Unmissable Weekly: August 13, 2017

Bookish and Awesome’s weekly round-up of buzz-worthy news from around the bookternet in bite size. Click on the links to be directed to the full articles.

SLJ's Top 100 Must-Have YA Booksvia

Studies in the past have found that children’s books are dominated by male characters, that history books are overrun by male authors writing about male figures, and that literary fiction is less likely to win a prize if it focuses on a female character.

A new wave of books aimed at children might just be doing its small bit to change that. Thousands of little girls – boys as well, but likely mainly girls – will be settling down for bed this evening with a new kind of bedtime story, one in which the heroines are not fictional, but real. From Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, sales of books about inspirational women have boomed this year – and look set to grow.

Who run the world? GIRLS!

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Nick Jonas will star with Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland in Lionsgate’s post-apocalyptic thriller Chaos Walking.

Mads Mikkelsen also stars in the film, playing a villain, and Demian Bichir and Kurt Sutter recently joined the project.

Heads up, Patrick Ness fans! You have your Davy Prentiss Jr., as well as the Mayor himself and Ben and Cillian.

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“There are a lot more stories to be told, and we’re ready to tell them,” Lionsgate CEO says of their golden goose-franchises Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Ummmmmmmmmm…

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While two of the top 10 titles can be considered “diverse” (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Eleanor & Park), only a total of seven books in the top 50 feature protagonists or subjects from marginalized cultures. Even though the We Need Diverse Books movement was already in full swing by the time this poll was posted, the majority of responders didn’t include diverse titles in their top 100 picks. Diaz has written a follow-up piece to address this gap.

Here’s the SLJ list of the librarians-voted Top 100 Must-Have YA Books, with the addition of 42 editors-selected diverse titles. No surprises, mate.

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REVIEW: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King 01

Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publication: March 8th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic, Southern Gothic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all his venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

Review

The Serpent King is raw, honest, and heartachingly beautiful . . . a fine debut of a novel.

Dillard “Dill” Early Jr., the only son of an incarcerated snake-handling preacher, tries to escape his name. Lydia Blankenship, a brilliant, offbeat fashion blogger, tries to escape Forrestville. Travis Bohannon, a hardcore fantasy novel fanboy, tries to escape his father. All of them on the precipice of young adulthood. None feels they belong in their rural Tennessee town. And that’s the thing about The Serpent King, the trio’s fears, their battles, wonders, heartbreaks, and at times, triumphs are so incredibly and infinitely familiar you’d feel right at home in a couple of pages.

“”Nothing stops when we’re gone,” Lydia said. “The seasons don’t stop. This river doesn’t stop. Vultures will keep flying in circles. The lives of the people we love won’t stop. Time keeps unspooling. Stories keep getting written.””

Told in the third person, and switching between Dill’s, Lydia’s, and Travis’ points of view, this coming-of-age is vividly written. It has very distinct voices, with an equally striking Southern backdrop, it almost feels like you’re watching three separate short films that share the same universe. And it works. It delivers an unflinching look at the struggles of growing up and finding one’s identity, not pulling punches in its portrayal of religion and poverty. It also touches on mental health in a manner that suggests complete understanding and empathy. It’s poignant, witty, and heartrending, but ultimately hopeful.

And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

It’s hard not to feel strongly about Zentner’s characters. Lydia is my hero—clever, ambitious, passionate about what she believes in, impossibly young and talented, and quick with words but can be insecure and near-sighted all the same. Dill, with all his dreading and insecurities and the weight of his situation, probably undergoes the most character development. And Travis—large in stature, gentle of heart—I just want to hug Travis. But then you’re hit by the crushing harshness of their circumstances. Dill’s parents are a tag team of guilt trips and extreme faith; Travis’ father is straight up asshole, abusive in all the ways a person can be abusive. Add Lydia’s well-to-do, supportive, loving family into the equation and there’s a stark, often oppressive disparity. And this plays a lot in the dynamics of their friendship. There are easy banters and quips between the three but Dill sometimes lashes out on Lydia, Lydia is sometimes uncharitable with her judgments, and Travis sometimes holds back. In one scene, after a particularly appalling Father Episode, Travis considers his options, “he didn’t think Lydia would understand because her family was so awesome. And he didn’t think Dill would understand because his family was so awful,” further affirming Anna Karenina‘s famous opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Or, you know, each shitty family is shitty in its own way.

