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

Take Me Home Tonight

Kat and Stevie have been best friends since they met in their high school’s theater department. Both are passionate about performing, and the two become as close as sisters (something that they love to hear). Kat hatches a plan to sneak out of their small town and go to New York. Kat plans to surprise Stevie by getting tickets for a play put on by her theatre teacher. As the two sneak into the city, they create a contingency plan; if they are separated they will meet at Grand Central Station at 11:11. But once they arrive in the city, things go horribly wrong.

Stevie runs into her stepsister, Mallory, who asks her to stop by her apartment and drop off a wallet. Once inside, Stevie and Kat meet Mallory’s Pomeranian and promptly get locked out of the apartment with no money and a dog in tow. Kat is content to roll with the punches, desperate to impress her teacher. Stevie, however, would rather just go home. The two fight and separate; Stevie goes to find Mallory’s spare keys while Kat goes to her teacher’s play. As Stevie embarks on a wild goose chase for Mallory’s keys, hitting various NYC landmarks along the way, Kat traverses the city with Cary, a boy she meets. She accompanies him through his various jobs, flirting and having fun. Kat then goes to see the play, which is astonishingly bad. Both friends are furious with each other, believing themselves to have been abandoned by the other. But Stevie and Kat still meet up at 11:11 and eventually recognize how much they need and rely on each other.

Take Me Home Tonight is a fast-paced, engaging novel that allows the reader to come along for a night-out-gone-horribly-astray. Told from both Stevie and Kat’s point of view, as well as another character called Teri, the reader is able to get to know these characters well. Although they have their flaws, both girls are generally likable and relatable to high school girls. Through their separation, Kat and Stevie learn that they will always find their way back to each other. “Not because we couldn’t be apart—the night we’d had proved that we could. But because we wanted to be together, which somehow made it that much better.”

The story contains a subplot surrounding Teri, one of Stevie and Kat’s friends who is kidnapped by a member of the Albanian mafia on the run with stolen goods. However, this subplot feels out of place in the novel, and—although resolved—feels rushed.

While at first glance, the story seems to be singularly focused on Stevie and Kat’s relationship, Take Me Home Tonight is a novel about relationships of all kinds—friendships, romantic relationships, parental relationships—and most importantly—your relationship with yourself. These elements form an entertaining story full of characters that seem familiar and real.

Through Stevie’s and Kat’s experiences, the story emphasizes the importance of understanding others, focusing less on yourself, and knowing that what is best for you may not be what is best for others. Although the plot can seem confusing or disconnected at times, Take Me Home Tonight is an intriguing novel with a multitude of complex, intertwining stories.

Sexual Content

  • Kat describes when she and Stevie lost their virginities. Kat says, ”The first time I slept with anyone, I drove to Stevie’s afterward, even though it was past midnight, and we stayed up for hours in her kitchen, eating whatever we could find in the fridge and talking about every detail. But the first time Stevie and Beckett slept together, she didn’t even tell me for three days, and even then, she didn’t want to go over every moment like I had.”
  • Kat kisses Cary after they spend the day together in New York. “I gathered all my courage, and stepped forward, and kissed him.”
  • When at a play, months after they initially meet and have begun dating, Cary kisses Kat. “Cary . . . [gave] me a quick kiss.”

Violence

  • Stevie is mugged by a man holding a fake knife.
  • Teri is kidnapped by a member of the Albanian mafia posing as a CIA agent while she is babysitting. The man, Dimitri, threatens her with a tire iron to get into the car. “The guy sighed and set down the tire iron. Teri started to breathe a little easier, but then he reached behind him and pulled a gun out of his waistband.”
  • When stopping at a murder mystery party, Kat sees “a group of people, all dressed up, standing around in little clusters with drinks, and what appeared to be a dead body on the floor, lying in a pool of blood.”
  • Teri escapes Dimitri and finds the CIA agent Dimitri was impersonating. But Dimitri finds them and shoots the CIA agent. “And then, a second later, to see Dimitri shoot him, right in the chest.” The CIA agent is wearing a bulletproof vest (revealed later) and survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Kat mentions, “I’d been taking prenatal vitamins for years in an attempt to get my hair to grow thicker.”
  • While describing the school’s campus, Kat says, “We pushed open the door and walked outside, heading across campus, past the faculty parking lot and the dumpsters people were always vaping behind.”
  • While at dinner, Stevie’s ex-boyfriend, Beckett, (who is 17) is served an alcoholic drink by mistake.

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes fuck, shit, hell, and asshole.

Supernatural

  • Stevie talks about premonitions that she has, stating, “Every now and then, I would get a feeling about something. It wasn’t even anything close to psychic powers—which I wasn’t entirely certain I believed in, despite the fact that I’d watched a lot of Little Medium marathons with Teri and Kat.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

 

 

 

American Panda

Mei Lu is a 17-year old freshman at MIT and a first-generation Taiwanese-American. She skipped fourth grade because of her parents’ master plan for her: Go to a prestigious school. Get into med school and become a doctor. Marry a parent-approved Taiwanese man. Have children with said man, and be the obedient, submissive wife she was always meant to be. Mei, however, has a secret. Well, multiple secrets: She can’t stand germs. She’s falling asleep during her biology lectures. She loves dance, and she develops a crush on a Japanese peer named Darren Takahashi. Because her mother tends to be overbearing and her father is stuck to the traditional Chinese customs, Mei feels suffocated. She doesn’t know how to cope with her parents and the traditions that keep her chained down.

Despite her challenges, Mei decides to take a leap of faith and teach dance classes. Plus, she gets into a relationship with Darren, and reunites with her estranged brother Xing, who was disowned because he dated a woman his parents did not approve of. Mei begins a web of lies to keep up the facade of medical school, but ultimately she learns that there is no one way to be an Asian-American. She defies her parents’ expectations and strays from their planned path. Mei also brings her mother along in the journey, helping her learn to break free from the traditions that bind both of them.

American Panda is written from the perspective of Mei, who takes the readers through the ups and downs of being a freshman college student. Every chapter ends with a voice mail, usually from Mei’s mother, or a text message thread with Darren, which allows the reader to hear Mei’s inner monologue and listen to her thoughts on being a doctor, her distaste for germs, and her crush on Darren. This allows the reader to feel more empathy for her when her parents eventually disown her. The story unlocks a new perspective through Mei and teaches about Chinese culture. For example, a Chinese tradition is to eat with the family and order large dishes for the family to share. “We ordered so much another table had to be dragged over. After dishing food to Nǎinai, Yilong stacked her plate five layers high. A few bāos and pork balls tumbled off and she hurried to scoop them back on top.”

American Panda also exposes the American audience to the Chinese-American experience, such as Mei knowing specific proverbs and words in Chinese. Mei does not speak Chinese fluently but some objects come to her in Chinese. For insance, instead of calling her mom her mother, she calls her mǔqīn. The dialect is also very specific, as the author states she based it on her family’s own dialect. Mei calls her paternal grandparents Nǎinai (grandma) and Yéye (grandpa), her mother is called mǔqīn. The book even features Mei creating her own Chinglish (Chinese and English) words, something many Chinese-Americans may have done in their youth. “For the first eight years of my life, I was not Mei, only bǎobèi to my father, his treasure. And for those same years, he was my bábǐ, the Chinglish word I made up for ‘daddy.’”

American Panda tackles the challenge of keeping traditions alive while also attempting to follow your dreams and passions. Mei struggles to appease both herself, a first-gen Taiwanese-American, and her parents, who are both immigrants. American Panda gives Mei the space to explore her creativity and love for the arts, and to break away from the harmful Model Minority Myth that often stereotypes Asians into being emotionless, backwards thinking, and only into STEM. The story shows a diverse cast of Asian characters. Darren, for example, is in STEM but expresses a desire to go into research or academia. Ying-Na, the cautionary tale of Mei’s local Chinese community, becomes a comedian. Nicolette, her roommate, is sexually active and confident in her sexuality but isn’t submissive like the Lotus Flower stereotype.

While American Panda allows for diversity within the Asian culture, it does not accurately capture the Chinese-American experience. It leaves out the reality of being in a country that has a history of anti-Asian racism and also focuses solely on East Asians. Despite this, the story validates Mei’s feelings of suffocation by her culture and ultimately gives her an ending where she can meet in the middle while getting everything she wants. Readers who want a cute love story, a story about college antics, and/or want to learn more about the Chinese-American experience should read American Panda.

