Vlog Review: What Girls are Made of

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****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************

The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.

Premise:  Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.

Rating: 5/5
Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)

Title:  Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”

Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): womanhood, body, consumables, identity, sexuality, sex, reproduction, excrement, love, male gaze, worship, motherhood

Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.

Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured

Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Biggie

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The Best Thing About this Book is Biggie’s little brother, Maddux. The eleven-year-old displays the best character. He’s helpful and reliable if naive. However, his role is minor so not enough to win me over to the book itself.

Premise: Biggie is fat. It’s why no one calls him by his given name anymore. It’s also what propelled him to want to disappear from everyone else’s radar so they don’t make fun of him. For two years of high school, he got out of PE without his mom knowing it. Not anymore. And in his first PE class, he pitches a perfect game of wiffle ball. The girl of his dreams makes a comment that he should play for the school team, so he sets out to pitch a perfect game for the school. First, of course, he has to make the team in his ploy to win the girl.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 8th-12th grade

Title:  It’s his name and arguably his identity. The book begins with the story of how he got his nickname, so it’s fitting — and it is about him when you break it all down.

Main Character(s): Biggie aka Henry, 17 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): obesity, dating, goals, high school relationships, cliques, bullying, teasing, baseball, perfection, anxiety, identity, athletics, broken families, step fathers, family dynamics, social media

Great for…* (readers): N/A

Great for…* (teachers): N/A

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, crude reference to female body, sexual reference/innuendo

Interact: Does a negative review make you want to read a book more than a positive one?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: American Betiya (scbwi emerging voices winner)

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Premise: Rani’s Indian immigrant parents want her to focus on school and not get distracted by other things, especially not boys. So when Rani meets and falls for Oliver, a senior at her high school who has tattoos, she has to keep her American world with Oliver separate from her Indian world with her family. But how long can Rani keep Oliver a secret before her parents find out she’s sneaking around with him?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 10th-12th grade

Title:  The title of this book sets the conflict on the cover: two cultures that look separate must somehow become one in protagonist Rani (betiya is a Hindi word meaning daughter).

Main Character(s): Rani, 18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): Indian culture, family, romance, first love, friendship, racism, objectification, cultural awareness, cultural appropriation, privilege, expectations of others, art, photography, sexuality, tradition, identity

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a conflict of cultures or are children of immigrants, kids who have high expectations for themselves or whose parents have high expectations for them, anyone trying to figure out what love is and looks like as a teen or young adult

Great for…* (teachers): foreshadow, internal/external conflict, and discussion around racial and cultural respect

Parental Warning(s): Regular cursing, sexual innuendo and descriptions of acts (not graphic)

Interact: Oliver is Rani’s first love. They meet at an art show but already go to school together. How did you meet your first love or what is your dream for meeting your first love?

If you like the culture conflict in this book or learning a little about Indian culture, try this book.

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

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Premise: Lily has ADHD and failing grades. No matter what she tries, she can’t seem to stay in class, do her homework, quiet the monster inside her, or not break things. When she breaks something on campus, she comes across Abelard, a young man with autism whom she’s known at least since she was seven. The two feel broken until Lily’s impulsiveness (ADHD) propel her to kiss Abelard and the two start dating. But can they stay together or they fated to failure, like the real-life people Abelard and Heloise alluded to in the book’s title?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 9th-12th grade

Title:  Allusion: Abelard was a 12th century French philosopher who exchanged love letters with Heloise, a woman of esteemed intelligence but little purpose. Their letters are recorded in The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise. (The general narrative is provided in the text of The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.)

Main Character(s): Lily, 16 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): neurodivergence, adhd, autism, dyslexia, drug therapy, experimental procedures, family conflict, fate, college, intelligence, hope, comparison to others, literature, film, drama, broken families, romance

Great for…* (readers): strong readers who don’t shy away from SAT words or allusions and quotes to/from medieval literature. (a similar plot structure and work with allusions as Once Upon a Quinceañera which might be better for less confident readers)

Great for…* (teachers): ALLUSIONS AND VOCABULARY! Hello, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, stacks of medieval literature, and old Hollywood films. So fun.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: I loved the spelling of words when Lily’s not paying attention to what’s said around her (“Your mother will have to sign the kerblig and return it to the main office before you can be burn to clabs…”). How would you describe what you hear when you’re only half-paying attention?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Mazie

KZ enjoyed this book so much, she forgot it came with gifts in her subscription box.

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Premise: Graduating from high school in 1959 Nebraska means its time to be an adult: get married, take over the farm (if you’re male), have babies (if you’re female). Mazie Butterfield wants no part of that. She plans to leave her small town for NYC to chase her Broadway dreams. To do so, she’ll have to leave her love behind, breaking both their hearts simultaneously before arriving in a city that doesn’t care if she succeeds or not. Mazie has to figure out what parts of herself she’s willing to let go of and what different ways of thinking she’s willing to accept on the way.

Rating: 4/5, easy to read
Target: 8 & up

Title: The book is a character study. There’s plenty of fun historical content. The time, context add a lot, but boil it down and this book is all about Mazie: what she wants, who she is, where she’s going.

