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.”

Truly Devious #1

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: she will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.

But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Truly Devious will captivate murder mystery fans as it goes back and forth from the 1936 kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter and the current students who reside at Ellingham Academy. While Stevie scours the school’s archives for clues to the cold case, she also must navigate typical high school drama, which makes her a more relatable and likable character. While some of the students are a little too quirky to be believable, that doesn’t detract from the book’s entertainment value. Instead, it highlights some of the bizarre behavior of the ultra-rich. The story has the perfect blend of suspense, mystery, and teenage angst. Plus, there’s a mysterious boy Stevie isn’t sure if she should hate or love.

While most of the story revolves around the Ellingham’s school, the reader also gets a look into Stevie’s home life and the conflict between her and her parents. Stevie’s parents have never really understood why she can’t be “normal.” Increasing the conflict, Stevie’s parents also work for Senator Edward King—a rich, corrupt man who Stevie hates. While Senator King plays a small role in Truly Devious, the book hints that the senator will return in the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs.

The fast-paced mystery expertly blends the past and the present into an entertaining story that will keep the readers guessing until the very end. While the conclusion partially solves one mystery, the mystery of the Ellingham’s kidnapping ends with an interesting new clue which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs. With interesting characters, a suspenseful mystery, and lots of surprising twists, Truly Devious will please mystery buffs who are ready for more mature content. If you’d like a tamer detective story, the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey is a highly entertaining mystery that will thrill without the graphic images.

Sexual Content

  • Janelle recently broke up with her girlfriend and now has a crush on another student, Vi.
  • When two students disappear, a boy says, “I think they’re going to go back and bone. . .” Later, the students “walked close enough together and looked at each other in a way that made it clear that they had not parted ways right away last night.”
  • After a student dies, David and Stevie go back to her bedroom. After talking for a while, “David pressed his lips to hers. . . He was kissing her very gently, his lips pressing on her neck. . . Her hands were in his hair.” The make-out scene is described over a page. A teacher interrupts them and tells David to leave.
  • David wants to talk to Stevie about them making out. He tells her that her technique “was good. You really like to explore with that tongue. Every part of you is a detective, I guess. . . I like what we did.” After they talk, “she pressed her lips to his. . . Their lips met and they would be tighter for a minute, then they would both stop and stay where they were for another few seconds. . . He was stroking her hair, running his fingers up the short strands. . .” When there is a knock on the door, Stevie hides in the closet. David answers the door and leaves.

Violence

  • Stevie is investigating a murder from 1936. As she investigates, the story flashes back to the events when Dottie was murdered. While trying to escape from a man, Dottie falls, and “her fingers slipped along the rungs of the ladder, but she couldn’t get purchase. She was falling. The floor met her with terrible finality. . . There was an ache that was almost sweet and something pooled around her. . . When the darkness came for Dottie, it was quick and it was total.”
  • After delivering ransom money, Albert Ellingham is knocked out when “something came down on his head, and then all faded to black.”
  • When Ellingham’s wife’s body was found, “she was wrapped in oilcloth and she was in bad shape, real bad shape. . . Iris’s body was found to have three gunshot wounds.”
  • Ellingham and one of his friends die when their boat explodes. The death is not described.
  • A man named Vorachek is standing trial for the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter. During the trial, he is shot. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During prohibition, a secret tunnel was built, and “bottles of wine and liquor of every description” were stored in a hidden area.
  • Stevie has a prescription for Lexapro and Ativan. Twice Stevie takes Ativan while having a panic attack.
  • Ellie, one of the students, sneaks in champagne. When offered it, Stevie “decided to go for it. She had only drunk a few times in her life. . . the champagne was warm and had a hard, mineral taste and fizzed up her nose. It was not unpleasant.” Several times throughout the story, Ellie appears drunk.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that “plenty of people on the street will buy [alcohol] for you for five bucks.”
  • Ellie went to Paris with her mother and her mother’s “lover.” While there they drank wine.
  • Ellie says that a boy spent his time smoking weed and playing video games; later, Stevie finds out that this is untrue.
  • At a school gathering, some of the students pass around a flask. Stevie doesn’t drink from it.
  • After the kidnappers demand more ransom, Ellingham “poured some whiskeys with a shaking hand, giving one to the detective and keeping one for himself.”
  • While reading the Ellingham’s case files, Stevie finds out that a man who was present drank “often and in high quantities.”
  • Stevie and her friends play a drinking game. While playing the game, some of the players drink, while others don’t. “Stevie reached for the bottle and took a very tiny sip, just enough that the wine touched her lips and scent flooded her nose.”

Language

  • Several times a girl says, “It is hot as balls in here.”
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • Hell is used frequently.
  • Ass, damn, crap, pissed, and shit are used infrequently.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that her parents’ boss, a senator, is an asshole.
  • Stevie says, “I’m not being a dick.”
  • A girl says that a boy’s ex-girlfriend is a bitch.
  • Stevie says that her parents’ employer, a senator, is a “racist, fascist scum.”
  • The f-word is used twice.
  • In a heated situation, goddamnit is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Just Roll With It

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time . . . so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

Maggie struggles with OCD and feels compelled to roll a dice before she makes any decisions. Soon, Maggie is rolling dice to decide if she should have lunch with a friend, if she should let a friend borrow a book, and other everyday decisions. Maggie’s OCD begins to interfere with her daily life. At the beginning of the story, the reader sees Maggie rolling the dice, but a lack of explanation makes the dice rolling confusing. However, later in the book, OCD is explained in kid-friendly terms that are relatable.

In English class, the students are reading The Crucible, which ties into Maggie’s life. For example, Maggie’s friend, Clara, says, “I think it must be really hard for Sara. She knows she’s not a witch, but when everyone is saying that kind of stuff to you, sometimes it’s hard to remember they are wrong.” Likewise, Maggie wonders if others think she is crazy, because of her OCD.

Maggie’s story unfolds with quick looks at different aspects of her life. While this allows Maggie to be well-developed, the constant change of scene may be confusing for some readers. In addition, part of Maggie’s emotions are shown when she talks to an imaginary dragon. The dragon doesn’t hesitate in making Maggie question her abilities. At one point the dragon tells her, “Every time you forget your homework, or are afraid to ask a question, and even when you’re not sure if you want seconds at dinner? That’s me, reminding you that you’re weak. You’re shy. You’re nothing.”

Just Roll With It has several positive aspects, including Maggie’s relationship with her family and her friend, Clara. Maggie’s sister encourages Maggie that “fear and pain can’t be avoided, no matter how much we try. Coming out to mom and dad was really scary for me. But I’m glad I did it. A lot of the worries I made up in my head ended up not coming true. So I put myself through a lot of heartache for nothing.” With her family’s reassurance, Maggie agrees to see a therapist in order to deal with anxiety. Middle grade readers will relate to Maggie who worries about what other people say about her, forgets to do her homework, and struggles with figuring out what clubs she wants to join.

Maggie’s story comes to life in brightly colored panels. When Maggie is feeling stressed, the pictures use a darker hue to illustrate her anxiety. The illustrations mostly focus on Maggie, her friends, and her family. When Maggie is at school, the students are a diverse group including a girl in a wheelchair and a Muslim. The story also includes Clara’s two moms and Maggie’s sister’s girlfriend. Reluctant readers will enjoy Just Roll With It because it uses easy vocabulary and has a fast pace. Each page has one to seven simple sentences, which make Just Roll With a quick book to read. Readers interested in exploring the theme of anxiety should also read the graphic novel, Guts by Raina Telgemeie.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy shoves Maggie’s friend Clara twice, knocking her to the ground.
  • When a boy goes to hit Clara, Maggie steps in and hits him across the face with a fat book.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck, darn, and OMG are used several times.
  • Crap is used once.
  • There is some name-calling including jerk, snake bait, and babies.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I am Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King, the world champion tennis player, fought successfully for women’s rights. From a young age, Billie Jean King loved sports—especially tennis! But as she got older, she realized that plenty of people, even respected male athletes, didn’t take female athletes seriously. She set out to prove them wrong and show girls everywhere that sports are for everyone, regardless of gender.

Billie Jean’s story shows the inequity in tennis, which at the time was played mostly by rich, white males. The story focuses on how women were discriminated against. For example, women were paid significantly less. Even though Billy Jean and her partner, Karen Wantze, were the youngest team to ever win Wimbledon, they could not afford to attend the Wimbledon celebration ball.

Right from the start, Bill Jean King’s story begins explaining what “fair play” means. Billie Jean defines fair play, saying, “In sports and in life, it means you respect the rules and treat everyone equally.” Most of Billie Jean’s story focuses on equity in sports, but it leaves out what exactly Billie Jean did to help solve the problem. However, the book’s message is positive: “All of us are powerful in our own ways. So how do you get to be your best self? By practicing, sweating, and giving everything you’ve got. And when you have nothing left, give more.” Later in her life, President Obama awarded Billie Jean the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being “one of the first openly lesbian sports figures, and for using sports to create social change.”

Colorful, full-page illustrations show important aspects of Billie Jean’s life beginning when she was a little girl. The book’s text includes speech bubbles as well as short paragraphs. Throughout the book, Sonia and some of the other characters are cartoonish. The cartoonish figure of Billie Jean does not change throughout the book; when she is an adult, she is pictured with other players who look like adults, yet Billie Jean still looks like a child which is a little disconcerting. When groups of people appear, the people are diverse and include both male and female. The end of the book has a timeline of Billie Jean’s life and six pictures of her. In the last line, Billie Jean says, “Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.”

Younger readers will enjoy I am Billie Jean King’s fun format, conversational text, and positive message. However, the heavy focus on equity may be difficult for younger readers to understand. For these readers, parents may wish to read the book with their child and discuss some of the important achievements Billie Jean made for women. To explore equal rights further, read A Girl Named Rosa: The True Story of Rosa Parks by Denise Lewis Patrick, which is another inspirational book about fighting for equal rights.

Sexual Content

  • Billie Jean realizes that she is gay. “Being gay means that if you’re a girl, you love and have romantic feelings for other girls—and if you’re a boy, you love and have romantic feelings for other boys.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Blackout

The sun beats down on the city of New York where there are places to go and people to see. As a heatwave takes over New York City, electricity goes out. This creates the infamous blackouts causing the lights to go off and the trains to stop running. No electricity also means no air conditioners, and that everyone outside is sweating through their clothes from the summer heat and humidity. Amid the blackout, six couples spark a different kind of electricity in the City that Never Sleeps as old loves, and new ones, meet and head to a massive block party in Brooklyn.

Blackout features six short stories following six couples. “The Long Walk” follows two exes named Tammi and Kareem. Kareem needs to get to a block party and Tammi needs to go back home to Brooklyn – coincidentally where the block party is being held. Together, Tammi and Kareem begin a long walk to Brooklyn during the heatwave. “The Long Walk” is also split into 6 parts and scattered throughout the novel instead of being compacted like the rest of the short stories.

“Mask Off” is a queer, MLM (Man Loving Man) love story that follows Tremaine and basketball star JJ. The two of them are riding on the subway before it is shut down by the blackout. “Made to Fit” is another queer, WLW (Woman Loving Woman) love story that follows Nella and Joss at a senior living facility. Nella’s grandfather accidentally loses a picture of his wife, Nella’s grandmother, and Joss offers to help Nella look for it in the dark.

“All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features two characters named Lana and Tristan, who are trapped in the New York Public Library during the blackout and play a game to see who can find the best book. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” follows a love triangle on a double decker bus between Kayla, Micah, and Kayla’s boyfriend Tre’Shawn. The final story, “Seymour and Grace,” is a first meeting between Grace and her Ryde driver Seymour. Grace needs to get to the block party in Brooklyn, but the trip gets interrupted by Seymour’s car running out of gas.

All six short stories follow a prose narrative style in the first-person perspective of their respective narrators. Each writer has a different writing style and format. For example, “All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features footnotes at the bottom of the page to convey Lana’s truth and demonstrate her character. “The truth: I [Lana] just wanted us to have our adventures together away from anyone we might run into. The people we are in Brooklyn aren’t the same people we are in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens. Do you think you can be a totally different person in a different place? Your insides and outsides transforming into another you?”

There is a sense of consistency between all six authors, allowing the reader to easily grasp the flow of the stories and connect them to the other five. The stories feature romance, and the novel is meant to celebrate young black love. All the characters are teenagers, and most of them are in their late teens. This makes them relatable to a young adult audience as the characters deal with friendships, their identity, and college. For black young adult readers, Blackout provides them the representation they need, and the novel perfectly portrays each character in their own, individual light with their own individual stories and identity.

Blackout is a beautiful novel written by six black authors who bring to life the idea of young love. Each story celebrates young black love and the diversity that occurs in the black community. Queer black teenagers get their own love stories separate from their straight counterparts. Each story provides a small twist on the romance genre due to the authors’ distinct writing style and the story’s format. This book is for readers who are a fan of romance and for Blackout’s targeted audience of black readers. The book is extremely entertaining and will have fans wanting more.

Sexual Content

  • JJ brings up rumors about Tremaine, saying, “there are rumors he “deflowered” both the starting quarterback and his girl.”
  • JJ recounts a sexual encounter he had with a girl on his eighteenth birthday. She “danced me into a corner and started kissing my neck. And I did kiss her back—she was a great kisser, objectively speaking—and when she pushed things a bit further, I rolled with it.”
  • At the queer party, JJ kisses Tremaine without Tremaine knowing it was JJ. “When he turned back to me, I lifted the bottom of my mask, closed the space between us . . . and I kissed him right on the mouth.”
  • Nella was in love with her ex-best friend Bree, who Nella “used to dream about kissing.”
  • In a brief flashback scene, Nella relives the experience of Bree telling Nella that she only kisses other girls when she’s drunk. Nella says, “Twig saw you kissing girls at all those house parties?”
  • Joss puts on some purple lipstick and Nella thinks, “. . . her mouth is suddenly very, very distracting.”
  • In the laundry room, Nella and Joss kiss three times. The scene lasts for two pages. “When we kiss, it’s slow and warm. It’s thickly sweet, like the butterscotch candy we took from Queenie’s bedside table, but there’s something underneath the syrupy flavor that I know must be essentially Joss too.”
  • After Lana confesses her love to Tristan, the two of them make out. “Before I [Lana] could finish, his hands are on my back and his bottom lip brushes against my neck, my ear, then my cheek, before he kisses me.”
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla, but Kayla doesn’t let him. This happens twice.
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla a third time and this time Kayla lets him. “I let him kiss me this time. It’s comforting and familiar.”
  • After having a panic attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tammi brings Kareem close to her and kisses him. Tammi grabs “his shirt, pull[s] him close, and kiss[es] him. I kiss my messy, forgetful, silly-ass ex-boyfriend. And as we hover over the water, I forget the world as he kisses me back.”

Violence

  • While at the masquerade party for queer men, JJ gets hit on by an older man against his consent. The man says, “Oh, don’t play coy, now,” as he breathes down JJ’s ear and grabs his arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The words “shit” and “ass” are used a variety of times and in a variety of ways. For example, when Tristan is talking to Lana about them going to separate colleges, he says, “I’m supposed to help you and your dads move you into your fancy-ass Columbia dorms before I bounce to Binghamton.”
  • When talking about her ex, Taylor, Joss says, “That bitch missed out too.”
  • During an argument with Kareem over Tammi not trusting him, he says “Fuck it.”
  • Tammi reminisces over a middle school memory where Kareem was bullied. She calls those bullies “assholes.”
  • Kareem says that Tammi called him “a fucking liar” because Tammi thought he lied and cheated on her.
  • Kayla confides in her best friend, Jazmyn, about her issues with her relationship with Tre’Shawn. Jazmyn says, “Is he on some fuck boy shit?”
  • Kayla calls her classmate Micah a “jackass” lightheartedly.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

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 Queen of Nothing

Jude is a mortal who has grown up in Faerieland, but she has recently been exiled back to the land of her birth. Now, Jude lives in the mortal land with her siblings, Oak, a faerie, and Vivi, who is half-faerie. Jude begins to rely on odd jobs to get by. However, this all changes when Taryn, Jude’s twin sister, seeks refuge with them, telling them that she’s killed her husband. Because they’re identical, Jude and Taryn decide to swap Identities and Jude jumps at the chance to return to her home. However, when Jude returns, her husband, the High King of Elfhame, recognizes she isn’t Taryn, and tells Jude that her exile was all a farce and she could have returned at any time. Jude feels betrayed. Before the two can fully reconcile, however, Madoc, Jude’s adoptive father, swoops in, trying to save Taryn from her interrogation, but takes Jude instead not realizing she and Taryn had switched.

Jude plots against Madoc and confronts him revealing that she isn’t Taryn. The two fight, and Madoc delivers a fatal blow to Jude. Despite the severity of the wound, Jude is able to heal and return to the palace, where she is now the queen due to her marriage to Cardan. At the palace, Madoc and his allies strike, and Madoc challenges Cardan to a duel. Before the duel can take place, Cardan speaks out about the ridiculous manner of the monarchy of Elfhame and makes a show of breaking the crown in half. However, the crown is cursed and Cardan transforms into a giant serpent. It’s prophesized that “only out of his blood can a great leader rise,” so Jude kills the serpent and Cardan is reborn and accepted to be the true High King of Elfhame. Jude and Cardan then fully recognize the love that they have for each other and resume their legal rules in peace.

In the final book of The Folk and the Air Trilogy, Black creates a thrilling read full of suspense. The characters plotting against each other make a gripping story that feels impossible to put down. The ending, where Cardan turns into a snake, seems a little out of place and extremely odd given the rest of the trilogy. Despite this, Black creates a story full of characters who seem believable and relatable, with at least one character the reader will see themselves in.

