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Review: Julieta and the Romeos by Maria E. Andreu

Julieta and the Romeos by Marie E. Andreu cover shows a girl holding a pen thinking at a desk. In front of her is an open book and mug. Roses extend toward her from the edges of the image.

Julieta and the Romeos
Maria E. Andreu
Balzer + Bray
Published May 16, 2023

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About Julieta and the Romeos

You’ve Got Mail meets a YA Beach Read with a bookish mystery at its heart in the newest rom-com from Maria E. Andreu. The ideal next read for fans of Emily Henry, Kasie West, and Jennifer E. Smith.

Julieta isn’t looking for her Romeo–but she is writing about love. When her summer writing teacher encourages the class to publish their work online, the last thing she’s expecting is to get a notification that her rom-com has a mysterious new contributor, Happily Ever Drafter. Julieta knows that happily ever afters aren’t real. (Case in point: her parents’ imploding marriage.) But then again, could this be her very own meet-cute?

As things start to heat up in her fiction, Julieta can’t help but notice three boys in her real life: her best friend’s brother (aka her nemesis), the boy next door (well, to her abuela), and her oldest friend (who is suddenly looking . . . hot?). Could one of them be her mysterious collaborator? But even if Julieta finds her Romeo, she’ll have to remember that life is full of plot twists. . . .

From the author of Love in English comes a fresh take on love and romance, and a reminder to always be the author of your own life story.

My Review

I haven’t read anything by Emily Henry, but I definitely see the comparisons between this book and books by Kasie West or Jennifer E. Smith. It has a fluffy romance anchored in family life like I’ve seen in Kasie West’s books.

I loved the references to writing. Julieta is a writer and often thinks about a moment in terms of how she would write it. One of the things she wrestles with is the way that internalizing or imagining takes her out of the present and sometimes leads her to overlook what’s right in front of her.

My favorite thing about the book is the way the mystery of the identity of Happily Ever Drafter unfolds. I also loved the way the romance develops in her life. At first, I thought I knew exactly how the story would go– I’ve read enough romance novels to pick up some clues. And I was right about some elements, but I was completely blown away by others.

Julieta’s family owns a restaurant which she discovers isn’t doing all that well since the pandemic. She also lost her grandfather during the pandemic (I think) and since then, her grandmother has moved to town to be closer to the family. The relationship between Julieta and Abuela is so great. I absolutely bawled through one of the tender scenes in which Abuela opens her heart to Julieta and delivers some much-needed encouragement and wisdom.

On the whole, I had such a great time reading this book! It’s my first time reading anything by Maria E. Andreu, but I can tell it won’t be the last. I found the story really entertaining and tender. It’s a great book to start the summer with.

Content Notes for Julieta and the Romeos

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Julieta and her family are Argentinian Americans.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mostly mild profanity used fewer than ten times. One instance of stronger profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. In one scene, Julieta sees a boy on top of a girl and references that he’s touching her. She doesn’t say where but implies it’s sexual.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content

Drug Content
Teens drink alcohol at a party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of JULIETA AND THE ROMEOS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve

Arden Grey
Ray Stoeve
Amulet Books
Published April 26, 2022

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About Arden Grey

Sixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality—which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope.

Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy—and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too.

My Review

This was kind of a last-minute pick for me, but ARDEN GREY seemed like a book that I didn’t want to miss. I’ve read a few other books with photographer narrators– TELL ME EVERYTHING by Sarah Enni and BREATHING UNDERWATER by Sarah Allen are the two I remember off the top of my head– and I’ve enjoyed all of them. And complex family relationships are another pretty sure-fire win for me in a book.

I guess all that to say that I had pretty high expectations when I went into Arden Grey, and the author absolutely delivered on them. Arden’s shyness and small social circle, her struggle to connect with others, definitely resonated with me. I felt like she was on a clear emotional journey, and I wanted to be there for every minute of it.

As she finds new friends and the confidence to share her photography with others, she’s also grieving a lot of changes in her family and personal life. Her relationship with Jamie really struck me. Knowing someone you love is in a bad situation, but won’t leave it is truly heartbreaking, and the pages of ARDEN GREY really capture both the grief over the loss of friendship, the fears and worries that something is deeply wrong, and the helplessness that comes from being a bystander that’s shut out for trying to speak the truth.

Arden also faces huge changes in her family. Her parents have separated, and her brother isn’t doing well. She can’t figure out how to reconnect with him or her dad. Then Arden’s brother opens up to her, breaking open a family secret and asking Arden to accept it. Arden reels. She struggles. She grieves even more. But she also learns. Listens. Tries new things. Tries to find ways to heal. She’s a hero. I love her.

Most of the abusive relationships or situations happen off-scene or are briefly recounted in memory. I think this helps keep the story from centering on an abuser. It also means we must trust Arden, her brother, and Jamie for their descriptions of what happened and how it made them feel. This resonated with me, too, because that’s very often the position friends or family members are in, where we’re trying to understand what happened and what it means.

On the whole, yeah, I loved this book for its deep, wrenching emotional journey through difficult relationships and facing abuse. The author shares some great resources in a note at the back of the book, which I will post here, too.

Power and Control Wheel

I’d never heard of this, but when Arden’s brother brings it up as something he learned about in health class, I searched online to see if it was a real thing– and it is! I wish I’d known about this a lot sooner than now, but I will definitely be sharing it with others. Basically, it’s a graphic that describes different behaviors and how they fit into a cycle of abuse.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

What is a Healthy Relationship? – from the Domestic Violence Hotline website

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Arden is asexual and a lesbian. Jamie is a trans boy. Vanessa, a minor character, is Latina. Marc, another minor character, is also asexual and Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl. Reference to sex between Jamie and his girlfriend. Arden holds hands with someone.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – Content warning for abuse and mentions of self-harm.
Arden hears her mother slap her brother.

Arden begins to recognize signs of abuse in her relationship with her (now absent) mom and in Jamie’s relationship with his girlfriend. Most of the abusive behavior happens off-scene and is either summarized or reported on later. One person uses self-harm and threats of self-harm to try to control another’s behavior.

Drug Content
Arden’s younger brother comes home late and drunk several times. Arden drinks a beer with her friends at a party.

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

Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

Have a Little Faith in Me
Sonia Hartl
Page Street Kids
Published September 3, 2019

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

About Have a Little Faith in Me

“Saved!” meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that takes a meaningful look at consent and what it means to give it.

When CeCe’s born-again ex-boyfriend dumps her after they have sex, she follows him to Jesus camp in order to win him back. Problem: She knows nothing about Jesus. But her best friend Paul does. He accompanies CeCe to camp, and the plan—God’s or CeCe’s—goes immediately awry when her ex shows up with a new girlfriend, a True Believer at that.

Scrambling to save face, CeCe ropes Paul into faking a relationship. But as deceptions stack up, she questions whether her ex is really the nice guy he seemed. And what about her strange new feelings for Paul—is this love, lust, or an illusion born of heartbreak? To figure it out, she’ll have to confront the reasons she chased her ex to camp in the first place, including the truth about the night she lost her virginity.

My Review

I love the voice in HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME. CeCe is perky and impulsive and lots of fun. The plot doesn’t really pretend to have big secrets– it’s a rom com, and all that goes with that– but it still kept me turning pages because I couldn’t wait to see what CeCe would get up to next.

It always feels a little dicey to me to read about Christian characters from the perspective of someone who feels like an outsider or belittles faith. While there are definitely some moments where Christian faith is treated like a joke or scam, for the most part, I feel like this book shows that some Christians are genuine, kind, loving people. One of CeCe’s conclusions, though, is that Christians (even the “good”, non-judgmental ones) use their beliefs to justify whatever they want to do. While she’s certainly not wrong about people doing that at times, it was kind of a blanket statement that didn’t get challenged even when she discovered she liked some of the other campers and believed them to be good people.

I also struggled with the idea in the story that modesty is about shame. This comes predominantly from one of the camp counselors who clearly doesn’t like CeCe and makes her wear a big ugly cover-up over her bikini bathing suit. CeCe’s takeaway from this and from a workshop taught by that counselor is that girls need to cover their bodies because boys can’t handle themselves if they see a bit of skin, and girls are responsible for any bad actions the boys take as a result of seeing female bodies.

While I think challenging that idea (that girls are responsible for bad choices boys make) is super important, what I felt was missing was any other explanation of modesty or any positive context for it. (Treating one’s body like it’s special and preserving privacy from a place of confidence, for example.) Instead, I felt like the story comes across with this message that modesty and shame are the same thing, and the only reasonable response is to bare it all to prove that there’s no reason to be ashamed.

Again, I believe it’s important to challenge any idea that makes girls responsible for someone else’s bad behavior. I just felt like the story didn’t leave room for any other conclusion besides making the choice to show off your body as much as possible, and I feel like that kind of shames girls who aren’t comfortable doing that.

Another big theme in the story is consent. I love that this topic is on the table and being explored in YA books so much. It’s super important and sometimes confusing. Showing examples of good consent is a great way to teach about the topic.

I liked that HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME shows both a good example of asking for consent and bad example of it. We see how CeCe feels in both situations, and we can understand why. One partner makes her feel valued and cared for, and the other partner makes her feel used and dirty. I thought it was a little weird that it’s a boy who’s educating CeCe about consent. Not that boys can’t be or shouldn’t be in the know on consent. I guess it just struck me as a little odd in a book that focuses so much on female empowerment that a boy is the one who shows her the way.

The relationships CeCe forms with her cabin mates were great. She didn’t expect to find the deep camaraderie and support from Christian girls that she found. Both learned things from the other. And it created a broader perspective on what it means to be a practicing Christian by showing that not everyone is the same.

On the theme of sexual exploration and encounters, some readers may find that there’s just too much explicit sexual content here for them to read comfortably. Like the issue of modesty, the story takes a pretty narrow position on sex. The message is that everyone is doing it or very soon will be, so explicit instruction is a must.

While I think it’s important for teens to have real facts and information about sex and to have safe spaces where they can ask questions, I felt like the story didn’t leave room for kids who aren’t ready or who would find themselves really uncomfortable discussing explicit things about sex in a crowd.

I guess all that to say that I had kind of mixed feelings about HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME. On the one hand, I enjoyed a lot of the adventure of the story and the humor and voice. And I’m a total sucker for the best-friend-to-boyfriend type of story, so I was pretty much hooked from the outset.

I do wish that there was better representation of alternative perspectives on modesty and sex, but I loved that the story explores and fosters conversations about consent and how important it is.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 17 up.

CeCe and Paul are both white/straight. They attend a summer camp with a lot of Christian kids. One minor character tells CeCe that she’s interested in both girls and boys.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently. Crude language used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex. Explicit descriptions of sex and one scene explicitly showing sex.

Spiritual Content
CeCe isn’t a Christian and Paul no longer has Christian beliefs, but both attend a Christian summer camp and pretend to share faith with the other campers. Some of the other campers show love and acceptance even when it becomes obvious that CeCe and Paul don’t share their beliefs, but others are judgmental and fearful.

Violent Content

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog. I received a free copy of HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME in exchange for my honest review.