we're magan + estelle -- two girls who live miles apart, but connect daily over our love for books. we share thoughtful + honest reviews of the books we read, but enjoy talking about our crazy lives and other interests, too (style! diy! zac efron!). join us!
Each Sunday, I found myself driving down the back roads of our small town with my grandparents, headed to our tiny Catholic church. I was baptized there and participated as a reader, attended Sunday school, and in high school was confirmed, too. I didn’t really know anything other than Catholicism until my sophomore year in high school when my best friend began asking me to attend her Wednesday night youth group at her Baptist church. The differences between her church and mine were night and day: there weren’t nearly as many rituals at hers, people talked a lot more openly about things like sin, sexuality, and who God is. It was then that I realized that not all churches are the same. I guess hypothetically I had known that before, but until I saw it in action, I didn’t know there could be something different.
[Full disclosure: I began going with Leslie because there was a cute boy involved.]
The summer after my Sophomore year, I went to a church camp in Glorieta, NM with Leslie’s youth group. I went hoping that I’d sit next to that cute boy on the way there and that sometime over that week he would FINALLY ask me to be his girlfriend. Spoiler alert: his dad was our bus driver to New Mexico and made a bet with him to see how many girls’ phone numbers he could get while he was there. We pulled into the camp and my heart was just crushed. Thank goodness I found out before all the festivities began because I think my sole focus would have remained pursuing him if I hadn’t found out the truth early on. Instead, I tried to ignore him and threw myself into bonding with my group and being active.
And it’s there that my heart really seemed to change and this whole idea of Christianity really became something more. It was more than just a proclamation. It was more than just attending church on Sundays. Sure I had a lot of questions and things I just didn’t know the answer to, but I felt anxious to seek out those answers and to explore religion in a whole new way.
This little piece of my history is something that still impacts my day-to-day life and it’s something I am searching for when I’m reading: What do the characters believe? Are they searching like I was (still am)?
I think at our core we’re curious humans and we like to test the waters. We don’t easily accept things at face value or believe things necessarily because we’re told to. There have been a few standout books for me that really reflected how it felt for me to question and seek those answers:
Stealing Parker, Small Town Sinners, and Things I Can’t Forget have given me characters that aren’t always right, don’t know all the ins and outs of their beliefs, want to learn more, are flawed and imperfect, and they all struggle. Gosh, even as a nearly 30 year old woman (say WHAT?!) I still feel this way. I don’t always know what’s right or what I’m supposed to do. These books extend this amazing olive branch that say, “IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW!”
Perhaps what I’ve felt lately in a lot of my reading has been that there’s either a strong believe or a great nonchalance. In two books I recently read (The Last Time We Say Goodbye and Since You’ve Been Gone), the main characters both admit to having no faith as they’re going through these GIANT life changing events; the conversation stops there and once they’ve said, “I don’t know what to believe” that’s it. But I’ve also noticed that aside from Christianity, I’m not seeing a whole lot of exploration of other religions. Perhaps those with Christianity stand out to me because that’s what I identify with the most, but ideally, I’d really love to be able to update this post with a long list of books that explore other faiths. Religion and beliefs are just one of the multitude of things that make us diverse, and I’d love to see this tackled more in what I’m reading. I want to know my character’s struggles and strongholds.
So here you have it, my great question to you guys: Where is religion in young adult books? What books have you read that have done a really nice job exploring religion?
Thanks for joining the discussion for this month’s Dive Into Diversity! Don’t forget to link-up with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Estelle, and I cannot wait to read them and check out your blogs! If you haven’t had a chance to join the DID reading challenge, feel free to visit the intro post and use #DiversityDive on Twitter & Instagram!
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: 1/6/2015 Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Pages: 272 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: death, NYC, grief, friendship, romance, jobs Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)
Summary: After his mom dies from breast cancer, Matt discovers comfort at the local funeral home where he gets a job.
Before you read this review, I have to ask: have you read When I Was The Greatest yet? I reviewed it last year, mentioned it everywhere including my End of the Year survey, and, well, I just need you to read it before I can go on. So please buy it, request it from your library, or download it for your eReader.
