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

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.”

All Together Now

Bina and her friend Darcy love shredding the guitar and belting high notes together in their new band. All they need now is a drummer. When their classmate Enzo, volunteers, Bina is thrilled. That is until she realizes that sometimes two’s company and three’s a crowd.

To make matters worse, Bina’s best friend Austin has been acting strange ever since he and his girlfriend broke up. Is he interested in someone new? And is it. . . Bina?

Bina always thought she wanted a band, not a boyfriend. But now romance seems to swirl around her whether she likes it or not. Can she navigate its twists and turns before the lights come on and the music starts playing?

Anyone who is more interested in music than romance will relate to Bina, who isn’t ready to date. When Bina’s best friend decides that they should add a little romance to their relationship, Bina isn’t sure what to do. She doesn’t want to lose her best friend, but she’s not ready to start smooching him either. To add to her worries, Darcy and Enzo kick Bina out of the band that Bina started, and then they steal her songs!

All Together Now is told from Bina’s point of view, which allows her conflicting emotions to take center stage. Bina’s story highlights the importance of understanding yourself. When Bina is given an opportunity to play in front of a large audience, her mom says, “I know it’s scary to walk away from something you really want, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Is the timing right?’” In the end, Bina realizes that she’s not ready to date or perform. The book ends on a hopeful note that hints that one day, Bina will be ready for both.

All Together Now uses pink hues to illustrate the graphic novel panels. The easy-to-read story uses simple vocabulary and has eleven or fewer words on each page. The characters’ words appear in quote boxes, and the characters’ thoughts appear in arrows, which makes it easy to distinguish the two. The graphic novel format makes All Together Now a good choice for reluctant readers. Even though the book is the second installment of the Eagle Rock Series, each book can be read independently.

Readers will relate to the friendship conflict that dominates All Together Now. Even though Bina’s mother only makes a small appearance, her positive advice and encouragement helps Bina. In the end, Bina is able to make a mature decision based on her own needs. All Together Now explores the complicated nature of friendships in a teen-friendly way that shows that it is okay to go at your own pace.

Sexual Content

  • Bina and her friend see the neighbor’s daughter kissing her boyfriend.
  • Bina and her neighbor, Charlie, have a talk about boys. Charlie says, “Maybe I should date girls for a while.” When Charlie asks Bina if she likes girls, Bina says, “Sometimes I think I’ve got a crush on someone—girl, guy, whatever—but then I wonder, what’s the difference between liking someone and liking them?”
  • Darcy tells Bina that Enzo kissed her. She adds, “He’s a good kisser. I guess he’s my boyfriend now.” Bina gets upset and asks Darcy if she went to Enzo’s house “because you were hoping to hook up?”
  • When Bina gets to band practice, she sees Darcy sitting on Enzo’s lap and kissing him.
  • Enzo, Darcy, and Bina go shopping. Bina gets upset when Enzo and Darcy go into a dressing room so they can make out.
  • While at a concert, a boy kisses Bina. She gets upset and runs off.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bina goes camping with her older brother and mother. Her brother says, “There’s a reason so many musicians come out here to record albums. And do drugs.” Bina’s mother says, “And die from heroin overdoses, like Gram Parson did, which is what will happen if you do drugs.”

 Language

  • “Oh my God” and “OMG” are used as exclamations thirteen times.
  • Crap and freaking are both used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All Summer Long

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own.

At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things start to look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, Charlie. They like the same music, and Charlie actually seems to think Bina is cool. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. Can Bina and Austin get back to the way things used to be? Or does growing up mean growing apart?

When Bina starts spending time with Charlie, she is excited that a cool high school student wants to hang out together. But it often feels like Charlie is using her. For example, Charlie needs help putting boxes in the attic, but leaves Bina to do the work alone. At first, Bina is afraid to tell Charlie how she feels, but when Charlie skips out on Bina while babysitting, Bina finally speaks up.

Middle school readers will relate to Bina, who wants to appear cool but is also insecure. Even though none of her friends appreciate music, Bina doesn’t let that stop her from playing her guitar. While much of the plot revolves around Bina’s summer, the story has glimpses of her family life. One aspect of the plot is Bina’s older brother and his husband adopting a baby. While this plotline isn’t well developed, Bina is looking forward to being an aunt.

Readers will enjoy the graphic novel’s panels, which are black with orange highlights. Each page has eleven or fewer sentences and the story uses simple vocabulary. However, the text is small, which makes some of the words difficult to read. Despite this, the format of All Summer Long will appeal to many readers.

All Summer Long deals with themes of friendship, family, and coming of age. However, the story’s plot is not well developed and is not very memorable. Despite this, Mila’s experiences will encourage readers to find their own passions.

Sexual Content

  • Austin runs into a boy from soccer camp. Austin introduces Mila as “my friend.” The boy asks “with benefits?”
  • Austin’s teen sister has a boy come over to her house. Austin tells Bina, “That skater guy’s been in Charlie’s room all afternoon, so maybe I’ll get to be a fourteen-year-old uncle.”
  • Austin tells Bina about a girl he met at soccer camp. He says, “Her name’s Rosemary. Ro. We met at camp. She’s a striker. . . It means she scores a lot.” Bina makes a funny face and asks, “Did she score with you?”

Violence

  • After an argument, Austin and Bina shove each other.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone is called a jerk three times. When Bina is upset with her best friend, she thinks he is a jerk.
  • When Mila loses her house key, she thinks, “Crud! Where’d it go?!”
  • Freakin’ is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Emmy in the Key of Code

Twelve-year-old Emmy is the only one in her family who can’t make music to save her life. And now that her dad’s symphony job has uprooted her to a new city and school, everything seems even more off-key than usual.

