Tag Archives: California

Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

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: I Wish You Would by Eva Des Lauriers

I Wish You Would
Eva Des Lauriers
Henry Holt & Co.
Published May 21, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About I Wish You Would

In this drama-filled love story, private confessions are scattered on the beach during a senior class overnight and explosive secrets threaten to tear everyone apart, including best friends (or maybe more?), Natalia and Ethan.

It’s Senior Sunrise, the epic overnight at the beach that kicks off senior year. But for Natalia and Ethan, it’s the first time seeing each other after what happened at junior prom―when they almost crossed the line from best friends to something more and ruined everything. After ghosting each other all summer, Natalia is desperate to pretend she doesn’t care and Ethan is desperate to fix his mistake.

When the senior class carries out their tradition of writing private letters to themselves―what they wish they would do this year if they were braver―Natalia pours her heart out. So does Ethan. So does everyone in their entire class. But in Natalia’s panicked attempt to retrieve her heartfelt confession, the wind scatters seven of the notes across the beach. Now, Ethan and Natalia are forced to work together to find the lost letters before any secrets are revealed―especially their own.

Seven private confessions. Seven time bombs loose for anyone to find. And one last chance before the sun rises for these two to fall in love.

My Review

I really needed a candy romance book right about now, so I was really glad to find this one on my list. The short chapters make it especially binge-able, and the tension between the two estranged best friends makes it easy to keep reading well past bedtime (which I did.)

I like that Natalia is an artist and that her art impacts the story. There are moments when she describes how she’s feeling in terms of art or color. Ethan, by contrast, drifts into sharing strange facts when he’s stressed, which is really cute.

Almost the whole story takes place during an overnight camping trip for the rising senior class at Natalia’s and Ethan’s school. The first couple of chapters take place a few months before, and the last chapter takes place long afterward, functioning sort of like a prologue and epilogue.

The romantic plot of the story holds a lot of tension, with Natalia and Ethan recalling a kiss from months earlier that neither is sure whether the other regrets. The senior camping trip marks the first time they’ve seen each other in a while, and it creates a kind of forced proximity. The secret letters part of the story added some interesting components and quirky side characters and subplots.

Fans of J.C. Cervantes will probably like this quick, intense love story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Representation
Natalia is Latine on her mom’s side. Includes minor characters of other races and gender identities/sexual orientations.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently. One character uses transphobic language and deadnames a nonbinary character.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. A boy and girl remove their tops while kissing. References to sex. References to romance between a girl and nonbinary character.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Two boys get into a fistfight. One character uses transphobic language and deadnames a character. References to sexual coercion, mostly off-scene. In one scene, a man boxes a girl into a corner, bracing his arm on the wall over her, and makes some comments with sexual undertones.

Drug Content
One teen character gets inexplicably drunk at the campout.

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.

Nightmares in Paradise by Aden Polydoros

Nightmares in Paradise (Ring of Solomon #2)
Aden Polydoros
Inkyard Press
Published April 2, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Nightmares in Paradise

Zach Darlington saved the world from total apocalypse and all he got was grounded. He’s not even allowed to watch his favorite horror movies anymore, and now his parents want to ship him off to boarding school!

But before Zach can talk some sense into his parents, his little sister, Naomi, lands in an unexplainable coma. Zach’s friend Ash (yep, Zach and the King of Demons are friends now) knows this was the work of Ash’s eternal nemesis, the Archangel Uriel. And the only way to revive Naomi is with the fruit from the Tree of Life. Yeah, that tree. Like, from the actual Garden of Eden .

Zach and his friends will have to face terrifying angels, monsters, and a serpent to get to the tree and save Naomi’s life. He just hopes he won’t be grounded till the end of time if they ever make it back.

My Review

I’m a little late to this series (I haven’t read the first book), but I loved WRATH BECOMES HER by Aden Polydoros. WRATH is an immersive, dark YA novel, so when I learned that the author also writes middle grade, I had to check it out. I couldn’t imagine a middle grade book in the same writing style as the young adult book I’d read. NIGHTMARES IN PARADISE is written in a completely different style than the YA novel I read, which is great, and shows the incredible range of this author.

I love that this is a fantasy series based on Jewish mythology. It’s such a cool idea. I also love that the book includes the relationship between an older brother and a younger sister. Their relationship feels very real. There’s some sweetness but lots of frustration as they navigate their relationship.

Zach has a little bit of an attitude, but it’s balanced by his fears and worries about his identity as a gay boy. He deals with a bully at school and the knowledge that the world nearly ended, something hardly anyone knows and he really can’t tell anyone about. So, he’s a pretty complex guy.

The pacing was the only thing that I found a little bit challenging. It might be that I just expected something different from the plot based on the back cover copy, or maybe I missed something somewhere in the book. It seemed like the middle ran a bit long, and the end of the story happened very fast. I also couldn’t tell if the ending concludes the series? The description of the first book in the series calls it a trilogy, but I wonder if, because Inkyard Press has closed, maybe the Ring of Solomon series has become a duology? I guess we’ll find out!

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Zach and his family are Jewish. Zach is also gay. His best friend is Ecuadorean American.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
A boy bullies another boy because he’s gay.

Romance/Sexual Content
Reference to a couple who used to date one another.

Spiritual Content
Zach’s family celebrates Passover. A relative asks him if he would like to have a Bar Mitzvah. Uses Jewish mythology. Some spiritual characters, like angels and the king of demons.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. References to battles with a sword that bursts into flames. Some monstrous creatures, such as a giant worm that eats stone. References to the creation story in the Garden of Eden.

Drug Content
None.

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.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

Review: The Dark Fable by Katherine Harbour

The Dark Fable
Katherine Harbour
Bloomsbury
Published January 30, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Dark Fable

Magical heists. Deadly secrets. Come along for the ride . . . if you dare. This heart-stopping, seductive fantasy is perfect for fans of Six of Crows.

Evie Wilder is an orphan who has gone through most of her life unnoticed . . . until she’s caught up in a dramatic heist and captures the attention of the Dark Fable. They have chosen her for a she can turn invisible. This skill would make Evie a treasured asset to the legendary group of thieves known for spiriting away obscure and occult artifacts.

Evie cannot resist their allure and is eager to join this newfound family. But she discovers there are more skeletons in the Dark Fable’s past than she could have ever imagined. And these secrets might be the answer to her own tragic past.

No one is who they seem to be and the price of uncovering the Dark Fable’s cryptic history just might be fatal . . .

My Review

I’m starting to realize that I have a real interest in low fantasy, or stories set in the “real world” with additional fantasy elements, in this case, special abilities. THE DARK FABLE is kind of a single point-of-view SIX OF CROWS but set in Los Angeles? There’s a close-knit team led by a dangerous guy who definitely holds back information and has ulterior plans/motives, committing heists of expensive artwork and artifacts. So there’s a similar vibe. The main character is new to the crew, and she’s got her own past trauma, ulterior motives, and cards she keeps close to the vest.

All of that setup really had me interested in this book. I liked some of the characters a lot more than others. Mad, short for Madrigal, was probably my favorite. She winds up being the main character’s closest ally. I liked their friendship and how she looked out for Evie.

I struggled with two things about the book, and unfortunately, they’re both spoilers. I’ll put them below in a spoiler section for anyone who doesn’t want to see them. One element is kind of a trope that just isn’t one I prefer in stories, so that’s very much a personal preference, and I think unless you have tropes you feel very strongly about avoiding that have to do with when information is revealed, this probably wouldn’t bother you.

The other thing was also just weird to me. The characters keep asking themselves and others this question throughout the entire book. It feels like a deeply important question because of the way they consistently come back to it, like how they feel about themselves and what they’re doing hinges on the answer to this question. I didn’t feel like the question was answered satisfactorily, which made it harder for me to really enjoy the last bit of the book because I kept thinking, wait, what?

Conclusion

I liked the blend of Los Angeles and magic elements. I liked the characters. The plot went in some directions that didn’t always work for me, but I think those amount to personal preferences. I think if you enjoyed FOUL LADY FORTUNE by Chloe Gong or GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi, then check this one out.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Major characters are white, I think. One heist team member is Black, and another is Indigenous. One is bisexual.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
The main character has a guide she pictures in her mind. She also has the ability to disappear. Her allies have other abilities, too.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Battles between heist teams or mercenaries and heist team members. Evie remembers events surrounding her parents’ murders. Other characters have been murdered or died by suicide– sometimes the truth is unclear.

Drug Content
Characters drink alcohol. One character creates poisons and other solutions that cause adverse effects on enemies, from stunning them to killing them.

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 THE DARK FABLE in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Spoilers for The Dark Fable

Read on if you want spoilers on the two things that I struggled with about this book. Select the text below to see it.

The characters in the heist team keep asking themselves, “What are we?” They each acquired a supernatural ability during a traumatic experience. Is this an evolutionary advance? Do they have magic? Did this come from somewhere? They are really interested in figuring this out. Late in the book, like maybe 80 percent through, Evie asks her mentor this question point-blank. Her mentor responds like, “you haven’t figured it out yet? You’re possessed by demons.”

She’s like, it’s no big deal. You’ve got magic power, so enjoy it? Understandably, the team has a hard time processing this, but they come to accept it pretty quickly. I don’t know. I thought it was really weird. Like, definitely the kind of thing that I would have wanted to know earlier in the book so everyone had more time to explore what it meant and how they felt about it. Plus, demons? Really?

The other thing I had a hard time with is more in the vein of a trope. I’ve seen this in other books, but I had a hard time with it then, too. The main character has a whole set of ulterior motives and plans that the reader isn’t privy to until late in the story. It can make for a shocking reveal; it just feels disingenuous to me to have a character in a close first-person point of view hiding THAT much for THAT long. It’s a me thing. If I didn’t mind that, I would have enjoyed the book a lot more than I did.

Review: Learning to Fall by Sally Engelfried

Learning to Fall
Sally Engelfried
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published September 6, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Learning to Fall

Twelve-year-old Daphne reconciles with her father, who left her stranded three years ago and learns forgiveness one fall at a time in this heartwarming debut by Sally Engelfried. For fans of The​ First Rule of Punk.

Daphne doesn’t want to be stuck in Oakland with her dad. She wants to get on the first plane to Prague, where her mom is shooting a movie. Armed with her grandparents’ phone number and strict instructions from her mom to call them if her dad starts drinking again, Daphne has no problem being cold to him. But there’s one thing Daphne can’t keep herself from joining her dad and her new friend Arlo at a weekly skate session.  When her dad promises to teach her how to ollie and she lands the trick, Daphne starts to believe in him again. He starts to show up for her, and Daphne learns things are not as black and white with her dad as she used to think. The way Daphne’s dad tells it, skating is all about accepting failure and moving on. But can Daphne really let go of her dad’s past mistakes? Either way life is a lot like it’s all about getting back up after you fall. 

My Review

I’ve been struggling a bit with reading lately, but you’d never know it if you watched me read this one. I read the entire story in a single sitting because I simply couldn’t stop.

Daphne has so many powerful experiences and is so easy to identify with. She quit skateboarding after an accident left her physically and emotionally bruised. Then, she has to move in with her dad, the person who got her interested in skating to begin with. She’s got a lot of doubts and bad feelings about him since he all but disappeared from her life for a few years. As she gets to know him again, she has to decide whether she can trust him. She also gains some new perspective on his disappearance, and sees her relationship with her mom in a new light, too.

This story expertly balances a young narrator and complex adult issues. Daphne’s dad is an alcoholic in recovery, and while he never drinks alcohol on-scene, he does get real with Daphne about his past struggles, how he feels in difficult moments, and his regrets. Daphne also realizes that her relationship with her mom, whom she idolizes, isn’t as simple as she once thought. Though it’s not the central point of the story, the narrative does an excellent job of showing how it feels to grapple with complex relationships and realize that people aren’t simply one thing or one way.

All in all, I loved this one both for its girl skater rep and its brave exploration of complex emotions and relationships. Give this one to fans of Gillian McDunn.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Daphne and her family are white. Her dad is an alcoholic in recovery. Daphne’s neighbors are Latino.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Daphne’s neighbor’s girlfriend and son move in with him.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Daphne recalls falling and getting hurt after some boys say cruel things to her. She hears a loud bang, and discovers that her dad threw something in the other room. He apologizes.

Drug Content
Daphne’s dad used to drink a lot of alcohol and talks frankly about mistakes he made while he was drinking, such as making promises he’d forget.

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

Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

Review: The Search for Us by Susan Azim Boyer

The Search for Us
Susan Azim Boyer
Wednesday Books
Published October 24, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Search for Us

“A sharp-witted and illuminating, impressive sophomore novel.” – Isaac Blum, author of the award-nominated The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

Two half-siblings who have never met embark on a search together for the Iranian immigrant and U.S. Army veteran father they never knew.

Samira Murphy will do anything to keep her fractured family from falling apart, including caring for her widowed grandmother and getting her older brother into recovery for alcohol addiction. With attendance at her dream college on the line, she takes a long shot DNA test to find the support she so desperately needs from a father she hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Henry Owen is torn between his well-meaning but unreliable bio-mom and his overly strict aunt and uncle, who stepped in to raise him but don’t seem to see him for who he is. Looking to forge a stronger connection to his own identity, he takes a DNA test to find the one person who might love him for exactly who he is―the biological father he never knew.

Instead of a DNA match with their father, Samira and Henry are matched with each other. They begin to search for their father together and slowly unravel the difficult truth of their shared past, forming a connection that only siblings can have and recovering precious parts of their past that have been lost. Brimming with emotional resonance, Susan Azim Boyer’s THE SEARCH FOR US beautifully renders what it means to find your place in the world through the deep and abiding power of family.

My Review

Stories about the power of family, both found family and biological family, always hit me deep. This book is no exception. It has a lot of layers, which I think is hard to do well, but is well done here. The story feels full rather than crowded. The issues Henry and Samira face tie together and bring them together in unexpected ways.

As a person who grew up with a view of alcoholism in my extended family, a lot of things in the story about Samira and her impulses and beliefs really resonated with me. I liked the way the story addressed her codependency and tendency to “over-function” or control situations.

The chapters alternate between Samira’s and Henry’s points of view. I really liked both of them as characters, so it was really easy to get into the story. The chapters each had so much going on that I felt propelled from one to the next all the way to the end of the book. It felt like a really quick read.

All in all, I loved the messages about family, forgiveness, and relationships in this book. I think readers who enjoyed books like YOU’D BE HOME NOW by Kathleen Glasgow or YOU HAVE A MATCH by Emma Lord will love this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Henry and Samira are biracial, both Iranian and white. Samira’s best friend identifies as bisexual. Henry’s girlfriend, Linh, is Vietnamese and adopted by white parents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Brief statement about “roaming hands” during a makeout session between a boy and girl. Samira’s best friend describes crushes on both boys and girls.

Spiritual Content
A man discusses his experience with Islamophobia. Someone defaces his Koran. He’s not allowed to pray when he should be able to.

Violent Content
Some references to Islamophobia. Henry fights a boy in a hockey game and later hits a man in a gas station he perceives as threatening.

Drug Content
Samira’s brother and two other relatives have alcohol use disorder. Henry’s girlfriend, Linh, smokes weed.

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 THE SEARCH FOR US in exchange for my honest review.