Book Review: Girl Made Of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Book: Girl Made Of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Published May 2018 by HMH Books For Young Readers|295 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

For readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

I absolutely LOVED this book.  It absolutely gutted me and I was a sobbing mess by the end of the book.  It is worth reading.  Please please please let this be one of the books you read this year.  It’s very much a look at rape culture, and please keep that in mind if you do pick up the book- or continue reading this review.

I felt so much for Mara, who doesn’t want to believe that her brother did, but she also wants to believe Hannah, especially since Hannah isn’t the type of person who would make it up.  The way people treated Hannah when she came back to school was horrifying but not surprising, and I’m not surprised that a lot of people seemed to believe it didn’t happen the way Hannah said it did.  And it’s horrifying that charges weren’t pressed, at least partially because Hannah and Owen were dating and because they had sex before.  I was so angry, but again, it wasn’t a surprise.

I loved Hannah’s relationship with Charlie, and they both have their flaws and things they’re dealing with, but they rely on each other to get through it.  I also loved seeing Mara’s relationship with Hannah, and how it changes throughout the book.

Girl Made Of Stars isn’t just about Hannah’s rape- it’s about the trauma Mara experienced when someone she trust took away that trust in a society that doesn’t believe women when they come forward about sexual assault.  Mara’s parents believing Owen didn’t do anything, meant that they would never believe Mara if she told them what happened to her.  You see so clearly how everyone feels and what they think and it’s messy and complicated and you see it so much throughout the book.

I loved everything about this book, as heart-wrenching as it was to read.  I know there is no way I can do this book justice, and I’m having the hardest time putting into words how amazing and powerful this book is.  I’m starting to cry just thinking about how I felt when I read this book, and that’s not something that happens often.

Just make sure this book is one of the ones you read this year.

5 stars.  I cannot think of a single negative thing about this book, and it’s one book I’m glad I picked up.

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Book Review: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Book: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Published May 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux Books|323 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind? 

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

I really liked The Way You Make Me Feel!  I liked Clara, and she really changes a lot in this book.  Goo’s previous book was cute and fun and light-hearted, and this book was pretty similar in that sense.  It’s a completely different story, of course, but I really liked it, and I loved the relationships that she had with Rose, Hamlet and her dad.

It really is a heart-warming story, and I loved seeing Clara get really invested in her dad’s food truck.  She wasn’t happy about it at first, but it seems like she really does like it by the end of the book.  I think she learns a lot, especially after going to see her mom, and realizes that being around her dad, and doing better is something she needs to do.

All of the change we see in Clara felt really natural.  It didn’t feel forced at all, and it felt like it happened at a good pace.  Okay, maybe the friendship with Rose is a little bit forced, now that I think about it.  It is the typical enemies-to-friends story but I did like it, and it didn’t get in the way of me liking their friendship.  They do balance each other out.

Even though I finished this book pretty recently, I found the romance forgettable.  I mean, I like Hamlet, and I think he and Clara have a pretty good relationship, but I am finding that I’m not remembering them as a couple.  Maybe because they were friends for quite a while, or maybe other things were more memorable than them as a romantic couple.  I’m not really sure what it is about their romantic relationship but it’s clearly something that didn’t stand out.

And Clara and her dad!  It seems like he’s pretty lax as a dad, and obviously Clara gets into all kinds of trouble.  It is interesting that it took her prank at junior prom to get him to be more of a dad and less of a friend but I did really like their relationship.  It seems like Goo has a soft spot for father-daughter relationships, and it felt very real.  Clara seems really protective of her dad, and I know I’ve mentioned how invested she gets in his food truck, but I think it’s really sweet and really cool that she enters a contest in the hopes that he’ll win and be able to get his restaurant up and running.

I was sad to see what her relationship with her mom was like.  Her dad does try, but it would appear that her mom doesn’t really care about Clara.  I definitely got the impression her mom was more interested in maintaining a certain carefree lifestyle than she was in being a mother.  I know Clara’s parents were young when they had her, and it seemed like her mom tried for a while, but I honestly could have cared less about Clara’s mom.  Clara going out to see her, though, really seemed to get Clara to realize how important her dad was, and how she did have responsibilities at home.

