Dating Makes Perfect

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

Love & Gelato

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

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

The Beautiful Pretender

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

The Golden Braid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

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

Written in the Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

by Elena Brown

Super Fake Love Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

 Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

 Language

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

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

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

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

K-Pop Confidential

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

The Sky is Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

by Sara Mansfield

A Pho Love Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • Occasionally the characters thank God for something.

 

 

 

Heartless

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets a handsome and mysterious jester called Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Catherine is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Catherine’s sweet and fiery nature will have readers falling in love with her from the very start. Readers will empathize with her troubles. Catherine desperately wants to make her parents proud, so she often hides her feelings. Catherine wonders, “Was she so afraid to disappoint her parents and the King, that she was willing to put their happiness before her own?” To make matters worse, her domineering mother doesn’t listen even when Catherine tries to be honest, and her mother constantly harasses her about food. At one point, her mother takes away custard and says, “You’ll be mistaken for a walrus at the festival. . . You’ll become an elephant!”

Heartless takes the reader into the imaginative world of Heart, a reflection of the land in Alice in Wonderland—a place with walking cards, magical pumpkins, and hats that give hope. Even though the setting is magical, the story isn’t a sweet love story. Instead, Catherine’s transformation into the Queen of Hearts that we all know from Alice in Wonderland is heartbreaking. Throughout the story, Catherine’s good intentions repeatedly lead to disaster. It doesn’t matter if the characters acted out of love, the results are always disastrous.

If you’re looking for a cheerful Alice and Wonderland based story, Heartless is not the book for you. Heartless is an engaging story with complex characters and sensational surprises. Catherine’s story will have you reflecting on fate and wondering if people have the ability to choose their futures or if their futures are predetermined. Readers will either love or hate Heartless, but either way, the characters will stay with you a long time after you close the book.

Sexual Content

  • Catherine daydreams about Jest’s “arms lowering her onto a bed of rose petals. Fingers tracing the contours of her face. Kisses trailing down her throat. . . And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”
  • Catherine doesn’t want to marry the king. One of her friends suggests, “I’m only saying that you might be the king’s wife, but who is to say you couldn’t also have more clandestine relations with the joker.” Catherine is aghast.
  • While at the theatre, one of the entertainers “peeked up the skirts of the passing actresses.”
  • After Jest declares his feelings of love, he kisses Catherine. Jest “kissed her—soft at first. . . Another kiss, hesitant, growing bolder. . .Catherine grinned, delirious once more, and pulled him down onto the grass.”
  • Jest and Catherine run from Heart. When they think they are safe, Jest “grabbed her suddenly, crushing his mouth against hers. Cath threw her arms around his neck, delighting in the way her heart expanded as if it could consume them both.”
  • Catherine leaves Jest to help a friend. Before she goes, “She threw her arms around him and silenced him with a kiss, digging her hands into his hair. . . His arms drew her closer, melding their bodies together.”

Violence

  • Catherine meets Jack “who had been out of pity after losing his right eye in a game of charades.”
  • A Jabberwock attacks the castle. It “shattered one of the windows and took two of the courtiers right from the ballroom floor. Then it just flew off with them. . .” Later, someone finds pieces of the courtiers.
  • While at a tea party a Jabberwock attacks. “The Jabberwock screamed again. It was followed by the sound of splintering wood and creaking nails. The wall trembled. . .”
  • As the guests flee, a turtle “froze.” Catherine goes to help the turtle. “Every limb tightened and she could see its neck outstretched and its fangs bared and its tongue lolling toward her. . . The Lion threw himself in front of Catherine, one massive paw lifted as if he would bat the Jabberwock out of the sky.” The scene is described over six pages.
  • In the Hatta’s family, everyone goes mad. Hatta says his father “killed himself. With a brim tolliker.”
  • Catherine reads a mock turtle soup recipe. “Begin with a medium-sized mock turtle. . . Using a sharp butcher knife, remove the calf head. Mock turtles die slowly, so be aware that the head will continue to mewl and the body may try to crawl away for some minutes after decapitation.”
  • At a festival, a woman grabs Catherine’s wrist. “She rubbed her wrists, glad that the wounds weren’t deep and had already stopped bleeding, though they stung something dreadful.”
  • The Jabberwock attacks a theatre. “With a gurgle in its throat, the Jabberwock leaped forward, jaws unhinged. Catherine screamed. . . He [Jest] leaped onto the stair’s balustrade and dashed toward the best like running up a marble statue. He rolled in the air, landed on the back of the monster’s long neck, and grabbed one of the spindly whiskers that grew from its head as if he were gripping a leash. . .” The monster flies away. Catherine is injured. The fight scene is described over six pages.
  • Jest talks about where he lives, saying, “I’ve watched so many die on the battlefield. I’ve taken so many lives myself—pawns of the Red Queen, mostly, only for them to be replaced by new soldiers and sent forward again.”
  • While Catherine is trying to free a friend, the Jabberwock “crashed to the ground, blocking her path. The best curled its serpentine neck towards the sky and snorted, its nostrils steaming. . . A scream was ripped from Cath’s throat and she charged forward, swinging the sword as hard as her arms would allow it. The blade made one fast, clean cut. . . The Jabberwock’s head disconnected from her slithering neck. Her body crashed onto the rows of abandoned pumpkins.” The Jabberwock’s attack is described over ten pages.
  • After Catherine kills the Jabberwock, a man attacks Jest. “. . . There was the sound of blood sputtering across the ground. . . Jest. Mutilated. Severed. Dead.”
  • After Catherine becomes Queen of Hearts, Three Sisters magically take her heart. One of the sisters, Lacie “raised the dagger and plunged it into Cath’s chest. Catherine gasped. . . Lacie pulled out the blade. A beating heart was skewered on its tip. It was broken, cut almost clean in half by a blackened fissure that was filled with sawdust.” Catherine still lives, but her only emotion is rage.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times throughout the book, adults drink wine. For example, wine is served at a royal ball.
  • Mr. Caterpillar smokes “from a large hookah.”
  • Catherine’s parents drink “cordials.”
  • When Catherine is injured, Jest gives her “treacle.” When she takes the treacle, it “contains mythical healing properties.” Her ankle begins to heal itself. “She hardly felt it. The slow straightening of the joint, the shrinking of the lump, the gradual reduction of her swollen flesh.”

Language

  • A lady yells, “YOU BLOODY BIRD! CAN’T YOU AIM STRAIGHT FOR ONCE?”

