Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cammie is not over her breakup with Josh, and after the winter break, all she wants is for things to go back to normal. But her mother is keeping secrets, the East Wing of the school is closed off, and an unwelcome intruder on a Covert Operations assignment leaves Cammie and her friends on edge.

It should be mentioned that the Gallagher Academy is an all-girls spy school, so Cammie and her friends are less than prepared when it is revealed that an all-boys spy school exists and—even worse—some of those boys will be attending the Gallagher Academy in an exchange program. Suddenly, Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey find themselves at odds with their strange new classmates. Why are the boys really here? Why won’t any of them talk about their own school, Blackthorne? And is Zach just a boy spy on an innocent exchange program who happens to like Cammie, or is something more sinister at hand? When Cammie is blamed for a security breach at the mansion, she knows something is not right. But will Cammie and her friends discover the truth about their male counterparts in time to stop whatever nefarious schemes are underfoot?

Despite being a well-trained spy who could incapacitate a person in under eight seconds, Cammie remains a relatable and lovable character who embodies the awkwardness of a typical girl. Readers will fall in love with Cammie, who has impressive spy skills and yet is completely baffled by boys. At one point, Cammie thinks, “Boys! Are they always this impossible? Do they always say cryptic, indecipherable things?” Because the story is told from Cammie’s point of view, readers will get an inside look at her thoughts and feelings, which makes Cammie an endearing character. At times, Cammie’s jumbled emotions will make readers hurt along with her. Especially when Cammie sneaks off alone and wonders if “maybe crying is like everything else we do—it’s best if you don’t get caught.”

Luckily, Cammie has a group of friends that always has her back. Bex is fiercely loyal, while Liz’s optimistic outlook is a welcome relief. Macey adds a little humor with her boy translations. By the end of the book, readers will feel as if the Gallagher Girls are friends. However, that doesn’t mean that Zach is not a welcome addition to Cammie’s life. While his charm is confusing to Cammie, it’s hard not to fall in love with his tough-boy attitude.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy continues the series in a satisfying way, bringing back favorite characters from book one with the welcome addition of the Blackthorne boys. In typical Ally Carter style, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy begins with suspense and leaves the reader turning pages until the very end. Through first-person narration, Carter creates a fun story full of relatable characters and explores teen romance in a wholesome way that is perfect for younger readers. If you haven’t bought the entire series yet, you will want to. Even though there are six books in the series, each book will have readers ready to jump back into the Gallagher Girls’ world.

Sexual Content

  • Zach leans in to kiss Cammie, but they are interrupted. “His hands were warm on the back of my neck; his fingers laced through my hair, and he tilted his head and he moved in. I closed my eyes. And I heard, ‘Oh my gosh! Cammie, is that you?’”
  • Zach kisses Cammie. “The last thing I expected was to feel his arms sliding around me, to sense the whole world turning upside down as Zach dipped me in the middle of the foyer and pressed his lips to mine.”

Violence

  • In P.E. class, Cammie “hauled off and kicked the heavy [punching] bag—hard—and it flew back and hit [Zach] in the stomach. For a second he stood there, doubled over, trying to catch his breath.”
  • Cammie and her friends find their teacher, who had been injured by a thief. “Our teacher fell into their arms. Blood stained the side of his face, and his voice was faint as he lay on the floor and said, ‘He got it.’”
  • Cammie reacts when Zach grabs her. “Without stopping to think, I stepped back into my attacker, tried to flip him over my head, but he countered his weight at that precise time, stopping my momentum.”
  • During what turns out to have been a test of their skills, the Gallagher Girls fight to stop a thief and his guards. “For a moment it seemed to be raining Gallagher Girls. All around me fists flew, kicks landed . . . I’d knocked a guard to the ground and was struggling with a Napotine patch . . . the next time I saw [Liz] she was jumping from the cab, landing on the back of a guard who had been chasing Eva.” The fight continues over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cammie remembers how her “mom gave Josh some tea that’s supposed to wipe a person’s memory blank” to make him forget what he knew about the Gallagher Academy.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible. 

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day. 

When Lily is first introduced, she is shy and reserved which is evident in her interactions with her best friend, Shirley. Shirley is more outgoing and assertive and outshines Lily most of the time. Whenever Lily brings up her ambitions to study space, Shirley quickly dismisses them as boring and insignificant. In part due to her Chinese heritage, Shirley has more realistic goals—getting married and becoming a mother.  

Then, Lily meets Kath. Kath encourages Lily’s ambitions and over time they become extremely close friends. Lily has been curious about the Telegraph Club (a lesbian club) after seeing an advertisement for it depicting a male impersonator. When Kath tells Lily that she has been to the Telegraph Club, Lily only becomes more curious about what is inside.  One night, they decide to visit the club. At the club, Lily discovers a whole new world that makes her question her identity.  Lily begins to explore her sexuality, which brings about an array of conflicts. 

Readers will have no trouble relating to Lily. She is dedicated to her family and culture but simultaneously struggles to find her place in the world. She also wonders whether there is a place for her outside of Chinatown. Some of the chapters are dedicated to discussing Lily’s family members, which allows readers to get to know Lily’s backstory better. This includes her mother, father, and aunt. While these backstories are interesting and provide extra detail to the story, it would’ve been more interesting to hear parts of the story told by Kath or Shirley because they are much more involved in the plot line. 

Another enjoyable part of the story is visual timelines that are provided every couple of chapters. Communism, McCarthyism, and xenophobia are big aspects of conflict within the Chinese community at this time frame. Therefore, these timelines give readers a wider view of what was happening during the 1950s. 

Overall, Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a great depiction of young romance, especially LGBTQ romance. Kath and Lily’s love story is not straightforward, but has many twists and turns along the way which makes the plot more realistic. The book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2021. This was the first time a book with a female LGBTQ lead won the award. 

Sexual Content  

  • Lily has a sexual awakening after seeing a book featuring “two women on the cover, a blonde and a brunette. The blonde wore a pink negligee and knelt on the ground, eyes cast down demurely while the shapely brunette lurked behind her.” 
  • The girls go bowling. When their movements expose parts of their legs, some men “eye the girls and grin at each other.” 
  • Lily and Kath have a brief sexual interaction in an empty classroom where “Kath put her hand between Lily’s legs, and Lily helped her, fumbling with her underwear.” 
  • When Shirley is changing into a dress, Lily begins to feel awkward and “couldn’t help but notice the soft rise of Shirley’s breasts over the cups of the bodice; the way they shifted when she twisted back and forth.” 

Violence  

  • Police raid the Telegraph Club. During the raid, Lily and Kath are separated. Lily reads the newspapers account of the raid, using the terms “sexual deviates” and “lewd conduct” to describe the club’s attendees and activities. 
  • Lily tells her mother about her sexuality. To this, her mother reacts extremely negatively, slapping Lily and saying, “there are no homosexuals in this family.” 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • While at the Telegraph Club, Lily has her first beer which she describes as tasting “frothy and a little like soapy water, but it was cold and went down more easily than she anticipated.” 
  • After she finishes the beer, Lily says she feels “a little warm, but not unpleasantly so.” 
  • While at a friend’s house, Lily impulsively smokes a cigarette hoping it “might burn away the haze of wine and the horrible day she’d had.” 
  • After the Telegraph Club is raided, a newspaper article discusses how “marijuana cigarettes were offered, and Benzedrine, known as ‘bennies,’ were for sale” at the club.   

Language                                                                                                                                               

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • None

500 Words or Less

Nic Chen doesn’t want to spend her senior year known as the girl who cheated on her lovable boyfriend with his best friend and made him transfer schools. She doesn’t want to continue to be ostracized. She doesn’t want to be stared at as she walks down the hallway or have people write “whore” on her locker in lipstick. So, when an opportunity arises to write a classmate’s college admissions essay, Nic tries to use it as an opportunity to rebrand herself and change her reputation. 

As Nic is asked to write more and more essays, she begins to walk in her classmate’s shoes. But the more essays Nic writes, the more unsure of herself she becomes. Weighed down by the guilt of cheating on her ex-boyfriend and writing other people’s essays, Nic questions the person she is becoming and if she is still the perfect straight A, Ivy League-bound teenager society wants her to be. 

Written in poetic verse, 500 Words or Less is very approachable and is a great introduction to poetry and novels written in verse. Interestingly, Rosario includes the essays that Nic writes for her classmates throughout the book. Told mainly from Nic’s perspective, the reader will see Nic’s journey as she learns to move on from her failed relationship, deals with the heartache of breaking up with her first love, and rebuilds herself knowing she acted terribly wrong. Nic is a complex character. She is a determined, passionate girl, who has admittedly made mistakes. Readers will relate to Nic’s struggles with self-confidence, knowing who she is, and wondering if her actions define her. She explains, “I’m still the girl / who cheated on her boyfriend, / the girl who cheated / on those essays, / the girl who cheated / because maybe / that’s who I am.” Throughout this book, Nic learns to forgive and accept herself as well as forgive the people who have hurt her. 

Through Nic and her classmate’s experiences in their senior year of high school, 500 Words or Less takes a look at the pressures of high school and of getting into the right college. Nic explains that she and her classmates “waited for our lives to change / with a single e-mail / from a university / that wanted us.” Furthermore, Nic explores the pressure she and her classmates receive from their parents to be successful and get into the right school. When Jordan, an old friend, tells Nic he is no longer going to Princeton, he explains, “I was always supposed to go / to Princeton. / Because I was supposed to become / my father, / and my father is an asshole.” In the end, Nic and Jordan end up not going to Princeton. Rather than following their parents’ dreams for them, Nic and Jordan decide to do what’s best for themselves, showing that getting into the perfect college will not make or break someone’s life and that any path after high school is valid. 

500 Words or Less also touches on the topic of sexism. Nic points out that while people began to alienate her and write “whore” on her locker, everybody still likes Jordan, the guy she cheated with. She thinks to herself “was there even a male equivalent / to the word ‘whore?’/ There were words/ but none that carried / the same weight.” While Nic is outcasted, Jordan remains the popular kid, showing the blatant misogyny in the treatment of men and women even when they both make the same mistake. 

The book also touches on racism. When Jordan asks Nic for help on homework in Japanese, Nic says, “You know I’m part Chinese, Jordan.” Jordan responds, “It’s like the same thing- / Chinese, Japanese, Korean.” In another instance, a friend tells Nic that she’s “lucky because / half-Asians were always prettier than/ white girls like her.” Nic feels uncomfortable when her friend tells her this. However, Nic isn’t the only person who feels stereotyped. In a college application essay, an African American classmate writes, “I want to attend [this college] because I want to be more than a football player. In America, this is not what young black men are supposed to do . . . I want to be more than an athlete, more than a black man who has a great arm.” Although people would like to “forget that race exists,” Nic points out the subtle ways racism leaks into society, negatively affecting people of color.  

Furthermore, 500 Words or Less examines classism, as Nic’s school is predominantly full of upper-class students whose parents can afford to “[donate] handsomely to the school” they are applying to. Nic herself comes from a wealthy family. She admits that even though she charges $300 per essay, she doesn’t need the money. However, there are a few students who are lower class and do not have the same opportunities as the richer students. Unlike the rich students who know they can go to college no matter what, to some of these students going to college “means everything” as it is a path to upward social mobility.  

Overall, 500 Words or Less is an engaging book, written uniquely with a diverse cast of characters. However, it’s best for mature readers because of the profanity, alcoholism, and normalized teenage drinking. Readers who are applying to college and figuring out what they want to do after high school will relate to Nic’s story and learn that getting into the perfect school is not everything. Furthermore, 500 Words or Less explains that the choices you make in high school do not define you. If you’re ready to jump into another engaging book with a protagonist who is trying to figure out who she is, grab a copy of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. 

Sexual Content 

  • At a party Nic throws, she and her boyfriend went into her father’s office to find a drink. Nic remembers she was “drunk / on love / and alcohol. / I ran my fingers along the side of his body. / He squirmed / and smirked / and grabbed my hand in his. / He pulled me closer. / Our lips met.” He begins to tug at “the zipper on my dress, / fumbled with the clasps on my bra. / I unlocked my lips and stepped away.” Nic is worried someone will find them and leads Ben up to her room. She describes, “I untangled my hand from his / and fell on top of my bed . . . / [He] fell on top of me . . .  / [and] this time I didn’t stop him.” 
  • On a date, Nic and her boyfriend stop for a bite to eat. As the two eat, Nic thinks, “I wanted to kiss him.” 
  • At Jordan’s party, Nic and Jordan “ended up / upstairs” and have sex. It is suggested that they have sex once or twice more.  

Violence 

  • Nic’s boyfriend dies in a tragic snowboarding accident. Nic explains “teenagers didn’t die in avalanches/ they died in / car crashes, / drunk-driving accidents, / drug overdoses, / gunshot wounds, / or suicide.” After the accident, Nic heavily researches avalanches to understand how he died. She finds out “the force alone / of snow / sliding down a mountain / can kill you,” or “one suffocates after being trapped / in the snow / for thirty minutes.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • During a family dinner, Nic’s father drinks wine. 
  • Nic’s mother was a heavy drinker. Nic remembers how her mother “couldn’t / French braid / my hair / because she was / drunk.” Her father would often find her mom “slumped in a chair” with “an empty bottle of wine” when he came home from work.  
  • Nic remembers how “Mom poured herself another / from a bottle of chardonnay / on one of the last nights / before she disappeared.”  
  • When Nic and her friend Kitty arrive at a party, they are greeted by the host, who smells like “a pitcher of margaritas.” At this party they find “handles / of cheap vodka, rum, and whiskey / wafting toxic smells on the kitchen counter,” along with a variety of mixers.  
  • At the party, Kitty pours “everything- / and I mean everything, / including the dredges of empty bottles- / into a plastic cup” and takes “a large gulp.” Nic leaves the party without checking on Kitty, leaving her “shit-faced” and extremely “drunk.” 
  • Nic reminisces on the party she threw two years ago where she first reconnected with her boyfriend. “Strangers filled empty spaces, / squeezing by, / finding friends / and a beer.” Nic found him in the kitchen drinking “a Keystone Light/ slowly.” The pair go into Nic’s father’s study and she offers him “whiskey, bourbon, or scotch” and pours the two of them “a glass of Glenrothes 1970 / single-malt whiskey,” which Nic explains is a “five-thousand-dollar bottle / of whiskey.” 
  • In a draft of an essay Nic is writing for someone else, she writes about this person’s mother who “is an alcoholic, which leads me to my biggest fear in college—drinking. . . I go to parties all the time. . . But I don’t drink. I haven’t drank.” 
  • At a barbecue, someone asks Nic to “grab a beer for me.” 
  • Nic reminisces about how it all went wrong with her ex-boyfriend. She thinks, “it was polishing off a bottle of Jameson / with Jordan / last summer, / at his party.” As Nic leaves this party she encounters “stragglers smok[ing] / cigarettes and weed.” 
  • Nic remembers previous Christmases where here mom “drank a bottle of Riesling / and passed out under the tree.” 

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes whore, shit, bitch, goddamn, fuck, slut, ass, and asshole.  
  • After the school finds out that Nic cheated on her boyfriend, her peers begin to bully her, calling her names like “slut” and repeatedly writing “whore” on her locker.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Way You Make Me Feel

Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin doesn’t take life too seriously, but when she pushes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck the KoBra. Clara was supposed to go on vacation to Tulum to visit her social media influencer mom; she was supposed to spend lazy days at the pool with her buddies. Instead, she is stuck in a sweaty Korean-Brazilian food truck all day, every day? Worse still, she is working alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver. It’s definitely not the carefree summer Clara had imagined.  

But as time goes on, it turns out that maybe Rose isn’t so bad. And maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) who’s crushing on Clara is pretty cute. And perhaps Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means Clara has to leave her old self behind?  

Clara doesn’t mind being the center of attention if she’s carrying out a prank or causing mischief. Because of her bad attitude, Clara is a surprisingly unlikable protagonist who always focuses on herself. Even though Clara befriends Rose and Hamlet, the reader is left wondering why two nice, over-achieving teens would spend time with Clara. When forced to work at her father’s food truck, Clara matures slightly. Unfortunately, Clara’s personal growth doesn’t make up for her poor attitude and her transformation at the end of the book is not believable. 

While there is a host of other characters in the book, none of them are well-developed. Clara’s nemesis, Rose, seems like a well-adjusted teenager, yet she has no friends. Rose’s lack of friends is not believable because it is never explained why she has no friends. Plus, after years of hating each other, the girls quickly become besties, which is a little unrealistic. In addition, Clara’s father ignores his daughter’s outrageous behavior and temper tantrums. Even when Clara travels out of the country to visit her mother without telling him, her father’s reaction is mild. Because Clara is the only character who is well-developed, readers are left confused—why do Rose and Clara’s father act as they do? 

The Way You Make Me Feel has a unique premise that revolves around a food truck; however, most of the conflict comes from Clara and Rose bickering, which becomes tedious. Several times throughout the story, Rose’s old friends appear—however, they are equally unlikable and add little to the story. The lack of character development and the absence of genuine conflict make The Way You Make Me Feel a book that will be quickly forgotten. While The Way You Make Me Feel is a disappointing read, Maureen Goo’s other books—Somewhere Only We Know and I Believe in A Thing Called Love—are excellent books that will make your heart swoon. However, If you’re hungry for a food-related romance, both A Pho Love Story by Loan Le and Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch are sure to please. 

