Three picture books for Mother’s Day featuring two moms

Mother’s Day can be a bit fraught for any female-presenting person. When I worked in a grocery store during college and Mother’s Day rolled around, I didn’t want to wish any random woman happy Mother’s Day because…who am I to assume? Even if they have kids with them, I still didn’t want to assume. People have complicated relationships with their mothers. Maybe this stranger’s mother just died, how would I know? Meanwhile, I had some customers ask me if I was a mother just so they could wish me happy Mother’s Day, which was much more odd than ignoring it. (I also apparently went from being a “pregnancy is the worst thing that can happen to you” teenager to an “are you a mother?” young adult, which was unsettling.)

Anyway, another frustrating thing about Mother’s and Father’s Day is that…queer families exist! Single parents exist! And as someone who knew there was a chance I wouldn’t have a “traditional” family, Mother’s Day was a reminder of that.

All Moms

Moms are amazing! The care, support, and love they give make us stronger, smarter, kinder, and happier. Every mom is unique and special, so celebrate them with this beautiful picture book written by the married team of Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, and musician Kristen Ellis-Henderson.

All Moms is a love letter to mommies. Moms make us laugh. Moms read us stories. Moms snuggle us when we’re sad, and help us grow. Some moms are silly, some are sporty or crafty, but all moms are incredible. Moms can do anything!

Created in partnership with GLAAD, this inclusive picture book features and celebrates all different types of mommies and the amazing things they do

So, my girlfriend found this book when we were at Shakespeare & Co. in Manhattan, bought it because technically it’s “research” since we both have worked on writing picture books (hers is going on sub…mine is a half-completed draft), and we read it together sitting at the Lincoln Center Fountain.

What I love about this one is that it appears to be a generic Mother’s Day book at first, but then you realize there are two moms that are recurring. It also includes Pride and representations of other parents/guardians that can fill the role of mom(s), like two dads or a grandma.

The only baffling thing about this picture is the bear flag in the background?

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle

A little girl stays home with Mama when Mommy goes off on a work trip in this tender, inviting story that will resonate with every child who has missed a parent.

For one little girl, there’s no place she’d rather be than sitting between Mama and Mommy. So when Mommy goes away on a work trip, it’s tricky to find a good place at the table. As the days go by, Mama brings her to the library, they watch movies, and all of them talk on the phone, but she still misses Mommy as deep as the ocean and as high as an astronaut up in the stars. As they pass by a beautiful garden, the girl gets an idea . . . but when Mommy finally comes home, it takes a minute to shake off the empty feeling she felt all week before leaning in for a kiss. Michael L. Printz Award winner Nina LaCour thoughtfully renders a familiar, touching story of a child who misses a parent, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, whose distinctive style brings charm and playfulness to this delightful family of three.

Nina LaCour wrote a picture book! What I love about this one is that it is about missing a parent who is away for a not-tragic reason (a work trip), and it just happens that the little girl has two moms. This is also biracial family representation with a little Black girl. I haven’t found this in a bookstore yet to read, but I liked the free online preview so far! The illustrations (from Kaylani Juanita) also have a lovely style.

My Moms Love Me

Two mommies share a perfect day with their little one in this joyful picture book! From visiting animals on a farm and sharing a car ride sing-along, to a sudsy bath-time and bedtime snuggles galore, love and warmth beam out of every page. Rhyming, rhythmic text from author Anna Membrino is the perfect storytime read-aloud, paired alongside luminous, glowing illustrations from artist Joy Hwang Ruiz. With the lyrical sweetness of favorites like I Love You Through and Through and Guess How Much I Love You, this picture book is the perfect way to celebrate love for LGBTQ+ families!

A just-right gift for new parents, Mothers’ Day, baby showers, birthdays, and more.

This one is for younger kiddos and is also available as a board book! It is written in rhyming couplets and is focused on a baby. This is also biracial family representation, with a white/light-skinned baby this time. It’s very cute and all about loving a baby and normalizing a family with two moms. I also didn’t find this in a bookstore yet, but I’m sure I would love it.

Some housekeeping…

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The curse of the update post

Remember blogging? I miss it.

Things were able to slow down then,. I also loved reading the blogs and websites (and still do!) of writers and always wanted to contribute (and tried!) myself.

