Review- The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab TM
Publication date: February 1, 2018
Page count: 344 pages
Star rating: 3/5 stars

Macy is labeled as ‘emotionally disturbed’ in her educational files. Other high school students are scared of her, teachers are constantly sending her to detention, and her mom does not even seem to care. Macy has one person who she can always rely on for love and support—her best friend, Alma. Alma is good at everything and no one hates her. Even though the two have almost nothing in common, Alma and Macy love each other. Despite this, when not at school, Macy has to deal with life on her own. ‘Life’ consists of her brother getting taken away by CPS, her dad being in prison, and her mom bringing no-so-great men into her life. Macy, being 15, can only handle so much. She can only clean the entire house alone the day before CPS comes so many times; she can only argue against a judge about why she should not be taken away from her mother so many times. Macy may hit her breaking point soon, even with Alma by her side.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Although this title represents many marginalized populations that deserve a voice in literature, some aspects were not executed smoothly.

Macy is the girl who never gets a book written about her. She is a person of color, of low income, and has many emotional problems. She is on an Individualized Education Program at school, does not get along with teachers well, and basically scares all the other students away. Macy does not care though; she has her own opinions and thoughts. It is nice that children like Macy can FINALLY see themselves in a novel, because chances are, they have never heard of a protagonist who they can relate to. The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is needed in today’s political climate. Macy’s character is necessary and it is nice to know she exists, at last.

That being said, the plot in this book is hard to understand. The layout of a self-written dictionary is a great idea, but it did not completely translate to a fluid storyline. Up until about three quarters into the book, there is no clear rising action or climax. Many books lack these components and are still excellent, but this does not work for The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary. There is finally a climax about 85% of the way through the novel. This is confusing to the reader, because there are only 35 pages left in the book, but a major event is now happening. Consequently, the rest of the novel is a bit disorienting.

Ultimately, it is awesome a book like The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary could be published. Macy is quite the character and it is interesting to see the world from her perspective. Unfortunately, this title lacked in some areas of plot development and may leave the reader feeling unsatisfied. Despite that, this book is an important one for what is happening in the US right now and many young adults will enjoy getting their hands on it.

Advertisements

Review- The Red Word

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat
Page count: 352
Star rating: 4/5

Karen, newly out of the dorms, just moved into a house with new roommates. The three women refer to their home as ‘Raghurst’ and identify as feminists with particularly strong views. Karen attends the marches and vigils held by the women’s center on campus, but she is a bit different from the girls she lives with. Karen begins dating Mike, a boy who is part of a fraternity on campus, GBC. Her loyalty then gets split between her roommates, who hate fraternities with all their being, and Mike, who loves his house and brothers. Following this, sexual assault cases against frat members, specifically GBC, begin arising. Raghurst becomes loud with conversations about rape culture on campus with even more vigor than before. Suddenly, the women’s center and school paper are working on pieces about sexual harassment and mentioning GBC. Karen knows rape is not the victim’s fault and that Mike’s fraternity brothers see women as pieces of meat, but she also recognizes her boyfriend clearly respects her body. Rape culture is a huge problem in colleges and Karen wants to be on the right side of history.

Thank you to Grove Press for sending me an advance copy of this title! I’m grateful I was able to get my hands on it before it was released to the public.

The biggest takeaway from The Red Word is it truly makes the reader think. Consider this: consent is not always black and white. For example, if someone manipulates a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone blackmails a person into saying yes, it is not consenting. If someone is too drunk to know what they are saying yes to, it is not consenting. A reader may already know all of this, but The Red Word highlights the many ways in which rape in not black and white. This is something admirable, because such a topic is not easy to portray. Sarah Henstra did it well.

Karen’s roommates are a very interesting crew of women. Their views are pretty radical and they firmly stand by what they believe. One of them, Dyann, sometimes does not care if an individual suffers (by her own doing) if it means a system of people benefit. The other women do not quite agree with this logic and it creates a tension in their household and activism. Mike, too, is a unique character. He believes his frat brothers are good people, no matter what the university newspaper has to say. That being said, he does not like when Karen roams around the house alone at night. He seems to be nervous his brothers might harass or assault her while intoxicated. The Red Word is full of tension—tension within oneself, with one’s friends, with one’s community, etc. Despite that, this book was never uncomfortable.

