Tag Archives: tough issues

ARC Review – Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Title: Here So Far Away

Author: Hadley Dyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hadley Dyer at the OLA Superconference earlier this year, and she was a joy to chat with. Her debut YA novel was something I could tell was close to her heart, and focused on some darker subject matters that for me as a contemporary fan, I easily gravitate towards. George (also known as Frances) is one of those heroines who goes through so much growing up in one story and what she deals with is something I feel like people may have a hard time accepting.

This book looks at an older male relationship at its core. George meets a man named Francis who shares her love of witty banter and sarcasm, but he’s nearly ten years older. For those who are uncomfortable by an older male relationship in a story, this likely might not be the book for you. I do want to stress though what an interesting and deep character Francis is given he knows that he shouldn’t be with such a younger woman, and to the point where you see it as something he struggles with. His relationship with George is one where you can see all the cogs in their brains turning, they know they shouldn’t, and it’s a point they debate frequently in the story. I was worried this would squick me out because normally I am not good with this aspect in a story, but here I appreciated that Francis wasn’t predatory in any way.

Frankly, I love both characters too. I think outside of the relationship aspect both George and Francis grow so much in this story, and there’s a genuineness in the way they are written. They learn from each other, you see that they want to be better people even for each other, but neither of them are necessary in a good emotional place to be in a proper relationship. I think Dyer writes this relationship in such a way where both characters are so well developed that they feel very realistic in their feelings and approaches towards each other.

I loved George. I saw myself in her, especially in that she uses self-deprecating humour and sarcasm as a means to hide her true self — someone who is isolated, afraid, and living with series doubts regarding her family situation (he father can no longer work), how she’ll pay for college, if she’s able to repair her friendships, and come to terms with whatever it is she has with Francis. You see a heroine who makes terrible choices, behaves in unlikable ways, and yet she’s someone we all know, and for me I can appreciate the layers that she has. I won’t lie and say I didn’t yell at the book with some of the decisions she made (I yelled a lot), but part of me knew that George is so smart and sharp and yet she knows the decisions she makes are bad and she’s okay with it.

This book was such a slow burn for me, but it’s one I grew to appreciate as I read on. I loved Dyer’s writing style and I found it so engaging. This is not the kind of book you can just whip through as there is so many little nuances within the story that I feel like on a second reading, I may enjoy even more.

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ARC Review – Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Title: Tyler Johnson Was Here

Author: Jay Coles

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

We need more books like Tyler Johnson Was Here, written by young voices. This fantastic debut explores police brutality, racism, prejudice, and the way in which people are labelled. This book is about a boy named Marvin, who loses his twin brother, and begins to start his own social media revolution. This story is powerful, it’s thoughtful, and it has me excited to see what Jay Coles is going to write in the future.

I do want to talk about the writing because I think I will be hit-or-miss with some reader. There are moments of beautiful passages and metaphors, but there’s also moments where the writing does feel a tad stilted and awkward. There were a few times where I had to reread sentences to ensure I knew what Marvin was getting at, though this only happened a few times. Regardless of how you view the language, the subject matter is fairly brutal and very eye-opening.

Marvin is a fantastic protagonist going through grief, and I found I could connect with him on that level. There are instances where he shuts down and he’ll mention how he feels empty or lonely, and I know it was something I could relate to. The loss of Tyler in this story shows how torn apart Marvin and his mother are, as through a large part of them was stolen by police violence. You get a sense throughout the story that people, specifically white people, need to smarten up and listen — and damn straight we do.

I will say, I wasn’t entirely super sold on the relationship between Marvin and Faith in the story. It felt too insta-lovey for me personally, but I will say that I did like Faith as a character a lot. I loved that she tried to be guidance for Marvin, offering him support and kindness. I loved G-Mo and Ivy, who I felt were developed just enough that you see their compassion and care for Marvin and his family. Hell, I even adored the passages we get from Marvin’s father in prison and some of the lessons and social commentary he makes about being black and living in a world where people peg you one way, and it’s all they can see.

I think Tyler Johnson Was Here is a powerful debut that tackles some rough subject matters, and does it in such a pro-active way. It doesn’t shy away from emotion, it’s brutally honest and unapologetic, and we need more stories like this. I feel like I still have so much to learn after reading this book.