Until a computer class changes her tune and Emmy discovers that her coding skills can really sing. Now life is starting to seem a little more upbeat, especially when computer wiz Abigail is around to share tips and tricks with. But can Emmy hold on to her newfound confidence with bad news and big secrets just around the corner? Or will her new life come to a screeching halt?

In Emmy in the Key of Code, Emmy’s uncertainty and her desire to belong takes center stage. Unlike her musically gifted parents, Emmy is fearful of being on stage and her singing isn’t beautiful. Even though Emmy loves music, she knows her voice isn’t stage-worthy. To make matters worse, Emmy moves to San Francisco, which is completely different than Wisconsin. Her clothes are all wrong, she’s unable to talk to others, and she goes through each school day alone. She doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

Emmy’s mother is an opera singer and her father plays the piano. Their musical influence on Emmy comes across both in her love of music as well as her speech. For example, Emmy describes her computer teacher as follows: “The teacher crescendos in / with a smile painted candy-apple red. / A color so joyful / so allegro / so dolce and vivace / that it spills into the rest of her face. . .” In addition, Emmy refers to musical pieces such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Readers who are unfamiliar with the musical terminology may become frustrated.

Emmy’s computer class and her teacher Ms. Delaney have a huge impact on Emmy’s life. To show this connection, some of the lines use coding symbols such as brackets, colons, and quotation marks. To make the coding vocabulary understandable, some pages explain what the code means. To highlight the JavaScript, the words are typed in a lighter font. Emmy also explains coding by comparing it to music.

Emmy’s story is told in a combination of poetry, JavaScript, music, and narrative. Like Emmy’s emotions, some of the text’s words appear broken up, jumbled, faded, and with other graphic elements that help convey Emmy’s emotions. Emmy, who is extremely likable, has a relatable conflict of a new town and not fitting in. In the end, Emmy and her friend Abagail both learn the importance of being “a girl who today / made the decision / to listen to what she loves.”

Readers will relate to Emmy’s desire for friendship and belonging. Lucido’s beautiful writing comes alive and teaches that programming is for everyone. In the end, Emmy discovers that her love of music and coding can blend to make something truly beautiful. Readers who love books about smart girls who can code should add Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jerk is used three times. For example, Abigail asks why Francis is “such a jerk all the time.”
  • Abigail’s friends meet her outside of the computer class. One girl says, “I hate thinking of you in a class / with all these weirdos.”
  • A student asks Mrs. Delaney, “Why did you leave your fancy job / to come teach idiots / like me: }”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Somewhere Only We Know

10:00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Later Tonight Show in America, which will hopefully be a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel trying to fall asleep, but dying for a hamburger.

11:00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.

Somewhere Only We Know switches back and forth between Lucky and Jack’s point of view, which gives the reader a fun insight into each person’s thought process. Each character has a secret, and the multiple points of view allow the reader to understand the fear behind the secret. Another interesting aspect of the story is the insight into both character’s heritage—both are American-born Koreans, who see Korea in a unique light. Lucky often compares America and Korea’s differences, but one thing that is similar in both countries is the idea that “women need to be pretty more than anything.”

Even though Lucky is a K-pop artist, she is just like many young adults: she desires freedom, wonders what path her life should take, and worries about letting others down. Even though the story takes place over a 24-hour period, Lucky’s joy at being able to explore the world is contagious. Her protective partner in crime, Jack, is not only insanely attractive, but is also struggling to figure out his future as he explores the narrow definitions of right and wrong.

Somewhere Only We Know is a fast-paced, funny romance that readers will not be able to put down. The story will make readers laugh while also exploring the idea of “living a life of quality.” In the end, Jack realizes that a “quality life involved caring for people. Being good to them. Being a good person for them in addition to yourself.” Somewhere Only We Know doesn’t gloss over the hard work that is involved in having a quality life. Lucky finally receives therapy to help her with her anxiety, and Jack has to be honest with his parents about his fears and dreams.

Somewhere Only We Know has two characters that fall in love in a day. Readers will enjoy watching the two stumble their way through that day. In the end, Lucky and Jack go their separate ways because they need to figure out their own issues, but the story leaves the reader with the hopeful thought that maybe love can grow when the time is right.