4 stars.  I didn’t love The Way You Make Me Feel, but I still really liked it!  I thought it was fun and heart-warming, and I love the relationships Clara had with some of the characters.

Book Review: Between The Blade And The Heart by Amanda Hocking

Book: Between The Blade And The Heart by Amanda Hocking

Published January 2018 by Wednesday Books|319 books

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Valkyrie #1

Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/Re-Telling- Norse Mythology

Between the Blade and the Heart is the first book in a brilliant new young adult fantasy duology inspired by Norse mythology by New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.

As one of Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s greatest responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. The balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos.

As Malin wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought, she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue-eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. Malin, along with her best friend and her ex-girlfriend, must decide where her loyalties lie…and whether helping Asher enact his revenge is worth the risk—to the world and to her heart.

I didn’t like Between The Blade And The Heart as much as I thought I would.  It is a cool idea, but I thought the mythology and world were more confusing than it needed to be.

Yes, you get a general idea of Malin’s world but I thought that things weren’t explained very well…if they were explained at all.  The book was both futuristic and old, all at the same time, but it didn’t work for me.  I think it just made it seem like Hocking wasn’t sure if she wanted something more traditional or more futuristic.  I think it did need a little more direction, because I felt like most of the time, it was unclear where things were going.

And I didn’t particularly care about the characters…or like them.  I don’t need to like characters to like a book, and sometimes unlikable characters are what make me like a book, but I felt like the characters were superficial and boring.  For whatever reason, I just couldn’t care about any of them, or what happened to them.  The book was on the shorter side, so maybe the characters didn’t develop as much as they needed to.

It did move fast, and there was quite a bit of action, but I was bored.  I don’t understand how a book with a lot of action can be boring, but this book was.  Maybe I was bored but I didn’t like or care about the characters.  Maybe it’s just me, and not the book.

Going back to the mythology, I did like seeing Valkyries!  It’s not something you see a lot in fantasy/paranormal, and you do see some other paranormal beings that you don’t typically see.  So that was nice, but like I mentioned before, things weren’t explained very well.  I’m not too familiar with Norse mythology (or anything else we see in the book, in terms of supernatural/paranormal beings), so it’s possible that having that knowledge would have made a difference.  Still, I felt like some of the basics should have been explained, because I was left feeling confused and bored.  I know I picked up this book up because it sounded really cool, and not everyone reading this book is going to have enough knowledge of Norse mythology to know what’s going on.

2 stars.  This book was okay, and while I wanted to like it more, I couldn’t.  It had a lot of potential, but it wasn’t the book for me.

Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Book: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Published April 2018 by Balzer + Bray|455 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Dread Nation #1

Genre: YA Alternate History/Historical Fiction/Zombies

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

I really liked Dread Nation!  I feel like I’ve been hearing about it for a long time, and it’s hard to believe that it’s only been out for a few months.  Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s been A LOT of talk about it.  And it definitely lives up to the hype.

It’s interesting that the civil war was basically interrupted by zombies, and I was reminded of both Pride And Prejudice And Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  It’s definitely in that genre- I’m not sure what you’d call it, but I generally refer to it as the Pride and Prejudice And Zombies genre.

What horrified me the most was the fact that certain people were sent to schools like Miss Preston’s, and that it was based on real life schools where children were taken away from their families to become better integrated into society (if I’m remembering the author’s note correctly.  Unfortunately, it has since been returned to the library, so I can’t exactly refer to it either).  I didn’t realize that was something that happened, though I can’t say I’m surprised either.

The inclusion of zombies does make it an alternate history, but I also really liked the way that it explored racism, sexism and class issues.  I loved both Katherine and Jane and the friendship that formed between them, and how both girls initially didn’t like each other.  They live in a world where they are trapped, though in very different ways.

There are three different stories we see in this book- being trained at Miss Preston’s, navigating Summerland, and the letters that Jane writes/sends back home.  It was an interesting way to do things, though life at Miss Preston’s would lead to something like living at Summerland, but the letters could lead to something in the next book.  What that is, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to read the next one to find out.  This is one book I would recommend to everyone.  I know zombies aren’t everyone’s thing, but everything else in this book makes it worth reading.

4 stars,  I didn’t love Dread Nation, but I still think it’s a great book, and one worth reading.

