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- 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- 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- Where Women Are Kings

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 256
Star rating: 5/5

“She felt fiercely protective of him, with his slight frame and huge eyes. She realized that she loved him already, within days, that she’d kill anyone who hurt him.”

7 year old Elijah is looking for an adoptive family. In his short life, he’s been moved around quite a bit, as a result of being hard to work with and violent at some times. Finally, Elijah has found a couple who wants to permanently adopt him. Nikki and Obi make it their mission to provide the best home for Elijah as possible. Slowly, Elijah’s family history comes to light as his biological mother writes letters addressed to him. As more is learned about his birth and experiences as a baby, perhaps Elijah’s actions can be better understood. Nikki and Obi will no doubt try their best, and hopefully that’s enough for Elijah to prosper.

This is the first book in a long time that I finished in less than 24 hours. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Books don’t usually make me cry, but Where Women Are Kings made me cry TWICE. Christie Watson really knows how to play with your heart. This was an all around amazing title. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars.

Where Women Are Kings has a unique format. It’s written in 2 styles. About half of it is in the view of Elijah or his parents. The other half is in a letter format from Elijah’s birth mother. I loved slowly figuring out Elijah’s story and piecing together why he might act out or behave the way he does. Elijah is so delicate and innocent; I wanted to fight for him because he has such a big heart, despite invisible struggles he faces every day. Obi and Nikki care about him so much and it was heartwarming to see their love for him grow and grow. The character development was so beautiful in this book.

I initially picked up Where Women Are Kings because reviews say it touches on racism and mental illness. Both of these themes were very prevalent in the book, so I was not let down. Elijah is Nigerian and Nikki is white. I enjoyed reading the racial and cultural sensitivity that Elijah’s case workers, therapist, and adoptive family give him. A white mother adopting a child of color is something that is so rare in literature, at least in books that I’ve read. It was refreshing to read a title that talked about the thought that goes into adopting child with different colored skin as oneself. In addition, the way Christie Watson wrote about serious mental illnesses was respectful and factual. I don’t want to give away too much, so that’s all I’ll say.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Other Press for sending me a copy of this title for review. I’ve officially added this book to my ‘favorites’ shelf on Goodreads, which says a lot. I’m extremely thankful that such a wonderful and moving book found its way to me. I honestly want to give out copies of Where Women Are Kings to my friends for the holidays. I finished this book about 2 weeks ago and I’m still continuously blown away.

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.