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: The Book of Essie


The Book of Essie

As if how you feel about your family ever makes any sense at all. I should know better than most. Because forgiveness is exactly what I gave my own parents years ago.

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir was my Book of the Month selection for June. I almost didn’t choose it, but Annie Jones from The Bookshelf recommended it as a weird, good but not great, and interesting book, especially if you’ve watched reality shows like the Duggars before. (Full disclosure: I absolutely have.) And it was exactly what she said it was: entertaining, very readable, good but not great. This is a good choice for a summer beach read if you want something entertaining or to snuggle under a blanket and read about someone else’s crazy life.

The story is about Esther Ann Hicks, or Essie, and her family. They are super religious, the head of a mega church, and their lives are documented on a reality TV show called Six for Hicks. When Essie’s mom finds out that she’s pregnant, they must decide if, when, and how they’re going to reveal this to the public. While it seems as if Essie’s life is being manipulated out of her control, she’s quietly planning something bigger behind the scenes. With a new friend, Roarke, and a TV show host with her own interesting past, Liberty Bell, Essie plans to discover the truth of her family’s past and reveal her own way to freedom.

If this sounds like 19 Kids and Counting, the reality show about the Duggar family . . . that’s because it’s very clearly taking a lot of elements from that show. And I’m here for it. In my opinion, the first two-thirds of the book was a little slow, but I still wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Essie’s family and what Essie was planning. The writing isn’t bad, the story just wasn’t as thrilled as I wanted it to be. However. The last 110 pages of the book? They made the entire book worth the read. As in, I kept saying, “Whoa. Whoa!” I don’t want to describe anything in particular so that I won’t ruin the story, but I will say that the story resolves in a very satisfying (but also weird) way.

If you like the dynamics of family reality TV shows or are interested in books centered around cults, I think The Book of Essie is worth a read. I wish the entire book had been as compelling as the last third, but that last third is a doozy and I flew through it!

⭐⭐⭐

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Review: Ban This Book


Ban This Book

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

How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them? How can you put into words how a book slips inside of you and becomes a part of you so much that your life feels empty without it?

I have very strong feelings about banned books. As in, I don’t understand why anyone would want to ban books. Are there certain books that kids should wait to read until they’re a certain age? Of course! But should those books be banned from libraries just because they may contain some less than pleasant content? Um, NO. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (author of Refugee) takes on the subject of banned books from a fourth-grader’s perspective, and shows just how much of a difference one student can make. This is a middle grade book, but I would recommend it to anyone who has a vested interest in keeping books on shelves and wants to be inspired by a fictional fourth grader.

Amy Anne Ollinger loves to read. Her favorite book is the classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she checks it out from the library as often as she can. When she discovers that the book has been removed from her school library because a parent petitioned to have it banned (for teaching children to lie, steal, and run away from home . . .), Amy knows she can’t just sit back and let more books be taken away. With the help of some good friends, and one unexpected accomplice, she devises a plan to get all the books that are being banned into the hands of students, no matter what it might cost her in the end.

This book is absolutely fantastic! It really illustrates why it’s important for us and our kids to fight against books being banned. Amy is in fourth grade, and while she isn’t old enough to make adult decisions, she is old enough to decide what books to read. (The story does include a part where the parents make it clear that there are some books parents need to decide when to let their kids read, which is completely different from banning them. The Hunger Games is used as an example.) I think it is easy for adults to forget how much kids can accomplish on their own, and how smart they really are. This book very realistically shows what a group of kids can do when a challenge is thrown at them and they want to do the right thing, even if a few parents think it’s wrong.

Ban This Book is inspiring, important, and entertaining. I would honestly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in what banning books in schools actually looks like. If you’re an adult reading it, it won’t take you more than a couple of sittings to finish it, and I think it’s worth it. If you have kids from about 10 and up, and definitely highly recommend this too. It’ll also open up a lot of discussions about why specific books have been banned over the years, and why it’s important for them to stay on the shelves. Be right back, adding all of Alan Gratz’s books to my to be read list!!

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EXTRA!

I think this book would be entertaining for middle schoolers and advanced elementary school readers. The only reason I suggest age 10 and up is that there is a book about sex mentioned, and if you haven’t discussed that with your kiddo yet, you might want to hold off if you’re not ready for those questions! The book mentioned is It’s Perfectly Normal Nothing detailed is discussed, but some of what the book about is discussed. Of course, this might also be a gentle way to see if your kids do have any questions about this subject!

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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: Before We Were Yours


Before We Were Yours

I hold Huckleberry Finn real tight against my chest and start across the yard. Now we can leave this place behind anytime we want. All we gotta do is join up with Huckleberry Finn. There’s room on his raft for all five of us, I’ll bet. Maybe we’ll find the Arcadia out there somewhere.

I sat for a good 20 minutes trying to figure out what to say to convince you all to read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and there just aren’t enough words for it. If you haven’t read it yet, please, please read it! This is historical fiction based on the true story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that operated in the early half of the twentieth century. It is shocking, heartbreaking, important, and, at its heart, hopeful. This was our Bucket List Book Club selection for May, and I am so, so glad that I read it.

The story is told in alternating chapters. It begins in Memphis in 1939 with Rill Foss and her 4 brothers and sisters. They live on a boat in the Mississippi River with their parents, but when their mom must be rushed to the hospital during a difficult birth, the 5 remaining children are taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in order to be placed (sold) with other (wealthy) families who are looking to adopt. In present day Aiken, South Carolina, Avery Stafford is busy building her career as a lawyer, taking care of her ailing politician father, and figuring out if she really wants to be with her fiancé. When a chance encounter with an elderly woman in a nursing home, she begins to look into her family’s past and discovers some secrets she’s not sure if she’s ready to find out. The two stories weave themselves together and illustrate the truth behind the Children’s Home: families were torn apart, siblings were separated, and it was by pure luck if they were able to find each other again later in life.

There is a mystery in the novel, namely the journey the Foss kids went through, how they were separated, and where they all ended up. While this particular story is made up, it is heavily rooted in truth. Children were taken from their families (always poor families who were unable to fight and get their kids back) and sold to wealthy families who wanted to adopt. My heart broke for the children in this novel (who represent real people). They had no one to advocate for them, and were expected to trust the adults in the orphanage and do what they said, even though all of the adults involved continued to let them down. The amount of strength they showed, particularly Rill, was incredible. Avery’s storyline in the present was just as compelling, in a different way. She was so busy with everything going on in her life, and finally slowed down to investigate her family’s past. She managed to make time for that, showing that we all have time for things we think are important. (And how telling it is what we choose to make time for.)

Before We Were Yours is an amazing book. So well written, so well researched, and so important. Before this book, I was unaware of this part of American history, and I can’t believe I didn’t know the story. This storyline is sad and heartbreaking, but also interesting from a historical standpoint, and the ending is uplifting. The alternating chapters do a nice job of breaking up the sadness of the past story, and it will make you want to read more about Georgia Tann. (She was really unbelievable.) Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought!!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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