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Any Way the Wind Blows

Title: Any Way the Wind Blows

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genre: LGBTQ+ Ya fiction, fantasy

I have read and loved every single book Rainbow Rowell has written. My favorite is Fangirl, which is where Simon Snow got his start, but her others (Attachments (and Rainbow Rowell in general), Carry On) are just lovely. (minor spoilers for the series) Simon and Baz are just so fantastic together, so Wayward Son bummed me out. Simon was so grumpy (with good reason, but I still was disappointed), but THANK GOODNESS he has figured things out in this book.

From Goodreads: In Carry On, Simon Snow and his friends realized that everything they thought they understood about the world might be wrong. And in Wayward Son, they wondered whether everything they understood a bout themselves might be wrong.In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward.

For Simon, that means deciding whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages — and if he doesn’t, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz? Meanwhile Baz is bouncing between two family crises and not finding any time to talk to anyone about his newfound vampire knowledge. Penelope would love to help, but she’s smuggled an American Normal into London, and now she isn’t sure what to do with him. And Agatha? Well, Agatha Wellbelove has had enough.

Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet.

This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest.

I loved this book and finished it in just a couple of days. And then I had book hangover. The next book I tried to read wasn’t about Simon and Baz, and I just kept looking at it rather than wanting to read it. Glossing over most of the plot, I will say that I loved each character’s storyline, but having Simon and Baz together again (it’s not perfect, but man is it so much better than the last book) was fantastic. This book was an excellent ending to a fun trilogy. I will miss Simon’s adventures, but I know I’ll be reading these books again one day.

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Long Way Down

Title: Long Way Down

Author: Jason Reynolds

Genre: YA lit

I had a dream about this book. I used to teach high school English, and I’ve been rewatching The Wire and am on season 4, which is all about 8th graders. So, when I woke up, I knew exactly where this dream originated. In the dream, I was forced to teach A Separate Peace, which is just a terrible book with no value. Rich white kids at a prep school? Snoozefest. In the middle of the unit, I picked up this book and decided that I was going to stop teaching A Separate Peace immediately, no matter how much trouble I got into by my fellow teachers, and I went rogue. I brought this book in instead. As it should be in the real world. This powerful book will resonate with me for awhile.

From Goodreads:

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.

I could not believe this book. It was absolutely stunning. The language is masterful. The story is powerful. The message is meaningful. This book is a must read for teens these days. Many of them will see themselves in this story. The hard decisions they face. The struggle with loss. The memories they cherish. I could have read this book in one sitting. It’s short and captivating, but best of all, the language just blew me away. The plays on words are fantastic. I can’t rave about this book enough. Just read it.

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Clap When You Land

Title: Clap When You Land

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: YA fiction

When I read With the Fire on High last month, I knew Elizabeth Acevedo was an author who deserved further investigation. I thought that book was fantastic. And I’ve heard so many great things about this one, so I put it on hold at my library in eager anticipation. Little did I know, this was a novel in verse. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know if it was a style I would enjoy, but I ended up really hooked. What a wonderful story.

From Goodreads: Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

The horror each girl faces losing their father is pretty terrible. But on top of that, they learn of each other. How their father had two separate families, two separate lives. The knowledge is undoing. How can either reconcile the knowledge of the other, while trying to survive their loss? The style of verse is just gorgeous. It is minimal and choppy when it needs to be to parallel the loss and sorry. It’s drawn out and longer to parallel the love and joy. This book should absolutely be taught in classrooms, not just for the own voices aspect, but the writing style. I flew through this book and absolutely loved it.

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Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Title: Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: YA fiction

I’ve already read Grown and Monday’s Not Coming from Tiffany D. Jackson, and both books were just outstanding. So I made a point to read her other books. I have Allegedly on my Kindle and will get to it shortly, but this one was a book I’ve heard very little about. And I get why. It’s very different from her other books. It’s fantastic, and I really enjoyed it. I wish it got more hype, though. Whereas her other books are more intense, more edge of your seat, this one is more laid-back. And it’s definitely an homage to her youth. She says in the back of the book that this one is her most personal, and I can see why. She writes about the late 90s in Brooklyn, which is when/where she grew up. When Biggie was murdered, she remembers his funeral, which makes an appearance in the book. Her love and knowledge of hip hop is evident. And where there is a darker plot line, overall the book was less nail-biting than her others.

From Goodreads: Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.

Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.

Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.

Steph’s death happens before the book begins, which makes the loss easier on the reader. Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are really great, fun, dynamic characters who you cheer for from the outset. While they are trying to get Steph’s voice into the community, they are also trying to find out what happens to him, which is the aforementioned darker storyline. That said, this book was a lot lighter than her others. Sadly, it has nowhere near the ratings on Goodreads. But if you enjoy her books, you should absolutely add this one to your list.

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With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: YA lit

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book set in a restaurant

I just can’t stop reading YA these days. I go through reading phases, like most people, I would guess. But I’m digging through some recent YA books that I didn’t get to the past few years. And I’ve heard so many great things about this author, and this book also happened to fit a Popsugar prompt, so it was doubly worth reading. And I’m so glad I did.

From Goodreads: With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Emoni is just such a great character. She is realistic and responsible and knows exactly what she wants. But getting there can be tricky. She’s a fantastic mom, but having a baby does cause issues that her peers don’t face. She loves cooking, but her grades aren’t the greatest. She has an amazing grandma who raised her, but her dad isn’t as in the picture as much as he really should be. I’m so thankful for the recent transition in YA lit from annoying teen girl to amazing, strong teen girl. The recent representations are so much more empowering for girls who are reading the books. I listened to this book and couldn’t get through it quickly enough. I just loved being in Emoni’s world and absolutely recommend this one.

