New format for reviews! (Also, here are some reviews!)


Title: Our Souls at Night

Author: Kent Haruf

Summary: Addie has been a widow for quite some time. She’s been Louis’s neighbor for much longer. One night, she invites him to sleep with her. Not sex, per se, just companionable sleeping. She’s lonely and the nightly company of her late husband is what she misses the most. He obliges her, and they form a sweet and significant friendship based on their conversations and the comfortable routine they fall into.

What I Liked: I really love Haruf’s clear writing style. It’s honest and transparent and beautiful. He writes realistic dialog that gradually reveals his characters. And what amazing characters. I fell in love with Addie’s courage and vulnerability and Louis’s honesty and steadfastness right away. Without spoiling the book, I’ll say that there are characters I liked less for their treatment of these two, but I believed that they thought they were making right choices.

What I Didn’t Like: This book could have been twice as long and I’d have loved it. The ending was a little heartbreaking, but not unrealistic.

Pub date: 5/26/15

Title: Lady Killer

Author: Jamie Rich / Artist: Joelle Jones

Summary: Josie is a housewife by day and an assassin by night. This series, set in the 50’s is as compelling to look at as it is to read. It read a little like a Man Men parody and an homage to The Long Kiss Goodnight.

What I Liked: The art is incredibly good. The costume choices and backgrounds are really accurate for the time period. The banter is very decent and the story is fast paced.

What I Didn’t: There’s nothing groundbreaking here. It’s not a new story or even an especially inventive adaptation of a familiar trope. It was a fun read, but not something that stuck with me after I finished.

Pub date: 9/15/15

Title: Heart in a Box

Author: Kelly Thompson / Artist: Meredith McClaven

Summary: Emma has a broken heart, so she trades it to the Man with No Name in exchange for the ability to not hurt. Eventually her emptiness consumes her and she must find the pieces of her heart that have been distributed to those who need them.

What I Liked: Freaking everything. The art, the story, the gradual and beautiful way that tWhathings were revealed. The confrontation and the resolution. This was amazing.

What I Didn’t: Without hesitation I can say that there’s nothing about this book I didn’t like. It was beautiful and I will probably wind up buying a paper copy to loan out to other people.

Pub Date: 9/29/15

Title: Alex + Ada v.3

Author/Illustrator: Sarah Vaughn, Jonathan Luna

Summary: This is the third volume of a series in which Alex has been given an android (Ada), who he then has her unlocked to give her free will. She’s not a human, she’s a robot with a sentient brain. After laws on artificial intelligence tighten, they must hide what they’ve done. This volume picks up as they are risking discovery to be together and free.

What I Liked: As always, the art is crisp and subtly expressive. The story is beautiful, and I really liked the romance between the characters.

What I Didn’t: I wish Ada had a stronger personality after being unlocked, but I could get over that since she’s discovering who she is in a way that is relatable. The end is very rushed and kind of unsatisfactory/boring. I thought the writers could have done something much more dynamic, but maybe they were on a time crunch. Overall kind of a disappointing end to an otherwise very good series.

Pub date: 8/12/15

Title: Not Funny Ha-Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard

Author: Leah Hayes

Summary: This is an illustrated book about abortion. It details the circumstances and experiences of two different women and the choices they make during their decision to terminate pregnancies.

What I Liked: This is a book that doesn’t talk about how the women got pregnant, it doesn’t discuss their decision to have abortions, and it is aggressively anti-shame. Hayes has done something incredibly moving and important and relevant in a world where Planned Parenthood is often struggling with budget cuts and pro-choice protesters. The art is great, the words are great. I want to give copies of this to all my favorite feminists so we can gush about how awesome it is together.

What I Didn’t: Nothing. This is perfect and everyone should read it.

Pub Date: 6/15

 Title: An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes

Author: Randy Ribay

Summary: A group of role-playing pals are each going through separate hard things. Archie’s parents are divorcing and he’s moving in with his dad, which means changing schools. Mari’s mom has cancer and is encouraging her to reach out to her biological mom. Sam is deeply in love with Sarah, who is moving to the other side of the country. Dante is forced out of the closet by cousins who see his profile on a gay dating site. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, they wind up on a cross country road trip which changes each of them in deep and significant ways.

