Category: YA

YA Review: To Be Honest


To Be Honest

Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange network for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!

Out August 21, 2018!

News flash: fat isn’t a bad word, Mom. . . . I have blue eyes. I have blonde hair. I’m fat. Literally nothing about my life is changed because that word is associated with my physical appearance.

Y’all, YA authors have been hitting it out of the park lately with body-positive, non-traditional main characters lately. To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin is no exception. A beautiful, smart, funny, fat main character? Yes, please!!! (“Newsflash: Fat isn’t a bad word.”) At the risk of sounding preachy, I just want to say how important it is that these books exist, and how much I wish they had existed when I was growing up. Books like this aren’t advocating for kids to be unhealthy (an argument I have heard before, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it). They are advocating for kids (mostly girls, because there’s such a huge diet culture aimed directly at females) to love who they are, their size, and what they look like RIGHT NOW. Not later. Not, “once I’ve done such and such.” To love themselves right here and right now. Fat isn’t a bad word, and it’s also not a determining factor in personality, brains, or success. I cannot stress how important this is, and I think everyone, young and old and older, should be reading and embracing these books and themselves. Alright. On to the review.

Savannah (Savvy) is not looking forward to the next year. Her sister and best friend just left for her first year at college, and Savvy is stuck at home with her weight-loss-show contestant mom. In addition to losing an unhealthy amount of weight on the show, she is now obsessed with remaining thin, eating the least amount of food possible, and dragging Savvy into that lifestyle. Meanwhile, Savvy has a new friend/crush in George, the new kid at school. Between her mom’s concerning behavior, her love life, and trying to be a normal teenager in the process, Savvy is juggling quite a bit. The story is about Savvy finding her own happiness amidst insecurities, her mom’s unhappiness, and figuring out who she really is as a person.

This book is wonderful. Wonderful! On the surface it’s a YA romance, but the story goes much deeper than that, in a way that’s easy for younger readers to relate to. I loved seeing the development and breakdown of the mother/daughter relationship (and the not so thinly veiled sendup of The Biggest Loser, an extremely harmful show) and how realistically Martin portrays the slow healing of a damaged maternal relationship. She really stresses the importance of how our kids see us versus how we see ourselves, which rarely matches up. Before the reality show, Savvy saw her mother as strong and beautiful, and all she wants is for her mom to look at herself through that lens. (Something we could all stand to do.) Savvy also love the way she looks. She does not apologize for being a certain size, and she displays only a few normal insecurities that anyone might have.

As for the romance . . . it’s a sweet plot, and Martin handled it perfectly for middle grade and up readers. I love that looks aren’t ignored (there’s no way for looks not to be involved in the beginning of relationships, especially in a teen YA romance novel), but aren’t the main focus, either. It’s about how Savvy and George support each other and how they make each other feel. Being cute is just the YA icing on top.

My only complaint about To Be Honest is that I wish it was longer! There were some wonderful sub-plots that would have been even better if they’d had a few more pages devoted to them, and Savvy’s relationships with her mom and dad would have benefitted from a few more in-depth scenes. However, this book is perfect as a middle school and teen book and as a body-positive story (more fat girls in lead roles with the focus not being on their weight, please). I would truly recommend it to anyone ages 11 and up. You need it in your life!!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA

This would be a great companion read with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. (Read my review of that HERE.) I don’t often make read-alike comparisons, because that’s too much pressure to place on a book! The writing styles of these two books are different, but they both send the same message of being with who you are, not just how you look.

Review: Dumplin’


Dumplin’

There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.

I read a lot of Young Adult literature. I love it, and some of it is more well-written than adult books. I have never read one that is so body positive, with a character that not only has an amazing attitude but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, as Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Murphy is now going to be an auto-buy author for me, and I ordered all of her books after reading this. Dumplin’ is what I want all YA books to be: funny, insightful, honest, and entertaining.

Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mother) is the daughter of a former beauty queen and pageant winner. She is also fat, outspoken, and proud. She’s happy with her body and her life (for the most part), and she goes through life with her best friend, Ellen. When a new boy named Bo starts working at the same place Willowdean works, she is immediately attracted to him. Surprising to her? He likes her back. For the first time, Will doesn’t feel so confident, and wonders why he would like her. To gain back her confidence and prove to herself (and everyone else . . . and her mom) that she is worthy of everything good in her life, she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. Everyone is shocked that someone who is not a typical pageant contestant would even enter, but Will inspires a movement that changes the view of everyone in the town. And, more importantly, reasserts her faith in herself.

The plot in Dumplin’ is so good, but it’s the characters who I really love. Willowdean is so real. Her characters doesn’t feel forced at all. Everything she says and every action she takes feels like exactly the right thing for her character. All I really want to do is find the adult version of her and be friends with her. I love that she doesn’t shrink into the background and basically says, “screw you” to all the jerks in the novel by doing the least expected think of all: entering the pageant. She does it unapologetically and not as a joke or with the goal of making a huge deal about it: she does it for herself.

And we can just talk about body positivity for a minute or ten? In my experience, there are very few novels that portray actual overweight characters in a positive way. They are usually quiet or mean, and are always side characters. Here we have an overweight main character who is proud of herself, happy with herself, and doesn’t spend the majority of the novel lamenting her size. Yes, she’s real, and while she is comfortable and confident in her body, she’s also ashamed at times. Everyone can relate to that feeling, no matter what size they are. But she doesn’t let it get in the way and doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on it. This is all about confidence, and how much we can actually accomplish in our lives if we stop getting in our damn ways with negative thoughts. I am here. For. It.