Sexual Content

  • Reproductive health is mentioned many times, such as Mei’s sister-in-law suffering from endometriosis, Mei’s bully getting chlamydia, and Mei getting herpes from her unwashed jeans. One of the characters, Dr. Tina Chang, is also a gynecologist and Mei shadows her. There is also a large emphasis on women’s reproductive health due to Chinese traditions emphasizing on bearing a son to pass on the family name.
  • Mei refers to Darren as being yummy because he’s attractive. “Being at MIT Medical post-rash-investigation was the one situation in which I didn’t want to see the spiky outline I was constantly searching for. . . so of course there he was, in all his six-foot-something glory. And when I say glory, I mean yumminess.”
  • Mei sees one of Darren’s dimples and says, “I wanted to touch it. Kiss it. Memorize it.”
  • On the way back from her date with Darren, Mei says “we had held hands the entire way [back to the dorm].”
  • Mei and Darren make out. After their make out session, Darren kisses Mei again. “His hands pressed the small of my back, pulling my lips to his.” This scene lasts for two pages.
  • On their way to a wedding, Mei and Darren kiss. “He gently lifted my chin with his finger, then closed the distance between us and kissed me where the whipped cream had been.”
  • Mei says she wants to kiss Darren’s pouted lips. “I wanted to kiss it so bad.”
  • Before meeting with Mei’s mother, her and Darren kiss. “He wrapped his hand around the small of my back and pulled me to his lips. . . And then it was just us. I sank into him. Melted into his kiss.”

 Violence

  • After meeting Darren for the first time, Mei’s mom comments on the fact that he is Japanese. “He’s Japanese, Mei. . . They murdered our family. Orphaned my mother.” This is a direct reference to the Japanese occupation of China, which resulted in thousands of deaths.
  • When Mei meets her roommate Nicolette, who is also Taiwanese, Nicolette says, “Your family came to Taiwan in 1949, during the Communist Revolution. Your family killed my family.” There were already Chinese people who fled to Taiwan in the 1800s, before the Communist Revolution.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • In many of Ying-Na’s rumors, it’s mentioned that she “had one sip of alcohol and flunked out of college.” This rumor is later proven to be false. At Ying-Na’s stand-up comedy show, she says she tried alcohol one time.
  • Ying-Na makes jokes about the rumors she’s heard about her being a failure. “Did you know that I was giving head in the public-school bathroom yesterday at the same time I was peddling heroin on the other side of town?”

Language

  • Fuck, and all of its variations, are used frequently. For example, Mei screams, “No fucking way!” when asked if she wants to look through the leg muscles of a cadaver. In addition, Nicolette told Mei, “You look hot as fuck.”
  • Shit is also used multiple times. For example, when Mei uses Nicolette’s soap, Nicolette says, “That shit’s expensive!”
  • When Mei learns about someone’s coming out story and the negative reception she got from her family. Mei says, “That’s bullshit.”
  • During a movie screening, someone says, “C’mon projector guy! Get your shit together.” According to Darren, it’s part of tradition though.
  • Nicolette calls a guy she hooked up with an asshole. “What the fuck Arthur! You made my roommate hit her head. You’re such an asshole!” The guy, Arthur, responds by saying, “You’re the asshole!”
  • During her stand-up show, Ying-Na makes a joke about the Chinese Farmer’s Calendar and wishing it would tell her “when [her] period would actually come, and which cycles would be an uber-bitch.”
  • Ying-Na jokes about how she became the Chinese community’s cautionary tale. “I turned into the local Chinese community’s cautionary tale: whore, spinster, homeless, whatever Asian parent’s biggest fear was.”

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • Mei and her family are Buddhist and Mei refers to many Buddhist traditions, such as making an altar for her family’s deceased members, praying at the altar, and letting the door open so her Nainai’s spirit can come into the funeral parlor.
  • Mei’s brother, Xing, and his fiancée Esther have a Christian wedding.

by Emma Hua

Instructions for Dancing

High school senior Yvette “Evie” Thomas used to believe in contemporary romance and the power of love; however, this belief has begun to fade. Her parents got divorced when her father cheated; Evie carries the burden of knowing why her parents divorced. Evie has given up on romance altogether, donating her shelves of contemporary romance novels. Then a chance encounter suddenly leaves Evie with the power to see a couple’s past, present, and future romance when she sees them kiss! However, she can only see a couple’s romantic history if they are in love and she only sees it once (it is also possible for Evie to see her own if she keeps her eyes open when she kisses someone).

Then a mysterious woman and a book on how to dance suddenly lead her on a path that she desperately wishes to stray from. Evie finds La Brea Dance Studio, where she learns dance with Xavier Woods, better known as X. He’s exactly like the guys in her romance books: handsome, tall, and a rock musician, the kind of guy Evie needs to stay away from. But X doesn’t hesitate to enter a ballroom dance competition with Evie, even though they just met.

Instructions for Dancing is told from the perspective of Evie and includes the usual narrative style as well as text messages, lists, and small excerpts of dance instructions. In addition, Evie’s visions are separate chapters that use a unique font to indicate that Evie is looking into a couple’s romantic history. The different narrative styles add interest to the story, putting us in the head of Evie. It is realistic to how a teenage girl would think and remember things, such as putting things into lists or remembering funny text messages with her friends. However, the formatting can be a bit jarring for some people and can ruin the pacing of the story.

Evie’s visions have taught her one thing and one thing only: love ends in heartbreak. She believes that love always ends with heartbreak and that all romance novels have lied about their happily ever afters. “What I’ve learned over the last three weeks is that all my old romance novels ended too quickly. Chapters were missing from the end. If they told the real story―the entire story―each couple would’ve eventually broken up, due to neglect or boredom or betrayal or distance or death. Given enough time, all love stories turn into heartbreak stories. Heartbreak = love + time.”

Therefore she approaches love with caution and hesitance, but as she takes ballroom dance lessons and gets to learn more about X, she begins to navigate the world of love around her. Evie learns about love beyond the surface level. Not all love is what it seems on the surface. No one comes out of love unscathed, but Evie learns that it’s not the ending that matters and that love, while hurtful, is worth holding onto.

Instructions for Dancing serves as peak escapism for high school girls who dream of romance. X and Evie are well-developed characters with unique personalities of their own. The novel is filled with sweet moments of romance, friendship, and familial love. Instructions for Dancing is a typical romance that emphasizes the importance of platonic and familial love and shows how it is entwined with romantic love. Regardless, Instructions for Dancing is a must-read, especially for readers who enjoy romance and wish for a fantasy filled with dancing and a diverse cast of characters.

Sexual Content

  • There are times where sex is suggested with vague language such as a portion of Evie’s vision with her and X. “There’s only one bed. He kisses me and my hand slips under his shirt. His lips are on my neck. . . Then we are nothing but hands and lips and wanting and having.”
  • When describing one of her former favorite romance novels, Cupcakes and Kisses, Evie says the best scene is where the leads are covered in flour and icing. “There’s kissing and a lot of dessert related wordplay: sugars lips, sweet buns, sticky situations.”
  • Evie’s mother wears an apron that says, “Kiss the Cook.”
  • There are many moments in the book where kissing is the main gesture of affection between two people in love. It is also the catalyst for Evie having her visions.
  • Evie catches her father “kissing a woman who wasn’t Mom” in his office.
  • Evie and other characters describe X as being hot and/or sexy.
  • When Cassidy tells her friends that she’s thinking of getting breasts implants, the group starts joking about breasts (specifically of Martin, one of Evie’s friends, having never touched a pair).
  • When Fifi says X is good-looking, Maggie asks her “not to undress my grandchild with her eyes.” Fifi retorts, “You prefer I should use my hands?”
  • Many times, groupies are mentioned, particularly in the context that they are fans who have sex with rock musicians. For example, when Evie sees X and his band perform for the first time, she thinks, “I get why groupies are a thing. Because up there onstage with his guitar, X’s sexy is undeniable.”
  • Over a text, X asks, “What are gorgeous mounds of flesh?” Since he’s reading Cupcakes and Kisses, this mostly refers to breasts.
  • When at the Danceball competition, Evie sees X and thinks about undressing him. “But it’s the top two buttons that snag my attention. They’re unbuttoned, and for a second I see my fingers unbuttoning a third and a fourth, until―”
  • Someone compares an opponent’s tango dance to “good sex.”
  • In the final chapter, Evie says, “We’ll have made love.”

 Violence

  • In Evie’s list of (former) favorite romance genres, she lists enemies to lovers as one of her favorites, where she says, “Asking the perennial question will they kill each other or will they kiss each other?”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a bonfire, Evie and her friends drink white wine that was swiped from a parent.
  • When Cassidy says Sophie is so pretty, Sophie asks, “How drunk are you?”
  • At a pool party, Sophie asks, “God, Cassidy, how much did you drink?”
  • After apologizing to Cassidy and Sophie for her sudden outburst, “Cassidy pours herself another glass of wine.”
  • At another bonfire, the group drinks more and they begin to attempt to dance following Evie and X’s instruction.