The Boy in the Black Suit had me once again asking myself how Jason Reynolds does it. With a small page count, he brings such emotion and authenticity to his stories, and manages to develop his characters and their plotlines without giving away too much. Here we have Matt, a 17-year old who just lost his mother to cancer. He’s reeling from his own grief (he and his mother were super close) and at the same time, taking on such a grown up role in his household because his dad is not adjusting well to this tragedy. Matt never plans to take a job at the local funeral home, but when the opportunity presents itself, he scoops it up — anxious to keep himself busy somehow. (And after assurance that he would not have to touch dead bodies.)
What Matt does not expect to find is such support in funeral home owner Mr. Ray or comfort in the sadness he sees at these ceremonies. He finds himself seeking out the most upset person in the crowd, and hangs on to it. With the loss of his mom so fresh, he feels a bond with these strangers and relief about his own feelings and the fact that he is not alone. Yes, he has the support of his friend, Chris, and, occasionally, his father, but there’s something about facing these tragedies head on that makes him feel better about listening to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” every night before he goes to sleep. (Full disclosure: totally listened to this while I was reading.)
I’ve been to a lot of funerals (starting at a young age) and Reynolds had me openly weeping at some of the scenes Matt was experiencing. It’s certainly tough to read about them in any context but I guess I hadn’t realized how fresh my own memories of funerals were until I was deep into The Boy in the Black Suit. Personally, I had no idea how Matt handled it but when you are feeling alone and don’t know where to go, we can’t predict what’s going to bring us back and make us stronger. So there’s that.
As Matt deals with his grief, his dad’s ambivalence, and even the fact that he does not feel like cracking open a cookbook (a favorite hobby of his and a love he shared with his mom), a girl named Love comes into his life. As you may have expected, he meets her at a funeral and he is immediately taken by her strength. It’s funny how life works — who you meet and what builds you up when life hits its lowest point. I liked being alongside Matt during this time. He would always miss his mother, sure, but he was gaining the strength to pull through and press on.
Reynolds’s work continues to impress me and I am hoping other readers are going to catch on. In a world where we fight for diverse reads and the underdogs, he deserves our readership. The vulnerability and truth brought to his characters paired with solid dialogue — it’s like he has the secret recipe to a perfectly paced book (rhythmically and emotionally).
I’m glad I’m not alone. Like Brittany, I am a happily married person who also thinks Valentine’s Day is the worst. I always felt like many of the boys I knew (not my husband) thought of it as some obligation and never much thought into it. Why did they have to? They could easily pick up a new plush animal or a card from the drugstore. Or my fav — roses. (Who am I? I really don’t like roses, friends. Again. Super generic.) ANYWAY. I love my husband and my pals and my beer and I can express that feeling anytime of the year. (And we should be!)
In the spirit of the upcoming “holiday” and because I love books and love you (!!), I’m chatting about Coney Island Brewing Company and their 1609 Amber Ale. This company has the best label art (vintage-y cool) and my grocery store has recently started selling their six packs. Bonus: they are semi-local. Named for the legendary destination in Brooklyn, their beer is actually brewed upstate.
The 1609 is dedicated to the year the land that would become Coney was discovered. It’s a light, refreshing taste (a little citrus, a little caramel) and nicely bubbly. When I was thinking it, my first thought was how it would be a nice first beer for those who are still discovering their tastes.
On to the book…
Sorta Like a Rock Star feels like a natural pick for Valentine’s Day, even if (ready for it) there is no romance in this book at all. It’s about a girl named Amber (get it?) who is always putting herself out there for other people from the cute ladies at the church choir to the folks at the nursing home, but is certainly not getting that kind of attention and affection from the person closest to her. It’s a truly wonderful book (with a side of tissues) about friendship and being kind to be kind, not because you are fulfilling a school assignment. Love is reciprocal and I never saw that better described in a book than it is in this one.
