Review: Gabby Rivera – Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet Takes a Breath
Gabby Rivera

Juliet is going to take the summer to find herself. She’s just come out as gay to her parents, she wants to be a writer, and she thinks she’s a feminist. Enter Harlowe Brisbane – the ultimate authority on all things feminism and lesbianism. Surely if Juliet lives with Harlowe some of her empowered feminism will rub off, right?

This has no plot, and yet Juliet manages to get herself into trouble. She makes every bad decision that she possibly can, and forgives far more easily than I wanted her to. In a way that perhaps makes her more relatable, yet somehow things just work out for her in the end. Juliet can somehow do no wrong? Her flow-of-consciousness interspersed with passages of Harlowe’s doctrine didn’t do any favours to the feeling that I was just floating and being told the story, not shown it.

Because I’ve gradually been expanding my own queer and feminist language I understood the pain that Juliet was going through. What I did have a major problem with though was that you basically had to have a vagina to be considered a feminist. Having recently read Trans* Like Me, I felt like this novel undermined non cis-gendered people (cis-gendered means basically the gender you were assigned at birth matches the one that you identify as).

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but one of the few swear words I just 100% can’t stand was the major cuss word of this novel. Every time I hear it I feel a bit dirty, and reading it just made me feel the same. I felt honour-bound to finish this novel though because it had a lesbian protagonist, but I felt uncomfortable the whole time. I don’t even want to type it!

We need more novels with underrepresented lesbian women of colour and maybe this novel is for some people. Maybe it could empower other people. It just wasn’t for me – a white, slim, cis-woman lesbian with a hangup on a particular swearword. I read it the moment it came in the door, but put off reviewing it for over a month. 3 stars.

Penguin Random House | 19th September 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Camryn Garrett – Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure
Camryn Garrett

Simone is HIV-positive and she knows that celibacy is the best way to stay safe. She’s been outed for her status before, but she still wants what she wants. And she wants Miles – he’s sexy and maybe, just maybe, into her. But there’s someone at her school who knows she’s HIV-positive, and they are threatening to expose her if she gets with Miles. What can Simone do?

I laughed, I cried, and I suffered with Simone. Her character came leaping out of the pages at me and then I spent the rest of my time absorbed in her life. I couldn’t put the novel down. I couldn’t work out who the ‘baddie’ was either, and I was pleasantly surprised by the ending.

I devoured this novel the minute it came through my door. Although I don’t know anyone personally with HIV, I know something of what it is like to have a life-long condition that some consider highly contagious. It’s a potent novel that is relevant to the times (nothing like The Things We Promise).

So I personally couldn’t ever consider going to a doctor’s appointment and talking about sex with my parents present (awkward!). But it’s the strength of Simone’s character that she does just that – her family is open about sex and I think that’s really important. Of course the best way to prevent HIV transmission is through abstinence, but at least they are talking about safe sex – teenagers sometimes can’t help themselves – and that’s ok!

If the memoir by Ted Neill is too heavy for you (it was pretty heavy for me, remember), this relatively lighter fiction novel could be more suitable. This novel was one of the reasons that The Prom didn’t take my fancy. I read the two close together, and the level of depth and feeling in Simone’s personality was much more powerful and believable than Emma’s.

This novel could improve the life of a teenager living with HIV, perhaps by making that HIV+ teenager feel better about themselves, or reaffirming their self worth. It has the potential to be a fabulous library book in High School libraries.

It promotes healing and understanding and stamps on some of the misconceptions that still surround HIV and its transmission. HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, even if it still carries significant stigma. Go out and buy this novel for yourself, for your teen, just leave it laying around as a coffee table book. 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 5th November 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Kim Liggett – The Grace Year

The Grace Year
Kim Liggett

Tierney James has always bucked the trends. She’s not content to be married off and spend her life producing babies. She wants to just survive her Grace year, lose the ‘magic’ she possesses and be able to go to farming. But as the Grace year begins, she realises that real magic could be afoot, and that it’s going to take more than common sense to get the girls working together.