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Published June 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books|513 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: Guide #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I liked this one!  Gentleman’s Guide was my YA book club’s most recent pick, and even though I’ve seen it around, I never felt compelled to pick it up before.

It was a fun read, and something about the book made me think of My Lady Jane.  I think the humor and writing style is what reminded me of My Lady Jane.  And considering the length, it did go pretty fast.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Monty, though I did like Felicity and Percy. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite between the two…but for some reason, I am leaning more towards Felicity.  I’m not sure if I like this book (or Felicity) enough that I’d pick up the next book (which is apparently going to focus on Felicity) but who knows.  Maybe I’ll pick it up one day.

I did like the author’s note at the end, where she talked more about the tour of Europe and some of the other things we see in the book, like race and epilepsy.  I did think that she only scratched the surface with some of the things we see, like how Percy’s treated because of his epilepsy and his race, and how Felicity wants more education, but can’t because it isn’t expected of women during the time period.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what else to say about Gentleman’s Guide.  It was fun and entertaining, and a light read, which is something you need sometimes.  Maybe I wasn’t in much of a reading mood when I read it, because I did have a stretch where I didn’t really want to pick up a book, or maybe it was just the book.  I can see why people love it, but I can also see why people might not.

3 stars.  I really wish I had more to say about Gentleman’s Guide, but I don’t.  It was enjoyable, and while I wasn’t a fan of Monty, I did like Felicity and Percy.

Book Review: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Book: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Published September 2002 by Scholastic, Inc|304 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

I liked Esperanza Rising!  I thought it was a really good read, and it really shows what it was like to move to the U.S. during the Great Depression and what it was like to be a farm worker.

Esperanza had a lot of things change once her father dies.  She goes from having everything given to her and having a really good- and sheltered- life to having to work on a farm.  And she had to do it at such a young age, which is hard to imagine.  Considering the book takes place during the Great Depression, I suppose it’s not surprising, but still.  I can’t imagine doing what she and her family had to do, but they were willing to do whatever it took to have a better life.

One interesting thing that we see in the book is the fact that some people were deported back to Mexico, even though they were U.S. citizens, simply because they looked Mexican.  Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have changed much, and this story takes place 80-ish years later.  I do wish we saw a little more of that, actually, but it is something that we see in the book.  I can’t imagine having that hanging over your head.  There’s a lot of challenges that migrant workers face, and I thought the book showed that really well.

We do see a lot of the characters change, especially Esperanza.  She changes the most, of course, and she does what she needs to.  She’s grieving over the loss of her father, and her life changes pretty dramatically, but I wanted something a little more.  What, I don’t know, but it felt like there was this spark missing.  But maybe that’s just me.  I did like the relationship she had with her parents and her grandmother.  I was really close to my grandma, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing that in books.  Plus, she crochets with her grandma, and as someone who crochets, (unfortunately, by the time I actually learned how to crochet, my grandma wasn’t able to teach me anymore) I love seeing that in books.

3 stars.  I liked Esperanza Rising, but I think I wanted something a little more.  Maybe I was expecting too much, since this is a middle grade book, but I’d still recommend it.

Book Review: Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Book: Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Published May 2015 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Thriller/Mystery

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic fifteen-year-old, ready to take on crime in her hometown. When Scarlett agrees to investigate a local boy’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for suicide to start looking a lot like murder.

As Scarlett finds herself deep in a world of cults, curses, and the seemingly supernatural, she discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks…and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

I liked Scarlett Undercover!  It’s this cool mystery with elements of the paranormal, and part of me wishes it were part of a series…just to see the more supernatural elements.  It’s not often I want more books, but I would definitely read more books if we got to read more about Scarlett solving mysteries.

I wasn’t expecting a world of cults and curses that are centuries old, and I ended up really liking that part of it.  I finished the book wishing that we got more books with Scarlett solving paranormal mysteries.  It really made me wish that the book focused more on that, but at the same time, I know things needed to be set up, and that we weren’t instantly going to be thrown into the more supernatural elements of the book.

Those elements were pretty rooted in reality, so while those elements are there, it’s not the whole book.  It really is more of a mystery/thriller than a paranormal, and I thought the supernatural would be more present.  Still, I liked the connection between that and Scarlett’s family and some of the people in her life.