Main Character(s): Mazie Butterfield, 17-turns-18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): gender barriers, societal roles, societal expectations, LGBTQ friendly, grief, dreams, identity, theater/performance, independence, romance, loneliness, audacity, voice

Great for…* (readers): I want to be able to say anyone who feels boxed in and wants to break out will love this book, but I think the Broadway setting may act as a barrier for some. However, there are men and women who must deal with what is expected of them in this book, choosing to accept, push back, or reject it in figuring out their own identity. A classic YA trope, right?

Great for…* (teachers): setting (historical and regional), diction (though Crowder didn’t spell the accent in, the accent can be heard), allusion, character study, hopes/dreams project and planning

Parental Warnings: some cursing and unwanted sexual advances from the female perspective

Interact: If you could play in any film, show, production, who would you be and why?

If you like Stage Door (1937), you’ll like this book.

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Running Dream

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Premise: Jessica was in an accident that left her in the hospital, recovering as an amputee. She’s a runner without a leg, and she must learn what that means for her present and her future, her family and her friends, her schoolwork and her social life.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Main Character: 16 y/o Jessica (she/her)

Title: Jessica has a reoccurring dream about running with her dog early in the morning, something she did regularly before the accident. The dream is both literal, in that when she sleeps she experiences it, and figurative, as her greatest desire is to be able to run again. The latter dream is the arc of the narrative (and then some….read it to find out what I mean, no spoilers here).

Motifs (not exhaustive): hope, determination, loss, injury/setback, community, disabilities, running, freedom, perspective, healthcare, teamwork, charitable causes, friendship, giving

Great for…* (readers): athletes, students with disabilities (or seeking to empathize with people with disabilities), anyone facing a challenge, the community-minded (leaders)

Great for…* (teachers): growth mindset practice, symbolism, structure, community project

Parental Warnings: none — clean content

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera

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Premise: Carmen Aguilar must complete a summer project if she wants to graduate high school this year. She’s ruined one project, but her best friend helps her land a new internship with a party princess company. Carmen plays the role of Belle and is mortified when her ex shows up as the Beast. Now she has to learn to deal with him and with her wicked stepsister of a cousin who’s just hired the company to perform at her quince.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 8th grade and up, Latinx especially

Title: The motif of dreams and muddled realities, Disney princesses and villainy run rampant through this novel. I don’t love the title, but it makes sense.

Motifs (not exhaustive): coming of age, Latinx culture, Cuban-American culture, OWN voices, princesses, Disney, beauty & the beast, family relationships, mending broken relationships, growth, multiple cultures, extended family

Great for…* (readers): from a Latinx culture, interested in Latinx culture, or needing exposure to Latinx culture — some Spanish (occasionally, though not always translated to English)

Great for…* (teachers): character arc/growth, motif/theme, culture exposure

Parental Warnings: clear sexual references and scenes, intermittent cursing

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Book Review: Anxious People

The structure is the meaning. The meaning is the structure. The structure’s in the meaning. The meaning’s in the structure. If that’s too much for you, you may want to either skip this read or read it without much care.

I admit it. When I started Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, my first Backman book, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the short, choppy chapters that read as unique short story submissions to literary journals with flashpoints in the final lines that change the entire reading of the story. Again and again and again. One was good. Two okay. Then, it irritated me. I couldn’t get my feet on the ground of this narrative without having Backman purposely launch me off them.

The interjections of interviews with equally irritating, if not obnoxious, characters proved nothing if not a nuisance.  

Precisely as they were meant to do. 

This will be a short review (if you can call it that) because I have no intention of revealing the plot resolution of Backman’s book featuring a bank robber without a robbery and a hostage situation with the “world’s worst hostages.” You’ll have to experience the details for yourself. But here is what I’ve come to conclude: despite all that Backman himself will tell you the book’s about (in the text itself, he will use the phrase repeatedly), if you can trust him, the story is about isolation and connection. 

The jagged pieces that begin the book are reflections of the characters themselves: intriguing, well-crafted, but ultimately awkward in how they attempt to be more than alone. Because as the reader, I was somewhat lost in the nameless characters and their stories at the start, I found myself like them, weighing whether or not connecting to these characters is worth it. The more they revealed, the less annoying the characters were, and the more I recognized bits of myself in them. 

That’s the genius of this narrative. You find yourself in characters who you assumed were nothing like you. You connect with them as Backman transitions from his short, stop-and-go chapters to lengthier ones. Even the shorter interviews reveal connections you may not anticipate and which bolster the meaning of the narrative.

The book is well done and meaningful. It is unusual and unique, like we are, yet immensely relatable, too. Also, like we are. If that seems enigmatic or problematic or paradoxical, well, you’ll just have to read Anxious People to understand what I mean.

Rating: 4/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. (not due to word or subject-matter but due to nuance)

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Add on Goodreads.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog: One of the Good Ones

Watch the vlog. Then….will you read the book?

If you have read the book, what would you rate it (out of 5)? AND, are you ready for my spoiler question???

And, can anyone tell me how to pronounce the authors’ last name?

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend