Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Review: Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden

Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden
Page Street Kids
Published March 29, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Anything But Fine

All it takes is one missed step for your life to change forever.

Luca Mason knows exactly who he is and what he wants: In six months, he’s going to be accepted into the Australian Ballet School, leave his fancy private high school, and live his life as a star of the stage—at least that’s the plan until he falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his foot in a way he can never recover from.

With his dancing dreams dead on their feet, Luca loses his performing arts scholarship and transfers to the local public school, leaving behind all his ballet friends and his whole future on stage.

The only bright side is that he strikes up unlikely friendships with the nicest (and nerdiest) girl at his new school, Amina, and the gorgeous, popular, and (reportedly) straight school captain, Jordan Tanaka-Jones.

As Luca’s bond with Jordan grows stronger, he starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?

My Review

If you know me at all, you know that as a former dancer myself, I can’t resist a book about ballet. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a dancer as the main character who was also a boy, so this is a first for me.

Honestly, I was nervous going into the book because I figured the injury and grief part of the story would hit me really hard, and it definitely did. I cried through so many pages of this book. So many of Luca’s thoughts and feelings about ballet resonated with me. It brought up some stuff for me that I don’t think was resolved, either. So I definitely had a very personal experience with this book.

In addition to that, I loved the story. The relationships are messy and complex, which made them seem very real. Sometimes relationships like that leave me frustrated because of toxic behaviors that don’t get addressed within the scope of the story, but I feel like ANYTHING BUT FINE really hit a great balance with those issues. Even if the offending character never accounted for or apologized for their behavior, other characters condemned it. Luca also did a lot of growing and processing himself, so I felt like even where there wasn’t a neat resolution, I could see him at least processing things and learning and growing.

Lots of moments in this book surprised me. There’s one moment with Luca in the ballet studio where he describes what it’s like to be there and how he’s feeling, and I didn’t expect anything about that whole scene, but it made so much sense. I think I cried the most in that scene, too. Ha.

I laughed a lot reading this book, too. Luca’s awkward insights and silly comments added a lot of fun to the story. Can I just say the description of a ballerina trying to do normal people party dancing looking like a baby giraffe learning to walk is so one hundred percent right on. I have never felt so seen.

Now that I’m thinking about which other ballet books I can compare this one to, I’m realizing that most of the other dance books I’ve read are much more angsty and dark than this one is. I love that about ANYTHING BUT FINE, too.

I think readers who enjoyed KATE IN WAITING by Becky Albertalli would enjoy this book.

Content Notes for Anything But Fine

Recommended for Ages 16 up

Luca is gay. Another character has relationships with girls and then a boy. One character is Indonesian and a Muslim. One character’s mom is Japanese.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Two boys kissing. One scene shows brief sexual touching.

Spiritual Content
Amina is a Muslim and wears a hijab. She describes celebrations and holidays like Ramadan and Eid. Jordan talks about celebrating a Japanese holiday, Bon, with his family.

Violent Content – Trigger warning for homophobic and Islamophobic slurs.
Two boys get into a fistfight. Boys say homophobic slurs to Luca multiple times in multiple scenes. Two characters say Islamophobic and xenophobic insults to Amina.

Drug Content
Teen characters drink alcohol in multiple scenes.

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 ANYTHING BUT FINE in exchange for my honest review.

Banned Books Giveaway: 15 Books I’ve Reviewed on the Krause Banned Books List

15 Books I’ve Reviewed on the Krause Banned Books List

What happened: Recently a Texas congressman compiled a list of hundreds of books he feels could cause students distress based on their race or sex and has asked school libraries to alert him about how many titles they have on their shelves. The governor has been conducting similar inquiries, and it looks like at least one district has pulled over 400 books from their shelves in response to pressure from politicians and some parents.

It seems really weird to me that politicians in a state which values personal freedom over protecting the community from a potentially deadly virus through mask wearing, think they should decide what people read. Asking people to wear masks is government overreach, but restricting access to certain kinds of books is okay? Just seems weird to me is all I’m saying.

Content Notes and My Reviews

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I write content notes on all my reviews so that readers can find books they want to read and hopefully it’s easier to find books that represent them, too. Not every kid is ready for or interested in every book. Not every book is appropriate for every kid at a certain age or experience.

Parents have the right to decide what their kids can and should read. That’s part of our job. It’s why I advocate for reading with your kids and looking up reviews online that describe whatever content young readers might encounter within a book. What parents don’t get to do, though, is decide what other people’s kids are allowed to read.

Representation matters, too. You’ll notice from this list that 14 of the 15 books I’ve reviewed here feature LGBTQ+ characters in them. (The 15th is a nonfiction book about combating racism.) Which makes this list really seem like it’s targeting LGBTQ+ readers. In fact, most of the books on the massive list include LGBTQ+ representation. There are a lot of history books and biology books on there, too. It’s a weird list, honestly.

I keep trying to make it make sense. Like okay, is this about graphic sexual content? No, it can’t be, because there are some really popular YA books that have very explicit sexual content released in the years referenced on the sheet that are not listed. Some of the fiction books listed have very little sexual content (kissing maybe?). Anyway, it’s odd.

And not that it making sense would make it okay. It wouldn’t. It would just be nice to be like ah, okay, I see where they’re coming from. The closest I can get to that is that it appears to me that some people believe that the existence of gay people is something we must hide from ALL high school children? Also the existence of racism. And history. And sex.

Discomfort and Literature

I think the idea that discomfort is something we can’t let our kids experience is, frankly, ridiculous. Life is uncomfortable. Relationships are packed with discomfort. Sometimes we make mistakes in front of other people. Or we’re wrong. Or we hurt people and have to humble ourselves and apologize. There is no life safe from discomfort.

Also, literature is supposed to make us uncomfortable. It’s supposed to challenge the boundaries of our empathy, to make us think about experiences outside our own. To put us in someone else’s shoes for a moment. To make us imagine what a moment, real or imagined, is really like.

There Really Is a Giveaway at the End of This Post

Anyway. I searched the archives of my reviews and looked for books I’ve read that are on the list circulating the internet right now. Here are 15 books and the links to my reviews. At the bottom is a giveaway with a chance to win one of ten books. Details below.

Note: This list contains affiliate links which do not cost you anything to use but which generate a small amount of financial support for this blog.

15 Books I’ve Reviewed on the Krause Banned Books List

As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A gay oboe player travels Europe, experiences first love, and wrestles with an estrangement to his family.

Published February 9, 2021 | My Review

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A genderqueer teen stands up to discrimination from their high school administration. Lots of love to Mariah Carey. Sweet family relationships.

Published March 9, 2021 | My Review

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A dystopian society reenacts Cinderella’s ball, but with a twist: each man gets to choose a bride, and she cannot say no. F/F romance. Loads of girl power.

Published July 7, 2020 | My Review

Lobizona by Romina Garber

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: An undocumented immigrant on the run learns she’s a Lobizona, a shapeshifter who can transform into a werewolf. The problem? She’s not supposed to exist.

Published August 4, 2020 | My Review

Reverie by Ryan LaSala

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: INCEPTION meets THE MAGICIANS. M/M romance. High-energy storytelling and unforgettable characters.

Published December 3, 2019 | My Review

This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A great beginner’s handbook for learning to recognize racism and how to speak up if you see something out of line. Welcoming and easy to read.

Published January 7, 2020 | My Review

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: Two boys who are opposites, a food truck, a family in crisis, and a terrible secret. M/M romance. One character is an assault survivor.

Published February 26, 2019 | My Review

White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A girl framed for murder, a boy who has no choice but to help her prove her innocence, and a killer who may not be finished. M/M romance. Total edge-of-your-seat read.

Published April 24, 2018 | My Review

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A girl just returned from boarding school tries to help her brother as his bipolar disorder drives a wedge between them. F/F romance. A powerful story about sibling relationships.

Published August 8, 2017 | My Review

Away We Go by Emil Ostrovski

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A boarding school for the high achieving students with the deadly Peter Pan Virus. A boy in the midst of figuring out who he is and who he loves. Aching and imaginative. M/M romance.

Published April 5, 2016 | My Review

George by Alex Gino

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A young trans girl wants to perform the role of Charlotte in the school play. Poignant and incredibly moving.

Published August 25, 2015 | My Review

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: Two boys who know they are going to die today fall in love. Funny, sweet, and achingly sad. M/M romance.

Published September 5, 2017 | My Review

Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A transgender girl and her best friend take off on a road trip to crash her dad’s wedding. Quirky and fun.

Published November 8, 2016 | My Review

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A boy is blackmailed to keep the fact that he’s gay from coming out and to protect the identity of his secret pen pal. M/M romance. A charming and slightly salty story of first love.

Published on April 7, 2015 | My Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

What you need to know: A once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two boys. M/M romance. Complex characters who are opposites. Lots of laughter and heartache to be had here.

Published February 21, 2012 | My Review

Have you read any of the banned books?

You can find the whole list of 850 books here. I’ve read 15 from the list, and tons more have been on my To Be Read list and are already on my shelves. I feel more motivated than ever to read and review some of those books so that hopefully more readers who are interested in them can find and read them. It looks like someone has also added them to the lists on Goodreads, so you can add interesting-looking titles to your reading lists on there.

Let me know if you’ve read any of the books on this list or the full list.

Giveaway Time!

I’m giving away some books. Ten books, to be precise. I’ll order them from Bookshop, which supports indie booksellers, and choose ten people from the Rafflecopter below. Each winner can choose which book they want from the list of 850 books (must be in stock at Bookshop and $25 or less) and must have a US mailing address.

There’s a free entry, just for landing on the page and reading long enough to find the giveaway, and there are some other ways to boost your chances by talking about the giveaway and finding me on social media. So think about which book you would choose!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Insiders by Mark Oshiro

The Insiders
Mark Oshiro
Published September 21, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Insiders

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

My Review

This book might break your heart. Not permanently. But. It follows Héctor, who’s just beginning at a new school in a new town. He becomes the target of a group of bullies. Though he’s usually pretty outspoken, he’s vulnerable– still trying to figure out how to find his footing in his new space. He has a supportive family, but worries they’ve got enough other things to stress over without needing to take on his troubles. He worries they’d be disappointed in him for not figuring things out for himself. Or for not standing up for himself or letting someone else’s behavior bother him so much.

His experience is so relatable. So raw and real. I love the gentle way the Room comforts and helps him. In some ways, the Room was my favorite character. Héctor is pretty tough to beat, though! I love his sense of humor and bold personality.

THE INSIDERS is one of those books that has a lot of things happening in the background in an understated way. One of Héctor’s teachers reacts to something he says or does in a way that made me think she knew about the Room, and maybe had her own experience with it herself. I love that it kind of stays ambiguous, too, because it hints at the Room being an ongoing force helping lonely kids without letting the story focus on an adult’s experience.

Some moments in the book were so achingly sad, but so many were also full of triumph and joy. This is a story that celebrates friendship, family, identity and food.

THE INSIDERS is the first book by Mark Oshiro that I’ve ever read, but I’m already thinking I need to go out and find all the other books they’ve written. I can’t wait to see more of their work.

I think readers who like HOW TO BECOME A PLANET by Nicole Melleby or FOREVERLAND by Nicole C. Kear will love this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Héctor is gay and Latino. He has several other close friends who are LGBTQ and/or BIPOC.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Reference to a homophobic slur. The word itself is not used.

Romance/Sexual Content
A girl asks another girl to a school dance and is asked not to DJ the event because of it.

Spiritual Content
A room appears to Héctor and a couple other kids when they need it most. It transforms into whatever they need, from a janitor closet to a library to a coffee shop to a nap space. Sometimes it hints at solutions to problems they face.

Violent Content
Some homophobia and bullying. Though Héctor is never in critical physical danger, he bears some pretty deep wounds from the way his antagonists treat him, and even begins to experience some depression.

Drug Content

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 INSIDERS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

How to Become a Planet
Nicole Melleby
Algonquin Young Readers
Published May 25, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About How to Become a Planet

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

My Review

I feel like Nicole Melleby does an incredible job bringing issues to the middle grade stage with poise and poignance but without softening the truth about how hard some of those challenges can be. Both of the books she’s written that I’ve reviewed (HOW TO BECOME A PLANET and HURRICANE SEASON) have explored mental health and identity issues as well as complex relationships with single parents. This book also included resolving conflicts within a friendship.

All those topics felt handled really well in the context of a middle grade story. I didn’t feel sheltered from Pluto’s anxiety or her depression. I felt like I experienced those things along with her, but in a really accessible way. Like they would still make sense (I think) to someone whether or not they’d shared that experience personally.

I liked that Pluto’s parents both wanted to help her and be present and loving with her, but that the story showed how complicated that was for Pluto, too. I liked that no one in the story is perfect. It was also really cool that the story focused on building Pluto’s support team: friends, parents, mentors, and her therapist, all working together to create a network that Pluto could lean on when she needed them.

HOW TO BECOME A PLANET may not be the book that resonates with every reader, but it’s such a sweet, deep story. It’s about learning to recognize what you need and how to be loved even when you don’t feel lovable. Readers who enjoyed BREATHING UNDERWATER or ASTER’S GOOD RIGHT THINGS will not want to miss this one.

Content Notes for How to Become a Planet

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Several characters, including Pluto, identify as queer.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
A kiss between two girls.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Pluto has a meltdown and lashes out physically.

Drug Content
Pluto takes medication for her anxiety and depression.

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 HOW TO BECOME A PLANET in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Serendipity edited by Marissa Meyer

Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes Transformed
Edited by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends
Published January 4, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Serendipity

Love is in the air in this is a collection of stories inspired by romantic tropes and edited by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marissa Meyer.

The secret admirer.
The fake relationship.
The matchmaker.

From stories of first love, unrequited love, love that surprises, love that’s been there all along, ten of the brightest and award-winning authors writing YA have taken on some of your favorite romantic tropes, embracing them and turning them on their heads. Readers will swoon for this collection of stories that celebrate love at its most humorous, inclusive, heart-expanding, and serendipitous.

Contributors include Elise Bryant, Elizabeth Eulberg, Leah Johnson, Anna-Marie McLemore, Marissa Meyer, Sandhya Menon, Julie Murphy, Caleb Roehrig, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Abigail Hing Wen.

My Review

One of the reasons I really wanted to review this book is that the idea of “tropes transformed” totally had me intrigued. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but definitely felt curious enough to explore it. Turns out, it’s a collection of stories centered around a specific trope but where the trope gets elevated into something bigger. For instance, one of my favorites is the story by Julie Murphy. In it, the main characters agree to fake a dating relationship. What transformed the story for me was the moment in which the boy realizes he’s been seeing himself as “the fat kid” and not as the funny, loyal, amazing guy he is. That moment felt so raw and sweet, and suddenly the story wasn’t about the fake dating and why it happened at all, but instead became about the way we see ourselves and how that can limit us.

I really enjoyed all the stories in the book, and I felt like they fit well together. It’s a great read for anyone who’s a fan of the authors represented in the collection or of romance and romance tropes in general. I felt like the book does a great job paying homage to tropes while adding some fresh, new sparkle to them.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Stories feature some POC and LGBTQ+ characters.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl, two boys, and two girls. In one story, two boys go swimming in their underwear. In another, a girl references the difference between romantic touches and touching intimate places as a function of complicated lifts and catches in dance.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content

Drug Content

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 SERENDIPITY in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes

Spin Me Right Round
David Valdes
Bloomsbury YA
Published December 7, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Spin Me Right Round

From lauded writer David Valdes, a sharp and funny YA novel that’s Back to the Future with a twist, as a gay teen travels back to his parents’ era to save a closeted classmate’s life.

All Luis Gonzalez wants is to go to prom with his boyfriend, something his “progressive” school still doesn’t allow. Not after what happened with Chaz Wilson. But that was ages ago, when Luis’s parents were in high school; it would never happen today, right? He’s determined to find a way to give his LGBTQ friends the respect they deserve (while also not risking his chance to be prom king, just saying…).

When a hit on the head knocks him back in time to 1985 and he meets the doomed young Chaz himself, Luis concocts a new plan-he’s going to give this guy his first real kiss. Though it turns out a conservative school in the ’80s isn’t the safest place to be a gay kid. Especially with homophobes running the campus, including Gordo (aka Luis’s estranged father). Luis is in over his head, trying not to make things worse-and hoping he makes it back to present day at all.

In a story that’s fresh, intersectional, and wickedly funny, David Valdes introduces a big-mouthed, big-hearted queer character that readers won’t soon forget.

My Review

Though it explores some heavy issues, SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND was a really fun story to read. I loved Luis’s indomitable personality and his ability to charm for days. Even though I felt like he has a tendency to go on about how pleased he is with himself, he also showed vulnerability in exactly the right places and absolutely had me cheering for him. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat at all the right moments.

The whole Back to the Future, 80s vibe of the book was a lot of fun, too! I loved the celebration of the 80s in all its weird, glorious splendor. I loved the way music was included in the story. More than that, I found myself really drawn in to the way Luis’s life in his present-day and his struggles for acceptance and equality were contrasted against the prejudice and danger the students at his school in the 80s faced. I loved the way that experience impacted him, too.

On the whole, I’m really glad I read this book. There’s so much to enjoy here, and though it’s got some dark moments (trigger warning for homophobia), it’s a beautiful triumph celebrating finding the courage to be your true self and how those choices can impact others for the better.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Luis is gay and Latino. His best friend is nonbinary. Other minor characters are gay, too.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity and homophobic slurs. There are also some instances of crude humor.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boys. References to an affair between a teacher and a student. References to sex.

Spiritual Content
Luis time travels back to the 80s where he attends a Christian school. At that time, being gay is referred to as a sin. Other behaviors, like lying or hateful behavior toward others, are labeled as sins, too.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning for Homophobic Slurs and Homophobic Violence
The F slur is used several times in reference to Luis and another gay boy. Luis learns of a gay boy’s death that’s ruled a suicide, but which he thinks was actually murder. A group of boys hit two other boys with rocks and threaten to further hurt or kill them.

Drug Content

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 SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND in exchange for my honest review.