moxie novel

Moxie is an Absolute Must

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Published by Roaring Book Press, September 2017

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Pages: 326

Hi! Well. I have taken quite the hiatus. Incredibly necessary, but I’m back! And I could NOT be more pleased than to come back with THIS book!

Y’ALL. Moxie is a game-changer. A life-changer. I have never, EVER had a book so clearly portray what it is like to be a girl, and ultimately a woman, in America (obviously experiences differ). The beauty and excitement and the sometimes seeming fucking futility in fighting against a system that, quite frankly, blows.

Let’s get into it!

moxie

All the Wrong Chords Book

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie

I was immediately intrigued by the premise of Moxie. I’m ECSTATIC when a YA book even positively mentions feminism. And thrilled when a YA book has feminist ideals without directly referencing it. But I LOVED the idea of a YA book ABOUT feminism. About a girl fighting back WITH feminism. I could not have been more excited.

Add to that the history with Viv’s mom having been a Riot Grrrl, awesome references to girl power punk bands like Bikini Kill, and girl friendships?! I was IN. And I was not let down.

The Writing

The writing is incredibly fun and fast-paced, zero lag throughout the story. I could not wait to get on to the next page and the next, sometimes shaking waiting for another of Viv’s Moxie zines to come out.

The plot is what really shines. It is just. So. Relatable. Moxie is set in small town Texas, but there wasn’t a single thing in it that I didn’t go through in LA. I think most girls/women who read it will either have gone through or had someone very close to them go through every single thing Viv fights against. Dress code violations that focus solely on girls. Hallway groping that goes ignored by school staff. Money shoved into the budget for football but rarely girl’s sports or even textbooks written in the last three decades. It’s all just so very important. And Moxie opens up a dialogue.

Summer Unscripted by Jen Klein

Viv is ABSOLUTE MAGIC and here’s why. She’s scared as fuck. She knows what needs to be done and she does it, but it is scary for her the entire time. A lot of the time we think we need “strong female characters” (gag, first of all) to be strong and only strong and never break down and if they have sword-wielding skills that’s really going to be best okay. Viv is a normal girl. Viv is a normal girl who is sick and fucking tired of what is happening at her school. She is smart and tough and interesting but very real and human and just so easy to love.

We also get this amazing ensemble girl cast. Lucy, the new girl in school who is and has been a mega feminist. Claudia, Viv’s long-time best friend who is not about it. Kiera, Viv’s friend who reminds her that feminism can’t just be white feminism. These relationships are so varied and dynamic and I adored them all for different reasons.

Of course we have a grip of people we love to hate, starting with some dudes on the football team and the school’s principal.

And we have Seth, the male lead. There’s a lot that is great here, but two things stand out to me. Seth is a great kid, but he’s also a great way to point out a lot of the areas where even great men go wrong. “Not all men” and “but do you think she’s telling the truth?” can come out of the most progressive mouths, and male allies have to learn the harm in these statements. Seth is so supportive of Viv and their romance is swoony af and it’s awesome.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Y’all I SOBBED reading this book. I happy cried, sad cried, angry cried. I did crying I’m not even sure can be described with a particular emotion. I have never had a book make me feel quite the way Moxie does. I’m reading it again already with my son, who is loving it.

I cannot stress this enough. YOU NEED MOXIE IN YOUR LIFE.

Not Now Not Ever

Not Now, Not Ever is a Quick, Delightfully Nerdy Read

Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson

Published by Wednesday Books: scheduled for Nov. 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary

Pages: 330

Y’all! This book is so. Effing. Fun.

I won the ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway and I could not have been more thrilled! It’s so unbelievably nerdy, every chapter having nerd references that make it that much more fun, if you’re into that (which I most definitely am).

I somehow missed that this is a sequel! So I have not read the first book, but I have now purchased it and can’t wait. And I don’t think anything was ruined for me. I enjoyed this book very much as a standalone.

Not Now Not Ever

All the Wrong Chords Book

Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn’t going to do this summer. 

1. She isn’t going to stay home in Sacramento, where she’d have to sit through her stepmother’s sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn’t going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn’t going to the Air Force summer program on her mother’s base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender’s Game, Ellie’s seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it’s much less Luke/Yoda/”feel the force,” and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn’t appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she’d be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she’s going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

This summer’s going to be great.

The Writing

The writing here is so fun! Very quick-paced, easy to get through. Had I had the time, this is exactly the kind of book I love to read in an afternoon!

The pacing is spot on. No parts of the book lag at all.

