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: Impossible Music

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Premise: Simon is a musician. But he can’t hear. So how can he continue to study music, create music, play music? And, most of all, experience music he will never hear again? Everything about music seems impossible to him. If Simon is going to have a happy life, he’s going to have to accept his new sensations and his new modes of communication — but can he?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 9th-12th grade

Title:  The first thought about where the title comes from is the premise. And it seems, for much of the book to be just that, but there’s more to it that has to do with a performance I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Main Character(s): Simon, 18 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, music, communication, Deaf culture, art, Auslan, sign language, family, teen relationships, health, mental health, depression, suicide, dreams, commitment, courage, community

Great for…* (readers): who love music or medicine or Deaf culture (or want to learn about any of those). Simon is a bit detached to begin with, so it takes a while to get into the read.

Great for…* (teachers): This one is a pretty easy read. It’d be best used in small reading groups where you have a variety of elements you’re looking at — no one thing stands out in this one.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, regular physical intimacy (not seen or described)

Interact: Why would (or wouldn’t) you want to perform in front of a crowd?

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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: 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

Shop local bookstores.
Shop Amazon.
Add on Goodreads.

*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: Happily Every Afters

Not your capital “L” Literature, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the read. It’s light and fun and I love this protagonist (who is supposedly a lot like the author).

Read the review of the other book mentioned in this vlog here. And tell me if you pick up Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant.

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

Review: Siri, Who Am I?

A friend of mine used to pick up Emma (Jane Austen) every year in an attempt to finish it, but the character of Emma annoyed her so much that it took her well into middle age to accomplish the goal of finishing the book. I couldn’t relate. Emma’s (albeit irritating) naivete and inflated self-importance were necessary to her character development and the plot of the book. Same is true for the character of Mia in Sam Tschida’s Siri, Who Am I? — I promise: the Austen comparison ends there. 

I admit I picked this book up because I thought it would be a YA novel that undermined the image culture of social media saturating the world, and the teen world in particular. (Although I typically reach for the nonfiction work of Sherry Turkle or Jean M. Twenge in that regard, I’m open to bolstering confirmation bias through all genres. Let no one claim otherwise.) This is not a YA book. I was wrong on all my cover of the book judgements. And I’ll tell you why.

5 reasons why Siri, Who Am I? is not an anti-social media YA book

  1. The age of the protagonist.
    Okay, so the premise of the book is the protagonist (at that point, name unknown — see book title) wakes up in the hospital with amnesia. She doesn’t know her name, her age, her birthday, her address, who her friends are, what her life is like, or what she is like. As the book develops, it turns out she’s somewhere in her mid- to late- twenties. YA books are all about teens. The moment your protagonist ages out of high school or maybe even college, sorry. You’re off the YA shelf.
  2. Teenagers (AKA readers of YA) would rip Tchida a new one for regional anachronisms.
    Okay. It’s one regional anachronism. The story is set in Long Beach and travels all over LA and Orange counties — a region of the country, I happen to have grown up in and consider myself relatively familiar with…so familiar, in fact, that I can validate Tschida’s description of the Long Beach Museum of Art where Mia’s amnesia-inducing injury occurred. Spot on. (And, if you’re local to the area, go there….once the world opens again.) BUT, and this is a but bigger than the butts of any of the beautiful characters in this book — and they’re all beautiful characters…which works for LA — Mia repeatedly drives along Pacific Coast Highway. Every time she narrates that fact, she refers to it as the PCH. (Ex from ch.10 : “…we head north on the PCH toward Long Beach…”)
    I, a gracious and forgiving reader (don’t laugh), can overlook the fact that I have never heard any local refer to PCH as the PCH. Not once, let alone the forty to four hundred times Mia does in this book. (Too many? What? Did it stand out too much to me? Hit a nerve? Annoy me as much as Emma annoyed my friend? No way.) I’ve decided the author and editing team must have been fans of SNL’s “The Californians” thereby making the offense forgivable. The freeways are referred to as the 5, the 405, the 10 in Southern Cal vernacular. It’s a simple case of applying the pattern incorrectly like a child who tells you they runned a race.
    Teenagers, though, cherish the opportunity to mock adults who think they know what they do not. (Trust me, my day job is in a high school.) That is all they would take from this book. That, and how pretty the characters are. Which brings me to #3.
  3. The characters are all gorgeous.
    Not just attractive. Gorgeous. How do you enervate the image and filter saturated culture of social media (and Insta, in particular, which plays quite a role in Mia’s search for her true self — she uses her old posts to figure out who she is — not Siri)? You don’t. At most, you can prod it a bit from the inside of the box it built. That may be what Sam Tschida is attempting to do here, but the book falls short of the standard I’d set up for it before I’d cracked the spine.
  4. The inclusion of sex
    I’d like to say the sex, so I’m writing it as a reason but teenage sex occurs in YA (see Rainbow Rowell and so many more). So I can’t use sex as a reason this book is not YA. It’s more that the sex occurs between consenting adults. (see reason #1)
  1. The number of times Mia takes a selfie and posts it.

It never changes. From being let out of the hospital and onward, once Mia has her phone, it’s multiple selfies each day, every day. And you’ll get to read when she receives likes on those posts, even some of the comments. (Actually, this all sounds rather YA, doesn’t it? Damn it. Hmmmm. How to redeem this reason….Got it! YA is not my point on this one.) All this narration around social media and social media posts lack a tinge — or should I say filter? — of negativity. Mia likes social media and it plays an important role throughout the novel and the plotline. One might even say it’s her saving grace making the novel pro social media..

Siri, Who Am I? could be read by high school aged teens. And it does encourage honesty and authenticity on social media. I will give it that. But it is not the book I expected to be reading when I read it. Can you blame me? I claim being influenced by the cover art and title of the book. (Confession: I judge books by their covers. And you do, too.)

MY RATING: 2.5/5 …… Do you agree?

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RATINGS GUIDE

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