Barbara Dee: Star-Crossed

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Back in March, I read a post from Barbara Dee that broke my heart. Dee had been asked to give an author presentation at a school. However, right before she was to speak, she was pulled aside and told that while the school was thrilled to have her speak on inclusivity…could she please keep it more general and NOT TALK ABOUT HER OWN BOOK?

Excuse me?

Of course I put Star-Crossed on my TBR immediately. Because obviously if a school is censoring the author…it’s probably something I want to read.

And it absolutely freaking is. Star-Crossed might be the best middle-grade fiction I have ever read…maybe the best Shakespeare retelling too! It follows Mattie, an eighth grade bookworm as she traverses the awkwardness of school play rehearsals–Romeo and Juliet, of course. Throughout the book, she slowly comes to realize she has a crush on fair Juliet.

Besides the cute story itself, there are two key factors that made me love this book. First, Mattie starts off with a crush on a boy, and then slowly falls into crush with Gemma. Later, her friend asks her if she might ever like boys again and she tells her it’s possible. Bisexual representation in a Middle Grade story! Yes! And Dee allows her MC to explore her feelings about it…which leads us to point #2.

Coming out is a process, and one that is mostly supported. We don’t see her come out to everyone–the story ends before that happens. But one friend helps her begin to come to terms with what is going on, and another person also helps her talk through it. Neither pressure her or ridicule her…it’s all very loving. I think this is something that is important to show in MG especially, so that kids can know that it doesn’t always have to be hard. It will be, sometimes, but there are supportive people out there.

I just loved this. I hope that not all schools are as closed minded as the one that shut Barbara Dee down, and that they put this book on their shelves. My library in Peoria had the book, and I’m so glad that they did. Books like this one should be available to kids who need to find themselves in the pages.

Retelling w/ MC LGBTQIA+

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Dual Review: Thelonious Legend: Sins of the Father + Childish Things

I reviewed Sins of the Father a year ago, when it was first released. I hadn’t developed my Book Dragon system yet, but I gave it a 3 on Goodreads. But it has stuck in my memory, and every time I think about it, I have wanted to go back and reread–I really did love these girls. Because he has written a sequel, Thelonious Legend contacted me and generously sent me both books, and so here is an updated review for Book 1, as well as my write up for Book 2.

Book 1:  Sins of the Father

This was going to be a special year for the Parker sisters. Eve was going to dominate in the classroom and on the basketball court. Gwen was going to make the starting five and go down in history as the greatest prankster ever. Ana was going to do as little as possible. But without warning, all three sisters gain extraordinary abilities that defy science… powers that come with a cost. Now all they want to do is make it through the school year without drawing any undue attention, while racing to find a cure before the side effects of their new abilities kill them. Eve’s temperament, Gwen’s fondness for pranks, and Ana’s predilection for money, however, are challenges they must overcome to achieve their goals. Because if they can’t, they’re dead…

My memory did not deceive me. The Parker Sisters are just as incredible the second time as they were the first. They are smart, strong, and fast–and that doesn’t just refer to their super powers, but the plot itself. I read this over Christmas weekend and kept having to put my Kindle away. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story! It is racially diverse without bringing attention to it. It simply IS diverse.

At the book’s core is a story about three black middle school girls who develop super powers and have to navigate school drama while fighting for their lives. But behind all that is also a backdrop of privilege and culture that teaches us all to look deeper than the mask people wear.

I would definitely recommend this for older middle schoolers (7th grade+) or really anyone who likes YA. There is some violence and darker themes so just be cautious with younger audiences–though I’d never discourage anyone wanting to read this.

 

Book 2:  Childish Things

Mo Powers Mo Problems! It’s a new school year for the Parker Sisters but it’s the same song and dance. Get good grades, avoid being kidnapped or killed before dinner, and don’t forget to take to out the trash. But this year there are a few new players in the game. Players who are as special as the Parker Sisters. Let the games begin.

I know I’m reading a really good book when I stop and it is way too quiet. Was I listening to music? No…the book is just THAT good.

This happened more than once while I was reading Childish Things. The action gets completely turned up in Legend’s second book. The girls are older, wiser, and more powerful. They are training harder, and are more prepared for the bad guys that are, well, badder.

Childish Things is Gwen’s story, where Sins of the Father centered more around Eve. This gives the book a very “middle child syndrome” spin, as we see her take on friends, boys, and life while constantly comparing herself to her older sister.

The social justice spin is more subtle in this second book, but it is there in the margins for those who are paying attention. I am very interested in the almost backward character development of Stacey in particular, and how Legend is using her to show white privilege and the kind of subtle unknowing prejudice we don’t realize we have.

 

Both of these books are fantastic, and ones that’ll be making my top recommendations this year. For sure add this series to your Diverse YA TBRs. I cannot wait to see what Legend does with Ana’s story next–she got quite a bit of development in Childish Things, and she’s my favorite of the three sisters. I said in my original review for Sins of the Father that Thelonious Legend would do “Legendary” things with his writing, and it may have been a pun…but I wasn’t wrong. I LOVE these books, and you will too!

Disclaimer:  The author did provide me with copies of both books for an honest review, after I had reviewed the first last year for a book tour. 

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Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.

I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.

My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.

All I want to do is climb.

My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.

Prepare your TBRs, friends. You are going to want to add Risuko to the very top!

Set in the time of the Samurai, this mysterious historical fiction novel draws you into a secret world of Japanese women. Sheltered away from the rest of society, they manage a shrine…or do they? Kano Murasaki thinks there is something not quite right about these shrine caretakers.

I immediately got sucked into this one. I couldn’t put it down. At some point, or another, you kind of side-eye every person in the shrine, to figure out who is causing trouble. And the description of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cultures are fascinating. Of course I liked the cooking parts the best! But it also reminded me of my Japanese language classes in school–it makes me sad to have lost so much.

I give this book an A++ for sure. The story is beautiful, the characters are incredibly badass and mysterious. There is some violence with swords and poison, but I would give this to my middle-grade aged niece. She’d love the kick-ass females. I’m hoping this gets turned into a series–the way it is labeled on Goodreads, looks like it’s going to be!!

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. I also received a $10 Amazon gift card for filling out a survey about the book after the fact. Releases June 15.

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