CW: transphobia, accidental outing, panic disorder and panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, alcohol abuse, parental abandonment, talk about death of a loved one, and physical assault
This is my third book by Oseman and, happily, I loved it just as much as Radio Silence! I was hopeful that I would enjoy it because one of the MCs is a transman (which my heart always needs because there’s just not enough transman rep for my liking).
The story is kind of random. It reminded me of Radio Silence in that there was no real plot to it, just a lot of meandering until the climax was there. I think that’s because I’m not used to reading lots of contemporary. Fantasy and sci-fi typically have a very overt goal that they’re going towards while contemporary doesn’t necessarily need that.
In this, there are quite a few characters. The main ones are Angel/Fereshteh Rahimi and Jimmy Kaga-Ricci. Angel, which is her online name because Fereshteh means angel, absolutely adores a band, The Ark. She’s 18, just finished school, and is Muslim. Also, like Melanie pointed out in her review, I got major ace vibes from Angel. Then, there’s Jimmy. Jimmy is a biracial transman who has depression and anxiety. That makes things interesting since he’s the frontman of The Ark.
Also included in this is Juliet, Angel’s best friend; Bliss, Rowan’s secret girlfriend and the catalyst for Angel and Jimmy meeting; Rowan, cello player in The Ark; and Lister, the drummer. All of these characters are incredibly diverse. As I said, Angel is Muslim. Jimmy is Indian and Italian, a transman, and possibly queer. Bliss is Chinese and white, and queer. Rowan is Nigerian. Lister is queer. (When I say queer, it’s established they’re LGBTQ+, but I don’t know their exact identity with sexuality.)
I love Oseman for having all of these incredibly diverse characters, along with having fantastic mental health rep. It was beautiful to read very accurate depictions of anxiety and depression. I know that if I worked with teens for social work, I’d have a good list of books for them to read for bibliotherapy. This would be on there. (And, yes, bibliotherapy is one therapy that I want to use in my practice because I know how much books have helped me.)
One thing that I didn’t love about this book, though, is that it felt almost like a repeat of Radio Silence. There were very similar themes in it. A girl who has an obsession with some fandom. Ends up meeting and befriending a creator of the fandom. The creator has extreme depression and/or anxiety. It felt like a real repeat, but it was a lot better than Solitaire.
Overall, a very good book. Enjoyable to read, although it dealt with hard topics.
CW: Islamophobia, death of loved ones, grief and loss, chronic illness, and multiple sclerosis
By now, y’all know that I’m not a big YA contemporary fan. It’s usually not my genre because of the romance. And this book wasn’t one I expected to ever read, despite reading some glowing reviews of it. Yet, Melany and Amy decided to choose it for their book club. I decided that I’d try it out.
And, I loved it.
Now, the heart of the story is a romance. And, for the second time this month, I liked it!
I know, I know. Calm yourselves. I’m still me, but this is strange.
The story follows Adam and Zayneb, two Muslims who meet by chance. Zayneb is in Doha to visit her aunt after being suspended from school. Her teacher is Islamophobic and tries to show each class how awful Islam is. Adam, on the other hand, is a college student who has stopped going to classes. Both meet on a flight to Doha. As it turns out, they each know Zayneb’s aunt — she’s, obviously, Zayneb’s aunt and Adam’s mother was her best friend — so they get to know each other.
There’s so much I want to talk about in this book because there was so much going on. First, the Islamophobia. I’m from a very small town. Predominantly white, but we had black and Latinx students as well. That’s it. I don’t recall anyone being Muslim or, for that matter, anyone who was non-Christian. I have never seen Islamophobia in my life, but I’ve read about it. In college my minor was religious studies, so when Islam was the religion we were studying, we talked about it a lot. Did presentations and things like that. And, it’s horrifying. However, as a non-Muslim, I’m not qualified to talk about it. I highly suggest you check out Chaima’s ownvoices review if you want to more about it.