Supernatural

  • Catherine’s world is full of magic.
  • Many characters are animals or other strange creatures, such as playing cards.
  • When Catherine dreams, she wakes up to find a lemon tree once, and another time a rose bush climbing her bedpost. Later a vine with “hundreds and hundreds of small, delicate hearts surrounded her—all of them bleeding.”
  • A turtle suddenly begins to change. “Upended on his back, exposing the softer underside of his shell, his arms and legs flailing. He was still groaning and pressing his flippers to his stomach, his voice hoarse with pain, his eyes wide and frightened. . . His screams turned gargled as his head, too, began to morph into something strange, something horrid.” Parts of the turtle’s body change. “His reptilian tail stretched and curled and spouted a tuff of fur on its end. His tail, too, was now that of a young cow.” His transformation is described over three pages.
  • Hatta makes hats from “unique materials” that give them magical properties.
  • Jest can change into a raven. “Jest’s body dissolved—a shadow, a flutter, a wisp of ink-dipped quills.”
  • If someone steps through a magical-looking glass, they are transported to another place.
  • A woman eats magical pumpkins that turn her into the Jabberwock. Later, the pumpkins tell Catherine that she should “run away with your human legs, run away. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Emerge

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

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

by Elena Brown

Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Clap When You Land

Camino and Yahaira’s lives are turned upside down when they hear the news, “There have been no survivors found from flight 1112.”

Sixteen-year-old Yahaira lives in New York with her mother and father. Every year, her father returns to his home country – the Dominican Republic. This summer, he was on flight 1112. After Yahaira is told her father died in a plane crash, she is devastated by the news and weighed down by a secret – her father had a wife and a child in the Dominican Republic.

 Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. After Camino’s mother died, her father moved to New York. Camino’s father returns to the Dominican Republic every summer to spend time with her. Camino is crushed by the loss of her father and the discovery that he had another child, Yahaira, in New York.

Camino works with her aunt as a traditional healer and had aspirations of joining her father in New York to study medicine and become a doctor. Her father pays a local sex trafficker to leave Camino alone so she can focus on her schoolwork. Without her father funding this and her private education, she feels as though her dreams are now out of reach.

Clap When You Land follows Camino and Yahaira on their journey to discover how their lives are interconnected and what it means to be family. They both feel betrayed by their father’s secrets and must learn to cope with the aftermath. Camino and Yahaira learn the world is not always black and white, that maybe their father truly loved both of them. Yahaira comes to terms with her father’s deception saying, “I know now, Papi could not move between two families. When he was here – he was mine, when he was there, he was theirs.”

This spellbinding novel follows the two girls on the cusp of adulthood. Both girls must learn to deal with life’s challenges. Yahaira navigates life in New York as a lesbian, while Camino learns how to follow her dreams despite her circumstances. Clap When You Land will help readers understand the grieving process and how to cope with an immense loss.

The narration is provided in prose, switching between Camino and Yahaira’s voices which provides multiple perspectives on how loss can change someone. Camino and Yahaira’s relationship provides a valuable perspective on sexual assault and what it means to be a survivor. Camino and Yahaira find comfort in leaning on each other as they deal with the emotional and physical trauma they have suffered.

In addition, Clap When You Land discusses health disparities that exist both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States, providing important commentary on health inequities throughout the world. High school-aged readers will find Camino’s and Yahaira’s journey entertaining and captivating. The two young women are relatable characters who impart valuable life lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • As Camino walks to school, she sees “the working girls I once went to school with.” She is referring to girls who had to drop out of school to become sex workers.
  • Camino discusses how her father didn’t need to be strict with her because “I don’t mess with dudes from the barrio who love gossip at the domino bars about the girls that they’ve slept with.” Camino only flirted with the American boys from her school, but “not because they’re cute or interesting – they’re often obnoxious and only want a taste of my gutter-slick tongue and brownness; they act as if they could elevate my life with a taste of their powder-milk-tinged pomp.”
  • Camino discusses the neighborhood sex trafficker saying, “El Cero always gets a first taste of the girls who work for him. Before he gussies them up and takes them by the resort beach in cut-off tanks and short shorts so the men from all over the world who come here for sun and sex can give thumbs-up or -down to his wares.”
  • Yahaira reminisces about when she and her girlfriend, Dre, were intimate for the first time. Yahaira thinks, “The first time Dre touched me without our clothes on, she kept running her hand from waist to hip. And I wanted to write Miami a thank-you text, for giving my body a spot that was made to nest Dre’s head in.”
  • Yahaira describes Dre as saying, “If you tell a dirty joke, Dre will talk about plants that pollinate themselves. If you talk about hoeing around, you’d see Dre blink as her mind goes down a long winding path of tilling dirt.”
  • Camino is worried about El Cero, the local sex trafficker. She thinks, “Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms. Men with accents pick us as if from a brochure to climb and slide and swing.”
  • Yahaira was sexually assaulted on the train. She says, “When I felt a squeeze on my leg I thought it was an accident and when I felt fingers float up my thighs I thought I must be mistaken and when he palmed me under my skirt openhanded I dropped my trophy but did not scream, did not make a scene did not curse him out there was no strategy no alternate plan no way to win, there was just me stuck, and being felt up on a public train.”
  • Camino said her aunt always answered her questions, “whether it was about sex, or boys, healing or the Saints.”

Violence

  • When Camino learns that no one survived the plane crash, she thinks, “A body means there is no miracle to hope for; dead is dead is dead.”
  • Dre plays Nina Simone’s music when she is dealing with difficult events. Yahaira says, “She will play her when we see videos on social media of another black boy shot, another black girl pulled over, another kid in the Bronx stabbed outside the Bodega. Dre plays Nina when two girls holding hands are jumped.”
  • Yahaira’s mother won’t let her see her father’s remains because “the airline representative mails us a catalog of all the bits of cloth, and bone, and hair, and suitcase things that probably belong to my father.”
  • When a man sexually assaults Camino, she desperately thinks, “kick him back scratch at the eyes mouth open cry cry cry for help.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Camino frequently smokes cigars. “I lift my mouth to the cigar. Inhale. Hold the smoke hard in my lungs until the pain squeezes sharp in my chest.”
  • Camino’s aunt “hauls the honeyed rum.”
  • When they are making an offering to Camino’s dead parents, Camino and her aunt have a drink. “We pour a bit of homemade mamjuana into the water, and Tia doesn’t even stop me when I take a sip from the bottle. I am feeling guilty.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, after Yahaira’s coach calls to give her condolences. Yahaira thinks, “Who knew death must be so damn polite?”
  • Fuck is used sparingly. For example, Camino described how her house was blessed by saints, but “a lot of people don’t fuck with that kind of thing here.”
  • When walking down the street, Yahaira avoids “dog shit.”
  • Yahaira is planning on flying to the Dominican Republic to attend her father’s funeral even though “Miami is dead-ass serious that she isn’t going to the DR funeral.”
  • A man calls Camino an “uppity, ugly bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Yahaira asks Camino if she believes in ghosts. Camino answers, “Of courses, I believe in ghosts. There are spirits everywhere.”
  • Yahaira describes the alter in Camino’s home. “Miami and I have been ignoring the alter in the corner. I don’t know much about Saints or ancestors, only the rumors of sacrificing chickens and how it all relates to voodoo.”
  • Camino and her aunt are traditional healers and frequently call upon spirits. The townspeople say Camino’s aunt “has the Saint’s ear.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

An Abundance of Katherines

Just hours after graduating from high school, Katherine XIX dumps Colin Singleton. Colin grew up as a child prodigy, who does not get along well with others. And he only falls for women named Katherine. He understands that his role in the universe was to fall in love with Katherines and then to inevitably be dumped by them.