What I Liked: The characters are relatable and engaging. They’re people I’d like to spend more time with. The dialog is good and the issues they’re dealing with are realistic things that lots of people will relate to. The story is paced well and touching. I found myself thinking about this book during mundane chores and wondering about the characters. The diversity is super organic also, which is a refreshing change.

What I Didn’t: No complaints. This is a solid book, and I’m stoked to read more by Ribay. Lots of other people are really going to like this too.  

Pub Date: 10/16/15

Title: Between the World and Me

Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Summary: You have to be hiding under a rock not to know about this book! Coates wrote this book as a letter to his son after finding out together that Michael Brown’s murderers would be free. This is a book about race, police violence, parenthood, and love. It’s a bigger book than I can describe in this short review. And somehow it’s a very short book that says more than anything else I’ve read this year.

What I Liked: This is beautiful and important and good. I want to hand out copies of this book to everyone I pass on the street and insist that they sit down and read it right then. I want to have conversations about the ways in which media obliterates the humanity of young black men – black boys, because they are children in ways that we aren’t often reminded. When I say I loved this book, I need you to know that I loved every word, every line.

What I Didn’t: There are still people in the world who haven’t read this book.

Pub Date: 7/14/15


Title: I Crawl Through It

Author: A.S. King

Summary: China is a girl who has been turned inside out. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. Lansdale lies. Stanzi is split in two. They accumulate to the daily bomb threats that move their classes outdoors. And the dangerous bush man plays a different role in each of their lives. Does it sound like these things are unconnected? They aren't. The author weaves a breathtaking these stories into a breathtaking tapestry that is both comforting and unsettling. 

What I Liked: This book was a challenging read, which is a credit to the author. The teenage cast of characters in King's most recent book are healing themselves (and occasionally each other) from wildly contrasting traumas. I Crawl Through it is a beautifully surreal book about anxiety and depression, rape, neglect, and the ways that these hellish experiences mark the people who survive them. More than any of that, it's about finding friends who love you and working to crawl through it together.

What I didn’t: There were moments where the surrealism made the story a little hard to follow. But it’s not meant to be 100% realistic narrative. Just took me a minute to wrap my mind around that, really

Pub Date: 9/22/15

Long List of Overdue Reviews.

... which I think you all expect is my usual modus operandi. -Sarah

Do you know how rare it is to find a young adult novel in which there isn’t a love story? Often, even if you’re reading genre fiction, there’s some romance element in play. I Am Princess X isn’t just successful because the action is focused around the mystery of what really happened to Libby and who is responsible for the Princess X webcomic. The characters are all really well developed, the art is amazing, and right away you’re plunged into a story whose action carries you through to the end. I can’t say enough good things about this book

I’m going to make this as short as possible. Yes, it’s not a polished novel. There’s no way it would have been published if Harper Lee (age 89, hard of hearing and seeing) had been asked to revise a novel she forgot she’d written. Yes, there are complicated circumstances surrounding its publication. Yes, Atticus is a racist. Those are all legit reasons not to want to read it. But not reading GSAW really limits how much a part of the conversation about it you can be. There’s a lot to like, here too. Lots of really beautiful passages and descriptions. Most importantly, Scout grows up to be a badass. Lots of the racial stuff is especially relevant today. I’m sure I’ll re-read this and just as I do with TKAM, I’ll come away with something new.

Two wealthy, demanding jerks spend the first half of the book being grumpy about their sad lots in life, and the second half of the book working in a titular secret garden that magically cures one of their physical or mental illness. Oh, also some imperialistic shade thrown at India for fun.

This was so sweet and smart and incredibly touching and personal. Hayden's style is reminiscent of Roz Chast and Julie Doucet. This isn't really just a breast cancer memoir. It's the story of the author's family, her marriage, and the ways in which those things supported her through her cancer, mastectomy, and eventual breast reconstruction. Hayden has obviously worked really hard on this book - the writing is as engaging as the art and I can't wait for this to be available to the public so I have other people to gush with.