Sexual Content

  • When Lucky and Jack are walking on a city street, they pass “a couple making out in a dark corner.”
  • When an older man starts flirting with Lucky, she kicked him “in the shin, lightly” and told him, “And you need to stop creeping on me!”
  • When Lucky wakes up in a man’s bed, she states, “I was relieved, but I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from not having been despoiled, or if it was from knowing that if I had been despoiled, I would have wanted to remember it.”
  • When Lucky is leaving Jack’s apartment early in the morning, his landlady sees her and says, “You. Don’t sleep with bad boys like Jack.”
  • In order to avoid talking to a fan, Lucky kisses Jack. She “slipped my hand onto the soft skin on the back of his neck and pressed my body to his. Hips bumping, torsos grazing. . . I squeezed my eyes shut and pressed my lips to his.” Even though Jack knew Lucky was creating a diversion, he “reached up and grazed her jaw with my fingertips. Her eyelashes fluttered before I pressed my lips to hers again, softly. Moving over them slowly. Her mouth matched mine in response, with a gentle intake of breath.” The kiss is described over three pages.
  • Jack asks, “Why is it that in rom-coms people always go from hating each other to like, ripping each other’s clothes off?”
  • None of the K-pop stars were supposed to date, “but there were hookups and covert dating.” However, Lucky had never dated.
  • Lucky tells Jack that she likes him. Then she says, “Isn’t it interesting that Koreans have a specific word for that? Because we understand that even saying you like someone is meaningful. In America, the moment is sealed by like, sex or some dramatic love confession. But in Korea, ‘I like you.’ That’s a big deal.”
  • When Jack changes his shirt, Lucky thinks, “good gravy, he was pleasing to look at. All lean, corded muscles and smooth, tanned skin.”
  • Jack kisses Lucky and she thinks, “Jack was good at this. Truly, he was too masterful. The head tilt was perfect. The soft touch of his hands on my face. The pressure of his lips. . . All that existed was Jack in front of me. Jack kissing me. This delicate and hungry exchange of breath.”
  • At a club, Jack and Lucky dance. As they danced, Lucky “shamelessly ran my hands through Jack’s hair, over his arms and chest. . . kissing him now and again.”
  • As Lucky walks, she has to go around “a couple making out against a lamppost.”
  • After a long absence, Lucky sees Jack, and “she reached up and kissed me. Hard. It was the kiss of an outlaw, of a soldier back from war. I gladly submitted, letting her wrap her arms around me, feeling her body lift as she stood on her toes to reach me.”

Violence

  • Lucky tells Jack about the time her sister was injured by a mob of fans. “A fan grabbed at her and she fell forward, onto her chin. She needed stitches. . . Seeing Vivian’s startled face before she hit the ground was the worst moment of my life. Spending a car ride with her while she cried, clutching Ren’s rolled up jacket to her bloody chin, was the second worst.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Every night, Lucky is “given two sleeping pills and one Arivan. The sleeping pills were standard, everyone took them. But the Arivan—that was top secret. Mental illness was still taboo in South Korea. . .”
  • When Jack first sees Lucky, he assumes she is “passed out” drunk; however, she is sleeping because of the pills she took earlier. Later she doesn’t want to tell him that she was “completely out of it from sleeping pills mixed with anxiety meds.”
  • A man asks Lucky if she would like a drink. When they sit down, he orders a gin and tonic.
  • At a karaoke bar, two women announce that they got married, then “the bartender uncorked a bottle of champagne.”
  • As Lucky goes through an area of town with bars and restaurants, she passes “drunk dudes.”
  • Jack’s parents didn’t want him to go on a “backpacking trip of discovery.” Jack’s sister thinks that the rich boys who do are just “discovering weed.”

Language

  • Profanity used: ass, bitch, damn, crap, holy crap, bloody hell, shit.
  • “Dear Lord,” “Oh God,” “Oh my God,” “Jesus,” and “Christ” are used as exclamations frequently.
  • Jack sneaks a girl into a party and dictates, “using some phony contact name that didn’t exist, combined with dickish entitlements, I got us upstairs.”
  • When Lucky goes into a bar, Jack says, “There are cooler places to go that aren’t full of douchebags.”
  • After Jack hurts Lucky’s feelings, he feels like a “jackass.” She thinks he is a “bastard.”
  • A “drunk loser” called Lucky a “bitch.”
  • Jack sends photos of Lucky to his boss, the manager of a tabloid magazine. The man likes “an ass shot” and refers to Lucky as a “bitch.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Lucky and Jack go into a Buddhist temple. Lucky says she is not religious, but she lights incense. Lucky said, “I’m not actually praying. I’m being respectful of other cultures.” Lucky and Jack have a brief conversation about prayer. During the conversation, Lucky says, “Buddhism is pretty interesting. It’s all about the path to liberation—to be free of things like early desires, to be free of cravings.” This comment leads to a short conversation about living life selflessly.

 

 

Ace’s Basement

Ace and Lisa play in a duo called Two. They hope to get their music heard, so when Ace’s friend, Denny offers to help them create a music video, they agree. Unfortunately, Denny only captures film of the two of them looking ridiculous. Even though Ace tells Denny not to, Denny posts the embarrassing video online. Soon, the video goes viral and both Ace and Lisa are being laughed at. Will anyone ever take their music seriously again?

Reluctant readers will be drawn into Ace’s Basement because of the teen-focused conflict and the musical theme. Teens will relate to Ace and Lisa as they deal with the embarrassment of having an online video go viral. Ace has a crush on Lisa and often finds it difficult to talk to her, which is something that many teens struggle with.

Ace’s Basement is an easy-to-read story written specifically for reluctant readers. The characters’ dialogue and Ace’s thoughts keep the plot moving. However, the story’s plot is underdeveloped, as are the characters. Still, Ace’s Basement will engage struggling readers while helping them build reading skills.

Sexual Content

  • Ace notices when “Lisa’s top bounces in time to the music.”
  • When an embarrassing video is posted of Ace and Lisa, someone tells Ace, “That’s the kind of thing Gonzo would have done after a few brewskis.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When an embarrassing video is posted of Ace and Lisa, someone tells Ace, “That’s the kind of thing Gonzo would have done after a few brewskis.”
  • Ace and Lisa play music outside of a bar. While playing, “three beefy guys with six-packs of beer and I-need-a-shave look are cheering.”

Language

  • Lisa calls Ace a dork. She calls someone else an idiot.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

 

 

ME and ME

The bright sun greeted Lark as she planned for her day. She smiled as she thought of having a perfect date with Alec. A perfect birthday. Enjoying the blue skies and calm lake water would be the perfect way for Lark and Alec to get to know each other. Then screams pierce the silence.

