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Review: Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Can’t Take That Away
Steven Salvatore
Bloomsbury YA
Published March 9, 2021

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About Can’t Take That Away

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights–and they refuse to be silenced.

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

My Review

I had a lot of fun reading this book, but I’m not going to lie– some parts were hard, not because of the storytelling, but because they were hard things. I cried more than once. But I laughed a lot, too. Carey has the best friends. I loved how they rallied around them and offered support and solidarity.

This will surprise exactly no one who knows me, but I LOVED the relationship between Carey and their grandmother. I was super close to my grandmother who also had a form of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the feelings of support and that intergenerational connection totally resonated with me.

Also the food! I’m the most curious about the mint in the meatballs and sauce– which is apparently totally a thing! I also grew up with (and now make) homemade marinara and meatballs, but I’ve never used mint in them. Now I want to experiment.

Also the music. I loved the homage to Mariah Carey and the way that music is such a huge part of this story. I also loved that while Carey’s audition for Wicked was important, the story didn’t center around that moment. Rather, I felt like it elevated Carey’s participation in the musical to be a part of something so much bigger and really, more essential: their right to respect and equality.

Books that craft a meaningful community always seem to stick with me, and I think CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY will be no exception. I loved that Carey’s what began with Carey’s friends and family expanded to touch their whole community. I felt like the book ended on such a huge high note, and really left me feeling inspired and hopeful.

I think readers who enjoyed MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD by Robin Talley or books about theater and music will love this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Carey is genderqueer. Another character identifies as bisexual, another as lesbian, and another as pansexual.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used regularly through the book.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a genderqueer teen and boy. Kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
One character talks about a person who has died watching over them, feeling them present at a significant moment.

Violent ContentTrigger Warning
References to queerphobic terms a few times without the words being named. In one instance, a slur is used.

There are also some instances of bullying and physical assault.

Drug Content
Carey’s mom offers Carey’s friend group small glasses of champagne to celebrate a victory.

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

Review: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper
Bloomsbury YA
Published February 9, 2021

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About As Far As You’ll Take Me

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

My Review

I have mixed feelings about this one. Mostly, I think, I have mixed feelings about Marty as a character.

He has anxiety– and I thought that part was really well crafted. I felt like I was experiencing it with him, and definitely felt for him. I tend to love angsty musician characters, so I figured Marty would be a sure win.

Plus the oboe holds a special place in my heart, since I’m practically surrounded by oboe players. (My sister, my daughter, my former roommate, and my cousin all either play or played the oboe. Actually, both my sisters played, my youngest only briefly.) So I was super excited to see an oboe player. In a YA novel! Yay!

And I loved that the story featured such complex, twisty friendships. Marty and Megan is a great example. I feel like a LOT of people have had the experience where that one super close friendship we thought we couldn’t live without has some real, undeniable toxicity to it. Marty’s wrestling with how to feel about his friendship with her and the way his new friendships put that relationship into context was SO. Well. Done.

Despite that, I struggled with some feelings about Marty. He stressed about money and agonized over whether he’d be able to land gigs and stay in London, but then off he’d go with his friends and chasing down potential romance. He ignored his friends when they tried to tell him things he didn’t want to hear and seemed pretty comfortable using them. I thought he made a lot of selfish decisions.

Some of that made sense in the context of his being totally swallowed up by his romantic feelings, so I wanted to give him a break. All the breaks.

He does grow a lot through the story. I kind of wanted some of his epiphanies to happen earlier. Some things felt a bit crammed in to the last few chapters, and that didn’t really give me a chance to see him walk things out, which I think would have been really satisfying.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Marty is gay and has anxiety. His mother was born in Ireland. He comes from a conservative Christian family. Marty’s friend group is a pretty diverse group.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used roughly a few times per chapter.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. Brief touching. One scene shows them undressed and leading up to sex. Brief kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Marty’s parents are deeply religious Christians. Marty is pretty disparaging of their faith, for two reasons that are pretty interconnected. One is that he just doesn’t believe in God anymore. He also feels it’s been pretty hammered into him that who he is is a sin, which has been pretty damaging.

Violent ContentTrigger Warning for Homophobia
A person Marty cares about outs him as gay to people in his hometown. His parents offer support to him personally, but display some homophobic behavior to the LGBT community at large.

Drug Content
Marty and his friends drink alcohol together. Marty and another group member are underage at seventeen.

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

Review: Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez

Written in Starlight
Isabel Ibañez
Page Street Kids
Published January 26, 2021

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About Written in Starlight

If the jungle wants you, it will have you…

Catalina Quiroga is a Condesa without a country. She’s lost the Inkasisa throne, the loyalty of her people, and her best friend. Banished to the perilous Yanu Jungle, Catalina knows her chances of survival are slim, but that won’t stop her from trying to escape. It’s her duty to reclaim the throne.

When Manuel, the son of her former general, rescues Catalina from a jaguar, a plan forms. Deep in the jungle, the city of gold is hidden, home to the fierce Illari people, who she could strike an alliance with.

But the elusive Illari are fighting a battle of their own—a mysterious blight is corrupting the jungle, laying waste to everything they hold dear. As a seer, Catalina should be able to help, but her ability to read the future in the stars is as feeble as her survival instincts. While searching for the Illari, Catalina must reckon with her duty and her heart to find her true calling, which could be the key to stopping the corruption before it destroys the jungle completely.

An adventerous South American Tomb Raider! This hotly anticipated companion to Woven in Moonlight follows an outcast Condesa, as she braves the jungle to forge an alliance with the lost city of gold.