“If there was a way I could explode with beautiful heat and light, like a firecracker, that’s what I’d want. I want people to talk about me and remember me when I’m gone. I want to carve my name into the world.”

Then there is Zentner’s writing style. There is a certain pensive beauty to his prose, a saudade quality underlying everything. I found myself, in multiple occasions, sobbing and at the same time thinking, this is a beautiful line or that is a clever play on words. I’m hard-pressed to name a more fitting YA evocative of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming than The Serpent King, in terms, at least, of the way the two made me feel while soaking up on the language. I also haven’t cried—actual tears I had to remove my glasses—over a book in a while. So there’s that.

Hold this moment. Keep it. Until the next train whistle in the distance pierces the stillness.

For fans of David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. Remarkable. Just, remarkable.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Jeff Zentner 01

Jeff Zentner is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. In addition to writing and recording his own music, Zentner works with young musicians at Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, which inspired him to write for young adults. He lives in Nashville with his wife and son. The Serpent King is his first novel.

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Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to? Are you a fan of narratives with multiple POV characters? What was the last book you rated 5 stars? Also, can we stop a minute and talk about Travis? PLEASE. Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: Duplicity by N. K. Traver

Duplicity

Title: Duplicity
Author: N. K. Traver (and narrated by MacLeod Andrews)
Format: Audiobook, 6 hours 46 minutes
Publication: March 17th 2015 by Audible Studios
Source: Author (thank you, N. K. Traver!)
Genre: Fiction—Cyber Thriller, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.

In private, seventeen-year-old Brandon hacks bank accounts just for the thrill of it. In public, he looks like any other tattooed bad boy with a fast car and devil-may-care attitude. He should know: he’s worked hard to maintain the façade. With inattentive parents who move constantly from city to city, he’s learned not to get tangled up in things like friends and relationships. So he’ll just keep living like a machine, all gears and wires.

Then two things shatter his carefully-built image: Emma, the kind, stubborn girl who insists on looking beneath the surface – and the small matter of a reflection that starts moving by itself. Not only does Brandon’s reflection have a mind of its own, but it seems to be grooming him for something—washing the dye from his hair, yanking out his piercings, swapping his black shirts for … pastels. Then it tells him: it thinks it can live his life better, and it’s preparing to trade places.

And when it pulls Brandon through the looking-glass, not only will he need all his ill-gotten hacking skills to escape, but he’s going to have to face some hard truths about who he’s become. Otherwise he’ll be stuck in a digital hell until he’s old and gray, and no one will even know he’s gone.

Review

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

Duplicity asks the reader to suspend quite a few disbelief in exchange of an intriguing, fast-paced cyber thriller with a normal, flawed guy at the center.

The book follows Brandon Eriks—tattooed bad boy by day, deft hacker at night—and the series of bizarre occurrences after his computer seems to have gotten hacked. His reflection appears to operate on its own volition; his multiple piercings start disappearing; the dye in his hair gets washed off; and his wardrobe undergoes a makeover. It doesn’t help that his ex, who doesn’t believe any of it, wants to get back together and Emma, who refuses to buy the devil-may-care attitude, is making him question his carefully built façade. Equally unhelpful is his barely present parents. And then he gets pulled through a mirror and, well, he’s gonna need all his hacking skills to fight his way out. Here’s the thing. Do not attempt to make sense out of the concept of this novel; it doesn’t work that way.

“”Maybe that’s the problem,” I say. “That everyone does what’s easiest.””

The plot could’ve worked out fantastically—except for the part where some codes don’t add up. I listened to the audiobook—Andrews captures the little pockets of humor in Duplicity particularly well—and I had to pause several times, taking in details, processing information. I paused and rewound. And this could’ve easily been attributed to the fact that the descriptive nature of the book consistently sends my imagination off, rendering the narrator a white noise. But ’til I realized the best way to enjoy the story is to turn off the critical thinker in me, I was going back and forth over scenes. I was positive I missed passages.

“You don’t know how to block what you can’t see, do you? You’re too visual. Typical guy problem.”

