Laura Silverman: Girl Out of Water

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves.

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Spring has arrived! The sun has been out in full force, the grass is starting to turn lush and green, the temperature is rising–it’s time to start picking your summer reads, folks!

I know it is that season, too, because I have DNF two heavier novels this week. I’m too restless to try and sit through them. I needed something fun–and Laura Silverman’s Girl Out of Water was just the ticket to save me from my slump.

The blurb is a little cringey at first glance (Lincoln has a disability, he shouldn’t be defined by it). If I didn’t know anything about the context or author, I might turn away from this one. However, I’ve followed Laura Silverman on Twitter for a long time, and there is no way she would treat someone with a disability with anything but the utmost respect. And she absolutely does. Lincoln is one of the most delightful YA boyfriends that I have read in a long time. His relationship with Anise is adorable, but also respectful–no one is pressuring anyone here, there isn’t any unnecessary sexual drama, and I love that.

There’s a lot of swearing, which…if you have followed me for any amount of time, you know that bothers me not at all. Still, it’s surprising for this style of YA novel. I like that Silverman didn’t hold back, since obviously most people don’t in real life–but I could see it being a problem for some.

“Summer reads” are always pretty fast books for me. I read this in only a few hours. Once I started, it was hard to put down–Silverman’s characters are captivating, and they drive the story. It’s a book full of normal, every day people dealing with normal, every day drama…plus a little extra. Totally one you should add to your beach bag this year. Just maybe leave the banh mi SPAM at home.

DIVERSITYBINGO2017:  MC with an UnderRepresented Body

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Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.”There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light:—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

Oh Jacqueline Woodson, you strike again. When I read Brown Girl DreamingI added this one to my TBR right away. I fell in love with her poetry and wanted to read more of her incredible writing.

I was not disappointed. Feathers is prose instead of poetry, but it is just as gorgeous. Written for middle-grade, her story combines so many different facets into a book under 150 pages. We see a young girl learning about life alongside a mother with depression and a brother who is deaf, and that gives her a unique outlook when a new boy comes to school needing a bit of compassion.

This is for sure going on my list of books to recommend when my parent friends reach out to me for their kids. If you have a child in middle school, definitely add this to your shelves.

DiversityBingo2017: D/dEAF/HARD OF HEARING MC

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Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance

In 1975, in an unidentified Indian city, Mrs Dina Dalal, a financially pressed Parsi widow in her early 40s sets up a sweatshop of sorts in her ramshackle apartment. Determined to remain financially independent and to avoid a second marriage, she takes in a boarder and two Hindu tailors to sew dresses for an export company. As the four share their stories, then meals, then living space, human kinship prevails and the four become a kind of family, despite the lines of caste, class and religion. When tragedy strikes, their cherished, newfound stability is threatened, and each character must face a difficult choice in trying to salvage their relationships.

I will never be amazed at how much books surprise me sometimes. Rohinton Mistry was recommended to me as a key Indian author, but I’ve never much been interested in books written about the 70s, so I was hesitant to read this. When I saw how BIG this book was…I won’t lie–I put this thing off until it was absolutely due at the library, and even then I extended my contract.

951 pages later (I mistakenly got the large print version, I think the regular one is only 600), I have laughed, cried, gasped, and near made myself sick over this book. Mistry has sewn together a quilt of patches from poverty to familial abuse, from fascist regimes to mob bosses. I expected India to seem as far away as 1975–decades and countries away. Certainly something I needed to learn about, but I didn’t think I would be able to relate to quite so much. But this story resonated in so many ways with what is happening in the United States today–this book was a little TOO real.

It was also impossible not to fall in love with the characters. Mistry flips prejudice and privilege on its head because the people he wants you to see aren’t the rich and freshly-bathed, but the beggars and Untouchables–those who most disregard completely. Dina struggles over and over with her prejudice against the tailors–she is us, our wrinkled nose and closed door. There are also those who are obsessed with political movements, and those who are being affected by the horrific changes by the massive changes made by the government…and those who just don’t seem to care at all what is going on until it is too late.

A Fine Balance is two things. It IS a brilliant book about Indian culture in the 1970s. I learned so much about the country and amazingly diverse people that I did not know before. But this book is also us, in our country, right now. It’s on my list of books kids should be reading in school but would never be allowed. I know it’s long, but devote some time this year for this one. It’s worth it.

DiversityBingo2017:  Indian MC Own Voices

Read Around the World:  India

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Josh Hanagarne: The World’s Strongest Librarian

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7″ when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

Show me a book with books on the cover and I’m probably going to read it. There’s nothing better than a book about books–bookception!

But make that bookception a memoir about a disabled person fighting tooth and nail to overcome his disorder by sheer force of will? Yes please. Josh Hanagarne has fought his entire life to beat Tourette’s. There’s no cure–he knows that–but that isn’t going to stop him from challenging his body and mind to an all out war.