Following the break-up, Colin’s only friend, Hassan, takes Colin on a road trip. They end up in Gunshot, Tennessee where they meet Lindsey. Lindsey’s mother offers Colin and Hassan a summer job collecting an oral history of the small town. The two boys interview people about their experiences in Gunshot. At the same time, Colin works on creating a mathematical theorem to graph, describe, and predict relationships.

An Abundance of Katherines follows Colin as he grapples with finding his purpose in the world. Colin struggles with being an incredibly gifted child prodigy but feeling as though he is failing to live up to his expected potential. Colin states, “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do.” Colin also struggles with the expectations his parents have for him, as his father always pressures him to not only be a prodigy but also to grow into a genius. This causes Colin to frequently have anxiety when he fails to meet these unrealistic goals. But Colin is still determined to make his mark on the world and be remembered.

Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey are likable characters who provide many perspectives. Although the book is only told from Colin’s perspective, Hassan and Lindsey’s experiences are thoroughly described as they spend every day with Colin. Colin provides meaningful insights into a gifted child struggling with failure and navigating the process of growing up. Readers will be able to relate to Hassan who struggles with discrimination and finding motivation in life’s endeavors. In addition, Lindsey’s perspective helps readers understand the struggle to identify their true self.

This upbeat novel takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery and maturing into adulthood. An Abundance of Katherines will resonate with readers of different ages because of the relatable conflicts. As teenagers transition into adulthood, they might grapple with understanding their place in the world. Colin’s journey provides readers the opportunity to feel less alone in these struggles, while also providing an entertaining, hilarious story. Ultimately, Colin finally has his Eureka moment by discovering, “You matter as much as the things that matter to you do.”

Sexual Content

  • Hassan frequently refers to his penis, which he has named “Thunderstick.”
  • Colin jokes with Hassan. Colin says that if he had religious beliefs, “I’d like to believe that I could fly into outer space on the fluffy backs of giant penguins and screw Katherine XIX in zero gravity.”
  • Sexual intercourse is insinuated a few times. For example, Colin was surprised his parents were allowing him to go on a road trip, but he assumed “maybe they just wanted a few weeks alone to rekindle the romance.”
  • Colin and Hassan see Lindsey’s purple bra. During this interaction, Colin thinks back to Katherine XIV “who wore a black bra and everything else.” He also thinks about other girls’ bras he had seen.
  • Colin recalls his time with Katherine XIX where they “climbed into bed downstairs, she pulled off his shirt and he hers, and they kissed until his lips were numb except for tingling.”
  • While thinking about his failed relationships, Colin has his Eureka moment, describing it as, “feeling like a thousand orgasms all at once, except not as messy.”
  • When Colin meets Lindsey’s friend, he describes her as “tall and thoroughly Abercrombified in her tight tank top. The girl also had – how to put this politely – gigantic gazoombas. She was incredibly hot – in that popular-girl-with-bleached-teeth-and-anorexia kind of way.”
  • Colin attempts to explain how unpopular he is by saying, “The end of that story is that I came relatively close to having a lion bite off my penis. And my point was that shit like that never happens to popular people.”
  • For two pages, Lindsey tries to teach Colin how to make his story about the lion more interesting by emphasizing his “giant winky.”
  • Lindsey describes an attractive guy at her high school. She describes him as a “self-professed proponent of the 4 Fs: find ‘em, feel ‘em, fug ‘em, and forget ‘em.”
  • Hassan plays spin the bottle with Lindsey and her friends. Hassan ends up kissing someone. The next day Hassan tells Colin the story. Hassan says, “She made a beeline for my mouth and, I swear to God, her tongue was licking my teeth.” Hassan proceeds to embellish the story for three pages.
  • When she goes out with Colin, Lindsey jokes to her mom saying, “We might be back late. Hot sex and all!”
  • Hassan begins going out with a girl. He tells Colin that he and the girl got to “second base over the shirt.”
  • Hassan’s girlfriend and Lindsey’s boyfriend are caught having sex: “She was facing away from them, her back arched, her butt bobbing in and out of visibility. Colin had never seen actual people having actual sex before.”
  • Colin finally convinces Hassan to go to college. Hassan says, “I only registered for two classes in the fall, so don’t start creaming yourself.”
  • Colin tells Lindsey about all of the Katherines he has dated. He said Katherine X “was the first girl I ever French-kissed, and I didn’t know what to do so I sort of kept darting my tongue out from behind closed lips like I was a snake.”
  • Colin discusses Katherine XVI. In their brief relationship at an academic decathlon, Colin says, “we had to kick her three roommates out of her hotel room so we could make out properly.”

 

