Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
Agnes Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally blind daughter—protect her from what, Agnes isn’t quite sure.
Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything else.
So when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnes doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities, and—worst of all—confronting some ugly secrets.
This book would have wound up as a Disappointing Reads Haiku except that I actually didn’t have high expectations for it going in. The description didn’t appeal to me that much, and I had a feeling I might feel lukewarm about it. So why did I read it? I heard one of the two girls was bisexual, and hurting as I am for bisexual literature (it’s hard to find just from book descriptions), I’m willing to give most of it a shot if it sounds even moderately appealing. I do like stories of unlikely friendships and representation of less than ideal parenting situations (the realistic kind, not the fantasy kind of conveniently dead parents). I also liked the representation of not just bisexuality but also someone who is legally blind. I found the writing to be clunky, though, and the ultimate plotline to be a bit puzzling, rather than moving.
Agnes is written better than Bo. The depictions of her over-protective parents, what it is to be legally blind but not 100% blind, how others treat her, particularly in her church as an angel and not as a regular person, these were all great. The author is herself legally blind, and you can really tell. I’ve read many books about blind characters by people who were not themselves blind and the depiction was nowhere near as realistic as in this book. I think it speaks a lot to why own voices literature matters.
This realism doesn’t come through in Bo though. Bo reads like a two-dimensional caricature with the quick correction that oh hey I know I’ll make her bisexual but not a slut and that makes her seem sensitively written. Bo whose family is known in the small town as the trouble-makers, the no-goods. Bo with rumors spread about her and no-good drug-addict mom. Bo who, unlike Agnes, doesn’t speak mainstream English but mostly just in the sense that she says “ain’t” a lot. Bo who’s terrified of foster care so runs when her mom is arrested again. What bothers me the most about Bo (this may be a minor spoiler) is the book seems to think it gives her a happy ending. Like everything is ok now. But it’s clearly not. Speaking as a bisexual woman who had a less than ideal living situation in rural America in her teens, nothing about Bo strikes me as realistic. She reads as fake. She sounds fake. Some of her actions themselves are realistic but there’s no soul behind them. It might not have stuck out so badly if Agnes hadn’t been so well-written or perhaps if I wasn’t able to relate to well to who Bo was supposed to be.
One of the lines that I think demonstrates this problem that I couldn’t stop re-reading is below. It should have made me happy because Bo actually says the word “bisexual.” (Very rare in literature). But I was just irritated at how fake it all sounded.
“So … you’re all right with it, then? Me being … bisexual, I guess? I ain’t never used that word before, but … you’re all right with it?” (loc 2359)
It bothers me on two levels. First, rural people don’t just decorate their sentences with ain’t’s and double negatives. There’s more nuance to the accent than that and also Agnes and her average blue collar parents would have the same accent as Bo (they don’t). Second, I’ve never in my life heard a bisexual person speak about themselves this way, and I certainly never have. The number of times Bo asks Agnes if she’s “ok with it” (this is not the first time) is unrealistic. You know as soon as you come out if someone is “ok with it” or not and you deal and react to that. You don’t just keep wondering. You know. No amount of inexperience coming out would make you not know.
If Bo had been written as powerfully as Agnes, this would be a very different review, but since that’s not the case I have to say my dislike of the representation of Bo paired with my like of the representation of Agnes left this an average read for me, and it certainly won’t be a piece of bi literature I’ll go around recommending.
3 out of 5 stars
On the Beach
By: Nevil Shute
After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path.
Surely someone in
The last surviving nation
Would have kinky sex?
3 out of 5 stars
By: Justin Kramon
Finny’s relationships with Earl and Judith open her up to dizzying possibilities of love and loss and propel her into a remarkable adventure spanning twenty years and two continents.
Selfish male artists are top!
Unlike all things femme.
2 out of 5 stars
By: Siobahn Vivian
It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.
Could’ve been a series,
Instead squished eight tales in one.
Outline with no depth.
3 out of 5 stars
Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
I picked this up because I heard it featured mental illness in a realistic manner, and I think that’s something that’s important, particularly in YA. I was not disappointed.