The references to Greek history and ancient Greek and Roman texts are really cool. Karen is registered in a class that discusses women in Greek mythology and texts, so the novel incorporates some writing techniques like calling to a muse. For any nerd who loves The Odyssey, the opening lines, “Sing. O Goddess…”, will make you very excited. Sarah Henstra truly knows a lot about feminism in ancient writing.

Any feminist or person looking to learn more about rape culture will enjoy this book. Anyone who is both of these things AND likes Greek history will extra enjoy it. Karen has a few shocking college experiences that, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Rape culture is a horrible issue on college campuses right now, especially in Greek life. Fraternities are very much protected by their universities. The Red Word explores the ways in which consent is not completely black and white and how fighting against the system is both complicated and slippery.

Review- In Sight of Stars

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

IMG_8094Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Page count: 288
Star rating: 4.5/5

 Klee just hit his breaking point. After a serious mental breakdown, he wakes up and finds himself in the child psychiatric unit at the local hospital. Klee is set up with a psychiatrist, Dr. Alvarez, and begins recounting the events that led up to getting admitted to the hospital. The story starts off happy—Klee grew up in a loving family and sincerely looked up to his father, who painted as a side job. Klee aspired, and still aspires, to become a professional artist and follow in his footsteps. About a year before his breakdown, Klee’s father committed suicide. Understandably, this is one of the biggest triggers for Klee and the main reason he is having psychological issues. As Klee explains what his life has looked like for the past 17 years, his doctor makes decisions about medications and treatment. Klee has a lot to learn about himself before he is discharged from the hospital and he must slowly piece together what pushed him over the edge.

I want to give a big “thank you” to Wednesday Books for generously sending me an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of In Sight of Stars, because I believe books about mental health are crucial for reducing the stigma around mental illnesses.

Klee is very self-aware and seems to know where most of his relationships started going downhill. He has the keen ability to see himself from an outside perspective, which makes him a fantastic storyteller. Listening to Klee narrate his life is exciting and enjoyable, despite the unfortunate circumstances in his life. The engaging way he describes his triumphs and falls highlights Gae Polisner’s talent. Books that showcase a protagonist dealing with grief and mental health issues are often depressing and saddening to read. This is not the case in In Sight of Stars. Klee certainly has a damaged story to tell, but his unique sense of humor and insight into his own life makes it entertaining.

Klee’s diagnosis is vague. He’s not boxed into any specific illness or type of anxiety. It is obvious there is an underlying issue that is getting treated, as he is given medication upon his hospital intake, but no specifics are mentioned. This puts Klee’s story into an interesting perspective for readers who may struggle with mental health issues, themselves. The fact that Klee does not have a named illness makes him relatable to anyone who could be reading In Sight of Stars. Readers with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and personality disorders can all identify to Klee’s story. His life struggles are universal, which makes this title stand out from other young adult novels about psychological struggles.

Lately, there has been a rise in young adult fiction featuring protagonists with mental illnesses. Despite this, In Sight of Stars is unique in the way it presents emotional struggles to its audience. The way Klee narrates his somewhat depressing life is humorous and gratifying. In addition, while he is at the hospital, he is treated for an unnamed illness. Different types of medications are given to him, but they offer no hints about his diagnosis. This book is important for people, especially teens, to get their hands on. Stories about young adults who have depression and anxiety sometimes trivialize or romanticize symptoms that accompany these illnesses. For obvious reasons, this is harmful for people who have the same struggles in real life. Gae Polisner writes Klee’s story in a way that is understanding and respectful of mental illnesses. This title truly stands out from others in its genre. It is superbly engaging and strangely fun.

