Monthly Archives: July 2016

Honor Girl


by Maggie Thrash
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ve read my fair share of gay teen love stories and generally find them intense and satisfying, but something about this one didn’t hit quite as hard. I’m not sure what it is. I think from the beginning, I found the pictures hard to follow – I thought Maggie was a boy at first, even though she’s wearing a skirt in the first scene. I had trouble telling some of the other characters apart. Aside from that, I wasn’t sure exactly what the author was trying to get across, which may come more from my experience being in fiction form, rather than memoir. The ending was anticlimactic but it’s hard to get mad about that since it was her life that just didn’t tie up neatly. Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much middle grade fiction where things tie up very neatly all the time.

All that being said, Honor Girl is pretty solid. It’s a quick read, as are many graphic novels. I liked that Maggie has a good friend at camp who is there for her, as opposed to the younger (and much more immature) Bethany. It reminded me in parts of This One Summer with the younger annoying friend. I also liked that the reader, along with Maggie, didn’t feel Maggie worthy of the title Honor Girl, even though in retrospect she absolutely did earn it. It’s just that ending that really bugged me, even if it did have good foreshadowing.



by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Willowdean (Will to friends, Dumplin’ to her mother) is surprised to find herself the object of attraction of her super hot coworker. Even though she knows she wants to start dating and be kissed, partly in an effort not to be left behind by her best friend Ellen, her self-confidence starts to slip as she thinks about dealing with the comments they would get because she’s fat. She has no trouble admitting it, or accepting herself, but when push comes to shove, it keeps her from a real relationship with Bo. Not that it was a fairy tale from the start, with Bo’s reserved nature leading her to be unsure where they stand. But as time goes on, Bo makes his feelings more explicit. Willowdean tries to date someone as big as she is, but the spark just isn’t there and she knows she’s kidding herself. Along the way she has to contend with a very real-feeling friendship that is going through some growing pains, and she even signs up for the town beauty pageant, the biggest deal since football in her small Texas town. Oh, and Will’s mom runs the pageant – as a former fat girl herself, Will’s mom is extra hard on her daughter to lose weight, never accepting her as she is. Add into this her still-raw grief over losing her beloved aunt Lucy a few months before, and finding new friends who get teased just as much as she does, and Willowdean has a lot to figure out. Luckily, she does it with grace and an ending just detailed enough to be satisfying, but not so much so that you can’t have an imagination.

The Truth Game


by Anna Stanizewski
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s no secret I’m a fan of this series. This is the fourth one, and Rachel is back with all her clumsiness, silly expressions (like “oh my goldfish”), embarrassing situations, and teen drama. Her problems have continued from the third book and include a growing gap between herself and her best friend. What is unforeseen is that a rift crops up between her and her semi-boyfriend, Evan, and it’s all thanks to a game that Evan’s evil twin sister installed on Rachel’s phone (well, in addition to their awkward first kiss). Answers in the Truth Game are supposed to be anonymous, but then someone hacks the game and everyone’s answers are exposed for all to read. On top of that, Rachel is trying too hard at her new after-school bakery job and trying to get on the Pastry Wars’ teen edition show with her idol, Chip Ackerson. Also, her dad is back in town but her mom wants to move in with her boyfriend, who also used to be Rachel’s vice-principal.

I like that Rachel admits that she likes to see how she compares to others in the game and it even gets a little addictive, but then she realizes how harmful the game is. There are also some financials about kids who work and why. I really enjoyed how Rachel and Evan talked about their conflict, and Rachel and Marisol. Rachel also grows a lot, especially in overcoming her debilitating shyness, which is satisfying to watch and well-written. The ending is a bit contrived, but it is a middle grade novel so that’s not surprising. Overall, very satisfying. Who knows, maybe there will be a fifth book someday?

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel


by Firoozeh Dumas
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s the summer of 1978 and Zomorod, or Cindy, as she likes to be called in America, is still getting used to living in California. She and her parents have just moved from Compton to Newport Beach, and she’s constantly embarrassed by their accents and misunderstandings, while she’s just trying to fit in like any other preteen. Cindy’s first order of business is to make friends over the summer so that starting sixth grade won’t be so hard. The first neighbor she meets is also named Cindy, but turns out to be a chatterbox who doesn’t ask Cindy a thing about herself, so she moves on. Eventually she meets Carolyn, who wants to be a journalist so isn’t afraid to ask questions, and then Rachel and Mary “Howie” Howard and they quickly become close friends, though her friends tease her for her crush on a boy. Cindy’s observations on life in America will be funny and surprising to life-long Americans.

Then the Iranian hostage crisis unfolds and Cindy goes back to being embarrassed – only this time, she’s embarrassed of being Iranian. Suddenly she is not only asked to give reports to the class on what’s going on, but she is targeted for xenophobic comments and actions (someone leaves a dead hamster on her porch with a note saying “Iranians go home”; there is trouble with their trash cans, etc.). Cindy’s family suffers as her dad, an oil company employee, loses his job when the company no longer does business with the United States. Eventually Carolyn pulls her out of her funk and they devise a plan so Cindy doesn’t have to move back to Iran. The story wraps up so tidily (and a bit unrealistically) that this is definitely middle grade, though it’s heartening to see the way Cindy’s family is treated well by many neighbors in the face of mistreatment by a few.

Fenway Fever


by John H. Ritter
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Alfredo “Stats” Pagano has grown up in Fenway Park. Papa Pagano’s hot dog stand has been in the family for decades and they have season tickets. Stats has a particular friendship with the Boston Red Sox’s young hotshot pitcher, Billee Orbitt, who has just entered a slump; Stats’ heart defect is acting up and he needs surgery; and Pops finally reveals the family’s financial troubles to Stats and his older brother, Mark. Stats and Billee investigate what they’re sure is a new curse at Fenway and try to figure out how to break it. Meanwhile, Mark is in danger of losing his perfect season record as little league shortstop and playing in the all-star game against Japan at Fenway Park. Oh and Pops is still mourning the death of Stats’ and Mark’s mother four years ago. So, there’s a lot going on.

It took me a little while to get into this one, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s an original story, and the moments between Stats and Billee (and pretty much all the other characters, including his brother) are touching. Stats and his brother are close and care for each other and put the family first. The ending is very sweet and more than a little contrived with how the money troubles and heart condition get resolved. But overall, good themes and really good tension in the story. I wasn’t quite expecting the story to wrap up so quickly and when it did. When the CD belted out “THE END” I jumped a little and then rewound a couple of tracks to relisten. Sure enough, things had wrapped up so quickly I had just missed them. But overall, really great, and a perfect summer book – especially if you live in Boston and/or like baseball!

Note: I had this book as an audiobook, narrated by James Colby, who did a great job with all the Boston accents!

Nine, Ten


by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Four middle school kids’ stories weave together over the course of a few days – namely, September 9-11, 2001. At the beginning of the book, they are all in Chicago’s O’Hare airport for various reasons, and at the end, they are all together on September 11, 2002, for the first anniversary commemoration at Ground Zero. But in the middle, they have their own stories and perspectives on the day. Sergio lives in New York City and is very close friends with a firefighter who works in lower Manhattan; his backstory includes being homeless and losing his mother at a young age, being raised by his grandmother and dealing with his estranged father. Naheed lives in Ohio and is Muslim, and is also trying to mend a bullying incident she perpetrated against a classmate while also being the victim of teasing due to her hijab. Aimee is moving from Chicago to Los Angeles because of her mother’s job, which takes her to a meeting in the World Trade Center; the move means making new friends which is rocky. Finally, Will lives in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth plane crashed into a field; Will’s father died tragically four years ago and also he’s trying to figure out his feelings toward a girl for the first time.

One of the things I liked most was, because they got to interact in the beginning, you could see how, for instance, Naheed saw Aimee, and then how Aimee sees herself (perfect and not-so-perfect, respectively). It reminded me a little of The Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler.

Interpersonal relations like: The Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler