Pride Month (and Beyond) TBR + Mostly May Wrap-Up

It’s that time of year!! I’ve been working a lot and I just started an online class, so I’m kind of busy (hence why this post is so late), but I’ve also been loving reading this summer. In fact, I read quite a few LGBTQIAP+ books already in May that I loved and might as well just recommend right here. And some of these books I might read after the month ends! I read queer books all year. The only difference is I’m trying to focus exclusively on #ownvoices queer books this month, though there are a couple of exceptions.

This isn’t the ultimate Pride TBR. I’m trying to be inclusive and intersectional as possible, but I’m also focusing on reading the books that I’ve bought, and particularly the physical books, since it’s easier to bring my Kindle to school and (next spring) abroad when I do some of my student teaching in Wales. So please realize this is almost entirely a “what books do I have?” list and not a recommended, representative Pride reading list. These are just my reading plans!

Pride month…Ashley Herring Blake, Deposing Nathan, We Are Okay, What if It’s Us, This is Not a Love Story, I Wish You All the Best, Red White and Royal Blue, Anna-Marie, Drum Roll Please, Little & Lion

Books I Already Read in May

  • Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson: I LOVED THIS MEMOIR of this YA author’s struggle growing up in the early 90s when there was limited queer representation and it was almost entirely tragic or stereotypical. He discusses his depression and suicide attempt, his internalized homophobia, and his not-yet-completely-understood asexuality with so much nuance, care, and even funny anecdotes. Read my review.
  • Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake: My first YA read from Blake (I read her MG Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World last year on Pride month, which I loved), and I loved how she handled this story about trauma and sexual assault with specific characters and setting. Everything was so well-done, including the relationships the bi main character has with her genderfluid ex and her best friend-turned-maybe-destructive-fling.
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer: I actually haven’t read much literary fiction yet this year and started really missing it, so I picked up last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner which also happens to star a mediocre gay novelist having a mid-life crisis. It’s partially a satire about Americans abroad and the literary world (and it’s so funny it won this award, since it picks on the luck involved in literary prizes, how the mainstream straight audience views queer stories as inspirational, and how a white gay middle-aged man wandering around isn’t that exciting to read about), but it also has joyful and thoughtful examinations of life and love that I really connected to.
  • Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley: An absolutely gripping read about bisexuality, relationships, abuse, and faith. I read this in like three days because I JUST HAD TO KNOW. Any time this got close to a harmful trope it was subverted or commented on.
  • Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore: My second McLemore book, and like Wild Beauty, this is a gorgeous magical realism tale that is both contemporary and timeless. As I said on Goodreads after finishing it: the bar for fairytale retelling is RAISED. This is all about storytelling, colorism, gender, class, trauma, healing, family, and daring to defy what society has determined for you.
  • (I also finished listening to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, which features a major side gay character, and let me just say: Thomas is a master of character.)

New Books I’ve Bought

  • I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver: I’ve actually finished this one by the time of writing this post, and I’ll save my thoughts for the wrap-up, but I LOVED this story about a nonbinary teen and their friendship and then more with a boy at their new school. So many YESSS moments where Deaver just gets it because they are also a part of the community right now.
  • Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemain: I started this book, which just came out on June 4th, as my next read, because this is set in during 1989 and 1990 in New York with gay characters (including one originally from Iran, like the author) who get involved in ACT UP and love Madonna, and that makes it the PERFECT prep for Season 2 of Pose which comes out on June 11th. (It’s one of my favorite shows. The first season is on Netflix now!!)

Physical Books I Already Own

  • The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake: I haven’t gotten a chance to read this yet, but I’ve just got to honor the tradition I started last year of reading Blake’s new MG queer girl adorable book in June. I know it’s going to warm my heart.
  • Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow: I got an Amazon gift card from a survey I did and so of course I used it to buy like the only the recent (published last June) middle grade book featuring a queer girl main character I don’t have yet. And then it can go in my future classroom, of course. Also, this one involves music!
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: More McLemore!! This one is shorter and features a trans boy love interest. This is the last of her books I own that I haven’t read, and I think her first book–the only one that’s out that I don’t have–isn’t explicitly queer anyway. (But I still want to read it, of course!)
  • What if It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera: This is a (rather long) romance between boys in NYC and I LOVE both authors and musicals (though Dear Evan Hansen I’m not really a fan of). I read parts of the opening chapter at the end of Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat last year, and I really enjoyed the characterization!