Language

  • Once when a mysterious woman appears and surprises her, Evie says “Holy fuckballs.” The woman responds, “Though one wonders what a fuckball might be.”
  • Shit is used multiple times.
  • When talking about the death of his friend and bandmate Clay, X says “it was a fucking adult” who killed Clay in a hit and run because the adult was texting and driving.
  • X compliments Evie but is cut off because of his language. “Jesus God, Evie, you look fucking―”
  • When applying Evie’s makeup for the competition, her sister Danica says, “Oh my God, don’t mess up your face!”

 Supernatural

  • Evie has a list of her (former) favorite romance genres. Paranormal romance has its own small list and includes vampires, angels, and shapeshifters.
  • A whole chapter is dedicated to Evie thinking she was a witch and wishing her visions were just “witchy powers.”
  • Evie’s friend Martin explains the general plot of the Tom Hanks movie Big which involves a young boy magically wishing he was big to the fortune teller Zoltar. He does this for Evie to understand what she must do if she wants the visions to end.

Spiritual

  • When talking to her father about her parents’ divorce, Evie exclaims, “You believe in God. Tell me why He would make the world like this. Tell me why He’s so cruel.”

by Emma Hua

K-Pop Confidential

Candace Park knows a lot about playing a role. For most of her life, she’s been playing the role of the perfect Korean American daughter. But she has a talent that she’s been keeping from the world: She can sing. Like, really sing. And when she’s chosen from thousands to train for a spot in the biggest K-pop label’s first-ever girl group, she’ll have her chance to show the world.

But plunging into the grueling life of a K-pop trainee will be tougher than she ever imagined. In the label’s headquarters in Seoul, Candace must hone her performance skills to within an inch of her life, all while navigating the complex hierarchies and rules. Rule number one? No dating, which soon becomes impossible to follow. And the closer Candace gets to the limelight, the closer she gets to a scandal lighting up the K-pop fandom around the world. Is a spot in the most hyped girl group of all time really worth risking her friendships, future, and everything she believes in?

Jump into the world of a K-pop trainee as Candace leaves America behind in the hopes of being selected as part of a new girl group. However, don’t be prepared to like Candace; she breaks the rules, acts bratty, and complains a lot. Everything that happens is told through Candace’s filter, however, this does not make her a sympathetic character. Instead, she is full of contradictions. She’s insecure and wonders if her mother really loves her, yet Candace is somehow able to stand up for herself. She has never sung in public or had training, yet Candace is more talented than the other trainees. She hears about the downfall of a K-pop idol caused by dating, yet Candace believes she can date and never get caught. The inconsistencies in Candace’s character make her situation and talent unbelievable.

Even though Candace is surrounded by other trainees, the lack of character development doesn’t allow any of them to shine. Instead of having interesting, multifaceted characters, each person’s purpose revolves around Candace, who never feels a real connection with any of them. Much like Candace, these relationships have many conflicting details. For example, Candace’s roommate Helena has been hateful and abusive, and yet, in the end, Candace gives up any hopes of being a K-pop star to protect Helena. Plus, when Candace finally stands up for Helena and the other trainees, she doesn’t consider that she is responsible for ruining her parent’s financial future and her roommate’s dreams, which causes the big moment to fall flat.

While K-Pop Confidential sheds some light on the harsh reality of a K-pop trainee, the story’s many flaws will frustrate readers. Readers who are fascinated by the K-pop world should avoid K-Pop Confidential and read Shine by Jessica Jung. Not only is Jessica a Korean-American singer, she is also a former member of the South Korean girl group Girls’ Generation, which allows her to paint a more vivid picture than K-Pop Confidential. Another excellent book that revolves around K-pop is Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo.

 Sexual Content

  • Candace’s friend has a crush on Candace’s brother, Tommy. The friend, “always said my brother is her ‘primary thirst object.’”
  • Candace dated a boy for a week “before he came out.”
  • In the middle of the night, Candace goes into a practice room and sees “the back of a big dude in an orange T-shirt. There are two female hands with elaborate nail art running up and down the dude’s back.” When the boy sees Candace, he runs out of the room.
  • Candace likes YoungBea and often sneaks out to meet him. She thinks, “I’m falling in love. But we still haven’t kissed. . . Instead, we’re touching a lot. Like, a lot a lot. . . I burrow my face in his chest, or let him wrap his arms around my waist. . .”
  • When OneJ asks if he can kiss Candace, “electricity shoots through” her. “The moment before OneJ’s lips touch mine, YoungBea’s face flashes in my mind, but the next moment all I can do is close my eyes. OneJ’s lips touch mine. The kiss feels sweet, tastes like chimaek, and for some reason, it feels . . . room temperature.”

Violence

  • An adult tells Candace about a trainee who freaked out. The girl “was pounding against this door, screaming to get out . . . but then she rammed her head against the metal door. She knocked herself out, and there was blood everywhere.”
  • After a shouting match, Candace’s roommate Helena attacks her. “Suddenly, I’m looking at the ceiling. My scalp feels like it’s about to be torn off my head. Helena has my ponytail in her fist. . . I finally get my ponytail free, I windmill my arms wildly, making contact with nothing. I feel Helena’s nails rake across my cheek before she’s pulled away. . .”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God, God and OMG are used as exclamations eight times collectively.
  • Crap and crappy are both used twice. Candace thinks “everyone’s going to laugh at my crappy Korean.”
  • Pissed is used five times to describe a girl’s emotions.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • During an audition, a contestant said “a silent little prayer.”
  • Candace makes a PowerPoint presentation and includes a photo of herself singing “Away in a Manger” at church.
  • While in training, Candace meets a boy who “got discovered when a S.A.Y. recruiter found a YouTube video of him rapping about Jesus in his church’s praise band.”
  • Umma tells Candace, “use those voices God blessed you with to speak for others.”
  • After performing for the company’s CEO, several of the trainees “are in a corner holding hands and praying.”

Breaking Dawn

In Part One of Breaking Dawn, Bella thinks she has her happily-ever-after when she and Edward are married. But halfway through their honeymoon, Bella realizes she is pregnant. A child between a human and a vampire is supposed to be impossible, yet Bella’s pregnancy progresses at an abnormal rate. As the creature inside her threatens her life, Edward is prepared to get it out of her at all costs. But to Bella, this isn’t a monster growing inside her, but a beautiful child. With Rosalie on her side, Bella is determined to have her baby at any cost. Even if that cost is her life.

 Part Two is told from Jacob’s perspective. Jacob never expected to see Bella again—not while she was human. When she returns from her honeymoon with a story about catching a rare disease, Jacob assumes she has become a vampire. Looking for a fight, he goes to the Cullen’s house, only to realize the reality is more horrible than he could ever imagine. Suddenly he finds himself protecting Bella—and the Cullens—against his own pack. But even if Bella and her child survive the pregnancy, this hybrid child may be the only excuse the Volturi need to come and destroy the Cullens. Told again from Bella’s point of view, Part Three ends this exciting quartet.

 Breaking Dawn is a satisfying ending to the Twilight series. Readers will swoon over Bella and Edward’s wedding, and ache for the difficulties that follow. As Jacob fights to protect Bella, he will break the hearts of readers on Team Jacob and threaten to steal the hearts of those on Team Edward. And as the Volturi draw nearer, an entire host of new vampires are introduced in a delightful way.

Breaking Dawn has a lighter tone than the previous books, as Bella thinks she’s finally getting her happily-ever-after. However, danger isn’t done with her yet. While the suspense is lighter in this installment, there are plenty of interesting developments to keep readers engaged. An increase in sexual content and a graphic C-section may unsettle younger readers, but Breaking Dawn ends a whirlwind quartet with several satisfying twists and unexpected turns.