Sexual Content 

  • While at a school dance, Clara and her friends “passed the time by taking Snapchats of people making out or groping one another on the dance floor.” 
  • One of Clara’s neighbors saw Clara “making out with my boyfriend” and doused them with a hose. 
  • Clara tells a friend that she and her boyfriend “made out so many times.” 
  • After Hamlet and Clara go on a date, Clara kisses him. Clara “took a step forward, and tugged him by his shirt until our hips bumped. . . I got up on my tippy-toes to reach his lips, and brushed them over his. . . He drew me in closer until our bodies were pressed against each other, one of my hands still clutching his shirt, the other wrapped around his neck, curling into his hair.” 
  • Hamlet’s mom “bought an American customer-service telemarking company in Beijing but didn’t realize until weeks into it that it was for sex toys.” 
  • After coming back from a trip, Hamlet picks Clara up from the airport. “Then he leaned over and kissed me. Kissing Hamlet felt like coming home, for real. I stood up on my toes to deepen the kiss. . .” They kiss several other times, but it is not described. 

Violence 

  • While at prom, Clara and her friends pull a prank. After being voted the prom queen, one of Clara’s friends dumps a bucket of fake blood on her. Rose, who helped plan the prom, got angry and grabbed onto Clara’s wrist. “Rose growled as she let go of one of my wrists to take another swipe at my crown. . . There were a few people onstage now, dragging us apart.” The two girls slip on the fake blood and knock over a lantern that causes a fire. 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • In ninth grade, Clara smoked a cigarette in the school bathroom. It was her first time trying a cigarette, but she got caught and was suspended. 
  • Clara and her friends go to a party and drink beer. 
  • Clara and her mom go to a party. While at the party, Clara “continued to drink—people kept offering me shots and various frosty cupped drinks with fruit in them.” Clara gets drunk and has a hangover the next morning. 
  • The morning after the party, one of Clara’s mom’s friends was drinking a Bloody Mary. 

Language   

  • Clara calls people names including jerk, nutjob, dick, butt-kisser, incompetent clown, and total fascist. 
  • Clara’s dad tells her that she is acting like a “little butthole.” 
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are all occasionally used as exclamations.  
  • Profanity is used sometimes. Profanity includes ass, damn, crap, freaking, piss, and WTF.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Clara’s friend Patrick gets injured, he texts her saying his parents “think Jesus was punishing them for letting me date you.” 

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

When Sophie Stein enters high school, she finds herself falling in love with a boy named Dylan. However, as she goes through some difficult self-discovery, she realizes that she and Dylan are not compatible. Instead of being attracted to Dylan’s intellect, Sophie is only attracted to him physically. Meanwhile, the ups and downs of this romance lead Sophie to chat online with Chaz. At first, Chaz gives Sophie the validation she seeks, but Chaz isn’t prince charming. Instead, Chaz makes sexual comments toward Sophie, who finds herself alone again. 

Then Sophie meets Murphy, an unpopular boy who isn’t conventionally attractive. Despite this, Sophie becomes enamored by him and they start hanging out. Sophie discovers that she has more in common with Murphy than she initially thought, and she eventually falls in love with him. In this relationship, her connection with Murphy is stronger than anything she had previously experienced. However, Sophie has a difficult time telling her two best friends about the romance, since most of the school has spent many years making fun of Murphy.  

Sophie is a relatable character dealing with the average struggles of a teenager. Throughout the novel, she attempts to discover who she is in both her romantic life and family life. She also combats peer pressure and her own insecurities. In the end, Sophie overcomes her fears of becoming unpopular and is no longer afraid to show her affection toward Murphy. One of the big themes of this novel is that attempting to be popular and well-liked should not come above what brings happiness. Another theme is to not judge a book by its cover. At first, Sophie judges Murphy, but when she looks beyond his appearance Sophie forms a beautiful relationship with him. These messages will resonate with many teens. 

The story’s conclusion is predictable because from the first time Murphy appears Sophie finds herself dealing with a strange attraction toward him. Plus, the story lacks conflict and the ending is a bit too happily ever after. Because Sophie is a teenager, she can act a little childish at times. She approaches many things, like romance, for the first time in her life. Therefore, she comes across as a bit naive when dealing with these new situations. Since Sophie focuses a lot on her blooming sexuality and the intense attraction she feels towards the men in her life, only big romance fans will enjoy What My Mother Doesn’t Know 

What My Mother Doesn’t Know is told through a series of poems and diary entries that Sophie writes, making it a quick read. While the novel is told entirely from the perspective of the main character, readers won’t find it difficult to relate to other characters in the book. Not only are Sophie’s romantic interests well-developed, but so are her best friends and parents. Overall, the story is a cute tale of teenage romance.

Sexual Content  

  • After sitting on a guy’s lap in a car, Sophie said it felt like “some R-rated movie and everyone else in the car was just going to fade away and this guy and I were going to start making out.” 
  • Sophie makes sexual references to prove that her father is not actually listening to her. When he asks how her day at school was, she says, “We played strip poker during third period and I lost.” Her dad replies, “‘That’s nice,’ without even looking up from his meatloaf.”  
  • Sophie has to listen to her friend, Grace, “moan about how horny she is.” 
  • Sophie says her “breasts have been growing so fast lately that if [she] were to sit there and watch them for a while . . . [she] could actually see them getting bigger.” 
  • Sophie discusses how her mother has never talked to her about safe sex or birth control, yet her mother is still scared Sophie will “get pregnant or something.” 
  • Sophie and her friends go to the ice cream shop wearing no clothes under their coats: “This afternoon before we put on our raincoats, we took everything else off!” 
  • Sophie talks about how she only really liked Dylan physically, saying, “If Dylan and I had met by chatting on the Net . . . instead of face to face and I hadn’t seen his lips or the way he moves his hips when he does that sexy dance and I hadn’t had a chance to look into his eyes and be dazzled by their size and all that I had seen were his letters on my screen, then . . . I think I would have liked him less.”  
  • Chaz tells Sophie that one of his favorite things to do is “jerk off in libraries.” 
  • While waiting for her mother after the school dance, a boy grabs Sophie’s breast on a dare. “The guy standing closest to me is suddenly bursting out laughing and grabbing my breasts with his slimy paws.” 
  • While having breakfast at a hotel, Sophie imagines “what it would be like to be lying naked underneath a sheet while a strange man rubbed oil all over my body.” 
  • Sophie dreams about having a man “remove every stitch of [her] clothes.” The man in her vision turns into Murphy and she dreams of “how his hands will feel cupping the lace of [her] bra.” 

Violence  

  • When a boy grabs Sophie’s breast after the school dance, she “slams [her] knuckles into his chin” and “smashes [her] foot into his friend’s knee.” 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • Sophie briefly mentioned how her mother is “stuffing Hershey’s Kisses into her mouth, chain-smoking, watching her soaps, and weeping.”  

Language                                                                                                                                               

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

 Spiritual Content  

  • Sophie flashes back to a confrontation with a group of girls where she is ridiculed for her faith. The girls ask Sophie’s friends, “Don’t you know you aren’t supposed to play with anyone who doesn’t go to church?” 

This Vicious Grace

Alessa is the latest finestra in a long line of people chosen by the goddess Dea to protect her island. Her powers are supposed to help her save her home, but so far they’ve only managed to kill three suitors simply through her touch. Her suitors, called Fonte, are paired with her in order to hone her power and strengthen their own, but instead, she overwhelms them. Alessa’s running out of time to learn how to use her power and save her people. There are only a few weeks left until the god, Crollo, sends his demons to attack and wipe out all human life from the island.  

In order to keep her safe, Alessa is separated from her family, her old life, and even her name. In order to train, she is locked away. She is lonely. The Fontes she’s paired with are supposed to supply her with a partner, a mate, and a friend, but instead, their unusual deaths have caused an even deeper rift between her and everyone else on the island. Then, a powerful priest begins convincing people that her inability to control her power is evidence that she is a false prophet. He begins to amass a following of very angry, very scared people that are willing to do anything to prevent her from harming others, including kill her. One night, one of Alessa’s own guards even tries to assassinate her. In response, she hires a bodyguard, Dante, to protect her until she can learn how to control her powers and defeat the demons.  

A group of prospective Fonte joins Alessa in order to figure out who, if any of them, can handle her power enough to use it. These Fonte are the only hope Alessa has at defeating the demons. Alessa’s relationship with her new group of prospective Fontes starts off rocky. Because of her failures with the three prior Fontes, the new Fontes are skeptical of her abilities and wary of her motives. When Dante realizes he can handle Alessa’s power, he helps her understand how to wield it. Then, Dante slowly paves the way for Alessa to build a friendship with the new Fontes, and to work alongside them to master her powers.  

This Vicious Grace is told from Alessa’s point of view, and she is a very likable main character. Alessa is a kind, level-headed main character with an affinity for justice. Despite how she’s treated, she still chooses to fight the good fight over and over again and is rewarded for it in the end. Alessa stays true to herself and is a fair and good person who is willing to do whatever it takes to save her people.  

A tale of friendship, overcoming loneliness, and holding out hope despite insurmountable odds, This Vicious Grace is a good novel for readers who enjoy a slow burn romance within a fantasy world filled with gods, demons, and war. This Vicious Grace is Emily Thiede’s debut novel. It includes a lot of references to malevolent gods, vicious demons, and mystical powers and abilities. Though it is a fantasy world, it is not hard to understand the complicated plot and numerous characters. This action-packed book is a fun and interesting read for fantasy lovers. Readers looking for more books set in a fantasy world should also read Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. 

Sexual Content  

  • While playing a drinking game, Dante asks Alessa, “If you could do anything before Divorando, what would it be?” Alessa replies, “Lose my virginity.” 
  • Dante and Alessa are sleeping in the same bed when Dante starts to kiss and touch her in his sleep. Dante’s “lips brushed the sensitive spot just below her ear, kindling a fire just below her navel. Her thoughts scrambled as his fingers grazed the underside of her breast.” 
  • Alessa kisses Dante outside of her room one night on their way back from rescuing Dante from prison. “Parting her lips, she traced his lips with her tongue, and his control snapped. His hands were everywhere at once—cupping her face, running through her hair, gripping her waist. He pressed her against the door, pressed his mouth to hers, pressed his hips into her. . . ” 
  • Alessa and Dante have sex. There is an intense kissing scene that takes place over two pages prior to this. Dante’s “fingers cupped her bottom, pulling her into him, and she melted, softness yielding to the hard planes of his body. When his hand cupped her breat, she forgot how to breathe . . . He nuzzled her through fabric, his breath warming the bare skin of her thigh . . . ” 

Violence 

  • Alessa’s gift causes her to overwhelm people when she touches them. This causes them severe injury and even death. When she was younger, she almost killed a boy during a race. “She was sitting on his chest. . . she’d touched his forehead and declared ‘you lose’. . . Tendons taut as bowstrings, blood-flecked foam between clenched teeth, he’d spasmed beneath her. He’d nearly bitten his tongue off and still talked with a lisp.” 
  • A masked figure breaks into Alessa’s room and tries to kill her in her sleep. The assassin is convinced that she is a false prophet. She wakes up in her bed to someone choking her. “Something – someone – had her pinned, trapped, crushing her windpipe . . . Hands, encased in thick gloves, tightening around her neck.” 
  • Alessa is in the city and watches two fighters brawl. “The Bear landed his first blow, his fist smashing into the Wolf’s jaw . . . The Wolf landed a punch to the big man’s gut, but the next blow he took sounded like it cracked a few ribs . . . The Wolf slammed a fist into the big man’s cheek and looked about to land a second hit when someone smashed a glass against the bars . . .  The Bear’s opponent’s back was turned, and he slammed his fist into the Wolf’s lower back. He dropped.” The scene continues over two pages. 
  • Alessa unintentionally sneaks up on Dante. Before he sees who it is, he stabs her with his two knives in self defense. “Dante turned so fast she didn’t have time to speak . . . twin fires tore through her abdomen . . . she looked down at his fists, clutching the hilts of his knives, pressed against her . . .blood dripped between his fingers. With a ragged gasp, Dante pulled the knives free.” She begins bleeding out and Dante saves her from the brink of death using healing powers.  
  • Alessa, Dante, and the Fontes fight the demons. When Alessa looks at Dante, “he was already on the ground. A wide gash ran from his chin to one ear, and he was covered in so much blood.” A couple other characters have injuries but none are described, or serious.  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • After watching a fight in town, Alessa goes to a bar and overhears one of the fighters ordering a whiskey. She orders one for herself as well. “Alessa swirled the glass, watching the whiskey hug the sides and inhaled the sweet heat before she took a sip.”   
  • Alessa and Dante play a drinking game with limoncello in her room. Alessa says, “Truth or challenge . . . if you don’t perform the challenge or answer the question, you take a drink.” 
  • Someone tried to put poison in Alessa’s pastries.   

Language  

  • Profanity is used intermittently. Profanity includes shit, damn, and ass. 
  • Dante and Alessa are talking about how civilians have to pay families to take in their kids in case they die in battle. Alessa says, “It’s not my fault . . . I don’t make the rules I just have to follow them.” Dante replies, “Yeah, well, it’s a bit late to give a shit now.” 
  • Alessa hires Dante to be her bodyguard and they argue about what his duties will be. Dante says, “I don’t half-ass any job. You want me to guard, this is how I do it.”

Supernatural  

  • Demons sent by the malevolent god, Crollo, are the main antagonists in the book. There is no specification on where they come from or whether or not they have powers. They are sent to wipe out humanity because Crollo insists that people are “too flawed and too selfish to endure.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • The book includes God-given magic – the main character Alessa is referred to as a “divine weapon of the gods” throughout the book. There are also frequent references to their religious text, “Holy Verita,” their patron goddess, Dea, and the evil god, Crollo, who sends demons to the island.  
  • The Day of Divorando is a day when demon-like creatures will attack the islands. Kaleb, one of the prosepctive Fonte, says, “On the day of Divorando, we’re supposed to use our powers to ward off the invasion . . . The gods gave us the gifts for defense, so that is what we will use.” 
  • Alessa calls herself a “divinely ordained warrior.” 

The Queen Will Betray You

In the second installment of The Kingdoms of Sand & Sky series, Princess Amarande deals with the aftermath of her fateful wedding. Having killed Prince Renard of Pyrenee, Amarande brought war to the Kingdom of Ardenia. She must return to her home to restore order while her true love, Luca, will return to the Torrent to reclaim his title of Otsakumea, the rightful leader of the Otxazulo, the fallen kingdom that was taken over by the Warlord.

Returning to Ardenia, Amarande is shocked to find her mother, Geneva, also known as the Runaway Queen and Warlord of the Torrent, has returned to Ardenia with Ferdinand, the son of the late King Sendoa. Despite having raised him on her own, Ferdinand is not Geneva’s son, but the son of General Koldo, making him Amarande’s half-brother. Far from a cordial family reunion, Amarande is imprisoned by her mother and declared dead. With Amarande’s absence, Ferdinand takes over as King. To make matters worse, Queen Inés of Pyrenee has vowed to marry King Domingu of Myrcell to fortify their kingdoms and attack Ardenia.

Imprisoned and betrayed by her family with her true love, Luca, miles away, Amarande finds help from an unlikely ally, Prince Taillefer of Pyrenee. The same Prince who tortured Luca to near death in the first novel. Knowing this is her only option for escape, Amarande accepts his help and the two of them escape to the Torrent to be reunited with Luca.

Meanwhile, in the Torrent, Luca finds the Otxazulo resistance and convinces them he is the lost leader of the fallen kingdom. The proof rests in the black wolf tattoo upon his skin. While Luca leads the resistance, Amarande and Taillefer are captured by the regent Warlord, who was appointed by Geneva. Now, Luca must save Amarande and prove, once again, that their love will survive any conflict.

At the brink of war, Luca leads the Otxazulo resistance to Amarande where she is rescued, and the regent Warlord is killed. Taillefer also escapes to kill his mother and reclaim Pyrenee as his own. Only Geneva is left for Amarande to defeat. However, facing her mother in an intense duel, Amarande is wounded and Geneva flees, leaving Amarande and Luca with a broken kingdom they must rebuild in the next chapter of their story.

The second book in this series has another fast-paced, action-packed plot, making it very engaging and easy to read. There is, however, a significant amount of graphic violence making it more suitable for older readers. Like the first book, the novel deals with the themes of true love, but there is also an emphasis on the importance of loyalty and trust as Amarande must decide who to put her trust in and who is worthy of forgiveness.

Amarande and Luca are kind, dedicated, and inspiring protagonists, but their characters are still undeveloped. Their love story is clear but lacks depth. This is addressed when Taillefer asks Amarande, “is Luca really your true love or just all you’ve known?” While it is unclear why Amarande and Luca are together, the uncomplicated history of their relationship makes for a sweet and pure romance. Overall, this is a fitting read for fans of The Princess Bride who enjoy wholesome romance with lots of action and adventure.