But, one thing that I can speak to is grief and loss. In my profession, which is social work, we deal with that a lot. Unresolved grief and loss have huge impacts on people. Loss can take many forms as well. And this book was crippling with it, so if you’ve had a recent loss (or not so recent), please take care of yourself when you read it. I’ve been open about it on the blog, but when this review posts, it will be a few days away from the three-month mark when my sister passed away from cancer. And this book was hard to read.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is Adam’s mother. She passed away when he was a kid from multiple sclerosis — MS — and Adam has it as well. It’s speeding up and now it’s obvious that he has it. Now, my first agency placement was in a hospice. I had a patient I saw with MS. I’d go over and hang out for a few hours with him, then talk and evaluate his wife when she got home, because he was non-verbal, couldn’t move, and was chronically ill from complications that come with end-stage MS. I know what it looks like and all the loss associated with it.
Adam is grieving the loss of his mother, grieving the fact that he has what killed her, grieving his losses — loss of independence, loss of life span, loss of ability to function, loss of his future, etc. — and has to find a way to tell his grieving family and friends. It was a lot to handle and, each time, I felt that pit in my stomach because I know what it feels like from seeing patients go through these losses, their family members, and in my own personal life.
It was written so, so well. Ali captured it beautifully with heartbreaking accuracy. I cannot stress that enough. Which is why I’m saying to take care of yourself. I wish that other reviews had highlighted just how central grief and loss is to the story. For me, it overtook the romance completely.
One thing that also elevated this book for me was the support Adam and Zayneb both had. They had friends who were there for them and helping them. They had strangers who were there for them. They had family who was, for once, present in their lives as a support system. (Not often a theme in YA.) It was beautiful to read all the support they had, including each other.
So, I gotta say, this book was beautiful. It was very, very hard to read at times, but it was beautiful. I’m so glad that I went out on a limb and gave this a try.
CW: transphobia, being kicked out, parental abuse, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and isolation
This is one of those books that I had seen around, but wasn’t sure about. As y’all likely know by now, I’m not a huge fan of contemporary YA. It’s not a genre that I like very much because it’s usually romance and angst and, well, it annoys the hell out of me.
But, I loved this book.
Ben is nonbinary and they come out to their parents only for them to kick them out. They decide to go live with their sister, Hannah, who was also kicked out by their parents. She’s married to Thomas, a school teacher at a high school that Ben starts going to. There, Ben meets Nathan, a queer POC guy.
There were three main things in this book that blew me away. First, the wonderful diversity. There are two nonbinary characters, Ben and Mariam. Mariam is nonbinary and Muslim, wearing a hijab as a show of their faith. Then there’s Nathan. Nathan has friends that he introduces Ben to, who are also POC characters. I mean, I loved that this book took place in the south and that it showed so much diversity in it. That really caught me by surprise and I loved it.
Second, despite the subject matter, it wasn’t depressing. There were sad moments, of course, but it never was too much. It felt so accurate, likely because Deaver is nonbinary as well. For me, I kept relating it back to when I was a baby transman in high school. I could relate deeply with Ben and their choice not to come out to everyone. I was deeply in the closet and never came out to my high school as a whole because I didn’t want to be bullied or put myself at risk of harm since I live in a conservative area as well.
To go with the subject matter, I loved the therapy rep! It was just amazing because it highlighted how much therapy is important. My parents and I went to therapy a few times to make sure that everything was okay when we were going through this huge transition. I know it helped my parents more than me, but if the situation had been different I know it would have helped me as well.
Third, the relationship didn’t kill me!! Romance isn’t my thing in general, but the romance in this was amazing. It was so sweet and I loved how most of it was fostering a friendship. When most YA books have tons of instalove, it was so refreshing to see a realistic relationship develop and grow. It was just great and so refreshing for me as a reader. I always have a hard time getting behind relationships in books because, most of the time, they’re not fleshed out. This was perfectly fleshed out for little ole me.
Basically, if you want a terrific debut about nonbinary and other diverse characters, I highly recommend this book. I’m definitely going to have to get it for my shelf because I’m sure I’ll want to reread it.
Have you read this? What did you think?
What contemporary YA books have you loved?
I received an ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review!
