA Hardcover Bestseller List.

Mystery: Maisie Dobbs has been my summer go-to for fun mysteries over the past two years, and I typically read two or three of them each summer. This is an easy series to binge-read, but I have enjoyed taking my time with it. The series starts in post-WWI England, with flashbacks to Maisie’s life before and during the war.

Psychological Thriller:  If you haven’t read All The Missing Girls yet, this was my favorite book from Summer 2016. If you are already an established Megan Miranda fan, The Perfect Stranger is a great choice for your beach or pool tote.

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Award Winner: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been getting a lot of renewed attention recently, which is extremely well-deserved! If you enjoyed that book or the Hulu series, I highly recommend checking out some of her other novels! The Blind Assassin won the Man Booker Prize in 2000 and is a fascinating novel that also contains a “story within a story” called…The Blind Assassin.

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Dysfunctional families: I’m currently in the middle of reading Commonwealth right now, but I am far enough along to definitely recommend this as a fun summer read! The summer scenes with both the Cousins and Keating kids hanging out in Virginia are quite unforgettable!

Top 5 Books on MY Summer Reading List

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

What reading plans do you have for this summer?

 

Book Review – Every Day by David Levithan

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Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA

Book Blurb: 

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

I truly enjoyed Levithan’s writing in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and went into Every Day with high expectations. The potential was there for greatness, and I loved the concept. A contemporary/science fiction hybrid; to imagine a person without a gender, without a family, without a body, whose only consistency in life is that each day, they will wake up in the body of someone new.

Like I said, the concept is intriguing. But I just couldn’t get into this book.

Every Day is told from the perspective of A, a person who wakes up each morning in someone else’s body. The bodies are always the same age as A; when they were 3 they would always wake up as a 3-year-old; during the novel A was 16. A has never had their own body, the body shifting has been happening since birth. Therefore, A does not have a real name, and never forms attachments. To anyone. A can access the memories of the body they inhabit, but not the person’s feelings. The days have always blurred together for A, as time marches on.

Until A meets Rhiannon after waking up in the body of Justin. Justin is Rhiannon’s callous boyfriend, and A falls instantly in love with her during his brief tenure in Justin’s body. Which leads both to the biggest detraction and the most interesting question Levithan presents: Can love find its way around a seemingly impossible situation?

I can’t stand instalove books, and I rarely read them. I made an exception for this one because it was on my TBR for the 2017 Diversity Bingo Challenge, and Levithan was an author I wanted to further explore. Rhiannon is, I hate to say it, a fairly bland character, which makes A’s obsession with her even more confusing, especially considering the lengths he takes. The friendship between the two is sweet at first, and I give Rhiannon credit for being fairly accepting of what seems like an impossible situation. But, there are so many aspects of their relationship that really bothered me. The stalking, which started to become incredibly creepy. The idea that only A can see Rhiannon’s hidden sadness, and they are the only one who can see Rhiannon as she her true self. The obsession. It is disturbing behavior, which is barely addressed in the novel.

All my sympathy and fondness for A went right out the window when they became obsessed and started stalking Rhiannon. I liked A at the beginning of the story, and I was very sympathetic to their plight. For much of A’s life, they are extremely selfless and careful with the body they inhabit. I can’t imagine how tough that would be day in and day out. Yet I just could not get past all the lengths A went to after falling in love with Rhiannon.

The part of the story I enjoyed the most was the diverse cast of people we meet when A inhabits their bodies for a day. These small stories were quite touching.

I wish Levithan would have gone more in-depth into the paranormal aspect, although I can understand why he did not. What I don’t get, however, is why there wasn’t a further examination of what it means to be male, female, or neither. I really liked having a protagonist that has no gender or ethnicity. Yet I found the writing lacking in terms of how Rhiannon responded once she knew the truth of A’s life. Rhiannon definitely had some prejudices and ignorance on her side lurking beneath the surface, but this was barely addressed.

I know there is a companion book to Every Day, written from Rhiannon’s perspective, called Another Day. I’m highly doubtful I will read it any time soon.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.

 

Book Review – Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

I’m finally getting a chance to write up some reviews for the books that I read during Dewey’s readathon! This one was one of my favorites.

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Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author: John Green & David Levithan
Publisher: Dutton Books
Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+

This is the story of two Will Grayson’s that meet about 1/3 of the way into the story. One Will Grayson, written by John Green, is the son of two doctors, loving parents that aren’t around very much. His family is fairly well off, and his best friend is Tiny Cooper. Tiny Cooper is a HUGE person, both in personality and size. He literally lights up the page. This Will lives by two life rules: 1) Don’t care too much, and 2) Shut up.

Caring doesn’t sometimes lead to misery. It always does.

~ Will Grayson

The other will grayson, written by David Levithan, sees himself as a lowercase person (and his chapters are written entirely in lowercase). He lives with his single mother, struggles with severe depression and at the beginning of the story, has not yet come out to his friends and family as gay.

“maybe tonight you’re scared of falling, and maybe there’s somebody here or somewhere else you’re thinking about, worrying over, fretting over, trying to figure out if you want to fall, or how and when you’re gonna land, and i gotta tell you, friends, to stop thinking about the landing, because it’s all about falling.”

~ will grayson

They randomly meet one night when their paths converge in downtown Chicago. Will Grayson is shy and struggles with whether or not he wants to be in a relationship. will grayson found love on the internet with Isaac, and is trying to meet him for the first time.

Green’s Will Grayson is kind of geeky and adorable, but it is Levithan’s will grayson I relate to the most. It is will grayson’s storyline that is the most moving. will grayson is dark, and angsty, a bit of a loner, and written extremely well. When will grayson and Tiny Cooper meet, it is everything a reader could want and more. Really, Tiny Cooper is everything a reader could want in a character. I wish I had a Tiny Cooper friend!