Sexual Content

  • Safe and far away from Pyrenee, Amarande kisses Luca “softly, mindful of his wounds. But her love was stronger than he seemed and put gentle fingers in her auburn hair, pulling her closer, deeper.” Soon, Amarande pulls away. After discussing their next adventure, Amarande “dropped another kiss on his lips, then up the line of his jaw.”
  • Before saying goodbye, “Amarande kissed Luca one last time—hard. As hard as she wished she had before he was kidnapped. As hard as she did when it was clear they’d escaped Pyrenee alive. As hard as she could—this kiss would have to hold her for days, if not weeks, or months.”
  • Queen Geneva refers to General Koldo as a “whore general.”
  • Amarande recalls the time on the pirate ship “she’d slept next to the bed in the captain’s quarters, holding [Luca’s] hand from her spot on the floorboards. He would’ve lain there, too, if the pain weren’t so great. Her stubbornness won out yet again.”
  • Happy to be reunited with Luca, “Amarande kissed him then. Eyes closed, mouth hungry, her whole mess of a body folded into Luca’s warmth. His arms tightened around her, a hand snaking through her hair and to her neck.”
  • Before returning to the fight, “Luca pressed another fevered kiss to Amarande’s lips, the princess shutting her eyes and drinking it in until, with one last gentle sweep of a thumb against her cheek, he drew away.”
  • Before facing her evil mother, Amarande showers Luca with kisses “to his spine. His shoulder blade—one, and then the other. Up his neck. Again, behind the ear—one, two. She settled the curve of her throat over his shoulder, her chin coming to rest on his collarbone, parched lips at his ear.”
  • After the battle with Geneva, Luca visits Amarande who is recovering in bed. He kisses Amarande and when she decides she is “strong enough to kiss him back, she did so, moving her hands to his hair, keeping Luca where she wanted him until she realized they weren’t alone.”

Violence

  • When Queen Geneva reveals her plans to imprison her daughter, Amarande draws her sword to attack but is thwarted by a hand clenching her neck, “squeezing precisely on the artery that supplies oxygen to the brain. An arm gripped around her middle—an arm clad in garnet-and-gold regalia.” Amarande faints and is brought to her cell.
  • Ula offers to clean Luca’s torture wounds. Luca confesses, “the sting of the process was one of a thousand bees under the skin, but the pain was minor in comparison with what he’d felt in the past week. And the wound looked only a little better, the skin bruised and raw with inflammation that ran down the whole hand-length gash in the middle of his chest, just beside his wolf tattoo. The flat black sutures were tight, straining to keep the swollen edges of flesh together.” His wounds are slowly healing.
  • Trying to look out the window of her prison, Amarande hoists herself up the wall using a bit of cloth. However, the “cloth tore and before she could lunge for another grip or pull her feet from the wall, Amarande fell with a resounding thud, the back of her head bashing into the stone floor.” Amarande feels a bit disoriented from the fall, but she is more frustrated than hurt.
  • Amarande’s brother, Ferdinand visits her in her prison cell to make peace, but Amarande refuses his offer; “the moment he was in range Amarande’s boot struck out and made jarring contact with his kneecap.” Amarande tries to attack again but, “Ferdinand was ready, grabbing her boot and yanking at it, trying to wrest it off with both hands. She pulled back, but he held fast, even managing to keep the dagger in his grip. Amarande’s other foot shot out and clocked his left hand. His grip faltered, he dropped his dagger, and she drove her heel hard into his knee yet again.” Soon, Ferdinand gains the upper hand. As Amarande hesitates, he removes a dagger from his boot, throwing it through the air. “The knife pinning her right between the tendons that sewed her knuckles in place. Impaled, Amarande’s hand flew open, dropping the dagger.” Ferdinand then removes the blade from her hand. “He braced her wrist against the wall with the other hand and, in one smooth motion, removed the blade,” but, “Amarande didn’t cry out, even as stars swirled in her vision and blood began to pour from her hand.”
  • While traveling through the Torrent, some of the Warlord’s men try to capture Luca by attacking his crew with fire. Ula, however, wouldn’t let them and “a fist-sized fireball shot over Luca’s shoulder, plowing straight into the leader’s gut.” The man “fell back, tunic and skin suddenly aflame. His bandana slid down as he hit the dry ground behind him, his face distorted with panic as he screamed horrifically.”
  • Before the other servants of the Warlord could retaliate, Ula’s “blade cut the stout one down with a blow to his wide upper back, and his grip upon Luca immediately died as he fell away.” Urtzi and Osana, friends of Luca’s, come to the rescue as Urtzi hits the other two men “with his own bucket and the glass jug. The instant the caustic antiseptic made contact, the torches shuddered and exploded,” and “all three men suddenly were ablaze.” The Warlord’s men are burnt to death, but Luca and his friends escape.
  • Luca and his group come across the dead body of their friend, Erfu. Urtzi examines the body and describes a “dart in his neck and an assassin’s smile. Slowed him down and then sliced him open. His tunic is torn, too—they checked his tattoo. Carved an X through it.”
  • Escaping from her prison cell, Amarande takes out her guard who “only seemed to register Amarande in the split second before the hilt of her sword crashed down upon the guardswoman’s temple.”
  • While fleeing Ardenia with Amarande, Taillefer kills a guard. “In the twitch of a moment, Taillefer’s free hand seized the guard’s dagger from the sheath at his belt, and sank it into the soft meat of the boy’s side.”
  • Amarande and Taillefer come across several dead bodies that “lined the creek bank—two, three . . . no, five—and two more floated in the shallow waters. No blood stained their sun-bleached clothes, no stab wounds obvious, no wounds at all.” Amarande discovers the water had been poisoned.
  • In the Torrent, Amarande and Taillefer encounter members of the resistance. Not trusting Amarande, “a knife shot out of the man’s hand, and the princess dove to the side. She rolled to her feet, dagger out and ready. His companion immediately rushed at her, sword tip aimed straight at Amarande’s belly. The princess pivoted and flattened, and the woman crashed forward under the weight of her driving weapon. As she fell to the dirt, Amarande immediately smashed the blunt hilt of her dagger down upon the back of her skull, rendering her unconscious.”
  • While Amarande fought with the resistance group, Taillefer battles a wild wolf. The wolf’s “paws connected with Taillefer’s chest and shoved him to the ground. He struggled to push away the animal’s jaws as the whole of the wolf’s weight was on him now, the snarling beast holding all the leverage.”
  • Taillefer and Amarande escape their battle only when the man pushes Amarande into a sand hole. The man’s “boot connected with her twisting back. The blow knocked the princess off-balance and she stumbled forward, her exhausted body lunging for solid ground. Where there wasn’t any.” Amarande tumbles into a hidden cave and Taillefer follows. They are bruised and sore, but alive.
  • After poisoning King Domingu, Queen Inés “did not release Domingu’s chin as he thrashed, words burbling up through the white foam on his lips.” He dies moments later.
  • At one of the Warlord’s camps, Taillefer was lifted into the air by a giant man. Amarande tries to save him, “but the movement she’d anticipated didn’t come—the prince’s body was tossed vertically, not horizontally. And, as he plummeted back toward the cracked earth, the man’s leg shot out and his boot connected with Taillefer’s gut. The crunch of a shattered rib reverberated in the air, a cry escaping into the new dawn with it. Taillefer landed in a heap, blood rolling out of his mouth.” Taillefer’s ribs are broken.
  • Amarande and Taillefer fight with followers of the Warlord until “something thunked hard against Amarande’s temple, tossing her off-balance. Her opponent used that split second to roll onto the princess, driving Amarande’s face into the sandy earth as she sat atop the princess’s back, pinning her in a way that left all of Amarande’s fight useless.” Amarande and Taillefer are captured to be brought to the Warlord.
  • To prove her ruthlessness, the Regent Warlord orders those who do not comply with her to be burned in a fire pit. She will spare only one of them if they “fight to the death—disfigurement, loss of consciousness, and general injury do not count. You have to be the last living, breathing person standing.” From her confinement, Amarande watched the “human kindling. Hopes and dreams consumed nightly, reduced to flesh, fat, skin, and sinew, until there was nothing left to burn.” Then, she heard “the unmistakable sigh of a blade carving the breath from a man’s throat. One. Two. Two bodies draped gently on the ground. One. Two.”
  • When Luca reveals himself to the Warlord, more chaos erupts. There is “blood spray, bodies tumbling into the pit, the fire roaring and coughing smoke with each addition. Daggers and swords met in violent, reverberating clangs. Boots crunched bones, and live bodies, shrieking to the stars.” In the chaos, the Warlord “was sent headfirst into her own flames.” She is burnt to death.
  • Taillefer is fighting for his life against the Warlord’s men with his “hands in a fury, going for all the soft spots on the soldier’s face—ears, eyes, lips. The prince’s forearm caught the boy’s windpipe, and his head flew back with a crack, sucking cry escaping from his lips.” He escapes.
  • While escaping her prison cart, Amarande notices “her arm was bleeding from her shoulder through the length of her forearm, the wood of the fractured cart taking a sliding bite on the way down.” Ula stitches up Amarande’s wounds later.
  • To defeat his mother, Queen Inés, Taillefer stabs her guard and “twisted and removed a dagger from where it had been lodged in the soldier’s liver for hours on end.” The soldier bleeds out and dies. Taillefer then throws poison on his mother, burning her skin and killing her. “The tincture had dissolved the skin at her throat, the meat of her exposed, veins and capillaries burned back like parchment blackening and curling in flame before vanishing altogether.”
  • While Amarande converses with the Royal Council members, Geneva violently enters the room and “one guard and then another fell to the floor, assassin’s smiles carved across their throats, blood gushing onto the collars of their regal Ardenian uniforms.”
  • While fighting, Geneva thrust her blade “straight for the vulnerable flesh of Luca’s unprotected torso.” Luca is wounded but not killed. Next, Geneva turns to fight Amarande. “Geneva smashed her body backward, driving Amarande even harder against the wall, so hard that her skull thudded off the unforgiving stone with a terrific crack.” General Koldo attempts to save Amarande by attacking Geneva from behind, but she is thwarted when Geneva thrusts her into a table. “[Koldo] was bleeding from the head, a huge gash over her eye from where she’d made contact with the massive piece of scrolled furniture.”
  • When the action subsides, Luca notices he had accidently struck Taillefer in the neck with his dagger. Luca watches as “blood framed each of his teeth in stark red, as if he’d sunk them into a still-beating heart.” Luca then saw the “weak slice to the jugular.” Taillefer slowly dies from the loss of blood.
  • Amarande is stabbed in the leg by her mother. She tries to overpower Geneva with her good leg, but Geneva “thrust a thumb straight into Amarande’s leg wound, and the princess’s body seized as she cried out, vision fading to white. Her mother shoved Amarande and her blade aside, and scrambled free.” Amarande begins to lose consciousness with “all her adrenaline tapped, blood pooling under her body from her leg, arm, somewhere else.” Amarande survives, but her mother escapes.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hell is used once. When Amarande is brought to the Warlord, she curses by saying “stars and hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

The Summer I Turned Pretty #1

The story follows 15-year-old Belly, who has gone to Cousin Beach every summer since she was born, along with her brother Steven and their mom Laurel. The house owner, Susannah, is Laurel’s best friend, and their visits are a tradition Belly always looks forward to. 

Belly holds a genuine love for the house and the memories it holds. Especially when it comes to the memories Belly has shared with Susannah’s son, Conrad. Conrad is known for his intense, quiet presence and his keen observance of everything around him. Belly has been completely infatuated with him ever since they were kids. But with Conrad, she never truly knows where she stands.  

It’s the complete opposite with Conrad’s younger brother, Jeremiah. Jeremiah and Belly have been close friends for as long as she can remember. They’ve kept each other’s secrets and looked out for one another. Jeremiah has been a great friend, although this summer he may no longer be satisfied with just being friends.  

This year, Belly decides to branch out on her own rather than staying stuck behind the boys’ shadows. Belly is finally coming into her own and gaining confidence, which gives her the courage to venture off and meet new people. Even though Belly is determined to change, she finds herself conflicted. Somehow every time Belly thinks she’s left her insecurity behind, she runs into things that make her feel like the self-doubting little girl she once was. This causes her to reflect on the past summer memories that led her to this point. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty will effortlessly keep readers intrigued because Belly shares her love for Cousins Beach and brings readers into her whirlwind life full of boys. Belly is a realistic character who faces typical teenage conflicts such as liking boys and trying to fit in. Belly’s strong-headedness will cause readers to root for her as she takes the reader through emotions such as cheerfulness, heartbreak, and nostalgia.  

Although The Summer I Turned Pretty is full of clichés and a typical love triangle, the characters will make readers fall in love with them. Since the characters share their memories, their complexities shine. Plus, readers will enjoy seeing both Belly’s struggles in the present and her reminiscence on her past. However, the constant switching of time periods is frustratingly confusing. The Summer I Turned Pretty is a summer romance that is a fun, easy read that will leave you in tears. For more sweet summer romance worthy of taking to the beach to read, check out The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.  

Sexual Content 

  • Cam writes a note to Belly saying, “IOU one skinny-dip.” 
  • Belly has her first kiss with Jeremiah. “He kissed me right on the lips. His mouth was a little bit open, but it wasn’t a French kiss or anything. I tried to push him off, but he kept on kissing me for a few more seconds.” 
  • While parked in the driveway, Belly shares a kiss with Cameron. “He dipped his head low and kissed me. I didn’t let go of the door handle. All I could think was, I wish this had been my first kiss.” 
  • In the midst of consoling Conrad, Belly kisses him. “I let his head rest there, stroking the back of his hair, and then I cup the back of his head, moved it toward me, and kissed him. Tentatively at first, and then he started kissing me back, and we were kissing each other.” 
  • Belly catches her best friend and her brother kissing on the beach. “He had his arms around her, and they were kissing. They weren’t even watching the sunrise.”  
  • Jeremiah explains his first kiss to Belly. He says, “The first time I kissed a girl was a joke. She kept telling me what I was doing wrong.”  

Violence 

  • Conrad almost gets in a fight with a guy at a party. “Conrad was looking for a fight. He wouldn’t be satisfied until he got one, period, and this guy, he could kill Conrad.” They do not end up fighting.  
  • Conrad and Jeremiah get into a confrontation over different opinions. “Conrad pushed Jeremiah away roughly, and Jeremiah pushed him back. Conrad stumbled and nearly fell, and when he rose up, he punched Jeremiah right in the face. I think I screamed. Then they were wrestling around, grabbing at each other, hitting and cursing and breathing heavy. They knocked over Susannah’s big glass jar of Santee, and it cracked open. Tea spilled out all over the porch. There was blood on the sand.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Because Conrad has been distant and on edge, Belly’s mom asks, “Is Conrad doing drugs?” Belly says he is not. 
  • Conrad is caught smoking a cigarette. “Since when did you start smoking?” Belly asks him accusingly. 
  • Conrad leaves empty beer cans on the patio, after drinking alone.  
  • Someone offers Belly a beer, but she declines it. 
  • A boy named Kinsey is rumored to sell “crystal meth out of his trunk.” 
  • Belly’s mother has “been taking medicinal marijuana to help with nausea from the chemo.”

Language 

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes hell and ass. 
  • A girl calls Belly a “little skank.”  

Supernatural  

  • None 

Spiritual Content  

  • None  

by Jae’La Leavy

 Pride and Premeditation

Unlike other unmarried women her age, rather than a good husband, seventeen-year-old Lizzie Bennet wants nothing more than to practice law and work in her father’s law office. When there is a murder in high-society London, Lizzie jumps at the opportunity to prove herself worthy of being a litigator.

Although the authorities have charged someone with the crime, Lizzie has her doubts, promising to catch the real killer and clear the name of the man accused of the crime. But many obstacles stand in her way. For example, the man accused of the crime isn’t actually her client and is being represented by Mr. Darcy, a young lawyer and the heir of a prestigious law firm, who has no interest or patience for Lizzie’s antics. In order to uncover the truth and catch the killer, Lizzie pushes the boundaries of social and gender norms in this regency-era murder mystery.

Pride and Premeditation reimagines Jane Austen’s classic characters from Pride and Prejudice with a murder mystery twist. Following in the footsteps of the classic, Price examines gender roles and social standards of 19th century England. Lizzie is often pushing against preconceived sexist notions of what an unmarried, young woman should be doing. Rather than finding a husband of good social standing—as society and her mother tells her to—Lizzie would rather help her father around his office, and study contracts and case law. In conversations with her father or Mr. Darcy, Lizzie questions if she would be treated differently if she “weren’t a young lady.” Headstrong and extremely motivated, Lizzie explains she “will not live [her] life sitting by the side while there are so many men making a mess of things.”

The novel also looks at the classism and the social hierarchy of English society at the time. Lizzie feels as if she is looked down upon by those with higher social standing. The upper class often looks down on Lizzie, judging her based on where she lives or what she wears. But Lizzie, actively aware of this classism, simply sees this as another obstacle she must face in order to prove herself. Furthermore, Lizzie observes how people of her social standing look down on people of a lower class. In one instance, her mother scolds Lizzie for socializing with “street children” (or “urchins” as her mother would say).

Full of witty dialogue, Pride and Premeditation is a fast-paced story centered not only on the murder of a member of high-society London, but also on notions of justice, class, and the role of women in 19th century England. Readers will relate to Lizzie, who struggles with social and familial standards, and the people who are trying to dictate her actions when Lizzie is simply trying to pursue her interests. Readers can learn the importance of unabashedly being oneself and sticking to one’s convictions from Lizzie, no matter the obstacles society attempts to throw at you.

Pride and Premeditation has many familiar characters from Jane Austen, making it a great read for those familiar with Austen’s works (though knowledge of the original characters can make the twists and turns of this mystery slightly more predictable). However, the novel can also be enjoyed as a standalone novel for those unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice. With a strong female lead, Pride and Premeditation is an inspiring and fun book with just the right mix of mystery, adventure, and a hint of romance, making this book is a must-read.  Readers who enjoy historical fiction and mystery should also read Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer.

Sexual Content

  • Lizzie and Darcy share one kiss. When Lizzie sees Darcy a few weeks later she is “reminded of the warmth of their kiss.”

