Review- The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

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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.

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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- 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- Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn

514ml4X1etL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: May 2018
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Page count: 404
Star Rating: 4/5

Starla is disappointed that she has to move back in with her mom after dropping out of college. Originally from the small town of Crystal Beach, she’s been living in the city of Toronto while slowly falling more and more into debt. Upon coming back home, she begins working as the night shift manager of a campground and RV park, The Point. One would imagine that this job might entail some pickup around the grounds and a little downtime, but Starla’s experience is much more extraordinary. From the very first day, strange things start happening at The Point. The ghost of a girl who died in Crystal Beach takes special interest in Starla and begins communicating with her inside her head. As Starla becomes closer to the residents of the campground, the ghost’s pull on her gets tighter. The strangely sexual bond that the two have may end up hurting Starla in a way that her new friends can’t understand or see.

I’m so excited that Arsenal Pulp Press agreed to send me an ARC of this title. Ever since I discovered they were releasing a lesbian, ghost novel, I’ve wanted to get my hands on it. I’ve read a few lesbian mystery-ish books that ended up being too predictable or too much like fan fiction, but Sodom Road Exit is not like those at all.

Starla is queer and mentally ill and her struggles are very realistically written. I think the way that Amber Dawn portrays her symptoms of PTSD and general suicidal ideation is accurate, which is a great feat because these illnesses can be hard to describe. I especially liked learning about Starla’s way of coping with triggers and stressors—spelling out words to calm herself down and distract her brain. This is a real technique taught in therapy and seeing it in literature was pretty cool. I found the way that Amber Dawn imagined that a ghost would affect someone with these illnesses interesting as well. PTSD and irregular moods can be difficult to manage on their own; putting sexual chemistry with a ghost on top of them certainly wouldn’t help!

One of my favorite things about Sodom Road Exit is the ending (and not because I’m glad it’s over). It is neither too happy nor too unsatisfying. The ability to wrap things in a way that’s believable and concluding is one that I admire in authors. I really appreciated the character evolution that Starla and her friends at The Point went through. It’s weird that a supernatural/lesbian mystery made me feel so good after finishing it, but I guess that’s Amber Dawn’s special talent.

Lastly, I want to comment on how Sodom Road Exit dealt with one of its character’s wavering sobriety. Hal, someone residing at The Point, struggles with alcoholism. Starla notices that Hal’s drinking is interfering with him properly treating his wife and son, so she works to get him set up with a twelve step program. The way that AA is discussed in this book is really positive and educational. Sometimes addiction and alcoholism are displayed in such a negative light in works of fiction, which is not helpful for reducing the stigma around the disease. Amber Dawn did an excellent job writing about alcoholism in a respectful way.

Overall, I loved Sodom Road Exit. As someone who enjoys reading books with supernatural elements and books with queer characters, I knew I was going to like this book from the very beginning. It definitely met and exceeded my expectations. I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Arsenal Pulp Press for sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. I know I’m going to be thinking about Starla’s story for a while. I’m excited to read more Arsenal Pulp Press books in the future!

Review- I Hate Everyone But You

Hi, everyone! I’m sorry it’s been a little over a week since my last post. I came down with a bad cold and was bed ridden for a couple days. I couldn’t even read! It was so frustrating. Hopefully, I can catch back up on my reading goal and power through a few books in the remainder of January. Thanks for sticking with me!

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

51HmRkrR+4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Page count 352
Star rating: 2.5/5

Ava and Gen are best friends who go their separate ways for their freshman year of college. They still communicate constantly via text and email, and the book is written in these electronic formats. The 2 girls couldn’t be anymore different and sometimes these differences cause small fights. Long distance friendship is hard, but Ava and Gen have a chance to make it work. As Gen experiments with drugs and girls, Ava battles social anxiety and her first college parties. Maybe, their differences can actually make their unique friendship thrive.

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t like this book. It is a quick read, yet it took me almost a week to finish it, because I kept putting it off. I wanted to like it (or love it) so badly! I’ve had such bad luck with young adult books with LGBTQ themes lately…I need a redemption soon!

The main reason that I didn’t enjoy I Hate Everyone But You is because it relied WAY too much on tropes and clichés. Ava is the classic ‘good’ girl who has never been to a party before and Gen is the classic bisexual girl who experiments with girls and drugs. I have been both these people—I am a queer girl who struggles with many forms of anxiety and mental health issues—and it is absolutely not this cut and dry. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Ava or Gen said something too stereotypical, which happened more than a few times. Queerness and social anxiety have so much more to them than this book talk about, which I’m sure the authors know. As someone who knows what it’s like to spend time figuring out her own sexuality, I had high hopes for Gen’s character. Unfortunately, she was stuck with too many of the ‘bad’ girl clichés and became cringey.

Among all the negative things I’ve said about this title, there were a couple of good lessons hidden in the book. Ava continuously says non-politically correct statements, which Gen, annoyed, corrects. The way that Gen educates Ava about LGBTQ issues is very well articulated and inclusive to all demographics included under the queer umbrella. I’ve had some of these key conversations with friends and family members (who, like Ava, only meant well), and the way that Gen explains queer struggles is very on-point.

I was extremely excited for this book and was, ultimately, let down. More than anything, I’m just sad that this title fell flat because it features both a girl who comes to terms with her sexuality AND a girl who faces her mental illnesses. If the two authors of this title ever released another book, I would love to read it because there is a lot of room for growth to fix these things and make a powerful novel. I’m sorry that I had to post another negative review on here, but I felt inclined to share my thoughts on I Hate Everyone But You because of how pumped I was for this book and how well the themes of the title fit my blog.