Annabelle, a girl Lark used to babysit, is in danger. Alec jumps in to help, but when he enters the lake, his head hits a rock. Now both Annabelle and Alec are in trouble, and Lark doesn’t know what to do. It only takes Lark seconds to react, but in those seconds everything changes. Her world is torn into two parallel lives, reflecting her two choices of who to save, and afterward, we see Lark live out the result of each choice.

The concept of living a parallel life is interesting; however, the storyline of Me and Me is confusing. Lark changes from one parallel life to the other without warning, making the transition jarring. Instead of focusing solely on Lark’s parallel lives, the author also delves into other heavy topics, including the loss of a parent, domestic abuse, shoplifting, and sexual peer pressure. The addition of so many topics adds to the confusion of the story and because so many subject matters are thrown in, none of the topics are well developed.

Lark’s world is filled with many friends but instead of adding interest, the number of minor characters piles onto the confusion. None of the friends are well developed, making it hard for readers to feel invested in the story. Even though Alec is a major character, there is little to like about him. Even though Alec talks about his abusive father, he doesn’t act to protect himself or his mother because he doesn’t want to see his father in jail. The only reason Lark seems invested in Alec is because the two have a physical attraction for each other. Right from the start, the two have hot, steamy make-out sessions that get in the way of the story’s action.

The end of the story highlights the dangers of shoplifting and how it can destroy a person’s future. Lark realizes her “tendency to take risks was out of control” so she goes to therapy. Afterward, she “felt brave for dealing with my issues.”

Unless someone is extremely interested in parallel lives, Me and Me would best be left on the shelf. The confusing story will leave readers wondering why Lark’s story was worth their time.

Sexual Content

  • Once Lark and Alec begin dating, they kiss often. Additional, less graphic kissing scenes have been left out of this review.
  • Alec kisses Lark, and “his kiss is quick and gentle, and his lips taste of sunshine and honey. My whole body turns molten. . . He slides his hand into my hair, and hot sparks shoot down my neck and spine.”
  • Lark thinks about her time with Alec during the past week. “Kisses against the gym wall. Hand holding at lunch. Long conversations. . .”
  • While on a date, Lark and Alec kiss. “His tongue is rough, and his hand slides over my shirt, then underneath it to graze my belly button, then slowly upward. My body responds, and I hear a groan escape my lips as he kisses my collarbone.”
  • Alec “kisses me hard, his tongue warm and wet, and our knees press together. Something shoots through me—I haven’t felt like this before. God, I want him to kiss me more, kiss me harder. I become liquid.”
  • Alec and Lark go to his house when his parents are out. They partially undress. “His toned abs flex as he leans forward to kiss the point of my chin, then the place where my collarbones meet, then the top of my breast.” Alec tells Lark that he has been with “a few others. Only one who—I guess that meant anything.” Alec’s parents come home and interrupt the two.
  • Lark and her friend talk about how they are “not getting it.”
  • Lark questions her friend. She asks if he’s been to his boyfriend’s house to meet the parents, and  “not just for a hookup with their son.” They have a conversation about how hard it might be for his boyfriend and his parents to come to terms with a gay relationship.
  • Lark and Alec kiss and “his tongue slipped into my mouth, opening me up. Things get heavy fast, and we’re both breathing quickly. . . He lifts my shirt out of the way to kiss the skin of my stomach.” They stop because they are in too public of a place to do more.
  • While at a public park, Lark and Alec make out. “. . . He pulls me onto his lap, my legs astride him. . . he lies on top of me. He’s breathing warmly into my neck, kissing me just at the base of my ear, and every pore is opening, ice trickling down my spine, as I help him tug at my jeans.”  A text interrupts them.
  • While at Lark’s house, Alec “pushes me down onto the bed. Before I can take a breath, he climbs on top of me, tongue and hands exploring my face, my body. I want this—I want him. . .” Lark stops him from doing more.
  • While outside, Alec pushes Lark to the ground and he “slides a hand up my skirt and beneath my underwear. I moan as he touches me.” They stop and don’t go to either one of their houses because their parents are home.
  • Lark skipped school so Alec could come to her house. “Alec and I are in my bed, and he has pinned my arms above my head, our hands entwined in my long hair, the covers over our almost-naked bodies. . . Alec slides my underwear down. . . He runs his hand up my inner thigh. . . I arch my body toward him, my breast and stomach against his hard chest and abs. He opens my legs with his and pushes me into the bed. . .” They have sex, but it is not described.

Violence

  • Alec has bruises and tells Lark that his dad hits him. Alec says, “Mom gets the worst of it, but when I’m around, I try to keep him off her. Sometimes I win. Sometimes he does.”
  • When Lark gets a text from a friend, Alec gets angry, and “he grabs my arm, and his grip is hard. Hard enough to bruise me.” He threatens Lark and she leaves.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Lark said she was rebellious, her friend replies, “You seem like a good student. Into nature and stuff, not drugs and parties.” Lark agrees.
  • Lark’s friend smokes clove cigarettes. Another one of her friends smokes an e-cigarette.
  • Lark and her friend use a fake ID so they can drink vodka cranberry.

Language

  • Profanity is scattered throughout the story and includes bullshit, bitch, crap, damn, holy crap, fricking, hell, and shit.
  • “Thank god” is used often. For instance, when Lark takes off her shirt and shorts so she can swim, she thinks, “Thank God I’m wearing a decent bra.”
  • Jesus is used as an exclamation once.
  • Lark flips her friend off.
  • A character thinks his boyfriend’s parents are “bigots.”
  • When a friend catches Lark stealing, the friend calls Lark a “bonehead.”