It’s easy to dismiss Duplicity as a ridiculous YA thriller with certain elements too improbable for its own good. But it bears pointing out that where the narrative shines is on the characterization of Brandon Eriks. Misunderstood baddy, sure, that has appeal to a specific set of readers. But I’m talking flaws in character. Brandon has trust issues; he has his reasons for not letting people in. But he’s also self-absorbed and I like that the author doesn’t try to excuse him. Some of the parts that stood out to me are ones where we witness Brandon struggling with the realization of this. On the contrary, some of the parts that scarcely registered to me are those involving Emma. She is a love interest at best, a plot device at worst. She had potentials, especially in the scene where we discover she has a personal agenda. But I wish she had more agency. Although, props to Traver for sidestepping a convenient literary trap. Emma doesn’t save Brandon. Love doesn’t fix everything. Then there’s Seb. You can’t discuss Seb without stumbling upon a collective data of spoilers, so I’ll curtail. Brandon meets Seb in the mirror and the latter probably brings about the most humor and character development from the former. Seb also makes our MC uncomfortable, which makes for good entertainment.

“I sigh because it’s literally hurting me to think of nice things to say.”

In a way, Duplicity is a hero’s journey. One that doesn’t end with the hero learning all his lessons, neat bows and all.

3.0 out of 5

Author

N. K. Traver

As a freshman at the University of Colorado, N. K. Traver decided to pursue Information Technology because classmates said “no one could make a living” with an English degree. It wasn’t too many years later Traver realized it didn’t matter what the job paid—nothing would ever be as fulfilling as writing. Programmer by day, writer by night, it was only a matter of time before the two overlapped.

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REVIEW: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Publication: April 11th 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is.

Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

Review

I’ll go ahead and tell you that Becky and I are friends. So you can be all Simon Spier with my judgement and “take [this] with about a million fucking grains of salt.” I mean. I’m just saying. But her sophomore novel is honest and funny and nuanced and charming. There is no way a teenager would pick this up and not see himself somewhere in the pages.

It centers on seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso and the fact that she’s had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. And how she is possibly losing her twin sister, Cassie, who is falling in love—for the first time—with cute new girl Mina. Enter funny, charismatic Hipster Will, who happens to be Mina’s best friend, and everything should be fine, right? Except there’s also Molly’s coworker Reid—awkward, geeky, Cadbury-mini-egg-loving Reid—who maybe likes her. Okay, I am literally Molly. I’m twenty-four and I’m Molly. I’m a prolific crusher but haven’t actually kissed anyone—at least not kiss kiss. I’m careful. Too careful. Heck, she’s even had more action than me and that’s, well, tragic. But that’s why I connected deeply with her story; that’s why Molly freaking out next to a cute boy or feeling self-conscious next to people she’s known her whole life resonated with me. Because all the crushing, all the wanting, all the unrequited-loving, and suddenly here is an author affirming emotions I’ve been trying to make sense of all these years, and boy was that unraveling.

“But I spend a lot of time thinking about love and kissing and boyfriends and all the other stuff feminists aren’t supposed to care about. And I am a feminist. But I don’t know. I’m seventeen, and I just want to know what it feels like to kiss someone.
I don’t think I’m unlovable. But I keep wondering: what is my glitch?

Like the author’s debut, The Upside of Unrequited captures the immediacy of and renders articulately the teenage experience. How everything feels like it’s either the end of the world or the beginning of it; the elations and heartbreaks of first love; the innate, underlying fear of not mattering. I was an idiot to worry I wouldn’t love this book as much as Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (and in fact, fans of Simon vs would find themselves a treat or two). That’s unfair and unfounded and ultimately, as it turns out, untrue. Both are brimming with heart and humor, because Becky has an acute understanding of voice and how awkward and exciting and scary it is to be a teen. With Upside, as it was with Simon vs, I’m not just reminded how careful and at the same time hopeful I was at seventeen, I am seventeen-year-old me, careful and hopeful.

“”Why are you making zombie faces?” he asks.
“What?”
“Just relax!”
“Zombies are relaxed.””