You’d think such a battle would strip a person of their humanity, but this memoir is funny, loving, and sweet. Hanagarne also tackles some pretty deep religious skepticism in his pages, as well as other topics like infertility, adoption, and depression. This is all mixed in with anecdotes from his job at the Salt Lake Public Library.

I couldn’t put this book down. Everything about the story was involved and beautiful. This isn’t a “The world did me wrong, I hate everything” type memoir.” Hanagarne certainly could have felt that way, and been fully deserved of those feelings. But he wanted to find any possible way to find peace in his tormented body and he was going to keep going until he found it. He’s still going, still trying new things. To someone with my own (different) medical problems, it’s very inspiring.

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DiversityBingo2017:  Diverse NonFiction

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Rachel Sharp: The Big Book of Post-Collapse Fun

Mab is an unemployed feminist blogger with a philosophy degree, a deathly allergy to bee stings, and the real-world experience of a domestic rabbit. When Portland, Oregon is evacuated, no one thinks to look for her in her unlabeled apartment. She can still get news from the outside world for days. All the news is bad. The planetary Tarantella dance has started, and the world is shaking itself apart. Volcanoes and earthquakes abound. Taking stock of her supplies, she finds that her best survival gear includes a 49cc moped and clothing that wouldn’t keep a chihuahua warm in a Florida winter.
Left alone in the city, Mab fumbles along and documents her post-apocalypse adventures through the lens of mankind’s greatest coping mechanism: Inappropriate humor. She learns from experience as she misinterprets survival tips, battles wild geese, steals cars, befriends a buffoon of a dog, and discovers the difference between instinct and cultural training.
When Mab learns of a geologically stable place in Canada, she leaves Portland behind. Vet, the world’s dumbest remaining dog, goes with her, and while they try to navigate the wilderness, mountains become volcanoes. Strangers become bandits. Mab wasn’t prepared for this, but she writes the book on how to improvise in case of apocalypse.

My husband and his friend have zombie-preparedness plans. In fact, he’s so serious about them that we had zombie plans IN OUR WEDDING VOWS. Not even kidding.

But ya’ll, when it comes to fight or flight…I HIDE. So I completely related to Mab when she hid and hid and hid some more until she finally could nit hide anymore. When she came out of that third story apartment to realize “Um, hey, where’s everybody at? OH SHIT!” I almost died. Of course…so did Mab.

The Big Book of Post-Collapse Fun is written like a travel memoir–think Wild if Cheryl Strayed were walking the PCT while it was exploding. It’s also SUPER campy, thanks to Sharp’s incredible sense of humor. It’s equal parts serious, as in, OMG THE SUPER VOLCANO IS HAPPENING, but also HEY LET’S STEAL A HOT AIR BALLOON.

By the way, I would be dead, in this scenario because the Midwest just falls into a cavernous lake. All those dreams of Florida falling off into the sea? Nope. Rachel Sharp killed the Midwest. Thanks Rachel Sharp. Love you too.

I do though. This book is the very last book of 2016, and what a way to end the year. Actual fire and brimstone. Sounds about right.

Diverse Bingo 2017:  MC w/Anaphylactic Allergy

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Marie Benedict: The Other Einstein

A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

I am horrifically late on this review, so I apologize to the author and publisher. I was supposed to be part of a book tour, but this completely got lost in the mess of my November slump.

First of all, can we just talk about how gorgeous this cover is? It’s hard to see in pictures, but just looking at it face on, you can’t see those equations–all you see is the woman and city. The numbers themselves are shiny, and catch the light from different angles. It’s just really well done. The inside cover is also full of the same equations. Who knew math could be beautiful? NOT ME.

I have mixed feelings about this book. If you take it ONLY as fiction, it’s a great book to read. Mileva is a captivating character, though she frustrated me to NO end. I just wanted to grab her shoulders and yell at her “YOU ARE SO SMART WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” She’s caught up in a terrible marriage with a selfish man who only cares about himself and it goes exactly as you would expect.

HOWEVER. This isn’t just fiction, it’s historical fiction. This is based on real people, which gets confusing. How much is real, how much is not? The author portrays Einstein in a very unpleasant light–but in her author’s note says that she doesn’t know what their life was really like. No one knows to what extent Mileva contributed to Einstein’s work–so to say he stole her idea is a very uncomfortable feeling to plant in a reader’s head…among other things.

That isn’t to say Marie Benedict’s theories aren’t accurate or somewhat true or could have happened. Too many women in our past worked extremely hard for our scientific advancement and went unrecognized. It’s just an uncomfortable fiction to read without knowing if it’s true.