This is one of my favorite kinds of stories. I adore books that are easygoing, fun, and not too serious. This is exactly what I was in the mood for. I LOVE books about summer, with cute little romances and there’s just something about going away to camp that I die for. So this, where Ever goes to what is basically a nerdy summer camp (though at a college) was right up my alley.

If you like books like When Dimple Met Rishi or Summer Unscripted, this is exactly the kind of book for you.

Summer Unscripted by Jen Klein

The characters here are what really make this so worth it! We have a pretty decent-sized ensemble cast, most of whom are distinct characters and easy to keep straight. Some we don’t get to know as well, and that’s how it should be, given the camp situation. But the counselors are fun, and the other kids competing with Ever are really great.

Ever, our narrator, is awesome. She’s such an amazing main character for a lot of reasons. She’s brilliant, funny, a bona fide genius. She’s not extremely girly, opting for running clothes, but she’s also not the typical archetypal character we see. Whenever I read a story about a girl like Ever, there’s a distinct “I’m not like other girls” quality. (For instance, my only problem with WDMR is that Dimple puts down on traditionally girly girls.) We don’t get that with Ever. There’s no jealousy issues, there’s no “I’m not girly so I must not be pretty.” She’s a confident, kickass chick and I love her.

Brandon, our romantic interest for Ever, is awesome. He’s nerdy af, like, so nerdy. He uses a typewriter, for crying out loud. But I think this is super healthy, because here we have another nerdy, nice, decent guy, who is also sexy and whom you’re excited about. I too often see the “bad boy” thing in YA, and I love leading men who break that role.

I also want to say I believe the romance between Ever and Brandon is incredibly realistic and very healthy for teens. It’s not love at first sight; it’s given healthy and real time to develop and that’s so important to me.

We get a couple of really great things, here!

Ever is black, so we get a brilliant, genius black girl as our main character, which is phenomenal. No stereotyping. She’s also quick to call out racism/talk about it in a way that’s not alienating and I think it’s really healthy for any young people reading.

Ever wears her hair natural, she has a full afro, which I love to see! Great shot of this on the cover, too.

We also get an interracial relationship, between her and Brandon, which is awesome (especially because neither make this a big deal, as it shouldn’t be).

And a greatly diverse cast among the side characters, also!

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Is that this is a fun, easy read that will most definitely tug at your heartstrings!

The Lost Causes novel

These things I've done by Rebecca Phillips

Q&A with Rebecca Phillips: Author of These Things I’ve Done

I could not be more honored to be part of the blog tour for These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips!

The release date was the first of August, so go get the book! You need the book!

I love These Things I’ve Done, y’all. Here’s my review if you haven’t read it, where I say things like:

My favorite contemporary of 2017.

It is really special when a book tells you from the very beginning exactly what’s going to happen, and still makes you cry when it happens.

…it killed me. In the best way possible.

So, needless to say, I’m THRILLED to have a Q&A with Rebecca on Off-Color Literature today!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

Before:
Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After:
It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

 

So without further adieu, here’s my Q&A with Rebecca!

I was so, immediately intrigued by the idea of your book. What inspired you to write These Things I’ve Done? Which part of the story came to you first?

The idea actually came from my lovely author friend, Cara Bertrand. She was driving one day and came across two girls playfully scuffling on the sidewalk next to her. She had a horrifying flash of “OMG, what if one of those girls ended up under my car?” She thought it would make for a powerful story—a girl accidently causing the death of her friend. She suggested I write it because I already had experience writing guilt and grief in my book Out of Nowhere. But this idea was a lot heavier, and at first I was against it. Too disturbing for me. But after a few days I started coming around and the next thing I knew, I had an outline.

Writing always has its difficulties, of course, but do you think it’s harder to write difficult/dark subject matter?

For me, absolutely. It’s hard for me to get into such a difficult headspace. I’m a mom, and the thought of one of my teens going through something so traumatic tears me up.

I cried reading your book, which is one of the best compliments I could give. Did you cry while writing it?

Thank you! It’s one of the best compliments I can receive. Yes, I cried while writing it, which was a first for me. I also cried when I finished, because it was so hard and because I got very attached to the characters.

Since These Things I’ve Done is written in alternate timelines, did you write it the way we read it? Or did you write each timeline separately?

I wrote it the way you read it. It was really challenging to switch tenses and tones with each chapter, but that was the only way I could see myself doing it.

Did this book go through any significant changes while you were writing? 

While I was writing, no. I pounded out the draft in 3-4 months and didn’t change anything during that time. It didn’t go through significant revisions until it reached Catherine, my HarperTeen editor. We went through two big revisions, and I think it’s so much better now. Catherine is amazing.

Do you base your characters on people you know?

