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Review: Smash It! by Francina Simone

Smash It!
Francina Simone
Inkyard Press
Published September 22, 2020

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About Smash It!

Refreshingly authentic and bold… Don’t miss this smashing #ownvoices novel from Francina Simone! Filled with heart, humor and a heroine to root for, Smash It! is a perfect read for fans of Julie Murphy, Ibi Zoboi and Ashley Poston.

Olivia “Liv” James is done with letting her insecurities get the best of her. So she does what any self-respecting hot mess of a girl who wants to SMASH junior year does…

After Liv shows up to a Halloween party in khaki shorts–why, God, why?–she decides to set aside her wack AF ways. She makes a list–a F*ck-It list.

1. Be bold–do the thing that scares me.

2. Learn to take a compliment.

3. Stand out instead of back.

She kicks it off by trying out for the school musical, saying yes to a date and making new friends. Life is great when you stop punking yourself! However, with change comes a lot of missteps, and being bold means following her heart. So what happens when Liv’s heart is interested in three different guys–and two of them are her best friends? What is she supposed to do when she gets dumped by a guy she’s not even dating? How does one Smash It! after the humiliation of being friend-zoned?

In Liv’s own words, “F*ck it. What’s the worst that can happen?”

A lot, apparently.

My Review

SMASH IT! is a lot in some great ways and a few problematic ones. First, the great stuff:

I love that the story tackles body image but isn’t about conformity. Liv faces her own insecurities about her body and learns some lessons about the value of having friends who celebrate you for you rather than tear you down, even if it is meant to be teasing.

SMASH IT! really celebrates girl friends in a way that I love as well. At the beginning of the story, she mostly spends her time with Eli and Dré, two boys. She reluctantly makes friends with two girls and, though it’s not always easy to navigate those new relationships, she comes to really value the way they affirm her and check her behavior when she needs it.

The writing is solid. I always struggle with books that have as much profanity as this one does, and so that’s true here, but I feel like Francina Simone’s writing is strong and her characterization is super consistent through the course of the story. Liv is funny and vulnerable and flawed, and I loved reading about her journey.

I also struggled with some of the racial comments, particularly those directed at a Hawaiian character and an Israeli-Palestinian character. Though they were uttered by pretty irreverent characters, and Liv sometimes frowned on the insensitive or racist comments, they were just hard to read, and I don’t think they were necessary.

On the other hand, I felt like some of the conversations about race that the story explored were great for opening up discussion on things and showing some nuance that’s often overlooked. When Jackie gets into it with a white theater kid because she’s using the N-word and he calls her out, Liv serves as a referee, giving another perspective on the conversation.

The story also explores a lot of ideas about sex. Liv wants to have sex, but hasn’t yet. One of her friends encourages her to sleep with someone she doesn’t care about but who’d be a good lover to get the experience. Another friend doesn’t believe in casual sex and encourages Liv to wait until she’s found someone she wants to be with. Liv views having sex as taking ownership of her body in a new way, but the motivation to do it seems to overtake other reasoning. Ultimately, she causes some hurt, and at first is super unrepentant about that– as though feeling bad for her choice is synonymous with feeling guilty or ashamed of sex and of her body.

Though she does stop and re-examine those feelings and take another look at how her actions have affected others, I felt like the emotional fallout sort of fizzled if that makes sense? Like everyone kind of shrugs and says it’s all cool. Could that happen? Maybe, but in my experience, it usually takes a lot longer for people to feel okay for something they initially viewed as a huge betrayal.

At any rate, on the whole, I loved some things about this book a huge ton. Liv is a flawed character, for sure. But she’s also trying to learn and grow as a person and willing to face her mistakes, and I loved that.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Liv is black. Her best friend Dré is Puerto Rican. Her other best friend Eli is Israeli-Palestinian. One of her newer friends is bisexual. Liv dates a boy who’s Hawaiian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity and crude comments used lots.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to masturbation. Explicit descriptions of sex between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Liv briefly wonders if Eli wants to practice Judaism like his dad or Islam like his mom.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning
Some racist and insensitive comments about a Hawaiian character (objectifying and sexualizing him because of his race). A racist sexual comment about an Israeli-Palestinian character.

A boy throws things at his dad. His dad slaps him. Two boys get into a fist fight.

Drug Content
References to teen drinking and one reference to smoking pot.

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

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns
John Green
Penguin Group
Published October 16, 2008

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Popular and notorious Margo Roth Spiegelman shocks Quinten out of his low-key, rule-abiding existence when she drags him along with her on a night of pranks and misadventures. When Margo disappears the following morning, Quinten believes she left clues to her whereabouts behind, hoping he will find her. As he searches for clues, he realizes there’s much more to Margo than the queen bee people perceive her to be. Through the Whitman poem she leaves behind and the abandoned hideaway Quinten discovers, he learns about seeing past the faux exterior to knowing someone as they are and the importance of building a genuine interconnected community.

Quinten and his pals Ben and Radar team up to unlock the mystery of Margo’s disappearance. Radar’s parents’ odd collection provides that quirky humor classic to Green’s novels, though Ben’s constant trilling about girls becomes repetitive and obnoxious. The transformation of Quinten’s view of Margo is a bit predictable, though it’s deepened by the exploration of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman and the story’s metaphor centered around “paper towns,” a reference first made by Margo herself.

As a native Central-Floridian, many moments in the story’s setting really resonated, calling to mind specific memories of drives down Florida’s roads and highways. It was fun reading something set in places so familiar.

While this was a fascinating story, it’s hard to compare it to Green’s other novels. The Fault in Our Stars in particular is a tough act to beat. Readers may enjoy this one more by reading it before devouring TFIOS.

Profanity and Crude Language Content
Extreme word choice, moderate frequency.

Sexual Content
Quinten’s best friend is pretty much obsessed with girls, whom he refers to as Honey Bunnies. While he has limited success, his comments can be crass and repetitive. Quinten looks through an open doorway at a couple having sex, hoping for a glimpse of the girl topless. One of Quinten’s friends plans to lose his virginity with his girlfriend on graduation night.

Spiritual Content
Margo briefly mentions her Jewish heritage.

A bully picks on Quinten and his friends.

Drug Content
Quinten goes to a party as the designated driver and witnesses his friends and other teens drinking alcohol and being generally and ridiculously drunk.