Ebooks I Own

  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston: Okay, I haven’t bought this yet but I WILL when I’m ready to read it because it’s the perfect ebook book, sale or no sale. I’m just going to hop on the train of great banter, political intrigue, and bisexual rep. Plus, I’ve been following Casey online for a bit and love their sense of humor, and this seems like a quick read to break up some of the heavier or longer ones.
  • How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake: This was the first book I started hearing about Blake with and so I’ve got to read it!! It’s a bi girl struggling with a difficult family relationship who also has a romance with another girl.
  • We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: Printz winner? Check. Short? Check. (I love short books, not sorry.) Heartbreaking? Check. Queer girl main character? Check. Amazing reviews? Check. About time I finally read this.
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert: As far as I know this isn’t #ownvoices, but I wanted to have more racial diversity in here, and most other books that fall into this category I already read or don’t own (yet). I know this is beloved by reviewers I trust and also was a Stonewall winner.


I LOVE my home library but and I already borrowed some books in May (including Girl Made of Stars and Less), but..I really do want to focus reading on what I have so I don’t get into bad book-buying habits. That said, I do have an exception with an ebook I’ve borrowed (thanks, Overdrive/Libby!) to read on and off for fun: Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld books, specifically the third City Watch book (and I’ve read the first two the past two years). This probably seems strange, and it isn’t #ownvoices, but…one of my very good friends has been shouting at me about Discworld so much that I’ve wanted to revisit it (the Good Omens TV show isn’t helping), and this is one of their favorites that they recently reread for the first time since coming out as trans. Apparently there’s a trans storyline, or what can basically be called that since this is fantasy, so I’m interested to read that. I’ve started it and I already love the satire of the War on Drugs and the funny characters.


ARC Review: Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

  • Genre: YA memoir (nonfiction)
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • Publication date: May 20, 2019

Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five” (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

I’ve really enjoyed Shaun David Hutchinson’s books We are the Ants and The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, and hope to read more in the future. After I read We Are the Ants a couple of years ago, I watched his keynote speech where he touches on his past with depression and suicide. So even though the subject matter is tough (and he tells you this upfront, and then warns you again right before his suicide attempt in the book), I had to read the full story.

But Brave Face is actually so much more than the early life of a particular YA author. It’s about growing up gay during the 90s when the only media representation of gay men was the effeminate, funny sidekick or the promiscuous and drug-addicted man dying from AIDS (and how, as the Internet grows, it allows for more connection). The former he personally couldn’t relate to, and the latter he was afraid of becoming. He could not imagine a happy future, and this all conspires with his depression to give him more “reason” to feel worthless and unlovable. He also is on the asexuality spectrum (which he doesn’t name but describes in detail in the book, and has named on Twitter), and that affects his relationships and outlook, too. He never claims to represent all or any of those things, but at the same time, he analyzes his own situation with a key eye to the larger context. This is all intentional–present-day Shaun comments on it throughout, contextualizing because this is written for young adults who were not even born yet during this time. And I honestly think it’s a dark time in queer history–in between the AIDS crisis and marriage equality–that is rarely talked or written about.

I really admired overall how present-day Shaun came through in the book. While teenage Shaun is in a dark place, adult Shaun reminds us the facts of the situation. He replicates his warped and suicidal thoughts, but he also comments on his internalized homophobia throughout the text, not just in the note at the beginning (which I loved because he notes how people change and that’s something I needed to hear as a teen). And yeah, maybe he’s harder on himself than most of us would be…of course we’d all call our younger selves assholes and point out stupid things we did for the sake of a crush (including starting to smoke). He was also great at inserting facts he might not have known at the time to be informative, like the purpose of ECT treatment and how effective it can be for some (which I particularly appreciated because I’ve researched that recently). Also, he warns you again right before his suicide attempt and provides you a page number to skip to, which I really appreciated. I’m not often triggered by these things, but I knew it was coming, and so much of the book I felt a creeping sense of dread, wondering if this was the moment. And so that note allowed me to relax.

Despite all these struggles, there are still bright spots: a found family of drama clubs, an encouraging creative writing student teacher (literally the position I will have in less than a year??), his lifelong friendship with a girl named Maddie, and smaller anecdotes. For instance, I was delighted that other college campuses are visited by homophobic and generally radical preachers that students go out of their way to bother. His interest in writing is also a brighter spot, and the story of how he wrote a play (that he says is terrible overall, but gives you a key excerpt) that was basically how he came out to himself is amazing and something I connected to as a writer.