I received this novel in early September, and it shouldn’t have taken me more than a month to review. I found myself almost equally repulsed and enjoying the novel, and equally believing and disbelieving at the girls’ behaviour. There were plenty of twists, and magic going on, so many that to review the book in full would spoil them. That being said…

Arg! The protagonist at times made me want to hit my head against the wall. I was somewhat disappointed in the ending. Tierney gave up her freedom for that? I can’t believe that she did. To discuss this more would be too much of a spoiler. But still! One of the things she says she’ll never do, she does.

What I would have liked to know was why they didn’t leave one girl behind each time to try to improve things for the next group. Surely not all the girls just want to be married? Or they know they have no man to go back to? I just find it impossible that they would let these things happen time and time again, even if that’s the culture. Not everyone has siblings to be thrown out after all.

I don’t think I would reread this, but I’m going to recommend it to a friend. 4 stars from me. Creepy, and so good and so bad at the same time.

Penguin Random House | 15th October 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: David Yoon – Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love
David Yoon

Frank Li needs to get date a nice Korean girl, bond with his father and get into The Harvard. What he doesn’t foresee is falling for a white girl and missing out on his father’s life. When Frank and Joy cook up the plan to fake date one another to be with the people they love, will more get broken than their hearts?

What I really liked about this novel was that it didn’t end at the predictable point of boy-loves-girl-loves-boy. The plot keeps going, and Frank finds himself still continuing on and considering issues he hadn’t thought about. To me it felt like quite a long novel, although I didn’t have a chance to sit down and read it in a single sitting.

Did the romance feel real to me? Sort of I suppose. I didn’t really get a proper picture of Brit and Joy, besides that Frank liked them. I liked how it wasn’t really insta-love as they had at least noticed one another before. I would have liked to see a little more characterisation of people other than Frank – but what can you do when it’s a first person narrative? Well, you can employ funny jokes and casual swearing in a way that makes you feel like you’re inside a teenage boy’s mind.

Apparently fake dating is a common trope? I’ve not seen it in my recent reading, so I can’t comment on it. For me, I found it very believable that Frank and Joy would set things up like this! Yes, I suppose the next step was inevitable but really? Couldn’t there be any other option? I’m also not sure I liked the ending with Q. I don’t think it was necessary, and it didn’t really make sense with the rest of the novel.

I can’t really say much about whether this is a typical depiction of American-Korean life and expectations. At my high school, everyone was European-Australian, and at university the number of people of Asian decent outnumbered ‘Australians’. Some reviewers have complained that this novel shows old-fashioned views of immigrants that speak poor English, but have high hopes for their children. However the people I personally know from similar backgrounds actually have similar expectations placed on them.

David Yoon is the husband of Nicola Yoon – Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. If you like fiction that has racial impact I’d recommend this novel, or the others. Just remember that it is written to a very American (USA) point of view. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 12th September 2019 | AU$12.99 | paperback

Review: Taryn Bashford – The Astrid Notes

The Astrid Notes
Taryn Bashford

Astrid secretly longs to be a popular song writer – but she’s an operatic soprano. Jacob is grieving for his friends and his band – but his parents won’t continue to bankroll his music career unless he starts singing again. Together, can Astrid and Jacob make compromises for their families and themselves? Or will they lose everything?

Ugh! I didn’t want them to be in love! What I wouldn’t give right now for a YA friendship novel. It sets up unrealistic expectations for young adults – they’re somehow supposed to have a love that makes them defy their parents and overcome their stage fright. It’s ok to be single, and it’s ok to just have friends.

Although this novel could be considered a sequel to The Harper Effect’, Harper doesn’t really play a role in it. She cameos maybe once? So there’s no need to have read Bashford’s other novel. But I feel like I’d consider borrowing it from the library to see if the same strong feelings raised in me by The Astrid Effect worked via sports stars too.