Amber’s heart is SO SO SO big. This is why she is my book valentine. (If you need more convincing, I wrote a little bit about the book last year.)
What’s your favorite book about love? Let me know in the comments!
Have a super weekend, and enjoy. Whether it’s with a brew, or not. (But if you do have brew suggestions, tell meee!)
It’s early, I know. (Well, depending on where you are, of course, but I’m going to imagine you woke up at 8 a.m. to read this.) You are dressed in the outfit that makes you feel your best and headed to a party to celebrate yours truly and the big “omg I’m 30″ moment. Don’t worry. It’s less about me than it sounds. I just want to mingle and have fun cocktails. Maybe we can do a large book swap? No gifts, please. I’m happy just to make your acquaintance (or see you again, whatever the case may be) and introduce you to some of my fictional pals. (I’ll invite my parents and some real life friends too so this isn’t too weird. Promise.)
What are you waiting for? There’s guacamole! Mini tacos! A soft-serve ice cream machine! Rachel made her famous red velvet cupcakes! A room to cuddle with puppies and kittens. Dirty Dancing is playing in the background with no sound. (Who needs sound?! We all know the words! If you don’t, it’s not a good time to tell me.) Mickey Mouse might even show up! Don’t forget your phone but, please, let’s refrain from too much tweeting. Let’s forget to take too many pictures. I want to have THAT much fun.
A good host knows great party begins with people who all have some sliver of something in common and won’t be afraid to meet new people. Plus I have to guarantee a good time. Entertainment! Laughs! Stimulating conversation!
Case in point:
First things first, I need Kitty Song (To All The Boys I Loved Before) to do my hair. She’s so talented for a nine-year old. Okay, fine, Lara Jean can come too. (Just kidding. I need the ENTIRE Song clan. Maybe they can make some cookies?)
THEN we need dancing and I know Skylar from I’ll Meet You There has the moves and isn’t as shy as I am. (I also want to talk to her about her collages.)
For my bachelorette party I dragged my friends to karaoke because I wanted to hear them sing. (No one wants to hear me sing.) But I want to hear Devan (The Reece Malcolm List) sing! Perform a bit? A little cabaret? I want to be able to say I had a future Broadway star at my party. (Maybe she can introduce me to Jeremy Jordan some day?)
Hands down, I think Vivian and her best friend Harp will be the ones everyone wants to talk to. They are running from the Rapture (Vivian Apples at the End of the World)! They’re parents have disappeared. (I think Skylar will also relate to their best friendship.)
Rumor has it Matt from The Boy in the Black Suit is a pretty awesome cook. (Homemade chocolate chip cookies.) But he also has an incredible heart, and it would be nice to “get to know” (I realize he’s not real) someone else in the city. I also need to give him a hug.
Rafe from Openly Straight is so real to me, it’s like I’ve already met him. I have a hunch he would be hilarious at a party, and I sure want to hear what he is up to lately!
Cricket, Jules, and Zac? (Nantucket Red) I don’t feel I need to explain this one because I know we would get each other and I need to know all the latest gossip. (This is where I ask/beg Leila Howland to write another one of these books.)
For no other reason, I would be happy to get all the dirt from these characters. I AM A GOSSIP HOUND. I will not blog about it, fictional birthday guests. I will not. I will just write it in my journal and look back on this night with so much fondness. (Sidenote: Will I allow +1s? Hell yes. I need to know everything I can about these happily-ever-afters.)
I can picture it now. I’m chatting. There’s champagne (and sparkling cider). My #pubdate ladies have supplied themed beers. Magan and I are once again united! We’re laughing, we’re twirling, we’re eating all the mini pies (the cherry is delicious), and it all goes by in a snap. But you know what? All the planning was worth it. It was one fun shindig.