Maguire has a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that developed in response to trauma. She’s been around when some very bad things happened, and her survivor’s guilt has kind of gotten out of control. The reader meets Maguire initially through her therapy session, where she is definitely a sullen teenager. Maguire’s approach to her mental illness is one of the more realistic parts of the book. She at first very firmly believes that everyone else is crazy in refusing to acknowledge her “bad luck.” But slowly with the help of her therapist she comes to see that maybe it’s all in how she’s perceiving the random universe, and that her magical thinking won’t really fix anything.
While I didn’t think having a love interest was necessary (why couldn’t it be a friend for once), I get why Jordy was included and I liked him beyond the love interest part. Jordy’s existence shows that therapy can be useful for things beyond more serious mental illnesses, such as relearning coping mechanisms or dealing with issues in your family. I also appreciated that for once there wasn’t a love triangle.
I did think the writing was a little bit too simplistic for the audience, and I also thought that sometimes the descriptions were rocky. Some sentences read early first draft with the list of descriptors that are then repeated every time characters show up again. But I also think that YA readers who aren’t used to seeing themselves (or their loved ones) in literature will be so enthralled by Maguire and her realistic therapy assignments and issues that they will quickly gloss over that.
Recommended to fans to contemporary YA lit looking for a realistic mental illness depiction.
4 out of 5 stars
Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole)
When a giant spaceship showed up above Earth that wasn’t ours, Cassie and everyone else expected contact. What they didn’t expect was waves of attacks, everything from EMP to disease. Now, she’s at a refugee camp with her father and little brother wondering what the 5th wave of the attack might be. When it comes, will they even know?
I really enjoyed Rick Yancey’s other series (The Monstrumologist, series review). I must admit to being surprised that this is the series that got picked up into a movie. I didn’t find the blurb nearly as intriguing as that of The Monstrumologist. But since I liked the other series so much, I figured I’d give it a shot. While I can see why it’s taken off, I don’t find it to be as well-constructed or nearly as unique as Yancey’s other series.
The beginning of the book is very slow-paced. Cassie is off hiding in the woods on her own and through her diary where she tries to deal with what has happened the reader learns about the waves of the alien invasion. I like a diary book, but the slow pacing just really didn’t work for a book about an alien invasion.
At a certain point, this narration switches for one chapter to that of the perspective of an alien. Then it switches to the perspective of a boy from Cassie’s high school she had a crush on and his experiences with the alien invasion. Later it flips back to Cassie, only it’s now no longer her diary. Her diary just sort of gets dropped. While I can enjoy multiple narrators, I don’t think these are handled as well as they could have been. The chapter from the alien’s perspective ruins any tension or mystery that had been building around a certain event, in particular. Often switching between Cassie and Ben just feels like it’s convenient for world building and not adding very much to the plot. That said, I do like that the “star” position of this YA action is shared between a boy and a girl fairly equally.
The plot, although slow-moving, starts out strong. There is a plot twist that made me roll my eyes and that I think makes this less unique in YA literature than it started out.
Initially it appears that there will be no love triangle but there ends up being one. I can’t go into the details without some big spoilers but I will say that you make it through most of the book without a love triangle, and then there ends up being one in the last bit. It was disappointing, as I thought something more unique was being done (something akin to a crush turning into a real friendship…but that’s not what happens).
Ultimately the book ends up feeling less about aliens and more about the horrors of child soldiers and war stealing childhood. I definitely think scifi can bring a current issue such as this to people’s attention, but I also think the narration and various irritating and/or confusing plot points ultimately weakens the point. I doubt when I was a teen that such a book would have made me think about child soldiers. Instead I would have felt misled by the title and blurb and been irritated about that, distracting from the point.
All of that said, if a YA reader is looking for an apocalyptic setting featuring dual leads instead of one hero, this is a book that will fit that bill. Just be sure the reader is ok with some surprisingly slow-moving portions for a book with an action-packed blurb. However, I would suggest that a YA reader looking for something truly different check out Yancey’s other YA series: The Monstrumologist.