I do wish it were explained a little more, though, because Latham didn’t go into a lot of depth in some areas, and other things were inconsistent.  Scarlett, for example, goes from blowing off prayer to praying 5 times a day.  Obviously, what happened changed her, but it wasn’t really explained.  Her religion/faith wasn’t a big part of the book, which is fine, but with some of what happened in the book, I thought we’d see something a little more.

Overall, the book isn’t really about her religion or spiritual journey, so don’t expect that.  It was more about her trying to solve a mystery.  Still, I think it could have been interesting, but I’m also fine with the fact that it’s not really part of the book.

Scarlett is a pretty developed character- though, as the main character, one would hope she’s a pretty developed character- but I couldn’t really say that for the other characters.  It’s part of why I thought things could have been explained a little more, because the other characters were either bland or their role in things were confusing.  Scarlett herself is pretty spunky and sure of herself, and she really does want to help people.  She’s brave and she wants justice, and she’s pretty determined.  I just wish that the other characters were as interesting as Scarlett was.

3 stars.  I liked it, but I did want something a little different.  If you like mysteries, this is a pretty good one to check out.

Book Review: Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Book: Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Published October 2017 by Philomel Books|363 Pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: Rise Of The Empress #1

Genre: YA Fantasy/YA Re-telling

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

I absolutely loved this book!  It took me forever to get through (partly because I wasn’t in the mood, and partly because I was trying to get through some other books).

I love this re-telling of The Evil Queen, and while this story is Xifeng’s journey to becoming the evil queen, it’s still worth reading.  It makes me want to read the next book so, so much.  Regina Mills from Once Upon A Time is an amazing Evil Queen, but Xifeng comes pretty close.  It’s basically Snow White before Snow White, if that makes any sense.  It’s basically a prequel to the Snow White story that we all know (at least from Disney, but this is not the happy Disney version.  Please don’t expect a happy, Disney version of the Evil Queen, because this is not that book.

If you need to like characters, especially the main character, this book probably isn’t for you.  It was so hard to like Xifeng at times, but I did find myself understanding where she came from, and why she did what she did.  She does get jealous of other women, and she wasn’t very confident, especially at the beginning of the book.  She changes so much over the course of the book, but it felt really natural and not forced at all.

I feel like her journey isn’t going to end well, but this is one story that I feel pretty invested in, and I can’t wait to see where her story goes, even if the ending isn’t a happy one.

I thought the world was amazing and really detailed.  I had such a clear picture of what was going on, and I loved how vivid everything was.  My copy of the book was an annotated one from PageHabit, and those extra details really made the book for me.  It was interesting to see what inspired her, and where certain things in the book came from.

Also, this is not a light and fluffy story.  It is dark and twisted and sometimes gory.  I mean, she eats hearts to gain power and make herself stronger.  She will do anything to become Empress, and I thought the use of a prophecy was interesting.  As weird as it may be, I did like seeing how far she was willing to go to get what she wants and what she was willing to do so she could fulfill the destiny that was foretold.

I’m not sure if this was something the author intended, but I couldn’t help but think about prophecy and destiny and how cutthroat some people are, and how they’ll use prophecy to get whatever they want.  Also, some of the characters are pretty catty (and petty), and Xifeng was willing to take them down because they were standing in her way.  I’m sure there’s some sort of real world parallel you could draw.  I won’t, because my brain doesn’t want to work right (and I myself in not confident in my ability to draw a meaningful comparison) but it did feel very real.  Girls and women are pitted against each other as well, and you can definitely see why they act the way they do.

5 stars.  Overall, I loved this book.  The setting is amazing and vivid, and I just loved the world and the mythology and the characters.

Book Review: Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Book: Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Published October 2012 by Flux|262 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

“This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.”

My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life.

When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good.

It’s time to let my B side play.

I liked Beautiful Music For Ugly Children!  I didn’t love it, but I still think it’s a book everyone should check out.  I was hesitant to read it, because it’s not an #ownvoices book, but Cronn-Mills did a pretty good job at writing Gabe, and what he was going through.  It seems like she really did her research, though I could have done without the author’s note at the end.  Something about it didn’t sit right with me.