Not gonna lie, I cried at the sheer honesty and true emotions from friends and family and even the nurse after his suicide attempt. But then I was smiling at the ending, how he essentially fast-forwarded through all the ups and downs in his life and points out how “it gets better” is broadly true, but ignores some of the complications along the way. And this is nonfiction, so I don’t need to point out that this is true, but…it is. And that’s part of why this book is so important for young people to read and why this isn’t a traditional adult-marketed memoir. I know I needed that as a teen.

I’m really looking forward to hopefully more YA memoirs in the future (and will I write one myself? …maybe), and in the meantime, I’m going to go back and read Shaun’s other books that I haven’t read yet.

Review: Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles

  • Genre: Middle grade realistic fiction
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication Date: April 2, 2019

If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.
It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. With all the heart of her award-winning novel See You At Harry’s, Jo Knowles brings us the story of a girl who must discover where her heart is and what that means for her future.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley.

Three years ago, I read See You at Harry’s, Jo Knowles’ most popular middle grade book and perhaps her best known work overall. I enjoyed it, though I confess I never wrote anything about it and so I don’t remember specific reactions to it. But I remembered Jo Knowles as a good writer of middle grade, and so when I saw her latest release up on Netgalley, I requested it. I’m not even sure I read the summary very intently, though if I had, it’s pretty clear why I clicked request–it suggests the main character is some sort of LGBTQIAP.

I kind of devoured this book. Knowles balances essentially two major threads: Rachel witnessing her family’s financial crisis, and her figuring out her sexuality and relationship to her friends. (There are also chapters earlier on about her job taking care of the new neighbor’s animals, but this eventually sort of combines with her family’s situation.) I was very invested in both of these and so when I saw the next chapter was going to progress one of the storylines, I had to keep reading.

Rachel lives on a farm with her parents, her younger sister Ivy, and an old pony named Rainbow. They’re within biking distance from the beach, where her classmates hang out, with Ivy often included because her friends are away at summer camp which her family can’t afford. At the beginning, new neighbors move in, and Rachel can tell immediately that they have more money. Rachel’s home life comes from less money than her classmates, especially since her mother recently lost a job as a school librarian because of budget cuts (booo, school librarians are so important!!), and this self-consciousness plagues her. She knows her parents whisper and argue about money and their mortgage. Her clothes come from thrift stores or were given away, and she’s always aware how she doesn’t have the name brands other students do and that she only has a singular one-piece bathing suit. She wants the money she makes taking care of the new neighbor’s animals to help her family out. All of this was heartbreaking but so realistic, and definitely will be relatable to many kids out there (including me, honestly, though I acknowledge my situation has never been as dire).

Meanwhile, Rachel’s a thirteen-year-old dealing with everything that entails, including her classmates starting to flirt and have crushes and date. When she was little, she and her best friend Micah said they would be together forever, and while Micah definitely likes her…she doesn’t feel the same way him. In fact, she’s not sure she likes anyone (but if you’re looking for asexual representation, this isn’t it). But she’s afraid of being different and losing him as a friend, especially since Micah seems to be interested in a new girl. Even though her situation seems fairly progressive–they had an LGBT-inclusive health class, and two boys in her grade are dating–so it’s the internal struggle of figuring out herself that is focused on, and I really appreciated that. This is also the first middle grade I’ve read with multiple queer characters actual of the same age as the main character, which I loved; there’s the two boys I mentioned earlier, and another girl Rachel reconnects with who says she has crushes on people regardless of gender, but doesn’t claim a label. (It gives me so much hope for the kids out there!)

(Spoilers ahead, perhaps!) Ultimately, this is the secondary plot, and with everything that starts to happen with Rachel’s family, she can’t focus much on exploring her sexuality. She definitely has feelings for the girl I mentioned above, and there’s a promise of more to come at the end, which I really liked, especially as some middle grade books feature queer girls who end up crushing on girls who don’t have or aren’t capable of feeling the same way. She doesn’t claim a label, either, and is pretty frustrated when Micah keeps pushing her in the direction of coming out (as gay, it is implied). But I was kind of disappointed about the general lack of disregard of labels in the book, especially since as far as I know, it isn’t #ownvoices. Rachel’s says her health teacher gave them a list of sexuality labels, which she found confusing because it was so much information at once, and the other girl says she’s not into labels. It just veered a little too close to an adult’s attempt at “kids these days and their labels for everything” with some “I saw that article that Gen X kids are saying they’re queer or fluid instead of specific labels” for my liking. At least acknowledging some possibilities of some labels and desperately trying to find representation out there, rings truer to me. It makes sense this was avoided because it wasn’t the focus of the novel as it continued, but…this tends to be a recurring issue with girls in media, and it repeats itself here. The boys have no problem saying “we knew we were gay,” after all.