Thanks for spending this birthday with me, friends! I can’t let you leave empty-handed though. I’m giving away two of the above books to reader in the U.S. or beyond. (Just not the moon, okay?) Click through below to enter and good luck! xoxo
Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman [twitter • website] Publication Date: October 14, 2014 Publisher: Notting Hill Press Pages: 326 Target Audience: Adult Fiction Keywords: people pleasing, crappy boyfriends, controlling parents, shady jobs Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Carol is barely able to tread water or find time for herself because she’s constantly attending to everyone else’s needs before her own. Her mom passive aggressively manipulates her into doing what she wants, her best friend and sister don’t see how they’re abusing her, and her boyfriend is selfishly out to have his needs met before hers. What will it take for Carol to learn to say no and stand up for herself?
• • •
The Story: Carol is everyone’s go-to girl: She helps her sister plan her wedding, goes on blind dates for her best friend as a pre-screener (because her BFF has the absolute worst radar ever), books her parents vacations, finds her “adopted” sister a job, works countless hours at a job she loves with men who overlook her talents and demean her with constant sexual innuendos and inappropriate jokes, and has a boyfriend who is throwing all his efforts into his new job with little quality time to spare.
Phew. That’s a lot, right?
The Build-up: Can Carol possibly say NO to anything? How does she ever sleep? What happens when she breaks? When does she EVER have time for herself?
The Breaking Point: Things get so big and bad and messy and uncontrollable for Carol. She is the epitome of a people pleaser. (Anyone who thinks they are a people pleaser will relate and sympathize with this poor girl.) My heart raced and I legit thought I was going to have a panic attack as things all came to a head at once. (Of course. And really — any idea I had about how things could get worse…I was wrong. They got WAY worse.) There were a lot of moments where I found myself nodding my head as I related to this young woman. I highlighted a TON of passages.
Perfect Girl is my second novel by Gorman to read (The Curvy Girls Clubwas the first, but I’m reviewing them out of order). TCGC was a lot more sensual and sexy, but I found Perfect Girl to have a much more serious undertone that focused primarily on Carol’s journey to stop allowing other people to manipulate her. It was really nice to see that sex wasn’t a device used to hook Gorman’s readers; this really showed me she has a lot of diversity as an author because these two books were in no way formulaic or similar.
If you’re looking for something that feels genuine and authentic with a mid-twenties character who is trying to find her footing in the world, I definitely recommend Perfect Girl. It was really nice to relate to a character and think, “Huh. So not everyone has this growing up thing figured out.”
When I first picked when I Was Here by Gayle Forman (my review) a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the main characters had graduated from high school with one of them attending a college away from home and the other going a completely different route. I realized that I’ve always been surprised when young adult characters are in college and it’s not because it doesn’t fit into the “criteria” for young adult books but because there are so few of them.
In writing this post, I found myself googling: What is young adult literature? (This is almost laughable since it’s the primary category I read so you would think I would know, but, technically, I find it hard to explain.) I really liked this explanation from Michael Cart on the ALA website:
The term “young adult literature” is inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms “young adult” and “literature” are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change.
…young adults are beings in evolution, in search of self and identity; beings who are constantly growing and changing, morphing from the condition of childhood to that of adulthood. That period of passage called “young adulthood” is a unique part of life, distinguished by unique needs that are – at minimum — physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal in nature.
Frankly, I can’t think of a greater period of evolution in your life than the unknown associated with life after throwing your caps in the air and waving goodbye to high school. For me, personally, the summer after graduation and the years that followed led to some of the best, most difficult, super strange moments in my life so it’s cathartic to see them on the page, relive them again with a bit more life experience under my belt and realize, well, hey, that sucked but I’m here and I’m okay.
So today I’m applauding the books that tough upon the messy complications of college, navigating a life with high school friends and the new ones you are going to make, and, perhaps, what happens if your life moves you in a different direction — one that isn’t filled with books and beer pong and sharing a room with a stranger.
(Our options are truly endless.)
The best part in creating this list is that a good majority of these titles have been floating under the radar. Nothing makes me more excited than giving them a bit more attention in sharing them with you. PLUS a nice chunk of these are 2015 releases, making it, I think, a pretty exciting year in YA lit. I hope you find a few to add to your own reading list, and think up a few that I can add to mine.