Chaotic Good: YOU HAVE TO READ IT

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Published by Knopf, scheduled for March 2018

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Pages: 256

THERE AREN’T EVEN WORDS. I INHALED Chaotic Good. I read it in one sitting and will absolutely, definitely be buying a copy to read again. It’s my favorite book of the year. Of several years. Let’s get into it.

Can we please talk about this cover? It’s so beautiful. I’m in love.

Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious. 

Dear Dwayne With Love

The premise of Chaotic Good intrigued me immediately, because your girl is a nerd. I’ve played D&D, Call of Cthulhu. I’ve spent many a Friday night in a room with a bunch of dudes playing tabletop games. I kicked EVERYONE’S ass at Geek Battle. This book sounded like it would be a love letter to nerdiness, and I knew if that was the case, I would adore it.

It does not disappoint.

It brings up SO many points about what it’s like to be a girl in nerd culture. Some MUCH needed reflection on the male gate-keeping of nerd culture. I knew I would love it, but I didn’t know just how much.

I also really love the girl-dresses-as-guy-to-infiltrate-guy-space thing.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The writing is perfect. Effortless, easy. Hilarious.

There are also many cartoons throughout the book, showing what is happening within the D&D campaign, and I love this touch.

The pacing is spot on. I flew through this book in a couple of hours. It’s also exactly as long as it needs to be, which isn’t super long! Every word is absolutely necessary. A perfect YA novel.

(These are the chapter headings, can we please talk about how cute they are?)

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

I LOVE these characters.

We have Cameron, our narrator, who is funny and smart and witty and so passionate about what she does. I love a YA with a narrator who knows exactly what they want and goes the hell after it. Cameron goes through some very significant harassment, the kind we all remember from the likes of Gamergate, and she throws herself further into her work, her designs. We need to see more of this. Cameron also stands up for herself, which is gorgeous and beautiful and I’m here for it.

Cooper, Cameron’s twin brother, is amazing. Their dynamic, their effortless back and forth, is one of the beautiful things about the novel. He plays D&D with her even though he’s not about it, and lets her borrow his clothes. That’s a pretty damn good brother.

Why and Lincoln, two of the guys from their D&D campaign, add SO MUCH to the story. Again, here, every character is necessary. There’s no fluff. Lincoln’s grandma who runs the fabric store, Cameron and Cooper’s parents, even Brody, the dudebro in the description. Every character brings something unique to the novel.

Cameron stays in her boy clothes for a bit longer than is necessary, because she relishes the safety and anonymity of being an average guy. It’s all throughout the story: at one point she mentions how much easier it is to shop in a comic book store as a boy. In another part, walking alone at night, she talks about how she would normally be scared. But she’s in her guy clothes, and thus, “invisible.”

I think everyone can benefit from reading something that shows so clearly what it is often like to be a girl and eventually a woman. It goes way beyond being a D&D geek or cosplayer, these things are practically universal.

We also have two main gay characters, woot woot!

I’m gonna do something I never do here, and tell you beautiful people a personal story.

I am a HUGE fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a tattoo on my book arm of a 42 that says “DON’T PANIC” going through it. Walking along in Portland, one day, I saw a guy in a DON’T PANIC shirt, and I stopped him and said, “Hey, omg I love your shirt!” And was gearing up to nerd out with him, and he literally, to my face, said, “Please, bitch.” And walked away from me. Stuff like this happens ALL. The. Time. Nerd girls will forever have to prove their nerdiness, and it’s honestly bullshit. Soooo maybe you can see why this book struck such a chord with me, and why it probably will with many others.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I honestly squealed out loud. I cried. I screamed. I ADORE THIS BOOK. The general geeky goodness combined with an important message simply cannot be beat. Readitreaditreadit.

Each of these gorgeous photos links to the IG post, show these some love!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Bookish Boyfriends Can Be Your Newest Book Buddy

Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany Schmidt

Published by Amulet Paperbacks, scheduled for May 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 272

Okay. I was immediately attracted to Bookish Boyfriends. The premise just sounded way too cute, and I knew that if it was half as adorable as it sounded, I’d be on board. I had NO IDEA how much I would love this book.

Bookish Boyfriends

The first of two books in an intended paperback original series about a girl whose classic literary crushes manifest in real life. Merrilee Campbell, 16, thinks boys are better in books, chivalry is dead, and there’d be nothing more romantic than having just one guy woo her like the heroes in classic stories. She’s about to get the chance to test these daydreams when she, her best friend, Eliza, and her younger sister, Rory, transfer into Reginald R. Hero High, where all their fantasies come true—often with surprising consequences.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The writing is so. effing. cute. Fun, hilarious, intelligent. The word that comes immediately to mind is effortless. The tone is so lighthearted that I flew through the pages easily and readily. At no point did it slow down or become less interesting for me.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The characters are just completely phenomenal.

Two pages in, I made a note about how much I adore the relationship between Merrilee, our narrator, and her best friend Eliza. I LOVE girl friendships. Love them. The good, the bad, the in between. I want them all. This one is possibly one of my favorite friendships in all of YA.