Violence

  • The basis of this novel is the murder of Mr. Hurst, who was “stabbed with a fine penknife.”
  • There is a discussion about the blood spatter on the body, Lizzie notes “when a creature is killed, there is usually a bit more splatter.”
  • As she walks down the street, Lizzie is abruptly grabbed, as “a gloved hand” stops her from screaming and shoves her into a carriage. Lizzie is taken in order to talk to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, someone interested in Lizzie’s investigation, then freed.
  • Lizzie discovers the dead body of Abigail who was left in the river Thames to drown with her hands “bound with rope”.
  • After stumbling upon the ransacked offices of Pemberley and Associates, Darcy and Lizzie are shoved by the assailant “sending them tumbling into the records room.” As the assailant rushes back to the streets, Georgina, Darcy’s younger sister, “opened the door [of the carriage] as he went by and hit him quite hard,” but he gets away.
  • In a heated moment of action, as Lizzie and the others discover what Mr. Wickham has done, he holds Lizzie at gunpoint, digging “the muzzle into her ribs.”
  • Mr. Wickham drags Lizzie out of her house, threatening violence to anyone who interferes. A chase ensues. Lizzie manages to escape the grasps of Wickham, “plung[ing] the sharp end of her brooch into his thigh.” As Lizzie tries to run away Wickham shoots at her, just missing her. The scene lasts over ten pages.
  • Darcy catches up to Wickham and Lizzie and confronts Wickham with a gun. In order to stop them from shooting each other, Lizzie steps in between the two. There is a confrontation between Darcy and Wickham where they talk about Wickham and Darcy’s history. This is interrupted by the mastermind of the murder of Mr. Hurst and Abigail, who shoots Wickham. He “double[s] over …crumpl[ing] to the ground,” falling into the river Thames. This action sequence is described over a chapter.
  • When Lizzie confronts a suspect, he grabs her, but she pulls away, drawing “Darcy’s spare pistol, pointing it at [him] just as he brandished a knife.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Multiple times, Mr. Hurst is referred to as a drunk and he is “always drinking.” The night before he is killed, the man suspected of killing him finds him at a “club,” brings him home, and tells “him to sober up.”
  • There is a delay outside Darcy and Lizzie’s carriage, and the driver blames it on “a drunk.”

Language

  • Mrs. Bennet refers to Fred, Lizzie’s informant, as an “urchin.”
  • Words like “lord almighty,” “for heaven’s sake,” and “bollocks” are used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Mikaela Querido

Every Reason We Shouldn’t

Sixteen-year-old figure skater Olivia Kennedy’s competitive dreams have ended. She’s bitter but enjoying life as a regular teenager instead of trying to live up to the expectations of having Olympians Midori Nakashima and Michael Kennedy as parents. . .until Jonah Choi starts training at her family’s struggling rink.

Jonah’s driven, talented, going for the Olympics in speed skating, completely annoying. . . and totally gorgeous.

Amid teasing Jonah, helping her best friend try out for roller derby, figuring out life as a normal teen, and keeping the family business running, Olivia’s got her hands full. But will rivalry bring her closer to Jonah, or drive them apart?

Olivia’s life is a mess. Her father is on the road working, her mother is so doped up on pain pills that she’s mostly absent from Olivia’s life, and Olivia’s best friend is dealing with her own set of troubles, including raising her daughter. Then, Jonah enters the picture. The “Ice Prince” may set Olivia on fire, but his cocky attitude puts a damper on the romance. Instead of being a sweet and sexy love interest, Olivia and Jonah sneak into storage rooms, behind counters, and even behind a dumpster to make out. The abundance of kissing makes their romance seem shallow and cheap. Instead of rooting for the two teens, readers will have a hard time believing the two are really in love.

Olivia’s parents are another negative aspect of the story. Olivia has no parental support. While Olivia’s mother’s excuse is her constant pain, her injury is never explained, which leaves the reader wondering if the pain meds are necessary or just a way for her mother to escape. To make matters worse, the book’s conclusion is unrealistic because it portrays Olivia and her parents as a cohesive group that supports each other when there is absolutely no evidence that supports this.

Unfortunately, Every Reason We Shouldn’t isn’t a fun, flirty romance that readers will enjoy. Instead, it’s full of forgettable characters that are hard to relate to. While both Jonah and Olivia hope to go to the Olympics, they spend more time kissing than they do on the ice. The story combines skating with romance and parental pressures; however, the book’s flaws will quickly damper reader’s interest. Instead of reading Every Reason We Shouldn’t, readers looking for an entertaining story that mixes sports and romance should check out the Hundred Oaks Series by Miranda Kenneally.

Sexual Content

  • The father of Mack’s baby asks her if she wants to go to his house. He says, “Derek will get us a six-pack or two. We’ll hang and stuff . . . My mom doesn’t’ care if you sleep over. Long as we’re quiet.”
  • Olivia watches Jonah skate. “Every time he stops, Jonah looks over at me and smiles. I’m melting. I fantasize about stepping up onto his bladed feet, wrapping my arms around his neck, and kissing him until we’re standing in a puddle of water in the middle of the rink.”
  • When Olivia asks a friend for boy advice, the friend texts, “and use protection. . . And he better not be sending you pictures of his junk.”
  • Olivia and Jonah lay on a couch. Olivia brings “my other hand up underneath his T-shirt until my palm rests over his heart. . . Jonah pushes me gently down on the couch until his whole body presses into mine. . . When Jonah’s lips find mine, the blanket becomes completely unnecessary.”
  • Olivia and Jonah go into a supply closet at the skating rink. “As soon as the door is closed, I launch myself at him, our lips connecting like I’ve wanted them to do all morning. . . Cold fingertips glide underneath the back of my T-shirt and up my spine. . . I pull the zipper of Jonah’s skinsuit down to mid-chest. . . Jonah’s breath hitches when I slide my cold hand underneath the fabric.” They part when Jonah’s father calls him.
  • At the skate rink, Olivia and Jonah kiss. Jonah makes a “trail of kisses from my ear to my throat.” Then Olivia pulls “Jonah down until we are both kneeling on the well-worn carpet behind the skate counter. . .” They are interrupted by Jonah’s father.
  • After being apart for several days, Jonah goes to the ice rink. Olivia goes to take out the trash and, “As soon as I walk out the front door, Jonah grabs the trash with one hand and my hand with the other and pulls me behind the building to the dumpster. His lips meet mine before the bag of trash even hits the bottom of the dumpster.”
  • Olivia and Egg (her old skate partner) go to Los Angeles for a skate audition. While driving, Egg says, “Do you know what this looks like? Human trafficking.”

Violence

  • Olivia’s school has a lock down because of an angry parent’s “disorderly conduct” and a “confrontation” with the school’s security officer.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Olivia’s mom has an injury so she takes muscle relaxants and pain medication. Olivia says the medication makes her mom “spaced out.”
  • Olivia thinks that some of the high achieving kids at her school “snuck into their parents’ medicine cabinet to take a Xanax or two because their anxiety was way off the charts.”
  • Olivia’s classmate has a panic attack. She says, “The new medication helps. I still spent the rest of the day in bed surrounded by all my dogs and watching sea otter videos though.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, freaking, hell and pissed.
  • OMG, God, and Lord are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • Mack calls two boys “boneheads.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Princess Will Save You

When Princess Amarande’s father is suddenly declared dead, the Kingdom of Ardenia on the Continent of Sand and Sky, must appoint a new ruler. Due to antiquated and sexist rules, Princess Amarande is unable to claim her rightful throne because she is a woman. The only way for her to become Queen is to marry. Taking advantage of Amarande’s predicament, the neighboring Kingdoms of Pyrenee, Basilica, and Myrcell send forth their most eligible bachelors to make Amarande their bride and fortify their Kingdom with Ardenia. Amarande rejects their proposals and refuses to marry without love. Although she has not declared her feelings yet, she is in love with her best friend, Luca, the stableboy. Knowing that her status as Princess keeps them apart, Amarande vows to change the laws of Ardenia and reclaim her destiny.

However, unsatisfied with Amarande’s rejection, Prince Renard of Pyrenee concocts a despicable plan to have Luca kidnapped by pirates. He gives Amarande no choice but to marry him if she wants her true love to live. But Prince Renard severely underestimates Amarande’s strength and bravery. She flees Ardenia to save Luca. With her trusted swords, Egia and Maite, and the knowledge that her father had taught her of battle, Amarande follows Luca’s kidnappers through the Torrent, a desert area that was once ruled by the Otxoa family but is now governed by the infamous leader known as “The Warlord.” Facing thieves, bandits, and natural elements, Amarande finds Luca and rescues him from his kidnappers, Ula, Urtzi, and Dunixi.

Reunited at last, Amarande and Luca confirm their love for one another and head back to Ardenia, but they are intercepted by Prince Renard and taken back to Pyrenee where Amarande is forced into a wedding. Now, Amarande and Luca must trust their courage and strength to defeat Prince Renard and his wicked brother, Taillefer, who has an affinity for extreme methods of torture. In the end, Amarande and Luca make their escape to freedom with the help of unlikely allies and prove that their love can conquer any challenge.

The novel possesses the same romantic charm as The Princess Bride with a twist making Amarande the dominant hero. Amarande is a strong and empowering character who proves that women can also be the rescuers and fight for what they believe in. Although Amarande tries to guard her emotions in the beginning of the novel, she soon learns to be honest about her feelings and proves to be an admirable and sympathetic character. The book also has an emphasis on true love and demonstrates that love and friendship are more important than power and wealth.

With all Amarande and Luca’s daring adventures, the book is fast-paced and filled with well-written action and romance scenes. As the author warns in the dedication page, “this is a kissing book.” However, the kissing scenes are very wholesome. Fans of The Princess Bride will enjoy the references to the timeless classic within the novel but be thrilled by a new story with even more adventure and a feminist twist. Although the unique names of all the Kingdoms and characters can be a bit confusing, this is only the first installment of The Kingdoms and Sand and Sky series, and the world will soon become more familiar as Amarande and Luca grow and learn more about each other.

Sexual Content

  • Urtzi, one of the pirates who captures Luca, makes a comment that he has “been with plenty of women.” To which Ula, a female pirate, responds, “Lying in bed with a woman is completely different than knowing a woman.”
  • Amarande notices that her fellow prisoners are “all around the same age—middle teens. Pretty, all likely dumped at the Warlord’s feet as payment of one kind or another.” It is implied that they were kidnapped to be raped.
  • Amarande kisses Luca on the forehead and around his face. Amarande had “never kissed him before. And yet her lips found dust and sweat and fear and him. The princess immediately wanted more, and took . . . In time, Amarande’s mouth landed on his and it was a relief when he finally moved—to kiss her in return.”
  • Luca kisses Amarande again and her “fingers splayed across his jaw, encouraging him.”
  • After Prince Renard forced Amarande’s hand in marriage, he has her wear his mother’s wedding dress but acknowledges she is “shorter and less voluptuous than Mother.”

Violence

  • In a practice battle between Amarande and Luca, Amarande “swung a leg hard, kicking his feet out from under him. Luca flew up and then back, landing in a heap, the wind and her name knocked out of him. Before he could even attempt to right himself, the princess was sitting atop his stomach, her knees locking his arms against his heaving ribs.” No one is injured, though, as the battle is only practice.
  • After seeing her father in his coffin, Amarande observed, “there wasn’t a jagged stitch across his throat, thread straining to hold his head flush to his neck. Both arms were there, too, crossed primly about his barrel chest, and no gaping hole underneath his palms from a heart taken as a prize for killing the Sun and Sky’s greatest warrior.”
  • As Luca is being kidnapped, “he felt it, the thick side of his own practice sword cracking him in a wide smack across his back.” Luca is thrown “off balance, stumbling forward, one boot dragging a divot in the packed sod.” When he tried to get up, he was “cut down again, this time with a boot to his exposed gut.” Finally, “Luca felt a sword to his throat . . . Even without full sight he knew what sat across his windpipe, pressing in a curve as deep as the coming crescent moon.” Luca is beaten and bruised by his kidnappers; “the evidence was undeniable in the bruises that had bloomed across his back, the knot at his temple, the pounding behind his eyes. Not to mention the blood that coated his mouth, drier than it should be thanks to the arid climate.” Although he is injured, Luca survives.
  • On her way to rescue Luca, Amarande encounters a group of bandits that she must battle. “They came without hesitation, without a signal between them. The leader and his clothing-appraising second each aimed for Egia and Maite with long swords of their own.” To escape the pressure of their blows, “Amarande placed her right foot on the leader’s horse and shoved with all the might of her own strong leg.” The inflicted bandit fell from his horse and “plummeted face first toward the ground.” Amarande continued to fight, “she brought her right sword up and around, slashing. The meat of the man’s shoulder flashed in the relentless sun, exposed with the hard blow.” Amarande positioned her two swords on the man’s throat and liver, but she could not kill him. In her hesitation, another man kicked the weapon out of her hand and “someone was clawing at her free hand now, trying to pull her off the horse.” The bandits robbed Amarande of her provisions, but left her relatively unscathed.
  • Wandering through desert terrain, Amarande spots a wolf. Failing to get away silently, “the wolf came. Its paws connected high on her chest plate, the metal driving into the diamond necklace beneath the lace of her gown’s neckline.” As Amarande is focused on the wolf, she suddenly feels “an intense stinging at her neck, right beneath the edge of her kerchief.” Amarande finds “a dart, sticking straight out from the cluster of veins that made up her jugular.” She is paralyzed and kidnapped by another group of bandits.
  • To escape her kidnappers, “Amarande’s arms shot up, crashing into the man’s forearms and breaking through his reach . . . Amarande’s hands were reset for another strike, and she thrust the heels of both palms out and upward, dislodging the man’s nose from its spot on his face with a bloody crunch.” Amarande fails in escaping at this moment, but she earns the attention of the guards.
  • A cruel innkeeper Amarande encounters threatens to dump her into “very special white sand at the center of my compound . . . fed by a geyser that runs as hot as the Warlord’s fire pits.” According to him, “the second you slip through that earth, you’ll be poached.”
  • When Amarande visits an innkeeper looking for information, she is suddenly turned “upside down, several feet in the air,” by a large man. To defend herself, Amarande “kicked back and up hard, heel of one boot and then the other smashing into his jaw from the underside.” The impact cracked the giant’s tooth. Amarande continues to fight the giant but is unable to reach her knife when, “His fingers were wrapped around Amarande’s ankles in the next instant.” Suddenly, Amarande witnesses “more movement, the ring of steel, and extended spray of blood.” Osana, Amarande’s ally, stabbed the large man through the back with a sword, killing him.
  • When Amarande finally catches up to Luca, she must battle his kidnappers to rescue him. Luca assists by punching Urtzi who “scrambled to his feet, blood spurting off his moon-white nose and down his mouth.” Ula, who fought with Amarande, “decided to change tactics and kick backward, curling her legs over her head and springing up from her shoulders, nailing Amarande’s shins with the full might of her tumbling body.” Meanwhile, “Luca’s blade slashed [Urtzi’s] shirt from his skin, blood blooming under his rib cage as he shrieked.” Amarande’s sword “came down at an angle that grazed her forearm . . . the girl yelled, her slashed arm really bleeding now.” Eventually, Amarande and Luca escape leaving behind the bruised and scratched, though still living, kidnappers. Luca’s leg is injured from a snake bite.
  • Frustrated that his plan was failing, Prince Renard stabs Captain Serville who “gasps, blood immediately soaking his elegant garnet-and-gold unform. Renard had to yank with both hands to remove the sword.” The captain dies.
  • Renard’s brother, Taillefer, tortures Luca with a serum that burns flesh. Taillefer “dragged oozing sap in a line down Luca’s sternum,” and “Luca tensed against his binds, veins popping from his kin, tendons firing . . . His teeth ground shut, his eyes, too, the pain bald and bold, coursing through him as his skin melted and blistered . . . he was opened up. A gaping, raised line cleaving the skin of his chest in two.”
  • At their wedding, Amarande stabs Renard, “her blade sliced through the air, plunging into the soft spot under his ribs. His heart and lungs, punctured in one fell swoop.” Renard is killed and his blood stains Amarande’s dress.
  • While making their escape, Amarande, Luca, Ula, and their allies fight off Renard’s guards; “Ula dispatched one man and then another, her curved blade making quick work. Amarande batted away a guard who came lunging toward her left, Luca sank [Amarande’s] boot knife into the eye of one who went for his helmet, trying to throw him off-balance. From behind, Urtzi grunted as he shook off man after man.” The friends escape alive.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a dinner to seal Amarande’s fate, Prince Renard “took a long pull of sagardoa,” a hard cider drink.
  • Amarande notices that “the guards stood at attention. They weren’t lolling around, deep in cups of actual sagardoa,”
  • Ula searches in Taillefer’s lair for something to help heal Luca’s wounds, while Urtzi finds a bottle of unnamed alcohol and “without caution, he took a swig.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • It is mentioned that “there were songs at court about Egia and Maite,” a pair of swords Amarande wields, “containing magic welded impenetrably into their depths.” However, “Amarande wasn’t sure about that, but they had kept her father safe until the very end.” If the swords are magic, it is not revealed in this novel.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Dating Makes Perfect

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. Because that won’t end in disaster…

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him. If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

Winnie is tying to figure out family difficulties, first kisses, and who she is, all while trying to be an obedient daughter. But following her parents’ rules isn’t easy, especially when it means putting her own dreams aside. Winnie is an adorably cute and relatable character who deals with typical teen problems. While the story’s conclusion is predictable, Winnie’s journey through dating her sworn enemy is full of fun misunderstandings, near disasters, and inner turmoil. However, Winnie’s life isn’t just about romance, it’s also a sweet story about family, love, and acceptance.