Violence

  • After Colin is dumped by Katherine XIX, his parents are attempting to comfort him. Colin felt “a tremendous need to get them out of his room immediately like if they didn’t leave, he would blow up. Literally. Guts on the walls; his prodigious brain emptied out onto his bedspread.”
  • The violence surrounding Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination is frequently discussed. For example, while Lindsey is providing a tour of his grave, she states, “From everything I’ve read about Franzy, he and Sophie had about the happiest marriage in the whole history of royalty. It’s sort of a cute story, except for how on their fourteenth wedding anniversary – June twenty-eighth, 1914 – they were both shot dead in Sarajevo.”
  • Lindsey also describes how Franz Ferdinand became the successor to Austria’s throne. “His uncle was the emperor Francis Joseph, but being the Austro-Hungarian emperor’s nephew don’t matter much. Unless, say, the emperor’s only son, Rudolph, happens to shoot himself in the head.”
  • The first meal Colin and Hassan have at Lindsey’s house is quail. Colin asks, “The bird was shot?” To which Lindsey states, “Yup.” Colin responds, “And I’m eating the bullets?” Lindsey smiles and states, “Nope. You’re spitting them out.”
  • Lindsey attempts to have Hassan and Colin conduct interviews of the townspeople. Hassan responds, “No fugging way. That’s how horror movies start. We drop you off, walk into some stranger’s house, and five minutes later some psycho’s lobbing off my nuts with a machete while his schizophrenic wife makes Colin do push-ups on a bed of hot coals.”
  • One of the townspeople was arrested for killing a neighbor’s pet snake. When explaining his rationale, he states, “You see a snake, you kill it. That’s just how I was raised up. So I shot it. Split it right in two.”
  • The same townsperson said he did not want to go off to fight in any war, so he “shot off two of his toes because he is a coward.”
  • Colin’s father is nervous that Colin is staying with a stranger in Tennessee. Colin responds, “Dad, I survived seventeen years in Chicago without ever getting mugged or stabbed or kidnapped.”
  • When Lindsey finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, a fistfight breaks out between her boyfriend and Colin and Hassan. This is described in detail for six pages. At one point, Colin and the boyfriend face-off, “In the moment before the strike, Colin felt it in his loins – the phantom pain – and then Lindsey’s boyfriend’s knee came up into Colin’s groin so hard he briefly left the ground.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a rest stop, Colin finds graffiti on the bathroom stall stating, “CALL DANA FOR BLOW” causing Colin to wonder “whether Dana provided fellatio or cocaine.”
  • Colin’s childhood tutor, Keith, used to drink with Colin’s parents. Colin remembers thinking, “After those dinners, the parents would sit in the living room laughing louder as time passed, Keith shouting that he couldn’t possibly drive home, that he needed a cup of coffee after all that wine – your home is an Alamo for oenophiles, he’d cry.”
  • Lindsey attempts to describe her popularity by stating, “I’m not just some former ugly girl who sold her soul to date hotties and go to the finest keg parties the Greater Gunshot Area has to offer.”
  • One of the townspeople says he was arrested multiple times. He was arrested when he “was drunk in public in 1948.”
  • Colin thought his mother wanted him to behave like a more “normal” kid. He thinks that “she’d be secretly pleased if he came home one night at three in the morning reeking of booze because that would be normal. Normal kids come home late; normal kids drink warm forties of malt liquor in alleys with their friends.”
  • For two pages Hassan tells Colin how he “drank half a beer.” He split it with Lindsey.
  • Colin contemplates what would happen if he became popular. He thinks, “He had seen enough movies to know what happens when dorks go to cool-kid parties: generally, the dorks either get thrown into the pool or they become drunk, vacuous cool kids themselves.”
  • Lindsey and Colin share moonshine together. Lindsey states, “Sweet holy shitstickers, it tastes like you’re washing down a bite of corn with a pint of lighter fluid.”

Language

  • Colin and his best friend Hassan periodically use profanity, which includes ass, hell, damn, dick, pissed, and bastard.
  • When addressing each other, Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey occasionally use the word “retarded” or “tard.”
  • Colin and Hassan use the term “fugger” frequently. The term is used in conversation as “fucker” normally would. For example, when Hassan is confronting Colin for being a poor friend he says, “Have you ever sat with me for hours and listened to me whine about being a fat fugger whose best friend ditches him every time a Katherine comes along?”
  • Lindsey asks, “Why the fuck do you and Hassan say fug all the time?”
  • “Shit” is used frequently. For example, when Colin is describing himself, he states, “I’m washed up, I’m former. Formerly the boyfriend of Katherine XIX. Formerly a prodigy. Formerly full of potential. Currently full of shit.”
  • One time, Colin also uses the word “merde,” which is French for “shit.”
  • Hassan and Colin frequently refer to each other as “Kafir,” which is a derogatory Arabic term meaning “infidel.”
  • At a rest station, Hassan finds a table that has “God Hates Fags” written on it.
  • When Colin continues to drive without deciding on a destination, Hassan complains, “I like this interstate as much as the next guy, but the farther south we go, the hotter it gets, and I’m already sweating like a whore in church.”
  • Hassan says he does not need to go to college or work because his father is, “rich as balls.”
  • “Pussy” is used twice. Lindsey teaches Colin to shoot a gun with a lot of kick, saying, “I don’t want you to look like a pussy.”
  • Colin calls Lindsey’s boyfriend a “paardenlul”, which directly translates to “horse penis,” which is stated in the footnotes.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Colin and Hassan frequently discuss Hassan’s religion. Hassan introduces himself to Lindsey as, “Hassan Harbish. Sunni Muslim. Not a terrorist.”
  • Colin makes fun of Hassan saying, “How very odd, to believe God gave you life, and yet not think that life asks more of you than watching TV.”
  • Hassan frequently prays. On the road trip, they stopped at a rest stop so Colin could use the restroom “while Hassan knelt on the concrete outside, facing Mecca.”
  • Hassan discusses his viewpoints on haram, stating, “The haram shit I do is, like, having a dog. It’s not like smoking crack or talking behind people’s backs or stealing or lying to my mom or fugging girls.”

by Paige Smith

 

 

 

 

Deception

When Baalboden is destroyed, the survivors are left to fend for themselves. The ragtag group elect Logan as their leader. With Rachel by his side, Logan is determined to get the survivors to the safety of another city-state. The survivors must leave the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland. But the Commander and a rival city-state’s army both want to take the device that controls the Cursed One for themselves.

Soon, it becomes clear that the survivors have a traitor among their ranks, who is killing them. Both Rachel and Logan are put under an unbearable strain, causing Logan and Rachel to wonder if their love will be shattered. Soon, everyone is questioning if they can survive the Wasteland.

The second book of the Defiance Series has wide plot holes, long and unrealistic fight scenes, and underdeveloped characters. Even though the story’s point of view alternates between Logan and Rachel, the two are frustrating characters to follow.

Rachel’s father trained her to defend herself, and Rachel is portrayed as an excellent fighter who can defeat male soldiers. Her daring acts in battle are described in long descriptive scenes that are completely unrealistic. In addition, Rachel is amazingly self-centered. When Rachel’s best friend Sylph dies, Rachel is distraught and only thinks about how Sylph’s death will affect her. Instead of being a heart-wrenching moment, Sylph is so underdeveloped that her death has little impact on the reader.

Most of the time, Logan only thinks about keeping Rachel alive. He feels guilty about everything and doesn’t trust anyone in his inner circle to help him keep the survivors safe. Even though Logan is surrounded by others who are older and more knowledgeable, Logan acts as if he is the only one intelligent enough to save the survivors. He over-thinks every situation and doubts his own abilities, but is still arrogant enough to think only he can find the solution to every problem. Plus, Logan’s repetitive inner dialogue is annoying.

This dystopian novel blends action and romance together; however, the story’s many flaws will leave readers wishing that they had left the book on the shelf. If you’re looking for an entertaining dystopian romance, you should read The Selection Series by Kiera Cass and the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie.

Sexual Content

  • Rachel and Logan kiss several times. For example, Rachel gives Logan a “quick kiss.”
  • Logan thinks “kissing Rachel is like discovering a new element—one that turns my blood into lava and sends sparks shooting straight through every logical thought still lingering in my head.”
  • Rachel has a bad dream. When Logan wakes her, Rachel “raise[s] my head to kiss him, swallowing the rest of his words. My lips are harsh. My hands grip his arms. Claw his shoulders. . . This is what I need. This will make it better. I wrap my leg around his. . . I kiss him hard enough to hurt.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Rachel and another girl have a short conversation about Logan’s kissing abilities. Rachel thinks, “I lose myself for a moment in the thought of his callused fingers gently sliding over my back, his lips pressing urgently against mine, his breath quickening against my skin.”
  • Rachel and Logan walk into a bedroom and see a husband and wife in bed together. Both the woman’s and man’s chest are exposed.
  • Logan helps Rachel, who is injured, change clothes. Rachel’s skin “glows, my breath hitches in my throat, and a feeling just as real as the pain in my arm but infinitely more delicious spreads through my stomach in lazy spirals. . . His chest scrapes the sensitive skin along my back as he breathes in quick, little jerks as if he’s been running.” Logan admits being tempted by Rachel.

Violence

  • The story begins with a multi-chapter battle. After Baalboden is destroyed, a group of soldiers try to enter the town to attack the survivors. “The first wave of soldiers crashes into the tiny band of survivors and the scream of metal against metal shivers through the air. . . Logan slams into another man, and their swords clash. We lunge, swing, hack, and parry with the Wall at our backs, and slowly gaining ground toward the gate.”
  • During the above fight, Rachel “leap[s] to my feet, and he [a soldier] lunges toward me on legs suddenly too weak to hold him. I follow his gaze as he stares down at the deep cut on his thigh, at the blood gushing out of his artery with every beat of his heart.” Another soldier attacks and Rachel “slice[s] my knife across his neck as he turns. Blood spurts, and I stagger back as it arcs toward me.”
  • A soldier pens Rachel down. Rachel jabs “the knife into the soft meat of the soldier’s leg, and he stiffens, his grip on my Switch arm loosening slightly. Before he can recover, I snap my head back, smashing my skull into his nose.” A man helps Rachel “as he wrenches the man’s sword arm to an impossible angle. The soldier screams in agony as the sickening crack of a bone ripping apart from its tendons fill the air.”
  • During the battle, Willow uses a bow and arrow and “takes them [soldiers] both down in less than ten seconds.” Rachel looks “away before I can see the blood that pours out of their wounds and spreads across the soot-stained cobblestones beneath them.” After the fighting, Logan gives an order “to strip the soldiers’ bodies of anything we can use.”
  • Rachel thinks back to when she killed a man. “My knife. His chest. Blood covering me as I sat horrified.”
  • When soldiers attack, Rachel tries to keep them away from the others. “I plant my right foot, lean back slightly, and snap my left leg into the air, kicking his windpipe with my boot. He drops to the floor. . .” She kills the man, but other soldiers attack her. “I slash my knife, sticking into a soldier’s neck. A line of brilliant red spills across his coat and splashes onto my hand.” Many of the soldiers are killed in bloody detail.
  • The Cursed One attacks a group of survivors. “A thick stream of red-gold fire spews out of its snout. Frankie dives beneath it, but flames grab hold of his tunic and his clothing ignites. He rolls across the grass, extinguishing the flames.” Frankie dies.
  • Someone slits a man’s throat. Logan finds the body. “I shake him and watch in horror as his head tips back, revealing the thick crimson slice across the base of his neck.”
  • While in the forest, someone throws a rock at Logan, making his head bleed.
  • As the group of survivors flees, highwaymen attack. Rachel leads their counterattack. “The highwaymen are converging on me. . . I dive out from under his feet before he can finish swinging his sword at me. His momentum carries him past me, and I slash the tendons behind his knees with my blade.” When the man is down, Rachel goes after another one. “I snatch my knife and lunge to my feet, bringing my weapon in his sternum as I stand. He deflates slowly, and I shove him away as he crumples. . .” Twenty-three of the highwaymen are killed.
  • An army attacks the group. The survivors throw jars full of acid and “the cypress explodes in a shower of splinters, branches, and shards of bark the size of my arm. . . A handful of soldiers are crushed beneath the trunks. Still more are bleeding from gaping wounds to their heads, arms, and legs. . . The soldiers closest to the explosion are thrown onto their backs, their skin riddled with cuts.” The survivors escape by blowing up a bridge. The fight takes place over eight pages.
  • One of the survivors, Willow, jumps into the river to save someone. When a solider goes after her, Rachel shoots him with an arrow. “He staggers, reaches up to grab the arrow, and falls backward into the river. Three more arrows fly, and all of the injured soldiers stop moving.”
  • As the survivors are resting, the rocks near them begin to explode. “Before they can move, another piece of the ground bursts into flames, right beneath the feet of an older man. . . He screams, a long, high wail of agony that tapers off into silence as his body twists away from the fire and falls to the grass in a smoldering heap.” Rachel pushes a child out of danger’s way. The stone explodes and “pain—searing, vicious pain unlike any I’ve ever felt—blazes a trail of agony down my right forearm. I scream and belly crawl away from the terrible heat that reaches for me.” Many people die or are injured. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • Two of the characters reveal that they killed their father. The father’s death is not described.
  • Rachel is kidnapped. Quinn tires to stop the traitor. “He drags me to my feet, but Quinn is already there, crouched and shaking, his breath rattling in the back of his throat like a trapped animal. . . Quinn falls to the ground and disappears beneath the cloud of smoke.” Rachel tries to escape, but the traitor finally “balls up his fist and slams it into the side of my head. . . then my ears ring, my eyes close, and darkness takes me.” The scene is described over eight pages.
  • When Rachel insults the traitor, “the knife plunges down, slicing through my bandage and digging into burned flesh. I scream as raw agony blisters my arm.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone poisons the survivors with castor seed poison, which cannot be cured.
  • Several times people are injured and are given pain medication.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When soldiers try to ram their way into the city, Logan prays that the survivors have time to escape.
  • When the Cursed One attacks a group of survivors, Frankie gives his life to save them. “I [Rachel] close my eyes, praying that Frankie dies quick and that the pain is over in seconds. Praying that the monster leaves once he’s satisfied his prey is dead. Praying that everyone else has the good sense to honor Frankie’s sacrifice by remaining silent.”
  • While holding an infant, Rachel prays “that I don’t break her.”
  • When Rachel is kidnapped, Logan prays that she is okay.

She’s The Worst

Sisters Jenn and April used to be close, but lately they’ve been drifting apart. Thanks to school, sports, and the looming threat of college, the two don’t spend much time together. Plus, their emotionally immature, always-bickering parents have made their home an unpleasant place. But as Jenn prepares to start college, April remembers a pact she made with Jenn at the beginning of high school: before Jenn leaves town, they’ll spend the whole day together, revisiting places in Los Angeles that hold special memories for them.

Despite boyfriend troubles, needy parents, and secrets keeping them apart, the girls manage to make time to embark on their journey. Through the course of the day, secrets are revealed, arguments break out, and tensions rise. High-achieving Jenn plans to leave for Stanford soon, but she hasn’t told her parents, who think that she is staying in LA to work at the family antique store. Messy, sporty April thinks she can get a soccer scholarship, but doesn’t know how to get her family to take her hobby seriously.

While the girls work through their issues with themselves, their parents, and their respective love interests, they discover that they haven’t been communicating nearly enough. By respecting each other’s differences and talking things through, they’re able to address conflicts that have been bothering their family for years—and become closer as sisters. Through the course of a single day, their lives and relationships change dramatically.

She’s the Worst is a light read that moves quickly through its time frame of a single day. Its fast pacing sometimes comes at the expense of emotional impact or effective description. Readers still may find themselves connecting emotionally to Jenn and April’s struggles, especially when the story addresses their parents’ relationship.

The family antique store has caused a rift in April and Jenn’s parents’ marriage, and the sisters have both coped in different ways—Jenn mediates her parents’ arguments, while April spends as little time around them as possible. Readers who are familiar with such family dynamics will enjoy seeing them faithfully played out on the page. After seeing how desperately Jenn wants to get away from her parents, but how deeply they rely on her to keep the family business functioning, readers will surely root for her in her quest to leave her hometown.

She’s the Worst promises a story of sisterhood, and while it delivers that story, it also delivers a story of dysfunctional families, emotionally immature parents, and the complicated relationships people have with their hometowns.

Sexual Content

  • April is “sleeping with” Eric, a boy from school. Eric has “snuck in [her] bedroom window a few times already,” as April knows her parents would not approve.
  • April remembers “the way Eric kissed me last night, the way his body felt next to mine as we fell back asleep.”
  • April says that even though she’s not dating Eric, “that doesn’t mean we can’t hook up.” When Jenn expresses concern that Eric is toying with her feelings, April says, “What are you, a nun?” Jenn says, “Does he really like you? Or does he just like having sex with you?”
  • Eric kisses April. April says, “It’s fast but deep, like he wants to have as much of me as he can while he can, and I shiver despite the sun on my back.”
  • April admits her feelings for her friend Nate, and they kiss. April says, “I . . . press my lips to his. He freezes for a second, as surprised as I am by what I just did. Then his lips part and he pulls me closer. The kiss deepens as his hands start to creep down my back.” They are in public and don’t go any further.
  • Later April and Nate share an intimate moment in April’s bedroom. “Then he lifts me up and carries me to the bed, and it’s still me and Nate, but not like always—it’s totally new, and totally hot. I wrap my legs around him as the kiss deepens and intensifies, and soon I’m not thinking about anything at all. When he eventually pulls back, I feel drunk with happiness.”

Violence

  • April jokes that if someone went to the UK and called soccer “soccer” instead of “football,” they would “get jumped by a hooligan.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Jenn says, “Remember when we brought up sparkling cider and pretended it was champagne?” April says, “We could probably get our hands on some real champagne. Or at least some cheap beer.”
  • April’s friend Nate brings the sisters some red wine he stole from his house.

Language

  • Profanity is used somewhat frequently. Profanity includes crap, ass, piss, hell, and damn.
  • “Fuck” is used very infrequently.
  • April says, “Mother. Fucker.” once.
  • April uses the expression, “Speak of the devil.”

Supernatural

  • April remembers using an Ouija board with Jenn once, but goes into no further detail.

Spiritual Content

  • April recalls wearing a new dress for a relative’s neighbor’s bat mitzvah.

by Caroline Galdi

 

Beautiful Wild

Vida Hazzard can see her future. Aboard the heralded “Millionaire’s Ship of the West,” she’ll charm the young scion Fitzhugh Farrar, resulting in a proposal of marriage.

But Vida didn’t plan on Fitz’s best friend Sal, a rough-around-the-edges boy with a talent for getting under her skin. Nor did she anticipate a hurricane dashing their ship and her dreams to pieces. Now stranded on an island with both Fitz and Sal, Vida is torn between the life she’s always planned for, and a future she’s never dared to want. As they desperately plot a course for home, Vida will discover which boy will capture her wild heart—and where her future truly lies.

Beautiful Wild has an interesting premise, but the predictable plot and spoiled protagonist make the story drag. First of all, Vida is a self-centered girl whose only goal is to snag Fitz as a husband, even though she has no genuine feelings for him. Vida longs for adventure but realizes “that the adventures of young women are adventures of the heart—or of husband-hunting. And that it was enough for you to see the heights of the world through the eyes of the man you would marry.” When Vida finally wins Fitz’s heart, she realizes her longing for clothes, parties, and acceptance in society means nothing to her. Unrealistically, she sails off into the sunset, alone and in search of her true love, Sal.

Even though the story is written in third person, Vida’s thoughts take center stage. Unfortunately, Vida’s conflicts are revealed through long-winded passages. In addition, readers may have a hard time relating to Vida because the girl is selfish and vain. Even after Vida learns that Fitz has been in a long-standing sexual relationship with his brother’s wife, Vida still wants to marry him so her own materialistic wants will be fulfilled. When Vida begins to have doubts, Vida’s mother reminds her of the importance of getting married, because if she doesn’t “your life will be aimless, and you won’t be anybody at all.”

Beautiful Wild has elements of a survival story as well as a romance but lacks action and character development. Vida’s two love interests are so undeveloped that the love triangle lacks suspense. However, readers will come away from reading Beautiful Wild with a new understanding of the restrictive lives women had in the past. The ending is predictable and lacks an emotional impact. Readers who like to understand a character’s inner musings may like Beautiful Wild. However, if you’re looking for a heartfelt romance or an action-packed survival story, Beautiful Wild will leave you disappointed.