CW: homophobia, transphobia, outing, deadnaming, gender dysphoria, unsupportive family, graphic sex scene, and possible alcohol abuse
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AS I DISCUSS PROBLEMATIC PLOT POINTS.
First and foremost, I want to make some statements about this review upfront. A lot of you know me, but this review will be posted on Goodreads and Twitter and, obviously, this blog. I’m also going to bump it up in my story on Instagram.
I don’t know where it’s going to go and who will see it. So, I want to put right up front a few things about me and this review.
This is my opinion alone from an ownvoices standpoint, informed by my own experiences. I do not have any interest in speaking for the whole trans community and I will not be. I can only speak of my experience and thoughts around this book. Life would be boring if all transpeople thought the same and this is one opinion of a highly nuanced situation.
If you were offended/found this book problematic, I’m not trying to diminish your personal experience, just talk about my own.
I also have an issue with the marketing done around this book. I don’t like that it was marketed as F/F then, surprise!, the MC’s trans. It’s horribly problematic and needs to be fixed more. I’m glad that Mackenzi has been working on changing that.
This review is about the content of the book. I want to talk about the actual content and my perception of it.
I welcome comments and ideas that differ from my own! However, I will not allow for cruelty. If anyone starts being rude, I’ll delete your comments. I don’t want to have to monitor that, but I will if I have to.
I’m not on Twitter. We might have a shared Twitter, but Chantel is the one who runs it. I rarely pop on over there. So, when the drama came around about this book, I had already requested this, super excited for Mackenzi’s new F/F book set in Holland which I’ll be shortening to TMB so I don’t have to type the title over and over again. Then, I started seeing Mackenzi on Instagram correcting the marketing and Chantel began filling me in about the stuff on Twitter.
I wasn’t going to read this book until December or January. I like reading my ARCs about a month before they come out because then it’s fresh in my mind. But with this? I felt like it was something I needed to read right away because I didn’t think that Mackenzi Lee meant any harm.
Thanks to her stories (and other authors, such as Adrienne Young) on Instagram that authors rarely, if ever, have control over their marketing and cover designs and descriptions. And, I also know that Mackenzi is a huge supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community and has captured our historical experiences in her past books.
Mackenzi also used trans sensitivity readers. Including Meredith Russo. And, personally, I’m with Meredith Russo. So, spoiler for my own views. As a transman, I didn’t find this triggering or problematic. I felt like it captured the historical reality of being trans in the 17th century. And it was wonderful.
I’m a huge history nerd, I always take historical fiction with the historical context. Such as, there were certain historical realities and laws that criminalized sexuality and gender expression. Those were present in this book and I appreciated her capturing that honest reality. Also, queer characters didn’t have the language that we have today to explain their gender and sexuality. And I loved that, again, in this book Mackenzi honored that and wasn’t anachronistic.
The book was unapologetically trans without ever using that word.
Now, I’ll get more to that in a second because I did see someone’s comment on Goodreads — if you see this review and it was you, please tell me and I will link people there! — that said this book is more adultthan YA with the current content. And, I agree there. It’s definitely more adult than YA. It reminded me of Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg (ownvoices historical transman book). TMB has very adult themes to it, even though the characters were teens.
A little bit more about using the word trans in this book. Transsexual was a word that was first used in the 1920s and transgender was first created in the 1960s. Definitely not a 17th-century word. And this book is about discovery. It’s about our transman MC discovering who he is and coming into that identity.
When I was reading it, I was struck by how represented, how seen I was, by this book. It’s so hard to find book about transmen that accurately captures what it feels like to discover your identity. There was one quote that stood out to me. Remember, ARC quotes are liable to change, especially since this book has been pulled from being published for the near future.
A manacle I had not known was around my neck until it was removed, and suddenly, I could breathe, I could breathe, I could breathe at last.
That’s a quote from the MC after he got his hair cut off. I distinctly remember the day that I cut my hair from being super long to very short. And that captures how I felt when I did it and looked in the mirror, seeing a bit more of myself each day.