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Everything, Everything

Title: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA romance

I figured since I’ve read Yoon’s other two books Instructions for Dancing and The Sun is Also a Star, I might as well read the first one she wrote since I loved her other two so much. And, like her others, this one is a YA love story that is a bit unconventional. I appreciate her unique takes on first loves, and although this one missed the mark for me a bit, I still loved reading about Maddy and Olly.

From Goodreads:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. It’s a form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, but basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in fifteen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives. New next door neighbors. I look out the window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black t-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. I want to learn everything about him, and I do. I learn that he is funny and fierce. I learn that his eyes are Atlantic Ocean-blue and that his vice is stealing silverware. I learn that when I talk to him, my whole world opens up, and I feel myself starting to change—starting to want things. To want out of my bubble. To want everything, everything the world has to offer.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

This book could have been a bit better with some development. I felt that Maddy and Olly’s love was rushed. I also saw some plot holes that were never explained, which was a bit frustrating. That said, maybe I’m being too picky. Maddy and Olly were great characters, and the ending of the book made a lot of sense to me. And although, this wasn’t my favorite Yoon book, her other two were just spectacular, so I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books in the future.

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Instructions for Dancing

Title: Instructions for Dancing

Author: Nicola Yoon

Genre: YA magical realism

PopSugar reading challenge prompt: a magical realism book

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I have read one other Nicola Yoon book, The Sun is Also a Star, which I absolutely loved. And I’ve been reading some heavy books as of late. So this little breath of fresh air was the perfect book. Much like Sun, this book is a great combo of light and heavy, love and heartbreak, fun and serious. I flew through this one in just a couple of days because I couldn’t stop reading. I absolutely loved it.

From Goodreads: Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

Evie is such a fun character that I really related to. She has her one group of friends, doesn’t get out much, studies a lot, snarky, and smart. Her struggles are grounded in reality, and you really understand why she feels the way she does. X and Evie’s friends are a great support system, as well. Just kept giggling at this book in the best way. Young love is always so fun to read about when it is genuine and not full of stupid YA tropes. After reading two excellent books by Yoon, I’ll be reading anything else she writes.

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These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights

Author: Chloe Gong

Genre: YA historical romance

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover

This cover is gorgeous. When I read the blurb for it on Book of the Month, I knew this would be my choice. I’m a sucker for Romeo and Juliet retellings. And this story sounded like so much fun. Set in 1920s Shanghi, and instead of falling in love and dying, they just broke up. Now they are older and soon-to-be leaders of their gangs. All this sounds like such a fun book. But I was bored to tears. It took me twice as long to read this one than other books of the same length. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but it was well-written and the characters were dynamic. I just couldn’t get into it.

From Goodreads: The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

So the two have to work together to keep people from dying because for some inexplicable reason, even though family members of theirs die, the heads of the gangs have nothing to do with the problem. Juliette drove me insane. I didn’t like her character at all. But again, for no real reason other than personal preference. I was really hoping this book would be fun and engaging. But, for me, it just missed the mark.

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Dear Justyce

Title: Dear Justyce

Author: Nic Stone

Genre: African-American YA lit

I’ve decided that the YA queens of Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Tiffany D. Jackson can do no wrong. Every book I’ve read from these ladies is just phenomenal. I’m adding them to my “must-read every book of theirs that comes out” list. I’ve read Dear Martin and Clean Getaway from Stone and will checking her bibliography to see if I can find more of her work. Dear Martin was the first I read of hers, and I live tweeted while I was reading. Stone was kind enough to reply to a lot of my tweets. It was a great experience. And the book just blew me away. It was the first of its type (real-world, black kids, trying to survive their worlds) that I read. Please click on the link and see my review for it.

From Goodreads: Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan’s story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone’s newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.

In the preface, Stone says she had no intention of writing a “sequel” to Dear Martin, but several kids mentioned that they needed to read about a kid who struggled. Justyce certainly did, but he was smart, was getting a great education, and made it “out” of his difficult like. But that’s not the reality for a lot of kids. Enter Quan. He’s in Dear Martin, but I didn’t remember him, but that’s okay. the book is plenty easy to dig into. Quan’s home life is difficult, to put it mildly. He finds a family that supports him, but of course, there are rules. Quan finds himself in jail facing a murder charge.

If you haven’t read any books in this genre, you absolutely must. They are so important. Kids need to see themselves in literature. They need to feel like their voices are important. They need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. I’m so thankful for authors like Stone, Thomas, and Jackson who are giving these books that resonate.

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On the Come Up

Title: On the Come Up

Author: Angie Thomas

Genre: YA Black and African-American fiction

When this book came out, I wasn’t really interested in it because I assumed it was just about a girl trying to make it in the music business. Knowing how powerful The Hate U Give is, I really shouldn’t have made this assumption. Nothing Thomas has written is “fluffy.” Everything has depth and meaning. And although I didn’t LOVE this one like I did THUG and Concrete Rose, it’s still an excellent book with a powerful message and heart.

From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Bri is a character who jumps right off the page. She’s so dynamic and powerful, without being cheesy or inauthentic, as many teens girls are written. I was rooting for her the entire book. Her home life isn’t always stable, but she has love and support from her mom, brother, and friends. But when Bri’s very explicit song becomes viral, who she is deep down is quickly misinterpreted and put on display.

This book was so much better than I was expecting. The assumption was entirely my fault. Thomas is three for three in my book. I will read her next book, no doubt about it. I am so thankful for her writing and her voice for today’s teens. She’s exactly who they need.