(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.