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!
Another month, and more time to diversify your bookshelf. We’re thrilled to have debut novelist (a.k.a. that tall guy who used to sell me books at my favorite bookstore) Adam Silvera on the blog today! His highly-praised release, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, turns ONE WEEK OLD today (aww) and Adam is sharing some thoughts about timing and introducing homosexuality in books. Hope you enjoy Adam’s Dive Into Diversity stop, and add his recent release to your reading lists! (Also, challengers, don’t forget to add your DID) links below!) Take it away, Adam!
I don’t understand why people mistake homosexuality as a choice, but they do. I’m sure a lot of the misconception revolves around wanting the world to spin a certain “normal” way, but let’s dismiss that idiocy for a few minutes (and for the rest of our lives) and take a look at why homosexuality may feel foreign to well-intentioned others.
Teenhood is that time of independence and discovery that can be both exhilarating and frustrating, and for a lot of teens, it’s the first time they’re reading something that may involve gay characters. Homosexuality in middle-grade fiction exists on a very small scale, but you’re always more likely to see a wizard struggling with his magical life than you are a kid pondering his sexuality. Sure, some pre-teens are developing loveless crushes on each other, but for the most part they are chasing each other around the jungle gym, tattle-telling on some little nemesis, or playing Pretend, so you could argue it’s not necessary to roll out homosexual presence just yet. Except I did all these things and still had feelings for boys and knew not to talk about it because it wasn’t being talked about. I’ll admit to being the kind of reader far more interested in Harry Potter dealing with all his problems, both Muggle and magical, but seeing an outed Dumbledore, or even another Hogwarts student who’s gay, could’ve changed the game for me. But we shouldn’t be including homosexual characters just for those who are gay–it should be for EVERYONE.
My point to all of this is I believe we’re introducing homosexuality FAR TOO LATE to people by only addressing it in young adult novels, and it may be why it’s so alien to others who aren’t experiencing these feelings themselves. I would love to see a greater presence of LGBT characters for younger readers, and introducing them as young as the picture book crowd so they aren’t surprised by the different ways to love.
I totally understand more authority comes with teenhood, but we shouldn’t have to be a certain age to declare who we are, even if some of those declarations turn out to be wrong. Sexuality may not always be a choice, but how we define ourselves is.
Thanks for stopping in, Adam!
MORE HAPPY THAN NOT: The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is (Soho Teen, June 2, 2015).
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth ( web | tweet) Published August 26, 2014 by Scholastic Press Pages: 256 | Target: middle grade Keywords: foster siblings, urban settings, summer school, friendship
Eleven year-old Jarrett is pissed off, and it has nothing to do with his mother taking in more foster kids. He’s not too psyched to have to share his room with a 12-year old stranger, Kevon. Why does the newest addition to his family have to be older than him, better looking, great at basketball, and able to make new friends almost immediately?
Jarrett finds out soon enough that Kevon is less than imperfect. He has no trouble raising his voice to Jarrett’s mom when it comes to the best way to care for his younger (special needs) sister. He’s prepared to do whatever it takes to escape this foster home and be back where he belongs — living with his dad on the other side of Newark. This is okay with Jarrett because he just wants his room back.
Both boys learn a lot about patience, because Kevon’s stay is not as short as either of them are prepared for. Soon Kevon is encroaching on his time at the center and with his best friend, Ennis. Jarrett decides to impart his supreme spy skills to find out the real story about Kevon and his little sister but something just isn’t adding up.
I really enjoyed reading about foster care from this angle. Jarrett is proud of what his mom does, but he also feels like she cares a bit more about all the babies coming and going than him. He’s learned to detach himself from the kids the more and more she fosters, because he’s gotten so sad when children have left their home in the past. Like his mother, he’s extremely empathetic and can’t help but feel angry at the parents who mistreat their children.
In addition to the fostering process, Kinda Like Brothers has Jarrett reacting from hearing his teachers talk poorly of his academics. He’s having a lot of trouble concentrating in school, he was absent a lot during the year because of his asthma attacks, and nothing is clicking. He’s totally frustrated because his mom doesn’t seem to be paying enough attention to his, and he’s not sure what the point of applying himself is when everything thinks he’s “dumb” anyway.
All this heaviness is sprinkled with the standard qualms of an 11-year old — the girl he desperately wants to impress, how annoying it is to remember to put on deodorant (and how equally annoying it is to be reminded to wear some by his mom), the recent changes in his best friend, and getting down all the moves for step team. I can’t forget his passion for making movie trailers either. Jarrett may have trouble believing he’s smart but you have to believe he’s going to make it through his school difficulties because the kid is charmingly ambitious. There’s nothing “stupid about that”.
Despite the young audience for this book, I love how we are given some insight into Jarrett’s mother and her own tendencies to push happiness away. There was also the stark (and all too timely) observation that kids in Jarrett’s neighborhood would regularly be targeted by the cops without having done a thing — all because of what they looked like. Certainly a moment that would elicit a ton of discussion in the classroom, in the home, and beyond.
Kinda Like Brothers was funny, smart, and explored the many meanings of family. It touched upon the not so great things we do when we are feeling threatened and how we make up for them; how we protect ourselves and the ones we love; embrace the things we do well and use them to get through the things that are still a work in progress.