My Review

I always feel super nervous going into the sequel of a book that I adored. WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT was one of the best books I read last year, so I had high expectations for the companion novel, and I really wanted to read Catalina’s story.

I thought the book was great, so let me go no further without saying that. The jungle setting felt so spongy and deadly real. Catalina’s fierceness, her total, unquestioning commitment to her people made her admirable. I liked the slow burn, forbidden romance.

Perhaps the thing that kept me from falling in love with this story the way I did with WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT is that because I’d already walked with Ximena through her journey to understand and love the Llacsan people, it was difficult not to feel like Catalina was being selfish and narrow-minded as she dug into her prejudices and clung to them.

On the other hand, I think the things she felt and believed made a lot of sense for her character. I guess I just wish that the resolve of her hate had begun to crack sooner. That would have allowed more time for her spiritual journey, too, which I would have liked to see.

Even with all that, I enjoyed the book and loved seeing Catalina grow into the person she was meant to become. The jungle setting was fantastic, and the slow burn romance totally delicious.

I think fans of GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson (still one of my favorites) would really enjoy this book. It could probably be read on its own, though some characters and relationships from the first book are referenced. I think it’s written in such a way that you could infer a lot of what happened in the first book. (That said, if you want to read both, definitely start with the first book, otherwise WRITTEN IN STARLIGHT will spoil a lot of the plot.)

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Characters are Latinx-coded.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used pretty infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. At one point they bathe together but stay pretty far apart.

Spiritual Content
Catalina was raised worshipping the moon goddess, Luna, and believing that her people were the only ones to do so. Other people worship the earth goddess or the sun god. Some prayer and meditation rituals are shown, and some characters speak with and experience the presence of the gods.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. The jungle is full of dangerous animals and people who attack Catalina and her allies. A vicious monster literally tears some limb from limb. Magic wielders use their magic against Catalina and the others.

Drug Content

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

Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Somebody Told Me
Mia Siegert
Carolrhoda Lab
Published April 7, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Somebody Told Me

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

My Review

I am really struggling to write this review, not because the book was bad. It was a difficult read because of the subject matter, but the story was really compelling.

One of the things I struggled with was Aleks/Alexis’ character.On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading a book with a bigender character and I felt like the story showed Aleks/Alexis’ identity really well. I loved that their parents were supportive and champions for them but that they also were willing to step back and let Aleks/Alexis fight their own battles.

I also thought the exploration of the cosplay and Comic Con scene was compelling. This is a story that does not shy away from some of the harmful behaviors that can happen at those events, and while that was dark, it raised some really necessary ideas.

There were things that I found difficult to like– Aleks/Alexis was really prickly. It sometimes felt like they jumped to some really negative conclusions about people very quickly and that kind of harsh judgmental response grated. Aleks/Alexis also battles an incredibly negative and shaming inner voice that sometimes was hard for me to read, too. It showed how deeply hurtful the misgendering or transphobic words could be because of being coupled with this inner voice, but it sometimes was very difficult to read.

On the other hand– it does make sense that someone still processing and recovering from a sexual assault would have strong feelings of anger and lash out at people around them, so I feel like it was not out of place or arbitrary. It just challenged me as a reader.

I loved that the story showed how personal a faith experience can be– that some characters practiced a peaceful, loving and accepting faith even if others used their faith as a way of controlling people or a route to victimizing others.

Over all, SOMEBODY TOLD ME is a dark story that takes an unflinching look at abuse within the church and the harmful objectification and abuse of cosplay characters in a complex way with an ultimate message of hope, acceptance, and recovery from trauma.

Please read the content below for more information on potential triggers in this book.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Aleks/Alexis is bigender. At least two other characters identify as gay. Two others share kisses with a bigender character but don’t label themselves.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently until the end of the book, where there’s a more frequent use.

Romance/Sexual Content – Trigger Warning for sexual abuse, assault, and homophobic and transphobic comments.
Aleks/Alexis briefly describes their sexual history, including details about kissing and references to sex. Two boys kiss.

Aleks/Alexis has brief flashbacks to a toxic relationship and a sexual assault. Eventually the assault is described in more detail. (Details on the assault at the end of the review under Spoilers.)

A priest makes a somewhat vague confession about abusing a parishoner, saying he has given the person a “special Communion,” a code which the priest hearing the confession seems to understand means sexual abuse. Later, the priest makes overt statements about whom he abused and threatens to abuse someone else, grabbing them inappropriately.

The novel contains misgendering as well as several homophobic and transphobic comments as well.

Spiritual Content
Aleks/Alexis’ uncle is a Catholic priest who requires them to attend mass each week and hears confession of his parishoners. References to conversion camp.

Some characters in the story practice a rigid, fearful or harsh faith. Others practice a more loving, accepting faith that is still deeply important to them.

Violent Content
Police inspect the murder of a boy found strangled near the church. Brief descriptions of assault. Someone threatens to abuse a minor and brags about abusing others. A two teens are trapped inside a burning building.

Drug Content

Note: I received a free copy of SOMEBODY TOLD ME 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.


Aleks/Alexis experienced an assault at a comic con after a boyfriend pressured them to allow a crowd of 80 panel attendees to line up and, one at a time, pin them to the wall and kiss them for photos. It’s clear that Aleks/Alexis didn’t want or consent to this experience and that it as well as the toxic/abusive behavior of their boyfriend caused trauma.