KATE IN WAITING by Becky Albertalli

Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are not codependent. Carpooling to and from theater rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient. Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment. Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.

But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off script. Matt Olsson is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.

Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship. 


Title : Kate In Waiting
Author : Becky Albertalli
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 400
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Penguin
Release Date : April 22, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Sweet, fun and musical
Friendships colliding and together
School crushes

This was an easy, fun and light read from Becky Albertalli. Kate In Waiting was uplifting with strong themes of friendship; I mean we’re not surprised about that, are we? Musical theatre fans will gush towards this book because it’s framed around a high school drama/musical theatre group. While I’m not a groupie of that kind of entertainment, I still enjoyed the backdrop and got on board with the ride.

This read was all about the bonds within the group, but friendships were tested as crushes grew. It was funny throughout with mild tension at times and it brought a welcome light-vibe to my week. Becky Albertalli has a skill of getting you involved in friendships groups and she can make you connect with more than the MC; I did in this.

While this wasn’t my Albertalli favourite it was fun and easy to sink into.

Side note: I don’t ever want to see the phrase f**kboy or f-boy 63 times again.

Thank you Penguin for the early review copy.

SOME OTHER NOW by Sarah Everett

This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the TreeEmergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi’s life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it’s hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.


Title : Some Other Now
Author : Sarah Everett
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : HMH Books
Release Date : February 23, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4-4.5 star review

Headlines:
Family, found-family, brothers
Feelings brimming over the page
Beautiful

Some Other Now pulled you, emotion-long into the book and I just knew it was going to be tough; tough and stunning. This was a read that reminded of some of my favourite family-friend orientated books like Far From The Tree.

Jessi the protagonist had long existed in her surrogate family with Ro, Luke and their mother Mel. Their home was her home but this book tracked a couple of years where life changed beyond recognition and there were difficult themes from the off. Jessi had an unusually difficult real-family home life and the changes there over time were interesting.

These brothers were both endearing characters. Ro and Luke were so different and great guys. The friendships in this book were gorgeous and complicated, they were heart-warming and heart-breaking. I couldn’t put the book down, I existed in it, witnessing, revelling and sometimes chewing my lip with tension.

I did want a little more from the pages as it wrapped up but even so, it satisfied me. The story was fabulous and the characters suited the tale. Some Other Now was not a depressing read, it was an arresting read, gritty and real with beauty.

Hearts will break and heal over this book.

Thank you to Melia Publishing for the early review copy.

FIRST DAY OF MY LIFE by Lisa Williamson

There are three sides to every story… It’s GCSE results day. Frankie’s best friend, Jojo, is missing. A baby has been stolen. And more than one person has been lying. Frankie’s determined to find out the truth and her ex-boyfriend Ram is the only person who can help her. But they’re both in for a shock… EVERYTHING is about to change.


Title : First Day of My Life
Author : Lisa Williamson
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 355
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : David Fickling Books
Release Date : January 7, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Coming of age
Figurative shaking of fist
Testing friendships

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Lisa Williamson’s books. Why, you ask? Because she carves a quintessential British feel to the coming-of-age tales she crafts. Not only that, every book I’ve read of hers has been so unusual but credible and First Day of My Life was no exception.

The story was told from the perspective of three friends, Frankie, Jo-jo and Ram, whose lives were linked and woven with complexity. I did not expect much of what initally happened in the first third of the book but it was so heart-breakingly real, so that I felt right there in the situation. I was so damn worried for one of the friends, I got ridiculously invested.

This whole investment of mine led me to me rage-reading some sections as the adults in one of the situations (I’m being so careful of spoilers here) were so selfish and willfully blind. I wanted to rush in and advocate for one of the threesome.

If this were a TV drama, I’d be yelling at the screen right now, begging the heroine to wake up and smell the coffee, to stop being so bloody naive.

Yeah, that quote captured my feelings!

This read brought moments of angst, stress, brimming eyes, sweetness but it managed to wrap me up in a warm hug at the end. I am so happy to add this to my YA collection. Read this if you like coming-of-age, a story you’ve not read before and if you like to read about great characters with a good slice of reality.