Then, there was the description of gender dysphoria that made me stop because it so captured the feeling. One second, so, so masculine and knowing that you’re a man and fully inhabiting that role, only to then be slammed back into the depressive and anxiety-ridden reality of your body not matching how you pictured it in your mind. It cut me right to my heart because, God, Mackenzi got it 100% right.
There are a few main characters in this. The MC, who I am going to refer to as Pim in here. Pim’s birth name, and what he’s referred to for a good portion of the book, is Lena. I know there’s a huge discussion of deadnaming around this book, but he doesn’t choose Pim as his name (while pretending to be a man whose name is Pim) until 41% and it isn’t until the second to last chapter that he really chooses it as his own. It reminds me of George by Alex Gino. She chooses the name Melissa but is called George throughout the book and most reviews call her George as well.
I’ve already mentioned that I loved Pim. I loved his journey to self-discovery. I loved how accurate he felt. I just loved it. As I said, it’s so hard to find a story where a transman is the main focus. And it was so refreshing to read something that made me feel represented.
Then, there’s Elsje, Pim’s love interest. I did like her. She was fun and quirky and so queer. However, I felt like she could have been fleshed out a bit more as a side character. There was not much more to her besides how she loves tulips and is totally interested in Pim and helps affirm his gender.
Bas is Pim’s older brother. I… I didn’t like him. He’s drunk most of the time and is very unaccepting of Pim’s identity. I’m very tired of the trope of an unaccepting sibling. I want more accepting sibling rep. I’m going to come back to this a little later.
Then, there’s Jan. Jan has a very minor role for most of the book. I think that’s a damn shame. He’s very accepting of Pim and Pim’s gender. He encourages him to live as a man. I wanted more of him. Bas was very unaccepting, Elsje middling with acceptance, and Jan was super supportive. I liked that there was a spectrum of support, but there needed to be more of Jan.
The plot itself is pretty straightforward. Pim and Bas are orphans, taken in by a tulip seller who suddenly dies and leaves them with a lot of debt. They find out that he might have had a Semper Augustus (a very expensive and rare tulip) and go to claim it. However, the man who had it is in jail away from Holland. Pim decides to take on his identity and sell it, then they get out of there.
The first 60% of the book was very positive and moved at a good clip. It was a fast-paced fun ride. Around 66% — I identified it in my status updates — the tone changed and it became bleak. Throughout the book, it was mentioned that people could get hung for being gay. But, around 66% there’s a graphic hanging. Then there’s Pim being outed later, around 80%. There’s also been some discussion about the ending and how unhappy it is. Tbh, I found it pretty happy? Pim didn’t get the girl, but, he was living his authentic life so how is that unhappy?
Now, I mentioned I love historical accuracy. I hate books that feel anachronistic. However, in this case, I think things could be edited out. I do not think that there needed to be a graphic hanging. That could be removed completely from the story without impacting things. It’s a scene that pushes the story from YA to adult for me. I wished that it hadn’t included that. Sure, it’s historically accurate, but it doesn’t add to the story.
I also mentioned that I wish Bas would be changed. Either made more supportive, given a smaller role, or bring more of Jan into the story to further offset Bas’s lack of support. That’s one thing that I wanted to be changed desperately when I was reading it. Because each time Bas came in, I knew that he’d be saying something that was rude and/or triggering. It didn’t add to the story and it felt gratuitous.
So, what are my overall thoughts on the book?
I felt myself represented from when I was a teen trying to figure out who I was and figuring out slowly.
There are definitely things that could be changed and removed, but it was so good.
I would 100% recommend this to people as an authentic trans read.
Whenever Mackenzi is ready to put it out for publication, I’ll be preordering it so I can have it on my shelves right next to the Montague Siblings.
What are your thoughts on the drama?
Are you planning on reading it?
I received a finished copy from Viking Books in exchange for an honest review!
CW: child sexual abuse, grooming, drug misuse, sexual assault, and PTSD
When I got home from Portland, this was a surprise for me! It’s not usually a genre I reach for, nor is it a topic that I like reading about. Sexual assault is content that I don’t read because it bothers me. As it should, of course, but it just is one of those things that bothers me.