Supernatural

  • Someone tells Lark that she is a channel for her dead mother’s spirit.
  • Lark has a parallel life, which she can see sometimes. She receives texts and videos from her parallel life. She also has visions of her other life. “There is a static flicker in the air—I sense something before I see the shimmery shapes of a room. It’s as if I’m looking through a window. . .” Lark discovers there is a portal between the two worlds and travels to the other world to talk to her other self.
  • Lark and a friend discuss parallel lives. Her friend says that the number two “represents your soul number. Your divinity. If you’re open to receiving the message, angels will guide you.”
  • Lark wonders if having a parallel life is genetic.

Spiritual Content

  • When Lark gets to work, her friend says, “Thank the Great Spirit you’re on with me tonight.”

 

 

 

 

 

If I Stay

In an instant, everything changes for seventeen-year-old Mia. A horrific car accident kills her family and leaves Mia struggling for her life. As her injured body is taken to the hospital, Mia hovers between life and death. Mia sees herself and is able to walk through the hospital and listen to the living.

Mia roams the halls of the hospitals and listens in on family, friends, and others. As she contemplates her life, she struggles with the loss of her family.  In the end, she must decide if she will stay.  Can Mia face life with possibly crippling injuries? Is her love of friends and family enough to make her stay? Is her life worth living if her family is gone?

Readers will be captivated as Mia reflects on her relationship with her family, boyfriend, and friends.  Told from Mia’s point of view, teens will relate with her as she navigates the difficult decisions about college and boyfriends. If I stay is geared for older readers who are ready to read a book with mature themes and sexual material.

Sexual Content

  • Mia talks about her boyfriend. “. . . We hadn’t done much more than kiss. It wasn’t that I was a prude. I was a virgin, but I certainly wasn’t devoted to staying that way.”
  • Mia’s mom took her to Planned Parenthood to get birth control pills and told Mia to have her boyfriend get tested for various diseases. She gave Mia money to buy condoms.
  • Mia’s friend goes to a Jewish summer camp each year. Her friend calls it “Torah Whore, because all the kids do all summer is hook up.”
  • Mia’s mother talked about dating in high school. “There’s only so many times a girl wants to get drunk on Mickey’s Big Mouth, go cow-tipping, and make out in the back of a pickup truck.” Later on, the story talks about Mia and her boyfriend’s relationship. “It was nothing like the drunken roll in the back of some guy’s Chevy that passed for a relationship when I was in high school.”
  • A girl drops out of high school because she is pregnant.
  • At a New Year’s party, Mia’s boyfriend kisses her. “And I kissed him back so hard, like I was trying to merge our bodies through our lips.

Violence

  • Mia’s family is in a car accident. Her parent’s bodies are described in gory detail. Mia sees her father’s body. “. . . As I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower . . . Pieces of my father’s brain are on the asphalt.”  She also sees her own injured body. “One of my legs is askew, the skin and muscles peeled away so that I can see white streaks of bone.”
  • Mia and another girl fight. “She charged me like a bull, knocking the wind out of me. I punched her on the side of the head, fist closed, like men do.”  The two end up becoming friends.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mia’s father would get “wasted” to help him deal with stage fright. Her father said, “I don’t recommend that for you. . . Social services frowns on drunk ten-year-olds.”
  • Mia’s boyfriend can’t get into the hospital to see Mia. His friend suggests he “fake a drug overdose or something so you wind up in the ICU.” He replies, “this is Portland. You’re lucky if a drug overdose does get you into the ER.”
  • Mia and her boyfriend go to a New Year’s party where he gets drunk. Mia has one beer.

Language

  • Profanity is used often and includes asshole, bitch, crappy, damn, dicking, goddamnnit, piss, hell, motherfucking, fucking, and shitty.
  • A medic said that they need to get Mia to the hospital quickly even if they “have to speed like a fucking demon.”
  • Mia’s boyfriend tells her, “I love that you’re fragile and tough, quiet and kick-ass. Hell, you’re one of the punkiest girls I know. . . “
  • Someone asked Mia about playing cello with others. “I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but isn’t that how you get good? It’s like tennis, if you play someone crappy, you end up missing shots or serving all sloppy. . .”
  • When Mia’s friends are in the hospital, they ask about another patient. Mia thinks, “I’ve never heard any of Adam’s friends talk so PG-13 before. It’s their sanitized hospital version of ‘holy fucking shit.’”
  • Mia’s mom said, “Love’s a bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Mia is in a coma and can see and hear living people. She must decide if she lives or dies. Her living is “not up to the doctors. It’s not up to the absentee angels. It’s not even up to God who, if He exists, is nowhere around right now. It’s up to me.”
  • Mia describes memories that she has from before she was born. Mia thinks of her grandmother and, “that maybe I was there as an angel before I choose to become Mom and Dad’s kid.”

Spiritual Content

  • Mia’s grandparents talk about guardian angels. Mia thinks, “maybe I’ll tell Gran that I never much bought into her theory that birds and such could be people’s guardian angels. And now I’m more sure than ever that there’s no such thing.”
  • Mia thinks back to a funeral that she went to with her parents. The person giving the eulogy, “concluded by reassuring us that Kerry was walking with Jesus now. I could see my mom getting red when he said that, and I started to get a little worried that she might say something. We went to church sometimes, so it’s not like Mom had anything against religion, but Kerry did. . .”