Sexual Content

  • Bella wants to sleep with Edward before she turns into a vampire, because she is worried she will not want Edward in the same way afterward, and she doesn’t want to lose that human experience. “I wanted the complete experience before I traded in my warm, breakable, pheromone-riddled body for something beautiful, strong . . . and unknown. I wanted a real honeymoon with Edward. And, despite the danger he feared this would put me in, he’d agreed to try.”
  • Bella and Edward make out often. On one occasion, Bella “ran [her] hand down his stone chest now, tracing across the flat planes of his stomach, just marveling. A light shudder rippled through him, and his mouth found mine again. Carefully, I let the tip of my tongue press against his glass-smooth lip, and he sighed. His sweet breath washed—cold and delicious—over my face.”
  • Another time, Bella “clutched [her] arms around his neck again and locked [her] mouth with his feverishly. It wasn’t desire at all—it was need, acute to the point of pain.”
  • Bella and Edward have sex multiple times on their honeymoon, but the sex is not described.
  • Edward asked his father what it was like to have sex as a vampire. “Carlisle told me it was a very powerful thing, like nothing else. He told me physical love was something I should not treat lightly. . . I spoke to my brothers, too. They told me it was a very great pleasure. Second only to drinking human blood.”
  • Edward accidentally bruises Bella all over her body the first time they have sex. Afterwards, he says, “I will not make love with you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.” After that, he keeps Bella, “busy, distracted, so that [Bella] wouldn’t continue badgering him about the sex thing.
  • Bella is willing to stay human longer because she doesn’t want to give up her physical relationship with Edward. Edward says, “Sex was the key all along? Why didn’t I think of that? I could have saved myself a lot of arguments. . . You are so human.”
  • Bella’s period is late. “There was no way I could be pregnant. The only person I’d ever had sex with was a vampire, for crying out loud.” Then she remembers old vampire legends. “They mostly seemed like excuses dreamed up to explain things like infant mortality rates—and infidelity. No honey, I’m not having an affair! That sexy woman you saw sneaking out of the house was an evil succubus. I’m lucky I escaped with my life! . . . There had been one for the ladies, too. How can you accuse me of cheating on you—just because you’ve come home from a two-year sea voyage and I’m pregnant? It was the incubus.
  • When thinking about Bella and Edward’s honeymoon, Jacob thinks “maybe [Edward]’d smashed her like a bag of chips in his drive to get some.”
  • The Cullens had no idea a male vampire could get a human woman pregnant. Edward says, “They’re out there, the sadistic ones, the incubus, the succubus. They exist. But the seduction is merely a prelude to the feast. No one survives.”
  • Edward is worried that carrying his child will kill Bella. He is willing to let her have a child by Jacob if she wants a baby so badly. When Edward asks Jacob, Jacob says, “How? By offering my stud services?” Jacob thinks, “Wrong. Sick. Borrowing Bella for the weekends and then returning her Monday morning like a rental movie? So messed up. So tempting.”
  • Wolves’ clothes do not morph with them. “Nudity was an inconvenient but unavoidable part of pack life. We’d all thought nothing of it before Leah came along. Then it got awkward. Leah had average control when it came to her temper—it took her the usual length of time to stop exploding out of her clothes every time she got pissed. We’d all caught a glimpse. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t worth looking at; it was just that it was so not worth it when she caught you thinking about it later.”
  • During her emergency C-section, “Bella was on a table . . . skin ghostly in the spotlight.” Jacob thinks, “How many times had I imagined her naked? Now I couldn’t look. I was afraid to have these memories in my head.”
  • After Bella becomes a vampire, she and Edward kiss several times. “It was like he’d never kissed me—like this was our very first kiss . . . my breathing sped, raced as fast as it had when I was burning. This was a different kind of fire.”
  • After she turns into a vampire, Bella and Edward make love several times. “My skin was so sensitive under his hands, too. He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint . . . We laugh together, and the motion of our laughter did interesting things to the way our bodies were connected, effectively ending that conversation.”

Violence

  • Bella has a nightmare where she sees a child in danger. “I sprinted toward the boy. Only to stagger to a halt as I got a clear view of the hillock that he sat upon. It was not earth and rock, but a pile of human bodies, drained and lifeless . . . and directly beneath the adorable boy were the bodies of my father and my mother.”
  • Jacob fights with his packmates a lot, all of whom heal extremely quickly since they are werewolves. In one fight Jacob “lunged. His nose made a very satisfying crunching sound of its own when my fist connected.”
  • When Jacob is depressed, he wonders, “Would a bullet through my temple actually kill me or just leave a really big mess for me to clean up?”
  • When something goes wrong with the pregnancy, “Bella screamed. It was not just a scream, it was a blood-curdling shriek of agony. The horrifying sound cut off with a gurgle, and her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body twitched, arched in Rosalie’s arms, and then Bella vomited a fountain of blood.”
  • Bella has a graphic C-section, during which Edward cuts the baby out with his teeth. Rosalie’s “hand came down on Bella’s stomach, and vivid red spouted out from where she pierced the skin . . . another shattering crack inside [Bella’s] body . . . her legs, which had been curled up in agony, now went limp . . . I glanced over to see Edward’s face pressed against the bulge. Vampire teeth—a surefire way to cut through vampire skin.”
  • Transforming into a vampire is extremely painful. Bella is given morphine, which paralyzes her but does nothing to ease the pain. She thinks, “If I couldn’t scream, how could I tell them to kill me? All I wanted was to die. To never have been born. The whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. Wasn’t worth living through it for one more heartbeat. Let me die, let me die, let me die.”
  • Caius, one of the Volturi, slaps a vampire named Irina. “Caius closed the distance between them and slapped her across the face. It couldn’t have hurt, but there was something terribly degrading about the action.”
  • Bella hunts and kills several deer and a mountain lion. “My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength . . . my teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren’t there.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bella is given morphine when she transforms into a vampire. It is supposed to numb the pain, but it fails.

Language

  • Pissed is used several times. For example, Bella says, “I’m sort of pissed, actually.”
  • Damn and dammit are used often. For example, when Bella thinks she has food poisoning, she says, “Damn rancid chicken.”
  • Leah and Bella both call Jacob a moron.
  • Hell is used often. When Edward says Jacob has to do something, Jacob says, “The hell I do.” Another time, Jacob tells a packmate “Oh yes you are the hell going to stand behind Sam!”
  • Crap is used often. Once, Jacob asks Edward, “Where is this psycho crap coming from?”
  • Jacob calls vampires parasites and blood suckers.
  • Shut up is used often.
  • Jacob calls someone an idiot.

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.” Some members of the tribe are able to transform into wolves.
  • Edward and his family are vampires. 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; his brother Jasper can control the emotions of those around him; his sister Alice can see bits and pieces of the future.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

The Sky is Everywhere

After seventeen-year-old Lennie’s sister Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie finds herself trying to navigate a new world without her sister. Lennie lives in California with her grandma, Gram, and her uncle, Big. Lennie is passionate about Wuthering Heights, writing poetry, and music, and playing the clarinet in her school band, where she meets a charismatic new boy named Joe Fontaine.

Another large part of Lennie’s life is her best friend Sarah and her sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Things become complicated when Toby and Lennie start a secret affair while Lennie also begins a relationship with Joe. When she’s with Toby, Lennie feels free from the inescapable loneliness that surrounds her, although she also feels that her relationship with Toby is wrong. Joe is the opposite, the only person in Lennie’s life who didn’t know Bailey, which provides Lennie with an escape from the grief that follows her and her family around.

Lennie finally decides to end her relationship with Toby, because it is causing more harm than good. Then they share a final, goodbye kiss. However, Joe catches the two of them. Joe immediately ends their relationship, especially hurt by Lennie’s actions because she knew he had been cheated on in the past.

Lennie and Sarah scheme ways for Lennie to win Joe back, ranging from seduction to chopping down her grandmother’s roses, which are known around town to cause people to fall in love. However, in the end, what causes Joe to forgive Lennie is a poem that she writes for him, in which she expresses her intense love for him. The novel ends with Joe and Lennie’s reconciliation, as well as a new, budding friendship between Toby and Lennie.

Told from Lennie’s perspective, The Sky is Everywhere presents an inside look into the transition to normality after experiencing grief. Although the plot contains a love triangle, in reality, it is much more focused on Lennie’s relationship with herself. Lennie grows to accept that although her sister is gone, Lennie will always be able to treasure her sister’s memory and love. Lennie comes into her own and in doing so, recognizes a passion for music, something she had become complacent in for fear of failure.

Lennie will be relatable to many individuals struggling through grief, experiencing love for the first time, or those on a journey to discover who they are and what they’re passionate about. Nelson’s language is beautiful, immediately drawing the reader in and causing them to care deeply about the characters and their struggles. Although the love between Joe and Lennie is rushed, overall, the plot flows well, creating a story that’s intricate and easy to follow. The story reinforces the idea that it is never too late to find your passion. It also emphasizes that it is human to make mistakes, and this doesn’t mean you should give up.

