Award-winning author Amber McBride lays bare the fears of being young and Black in America, in this middle-grade novel that has been compared to the work of Jordan Peele and praised as ” brilliantly inventive storytelling” by Publishers Weekly.
In the future, a Black girl known only as Inmate Eleven is kept confined — to be used as a biological match for the president’s son, should he fall ill. She is called a Blue — the color of sadness. She lives in a small-small room with her dog, who is going wolf more often – he’s pacing and imagining he’s free. Inmate Eleven wants to go wolf too―she wants to know why she feels so Blue and what is beyond her small-small room.
In the present, Imogen lives outside of Washington DC. The pandemic has distanced her from everyone but her mother and her therapist. Imogen has intense phobias and nightmares of confinement. Her two older brothers used to help her, but now she’s on her own, until a college student helps her see the difference between being Blue and sad, and Black and empowered.
In this symphony of a novel, award-winning author Amber McBride lays bare the fears of being young and Black in America, and empowers readers to remember their voices and stories are important, especially when they feel the need to go wolf.
The first book I read by Amber McBride was ME: MOTH, which is a novel in verse. I loved the twisty storytelling. It’s one of those books where you reach a point where everything changes, and you look back at everything you’ve read with a new perspective. I loved that about the book.
GONE WOLF is prose rather than poetry. It also has some twisty storytelling, and I felt like there was the same kind of turning-point moment where I looked back at everything through a different lens. (This is hinted at in the cover copy, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything.)
The book definitely delves into some tough topics in a pretty unflinching way. The juxtaposition of the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, and a futuristic setting was really thought-provoking. It was interesting to see familiar pieces of history alongside dystopian elements. Somehow, it made them resonate more sharply, maybe because it had that awful ring of the worst kinds of history repeating themselves.
I found it easy to get lost in the story and in trying to figure out how the two narratives connected. Future Imogen’s horror at her discoveries about the world she lives in and the ways she tries to break out of that world hit hard. I rooted for her from the beginning to end.
On the whole, I found this to be a truly captivating story. It’s got a young narrator– I think Imogen is twelve– but I would not call this middle grade. I think it’s actually a coming-of-age story.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Representation Imogen is Black.
Profanity/Crude Language Content None.
Romance/Sexual Content None.
Spiritual Content None.
Violent Content Some brief strong violence, including violence against an animal.
Imogen witnesses a woman being beaten. She sees someone execute a dog. Imogen and a friend offer ice to people who’ve been attacked as part of a Civil Rights protest.
Drug Content None.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of GONE WOLF in exchange for my honest review.
The creators of Real Friends Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with a true story about popularity, first crushes, and finding your own path in the graphic novel, Best Friends.
Follow your heart. Find your people.
Sixth grade is supposed to be perfect. Shannon’s got a sure spot in the in-crowd called The Group, and her best friend is their leader, Jen, the most popular girl in school.
But the rules are always changing, and Shannon has to scramble to keep up. She never knows which TV shows are cool, what songs to listen to, and who she’s allowed to talk to. Who makes these rules, anyway? And does Shannon have to follow them?
This book was originally published in 2019 as a graphic memoir, and now it’s available as an audiobook. I have never read a graphic novel or memoir converted to an audiobook, so I was curious how the story would translate. I hadn’t read the original, so I went into my reading without any reference for the story.
The recording features a full cast and some setting effects, such as footsteps and other sounds to help anchor the reader in the scene. I thought that worked really well to preserve the feeling of reading spare text, the way you would in a graphic memoir.
Shannon Hale narrates the book herself, which is really cool. I feel like the voices of the characters fit pretty well for the most part. At first, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep all the characters of Shannon’s friends straight, but the narration or dialogue helped label who was talking, so it was pretty easy.
The story follows a sixth-grade Shannon as she tries to figure out the changing rules of friendship and relationships between boys and girls in her grade. I absolutely identified with some of the challenges she related and the heartbreak of friends leaving her out or excluding her.
She also includes passages from a story she was writing at twelve, which I loved! It shows how writing helps her process what’s happening and becomes a safe space for her to be proud of who she is.