Nothing beats the feeling of falling in love with an author’s work for the first time…except maybe revisiting that work and realizing you’re just as enthralled as you were that very first time. With so many new books being released every week, it’s not always as convenient to go back and spend time with those old favorites. Part of it is the sheer volume of books in the world, sure, but I think there’s also this teenie tiny fear that you won’t connect with a certain title quite as strongly as you did the first time. Time passes, circumstances change, and so does the way we read and interpret these stories. It’s entirely possible but true love is forever and this is certainly true of my relationship with Trish Doller’s books.
I remember exactly where I was when I read Something Like Normal (it took a round trip between home and work on the train) and the same with Where the Stars Still Shine(on a plane ride — with a layover in Chicago — heading back home from a wonderful visit in Austin with Magan). Apparently transportation plays into reading time with Doller’s books. I really must like crying in public. But in all seriousness, any reader would want to be holed up in a closed space with one of these delectable contemporaries. The girls are genuine and strong and different degrees of broken. The boys are real and emotional and just as messy as any teenage girl is expected to be. (In real life, we know this is how the story goes but too few young adult books make it known.) Family is around and either great or not, which is majorly reflective of real life too.
Since I’m writing this on a public platform and not disguising any titles or names (Drish Toller?), I’m sure you can guess that I decided to re-read both titles recently (to build up to my excitement of the long awaited The Devil You Know) and well, you would have thought it was a 2015 release that wasn’t actually covered in a bit of dust. (It gets really dusty in this apartment; I swear I’ve moved my copy since I bought it!) I eased right into Something Like Normal and didn’t let a massive headache stop me from finishing. Where the Stars Still Shine was practically burning a book-sized hole in my purse when I wasn’t able to pick it up. (Somehow I didn’t think my mom would accept it if I chose a book over one of our rare visits.) I know how both of these ended, and I remembered the massive moments but with Dollar, it’s all about the details — Travis’s friendship with Charlie and his love of thrift shops; Callie’s guitar, the lights in her Airstream, how her nickname became Peach. They makes these stories so familiar, so alive, and so distinctly her.
A few more observations:
I forgot how lovely the relationship between Travis and his mom is. He’s feeling guilty because she was so dedicated to being a great Marine mom while he was in Afghanistan and he barely called home but she understood. She didn’t hound him or make him feel guilty, and on the flip side, when she needs someone, he’s there in a huge way. Their relationship wasn’t always perfect (by a long shot) but time away gave him perspective and changed how they relate to each other forever.
Water can heal. Both books are set in Florida (which I love) so it’s no big surprise that there are some beachy scenes in both. I’m an Aquarius. I believe in the power of water. In Something Like Normal, Travis spends the day on a boat with his Marine pals and an old school friend, Harper. A day like that makes him trust that he can work through what’s ailing him. Where the Stars Still Shine features one of my favorite scenes in a book ever — Callie and Alex snorkeling. It’s so overwhelmingly beautiful, and it has nothing to do with the chemistry between these two but all about the intimacy of nature and the two of them getting to know each other.
Strong female characters who know what they want (or don’t) who like sex (or don’t) who believe in shooting straight with a guy even if it seems silly not to be “over” a certain situation all these years later (Harper) or succumb to attraction and teeter around the possibility of something more (Callie). Those who want friendships but don’t always know how to be friend; who want acceptance from others and themselves for all their messy parts in addition to all the good.
For all of the tough moments (PTSD, kidnapping, abuse, etc.), Doller never forgets to inject the little joys into the lives of her characters. From friendship to family to newfound indie bookstores and a night watching sea turtles, there is so much for each of these characters to embrace as they work to overcome their own battles. The exact ups and downs we face every single day.
This is what I know after diving into these worlds again: these books need to be dog-eared, highlighted, and embraced over and over again by young adults who want to be talked to with respect and maturity and adults who are undoubtably facing so many of the same challenges as these characters. Loss, misunderstanding, betrayal, happiness, belonging, and taking the necessary steps toward renewal and peace with a side order of forgiveness. Most of all, it’s a shame that coming across these books in my local bookstores is a challenge. I wish it wasn’t because I know so many could benefit from these stories — whether it’s because they felt similar pain or because they’re looking for the full reading experience.
So while new books and voices are wonderfully impossible to avoid, there’s something to be said for the ones that are always waiting patiently in the shadows of our outrageous piles, ready to welcome you back and unlock more of their layers.
The Program by Suzanne Young [website • twitter] Published April 30, 2013 by Simon Pulse Pages: 405 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: depression, suicide, losing memories, destiny, soul mates
Summary: Life for Sloane isn’t perfect. Her brother committed suicide, her best friend was taken into The Program because she was showing signs of suicidal tendencies, and her boyfriend seems to be slipping away as each day passes. While The Program may have been started with the best of intentions, it seems no one is safe from its grip and erasing all their memories.