Sometimes, but always very loosely. Aubrey’s character was sort of based on one of my daughter’s friends. Ethan’s band was loosely based off a band my husband played guitar for in high school. As for Dara, I was binging Friday Night Lights while writing the first draft, so she started to look like Julie Taylor in my head. And I was going for a gruff, quiet type like Coach Taylor for Dara’s dad.

I think everyone has a special book they remember as the first that emotionally devastated them. What was the first book that you cried over?

It was a middle grade book called With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin. I used to read it every year when I was a kid, and I cried every time. I read it recently and cried again. It’s incredibly touching and well-written.

Does writing exhilarate or exhaust you? Does that change depending on what you’re writing?

Both, and it definitely depends on what I’m writing. There’s a particular scene near the end of These Things I’ve Done (you probably know the one) that emotionally drained me so much that it took me hours to feel happy again after writing it.

Do you go through writing slumps? If so, what do you do to get out of them?

Oh God, yes. I don’t really do anything to get out of them. I basically just wait for them to pass, which they always do (knock on wood). I was extremely burnt out after finishing These Things I’ve Done and wondered if I’d ever write another book. Well, I did write another book (which comes out in 2018 with HarperTeen), and I can’t wait to get started on my ninth book this fall.

I read that you have been writing since you yourself were a teenager! Has your writing process changed over time? 

It got less sucky? I hope? I read stuff I wrote back then and cringe. It was so, so bad.

There are so many great books that sadly don’t get the attention they deserve. Do you have a favorite lesser-known or under-appreciated novel? 

I agree! My answer to this question is always Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. I have (sometimes literally) shoved this amazing, twisty book on everyone I know. It honestly boggles my mind that it hasn’t sold a zillion copies and been made into an amazing, twisty movie.

So exciting that These Things I’ve Done has such great reviews already! Do you read reviews on all your novels? How well do you deal with any negative feedback?

I read all my reviews, good and bad. The good ones (like yours!) make my day. The negative ones sometimes hurt, but I still learn from them. Not everyone is going to like my books, and that’s fine. I appreciate every review.

__________________________________________________________________

Rebecca Phillips

Rebecca Phillips has been writing YA since she was a YA herself. She’s the author of:

The JUST YOU series
OUT OF NOWHERE
FAKING PERFECT (Kensington)
ANY OTHER GIRL (Kensington)
THESE THINGS I’VE DONE (HarperTeen)

Rebecca lives in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, two children, and one spoiled rotten cat. None of them say “eh” or “aboot.”

Visit Rebecca on her website www.rebeccawritesya.com and on Twitter @RebeccaWritesYA

__________________________________________________________________

Thanks so much to Rebecca Phillips, her agent Eric Smith, and HarperTeen for access to this book and the chance to be a part of this blog tour!

 

 



Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish: You Have to Read It

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published by Simon Pulse: scheduled for Sept. 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 320

OH MY GOD. I’m honestly still freaking out. I love this book so. Effing. Much. There are hardly words to describe how much it means to me, so let’s get started and I hope I can do it justice.

Starfish Novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

The Characters

I could write an entire essay just on how much I love Kiko, our narrator. But let’s start with those around her.

For a little while, we get a really great female friendship between Kiko and her best friend, Emery. I love it for a lot of reasons, but especially because though Kiko has issues with her own appearance, she never takes it out on Emery. It’s so, SO rare that I see a book with two female characters where “I’m mad because she’s prettier than me” isn’t a main plot point. None of that here, though. Their friendship is so loving and beautiful.

Jamie, Kiko’s other best friend, is so wonderful. He’s such a perfect example of how a guy can be supportive and helpful and still incredibly sexy, no “boring nice guy” trope here.

Hiroshi, Kiko’s mentor, is AMAZING. I love his whole family. I love young girl – old man friendship, and I am obsessed with this one. They made me cry more than once.

And then there’s Kiko’s family. I cannot describe to you how happy it makes me when I thoroughly despise a character. There’s nothing I hate more than a lackluster antagonist. Kiko’s mom kills me, because she is so awful and so perfectly well-written that you can’t help but loathe her. I won’t ruin it, but I bawled my eyes out when I read the starfish metaphor, because EVERYONE HAS A FUCKING STARFISH IN THEIR LIFE. You will feel it so hard.

And then we have Kiko! I love Kiko. I love her so much. I love her art, I love her character. I even love her inability to stand up for herself because I completely get it. Kiko’s journey as an artist and a victim and a Japanese woman is so gorgeous. I cried so many times watching her grow, and that is the best compliment I could ever give. I can, occasionally, find timidity exhausting, but I understand and empathize with Kiko at every step though we couldn’t be more different.