The Queen of Nothing wraps up loose ends which creates a satisfying ending to Cardan and Jude’s tale. The story tells of the heroic achievements of the underdog and emphasizes the importance of remaining strong throughout adversity. The novel emphasizes the idea of finding allies in unlikely places, as well as the importance of resilience. Altogether, Black creates a series that is highly engrossing and deeply satisfying.

Sexual Content

  • Cardan and Jude kiss. She thinks, “I want him to kiss me. My weariness evaporates as his lips press against mine. Over and over, one kiss sliding into the next.”
  • Before Cardan and Jude have sex, Jude thinks, “When I was a kid, sex was a mystery, some bizarre thing people did to make babies when they got married. Once, a friend and I placed dolls in a hat and shook the hat around to indicate that they were doing it . . . But though I understand what sex is now and how it’s accomplished, I didn’t anticipate how much it would feel like losing myself.”
  • Cardan and Jude have sex. Jude fumbles “into what I think is the right position. Gasp as our bodies slide together. He holds me steady through the sharp, bright spark of pain.”

Violence

  • Prince Dain, Cardan’s brother, shoots a mortal with an arrow. Prince Dain “loosed the arrow . . . It struck the mortal through the throat.” The wound is not described.
  • In a three-page scene, Jude fights Grima Mog, a cannibalistic faerie general. At one point, “Jude swings a metal pipe at Grima Mog’s side with all the strength in [her] body.” Grima Mog is injured, but not severely.
  • Taryn confesses that she killed Locke, her husband. She goes on to explain his death: “There was a jeweled letter opener on the desk and—you remember all those lessons Madoc gave us? The next thing I knew, the point of it was in Locke’s throat.”
  • When Madoc invades the castle to rescue Taryn, many guards are killed. “One of [Cardan]’s guards lies dead, a polearm jutting out of her ribcage.” The fight is not described.
  • Madoc and Jude have a three-page fight, where Madoc stabs her. “His sword sinks into my side, into my stomach.” Although the wound is not described, Jude then goes on to describe when Madoc walks away. “His blade comes free, slick with my blood. My leg is wet with it. I am bleeding out.” Despite incurring such a violent injury, Jude is able to heal.
  • When Jude and Cardan reunite, she slaps him. “It’s a stinging blow, smearing the gold on his cheekbone and causing his skin to redden.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies tells Jude, “We caught a few courtiers speculating about assassinating the mortal queen. Their plans got blown up . . . As did they.”
  • Jude kills the serpent that Cardan becomes. “I swing Heartsworn in a shining arc at the serpent’s head. The blade falls, cutting through scales, through flesh and bone. Then the serpent’s head is at my feet.”
  • The Queen of the Undersea, Orlagh is shot by a cursed arrow. Madoc tells Cardan, “’If you will not risk the Blood Crown, the arrowhead will burrow into her heart, and she will die.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Madoc drugs Jude with “a cloth smelling of cloying sweetness.” Jude “feel[s] [her] limbs go loose, and a moment later, [she] feel[s] nothing at all.”
  • At parties, there is often drinking, especially of “honey wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • At Cardan’s birth, a prophecy is given. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child . . . He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.”
  • When Cardan is a child, his brother instructs him to shoot a walnut off a mortal man’s head. The mortal is described as “enchanted, of course. No one would stand like that willingly.”
  • While in exile, Jude reminisces on her time in Faerie, thinking, “It’s magic I long for, magic I miss. Maybe I even miss being afraid.”
  • There are many faeries. For example, Oak, Jude’s brother, is described with horns and hoofed feet.
  • Heather, Vivi’s girlfriend, texts her about her time in Faeire, saying, “I want to forget Faerie. I want to forget that you and Oak aren’t human. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. If I asked you to make me forget, would you?”
  • While in the mortal realm, Jude explains that “faeries in the mortal world have a different set of needs than those in Elfhame. The solitary fey, surviving at the edges of Faerie, do not concern themselves with revels and courtly machinations.”
  • Jude’s boss, who provides her with odd jobs, is described as  “a black-furred, goat-headed, and goat-hooved faerie with bowler hat in hand.”
  • Both Grima Mog (a cannibalistic faerie general), and Madoc (Jude’s father) are Redcaps, meaning “they have a cap they dip in the blood of their vanquished enemies, supposedly to grant them some stolen vitality of the slain.”
  • When Jude opens Grima Mog’s fridge to put some leftovers away, “The remains of the Folk she’s killed greet me. She’s collected arms and heads, preserved somehow, baked and broiled and put away just like leftovers after a big holiday dinner.”
  • Heather confides in Jude about her troubles. Heather says, “I have nightmares. About that place. Faerie. I can’t sleep. I look at people on the street, and I wonder if they’re glamoured. . . I don’t need to know there’s a whole other world full of monsters. . . But I also hate that [Oak] and Vee have magic, magic that she could use to win every argument that we could ever have. Magic to make me obsessed with her. Or turn me into a duck.”
  • Jude explains that she “had a geas placed on me. It protects me from glamours.”
  • Grimsen, a Faerie blacksmith, explains that he made Cardan an earring that “allowed him to overhear those speaking just outside of range.” However, “it was cursed. With a word, I could turn it into a ruby spider that would bite him until he died.”
  • Jude explains the importance of the full names of faeries. “Among the Folk, true names are closely guarded secrets. A faerie can be controlled by their true name, surer than by any vow.”
  • As the High Queen of Faerie, Jude wonders if the earth can heal her in a way similar to how the land reacts to Cardan. After sewing her wound shut, she notices that in the ground, where she had bled, “tiny white flowers [are] pushing through the snow.”
  • Nicasia, princess of the Undersea, is described as wearing “armor of iridescent scales.”
  • At Cardan’s old house, there is a magical door “carved with an enormous and sinister face” that can speak.
  • Madoc drives a sword into the floor. “A crack forms on the floor, starting where the blade punctured the ground, the fissure widening as it moves toward the dais, splitting the stone.” The throne is split, and “sap leaks from the rupture like blood from a wound.”
  • Cardan, after being cursed, turns into a giant serpent. “The monstrous thing seems to have swallowed up everything of Cardan. His mouth opens wide and then jaw-crackingly wide as long fangs sprout. Scales shroud his skin… In the place where the High King was, there is a massive serpent, covered in black scales and curved fangs. A golden sheen runs down the coils of the enormous body.”
  • Jude begs the earth to uncurse Cardan. “‘Please,’ I say to the dirt floor of the brugh, to the earth itself. ‘I will do whatever you want. I will give up the crown. I will make any bargain. Just please fix him. Help me break the curse.’”
  • There is a theory that the health of the king is tied closely to the land, so when it storms, Jude thinks, “I can only assume that Cardan, in his cursed form, is cursing the weather as well.”
  • Grimsen, a blacksmith, created a bridle that can “leash anything. In fact, it will fit itself to the creature being restrained.”
  • Jude is able to heal a poisoned man by placing her hand on his ankle and thinking, “Wake…I am your queen and I command you to wake.”
  • The astronomer on the king’s council says the stars are unclear. “When the future is obscured, it means an event will permanently reshape the future for good or ill. Nothing can be seen until the event is concluded.”
  • Once Cardan is uncursed, he heals the land that Madoc had broken, “Cardan spreads his hands, and the earth heals along the seam, rock and stone bubbling up to fill it back in. Then he twists his fingers, and the divided throne grows anew, blooming with briars.”
  • Cardan gifts the spies of his kingdom magical masks, explaining, “When you wear it, no one will be able to recall your height or the timbre of your voice. And in that mask, let no one in Elfhame turn you away. Every hearth will be open to you, including mine.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

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

Chain of Gold

Shadowhunters are angelic humans who are responsible for keeping mundanes (humans) safe from demons and other supernatural threats. For many years, London has had a quiet period, where demons have been rare. However, this changes when a new demon, a Manticore, begins killing shadowhunters. James and his sister Lucie, along with his friends, Cordelia, Matthew, Thomas, and Christopher, hatch a plan to stop the murders of their friends and families. They enlist the help of many others, not just shadowhunters, but also warlocks and ghosts, to heal those who have been injured by the Manticore. The group is determined to defeat the Manticore once and for all.

James is the son of Tessa (a warlock), and Will (a great shadowhunter). Due to the presence of demonic blood in his lineage, James often finds himself jumping between the “shadow world,” and the mortal realm. Lucie, his sister, has an unusual ability to speak to ghosts, as well as to command the dead. Cordelia is a strong, independent woman. Matthew provides comic relief. Thomas and Christopher are wholesome, kind men. Together, this band of self-named “Merry Thieves” provides an interesting cast of characters you can’t help but love.

James has been in love with Grace Blackthorn for years, seeing her every summer when on vacation, and keeping up a relationship in secret. However, when Cordelia moves to London, he finds himself drawn to her in ways that he wasn’t expecting, and is torn between the two women. When Grace breaks it off with James, he and Cordelia begin a relationship; however, it is cut short by Grace reentering James’s life using a bracelet that breeds affection. With James hopelessly in love with Grace once more, Cordelia is in an awkward situation.

In order to finally defeat the Manticore, James must journey to Hell to meet his grandfather, a demon. He and Cordelia enter the realm and kill the Manticore, while those still in the mortal realm find a cure for those who have been injured. Although it seems that the Manticore has been defeated, Belial, a Prince of Hell and James’s grandfather, has not been incapacitated to the same effect. The reader is left with a sort of cliffhanger, knowing that there is more trouble to follow.

The book is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, allowing the reader to get inside the heads of the characters, and better understand their actions and motivations. Clare creates a captivating story that’s impossible to put down, with characters who feel real enough to jump off the page. The novel emphasizes the importance of friendship and relying on those around you for help. Family is also an important theme in the novel, especially recognizing those in your family as people, rather than idols of perfection.

The cast is full of characters who are outsiders in a way, be it through sexuality, race, or gender, and the story showcases the importance of being yourself. Altogether, the novel has a fast-paced plot, characters full of depth, and important messages. All of these aspects come together to create a story that is not only entertaining but meaningful as well.

Sexual Content

  • James kisses Grace at her request, and he feels “the cool, soft press of her lips against his.”
  • Cordelia catches her brother, Alastair, kissing Charles. “It was Alastair’s turn to bury his hands in Charles’s hair, to press against Charles’s body and fumble with his waistcoat. Charles’s hands were flat against Alastair’s chest, and he was kissing Alastair hungrily, over and over—”
  • Grace coerces Matthew into kissing her. Matthew “pressed his hungry mouth against her lips and kissed her, and kissed her. She tasted of sweet tea and oblivion. He felt nothing, no desire, no yearning, only an empty desperate compulsion.”
  • In order to keep from getting recognized at a party, James kisses Cordelia. “She knew he was making it look as if they were Downworlders having an assignation in the Whispering Room—but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered except the way he was kissing her, gloriously kissing her.”

Violence

  • James kills a demon, and “let both of his knives fly. One plunged into the demon’s throat, the other into its forehead.”
  • There is a four-page scene in which the Shadowhunters fight a large demon. Particularly violent parts are when “the demon clawed at [someone’s] throat,” and Cordelia brought “Cortana down in a great curving arc, severing [the demon’s] head.”
  • James saves Cordelia from a demon. “The demon screeched, a high and horrible noise, as the knives plunged into its torso. The creature spasmed—it seemed almost to be crumbling, its leathery seedpods pattering to the ground like rain. It gave a last choking hiss and vanished.”
  • Cordelia describes the fight against the Manticore. Cordelia “whipped Cortana [her sword] forward with a slashing motion, shredding the demon in front of her.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • James and Matthew fight a Khora demon, and James throws knives at it. “The knives sank to their hilts in the demon’s skull. It blew apart; one of the other demons screamed.” Then Christopher gets hurt. “The demon’s great clawed hand raked across Christopher’s chest.”
  • James fights the Manticore in the Hell realm, and the Manticore attacks with his claws, “One raked James’s arm; he spun sideways, blade whipping overhead, slashing across the demon’s torso.” The scene is described over 3 pages.
  • Grace says, “I was eight when [my parents] were killed by demons.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Matthew is often portrayed as either drunk or drinking, with eyes that are “suspiciously bright.” He is often holding a flask or alcohol of some kind. Lucie confronts him, saying, “You’re drunk now . . . Matthew, you’re drunk most of the time.”
  • When James is sick with a scalding fever, he is forced to drink a “loathsome potion” to heal.
  • After Grace breaks up with James, he gets drunk. “James unbuttoned the inside pocket and drew out [Matthew’s] silver flask.”
  • Alastair reveals to Cordelia that their father is an alcoholic. Alastair says, “he’s always bloody drunk, Cordelia. The only one of us who didn’t know that is you.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes bloody and hell.

Supernatural

  • When Lucie is exploring the forest outside of her house, she talks about the moss, and how “her father told her it was a pillow for faeries at night, and that the white stars of the flowers that grew only in the hidden country of Idris made bracelets and rings for their delicate hands.”
  • While in the forest, Lucie falls into a pit. Jesse saves her and then says, “This is one of [the faerie’s] pit traps. They usually use them to catch animals, but they’d be very pleased to find a little girl instead.”
  • Jesse tells Lucie that if the faeries catch her, she “could find [her]self serving faerie gentry in the Land Under the Hill for the rest of [her] life.”
  • When James is fighting a demon, “he was suddenly pulled into Hell,” which is often referred to as the “shadow realm,” a dimension James is often taken to without warning.
  • Most of the characters are Shadowhunters/Nephilim, who are “a special race of warriors, descended from an angel, gifted with powers that allowed them to wield weapons of shining adamas and to bear the black Marks of holy runes on their bodies—runes that made them stronger, faster, more deadly than any mundane human; runes that made them burn brightly in the dark.”
  • James fights a demon that is described as having “a ribbed gray body, a curving, sharp beak lined with hooked teeth, and splayed paw-like feet from which ragged claws protruded.”
  • While fighting a demon, James notes something like recognition in its eyes, but goes on to say that “demons, at least the lesser kind, didn’t recognize people. They were vicious animals driven by pure greed and hatred.”
  • Shadowhunters rely on Seraph blades, swords “infused with the energy of angels.”
  • Shadowhunters have runes that allow them to do various things, such as “glamour runes [that] made them invisible to all eyes not gifted with the Sight.”
  • As James and his friends walk through London, “James caught a glimpse of the pale skin and glittering eyes of a vampire.”
  • There are a variety of supernatural beings, referred to as “Downworlders.” One of these groups are warlocks. “Warlocks were the offspring of humans and demons: capable of using magic but not of bearing runes or using adamas, the clear crystalline metal from which steles and seraph blades were carved. They were one of the four branches of Downworlders, along with vampires, werewolves, and the fey.”
  • Both James and Lucie can see ghosts, a trait they note as “not uncommon in the Herondale family.”
  • James describes the shadow realm as having, “charred earth. A similarly scorched sky arced above him. Twisted trees emerged from the ground, ragged claws grasping at the air.”
  • When James is hurt, Matthew draws an “iratze, a healing rune,” on James.
  • Tessa, James’s mother, recalls “attending a vampire frolic once. And some sort of party at Benedict Lightwood’s house, before he got demon pox and turned into a worm, of course—”
  • Cordelia talks about the reason for her father’s arrest, noting that “a nest of Kravyād demons had been discovered just outside the border of Idris,” the home country of Shadowhunters. She notes that her father had been called in to help, but “the Kravyād demons had gone—and the Nephilim had trespassed onto land that a vampire clan believed was theirs.”
  • Matthew talks about a warlock he once knew, “who had three arms. He could duel with one hand, shuffle a deck of cards with the next, and untie a lady’s corset with the third, all at the same time. Now there was a chap to emulate.”
  • Shadowhunters have a light source that they call “witchlight,” which requires no electricity.
  • Jessamine and Jesse, two characters in the book, are ghosts.
  • Cordelia has a sword, Cortana, which her father used when he “slew the great demon Yanluo…They say the blade of Cortana can cut through anything.”
  • While all the young Shadowhunters are at a picnic, “a demon broke the surface” of the lake.
  • A pack of demons are described: “The demons raced like hellhounds across the grass, leaping and surging, utterly silent. Their skin was rough and corrugated, the color of onyx; their eyes flaming black.”
  • Silent Brothers are the healers of the Shadowhunter world, and speak in silent voices, “an echo in [the] head.” They are described in, “Ivory robes marked in red, skin drained of color, scarred with red runes. Most were without hair and worse, had their eyes sewn shut, their sockets sunken and hollow.”
  • Before sneaking into Grace’s house, Lucie and Cordelia “marked themselves carefully with various runes—Strength, Stealth, Night Vision.”
  • Cordelia encounters a demon in the Blackthorn’s greenhouse. “It was a demon, but not like any she had seen before. From a distance it almost seemed a butterfly or moth, pinned to the wall, wings outspread. A second, closer look revealed that its wings were membranous extensions, shot through with pulsing red veins. Where the wings joined together, they rose into a sort of central stalk, crowned by three heads. Each head was like a wolf’s, but with black, insectile eyes.”
  • When the group meets a warlock, Malcolm Fade, Cordelia notes that, “Most warlocks had a mark that set them apart, a physical sign of their demon blood: blue skin, horns, claws made of stone. Malcolm’s eyes were certainly an unearthly shade, like amethysts.”
  • At the Hell Ruelle, a sort of party, Cordelia talks about the guests in attendance: “Vampires stalked by proudly, their faces gleaming in the electric light; werewolves prowled the shadows in elegant evening dress. There was music coming from a string quartet standing on a raised cherrywood stage in the center of the room. Cordelia glimpsed a handsome violin player with the gold-green eyes of a werewolf, and a clarinetist with auburn curls, his calves ending in the hard hooves of a goat.”
  • At a party, Cordelia meets Hypatia Vex, whose pupils “were the shape of stars: her warlock mark.”
  • After Cordelia realizes that someone had tried to poison two warlocks, one of the warlocks confirms this using magic. “Malcolm Fade waved a hand over his own cup. Purple sparks woke and danced in his glass. The red wine stain on the carpet unfurled like a flower and turned to purple smoke.”
  • Ragnor Fell, a warlock, is described as having “an extra joint on each finger,” and Gast, another warlock, has “multiple rows of teeth, like a shark.”
  • At a warlock’s house, a “clearly enchanted fire burned in the grate, the flames silver and blue. The smoke that rose from the fire traced delicate patterns on the air in the shape of acanthus leaves. Its smoke smelled sweet, like attar [a fragrant essential oil] of roses.”
  • The group acquires a Pyxis, used for catching demons, and describes how it works. “When you wish to trap a demon, you first wound or weaken it. Then you place the Pyxis on the ground nearby and speak the words ‘Thaam Tholach Thechembaor,’ and the demon will be sucked into the box.”
  • Cordelia describes the Manticore demon as having “the body of a mangy lion with elongated legs, each one ending in a massive, taloned paw. Its head was snakelike and scaled, with glittering red eyes and a triple row of serrated jaws.”
  • Lucie is revealed to have the power to call the dead, something that Jesse explains to her, saying, “You called the dead, and the dead came. I heard you, across the whole city, calling for someone to help you.”
  • James opens a portal to Hell, which Cordelia describes as “a large archway. It seemed to be made of dark light; it curved with Gothic flourishes, as though it were part of the cemetery, but Cordelia knew it was not. Through it, she could glimpse a swirl of dark chaos, as if she were looking through a Portal into the vastness of black space itself.”
  • Grace is attacked by a demon described as “half-reptilian and half-human, with leathery bat’s wings and a sharply pointed chin like the tip of a knife.”
  • James meets his grandfather, Belial, a Prince of Hell, and he is described as “a Prince of Hell showing himself in his most human form. He looked like a statue carved by a divine hand: his features were ageless, handsome, everything in balance. It was possible to see in his face the terrible beauty of the fallen.”
  • Grace reveals that her “mother invoked black magic to try to bring [her] brother back [from the dead].”
  • Lucie saves James by giving him Jesse Blackthorn’s “last breath,” which had been contained in a locket before he died.