Throughout her journey, Winnie must learn to trust herself as well as take risks when it comes to sharing her feelings. In the end, Winnie realizes that her parents’ love isn’t determined by her obedience. Instead of trying to fit their mold, Winnie finally discusses her true feelings. To complicate matters, Winnie’s confession is mixed in with her sister’s announcement that she is bisexual. The ending is a bit unrealistic because her parents readily accept the idea of her sister having a girlfriend, and they have more difficulty accepting the fact that Winnie wants to date Mat “for real.”

Dating Makes Perfect is the perfect book for readers who want a fun romance that revisits American rom-coms. The cute story is entertaining and has plenty of swoon-worthy moments that will make readers’ hearts sing. Plus, Dating Makes Perfect has a positive message about being brave enough to give voice to your dreams. In the end, Winnie gets the guy, and learns that “words do count. They can hurt, and they can heal. . . Maybe it’s neither words nor actions alone that have an impact. Maybe we need both.” Readers who enjoy Dating Makes Perfect should step into the world of two teens from feuding families by reading A Pho Love Story by Loan Le.

Sexual Content

  • Several times, Winnie thinks about kissing Mat. For example, when Mat is being snarky, Winnie is surprised by her reaction. “For one ridiculous second, an image of us, intertwined, flashes through my mine.” Later she is upset when she has a kiss dream about Mat.
  • Mat tells a boy that he has seen Winnie naked. He leaves out that they were babies at the time.
  • Winnie’s sisters are decorating for a bridal party and they make a game of pin the penis on the groom. Winnie thinks, “my sisters are preoccupied with penises. Gummy ones, cardboard ones. Penises that may or may not be an accurate representation of the real ones.”
  • Mat tells Winnie that he can be attracted to her, even though she is his enemy. Winnie trails her “fingers up his neck, and he sucks in a breath. He settles his hands hesitantly over my hip. . . I move forward backing him up until he’s against the chair in the corner. . . I want to kiss him. This guy. My sworn enemy.” Before Winnie can kiss him, they are interrupted.
  • While at a frozen yogurt shop, Winnie sees a couple who “have given up all pretense of cheesy coupledom and just attack each other’s lips.”
  • Winnie’s best friend tells here that, “First kisses pretty much suck—and not in a good way. Too much slobbering. Too much thrust.”
  • Winnie asks her sister, “How do you make someone fall for you?” Her sister’s advice is to “send nude pictures.” Instead, she takes a picture of a crumpled-up dress and sends it to Mat.
  • Winnie asks her sisters for advice because “they’ve been in college seven whole months, without parental supervision. . . I know of at least four kissing sessions—and those are the ones they bothered to share with me.”
  • While talking about a rom-com, Winnie’s friend asks, “Isn’t that the scene where she tells him that she has insane, freaky sex with Keanu Reeves?”
  • Winnie tells her mother that she hasn’t kissed a boy “yet.” Her mother asks, “Do you need any contraceptives?”
  • While at a party, a drunk boy goes to kiss Winnie. “One hand cradles my neck, while the other one is splayed on my hip. My hands are still hanging by my sides.” When Winnie smells alcohol, she pushes him away.
  • Once Winnie and Mat decide to date for real, they kiss a lot. The first time Winnie wonders, “I’ve kissed exactly nobody in my life and he’s tongue-wrestled with how many? Twenty? What if he thinks I suck? Or worse yet, don’t suck. Are you supposed to do that in a first kiss?”
  • Winnie and Mat skip class and make out. Mat “scoops me up and lays me across his lap. My skirt hikes up a few inches. He glances at my bare legs and seems to stop breathing. . . Wow. Okay. This is a kiss. Lips moving. Slowly. Sweetly. So hot, this give-and-take. A hint of teeth. Oh, hello, tongue. I could do this all day.” A student finally interrupts them. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Mat sends Winnie a picture of him without a shirt. When she doesn’t reply, he asks, “Have you fainted from all my hotness?”
  • Winnie and her mother have a short conversation about When Harry Met Sally. Winnie tells her, “Meg Ryan—well, she was faking an orgasm.”
  • After a date, Winnie and Mat kissed “walking to the car. Up against the car. Inside the car. Once I gave in to temptation, it was impossible to resist him.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Winnie attends a party where the teens are “drinking spiked punch and some guys are downing Jell-O shots.”
  • One of Winnie’s friends gets drunk at a party. Afterward, he tells her, “I stumbled into the bathroom and went to sleep. . . My first party at Lakewood, and not only did I get trashed, but I wasn’t even awake long enough to enjoy it.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, damn, crap, freaking, and hell.
  • Winnie thinks Mat is a “dirty, rotten rat bastard.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In an embarrassing situation, Winnie thinks, “now would be the perfect time for the gods to conjure up a conch shell for me to hide inside.”
  • Winnie thinks that Mat is probably “a preta, which is a spirit cursed by karma and returned to the world of the living, with an unquenchable hunger for human waste.”
  • Winnie and her friend go to the wat. “We slip off our shoes . . . Seven Buddha images line the hallway, one representing the god for each day of the week. . . After a quick prayer over clasped hands, I pick up the ladle and pour water on the Buddha’s forehead.”
  • Winnie’s father tells her about immigrating to America. He says, “You know, when we first came to this country, I stood on the steps of Widener Library and prayed that one day my children would attend school there.”
  • Several times Winnie prays to the pra Buddha cho. For example, when asking Mat for help, Winnie says he should help because “you like me.” Then she prayed “to the pra Buddha cho that I’m right.”

Love & Gelato

Lina Emerson already knows she faced the most challenging moment of her life when her mother suddenly passes from pancreatic cancer. But moving into an Italian WWII cemetery with a stranger claiming to be her father is not exactly going to be a walk in the park either. While navigating her own grief, Lina moves to Florence, Italy to meet Howard Mercer, a man at the center of her mother’s dying wishes.

Lina promises her mother that she will stay in Italy for the summer and the following school year. Lina realizes that Howard is more amicable and fatherly than she initially assumed. This then leads her to two very pressing questions: Why did she not know anything about Howard until now? And, if he is the father he claims to be, is she ready to be his daughter?

Seeking desperately to solve the mysteries in her mother’s past, Lina turns to a journal—the journal her mother filled during her own time in Italy. Following her mother’s puzzling narrative, Lina reads about the events leading up to her mother’s decision to leave Italy and now finds herself in a similar position. While Lina finds love, friendship, and beauty in Italy, just like her mother, she must similarly ask herself— is it best to leave Italy or to stay?

Love & Gelato is a narrative filled with decadent and delicate descriptions of early love, recognized grief, and Italian landscapes filled with the warmth of food and art. Welch so easily captures the tourist avenues through Florence, Italy, while also leading the reader through locations that a first trip to Italy may overlook. Throughout these descriptions, Lina’s bubbly voice and personality shines strong and easily intertwines with her mother’s own backstory. Entries from Lina’s mother’s journal are set intricately alongside Lina’s current adventure in Italy, resulting in a satisfying and touching plotline that transparently demonstrates the way our loved ones walk alongside us even in their deaths. Readers are able to follow the true spectrum of Lina’s grief as it transitions from an insurmountable weight to a memory she finds herself able to carry.

The portions of Love & Gelato that focus on young romance sometimes feel like they conclude too simply and resolve Lina’s challenges with grief too quickly. However, it is because of its lighthearted narrative that Love & Gelato is perfect for someone looking for a sweet and warm story of friendship and newfound adventure.

In building her relationship with Howard and romance with Ren, Lina ultimately shows that family bonds can be forged with anyone, at any time, so long as both people choose to love each other. Though troubling decisions permeate throughout the entirety of Love & Gelato, Lina’s story shows that the decisions we make in our life are always ours to own, and ours to change. Readers looking for more engaging romance stories may enjoy reading Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson and A Pho Love Story by Loan Le.

Sexual Content

  • Lina goes to a club called Space, where she describes how people “were really dancing. Like having-sex-on-the-dance-floor dancing.”
  • While at Space with her friends, Lina describes being harassed by an older man. After seeing her, the man follows Lina and grabs her butt. As she tries to get away, the man pulls her close until her “pelvis was smashed up against his.” One of Lina’s friends, Mimi, sees the interaction and yells at the man until he leaves.
  • Lina’s mother’s journal describes a statue in Palazzo Vecchio called The Rape of the Sabine Women. Though a mistranslation, wherein the true title of the piece should be The Kidnapping of the Sabine Women, Lina’s mom still describes a grotesque backstory in which Roman men kidnapped Sabine women and forced them into marriage.  In describing this confusing history, Lina’s mother says, “When Rome was first settled, the men realized their civilization was missing one very important ingredient: women. But where to find them? The only women within striking distance belonged to a neighboring tribe called the Sabines, and when the Romans went to ask for permission to marry some of their daughters, all they got was a big fat no. So in a particularly Roman move, they invited Sabines to a party, then, partway through the night, overpowered the men and dragged all the women kicking and screaming back to their city. Eventually, the Sabines managed to break into Rome, but by that time they were too late. The women didn’t want to be rescued. They’d fallen for their captures and it turned out life in Rome was actually pretty great. The reason I was confused by the statue’s title is that it is mistranslated in English. The Latin word “raptio” sounds like “rape” but actually means “kidnapping.” So really the sculpture should be called The Kidnapping of the Sabine Women.” This is the extent of the description behind this sculpture.
  • When Carolina meets her real father for the first time, Matteo Rossi, he accuses her mother of lying about their relationship and says, “Later I heard she began sleeping with any man who looked her way. I’m guessing you’re a product of that.”
  • When Lina and her friends attend an eighteenth birthday party, there is a description of the birthday girl’s mother. The mother “was wearing a tiara and a hot-pink minidress that was about ten seconds from giving up on keeping her boobs covered.” Elena tells Lina that the mother “displays sexy pictures of herself around the house.” Thomas then comments that Elena’s mom has “bionic cleavage.”

Violence

  • The prologue mentions Lina’s mother suffering from an incurable and inoperable form of cancer. This illness is alluded to, so most details are left for the reader to assume, but the decline of Lina’s mother may not be suitable for all readers.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ren takes Lina to a party, and the students drink intermittently throughout the scene.
  • One of Lina’s friends, a teenager named Thomas, drinks heavily at an eighteenth birthday party Lina attends with him.

Language

  • At Elena’s party, a student named Marco tells Lina the beer someone brought is disgusting, and then continues with, “I’d offer you a drink, but I just told you it tastes like piss.”
  • At Elena’s party, Lina mishears someone and thinks, “Crap. Did they ask me something?
  • After hearing what Matteo Risso said to Lina about her mother, Ren calls him, “Che bastardo.

Supernatural

  • Elena’s house is a historical mansion, so there is some talk of ghosts when Lina first visits the house. For instance, Ren tells Lina that Elena “passes the ghost of her great-great-grandmother Alessandra on the stairwell every night.” Elena’s sister, Manuela, refuses to live at the residence because “ever since she was little she’s had this ancestor appear to her. The spooky part is that whenever the ghost appears she’s the same age as Manuela.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

When Bella’s mother gets remarried, Bella leaves her home in sunny Phoenix and goes to live with her father in the perpetually rainy town of Forks, Washington. Forks is a tiny, gloomy town and Bella is fully prepared to be miserable for her final two years of high school. She doesn’t expect anything interesting to happen in Forks. That is, of course, until she meets Edward Cullen.

Something is different about Edward. Breathtakingly beautiful and from a wealthy family, he baffles Bella with wild mood swings. When they first meet, he instantly despises her to the point of frightening her. Then—after disappearing for a week—he appears perfectly cordial. But it’s not until Edward saves her life in a feat of superhuman strength that Bella realizes the Cullen family is guarding a dangerous secret.

It would be smarter to walk away. Edward is unsure if he will be able to resist his thirst for Bella’s blood. But by the time she realizes the danger she is in, it’s too late. Live or die, Bella has fallen in love with Edward. She can’t walk away, even if her relationship with Edward costs her entire life.

Twilight is an epic story of love overcoming all challenges. In this graphic novel, Kim does a wonderful job bringing the characters and the storyline to life. By breaking the first book into segments, Kim ensures none of the essential story points are missing. For those who have not read Twilight and for avid fans alike, this graphic novel is an enjoyable escape into the Twilight universe.

Twilight, The Graphic Novel, Volume I uses soft shades of grey to bring its beautiful illustrations to life. The characters are all drawn to be beautiful, which is aesthetically pleasing if not the most accurate. Occasional splashes of color emphasize important moments and the characters’ expressions are easy to understand, which adds depth to the story. The graphic novel format manages to capture the essence of the original Twilight book without losing any of the essential aspects of the original story, an impressive feat that makes this a wonderful choice for reluctant readers.

Bella is not an overpowering heroine; she is quiet and clumsy to a fault, but she is fiercely loyal and brave. Bella risks everything for love, a choice that not all adults will agree with, but that most readers will understand as they follow Bella’s journey. Twilight is a wonderful story that swept through a generation of young readers like wildfire. Now in graphic novel form, it will continue to be picked up by even the most reluctant readers in years to come.

Sexual Content

  • When Bella and Edward kiss for the first time, Bella describes, “Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips.”

Violence

  • A van skids on ice in a parking lot and almost hits Bella. Edward pulls her out of the way. She is not injured, though the driver of the van is later shown in the hospital with bandages on his head.
  • Bella researches vampire legends online, including the Slovakian Nelapsi, “a creature so strong and fast it could massacre an entire village in the single hour after midnight.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people, “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.”
  • Edward and his family are vampires. They have super speed, strength, eyesight, etc. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • At first, Edward tries to stay away from Bella because he thinks it would be safer for her. Then he decides “as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

by Morgan Lynn

All the Invisible Things

Helvetica and Peregrine were destined to be friends. Bonding over their strange names, Vetty and Pez became close the moment they met at ten years old. They are used to sharing secrets, supporting one another, and racing their bikes all around London together. However, after Vetty’s mother passed away, her father decided to move the family away from London forcing Vetty to leave Pez to grieve without his support. While Pez made an effort to stay close, the two slowly fell out of touch.

Three years later, Vetty’s father decides it’s time for the family to leave his sister’s home and move back to London. Back in her old home, Vetty encounters a much different Pez. The new Pez is moodier and keeps secrets, and Vetty is unsure where their friendship stands now that they have gotten older. To make the situation worse, Pez has a glamorous new girlfriend, March, who ignites suppressed feelings inside Vetty. As Vetty grows closer to March, she discovers things about herself and her identity that may further complicate her relationship with Pez. To save their friendship, Vetty and Pez must learn to be honest with themselves and each other and live their own truth.

All the Invisible Things is told through Vetty’s perspective as she comes to terms with her identity and the realization that she is bisexual. Pez also opens up about his own experiences with sex, his struggle with a porn addiction, as well as his desire to change. The book’s main theme is honesty and learning how to live a truthful life, even if the truth is difficult to share. Through Vetty and Pez’s friendship, readers will learn how honesty is often met with love and support. The book also gives a voice to teens curious about their own identity and lets them know they are not alone in the potentially scary and confusing emotions that accompany growing up.

While there are some important themes, there are also problems with the writing of the novel. In the novel, Vetty struggles to find resources to help her figure out her sexuality and none of the characters seem aware of the term bisexual despite the novel being set in 2018. This made Vetty’s journey seem a bit inauthentic and forced at times. All the Invisible Things is also very clichéd in its writing. At one point, Pez tells Vetty she is “not like other girls” which confuses Vetty. At times, the novel seems a bit too sexually explicit, which distracts from the more sensitive moments in the book.

Because of the sexually explicit scenes, All the Invisible Things is best suited for older teens. Despite the book’s flaws, the novel will resonate with the LGBTQ+ community because of its representation of bisexual and lesbian characters. The way the story focuses on LGBTQ+ characters as the center of the story truly demonstrates the importance of their identities.

Sexual Content

  • There are frequent conversations about sex, porn, and masturbation throughout the novel.
  • Vetty and her friends are discussing their teacher’s inadequate sex ed program. As Liv recalls, the teacher, “got through our entire sex ed without even uttering the word ‘vagina.’ Not once… she was way more comfortable with the word ‘penis.’”
  • Liv asks Vetty who she thinks about while masturbating. Liv says, “Say you’re at home, alone in your room, and, like . . . testing your batteries or whatever, just say . . . who do you fantasize about?”
  • When Vetty and Pez were twelve, they kissed. Vetty “made him pretend he was George, our new tennis teacher who was twenty-two and from Greece . . . George was a girl, but this didn’t bother either of us much.”
  • Kyle, one of Pez’s friends, makes a comment that implies he wants to sleep with Pez’s mom. Kyle says, “Real talk though, Pez. Your mum—I mean, I would. We all would.”
  • Vetty finds pornographic images on Pez’s computer. The screen is “filled with small squares and inside these squares bodies pump and thrust and flail about; naked bodies, boobs, and bare bums everywhere!”
  • March opens up to Vetty about her abusive ex-boyfriend. March says, “soon as I slept with him, he lost interest.”
  • Vetty searches porn on her laptop and begins masturbating. “I watch one video play out, unsure I like what I’m watching—it’s pretty fake—but I’m inching my hand below the waistband of my pajama bottoms anyway.” Vetty is soon interrupted by her dad knocking on the door.
  • At a party, Vetty and Rob begin to kiss. She describes how “his lips move to my [Vetty’s] cheek and words fly out of my head and I start to imagine where he’ll kiss me next but then his lips are on my lips again . . .” A noise at the party breaks them apart.
  • Pez comes clean to Vetty about his porn addiction and confesses, “I haven’t wanked without it since I was thirteen.”
  • While acting as extras in a film, March kisses Vetty: “I open my mouth and her tongue lightly scoops the space inside.”
  • While thinking about the kiss with March, Vetty tries masturbating again. “I pull my underwear down and tip onto my knees, moving my fingers in small circles until I’m only my body, allowing my mind into places I’ve never really let it linger in before.”
  • Pez and Vetty share a kiss. Vetty describes her “mouth feels small on his and I keep it closed. His lips are fixed and I leave them there and it’s a few seconds before I kiss him back.”