I was swept up in the story, though, and finished it quickly. After reading so much seriousness lately, it was nice to read something not quite so intense. Also, Benedict’s book features a disabled main character, as well as touches on racial and religious prejudices.

I’d say if you like historical fiction, this is one to read this year–just know it’s definitely more on the fiction side than biographical.

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Magen Cubed: The Crashers

At 9:17 AM, a subway train crashed in East Brighton City. That was when everything changed.

Five survivors emerge from the accident: former detective Kyle Jeong; single mother Norah Aroyan; Afghanistan veteran Adam Harlow; the genius Clara Reyes; and the dying Bridger Levi. These five strangers walk away from the crash unscathed, only to realize the event has left each of them with strange new powers. As their city falls into chaos around them, they find themselves drawn into a story far more dangerous than they ever knew – and it will change their lives forever.

Death, undeath, superpowers, and apocalyptic visions. Welcome to East Brighton City – hope you survive.

When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read, they usually end up on my TBR. When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read that are free today on Amazon…well…they get added to my Kindle IMMEDIATELY DO NOT PASS GO OR COLLECT $200–especially when they out of the LGBTQIA and/or POC community. Please shout at me all of the books.

The Crashers was one of such shouty books, just before my vacation. I actually intended to take my Kindle with me, but already had a couple book books going so didn’t manage to get to it while traveling. It has everything: POC leads, gay leads, bisexual leads, disabled characters, mental illness, several badass women who take no shit, and did I mention they are superheroes?

Also, the author’s bio says she lives in Texas with a little dog named Cecil, so how in the world could I pass that up?

The story itself was just a little slow to start for me, but I think that was just the anticipation because I knew it was going to build up so much. It was a case of being TOO excited to read it. I LOVED almost all of the characters. There were one or two that I didn’t quite mesh with, but Adam? Ohhh Adam. I’m so in love with him. Is there anyone in the world who isn’t in love with Adam?

If you love cop dramas, superheroes–especially dark ones (think DC, not Marvel)–you’re going to love this. The Crashers has so much grit. SO MUCH, you guys. I think there’s still some in my teeth. I need a graphic novel version with blacks and grays and reds. Sin City style.

OOCH I cannot wait until Koreatown. GIMMEE GIMMEE GIMMEE.

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Jennifer Mathieu: Afterward

When Caroline’s little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can’t help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can’t see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend–and their best option just might be each other.

GAH this book will make you HURT. It’s a book about trauma–kidnapping, sexual abuse, PTSD, healing. It tore me up so much that I didn’t write the review immediately because I just wasn’t sure HOW to write it.

I’m still not sure.

Mostly I just felt so much pain for the boys and their families in this story. It’s extremely intense, so be careful with yourselves when you read it.

I’m sorry, this is a hard book to review–it’s beautiful, and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it, but also put a major trigger warning on it.

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Nicola Yoon: Everything, Everything

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been hearing so much about Everything Everything, and I didn’t even know it was a diverse book! So when it showed up on the #DiverseAThon list, it was one of the first books I requested from the library.

It was a sweet book, but I’m not as in love with it as everyone else is. Things are just a little too perfect. I mean, that totally happens in YA romance like this, but of course the “perfect” guy for Maddy moves next door to her and stays in the exact room she can see into. Maybe I’m a little jaded. Just a little.

I seem to be the only person I know who guessed what was really going on between Maddy and her mom. I won’t give it away, just promise me you’ll do some research after you finish the book. Because it’s another one of those plot devices that really get on my nerves. I’ll put the thing you need to google at the very bottom of this post, after my credits, where you don’t have to look if you don’t want to. Come back after you’ve read it. Let me know what you think. It’s really an interesting thing on it’s own. As a plot device though? I’m tired of authors doing this.***

Everything Everything is certainly entertaining. It’s a cute YA that checks all the major boxes for popular lit. And it has POC leads! We certainly need more of those in publishing. For those reasons, I cannot/will not dissuade you from reading it. It’s just not my favorite of the year.

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***Ok, now for the rest of my review, because SPOILERS, and this very much ruins the ending. Maddy is not sick. She does not have SCID. Her mother has PTSD, and a form of which that lends itself very close, if not all the way to Munchausen Syndrome. 

Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The caretaker of a child, most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.
This is problematic for two reasons. 
1. The author is using mental illness as a twist ending, which I absolutely hate. Writers have to stop doing this. Mental illness is not a “twist.” It’s a real life thing. We do not suffer for your plot devices. 
2. This says you cannot be happy if you have a disability. Maddy can only be happy in the end because she is not truly sick. She gets to go out in the world and be with Olly, live her life the way she wants to, and all her problems disappear.
For a much better description of this, I am going to refer you to Jennifer’s review. She explains way better than I can.