Once upon a time I thought that I wanted to go to music school – which in Melbourne would be the Victorian College of the Arts. I quickly realised that I wasn’t inherently talented enough to go! So here, where both Astrid and Jacob are good enough to go to music specialist schools I felt some envy of their talent. But also I felt deeply sad about the circumstances that brought them together. Their feelings of depression and suicidality (it should be a word!) brought me to tears.

I’ll give this four stars for the feels it gave me, but the story didn’t seem to be anything particularly new. I preferred another music-themed YA novel I read a couple of years ago. I’ll update the post if I remember it’s name! I can picture the cover, but not the title.

Pan Macmillan | 10th July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Suzy Zail – I Am Change

I Am Change
Suzy Zail

Lilian’s life has been mapped out for her by her mother. Attend school until she gets her first period, and then drop out to marry and raise babies. But Lilian wants more. She’s smart, why shouldn’t she go to school like the boys? Why would she want to marry? She wants more in her life, even though she is poor.

I am warning you now, this novel is not a comfortable or comforting read. I found myself thinking about it while I should have been working, and worrying about Lilian. I even dreamed about it, that’s how powerful this novel was. I wanted Lilian to succeed, even though I knew that it was very unlikely that she would.

I remember that when I requested this novel I was hesitant because I didn’t know if a city born author could do justice to a village born girl’s story. But Suzy Zail has written a powerful, painful novel from the input of 30 girls who have been through many, if not all, of the horrors depicted in the novel.

I recently went to an author talk by Isobelle Carmody (swoon!) where she talked about how it’s impossible to really define an age bracket for novels because everyone is at a different reading level. I’d say this is an adult novel, just as much as it is a young adult novel. It depends whether the reader is able to cope with the trigger warnings for rape, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.

I found it confronting and difficult to read. I recommend that you buy a copy and contemplate how lucky so many women are – and how many girls aren’t lucky enough to become women, because it is pure luck that they survive being given less food than the boys, having their genitals removed and birthing babies constantly year after year.

Walker Books | 1st August 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Gena Showalter – Firstlife

Gena Showalter

Prynne Asylum is the home of underage children that won’t do what their parents want them to do – whether it’s getting married or Choosing the right Second Life provider. Tenley’s been tortured for longer than she thought was possible, but she’s determined not to Choose Myriad or Troika. The two realms are determined to get her on their sides though – and she might die anyway.

How dumb can one girl be? It’s clearly obvious which side she’s going to pick. Oh boo hoo, your boy toy isn’t from the same place. Oh no! You might war with your parents for forever! Get over it! Choose based on what you see, not what people tell you. She’s all about being strong and kicking people in the balls (literally and figuratively) and then she’s just bowled over by good old Killian because he smells good.

Let’s not forget the inclusion of a weird psychic, and a suddenly discovered clause that that means that Ten isn’t her parents’ meal ticket any more. Oh, and the fact that Ten can recover from basically any injury (and so can the other humans) within the space of what seems to be hours. She ends up dying at least twice, and then she’s brought back. So really, who cares? I couldn’t get attached.

Ten’s pretty obsessed with numbers, but honestly I think it’s a load of bunkem. Any number can be special if you would like it to be! I’m personally quite fond of the number 13 because everyone says it’s unlucky. But I could equally choose 11, because it’s the first double digit prime number, or 2 because it’s the only even prime number. Tenley’s form of swearing is to say ‘zero’ to herself!

I waded my way through quite a lot of this novel before I gave up and read the synopsis on GoodReads for it, and the following two novels. 1 star – I didn’t finish it, don’t bother.

Review: Nicola Yoon – The Sun is also a Star

The Sun is also a Star
Nicola Yoon

Natasha will be deported before the day is out – but she’s willing to try anything to stay in America. Daniel happens to save her from being hit by a car, but he has his own life changing interview to attend. This novel is a story of how unexpected coincidences and fate can come together in just a single day.

Normally I would be irritated by a novel trying to cram too much importance into a single day. I thought to myself at the beginning of this one that I didn’t have much tolerance for the interspersed chapters from Natasha and Daniel, as well as the other randoms they happen to run into! But it grew on me, and in the end I was satisfied. I kept wanting to know the next coincidence to happen.

While I saw the ending coming, it was also very satisfying in a way that ‘Five years from now’ was not. It’s ok for people to drift apart! Even the epilogue was ok – I would have been ok with it not happening either. This book ended in a way that *Startalk* left me wanting. What’s wrong with an ending that isn’t roses for everyone?

I also read Everything, Everything a while back, and enjoyed it so when I saw this one I thought it could be a good distraction. I borrowed it through my local library’s eBook BorrowBox. Normally I hate reading on my phone, but in this case, it was convenient. I also saw a copy of it in a local (Greek) bookstore! I’m giving it 4 stars – I’m a little sad that I don’t own it, but I’m not going to rush out to buy it any time soon. Maybe if I saw it in a garage sale or similar.

Review: Brigid Kemmerer – call it what you want

call it what you want
Brigid Kemmerer

Maegan was a straight A student until the pressure of her perfect family got to her. She’s not their good girl anymore. But netither is her sister – pregnant and home from college unexpectedly. Paired with Rob who would rather fly under the radar until he graduates, can the two get over their prickly and worn edges to succeed?

Rob is a lovely tortured character determined to be miserable. If only he wasn’t quite so, charming? about it? I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but his character just didn’t sing true for me. Maegan on the other hand I could understand, but ultimately it ended up being more about her sister. And the romance between Rob and Maegan was sort of off I guess. They go from kissing to having her shirt off almost instantly as far as I can tell. No, I’m not ok with that, even in a YA novel. It seems like their family circumstances caused them to skip forward in time and not in a good way.

The ending of this was disappointing. It skipped forwards in time in such a way that I didn’t really believe in what happened. Also, the librarian? Really? Because no-one saw that coming… I wanted to shake Rob and Maegan half the time. And the rest of the time I wondered what on earth they were thinking.

I know that Kemmerer can produce novels that are far more intriguing and powerful than this one, so I found myself underwhelmed. How many normal teenage readers are going to be able to empathize with a multi-million dollar embezzling father?  Rob’s character is tortured and lonely and I entirely wanted him to succeed. What I did like was the way he couldn’t reconcile his own feelings about his father not being an asshole, with his father, well, being an asshole. Things just are never as simple as they seem.

The origami cover image leaves me pretty cold as well – neither of the two main characters are into it, and the pastel pink is just average. I connected more with Toffee (also published by Bloomsbury), and that was written in verse! Kemmerer, I’m not impressed. Please write the sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely ASAP instead.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner – Starworld

Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner

Sam’s a withdrawn artist with one best and only friend in the world. Somehow Zoe, a popular cute girl, enters into Sam’s universe through one of Sam’s paintings. Sam and Zoe aren’t sure they’ll be friends, but together they can escape into another world outside their complicated families.

The *star talk* of Zoe and Sam’s fantasy world together didn’t actually set me on fire (pun intended). I was more interested in their complicated emotions and cute ways of showing they cared. For example, Sam’s mom packs her a lunch in foods that are colour coded and divisible by four (which I personally find a very odd manifestation of OCD – but who am I to judge?). Then they share and make crazy flavour combinations.

Look, I’m not sure whether this novel was trying to take too much on or not, but there was certainly a whole range of things going on (so many that I wondered that it had to be set up like that – as in, I’d never expect a situation like this in real life). There’s Sam, with her Aspergers and OCD mom, and then there’s Zoe who is adopted with a severely intellectually disabled brother. Too many themes in one novel? Oh, and then add some true artistic skill and a queer angle just for good measure.

That being said, I liked this novel. Mainly because it had me ugly crying at one point, and it was JUST SO SAD. Sam, my heart broke with yours. Not as relate-able as perhaps Our Chemical Hearts or the dangerous art of blending in, but still good. If I had one teensy complaint, it would be that the ending left me feeling cold and empty. That’s what keeps me from giving this five stars, despite the emotional wreck that it left me in.

Walker Books | 1st July 2019 | AU$24.99 | paperback