November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review LGBTQ Romances, “A Darkly Beating Heart,” and More

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The Kitsap YA reviewers take on diverse LGBTQ titles, a sci-fi adventure, and A Darkly Beating Heart, a time-traveling novel that moves between contemporary Japan and a 19th-century Edo village.

no-holdingEVANGELISTA, Kate. No Holding Back. Swoon. Oct. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781250100627.

Gr 9 Up–Nathan has been in love with his best friend, Preston, for ages, to the point where it’s an open secret that only Preston is unaware of. But Nathan is running out of time to confess, as Preston is about to start training for the Olympics. Perhaps a romantic vacation in Europe is just the impetus he needs….

The cover of this book is miserably awful. And by miserably awful, I mean it looks somewhat like a PSA or a bad advertisement. It’s generic and hideous, and there is nothing more to say about it. Besides that, the cover design is absolutely abysmal in all ways.

To put it simply, No Holding Back was boring. There was no dynamic flow whatsoever in the main relationship, and Preston and Nathan were about as interesting as cardboard. Additionally, the background of traveling through Europe was underutilized completely, adding little more than window dressing to something that could have been engaging and cute. It was actually quite a shame. When one reads “road trip” novels, one expects regional flair and sweet romance. One does not expect the literary equivalent of papier-mâché dioramas and awkward writing fumbles in the romantic relationship featured. In all, this was an incredibly dull book with almost no redeeming points in its unrelenting mediocrity.

The most compelling aspect of this book is that the main relationship is quite cute, in a generic, sugary sort of way. At least there’s no weird (read: creepy) or abusive dynamics in Preston and Nathan’s relationship, and I am a sucker for childhood-friend romances. However, their romance was extremely bland and felt much like any other feel-good romance. Additionally, the fact that there were definite hints at other interesting characters made the book slightly salvageable, if only because I wanted to see what was going to happen to the mostly endearing supporting cast, and the mostly endearing main characters.

No Holding Back is yet another example of LGBTQ lit I’ve read lately that felt oddly like retooled fanfic. This could have been because of the writing style, or it could have been because of the number of fic-y tropes that appeared within it, but either way, I kept wondering about this for most of the time I read the novel. In all, this is a book I cannot recommend to anyone. Seriously. There’s better LGBTQ lit out there. Lots of it. Go read something like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe instead.–Ella W., 16

weight-of-zeroFORTUNATI, Karen. The Weight of Zero. Random. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101938911.

Gr 9 Up–I’m sure by now you’ve read a YA book about a teenager struggling with mental illness. The Weight of Zero will blow your mind. Prepare to be submerged in the 100 percent realistic world of 17-year-old Catherine, who has bipolar disorder, as she prepares for her ultimate depression.

I liked the cover a lot. It reflected the overall hope of the book, with light colors and the hints of dark with the bold black title and clothes.

The most compelling aspect of the book was the main character, Catherine. I was on my seat the entire time, anxious to see what would become of her, all because Fortunati made her so real. I was also impressed by the author’s writing style; it’s really hard to create realistic dialogue and situations for teens, but here it seemed just about perfect to me. I wasn’t disappointed with this book for ANY reason.

This is an amazing book. I love that is has such a positive message and shows how to ACTUALLY deal with mental illness in such a realistic and un-gushy way.—Juliette S., 14

gemina-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoffKAUFMAN, Amie & Jay Kristoff. Gemina. Random. Oct. 2016. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780553499162.

Gr 6 Up–The sequel to Illuminae, Gemina is just as good as its predecessor. It takes place with two new main characters with quirky personalities in the Heimdall space station. This book holds the fate of not only the people in the Heimdall Station but also the Hypatia and all of Kerenza.

There’s nothing really catchy or especially cool about the cover, but it’s good and fits with the theme of the book and series.

I really liked both the characters and the unexpectedness of the plot line. The characters were just as good as in the previous book, if not better. I felt like in Illuminae, the characters were less likely to survive and therefore made you not want to turn away, but in this, just when it feels like you know what’s coming next, or when your favorite character dies, something totally unexpected happens, totally changing the story.