Spiritual Content

  • To enter the Silent City where the Silent Brother’s live, James must answer a riddle. “’Quis ut Deus?’ he said. ‘Who is like God?’ the Angel asks. The answer is ‘No one. No one is like God.’”

by Sara Mansfield

 

I Am Not Starfire

Mandy Anders is the daughter of Koriand’r/Kory Anders, otherwise known as the superheroine Starfire from Teen Titans. For most of her life, Mandy has lived in the shadow of her mother’s fame as a superheroine, and Mandy’s lack of superpowers only enhances her stress. Kids at school constantly pester her for information on her mom. They look for Mandy’s superpowers. They even theorize about her online. Combine that with high school and it’s easy to say Mandy’s life is a bit of a disaster.

Mandy’s only real friend is a boy named Lincoln, she has a crush on popular girl Claire, and she walked out on her S.A.T which her mother is completely unaware of. After walking out on the test, Mandy has become more distant with her mom. What appears to be a normal, yet rocky mother-daughter relationship devolves into a massive fight over Mandy’s future and her life.

I Am Not Starfire is told from the perspective of Mandy and follows her life at a normal high school in Metropolis until it is upended by the arrival of Blackfire, Starfire’s sister. Readers get to follow Mandy’s emotions as the story progresses, as well as experience her relationship with her mother from her point of view. Mandy’s story centers on learning to not take her mother for granted, understanding the importance of her connection with her mother regardless of her being Starfire the superhero, and taking risks in all manners of life.

Some readers may relate to Mandy’s struggles with school, college, being unsure of what she wants to do in the future, as well as her rocky relationship with her mother. Queer readers will especially relate to Mandy as she has a crush on a female peer, Claire, and her attraction and eventual relationship to Claire is presented as normal– not something that requires a grand “coming out of the closet” moment. However, some may find Mandy’s dialogue and thought process too edgy and sometimes misogynistic. For example, Mandy makes a comment about her mother’s outfits: “She wears less than a yard of fabric to work every day, yet somehow, I’m the one who’s dressing weird.”

I Am Not Starfire has beautiful art that readers will find attractive. The character’s faces are expressive, and the color composition of certain scenes highlights the emotions Mandy feels in that particular moment. Readers may also appreciate the outfits in I Am Not Starfire. Starfire and Blackfire’s outfits are modern, the kind that the targeted audience would recognize, but they are presented in a way that will make them timeless.

I Am Not Starfire is a quick read with simple vocabulary and pretty pictures. Each page has about fifty or fewer words, all of them either in speech bubbles for dialogue, boxes for the characters’ thoughts, or rounded rectangles for text messages. However, I Am Not Starfire doesn’t have a good plot or good character development. While the graphic novel provides a good entrance to the DC universe, it falls flat on its message: the people around you don’t define who you are, and you can be whoever you want to be.

Anyone who is looking to get into its massive and ever-expanding universe will find I Am Not Starfire entertaining. New fans will be incentivized to investigate DC as a whole and learn more about Starfire and the Teen Titans. However, readers who are already fans of DC comics will find this graphic novel very disappointing as it has inaccurate information on Starfire’s powers, goes against DC’s established lore, and overall is written poorly. If you’re looking for a fun, well-written graphic novel with a positive message and an LGBTQ character, Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks would be a good choice.

Sexual Content

  • A guy at school yells from the background, “Hey Mandy! Like your mom’s tits.”
  • Mandy recalls a summer camp romance experience where she kissed a girl. “I did have this girl who kissed me at camp one summer.”
  • In a two-page spread, Mandy and her crush, Claire, kiss for the first time.

 Violence

  • When Starfire tells Mandy about her past on Tamaran, she brings up that her sister killed their parents. Their death is not shown. “Our parents…were killed by The Citadel.”
  • Blackfire and Starfire battle against each other to determine Mandy’s fate. However, Starfire loses to her sister which causes Mandy’s powers to awaken. Mandy fights Blackfire in her mother’s place and wins. The fight lasts for about 16 pages. The illustrations are kid-friendly, and the characters end up with a few scratches and cuts with a little bit of blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lincoln calls a group of Teen Titans fans assholes for not respecting Mandy’s boundaries.
  • Multiple characters often use the word “shit” and other variations of the word. For example, Lincoln says Claire’s friends “are shitty but [Claire] seems okay.”
  • When Mandy’s mom wants to talk about Mandy’s college plans, Mandy says, “Fuck.”
  • After Blackfire has knocked out Starfire, Mandy says, “Why don’t you just fuck off and die?!”

Supernatural

  • While not exactly supernatural, the story features aliens; Starfire is an alien from the planet Tamaran and thus, Mandy herself is an alien. Starfire’s sister, Blackfire, also appears in the book.
  • The Teen Titans make brief appearances in the book. Beast Boy is a green metahuman (human with powers) who can turn into any kind of animal and Raven is a superheroine who is a Cambion (half human and half demon).

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

I’ll Never Tell

Friends for life. Or death. Spring break. Aruba.

Swimming, sunshine, and golden beaches. It was supposed to be the best time of Anna’s life. Paradise. But then the unthinkable happens. Anna’s best friend is found brutally murdered. And when the local police begin to investigate the gruesome crime, suspicion falls on one person—Anna.

They think she’s dangerous, and they’re determined to prove her guilt. With the police and media sparking a witch-hunt against her, Anna is running out of time to prove her innocence. But as she digs deeper into her friend’s final moments, she finds a tangled web of secrets, lies, and betrayal.

Will she clear her name in time? When the truth is finally revealed, it’s more shocking than anyone could have imagined.

Originally published as Dangerous Girls in 2013, I’ll Never Tell portrays a group of friends as partying rich kids, who spend their free time drinking, doing drugs, and having sex. The story is told through Anna’s point of view and jumps to various timeframes including when Anna meets her best friend Elise, a trip to Aruba during spring break, various points of the investigation, and Anna’s current experiences in jail. The shifting time periods are not confusing because they are clearly labeled, however, the format doesn’t allow any of the supporting characters to be well developed. As a result, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters, including Elise who is murdered.

Even though the story is a mystery, a large portion of the plot focuses on Anna’s jail experiences and explores how the wealthy escape the arms of the law. While this story thread is interesting, it is not well-developed, and in the end, none of the rich suspects are guilty of the crime. Another flaw in the story is the conclusion, which has several inconsistencies that take away from the murder reveal. When the murderer finally is uncovered, there is little shock value, but plenty of confusion.

In a world full of good books, readers can find engaging mysteries without the over-the-top partying and gratuitous sexual content. Unfortunately, I’ll Never Tell falls short in both mystery and entertainment. Readers looking for an excellent mystery should read Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards, Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre, and the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey.

 Sexual Content

  • While at a bar, Chelsea tries to get a boy to dance with her. “She grinds above him like a lap dancer, laughing, until he finally catches her around the waist and follows her into the dark, one hand draped possessively across her shoulder.”
  • Anna and her boyfriend, Tate, kiss often. For example, Anna reaches up “to kiss him, and this time, there’s no tension, just a familiar low heat building, and Tate’s hands sliding along the edge of my shirt—”
  • Anna, Tate, and Elise dance. “Tate brings me (Anna) tight against him, and then it’s the three of us, me and Elise dancing up close to him and spinning away. . . Tate laughs between us, his hands linger on Elise’s waist as she grinds against him. . . I grab his hand away from her, pulling him wordlessly to the edge of the dance floor, my back finding some surface, his hands finding the curve of my hips, his lips finding mine.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Elise says Tate is a “man-whore. He’s already dated four different girls this year.”
  • On Halloween, Tate likes Anna’s “sexy costume. . . His lips press against my neck again, but this time he bites down softly, playfully. . . he’s pulled me around so I’m facing him, his lips hard and searching on mine. . .” The scene is described over a page.
  • Elise says she dumped a guy because “he had a two-inch dick and no idea what to do with it.”
  • Elise and Tate plan their first time having sex. “He grinned, trailing his hand lower, down my throat, and across the sensitive skin of my breast. I felt my stomach flip over. . . Tate dipped his head, following the path of his hand with his lips now, kissing a winding trail down my body, while the other hand gently stroked, lower, in a slow rhythm that left me gasping.”
  • Elise has sex with several boys that she just met. Because of Elise, Anna realizes, “I could kiss a boy, breathless against the back wall of some club, and then just walk away not even knowing his name. Or, like Elise, do more. Do whatever we wanted.”
  • Elise and Anna have a sexual relationship, but their kisses are the only thing described.
  • While in Aruba, Tate and Anna share a room. One morning, “He pulls me back up, kissing me hard as he rolls over and crushes me in his embrace. . . then the kiss deepens, his hands reaching impatiently for the flesh of my thighs, easing them apart. I feel him harden against me.” When Anna asks Tate to wait, he decides to go for a run.
  • After hooking up with a boy, Elise complains about him. “You know he did this weird role-playing thing. . .He got off on the whole domination thing, you know, holding me down, trying to make me beg. I mean, I like getting thrown around as much as the next girl, but this was different.” Later, the boy tried to spike Elise’s drink with liquid Ecstasy.

Violence

  • While in jail, an inmate attacks Anna. “The girl lunges at me. I barely have time to get my hands up in defense before her body is on mine and she’s tearing at my hair, clawing at my face. . .The girl drives her elbow into my stomach, making me gulp for air. Her face is lit up, breathless and bright, nose bloody from one of my desperate blocks.” The fight is broken up when Anna is pulled off the inmate. Someone gives Anna a syringe that makes everything go black.
  • Elise and Anna get into an argument. Anna keeps “holding tight, until she shoves me away hard enough to send me flying to the ground among the shattered glass. . . there’s a dull pain in the back of my head, where it cracked against the floor.”
  • Elise slept with Niklas once. Later, he goes to see Anna in prison. Niklas says, “Found yourself a prison bitch yet? Some action in the shower?”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anna, Elise, and a group of friends go to Aruba over spring break. They drink beer, vodka, and other alcohol excessively throughout the trip.
  • During a trial, an attorney tries to “establish Miss Chevalier’s normal partying routine” by showing a picture of her and her friends drinking. Anna says, “We all drank. Just some wine, or vodka with mixers, you know? The guys had beer.”
  • During the trial, Anna’s attorney tells her that the prosecutor will “ask about the weed and the pills. About my mom’s Xanax, and the times Elise tried her dad’s Percocet, about the cocaine Melanie saw Elise try over Christmas break, and the liquid X Niklas tried to feed her in the club that night.”
  • Anna thinks the lawyers are trying to say “[she] led Elise astray. . . that [Anna] coerced her into skipping school, and staying out too late, and drinking dollar shots in dive bars until she screwed strange guys in the bathroom of clubs that should have never let [them] in.”
  • Elise and Anna go to a restaurant and “sip cocktails from sugar-rimmed glasses.”
  • Tate meets Anna at a college party where they both drink beer. Later, they “do lime Jell-O-shots together.”
  • Anna and her friends go to each other’s “big, empty houses, sneaking liquor and smoking weed.”
  • After Elise is murdered, one of her friends “spends most of the day curled up in his room with the blinds drawn, woozy on anti-anxiety meds.”
  • Elise takes prescription pills “sometimes. When I don’t’ want to deal with . . . feeling, like this.”
  • After Elise is murdered, Tate “was having panic attacks. . . so they put him on a bunch of meds. He was pretty out of it.”
  • While in prison, Anna is given sleeping pills.

Language

  • “Oh my God”, “God” and “Jesus” are used as explanations occasionally.
  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, bitch, bastard, bullshit, dykes, hell, pissed, and shit.
  • When Elise ignores Anna at school, Anna thinks, “What was she going to do? Tell her friends to go fuck themselves, cast herself out of their world, all alone?”
  • Elise tells a girl she is a “skanky bitch with no soul.”
  • One of Anna’s friend’s posts, “So hungry, could murder a fucking rhino” on his social media account.
  • Elise flirts with a young vendor and then upsets him. He yells, “Fucking Americans! You are whores!”
  • Someone calls Anna a pussy.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Wicked King

Jude, a mortal living in Faerieland, finds herself pulling the strings behind a puppet king she has created. With Cardan, the High King of Elhame, bound to follow her every command, Jude feels that she has finally bested the faeries who have tormented her for her entire childhood. However, she only has this control for a year and a day, and five months have already passed leaving Jude scrambling for a method to hold on to her power. It seems that the entire world is against Jude. Her twin sister, Taryn, is marrying a man who Jude dislikes, the advisory council refuses to take her word into account, and she is warned that someone that she trusts has betrayed her.

There’s an uprising occurring with the Undersea, a kingdom that had previously forged an alliance with Cardan’s dad, but that now wants independence and power. Orlagh, the Queen of the Undersea, teams up with Cardan’s brother, Balekin, who is responsible for the past king’s death. During Taryn’s wedding, the Undersea strikes, kidnapping Jude and holding her hostage. Cardan makes enormous sacrifices to bring Jude back, and the two begin to recognize that they have feelings for each other and that the intense hatred between them has faded.

Things go terribly awry when Cardan throws a party to make peace with the people whose land he sacrificed to the Undersea. Cardan is poisoned by his brother, Balekin, and Balekin tries to pin the blame on Jude. Jude and Balekin duel and Jude emerges victorious, killing Balekin. Jude and Cardan marry in secret, cementing her as the High Queen of Elfhame. However, as a punishment for Balekin’s murder, the Undersea demands that Jude be exiled to the mortal lands. Though exiled, Jude begins to hatch a plot to return home.

Told from Jude’s point of view, this fast-paced sequel to The Cruel Prince provides hidden depth to the characters, as well as develops a plot that’s full of twists and turns, with betrayal around every corner. Despite some of Jude’s questionable decisions, it seems impossible not to root for her. Jude is a strong female character that many girls will be able to relate and look up to. She doesn’t let her shortcomings stop her in her quest for power and glory. She is able to overcome every hurdle, which makes her even stronger. Although the reader is privy to her inner thoughts, she never seems to falter in her strength, which makes her a positive female role model.

Black creates a mystical, magical world that is both fantastical and terrifying, drawing the reader into the story and its world.  The book emphasizes the danger of an abundance of ambition, and how power has the ability to corrupt individuals. It also establishes a romantic relationship between Cardan and Jude that feels satisfying and believable, as the two finally begin to view themselves as equals. All of these elements come together to form an intricately woven story about power, love, and betrayal.

Sexual Content

  • When made to play a cruel game at a party, Jude “pull[s] the dress [she] is wearing over [her] head,” standing “in the middle of the party in [her] underwear.”
  • Cardan seduces Jude. Cardan “presses his mouth to my ear, kissing me there. . .He doesn’t kiss me as though he’s angry; his kiss is soft, yearning.” Jude notes, “I try to stop myself from making embarrassing noises. It’s more intimate than the way he’s touching me, to be looked at like that.”
  • Jude describes a night with Cardan, “trad[ing] kisses in the darkness, blurred by exhaustion. I don’t expect to sleep, but I do, my limbs tangled with his.”