 

Where She Went

Three years ago, Mia’s life changed forever. Mia lost her family in a devastating accident. And when she woke up from a coma, she decided to walk out of Adam’s life. Forever.

Now Mia is a rising star at Julliard and Adam is a rock star, with a celebrity girlfriend. They live on different sides of the country, but fate brings them back together for one night. As Mia and Adam spend an evening exploring the city that is now Mia’s home, they revisit the past. But is one night enough time to open their hearts to each other? Can they build a future together or will Mia walk out of Adam’s life one more time?

Told from Adam’s point of view, Where She Went focuses on Adam’s emotional state. After Mia left, Adam relies on prescription drugs and sex to cope with life. The story is emotionally gripping but darker than the first book in the series. Where She Went deals with many adult topics and not all readers will be ready to dive into the book.

Sexual Content

  • A reporter asks Adam about his girlfriend. “. . . Are you and Bryn Shraeder having a baby?”  Adam replied, “Not that I know of.”
  • Adam thinks about seeing Mia’s eyes, “in the eyes of every other girl I laid on top of.”
  • When Mia and Adam talk, she mentions staying the night at a man’s house. Adam feels “sucker-punched” and thinks, “You’ve been with so many girls since Mia you’ve lost count, I reason with myself. It’s not like you’ve been languishing in celibacy. You think she has.”
  • An actress was nominated for “The Best Kiss Award” but did not get it. She said, “I lost to a vampire-werewolf kiss. Girl-on-girl action doesn’t have the same impact it used to.”
  • Mia talks about her friend who would like to get married, but gay marriage isn’t legal in the state where she lives.
  • Adam and Mia go back to his place. “The minute the door clicked shut behind us, she’d pounced on me, kissing me with her mouth wide open. Like she was trying to swallow me whole . . . as she kissed me, my body had begun walking up to her, and with it, my mind had gone, too.” Before anything more serious happened, Mia started crying and then left.
  • Mia invited Adam to her grandparents’ place and she kissed him. “Not the usual dry peck on the lips but a deep, rich, exploring kiss. I’d started to kiss her back.” Adam remembered Mia’s tears the last time they were together and stopped.
  • When Adam is on the road with his band, he had sex with a string of different girls. One time, “. . . with Viv’s hand playing on the small of my back, I was rearing to go. I spent the night with her at her apartment. . .” The next morning one of his friends said, “Good thing I hit Fred Meyer for the economy box of condoms before we left.”
  • Mia and Adam have sex. The scene is described in detail over several pages. “I run my fingers along her neck, her jawline, and then cup her chin in my hand. . . And then all at once, we slam together. Mia’s legs are off the ground, wrapped around my waist, her hands digging into my hair, my hands tangled in hers. . .”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Adam takes an anti-anxiety prescription drug when he’s feeling “jittery” and sleeping pills.  However, he still has trouble sleeping despite “a medicine cabinet full of psychopharmacological assistance.”
  • When talking to a reporter at a restaurant, Adam orders three beers.
  • Adam thinks about famous rock stars who “drugged themselves into oblivion. Or shot their heads off. What a bunch of assholes. . . You’re no junkie but you’re not much better.”
  • Adam goes on a date with a girl and they “sat on the beach, sharing the wine straight out of the bottle.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout Adam’s thoughts and characters’ words. Profanity includes: ass, crap, damn, dick, pissed, prick, shit, and fuck.
  • Adam thinks that “there is no fucking way” he will fly on Friday the thirteenth.
  • Adam gets angry with a reporter and yells, “This has fuck to do with music. It’s about picking everything apart.”
  • Someone calls Adam a “Prissy, temperamental ass.”
  • Mia said, “Your professor sounds like a dick!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Passenger

Secrets are kept to protect. Secrets are kept to survive. When Etta is suddenly thrust into another time, she realizes her life has been based on secrets. In an attempt to keep Etta safe, and keep a family heirloom out of the Irnonwood’s hands, Etta’s mother disappeared into the future. Now, if she wants to save her mother and return to her own time, Etta must find the ancient object that has been hidden for so long.

Nicholas has long been the Ironwood’s victim. In an attempt to secure his freedom, he agrees to watch over Etta and ensure that she brings the ancient object to them. Yet when Nicholas and Etta team up, he soon finds himself drawn to Etta.

As Nicolas and Etta work together, they follow clues left behind by Etta’s mother. The clues lead them across time periods and across continents. As they race to meet Ironwood’s deadline, they realize he is not the only one who wants the object. Can the two find the object and keep it out of the grasp of those who would use it to destroy their timeline?

The imagery and dialogue in Passenger jump off the page and engage the reader from the start. Action and suspense begin in the first chapter and lead the reader on an adventure that spans several centuries. For a story that has epic chases and attacks, the violence is not graphic. Although there is blood, the battle scenes are not gory or over the top.

The reader learns about racism through the eyes of Nicolas, as he struggles with being the son of a slave and a white landowner in the southern colonies. The cultures of the past cause interesting conflicts, as Etta’s worldview is based on the present.

Passenger is an excellently written book, with interesting characters, secrets galore, and suspense. However, the ending is set up for a sequel and leaves more questions to be answered. Because none of the book’s questions are answered in this installment, the reader will be left wondering what next?