I’ve been playing around with online writing for a bit (see: The Human Connection Project and Quarter Life Crisis), but I don’t know if I’ve found a platform I fully like or want to commit to besides my own website. I do want to figure out how to make a mailing list, but you can subscribe to this blog via email.

Most of my ideas I squirrel away in the hope I can get them published somehow. Others I just don’t have the time to fully write down, or I’m not ready to make them public. That’s okay. That’s part of the writing process. For every book you see published, there are many more drafts in a drawer.

I have tried to write this post many times. This version dates back to February. But my updates keep changing.

The thing about writing–for me at least–is that it is tied to my own personal development. There was a contrast between my fifth and sixth grade writing and what came after, because I grew more attuned to human emotions. I shifted away from writing fantasy to writing mostly contemporary.

Starting in 2021, my personal life went through a lot of changes and so did my writing. (And reading, as reflected in this blog…or lack of it.) I wanted to write essays. Memoir. Short fiction. Literary fiction. Poetry. Songs. Picture books. Back to YA and middle grade. Magical stories. Satire.

I wanted to go to journalism school and then I wanted an MFA in creative nonfiction and then I thought I might be a special education teacher and now I think I want to be a children’s/school librarian.

Every time I have something to announce, some new direction, things shift. At least in my writing and professional life. My personal one has mostly solidified.

But now that I’ve had a year’s worth of this, I feel like I have enough of a grasp of it to at least start documenting in some way. So, I want to properly blog about writing. That includes reading, without the pressure of book reviews.

Updates: The Human Connection Project, Quarter Life Crisis

I’ve been doing a million things (at least that’s how my brain feels), so it’s time to do a round-up of sorts.

Quarter Life Crisis

Okay, look, I started a new project. BUT the entire purpose of it is I’m flailing around as a human…in a quarter-life crisis. My brain hasn’t finished developing, I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life…and I know I’m not alone. So, I’m connecting the personal to wider research and news, my favorite kind of writing. I hope you join me. Read more at my first post, here, and my reflection on Tick Tick…Boom!, which I was writing when Sondheim died.

The Human Connection Project

Look at me! I’m writing! I finished what I’m calling “season 1” of The Human Connection Project is a series of personal essays on the human side of pop culture and recommended links. I also have an Instagram around the same themes, sometimes featuring art. Here is how you can sign up to get it delivered to your inbox, plus a list of recent newsletters because oops I kind of forgot to keep posting over here.

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How music has gotten me through this year: the Human Connection Project #2

The second (and the first regular) issue of the Human Connection Project is out, and I talked all about one of my favorite things this year: music! How it has helped me this year…and sometimes not, a quick analysis of Phoebe Bridgers’ work, and I playlist I made just for you.

Am I still a book blogger? Introducing the Human Connection Project!

Time for a Change

So…I haven’t been on here much this, at least outside of my drafts and notes. I thought when I stopped teaching it would be easier to go back, but in fact, it was hard. I’m doing a lot better and have been able to focus on reading more, but I have been enjoying not being so public about it. There are three ARC reviews I’ve tried to write from books I’ve read in the past year, but since it was so long ago I don’t quite trust my memory on them, and it felt like a chore. Meanwhile, there are things I’m just more excited to write about, and it’s quite a relief to start “fresh” in a way.

Enter: The Human Connection Project. Originally a podcast idea (that is likely to still manifest at some point), I wanted to explore the positive role of storytelling/narrative media in our lives.

I’ve rarely written straightforward reviews, especially lately, and I’ve made it pretty clear I prefer . I also miss taking the time to write about other media (I recently reread my 13 Reasons Why post, which still holds up! though I had to correct some typos), but my attempts at keeping up with ARCs and the book world got in the way…until I was just unable to keep up with it after I started my first proper adult job.

Here’s how I summarized the project on its page on this website:

Welcome to the Human Connection Project! This was originally a podcast idea, and I do have an episode recorded that may see the light of day at the very least as a writing project, but in an effort of not stretching myself too thin and writing more, I’ve turned it into a newsletter! The options are endless really, but it’s going to be a newsletter centered around a writing piece where I thoughtfully consider stories and other media that seem relevant to our present moment, even if they aren’t the buzziest right now. Like what I usually ended up doing with a lot of the posts and reviews on here, but in your inbox. Me to you, practicing my nonfiction writing and slowly emerging from the surreal cave I’ve been in the past eight months. I hope it’s a nice break from the usual social media feed.

Additionally, I do hope to include guest posts or interviews where possible, and ultimately I want to cultivate a little creative and caring community with readers, as those are the only online spaces I’ve found tolerable this year. I’m still dabbling in the multimedia regardless if the podcast ever happens. After all, it’s essential to a project that is all about connectivity and multiple storytelling mediums, so follow the Instagram and YouTube linked below! And if you can throw a few bucks at the Patreon to help me run this and expand it, it is much appreciated and you will be rewarded with bonus content and behind-the-scenes access!

How to read and follow!

Subscribe to the newsletter, Instagram, and YouTube below! And if you are able to support my work on Patreon, I very much appreciate it and you’ll get some extra perks!

Birthday Reflections

Yesterday was my 24th birthday. I wrote this on my personal Instagram/Facebook for friends and family, but I am rather proud of it and it doesn’t get too personal so I wanted to share. I’m still struggling with writing and creativity, but I’m hoping to get some things published both here and perhaps in actual publications soon!

For my birthday, my parents got me this microwave cart, and it seems like the perfect symbol as I look back on the past year.

It arrived early and took a bit too long to put together because I was distracted orby other things, including a persistent and nagging back pain. I finally finished it after starting to see a chiropractor to improve my overall health. The instructions weren’t simple or clear, I made at least one glaring mistake (nailed on the back panel backward), and at least one thing was permanently changed due to a gamble and needs some outside help (superglue for the door handle I’d screwed on the wrong side, making the holes too big to work the other way, because the instructions weren’t clear which side was which). But ultimately, it cleans up some clutter and leaves more potential space on my counter. And it appears to be smiling—twice, if you tilt your head.

Here’s to 24. The number doesn’t quite feel right to me, but hopefully this year will be more even than odd.

Review: How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

  • Genre: YA contemporary
  • Release date: May 25, 2021
  • Publisher: Algonquin

Thank you to Algonquin and Netgalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. This review is part of a blog tour created by Algonquin.

Last year, I read Nicole Melleby’s first two books, In the Role of Brie Hutchens (review) and Hurricane Season, and she became one of my favorite middle grade writers, especially when it comes to queer contemporary middle grade! All of her books feature girls figuring out their sexuality, and Hurricane Season deals pretty heavily with the main character’s father’s bipolar disorder. Those themes continue in her newest, How to Become a Planet, but of course the characters and story are still their own. Personally…I think this is my favorite so far!

In Planet, our main character, Pluto–yes, that’s her real name, and she and her mom are astronomy and sci-fi obsessives–has just been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and missed the end of seventh grade. A lot of middle grade books that discuss mental health do so with the main character dealing with diagnosis/treatment of a parent or sibling, rather than themselves. If the main tween character is struggling, it usually focuses on the before-diagnosis era, like in my personal favorites Claire Legrand’s Some Kind of Happiness (review) and Amy King’s The Year We Fell From Space (review). But, as Melleby has mentioned in interviews, we need to not think of diagnosis as the end point, but a starting point–and I am so grateful this story is being told.

So, Pluto’s world is changing–she has to take medicine, her mom has hired help running the family pizzeria on the Jersey Shore boardwalk, she has to do tutoring to move on to eighth grade, she needs to become comfortable with therapy, and she wants her birthday trip to the planetarium to be as special as it is every year. Pluto and her mom create this list in an attempt to show that Pluto will be fine living with her mom, because her dad in New York City has more money and more access to healthcare, and her parents are considering having her live there instead.

Meanwhile, Pluto and her best friend Meredith are not so close due to all the time Pluto missed in school and her fears about Meredith seeing her differently, so she also wants to attend Meredith’s waterpark birthday party at the end of the summer. She meets a new friend on the boardwalk, though–Fallon, who confides in Pluto that she has a list of her own to start exploring her gender identity and presentation (note: this is early stages; Fallon uses she/her pronouns throughout the book). These two parallel journeys have their similarities and differences, ups and downs, but ultimately Fallon provides something Pluto needs: someone who doesn’t see her as “different” since the diagnosis, because they didn’t know each other before. And…they also have a super cute budding romance, which savvy (probably older) readers will start to notice before Pluto herself does.