There is something to be said about how great narratives aren’t always solely about the lead and that is true for Upside too. I’m certain many teens, as well as then-teens, would feel for Molly and her anxieties and journey to self-confidence; it’s both an absolute delight and comfort to follow her but the secondary characters are just as vibrant. Each character is fleshed out, so much so that the reader can easily see the other characters’ stories unfolding outside the curtains. The novel also touches on positive representations of body image—it’s central to how Molly views the world and herself, even if often self-deprecating—and intresectional diversity. Molly is a fat, white, Jewish girl with interracial lesbian and bisexual mothers; there’s a Korean-American pansexual character and there’s a gay couple; and everything feels organic. As organic as Molly and Reid’s chemistry. There’s effortless draw and almost inevitability in the progress of their relationship; it’s warm and fuzzy and at times nauseating. It’s hard not to root for Reid! Plus, without the aid of a spoiler, I like that the author could’ve conveniently gone one way with Molly and This Other Character but didn’t.

“And suddenly, I feel like crying, but not in a bad way. More like in the way you feel when someone gives you a perfect present—something you’d been wanting, but thought you couldn’t ask for. It’s that feeling of someone knowing you in all the ways you needed to be known.”

So, in the parlance of Molly and all of us millennials, my verdict is: ALL THE HEART-EYES EMOJIS.

5.0 out of 5

Author

Becky Albertalli 01

Becky Albertalli is the author of the acclaimed novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. She is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and teens. Becky now lives with her family in Atlanta, where she spends her days writing fiction for young adults.

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Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to? Because, really, it’s just such an adorable, smile-inducing read! Also, tell me about your first kiss fictional crushes! Or, you know, your current read(s).

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REVIEW: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Format: Paperback, 294 pages
Publication: January 17th 2017 by Soho Teen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Review

In History is All You Left Me, Silvera delivers a surprisingly quiet, thoughtful exploration of friendship, grief, love, and loss.

The book alternates in story lines between ‘History’, where we see Griffin and Theo falling in love and transitioning from best friends to boyfriends, and ‘Today’, where we see Griffin navigating through a Theo-less world. As is the case with More Happy Than Not, the author does what he does best: writing everyday moments with a severe awareness of human connection. It doesn’t matter whether Griffin, Theo, and Wade are browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble or they’re exchanging gifts or Griffin is talking to Theo’s family, it’s compelling and laced with pockets of emotion. The parents—and all the main characters have parents—are very much a part of the story, to boot, and I like how Silvera doesn’t pull away from the infinite paradoxes of familial love. Sometimes Griffin would adore and hate his parents in one page or he would be annoyed with his dad for being too cold to Jackson but at the same time be annoyed with his mom for being too nice to Jackson or how Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, his parents, only want what’s best for their son but also operate on their own definition of what’s best for him. We still do not often see parent involvement in YA, but I’m glad there are authors like Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli who are gradually taking down the barriers.

“He shrugs, which I know he doesn’t mean as a dismissal. He’s doing that thing I’ve done before where I try to shrink my own feelings, try to make my problems sound smaller to others because sometimes people just don’t get it.”

Two of the many important themes of the book are grief and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I am not personally familiar with the former. The closest to family I’ve lost is my uncle’s wife, and I was eight. But the empathy with which Silvera looks into grief is palpable. You follow Griffin and the messed up things he does and not once do you question if this is uncalled for or unlikely. He is hurt and grieving and confused and lost and seventeen, and this ultimately affects all the relationships he has around him. And then there’s the latter. This, I am not not personally familiar with. I have a self-diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)—yes, those two are different and not by the mere addition of ‘Personality’—and I commend how consistent and consistently woven in the narrative OCD is. It plays a big part in Griffin’s story without ever taking center stage. It isn’t an item the author checked off in his list for inclusivity; it is a constant struggle for the MC and this is reality for people dealing with this mental disorder.

“‘I’m ready,” I lied. I’m hungry, I’m drained, I’m over it all, and I’m not ready.”

However, perhaps my favorite element of the whole novel is the dialogues. I don’t exactly know how to classify Silvera’s writing style. It isn’t lyrical but it also isn’t just straight-cut contemporary; there’s something rhythmic about how he plays at words, a cadence poetic all its own. Here is a person with an utter sense of language. And this is evident with the exchanges between the characters, not just between Griffin and Theo, although those are my favourite scenes. Plus, did I mention this book is filled to the brim with nerdy and pop culture references? You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan or a Potterhead, if you’ve felt passionate about something or someone, you speak Griffin’s and Theo’s language. You speak nerd. Or fanboy. Or whatever you wish to call it.