However, I also really connected emotionally with Rachel as her family’s situation became more serious and apparent to her. Unfortunately, I do think the cover spoils some of that, and I’m glad I didn’t look too closely at it, but I had the advantage of reading it digitally. Still, the emotional rollercoaster the whole family went on and the fact they can get through it, even if things will change, brings about some hope. I also loved Rachel’s relationship with her parents and her sister. They loved and care for each other, but there are also arguments and fights.

Where the Heart Is is a worthy addition to the middle grade canon and tackles financial hardship head-on, with all the complicated feelings that arise. I wish it was a little more nuanced about queerness, but I still think many kids will see themselves in this, and thankfully it’s joined by quite a few other MG books featuring queer girls!

ARC Review: The Backstagers and the Theater of the Ancients by Andy Mientus

  • Genre: Middle grade fantasy
  • Publisher: Amulet Books
  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019

After saving the day and stopping the ghost from taking over their theater, things are quiet for the Backstagers of the St. Genesius School Drama Club. Too quiet. But when that quiet is filled by a mysterious voice that haunts the Backstagers day and night, they set off on a globetrotting adventure to discover the ancient secrets of the legendary artifacts of the theater. Can they solve the mystery in time to open their production of the rock musical Tammy? Each Backstager brings unique skills to the team: Mischievous Sasha is impossibly positive; no-nonsense Aziz makes sure everything runs smoothly; whiz-kid Beckett is a perfectionist through and through; flirtatious Hunter knows the backstage better than anyone; and sweet Jory can think his way through any problem. Effortlessly inclusive and full of adventure, The Backstagers and the Theater of the Ancients is sure to have readers calling, “Encore!”

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley!

I read and reviewed the first Backstagers book last year and I’ve been looking forward to the sequels, and here we are! These books, written by Broadway actor Andy Mientus, are actually a continuation from a comics series that I haven’t read yet. Because of this, it took me a little bit to become accustomed to the fantasy world and alternate reality, and while the second book contains enough background information it can be read on its own, I still found it easier to jump into. I also think the worldbuilding is also more frontloaded in this one by way of catching readers up.

This book is explicitly inspired by Andy’s experience in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening (apparently the final copy is dedicated to that) and it propels the plot of the whole series in a very interesting and important direction. This book introduces Adrienne (who apparently does appear in the comics), a Deaf girl who uses both hearing aids and ASL. Bailey, the girl always cast as the lead, is cast in Tammy (the rock musical about a Deaf girl who becomes a Skee-Ball star…sound familiar? I also love how Andy wrote about the representation issues he noticed in Tommy when he was literally playing the lead role) as the lead role, but through Adrienne the group realizes that hearing actors playing deaf often botch ASL and there are so few opportunities for Deaf actors. And Adrienne has always wanted to be on stage…she just has never had the opportunity, and as she’s Deaf her singing isn’t comparable to hearing actors. So they construct a way for her to play Tammy while Bailey sings for her and provides cues on stage, very much like Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, and this impacts other technical elements as well.

But not everyone is thrilled, and I won’t spoil it, but this leads to a more specific introduction to the villains of the whole series and their motivations…of making theater pure again, less inclusive and not embracing of new technology. (Totally fictional, right?)

Meanwhile, Jory starts suffering from voices in his head–anxiety that leads to panic attacks and depression. His newfound fame on social media (“Instasnap”) makes it worse. He sets off on his own journey, and this makes his relationship with Hunter, the rest of the Backstagers, and also impinges his work with Tammy as costume designer. He can’t seem to believe his designs are good anymore, and he struggles to get out of bed. All of this was absolutely relatable, and I’m just SO HAPPY this is included in a middle grade book. There is a particular moment where therapy is discussed and THAT is so important. One of the Backstagers thinks that the voice might be something fantastical like so much of what they encounter, but no…it’s just a very real problem we all in the real world might face.