Sexual Content

  • A few weeks after Etta and her boyfriend break up, she sees him kissing a girl in Central Park.
  • Nicholas explains his parentage. “Nicholas’s mother had been the family’s slave, and Augustus had assaulted her, abused her, and in the end had never freed her.”
  • Cyrus Ironwood tries to blackmail Etta. Cyrus tells her, “he was going to leave me so destitute I was going to have to resort to prostitution.”
  • Etta and Nicholas are attracted to each other. “She traced his face . . . He pressed a hard, almost despairing kiss to [her hand]. But when she tilted her face up, half-desperate with longing, her blood racing, Nicholas pulled back.”
  • Etta and Nicolas kiss several times. “He leaned forward and captured her lips, stealing the kiss himself until she had to come up and gasp for breath. Nicholas pulled her back under, and this time she did let go, only to take his beautiful face in her hands, to let his hands tangle in her hair, around her shoulders . . . he was breathing hard enough that she felt his heart jumping against her ribs, and she knew hers was doing the same. She turned, running her lips along the curve of his ear, her fingers pressed against the solid muscles of his back.”
  • Nicolas looks at Etta and thinks, “Want. His exhaustion had boiled him down to his basest instincts. He wanted her lips, her touch, her esteem, her mind. Inside her. Beside her. With her.”
  • When Etta and Nicolas are put in the same room to sleep, Etta goes to Nicolas’s bed and crawls in with him. “He ducked down kissing her, and she moved against him, urging him to touch her, to find the secret self that only ever seemed to exist with him. Etta felt him come alive in his own skin, felt the sheer stretch of him as he moved over her, with her, and she let herself fall into it, dissolving into him.”

Violence

  • Etta’s mother is kidnapped and her family Alice is killed. “Blood sputtered from her chest, fanned out against Etta’s hands as she pressed them against the wound . . . Her next breath came raggedly, and the next one never came at all.”
  • Etta wakes up on a ship that is under attack. During the attack, several people die. One crew member falls, “his chest shredded by balls of lead, his face a death mask of outraged disbelief.” During the fight, Etta stumbles over a dying man. “He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t blinking. She looked down, mind blank as it took in the dark liquid coating her skin, her chest, her stomach, the dress. Blood. Her snowy white skirt was drenched with thick crimson blood. She was crawling through that man’s blood.”
  • Etta and Nicholas are chased by three men. “A pair of hands scooped Etta up by the elbows, hauling her back before she could get her feet beneath her. The smell of cologne and sweat flooded her nose, and she threw her head back, trying to hit some soft, fleshy part of him.”
  • A man shoots at Etta. “The bullet went wide, striking the brick wall behind them. A splatter of dust and debris exploded into her hair, scratching the back of her neck.”
  • In the jungle, Etta almost steps on a cobra. Nicholas shoots it, but the bullet also grazes Etta.
  • Etta and Nicolas are again chased by men. Etta shoots at them, and they scatter.
  • Someone tries to capture Etta. The attack is described over several pages. During the attack, Nicolas is shot. “She reached out, one hand gripping his arm to steady him, the other going to his side—where a large, wet patch of violently crimson blood was spreading.”
  • In a final confrontation, a man holds a knife against Etta’s throat and later is shot in the shoulder. Etta and Nicolas are left in a desert to die.
  • At the end of the story, one of the characters is found. “The face was unrecognizable, swollen and purple as a ripe plum. She’d been stripped bare to her waist, and three jagged stab wounds to the torso looked to be bleeding through the earthy salve and bandages covering them. A thin blanket had been draped over her supine form to protect her modesty.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Damn and hell are used frequently.
  • Bastard is used in a couple of instances. “Despite the wash of blood at his feet and the bodies strewn around him, his features went as soft as a kitten’s. The old bastard couldn’t help himself in the presence of young ladies, especially those in need of rescue. . .”
  • Nicolas says “bloody hell” a few times.
  • During a battle, one man is killed. His dying words are, “Sent . . . down . . . to . . . devil . . . by-by-a-a shit-sack . . . negro.”
  • Nicolas explains about time travel. “Christ. . . The first time I traveled, I attacked an automobile with an umbrella and nearly pissed myself in terror.”
  • “Oh my God” is used several times.
  • When Nicolas thinks, “And holy God, when she looked at him the ways she did now . . . he felt like he’d stepped into the blue-white heart of a flame.”

Supernatural

  • Several of the characters are able to use portals to time travel.

Spiritual Content

  • One of the characters describes his parents’ relationship. “Abbi and Ummi were not married—they could not be traditionally bound. It is forbidden for a woman of my faith to marry a man who is not. But Allah in all his wisdom still brought them together. . . It is blasphemous, I know; it goes against our teachings and beliefs, but I accept their choices. I cherish them in my heart. I cannot help but think, it matters not who you love, but only the quality of such a love.”

Pieces of Why

Twelve-year-old Tia dreams of changing the world with her voice. That all changes when a carjacking occurs outside of the church where she practices with the Rainbow Choir. When the carjacker kills an infant, people begin gossiping about Tia’s father who is in prison.

As Tia tries to understand the death of an infant, it makes her wonder why her father is in prison. Her mother refuses to go to any of Tia’s activities, and she also refuses to talk about Tia’s father. As Tia struggles with the question of why bad things happens, she discovers that sometimes the answers don’t bring understanding, but there can still be healing.

Pieces of Why is an excellently written book that brings the New Orleans streets alive. New Orleans is depicted as having a rich community with diverse people that are not always kind. Despite the fact that Tia is surrounded by her best friend’s family, the story shows life as it really is–twelve-year-olds can be cruel, adults’ gossip can hurt, and not everyone is accepting. Despite this, Tia learns that understanding and accepting the past is essential.

Pieces of Why is an easy-to-read, compelling story. Although the story revolves around the death of two children, the violence is not described in detail; however, the content of the story may upset young readers.

Pieces of Why explores the beginning stages of finding a boyfriend and the feelings of liking the opposite sex. It is one of the few stories that show that not all boy-girl relationships end with a happily ever after, but that some end with hurt.

The story shows how all aspects of life are not clearly defined. People cannot be classified as all good or all evil. Even Tia’s father, who is a murderer, isn’t shown to be evil, but a man who made a tragic mistake. Pieces of Why does an excellent job of showing life as it is—messy, confusing, but good.

Sexual Content

  • When Tia and a boy are talking, another choir member sees them and asks, “You dog! Down here makin’ out with your girlfriend?”
  • Tia’s friend Keisha tells her, “We’ve made out before rehearsal. Twice . . . We were in the adult choir room and no one saw us.” Her friend said it was “nice.”
  • Keisha finds out that her boyfriend was cheating on her. “I let that boy touch me like he had some right to, and now . . . Do you think I’m not a good enough kisser?” She tells Mia, “Why did I ever trust him. I let him talk me into—.”  Tia then wonders if Keisha had done more than she was telling.
  • After singing a song together, Tia looked at Kenny. “. . . he looked handsome, so before I could chicken out, I leaned over and kissed him.”

Violence

  • During a carjacking, an infant is killed. After hearing the shots, the pastor goes out to investigate. Tia thinks, “. . . I knew that someone must have died. There was blood on his right hand, a thin streak from the thumb to the wrist, and I couldn’t stop staring at it. He wiped it off right away, but the image was branded in my brain.”
  • When Tia was four years old, her father was sent to prison. “My father had been out drinking.  He’d broken into the Mortons’ house late at night, shot their only daughter during the course of a robbery, narrowly escaped through a back window, and then hid from police before being caught.”
  • Tia’s mother describes the night that Tia’s father shot a girl. He, “came home with blood on his hands. It dripped onto the floor right where you’re standing, and when he told me what he’d done, I screamed so loud, you hid in the closet behind the brooms and dust mop . . . I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed that girl’s blood off the floor. Took me days.”
  • When Tia gets angry and yells at her mother, her mother slaps her.
  • Tia’s father tries to explain why he killed the girl. “It was a whole bunch of stupid decisions one right after the other. Shouldn’t have been drinking, shouldn’t have been in that house, and shouldn’t have had my gun. Shouldn’t have bought the damn thing in the first place.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tia has to walk by a group of gang men that are, “Hanging out on the steps of a boarded-up building drinking beer.”
  • Tia’s father said he was drunk when he broke into the house and shot the girl. “I wish I would’ve thought it through some more, but I didn’t and some things . . . you can’t take ‘em back.”

Language

  • When Tia was four she visited her father in jail, and he said it wasn’t her fault that she had a “trucker” for a dad. “Years later I’d realized my dad hadn’t said trucker after all. He’d said a real bad word instead . . .”
  • Tia’s friend said she felt “crappy” that she didn’t know about something.
  • Tia’s father uses the word damn.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Rainbow Choir practices in a church and there are often references to God. After the carjacking the pastor said, “the devil is roaming.”
  • As the Rainbow Choir begins to sing, the director said, “That’s right. Lift it up to the Lord.”
  • After the carjacking, the director is upset that half of the choir doesn’t show up, and she blames the devil for stealing half of the choir. “I guess God never said He was going to make things easy, now did He?”
  • Tia sees a picture of the baby’s mother. “Her face was turned up to the sky as if she were sending God an ocean of fury. Maybe God deserved her anger. Or maybe the person who did the carjacking deserved it and God was getting a raw deal. I don’t know.”
  • Tia asks the choir director, “Do you believe in the stuff we sing about? I mean, about God being good and people going to heaven when they die?” The director tells Tia about where gospel music came from and told Tia, “But what matters is what you believe.”

The Bard and the Beast

Playing with his dragon, having a toad race, and having a berry war with Clara—these are the things that are important to Prince Lucas. When Queen Tasha decides that Lucas will learn to play a musical instrument, he is reluctant to go to lessons. Even when a traveling bard comes to the castle, Lucas still isn’t convinced that music can be magical. When the two go for a walk, Lucas takes the bard to peek inside a cave, but instead of finding lizards, they find a ferocious monster.

Young readers will relate to Lucas for a variety of reasons—Lucus struggles to be on time, he angers his mother, and he doesn’t see the importance of learning to play an instrument. Suspense is added when Lucas keeps finding strange, green feathers. The bard brings additional action to the plot by telling exciting stories of how music has helped keep kingdoms safe.

Black and white illustrations appear on almost every page and help readers visualize the story. Easy-to-read vocabulary, dialogue, and simple sentence structure make The Bard and the Beast a perfect book for beginning readers. Although The Bard and the Beast is the ninth installment of a series, the previous books do not need to be read in order to enjoy the story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A bard tells the story of a king who went fishing. A huge snake swam along the boat, and the king “lifted his paddle and whacked the snake on the head.” When the snake went to attack, a bard used music to confuse the snake. “It shook its head wildly and then lowered itself into the water and disappeared.” Later that night, the snake came into the king’s sleeping chamber, ready to attack, but the bard again played music to save the king.
  • Will goes into a cave where a basilisk lives. If he looks into the basilisk’s eyes, it will kill him.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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