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!*

Off the Bookcase: We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Published by Delacorte Press in 2014

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Suspense

Pages: 224

SO! I have decided that this year I’m going to do “Off the Bookcase” posts, where in between arcs I also read the lovely books that I have had on bookshelves, some for years.

So I started with We Were Liars by E. Lockhart! I knew nothing about it, I didn’t even know it was YA! (I have had it on the wrong shelf for years.)

If, unlike me, you know about it, you may know that everyone says it’s best to go in knowing nothing. And that’s fairly accurate. So I’m going to do a short review, explaining what I liked about it but with very few details.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Dear Dwayne With Love

Now if you’re like me, you’re like WHAT PREMISE? Because that blurb is aggravatingly, intentionally vague. For me, that’s incredibly upsetting. In fact, when I bought it, I remember very clearly thinking, “What the fuck is this?” But I opened it up and read the first page, and I knew I’d like the writing, and that had to be enough.

And really, the blurb does tell you what the book is about. A rich family, their island, and lies.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS THAT A CONTEMPORARY HAS A MAP IN IT?! I was so stoked on that. I LOVE maps. One edition of the book apparently has E. Lockhart’s hand-drawn map, also, which is very cool.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

Are mostly terrible. Just expect that. And, I mean, they’re rich people with a private island? So like really, who is even surprised that they’re obnoxious.

I will say that I like Cadence, our narrator. And the characters I actively dislike, I really dislike. Which is great. There’s nothing I hate more than lukewarm. I can’t stand bland characters, and these are definitely not that.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

THE WRITING THOUGH. This is what got me through a book about privileged kids on a private island, complaining about their lives.

The writing is honestly unparalleled. It shows how you do not need long, flowery sentences to say really profound things. Lines from this book will stick with me for a LONG time.

Cadence writes beautifully disgusting metaphors about what her headaches feel like. She writes little, short fairy tales. I really enjoyed these most.

And the formatting! Parts of it are written almost more like poetry than prose, with fascinating line breaks that make it almost difficult to catch your breath.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

If, like me, you have somehow managed to avoid We Were Liars, it’s definitely worth the read. It’s short, only about 220 pages, and easily read in an afternoon.

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!*

Time Bomb Novel

Time Bomb: A YA that Goes There with Social Issues

Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Published by HMH Books: scheduled for March 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Suspense

Pages: 352

I just want you to know it took ALL my self-control to NOT name this review something silly and insanely punny like TIME BOMB IS EXPLOSIVE or something.

Time bomb was one I felt could really go either way! I was nervous about a few things but I really like this one!

Time Bomb Novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

A congressman’s daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who’s tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who’s done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.

They couldn’t be more different, but before the morning’s over, they’ll all be trapped in a school that’s been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they’ll also be looking to one another for answers.

Time Bomb Novel

I was intrigued by the premise immediately. I am very sensitive to school violence/guns/the way America handles (doesn’t handle) guns/the way schools handle (or don’t) safety in general. Given these issues, I was worried about how well I would handle this. But I feel this is done really well.

I am a mother, with a 5th grader in America and deal with these fears enough already, and this definitely reminded me of that. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say trigger warning? But several times while reading while my kiddo was at school, I wondered where he was and how he was doing and mildly fretted.

The Writing

The writing is third person, but alternates through the perspectives of the six main characters. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this and One Of Us Is Lying.

The narratives for the different characters feel different enough that alternating so often through so many characters isn’t awkward or uncomfortable.

Time Bomb is written very well. It takes place over the course of only one day, (really, only a few hours of one day), so the pacing is definitely something I was worried about. It holds up so well, though. It is nerve-wracking and suspenseful and everything you want from a book with such high stakes.

The Characters

I won’t get too crazy specific on each character. I didn’t like all six of them. Really, I only liked two. Two and a half. But, I found all of them incredibly believable and (mostly) relatable. Some people aren’t going to be likable in a stressful situation, and the reactions feel natural and real.

We have Rashid, a Muslim boy, dealing with exactly what you would expect in the aftermath of a bomb. Tad, a gay, mixed-race kid. Diana, a senator’s daughter obsessed with being perfect. Frankie, the quarterback. Z, a kid already thought to be a trouble-maker. And Cas, a victim of bullying.

Given these characters, a lot could have gone wrong. I do think these things, especially the treatment of Rashid’s faith by the author and the treatment of Rashid by the other characters in the book, were handled very tactfully. (I am not Muslim, so I can only say this from my limited perspective. It felt real and natural and not gimmicky, and a great way to talk about race/religion. The kids talk among themselves about these things, and I think it’s handled very well.

