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!

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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- Like Water

Like Water by Rebecca Podos

31556136Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: October 17, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page count: 320
Star rating: 2/5

Savannah Espinoza has a big plan to leave her small town in New Mexico. She wants to be one of the only people to successfully go off to college and not get stuck in the confinement of her hometown. This plan is going well until her father is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Suddenly, her future does not include moving far away and college is not an option. Savannah completely isolates herself from her high school friends to keep herself from getting hurt. That is, until she meets Leigh. Leigh changes her world and makes her question her identity in very deep ways. She definitely is something extremely special and Savannah wants nothing but to become closer to the girl who makes her feel at home.

This book was a miss for me, which is really disappointing. It had so much potential to be great representation of a queer woman of color, but it missed the mark. After deciding between 2 and 3 stars on Goodreads, I settled on 2 stars. I rarely give books with LGBT characters anything less than 3 stars, but it just had to be done.

There is one scene in the book that was a huge red flag for me. Savannah and Leigh steal Leigh’s brother’s car and drive off to spend time alone. After they pull over and find a nice spot, the two begin drinking alcohol. I’m well aware that many young adult books show minors drinking, so this is not the issue for me. The problem is that the two drive back home, drunk, with no real consequences. Besides Leigh getting yelled at by her brother and drifting over the double yellow line once, nothing bad happens to them. I think this is an irresponsible lesson to put in a book catered to young adults. Drinking and driving is incredibly dangerous and needs to be talked about in literature in a way that reflects how serious it can be. This scene left me with a terrible feeling inside.

One thing that got me super interested in this title was a review that commented on Rebecca Podos’ use of diversity. The review complained that it seemed like the author just threw in as many marginalized groups of people as possible just to win diversity points. To me, these kinds of reviewers seem like old men shaking their fists at the clouds, but I wanted to see if this one had any merit to it. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I specialize in books about diverse topics because I believe representation and education about them are crucial. Despite this, I sort of agree with this other reviewer. Sometimes, I think including too many minorities in a book, just for the sake of including them, can have the opposite effect on a title than the author is (probably) aiming for. The final straw for me was the very end of the book, which I don’t want to spoil. It felt like Rebecca Podos was adding a marginalized demographic just so the book could check off another box. This final addition to the story had no character development leading up to it; it was just kind of…there. If an author wants to add something surprising to the end of a title, it should make sense and connect to the rest of the book. The ending of Like Water just seemed tacked on.

I’m really disappointed that I didn’t like this book as much as I could have. The characters felt very flat to me and I wasn’t a fan of the story in general. I’m glad I gave Like Water a try because I had my eye on it for a while, but I want to warn my followers that the book is not worth your Holiday money. I rarely do completely negative reviews, but it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone. Thanks for tuning in!

Review- Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

IMG_7575Genre: Young adult fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Page count: 336
Star rating: 5/5

Vivian is tired of the sexism she sees in her fellow classmates and her high school’s administration. Boys are constantly telling girls to ‘make them a sandwich’ or wearing shirts with misogynistic slogans. Even worse, the principal feeds into this rhetoric by doing random dress code checks, which don’t have any set rules, so girls are forced to change for arbitrary reasons that teachers decide on the spot. Vivian decides to follow in her feminist mother’s footsteps and create a zine, called Moxie, to secretly put in the girls bathrooms. Vivian is scared, as she could get suspended if she’s caught, but it’s kind of empowering at the same time. Who knows what the reaction will be from the girls at her school. Maybe, despite the fact that a group of sexist football players rule her school, Vivian can turn Moxie into something great.

It’s like I’m living in a feminist fantasy…But it can’t be a complete fantasy because Roxane Gay isn’t here.”

I loved Moxie, especially how all of the examples of sexist behavior in Vivian’s school are very real and happen all the time in the US today. I actually had to put the book down a few times because it got too real for me. I could completely put myself in Vivian’s shoes and feel how frustrated and small she felt because of the actions of her principal and his football star son. It’s a horrible feeling to not have your ideas, your opinions, your gender heard or appreciated and be unable to do anything about it. I commend all the girls at Vivian’s school for staying determined in an environment that doesn’t appreciate them.

I also want to highlight a subject that I believe is so important for books about feminism to include. As many girls know, it’s common for ‘good’ guys to say, “not all men do…” and “not all men are like …” and it feels almost dismissive. Jennifer Mathieu really hit the nail on the head the way she explained the problems with statements like these.

“I know all guys aren’t dicks…I get it. But the thing is, when there are so many dickish dudes around you, it gets hard to remember that, you know?”…”And you telling me not all guys are like that doesn’t really help me feel better. Because some guys are like that. A lot of them, actually.”

It was awesome to read about a girl telling a guy, whom she likes a lot, why it’s wrong to use “not all men” statements. At first, I wasn’t sure if Vivian was going to address them when her love interest said these things, but I was pleasantly surprised when she spoke up.

I enjoyed Moxie very much. I think it’s an excellent book to keep in a library accessible to young adults. This title is empowering and educational for females, especially. I’m excited to share Moxie with all the young adults I know who are looking for a great book on feminism and fighting misogyny in general. Thanks for writing such a great read, Jennifer Mathieu!