Skye is an art student in high school, going out for a competitive scholarship at an art school. All she has is her mom and her younger sister, Emma. There are some friends as well — Luisa and Ben. And, she harbors a secret. She uses drugs and alcohol to mask that pain and to bury it down so no one knows.
And then her mother starts dating the man who assaulted her.
Her younger sister is her age when it happened and, as it does, it all comes bubbling back up.
The story is largely told in the present, but there are flashbacks to Dan (the abuser) before the assault, when it happened (which is told in graphic detail, so take care with that), and after when she starts using drugs, alcohol, and sex to cope. For me, this was so well written. It really felt like an accurate description of grooming and the coping of what comes after.
I just loved how this was a story of discovery and realization that these are unsafe coping skills, along with finally realizing that someone has to say something to get it to stop. Otherwise, Emma would have been next no matter how hard Skye had tried to protect her over the years and especially once Dan comes back.
As I said, this was just a glorious book. I’m so glad that I had the chance to read it. It wasn’t perfect but it was just fantastic. I love that these books exist for people who need it, that they can find themselves in fiction and go with the character to discover that they do the same thing.
This was a very impressive debut and I know I’ll be reading whatever Sibson publishes next!
Have you read this? What did you think?
What contemporary would you recommend?
CW: parental abuse, animal abuse, suicidal ideation, depression, and cyberbullying
I’ll be straight up honest with y’all. (And, you’re thinking: Caidyn, when aren’t you??) But, I didn’t expect to like this book. I really didn’t. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s got ace rep. Yes, it’s not very romantic.
But, here’s the thing, I don’t really read contemporary YA. Contemporary anything, really.
Yet, everyone kept telling me how amazing it was and that it’s just so great and blah blah blah. I finally decided to pick it up and give it a try since, you know, it’s Pride.
I really, really liked this book.
There’s only one con that I can think of and that’s that it really slowed down in the latter half of the book. I wasn’t a fan of how far it slowed down and that it got really depressing. Two characters dealing with depression and one having obvious suicidal thoughts. But, that’s it.
First, I loved the rep. The MC of this is Frances. She’s an Ethiopian-British bi girl struggling with school and what she wants to do.
Then, there’s Aled who’s definitely demisexual — demisexuality, for those who might not know, is a part of the asexual spectrum and is when someone only feels sexual attraction when they have a close bond with someone they’re romantically inclinded to — and questioning. I know some people say he’s demi and gay (as in, homoromantic, or only feeling romantically towards men), but it was never stated that he’s only into guys.
There are also wonderful side characters. Daniel, who’s a gay Korean immigrant. Carys, Aled’s sister and who’s lesbian. Raine, a friend of Frances and is an pan Indian woman.
Basically, the diversity was amazing. I loved how it was written and, honestly, the ace rep was perfect. It felt so accurate and I loved that romance just wasn’t the main point. I need more books like that, where romance isn’t a part of the story. It was in the background, but it wasn’t a huge thing.
And, I gotta love a questioning ace. I’ve been there and I felt the pain that Aled was going through as well. Just trying to figure out who the hell he is.
The plot is pretty basic. Frances loves this YouTube channel, Universe City, that’s basically like Welcome to the Night Vale. It’s her nerdy thing. But, Frances is, in a way, two people. She’s the person she is at school then she’s the person she is at home. And the split is slowly killing her. She became friends with Carys, but Carys ran away and only Frances knows why and blames herself for it.
Frances becomes friends with Aled, discovering his secrets, the good and the bad. I have to say, Aled was such a hard character to read. Mainly because I have his kind of coping skills. Something’s bothering me emotionally? Don’t talk about it. I have no problem telling someone when I don’t like what they’re physically doing, but I’m not good at confrontation on an emotional level. If that makes any sense. I usually wait until I can’t take it anymore and explode at the person. Which is, in a way, how Aled handles things.
This book was just so good on so many levels. I wish I could say more about the plot, but I’m worried that I’ll get into spoiler territory and ruin some of the reveals and different things. What I can say is that this book was excellent. It was such an enjoyable read and that I’ll definitely be reading Oseman more from now on.
Have you read this? What did you think?
What Oseman book should I read next?