Review- Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

25695640Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Page count: 304 pages
Star rating: 4/5 stars 

“When she started crying, I wished the bats had been real. That the creepy little bastards had eaten me in the chemistry lab and I’d never had to see the way my mom looked at me in that moment: like I was crazy.”

Adam has visions of people who are not real. He is able to keep these characters to himself, until he has an incident in school involving flying bats. After that, Adam is diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to a new school, where he doesn’t know anyone. Adam begins making friends at his fancy, religious high school and relies on his medication to keep new classmates from knowing about his mental illness. Then, Adam meets Maya. He knows that he should tell Maya about his diagnosis, but he just can’t do it. As long as he keeps taking his medication, he shouldn’t have to tell anyone. Right?

Words on Bathroom Walls was a great book, especially for young adults, about mental illness. This is the first YA book that I’ve read about schizophrenia and I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I don’t know enough about schizophrenia, specifically, to say if Adam’s experience is an accurate representation of the illness, so I won’t make comments about that. Despite this, I do know a lot about mental health, in general, so I will talk about that. Perhaps, another reviewer with a background in schizophrenia can analyze the accuracy of Adam’s symptoms and behaviors.

Words on Bathroom Walls is an example of literature that talks about mental illness in a respectful and educational way. Although Adam has people that support and love him, there are many characters who do not understand what he’s going through. Writing about the ways to NOT treat someone with a mental illness is very educational for readers. For example, Adam had friends at his old school who totally ditched him after he had the courage to tell them about his struggles. They gave no explanation; they just completely stopped answering his phone calls. This, obviously, is the wrong way to treat a friend with an invisible illness. Adam feels horrible that something he has no control over made all of his friends leave without a goodbye. I sense this book is a great thing for young people to read, as 20% of youth in the US are affected by a mental disorder in their lifetime. This shows friends how to treat people they care about and it shows people with mental illnesses how others should treat them. Education is important, people!

There was one scene in the book that made me cold down to my bones. Actually, it was just two sentences. Adam’s grandmother (his step dad’s mother) says these glorious lines:

“Where is he going to live when the baby is born?… If you’re going to endanger the life of my grandchild-“

Boom. That’s it. That’s how so many people, even some I know, see mental illness. There’s a major disconnect with a large percentage of adults who truly believe that mental health is this huge, scary monster that is out to personally get them. Mental illness does not make someone a bad person. That person is not inherently bad because of something they do not control. These sentences from Adam’s grandmother really, really shook me.

I think this is a very important book for young adults, as I’m pleased with the way Julia Walton wrote about schizophrenia and its proper treatment. Words on Bathroom Walls seems like a great book to have in high school libraries so it’s accessible to students looking to learn more about mental health. I’m very glad I came across this book! Thank you, to the author, for writing about a mental illness in a way that does not trivialize peoples’ experiences.

Review- Charlotte and Daisy

Charlotte and Daisy by Amanda Rotach Lamkin

4/5 stars

Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Line by Lion Publications
Publication date: August 19th, 2015
Page count: 448

51YFXSPYupL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Charlotte has lived her life crippled by severe depression for too long. After multiple hospitalizations, she decides to apply for a procedure that would alter the way her mind functions. To Charlotte’s surprise, the doctors choose her to be their patient, the operation is done, and her brain is reconstructed. Suddenly, Charlotte’s life is turned around and she becomes interested in things that never appealed to her before, such as relationships and a career path. The only thing that could hinder her development is a malfunction in her programming, but her new life is worth the risk.

Amanda Rotach Lamkin does an amazing job depicting the realities of depression and how scary the illness can be. Charlotte has spent long periods of time in treatment centers, experienced bouts of the inability to get out of bed, and been prescribed many, many medications. These are all things that happen to real people who suffer from depression. It’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t tip toe around the ‘unattractive’ symptoms of mental illnesses. It was also nice to see that, even after Charlotte gets her operation done, she is not 100% ‘cured’ of her illnesses. She still has times when her brain reverts back to things like catastrophic or black and white thinking patterns. Even with the brain surgery done, Charlotte still has to manage stress and triggers. Mental illnesses are always a work in progress, you cannot just ‘get better’ and be relieved of all symptoms forever, even in Charlotte’s case.

I really liked Charlotte’s boyfriend, Aidian, as well. He is the perfect example of how a loved one of someone with depression should act. Aidian is always there for Charlotte, good day or bad, and loves her unconditionally. I think that Amanda Rotach Lamkin did an excellent job writing the scene in which Charlotte has flashbacks while her and Aidian are being intimate. Flashbacks are a very real experience for people with PTSD and sex can be triggering. The way Aidian reacts to Charlotte’s flashbacks is very raw and it is easy to tell that he deeply cares about her, even though he doesn’t completely understand what is happening. Aidian truly is a good guy and the way he was written was perfect.

Actually, I want to dedicate a paragraph to a discussion about the flashback scene. Charlotte closes her eyes, experiences a flashback of being forced into sex when she was younger, and then runs away from Aidian and locks herself in the bathroom. Charlotte’s whirlwind of emotions of fear, confusion, and shame are all too real for people that suffer from PTSD and trauma related illnesses. Her body reacts in a way that she doesn’t understand and she feels ashamed of it. She is so ashamed that she doesn’t even want to explain what happened to Aidian, basically leaving him in the dark and unsure of what the problem was. This scene really proved to me that Amdan Rotach Lamkin is a responsible author who does her research on the characters she writes about.

Charlotte and Daisy was an excellent start to my BookCon haul. I wanted to read a new book about characters with mental illnesses for a while, so I’m really happy right now. I admire the work that Amanda Rotach Lamkin puts into her writing and character development; she wrote about depression and PTSD in a very responsible and educational way. In addition, this book is such a great homage to Flowers for Algernon. If you’re looking for a good diverse book, this is it.