At first, I was disappointed with the character change; in the last book, you really got to know Kady and Ezra. But then the characters turned out to be amazing.–Kaitlyn H., 14

when-moon-2MCLEMORE, Anna Marie. When the Moon Was Ours. Thomas Dunne Bks. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250058669.

Gr 9 Up–When they tore down the old water tower, the last thing they expected to find was a girl who came out of it with roses growing from her wrist—a girl who fears pumpkins and whose skirt hem is always a little damp. As far as anyone knew, she was just strange, but to the Bonner sisters, she was prey.

The cover was beautiful. I just wished it covered the whole book. The whole magic of the book in general was compelling. Nothing was really disappointing.

The book was really beautiful. I liked the flowery writing, but at some parts, it got a little long and tedious to read. But mostly, it was enticing and interesting.–Rachel F., 15

adventureMILLS, Emma. This Adventure Ends. Holt. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627799355.

Gr 8 Up–When Sloane moves to Florida, she makes friends with a group of people who change her life—and the rest of her family—for the better.

I absolutely love the cover of this book; it’s what originally prompted me to pick it up. It’s also significant to the plot of the book without giving anything away.

For me, the most compelling aspect of this book was the dynamic among the characters. I especially loved the relationship between Sloane and her dad, a writer who can’t find the inspiration to write. Their dynamic was really funny and interesting to watch play out with the rest of the conflicts in the book. The writing style also had a nice flow, and I never felt like the pacing was uncomfortable or rushed; it felt very natural.

I think one of the only things I did not enjoy about this book was the occasionally awkward dialogue. The writing style itself is wonderful, but sometimes I felt like the dialogue was stilted and a little unrealistic. It wasn’t annoying to the point where I couldn’t read the book, but most teenagers don’t actually speak like Sloane does.

I really did love this book a lot. It made me laugh and cry, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. This book is genuinely refreshing, especially if you’re a reader who also enjoys fandoms or is interested in the concept of an all-consuming group of friends (similar to books like “The Raven Cycle” and others with strong friendship dynamics). I loved it and can’t wait to read more from Emma Mills!–Grace B., 17

glitter-cvrPIKE, Aprilynne. Glitter. Random. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101933701.

Gr 9 UpGlitter is an awesome book, taking place in a futuristic palace stuck in a past where people are in their own little bubble, speaking formally, wearing fancy historical clothes, and even reenacting history.

The cover really drew me in. It’s interesting, colorful, and visually appealing. It gives readers a glimpse into the story.

I really liked the characters. They all had unique personalities that developed and helped the story be so interesting. Also, the plot kept me reading all night long. I like how you can never really expect what will happen next.–Kaitlyn H., 14


SMITH, Lindsay. A Darkly Beating Heart. Roaring Brook. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626720442.

Gr 10 Up–Still reeling from family difficulties and the fallout from the end of an extremely toxic relationship, Reiko is packed off to stay with relatives in Japan, accompanied only by her rage. While staying in the historical village of Kuramagi, however, she finds herself slipping into the memories of Miyu, a girl living in the village during the Bakumatsu. Initially, the time slips are a way of escape, but as Reiko and Miyu become more enmeshed and the past and present collide, there may be no way for a deadly tragedy to be averted.

darkly-beatingThe cover of A Darkly Beating Heart is absolutely hideous, and I really mean that when I say that. It’s just all the worst parts of YA paranormal romance cover design combined into one hateful whole, and I despise it. While this novel isn’t high literature, “The Girl from the Well” duology proved that Japanese-themed horror with good cover design is something that can be done. The least this cover could provide is a better color scheme, because this one looks like some stereotypical goth vampire Halloween costume. And last time I checked, A Darkly Beating Heart was about revenge and the Edo period, not a failed Visual Kei band.

The most compelling aspect of this novel is the main character, Reiko. She’s consumed by hatred and self-loathing and completely unable to deal with most of her family. At the same time, she’s an enormously sympathetic character, even if she’s not very likable most of the time. She’s a character who speaks to the darkest parts of people, in the same way that Miyu speaks to her.

