Category Archives: Young Adult/Teen 12-18

Review: We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds
Roaring Brook Press
Published November 29, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About We Deserve Monuments

Family secrets, a swoon-worthy romance, and a slow-burn mystery collide in WE DESERVE MONUMENTS, a YA debut from Jas Hammonds that explores how racial violence can ripple down through generations.

What’s more important: Knowing the truth or keeping the peace?

Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she’s uprooted from her life in DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.

While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family—whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.

As the three girls grow closer—Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance—the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty’s health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she’s built in Bardell—or if some things are better left buried.

My Review

I love intergenerational family stories, and at its core, that’s what this story truly is. In reconnecting with the grandmother she barely knows, Avery learns of her family’s painful history. That history impacts others in the small town of Bardell as well, including her two new best friends, Simone and Jade. The threads connecting each girl to her family’s past weave together to form a tapestry that’s both beautiful and terrible.

The story unflinchingly faces the complicated grief of thwarted justice. Jade’s mother’s murderer was never held to account. Neither were the men who murdered Avery’s grandfather. That grief binds the girls together and drives a wedge between them at the same time.

WE DESERVE MONUMENTS is also a love story. It celebrates the connection between grandmothers and granddaughters, even when they only have a short time together. Avery’s relationship with her grandmother anchors her in her history in a way that no other relationship in her family does. The book also celebrates romantic love—perhaps even second-chance love—as Simone and Avery fall for one another and learn to embrace the hope that the previous generation could not.

I wouldn’t call this book an easy read, but I loved the way it explored family history and relationships and the hopefulness that it leaves with its readers.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Avery is biracial (Black mom and white dad) and a lesbian. Her friend Simone is also Black and queer.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between girls.

Spiritual Content
Simone gives Avery a tarot reading. She pulls tarot cards to help her set expectations for the day. She also believes in astrological signs. Simone’s mom attends church often, and when she feels Simone has done something wrong, she makes her attend church several times per week and prays over her repeatedly.

Violent Content
References to a woman’s murder and the racist history of the South and the town of Bardell.

Drug Content
Avery and her friends smoke pot together. They get drunk one night.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Love, Off the Record by Samantha Markum

Love, Off the Record
Samantha Markum
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published June 11, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Love, Off the Record

The Hating Game meets Alex, Approximately in this smart, chemistry-filled teen rom-com about two rival journalism students competing for the same position on their university newspaper.

Wyn is going to beat Three even if it kills her—or, preferably, him. Being freshmen staffers on the university newspaper puts them at the bottom of the pecking order—until a rare reporter spot opens up. Wyn and Three are both determined to get the position, starting a game of sabotage that pushes them to do their worst, from stealing each other’s ideas to playing twisted mind games. No road is too low when it comes to winning.

As Wyn’s search for the perfect story leads her to an anonymous, campus-wide dating app, she hits it off with a mystery man she thinks might be the cute RA from her dorm. But Wyn is all too familiar with being rejected because of her weight, and she’s hesitant to reveal her identity, even as she grows closer with someone who might be the guy of her dreams.

When Three breaks a story that’s closer to home than he or Wyn expects, the two must put aside their differences to expose the truth—and face their real feelings for each other, which threaten everything Wyn has built with her anonymous match.

My Review

Fans of Samantha Markum’s books will likely recognize Three from his supporting role in This May End Badly. This time, he gets the spotlight in this smart, banter-filled tale of college freshmen in competition for a coveted role with a newspaper.

I definitely see the Alex, Approximately vibes in play in this one. The tension between Three and Wyn, especially at the beginning, is palpable. The banter between those two never stops, and I love it.

The whole story follows Wyn’s point of view, which leaves some room for miscommunication, mistrust, and misdirection, all of which I enjoyed as well. I love the frank way that Wyn relates her experiences with her body, both the positive and negative, the easy and painful. It feels like adding some essential nuance to the conversation within YA about body image, self-love, and fatphobia.

The only thing about the book that tripped me up at all is the pacing. Like This May End Badly, this book is first and foremost a rom-com, but it contains a gritty subplot about a shadowy group selling hard drugs on Wyn’s and Three’s college campus.

The combination works great in creating a reason to bring Three and Wyn to the same side of something. It also makes the book a whopping 400 pages, which is long for a young adult contemporary romance. I was entertained all throughout the book, but I wonder if the size of the book will intimidate some readers.

Fans of romance with strong characters and endless banter will want to give this one a try. It’s a great book to crack open at the beach or by the pool this summer.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Wyn is plus-sized. Her friend Dara is Black. Two minor characters (girls) are in a dating relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
F-bombs scattered throughout. Strong profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to making out and touching.

Spiritual Content
One of Wyn’s suitemates is the daughter of a Christian pastor. She speaks openly about her faith and the challenge of figuring out the kind of life she wants to live, especially when it contradicts her parents’ expectations.

Violent Content
Wyn and Three make threatening comments to one another, joking but with some dislike behind at least some of them.

Someone gets jumped (off-scene).

Drug Content
Wyn eats cookies without realizing they’re laced with edibles. She ends up saying and doing some dangerous things and things she regrets later. She attends a party where she drinks beer, and a friend gets drunk. Someone reports that people were doing cocaine at a party and leaves.

Students get caught dealing hard drugs on campus, resulting in some consequences. Wyn and Three find a backpack stuffed with drugs, which Three photographs for evidence for the story they’re writing.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Takedown by Ali Bryan

Takedown
Ali Bryan
DCB Young Readers
Published May 11, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Takedown

Sixteen-year-old star wrestler Rowan Harper’s biggest fan is her father.

But he has ALS, and his symptoms are getting worse. Saving his life will cost more money than the family has, but Rowan finds a solution. Will she risk her chances at a scholarship by competing in a lucrative, but illegal, underground MMA fight?

Takedown is a high-intensity coming-of-age story about family illness and competitive combat, with lots of heart, hope, and headlocks.

My Review

This is a fiercely compelling read about a girl wrestler readying herself for a big tournament and struggling with the grim progression of her father’s ALS. The author doesn’t pull her punches. These scenes are filled with big emotions, high-stakes combat, and heartwarming family moments.

It’s also got a lot of attitude. Rowan, definitely not a morning person, grouches her way through the early hours of the day. She keeps secrets more and more as she faces greater pressure to do something to help her dad. She doesn’t always think things through– which made me grind my teeth sometimes, but reads so realistically.

I liked that both Rowan and her best friend, Pia, are wrestlers, and they’re super different from one another. Pia thrives on fashion and is an online influencer. Rowan is more of a purist athlete: most of what she does is train and compete around moments with her family and boyfriend.

I cried multiple times while reading this book. Sometimes, a moving line caught me just right, and other times, a heartbreaking turn of events brought me to tears. I feel like I didn’t even have a lot of time to ask myself whether I *liked* Rowan. She is such a compelling character that it almost didn’t matter, if that makes sense.

I think I like her. Although her choices often frustrated me, I understood why she did what she did.

All in all, this book is a win for books about girls in sports, and books about wrestling. It’s one of those books that draws you in and won’t let you go until the last page.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Rowan’s dad has ALS. She’s a wrestler on a competitive team. One character is Lebanese on one side of his family and has two dads. Another character is South Asian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
F-bombs appear at intense moments. Other swearing used moderately.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex. In one scene, a boy and girl quickly undress so they can have sex. (Not shown on scene.)

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Several scenes show Rowan in a fight and wrestling matches in practice and competition. She punches a guy in the face. She helps someone who has obviously been in a fight.

At one point, Rowan wonders if her dad is checked out of life. Like, not depressed/suicidal, but maybe thinking about assisted suicide.

Spoiler: Death of a parent. (Select text to view.)

Drug Content
Rowan and her friend drink beer at her friend’s house. They attend a party and drink more. Rowan ends up super drunk and sick and embarrassed about it later. Rowan’s brother, Ike, smokes cigarettes he gets from a neighbor. He comes home smelling like weed in one scene.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Mine Wars by Steve Watkins

Mine Wars: The Bloody Fight for Workers’ Rights in the West Virginia Coal Fields
Steve Watkins
Bloomsbury
Published May 14, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Mine Wars

For fans of Steve Sheinkin and Deb Heiligman, a riveting true story of the West Virginia coal miners who ignited the largest labor uprising in American history.

In May of 1920, in a small town in the mountains of West Virginia, a dozen coal miners took a stand. They were sick of the low pay in the mines. The unsafe conditions. The brutal treatment they endured from mine owners and operators. The scrip they were paid-instead of cash-that could only be used at the company store.

They had tried to unionize, but the mine owners dug in. On that fateful day in May 1920, tensions boiled over and a gunfight erupted-beginning a yearlong standoff between workers and owners.

The miners pleaded, then protested, then went on strike; the owners retaliated with spying, bribery, and threats. Violence escalated on both sides, culminating in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in United States history.

In this gripping narrative nonfiction book, meet the resolute and spirited people who fought for the rights of coal miners, and discover how the West Virginia Mine Wars paved the way for vital worker protections nationwide. More than a century later, this overlooked story of the labor movement remains urgently relevant.

My Review

It’s a short book, I thought. I’ll be able to read it quickly, I thought. Wrong!

Okay, so it is a short book at just over 200 pages, but this was not a quick read for me, probably in large part because it’s a heavy topic, so I needed to break up my reading into more short sessions rather than read straight through the way I could have done with a milder nonfiction or fiction title.

However, it reveals a critical part of West Virginia history and the history of the labor movement in the US. Like some of the educators and people referenced in a late chapter in the book, I kept wondering how I hadn’t heard about this. Honestly, I can’t even remember learning anything about Mother Jones in school, which seems wild to me thinking about it now. It’s possible that her contributions were mentioned in a line or two and quickly moved past. Hard to say. I don’t think my history curriculum included very many women’s stories or much coverage of the 20th century other than the World Wars. But I digress.

Anyway. So, The Mine Wars. Some of the events described seem almost unfathomable in the calculated cruelty with which the coal mine owners and the men they hired to violently put down unrest among mine workers behaved. The escalation of warfare between the two sides can’t help but be genuinely shocking.

As I read, I kept thinking of a conversation I had with someone not all that long ago in which this person insisted that we don’t need unions in America because corporations will do the right thing for their workers. I had healing fantasies (see Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents) about pushing this book across the table to this anti-union person and asking him to repeat that sentiment to me after reading The Mine Wars. Because, uh, NO. The coal mine owners acted only in their own best interests and almost without exception at the expense of their workers.

The book introduces and follows a wide range of historical figures, from law enforcement officers to hired gunmen to mine workers to union leaders and politicians. It focuses on the coal industry and workers’ fight for equitable pay and reasonable safety measures from the early 1910s to the early 1920s.

The only real complaint I have about the book is that it jumps around in the timeline quite a bit, using statements like, “seven years later,” etc. Sometimes it was hard to tell when things happened. I would have loved to see a timeline of events included in the backmatter of the book. The backmatter does contain, however, a pretty extensive list of resource material, including at least one documentary. I’m excited to check that out.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
The text primarily features white men, but includes the stories of a few women and people of color.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to assault convictions of people mentioned in the text.

Spiritual Content
One man profiled was a part-time pastor and part-time mine worker. At one point, he spoke of putting down his Bible and taking up his gun.

Violent Content
Several chapters relate scenes involving gunfire. Sometimes, armed combatants attack one another. At other times, aggressors gun down unarmed opponents or civilians, including women and children.

Drug Content
References to alcohol use and drug abuse. One person profiled gets very drunk during a battle. Someone reports that a large number of armed men were drunk during a battle.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives
Dashka Slater
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Published October 17, 2017

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The 57 Bus

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

My Review

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time, and I seriously can’t believe I waited so long to read it. What an incredible book! It blew me away.

What’s funny is that I’ve read several picture books by Dashka Slater (the Escargot books are a favorite in my house). This book is so different than those, and each is so well done.

It’s obvious that the author put so much care and thoughtfulness into the book’s structure. It’s got a ton of short sections. One defines some different queer identities. Another spells out the rights of a prisoner at a juvenile detention center. Others contain short stories or observations by Sasha or Richard or people close to them.

The narrative explores the lives of Sasha (victim) and Richard (perpetrator) with dignity and fairness. Nowhere does the author minimize or dismiss the seriousness of what happened to Sasha. She also includes interviews and statements from Richard’s friends and family, along with some biographical information about and statements from Richard himself. This way we get a more complete picture of both of the teens involved that terrible day on the 57 Bus.

Slater discusses how different people become targeted in hate crimes and the advancement and rolling back of protections for LGBTQIA+ people and the impact that has had. She also talks about the justice system, particularly in the process of juvenile offenders being charged as adults, and how that impacts the lives of young people and the community as a whole.

It’s such a powerful book. The points and information are clearly stated and related in a way that made me feel like I knew each of the people the narrative followed. I think this is a really important book for people to read.

Conclusion

Fans of true crime books and readers looking for compelling nonfiction or stories about LGBTQIA+ youth need to grab a copy of this one. Put it on your Pride Month reading list or read it on a weekend– the short sections and compelling writing make this a super quick read.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Sasha is agender and uses they/them pronouns. Some of their friends have LGBTQIA+ identities as well. Richard is Black. His family members and some of his friends are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently. The N-word is used, usually by a Black boy to his Black friends. There are a few homophobic statements.

Romance/Sexual Content
Some discussion of various sexual and gender identities and what the labels mean to the people using them.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Contains brief but graphic descriptions of the burns sustained by Sasha when their skirt was set on fire on a bus and brief but graphic descriptions of the treatment of the burns.

Drug Content
References to the smell of pot smoke in bathrooms at school. Doctors prescribe morphine for Sasha during their recovery from burns and surgeries.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but help support this blog. All opinions my own.

Book Bans and The 57 Bus

THE 57 BUS is a frequently challenged or banned book. Author Dashka Slater offers this statement about book bans in general and in reference to this book.

Review: Icon and Inferno by Marie Lu

Icon and Inferno (Stars and Smoke #2)
Marie Lu
Roaring Brook Press
Published June 4, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Icon and Inferno

Spies meet romance meet popstars in this thrilling follow up to Stars and Smoke by bestselling author Marie Lu.

A year has passed since superstar Winter and secret agent Sydney Cossette went undercover – on a dangerous mission to bring down the baddest man in London.

Winter hasn’t stopped thinking about Sydney since, and she’s been trying not to think about him

Family secrets and nasty newspapers has Winter desperate to re-enter the secret world. And it’s not long before he gets his chance.

Sydney is back, and this time the mission goes right to the heart of the United States of America. A rescue gone wrong, an assassination attempt – and the return of an old flame – puts Winter right back into the action . . . and into a country on the brink of chaos.

And when a murder accusation has Sydney on the run, suddenly it’s not just a life at stake, but all-out war.

My Review

Winter and Sydney are back, and I am so excited! Stars and Smoke, the first book in the series, swept me away with its romance and danger. I knew I’d be back for more. I love the contrast between these two characters. When he’s with people he trusts, Winter is wide open with his heart totally available. Sydney, however, never opens herself that way. That kind of vulnerability terrifies her, which makes sense for someone with a life as a secret agent. For her, letting people in is literally dangerous.

The story begins with a bit of miscommunication or maybe bad assumptions between Winter and Sydney, where she thinks he’s seeing someone and is disappointed but trying not to show it. And he’s hurt that she’s not disappointed, etc. It’s not my favorite romance trope, but the story doesn’t lean into it too heavily since the romantic tension between Sydney and Winter is secondary to their assignment from Panacea.

I like that the task gets layered with complications, though. Winter has to manage the expectations of his ex, whom he invited to a social event as his date. Sydney must find and rescue her own ex, the guy who ended their last tryst by stealing her passport and stranding her overseas. So, yeah, she’s really looking forward to that. Mr. To-Be-Rescued has his own agenda as well, and Sydney and Winter have to decide whether to listen to him or stick with the original plan.

One thing I absolutely loved is the way the story uses Winter’s fame to achieve objectives in his work as a secret agent. It seems like being internationally celebrated and recognized would be a setback for someone on a secret mission, but he makes it work. I love how he uses his position as an asset for Panacea on their missions.

Conclusion

I think even more than the first book, Icon and Inferno leans more into adult fiction. The characters have full-time careers. They’ve had adult relationships. They have adult independence. It’s marketed as YA, and I think will have a fair amount of crossover appeal. Fans of Chloe Gong’s Foul Lady Fortune will enjoy this.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Winter is Chinese American and has had romantic relationships with boys and girls in the past.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used pretty infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to a past relationship Winter was in, in which he slept with his partner. Same for Sydney. Kissing between boy and girl. In a couple of scenes, the characters kiss and undress. One vaguely references a sexual encounter.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Sydney and Winter witness someone killed by a gunshot and explosion. A couple of scenes involve a high-speed car or motorcycle chase. Someone points a gun at another person’s head. Someone injects a drug into another person, knocking them out.

Drug Content
References to Winter’s dad smoking cigars.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.