A short interview with the author and her twelve-year-old twin girls follows the book. A lot of what they talked about was how things changed between the 1980s, when their mom was in middle school, and now. They brought up a lot of interesting points, and listening to them talk to one another was fun.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Representation Shannon, the main character, is white. She has undiagnosed anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (which the author mentions in the interview following the book).
Profanity/Crude Language Content None.
Romance/Sexual Content A girl kisses a boy on the cheek. A boy and girl kiss for a long time in front of another girl (to try to hurt her).
Spiritual Content Shannon prays for her family and home to be safe. She thinks about how Jesus would want her to stand up for kids who were excluded or bullied.
Violent Content A boy accidentally drops another boy, leaving him with a concussion. Girls gossip about one another and say hurtful things.
Drug Content None.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of BEST FRIENDS in exchange for my honest review.
HBO Max’s Hacks gets a romantic twist in the vein of Jenn Bennett in this swoon-worthy novel about a standoffish teen girl whose loner status gets challenged by a dynamic elderly woman and a perpetually cheerful boy.
Eloise Deane is the worst and doesn’t care who knows it. She’s grumpy, prefers to be alone, and is just slogging through senior year with one goal: get accepted to USC and move to California. So when her guidance counselor drops the bombshell that to score a scholarship she’ll desperately need, her applications require volunteer hours, Eloise is up for the challenge. Until she’s paired with LifeCare, a volunteer agency that offers social support to lonely seniors through phone calls and visits. Basically, it’s a total nightmare for Eloise’s anxiety.
Eloise realizes she’s made a huge mistake—especially when she’s paired with Austin, the fellow volunteer who’s the sunshine to her cloudy day. But as Eloise and Austin work together to keep Marianne Landis—the mysterious former frontwoman of the 1970s band the Laundromats—company, something strange happens. She actually…likes Marianne and Austin? Eloise isn’t sure what to do with that, especially when her feelings toward Austin begin to blur into more-than-friends territory.
And when ex-girlfriends, long-buried wounds, and insecurities reappear, Eloise will have a choice to make: go all in with Marianne and Austin or get out before she gets hurt.
I can see the comparison to Jenn Bennett in the marketing copy– I felt like the vibes between Eloise and Austin were a little like the relationship between Bailey and Alex in ALEX, APPROXIMATELY. There’s not a rivalry, but there’s definitely a vested interest in dislike on Eloise’s part, especially at the beginning of the book. The romance blooms slowly, and everyone sees it coming before Eloise herself. In fact, sometimes she’s willfully blind to the signs that it’s there.
I really liked the exploration of friendship in the book, too. Eloise was burned pretty badly by her former friends during a personal crisis, so she’s got her defenses up sky-high when she’s introduced to Austin and Marianne. Her prickliness and Marianne’s take-no-prisoners attitude make for some really fun banter.
Between Marianne’s past and Austin’s present role as bass player in a local band, there’s quite a bit of focus on music in the book, too. Each chapter begins with a quote from a song by the Laundromats. One scene shows Austin’s band rehearsing for a gig. Another shows them playing the gig. I enjoyed the way those scenes played out and how they added a lot to Austin’s character beyond the goofy, Mr. Sunshine character we’d gotten to know.
All in all, I think if you’re looking for a prickly, slow-burn romance, with cross-generational friendship, ALL ALONE WITH YOU is a perfect fit and definitely worth checking out for Jenn Bennett or Jennifer E. Smith fans.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Representation Eloise has depression and anxiety. Austin is Korean American and lost his dad. Marianne is a lesbian and struggles with alcoholism.
Profanity/Crude Language Content Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.
Romance/Sexual Content Kissing between boy and girl.
Spiritual Content None.
Violent Content Very brief reference to the fact that Eloise struggled with suicidal ideation. She refers to Austin’s white van without windows as a “murder van”.
Drug Content Marianne smokes cigarettes and drinks vodka in several scenes. Eloise notices a bong among Marianne’s things.
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 ALL ALONE WITH YOU in exchange for my honest review.
You want your daughter to thrive–to be strong, confident, and equipped to step into the life God has for her.
But what if the church is setting your daughter up to be small?
Armed with data from an all-new survey of over 7,000 women, the authors of THE GREAT SEX RESCUE reveal how experiences in church as teens affect women’s self-esteem and relationships today. They expose common evangelical teachings that can backfire–the purity emphasis that can cause shame rather than good choices, the dating rules that can prime your daughter for abuse, and the one overarching belief that can keep her from setting healthy boundaries.
Instead, the authors advocate biblically grounded, freeing messages that are more about the dos and less about the don’ts. By reframing (and sometimes replacing) common evangelical messages to teen girls, this book will equip you to raise a daughter who can navigate the tumultuous teenage years while still clinging tightly to Jesus.
You can raise your daughter with the discernment to resist toxic teachings. Because she deserves better than a faith that keeps her small.
“Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna are an all-star team, confronting the harm done to our daughters in both the church and the world. The title says it all. Full stop. Our daughters deserve better! This book is full of thorough research, refreshingly commonsense biblical wisdom, and practical help on how to talk with our daughters and prepare them for confidence and maturity.”–Aimee Byrd, author of The Sexual Reformation –This text refers to the paperback edition.
Why I’m Reviewing She Deserves Better
I’m finding writing up my review to be a bit overwhelming, so I’m going to break it down into sections to help me focus my thoughts. First, let’s talk about why I decided to review this book.
I was raised in what would now probably be identified as a fundamentalist/evangelical church. To be honest, I had some good and bad experiences there. That complexity sometimes makes it hard for me to sort out my feelings about certain faith-based things. Though I am still myself a Christian, I am not part of the evangelical community. I once heard someone describe her family as Liberal Christians, and I would say that’s a label that’s closer to accurate for me.
Periodically, I dip my toes into the Christian literary market to try to find books and resources that resonate with me and are things I can confidently promote. Sometimes I regret it. But other times I find books that deeply energize me and encourage me in my faith journey.
I first heard about SHE DESERVES BETTER on one of the authors’ Twitter pages during some discourse about church scandals and the treatment of women in the church. As I read more of the posts on the author’s page, I found I agreed with several of her statements. When I noticed she was part of a team of three women who had a book for moms and daughters coming out, I decided to try to get a copy for review.
Rejecting Purity Culture But Replacing It with… What?
My home growing up didn’t adhere to some fundamentalist ideas, (my mom has always been an assertive person who expresses her views, for example) but we were part of a church community that absolutely preached the values and ideas of purity culture.
While I’ve rejected… most? all? I’m not thoroughly sure here… of those ideas, I’ve struggled to find healthier/more reasonable ways to express what I do believe about some of these issues. For example, I recently had a conversation with a family member about the way my daughter dresses. I don’t have a problem with the way she dresses, but this family member had some concerns and related those concerns in the language of purity culture. “She needs to remember there are boys in the house while she’s wearing those things,” etc.
I defended my daughter (the problem seemed to be that she’s young and curvy) and pretty plainly said that I would not make the burden of someone else’s possible thoughts her responsibility. But I struggled to explain my parental boundaries for her clothing choices. I do have them. But they’re about how she feels about herself and what she thinks about her body, not what someone else thinks. Still, I found myself wishing for a resource to help me quantify this and help me reassure my daughter. I also handle wanted better tools to handle people coming at me with purity culture complaints so I can respond in a way I find satisfying.
My Review of She Deserves Better
Lemme give you the nutshell version first. While I didn’t agree 100% with everything the authors said and how they said it, I came pretty close. I loved the premise of the book. I loved the consistent calls to do what is healthy and loving. The authors also state multiple times the importance of being in a church community that is itself healthy and supportive of young women. They go so far as to counsel families to leave churches with toxic teaching because of the potential damage it can cause. I recommend this book to anyone raised in purity culture and/or anyone raising girls in the church today.
Essentially, they studied the effects of the purity culture movement and other teachings that young women in evangelical churches are often still being taught today. A bible verse warns us to look at the outcomes of behavior using the metaphor of trees producing fruit. If a tree produces bad fruit, the tree should be cut down and tossed in the fire. So the authors break down different teachings and looks at the outcomes. For example, they look at the effects of teaching a girl that her outfit choice can cause a man to sin. Does this make her more likely to end up in an abusive marriage? Does it make her more likely to have low self-esteem? To report problems in her sexual relationship? (Yes to all these.) Things like that.
Tools to Process My Own Experiences and Teach My Daughter a Healthier Way
There were certain chapters that read like pages out of my own life. It was honestly pretty eerie. I’ve known for a long time that some things I believed in high school and shortly afterward were wrong and dangerous, but those beliefs absolutely cost me. They left me vulnerable to situations in which bad stuff happened. They left me feeling as though I didn’t have choices in things that happened, and that I didn’t have any allies to whom I could turn for support.
So. Yeah. I don’t want to pass any of that on to my daughter. We’ve done a lot of learning about consent and a lot of teaching about personal boundaries and expectations. All of the things I’ve learned about those topics lined up with what the authors were saying here in SHE DESERVES BETTER.
I loved that again and again the book comes back to asking the question, “what happens to girls who were raised with these teachings?” That’s so important. We know that some of these things are really harmful, and it’s time to stop teaching them, and to push back in spaces where they are still being taught.
Topics Explored in She Deserves Better
Here’s a list of some of the topics/teachings explored in the book:
How teachings regarding feelings, especially anxiety and depression, can impact a girl’s health and life.
How teachings on boundaries impact girls and the importance of teaching girls they can set personal boundaries and expect them to be respected.
How dating and dating rules impact a girl’s lifelong relationships.
Learning to and teaching girls to identify red flags for toxic or dangerous people.
How a comprehensive sex education empowers girls to be safer and happier longterm.
How teachings about consent impact girls (and boys).
How teachings about modesty or clothing choices impacts how girls see themselves and others.
How teachings about leadership and submission impact girls.
Each chapter gives examples from the authors’ research supporting their assertions. They also offer conversations topics and exercises that moms and daughters could work through together.
Recommended for Ages 16 up.
Representation Doesn’t specify race details in any of the text or example stories. The intended audience is evangelical Christians.
Profanity/Crude Language Content The authors use a metaphor about a candy that tasted delicious but caused explosive diarrhea to describe the harmfulness of teaching that looks or seems biblical at first but is not and causes harm.
Romance/Sexual Content A fair amount of the book focuses on the way parents and church leaders teach girls about sex and relationships. It discusses how those teachings impact the likelihood of good or bad outcomes (happy marriages versus abusive relationships, etc).
The authors talk about the damage caused by rejecting a child or their feelings if they come to you to reveal their gender or sexual identity. Essentially the authors point out that being a part of a faith community generally lowers a child’s chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide unless they are LGBTQIA+. Then, participation in a church community actually increases the likelihood they’ll have those thoughts or attempts.
Later on, the authors refer to an LGBTQIA+ identity as an “unwanted identity”. I’m not sure from the context if they’re intending to speak globally or referring to the feelings of homophobic parents.
The authors very plainly ask parents to choose to validate and love their kids no matter the feelings they have. They emphasize the importance of support from within their faith community.
Spiritual Content The core premise of the book is to approach teachings about sex and modesty in the church and look at their effect on specifically women’s lives. Do those teachings bear good fruit, as described in Matthew 7:17-18?
Violent Content Brief mentions of domestic violence, assault and abusive relationships.
Drug Content Mentions of teens drinking alcohol and using drugs (as a negative behavior).
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 SHE DESERVES BETTER in exchange for my honest review.
Read the cult-favorite coming-of-age story that takes a sometimes heartbreaking, often hysterical, and always honest look at high school in all its glory. Now a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a funny, touching, and haunting modern classic.
The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
A years-long #1 New York Times bestseller, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and Best Book for Reluctant Readers, and with millions of copies in print, this novel for teen readers (or “wallflowers” of more-advanced age) will make you laugh, cry, and perhaps feel nostalgic for those moments when you, too, tiptoed onto the dance floor of life.
I read this book (last year!) because a friend recommended it, and I’d been curious about it already. I already owned a copy, so it was an easy choice. One of the few things I knew about the book going in was that it’s been challenged or banned a LOT in schools, so I figured there would be some heavy content.
My copy of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER has editorial reviews on the first page, so those were the first thing I read. Let me just say I have some questions for the person who reviewed this book for the LA Times. This is from the review: “Charlie is such a completely good, pure human being… In this culture where adolescence is a dirty word, I hope nothing bad happens to this kid.”
I’m not sure I read the same book that person did, because like… wow. SO MANY BAD THINGS HAPPENED TO CHARLIE!! It makes me wonder, does this person think those things weren’t so bad? Did this person accidentally skip those scenes or something? Not to spoil the story or anything, but seriously. This is not a light read. It’s a compelling, aching read. I think it lives up to the comparisons to Holden Caulfield in CATCHER IN THE RYE. But I’d never call it light.
Please do not pick up this book thinking you’ll make it to the back cover carrying the hope that nothing bad will happen to Charlie.
So… what did I love about this book? I loved the friendships between Charlie, Sam, and Patrick. I liked the way they were protective of each other and listened to each other. In the relationship between Sam and Charlie especially, I liked the way she challenged him to take action and make choices for himself. I liked that she tried not to judge him as he struggled to figure things out.
Content warning for suicide, rape, sexual abuse, homophobic slurs, graphic violence, alcohol and drug use. Details below.
Recommended for Ages 16 up.
Representation One of Charlie’s best friends, Patrick, is gay.
Profanity/Crude Language Content Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.
Romance/Sexual Content Kissing between boy and girl. Kissing between two boys. References to sex between two boys. A couple scenes shows making out between a boy and girl without their shirts. In one scene, they touch each other sexually.
One scene shows a boy raping a girl. In another scene, a character remembers being sexually abused as a child. Other scenes reference the fact that a character was sexually abused and that it ruined her life.
There’s a reference late in the book to the sexual abuse of a child, but it’s referred to as a man “fooling around” with the child, which implies that it isn’t criminal or serious, which it is.
Spiritual Content None.
Violent Content A boy hits Charlie’s sister. Charlie beats up a kid at school who was bullying him. A boy’s father walks in on him having sex with another boy and begins hitting him. A boy directs a homophobic slur at another boy. He and his friends beat the boy up. Charlie joins the fight trying to even the odds against his friend.
Early in the book we learn that one of Charlie’s friends committed suicide. He gave Charlie a poem before he died which includes a graphic description of suicide at the end of it.
Drug Content A boy begins using alcohol and drugs daily. Charlie drinks alcohol with his friends, smokes pot, and tries LSD. Sam and Patrick smoke cigarettes, too. Charlie begins smoking cigarettes.
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5-Minute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health removes the stigma on mental health and advises Christian teens what they can do when they are depressed and anxious. Scattered throughout the book are tips to help teens maintain good mental health practices such as meditation, disconnecting from social media and technology, saying affirmations, and much more.
Each day includes a Scripture verse, short devotional, and a prayer or prompt.
This 100-day devotional will help teens 13 to 17 years old:
deal with mental health issues, depression, and/or anxiety. re-enter normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic. develop an authentic relationship with God and deepen their faith. 5-Minute Devotions for Teens is an affordable resource that can be read again and again.
Laura L. Smith’s books always seem to find me at a moment when I need the messages within them. This devotional is broken down into 100 one page sessions. Each one begins with a verse from the Bible and then a few paragraphs discuss how the verse relates to our lives. The paragraphs always encourage, offering compassion, wisdom and even humor.
The subtitle of the book says it’s about God and mental health. I feel like that can be a fraught combination for a lot of us, so I want to speak to that for a second. The way I read the book was with an intent to encourage and uplift. The author does make it clear that getting professional help and treatment for mental health needs like depression and anxiety are really good things. She also offers some basic wisdom on how to care for our bodies with good mental health in mind. Things like, going outside, tracking our thought life and focusing on gratitude. Stuff like that.
Each page closes with a journal prompt to get you thinking about what’s happening in your life and help you identify parts of your life that aren’t healthy or good for you and parts that are. I like the simplicity and straightforwardness of the writing and how overall positive it is.
I think 5-MINUTE DEVOTIONS FOR TEENS would make a great gift — or even a stocking stuffer! It’s pretty small– for a teen who’s interested in deepening their Christian faith. I think the book perfectly lives up to its name. The devotions took only a moment to read and always led me on some interesting thought journeys.
Spiritual Content Contains verses from the Bible with prayer and journaling prompts to help readers explore and deepen Christian faith.
Violent Content None.
Drug Content None.
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 5-MINUTE DEVOTIONS FOR TEENS in exchange for my honest review.