3 out of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Sahar wants three things in life: 1) to become a doctor 2) for her widowed father to come out of his depression and be the Baba she once knew 3) to marry her best friend Nasrin. The problem is, she lives in Iran, and she and Nasrin could be imprisoned and beaten for just their stolen kisses in private, let alone if they tried to marry each other. When Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged a marriage for her to a well-to-do doctor, Sahar is heartbroken. Nasrin thinks they can continue on as they have been, but Sahar wants to love her exclusively, and she is determined to find a way.
This book was all the rage on GLBTQ book blogs a couple of years ago, and it’s been on my tbr pile ever since. When I saw it on Audible and heard a clip of the narration, I knew it was time to read it. I found an interesting, unique piece of YA.
First, let me say, if you at all enjoy audiobooks and have the chance to listen to this rather than read it in print, please do so. Farsad’s narration adds so much to the book. From her light Persian accent to her unique voice for each character to her perfect pronunciation of Persian words and Iranian place names, her narration made the reading of the book much more immersive than it would have been if I had read it in print. Plus, at just over 5 hours, you can read it very quickly. I finished my copy in under a week, thanks to commutes and runs.
Let’s start with the things in this book that really worked well for me. First, I really appreciated seeing a teenage girl’s relationship with her single father at the forefront. It’s difficult to find a YA book talking much about a girl’s relationship with her father, let alone a single father. The book pushes beyond even this though and addresses how a parent’s depression affects a teen. Part of why Sahar is so desperate and attached to Nasrin (bare in mind, they are only 17), is that her mother died and her father fell into a depression. He is there every day but it doesn’t feel like he is. At one point, Sahar skips school and says that her baba will not even notice. And he doesn’t. Until the school calls him directly. Her father’s depression is situational, not genetic or chemical, but it still affects him and their relationship, and I thought this and its resolution was well depicted.
The depiction of a non-western culture and issue in a book marketed to western teens is well-handled. Iran is not demonized. The good and bad sides of the country are depicted (and of course there are good and bad sides of every country). Teens who may not personally know someone from the Middle East will benefit greatly from seeing things like the fact that even Sahar’s mild father will sneak a bootleg copy of a DVD to watch but also will be intrigued by and appreciate elements of Iranian culture such as the well-protected oasis-like back yards. Farizan also does a good job establishing things like recent wars in Iran, how the current political situation came to be, etc… without infodumping.
While I sometimes found myself rolling my eyes at the level of emotion Sahar was showing, it was to the appropriate level for a teenager. Also, other people in Sahar’s life clearly see that she is acting like a teenager and attempt to lovingly and understandingly speak with her about what is going on.
Before I move into speaking about what didn’t work for me, I’d like to talk about the trans content. It’s no plot spoiler that Sahar seeks to keep Nasrin to herself by pursuing a sex reassignment (I am not calling it a gender confirming surgery because for her it is not). This is in the official book blurb, just not mine. Essentially, in Iran (and this is still true), having same-sex attractions is haram/forbidden but being transgender is not. The state will even pay for having the treatment and is known for pushing people with same-sex attraction to get a sex reassignment. Sahar meets Parveen, a transwoman, at her cousin’s party, and this plants the idea in her head that she could marry Nasrin if she gets the surgery. Now, I’m not a transperson, but I do think that the author does a good job depicting real trans people and contrasting that with Sahar’s rather adolescent idea to get to be with Nasrin. Sahar tells Parveen she thinks she’s trans, and Parveen brings her to a support group where most of the people are actually trans, except one woman, who we later find out was forced to get the sex change. Thus, both the genuine trans experience and the forced sex change experience are depicted in the book. Iran is lauded for its support of trans people (there is even one passage talking about how trans people have to pay for their own surgeries in the US unlike in Iran) but also it is clearly shown how harmful it is for the state to demonize same-sex attractions. Additionally, the trans characters do talk about how while the surgery is supported by the state, culturally they still face discrimination from some of their families, when dating, and when looking for jobs.