Dietland is two stories, woven together. Alicia “Plum” Kettle ghostwrites answers to an advice columnist that never gets published. She works from home and sometimes from a coffee shop. With few exceptions, Plum lives a solitary life waiting for her real life to start once she has bariatric surgery. A cell of radical feminists called “Jennifer” begin to take action against rapists, producers of revenge porn, etc. Plum doesn’t become a counter terrorist, but her exposure to women who are doing big, important things changes her in drastic ways. She confronts the men who mock her, stops starving herself, and starts to think about her place in the world around her. I’m not doing this book justice, really. This is one of the most feminist books I’ve ever read. The violence will make people uncomfortable and Jennifer’s actions will be controversial for a lot of others. Regardless of how it makes you feel, the author’s intention is to make you think. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you like this book or hate it, you’ll certainly spend a lot of time thinking about it. I’d call that a success. 

I grew up about an hour from Jolo, WV which is known primarily for being the home of a Pentecostal Church that practices snake handling. So, right away I was bought into this book. I fell pretty quickly in love with the characters and even more so with Zentner's eloquent prose and perfect timing. The Serpent King is about Dill, Lydia, and Travis - three misfit teenagers with dreams too big for their small town to contain. I'm not going to spoil a lot here, but this gorgeous freaking novel made me cry like I was being murdered and when I closed the cover on it, I was incredibly sad to be done.

Holy snot. I bought this book and it sat on my shelves for a long time. I picked this up to fill a square on my summer book bingo and read it in one sitting. This is the sort of book that is so incredibly good that I can't stop thinking about it for days. The kind of book that you think: Oh, this is for dudes who are reluctant readers. And then you realize that you'd been totally unfair and wrong and you want to write a personal letter of apology to the author for misjudging. You can tell by the cover that this basketball plays a big role in The Crossover, but it's about so much more than that. It's about growing up, girls, family relationships, race, and mortality. I can't recommend this enough.

I'm pretty on board with whatever Mo Williams does. This is no exception. It's a cute, well drawn story of an adventurous cat and a pampered pooch who learn something new about themselves and the world around them. I think reading Gerald and Piggie to my storytime shorties spoiled me on longer books. Even less satisfying MW is pretty awesome. Will definitely sell a stack of these.

This is one of those books I've loved every time I've read it. There's some magic, some mystery, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. This checks so many boxes on my list - references to King Arthur, a band of raggedy, good-natured kids, and a prophecy, song, or poem that they must figure out in order to win the battle.

Again, a series a really loved. The main character is a little forgettable, except that he is a foil for the forces surrounding him. Will turns eleven and comes into power as an "Old One." It's interesting to see how his new wisdom contrasts with the way the world around him expects a kid to act. Lots of adventure and mystery, lots of action.

This was pretty reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the very best ways possible. Reincarnated gods, magical powers, stardom and manipulation. This was a lot of fun to look at and read even if it lost me occasionally. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I was pretty surprised how into this comic I am. I picked up the first issue for free at BEA and only now got around to looking through the stack. The art is clean and simple. It's subtle but really beautiful. Alex is a single guy who works a pretty boring job in a society where AIs are well integrated. His grandmother buys him a lady android and he feels weird about it, but gives bonding with her the old college try. Unfortunately, Ada is programmed to have zero desires that don't revolve around Alex, which feels weird and uncomfortable to him. There are a lot of interesting takeaways about human connectivity and at what point the devices we depend on stop being just functional. I will say that this comic starts out slowly and then builds. 


Reading for Distraction.

(by Sarah)

I'd been talking to Grace about how my reading was lagging, and then I went to visit my mother-in-law. We intended to stay for a couple of days, see other family, and then come home. We got there, my MIL adopted a senior dog who immediately got very ill and had to be euthanized. So, while we were taking care of that, I dug into my TBR pile to help forget about my dead dog blues. Here's what I read: 

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi Jackson

From the very beginning, you know that you're in the hands of a talented storyteller. Naomi Jackson's engaging debut isn't just lyrical, it's magical. At the center of this gorgeous novel are Phaedra and Dionne, who are adjusting to Barbados after having lived in Brooklyn for most of their lives. Beyond that, it's the story of the women in their family, their cultural heritage and their rites of passage. The setting is as much of a character in this book as anyone you'll read about, and if you haven't fallen in love with Jackson by the end of the novel, you'll certainly be in love with one or more of her characters

I'm Not Her - Cara Sue Achterberg

Carin and Leeann have vastly different lives. Carin is middle class and shallow. Leeann is poor and overweight. When a random accident leaves them trapped in one another's body, their perceptions of one another change drastically. Leeann is, at first, happy at what she sees as an upgrade in appearance and station. Carin is horrified to return to a run down home stocked with snack cakes and soda. Both women are confronted with the complicated family situations of the body they inhabit - Carin's adoring and persistent long term boyfriend and nagging mother won't leave Leeann alone. Carin, on the other hand, finds herself saddled with a precocious son and an abusive, often absent husband. Both characters are sympathetic, but I think we're meant to care a bit more about Carin. There's a fair amount of body shaming that happens in this book, but Achterberg does a great job with the specific economics of poverty. While I had my reservations, it's worth noting that I read this book cover-to-cover in less than a day.