Even the shitty kids find a balance and look out for one another, for the most part, and I am a HUGE fan of stories where kids come together. So that was possibly my favorite aspect.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

One, I don’t feel the ending is all that much of a surprise. I did guess it a little more than halfway through. I guessed the correct bomber, though I was wrong about the motivations which did make it interesting. I did feel moments of this were fairly irrational? But I don’t want to go into spoiler territory.

I also really need to figure out how I feel about cursing. SO, y’all know I curse a bit. That being said, I have no problem with books with no swearing. I pointed out in my review of The Lost Causes that they didn’t curse, and I thought that was cool because it felt authentic even if I have a hard time believing so many kids from different backgrounds don’t curse in a stressful situation. What happened here though was that there were, like, filler swear words? Like there’s LITERALLY A BOMB GOING OFF and a kid thinks: Oh, hell! Now maybe I’m being crazy, but I do NOT think oh, hell, when serious shit is going down. You know? It almost made me laugh? And pulled me out of a fairly serious narrative. Like. Take the words or leave them but don’t add filler words.

Overall, I think this is a very interesting read with some important things to say. It’s available to request on NetGalley!

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

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.

A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of Love is Something Really Special

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

Published by Amulet Books: scheduled for Jan. 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary

Pages: 336

A Taxonomy of Love caught my attention right away! First, the title. I love it. The cover is adorable, and so apt. And the description of Spencer, our narrator, who has Tourette Syndrome (something I hadn’t seen in a book, and certainly not like this), and who is obsessed with the idea of classifications and taxonomies. I knew I would love it, and I did.

A Taxonomy of Love

All the Wrong Chords Book

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

The Writing

The writing here pulls off something I think can be super difficult, which is that through the one book the kids age quite a bit. At the start, Spencer and Hope are just thirteen. Their crushes are very indicative of children that age. By the end, they’re nineteen! It’s a huge leap. The story takes place in separate parts for each age, and it does mean we miss a lot. For instance, we leave one year with Spencer and Hope not having spoken for a while, and when the next part starts, they’re friends again. This can be SO incredibly hard to pull off, and it is done so well here. The kids genuinely feel like they age without becoming whole new people, and it doesn’t feel rushed.

There’s also just a lot here that’s special. Most of our chapters are from Spencer’s point of view, first person present-tense narration. We also get some instant message (is this antiquated phraseology? Am I showing my age?) conversation between Hope and her sister, Janie. As well as letters from Hope to Janie. Interspersed throughout are little taxonomies, written out by Spencer, and they are so fun.

The Characters

This is so special to me, because the characters and my opinions of them changed quite a bit!

First, we have Spencer. He is just such a wonderful kid. We watch him go through so much. Not only his interest in girls starting to peak, but his life with Tourette Syndrome, his relationship with his brother (always perceived as perfect), the abandonment of his mother, his relationship with his father and stepdad. There is A LOT here, and I rooted for him the entire time. He’s also just such a good guy. Given his relationship with Hope, I was genuinely amazed and thrilled that the phrase “friend zone” was never thrown around.

Hope goes through her own arc, and thank fuck, right? Because how often do we see these stories from boys points of view where they chase their manic pixie dream girl around and we have no idea about what’s even going on with her. Hope is a person. She’s flawed, she deals with her own grief, and she’s not always entirely likable. I think it’s perfect, necessary that she’s like this. Her grief is so realistic to me, and I definitely felt for her even when I didn’t really like her.

The side characters are fun. Spencer eventually has some great friends. His brother and father also both go through incredible transitions.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d never read a story about someone with TS! And definitely, absolutely not like this. I hadn’t seen one as the main protagonist. And when I have seen them, they’re often in movies to be laughed at (think Duece Bigalow: Male Gigalo, if you’re old enough). This is an honest depiction of a kid trying to have a normal life with tics, and it’s so great.

Spencer also has an interracial relationship at one point, and they’re not shy to talk about the issues. They live in Georgia, and he talks a lot about being both proud and embarrassed of where he’s from. His girlfriend isn’t cast in a play because the male lead is white and they don’t want them to kiss on stage. They discuss the removal of the Confederate flag from the school, and how the kids are no longer allowed to wear it, and we get to see some interesting growth from Spencer’s brother and dad over it. The discussion about race playing a decent size while not being what the story is about is a huge deal to me.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

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

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