Additionally, major props to this book for handling Reiko’s bisexuality so well. As Reiko, she’s wrestling with the fallout from her massively toxic relationship with her ex-girlfriend, with whom she’s still somewhat in love. As Miyu, she has an initially fulfilling relationship with Jiro, a male character, though it later turns poisonous. Neither relationship is portrayed as more important than the other, and this aspect of Reiko’s character is not the entire focus of the book, which is something highly refreshing in a book with an LGBTQ main character.

I was disappointed only in the lack of vivid description and period detailing in the Miyu sections of the book. I’m a huge geek about the Tokugawa shogunate, so seeing one of my favorite time periods not getting a ton of attention was a bit disappointing. Additionally, the atmosphere wasn’t as creepy as I would have liked, which was also a letdown. I prefer my horror on the darker and more brutal side. If I’m feeling paranoid by the end of the book, I consider it successful horror. However, A Darkly Beating Heart left me with no such feeling and in fact ended a bit too happily. I know I shouldn’t have wished for a brutal downer ending, but I kind of found myself rooting for one. Yes, I know. I’m a terrible person.

While this book wasn’t high literature, it was certainly a ton of fun, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s certainly a must-read for fans of The Girl from the Well or the “Higurashi: When They Cry” franchise, as in some ways it’s quite similar. Basically, if you’re into horror anime, this is probably the kind of thing you’d like.–Ella W., 16

girls-like-meSTVIL, Lola. Girls Like Me. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544706743.

Gr 8 Up–The cover is amazing; I rarely find such a trendy and modern cover that just screams “READ ME.” The art style is so appealing that it makes the book seem appealing. Sadly, the amazing cover of the book led me to have high expectations that were not met. The cover was amazing but didn’t reflect the book. At all.

Just from reading the back of the book, I was intrigued. You don’t find many books about people who struggle with being fat or being trans. It was kind of a clichéd story, but hey, it sounded interesting. So the cover, plus the back, made me pick it up and want to read it.

For me, this book was disappointing in all aspects. The writing style: no. It seemed cool and unique when I first started the book, like something that would be at the beginning of every new chapter, but quickly turned into something else. It wasn’t good. It. Felt. Like. I. Was. Reading. Like. This. Not enjoyable at all. It was like being cheated out of a book. There wasn’t enough detail to allow me to picture the characters in my head, or picture anything in my head, really. Fifty percent of the book was in the weird/hard-to-understand format, and the other 50 percent was messages. I could tell this just by flipping through the pages. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t recommend this book and will not be finishing it any time soon.

This unique book will either confuse you or make you want to throw it across the room in frustration. If you enjoy this type of thing, though, go ahead and read it.–Kayla C., 14

ANOTHER TAKE

People use many different coping mechanisms after losing a loved on. For Shay Summers, that mechanism happens to be writing. When this leads her to meet and promptly fall for a wry and dashing soul online, Shay must decide between making the final leap by telling him her real identity or losing her chance a true love.

I really liked the cover because it was simple, visually appealing, and reflected the contents, but not in a way that was super cheesy.

The most compelling aspect of this book was the main character, Shay Summers. I instantly fell in love with her, in part because I can identify with her love of the written word.–Isabel T., 14

ANOTHER TAKE

Shay Summers isn’t the thinnest of girls, and because of that, she’s bullied in school and her stepmom is constantly trying to get her to eat healthy. So when she falls for a guy online and realizes he’s someone she knows in real life, she doesn’t want to reveal who she is, because she thinks he won’t accept her for who she is.

I liked the cover! It was really cute and reflected the contents well. I really loved this book. The story was really sweet and well thought out, and I enjoyed how it was written in poetry form. That was really unique and made it fun to read. Sometimes, the poetry made it a little confusing to understand, but most of the time, it was really well-written, which was awesome.

I wish there had been a little more detail on how they got Boots out of the hospital at the very end, but that was only minor in the story.–Zoe D., 13

 

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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