Sexual Content

  • It’s revealed that Fitz had a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife.
  • Vida goes to find Fitz in the hopes that “Fitz would kiss her.”
  • Fitz kisses Vida. “His face moved toward hers, his chin tilted—in a moment she would close her eyes to accept his kiss. His hands spread over her waist, and she felt the press of his mouth against hers, and the warmth of his breath, and the pump of his heart.”
  • Vida asks Sal why he didn’t try to kiss her. She thinks, “It had been so easy to get Whiting, and Bill, and Theodore to kiss her—why should Sal be so difficult?”
  • After Fitz returns with help, he tells Vida, “When I was on that raft, in the storm, when the sea was all around me and we seemed certain to drown, I kept thinking of your lips, and I thought that if I could only steer her true, I’d survive and I’d be able to kiss you again.” Fitz then gives Vida a “chaste kiss just slightly off the mark of her mouth.”
  • Before her upcoming marriage, Vida seeks out Sal. “And then quite unexpectedly her fingers fluttered up, brushed his lips, his jaw, gently pinched his earlobe. . . Her mouth found his mouth. . . Then he returned the pressure of her kiss, and she knew what it was to want and be wanted in equal measure.”
  • Later, Vida thinks about kissing Sal and wonders “what the next kiss would have been like, and the one after that.”

Violence

  • Their ship sinks and Camilla’s husband dies. Vida sees Camilla “as she tried to protect the body splayed on the beach. A dead body.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A gossip columnist writes that “the heir to the shipping fortune drank more than his older brother thought proper.”
  • Vida has a hangover after drinking a “hideous quantity of champagne.”
  • When the ship is ready to depart, “champagne bottles popped. . . cheers erupted.”
  • While at parties and on the ship, Vida drinks champagne.
  • Vida thinks about all of the gentlemen in a room. One man was “liable to drink too much and become boorish.”
  • Fitz tells Vida that when they are saved, the two of them will “play bridge, and we’ll have cocoa and whiskey and we’ll dance.”
  • When Fitz scolds Vida, no one notices because “everyone was a little drunk.”
  • When Vida’s father talks about her upcoming marriage, Vida stops him. “Her Father—Vida supposed—made a gesture that implied she’d been too free with the passing trays of champagne last night.”
  • At her engagement party, someone finds Vida upset. The person tells her to “have some sherry to fortify you for the rest of the night.” Vida drinks brandy, which “stung her mouth and snapped her back to this place.” As the night progresses, Vida drinks enough to have a hangover the next day.

Language

  • Damn is used five times. Vida is afraid that she will never get the tangles out of her hair. She says, “Tomorrow I will cut the damn braid off.”
  • My God and oh God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Vida calls someone a bastard.

Supernatural

  • When someone gives Vida a knife, her mother tells her, “If you accept a blade as a wedding gift, it means the marriage will fail.”

Spiritual Content

  • Vida’s lady’s maid tries to hide the champagne glasses from Vida’s father. When he leaves the room, she says, “Oh thank God.”
  • The ship passengers hold a funeral service for a man who died. The man’s brother says, “He is with God now. May his soul be at rest.”
  • After the ship sinks, Vida is worried about a friend. She prays, “God, please, let her still be [alive].”
  • The surviving passengers are forced to hide in a cave. Vida “had prayed for the night to end.”

Defiance #1

Girls in Baalboden learn to be submissive and obey their male Protectors. While other girls learn how to sew dresses, Rachel’s father has been teaching her to survive in the wilderness and wield a sword. When her father, Jared, doesn’t return from a courier mission, everything changes for Rachel. When her father is declared dead, Rachel is assigned a new protector: her father’s apprentice. Now Rachel is commanded to obey Logan, the boy who rejected her two years ago. Rather than meekly obey, Rachel is determined to find her father and prove that he survived the Wasteland.

Logan is many things: orphan, outcast, inventor, apprentice to the city’s top courier. Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing his mentor.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Even though Rachel is headstrong and capable of defending herself, she is not a very likable character. Rachel often acts impulsively, which almost leads to her death. She is forced to go into the Wasteland with Melkin. When Melkin attacks her, Rachel kills him. Afterwards, she is overcome by guilt because she believes that Melkin wouldn’t have killed her. Although Rachel’s feeling of guilt is understandable, her reasoning doesn’t make sense. This is just one of many frustrating inconsistencies in this story that just don’t make sense.

While Defiance has some action-packed scenes, too much time is devoted to Rachel finding her father and then returning to the city. When Rachel finally makes it to her destination, she learns that her father has died, but left her a package, which Logan is supposed to destroy. Because of this, Rachel’s long journey into the Wasteland and back to Baalboden seems pointless.

Defiance jumps back and forth between Rachel’s and Logan’s points of view. Even though this allows the reader to understand both of their thoughts, readers may still have a hard time relating to either character. Much of the plot is devoted to the characters’ inner monologues, which revolve around their feelings for each other. Many of their troubles could have been easily prevented if they would have talked to each other. In addition, Logan is inconsiderate, controlling, and only thinks about himself. Unfortunately, there is little to like about Rachel or Logan.

The predictable villain, the characters’ inner monologues, and the plot inconsistencies will frustrate readers. The world building is so vague that it does little to add to the dystopian plot. Unfortunately, Defiance is an underdeveloped, forgettable story. If you’re looking for a must read end-of-the-world novel, you should leave Defiance on the shelf and instead read The Host by Stephanie Myer.

 Sexual Content

  • Logan almost kisses Rachel. His “gaze wanders to her lips, and I can’t see anything but a thin trail of water gliding over her skin, gathering at the corner of her mouth, then slowly drifting toward her neck. . . I ache to press her against the wall and taste her.”
  • Rachel thinks about Logan. “I remember the intensity in Logan’s eyes as we leaned close to each other in his kitchen. The way his hand felt pressed against my skin.”
  • When Rachel is too distraught to speak, Logan is worried that she’s “been violated.”
  • Logan notices Rachel’s breast. “The neckline dips down and curves over breasts I didn’t realize until just this minute were so . . . substantial. I force my eyes to scrape over her trim waist, but in seconds I’m staring once more at the way the glittering line of thread along her neckline barely contains her.”
  • Logan and Rachel kiss multiple times. For example, while cleaning off in a lake, Rachel and Logan kiss. “His kiss is rough, tastes like lake water. . . and is the best thing I’ve ever felt. I press against him, consuming him like I’ll never get enough, and when we break apart, my pulse pounds against my ear. . .” The scene is described over a page.
  • Logan grabs Rachel and pulls her close. Logan “can’t hear anything beyond the pounding of my heart and the soft catch of Rachel’s breath as I fist my hands in the back of her tunic and pull her against me like I can’t stand to have a single sliver of air between us.” The three pages of description imply that Logan and Rachel have sex.