Some other things I liked: references to Greek theater, students enthusiastically learning ASL with a teacher named Mrs. Matlin, Jory and Hunter dealing with real relationship issues any couple could have in a way appropriate for ten year olds (we often don’t see much of this with queer relationships, and especially not for this age range), the Muse spirit character described with they/them pronouns, a reference to the musical Companions about how awful marriage is, the Adrienne and Bailey friendship, Aziz learning ASL for Adrienne, inclusion of specific ASL signs in the text and illustrations, the witch kid from the first book who still cracks me up…basically, I LOVED THIS BOOK. Even more than the first one, which I did really enjoy!! Now I need to find a finished copy and see the finished illustrations from Ryan Sygh…

ARC Review: You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman

  • Genre: YA contemporary
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
  • Publication date: March 3, 2019

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.

Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

You Asked for Perfect was an anticipated book from me when I first heard about it, as I definitely struggled with perfectionism, anxiety (both school-related and not), and placing high expectations on myself at a competitive high school, even if I didn’t want to go the traditional get-into-an-Ivy-league route. Plus, the main character is bisexual! Like, this book was made for me, and it mostly lived up to those expectations.

As others have noted, the emotions and worries highlighted with Ariel are SO ACCURATE that it’s rather stressful to read, especially if you too were under a lot of academic in high school. I particularly enjoyed that the novel explored how this pressure is being applied at younger and younger grades, and how it can lead to psychosomatic symptoms (that happened to me!). And yay for positive, loving sibling relationships! I also loved the acknowledgement/realization that the whole college process involves a lot of gaming the system. Ultimately, the strength of the book lies here; the writing is clean but nothing spectacular. Not that it has to be flowery, but it’s very obvious–a lot of telling and simple sentence structure.

There were a couple of believably issues I had with this book, though, that kept me from being fully emerged in Ariel’s academic world. The major ones concern major time-skips…there is a part where Ariel gets a dangerously low amount of sleep while reading a book for an extra credit assignment, but then it completely skips over the 20-page paper he has to write for it…which seems like it would be MORE stressful and cause him to spiral further? And why is his Harvard interview before he’s even written is essay for the application? I’m pretty sure the interview happens after you actually apply. And what does he even want to study? Also, this well-funded suburban school with all these AP classes has overhead projectors, not document cameras? (This is minor, but as someone who was in high school fairly recently and spends a lot of time at one still, this threw me out of the story.)

While I love the inclusion of a bi male main character, his sexuality is described pretty simply in terms of liking “girls and boys,” which is rather binary and just a definition I’m kind of tired of seeing in YA when the knowledge of non-binary people and gender fluidity (some of whom identify as bisexual!) should be pretty common to a teen in the LGBTQ community today. The romance with Amir is cute but takes a back seat, so I wouldn’t go in expecting that to be a major element. [Also, when DOES this take place? I love that Rosa’s coming out episode of Brooklyn 99 was mentioned, but that episode aired in 2017 and it says he watched it in eighth grade? Which would mean it is set a couple of years in the future? This isn’t really a problem I suppose, but it is strange.]

On the other hand, the (ownvoices) Jewish representation was great, although I’m not Jewish so I can’t properly evaluate it. Still, the way synagogue, Sabbath, and other hallmarks of Jewish culture are present throughout Ariel’s life are lovely and this is definitely a great “window” for non-Jewish teens or a “mirror” for Jewish teens. I particularly like how his rabbi reached out to help–for some, religious communities can be a huge resource with these mental health difficulties. That said, there was unfortunately very little exploration into Amir’s Muslim identity…

I know this review might come off as a little negative because I had so many little details I noticed and critiques, but overall, I did enjoy it–and I didn’t even mention the delightful inclusion of music (Ariel’s music tastes aren’t that different than mine…our parents must have been into the same stuff). I breezed through it and it’s got a lot of important things to say. I just wished it were a little more fleshed out so the world itself would match the emotional content.

Mini-Review: Odd One Out by Nic Stone

I’m calling this a “mini-review” because I’m presenting thoughts I had on this book right after a finished reading it, which isn’t fully comprehensive of all the elements/details of the novel. Still, I thought it deserved to be here because I just want my voice to be heard on this book?

So…here’s the thing. This book is messy because the characters are messy, because they’re still figuring things out and THAT IS OKAY. That is real, that is important, and even though some characters essentially conclude “I’m not sure yet,” almost all of the loose ends of miscommunication and questioning get resolved by the end. The book just forces you to sit with those questions an uncomfortably long time, just like the characters have to. If we don’t allow kids to have these discussions, then they’re not going to fully understand themselves. Yes, the third section of the book from Jupiter’s POV is the worst offender because she is the most immature and unsure of herself, but she acknowledges that by the end. (Though one does wonder why she never brought up bisexuality or other identities earlier, for herself or Rae, but she’s so entrenched in a certain community that I suppose it makes sense? Especially hanging out with Breanna, who is the worst?)

I also just love Nic Stone’s writing?? As with Dear Martin, I loved how she’s willing to break form and write with an authentic voice and I think it’s really engaging to readers. I flew through this book because of the writing style (made perfect sense to me) and because I just had to know what happens. I also just want to point out that if you’re not from the same cultural/linguistic background of these characters, you probably should think twice before criticizing the writing…


My main issue, the thing that was never fully addressed: Breanna. IMO it alludes that Jupiter doesn’t approve of her “no bisexuals” rule, but this is statutory rape and Jupiter doesn’t reflect on that aside from “no one will find out”? She only regrets it for “using” Breanna to figure out her own sexuality and that she didn’t have the emotional feelings there. But. There’s more to it and I’m just not sure if young readers will recognize this…

ARC Review: The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson

Genre: YA sci-fi-ish contemporary

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release date: February 19, 2019


A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to NetGalley.

I read Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants in 2017 and I loved it for producing feelings in me I couldn’t quite articulate. I’ve been interested in reading more from him since then. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, despite surrounding death, has a lighter tone–but it deals with important topics…and is rather morbid.

The whole “mysteriously coming back to life premise” sounds like it would be a more sci-fi or fantasy story, but if you’ve read Hutchinson’s review before, you know it reads much more like a “what-if” contemporary (not magical realism or fabulism because the characters acknowledge how weird this is). Personally, I’m into this. The whole “my ex-best friend is mysteriously back from the dead but also not completely alive, and now no one is dying” thing exists–despite Dino and July’s questioning–for character purposes. If you can get behind that, I think the result is satisfying. It isn’t a zombie story.

July, basically

The best part about this concept is that it allows for something I’ve been actually thinking about lately: the opportunity to confront the little things that actually hurt. Specifically, all the little homophobic and transphobic (Dino’s boyfriend is trans) things July said while she was alive that drove them apart. No, it isn’t completely one-sided–there are things for Dino to confront, too. But giving space to the deconstruction of offhanded remarks and showing how much they hurt is pretty important in a YA novel.

I also loved Dino’s character arc. Without getting too spoilery, the whole “I don’t know who I am yet” feeling is so relatable and great to see in someone almost done with high school…there is SO MUCH pressure at that age to have it all figured out, and it’s difficult to stand up to those expectations. I also loved how his disbelief in himself affected his belief that he doesn’t deserve love, and how firmly other characters stood against this.

Despite the premise, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried might be the most mellow,low-stakes of Hutchinson’s novels, but at just around 300 pages it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s fun, but there’s also a lot of heart behind the zany adventure.

ARC Review: Our Year of Maybe

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Genre: YA contemporary

Publication date: January 15, 2019


Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

**Disclaimer: I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley**

I read Rachel Lynn Solomon’s debut You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone last year, and while the premise itself didn’t immediately appeal to me, the execution sure was amazing. The same is true of her second book, Our Year of Maybe, full of complex characters, heartbreaking situations, and nuanced explorations of Judaism.

First of all, despite the book’s length (almost 400 pages) and serious subject matter–a kidney transplant, Sophie’s unrequited love–I found it addicting. I just had to know what happened! And when I thought I knew where it was going, something else would happen. (But ultimately, I think it ended in a satisfying place.)

The kidney disease and transplant situation seemed well-researched, and overall the book deals with chronic disabilities. Peter isn’t “cured” because of the transplant–he has to take medication–but his life does drastically change. Sophie, meanwhile, also has to take meds and monitor herself. Meanwhile, Sophie also has dyslexia, which impacted her growing up and still does, as she listens to audiobooks of required reading for school and takes a little longer to read Instagram captions. I loved the inclusion of these details. (Sophie is also such a big social anxiety mood.)

The story as a whole deals with the difficulties and problems of unrequited love, of feeling that someone “owes” you, and of having a codependent friendship that is perhaps no longer necessary and now unhealthy. The issues that arise are not glossed over (it maybe even goes a little further than necessary in exploring things). As the characters develop, they are pushed into new situations and ultimately grow as people…yeah, I don’t want to say more without spoiling anything!

The atmosphere of the novel is also well-realized. It takes place in Seattle, and we come to know the families and home situations of both characters well. I particularly liked how they each had their own experiences with Judaism–Sophie isn’t particularly religious, while Peter is half-Jewish and becomes interest in going to synagogue with his father. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Sophie and her sister, who is younger but has a one-year-old child. Also, this book made my “YA Books that Describe the Magic of Music” post for a reason! Sophie is a choreographer and Peter is a pianist who becomes involved in a band, and I LOVED the many references and general vibe of the music scenes.

Lastly, Our Year of Maybe has a mature attitude toward teenage sexuality and relationships. It allows its characters to experience pleasure, and we LOVE consent! And discussions with parents! Peter is also bisexual and has known this–although he has never found the right time to mention it to Sophie. I liked this, but the simplified mentions of it were all of the “I like boys and girls” variety, without any mentions of those who fall outside of the gender binary (which, yes, many people who identify as bi are attracted to!). This is a pattern I’m noticing in quite a few reads and it’s become frustrating.

So if you want a book that’s addicting, heartbreaking, and moving, Our Year of Maybe is a great bet!

2018 Reading Wrap-Up! With Charts! And 2019 goals!

Why yes, it is 2019, which means it’s time to wrap up my 2018 reading year. (I read up until Dec. 31st, of course!) This year’s edition is complete with lots of stats and charts, thanks to the reading spreadsheet I got from Book Riot! (Here is the new and improved 2019 one, which I’m really excited about, and stole the graph idea from.)

The inevitable place to start is: how many books did I read? Well, that isn’t just a simple answer. My spreadsheet from which this data is pulled has 74, but my Goodreads has 77. That’s because I marked two textbooks I read a lot from as read, both of which I read a lot of selections from out-of-order throughout the semester and maybe didn’t read the entire thing, but also I had to read a lot that went unmarked anyway, so I figure it’s accurate enough. I also marked the Melville “short” story (it was like 80 pages in my edition) “Benito Cereno.” My Goodreads year in review is here, if you’re into that. The pages are probably inaccurate because I had quite a few audiobooks. My Goodreads goal was 70, so I definitely made that!

The Big Picture

Some quick stats from my handy spreadsheet that help contextualize these graphs:

  • Books completed: 74
  • Pages read: 15,258
  • Audiobook time listened: 2 days, 9 hrs, and 58 mins
  • Average number of days per book: 12.3 (totally read more than one book at once)
  • Average number of pages per day: 41.98
  • Average number of books (finished) per month: 6.25
  • Average number of audiobook hours per day: 0:05:22 (five minutes, since a lot of what I read wasn’t in audiobook format, I guess)

And now, to our first chart…

I often feel like a lot of my reading is devoted to school, and that isn’t false–it’s about a third over the entire year, which means it’s heavy during the times I’m actually at school (see the read per month graph, below; I read the most over the summer). I think is especially true because in the spring I took two heavy (5-7 books each) reading classes on Shakespeare and Modern Japanese Literature, and in the fall I took a literary history class on the 18th and 19th centuries. Still, I managed to read a lot of books (52 of them) not for school, even if they weren’t all full-length novels or books, so that feels pretty good. Last year I read 29/67 books for school, or 42% versus 29% here!

I also DNF’d one book (an ARC of Hearts Unbroken) because I really didn’t gel with the writing style and I felt it was dragging my reading life.

Unsurprisingly, I read the most when I was not at school. (Note: the dates come from when books were finished.)
Only 8 books of nonfiction this year–mostly memoirs–which is down from last year (13 at 19.4%). Probably because most of what I read for school was fiction this year?
(Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of the digital titles are ARCs or from the library rather than the many unread Kindle books I snapped up on deals…)
As much as I’m glad I use the library (mostly for audiobooks, probably), I really need to read more books that I own…especially on Kindle
(One will be published in 2019…not sure how/if that was counted here)


This whole category was pretty skewed by school. I also had trouble choosing genres for some things, since they crossed over. I created the “humor” category because Texts from Jane Eyre really didn’t fit anywhere else, but then I used it for some other stuff, including Good Omens, which could also be considered Sci-Fi/Fantasy (and indeed that’s where I put a Discworld novel). I’m surprised the SFF category is that big, but I think a lot of it had to do with reading several Ms. Marvel volumes. I didn’t read very many sci-fi or fantasy novels. Otherwise, this is all fairly unsurprising, especially considered the role of books I had to read for school (adult, general fiction, classics, novels).

There was no “nonfiction prose” category and I didn’t create one, so memoirs are under “novel”

Reading Demographics & Diversity

The important one! I’m generally pleased about this, although I would like to read over 50% by and about POC and queer people. (I don’t have data on this from last year to compare, though I would guess it has been increasing in recent years as I have been paying more attention to this when reading.) Of course, school compromised some of this. It’s particularly difficult to categorize queer people (I’m surprised it wasn’t higher, but it is main characters), especially if the author isn’t out or hasn’t said so directly. To make it easier, I decided to keep a hard word-of-mouth rule for authors and canon rule for characters, which meant I didn’t count any Shakespeare, even Twelfth Night.

All of the translated fic is from my Modern Japanese Literature class, with the exception of One Hundred Years of Solitude

2019 Reading Goals…

I can never predict what this year will be like, and I don’t want to make a list of too many specific books I want to get to (except they should be ones I own, especially on Kindle). This year, I think an overall goal is not to overthink too much…the best reading I did over breaks was when I didn’t view it as “work.” Still, I have some goals…which are all going to be fairly measurable since I’m using the same spreadsheet and chart system as last year.

  • Read 100 books (I think I can??)
  • Read more nonfiction, especially non-memoir
  • Read at least 50% books by/about POC
  • Read even more queer books!
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy novels
  • Read more books by/about Asian-Americans
  • Read more books I own from my Kindle
  • Read more contemporary literary fiction

Yeah, we’ll see how this goes. What are your 2019 goals? How do you feel about your reading in 2018?

YA Books that Describe the Magic of Music

I know I mostly talk about books here, but I also LOVE music. It’s always been a part of my life and my family’s life, and I have always loved singing in choir and going/listening to musicals. I also used to play piano and I want to get back into it soon. So naturally, I love it when books tap into that magic I feel when listening to music and attempt to put them into words, and I’ve collected a sizable enough list that I can now post it here! I admit I read most of them a while ago and can’t quite articulate why they’re great at music descriptions, but that’s mostly because they can describe it better than I can!

Kaleidoscope Song

Set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song details how music affects and shapes Neo’s life as she discovers her own sexuality. Naturally, the beauty of music is tied in with her attraction to a singer. It’s also part of her independence, as she finds her own “song” (voice) and gets her own radio show. There’s even an extensive list of the songs featured in the back of the book. (Note: This book deals with corrective rape. See my review for more details.

The Beauty That Remains

This novel follows three POV characters, all of whom have a connection to music and have recently lost someone. Music is intertwined with these characters’ lives and their grief, whether it’s listening, viewing, managing, singing, creating, or reviewing. The three characters all intersect satisfyingly at the local music scene. Think battle of the bands and teens rocking out at a club

Summer Bird Blue

Summer Bird Blue follows Rumi’s summer of grief in Hawaii after her younger sister dies in a car accident. The two used to make music together, hoping to make it big one day…but now there’s just Rumi, and she’s afraid to write songs alone. But through the magic of music, she begins to heal through her songwriting, figuring out her own emotions.

Our Year of Maybe

This book is not out until January 15th, but I was able to read an ARC (review coming soon), and it is a dual POV with plenty of music affecting their view of the world. Peter is a piano player and composer who joins a band, and Sophie is a dancer and budding choreographer. There’s plenty of references to music they like, too, from Rufus Wainright to Pink Floyd.

Bonus: The Name of the Wind

While not technically YA, this fantasy book does cover the coming-of-age of its protagonist and has huge crossover appeal. I admit I did not like the plot and characters as much as so many others seem to, but what I did love was the description of music. The main character, Kvothe, plays the lute, and it carries great emotional weight for him–and economic necessity. No wonder Lin-Manuel Miranda is attached to the upcoming adaptation.

Have you read any of these? Or do you have any recommendations? I realize now these are quite serious, sad books…oh well!