Blog Tour – A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (Review + Q&A)

A Girl Like That was a book that caught my eye at the latest #TeensReadFeed preview hosted by Raincoast Books Canada. It was a book that piqued my interest given the bright pink cover and the fact that it dealt with tougher issues. This is a book that explores prejudice, religion, slut shamming, and it’s tied together in a beautifully written package. I was sad that I missed out on having the chance to chat with Tanaz Bhathena at the OLA Super Conference back at the beginning of the month, but I was so happy when Raincoast approached me to ask Tanaz a question and review her book.

So without further ado…


Title: A Girl Like That

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a difficult book to read. It has a very unique set up and one I feel like readers might have a hard time with at first. I want to say, very clearly: STICK WITH THIS STORY. Zarin’s story is heartbreaking, hurtful, and it will make you angry. I found myself feeling a roller-coaster of emotions going through this book, and I think it’s because it reminds me how cruel people can be.

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice, except we actually get the points of view from the deceased characters. Many of the perspectives we get talk in depth about Zarin and Porus during their time alive and even in death. As the reader you start to question what is fact and fiction from many of the perspective characters. Reading from certain characters at times were so uncomfortable, because you get a sense of ugliness that is hiding in them. You also see how much of a role family can play in fact and fiction as well.

Zarin’s story is hard to read because it looks at not only a girl who may be breaking cultural practices, but she wants to be her own person and everyone has assumed the worst about her. That she is a slut, that she’s unpredictable, that she has the wrong agenda. A lot of my favourite chapters were when I got to be inside Zarin’s head and get a sense of what she was thinking and feeling. She takes so much abuse in this story, and yet she is so strong at the same time.

And the topics discussed hurt. You see religious prejudice, you see sexism, you see displacement, but there is also hope in this story. It’s a twinkle, but it’s there, and it feels so unexpected and so important. There are just so many complicated parts to A Girl Like That, and I feel not knowing too much about this story is what makes it such a compelling read. Beautifully written, heartbreaking and painful, this is a must read debut that offers so much insight into one girl’s existence, and if you can juggle the points of view, it’s a rewarding novel.

Note: A Girl Like That released on February 27th, so it is out now as of this post!


Q&A with Tanaz Bhathena!

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Raincoast, I was given a chance to ask Tanaz a question regarding A Girl Like That.  Here’s her response to my question!

SM: Zarin, like many women, face a lot of discrimination. Based on what happens to Zarin in the story, are these issues based on your own personal experience fighting discrimination or are her issues encompassing a lot of different issues on a whole?

TB: A few of the issues Zarin faces are my own—coming from a minority religion in a Muslim majority country, and the hypocrisy and double standards with which women are treated compared to men. But Zarin also encompasses a lot of different issues based on things I saw happen to people around me—Muslim and non-Muslim—and stories I heard that were swept quietly under the rug.

I began A Girl Like That by writing what I knew, and eventually discovered that there was a lot that I didn’t. I began researching by reading the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette again. I also read candid first-person blogs by people who lived in Riyadh and Jeddah, and reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch, MEMRI and Amnesty International. I watched videos. You can live for fifteen years in a country, but sometimes you need to have that physical and mental distance to really make sense of the things that happened to you while you lived there.


I want to thank Tanaz for stopping by and answering my question on this stop of the blog tour. I also want to extend a thank you as well to Raincoast Canada for allowing me to be a participant! A Girl Like That is out NOW! And while you’re at it, please check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

ARC Review – Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Title: Speak: The Graphic Novel

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: “Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Speak is one of my all-time favourite young adult novels. It’s a book that has stuck with me for so many years, offering a raw and open look at what it means to be a victim of sexual assault and the challenges of speaking up. This graphic novel version by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll transplants this powerful story using a whole new medium.

This graphic novel version of Speak has such breathtaking artwork throughout, and I feel like Emily Carroll did an amazing job capturing Melinda’s story through her art, showcasing the torture and sadness in a way that readers will easily be able to relate to. I loved the way the art captures the sections where Melinda is working on her trees for Mr. Freeman’s class, or how demonic Andy Evans is portrayed in the artwork. The artistic layering is woven perfectly with the story, and you can feel the passion of both the writing and the art working together.