Violence

  • While visiting Balekin in prison, Jude is slapped by a guard, leaving her “cheek stinging and furious.”
  • Jude stabs a prison guard with “a little pin I keep hidden in the lining of my doublet.”
  • Someone shoots Cardan with a crossbow, and his wound is depicted as “a stripe of raw skin along his side.” Another faerie was hit with a bolt in the leg, and the wound is not described.
  • Jude threatens Locke, Taryn’s fiancé, putting her “foot on his chest, pressing down a little to remind him that if [she] kicked hard, it could shatter bone.”
  • Jude notes that Locke knows “I stabbed Valerian once, but he doesn’t know I killed him, nor that I have killed since then.”
  • While in the woods, Jude is shot with an arrow, and is “unable to bite back a cry of pain.”
  • The Undersea attacks and knights are killed, which is not depicted. Jude enters the scene after the attack and notes that “all their eyes have been replaced with pearls. Drowned on dry land.”
  • When speaking to Madoc, Jude reveals her troublesome past as a mortal in Faerie. She says, “You’ve let Folk hurt me and laugh at me and mutilate me.” Then, she holds up “the hand with the missing fingertip, where one of his own guards bit it clean off. Another scar is at its center, from where Dain forced me to stick a dagger through my hand.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cardan is often depicted as drunk. At one party, “He calls again and again for his cabochon-encrusted goblet to be refilled with a pale green liquor. The very smell of it makes [Jude’s] head spin.”
  • Jude purposefully poisons herself in a process called mithridatism, “by which one takes a little bit of poison to inoculate oneself against a full dose of it.” She notes that because of this, “My eyes shine too brightly. The half-moons of my fingernails are bluish, as though my blood doesn’t get quite enough oxygen. My sleep is strange, full of too-vivid dreams.”
  • Jude explains what the different poisons of faerie do. “The blusher mushroom, which causes potentially lethal paralysis . . . deathsweet, which can cause a sleep that lasts a hundred years. . . wraithberry, which makes the blood race and induces a kind of wildness before stopping the heart . . . of everapple—faerie fruit—which muddies the minds of mortals.”
  • Jude notes going to a party in the mortal world, and “being allowed little sips of Shiraz.”
  • When Jude is hurt, a fellow spy gives her an ointment with the “scent of strong herbs.”
  • At a party, Cardan is poisoned by his brother in an attempt for the crown, but Cardan is quickly given an antidote.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Faerie world is full of different types of faeries, such as a boy who has “the lower half of a deer.” Another faerie is described as being “grass-haired,” and having dark green skin.
  • Jude reminisces about her past. “Sometimes Jude longed for her bike, but there were none in Faerie. Instead, she had giant toads and thin greenish ponies and wild-eyed horses slim as shadows. And she had weapons.”
  • In Faerie, the King/Queen’s health is directly tied to the land in a magical way. “They are the lifeblood and the beating heart of their realm in some mystical way,” and when Cardan “becomes drunk, his subjects become tipsy without knowing why. When his blood falls, things grow.” All of Cardan’s actions seem to have a direct impact on the land and his subjects, and if he bleeds on the ground, new life sprouts from it.
  • Grimsen, a faerie blacksmith, is described as imbuing his works with magical qualities. He is the one who “made the Blood Crown for Mab and wove enchantments into it. It’s said he can make anything from metal, even living things—metal birds that fly, metal snakes that slither and strike. He made the twin swords, Heartseeker and Heartsworn, one that never misses and the other that can cut through anything.”
  • A faerie is described as, “A hag—old and powerful enough that the air around her seems to crackle with the force of her magic. Her fingers are twiggy, her hair the color of smoke, and her nose like the blade of a scythe.”
  • Cardan receives a gift of fabric woven from “spider silk and nightmares. A garment cut from it can turn a sharp blade, yet be as soft as a shadow against your skin.”
  • It is revealed that along with a physical gift of woven fabric, an old faerie had presented Cardan with “a geas, allowing you to marry only a weaver of the cloth in my hands. Myself—or my daughter.”
  • Faerie marriages are different than mortal ones in that, “unlike the mortal until death do us part, they contain conditions like ‘until you shall both renounce each other’ or ‘unless one strikes the other in anger’ or the cleverly worded ‘for the duration of a life’ without specifying whose.”
  • Pixies are described as having “iridescent wings shining in the candlelight.”
  • A faerie guard is described as “a large, hairy creature . . . wearing beautifully wrought plate armor, blond fur sticking out from any gaps.”
  • Jude describes a group of faeries, “a boy with sparrow wings, three spriggans, a sluagh girl.”
  • A forest, Milkwood, is described as a place “where black-thorned bees hum in their hives high in the white-barked trees. The root men are asleep. The sea laps at the rocky edges of the isle.”
  • Jude asks a fellow spy if he was a happy child, to which he replies, “’I was magic. How could I fail to be?’”
  • When Taryn comes to Jude offering help, Jude begins to doubt her intentions, noting that, “Faerie runs on debt, on promises and obligations. Having grown up here, I understand what she’s offering—a gift, a boon, instead of an apology.”
  • Jude depicts a couple of faeries she sees at a party, “a boy and a girl—one with ram’s horns, the other with long ears that come to tufted points, like those of an owl.”
  • Nicasia, the sea princess’s, hair is described as being “the many colors of the sea.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies is described as a “hob-faced owl.”
  • Jude describes the Council of the King: “the Unseelie Minister, a troll with a thick head of shaggy hair with pieces of metal braided into it; the Seelie Minister, a green woman who looks like a mantis; the Grand General, Madoc; the Royal Astrologer, a very tall, dark-skinned man with a sculpted beard and celestial ornaments in the long fall of his navy-blue hair; the Minister of Keys, a wizened old hob with ram’s horns and goat eyes; and the Grand Fool, who wears pale lavender roses on his head to match his purple motley.”
  • Jude finds an “enchanted orb” that allows her to see video-like memories.
  • A fellow spy tells Jude that when she was a thief in the mortal world, she was mostly “using glamour to hide [her] mistakes.”
  • There is a game in faerie in which a group of faeries, “Steal away a mortal girl, make her drunk on faerie wine and faerie flattery and faerie kisses, then convince her she is being honored with a crown—all the time heaping insults on her oblivious head.”
  • If a mortal dances with faeries, they find themselves unable to stop. When this happens to Jude, she thinks, “I cannot stop myself from dancing, cannot stop my body from moving even as my terror grows. I will not stop. I will dance through the leather of my shoes, dance until my feet are bloody, dance until I collapse.”
  • Jude describes a faerie who could tell the future, “The hag was given to prophecy and divined futures in eggshells.”
  • When Heather visits Faerie, Jude warns her, “Listen, the Folk can glamour things to look different than they do. They can mess with your mind—charm you, persuade you to do things you wouldn’t consider normally. And then there’s everapple, the fruit of Faerie. If you taste it, all you’ll think of is getting more.”
  • When visiting a blacksmith to get a gift for her sister’s wedding, the blacksmith offers “a necklace of tears to weep so that she won’t have to? A pin of teeth to bite annoying husbands?” A pair of earrings that, “make someone more lovely than they were, painfully lovely.” He takes many forms of payment, such as “a year of your life. The luster of your hair. The sound of your laugh.”
  • The blacksmith offers to make Cardan “armor of ice to shatter every blade that strikes it and that will make his heart too cold to feel pity. Tell him I will make him three swords that, when used in the same battle, will fight with the might of thirty soldiers.”
  • When someone is cursed, “her ears have grown furred and long, like that of a cat. Her nose is differently shaped, and the stubs of whiskers are growing above her eyebrows and from the apples of her cheeks.”
  • When Jude is captured by the Undersea, she notes that Nicasia’s feet have been “replaced by a long tail.”
  • Jude describes a merman, “His hair is a kind of striped green, and the same stripes continue down his body. His large eyes flash in the indifferent light.”
  • Nicasia attempts to glamour Jude, trying to convince her that her stone room actually contains a “four-poster bed, wrapped in coverlets. And the cunning little side tables and your own pot of tea, still steaming. It will be perfectly warm and delicious whenever you try it.”
  • Jude eats soup that “tastes of a memory I cannot quite place, warm afternoons and splashing in pools and kicking plastic toys across the brown grass of summer lawns.”
  • Orlagh, the queen of the Undersea is described. “Her skin is covered in shiny silvery scales that seem both to be metallic and to have grown from her skin. A helmet of bone and teeth hides her hair.”
  • Cardan is depicted as magical and being able to call on the land. “He stretches out his hand, and something seems to rise to the top of the water around us, like a pale scrum. Sand. Floating sand.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

An ambitious and fiercely independent teenager, Julia Reyes never seemed to fit in with her family’s traditional Mexican values. Her sister, Olga, was who her mother considered a “perfect Mexican daughter.” Olga was content with living at home, helped her mother cook and clean, and never got into trouble. However, after Olga’s sudden and tragic death, Julia feels pressure to fill the gap in her family, despite not being able to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Dealing with grief and conflicting personalities, Julia and her mother “Amá” struggle to mend their relationship. Amá, who grew up in Mexico, wants an obedient and responsible daughter, while Julia, who was raised in America, wants to explore the world and dreams of being a famous writer. Eventually, the pressure from her mom becomes too much for Julia to handle. Julia struggles with her mental health and feels misunderstood by her parents and friends. To make matters worse, after exploring her sister’s room, Julia discovers that Olga may not have been a perfect daughter after all.

Julia is a very realistic and relatable protagonist. She works hard to figure out her place in the world even though she makes mistakes along the way. As the child of Mexican immigrants, Julia experiences both generational and cultural conflicts with Amá and her father “Apá” who, while physically present, is often emotionally absent from Julia’s life. Although she has her friend, Lorena, and a new attentive boyfriend, Connor, Julia realizes grief is a difficult experience and it can take a lot of time to heal.

The book has a strong theme of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Although Amá has difficulty understanding Julia, she learns to see what makes Julia unique and different from Olga. Julia also must learn to stop comparing herself to her sister and accept who she is and what she wants to be: a writer.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles mature themes of death, suicide, abortion, and rape. The novel also contains Spanish words which are used naturally in the dialogue to better represent Julia’s culture, and most words and phrases are understandable within the context of the scene.  If you want to explore another book with these themes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen should be on your reading list.

Overall, the poignant story explores the challenges of youth, especially the cultural and generational boundaries between first-generation immigrants and their children. Eventually, Julia and her mother must learn to see things from each other’s perspectives. Julia also begins to understand a lot about her mental health and how to heal from painful situations to become a stronger and more balanced young woman.

Sexual Content

  • After searching through Olga’s bedroom, Julia finds “five pairs of silk-and-lace thongs. Sexy lady underwear I imagine a very expensive hooker might buy.”
  • Julia describes a time Olga’s friend Angie came over and Julia “walked in on her touching Olga’s boobs.”
  • Julia feels uncomfortable around her friend Lorena’s stepdad. “Every time I know he’s going to be home, I wear my baggiest shirts and sweaters so he can’t gawk at my boobs. Sometimes it feels like he’s undressing us with his eyes.”
  • Julia falls asleep at Lorena’s house. When she wakes up, she sees Lorena’s stepdad, José Luis, crouched in front of her. “He looks like he’s doing something with his phone, but I’m not sure.” Julia is too exhausted to process what is happening. It is unclear what José Luis’ exact intentions were.
  • Julia and Lorena visit the lake with two boys. Julia wonders where Lorena has gone and assumes she and Carlos are “probably fucking somewhere, even in this cold, and most likely without a condom.”
  • Ramiro, a boy Lorena sets Julia up with, kisses Julia, but she doesn’t really enjoy it. “At first the kisses are soft and feel all right, but after a while, he spirals his tongue against mine.” Julia and Ramiro soon stop kissing. She feels uncomfortable kissing someone she barely knows.
  • Julia states that her tío Cayetano “used to stick his finger in my [Julia’s] mouth when no one was looking.”
  • During a party, Julia notices people “dancing so close they’re practically dry-humping.”
  • Julia watches a couple make out in public. “Their kisses are wet and sloppy, and you can see their tongues going in and out of each other’s mouths.”
  • Lorena’s friend, Juanga, starts to describe different penis shapes he has seen. “The craziest one, he says, was long and pointy.”
  • A man harassing Julia on the street says he has something to show her “’cause you have nice tits.” When an adult helps Julia, the harassers eventually drive away.
  • After her first kiss with Connor, her first boyfriend, Julia describes how “Connor is gentle with his tongue, and something about the way he touches me makes me feel so wanted.”
  • Lorena tells Julia she’ll have to “shave [her] pussy” before having sex with Connor.
  • Julia and Connor have sex. Julia looks away while Connor puts a condom on. She states, “it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn’t.” This is all that is described.
  • Julia discovers Olga was “having sex with an old married dude, hoping he would one day leave his wife.”
  • After taking a pregnancy test with fuzzy results, Lorena believes she might be pregnant.

Violence

  • Julia describes the appearance of her dead sister at the funeral stating, “the top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.”
  • Julia explains how Olga was “hit by a semi. Not just hit, though—smashed.”
  • It is implied that Julia tried to kill herself by cutting. The scene is not described.
  • In a support group, Julia meets a boy who is “here because his stepdad beat him with cords and hangers when he was a kid.”
  • On the journey to America, it is implied El Coyote raped Amá and “held [Apá] down with a gun.”
  • While visiting Mexico, Julia hears gunshots in the street and sees “two dead bodies are lying in the middle of the street.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julia’s uncle once teased Olga’s boyfriend, Pedro, for being innocent. Julia remembers “tío Cayetano trying to give him a shot of tequila once, and Pedro just shaking his head no.”
  • Lorena and Julia smoke weed at Lorena’s house. Julia explains she has smoked weed “a total of five times now.”
  • At a birthday party, Julia’s father, and her uncles drink tequila.
  • At a party, Lorena and Juanga take shots while Julia opens a beer, “which [Julia] regret[s] immediately.”
  • At another party, “the girls all choose Malibu rum,” while Julia drinks “Hennessy and Coke.”

Language

  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes ass, crap, fuck, hell, shit, and bitch. For example, after Olga’s death, Julia’s mom was screaming and “telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves.”
  • Lorena calls Julia a “bitch” for underestimating her intelligence. When Julia is on a bus after skipping school, she believes “the school has already called [her] parents and [she’s] in some deep shit again.”
  • Lorena tells Julia to give papers about a college tour to her “crazy-ass mom.”
  • Pissed is used often. At Olga’s funeral, Julia decides “it’s easier to be pissed,” rather than sentimental.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Julia shares that she and her mom argue about religion often. Julia “told her that the Catholic church hates women because it wants us to be weak and ignorant. It was right after the time our priest said—I swear to God—that women should obey their husbands.”
  • Amá forces Julia to attend church meetings. Julia wonders “who in the world would want to spend their Saturday night talking about God?”

by Elena Brown

Out of Place

Cove Bernstein’s life has gone from bad to worse. After her best friend Nina moves from the island of Martha’s Vineyard to New York City, Cove is bullied more than ever by her classmates, Amelia and Sophie.  Without Nina, Cove has become the center of a bullying campaign. Cove tries to find a way to leave the island, but her mother refuses to leave, saying places outside of Martha’s Vineyard have “the never-ending pressure to be a certain person.”

Cove finds the chance of a lifetime to visit New York by entering herself in a kids-only fashion competition. Cove has little experience in sewing, but her friend in the retirement home, Anna, teaches her the basics. The plot thickens when Jack, a boy from her school, starts appearing wherever she goes. Then, she makes a terrible mistake – one that she thought she could not undo.

Told in an easy-to-read fashion, Out of Place truly captures a long-distance friendship as well as a friendship found in an unexpected place. Many readers will relate to Cove as she starts the school year without many kids to call friends. Despite their distance, Cove and Nina remain friends by writing letters to each other. The letters between Cove and Nina show their enduring friendship and summarize the events in their respective lives, which helps the reader understand the effort needed to keep a long-distance friendship.

Nina is less developed since she primarily appears through letters, but the letters about her life in New York City allow the reader to take a break from Cove’s days at school and to later reengage in the happenings of Cove, back at Martha’s Vineyard. Black-and-white spot art appears at the start of each chapter. The illustrations in Cove’s letters show the influence of the island’s residents on her, which is contrasted by Cove’s desire to leave the island through any means while dealing with Amelia and Sophie’s bullying. The theme of friendship holds stronger than the theme of bullying because the story focuses on Cove’s development into a more self-assured person. One instance of her development is when she wins a “stuffed scarecrow contest” and makes the scarecrow in the art room. As she looks at the finished product, Cove says to herself, “The letters are wobbly and Anna would never approve of the stitches—they’re way too uneven—but the message is clear. Anyone who wants to sit next to [her] scarecrow is more than welcome.”

Unlike many stories, Out of Place deemphasizes the bully’s mean behavior. Cove becomes invested in her passions, not as an escape, but to figure out her place in her hometown. Through the story, readers will come to a better understanding of a subtle approach to standing up against bullies, all while being one’s true self. Out of Place does end with a hopeful happily-ever-after, but perhaps most importantly, the story shows how friends — old and new – can make a difference in a person’s life.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nina splashes dirty water onto Sophie and Amelia, who have been taunting her and Cove. “There is a moment when the foamy, dirty water floats in the air. Then it lands in Sophie’s and Amelia’s laps. And all I [Cove] hear are screams.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sophie refers to Cove as “Rover” because Sophie had decided that Cove “looked like a dog.”
  • Many characters use the word “stupid” to describe an unlikable person or situation. For example, in a letter to Cove, Nina writes about the people and situations that she considers “stupid.”
  • Jack helps the art teacher and another classmate stuff straw into a scarecrow’s body. Jack says, “Horses must be pretty freaking tough.”
  • Cove’s mother yells at Cove’s stepfather. She calls him “naive. . . and stupid. And irresponsible.”
  • Cove tells Jonah, a college student, about her bullying. He says, “Damn. . . I forgot how tough growing up can be.”
  • Cove’s stepfather is late to meet Cove’s mother. He says “crap.”
  • Nina writes that the shirt design for Amelia and Sophie’s shirts “totally stinks.”
  • When Cove is practicing her sewing, she says it “stinks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cove’s mother believes in spiritual things, mostly that people have a “spirit” and that the events that happen in life affect them. Additionally, she believes in karma and fate.

by Jemima Cooke

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.”

Fable #1

Seventeen-year-old Fable only wants one thing: to reunite with her father, Saint. Even though he abandoned her on an island four years ago after her mother’s death, Fable still wants to earn a place among her father’s crew. The first step is to escape from Jeval, the cutthroat island Fable refuses to call her home. She spends her days scavenging for rare minerals and trading with a helmsman named West in exchange for measly amounts of copper. Eventually, Fable has enough copper to escape Jeval on West’s ship, Marigold, and make her way across the sea—The Narrows—to the city of Ceros where her father’s trading empire has flourished. However, aboard the ship, Fable discovers that there’s more to her story and the ship’s crew than what meets the eye.

Fable learns that the Marigold isn’t West’s ship, rather it belongs to her father. While keeping her identify as Saint’s daughter a secret, she also discovers that West and the rest of the crew have secrets of their own. Willa, the crew’s only other female, is West’s sister. Plus, Paj and Austere are running from a dark past. But West is hiding the most: after Fable is scorned by her father once more, Saint reveals that he made an agreement with West to give Fable money and take care of her from afar. Saint claims this is the best thing he could’ve done for Fable because she would learn to survive the harsh world. Fable narrates that Saint “expected me to be grateful for the hell he’d put me through, so he could take credit for who I was. . . I’d crossed the Narrows for a man who’d probably never even loved me. For a dream that would never come true.”

Even after this disappointment, Fable still finds a reason to go on– she does have a family– but it isn’t one made by blood. Fable realizes that the crew of the Marigold are the ones who have protected and nurtured her. She hopes to use the inheritance given to her by her father to buy the Marigold, so West and the crew can be free from Saint, just like her. The book ends on a cliffhanger when Fable is kidnapped, so readers will be reaching for the next book, Namesake: A Novel, to discover if Fable achieves her goal.

Fable as a story is both entertaining and exciting. The reader is thrown directly into a world with new places, names, jobs, and nautical terminology that may take a while to grasp, but contribute to a fast-paced plot that is still understandable and full of unexpected twists. Sometimes, it can be hard to believe that these young kids are able to fend for themselves like experienced adults, but they also live in a world where they had to grow up fast or they wouldn’t get the chance to grow up at all.

The novel is told through Fable’s point of view and emphasizes the idea of “found family,” a group of individuals pulled together by similar circumstances or experiences that come to trust and care for each other like a blood family. This is especially meaningful because of how Fable’s father is against caring for other people and fails to realize that there is strength in having others around you.

While Fable’s life is vastly different than the lives teens lead today, it’s hard not to root for her because of how passionate she is to find her father. When this dream falls short of her expectations, Fable wins our hearts again when she uses this setback as a learning experience; it’s not a father she wants, it’s a family. Fable’s willingness to trust the crew of the Marigold shows that no matter one’s past, love and acceptance are waiting if we open our hearts.

Sexual Content

  • Fable describes what happens behind the closed doors of taverns. Fable had “seen enough of my father’s crew disappear into taverns with purses full of coin and leave with empty ones. There were only two things strictly forbidden on a ship because both could get you or your shipmates killed: love and drunkenness. Only on dry land could you find someone to warm your bed or empty a bottle of rye into your belly.”
  • The innkeeper thinks that West and Fable are going to have sex. West “dropped three coppers on the counter, and she tucked them into her apron, smiling up at me knowingly. I blushed when I realized what she was thinking. . . The woman winked at me, but West didn’t bother correcting her and I wondered if it was because I wasn’t the first girl he’d brought into the tavern and disappeared up the stairs with.”
  • Willa kisses West platonically on the cheek.
  • Paj and Auster, two male crew members, are in a relationship. They hold hands occasionally. “Auster wound his pale fingers into Paj’s before he brought his hand to his lips and kissed it.”
  • West and Fable kiss underwater while examining a sunken ship. “Before I could even think about what he was doing, his lips touched mine. . . I kissed him again, hooking my fingers into his belt and trying to pull him closer. . . I had wanted to touch West a thousand times.”
  • West and Fable have a long, intimate moment which implies that they have sex. Fable narrates, “I lifted onto my toes, pressing my mouth to his. . . His hand found my hips, and he walked me back until my legs hit the side of the bed. I opened his jacket and pushed it from his shoulders before he laid me down beneath him. His weight pressed down on top of me and I arched my back as his hands caught my legs and pulled them up around him. . . My head tipped back, and I pulled him closer so I could feel him against me. He groaned, his mouth pressed to my ear and I tugged at the length of my shirt until I was pulling it over my head. He sat up, his eyes running over every inch of me. . .”

Violence

  • Fable’s life on Jeval has been cutthroat. She’s had to hurt other people or been hurt by them. She says, “It had been four years since the day I was dumped on the blazing hot beach and left to fend for myself. Forced to scrape hulls in exchange for rotten fish when I was starving, and beaten for diving in another dredger’s claimed territory again and again.”
  • Fable often references a scar on her arm, which was given to her by her father. “He carved into my arm with the tip of his whalebone knife.” She also says, “I had watched in horror as he dragged the tip of his knife through my flesh without so much as a twitch of his hand.” Eventually, she describes the whole scene. “I didn’t know what he was going to do until the tip of the knife had already drawn blood. . . I buried my face into my knees and tried not to scream as he cut into me.”
  • Koy, a sailor who takes Fable out on his boat, attacks her for money. Fable had been diving. “Just as I reached the surface, something caught hold of my arm. . . Koy’s face was looking up at me, his hands clamped tightly around my wrist. I kicked, catching him in the shoulder with the heel of my foot and his fingers slipped from me. I swam as fast as I could toward the light, feeling the darkness creeping over my mind, and when I finally broke through to the air, I choked, my lungs twisting violently in my chest. . . Koy came up in the next breath, launching in my direction. I tried to swim from his reach, but he took hold of my hair and wrenched me back to him. . .I twisted, rearing my elbow back with a snap, and it caught him in the face. . . By the time I reached the [boat’s] hull, he had ahold of my foot. . . I slipped, hitting the side [of the boat] with my face so hard that the light exploded in my head. I found the edge with my fingers again before I pulled myself back up and reached inside, my hand frantically looking for the scull. When I had it, I threw my arm back, hitting Koy in the head with the flat end. He stilled suddenly, falling back into the water. . . Koy’s eyes rolled back into his head as he sank, a stream of red inklike blood spilling from his forehead.”
  • Fable pulls Koy back into the boat. “I stood over Koy, my hands shaking. He was still losing a steady stream of blood, and I hoped he wasn’t breathing. I hoped he was dead. . . I kicked him hard, screaming, before I fell back onto the deck beside him, trying to catch my breath.”
  • Koy says to Fable, “If I ever see your face on this island again, I’ll tie you to the east reef! I’ll watch the flesh rot from your bones!”
  • Willa, the only girl on board the Marigold besides Fable, has a burn on her face. Fable says, “I’d seen wounds like that before—a long knife held over a fire until the blade glowed and pressed to someone’s face to teach a lesson.”
  • In the past, Willa was hurt by a man named Crane. The crew find Crane, seal him in a crate, and toss him overboard. “The man screamed once more as he was raised up and over the side of the ship. At the same moment, every finger slipped from the crate and they let it go. . .” This makes Fable remember the punishments on her father’s ship. “Once, I’d crept onto the deck in the dead of night and saw him cut the hand off a thief with the same knife he used to cut his meat at supper. . . I’d forgotten what the sound of a grown man screaming sounded like.”
  • Fable gets jumped in an alley. A man “leaned in closer, stumbling forward as he reached clumsily for my belt. Before he could right himself, I swiped up in one clean motion, catching the edge of his ear with the knife. . . I lifted the blade, setting it at the hollow of his throat and pressing down just enough to draw a single drop of blood. . . I wanted a reason to hurt him. I wanted an excuse to lean forward until the edge of the steel sunk into his skin.”
  • Willa threatens a barkeep by saying, “I’ll stake your body to that counter.”
  • Someone tries to kill Fable as she’s getting on the Below, a man had hold of the last rung [of the ladder]. He laughed himself up out of the water and grabbed my boot, pulling me back down. I kicked until the heel of my foot caught his jaw and he groaned, but he was already climbing.” West comes to save her. “He reached around my waist, taking the knife from my belt. He swung his arm out wide, bringing the blade from the side, and sank it into the man’s ribs. He screamed, his hands trying to grab ahold of me before he slipped, but West kicked him in the chest, sending him backward.”
  • Willa threatens Fable by saying, “If you get [West] killed, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from cutting your throat.”
  • West reveals his past to Fable. “The first helmsman I ever crewed for used to beat me in the hull of the ship. . . I’ve killed sixteen men protecting myself, or my family, or my crew.”
  • At the end of the story, Fable is kidnapped. “I reared my foot back and brought my knee up in a snap, driving it between [her attacker’s] legs and he fell forward, a choking sound strangling in his throat. . . As another man came over me, I swung [a knife] out, grazing his forearm. He looked at the blood seeping beneath his sleeve before he reached down, taking my jacket into his hands and the third man wrenched the knife from my grip. When I looked up again, his fist was in the air, and it came down with a crack across my face. Blood filled my mouth and I tried to scream, but before I could, he hit me again.” Fable is knocked unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Speck, a man on Jeval, is known as a drunk. Fable says, “If Speck weren’t drunk half the time, I’d pay him for a ride to the reef instead of Koy.”
  • Hamish, a crew member, and Saint, smoke pipes.
  • People frequently go to taverns where people are drinking “rye.” One time, Fable has three glasses and gets drunk.
  • In celebration, the crew drinks rye on the ship together.

Language

  • Bastard is used occasionally to refer to other people. In the book’s opening line, Fable says, “That bastard was leaving me again” when Koy, a sailor, tries to leave on his boat without her.
  • Hell, and ass are used rarely, such as when West says, “Get your ass back on the ship.”

Supernatural

  • Some of the legends of the sea include sea demons and dragons, though none appear in the story. However, Fable references them sometimes. For example, “Only a few days after Saint left me, an old man named Fret started a rumor on the docks that I’d been cursed by sea demons.”
  • Fable’s father told her a legend about dead sailors turning into birds. “My father had always told me that seabirds were the souls of lost traders. To turn them away or not give them a place to land or nest was bad luck.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

 

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Kids are disappearing all over the world, and that includes seventh-grader Manu “Mars” Patel’s friends, Aurora and Jonas. Aurora disappeared five days ago. During a lockdown, Jonas disappears after leaving the closet Mars and his friend, Caddie Patchett, were hiding in. Jonas and Aurora’s disappearance sparks an investigation by Mars. To help, he is accompanied by his intelligent friend Randall “Toothpick” Lee, Caddie, who is an empath, and JP McGowan, a nonbinary person. Mars’ idol, Oliver Pruitt, a genius tech billionaire, also guides the way for Mars. But as Mars and his friends get closer to the truth, they soon learn that danger follows them and maybe Oliver Pruitt isn’t their ally after all.

Mars gets a message from an unknown person, someone only named Lost in London (LIL). LIL tells Mars about the missing kids. What’s even stranger is that Mars also gets a message from Aurora, saying “Ad astra.” Mars’ desperation to find his friends mounts as his mother threatens to leave Port Elizabeth for Cleveland, Ohio due to Mars’ troublemaking habits. But Mars is so close to discovering the truth. And then, he’s gone without a trace. It’s up to Caddie, Toothpick, and JP, along with some other unexpected allies, to find Mars and bring him home.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is written in the third person perspective, overseeing the narrative with an omniscient narrator. The formatting is in prose style with small breaks from the typical prose style of narration. These breaks come in the form of snippets from Oliver Pruitt’s podcast and text messages among Mars’ friend group. For example, one of Oliver Pruitt’s podcasts goes:  “Dear listeners: Ever wonder what makes you who you are? Is it the socks you wear? Your favorite band? I believe what makes you YOU is your response when you’re tested. When the odds are stacked against you, are you brave? Generous? A good friend? If someone asks YOU to take the leap, will you hide or will you FLY? To the stars!” With this podcast specifically, Oliver is testing Mars’ friendship with his kidnapped friends, Aurora and Jonas. These small breaks are used to push the plot forward as the podcasts originally serve as an ally to Mars.

The story is a general mystery blended with elements of sci-fi. Through JP, readers will understand how a nonbinary middle schooler may feel when others don’t understand the concept of being nonbinary. JP’s mother tells them, “The world sees everything gendered. We don’t, but they do.” JP isn’t the only outcast, as they are friends with fellow outcast Mars. Mars is called names because he’s a troublemaker and is constantly getting into detention with his friends. Despite that, the story teaches that real friends stick together no matter how far apart they are. Real friends will defend you and real friends are going to support you in any way necessary. A good example is when a teacher, Mr. Q, accidentally misgenders JP. Toothpick corrects Mr. Q, saying, “Are they here, you mean. That’s the pronoun JP uses.”

Middle schoolers will identify with Mars and his friends, who feel the authority figures are out to get them. Mars also realizes that his idol may not be a good person. Mars can also relate to middle schoolers through his friendships. One day they may be perfectly fine, and the next they may be rocked to their core. Middle schoolers who are also questioning their gender identity will relate to JP’s struggle with his gender identity; albeit it’s not a major part of the main plot due to the narrative format. JP’s character also provides much needed representation for nonbinary middle schoolers who wish to see a major character that has fun and is not treated as a token LGBTQIA+ character.

While The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun mystery with intriguing twists and turns, the breaks in the narrative format slow the pacing. The story also has strange plot holes that may confuse the reader, such as how a character can have powers but suddenly doesn’t have them anymore. The story also isn’t very clear with its lore. For example, the world is set in a technologically advanced world similar to our own, but Mars and his friends have superpowers when they’re at Pruitt Prep. It is not mentioned previously that they have powers. Overall, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun story about a group of friends trying to solve the mystery of kids’ disappearances.

Sexual Content

  • At the school dance, a girl tells Toothpick, “You look hot!”

 Violence

  • A hate crime is mentioned. “Recently in Seattle, someone beat up a teenager wearing a skirt on a bus because they didn’t look like a girl or a boy. The teenager ended up needing stitches.”
  • Multiple times, drones appear to spy on Mars and his friends. Mars ends up destroying a drone once, and another time the drone even shot at Mars. The drone is used to kidnap Mars as well, which we can suspect is how all the kids were kidnapped.
  • On the ferry to Gale Island to find Mars, a girl throws a shoe at a bodyguard so the rest of the group can get away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A student named Clyde Boofsky calls Mars “Martian Patel.”
  • Clyde makes many transphobic remarks towards JP, who identifies as nonbinary. He calls JP things such as “boy-girl” and “They-Them.” He purposely misgenders JP, who is AFAB (assigned female at birth). He also mocks JP for “not choosing” which one they are. Clyde says, “Even my dog knows she’s a she. I guess she’s smarter than you, JP.”
  • Clyde’s friend purposefully misgenders JP, saying, “Or we can just call her It?”
  • During the assembly with Oliver Pruitt, the student body begins repeatedly calling Mars a loser.
  • A girl calls JP a “wuss” because they didn’t want to try a chia seed cookie. In response, JP says, “I’d like to wuss you.” JP implies they would like to fight the girl.

 Supernatural

  • Caddie and her friends encounter a large spider that is made of metal. “Never had [Caddie] seen such a thing. Several feet tall, armored, long grotesque legs stretching out in all directions. It was watching them with its many eyes, its mouth sprawled open and ravenous. What she saw was an enormous spider plated in steel.” Caddie and her friends run from the spider.
  • There is a creature in Pruitt Prep named Muffin, who guards the school. She’s described as a “wolf-spider,” but according to Mr. Q, Muffin is a microscopic tardigrade crossbred with a wolf. Mars and his friends meet it after running into Mr. Q, who stops Muffin from eating the children. “In the hallway, the howling creature seemed even larger than before. Its legs were covered in thick fur and its multiple eyes bore down on them like a spider looks at its prey before striking.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

 

Annie John

Annie John is a young, genius schoolgirl who wants to grow up to be just like her mother. Annie finds her mother beautiful – physically and internally – and her greatest wish is to stay forever with her, in their matching dresses, repeating their familiar daily routine of preparing dinner and washing clothes. They even share the same name: Annie. However, as young Annie starts to come of age, she is hit with the realization that she and her mother are not so similar after all.  When Annie points out a fabric to make a pair of dresses for them both, her mother replies, “You are getting too old for that . . . You just cannot go around the rest of your life looking like a little me.”

Annie’s world crumbles. As she advances to a new school, the differences between Annie and her mother become more apparent. Annie likes girls – especially those who don’t have to bathe and comb their hair every day like Annie is forced to. She likes to play marbles – even though her mother forbids it, since it isn’t ladylike. And Annie steals. To have what she wants, Annie is forced to steal things like trinkets, money, and marbles. She begins to resent her mother’s strict ways and desires her own, free existence.

When Annie falls ill for a long time, she is nursed back to health by her mother. After which, she leaves her family in Antigua behind to go to England to become a nurse, since she “would have chosen going off to live in a cavern and keeping house for seven unruly men rather than go on with [her] life as it stood.”

While Annie’s young teenage rebelliousness sounds familiar to many, she struggles deeply with the divide between the life she wants and the life her mother wants for her. Annie says, “In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. My unhappiness was something deep inside me, and when I closed my eyes, I could even see it . . . It took the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs. I would look at it and look at it until I had burned the cobwebs away, and then I would see the ball was no bigger than a thimble, even though it weighed worlds.”

Annie John is not a difficult story to read in terms of language or length, but as a story it is tough to swallow since it is about growing up, which comes with the heavy realization that you must become your own being. Mostly, the story focuses on events from Annie’s life that are narrated rather than her depression and related illness. These topics are not discussed in detail, rather left open for the reader to think about.

Annie John is not told chronologically, which can be confusing at times. This story is historical fiction and showcases some of the culture of Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, whose native population has been impacted by colonization. This is most apparent in the strict gender norms emphasized by Annie’s mother and the teachings in Annie’s school. This story is wonderfully crafted. While these issues seem like major ones, they are carefully blended into Annie’s life so subtly that the reader can fully understand what it’s like to live as Annie John. The events of the story are personal to Annie’s life, however, the sadness that comes with growing older is universal. Because of that, this story is timeless and a must-read for those who seek to understand a genuine, flawed character, as she escapes from her restrictive past and sails to a new future.

Sexual Content

  • The schoolgirls wonder when their breasts will grow larger. Annie tells the reader, “On our minds every day were our breasts and their refusal to budge out of our chests. On hearing somewhere that if a boy rubbed your breasts they would quickly swell up, I passed along this news. Since in the world we occupied and hoped to forever occupy boys were banished, we had to make do with ourselves.”
  • Later, Annie thinks about spending time with her friend, Gwen, who she is in love with: “Oh, how it would have pleased us to press and rub our knees together as we sat in our pew . . . and how it would have pleased us even more to walk home together, alone in the early dusk. . . stopping where there was a full moon, to lie down in a pasture and expose our bosoms in the moonlight. We had heard that full moonlight would make our breasts grow to a size we would like.”
  • The Red Girl, one of Annie’s crushes, pinches her, then kisses her. “She pinched hard, picking up pieces of my flesh and twisting it around. At first, I vowed not to cry, but it went on for so long that tears I could not control streamed down my face. I cried so much that my chest began to heave, and then, as if my heaving chest caused her to have some pity on me, she stopped pinching and began to kiss me on the same spots where shortly before I had felt the pain of her pinch. Oh, the sensation was delicious – the combination of pinches and kisses. And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinches by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her, were the order of the day.”

Violence

  • Annie torments a girl she likes. “I loved very much – and used to torment until she cried – a girl named Sonia . . . I would pull at the hair on her arms and legs – gently at first, and then awfully hard, holding it up taut with the tips of my fingers until she cried out.”
  • Annie recounts an incident with one of her friends. “In a game we were making up on the spot, I took off all my clothes and he led me to a spot under a tree, where I was to sit until he told me what to do next. It was long before I realized that the spot he had picked out was a red ants’ nest. Soon the angry ants were all over me, stinging me in my private parts, and as I cried and scratched, trying to get the ants off me, he fell down on the ground laughing, his feet kicking the air with happiness.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After Annie’s mother sees her talking to boys, she calls Annie a slut. Annie narrates the event like this: “My mother said it had pained her to see me behave in the manner of a slut in the street and that just to see me had caused her to feel shame. The word ‘slut’ was repeated over and over until suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but instead of the well being filled with water it was filled with the word ‘slut,’ and it was pouring in through my eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. As if to save myself, I turned to her and said, ‘Well like father like son, like mother like daughter.’”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The kids sometimes go to choir and church on Sunday, and carry bibles, but this is rarely described, only referenced. For example, Annie’s mother “checked my bag to make sure that I had my passport, the money she had given me, and a sheet of paper placed between some pages in my Bible on which were written the names of the relatives with whom I would live in England.” Annie does not discuss God or her beliefs.
  • When Annie is sick, an obeah woman from her family tries to help her by giving her herbs and using other remedies, although Annie is too sick to note them.
  • The obeah women of Annie’s town believe that Annie falls ill because of a “scorned woman” from her father’s past. There is no further elaboration on this topic.

by Madison Shooter

 

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

 

 

 

 

They Both Die at the End

Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive a call from Death-Cast at around midnight on September 5, 2017. Death-Cast tells them that they will die sometime in the next 24 hours.

Until that day, the boys had nothing in common. Mateo has spent his life inside, fearing the day he gets the call and doing everything he can to avoid bringing it about early. Rufus, on the other hand, has seen death up close and personal. After losing his family in a car accident, he has vowed to live every day to the fullest.

Their paths cross when they each download the app Last Friend, designed to give people a chance to connect with someone on their End Day. The novel follows the boys as they try to make each final moment count, and learn to balance healthy fear with the pursuit of feeling truly alive one last time.

The spoilers are in the title, but knowing the ending makes the reading journey more valuable. The audience is given happy moments, not a happy ending. Readers must grapple with their own mortality and ask whether they have been living more like Mateo or Rufus. For these reasons, the book is recommended for older teenaged readers. While the message is valuable, it is at times difficult to confront, so readers should approach the book with caution. They Both Die in the End addresses death, illness, difficult upbringings, terrorism, spirituality, suicide, and first loves.

The story alternates between the first-person perspectives of Rufus and Mateo as well as a third-person view of characters whose stories intertwine with theirs. As their lives intertwine, characters who may seem unrelated at first, find themselves deeply affected by the boys. This unifies the plot and allows Silvera to explore a diverse collection of characters and their relationships with death without becoming too unfocused. Despite the sadness of a short life, the collective experiences of Rufus and, more particularly, Mateo, leave readers with the hope that though the boys may not have lived long lives, they each lived fully on their final days.

Sexual Content

  • Mateo wants to go do something outside, so he does not spend the day “masturbating because sex with an actual person scares [him].”
  • Mateo’s best friend Lidia is an 18-year-old single mother.
  • A man approaches a woman at a club and says, “Maybe you’ll live to see another day with some Vitamin Me in your system.” This causes her friend to “[swing] her purse at him until he backs up.”
  • Rufus’s foster home has a “bulletin board with information about sex, getting tested for HIV, abortion and adoption clinics, and other sheets of that nature”.
  • Aimee, Rufus’s ex-girlfriend wishes Rufus would “watch porn” rather than reality TV.
  • Rufus remembers when he and Aimee were dating, and they would “rest underneath the blanket together.”
  • Mateo distinguishes between the Last Friend app and Necro “which is intended for anyone who wants a one-night stand with a Decker—the ultimate no-strings-attached app.” Mateo says, “I’ve always been so disturbed by Necro, and not just because sex makes me nervous.” Mateo doesn’t like the app’s eight-dollar fee because he feels “as if a human is worth more than eight bucks.”
  • Rufus describes his outfit, including basketball shorts over gym tights to prevent his “package” from “poking out there like Spider-Man’s.”
  • A potential Last Friend reaches out to Mateo, but she reveals she does not really want a friend. She says, “do you have an open house then? I’m supposed to lose my virginity to my bf but i want to practice first and maybe u can help me out.” Mateo blocks her after he sees the message.
  • Another potential Last Friend tricks Mateo by implying he can save Mateo from death. When Mateo asks him how, he says he should come over to his apartment because he “[has] the cure to death in [his] pants.” Mateo blocks him as well. Rufus later receives the same message when he downloads the app.
  • After hearing Rufus is dying Aimee cries, holds Rufus’s hand and hugs him. He remembers how “she would relax on [his] chest whenever she was about to watch one of her historical documentaries.” After noticing that “she’s mad close,” Rufus “[leans] in” to kiss Aimee but is interrupted.
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds to message him, so “older men and women can no longer hit on [him].”
  • Mateo can hear the sounds coming from different apartments, including “one couple moaning” and laughter which he says could possibly be from “being tickled by a lover.”
  • Mateo considers the life of birds who “mate and nurture baby birds until they can fly.”
  • On the party train, Rufus notices “a girl . . . hops onto the bench seat to dance. Some dude is hitting on her, but her eyes are closed, and she’s just straight-up lost in her moment.”
  • A girl described as gorgeous, hazel-eyed, and black approaches Rufus on the party train and he feels “her breasts against [his] chest and her [lips] against [his] ear.” She asks if he wants to go home with her, and Rufus refers to her as his type, but he ultimately says no, due to him not having “much [he] can offer her, besides what she’s obviously suggesting.” He acknowledges that “sex with a college girl has gotta be on mad people’s bucket lists—young people, married-dude people, boys, girls . . .” However, he remembers Aimee and thinks, “I’m not trying to cheat that with something fake like this.”
  • The girl ultimately leaves with another guy, and Rufus suspects “they’ll just have sex tonight and he’ll call her ‘Kelly’ in the morning.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about his parents’ proposal story. He explains, “My mother turned him down twice. He said she liked playing hard to get. Then she found out she was pregnant with me and he got down on one knee in the bathroom and she smiled and said yes.”
  • Mateo discusses his parent’s relationship in terms of songs, saying, “Another of Dad’s favorites is ‘Come What May,’ which my mother sang to him and womb-me during a shower they took together before her water broke.”
  • Delilah places her phone on the pillow “on the side of the bed that was Victor’s whenever he stayed over.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “Your Last Friend is gonna make sure you go out with a bang. Not a bad bang, or a you-know-what bang, but a good bang,”
  • Rufus jokes that if observing makes one able to do something, then “[he has] watched enough porn to make [him] a sex god.”
  • As Mateo looks at Rufus’s Instagram, Rufus says he feels “exposed.” Rufus likens it to “someone watching [him] wrap a towel around [his] boys” after a shower.
  • When Rufus was thirteen, he describes how “flipping through magazines, [he’d] scout for pictures of girls in skirts and dudes in shorts and would tilt the page to see what was underneath.”
  • At Make-A-Moment, Mateo notices that “a couple are kissing in a hot air balloon.”
  • Mateo meets a boy who “was pretty sure love didn’t mean that your father slept on the couch and that your mother didn’t care when her husband was caught cheating on her with younger girls in Atlantic City.”
  • After Mateo’s nightmare, he notices how Rufus “shifts closer…[Rufus’s] knee knocking against [his].”
  • Rufus explains that Althea Park is “where [he] kissed this girl, Cathy, for the first time.”
  • Mateo tells Rufus he’s never dated anyone, but he has had crushes. Then Mateo thinks to himself, “I sense there’s something more he wants to say; maybe he wants to crack a joke about how I should sign up for Necro so I don’t die a virgin, as if sex and love are the same thing.”
  • Mateo describes riding the bike with Rufus. He says, “I would lean against Rufus, shifting my weight against him . . .  keep holding him.” He determines that he is “going to do something small and brave.”
  • Rufus will not express his interest in Mateo, because, “He’s gotta make a move himself.”
  • When talking about the ending to his dream, Rufus says, “Nah, I think I started dreaming about sex or something and woke up from that.”
  • Mateo recognizes that Rufus is “probably not a virgin.”
  • While sitting next to each other on the train, Rufus “shifts, his body leaning against [Mateo’s].”
  • A comment could imply a history of sexual assault. A girl tells someone “all the heartbreaking [secrets] she always kept to herself because speaking up was too hard.”
  • Rufus, Mateo, and Lidia go swimming unexpectedly and strip down to their underwear. Rufus says, “[Mateo] avoids looking my way . . . unlike Lidia . . . who’s looking me up and down.”
  • When they prepare to jump into the pool, Rufus says, “I grab Mateo’s hand and lock my fingers in his. He turns to me with flushed cheeks . . . ” After they jump, they are still holding hands, and Rufus hugs Mateo in the water.
  • Later, Rufus thinks, “We don’t bring up the hand-holding or anything like that, but hopefully he gets where I’m coming from now in case he had any doubts.” Rufus says, “[The Plutos are] smiling at me like they wanna tag-team bang me.”
  • A girl “eyes [Rufus] up and down” and Mateo’s “face heats up.” He says, “But then Rufus catches up to me and pats my shoulder and the burn is different, like when he grabbed my hand back at the Travel Arena.”
  • Mateo and Rufus sing karaoke. Then Mateo drags Rufus “offstage, and once we’re behind the curtain, I look him in the eyes and he smiles like he knows what’s about to go down . . . I kiss the guy who brought me to life on the day we’re going to die.” Afterward, Rufus kisses Mateo.
  • Mateo and Rufus slow dance. “We place our hands on each other’s shoulders and waist; [Mateo’s] fingers dig into him a little, the first time I’m getting to touch someone else like this.” Mateo admits that “maintaining eye contact with Rufus is really hard” because it is “the most intense intimacy [he has] ever experienced.” They speak into each other’s ears and continue to dance before they kiss and part.
  • Rufus thinks, “Part of me can’t help but wonder if Mateo is bringing me home so we can have sex, but it’s probably safe to assume sex isn’t on the brain for him.”
  • Mateo sings “Your Song” for Rufus, and in the middle of the song, Rufus kisses his forehead.
  • Mateo and Rufus sit on the bed, “linking [their] arms and legs together.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo, “I would’ve loved you if we had more time . . .Maybe I already do . . .” Mateo then says, “I want to say it as many times as I want—I love you, I love you, I love you.” To which Rufus responds, “You know damn well I love you too . . . I don’t talk out of my dick, you know that’s not me.” He says he wants to kiss him again, but he doesn’t.
  • Rufus narrates as Mateo “climbs into [his] lap, bringing [them] closer.” They stay close together and kiss one more time before sleeping side by side.

Violence

  • After he finds out that he is going to die, Mateo wants to “curse into a pillow” because his dad is in a coma or “punch a wall because [his] mom marked [him] for an early death when she died giving birth to [him].”
  • Mateo tells the story of a President who “tried to hide from Death in an underground bunker four years ago and was assassinated by one of his own secret service agents.”
  • Frequently, Mateo and Rufus imagine the scenarios in which they could die. These are often worst-case scenarios, and some are gruesome. For instance, Mateo says, “I could choke on a cough drop; I could leave my apartment to do something with myself and fall down the stairs and snap my neck before I even make it outside; someone could break in and murder me.”
  • A fight between Rufus and Peck, Aimee’s new boyfriend, occurs over nine pages. Rufus repeatedly punches Peck, while pinning him down. Rufus fears he may kill Peck. He checks to make sure Peck doesn’t have a pocketknife, concerned that Peck may be the one to kill him. Rufus picks “Peck up by the back of his collar and then [slams] him against the brick wall . . . Blood slides from an open wound in [Peck’s] forehead.” Finally, a friend of Rufus’s looks like he is “about to kick [Peck] like his head’s a soccer ball.” Peck is not killed but walks away severely injured.
  • Rufus explains that his family’s car “flipped into the Hudson River” killing his sister and parents. Rufus later goes into more detail about the crash. He explains, “I’d sat shotgun because I thought it bettered our chances of surviving a head-on car crash if both my parents weren’t in front.” He says that it did not change anything “before going on about the screeching tires, the way we busted through the road’s safety rail and tumbled into the river. . .” Rufus says, though he forgets their voices, “I could recognize their screams anywhere.”
  • Victor, a Death-Cast employee, explains that his day included telling a mother her four-year-old daughter will die today and sending police to her home just in case the mother is responsible for the impending death.
  • While contemplating death, Rufus thinks “I’m praying that I don’t drown like my parents and sis.” He then says he’s “counting on not getting shot.”
  • Despite telling his friends he “wasn’t going to kill” Peck, Rufus internally admits, “I could’ve killed him.”
  • Rufus says that his survivor’s guilt after his family’s death was so strong that “there’s no way in hell [he] would’ve been chill with [himself] for beating someone to death.”
  • Wondering what happened to a blogger who died, Mateo considers looking into “muggings or murders in Central Park” to see if one victim was the blogger.
  • Rufus tells the readers that his friend “Malcom’s parents died in a house fire caused by some unidentified arsonist, and whoever it was, Malcolm hopes he’s burning in hell.” He later says Malcolm learned from “the flames that burned his house, parents, and favorite things” how to value people over things.
  • Rufus’s friend’s father “committed suicide.”
  • After telling Aimee that he promises not to die before he gets to see her again, she responds with the question, “How many Deckers make those promises and then pianos fall on their heads?”
  • Rufus warns Aimee that Peck “better not call the cops” so that Rufus doesn’t “find [himself] on the wrong end of some officer’s club.”
  • A picture in Rufus’s room is described as showing his friend with a bloody nose after an attempt to create a handshake went awry “because of a stupid head-butt.”
  • A man using the Last Friend app “unwittingly befriended the infamous Last Friend serial killer.”
  • The characters occasionally joke that another character could kill them from frustration. For instance, Rufus says, “It’s possible I’m gonna die at the hands of my foster father; if you’re not his alarm clock, you shouldn’t wake him up.”
  • Rufus describes how Aimee pushes him, and that, “She doesn’t play when it comes to violence because her parents got real extra when they tag-team-robbed a convenience store, assaulting the owner and his twenty-year-old son.” He clarifies that she will not be arrested like they were for “shoving [him] around.”
  • Peck is described after the fight as having “one eye shut, a cut on his lip, spots of dried blood on his swollen forehead.”
  • Playing a video game, Mateo watches his avatar “[step] on a land mine” which causes the virtual “arm to fly through a hut’s window, his head rockets into the sky, and his legs burst completely.” However, a moment later, the character returns “good as new,” which makes Mateo contemplate the finality of his own death.
  • Mateo has a panic attack and lashes out. He throws “these books across the room and even kick some of my favorites off their shelves . . . I rush over to my speakers and almost hurl them against the wall, stopping myself.” He stops because the electricity could kill him.
  • Rufus, while biking to Mateo’s home, says, “He better not be a serial killer or so help me . . . ”
  • Rufus’s friends, Malcolm and Tagoe, are arrested by the officers who are trying to track down Rufus, because “Malcolm argued with the police officer and resisted arrest” and “Tagoe jumped into the argument too with more aggression than Malcolm himself was using.”
  • The narrator explains that “Malcolm has never even been in a fight before, even though many paint him to be a violent young man because he’s six feet tall, black, and close to two hundred pounds.”
  • Mateo is concerned that Rufus is going to rob him when he first meets him. He checks the hallway “to see if he has some friends hiding against the walls, ready to jump me for the little I have.”
  • Mateo imagines his death again and cringes from the phantom feeling of “falling face-first onto spiked fences or having your teeth punched out of your mouth.” He runs through a list of scenarios with Rufus and their plan, should one of them occur. These scenarios include “some truck might run us down,” “someone pulls out a gun,” and “a train kills us.”
  • Mateo and Rufus come across a dead bird that “has been flattened; its severed head is a couple inches away.” Mateo thinks “it was run down by a car and then split by a bike.” When Mateo goes to bury the bird, he fears its head will “roll away.”
  • Mateo remembers seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and how “its leg broke on impact.”
  • Rufus is grateful their train arrived because “we can safely rule out falling onto the exposed tracks, getting stuck while rats run by us, and straight chopped up and flattened by the train.”
  • Rufus says that getting Mateo “out of the apartment was one thing, but I’m probably gonna have to knock the dude out and drag him out of the hospital,”
  • Mateo tells Rufus about a childhood incident in which a bully took his lunch money, saying, “He punched me in the face and took it all.”
  • When Mateo goes to an ATM, he is “praying someone doesn’t come out of nowhere and hold [them] up at gunpoint for the money—we know how that would end.”
  • When exploring a ditch, Rufus tells Mateo, “If you find any toes in there, we’re jetting.” Mateo says there are no body parts, but in the past, he has found a “guy with a bloody nose and no sneakers. . . [he was] beat up and robbed.”
  • “Four six-foot-tall kids jumped [Kendrick] and stole” his sneakers. He ended up with a bloody nose and “walking home in his socks was painful.”
  • Mateo has a nightmare. “My skis disappeared and I flew straight off the mountain while headless birds circled overhead and I kept falling and falling.”
  • Rufus cries, mourning his own death, and becomes violent in response. He narrates, “I hammer at the railing with the bottom of my fist. I keep going and going. . . I stop, out of breath, like I just won a fight against ten dudes.”
  • An angry man, Vin, is said to “like to be feared” which is why he wrestles. However, he got sick and now cannot do that to take out his aggression. This results in him deciding to build a bomb to destroy the gym, those inside, and his coach, as his coach “suggested a new career route.” The narrator says, “Vin is going to die where he was made. And he’s not dying alone.”
  • Mateo and Rufus are caught in the explosion. “Glass shatters and we’re suddenly thrown backward through air as fire reaches out toward a screaming crowd. . . I slam against the driver’s side of a car, my shoulder banging into the rearview mirror. My vision fades—darkness, fire, darkness, fire.” He has no idea what happened, just that “Rufus is struggling to open his eyes and others are screaming. But not everyone. There are bodies on the ground, faces kissing cement.” He sees a woman whose “blood is staining a rain puddle.”
  • Deirdre is described “on the ledge of her apartment building” contemplating suicide. She sees people below and assumes they are betting on “if she’s a Decker,” or someone who knows they will die that day. Deidre says, “The blood and broken bones on the pavement will settle their wager.” It is said that this is not the first time she has thought about killing herself.
  • When Deidre was in a fight at school when she was young, someone called her “that lesbian with the dead parents.” This prompted her to go to a ledge, though her friend talked her out of killing herself.
  • Rufus seems to have struggled with suicidal thoughts before. He tells Mateo, “There was a point where I didn’t think any of this was worthwhile.” He goes on to say, “I would’ve been game with game over…but surviving showed me it’s better to be alive wishing I was dead than dying wishing I could live forever.”
  • Rufus tells Mateo he doesn’t deserve to die. Mateo responds that no one does. Rufus asks, “Except serial killers, right?” However, Mateo does not respond, implying he believes they are no exception.
  • Peck’s friend has been “stealing candy from the drugstore . . . fighting those who are the Goliath to his David. Starting a gang.”
  • Peck’s friend wants to hurt those who hurt Peck. He “imagines Rufus’s face where the dartboard is. He throws the dart and shoots bull’s-eye—right between Rufus’s eyes”.
  • The narrator says, “Peck will gain respect by unloading his gun into the one who disrespected him.”
  • Mateo hugs his best friend, Lidia. “She says everything in this hug—every thank-you, every i-love-you, every apology.” Mateo returns the hug. However, after a moment “Lidia steps back and slaps [him] hard across the face.”
  • A police officer is afraid of getting the call every night, “especially since losing his partner two months ago.” His partner died tracking someone participating in Bangers, which encourages Deckers to “kill themselves in the most unique way possible” and post videos that can win their family money. However, he says, most do not win, and “you don’t exactly get a second shot.” The Decker’s attempt to kill themselves resulted in the partner’s death.
  • There is a car crash. In the midst of a car ride, “Sandy’s eyes widen” then “the car jerks and Howie closes his eyes, a deep sinking in his chest.” The crash is narrated from the perspective of the boys who caused the accident. “The two boys laugh when one car bangs into another, spinning out of control until it crashes against the wall.” A girl survives the accident and remembers the “way [Howie’s] head banged against the reinforced window, heard the sickening crack that will stay with her forever—”
  • Peck pulls out the gun at the club, intending to kill Rufus. There is a stampede and Mateo says, “People are stepping on me and this is how I’m going to die, a minute before Rufus gets shot to death.”
  • There is a fight to get Peck to put the gun away. “Mateo punches Peck in the face.” Then, “Peck’s homie swings at Mateo” and someone runs “into Peck and his boy like a train, carrying them through the air as the gun drops, and he slams them against the wall.” Rufus is able to get the gun after he kicks “Peck’s other boy . . . in the face as he goes to grab it. . . Rufus unloaded the gun. All the bullets find their way into the wall.”
  • Mateo dies in a fire. “When I switch on the burner, my chest sinks with regret. Even when you know death is coming, the blaze of it all is still sudden.”
  • Rufus fights through the fire to try to find Mateo. He inhales a lot of smoke but reenters the apartment. He finds Mateo and grabs “Mateo, my fingers sink deep into boiled skin . . . half of his face is severely burned, the rest is deep red.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mateo regrets that “no one will ever get high with [him].”
  • Rufus describes his appearance in a photo saying, “my eyes uneven, kind of like when I’m high, which I wasn’t (yet).”
  • Two potential Last Friends reach out to Mateo with the message subject line being “420?” Mateo narrates, “I ignore Kevin and Kelly’s message; not interested in pot.”
  • Rufus says the gas station “smells like piss and cheap beer.”
  • Mateo changes his profile to only allow Deckers to reach out, “so I don’t have to deal with anyone looking to buy a couch or pot.”
  • A girl approaches Rufus on the train who has “an extra can of beer” and asks, “Want one?” Rufus refuses.
  • Rufus later takes pictures of the “crushed beer cans and water bottles” on the train.
  • Mateo does not regret going to the party but thinks, “I don’t want to be around people who get so drunk they pass out and eventually black out the nights they’re lucky to be living.”
  • A girl has a cigarette at one point.
  • Officer Andrade and his partner “traded dad jokes over beers.”
  • Officer Andrade plans to “share a beer” with his partner in heaven.
  • Lidia says while drinking, “I wish this had some kick to it . . . I can’t be sober when I lose you.”
  • Rufus and Mateo sing “American Pie” which includes lyrics about “whisky and rye.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes asshole, god, dumbass, jacked up, damn, multiple forms of shit, hell, fuck, pissed, bullshit, ass, bitch/bitching, dope, dick, bastard, motherfucker, and piss.
  • Mateo says he’ll “feel ballsier” once he has said his goodbyes to those he loves.
  • Rufus says to Aimee, “There isn’t a bigger kick to the nuts than you turning your back on the Plutos for the punk-ass kid who got them locked up.”
  • After Mateo talks about wanting to “leave [their] mark,” Rufus jokes, “We going outside to piss on fire hydrants?”
  • When Rufus says he loves the Plutos, he notes that “No one cracks homo jokes.”
  • After Rufus refers to Malcolm and Tagoe as “shadows,” Malcolm jokingly responds, “That because we’re black?”

Supernatural

  • Rufus asks the Death-Cast employee about how they know when people will die. He guesses, “Crystal ball? Calendar from the future?” He remembers the theories told to him about Death-Cast being a “band of legit psychics and . . . an alien shackled to a bathtub and forced by the government to report End Days.”
  • Mateo believes Rufus is not a monster because monsters “trap you in your bed and eat you alive” rather than “come to your home and help you live.”
  • A boy was writing a book about a “demon doctor wearing a stethoscope that could read his patients’ minds.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • Rufus considers taking a picture of Aimee’s church to post to Instagram but decides his “nonbelieving ass” shouldn’t have that as his last post.
  • Aimee is described as “pretty Catholic.”
  • Rufus explains that “Malcom and Tagoe are always mocking the churches that shun Death-Cast and their ‘unholy visions from Satan.’” He goes on, saying that he finds it “dope how some nuns and priests keep busy way past midnight for Deckers trying to repent, get baptized, and all that good stuff.”
  • Rufus says, “If there’s a God guy out there like my mom believed, I hope he’s got my back right now.”
  • Mateo implies that his mother wanted to marry his father before he was born due to “her family’s traditions” believing him to be a “bastard” if she should not. He thinks “the whole bastard thing is stupid.”
  • Rufus and Mateo visit a graveyard and discuss how they, and others, view the afterlife. Rufus thinks that there are two afterlives: one “when Death-Cast tells us to live out our last day knowing it’s our last” and “then we enter the next and final afterlife without any regrets.” He also believes that if we live too long after knowing we will die then “we turn into ghosts who haunt and kill.” He thinks the final afterlife is “whatever you want.”
  • Mateo’s dad “believes in the usual golden-gated island in the sky”, which Lidia likes because “the popular afterlife is better than no afterlife”. Mateo thinks it will be “a home theater where you can rewatch your entire life from start to finish”.
  • Rufus says, “I’m not religious. I believe there’s some alien creator and somewhere for dead people to hang out, but I don’t credit that all as God and heaven.”
  • Mateo says, “I hope reincarnation is real.” This becomes a recurring wish for him. That in another life, he will be able to find Rufus again.
  • Mateo asks if Rufus believes in fate. Rufus says he doesn’t, but Mateo asks, “How else do you explain us meeting? . . . If you can believe in two afterlives, you can believe in the universe playing puppet master.”
  • A girl talks about the book that she is writing which is about reincarnation and a girl trying to find her sister after the sister’s death. The girl also mentions the origins of her name in “a heroine in Irish mythology who took her own life.”
  • Rufus says after cliff jumping, “It’s like I’ve been baptized or some shit, ditching more anger and sadness and blame and frustration beneath the surface.”

by Jennaly Nolan

The Raven Boys

The predictions from Blue Sargent’s house on 300 Fox Way never seem out of the ordinary for her. Blue’s mother Maura Sargent and the other women living in 300 Fox Way—Persephone, Calla, and Orla—are all psychics who weave their predictions throughout the town of Henrietta, Virginia so regularly that for Blue it seems like second-nature. Unlike the rest of her family, however, Blue can only amplify the psychics’ powers, without seeing any of that power herself. Other truths— such as the identity of Blue’s father, or the reason why her aunt Neeve comes to town after success as a TV psychic— also remain hidden from Blue.

Despite this, there is one conclusion clearly given to Blue, over and over throughout her life, in runes, in palm readings, decks of tarot and tea leaves: the prediction that if Blue were to kiss her true love, he would die.

Blue decides to never fall in love, casting this prediction aside like a fantasy. But when she arrives, Neeve tells Blue this is the year Blue will fall in love. And on St. Mark’s Eve, the day when Maura and Blue record the names of the spirits set to die in twelve months, Blue sees a boy from the Aglionby Acadamy. A boy named Gansey.

Blue usually avoids the boys at the wealthy Aglionby Academy. Rich boys, she says, “think they’re better than us.” However, after St. Mark’s Day, an encounter with the living Gansey and his friends—Ronan, Adam, and Noah— at the diner where she works draws Blue towards this group of boys as they sweep her into their continuous search for a sleeping Welsh king among the ley lines of Henrietta. As the ley lines form a pattern between significant supernatural quirks and historical signifiers, they also begin to show Blue and the Raven Boys an uncanny world hidden deep below this Virginian town’s mundane surface.

The story moves between the perspectives of Blue, Gansey, Adam, and an Aglionby Latin teacher known as Barrington Whelk. The Raven Boys grounds legends of the Welsh King Glendower and whimsical, otherworldly fantasy within a small town sheerly divided by class. Settings that branch everywhere from a room full of mirrored worlds, the well-worn upholstery of a bright orange Camaro, and the Latin whispers of a forest called Cabeswater will transfix readers as they plunge into a narrative rich with intricately detailed plot twists.

However, the real magic in Stiefvater’s writing lies in her ability to present each character in The Raven Boys as realistic characters with their own, individual sense of what’s right and what’s necessary in the challenges they face. Each character holds their own trajectories: Blue struggles to reconcile how to define her own unique power and with the idea, she might someday kill Gansey. Gansey holds a desperate need to define himself beyond his family’s wealth through his hunt for Glendower. Ronan fiercely battles with his brother’s supervision following the death of their father. Adam strives to be self-sufficient with a free will that stands apart from his abusive father and Gansey’s money. Noah is cold because, as he says, “I’ve been dead for seven years.” All characters hold their own journey throughout the narrative, which influences the way they interact with each other in compelling ways. Readers will truly fall in love with The Raven Boys characters as they each find the balance between self-reliance and trust in others, the power in realizing self-worth, the beauty of remembering things often overlooked, and the peace of understanding that things aren’t always what they may seem. In evoking the magic of Henrietta, Virginia, Stiefvater shows every reader the complicated path towards finding the place you truly feel like you belong.

Sexual Content

  • When Gansey offers to pay Blue to talk to Adam, Blue says, “I am not a prostitute. . . clearly you pay most of your female companions by the hour and don’t know how it works with the real world.”

Violence

  • Aglionby Academy’s Latin teacher, Mr. Whelk, recalls a time when he was younger and a friend was, “on the ground. Not dead, but dying. His legs still pedaled on the uneven surface behind him. His face was just. . . done.” This describes the moment when Mr. Whelk kills his friend Czerny.
  • In the parking lot, Ronan and Declan meet and get into a fist fight. This fight lasts about four pages, in which Declan and Ronan exchange blows, and Gansey tries to grab Ronan’s arms and catches a punch from Declan instead. The physical fight ends when, “with a neat flick of his wrist, Ronan smacked Declan’s head off the driver’s side door of the Volvo. It made a sick, wet sound.”
  • After doing a reading for Mr. Whelk, Calla tells Blue that if she sees Mr. Whelk again, “Kick him in the nuts. Then run the other way.”
  • One day, Adam is absent from school, and the next time Gansey sees him, Adam has a bruise across his cheek. Speaking about Adam’s father, Gansey says, “So you won’t leave because of your pride? He’ll kill you . . . why don’t you let Ronan teach you to fight?” In response, Adam says, “Because then he will kill me . . . he has a gun.”
  • Mr. Whelk orders Gansey to show him to the forest Cabeswater. To get him to comply, Mr. Whelk holds a gun to Gansey’s head. Gansey escapes by punching Whelk.
  • One scene depicts Adam’s father, Robert Parrish, violently accusing Adam of lying to him about how much money he makes at his job. Robert Parrish takes Adam’s chin and then hits his face. Adam falls and hits the stair railing of his house. Right as Robert picks him up again, Adam’s friend Ronan—who had just dropped Adam off at his house— gets out of his car and smashes his fist into Robert’s face. Ronan and Robert fight. “The fight was dirty. At one point Ronan went down and Robert Parrish kicked, hard, at his face. Ronan’s forearms came up, all instinct, to protect himself. Parrish lunged in to rip them free. Ronan’s hand lashed out like a snake, dragging Parrish to the ground with him.” The scene of abuse, and the fight following, lasts about five pages.
  • Trying to wake the ley line herself, Neeve Tasers ties Mr. Whelk into the back of her car. She plans to take him to the forest Cabeswater in order to kill him as a sacrifice, but he manages to escape.
  • Adam has a vision of the trees in Cabeswater. In this dream, “There was blood everywhere. Are you happy now, Adam? Ronan snarled. He knelt beside Gansey, who convulsed in the dirt.”
  • When Mr. Whelk escapes Neeve, he “selected a fallen branch and crashed it down on [Neeve’s] head with as much force as he could muster . . . Neeve moaned and shook her head slowly, so Whelk gave her another blow for good measure.” Whelk then ties up Neeve and drags her into the center of the pentagram.
  • To convince Whelk to untie Neeve, Adam draws a gun on Mr. Whelk. Whelk stops him by threatening to “cut [Neeve’s] face off.” When Neeve disappears from the clearing, Whelk runs towards the pentagram but Ronan “hurled himself toward Whelk at the same moment that Whelk rose with the gun. Whelk smashed the side of it into Ronan’s jaw.” After this, the fight dies down as Whelk points the pistol at Gansey. This interaction lasts about four pages.
  • After Adam sacrifices himself to the forest, Mr. Whelk points his gun at Adam and pulls the trigger, but Adam remains unharmed. When “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest floor, Adam manages to take hold of the gun and keep Whelk away from the pentagram-marked circle, a space the beasts were avoiding. Mr. Whelk ends up trampled by the beasts.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Gansey is seen drinking in the St. Agnes church one night.