I could write an essay about how much I love Merrilee, our narrator, who is fifteen and boy crazy. What is refreshing is that she’s boy crazy for boys in books, hence bookish boyfriends. She is SO quirky (describing her style as “toddler-chic” is something I love), SO silly. But also brilliant and unapologetically herself. We could all stand to be more like Merrilee. I’d like more girls to be comfortable with being both math geniuses and romance junkies. Her loyalty and friendship to Eliza is admirable and gorgeous and something all people should aspire to.

We have Eliza, a gorgeous girl obsessed with biology who is an excellent friend to Merrilee, even if she doesn’t get the romance thing.

And a whole slew of side characters all distinct and beautiful. I won’t even get into the leading men, except to say that I love them, also.

I’m also OBSESSED with Merrilee’s English teacher, though this is an area where I’m extremely biased.

This book has SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT WOMEN. It is subtle; feminist undertones are there, constantly, but it isn’t enough to be off-putting to those less inclined to our ways. I LOVE loud, bold, in-your-face feminism but I also love that I’m seeing a lot of this, like, thinly veiled girl power in YA.

I love that the female characters in this book give you a ton to think about. We tend to think of girls (and ultimately women) as one thing. People are told to forget how multi-faceted teenage girls can be, and I think Bookish Boyfriends is a great example of their complexity.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I LOVE books like this where the tone is just so fun and lighthearted. No apocalyptic stakes, no end of the world around the corner. A girl and her life and her friends and her first experiences with dating.

I think this is great for people who like the softer side of YA. No cursing, no partying, no drugs or drinking. The kids are 15, so I think this is super fitting.

All in all this is just a great, quick read and I can’t wait for the next book!

 

***

*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/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/acrobat. 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.

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.

The Hollow Girl

The Hollow Girl Will Give You All The Feelings

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

Published by Delacorte Press: scheduled for Oct. 2017

Genre: Young Adult, Horror

Pages: 272

WOW! So I didn’t know what to think going into this. I almost didn’t request it, because it seemed just on the border of something I’d be comfortable reading. I am still honestly so confused about my thoughts. Which I think is natural, given the situation. The author wrote both an amazing forward and an end note, and in the end note she explained that her editor said she loved and hated the book equally, which I think sums up my feelings nicely.

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monohan

All the Wrong Chords Book

Bethan is the apprentice to a green healer named Drina in a clan of Welsh Romanies. Her life is happy and ordered and modest, as required by Roma custom, except for one thing: Silas, the son of the chieftain, has been secretly harassing her.

One night, Silas and his friends brutally assault Bethan and a half-Roma friend, Martyn. As empty and hopeless as she feels from the attack, she asks Drina to bring Martyn back from death’s door. “There is always a price for this kind of magic,” Drina warns. The way to save him is gruesome. Bethan must collect grisly pieces to fuel the spell: an ear, some hair, an eye, a nose, and fingers.

She gives the boys who assaulted her a chance to come forward and apologize. And when they don’t, she knows exactly where to collect her ingredients to save Martyn.

The hollow girl

I will say the premise intrigued me while it also had me very concerned. We have a young girl who has been raped, and who now is willing to go to crazy lengths to bring her friend back from the dead. So many trigger warnings, so much that could be done with too little tact, and I almost didn’t request it.

I am glad I did, though. While I will say that the very idea of this is quite obviously not for everyone, I think it does what it sets out to do with incredible grace.

The Writing

Is very interesting! There were aspects of it I really, really enjoyed. Everything scene with magic is written just beautifully. And while there is a definite trigger warning for a rape, the scene itself is mostly off camera and written incredibly tactfully.

I do feel there was a pacing issue. We spend a fair amount of time before the story gets started getting to know Bethan and gran and Martyn, and it’s a bit slow (especially because we’re growing accustomed to the Romani and their ways). And then boom, the inciting incident happens already halfway through, and the rest of the book feels rushed. The horror scenes, the gruesome justice we crave, all happens so quickly that it’s hard to feel particularly excited about the wrongs being righted.

The Characters

This is an interesting one here. I love Bethan’s gran, who teaches her everything and guides her through the aftermath of her assault. She’s such a fun woman, very different from so many warm grandmothers in stories.

Martyn, Bethan’s friend who she is trying to save, is great. I do enjoy that we get to know him fairly well before the incident. He’s very funny, and his dynamic with Bethan is wonderful.

I don’t know if I like Bethan? Which is fine. I do empathize with her, and I care for what happens to her, and I suppose that’s really what’s important.

I also genuinely hate the antagonists, the boys involved in Bethan’s rape (duh, right?), but I mean there was a lot of build up so you hate the boys thoroughly even before that.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I think it’s great that we have a Romani story, especially an own voices one, that tackles such an important issue.

This speaks so much to rape culture. We have boys who actively participate in a rape they don’t agree with, because their friend tells them what to do. It speaks so much to hive mind and how when people aren’t held accountable for their actions, they can go to these horrible lengths to get what they want.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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!