Violence

  • While riding his bike, Pez is hit by a car. Vetty describes “half of him lies hidden under the car and the other half looks up at the night. One eye’s closed, an eyebrow arched in surprise, but his throat is loose and relaxed, peaceful almost, as a tiny trail of blood trickles from the side of his mouth.” Pez is taken to the hospital and survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While with a group of friends, Pez offers Vetty a beer. She thinks, “Normally, I don’t drink beer, but I take a slow sip, hoping it might soothe the hard edges beneath me.”
  • At another gathering, Pez “takes out a cold bottle of Corona and hands it to Lucas, who slickly pops the top without an opener.”
  • Kyle comes to Pez’s party “smoking a large spliff.” Spliff is British slang for cannabis.
  • Amira, March’s friend, pulls “a bottle of Smirnoff out of her bag” and passes it around.

Language

  • Shit is used numerous times. For example, Pez states, “I don’t give a shit,” when asked about his dad’s behavior.
  • Hell is used four times. For example, Vetty says the “motorway was hell” on her way to Camden.
  • The word dick is used five times. After telling the paramedics that Pez has a famous mom, Vetty explains she felt “like a dick for pointing that out, like Luna’s fame is remotely relevant now.”
  • Ass is used a few times. Vetty thinks she’s “being a total ass” for asking Pez’s guy friends to rate her appearance.
  • Fuck is used five times. After an argument, March locks herself in Pez’s room and he demands that she “just fucking open it.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

The Beautiful Pretender

The Margrave of Thornbeck, Reinhart, must find a bride– and fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks. He’ll use the time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

Like a Hallmark movie, The Beautiful Pretender follows the typical love story plotline. Even though the plotline is predictable, readers will enjoy stepping back into a time when women’s roles were based on their birth. Avelina, a servant in disguise, is a likable character who is learning to express her opinions. Avelina willingly goes into danger to protect others and her courage is an admirable trait. The story has a typical happily-ever-after ending that will leave readers with a warm glow.

Sexual Content

  • Reinhart’s parents “hated each other. . . both of them had lovers.”
  • One of the ladies visiting Reinhart was betrothed to a man who “was given to violent tirades and had impregnated two of his house servants.”
  • Dorothea had a “tryst” with one of her father’s knights. Rumors were that Dorothea was with child.
  • Reinhart talks about his brother who had a servant as a “lover.”
  • Avelina’s maidservant falls in love with another servant. Avelina “wanted to warn Irma that the manservant would break her heart when they had to leave, but she couldn’t imagine Irma would be eager to hear any advice from her.”
  • Reinhart and Avelina hide in a small space behind a bookcase. As they talk, Reinhart thinks, “How good it would feel to turn her face toward him and kiss her.” However, he does not.
  • While Reinhart and Avelina are hiding, she becomes cold and thinks about asking for Reinhart to embrace her. However, she doesn’t because, “Doing such a thing would be an invitation to Lord Reinhart to make her his mistress, and she would never do that.”
  • When Reinhart shows concern for Avelina, “her heart was thumping in a late reaction to wishing she could stand on her tiptoes and kiss him on the lips.”
  • Avelina is dressing Reinhart’s wounds. “She should avert her eyes and not admire his magnificent, broad, powerful-looking chest, and focus only on his shoulder injury.”
  • Before Reinhart surrenders to the enemy, “he took her [Avelina’s] face in his hands, caressing her silken skin with his thumbs. . . He bent and pressed his mouth to hers. He kissed her softly at first, making sure she did not want to pull away. . . Kissing her was achingly sweet.”
  • While locked in the dungeon with Reinhart, Avelina “leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but he turned his head at the last moment and she captured his lips in an intense but brief kiss.”
  • When Avelina agrees to marry Reinhart, “he pressed his lips against hers and kissed her long and thoroughly, not holding anything back.”

Violence

  • Reinhart’s brother, his brother’s lover, and their unborn child die in a fire.
  • One of the ladies ask Avelina to go to the balcony. The lady weakens the balcony railing and Avelina falls. “She flailed out both hands and grabbed the part of the railing still attached to the balcony. . . She clung to the railing with all her strength, her hands gripping the broken railing.” The lady leaves Avelina alone. However, Thornbeck hears screams and saves Avelina.”
  • Avelina and her servant, Irma, leave Thornbeck’s castle during a storm. Once they are away from the castle, “Irma reached out and snatched Avelina’s fur robe off. Then she lifted her leg and kicked Avelina in her side. . . She hit the ground almost before she knew what was happening.” Irma frightens Avelina’s horse, so the horse runs off. Irma leaves Avelina to die.
  • While in the forest, alone, wolves attack Avelina. A wolf “sprang at her, its eyes locked on her neck. She let go of the stick and lifted her arm, crouching at the last moment. The wolf sailed by her shoulder, but its claws raked her forearm as he passed.” Another wolf “sank its teeth into her ankle.”
  • Reinhart hears Avelina’s screams and rushes to help. “He unsheathed his sword and leapt off his horse. The wolf lunged at her throat and Reinhart brought the sword down on its head, knocking it to the ground. . . another wolf caught his sword arm in its teeth. He switched his sword to his left hand and slashed the blade across the wolf’s belly and slung it to the ground.” Both Reinhart and Avelina are injured.
  • A servant, confesses that she killed two lovers and their unborn child because “the duke told me to do it.” Gerhaws says, “I hid in their room, and when they went to sleep, I set their bed curtains on fire.”
  • Gerhaws falls to her death. Her death is not described.
  • While locked in the dungeon, Geitbart mocks Reinhart. “Reinhart lunged at Geitbart. His fist found its mark as it crunched into Geitbart’s nose.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Avelina’s servant, Irma, often appears drunk. One time, Avelina goes to wake up Irma, and “the scent of strong drink assaulted Avelina’s nose.”
  • Reinhart’s brother was drunk the night he died.
  • One of the servants drinks. Someone says, “It is well known that this Gerhaws drinks herself into a stupor in the evenings.” When Avelina sees Gerhaws, the servant “took a small flask out of a pocket in her apron and brought it to her lips.”
  • When Reinhart is in the dungeon, Avelina takes a flask of wine to him.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The older women in Avelina’s community say, “If you dreamed something three times it was bound to come true.”

Spiritual Content

  • Avelina prays to God frequently. The prayers praise God as well as request something from God. For example, when Thornbeck questions Avelina, who is pretending to be Lady Dorothea, Avelina prays, “God in heaven, I am only a maidservant! What am I saying?”
  • Avelina wonders, “What did it matter if one worshipped at a gold altar or a wooden one, so long as one’s heart and mind were focused on God?”
  • During a dinner, Reinhart welcomes the ladies who are present. He says, “I pray you all enjoy yourselves while you are here, and God will show me which worthy lady among you should be my bride.”
  • Reinhart and the women attend church. During service, there is “a brief homily from the priest on the importance of showing kindness as Jesus did. . .”
  • Gerhaws confesses that she killed Reinhart’s brother. Gerhaws says, “I thought if my lord told me to do it, God would not hold me responsible for it. . . The priest told me it was a sin to disobey my lord, so I did it. I killed the margrave.”
  • Avelina believes, “She [is] a human being, created by God to do good works.”
  • While hiding from soldiers with Reinhart, Avelina prays: “I know that You do not always do everything we ask, so I plead with You to save us. Save us precisely because it is impossible, and because You are god.” The prayer goes on for a paragraph.
  • When Reinhart believes he is going to die, he prays: “Dear Jesus and Lord God, forgive my sins and receive my spirit.” He goes on and asks for Avelina’s protection. He says, “She does not deserve to be punished anymore. . . Don’t let her be mistreated. . . by anyone.”

The Golden Braid

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry.

Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim.

The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel, in turn, rescues him further down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position?

As Rapunzel acclimates to a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?

Other than Rapunzel’s name and long hair, the story’s heroine doesn’t have any of the magical elements of the Rapunzel fairytale. While the beauty of Rapunzel’s hair is discussed throughout the entire book, her hair has no real significance. Gothel has made Rapunzel keep her hair covered because it will attract men, and Gothel has also taught Rapunzel to distrust all men. When Rapunzel meets Gerek, a knight, she thinks, “He was also handsome. But her mother had taught her not to regard fairness of face, especially in men. It was a tool they used to manipulate weak-willed women into giving them what they want.”

Predictably, Rapunzel falls in love with Gerek, the first knight that she meets. When Rapunzel admits that she loves Gerek, a friend tells her about a tragic event and then says, “Only God could heal our pain. . . That is when I began to understand that he [her husband] was only a man—a very good man who loved me, but a man nevertheless. He was not God. So I stopped trying to make him the god of my life, expecting him to bring me healing, and started expecting perfect love and satisfaction from God alone.”

Readers who enjoy Christian Fiction will find the many references to God and the Bible heartening. However, the plot has few exciting moments and instead is a gentle love story. While Rapunzel is a sweet and caring protagonist, she is not necessarily unique or memorable. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read romance, The Golden Braid, will take you into the time of Knights and chivalry. If you love fairytale retellings the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston may be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • Rapunzel’s mother always makes her cover her hair. Mother says showing her hair is “indecent… If you go around letting men see your head uncovered, your hair on display, you will see what it will get you. A broken heart and an illegitimate child.”
  • When Mother was young, she fell in love with a man. She explains, “I believed he loved me. But it was all a lie. He got me with child, and then I never saw him again.”
  • A girl suggests that Rapunzel should wear something revealing to attract Gerek’s attention. She says, “He doesn’t have to marry you. If you have his baby and he claims it, you get money out of him, or a nice house, or a position in the church for your child, if it turns out to be a son.”
  • Rapunzel discovers that her mother is “the illegitimate child of Duke Wilhelm’s father.”
  • When Lord Claybrook’s men take over the castle, Rapunzel wonders, “Would Claybrook force Margaretha to say vows and then force himself on her? If he wanted to hurt her, that would be a good way to do it.”
  • While traveling together, Gerek and Rapunzel share a horse. Rapunzel wonders, “His hair was so dark and thick. What would it feel like to touch it? He seemed to be staring at her lips. Was he imagining what it would feel like to kiss her? Because she was.”
  • Gerek wonders what it would feel like to kiss Rapunzel. “What would she do if he put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her lips? Probably slap him.”
  • Gerek professes his love to Rapunzel and then, “He leaned down and hovered, his breath on her temple. Then he pressed his lips to her check.” They kiss several times.

Violence

  • While traveling, two men attack Rapunzel and her mother. “The scarred man clamped his hand over Mother’s face.” Another man “grabbed [Rapunzel’s] face, his fingers biting into her cheek, smothering her screams. . . She had to get free, had to help her mother. She yanked a hand up and slammed her fist into the grinning man’s throat. Next she brought her knee up and struck him between the legs.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek, a knight, comes to Rapunzel and her mother’s rescue. The attackers saw his “drawn sword and they halted. One man turned and ran left, the other right.” Gerek is able to apprehend one of the men. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While traveling with the prisoner, Gerek’s saddle breaks and his horse falls on him. Gerek is trapped and has a broken ankle. “He twisted around to see the prisoner pull Gerek’s long knife out of his saddlebag. . . The prisoner hovered over Gerek with that strange, angry smile. He raised the dagger, aiming for Gerek’s throat. Something flew past, above Gerek’s head. The hilt of a knife was sticking out of the prisoner’s upper arm.” Rapunzel saved Gerek’s life.
  • Rapunzel kills a chicken for dinner. “She held it as far away from her body as possible, then squeezed as hard as she could and slung the chicken’s body around and around by its neck while counting to ten, breaking the neck and strangling it at the same time.” She chops off the chicken’s head and lets the blood flow onto the ground.” The death is described over a page.
  • While walking to the monastery, the man who attacked her on the road follows her. “The man grabbed her hair and jerked so hard, her feet left the ground and she landed on her back. . . He struggled to get something off his hip, then held up a knife—her knife.” Gerek hears Rapunzel’s screams and comes to her rescue. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek’s father killed his wife and then himself. After an argument, Gerek’s father “hit her, then pushed her down the stairs. She was dead, her neck broken, by the time she reached the bottom.”
  • Gerek is afraid that he will be like his father. “He had a terrible temper. When he was angry, he would hit anyone who got in his way. He killed his favorite hunting dog just because the dog let a fox get away. He beat me, he beat the servants, he beat his wife. And I am his son.”
  • Enemy forces take over the castle. Gerek sees “Two of the men drag the guard’s limp body to a nearby shed. They soon emerged. . .”
  • Rapunzel sees two of the enemy guards walking with one of Duke Wilhelm’s guard, who had a bloody face.
  • A man named Balthasar attacks Rapunzel. “He lunged at her and closed his hands around her throat. Rapunzel raised the knife and sliced across both his forearms.” She locks herself in the linen room. Later, Balthasar threatens Rapunzel with a knife. “He lurched toward her, but she threw herself on the ground and closed her hand over the object, which was indeed the other knife. She brought the blade up as she twisted her body around to face him—just as he threw his body on top of her.” Balthasar dies.
  • Gerek attacks the enemies’ guards. “Gerek roared his battle cry and ran at them. He struck the first one with all of his strength, bringing his sword down and knocking the man’s sword to the ground.” Duke Wilhelm’s guards manage to regain control of the castle.
  • When Gerek finds Rapunzel locked in a tower, he tries to free her. “Gothel lunged at him with the long knife blade. Gerek swung his sword. His blade connected with hers and knocked her knife to the ground. . . Then he grabbed Gothel by the arms and pulled her hands behind her back.”
  • After Gerek restrains Gothel, she tells him, “I stabbed Reginald through the heart, and I’ll do the same to you.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After being attacked, Gerek gives Rapunzel some red wine. “She took it, and the sharp scent of the red wine filled her nose. . .The taste lingered on her tongue and wasn’t as pleasant as she thought it would be—it was rather like drinking vinegar.”
  • Duke Wilhelm’s servants put poisonous berries in the wine that is served to Lord Claybrook and his men. They become ill, but no one dies.
  • Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel, gives her a sleeping potion and then ties her to a cart. When Rapunzel tries to escape “pain suddenly crashed through the back of her head as if something hit her. Then everything went black.” Rapunzel wakes up locked in a tower with no door.

Language

  • “Oh, heavenly saints” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Rapunzel often prays to God and thinks about God’s words. For example, when Rapunzel and her mother are attacked, Rapunzel prays, “O Father God, send your angels. Send your archangel with his flaming sword.” When a knight rides up on a horse, Rapunzel thinks he was sent by God.
  • Gerek is left at a monastery. Rapunzel leaves without saying goodbye. A monk tells Gerek, “God will repay her for saving your life.”
  • While recovering from his injuries, Gerek wonders, “Why would God give him a new arm and leg, or even miraculously heal his old ones? They would likely be healed on their own in six weeks. . . Besides, God probably wanted to teach him patience.”
  • A monk asks Gerek to teach Rapunzel to read. Gerek says, “I do not wish to succumb to temptation any more than you do. I have taken a vow of chastity as well, a vow to never know a woman before marriage, and I have promised myself that I will never marry a peasant girl.” Despite his protest, Gerek teaches Rapunzel.
  • Gerek plans to teach Rapunzel to read by using the Bible. She is concerned because “a priest once told me that people who have not said their vows or been consecrated to God should not interpret the Bible for themselves.” Many of the passages that Rapunzel reads appear in the book.
  • Rapunzel memorized the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
  • The Bible teaches Rapunzel that “God was like a loving father. She never had a father, and she’d never thought of God like this. All her life she had heard God described in many terms—holy, almighty, righteous, even vengeful.” Rapunzel contemplates the verse over a page.
  • Gerek is a Christian and he thinks about his “Christian duty. Jesus had given his life for others, and a knight must do the same, and nothing was nobler than saving a young woman.”
  • After Gerek prays, a verse comes into his mind. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight.”
  • After Rapunzel disappears, Gerek attempts to find her. Unsure where to look, Gerek goes to a church to pray. “When Gerek looked up, the crucifix was glowing.” Then he hears God’s voice. “Take the north road toward Thornbeck and listen for my instructions.”

Majesty

Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it leaves you breathless. One young woman is born with it. After centuries of kings on the throne, Queen Beatrice is the most powerful woman America has ever known. So why does it feel like she’s lost so much?

Her sister is born with less power. Heir, spare, whatever. The American people will always think of Princes Samantha as the part princess. So she might as well play the role, right?

Some are pulled into the Washington’s world. Nina Gonzales longs for a normal life—whatever that is. But disentangling herself from Prince Jefferson’s world isn’t as easy as she’d hoped.

And a few will claw their way in. There is only one crown that can be captured in this generation, and Daphne Deighton is determined to have it. She will take down anything—or anyone—that stands in her way.

American Royals continues the drama of the three Washington children. The story is told from multiple points of view including Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Daphne. Each person’s point of view is uniquely different and allows the reader to understand each person’s thoughts, which are often different than their actions. This leads to well-developed characters who are flawed and relatable.