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout the book, mainly the words damn, fuck, goddamn, bitch, bastard, shit, and hell. These words are mainly used by Blue, Gansey, Ronan, and Adam, and are most often spoken to each other.
  • There are some instances where both Blue and Adam are referred to as “white trash” by peers at their school and at one point by Gansey’s sister.

Supernatural

  • Blue, her mother Maura, and her aunt Neeve go to an abandoned church in Henrietta on St. Mark’s Eve in order to talk to the spirits that will die that year. The spirits walk along the ley line as Maura and Neeve ask for their names. This is also when Blue sees an apparition of a future Gansey about to die.
  • Blue is known to amplify the power of spirits and her family’s psychic powers “like a walking battery.”
  • Blue feels tired after St. Mark’s Eve because, as Maura says to her, “you let fifteen spirits walk through your body while you chatted with a dead boy.”
  • Gansey and a professor named Malory talk about ley lines as if they are underground spirit roads, charged with energy.
  • Mr. Whelk recalls the time he tried to search for signs of supernatural activity along the ley line, and performed a ritual with his friend, Czerny, as a way to give sacrifice to the ley line. This ritual results in Mr. Whelk killing Czerny.
  • Finding a slanting, green-carpeted field outlined in a pale fracture of lines that look like a raven, Gansey, Ronan, Blue, and Adam find the forest Cabeswater, a mystical forest that performs fantastical things including: speaking in Latin, changing the color of fish in its streams, warping time, and giving each of the kids a vision when they step into the cavity of one of its trees.
  • When searching Neeve’s room, Calla and Persephone tell Blue not to step between the pair of mirrors set there. When asked why, Calla says, “Who knows what she’s doing with them. I don’t want my soul put in a bottle in some other dimension or something.”
  • Because Blue’s family are all psychics, the women tell fortunes. Blue “had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks . . . thumbs were pressed to the invisible, third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.”
  • Maura, Calla, and Persephone do a Tarot reading for Gansey, Adam, and Ronan.
  • Neeve tries to figure out more about Gansey by scrying—this process involves attempting to foretell the future or understand the future through a reflective surface (Neeve uses a bowl of cran-grape juice). This process is described as dangerous because the person scrying can often lose their way and end up lost in this other reality they are scrying to.
  • Blue notices that Neeve is doing a ritual of deep scrying. She describes the setting as “a five-pointed star marked around the beech tree. One point was the candle, and another the pool of dark water. An unlit candle marked the third point and an empty bowl the fourth… Neeve was the final point.” Neeve’s voice is described as distant and far away. Neeve says she is “on the corpse road.” Blue sees something rising out of the water before she breaks Neeve from her trance.
  • Neeve makes a pentagram in Cabeswater in order to sacrifice Mr. Whelk.
  • Neeve is said to disappear from the pentagram in Cabeswater right as Gansey, Blue and Ronan arrive to face Whelk.
  • Adam ends up waking up the ley line by digging his fingers into the soft mossy turf in the center of the pentagram on the forest floor and saying, “I sacrifice myself . . . I will be your hands . . . I will be your eyes.” At this moment, the ground begins to roll, and “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest.

Spiritual Content

  • Ronan and his brothers are all known as regular churchgoers, as it is well known that, “all of the Lynch brothers went to St. Agnes every Sunday.”
  • One night, Neeve advises Blue, “Watch for the devil. When there’s a god, there’s always a legion of devils.”
  • Blue, Ronan, and Gansey bury the bones of Czerny at the old ruined church. Blue says at this time, “No one will bother them here . . . and we know it’s on the ley line. And it’s holy ground.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

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

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto

George Johnson grew up as a queer Black man. In his memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, Johnson reflects on the ways that the intersection of these two identities influenced his childhood, adolescence, and college experiences. Johnson discusses being jumped as a small child, ridiculed at school for being too feminine, being sexually assaulted, and finally accepting his intersecting identities. He also describes the support his family provided for him through these difficult times. Johnson does not brush over any details in this raw memoir.

All Boys Aren’t Blue is presented as a series of essays about various experiences Johnson faced throughout his life. In the first section of the book, Johnson considers his childhood and how being different made growing up difficult. Johnson writes, “When you are a child that is different, there always seems to be ‘something.’ You can’t switch, you can’t say that, you can’t act this way, there is always something that must be erased – and with it, a piece of you. The fear of being that vulnerable again outweighs the happiness that comes with being who you are, and so you agree to erase that something.”

Next, Johnson describes the important familial relationships that helped him grow into himself. He emphasizes his relationship with his grandmother, who made sure he felt safe being fully himself. Johnson’s collection of essays on his teenage years are painful because he is assaulted. Finally, Johnson concludes with his time in college. Even as he begins to fully embrace his identity as a gay black man, he still faced challenges, such as a friend’s suicide.

Johnson wrote his story as a memoir for young adults because he hoped his story would help others. Johnson stated, “This meant going to places and discussing some subjects that are often kept away from teens for fear of them being ‘too heavy.’ But the truth of the matter is, these things happened to me when I was a child, teenager, and young adult. So, as heavy as these subjects may be, it is necessary that they are not only told but also read by teens who may have to navigate many of these same experiences in their own lives.”

This memoir is powerful and heartbreaking. Johnson not only tells painful stories but also reflects on how the experiences still affect him. This book encourages young readers who face similar situations and lets them know they are not alone. All Boys Aren’t Blue is a must-read for any young adult who has gone through painful experiences. Johnson discusses sexual assault, queerness, existing as a black man, and losing his virginity as a gay man. He shares his coming-out story and the support his family provided. While All Boys Aren’t Blue is difficult to read because of the heavy topics, the book gives a voice to anyone who has been victimized by others and stigmatized by society.

Sexual Content

  • Johnson started talking to guys his age in middle school, saying, “It was interesting to finally feel like I was one of the boys. Hearing the conversations they had about girls, the cursing, the tough-guy act. They talked about sex, although none had actually had it.”
  • Johnson describes his family’s fears about his transgender cousin, Hope, going out to the bars. Johnson says, “I remember my mom used to worry because some of the stories covered a little bit of sex and some of the issues you ran into with men. There was always some story about how men wanted to mess with y’all, but only in secret.”
  • When he was a child, Johnson’s older cousin sexually assaulted him. Johnson describes, “You were fully erect at this point . . . You stood fully erect in front of me and said, ‘Taste it’ . . . and You ejaculated in the toilet in front of me.” The scene is described over several pages.
  • Johnson details when he was sexually assaulted in the school bathroom. While he was using the urinal, “I felt someone come up behind me. At first, I froze because I didn’t know what was happening. He put both his hands around me and moved down to touch my genitals.” To end the assault, Johnson proceeded to shove the person.
  • Johnson said now that he is older, he can empathize with his cousin. Johnson said he wishes he could ask him, “Did anyone ever hurt you? Did anyone explore things with you sexually before you were ready? Who taught you about sex in a way that you weren’t ready to understand – in a way that made you think I needed to get it firsthand from you, so I would know who not to trust?”
  • Johnson spends a chapter of the novel discussing losing his virginity “twice.” He discusses in detail his first time penetrating another male. Johnson “eased in, slowly, until I heard him moan.” He also discusses his first time being penetrated by a male saying, “He got on top and slowly inserted himself into me. It was the worst pain I think I have ever felt in my life.”

Violence

  • When he was five years old, Johnson was jumped. He describes the scene: “The third kid swung his leg and kicked me in the face. Then he pulled his leg back again and kicked even harder. My teeth shattered like glass hitting the concrete.”
  • Johnson discusses understanding the world he lives in as a black man. He states, “It wasn’t lost on me how racist the Rodney King beating was.”
  • Johnson discusses the violence of hazing for a few pages. He says, “A person trying to join Alpha Phi Alpha (the same frat I was interested in) was killed in a hazing incident gone wrong.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Johnson describes his Aunt Cynthia and his uncle arguing over drugs. He says, “Aunt Cynthia and ‘Uncle’ got into an argument over laundry that I learned much later was really over drugs.”
  • When his extended family came to town, Johnson said, “The Jersey City Crew arrived later that afternoon like they usually did: with a case of beer, money to play cards, and a readiness to shit-talk.”
  • Johnson’s cousins often caused trouble. “We would sneak and drink liquor from the liquor cart and refill the bottles with water.”
  • In college, Johnson frequently drank liquor. For example, when Johnson goes to college, he describes his friends. “They became my crew. We would all get together every night and eat, drink, and do homework. I had a car, so I became the ride for all of us when we needed to get groceries, cigarettes, soda, or something for the munchies.”
  • In college, Johnson relied on smoking weed. He states, “I was smoking up to three blunts a day, working, partying, drinking, and not going to class.”

Language

  • Johnson is very intentional with his choice of language. He uses the term “nigga” as he grew up “with it used as a term of endearment in his household.” However, he makes a point to state, “never with the ‘-er’ at the end.” Whenever he encounters someone who uses the “-er” he types it as “n*****.”
  • Later, Johnson does use the term “nigger.” For example, “I was never called a nigger, but I did deal with weird, racially charged questions.”
  • The word “shit” is used occasionally. For example, Johnson discusses healing from trauma. “It’s necessary that we do the work to unpack our shit.”
  • The word “ass” is occasionally used. Johnson described the look his grandmother gave his cousin in one scene as, “I’m gonna beat your ass when everyone goes home.”
  • “Damn” is used often. Whenever the phone would ring, his grandmother would yell to Johnson and his cousins, “Get the damn phone.”
  • The word fuck is never spelled out in the book, rather it is typed as “f***”. For example, when Johnson was called George in his roll call in high school, he said the students all said, “Who the f**** is George?”
  • Johnson uses the word “faggot” and “fag” often. He said, “A sissy is what the kids used to call me back then, but before they got older and escalated to the word faggot.”

Supernatural

  • Johnson discusses ghosts being in his grandmother’s house. He says, “The house had ghosts, and Grandma liked to bring it up from time to time that she could see them.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

Submerge

Lia and Clay’s love has broken the Little Mermaid’s curse, but their ever after may not be as happy as they planned. Lia is adamant about staying on land with Clay for her senior year despite her family’s opportunity to move to the new, sparkling capital city below the waves. But before any decision about the future can be made, her family must endure Melusine and her father’s trial, where new revelations will have far-reaching consequences that threaten what Lia holds most dear.

The verdict will shake Lia’s world, calling into question her future with Clay, her feelings for Caspian, and the fate of all Merkind. As she wonders who to trust, Lia sets out on a treacherous path that will lead her away from her sheltered Malibu home to a remote and mysterious school for Mermaids—Mermaids who may hold the secret to an ancient magic Lia can use to get back all she’s lost.

As a “princess,” Lia must learn about Mer politics. However, much of Lia’s teaching is dry and boring. In class, Lia learns about “magic having unintended political consequences.” Even though the story introduces the Mer world, Lia explores very little of it. Instead, her only focus is on restoring Clay’s memory so they can be together. Lia is so focused on herself that she never notices anyone else’s needs. Unfortunately, Lia’s single-minded focus on Clay becomes tedious.

The first part of Submerge is a retelling of the events from the first book in the series. The repetition is long-winded and readers will quickly lose interest in the court proceedings. In addition, a Mer teacher, Ondine, is introduced. Instead of adding interest to the story, Lia’s trust in Ondine is unbelievable, and Ondine’s betrayal, predictable. To make matters worse, Caspian is suddenly in love with Lia, which adds another unbelievable element to the story. The conclusion doesn’t wrap up any of the story’s threads and reinforces the idea that Lia cannot think past her own wants. Readers who love Disney’s Little Mermaid will want to throw the Mer Chronicles into the ocean and watch it sink to a watery grave.

Sexual Content

  • Mers get their legs during puberty because they need legs “for mating.”
  • Lia and her boyfriend kiss. Lia describes the kiss. “I let my eyes flutter shut. Let myself taste Clay’s lips against mine. Get lost in the richness of every touch, every press of his tongue and graze of his cheek.”
  • When Lia shows Clay her tail, he kisses her. “Slow and sweet and swirling to different depths. I forget everything else.” The kiss is interrupted when Clay’s mother walks in on them.
  • Clay and Lia kiss often. For example, while swimming in the ocean, “strong arms grab me and pull me against him, my wet body pressing against his. . . Droplets of water from his face collide with mine as he takes my mouth in a kiss as sweeping as the sea breeze itself.”
  • Clay and Lia discuss the trial. Then they kiss. “Now he does pull me in, pressing my body flush against his and seizes my mouth violently with his. There’s a wildness, a fervor, in his kiss I’ve never felt before. . . So I push back with equal ferocity.”
  • Clay is preparing to take a potion that will take away some of his memories when Lia and Clay decide to have sex for the first time. “Clay’s eyes close as he bites the bottom of my lip. When he opens them again, desire darkens the hazel. I’ve never seen such naked hunger.” Clay stops kissing her so they can go somewhere private.
  • Before Clay takes the potion, Lea wants to give Clay a memory that he will not forget so they have sex for the first time. Clay’s “palms skim up and down my arms, leaving streaks of exhilarating tingles in their wake from shoulder to wrist. My fingers twine into his hair as our mouths latch together, more lasting and leading than ever before. . . He grabs what he needs from the nightstand (and there’s something that seems both so comforting and so momentous about that small, foil packet), and then he moves toward me. . .Time surges and crests, and we move with it, holding each other close. . .”
  • After Clay loses his memory, Lia’s sister tells her, “A rebound hookup can be totally hot.”
  • In the middle of the night, Lia and Clay show up at Clay’s father’s house, which is on a military base. His father gets upset and says, “I got you security clearance so you could feel at home here, not so you could . . . score with girls.”
  • After Lia fights against ancient magic and wins, Lia and Clay kiss. “Clay’s lips are on mine the instant the door clicks shut. Hands run up my bare arms and tangle in my hair as biceps cloaked in thin cotton press against my eager palms. His tongue welcomes me, drawing me in until I’m utterly lost in his kisses, drowning in the sensations of soft lips and rough stubble. . . ”

Violence

  • A Mermaid describes her mother’s death. When her mom went shopping, raiders “cut her throat. Left her to die.”
  • Someone tells Lia a story about a siren who wanted revenge “so she used the siren bond she shared with him to sense when he was alone and to call him to her so she could murder him in cold blood after making him—”
  • In order to manipulate Lia, Ondine binds Caspian. “The ropes tighten more and more until Caspian, so strong and stoic, can’t help but scream.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lia’s sisters are looking forward to college keg parties.
  • A mermaid, who was a siren, is given a potion that will not allow her to speak in the human world.
  • The Mer Tribunal gives Clay a potion that takes away all of his memories of Lia. “The potion works by constructing extremely powerful wands that completely block Clay’s mind from accessing certain memories.”
  • Clay is given antidepressants because of his depression; however, he doesn’t know if he should take them.

Language

  • Several different forms of damn are used occasionally.
  • During a trial, Lia watches the defendant and wonders, “What the hell does he have to smile about?”
  • When the Mermaid that tried to kill Clay and Lia testifies, Lia thinks, “That bitch starts talking. I don’t trust myself not to snap.”
  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Pissed is used twice. For example, Lia thinks, “The last thing I want to do is piss off the psycho with raging powers . . .”
  • Clay says “eff that” and later he says, “I was so goddamn helpless and you needed me!”

Supernatural

  • Most Mer do not use ancient magic, but they do utilize potions. Much of the story revolves around Lia learning how to use magic.
  • At the trial, Caspian explains how the defendant used runes. The runes, “mapped out coordinates. It was part of a spell—marking Clay’s bedroom with the place under the sea where he would sleep forever.”
  • Because Lia “sirened” Clay, they have a special bond and can feel each other. Lia “can trace him, feel him, no matter how far away he is.” Lia can also use this bond to tell what Clay is thinking and feeling.
  • In order to perform ancient magic, Lia’s palm is cut and she shares her blood with other Mermaids. “Only through blood magic can we forge new links to fully access new power.” The Mermaids then use their combined power to restore Clay’s memories.
  • Ondine forces Lia to take a potion so she can siren humans.
  • Lia uses magic to break Ondine’s hold on her. “The rope of magic grows impossibly brighter. Blinding! I can feel it sizzle and it scares me. It scares me more than anything that has ever scared me. I grab on to it—and scream. . . Even as her power sears through me, scalding me from the inside, I pull hard.” Lia’s magic is able to overcome Ondine, and Ondine disappears. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lia releases Ondine’s power into the sea. Lia’s “body tingles with burning ice as the magic picks up speed, cycloning through my chest, down my arms, and out my palms. I crash to my knees as all flows out of me and disappears beneath the waves.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ondine takes Lia to “a sacred space. . . a place where magic itself is worshiped.”

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