Tonight the Streets Are Ours - Leila Sales

Arden's life isn't going the way she expected. Her mother just left and her father isn't around. She spends a lot of time taking care of her younger brother and her best friend who is a trouble magnet. Her boyfriend is cute, but somewhat inattentive. Something is building in Arden.I initially disliked Arden - she martyrs herself for the people she loves and blames them for it. She decides to take a trip to New York to meet Peter, the author of a blog she loves along with her best friend. The trip and the night following it turn out to be transformative for her. I won't spoil anything, but I will say this: Tonight the Streets Are Ours isn't a love story in the way you're expecting it to be. It's not about falling in love with another person. It's about learning to feel competent and independent. I want to walk down the street and hand a copy of this book to every teenager I see.

In the interest of reviewing books in a timely manner ...

(Sarah's reviews.)

.... Look, you guys! I read these three books, and I'm reviewing them right away. Instead of continuing to build up such a big stack of books to review that it's daunting and anxiety-inducing! Why, you ask? Because the city of Philadelphia, after much hemming and hawing, have finally decided to pave my street and I basically can't leave my house until the stinky trucks and tough looking road crew call it a day. 

Linda has a rare heart condition that manifests during a diving competition. Confronted at age thirteen with her mortality she decides to get busy crossing items off her bucket list. She meets a strange new friend named Zak and together they seek out adventure in unlikely places. 

Translated from Norwegian, Rossland's spare, gorgeous writing style makes for a haunting read. Linda's restlessness and anger make her a more realistic character than many other terminally ill protagonists in YA lit. She is more nuanced and dimensional than many of the characters in other sick lit.  Being sick doesn't absolve her from being a normal kid. It doesn't make her kinder or more likable. It just gives her the catalyst to create action around her.

In the end, Minus Me, came full circle in a way that was satisfying without being trite. If I'd read this book at age thirteen, it would have wrecked me. As an adult, I was still surprised by the two big blot twists and achingly sad when the book was over. 

This isn't meant to be high literature, and I'm grateful for that. I have read each of McLaughlin and Kraus's novels quickly. They're well written, action packed, and weirdly poignant in a way that is both funny and not overly sentimental. I enjoy these books on a totally superficial level that I don't relate to at all. I find the weirdly out of place brand name dropping to be hilarious and strange, a quirk of the writing. This is the definition of brain candy - as easily forgotten as it is consumed, but a whole lot of fun while it lasts. 

Mike is an average guy in a school full of indie kids. Kids with unusual names and special powers who are chosen to fight the forces of darkness around them. Mike's friends are average too. While the indie kids are fighting the good fight, the rest of the student body is struggling with stuff like eating disorders, mental health, sexuality, parents, and prom. 

I'm unfamiliar with Patrick Ness's other work but I was impressed with his intentional inclusiveness and the easy, eloquent way his prose moved the story along. His lengthy chapter titles tell us what's going on with the indie kids, but the bulk of the novel is dedicated to illustrating the mundane forces that lots of teenagers outside of the book might relate to. His character's issues don't define them, but are written in a way that makes them refreshingly real and startlingly hopeful. In the end, this book is about so much more than good versus evil. It's about the human condition and navigating the world we live in. As instruction manuals go, I think Ness has written a pretty good one. 





Post BEA Book Binge

What I've (Sarah) been reading. 

Warren returns home, divorced and defeated. Home, in this case, is a dilapidated mansion left to him by his father. Almost immediately, he meets a daughter he didn't know existed and lands a job at a mixed-race charter school so he can afford the tuition. Warren is biracial, and until meeting him, his daughter, Tal, has assumed that she's white. There were parts of this book that made me laugh out loud, and other parts that were so tender and poignant. Loving Day isn't just a story about families and race; it's also a ghost story, a comedy, and a sweet and unexpected romance. 