So what didn’t work for me? I get it that Sahar and Nasrin are adolescents, but I just could not get the appeal of Nasrin to Sahar. I felt I would have been much more empathetic to the whole situation if Nasrin hadn’t been so selfish and annoying. To be fair, multiple characters point out Nasrin’s selfishness to Sahar, and Sahar even at one point questions why she’s willing to risk so much for Nasrin. There is one scene that I believe is supposed to redeem Nasrin of her bad behavior, but I still struggled to like her or feel empathy for her. It bothers me that Sahar never tells her father about her sexual orientation, in spite of him being depicted as quite modern and understanding. I also felt that the ending didn’t push things far enough, compared to beginning of the book. I wanted more from and for Sahar. Perhaps the ending is more realistic, but it did disappoint me.
Overall, this is a unique piece of YA showing the GLBTQ experience in a non-western culture that will elicit both an understanding of a non-western culture and empathy for other life situations and experiences from YA readers. Readers will identify with Sahar’s genuine adolescent voice, which will draw them into the perhaps quite foreign-feeling situation.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Julia Whelan)
Pen’s life was destroyed when an Earthshaker took away her family (even their dog) and destroyed the Los Angeles she once knew. She’s now on a quest to save them from the monstrous giants that rose up after (or with?) the Earthshaker. Along the way she finds other teens who’ve miraculously survived, each with secrets and talents of their own.
This book left me completely torn. I loved, oh how I loved, the representation of both bisexual (Pen) and trans (Hex, her boyfriend) teens. But the story to go with these teens failed to live up to both these wonderful characters and the beautiful title.
Let’s talk about the good first, because I don’t want it to be overshadowed by what didn’t work. Pen is a bookish teenager who generally prefers to stay in reading the Encyclopedia or The Odyssey to going out to parties. But she still has two close friends. She’s not a loner. She’s brave, open, loving, and sometimes makes rather short-sighted decisions. And it is gradually revealed throughout the book that she is also bisexual. The scenes exploring Pen’s bisexuality, and how it’s hard for her to be out about it, in spite of being completely comfortable with herself, are wonderfully done. Pen acknowledges that even though her parents have always told her that it doesn’t matter a whit if she is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, that the world at large doesn’t always think that, and that’s part of what makes being out hard for her. The world is not always the welcoming place her family is.
The book early on establishes that Pen currently has a crush on a boy, so the reader may perhaps be surprised when she reminisces about an earlier crush on a girl, and how she first realized she liked girls too.
Thinking of how I once kissed Moira on the lips. We were drunk and dancing, and our lips just brushed for that electroshock nanosecond, and then she smiled at some boys who were watching us, laughed, and danced away from me like it was a joke. But I’d had an epiphany, even though I hadn’t fully accepted it at the time. I wanted to kiss girls. And it was no joke. (loc 2:14:53)
Similarly, Pen struggles with self-editing her past when telling Hex about her life before the Earthshaker. She is not sure if he’ll understand or accept the fact that she’s perfectly capable of having crushes on girls as well as boys like himself, so she edits herself when speaking to him. She’s telling him a story about a party she didn’t go to, and the picture that her friends sent her of a boy with her friend, Moira:
I went to sleep staring at the last image wondering not what his mouth tasted like but hers. This part, this last, I don’t tell Hex, although I trust him enough to tell him anything. Don’t I? So I’m not sure why I don’t. Because I don’t want him to know I had a crush on a girl? Or because I have a crush on him. (loc 1:39:44)
It’s rare to see a book explore so eloquently what it is to be bisexual, and these feelings Pen has while not universal still explore the difficulty of coming out and being out as a bisexual person, and they were so wonderful to see in a book that I had to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting “Yes!” when they showed up on my audiobook on the bus.