Thank you to David Fickling Books for the early review copy.

DEAR JUSTYCE by Nic Stone

In the stunning and hard-hitting sequel to the New York Times bestseller Dear Martin, incarcerated teen Quan writes letters to Justyce about his experiences in the American prison system.

Shortly after teenager Quan enters a not guilty plea for the shooting death of a police officer, he is placed in a holding cell to await trial. Through a series of flashbacks and letters to Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin, Quan’s story unravels.

From a troubled childhood and bad timing to a coerced confession and prejudiced police work, Nic Stone’s newest novel takes an unflinching look at the flawed practices and ideologies that discriminate against African American boys and minorities in the American justice system.


Title : Dear Justyce
Author : Nic Stone
Series : Dear Martin #2
Format : E-ARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Release Date : October 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

I wouldn’t have believed it, but this read even surpassed Dear Martin for me and I think that was somewhat to do with the continuation and connection to these characters spinning on from book one. Jus was his epic self but he was a side character in Quan’s story.

Nic Stone wrote realistically, painfully so, transmitting all the feelings and hurt. Quan who I didn’t like all that much in Dear Martin, carved a special place in my heart. Being able to see the world through his perspective, his narrative and reflections, truly was something; something profound.

The journey, the bad decisions that often seemed like the only decisions, the injustices, were all falling off the page. If you like a read with impact, this is it. There were so many lines that touched me, kicked me in the gut and spat me out.

But he was telling me how growing up, he was this real good kid until some stuff happened in his family. So he went looking for a new family. Like a lot of us do.

Nic Stone has that ability to touch me and teach me without preaching to me. This duo of books is on my required reading list now and I have a feeling I will revisit myself and definitely continue to rec the socks off these books.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster UK for the review copy.

ALL THIS TIME by Mikki Daughtry & Rachel Lippincott

Kyle and Kimberly have been the perfect couple all through high school, but when Kimberly breaks up with him on the night of their graduation party, Kyle’s entire world upends—literally. Their car crashes and when he awakes, he has a brain injury. Kimberly is dead. And no one in his life could possibly understand.

Until Marley. Marley is suffering from her own loss, a loss she thinks was her fault. And when their paths cross, Kyle sees in her all the unspoken things he’s feeling.

As Kyle and Marley work to heal each other’s wounds, their feelings for each other grow stronger. But Kyle can’t shake the sense that he’s headed for another crashing moment that will blow up his life as soon as he’s started to put it back together.

And he’s right.


Title : All This Time
Author : Mikki Daughtry & Rachel Lippincott
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Simon & Schuster UK
Release Date : September 29, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★


Micky’s 2 star review

I’m sorry to say this story didn’t work for me on any level, so I’m going to keep my review short. I really enjoyed this author duo’s FIVE FEET APART, so I was eager to see another story from them. The cover is pretty and it felt like a style that fitted with their previous book.

This story takes the reader through death, loss, grief, healing, recovery and yet, does it really? From the first few pages, this story forced a seemingly emotional story on the reader. It felt too much, too soon. The protagonist Kyle was going through so much and yet I had a sneaking suspicion.

Honestly, the story didn’t relent, lurching from one emotional event to another, with Kyle, Sam and Kim then Kyle and Marley. I found the plot utterly ridiculous when at 65% what I suspected was coming, was realised. How I limped to the end, I’m unsure. This felt like an immature plot and read for me and I’m gutted to be saying that so plainly. I suspect this will work on a surface level for teen readers and for that I’m glad.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the early review copy.

BREATHLESS by Jennifer Niven

The much anticipated new novel from international bestselling author Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places.

You were my first. Not just sex, although that was part of it, but the first to look past everything else into me. Some of the names and places have been changed, but the story is true. It’s all here because one day this will be the past, and I don’t want to forget what I went through, what I thought, what I felt, who I was. I don’t want to forget you. But most of all, I don’t want to forget me.

For her last summer before college, Claudine Henry and her mother head to a remote island off the Georgia coast. There, amidst the wild beauty of the place, she meets the free spirited Jeremiah Crew. Their chemistry is immediate and irresistible, and even though they both know that whatever they have can only last the summer, maybe one summer is enough . . .


Title : Breathless
Author : Jennifer Niven
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Random House Children’s UK
Release Date : September 29, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★.5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

I’ve found this to be a hard one to find a comfortable rating and so I’ve settled at the 2.5 point after much pondering. Reading BREATHLESS proved to be a frustrating experience. The main character Claud felt all over the place and while she had reasons, the drama whiplash was severe at times.

I felt a little more settled in the story when Claud got to her island summer home, I liked the vibe of the place and the eclectic mix of people. Claud however, remained chaotic and sex-obsessed when she got there. I did feel that she seemed written a little young for her character’s age.

Sadly the story, whilst it had some definite highlights like the parental story line and Claud’s relationship with her father, there were a lot more dull periods. And then there’s the ending, which I hated as much as drinking a glass of sour milk. Sadly, this book didn’t hit the spot for me and there was more I disliked than liked.

There are triggers for days in this book, so if you need that information, please go and look for warnings.

Thank you to Random House for the early review copy.

WHO I WAS WITH HER by Nita Tyndall

There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.

But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa — Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.

As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life…starting with herself. 


Title : Who I Was With Her
Author : Nita Tyndall
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Harper 360
Release Date : September 15, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

I went from being unsure about this book to being impressed by the end. This was definitely the kind of story that built into a fuller appreciation of the characters. WHO I WAS WITH HER was a story of loss, grief, discovery, confusion and pressure to come-out. There were definitely difficult themes here but they were written with sensitivity and realism in terms of the age of the characters.

The story plunged the reader into the immediate death of Corrine’s girlfriend, Maggie and it was a tough start. I felt a little jarred by this but in retrospect, I get why this was the right way to start the narrative. The author used past and present really well to tell the story both of Maggie and Corrine but also the story of Maggie’s understanding of her own bi-sexuality. All the time frames were very clear.

Corrine was understandably messed up by Maggie’s death, but being unable to talk to anyone about her loss was a tough ride. She was closeted to her friends and family and finding someone to talk to was crucial to her being able to get through those early days of grief. Corrine made some rushed decisions and you could judge she was foolish but I totally got why she did some of the things she did; it felt realistic.

I loved her friendship with Julia, how they evolved to understand one another. I liked how Julia’s self discovery was a conduit for Corrine. I was less enamoured by her friendship with Elissa but the need for this outlet became clear. Corrine’s home life, her running life, college expectations and closeted-life all came to a cresendo. I appreciated the culmination and how things were resolved.

I feel that this story is potentially important for young people who aren’t out. There shouldn’t be any pressure from anyone to be out until you’re ready. I think this story tackled those issues well and I’d definitely like to read Nita Tyndall again.

Please be sure to check out some own voices reviews on this one too.

Thank you to Harper 360 for the review copy.

PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born


Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today


Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both. 


Title : Punching the Air
Author : Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Harper Collins Children’s Books
Release Date : September 1, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

This book made my heart hurt. A short story, told in verse, drawing on Yusef Salaam’s experiences and channeled into Amal, a young man wrongly convicted of a crime. Injustice and justice was on the menu here and the use of verse poignantly reverberated the message.

So
I am ink
He is paper…
I am criminal
He is victim
I am alive
He is almost dead
I am black
He is white

The narrative in this novel had a moment-to-moment feeling that was pretty tension ridden and I read much of it with that sense of doom and despair conveyed by Amal’s feelings. There were some areas of the book that I felt were particularly impactful – both sides defendant and perpetrator were the same age, yet one was referred to as a boy and the other a man. That point really hit me deep. There were many more examples but I don’t want to spoil.

All of this book is relevant for now, for 2020 and beyond, I am sure. It couldn’t be a better time to pick this up amongst your menu of BIPOC fiction and it would complement anyone’s plan to educate themselves more.

The illustrations/formatting didn’t come across particularly well on the ebook galley but I imagine the hard copy will convey the visual elements much better.

Please make sure to also check out some black reviewers on this book.

Thank you to Harper Collins Childrens for this early review copy.

CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman

A powerful and captivating novel about mental illness, Challenger Deep is a tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behaviour.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn. 


Title : Challenger Deep
Author : Neal Shusterman
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Walker Books
Release Date : August 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

3.5 stars

I started this a while ago and picked it back up today, powering through to the end. This was an ambitious and brave project by Neal Shusterman as it plunged the reader from page one into a teen’s mind amidst a psychotic episode as he experienced severe mental illness.

The protagonist, Caden thought he was on a ship with a mundane task as part of the crew, at the same time, there was some awareness of family life, school life and someone who was out to kill him. It was a confusing start, if I’m honest, I didn’t know up from down and the chapters were really short, adding to that abrupt feeling. However, I did settle into the read more the second time I picked it up.

Having some professional experience of delusional states, I realised very quickly how well Shusterman had assembled this character, his delusional world. The world on the high sea was actually quite engaging after a while, but I was constantly looking for the chinks of reality in his sea-life, what might be analogy for what was going on in real life. I did find some ideas of reality in his imagined world; it was all pretty tragic.

I have to say this was discomforting reading, seeing a young man in crisis like this was not easy. Shusterman did not shy away from this theme and I commend him for this. I did however find the pacing slow and difficult to keep going with at time. There were chinks of hope though that helped me push through.

I don’t think this is a read that everyone will appreciate but I do think some will identify with or be curious about this experience that some young people go through. I also think this could be triggering for some readers, so do look closely at the blurb and reviews if you have experienced significant mental illness.

Thank you to Walker Books for this early review copy.

THE BLACK FLAMINGO by Dean Atta – double review!

I masquerade in makeup and feathers and I am applauded.

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.


Title : The Black Flamingo
Author : Dean Atta
Format : eBook / overdrive
Page Count : 368
Genre : Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Hodder Books / Balzer + Bray
Release Date : August 8, 2019 / May 26, 2020

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

THE BLACK FLAMINGO was a beautiful, real story told with grit. A coming of age, coming out, all while being black story. What felt unique to me about this story and different to other coming-out stories was that it started in young childhood. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t linger for ages in that age-range but it depicted Michael’s experiences from a young age and I loved that.

Michael’s blackness and the experience of having Greek/Cypriot mother and black father who deserted them was fresh and insightful reading. Michael’s own realisations about the colour of his skin alongside his sexuality were thought-provoking and poignant. Seeing Michael become his true self, cast off other people’s presumptions and eventually being drawn to drag was absorbing reading.

‘He is me, who I have been,
who I am, who I hope to become.
Someone fabulous, wild and strong,
With or without a costume on.’

The story was told in verse that was incredibly engaging. In addition, Michael was a poet and so there were poems peppered throughout the book. In particular, I loved Maybe I’m a Merman and I Wanna Be Fierce. The book was illustrated and formatted in a way that enhanced the reading process (or should have done, see my next paragraph).

I bought the ebook for this read and unfortunately there was a problem with the text formatting, nearly every single page of the 300+ pages had a problem with text doubling over itself. I went to report it on amazon but I could see that it is not currently for sale and under review; this surely means they know about the problem and it’s being fixed. Before you click the link below to the book, please check it has been resolved.

THE BLACK FLAMINGO was a quick but impactful read that was inspirational. Dean Atta has a fresh narrative voice and he is a gifted poet. I’d definitely recommend this read.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I’m not quite sure I’ve done much reading in verse, particularly not an entire story in it, and for the first half of The Black Flamingo I wasn’t sure it was really my thing. I liked it, I was enjoying the story, but I wasn’t really connecting.

That completely changed once we’d transitioned into Michael’s young adulthood as he eased out of highschool and into college. This had already been a pretty fast read (the page count initially shocked me until I remembered it was verse, I r slow) but I blazed through it after the halfway mark. I couldn’t devour this fast enough. I was completely invested in both the events and the evolution, the inner and the outer.

Beyond just loving the story so much more, though, I absolutely adored the poetry sprinkled throughout. I went back to read them more than once.

This read won’t take up much of your time but it should absolutely take priority on your TBR. Highly recommend.