The second and last installment of the American Royals Series focuses more on each character’s love life and less on politics. The story is full of steamy kissing scenes, heated arguments, and the confusion that comes with young love. One character’s story is like Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with a modern twist. Unlike many romance novels, Majesty doesn’t end with a happy-ever-after for everyone. Instead, the book ends by showing the complicated and messy nature of love. The reader is left with this message: “real love comes from facing life together, with all its messes and surprises and joy.”

If you’ve ever wished a prince would steal your heart, American Royals: Majesty should be on your must-read list. The American Royals Series has well-developed characters, a unique premise, and several plot twists. However, if you’re looking for a book with less alcohol and sexual tension, The Selection Series by Kiera Cass would be a tamer choice.

Sexual Content

  • Even though she is engaged to Teddy, Beatrice kisses Connor. After an argument, Connor “grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her. There was nothing gentle or tender in the kiss. Connor’s body was crushed up against hers, his hands grasping hard over her back as if he was terrified she might pull away.”
  • Ethan declares his love to Daphne. Then Ethan “leaned down to kiss her. . . She felt like she’d been on a torturous low simmer for months, and now she was finally alive again.”
  • Nina and Ethan kiss several times. For example, after eating pizza, Nina and Ethan kiss. “Ethan’s touch grew firmer, his hand moving to trace the line of her jaw, her lower lip. The air between them crackled with electricity. . . Nina leaned deeper into the kiss, her grip tightening over his shoulder.” The scene is described over a page.
  • Samantha and Marshall begin a “fake” relationship. While at a party, they end up in the pool. “One of Marshall’s hands had looped beneath her legs, the other braced behind her back. . . Then he brushed his lips lightly over hers. . . Sam kissed him back urgently, feverishly. She had shifted, her legs wrapped around his torso, her bare thighs circling the wet scratchy denim of his jeans.” The scene is described over a page. After this, they kiss several more times.
  • After spending an evening together, Beatrice “pressed her lips to [Teddy’s]. Perhaps out of surprise, his mouth opened beneath hers, letting her tongue brush up against his. . . She tugged impatiently at his shirt, trying to pull it over his head, but Teddy tore himself away.” Teddy stops Beatrice because she has had too much to drink.
  • After Teddy encourages Beatrice, she kisses him. “She turned and pulled his face to hers, dragging her hands through his blond curls, kissing him with everything that was aching and unsettled in her.”
  • Samantha tells Marshall how she feels about him. Then, “Marshall stood up in the moving carriage, bracing his hands on the wall behind Sam, and closed his mouth over hers. Sam arched her back and leaned up into him.”
  • After Teddy and Beatrice proclaim their love for each other, they kiss. “Beatrice tore her mouth from his only to tug his blazer impatiently from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. Teddy fumbled a little with her dress, struggling with its tiny hooks. . . His breath caught when he saw her in nothing but her ivory lace underwear.” The scene is described over 1 ½ pages. The two have sex, but it isn’t described.
  • On Beatrice’s wedding day, her first love, Connor, shows up. Beatrice is startled and, “Connor, seeing her parted lips, leaned in to kiss her. She didn’t resist. . . The sheer Connorness of him overwhelmed her senses. . . Then reality crashed back in and she pulled away, her breathing unsteady.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many, many events where alcohol is served to both adults and minors. For example, on a spring break trip, Nina and her friends drank “cheap beer.”
  • During boat races, alcohol is available. “Long queues had formed behind the scattered bars that sold mint juleps.”
  • At a museum event, alcohol is served. A worker “was pushing a catering cart, and Sam heard the unmistakable clink of jostling wine bottles.” Sam grabs “a bottle of sauvignon blanc from the cart.” Sam and a man she just met take turns drinking straight from the bottle. “The wine had a crisp tartness that settled on the back of her tongue, almost like candy.”
  • In the past, Daphne “had slipped a couple of ground-up sleeping pills into Himari’s drink.” Her friend, Himari, climbed “a staircase in her dazed, disoriented state—only to fall right back down.” The fall put Himari into a coma.
  • At a party hosted by Jefferson, minors drink alcohol including vodka. Jefferson’s old rowing team shows up, already drunk, shouting that they needed him for a “round of shots.”
  • Teddy takes Beatrice home to meet his parents. Beatrice explains why she usually doesn’t drink, “I can’t afford to get drunk and publicly make a fool of myself.” However, she drinks “the grapefruit thing” and gets slightly drunk.
  • The Russian ambassador told Beatrice, “That while beer and wine muffled and muted your emotions, vodka revealed them.”
  • During a historical reenactment, Marshall talks about his ancestor, the king of Orange joining America. Marshall says politicians from the past, “bickered over terms for weeks. Then, when they finally signed a treaty, they got roaring drunk.”
  • During a celebration, Marshall teaches Samantha about a game. If you lose, as a penalty “you get a choice. You can either sweep the steps of your local post office or buy a round of shots at your local bar.”
  • Jefferson and his best friend “got drunk for the first time together, that night we accidentally had all that port and ended up puking our guts out.”

Language

  • Profanity is seldom used. Each word of the following words is used several times: ass, badass, damn, and hell.
  • Beatrice’s secret boyfriend yells, “When you’re making choices about our future, I want a damn vote!”
  • Nina tells her lab partner, “Not to brag, but I kick ass at assignments.”
  • God and Oh my god are used as examinations a couple of times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • one

Written in the Stars

Naila’s fate always seems to be under her parents’ control, especially when it comes to boys. Following Pakistani tradition, Naila’s parents will choose a husband for her when the time comes. Naila, however, did not grow up in Pakistan and the idea of an arranged marriage seems very old fashioned. Besides, she has fallen in love with a boy named Saif—of whom her parents do not approve– so she must keep him a secret. However, after lying to her parents to attend her senior prom, Naila is caught with Saif and her parents ignore her apologies and explanations.

Believing their daughter has gone astray living in America, Naila’s parents take the family to Pakistan for the summer, causing Naila to miss her high school graduation. At first, Naila enjoys spending time with her family, but she still looks forward to starting college in America where she will finally be with Saif and her best friend, Carla. However, Naila soon discovers her parents are planning a much longer trip. Her cousin, Selma, informs Naila that her parents are planning an arranged marriage. To escape this fate, Naila contacts Saif and plans her escape, which is thwarted by her uncle. Afraid their daughter will try to run away again, Naila’s parents force her into a marriage with Amin without Naila’s knowledge or consent. Naila is met with a choice: accept fate and try to find happiness with her new husband or continue to fight for her true love, Saif.

Despite everything she must endure in Pakistan, Naila is a strong character who never gives up on the possibility of love. While multiple aspects of Pakistani culture are represented in the book, the tradition of arranged marriage is especially prominent. The intent of the novel is to demonstrate that while some arranged marriages have been successful, others can trap men and women into loveless marriages that are more harmful than beneficial. Through Naila’s experience, the novel reveals the importance of having a choice, especially when it comes to love and marriage.

The novel, which takes place mostly in Pakistan, gives poignant depictions of Pakistani culture. Urdu words are used throughout to help capture the setting and culture, and a glossary is provided in the back of the book to aid understanding. The novel also includes mature themes of violence, inter-marital rape, and pregnancy.

Naila is an easy character to root for because, despite the situation she is in, Naila stays true to herself and her beliefs. In addition, Naila discovers that honesty, no matter how hard it can be, is always best. Naila’s conflict is relatable because she wants what anyone else would want—the freedom to have a choice. Although the limitations of her situation sometimes slow the pace of the novel, the tension consistently builds as readers anxiously wait for Naila to be freed and reunited with Saif. If you’re interested in how women are treated in the Middle East, add A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • Amin, Naila’s husband, forces her to have sex with him. In an attempt to stop him, Naila tries “to sit up, to reach for the light on the nightstand, but his hands press against my shoulders, pushing me down. I twist my body, trying to wrench free, but I can’t move.” Amin continues to force himself onto Naila. He whispers to Naila to forgive him and “suddenly, I [Naila] scream. Pain envelops me. The world is white, illuminated with pain.” This is all that is described.
  • Naila discovers she is pregnant with Amin’s child. “I tried denying it, I made excuses for my growing fatigue, my delayed period. But when the first wave of nausea overtook me shortly after, I could deny it no more. I’m pregnant.” Later, Naila explains that she lost her baby.
  • When they are reunited in Pakistan, Saif and Naila share a passionate kiss. “Suddenly, he leans down; his lips press against mine. Pull away. But no part of me knows how. . . I run my fingers through his hair, trace the outline of his face—And then I kiss him back.”

Violence

  • When Naila tries to run away, she is caught by her uncle. Her uncle gets on the bus and Naila is “yanked from [her] seat, dragged down the aisle, down the rough metal steps.” To defend herself, Naila tries to “kick, twist [her] wrists to pry [her]self away from him. I bite his arm. He does not let go.”
  • Furious with his daughter for trying to run away, Naila’s father slaps her across the face. She describes the “metallic taste of blood in [her] mouth.”
  • After Amin’s mother, Nasim, discovers Naila is still in love with Saif, she attacks Naila. “Nasim seems possessed by a demon. I try covering myself from Nasim’s feet—she kicks me with each curse.”
  • When Saif arrives to defend Naila, “Amin shoves Saif to the ground.” Amin punches Saif until Saif’s uncle arrives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Naila’s uncle forces water down her throat and “almost instantly, I [Naila] feel hazy. The drink. He’s drugging me, I realize.” Naila is drugged and her parents force her to sign the marriage papers.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In Pakistan, Naila hears a “melodic sound” she recognizes to be “the call to prayer.”

by Elena Brown

Super Fake Love Song

Sunny Dae is a third generation Korean-American and a 17-year-old high school student in Ruby Rancho, one of the richest areas in Southern California—a town that in which a majority of people are white. He calls himself a “super-huge mega-nerd” and a loser. His friends are Milo, a Guatemalan-American boy, and Jamal, a Jamaican-American boy. Together, they form the group DIY Fantasy FX where they create cheap, safe, and cool practical gadgets for all the LARPing (Live Action Roleplay) nerds out there.

Sunny, Milo, and Jamal love D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and, for the most part, they spend their time making props. Sunny’s room is filled with boxes of props he’s made for DIY Fantasy FX while his brother Gray’s room is filled with guitars, amps, chords, and clothes that are opposite of Sunny’s. Gray hasn’t been home in years since he went off to Hollywood to in hopes of being a rock musician.

A new family in Ruby Rancho arrives and as fate would have it, the parents of said family are friends with Sunny’s parents. Through this connection with family friends, Sunny meets Cirrus Soh. When they first meet, Cirrus mistakes Gray’s room for Sunny’s and assumes that Sunny is a musician. Sunny, who finds Cirrus very pretty and develops a crush on her quickly, decides to play the role of a rock musician to impress Cirrus. He eventually ropes Jamal and Milo into joining him with the ruse, pretending they are a band known as The Immortals. To truly convince Cirrus they are a band, they sign up for the school’s annual talent show to perform one of Gray’s songs. Sunny’s new persona is getting him places with Cirrus, but then Gray comes home and shakes the balance Sunny had created. As Sunny attempts to navigate his relationships, he also struggles to truly understand who he is and wonders if he can ever truly be himself around Cirrus.

Super Fake Love Song is a high school romance told from the perspective of Sunny Dae, who is unapologetically a nerd. The story follows Sunny’s emotions, allowing the readers to feel his sense of division with his identity as he tries to understand himself. The complex relationships Sunny has with his friends, and especially his brother Gray, shape the entire story. Sunny is only able to pretend he is in a band because of Milo and Jamal. He does so convincingly because Gray takes Sunny under his wing. Oftentimes, Sunny reminisces about the better days with him and Gray, such as when they were younger and went on dungeon adventures or stole the spoons from the country club they visited. Then, Sunny returns to the bleak reality that he and Gray are just no longer close. These memories allow the readers to feel just how far apart Sunny and Gray have drifted while also showcasing a natural sibling relationship that’s both turbulent and loving.

Sunny is a nerd who tends to talk about events as though they were a D&D campaign. For readers who are just being introduced to D&D, the specific references to the game may be confusing. Sunny is unique in that he understands things in D&D terms, which is his way of figuring out problems and how he accomplishes building his rock star persona. For example, Sunny understands that performing on stage is just like LARPing which helps him bridge the gap between Rock Star Sunny and Nerdy Sunny. He attributes different kinds of musical performers to the different classes of characters in D&D. To research being cool, Sunny decides to watch videos of rock stars. “As I watched, I became convinced of my hypothesis that music performance was a form of LARPing in itself. Rock performers, after all, hoisted their guitars like heavy axes; their screamsong was a kind of battle cry. Rappers swayed their arms and cast elaborate spells with cryptic finger gestures and fast rhymes. Pop stars danced love dramas, superstar DJs commanded their hordes via mass hypnosis, country crooners sold a pastiche of folklore simplicity long vanished.”

Super Fake Love Song is reaching out to a certain audience: teenagers that play and understand D&D. D&D references are sprinkled throughout the book and show that anyone can participate in D&D. In addition, teens will relate to Sunny’s struggle to understand himself.  The story subverts a traditional romance novel, ending with its own nerdy twist. However, some plot points are wrapped up too quickly and need to be fleshed out. Super Fake Love Song is a book for readers who want a love story and who also love D&D or want to be introduced to it without needing to campaign.

Sexual Content

  • Sunny and Cirrus kiss several times throughout the novel.
  • Cirrus tells Sunny that one of the hottest things a girl can imagine is a guy singing rock and roll to them.
  • At Cirrus’s housewarming party, Sunny takes Cirrus upstairs to her bedroom where they make out. The scene lasts for two pages.
  • Cirrus invites Sunny to a panopticon live. In the virtual world, he and Cirrus become sylphs and kiss using their avatars. “We kiss in that awkward way avatars do: the polygons of our faces glancing off each other, never really touching.”
  • Sunny goes over to Cirrus’s condo where “Cirrus kissed me at her front door.”
  • Cirrus and Sunny have a picnic where they cuddle with each other and kiss.
  • On the way back home, Cirrus and Sunny kiss again. This time, they also confess to each other that they love each other. The kiss is not described.
  • At Fantastic Faire, Sunny and Cirrus reunite after months of missing each other. They “kissed, and the beautiful nerds around us laughed and cheered.”

 Violence

  • Gunner bullies Sunny and his friends. “Gunner would invade my table at lunch to steal chips to feed his illiterate golem of a sidekick and tip our drink bottles and so on, like he had routinely done since the middle school era.”
  • Sunny imagines testing a prop he made on Gunner. “The wires streaked across the stone chamber in a brilliant flash and wrapped Gunner’s steel helm before he could even begin a backswing of his bastard sword. The rest of my party cowered in awe as a nest of lightning enveloped Gunner’s armed torso, turning him into a marionette gone made with jittering death spasms, with absolutely no hope for a saving throw against this: a +9 magical bonus attack.”
  • Gray catches Sunny sitting in his old room with his guitars and friends and doesn’t fall for the ruse of them being a band. Sunny is very frustrated with his brother’s snide behavior. He imagines himself using an FX prop he made against Gray. “I wished I could stun him with Raiden’s Spark for real from one hand, and then cast Esmeralda’s Veil with the other so that I could abscond with the iPod while he choked on clouds of sulfur―no constitution-saving throw, automatic lose-a-turn.”
  • Gunner has bullied Sunny ever since Sunny moved in middle school. Gunner apologizes for being a bully and Sunny thinks about how he “had always fantasized about propelling Gunner with a seventeenth-level Push spell into a fathomless crevice full of lava.”
  • Sunny is practicing how to shred on a guitar and he compares the experience to a D&D campaign experience. “And when I was done, I flung the neck aside like I had just sliced open a charging orc.”
  • Sunny’s anger boils over when his brother hijacks his performance. Sunny pushes Gray into oncoming traffic. “When I shoved him this time, Gray was unprepared. Gray tripped over a pipe jutting from the concrete; He hit the ground backward. . . He found his feet, looked right, and held up a polite hand as tires shrieked. Then he was taken down.” Gray ends up being injured and taken to the hospital. He doesn’t die.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When imagining himself as a rock star performing for the first time, Sunny describes the air as “stinking of smoke and sour spilled beer of the ages.”
  • While hosting a housewarming party, Cirrus says that there’s a variety of alcohol to drink such as “chevre, manchego, membrillo for said manchego, mild ojingeo, spicy ojingeo, stuff from my parents’ liquor stash like Aperol and Richard and makgeolli and like six bottles of clara in the fridge if you’re not into makgeolli, which I get, makgeolli’s definitely an acquired taste, ha!”
  • At the talent show, Sunny sees Gray “standing in the underlit glow of the stage wings, he held onto a truss and raised his beer in a swaying toast at me.” Because he is drunk, Gray ends up hijacking Jamal’s mic and ruining Sunny’s performance.

 Language

  • Both Sunny and his friend Milo call Gunner, “Asswipe.”
  • Jamal says that Gray is “kind of a dick.”
  • After learning someone keyed his car, Sunny’s dad goes into a cursing fit. He yells, “What kind of GD MF-ing A-hole SOB would pull this kind of BS on me?”
  • In a text message thread, Jamal says, “So Gray’s gone from garden variety dick to full on douchetube.”
  • Gray has been treating Sunny very poorly which frustrates Sunny. He says, “Why did Gray have to be what he was―the lord of all douchetubes?”
  • Gray mentors his brother and his friends on how to be a band. He describes a certain face to make saying, “Just grit your teeth like this and mouth a bunch of angry stuff like, You ugly guitar with your dumbass frets and your dumbass strings.”
  • Gray confesses to his family that when they moved to Ruby Rancho, someone asked him “if he ate dog.” Sunny also says that happened to him. Asking an Asian person, especially an East or Southeast Asian person, if they eat dogs is a racial microaggression.