Well written, if occasionally fluffy middle grade book about a boy crazy gay teen and the madcap antics that happen during his summer internship for a Broadway star.

Funny enough, thought Hart is occasionally dismissive or ambivalent to queer people and sex workers. Nothing new for straight, white, cis comedians - all in the name of a laugh. I enjoyed parts of this book, but felt like kind of a hypocrite for doing so.

Mira, Jeremy, and Sebby are all complicated and conflicted in different (and occasionally compatible) ways. It would be easy to call this a love triangle, but it’s more than that. Each of the characters is dancing with an assortment of dysfunction – mental health, poverty, sexuality, addiction, and religion among others. Fans of the Impossible Life is about the ways in which we fall in love with our friends and how complicated and multi-faceted that love can be, regardless of whether we call it platonic, romantic, or sexual. It’s about crashing and burning and hoping to survive. Each one of the characters in this book is dynamic and nuanced and beautiful, as is the writing, the story, and the resolution. I finished this book and couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

I love the characters, the plot, and the gorgeous art. This is everything I want from a graphic novel. Nimona and Ballister Blackheart are among the most complex characters of this beautifully drawn comic. I love the many, many ways that Stevenson challenges the idea of what “good” and “evil” really mean. Is it better to blindly fight for king and country or to rage against them to feed an old grudge? This is appropriate for older middle grade readers, but there is a fair amount of violence. It’s a good place to open up conversations about what friendship means, and how beautiful relationships can actually be. 

Madeline lives in the safe bubble of her home, unable to venture outside due to an incredibly rare disease. Olly moves in next door, pursues Madeline with a bundt cake (not in the way you’re expecting), and they fall in love. The love story is central to the plot, but there’s a twist that happens later in the book that took me totally by surprise. Past that point, the book was unputdownable, and I finished it with hope in my heart and a hunger to live in Maddy and Olly’s world for just a few pages longer. 

This is the sequel to Han’s previous novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. If you haven’t read that, the basic premise is that Lara Jean’s secret letters to boys she loved got mailed. There was a love triangle and she ended up with the not-always-likable Peter. Her older sister is studying abroad and her affable but semi-absent father leaves her mostly in charge of her younger sister, Kitty. And just as LJ is starting to get her shit together, a boy from the past emerges.

So, yeah, there’s a love triangle. It’s a big part of the plot. But the important relationships here are platonic and familial. This is what I love most about Han’s writing. It’s not simple, and it’s shockingly beautiful. Because there’s an element of romance and because it’s market to a younger audience, it’s easy to write off as a YA romance, but if you pass on it because of that, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. 

I’m not sure what happened to the all-consuming obsession I had with comics in my twenties. I guess the honeymoon phase wore off and I got tired of white dudes in capes. Between Lumberjanes, Bitch Planet, Ms. Marvel, and Saga, I’m finding myself all swoony about the medium these days. There aren’t a lot of really great portrayals of parenting in comics – not one where parents are the main characters. I love the relationship between Alana and Marco, how stupidly in love with one another and their family they are. I love the unbelievably creative settings and characters and not knowing what will happen next. There are a lot of concurrent storylines running at the same time, but somehow Vaughn and Staples manage to juggle them gracefully enough that I found some empathy for even characters I loathed at first. 

Being sick means YA binge reading ...

I got the flu and read a bunch of books. -Sarah

A Little Life - Hanya Yanigahara

I don't even know what to say. I loved reading this book so much that I found myself alternately rationing myself out and binging on Yanagihara's beautiful prose. I loved each of the characters so much. They're all really well written and complex. 

I know that this is meant to be a story about four friends, but let's be real: It's Jude. The rest of the characters are told in reference to his character and the slow unraveling of his story. His traumas are horrific, and the scars and lasting injuries they leave him with are significant. But the most brutal part of the things he has lived through is actually the way he has internalized these events. (As a trauma survivor, some of this was uncomfortably familiar to read.) 
The parts that wrecked me most though, were the parts in which the characters reveled their hope and their infinite capacity for love. I feel like i should buy a stack of copies and give them out as gifts. Easily one of the best things I've read this year.

