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Monday, July 23, 2018

Things I've Read Recently (75)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Published: January 4th, 2011 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 233
Part of a series? No.
Got via: I think I bought it from Amazon or Chapters or something.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they're not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her "Choker" after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.

Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe's on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara's life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she's getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in.

But just as quickly as Cara's life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she's at school. You're supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?

Thoughts: So think of the most obvious, super ableist thing you could think of to be the "twist" of this book and you'll have guessed it. I'm weirdly slower at guessing twists in books than in on TV (my mom gets annoyed when I guess what's going to happen on TV - I predicted the entire plot of an episode of Supernatural once), but even I got what was happening.

Yeah, I did not like this one honestly. There's a lot that's offensive, like there are two scenes of fairly graphic animal death, so much ableism, weird queerbaiting while having absolutely no queer characters, the love interest's dark secret being that he was a fat kid. (And boy, that was offensive. There's no other fat characters, they imply that fat kids don't ever have friends, and he talks about wanting to tell fat kids on the street, "You'll get through it", like fat bodies are something to overcome.)

Most of the characters are very stereotypical and two-dimensional. They don't really have personalities besides having like one trait, like "Mean Girl" or "Cute Boy" or "Track Friend". And it's so Mean Girl heavy, because, you know, Cara is Not Like Other GirlsTM. Which is like her only personality trait, because Cara is incredibly boring. She has no drive, or agency or anything, besides getting mad at her mom's cat for sitting on a jacket she left laying on a chair (HANG YOUR JACKET UP THEN, CARA). And I don't know if there were any characters of colour because it's never stated, but frankly I think it's just better if we assume all the characters are white because otherwise things were probably pretty racist.

There were also things about the writing that I just didn't really like. Like there were a couple times where I had to go back a page and reread a sentence because something was just kind of off, and I don't think it was deliberate. I think it was just messy writing. Like at one point, Cara is excited to get "her parents" to the airport, but she's only driving her mom and her dad is gone already. That does not seem like a purposeful choice to set the mood or anything. It just seems like a mistake.

Just overall I wanted to like this way more than I did, and I didn't hate it while I was reading it, but looking back, it's just not good.

Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

Published: March 19th, 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 247 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? No.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Best friends Stephen and Marco know a thing or two about impossible missions. It's thanks to them that cell phone thieves at school are apprehended, lost puppies are returned, and gym uniforms are lent out to the forgetful thirteen-year-old masses.

When Marco finds out that Benji - the dream exchange student on whom he has a crush - and his band are playing at the high school prom, he enlists Stephen's help to crash prom and get Marco onstage to profess his love. But as most veteran operatives know, not all heists run smoothly. Stephen is sick of Marco calling the shots 99.97 percent of the time, and he's especially sick of being the sidekick.

On top of it all, Marco and Stephen need to act fast - before Benji goes back to England at the end of the school year. Even though these boys are experts in espionage, it's going to take a mission impossible to pull this maneuver off.

Thoughts: Okay, first things first, Hannah is a friend, and while I'm capable of being objective, if that bothers you, move on.

Second things second, I really enjoyed this. It reminded me of, like, queer Bruno and Boots, if any of you read that series growing up, but with more realism. Marco and Stephen's antics are a little more likely to actually happen, mind you, but it works well. The exploration of friendship between Stephen and Marco is much more nuanced, and given a lot more thought and dimension than that kind of duo usually is in more trope-y books.

I also appreciated that Stephen was Jewish and Marco is half-Japanese alongside being gay. It's nice to see more diversity in a queer middle grade novel than just one character. Although it would have been nice if there'd been a little more, even, and especially more than just one queer character. Kids need role models, yo... I don't know why I ended that sentence in yo, and I apologize. There's also some minor language choices that I wasn't a huge fan of. Knowing Hannah and how she uses language, I think she wouldn't make the same ones today, but you know, it is what it is.

I will point out that this is not super fluffy because I kind of hate how people gloss over those kinds of things, and this book does deal with homomisia and Marco dealing with a lot of bullying about his sexuality. That could be hard on a young teen to deal about, but I think it's balanced enough with light-hearted moments and just happiness that it doesn't become overwhelming.

All in all, I just really liked this. I really liked the voice, it's got some super cute moments, and I really enjoyed reading it. One of my favourite things, especially, was the relationship between Stephen and his siblings. They don't always get along perfectly, but there's real love and affection in the way they behave. And that's something that I find a lot more pleasant to read about that constant bickering. It's really nice to see sibling relationships where it actually seems like they like each other. And Stephen's family being quite physically affectionate is also nice to read, especially with him and his older brother.

Very nice.

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

Published: March 6th, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 307 plus acknowledgments
Part of a series? I don't believe so.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen's house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm--and what's worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy's drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks--and hopes--that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Thoughts: Oh I have so many feelings about this. It's so good. Honestly I almost have no words for how good this was. Several of my notes are just, "Wow," which, let me tell you, Past!me, that's not very helpful. There's just so much here that I liked, and it's just - wow, this is a terrible review. I have so many feelings about everything in here, from little things like the mention of Ivy's first period being a relatively small thing, normalizing it, to specific language choices, to everything Ivy feels about everything being so big and overwhelming to her because I think that's so realistic for a girl her age going through everything she's going through.

I only have a couple of gripes. One thing is that an OB-GYN (another character's mother who is also Ivy's mother's doctor during her pregnancy with Ivy's little twin brothers) is equated to being a "woman's doctor" and, no, not only women need them, and the other is that there's a character who explicitly says they don't feel any romantic interest and I think that's kind of a lost opportunity where aromanticism could have been talked about. Instead, it's treated like something that will almost inevitably happen when they're older, but they're just not ready yet.

And that's really a shame when the rest of the book is so good, and Ivy's orientation is given so much freedom to be explored. I swear, one day I'm going to write a MG book with an aromantic MC. Besides that, it does lack a tiny bit in other areas of diversity. It's pretty white besides like one (AWESOME) character, and there's like no fat rep, or real disability rep.

One place it really shines, though, is that Ivy knows several other queer people. She has an older teen friend, and meets more than one adult who's queer. Queer role models are so important! It's so great to see adults especially, because kids should see that they can grow up and be whatever they want to be. I also really liked that the book uses the word queer as a positive label. I'll never get over that, honestly. And there's a definition of bisexual used that's wonderful, and inclusive of nonbinary genders. USING the actual word. There are two bisexual middle grade books that I know of, and neither of them used the word in their original printing (one is being changed in its paperback release). That's huge!

I will say that reading a book about tornado aftermath is great until it starts thundering and you live in a place that gets tornadoes. And, yes, there were tornado warnings around us last night, and some funnel clouds nearby. Freaky!

All in all, though, while I had a few small problems, I think this is a great addition to the queer middle grade catalogue, and I'm really glad to have read it. I hope there's many, many more like this in the future!

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Published: September 20th, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 341 plus acknowledments
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.

Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

Thoughts: Honestly I really liked this. I really don't feel like writing an actual review for it and there's a whole lot to talk about, so I'm kinda just not going to. I just wanted to mention that I read it since I talk about almost everything I read on here.

Not gonna rate this one on goodreads, either, since I'm not writing a review. Sometimes you just wanna read a book with no pressure, you know?

So, that's what I've been reading. What have you all been reading?

Peace and cookies,

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