REVIEW: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

None of the Above

Title: None of the Above
Author: I. W. Gregorio
Format: E-ARC
Publication: April 7th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (thank you HarperCollins and Edelweiss!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Bullying, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

In the past two years I’ve been trying to actively diversify my reading, picking up books by and about people in the LGBTQ community. And I am fully aware that I’m still in the part where I’m more trying than actually doing, but until None of the Above, I didn’t realize the glaring inadequacy of my effort: I have not read a story that centers on an intersexual protagonist. But boy, am I glad this is my first dip; Gregorio delivers such a fascinating and sensitive look on how a young woman, who recently learns of her intersexuality, comes to terms with who and what she is—and how society wants to define her.

“Who decided that pink = girl and blue = boy, anyway?”

Let me tell you this: None of the Above doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of bullying and the politics of friendship and the anatomy side of its theme. I like that the decisions Krissy took weren’t exactly what I would’ve wanted for her but that they’re very realistic in her situation and true to the character. She spends a good part of the book being terrified and takes actions based on the people around her, on what they think and say about her, how they feel about her. She’s fleshed out, this Kristin Lattimer. I laud the author for writing a character who has other stuff going on in her life besides the Main Problem. Krissy’s a a hurdler, b the daughter of a single parent, c a graduating student, d best friends with campus Queen Vee and and-everything-nice Faith, and e the girlfriend of golden boy Sam Wilmington, and all these different facets of her the reader witnesses in nuanced details as things come down in a horrible snowball.

“Where could I run? Where could I possibly go to hide from what I was?”

Gregorio’s debut is pitched as “Middlesex meets Mean Girls,” I don’t know about the former as I haven’t read that but it’s a no-brainer to make the connection with the latter. I believe the relationship Krissy has with Vee and Faith. It’s tainted and at times ugly but it’s also the kind of close relationship we see in our everyday life. Gregorio packs all the wonders and complications of a tight-knit friendship in a box, with a bow. Not just that. The other secondary characters are also more than cardboards for display. And in the interest of not spoiling you, while catering to my self-fulfilling desire to put into words the engagement I had with this book… There were two episodes in the second act that incited a visceral reaction. (I read this in my phone and I was at the airport and I was ALL BIG EYES AS THOUGH I WAS SLAPPED.)

“Did I have any questions? My mind roiled with them, but it was like shooting a moving target—I couldn’t pin one down.”

I can go on and pretend—like the bogus that I am—that I didn’t care about the romance, but who am I kidding? Yes, there are other devices from which to choose to showcase pivotal points in a person’s life, but, what teenager does NOT give a darn about the woes of the heart? Having said that, I savor the slow burn romance and the easy banters. And if you haven’t read anything with an intersexual protagonist (welcome to the club—we have jackets), search no further. None of the Above is gripping, poignant and ultimately hopeful.

4.0 out of 5

Author

I. W. Gregorio

I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. During her residency, she met the intersex patient who inspired None of the Above, her debut novel. She is also a founding member of the We Need Diverse Books team.

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Have you read a book with an intersexual character(s)? What are the books you’ve read and/or loved that portray friendship through clear, honest lenses? And will you read None of the Above? I’d love to hear from you!

UPDATED: The protagonist is INTERSEXUAL not transexual. I apologize for this mistake.

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REVIEW: The Hurt Patrol by Mary McKinley

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Title: The Hurt Patrol
Author: Mary McKinley
Format: E-ARC
Publication: March 31st 2015 by Kensington Books
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Kensington Books and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Bullying, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis

Give me your nerds, your freaks, your huddled outcasts yearning to breathe free. Stick them in Boy Scout uniforms and you’ll have the Hurt Patrol—a sorry bunch of teen rejects who will never make Eagle.

Welcome to the club

Beau has been scouting since first grade. Not because he loves it, but because his dad does. It’s the only thing they’ve ever bonded over, what with Beau’s dad being into sports, beer, and brawling. So when they move to yet another Midwest town, Beau expects the usual Boy Scout experience, filled with horribleness and insults. Instead he finds something else entirely. Kicked out of every other patrol, their little band of brothers is equal parts nuts and awesome. For the first time, people are watching Beau’s back instead of throwing things at it. Nice. Novel. And also necessary, when you’re dealing with parents splitting up, crushes, first love, and coming out.