I spent a lot of the book angry at how other people treated him.  His parents misgender him, they call him by his birth name, and there is quite a bit of transphobia.  He does live in a fairly small town (as small a town as a town that has 40,000 people can be), and I can’t say I’m surprised by how he was treated and with how people reacted.  I’m trying not to assume that everyone who lives in a small-ish town is transphobic, and we do see some people who are really accepting of Gabe.

Still, his parents do come around, and I can understand why they’d have a hard time accepting that Gabe is their son. Especially his mom, who seems to feel like she did something wrong, even though she didn’t.  I did find myself feeling uncomfortable at their insistence on calling Gabe Elizabeth, even though we see him correct them throughout the book.

One thing I thought was interesting was his best friend Paige.  She seemed so supportive, until she herself is threatened because of her friendship with Gabe.  And suddenly, she’s having a hard time with it.  I’m not sure what to think about it, because she did seem so supportive initially, but when she was threatened by the same people who threatened Gabe, she seemed to have a hard time.  Almost like it wasn’t real until she was personally affected by it.  I get she’s maybe having a hard time that Gabe is Gabe (and not Elizabeth) but I still found myself frustrated by how she was acting.

I did love his mentor John, and the whole idea of the Ugly Children Brigade.  It gave the book a nostalgic sort of vibe, and I think that part of it made me think of a couple of books: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and How To Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford.  If you like either of those books, then you’ll probably like this one.  Plus, I liked how music tied into his story, and how A sides and B sides tied into how he saw himself.  They really are kindred spirits, despite their age difference, and I loved their relationship.

Some of the terms were really derogatory and out-dated.  I know this book was published in 2012, and that things have changed, but this still took away from the book a little bit.  And while Gabe was a great character, I wasn’t enthused with Mara, Heather or Paige.  The female characters fell flat and were pretty one-dimensional, though Paige seemed a little bit less so than the other two.  And they were all love interests, which is fine, but it would have been nice to see Gabe have at least one female in his life who he has a platonic relationship with.

3 stars.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  I can’t speak to the portrayal of a character who’s transitioning, since I’m cisgender, but it does seem like Cronn-Mills did a lot of research.

Book Review: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman

Book: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman

Published October 2013 by Harry N Abrams|256 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

I liked this one!  For me, it’s one of those books that’s hovering between middle grade and YA- there is something about it that is a little bit more YA, but I could easily see it as an older middle grade book.

I thought Tara was interesting, and I liked seeing her balance both her Indian and her Jewish identities.  There were a couple of things that really stood out to me.  One was a comment from one of her classmates about how she’s not really Jewish because her mom converted to Judaism, and the other was someone assuming she was Muslim because she was from India.  She was easy to relate to, and I really liked her relationships with both her family and her friends.

Adult me’s reaction is that if someone says they’re Jewish, then they’re Jewish…and I’m pretty sure teenage me would felt the same way.  But I also grew up Catholic, and my knowledge of other religions is pretty limited, so maybe I’m missing something here.  I just liked seeing her struggle with her identity, and how she struggled with her faith.  She is full of questions, and for some reason, I really liked that about her.

I did like Sheila and I really, one of the other characters in the book.  It seems like she gets whatever she wants, but she also has some issues she needs to work on.  I felt a little bad for her, but I also wish we saw more of her backstory, because I am curious about why she did some of the things she did.

Something else I wish we saw was more of her mom’s experience as an immigrant.  Tara and her mom are very different, and her mom seems wary of Tara connecting with her Indian culture.  There does seem to be a little bit of a disconnect at times, but they are also very different.  Still, at least a little about her experience immigrating to the US would have been nice, and I think it would have added something different to her relationship with Tara.  But she was still an interesting character.

I also liked the glossary at the end, which was helpful because there were a lot of phrases and words I wasn’t familiar with.  It was nice to actually see what they meant, instead of forgetting to google it later, or trying to figure out what it meant.  I like it when books include a glossary, and that Freedman recognized that not everyone is going to be familiar with some of the phrases we see throughout the book.

3 stars.  I liked it, and I especially liked Tara.  But while I liked it, I didn’t love it.  I thought a couple of things could have used some more backstory, but overall, I’d still recommend it.