The Writing

Is gorgeous! The pacing is on point, I was never bored for even a second. I love contemporary that keeps you going as easily as a suspense does. The tension is so palpable, and I had to know what would happen to Kiko. I had to keep reading.

I’m a painter, so I may be biased, but I LOVE the art in this! I’ve read stories about painters where we know the character is an artist but we don’t see or feel it. We feel Kiko’s art. We know exactly how she feels, we’re tuned into her drawings and paintings and I just adore that art is such a major part of this.

I don’t know Akemi, the author, but I’d be willing to bet she’s a feminist. And I love that. I love YA with feminist ideas peppered throughout; we need young people to see it.

So here’s what I thought about the representation in it:

We get this amazing story about a half-Japanese girl whose (white) mother seemingly hates the Asian parts of her. She doesn’t know a lot about her culture, she’s upset about not fitting in, not looking like the people around her, etc. I think this is beautiful, SO great for young Asian people to see the progression in Kiko, and any mixed-race people can, I believe, empathize. It is so hard to not feel like part of any culture.

Miss Akemi is on Twitter and you should most definitely follow her <3

Thanks to NetGalley for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!



These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

These Things I’ve Done: My Favorite Contemporary of 2017

These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Published by HarperTeen; scheduled for August 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 352

So much of how I feel can be summarized into one thought:

It is really special when a book tells you from the very beginning exactly what’s going to happen, and still makes you cry when it happens.

These Things I’ve Done ends the first chapter by telling you exactly what part Dara played in Aubrey’s death, and still, reading about it killed me. In the best way possible.

This book is so. Damn. Good. Y’all!

These Things I've Done by Rebecca Phillips

All the Wrong Chords Book

Before:
Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After:
It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

All the Wrong Chords Book

One thing I find happening more and more as I read more YA is that I shout a lot. Seriously. I yell, probably two or three times a week, “TEENAGERS DON’T ACT LIKE THIS!”

Part of the magic of These Things I’ve Done is that Dara, our narrator, acts exactly how a kid in her position would. Now, I haven’t been in her situation. But her grief feels so real and natural and I was pulled right in. I felt it with her, and that’s what I need from a narrator. Dara isn’t always exactly likable, which to me is perfect, because who the hell would be? It’s just such a perfect depiction of pain and regret.

Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, is so great. He’s a perfect balance to Dara, because while he’s suffering the same loss, he chooses to handle it the exact opposite way. Their interactions are beautiful, in both the After and Before timelines.

We also get a lot of fun secondary characters like the members of Ethan’s band, who provide some lighter pages, which I love. I love a book that’s sad and then funny and then oh now it’s sad again but then look some comic relief and oh now I’m crying. Dara’s parents and brother, both together and individually, have their own character arcs so that’s wonderful.

I will say between Dara and Aubrey there’s some of that thing I hate where two main female characters deal with jealousy because one is prettier than the other, but it didn’t drive me nearly as crazy here because Dara isn’t particularly annoying about it.

All the Wrong Chords Book

Is gorgeous! I don’t say this often, but I feel here that every word is necessary. It’s never overly flowery, never the kind of rambling that makes me accidentally skip lines. It’s clear and concise but totally beautiful.

The chapters alternate between a current and past timeline. In the current, Dara has just moved back home after a year away following Aubrey’s death. In the past timeline, we watch the relationship between Dara and Aubrey adjust to Aubrey’s new boyfriend. We also get to get a feel for the dynamics between Aubrey and Ethan, and Dara and Ethan, before the incident. I tend to be really critical of alternating timelines, as it can go horribly awry, but it works here. We’re way more affected by Dara and Ethan’s grief because we’ve seen the Before picture.

It starts with a slow burn, building and acclimating you to the world. But about halfway through, it becomes irresistible. At the halfway point, I had to keep reading. The best compliment I can give a book (and its author)!

Me, for most of my free time today ^

Thanks so much to HarperTeen for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!

*Note: My reviews are full of opinions. I may love a book. May want to marry it like the kid in the commercial for Peanut Butter Crunch (1999 was a great year for cereal and commercials, look it up). I may say a book is the best thing to happen to me since I started shaving my big toe. None of these things mean it is objectively good. I recognize that. Many times throughout my life, I have given a book I swore to be a life-changer to a friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/lumberjack. Shaking, quietly weeping, I’d hand it (and my heart) over. Only to find out several weeks later that for them the book was good, maybe even great, but not the life-giving, soul-renewing magic I’d purported. You may not like a book I recommend. Sue me.

**Please don’t sue me, I just write here.