The first—and only—rule of Hurt Patrol: We are never going to win—but if you’re outcast elsewhere, you’ll do just fine here.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Once in a while, we stumble upon books that affect us so deeply we feel forever changed after closing the last pages. Then there are those that we abhor so much it’s not funny. But every so often we come across ones that we feel indifferent to. Stories we don’t have strong opinions for, for better or worse. The Hurt Patrol is such one cookie.

“I knew I was weird, but I just thought it was because I was smarter.”

One thing I like about this novel is how it depicts bullying as something that is not cool and that you can actually take actions to alleviate, if not wholly prevent, the blows. Sadly, however, that’s it. I had hopes for this book. The synopsis got me—the underdog trope—but I didn’t feel any connection with the characters. And that may have something to do with the length of the book, because it’s quite a short read, which didn’t leave much room for characterization. I mean, I know I’m supposed to sympathize with them. But it didn’t really come. Beau with his deprecating father and terrible coming-out episode. I wanted to be touched by his story, but all the time there’s an air of detachment I cannot quite shake off. Even the family story arc. I love family drama as much as the next person, but here the parents are one-dimensional, especially Beau’s father. The narrator, Rusty, is humdrum. And up until the end, Rusty’s motives for running away weren’t explained. (But maybe it’s because Beau’s story was the point; I don’t know.)

“Since we are both so hated on, it was like expresslane friendship. Buddies by default.”

There are neat lines every now and then, which is helpful. But it  bums me out when I feel apathetic about a book and that’s the case with The Hurt Patrol, so much so that when a scoutmaster was talking deep talks, it fell flat. I appreciate what the author’s getting at, I really do, but I wasn’t invested in the characters enough to be fully hit by the emotional impact.

“I get such a deep feeling in my heart, of sadness. . . . That feeling that you’d do anything—no matter how painful, just to be accepted and thus more comfortable in your own mind.”

I’m antsy writing negative reviews (this counts as negative, right? Right), as I would rather prefer sharing things that I love. But here it is. The Hurt Patrol is a straightforward story that has cardboard characters. As with all my other reviews, this is highly subjective. You might enjoy stuff I do not and vice versa.

2.5 out of 5

Author

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Mary McKinley is a TV writer/performer whose work has been featured most recently on the new Seattle-based sketch comedy project, The 206, and on Biz Kid$, an Emmy-winning young adult show on PBS. For the last thirteen years, she has written stand-up and sketch comedy with her partner, John Keister, as well as several TV pilots. A nearly lifelong Seattle resident, Mary graduated with a BFA from Seattle University.

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REVIEW: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This

Title: More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
Format: Paperback, 480 pages
Publication: May 1st 2014 by Walker Books Ltd (first published September 10th 2013)
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Weird, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

Review

I’ve never quite read anything like More Than This in a long time, if I ever read one to begin with. It’s powerfully tense and the writing is spot-on, hitting the marks in places meditative and in others deeply affecting. It continuously flips everything on its head, like, at one point, you’d think, okay that was all of the cards right? But no, Ness hacks the chair off and—bam!—you’re back to square one figuring out—with the main character—what everything means. And all this in a backdrop of family dysfunction, youthful impulse and longing, acceptance and big life questions.

“No, life didn’t always go how you thought it might.
Sometimes it didn’t make any sense at all.”

The pacing is impeccable—teasing in a way that keeps the reader engaged all the time but that is also efficient as to not be frustrating. Reading More Than This feels to me like walking in a dark tunnel, when you can just see the light seeping through a door, quite far away, quite within reach. It’s gripping through and through. There’s even this particular chapter so jarring and visceral it kept me on the edge of my seat. Literally. Ness really captures the sense of helplessness in such a palpable state it’s unsettling.