Because in reality, so much of this book isn’t about the two Will Grayson’s. It is about Tiny Cooper. For a while I worried that Tiny Cooper would stay flat and clichéd throughout the whole story, but we really got to see more depth to him by the end of the story.

Some people call this book a love story, and it is a love story. A love story about friendship that is both emotional and hilarious.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary YA

Kudos to Angie Thomas for writing a debut novel that is so profound and powerful. How to describe The Hate U Give – or THUG, an author-coined acronym for her book? Let’s start with this:

THUG LIFE – “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone”. ~Tupac

The title of the novel is taken from Tupac Shakur, and his meaning underlying those words. That what society tells our youth has a way of coming back and affecting all of us. We see that in the protests, and riots against police brutality and police killings of unarmed black men. We see that in the anger and frustration that so many feel.

THUG revolves around Starr Carter, a teen that moves between two worlds: the impoverished neighborhood where she grew up, and the expensive suburban private school that she attends:

I get out of the car. For at least seven hours I don’t have to talk about One-Fifteen. I don’t have to think about Khalil. I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it–even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood”. Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl”. Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.

When Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her childhood best friend, at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop even though he was doing nothing wrong, she is forced to confront the dichotomy between her two personas.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.

THUG is an unapologetic – and rightfully so – evocative look into a subject that needs to be torn wide open across the country: the shootings of unarmed black men by police officers. The school to prison pipeline in poor, urban communities. The New Jim Crow era of mass incarceration, the biases institutionalized within the criminal justice system and the policies that control said system. The story is emotionally charged, important, and really, REALLY good.

Putting the important political message aside for a moment, Angie Thomas is a brilliant writer. THUG is incredibly well-written, and the storytelling is so incredibly powerful, not only due to the message, but the sheer intelligence and creative ability of the author. It is very rare that I gush over contemporary YA novels, but here I am! Gushing. In a debut novel, no less!

To go along with the fantastic storytelling is all the wonderful characters that truly made the story shine. Starr is…well, Starr is someone you root for from the very beginning. And her family!! I love when a contemporary YA novel includes a well-flushed out family and Starr’s is one of the best. I love all of the relationships in this book, whether it is between Starr and her parents, or her brother Seven, or her friends. All of the relationships were well-developed and I love how a few of the minor characters really experienced their own growth throughout the story, it is very much an ensemble cast, and they all shine.

Take this conversation between Starr and her Dad:

“Now, think ’bout this,” he says. “How did the drugs even get in our neighborhood? This is a multibillion dollar industry we talking ’bout, baby. That shit is flown into our communities, but I don’t know anybody with a private jet. Do you?

“No.”

“Exactly. Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community,” he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”

Daddy Carter gave me all the feels in this book. And that is what The Hate U Give does: it breaks your heart, and gives you the warm fuzzies – all in the span of a few pages.

Read this book. No matter where you live – read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices

Book Blurb: 

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, is a hard book to review. This semi-autobiographical YA novel is wildly hilarious at times, but also bleak and grim, and based off of many of the real-life experiences of the author.

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

My first thought was that Alexie’s writing, blunt and filled with dark humor, also contains what can easily be construed as negative stereotypes. The lack of positive role models on the reservation, and the almost angelic portraiture of the white-townsfolk towards the end of the book, paints a very unfair depiction of American Indian life. Is his story perpetuating the sentiment of American Indians as sad, hopeless souls? Why is it one of the few white people living on the reservation that is the one that tells Junior of his immediate need to get off the reservation and “SAVE HIMSELF”? White people to the rescue motif, really?

Having not grown up on or anywhere near a reservation, these are not questions that I feel comfortable answering myself. I have a very, very small thread connecting me to the American Indian community: my maternal biological grandfather is Native American. But I am adopted, and that is literally all the information I have. Not a whole lot to go by.

So, I went to Google, and researched some of Sherman Alexie’s past interviews, and reviews by people who grew up and/or lived on reservations, to gain a different perspective. I would like to share some of their thoughts here:

“The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed, though I don’t expect every reader to view the same way, is that the Indian Reservation depicted has a lot of truth to it from my own experiences of having grown up on and around my own as a girl. Twenty, and even ten years ago, our reservation life was not so far off from the one described here, with the exception of perhaps the climate being slightly different, and perhaps I was too young to understand and remember anything about crime rates. But there was poverty, and then there was crushing poverty where I am from. There was alcoholism, though I would venture that perhaps it wasn’t the hot-button stereotype that I feel is portrayed at times in Alexie’s book. I don’t know. Every Native community is different, for sure, with their own unique set of problems. While I feel that there is a lot of truth to what Sherman Alexie has created, I also feel that there is a sweeping generalization. So, it hits and it misses, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself and decide what you think.” ~ Ouyang Dan, FWD/Forward

“Literature is the study of human weakness. I just happened to write the Native American version of it.” ~ Sherman Alexie, Sadie Magazine interview

“When I think of the poverty-stricken, sexually and physically abused, self-loathing Native American teenager that I was, I can only wish, immodestly, that I’d been given the opportunity to read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Or Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak.” Or Chris Lynch’s “Inexusable.” Or any of the books that Ms. Gurdon believes to be irredeemable. I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.” ~Sherman Alexie, Why The Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood

I know this isn’t my typical review. In short, I found The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to be a funny, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking book. I definitely recommend it. With a caveat, as I also place the responsibility on the reader – esp. white readers – to understand fully and completely that Alexie’s book, and life experiences, are not to be taken as absolute truth for all American Indians, everywhere.

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

Rating: 4/5 stars