So many things about depression and anxiety were explored in an important, realistic representation. Pluto has her up and down days, and I felt so validated because a lot of people don’t realize that depression isn’t 100% the same every day. She has panic attacks and is too overwhelmed to do a lot of social things. Her feelings are simply communicated in the way she understands them at her age, with her own astronomy comparison. Nothing is perfect or linear in mental health, which is difficult when writing fiction, but Planet still manages to have a clear emotional arc of acceptance and improving relationships. Pluto struggles with therapy at first, and she mistakenly believes the therapist might be able to “fix” her…maybe I’m projecting, but I think it’s a common experience and misunderstanding. She’s also very insecure about her friendships and parents, fearing she could be a burden, and struggles to reconcile her “before” and “after” life before her ultimate breakdown and diagnosis–sometimes, it’s easier to just escape that old life. She even has trouble concentrating on reading, which I unfortunately relate to this year, and perhaps many of us can with how COVID affected our lives. Ultimately, Pluto realizes that like the former planet, she is the same, her classification has just changed. (Can’t believe there’s a whole new generation of kids who don’t remember their childhood love for Pluto being crushed in 2006 when it was demoted! Today’s middle schoolers weren’t born yet!)

Like Melleby’s other books and other good middle grade, How to Become a Planet features parents quite heavily–after all, they are such an important part of kids’ everyday lives! The situation with Pluto’s wealthier, NYC-living (and D&D-obsessed) father who has his own girlfriend and hopes Pluto will live with him seems like a familiar dynamic (minus the geekiness), but when she does reluctantly visit for a weekend, things are more complicated and unexpected. I loved how Pluto learned to see her parents as complicated humans still figuring out their own lives.

As the handy graphic above shows, Planet takes place in New Jersey like Melleby’s other books, and the boardwalk summer culture is lovingly well-realized. This Italian-American with a Brooklyn-native father loved the inclusion of the pizzeria and zeppoles that Fallon’s large Italian family makes.

I admit, I sometimes struggle reading upper middle grade that is written in third person. It gives it a storybook feel that makes me want to hug the book closely, and while the sentence structure and language is definitely accessible, it can read younger than the characters are themselves (trust me, I’ve taught and worked with plenty of 7th graders). I felt that issue more with Planet than I did with Melleby’s previous Brie Hutchens–a book that strikes an eighth grade maturity not often seen in MG–but as the story went on, Pluto (like Brie) got to be a moody, complicated teenager that wasn’t completely because of her anxiety and depression. The fights between her and those she cares about the most really ratcheted up the stakes. The third person is also important, I realized, to communicate the little signs of Pluto’s crush on Fallon that she seems to not be consciously aware of for a while.

I desperately want to send this book in a wormhole to my younger self. This was such a lovely end to a Mental Health Awareness month. I started May joking that I’d been too aware of my mental health lately and needed a break, but several authors and their writing ended up helping me–which I will be writing about soon!

Bonus: Nicole is currently on a virtual tour, and one of the good things the pandemic has done is made these events online and more accessible to nerds like me who love listening to creatives talk about their work. Here are the first three so far!

TRIUMPHANT RETURN: Plans and the Dilemma of What to Share

Currently Reading: Books and Big Ideas

(This post was originally published on April 4th. I made the mistake of reverting it to a draft and had to republish.)

So…long time, no see.

In fairness, I’ve been working on various things behind the scenes lately and reading (you can always follow me on Goodreads, though I’ve been trying to use StoryGraph more for my TBR) but as per usual SCHOOL took over, this time as a teacher instead of as a student. And…that has been a general problem for my life, so I’m glad to report I’m working on a better mental, emotional, and physical balance to that life. And that includes writing more, including on this blog.

That said…do I want to share everything I’m reading? Are there other forms for it that might take less time from me? What about those middle grade books I read over the summer in like a day and loved but don’t have much to add besides a recommendation? Yes, there are 3 ARCs I still have to review and others I will in the future, but there are also books I want to kind of enjoy in my own little bubble. Like…for instance I read the first Animorphs book in a day over the summer because I’d never read it before and it was WILD, but I didn’t feel compelled to share much about it (though I’m glad they’re getting the graphic novel treatment). Now, I know “guilty pleasure” is usually just a way of feeling ashamed for certain genres society looks down on, but as someone who still might work with kids in some capacity in the future I’m not really looking to advertise any romance books I read…but I’m intrigued by recommendations from my good friend Tay (who by the way has an agent now whooo!! also we made some podcast episodes once I’m proud of, perhaps we will return) that feature diverse characters my age without the clichés that lead me to avoid romance most of the time. Who knows! I want to delve more into sci-fi and fantasy again, which I’ve avoided when in school because of the length and concentration required to step into a new world..

I am in kind of in a weird place right now where I have stopped traditional teaching for now and the near future after basically 7 months of my first year, a story I’m not entirely ready or able to tell (although **glances around at the endless pandemic-related school discussion** is this surprising?), so I’ve pivoted away from prioritizing reading middle grade right now and am rediscovering what reading can really mean for me independent of that role. And another role is my critical eye and anticipation of saying something to an audience about books I read because I’ve been doing this one way or another for about 7 years now.

That doesn’t mean my reviews still won’t be useful for educators–and I’m still going to donate books I don’t think I’ll reread or study for my own writing to the local schools and organizations–but I need to detach reading from my professional life to an extent. Because I’m going to be honest: I was not good at sharing my reading as a teacher with all my classes beyond posting the covers on my door. Granted, it was hard to make time for independent reading as a first-year teacher with COVID-related restrictions. But mostly, a lot of the books I gravitate toward are rather personal to me, and I knew they’d pick up on the patterns and I wasn’t always comfortable sharing why I loved certain books or thought they were important to all my students. That confidence is something I’m working on.

As for me, for weeks I’ve been trying to listen to the audiobook of Here for It: Or, How To Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas–which I genuinely like and had me both laughing and almost crying I just have been gravitating towards shorter videos and podcasts for listening–and When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert, one of my fave YA authors. It’s fantastic, but also very emotional so I think I’ve been avoiding it…but I don’t want to abandon it, either. Let’s just say I’m finally getting some things done around the apartment I’ve put off (ahem, cleaning, putting up posters that have been lying on the ground for 8 months…) and my attention or sitting span has not been conducive to reading. I need to make time for it again, too.

There is also this trouble I’ve seen a lot of long-form artists talk about where social media makes you feel like you need to put out content all the time–and in fact that can often be important to promote the big thing you are working on–and I definitely feel that sense of overwhelmed, especially as I’m turning toward projects that cannot see the light of day without extensive work and/or professional publication (if I want to get paid for my writing, which I do). But I still want to share, so here they are!

  • Video essays on my favorite musicals, starting with exploring the role of gender and relationships in Next to Normal (subscribe early here!)
  • Submitting short pieces for publication again
  • A YA novel I’m very happy with! My goal is to write 1000 words a day…I’ll be writing more and sharing what I learn. (Haha it is progressing but NOT THAT FAST oops. Is it too late to join Camp Nano?)
  • Writing some personal essays that hopefully can also go out to publication and maybe eventually become an essay collection?
  • A two-person play I might be able to produce with a friend and perhaps other related content for charities digitally
  • Finally catching up on A LOT of book reviews, which I’ve decided are going to be posted here in small, individual posts for each books instead of one big wrap-up because that sure gave me a headache.
  • Reviving my bookstagram! (see below, should link but it’s @books_bigideas)
  • I’ve been playing piano and singing again! And maybe I’ll want to share it some day?
  • I dunno about TikTok, man…seems easier than YouTube, but I hate staring at my phone to edit and the book community there is different than what I’m used to. Maybe it will just be musical theatre nonsense, who knows. But it exists @booksandbigideas.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

Welcome to “From the Archives,” a series I meant to start a long time ago by reposting my reviews from the old version of this blog, but I was a bit too self-conscious about it. However, I am currently rereading this book because it has the right style and themes to heal me, and upon discovering my old review, I was rather moved by it. So without further ado…here’s High School Senior Olivia.

There are so many reviews whose writers didn’t “get” this book, so let me tell you: I got it. In context, I didn’t find it all that strange, and it just made sense to me. (I’m not sure what that says about me.) Some of the reasons why I connected are maybe too personal to divulge. Some of my delightful reading experience is just A.S. King’s knack for pulling me into a book so it is the only thing I can think about for a while…but this one I think I’m going to be thinking about for a long, long time.

A plot summary is somewhat pointless, but I’ll try: this is a surrealist YA novel about buried internal trauma and external pressures and how not facing these problems never work. Two academically gifted teens fly away in an invisible helicopter to try to escape. A victim of date rape swallows herself. A victim of physical abuse tells lies that make her hair grow longer to try to fit in when she is really being abused at home. Everyone is worried about what others think and how they fit in. And someone keeps making repeated bomb threats to the standardized test-addled school, but the students also feel like they’re ticking time bombs.

