Thursday, September 13, 2018
Drag Teen by Jeffery Self
18 year old JT is stuck in Clearwater, Florida where the water isn't clear. He dreams of life somewhere--anywhere--else, but his family is content running a roadside gas station and eating food from the dollar store, and they consider a few classes at Clearwater' Tech School sufficient "higher education" for their vision of JT's future. No support there.
JT's boyfriend Seth proposes a solution: a drag queen competition for teens in New York City. The prize for first place is a four-year scholarship. Why would JT, a talented singer and drag-queen wannabe, not want to participate?
The answer to that, and some other stuff, is the guts of this book.
Part unlikely-road-trip adventure, part fish-out-of-water drama, part coming-of-age story, Drag Teen is a fun read. Sure, the plot relies too heavily on coincidence, and some of the characters were so two-dimensional that it's a wonder they could get Spanx to stay on, and clearly the narrator's personal arc was copied from some old "afterschool special" formula, and the ending was completely non-credible.
But for all the weaknesses, I enjoyed reading this book.
Recommended for readers ages 12 and up.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy
200 teen scientists vie for two positions with NASA's Interworlds Agency. The tests cover math, science, problem-solving...and a lot more. Rosa Hayashi is an obvious choice. Eddie Toivonen is not.
Then gravity flutters, which it definitely should not do. Immediately after, alternate-dimension aliens show up, and they look human. In fact, the alternate-dimension aliens look exactly like the astronauts who just left Earth, only these astronauts are carrying a very dangerous cargo.
What could possibly go wrong?
Part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, part Ender's Game and part literary roller coaster. Put it all together for a fast-moving, fun book with an intriguing premise and appealing characters who make nerdy the new cool. Highly recommended!
Ages 12 to adult. Some cussing, some kissing and some unbelievably corny knock-knock jokes.
My Fairy Godmother is a Drag Queen by David Clawson
17-year-old Chris is the undervalued stepson in the socially-prominent (but financially bereft) Fontaine family. He does all the cooking and cleaning, and keeps his step-siblings well-dressed and his step-mother comfortably numb. When J.J. Kennerly, "The Most Eligible Bachelor in America," publicly announces that he will be attending the prestigious Autumnal Ball, the household goes nuts--and Chris gets left behind.
Will Chris be cut off from happiness forever, or will his new friend Coco Chanel Jones work her fabulous fashion magic and bring about true love between Chris and J.J.?
This Cinderella-reboot has a lot of cute elements and some laugh-out-loud moments, but tries a little too hard to rock the gender boat. And then there's the ending, which involves a shoe and an unexpected coming-out that should have been satisfying but felt forced instead.
A quick and fun read for ages 12 to adult.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
16-year-old Simon Spier is in the closet, and he isn't sure how to get out. But he's been corresponding online with another local boy called "Blue," and Simon is pretty sure that Blue (or whatever his real name is) will be worth all the drama that will probably accompany coming out.
Then, Martin finds the emails and blackmails Simon.
Did somebody say "drama"?
The book features all of the heartache-y, up-and-down drama of a John Hughes "brat pack" movie, updated with modern characters and modern sensibilities. It's fun, it's funny, it's surprising, and it's a feel-good book with a happy ending--perfect summer beach reading.
And if you liked Simon, you'll love Leah:
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
A year has passed since Simon learned Blue's true identity, and in that time, nobody has made much progress getting to know Leah better. She's smart, she's snarky, she's a damn good drummer and a good friend. But even though her mom has known for ages that Leah is bisexual, Leah hasn't told anybody else yet. Not even Simon.
Now senior year is almost over. Prom-drama is running high, with graduation and college coming soon, and Leah is torn when her rock-solid group of friends begins to fracture in ways she never dreamed.
Sweet, warm and funny, with all the melodrama that only 18-year-olds can muster. It makes me remember my high school days with a smile, even though I'd never want to re-live them.
Recommended for ages 12 to adult. Some cussing, lots of under-age drinking, and more sexual situations and angst than you might have thought possible. Gold stars for appropriate mentions of safe sexual practices.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (graphic novel)
Prince Sebastian has a secret.
Some days I look in the mirror and think, "That's me, Prince Sebastian! I wear boy clothes and look like my father. Other days it doesn't feel right at all. Those days I feel like I'm actually...a princess."
Although Sebastian is sure that his family would be ruined and his parents would disown him if the secret ever got out, he does share it--and his dreams of being known in public as the glamorous Lady Crystallia--with his dressmaker. Frances not only encourages Sebastian, she creates fabulous gowns for Lady Crystallia that are soon the talk of all Paris.
And then, things go wrong.
This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a quick and compelling read with a sweet, satisfying ending. Reading it restored my faith in humans (and who doesn't need a bit of that?) and I plan to share it enthusiastically with teens, tweens...and parents.
Highly recommended, ages 10 to adult.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
15 year old Sarah is blonde, blue-eyed, and (according to Nazi reckoning) Jewish. She is a talented gymnast, she speaks several languages, she is adept at assimilating. In other words, she is perfectly suited to be a spy.
Assigned to infiltrate a school for the privileged daughters of high-ranking SS officers so she can discover the hidden location of a new kind of bomb, Sarah (now called "Ursula") sneaks, lies, snoops, and tricks her way into the top level of mean girls. She finds the bomb...and much more.
The author's buckets of research and attention to character-building elevate this story above the adventures of James Bond, but some elements strain credulity. The book is not quite as good as Code Name Verity, however, readers interested in the time-period will be fascinated by the descriptions from inside Nazi Germany.
Although no sequel is specified, there is clearly more adventure in store for Sarah/Ursula.
Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.
Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim DiBartolo
Zuzanna begins the narrative with the story of a gruesome little puppet her grandfather used to scare small children: the head made from a real fox skull with black glass eyes, sharpened teeth, and Cossack garb (complete with fur hat).
Then she switches gears, a gushes a bit about this boy she is crazy to meet: Mik, the "violin boy" who is Zuzanna's boyfriend in this author's Daughter of Smoke and Bone books. This lovely, talented, beautiful boy...to whom Zuzanna is too shy to speak.
One night, she takes a handful of scuppies (tiny wishes) and crafts a little adventure for Mik: a treasure map, with a drawing of herself at the center of the page where "x-marks-the-spot."
And thus, the magic begins.
Small, quiet, and powerful, this novella should be uber-creepy, but becomes delightfully sweet instead. The illustrations are swirly, gothic, and delightful.
And now, I want cake.
Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult. Some scariness, no blood, some kissing (YES!!!) and thoughts of further intimacy but nothing on the page.
You do not need to read the Smoke and Bones books to appreciate this. You only need to understand that magic is real, and that I love this book.