““You’re not someone that just memorizes facts for exams and forgets them the next day. You don’t just have lucky guesses in pop quizzes. You bring textbooks with you into the shower. Basically, you’re a really weird superhero.”
He forces a smile. “One day, Batman is going to take off his mask and, boom, it’ll be me.””

Silvera’s sophomore novel is quieter than his debut but it is no less vivid and heartrending.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Adam Silvera 02

Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx. He has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, at a literary development company, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City and is tall for no reason.

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REVIEW: After Dark by James Leck

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Title: After Dark
Author: James Leck
Format: E-ARC
Publication: August 1st 2015 by Kids Can Press
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Kids Can Press and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Horror, Humor, Paranormal
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old professional slacker Charlie Harker can’t believe his bad luck. On the first day of the summer holidays, his mom springs the worst news: they’re moving to the sleepy town of Rolling Hills to restore Charlie’s great-grandfather’s old inn. Summer is supposed to be about lazy days spent by the pool, sipping ice-cold lemonade. Manual labor and early mornings were definitely not on Charlie’s to-do list. Things go from bad to weird when his new neighbor Miles Van Helsing runs screaming out of the night, insisting that he’s being chased by “humanoid creatures.” Charlie chalks it up to Miles being the town nutcase. But it soon becomes clear that something’s not right in Rolling Hills. A mysterious illness seems to be spreading through town. At first it seems harmless enough, but the number of infected people keeps growing—and what might be a simple headache by day becomes something entirely different when the sun goes down …

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work. Wry and engaging, After Dark pokes fun at tropes of the genre with irreverent tone and a smart-alecky protagonist.

Tenth-grader Charlie Harker is so ready for summer, a “time for sleeping and swimming and watching three really bad horror movies back to back to back.” But Ma has a better idea: move to the old hick town of Rolling Hills and renovate the family’s decrepit inn. And right on Charlie’s first night, he meets Miles Van Helsing, the town’s resident conspiracy nut. As the two spend more time together, Charlie begins to suspect that Rolling Hills, after all, might not be too boring. Nor safe. Leck’s latest novel finds its strength in its MC. Nothing gets me to stick to a book better than an interesting character and Charlie is exactly that and some. He’s hilarious and endearing and curious but also afraid and lazy. He’s a person. The author triumphantly mixes sarcasm with sincere dopiness.

“Seeing those tracks made my bladder ache. If the Baxters showed up now, I was going to need a new pair of pants.”

After Dark also benefits from its self-awareness. It owns its ridiculousness, and that’s the most amusing part next to the narrative voice. Almost every investigation Charlie and Miles undertake—ironically yet effectively juxtaposed with commentaries from the former—often ends up being an episode of the horror movie Charlie mocks. It would be tacky except our hero is very tongue-in-cheek. Plus, there are several winks at gothic cult (Miles’s last name is Van Helsing, there’s a character called Igor) as well as family drama. The family drama, however, is decent at best, paltry at worst.

“”A trapdoor that leads into a dingy root cellar is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to see in a ridiculously predictable horror movie. And you know what else would be predictable and absurdly stupid …?” I asked. “I’m going down,” Miles said.”

Moreover, the book is effortlessly atmospheric. Rolling Hills’s sleepy-town-ness is palpable, the kind that teleports you back to your childhood days watching Goosebumps. The kind that exudes old school horror movie vibe. Albeit, more eerie and less scary. And the monster of the story, the “zompire,” is a nice twist on two of today’s most celebrated undead. In fact, I can see After Dark being a massive hit with a younger audience. Because I feel like the resolution was a bit flimsy, at least for my taste. And with a denouement that both surprises and does not surprise, a sequel is not unlikely but unnecessary.

“The world doesn’t want heroes, Charlie. You’ll learn that eventually.”

Light and thoroughly enjoyable, be sure to include “read After Dark” in your to-do list.

3.5 out of 5

Author

James Leck 01

James Leck lives in Nova Scotia, where he’s spent almost all of his summer vacations. He’s always enjoyed lounging beside pools, drinking ice-cold lemonade and sleeping in. Poison ivy, running face-first into trees and waking up alone in the dark are some of his least favorite things. However, he’s pretty sure being chased by humanoid creatures would be worse.

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What was your last light, entertaining read?

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REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

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Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Review

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

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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