Sexual Content

  • At the beginning of the novel, Lennie mentions, “suddenly all I think about is sex.”
  • As Lennie and Toby hug, consoling each other, Lennie notes, “I feel a hardness against my hip, him, that.
  • When remembering her embrace with Toby, Lennie thinks, “I recall the sensation of him pressing into me, shivers race all through my body-definitely not the appropriate reaction to your sister’s boyfriend’s hard-on!”
  • When Lennie encounters Toby after their past meeting, all she can think is “boner, boner, erection, hard-on, woody, boner, boner.”
  • Lennie recalls a conversation with her sister, where Bailey says, “Toby and I did it, had sex last night.”
  • After drinking and talking about Bailey, Toby “kisses me—his mouth: soft, hot, so alive, it makes me moan.”
  • After Lennie tells Sarah about her kiss with Toby, Sarah remarks, “Grief sex is kind of a thing.”
  • Lennie wonders what is wrong with her, because she has romantic feelings for Toby and Joe. Sarah asks, “What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her sister’s boyfriend the previous night?”
  • Lennie and Toby meet up and kiss. Lennie feels “his mouth crushing into mine, teeth and tongue and lips.”
  • Lennie and Toby almost have sex. She thinks Toby “must have eight hands because one is taking off my shirt, another two are holding my face while he kisses me . . . another two are one my breasts, a few are pulling my hips to his and then the last undoes the button on my jeans, unzips the fly and we are on the bed, his hand edging its way between my legs.”
  • After Joe almost catches Lennie and Toby together, Toby is described as “trying to cover a freaking hard-on.”
  • To stop Joe’s suspicion about her and Toby, Lennie kisses him. “I mean really kiss[es] him.”
  • In Joe’s bedroom, Lennie starts to imagine Joe naked, and then remarks, “I’ve never even seen a real live guy totally naked, ever. Only some internet porn Sarah and I devoured for a while.”
  • As they lay in a bed, Joe asks Lennie, “Are you a virgin?”
  • Lennie gives Toby a sort of goodbye, closure kiss. “I kiss him and keep kissing and holding and caressing him, because for whatever fucked-up reason, that is what I do.”
  • After daydreaming about Joe, Lennie thinks, “I’m so fed up with my virginity. It’s like the whole world is in on this ecstatic secret but me.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lennie describes her uncle Big as the “resident pothead,” and “smoking so much weed that when he’s home he seems to hover.”
  • Lennie’s friend Sarah is often described as “smoking cigarettes,” and “trying to blow smoke rings, but blowing smoke blobs instead.”
  • Toby sneaks into Lennie’s room at night and “pulls a pint of tequila out of his jacket pocket.” The two proceed to take pulls from the bottle.
  • When Lennie sneaks off during lunch, Joe follows her, describing her hidden spot as the “perfect spot for a gingerbread house or maybe an opium den.”
  • Lennie imagines her and Joe drinking “red wine” in Paris.
  • While on a date, Lennie and Joe drink “some wine Joe swiped from his father.”
  • Sarah takes Lennie to see a movie and offers her some vodka. Later they are “passing the bottle of vodka back and forth.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes fuck, shit, damn, and ass.
  • When Lennie is in band class, her teacher encourages them to “stick your asses in the wind!”
  • As Lennie and Joe kiss, she says that she’s turned into “a total strumpet-harlot-trollop-wench-jezebel-tart-harridan-chippynymphet.”
  • After talking to Lennie about her mom, Joe calls himself a dickhead.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Gram believes that a certain household plant “reflects [Lennie’s] emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.”
  • Both Lennie and Bailey compare Toby to St. Francis.
  • When talking with Joe, Lennie remarks, “My favorite saint of all time is a Joe . . . Joseph of Cupertino, he levitated. Whenever he thought of God, he would float into the air in a fit of ecstasy.”
  • While sitting at Bailey’s desk, Lennie notes that there is a statue of St. Anthony: Patron of Lost Things.
  • After clearing the house of things that Gram has deemed unlucky, Gram remarks to Lennie, “You know that mask Big brought back from South America… . . . I think that it might have a curse on it.”

by Sara Mansfield

A Pho Love Story

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams of pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, owners of competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity and, despite their best efforts, sparks fly, leading them to wonder what took so long for them to connect. Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

A Pho Love Story starts slowly as it introduces Linh and Bao. Each chapter is told in alternating first-person which helps the reader understand Linh’s and Bao’s conflicting emotions. While the story is similar to Romeo and Juliet because of the family conflict, the conclusion isn’t tragic. Most of the story revolves around Linh and Bao’s budding relationship. The story also delves into the struggles that immigrants face and touches on racism.

Many of the characters add Vietnamese words into their conversations and some readers may struggle with the dialect. Like the cover suggests, A Pho Love Story also revolves around Linh’s and Bao’s competing restaurants and there are a lot of references to food. While this adds depth, some readers will become bored by this aspect of the story.

A Pho Love Story is a cute romance that illustrates the importance of honesty and not hiding the truth behind silence. The predictable story will appeal to readers who want to add an easy-to-read romance to their reading list. If you’re looking for a grittier, action-packed Romeo and Juliet story, Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles may be more to your liking. Also, similar to A Pho Love Story, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen adds romance to parental pressure.

Sexual Content

  • Bao and Linh are sitting together. Bao’s “stomach gets jittery the moment we sit down together. . . Our ankles touch, and all of my body—I mean, all of it—wakes up.”
  • Linh decides that she wants to date Bao. “A hand that circled my [Linh’s] waist slides up my arm. The other gently, so gently, remains on my hip. A fine shiver passes through me and I hold my breath, but my heart hiccups. He cups my cheek with a hand and his face inches forward. . . I press my lips against his more insistently. . . It’s surreal, us kissing here.”
  • After they become boyfriend and girlfriend, Bao and Linh occasionally kiss, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After hours, Linh’s father and friends “brought out Heineken.”
  • Alcohol is served at a wedding.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes bullshit, damn, fuck, hell, pisses, and shit.
  • The characters think about other people and silently call them names such as asshole and shithead.
  • Jesus, God, and “oh my God” are occasionally used as an exclamation.
  • An angry customer yells at Bao’s mother. “This place is shit. Shitty food. Shitty owners who can’t even speak fucking English.”
  • Someone calls a person a douche.

Supernatural

  • Linh’s mother thinks that a married couple will not last because, “They’d picked the wrong dates, didn’t consult the right calendar, or something like that.”

Spiritual Content

  • Occasionally the characters thank God for something.

 

 

 

History is All You Left Me

Griffin Jennings is no longer dating Theo McIntyre, but his ex-boyfriend is still his favorite person in the world. In Griffin’s universe, he and Theo are “endgame,” even though Theo is off at college with a new boyfriend, Jackson. Ever since they broke up so Theo could enjoy college, Griffin has been impulsive and reckless. Slowly, he’s been able to manage life without Theo, by holding onto the thought of their future together.

That dream shatters when Griffin learns that Theo is dead. Now, he must speak at Theo’s funeral, watch him be lowered into the ground, and learn to live in a universe without his first love and best friend. History is All You Left Me is divided into two sections. First, it covers Griffin and Theo’s history in the past. Then it switches to the present day as Griffin deals with losing Theo. He befriends Jackson, the person who took his place; Griffin sees Jackson as the only person who understands his grief. Additionally, the story details Griffin’s relationship with Wade, Theo’s childhood friend, and how their group of three was impacted by Theo and Griffin dating and breaking up.

In the end, Jackson and Griffin come to terms with the fact that they both loved Theo, but in different ways. Griffin says, “I’m hit with a realization: the Theo you were with him isn’t the Theo you were with me, and maybe that’s okay.” Though their story is fraught with complications, jealousy, cheating, and impulsive hook-ups, History is All You Left Me is a story about learning to navigate the world when you lose someone you love.

Griffin narrates the book in the first person, often voicing his thoughts directly to Theo as “you” – such as “you’re still alive in alternative universes, Theo.” The story switches from the present to the past, which allows readers to immerse themselves in Griffin’s headspace as he grieves and remembers Theo via the history they shared.

As a main character, readers may not relate to Griffin because of his impulsiveness and jealousy. By sleeping with Wade and Jackson, he seeks to get revenge on Theo. However, this book is much more complicated than what is on the page. Griffin also struggles with OCD compulsions that contribute to his behavior. In addition, dealing with grief causes people to do things they normally wouldn’t consider. Griffin is experiencing two kinds of loss: first, losing his boyfriend to someone else, and second, losing his best friend to death.

Even though Griffin’s actions may not be relatable, he is a well-developed and complicated character who deals with grief realistically. He doesn’t hide his pain and is willing to admit he has done wrong, which makes him human rather than a hero. His guilt and regret are genuine and devastating—sadly, there is no happy ending; rather the ending emphasizes the process of learning to be happy again while still preserving history. A certain amount of moving on is necessary too. For Griffin, that comes in repairing a friendship with Jackson and trying out a relationship with Wade as all three of them learn to live without their versions of Theo McIntyre.