Review- Earth Girl

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: YA Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Pyr (Fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books)
Page count: 350
Star rating: 5/5

Jarra is Handicapped, or an ‘ape’ (although, she’s not supposed to call herself that derogatory name), and she wants to prove everyone wrong about her limitations. Unlike all the normal people in the galaxy, or all the ‘exos’, Jarra is forced to live on Earth with the other Handicapped humans. Being Handicapped means that you lack the gene that allows you to portal to other planets. Jarra has lived her whole life surrounded by other Handicapped students, because exos are often scared or disgusted with them. This is silly, because you can’t ‘catch’ this lack of gene, and exos certainly are no different than humans sentenced to live on Earth. Jarra has a dream of attending a university for exos, but in order to achieve this dream, she has to go in undercover. More than anything, Jarra wants to become a successful historian and she wants to go to a university that isn’t specifically for Handicapped people. What happens when she gets to a university and is faced with exos? Will she blend in or will they discover her secret right away? Can Jarra show them that she’s the same as every other human who can visit other planets?

YES. YES. YES. This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Whether I was in class, at the gym, or falling asleep, I couldn’t keep Earth Girl off my mind. I was genuinely excited to wake up in the morning because it meant that I could read again that day. I’ve read a lot of really great titles in the past few months, especially sci-fi ones, but this book really had me on the edge of my seat. For that reason, I can’t give this book anything less than 5 stars.

I originally bought Earth Girl at BookCon this past June. I told someone working the Prometheus Books booth about Hedgehog Book Reviews and what types of books I focus on. He recommended this title because it reflects on ideas involving racism. When I read the back of the book, I didn’t quite believe him. Jarra’s story seemed interesting, but I didn’t get the connection. Well, I was very, very wrong. The way Jarra is treated by exos is essentially how people of color are treated by white people. Some exos even see Handicapped people as less than human and less deserving of rights than themselves. This is extremely sad to read because Handicapped people are literally no different from exos, except that they lack the one gene. This is exactly how PoC are treated, still, in modern day society. I read the entire book as a comparison to the systematic oppression that PoC face and it made it a very powerful title.

Earth Girl is classic sci-fi. Janet Edwards builds an entire futuristic world complete with civilized planets and portals that can send people through space. This book was so creative that I wish the author could release a novella that just describes this world a bit further. I want to know more! I usually am a sucker for sci-fi books that have cool alien species, but Earth Girl was still amazing despite it only being about humans.

I’m so glad I picked up this book at BookCon. I’m only halfway through (maybe not even?) all the titles I got, but I feel lucky that I randomly decided to start this one. I hope to read more Prometheus/Pyr books in the future. Thank you to Janet Edwards for writing such a great sci-fi novel with a cool, strong female character. I think Earth Girl is very powerful in the sense that it touches on themes of racism.

Review- Our Own Private Universe

Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Page count: 384
Star rating: 3.5/5

Aki knows she’s bisexual, but she’s never actually had a girlfriend. Still, she knows that she likes girls. The only person who knows is her best friend Lori, as she’s afraid to come out to her religious parents. Aki and Lori spend their summer away at a mission trip in Mexico, held by their church. There, Aki meets Christa and they immediately click. The two girls are a great match, but the constrictions of their religious group force them to lie, hide, and cover up their feelings. Aki and Christa could have something extraordinary, but are they willing to make that sacrifice for each other?

I had some mixed feeling about Our Own Private Universe, but, ultimately, the positives outweighed the negatives. One extremely important topic this book highlights is safe sex. I haven’t read another F/F book, young adult or adult, that touches on safe sex. Aki goes out of her way to find female condoms, which I thought was so cool. I bet the teen and early twenty’s audience that Robin Talley is aiming for might be a bit uninformed about safe sex, the importance of condoms, and protection against STDs in queer female relationships. I was pleasantly surprised when Aki started thinking about how she would obtain dental dams. For this reason, I would 100% recommend this book to queer females who are looking to see themselves represented in literature.

Another awesome thing about Own Our Private Universe is that it features two women who are both interested in men and women. Aki is bisexual and not confused. The stereotype that bisexual people are merely confused is harmful because it erases their identities and invalidates their feelings. In addition, sometimes books about marginalized demographics are harmful for individuals who are part of those demographics to read (they’re triggering, disrespectful, or just not factual). This is definitely a book with bisexual representation that is safe, considerate, and realistic of bi struggles. Often, books that trivialize LGBT lives are written by straight, cisgender authors. It was awesome to read a book written by a queer author.

After I finished Our Own Private Universe, I skimmed a few reviews. I found one that pointed out something that unsettled me in the novel and I think it is worth mentioning. Although Aki is not white, her church’s mission trip sent a message of a white savior complex. Wikipedia defines this as, “a white person who acts to help non-white people, with the help in some contexts perceived to be self-serving”. I believe that Robin Talley should have tried to educate her readers about the harm these self-serving intentions can cause. I felt a little disappointed in this aspect of the book.

Overall, I think Own Our Private Universe was a realistic, healthy, respectful way of looking at a bisexual girl discovering herself. The cast was diverse, but I believe some of the racial implications of the mission trip could have been clarified. I will recommend this book to young, queer women who are looking for literature that features characters like themselves. Our Own Private Universe introduced many topics that other LGBTQ YA books neglect, which was exciting. I just found out Robin Talley is supposed to have a novel coming out in 2018 and I can hardly wait!

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.