• • •
Have you ever wondered if you had to choose again — boyfriend, spouse, college, best friends, etc. — if you’d choose differently? What if you were given the opportunity to try? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but my hope is that no matter what I’d always be drawn to my husband, Dustyn. He’s the peanut butter to my jelly. He really and truly is my better half. I realize this means I’m saying I believe in soul mates, and I’ve got to be completely honest and say I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought before.
Since reading The Program by Suzanne Young this has really been on my mind a lot. Sloane is a girl living in a world that’s trying to rid depression because there’s been a suicide epidemic they believe is related to it. Admittedly it isn’t terrible to hope for change, but the treatment involves erasing pieces of the person’s memories to reset them. Sloane’s living in a state of non-existence as she’s afraid to show too much sorrow (over the loss of her brother to suicide and a best friend to The Program) or too much excitement (about her boyfriend James, her one true confidant).
Any sudden shifts in behavior can flag the system and send her to The Program. When a series of events happens that sends James away — after promising he’ll always protect and take care of her — Sloane can’t help but break down. She’s sent away and she desperately tries to hold onto any piece of her memories with James that she can. The Program is manipulative and tricky. They strip everything away. (Note: I thought Young handled the subject of depression really well by tackling how some people assume it just means sadness and exploring that it’s more than just that. The Program was potentially started with the best of intentions, but begins to “fix” people who aren’t broken. This could be so, so interesting to discuss for a book club.)
When’s she’s released back into the real world, she begins to mingle with her peers again at school. She re-meets her former best friend and she clashes heads with James. The strongest draw was seeing whether they would be destined to love each other again. Would their love be strong enough to tie them together despite all the missing information that had been taken from them?
Sloane was a great, strong character who was so determined not to lose herself. She wanted to feel all the good and the bad. Her parents were so overwhelmed with the possibility of losing another child they didn’t really “see” Sloane. They were so broken they’d do anything to make sure she was okay to protect themselves from repeat loss and pain. Destiny, making blind decisions, and fighting against the system for what you believe in are extremely strong elements of The Program that make it such a page-turner and a definite conversation piece.
Anything Could Happen by Will Walton ( web | tweet ) Published May 26, 2015 by Scholastic Point Pages: 288 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: coming out, best friends, early high school, family
Summary: Tretch’s life in a small town is filled with family, his best friend, and (secret) dancing. Despite his supportive parents, he has yet to tell them his truth: he’s gay. And in love with his best friend (who is most likely not). During winter break, Tretch deals with changes in all corners of his life from the mundane to the enormous — with hot chocolate and some good tunes.
I’m just going to say it: I’m in love with this book.
The holidays, awesome family characters, and a solid best friendship? Pretty much the perfect combination. Debut writer Will Walton plunks us into the winter break of main character Tretch — a good (tad emotional) guy, a hobby choreographer and Taylor Swift worshiper who gets bullied by the kid of his dad’s work colleague. He’s also gay (a secret to everyone else) and in love with his best friend, Matt. (Who could blame him? He’s pretty great.) It sounds pretty tragic, right? I mean, sure. When you’re in high school and don’t have your license yet and you’re unsure of yourself, parts of this list sound pretty bad but even Tretch knows he has it pretty good. He firmly believes if he decided to tell his parents about being gay, they would be totally cool with it. But still, he resists.
I loved that Tretch wanted to hang out with his family and his older brother, Joe. That he loves holidays spent with his grandparents and family time is so special to him. Anything Could Happen brought me back to my early high school years in a way I haven’t experienced in my reading in a long time… it was the most nostalgic hug. Your parents are still embarrassing and you still have to ask permission to spend the night at your best friend’s house and who can forget the lack of independence because you don’t have a car? It wasn’t always so magical but there’s something about those boundaries that felt comforting like a cocoon too.
When so much in life is uncertain, it was great (and so familiar) how much Tretch depended on music, his dancing, and love of literature to get him through. I can’t forget the hot chocolate either. There’s no way I could not be rooting (against all odds) for Tretch to find so much happiness. I cried with him, I laughed with him, and I sure as hell wished I was hanging out with his family during their traditional viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Anything Could Happen is as much about weathering the storm with friends and family, as it is about taking the time to understand yourself and sharing that awesome person with people who love and accept you.
I’m sitting in my living room curled up in a blanket (I’m not cold, I just like them) and whew, not believing another month has flown by. WE ARE ABOUT TO HIT THE HALF-YEAR MARK ALREADY. Doesn’t anyone else feel like they haven’t done enough this year yet? Time to get cracking on those resolutions, that’s for sure. M & I have had a pretty active month — my husband graduated from law school, she went on an epic Hawaiian trip to photograph a family wedding, Texas storms, NYC heat, and BEA of course. Here are some of our favorite pics:
Actress Jamie King’s first column @ Elle: “How do we find the balance between being sensitive, intuitive, and emotional as women but also strong, clear, vibrant, and focused? I think we’re still trying to figure that part out.”
I love that our reads this month were SO fantastic. Has me looking even more forward to June, which is going to include some memorable book events, planning a possible reunion with M, and I’m sure a lot more surprises. Be sure to stick around! Oh — and let us know about your top reads of the month. We want to read them too!
Psst. Don’t forget — Dive Into Diversity check in (with special guest!) on June 9.