I also appreciate how well the story translated into a graphic novel. I loved how well condensed the story was from the original. The writing was constantly on point, never missing a beat, and for such a large graphic novel, it’s not bloated in any way. You can sense all of Melinda’s emotions, you feel her pain, and that is why Speak is still relevant years later.

If you’ve never read Speak before, I implore you to do it. Read the original, watch the movie, read this version. Speak is such an important story that has continued to stay relevant, and I love that this graphic novel exists, if only to add a new layer to this already powerful story. Definitely check this out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz

Author: Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a novel based on the life of Dita Kraus, a young woman who risked her life to protect literature in a Nazi death-camp. Dubbed “The Librarian of Auxchwitz,” Dita made it her priority to protect the books that were found on the grounds, while also helping those in need during a period of turmoil.

This book is depressing, but important. There is so man sad and horrifying moments that remind you how truly dreadful human beings are. This book reminds readers of the horrors of the Holocaust and how difficult that event truly was. I loved Dita’s courage in the story and I appreciate that as someone as young as she is, she decides to be brave in a place where bravery could potential mean death. There’s a vividness in this translation that gives the reader the sense of tragedy and foreboding. There is discomfort, fear, and sadness in these pages, and I found myself truly feeling for people represented in this story.

This book shows so much hope in the darkness, and while I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a well researched book. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a slow read, but a thoughtful one throughout.

ARC Review – Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Title: Kids Like Us

Author: Hilary Reyl

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Martin is an American teen on the autism spectrum living in France with his mom and sister for the summer. He falls for a French girl who he thinks is a real-life incarnation of a character in his favorite book. Over time Martin comes to realize she is a real person and not a character in a novel while at the same time learning that love is not out of his reach just because he is autistic.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when I received Kids Like Us because I have been wanting to read more stories that focus on characters with autism. I think my expectations were a bit too high, because when I started the book I was into it, then I hit the middle and wasn’t enjoying it, and then the ending happened. It was an interesting ending.

I think my biggest problem with this book is the very stilted narration. Martin’s voice, though I’m sure could be authentic, is very awkward. It also does one of my bookish pet peeves where the main character will say a word and then define it for the reader. It’s also a hard book to enjoy because I think at times Martin’s voice would fluctuate between a middle grader or a high schooler. The book is also so, so, so slow and given how short the book is, I found myself not liking the meandering pace that it had.

I see value in a story such as Kids Like Us, but ultimately I feel like it wasn’t to my taste, even as a reader who loves tough issue YA. Still, I feel like I did learn a lot about autism, but I’ve heard there are definitely better books out there on the subject. I think with the right reader this book can have the emotional impact I think it was trying to have, but it just didn’t work for me.

ARC Review – Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Title: Like Water

Author:Rebecca Podos

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is a beautiful slow burn. A part of me hates how long it took me to read, but I found myself putting it down, and realizing little parallels in my own life. A lot of the feelings that Savannah has in this story are ones I’ve shared, especially in my high school years. I was a closeted bisexual who went to a Catholic school. I never had the courage when I was younger to be open about that, and only late in my adulthood am I finally embracing it.

Savannah is a wonderful and raw heroine. Her feels about her bisexuality are all over the place, causing anxiety. Her feelings are so natural and genuine, and you get the sense that she feels as though she is coming a part at the seams because she wants to have an identity. But I had her home life at one point, and it’s a hard pill to take sometimes. I think Podos describes Vanni’s feelings perfectly. Whenever she talked about feeling trapped or lost, I found myself nodding along in understanding. She makes a sacrifice to take care of her family and that’s no small feat at any age, honestly.

And I loved reading the spiral mess that was her and Leigh’s romance. Podos captures this kind of new found love with such tenderness, yet she also shows how messy, raw and confusing it can all be. I felt like that was super spot on. I also loved Leigh despite some of the things she does in the story, but I feel like her confusion and emotional distress is captured very well. Neither girl is always likable, but their actions make sense given the course of the story.

Like Water is a beautifully written novel that shows the messiness of self and of loving others. It’s a slow read for such a short novel, but it builds in wonderful ways making it worth sticking with. I’ll definitely have to go back and check out Rebecca Podos’ first novel, but this has me sold on her as an author to watch.