If you love YA, or if you’re not sure you love YA, or if you have a middle grade to high schooler in your house, please get Dumplin’ (and the sequel, Puddin’, which should be arriving at my house soon) and read it. Have your kids read it. It’s entertaining and fun, but it’s also an important commentary on how girls are “supposed” to see themselves in public, and how they should see themselves. How we all should see each other: as human beings capable of accomplishing anything we want to do. Size is not important here, just heart.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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Review: The Wicked Deep


The Wicked Deep

Love is an enchantress—devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.

Today happens to be the last day of Summer Solstice, which plays a huge role in this book!

I want to stand on a rooftop somewhere (but like, a nice rooftop with a garden, not a dirty one filled with A/C units) and yell my undying love for The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. It’s not quite magical realism, and it’s not quite fantasy, but it’s a fantastic combination of the two, and I will be the first in line for Ernshaw’s next book.

Two hundred years ago, the three Swan sisters were sentenced to death by drowning for being witches. Ever since, the town of Sparrow has been cursed. Every summer during the Summer Solstice, Swan season begins. The sisters return from the sea, take over the bodies of three girls in the town, and lure boys to their deaths in the water. Penny Talbot has ignored Swan season and the boys who die every year. But when Bo Carter shows up, Penny tries to protect him from the danger he’s unaware surrounds the town. Penny must choose whether to save Bo or herself, and whether she can trust Bo with the deepest of secrets.

This book is immediately addicting. The storyline is mysterious, fast-paced, and very well written. I won’t compare anyone to the queen of magical realism, Alice Hoffman, but there are some very strong Practical Magic vibes here. (In a wonderful way, not in a copycat way at all.) The entire book is unique, and quite different from other witchy novels that I’ve read before in that it balances a fine line between mystery, magic, romance, and paranormal activity. I don’t know how Ernshaw did it, but she’s written a pretty perfect book.

If you want a great, witchy mystery, definitely add The Wicked Deep to your summer reading list. I was absolutely transported to the town of Sparrow, and it’s a fun, immersive book to disappear into on a summer afternoon. (And today is the last day of Swan season, so it might be the perfect day to start reading this book!)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For fans of: The Hazel Wood, Practical Magic

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Review: Prince in Disguise


Prince in Disguise

If you’re like me and can’t get enough of the royals (and yes, I’m setting my alarm super early on May 19th . . . but I’m also setting my DVR in case I sleep through it), you’ve been trying to read everything in that genre possible lately. Ever since The Royal We, I’ve been looking for a book that gives me the same feelings and is in a similar vein. I finally think I’ve found it in Stephanie Kate Strohm’s Prince in Disguise. It’s funny, charming, and just quirky enough to separate it from other YA romance novels.

Dylan is a Mississippi teen trying to live privately and quietly. Which is impossible to do when her big sister, Dusty, wins a reality show called Prince in Disguise and the entire family has to go to Scotland for the filming of the royal wedding. Dylan spends her days trying to hide from the cameras and keep some family secrets secret . . . and spend as much time as possible with Jamie, the cute groomsman who has an impressive knowledge of bookish quotes. If she’s not careful, the cameras will turn on Dylan and make her the center of attention.

This book is just what my heart and mind needed. A sweet YA romance with a little royalty thrown in and quirky, believable characters. While the plot is predictable, it’s predictable in a completely satisfying way, and the characters are so well written that I cared about what happened to all of them. This is such a fun book, and if you’re wanting to get in the mood for the royal wedding on May 19th, this book is the perfect way to do it!

Prince in Disguise has everything-great characters, a ridiculous reality show, impossible situations, and a cute romance. I wouldn’t change a thing about any of it (except maybe to see more of Florence, the royal mother in law, who is a force not to be trifled with), and I was a little sad when the book ended because I wanted the story to continue. I absolutely loved this cute book! It’s a YA romance that I think appeals to all ages.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Review: For Every One


For Every One

Thank you to Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own.

The truth is
our dreams could be
as far away as forever
or as close as lunchtime.
Tomorrow you could
wake up and read
this letter on a billboard.
Or you could wake up
and have forgotten
who wrote it.

I have not read a lot of poetry or books in verse in my life. To be honest, I can’t even name one. But now I can, and it’s Jason Reynolds’ For Every One. I read this short book, a poem that started as a speech Reynolds gave at the Kennedy Center to celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, from cover to cover, not looking up once. It is that good, that moving, and that inspiring.

This is the most straightforward and honest poem (I’ll call it a poem, but it’s really a speech in verse) I’ve ever read, and I really think anyone can relate to it. It is about Reynolds’ own struggle with his dreams and how hard it can be to follow those dreams, but how important it is to keep going. He honestly states that he doesn’t hold the key to success, and isn’t quite sure how to make dreams come true. The most important thing is to have a dream and to keep going on the path towards that dream, no matter how beaten down you may become. Just having a dream is important, and sometimes holding on to that dream through life is the most difficult thing to do, and the most critical.

Whether you are about to graduate from high school or college or graduated 15 years ago, For Every One is an important book and a much-needed reminder that we should never stop dreaming. I recently bought a copy of this for a friend who is going through a hard time, and I really hope it helps her to remember that our dreams will never die as long as we keep holding tight to them. It was a good reminder for me, and inspired me to pick up a couple of dreams I thought were no longer possible. If you need some inspiration, know someone who needs a little push, or need an amazing bookish gift for a graduate, please consider this book. Reynolds gets it exactly right. And if, like me, you don’t usually read verse (and don’t usually enjoy it), I really think this will change your mind. It certainly changed mine.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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