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Frosted Kisses

Former Manhattan girl, Penny, has quickly discovered that life in a small town is never dull. Not when there’s a festival for every occasion, a Queen Bee to deal with, an animal shelter to save, and a cute boy to crush on.

But Hog’s Hallow just got another new girl: Esmeralda. She’s beautiful, French, and just happens to be Charity’s (the Queen Bee’s) best friend. Penny figures with the arrival of Esmeralda, the Queen Bee might be too busy to keep making her life miserable. Penny couldn’t be more wrong.

But Penny doesn’t have a lot of time to worry about Charity. Her best friend, Tally, has recruited her to help save the local animal shelter, which is in danger of closing unless they can raise some desperately needed funds.

Then there’s Marcus, the adorable and mysterious boy that Penny thinks might likes her as much as she likes him. But while things with Marcus are wonderful and fluttery, they are also confusing at the same time. Can Penny and her friends save the animal shelter, navigate her new family dynamics, and get the boy—or will Charity and Esmeralda find a way to ruin everything?

While The Cupcake Queen was a cute romance that would appeal to middle school readers, the second book Frosted Kisses falls flat. Much of the story follows the exact same format as the first book and none of the characters are given any more depth. In addition, there are too many topics—divorce, jealousy, bullying, and parental problems. None of these topics are fully explored. Instead, the story jumps from topic to topic and leaves the reader with too many questions.

In The Cupcake Queen, Penny’s insecurity was understandable because she had just moved to a new town and her parents had recently separated. However, in the second installment of the story, she is still insecure, this time focusing her insecurities on Marcus. Penny’s jealousy and inability to talk to Marcus are frustrating. In addition, the fact that Marcus and Penny do not talk or spend any time together at school is unrealistic.

Frosted Kisses is a holiday-themed romance that doesn’t add any sparkle to the season. Instead, Hepler writes a stagnant story that relies on a typical mean-girl, love-triangle format. There is nothing exciting or wonderful to keep the story interesting. While readers will enjoy the first installment in the series, Frosted Kisses will leave readers disappointed. If you’re looking for a holiday-themed story to read while snuggling up by the fire, the Celebrate the Season Series would make an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • Penny wonders if Marcus is going to kiss her, but they are interrupted before anything happens. Penny thinks, “As much as I think I would want Marcus to kiss me, part of me isn’t sure I’m ready. Because there’s this tiny part of me that likes looking forward to it.”
  • Someone tells Penny that Marcus and Charity kissed “a few times last summer.” Penny gets upset and all she “can think of is him kissing her. And I know it was before I knew him and it shouldn’t bother me, but it does.”
  • Penny’s grandmother tells her a story about Dutch, who she dated in the past. When the two rekindle their romance, Penny’s grandmother kisses him several times.
  • At a festival, Marcus “bends and brushes his lips against mine [Penny’s]. And everything falls away.”
  • After Marcus walks Penny home, she kisses him. “I have to stand on my tiptoes to reach. It’s fast and I might have actually missed his mouth a tiny bit, but it was a kiss.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times a mean girl calls Penny, “Penny Lame.” The same girl also refers to Penny as a loser.
  • At one point Penny says, “I’m an idiot.”
  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Marcus tells Penny he is going to be tutored, she prays, “Please not Charity. Please not Charity.”

American Royals #1

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washington’s have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life begins to feel stifling. For Princess Samantha, nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

While American Royals follows the lives of the three Washington children, the story is told from multiple characters including Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Daphne. Beatrice struggles with the pressure of becoming the future queen. Because Samantha is the “spare,” she feels that no one cares about her, so she has turned into a wild party girl. Nina is Samantha’s best friend, and for a brief time, she dates the prince, Jefferson. While Nina deeply cares about Samantha and Jefferson, she struggles with the media storm that follows her. And then there is Daphne; she wants a crown and is willing to do anything to get it. The four distinct points of view allow the reader to understand the nuances of each character. This allows for rich world-building full of suspense, passion, and surprises.

Even though the story focuses on the monarchy, politics is not a major storyline. However, Beatrice and her father do talk about politics; for example, the King believes that “opposition is critical to government, like oxygen to fire.” These discussions will give readers some political questions to ponder. Plus, these discussions allow the reader to understand how Beatrice is forced to always put the crown before her personal desires.

The dynamics between the Washington family and their friends create an interesting story full of unique characters that draw the reader in. The narration includes some of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, which gives the story depth. While there is a clear villain, some of the suspense comes from not knowing everyone’s motivation. However, in a break from believability, most of the characters do not act like typical young adults. Despite this, many readers will relate to the characters’ fight against social and parental expectations. In the end, American Royals uses American’s fascination with royalty to spin a terrific tale that sheds light on the difficulties of being a prince or princess. However, if you’re looking for a book full of intrigue without the steamy kissing scenes, the Embassy Row Series by Ally Carter is sure to entertain you.

Sexual Content

  • Jefferson’s girlfriend finds him “in bed with another girl.”
  • At the Queen’s Ball, Samantha meets Teddy. She takes him into a coat closet and tells him, “I outrank you, and as your princess, I command that you kiss me.” After a brief conversation, Samantha “grabbed a fistful of his shirt and yanked him forward. Teddy’s mouth was warm on hers. He kissed her back eagerly, almost hungrily.”
  • Daphne, Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend, curtsied. “They both knew there was no reason to greet him like this, except to give him a good view down the front of her dress.”
  • At a graduation party, Jefferson and Nina go to his bedroom and make out. “Nina fell back onto the bed, pulling Jeff down next to her. . .his hand slipped under the strap of her dress, and it forced Nina brutally to her senses.” Nina stops Jefferson before they have sex.
  • Jefferson and Nina kiss four times. After the Queen’s ball, Jefferson kisses Nina. “She felt a sizzle of shock as the kiss ricocheted through her body. This is what she’d been chasing when she’d kissed those boys at school . . . This is how a kiss should feel—electric and pulsing and smokey all at once. . .”
  • Even though Beatrice is dating Teddy, she kisses her guard, Connor, and “the utter rightness of that kiss struck her, deep in her core.” They kiss five times.
  • During a skiing trip, Jefferson kisses Nina. “Nina went still, her eyes fluttering shut. Jeff’s lips were freezing, but his tongue was hot. The twin sensations and the fire sent shivers of longing through her body.” The kiss is described over two paragraphs.
  • Beatrice and Connor get stuck in a snow storm and have to share a room. While there, Connor kisses Beatrice. “He kissed her slowly, with a hushed sense of wonder that bordered on awe.”
  • Teddy is dating Samantha’s sister, Beatrice. Despite this, he kisses Samantha. “The kiss was gentle and soft, nothing like their fevered kisses in the cloakroom that night. . . Sam lifted her hands to splay them over the planes of Teddy’s chest, then draped them over his shoulders.” They kiss several more times after this incident.
  • Daphne wants to get back together with Jefferson. When they meet at a party, she tells him, “This time we don’t have to wait. For anything.” Before, Daphne told Jefferson that she wanted to wait to have sex, but now she’s hoping sex will help her get Jefferson back.
  • Teddy kisses Beatrice “with a quiet reverence. . . Beatrice had sensed that this was coming, and tried not to think about it too closely—not think anything at all. But it took every ounce of her willpower not to recoil from the feel of Teddy’s lips on hers. Just this morning she had been tangled in bed with Connor, their kisses so electrified that they sizzled all way down each of her nerve endings, while this kiss felt as empty as a scrap of blank paper.”
  • Even though Daphne was dating Jefferson, she has sex with Jefferson’s best friend, Ethan. “Suddenly they were tumbling onto the bed together, a tangle of hands and lips and heat. She yanked her dress impatiently over her head. . .She felt fluid, electrified, gloriously irresponsible.” The description stops here.
  • At Beatrice and Teddy’s engagement party, Beatrice kisses Connor. “His mouth on hers was searing hot. . . It felt like she’d been living in an oxygen-starved world and now could finally breathe—as if raw fire raced through her veins, and if she and Connor weren’t careful, they might burn down the world with it.”
  • At Beatrice’s engagement party, Daphne gets a ride with Ethan. Ethan kisses her and “the kiss snapped down her body like a drug, coursing wildly along her nerve endings. Daphne pulled him closer . . . Somehow, she moved to sit atop him, straddling his lap. They both fumbled in the dark, shoving aside the frothy mountain of her skirts.” The make-out scene is described over three paragraphs; the sex is not described.

Violence

  • During a knighting ceremony, Jefferson’s friend remembers “when Jefferson had drunkenly decided to knight people using one of the antique swords on the wall. He’d ended up nicking their friend Rohan’s ear. Rohan laughed about the whole thing, but you could still see the scar.”
  • Jefferson and Samantha have a graduation party at the palace. The guests “all had a lot to drink; the party’s signature cocktail was some fruity mixed thing.” During the party, a girl “tumbled down the palace’s back staircase.” The girl is in a coma after her fall.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many, many events where alcohol is served to both adults and minors. For example, during the Queen’s Ball alcohol is served, including champagne. Even though Samantha is a minor the bartender gives her “a pair of frosted beer bottles.”
  • Samantha thinks about the difference between Jefferson and herself. “If pictures surfaced of Jeff visibly drunk and stumbling out of a bar, he was blowing off some much-needed steam. Samantha was a wild party girl.”
  • While at a museum, Beatrice looks at Picasso’s paintings. She said, “They always make me feel a little drunk.” Her guard says, “Well, really it’s to make you feel like you’re high on acid. But drunk is close enough.”
  • During the World Series, one of Jefferson’s friends became drunk and “bartered away his shoes for a hot dog.”
  • After a play, Samantha was served “two glasses of wine and a whiskey sour” even though she is only eighteen.
  • At a New Year’s party, Samantha and Daphne get drunk. “For the first time in her life, Daphne was drunk in public. After she and Samantha took that first round of shots, Daphne had insisted on switching to champagne. . . She’d never known how utterly liberating it was, to drink until the edges of reality felt liquid and blurred.”
  • Nina goes to a frat party. “Despite the chilly weather, a few of the houses had kegs and music on their front lawns. . .” When Nina goes inside, she sees, “clusters of students gathered around a plastic table, lining up their cups of beer for a drinking game.”
  • The King’s sister only goes to royal engagements when she’s drunk.
  • At a party, Daphne drinks tequila. She kept hoping that if she drank enough, she might temporarily forget that her hard-won, high-profile relationship was unraveling at the seams. So far it hadn’t worked.
  • Sam tells Teddy about some of her ancestors. King Hardecanute “died of drunkenness at a wedding feast . . . He literally drank himself to death!”
  • At his sister’s engagement party, Jefferson “sat on a gleaming barstool, his body slumped forward, his elbow propped on the bar. An expensive bottle of scotch sat before him . . . He was drinking straight from the bottle.”
  • After Beatrice’s engagement party, her father and she have bourbon. Beatrice takes a glass because it was “liquid courage.”
  • At a graduation party, Daphne puts “ground up sleeping pills” into a girl’s wine. The girl was “visibly drunker, her words louder and more pointed, and then a few minutes later she retreated to a sitting room.”

Language

  • Hell is used occasionally. Damn is used once.
  • God and oh god are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • If Samantha talked back to the paparazzi, she “was a ruthless bitch.”
  • After a picture of Jefferson and Nina kissing appears, people begin attacking Nina. One person posts, “get rid of that skanky commoner.” She is also called a “fame whore” and “a social climber.”
  • Daphne calls Nina a “gold-digging fame whore.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The American Constitution says that “the king is charged by God to administer this Nation’s government.”
  • When Beatrice and Connor get stuck in the snow, she prays “that she could stay here forever, outside time itself.”
  • The King tells Beatrice, “I wish I had someone I could turn to for guidance. But all I can do is pray.”
  • While the king is in the hospital, his mother has “her rosary clicking in her hands as she mouthed her litany of prayers.”
  • When the king dies, “All the prayers that Beatrice had memorized as a child came rushing back, their words filling her throat. She kept reciting them, because it gave her something to occupy her brain, a weapon to wield against her overwhelming guilt. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

The Sun is Also a Star

Natasha Kingsley, a lover of science, believes in facts and evidence. According to Natasha, nothing lasts forever. There is no “meant to be,” and there is no such thing as love.

Daniel Jae Ho Bae, a poet, believes in love and destiny. He trusts that the specific amount of circumstances required to bring two strangers together has meaning, even if it can’t be scientifically explained. On his way to a Yale interview, Daniel sees a beautiful girl with large pink headphones walk into a record store. Obeying what he believes are signs from the Universe, Daniel follows her and finds his world colliding with Natasha’s.

Compelled by the inexplicable feeling that they are meant to be, Daniel postpones his interview in order to prove that love is real by making Natasha fall in love with him in one day. Natasha reluctantly agrees to this plan. However, Natasha is almost certain they are not meant to be a couple because it is likely her last day in America. Natasha and her family, who are Jamaican immigrants, have been asked to leave the country and return to Jamaica following her father’s DUI.

Despite the impending threat to her life in America and her aversion to love, Natasha finds herself falling for Daniel. Eventually, the secret of Natasha’s deportation is revealed and the two vow to make the most of their time together by condensing a whole relationship into one day. Despite their respective responsibilities for the day, they always find their way back to one another, proving their destiny is to be in each other’s lives.

However, in the end, Natasha cannot change her fate and must return to Jamaica with her family, while Daniel remains in America to pursue his dreams of becoming a poet. Due to the distance, Natasha and Daniel grow apart. But chance brings them together years later, making the readers wonder if they are meant to be after all.

The novel mainly switches between Daniel and Natasha’s perspectives, with brief interruptions to feature the perspective of supporting characters or to explain scientific concepts relevant to the story. Other chapters also provide historical context for relationships between racial groups in America. For example, the historical connection between Korean immigrants and the black-hair care industry.

The novel also depicts the experiences of young first and second-generation immigrants. Although Daniel was born in America, his parents view American culture as a threat to their Korean values. On the other hand, Natasha was not born in the United States but still views America as her home. Despite the history of racial tension between their cultures, Daniel and Natasha bond over their shared identity as Americans.

Overall, The Sun is Also a Star is an irresistible love story that explores the connection between art and science. Through beautiful metaphors and complex characters, Nicola Yoon exposes the poetic nature of science, which ultimately brings people together.

 Sexual Content

  • Natasha finds herself attracted to Daniel and assumes his “sexy ponytail may be addling my [Natasha’s] brain.”
  • The science behind love and attraction is explained. “Oxytocin is released during orgasm and makes you feel closer to the person you’ve had sex with.”
  • When Natasha says, “I like it big” in reference to her hair, Daniel’s brother makes a crude joke that she “better get a different boyfriend.”
  • Daniel gets a glimpse of Natasha’s thighs when her dress shifts. “They have little crease marks from the couch. I want to wrap my hand around them and smooth the marks with my thumb.”
  • Daniel and Natasha start kissing in the norebang, a Korean karaoke place. “We start out chaste, just lips touching, tasting, but soon we can’t get enough…She’s making little moaning sounds that make me want to kiss her even more.” Daniel and Natasha move to the couch and continue to kiss passionately. Eventually, they stop; there is no sex or nudity.
  • Daniel stares at Natasha “because I’m picturing her in a candy striper outfit and then picturing her out of it.”

Violence

  • Daniel and his brother, Charlie, get into a fight over Charlie’s racist and sexist comments regarding Natasha. Daniel’s “fist catches him [Charlie] around the eye socket area, so my knuckles hit mostly bone.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Natasha’s father gets a DUI.

Language

  • Ass/asshole is used numerous times by Daniel. For example, Daniel calls his brother an “overachieving asshole.”
  • Pissed is used three times. For example, Daniel states his brother “was so pissed that his voice cracked a little.”
  • Shit is used repeatedly.
  • Daniel explains his brother’s anger after his mother’s disapproval of him. Daniel’s mom “could’ve called him an epic douche bag, an animatronic dick complete with ball sac, and it would’ve been better than telling me not to be like him.”
  • Goddamn is used five times. For example, Daniel’s parents believe America has made him soft and Daniel thinks, “If I had a brain cell for every time I heard this, I’d be a goddamn genius.”
  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes fuck, dick, shit, ass, pissed, damn, bastard, and douche-bag. For example, a passenger on Daniel’s train tells the conductor to “shut the fuck up and drive the train.” Also, after a fight, Daniel explains his lip “split open on the outside because the bastard [Charlie] hit me while wearing some giant-ass secret society ring.”

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • Charlie hears a hurtful comment from his mother “because of God or Fate or Sheer Rotten Luck.”
  • Natasha’s father believes their deportation is part of God’s plan, but Natasha thinks “he shouldn’t leave everything up to God.”
  • On the train, Daniel hears the conductor give his testimony. “God HIMself came down from HEAven and he saved me.”
  • Daniel believes when people are born, “they (God or little aliens or whoever) should send you into the world with a bunch of free passes.”
  • Natasha’s father is sure “God wouldn’t have gifted him with all this talent with no place to display it.”
  • While entering the subway, Daniel decides to “say a prayer to the subway gods (yes, multiple gods).”
  • Daniel explains if he could invite anyone for dinner, it would be God.

by Elena Brown

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