Similarly, Hex, Pen’s love interest and eventual boyfriend (this is not a spoiler, when Hex shows up he may as well have a giant neon “future boyfriend” sign over his head), is a FTM transman. Hex is just as nervous about being out to Pen and their other travel companions as Pen is about being out to him, probably more. Being cis myself, I can’t say as definitively about the quality of FTM representation as I could about bisexuality, however, the author certainly tries to broach topics that I believe would be of interest to a trans YA reader reading this book: acceptance (or not) by family members and impact on romantic relationships with other teens. Hex comes out to Pen as a transman only because she has fallen for him, and he wants her to know precisely who he is before anything more *ahem* romantic happens. Pen immediately accepts him and tells him he is clearly a boy to her, and this changes nothing about how she feels about him. They then have to navigate their sex life. Hex, like many trans people, is uncomfortable with his body. He would rather touch Pen than allow Pen to touch him. Eventually, they reach an arrangement that both supports and asserts Hex’s maleness and allows Pen to give the pleasure back to him that she wants to. I was glad to see a YA book “go there.” I frankly haven’t seen much of that even in adult literature including a trans person. It both addresses the “how do they….” question some YA readers would certainly have after learning about Hex and also serves a purpose in the story to demonstrate a mature, healthy, loving relationship between the two characters.
In addition to Hex and Pen, they also wind up with two male travel companions who become a couple. The characters themselves point out at one point how odd it is that the minority before the Earthshakers is now the majority (none of them are straight AND cis). I was glad the author acknowledged the quirk and had the characters process why that may be. The answer they decide upon is a positive one, rather than the potentially negative one of punishment.
So now let’s talk about what didn’t work. The plot and the setting. The book is meant to be a magical realism style story told in a non-linear way. This could have worked if in the end the overarching plot, when reassessed by the reader from beginning to end, made sense. But it doesn’t. For most of the book, Pen refers to everything in fantastical ways, such as saying “Earthshaker” for what appears to the reader to be an earthquake. Why is she saying “Earthshaker”? Was there something different about it? Does she just like prettying up her language? What is going on with that? Later it is revealed that an earthquake seems to have happened when some genetically engineered giants escaped (showed up? were released?). The whole world basically goes to shit overnight, though, and it just doesn’t seem logical that that would happen from just a few giants escaping. Similarly, there are other fantastical creatures who are never explained.
Similarly, although it is indicated early on that this is a modern retelling of The Odyssey, it doesn’t line up well with the original. In the original, Odysseus is trying to come home after a war and keeps getting swept into side-quests. In this book, Pen starts out at home and then quests away from home. It would have made more sense for Pen to be somewhere away from home (maybe on a school trip or something), have the disaster occur, and then have her have to find her way home encountering fantastical things along the way. Starting her at home just doesn’t work.
Several elements feel like they are just thrown in because they look pretty or work with the scene even though they don’t work with the book as a whole. For instance, butterflies appearing around people who can be trusted pops up in the middle of the book, but isn’t particularly present at the beginning or the end. Similarly, some characters are revealed to have magical powers toward the end of the book, with no foreshadowing about that, only to have them….not use them much beyond the scene where it’s revealed.
Also, I’m sorry, but the whole some evil scientist genetically engineered giants to be his children and now the giants are out to destroy us but also the whole world inexplicably now resembles a myth just really doesn’t work. First, it makes no sense why a scientist would even want to engineer a giant. To be his children? Really? Why would anyone want giant children? Second, to give the mystical elements that started this whole thing a scientific explanation but then leave the rest fantastical doesn’t work. Either they’re all explained by science or they’re all fantastical. I really felt the book went way downhill for me when there was suddenly a “scientific” explanation for the giants. But just the giants and nothing else.
Finally, we need to talk about the name of the book. It’s a beautiful title but it’s really wasted on this book. First, global warming doesn’t come into play in the book at all, so why is it mentioned in the title? Second, it’s clearly a send-up to Love in the Time of Cholera, but it has nothing in common with that book save both having elements of magical realism in them. It feels as if the author came up with a title that sounded pretty and couldn’t bring herself to let go of it in spite of it not fitting the book she actually wrote.
Overall, this is a short read featuring four well-rounded and written teen characters on the LGBTQ spectrum. YA readers looking for positive representations of bisexual and trans characters, in particular, and who don’t mind some inexplicable fantasy elements will enjoy this quick read. Readers who will easily be bothered by the title not matching the content, a mixture of magical realism and scientific explanations for things, and/or nonlinear plots that when told linearly don’t make sense should probably look elsewhere, in spite of the positive representations of underrepresented letters in the LGBTQ spectrum.
3 out of 5 stars