Sexual Content

  • Griffin kisses Theo after a trivia game night, in which they win a plastic sword and shield. Once they take their prize, Giffin “lean[s] over to give Theo a thank-you kiss.”
  • Griffin thinks about having sex with Theo. Griffin doesn’t “know if Theo is smiling because he’s imagining us having sex or because he likes making me uncomfortable, but I do know that I don’t have the balls to continue this conversation.”
  • While they’re doing a puzzle in Theo’s room, Theo asks Griffin to have sex with him. Theo “immediately holds my hand and kisses me. We lie down. When our shirts finally do come off, it’s different from all the times we’ve gone to the beach, since we’ve never held each other shirtless . . .  And just like that we’re naked in my bed . . . It’s weird how it’s nothing like I thought it would be from the countless hours of porn watching I’ve clocked.”
  • After having sex, Theo says, “I’m Theo McIntyre, a dude who just had sex with another dude!”
  • At a birthday party in central park, Wade, Theo and Griffin’s friend, says, “Just don’t have sex out here or I’m calling the cops.”
  • Wade talks about Griffin’s sex life with Theo a lot. Later, Wade says, “You came out to each other, made out, banged out, and now came out to your parents. You’re as out as it gets.”
  • Wade accompanies Theo and Griffin to buy condoms and they run into Griffin’s father. They both feel awkward. “’Protection is good,’ Dad says. ‘You can’t get pregnant, but there are other dangers.’ Griffin tries leaving the aisle, but his dad cuts ahead. Griffin’s dad says, “Wait. We should be able to talk about this. This doesn’t have to be embarrassing . . . Your mom and I were thinking about sitting down with you soon to talk about this stuff—to talk about sex . . . Wait. Have you both already?” His father ends up buying the condoms for them, but the boys vow not to use them because it would remind them of the awkward situation. This scene is described over five pages.
  • Afterward, Wade says, “Good going guys. Do you think your dad is trying to figure out who’s the top and who’s the bottom yet?”
  • While working on Theo’s college admission essay, Griffin kisses Theo. Theo says, “Screw college, let’s have sex instead.”
  • On Griffin’s birthday, Griffin says, “I woke up to a video from a shirtless Theo for my eyes only.” Later that day, Theo can tell Griffin is thinking about something. Theo says, “You’re supposed to be able to talk to me when something’s up. If you don’t the Bad Boyfriend Council will show up at my house and give me a demerit.” Griffin replies, “What happens when you get too many demerits?” Theo says, “I’ll be sentenced to an entire month without masturbation or sex. You got to save me here.”
  • Griffin visits Theo’s dorm. “The single bed is unmade. It’s so small, and whenever Jackson slept over, you two must’ve been forced to really push up against each other so no one fell off the edge. I have no idea when you and Jackson had sex for the first time, but the first time you casually mentioned it to me was a couple of months after you were already dating him, a little joke as if you were testing the waters to see if I would laugh. I did, but I knew you could tell it hurt me, because you never brought it up again. Either that or you and Jackson stopped having sex, which, let’s be real. . . I know you.”
  • Because Theo liked zombies, Griffin created a “zombie kiss” for him, where he nibbles Theo’s cheek. Jackson later shows this to Griffin. “Jackson nibbles on my [Griffin’s] cheek, doing a very stupid growl. He stares into my eyes afterward and smiles . . . he doesn’t know I know all of this. You taught him something personal to me . . . I grab Jackson by the back of the neck and kiss him – a straight-up kiss where my tongue finds its way into his mouth and his massages mine back . . . His fingers rake my lower back as he pulls me so close to him our chests are pressed together, hearts hammering against one another. I push him backward, and he probably thinks I’m done, that I’ve come to my senses or something, but I take off my shirt and send it sailing across the room.” To Theo, Griffin says, “I want you to watch me have sex with your boyfriend.”
  • When Theo visits home, he kisses Griffin and says he will break up with Jackson.
  • After Wade hears about this, he lets Griffin know that Theo doesn’t intend on breaking up with Jackson. “I have to tell you something. Theo got a single room for his sophomore year so he can have more private time with Jackson . . . Stop defending him, Griffin. And stop putting him on some throne.”
  • Griffin and Wade kiss: [Wade] pulls me into a hug, which is rare. But I need it. I hug him back. Then [Wade] kisses me, which is unimaginable . . . I stop kissing Wade. He’s Theo’s best friend. Wade doesn’t apologize. He stares at me, probably expecting me to punch him or run away. He’s no longer the same Wade I grew up with and this dizzies me, even more so than the news of Theo getting a single room so he can pretty much live with Jackson . . . So I kiss Wade again. I kiss him because he’s Theo’s best friend.”
  • Griffin and Wade have sex multiple times. Griffin takes “off my shirt and pull[s] off Wade’s too. I climb on top of Wade and he sinks to the floor, flat on his back, and I kiss him a lot like Theo kissed me the last afternoon we had sex. It’s not long before we make it into his bed, completely undressing ourselves, and Wade confesses this is his first time. . . Theo is never going to take me back. Not after he learns I’ve had sex with Wade five times already.”
  • Veronika, one of Jackson’s friends, meets up with him and Griffin and reveals that she had an abortion. When someone comments on her Facebook status, Veronika gets upset and says, “Did my Facebook status mention I broke up with the latest love of my life because of the abortion I had to have? Did my Facebook status tell you all about how I wasn’t ready to be a mom and he wasn’t ready to be a dad and how we agreed this was a bad time, that we would go to the clinic together and he would hold my hand through this? Did my Facebook status tell you he didn’t show up and hasn’t responded to any of my texts? . . .I lose a part of myself and lost a little person who was growing inside me and was going to look like me . . . I’ll never get to be this kid’s mom.”

Violence

  • One of Griffin’s cousins tells him to get over Theo, prompting a fight with Griffin. He narrates it like this: “I lunge at the bastard—I hear the gasps of my mom and Rosie, some cheers from some younger cousins, screams from others—and my dad catches me before I can snuff him, dragging me back toward the kitchen while Remy laughs.”
  • Theo drowns, but it is not described because Griffin didn’t witness it. However, Jackson admits that, instead of trying to save Theo himself, he went to get a lifeguard. Griffin is angry so he says, “’I would’ve never stood by and watched Theo die!’ Jackson jumps up and he holds my arms. I don’t know if he’s trying to stop me from shaking or keep me from walking out, but I break out of his grip and punch him in the face, which surprises both of us, and then I punch him in the face again, which only surprises him.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Russell, Theo’s father, goes “out for a smoke” occasionally.

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes: damn, shit, hell, dick, bitch, and ass. Fuck is used less often. For example, the weather is described as “fucking freezing.”
  • Slut and whore are both used once.
  • Griffin says to Theo, “I’m sorry. That was a dickhead thing to say. I need a condom for my mouth.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Griffin’s grandmother is religious and asks him if he’s prayed today. Griffin says, “I prayed this morning.” Then he thinks, “lying about prayer would’ve felt a lot more sinful if I ever believed in God, but well, those thoughts are better suited for someone with reasons to believe in the miracle of resurrection.”
  • Griffin’s family prays at Thanksgiving.
  • Jackson and Griffin talk about God while wishing at a fountain. Griffin says, “Look, there are so many coins in here. People thought their spare change could buy them stuff, like actual riches or something else. We’re all suckers.” Jackson says: “I always thought it was more religion than fantasy. Ignore everyone throwing in money for more money. Everyone else is praying. Throwing a coin into a fountain is a little less disappointing than praying in some church. You go straight to the Big Man’s house, you expect results.” Griffin says: “How the hell can you believe in God? After Theo?” Jackson replies: “I don’t spend my Sundays at church, but I’ve always taken to the idea of bigger plans. I had big plans with Theo – now I don’t. There’s got to be something to take away from this. I refuse to believe he died pointlessly… I’m not going to give God the silent treatment because I’m pissed off Theo is dead. Theo believed in God.”
  • Griffin speaks to Theo in his mind about going to church: “I should remind Jackson where I stand on this God character, but this place is beautiful . . . You [Theo] never mentioned going to services with Jackson, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. I’m trying to be respectful here, but my feelings on faith at the moment are the same feelings I have for the church itself—beautiful and promising on the outside, but possibly disappointing on the inside.”

by Madison Shooter

 

Emerge

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. War has ravaged the seven seas ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped the Mer of their immortality. Lia has grown up in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions. Her biggest problems are surviving P.E. and keeping her feelings for Clay Ericson in check. Sure, he’s gorgeous in that cocky leather jacket sort of way and he makes her feel like there’s a school of fish swimming in her stomach, but getting involved with a human could put Lia’s entire community at risk.

So it’s for the best that he’s dating that new girl, right? That is until Lia finds out she isn’t the only one at school keeping a potentially deadly secret. And this new girl? Her eyes are dead set on Clay, who doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. If Lia hopes to save him, she’ll have to get closer to Clay. Lia’s parents would totally flip if they found out she was falling for a human boy, but the more time she spends with him, the harder it is to deny her feelings. After making a horrible mistake, Lia decides to risk everything to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

Lia and her family are descendants of the Little Mermaid, which gives the story an interesting connection to the fairy tale. In addition, one of the Mermaids is a siren and her ability to manipulate will leave readers on edge. Much of the dramatic tension in this story is saved for the multi-chapter conclusion that quickly builds suspense and ends with a surprising twist.

The Mers living on land rarely return to the ocean, which keeps the story one-dimensional. While Lia’s desire to do what is right is admirable, her inner struggle is predictable and tedious. Lia fantasizes about kissing Clay but knows it is forbidden for a Mer to love a human. While the story doesn’t describe anyone having sex, there is abundant talk about sex. The Mer world is accepting of promiscuous behavior both in and out of marriage as well as having sexual partners of both sexes.