Lumberjanes - Noelle Stevenson

This comic is everything. It's intentionally inclusive racially, including a couple of queer characters and dare I say a trans girl as well? More than that, it's fun and sweet and hilarious. This is everything I want in a comic and I cannot stop raving about how well written and well drawn this title is. There's adventure, supernatural elements, romance, three eyed magical foxes, some mythology, and sibling rivalry thrown in for good measure. It's appropriate for all ages, so after you're done reading it, you might pass it on to a younger nerd. 

The Truth and Other Lies - Sascha Arango

** spoiler alert ** I wanted to like this book. The concept seemed interesting and the writing was pretty compelling. In the beginning, it even seemed a little Irving-esque. But here's the thing: this is a book about a misogynistic sociopath who kills the women in his life, intentionally or not, when they become inconvenient. I'm not opposed to books about sociopaths - if they're written well. I loved both Hannibal and Gone Girl, among others. But Henry kills his wife by accident, and later his mistress when he falls for a younger woman and her place in his life is inconvenient. He lets his stalker live, despite knowing enough to unravel all his lies. I think we're meant to relate or root for Henry, but he's a loathsome character, a murderer (which again, isn't an issue - that's the point of the genre), and a sexist for no real reason. There are non sequitur dropped into the plot that are never resolved and a narrator that inconsistently breaks the fourth wall. I kind of regret the time I spent reading this and am glad I didn't spend money on it.

Vivian Apple at the End of the World - Katie Coyle

This book was so great. It makes such great points about religion and family and relationships and belief without revolving around a contrived romance. There is a road trip, an apocalypse, and an intense religious cult contained in this book. All things that I'm pretty into reading about. I was over the moon when I found out that this is part of a series - probably the first time in recent history that I've been pleased by a sequel. 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Saenz

When Ari's brother got locked up, all traces of him disappeared from his house. His parents put away the pictures and letters - they never discuss the circumstances around his imprisonment. Ari feels angry and alone until he meets Dante at the pool. Their friendship is formed around swimming, sexuality, and shared Mexican-American identities. Dante is openhearted and kind where Ari is more guarded and part of this story is told in letters, which I love. I love how intersectional this is, and more than that, I love the characters and the plot. I binged on this book and would gladly read anything else Saenz writes. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty - Jenny Han

I expected a fun, fluffy teen romance, I liked this book a lot. I read it specifically because I was attending a We Need Diverse Books event that Han was speaking at, so I was surprised by the lack of diversity in this novel. Despite that, and despite it being totally out of my wheel house, I liked it. The characters were really dimensional and there are pretty impressive plot points not related to the love triangle. I expected this to be about relationships, but it's also about families and responsibility, about friendship and growing up. 

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han

I don't have sisters, but if I did, I'd want them to be just like the Song girls. The narrator, Lara Jean is adjusting to her life after her older sister, Margot, leaves for college in Scotland. After the death of their mother, Margot stepped up to make sure her two younger sisters were well cared for and in her absence, Lara Jean takes over caring for the youngest sister, precocious Kitty, and their father (who is a surgeon, and keeps long hours). Somehow letters that Lara Jean wrote to her crushes were mailed to ... you guessed it: All The Boys She's Loved Before. Including one to Margot's ex-boyfriend, and one to a popular jock. There's a love triangle here, and this book is probably rightly classified as a New Adult romance, but that does a disservice to people who might read outside of that (pretty narrow) genre. TATBILB is about all the different ways in which you can love the people in your life. 

Playing Catch Up!

(These are the books that I read over spring break and the week following. -Sarah)

Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

Willowdean is the fat daughter of a beauty pageant obsessed mom. They live together in a house haunted by the memory of Lucy, Willowdean's aunt and her mom's sister. Between school, work, and her rapidly fragmenting friendship with Ellen, Willowdean fits in time to occasionally make out with Bo, her hot by mysterious coworker. There is a romance element to this book - a love triangle, even, but that's a very small part of what makes this book so compelling. It's a super character driven novel, and with smart, badass Willowdean at the wheel, you're not sure where you're going (but the trip is so much fun). In the end, it's a story of friendship, pushing your own boundaries, and accepting the love you feel you deserve. I had a great time reading this, and hope that it wins all of the awards.