Of course, I Crawl Through It isn’t for everyone. It is certainly weird, but I also didn’t find it TOO weird, although I am partial to experimental fiction. There is quite a bit of semblance of the real world and plot and character arcs are present as outlined above; none of it felt random to me in context. (Again, I’m not sure what it says about me that I was not at all concerned about, say, independently talking scars.) Most of all, the novel swallowed me up. I didn’t feel distanced from it, like I felt distanced from the Vonnegut I read. I read it over a period of less than 30 hours because it wouldn’t let me go.

Because I’ve felt like exploding, too. I’ve wanted to build an invisible helicopter and fly away. I’ve had that panic when the letters (aka multiple choice answers to a standardized test) are not correct. I’ve been concerned about how others perceive me and where I fit in, or if I fit in at all. Maybe sometimes I’ve even wanted to swallow myself, for different reasons. And so when I got to the part when the individuals on the island (that the helicopter takes the two characters to) rattle off their universities and majors (which were thankfully not all STEM; a stereotype I hate), I almost started crying, because it rang so true.

Plus, there’s this quote:

“Because nothing is perfect. Perfect is a myth. I want you to remember this. Perfect is a boldfaced lie. It’s a ham sandwich without ham. It’s a blue sky on Mondays when it rains on Wednesdays.”

And also in the acknowledgments (which also includes the amusing sentence: “Andrea Spooner, please edit this sentence so it somehow conveys the full appreciation I have for your trust.”):

“Student readers, thank you for reading. Thank you for writing to me. Thank you for being you. You are not ovals. You are not letters. You are human beings, and every time someone rolls their eyes at you because they think your opinion doesn’t count, picture me giving them the finger.”

It’s a quick read. It may be only a glimpse, but it’s powerful. It isn’t for everyone, and I’m not even sure I would recommend it to others. But I think it’s an experience I think I should share, in the spirit of sharing personal relationships with stories that are in themselves a very personal exploration for the author. That’s where the real power and influence of literature resides. Not in a Goodreads consensus, but in reaching the needs of readers, even if it isn’t everyone who picks it up.

Present-Day Olivia here! In the acknowledgments to her 2019 novel Dig. (in my opinion, her masterpiece, that I’ve read twice but I don’t think ever talked about on here because I was still processing it), she writes at the end: “Student readers: a few years ago, in the back of a book, I said that I’d flip off the adults in your lives who don’t think your opinions count. My fingers are tired. How do you put up with this crap?” And boy…how the world is quite different than we could have imagined back in 2015.

Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

  • Genre: YA horror/mystery
  • Publication Date: July 7, 2020
  • Publisher: Delacourte

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Wilder Girls comes a new twisty thriller about a girl whose past has always been a mystery—until she decides to return to her mother’s hometown . . . where history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape. 

Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley and Delacourte Press.

I have not read Power’s popular although divisive debut, Wilder Girls. Judging by its synopsis, though, I’d say Burn Our Bodies Down is more of a mystery, less gory, and less overtly speculative fiction for most of the book’s time. So if you didn’t like Wilder Girls, I would still check it out.

Burn Our Bodies Down starts out as a bit of a slow burn (ha), but once I got to the 30% mark where a major event happened soon after Margot arrived in Phalene, I was compelled to keep reading. Even if a lot of the action doesn’t come until the end, there is a sense of uneasiness and dread throughout.

I will say that there were some ideas I had early on that turned out to be true to an extent and that Margot caught onto a bit later than perhaps the average person–but that is part of her character. She has been so sheltered and told so many things she has to deal with her whole world changing. Because one of the main threads done well in Burn Our Bodies Down is that of the effects of emotional abuse and neglect. Margot has lived 17 years shut off from most of the world and, as she says a few times, raised herself. Instead of “whodunnit?” some of the major questions are exactly what she’s going to do and how…the ending left me a bit surprised but also satisfying, and that’s a testament to her character growth.

I won’t give anything away, but the last 20% of the book had me on edge and truly took a horror turn. I had to stay up and read it…at the risk of having nightmares! So I’d recommend finishing this one in broad daylight if graphic images at night bother you!