“Haven’t you ever felt like there has to be more? Like there’s more out there somewhere, just beyond your grasp, if you could only get to it…”

Now let’s talk about the characters. This isn’t my first Patrick Ness book; The Knife of Never Letting Go is. But it is a tremendously different experience for me. I don’t think I’d make the connection between the two if I didn’t know the same person wrote them. More Than This is loaded with well-written characters. Seth, the MC, is someone I identify with. He’s got issues with his family, is skeptical about things but he’s willing to risk it to be happy, to be more. Then there’s Regine with her scars and whose grittiness and own sense of humor add texture to the story. Tomasz who is at once adorable and a punch to that very word. Owen and Seth’s parents with their flaws and drama. And the whole cast of secondary characters with their moving turns. If you’ve been tuning in for a while—back from the Tumblr days—you’d be familiar that I don’t usually cry in books (and films). I get moved and teary-eyed and all that stuff, yes, but actual crying is seldom. This book, however, made me shed tears in one father-and-son scene and got me teary-eyed here and there.

“People break, I guess. Everyone.”

I picked up this title because John Green’s blurb goes “Just read it.” And today, I tell you the same.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is the author of the bestselling and critically-acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy and the prize-winning novel A Monster Calls. He has won every major prize in children’s fiction, including the Carnegie Medal twice. He lives in London.

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REVIEW: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

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Title: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication: January 27th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

HERE’S WHAT SAM KNOWS:
There was a party.
There was a fight.
The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead.
All he left Sam was a playlist—and a note, saying that he took his own life.
BUT WHAT SAM DOESN’T KNOW IS:

WHY?

To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. Especially when someone claiming to be Hayden starts sending him cryptic messages, and a series of violent attacks begins on the bullies who made Hayden’s life hell.

Sam knows he has to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to people around him—including an eccentric, unpredictable girl who’s got secrets, too—that Sam will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Review

I would be lying if I say I couldn’t not read Playlist for the Dead fast enough. Falkoff made me want to swallow her debut novel whole. Like, in those times I had to stop to do something, I wanted so badly to ditch real life and go back to reading. That’s how I know Playlist for the Dead will be so, so good.

“Of course I was there; where else would I be? Hanging out with all my other friends? Oh, no, wait—I didn’t have any.”

At times intriguing, at times heartrending, and fundamentally arresting, this novel easily made its way to my instant favorites. The narrator, Sam, has an incredibly compelling voice that can be lined up with that of Charlie from Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the pacing is perfect—gradual in its revelation but not too much of a drag so as to infuriate the reader. Plus, the playlist. For a set of songs made to explain a suicide, I rather like most of it.

“”Is that all you’ve got?” she asked. “Usually when someone initiates an introduction, you should ask her name.”

It wasn’t before long when I realized Sam Goldsmith will be a beloved character. Eight pages in and he already is. And it was to my comfort and delight to find out, in the end, I was not deluded. Sam is gawky and nerdy and witty, with a subtle undertone of snarky. If I ever see him in flesh, I’d bug him into signing a friendship contract. But, really, I love how he’s loyal to Hayden for the entirety of the book. Props to the action he took at the later part when faced with a conflict. It’s pretty evident, though, that he was omitting things. But that only served to tend the embers of my burning curiosity to know what actually happened. I also adore the family story arc. Mrs. Goldsmith isn’t just “the protagonist’s parent;” she is a character. And so is Rachel, Sam’s sister. The portrayal of sibling relationship in here is realistic, in that it captures how siblings don’t always dance to the same tune but crises pull them together. Intact and looking out for one another. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“”I’ll be okay,” I said, and I wanted it to be true.”

Falkoff has an arsenal of identifiable, complex secondary characters. Playlist for the Dead reads as an angsty YA, sure, but it is also a portrait of teenagers trying to balance on the precarious tightrope between wanting to find a place in the society and navigating the sea of expectations imposed upon by the various people surrounding them. Readers will definitely sympathize.

“Weren’t people supposed to wear black to funerals? She looked like she was off to a fucking garden party.”

Over the course of years, I became more and more perceptive of the opening paragraphs of the novels I read, and I think Playlist of the Dead‘s is very telling of the tone of the story. I laud the author for knitting together alienation and friendship and misconception and redemption adeptly. And, ultimately, the hopeful conclusion. In the end, it has as much to do with listening as it is about the songs. Go read Playlist for the Dead!

4.5 out of 5

Author

Michelle Falkoff

Michelle Falkoff’s fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVADoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern University of Law. This is her first novel.

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