Violence

  • When Rachel argues with the Commander, “he grabs a handful of her hair and twists her around to face him. . . She hisses a quick gasp of pain but meets his eyes without flinching.”
  • Logan frequently thinks back to his mother’s death. She was killed when she left the house without male supervision. Logan thinks about the Commander’s “whip falling in cruel precision across my mother’s back . . . my mother’s broken body lying lifeless at the Commander’s feet.”
  • Rachel attempts to leave the compound. A guard begins to follow her. Logan takes a “leap forward, slam my fist into the side of his head, and drag his unconscious body back under the lip of the roof.” Both Rachel and Logan are captured.
  • After the Commander captures Rachel and Logan, a guard “lays the edge of his sword against my [Rachel’s] neck. I raise my chin as the silver bites into my skin, but I refuse to beg for mercy.” At one point, the commander “swings his sword until the tip digs into the soft skin beneath my [Rachel’s] chin. . . The pain is sharp and quick, and a hot trickle of blood slowly snakes its way down my neck.” The Commander eventually lets the two go. The scene is described over five pages.
  • Rachel and Logan ignore the Commander’s orders and the Brute Squad grabs Rachel. “The Commander’s sword plunges deep into the chest of the guard beside me. The man makes a wet gurgling noise in the back of his throat as he reaches up to grasp the blade embedded in his chest. Blood pools beneath his palm and slides along the silver in a single, sinuous streak as he slowly crumples to the floor.”
  • The Cursed One attacks. “It looks like a huge wingless dragon, nearly half the height of the wall, and just as thick. . .” The citizens try to get back into the city wall. The Commander “slashes with the whip, driving people into the side of the wall. One man can’t move out of his way fast enough, and the Commander rides over the top of him. The man lies crumpled and still in the Commander’s wake.” Many people are killed, but their deaths are not described.
  • In order to get Rachel to obey, the Commander shows Rachel someone covered in cloth. He “smiles and drives his sword into the lump. Whoever is trapped beneath the cloth sucks in a raspy breath and moans. Blood blossoms beneath the cloth and spreads like a fast-blooming rose.” When the cloth is removed, Rachel sees her grandfather Oliver, who dies from his wounds.
  • Rachel and Logan are walking home when three drunk men try to rob them. Rachel freaks out and “she whips her knife out of its sheath, raises it above her head, and rushes toward the men. . .” Logan jumps in and “slam[s] the butt of my sword into the man closest to me, whirl to block a blow from the other. . .” After a brief struggle, the men run away.
  • While at a ceremony, Rachel defies the Commander. He “let’s go of my arm to backhand me across the face. I tumble to the floor and see Logan, sword raised, face ablaze, charge the Commander.” People begin to run as Logan “drives his shoulder into the first guard who reaches him, sends the man flying off the stage, and whirls to block the sword thrust of another.”
  • Rachel joins the fight and “a guard jumps in front of me. I drive my knife through his stomach, twist it to the right, and yank it free while he’s still in the act of telling me to halt. Crimson splashes onto my pretty blue skirt.”
  • The Commander catches Logan and, “In seconds, he has his sword against Logan’s neck, and his vicious smile twists his scar into an ugly, knotted ball of picked flesh.” Several guards die. Rachel threatens to kill herself, so the Commander doesn’t kill Logan.
  • The Commander throws Logan into prison. The two men argue and the Commander “lunges for me [Logan], but I duck back. Swinging the chains up, I wrap them around his arm. One swift jerk and I fling him onto the filthy floor of the cell. He lands hard, and I drive my knee into his back, but the guards outside the cell are already on me.” The guards repeatedly hit Logan. “Pain flares to life within me, and it’s all I can do to curl up in a ball and endure as the guards use me as their punching bag.”
  • The Commander brands Logan’s neck. “The smell of scorched skin fills the air, and I retch as brilliant spots dance in front of my eyes. I drag in a deep breath and try to ride out the worst of the agony, but it refuses to abate.”
  • While looking for Rachel in the wasteland, Logan finds a soldier on guard duty. When the man hears him, Logan drops “to my knees, grab the dagger in my boot, and thrust it up as his momentum drives his abdomen onto my blade.”
  • The Commander sends Rachel and Melkin into the Wasteland to retrieve a package. Once they find the package, Melkin tries to take it from Rachel. “He’s in the air, long legs dropping down, his face a mask of murderous intent. I broke his right wrist. The weapon must be in his left hand. . . Flipping my blade around, I push myself off the ground and bury my knife deep into his chest. . . His blood seeps along the knife hilt, thick and warm, and coats my hand.” Melkin dies.
  • Logan knows that a tracker is hunting Rachel. The tracker “turns, but he’s too late. I slam into him, wrap my hands around his throat, and drive both of us onto the ground. . . His knife arm goes up, and his eyes lock on mine, but before I can react, an arrow sinks into the narrow space between his eyes with a soft thud. He shudders, his body sags. . .”
  • The Cursed One attacks a battalion. “The beast rears back, swings its head to the left, and strafes the line of Rowansmark soldiers with fire. The flames incinerate most of them on the spot, but a few fall to the ground wailing in agony.”
  • In the multi-chapter conclusion, the Cursed One attacks a city. “Fire leaps from the creature’s mouth. Two members of the Brute Squad are incinerated and then crushed beneath the thing’s monstrous length as it races forward.”
  • Logan can hear “the citizens in the East Quarter are screaming in agony . . . And through it all, the monstrous shape of the Cursed One coils, lashing out with its tail to crush wagons, buildings, and people.”
  • Logan and a group of people throw jars filled with explosives. When they hit the Cursed One the explosives “blow a section of its tail to pieces.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Logan goes into a tavern, the owner, “slaps a heavy wooden mug filled with ale in front of me, though I haven’t ordered a drink.”
  • Logan mentions a man who “can’t hold his liquor.”
  • While in prison, someone gives Logan medicine to help relieve his pain.

Language

  • Rachel wants Oliver to leave the city. Oliver says, “I aim to be great-granddaddy, if that takes riding an ass across a godforsaken wilderness. I guess that’s what I’ll do.”
  • Hell is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the Commander forces Rachel to agree to his plan, she prays that “I’m not making the biggest mistake of my life.”
  • When the Commander shows Rachel a man covered in a cloth, she “prayed it would be a stranger.”
  • During a fight, Rachel prays “Logan isn’t already dead.”
  • Rachel accidentally tells Logan that he is handsome. Then she prays “he’ll change the subject.”
  • When the Cursed One attacks, Logan prays “the citizens there heard the screaming of their neighbors and had enough warning to start running.”

 

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