Review- Before I Let You Go

Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

35758169Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: April 3, 2017
Publisher: Graydon House
Page count: 376 (ARC)
Star rating: 5/5

Annie Vidler is in deep, deep trouble. She’s not only pregnant, but also currently addicted to heroin. After many failed attempts at detoxing herself at home, she calls her sister, Lexie, who she hasn’t spoken to in 2 years. The two used to be incredibly close, as they grew up in a strict, religious household and only had each other to keep them company. Last time they talked, Lexie kicked Annie out because of her spiraling addiction. Now, Annie has no one to turn to and her baby’s life is on the line. Lexie has always been a “fixer” and seems to be there to catch Annie whenever she falls, so of course she swoops back into her life and tries to save the day. Unfortunately, in Alabama it’s illegal to use heroin while pregnant, so Annie gets charged and may lose custody of her baby before it is even born. Once again, Lexie is expected to magically make everything better, no matter the toll it might take on her own, personal life.

Thank you to Graydon House for sending me an advanced review copy of this title, I’m grateful for publishers who continue to believe that diverse books are important and need to be talked about more often.

Before I Let You Go is beautiful. It’s beautiful and raw. Annie experiences so much hurt throughout the entire novel . The reader feels all of Annie’s emotions, too, every step of the way. Pain, shame, and anger radiate through the words of Annie’s narration, which is almost addictive, itself. Both Annie and her child face struggles felt by the many people who are affected by the opioid epidemic. Kelly Rimmer’s novel helps educate readers on a disease that is not discussed enough in literature.

From the very beginning, Annie’s pain pours out through the language of Before I Let You Go. She is pregnant and wounded badly in many ways. Annie is ashamed of using drugs while pregnant, but she is hurting on the outside, too, because of the damage caused by all her attempts at getting sober at home. She’s in desperate need of medical attention, though scared of going to a hospital in fear of them taking away her baby. Annie is stuck and her last hope is Lexie.

Lexie, too, emits a lot of pain through her words. She has suffered tremendously, watching her sister fight addiction and fail to get sober time and time again. No matter how many intensive programs Lexie pays for, Annie can’t seem to get sustainable clean time. It’s obvious that Lexie will do nearly anything to help her sister, no matter how much destruction it causes in her own life. The two sisters love each other, but obstacles prevent them from effectively showing it. While reading this title, the reader grapples with this unhealthy, borderline toxic relationship. It’s obvious both Lexie and Annie want to heal and face their past traumas, but they are not sure how to do this.

The way Kelly Rimmer describes the emotional and physical toll addiction puts on an individual and their loved ones is both accurate and honest. Annie is part of one of the most stigmatized populations—she is an addict and she is pregnant. She is treated poorly by medical professionals, despite the training doctors receive in bearing no bias towards their patients. Even Lexie, who loves her sister endlessly, catches herself placing blame on Annie for not being ‘strong enough’. Lexie knows addiction is a disease, but the stereotypes sometimes seep into her mind.

Before I Let You Go is powerful because it provides insight into what addiction truly looks like. The pubic is constantly fed lies about addiction—that it is a choice or the fault of the individual. Kelly Rimmer tells her readers that addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as one. Hopefully, this novel will reach readers of different backgrounds to show them how devastating addiction can be for an entire family. Thank you, again, to Graydon House for sending me this engrossing novel.

Review- Twelve Steps to Normal

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetTwelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Page count: 384
Star rating: 5/5

Kira just wants her old life back—before she was forced to move away for a year, before her grandma died, and before her father started drinking too much and was sent to Sober Living. Unfortunately, as soon as she steps back into her childhood home, nothing is the same. First, there are 3 other alcoholics, who her dad met in treatment, living in her house. Second, her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, who she still has feelings for. Third, all her friends seem to be mad at her for ignoring their text messages, which she only did because she couldn’t stand hearing about all the events she missed out on. Kira makes a list of 12 steps, just like her father’s 12 step program, that will help revert her life back to the way it was before. Unfortunately, writing a list is easier than actually doing the work, and going back in time just isn’t possible. Maybe Kira will find a way to make a few compromises and accept her father’s illness at the same time.

First, I want to thank Little, Brown and Company for sending me a copy of this title. I was so excited when I saw Twelve Steps to Normal mentioned in PW and I just had to get my hands on it as soon as possible! I’m excited to share this review because addiction and recovery programs hit very close to home for me and providing education about this disease through literature is crucial.