Every Last Word - Tamara Ireland Stone

The writing was fine, the story was fine. I didn't have any problems getting into or staying engaged with this book. Representation of mental illness is super important, especially in kids lit and I think the author had good intentions. 
Unfortunately a crucial part of this story involves Samantha manufacturing a whole person to encourage her to "move past" her OCD, which is unrealistic. I think when you are a person who is speaking for a marginalized group it's super important to be as respectful and accurate as possible, and this is where my issue with Every Last Word really is. Likely people dealing with some form of OCD or who know someone who is might pick up some wrong ideas about delusions and hallucinations. Maybe not, but I also think that Stone missed the boat on making clear that not everyone's experiences were/are universal. 
If you're reading it on a pretty superficial level, it's probably fine, though.

Ms. Marvel 2: Generation Why - G. Willow Wilson

The conclusion of the story of Ms. Marvel v. The Inventor, there were a couple of points that made me gasp with shock and surprise. I was suuuuuper excited to see Kamela team up with Wolverine in really sweet and powerful ways. This was resolved perfectly and I couldn't ask for more in a comic!

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

What a cool concept for a novel - the character classes are divided by blood. Red blooded people are relegated to the peasant class and silver blooded people are merchants or royalty. Bonus: silver blooded people also have super powers. Mare Barrow is a thief who steals to support her family but winds up working in the castle during the ritual of queenstrial when she finds out that she's much more than she seems. There are a lot of really cool feminist ideas that run throughout this novel and while I thought that Aveyard was going to exploit the tired trope of the teen love trial. I was pleased that she did not wind up taking that road and that there is a shocking plot twist at the end that I did NOT see coming. Such a fun read.

Material Girls - Elaine Dimopoulos

In this post apocalyptic story, people live and die based on trends and fashions. You're either "tapped" or chosen for a life in some part of the world of entertainment or you're "adequate" and you envy the people who were tapped. Material Girls is told in the shifting perspectives of Marla Klein, who determines what trends the public will covet, and Ivy Wilde, who wears them as part of her pop star persona. Both girls begin to question their roles in their world of quick moving trends. While you could read this on a superficial level, there are a lot of messages about feminism and consumerism to think about. It would be easy for people to write this book off as a YA book about fashion, and it's certainly that too. But Dimopoulos has written a pretty complex political page-turner and made it appeal to an audience that it might otherwise not. 

None of the Above - IW Gregario

I loved everything about reading this book. Something I talk a lot about in relation to (especially) queer/quiltbag lit is the way sometimes we sacrifice quality for representation. This is not the case with Gregorio's excellent writing. The author's follow up does a great job in explaining the choices made by the main character and why Kristen makes the choices she does. More impressively, the book is well researched and respectful of the diversity of intersex experience. I was concerned that because there are so few intersex characters in contemporary (and especially contemporary YA) lit, that this book might make broad, sweeping gestures about the intersex community. Not at all. In fact, Gregorio goes out of the way to talk about how Kristen's experiences are NOT universal and that there are many different ways in which people relate to their gender. 
I'm missing the most important part here: It's a good goddamn book. It's well written and charming and infinitely relatable and the world is a better place for the publication of this rad story.

The Walls Around Us - Nova Ren Suma

I'm a sucker for a shifting perspective point of view, and boy does this book deliver. Violet is a ballet dancer on the brink of everything she's ever wanted. Amber has been robbed of everything. This is a teenage ghost story about revenge and romance and magical realism and justice. I read it in practically one sitting and thought about it days later.

HausFrau - Jill Essbaum Alexander

I didn't love this, but I also didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. I'm a sucker for an unlikable character, so I was initially pretty stoked about reading it. To begin with, there's a lot of non-linear time hopping that took me out of the story a lot. There's a rhythm to it, and I got there eventually, but it was pretty off-putting. The plot mostly follows the course of Anna's boredom and her affairs, interspersed with dishonest conversations with her therapist. 

The second half of the book was much more readable, but it's kind of a slow crawl to get there. Bored characters are often boring to read, and that was my major complaint about this book. If Anna isn't vested in her life, even in the secret life, how can she expect the reader to be. On the other hand, I think people who are really vested in the classics will like the parallels between books like Madame Bovary and Ethan Frome. The language is beautifully spare, which is a point in Hausfrau's favor.