Emerge starts out strong with many cute sayings from the Mer world. Unfortunately, Emerge uses teenage angst, a love triangle, and ancient potions to create a typical teen romance. The narrator, Lia, is the only well-developed character, but her inner dialogue is tedious. Readers who are looking for an interesting Mermaid story will find Emerge lacking in originality and over-focused on sexual desire. Readers looking for a unique, memorable story may want to leave Emerge on the shelf.

Sexual Content

  • Lia is upset when Clay and Mel, another Mermaid, begin dating. While shopping, “Mel gives me [Lia] a curious look before wrapping her arms around Clay’s neck and kissing him right there in the middle of the store, her hands tangling in his hair.”
  • Because Mermaids used to be immortal, “fidelity was never a requirement” and Mermaids would “roam periodically” and then return to their mate.
  • Lia’s twin sisters have “both had human hookups at parties.”
  • Lia often thinks about kissing Clay. At one point, Lia wonders if she should have dated Clay. “I could have gotten in a few glorious weeks of kissing Clay. What would it be like to be able to hold onto those strong arms . . . kiss that full smirky mouth?”
  • Mermaids need to learn how to make their tails turn into and stay legs. Originally, merfolk only needed legs when they had sex. When a young girl first gets her legs, someone says, “What you need to do is embrace your natural impulses: You don’t need to act on those urges—thinking about them will be enough.” Someone else says, “So, all you have to do is think slutty thoughts, and your legs will stay firmly in place.” The conversation goes on for three pages.
  • After talking to Clay, Lia says her sisters, “hook up with new guys at practically every party, and I’ve never had a real kiss.” As they continue to talk about relationships, Clay says, “When I’m kissing Mel, all I can think about is kissing her more.”
  • Clay’s girlfriend sirens him. Then, she “leans up to kiss him. Hunger gleams in his eyes. . . whatever he’s feeling right now, she’s forcing it on him.”
  • Lia walks Clay home. She “wants to run [her] fingers over the skin, explore his rich mahogany hairline. . . I wanted to know what it would be like to feel him, to taste him.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • While shopping for a bra, two girls talk about what type of bras and underwear their boyfriends like them to wear.
  • Lia’s twin sisters tell her that she can have sex with an underclassman because, “we haven’t tapped anyone younger than us, so the junior class is all yours.”
  • Lia goes to Clay’s house to work on a school project. “A slow kiss covers my shoulder, his lips firm and cool against my heated skin. . . He plants a trail of kisses across my shoulder, toward my throat. As soon as his lips make contact with my neck, a shudder runs through me and I want to grab him to me and hold him there forever.”
  • Lia’s cousin is conflicted because she is attracted to other girls. Lia thinks, “Before the curse, homosexuality. . . was accepted in Mer culture. Most Mermaids mated with Mermen, but Mermaids mating with Mermaids wasn’t uncommon, and neither was Mermen with Mermen.”
  • Lia is preparing to walk away from Clay and never see him again. Her “eyes meet his open, questioning ones, and I stop thinking. Grabbing two fistfuls of his shirt, I yank him up close to me. . . crash my lips against his. . . Then his lips part and I’m tasting him. . . My world becomes a whirlwind of supple lips and exploring tongue, of light stubble and sweet, gasping breath.” The scene is described over a page.

Violence

  • Lia’s family are descendants of the Little Mermaid, so the fairytale is retold. However, in this version, the Mermaids were cursed because of the Little Mermaid’s actions. “Merkind blamed her father the king for her mistake and executed him, throwing our entire society into a state of anarchy and war that’s lasted ever since.”
  • In the past, when a Mermaid “sirened” a man, which put him under a spell, the man was executed because “they couldn’t risk him telling other humans what had happened to him.”
  • Lia researches the history of sirens. One siren “ordered a man under her spell to gouge out his own eyes while she watched in amusement. . . a Mermaid who heard a bard singing on a ship off the coast of Tudor England and used his own song to siren him. . . she commanded him to sing and dance for her until he died of exhaustion.”
  • Before sirening was made illegal in the Mer World, sailors attacked a Mermaid, “in her anger, she screamed for their deaths, and each one of them jumped off the island’s cliff to a watery grave.”
  • A Merman commits suicide because “he couldn’t take the constant reminder that he was aging. That he wasn’t immortal.”
  • In a violent and deadly multi-chapter conclusion, Clay is kidnapped and Lia goes in search of him. Lia goes under the ocean and into Mer territory where she sees dead Mermen. “Permanent agony contorts each lifeless face. . . Bodies battered and bloody, limbs twisted at odd angles, fins hacked off.”
  • When Lia is looking for Clay, “someone grabs me from behind. . . I’m breathing in whatever noxious potion is on the kelp, and I’m growing dizzier by the second.” When Lia awakens, she sees Clay “bound and bloody.”
  • Lia’s captor “drags the tip of the dagger down [her] cheek and neck with just enough pressure that it must leave a line of raised, red skin in its wake.”
  • Lia and her captors fight. “With his other hand, he grabs the top of my fin and folds my tail back up into that painful bent position. I lash out with my arms, twist my torso around so I can hit him with my fists, and try to free my tail, but he stands firm against my attack.”
  • One of Clay’s captors stabs him in the stomach with a knife. Lia’s “eyes fly open in time to see Melusine twist the dagger deeper into Clay’s stomach. . . And now he’s screaming. Covering the wound with his hands.”
  • Lia’s captor tries to kill her. “His cold hands tighten around my throat, pressing both my windpipe and my gills shut. I can’t breathe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Mermaids started living on land, there were “a few bar fights” because the Mer “weren’t used to the effects of liquor.”
  • Clay’s ex-girlfriend slips something into his drink. Lia finds Clay. “He convulses, his limbs smacking against the unforgiving pavement. Sweat pours down his face.” Later, Lia discovers Clay was given a love potion. “It would have performed its office successfully if the boy weren’t already under another form of Mer magic.”

Language

  • Damn is used three times. For example, when Lia’s cousin gets her legs, her cousin says, “Those are some damn sexy legs you got there, Aims.”
  • OMG and God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Bitch is used 4 times. For example, a Mermaid asks, “Father, will it disrupt the ritual if I kill this meddling bitch before I take care of the human?”
  • Clay loses his balance and falls on “his grabbable ass.”
  • Someone tells Lia she will kiss Clay. Lia says, “Like hell I will!”
  • Pissed is used once.

Supernatural

  • Clay’s girlfriend is a siren. She uses her song to control him. When she sings, Clay’s “eyes are glazed over, like he’s lost in some dream world. The spark of intelligence, of awareness, is gone.”
  • Clay is kidnapped. Lia finds “ritualistic symbols line the walls in a translucent, sickly blue ink.” Later, she finds out that the symbols were part of a spell.
  • In order to save Clay’s life, a Merman gives him a potion. “All the blood smeared on Clay’s body slides across his skin and back into the wound! Even the red staining his boxers seeps upward along the fabric, back onto his torso, and into his body.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling 

Anna Chiu strives to be a perfect Chinese daughter. However, Ma has been stuck in bed for longer than usual and her mental health is worsening. Anna’s Baba, who is supposed to be the parent, is spending more time at his restaurant. While the family struggles to keep Ma’s sickness a secret, Anna feels it is her responsibility to take care of her younger siblings, Michael and Lily, but she soon falls behind in her schoolwork. Will Anna realize she is taking on more than she can handle and accept that she and Ma need help?

To escape the pressures of home, Anna volunteers to help at Baba’s Chinese restaurant. There, she meets Rory, the delivery boy with a history of depression. With Rory’s help, Anna learns that treatment for her mom’s mental health is available and can help bring peace to the Chiu family. After a traumatic episode involving Ma mutilating a live fish, Ma is sent to a hospital for psychiatric care where doctors can evaluate her condition and prescribe medication. While her mother is under the doctor’s care, Anna can focus on her own mental health and she finds new ways to open up.

By the end of the novel, the family learns how to better support one another, and Anna eventually accepts that not every day can be perfect. Even Rory, who has received help for his depression and anxiety, has difficult days. The book delivers a message to those struggling with mental health issues that no one is alone and there is always someone willing to listen.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is told through Anna’s perspective and provides a realistic picture of mental health issues. Anna is a relatable character who struggles to fit in and at first, is awkward in her relationship with Rory. However, after witnessing Rory’s honest personality, Anna learns to discuss issues that are bothering her. Anna and Rory support and care for one another in a happy and healthy way. Anna is an admirable protagonist who loves her Ma and is passionate about working hard to save Baba’s restaurant. Plus, Anna shows love and encouragement to her younger siblings.

The novel demonstrates how race and struggles with identity can influence one’s mental health. As s Chinese-Australian, Anna experiences microaggressions from her peers and cultural pressures from her family. For example, the kids at Anna’s school call her “banana,” meaning she is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside. . . It’s like saying [Anna’s] a bad Chinese.” Anna soon recognizes how these pressures contribute to her anxiety. Despite this, these comments make Anna question whether she is good enough for her family.

In the end, Anna learns to take each day one at a time. She no longer bears the full responsibility of her family but recognizes the journey of her mother’s mental health recovery. Despite the stigmas against mental health issues that Anna witnesses, she accepts that her life is already normal—“It’s heartbreaking. And it’s true.” Anna no longer needs perfection as long as she is with the people she loves. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling explores mental health issues in addition to having a cute romance. Readers who would like to explore mental illness through another book should also read Paper Girl by Cindy R. Wilson.

 Sexual Content

  • Anna talks about how she has little experience with boys. “It’s like when it comes to matters of sex, I don’t even count as an observer.”
  • One of Rory’s bullies makes a racist and sexist comment to Anna asking, “Aren’t the Asian ones supposed to be submissive?”
  • Rory and Anna share a passionate kiss. “We press our mouths harder against each other. Kissing still feels a bit strange and weird but exhilarating at the same time.”
  • Rory and Anna share a kiss in his car and things escalate. “Somehow we’re in the back seat. I feel his tongue on my skin, his breath against my neck, a hot and wet sliding.” However, they are quickly interrupted by Anna’s ringing phone.
  • Anna and Rory are kissing once again. Anna drags “him closer, feel[s] the tiny hairs on the back of his neck, the base of his throat, taste[s] the inside of his mouth. My legs and hips move, and I’m climbing out of my seat and into his lap.” Rory rubs his hands down Anna’s back, but then the scene ends.
  • Anna briefly describes her sexual experience with Rory. “When Rory hovers over me and I can feel his skin pressing up against the bits of my skin that have never felt someone else before, it’s I feel sated, protected, and exhilarated all at the same time.” Anna’s first time having sex with Rory is not described in great detail, but the action is clear.

Violence

  • Some schoolgirls discuss their assignments and joke about suicide. A girl says, “I’m going to kill myself.”
  • Anna discusses how “Ma used to beat us with the end of a feather duster when we did something naughty . . . I went to school with long sleeves covering the blue-and-green streaks.”
  • Anna claims she wants to “smack the eyeliner off” of a mean girl’s face.
  • Anna makes a vague comment that she wants to “tie weights to [her] ankles and be done with it now.”
  • Rory tells Anna how he once tried to kill himself by jumping in front of a moving train, but the train did not come that day.
  • While Lily is sleeping, Ma tries to hit her. “There are a few muffled thuds and a sharp cry, so I know Ma’s blows have landed but probably across the blanket.”
  • During one of her episodes, Ma mutilates a fish at the restaurant. Ma “holds up a slippery orange fish, no bigger than a mackerel, and before I can do anything, she pops its eyes between her fingers.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anna is surprised to see her father home “standing by the sink, holding a small tumbler of beer.”
  • Rory takes Anna to his sister’s roller derby game where there is drinking. Rory offers Anna a beer and she accepts.
  • Ah-Jeff, who works at Baba’s restaurant, slips Anna some Hennessy and Coke while celebrating the new restaurant.

Language

  • Anna acknowledges that her “Cantonese might be crap.”
  • Baba calls a work colleague who quit a “bastard.”
  • After Anna finds her sister has pierced her ears, Anna exclaims, “What the hell, Lily?”
  • Anna makes an awkward squeaking sound and questions, “What the hell is wrong with me?”
  • Rory wants Anna to form a thesis declaring Rory, “The most badass English professor I’ve ever had,” to which Anna responds calling Rory, “Mr. Badass.”
  • Rory describes his time in the hospital. “It was shit and it made me feel worse.” He proceeds to use “shit” multiple times in his description.
  • Anna snaps at her brother Michael who can’t find his sock. She yells, “It’s a goddamn sock. Deal with it!”
  • Anna states Michael’s “cute pout isn’t going to save my ass.”
  • Anna calls Rory’s old friends “real assholes.” In a text conversation, she refers to the same group as “dickheads.”
  • Lily texts Anna that she is still “pissed” at her.
  • Rory feels as though he is a “shit son.”
  • A patient at the hospital calls someone a “bitch.”
  • Shit is used four times in one paragraph. For example, Rory states that “Hospitals are shit.”
  • Anna’s face turns red from drinking alcohol she can’t tell if she should “feel embarrassed or damn happy to be called out this way.”

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • Anna runs into some girls from school at the market and says a silent prayer “to whatever gods there are that the girls won’t see me.”

by Elena Brown

Shine

What would you give for a chance to live your dreams?

For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: train 24/7, be perfect, don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner or if she’ll end up crushed…especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy, Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy, and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.

Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group (Girls’ Generation) takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop. The stakes are high, but for one girl the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE.

Life as a trainee is not glamorous. Instead, the girls’ daily weight checks are belittled and they are treated harshly. For example, one of the trainers yells at Rachel. “Look, if this is too hard for you, go home. You think giving me attitude will make you a better dancer? Get your head out of your ass and try harder. If you can’t even get these dance steps, you’ll never get anywhere.” All of the girls take the abuse because they are afraid that speaking up will cause them to be kicked out of the training program.

In the K-pop world, men and women have different standards. Women get lower pay, aren’t supposed to date and are treated badly. One K-Pop singer says, “All they [her agents] care about is making us into perfect K-pop machines that will do everything they say and rake in the money for them.” Shine puts a spotlight on the sexism in the K-pop world as well as in the girls’ families. Even though women are treated differently than men, the women never come together to work to improve their situation.

Even though the narrator, Jessica, is self-centered, acts rashly, and is sometimes mean, readers will get caught up in the drama of the K-Pop world. Jessica’s erratic behavior keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately, all of the characters have flaws that will leave readers wondering why anyone would subject themselves to the abuse of training. Jessica leaves the reader with one thought, “When we feel like we cannot do this any longer, we remember that we already have, and we will again.” If you’re up for a fun, romance-based Korean comedy, add I Believe in A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo to your must-read list.

 Sexual Content

  • Rachel sees two people she knows with their “lips locked.”
  • Right before a concert, Jason “cups one hand gently against my face, and I let my eyes close as I lean in. I feel his lips press softly against mine. Warmth floods through my entire body as he moves his hand to the back of my neck, sparking in my stomach and out to my fingertips.”
  • While at a party, Jason kisses Rachel. “When he finally turns toward me, his face lit up in the familiar Jason way, it feels like a thousand tiny fireworks going off in my heart. . . I throw my arms around him and kiss him.”
  • Rachel overhears trainees talking about a love triangle between a K-pop star and two girls. The girl says, “I heard she’s [Rachel’s] pregnant with Minjun’s love child. . .”
  • A boy comes over to Hyeri’s house, one of Rachel’s friends. “Hyeri throws her arm around him and presses her lips against his. Juhyn and I cheer as Daeho wraps his arms around her and kisses her passionately back. . .”

Violence

  • Rachel sees Akari, a trainee, being yelled at by her trainer. “Her voice cracks on the high note and the trainer bends over, slapping her hard in the gut. Akari winces through the blow but doesn’t stop singing. . . the trainer hits her again. Harder.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When a trainee was let go “rumors had run rampant that she had a drug problem and she owed thousands of dollars to her dealers.”
  • Rachel goes to a party at the trainee house. “I trip over more than a few empty beer cans as I march toward what looks like the bar area. . .”
  • Rachel and other people at the party drink. “People are dropping shows of grapefruit soju into beer glasses and downing the whole drink.”
  • While at the party, Rachel gets drunk and then one of the trainees puts something in Rachel’s champagne. Later, Rachel wonders, “What the fuck did Mina put in that drink?”
  • Rachel goes to a hotel buffet and sees “a young couple sharing a bottle of wine with their salmon dinner.”
  • Jason and Rachel go to a restaurant for dinner. While there, they see three girls. “One of them is clearly wasted, chugging soju straight from the bottle.”
  • Rachel and Jason go to dinner with Jason’s aunts, who order wine.
  • Rachel and Jason go to a party, where alcohol is served to minors.
  • Rachel goes to her friend’s house and they have “alcohol bottles lined up neatly on the table, all ready for the twin’s predrink.” Upset, Rachel grabs “the bottle of tequila and pop[s] it open. . . I take a big gulp straight from the bottle.” All three of the girls get drunk.

Language

  • “Omg,” “God,” and “ohmygod” are occasionally used as exclamations.
  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, badass, bitch, crap, damn, fuck, hell, holy shit, piss, and shit.
  • Rachel says “thank god” several times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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