I really enjoyed how Farrah Penn portrayed Alcoholics Anonymous in Twelve Steps to Normal. Kira has been down this road before with her father and he’s always relapsed despite trying the 12 steps in the past. Her dad’s sponsor has faith that AA will work for him this time and he will be able to properly care for Kira again. One of Kira’s steps is to forgive her father, which proves hard, but not impossible. It was refreshing to see a young adult who loves and cares about her dad enough to try and understand his illness. Many addicts never regain the trust of their family after spending years in active addiction, so it made me feel happy as I started to see Kira make an effort to grasp alcoholism.

Kira struggles with self-blame throughout the entire novel, which is something many teens (that I know) deal with. Kira knows the reason she ignored her friends text messages was because she hated the feeling of missing out on fun times. Unfortunately, they can’t understand this and make Kira feel like it was her fault they drifted apart. I feel terrible for her, as it’s completely understandable that moving away from your closest friends would cause jealousy and hurt feelings. I’m glad Farrah Penn wrote a young adult character that is relatable for teens with anxiety. I wish I could somehow jump into the book and tell Kira it wasn’t her fault for taking a step back from friendships to take care of herself.

I loved reading Twelve Steps to Normal and getting to know Kira. It was also great seeing her father progress in his recovery. Farrah Penn represented the recovery process and community well and Kira’s path to understanding her dad’s illness was perfectly crafted. If you’re interested in reading about the realities of having a loved one who struggles with alcoholism, please put Twelve Steps to Normal on your reading list. It comes out in March of 2018. I can’t wait for everyone to get a chance to read this amazing novel. Thank you, again, to Little, Brown and Company for sending me this title in advance!

Review- Femme Confidential

Femme Confidential by Nairne Holtz

IMG_7620Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: August 10, 2017
Publisher: Insomniac Press
Page count: 290
Star rating: 4/5

It’s hard for me to write a summary of Femme Confidential, because it reads more like a collection of short stories. The title follows a group of queer femmes who grow up in different cities, but find their way to each other as they get older. Their lives intertwine in interesting and oftentimes sexual ways. Liberty, the most central character, raised in a Quaker family, ran away from university. Veronika didn’t realize she was queer until she hooked up with her best friend in high school. Dana, first introduced as a man, learns what it means to live as a transgender woman in Toronto. Although the book focuses on these three women the most, other queer females go in and out of their lives as friendships and relationships bloom and fail.

First, I want to thank Insomniac Press for generously sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. Queer ladies are my favorite characters to read about, so this was quite a treat.

I really enjoyed Femme Confidential’s writing style. The way the short chapters jumped around from different characters and different years made the book very gripping. Now that I’m writing this review, I realize this format could easily be confusing, but it was executed so well that it didn’t raise any questions for me. It’s quite a skill to be able to pull such a complicated storyline together, but Nairne Holtz did a wonderful job making sure there were no plot holes or missing parts.

Sometimes, books portray most of their queer, female characters with similar (or mostly the same) personalities. People who are aquatinted with more than one gay woman know this stereotype is not true, as LGBTQ individuals don’t all have the same interests and mannerisms. I loved how Liberty, Veronika, and Dana all had completely different personalities, passions, and sexual preferences. Each woman had her own career, relationships, and general life path. I also enjoyed the diversity in the way lesbian sex was portrayed. It’s easy to tell when a straight person writes queer female sex scenes because the anatomy isn’t right or the positions don’t make any sense. I actually understood where both parties were during intimate moments of Femme Confidential, which was awesome!

The only thing about this title that doesn’t quite sit with me is the ending. I think the book should have ended around 30 pages earlier, to be completely honest. Something about the way Liberty’s story wrapped up just didn’t make me feel right. Despite this, I’m sure the author has valid reasons for why she chose to end with certain events and I respect that. The ending did not change how much enjoyed Femme Confidential, it just left me with a weird feeling for personal reasons.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Insomniac Press for sending me a copy of this title. It was very nice to read a book with a diverse set of queer ladies who have their own personalities and identities. Liberty is my favorite main character, but they all sound like people whom I would like to hang out with. I look forward to reading future works from Nairne Holtz!