Saturday, March 17, 2018

If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your GirlIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I appreciated Russo's note(s) at the end of If I Was Your Girl - it makes it clear to readers that this book is needed, and put's Amanda's story in context (specifically for this cis reader, though her note for trans readers is also illuminating). The book world needs this story - at its core, a sweet romance - to help open the door to more (and more diverse) stories about trans teens.

And let's talk about that amazing cover! Beyond the fact that this story is well-written, has characters to root for, and is a necessary and important story to tell, I love that it's a story about a trans woman, by a trans woman, and features a trans woman on the cover. Just amazing.

Okay, now about the story itself - Amanda is at a new school and wants what most new kids want: friends, good classes and teachers, and (because she's a teenager), she's open to falling in love...and she also wants to control her own narrative. Namely, she wants to be Amanda, not Andrew. She has supportive parents and mentors, and her friends are the best a girl could ask for. Her romance with Grant is super sweet, and despite my fears and worries for her, Amanda's story has a happy ending.

Romance readers, teens who want to see the protagonist succeed, and anyone who enjoys a feel-good coming-of-age story with heart will appreciate If I Was Your Girl.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

City Reads: 3 Teen Books Set in Chicago

Sometimes it's all about the setting, and these three YA reads set in Chicago show there are many ways to use a city to help tell the story.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olga was the perfect daughter and sister, but Julia is the one who is left behind - and, as the title states, she is not perfect. This story felt so real and present - when Julia takes the train to the crowded and eclectic bookstore in Wicker Park, I knew she was at Myopic Books - and the romance takes a backseat to the drama of finding out who Olga really was.

There were a few problematic details for this reader who grew up in a rural town where she *gasp* shared a room with her sister (which is, according to our narrator, a mark of being poor). I cannot stand when characters who have autonomy and live in CITIES say they need to escape - like, dude, just take the train to a museum or a library or the lake or a mall or a coffee shop or a book store or any number of grocery stores available to someone who did not have those options growing up (besides a library, which was a godsend and lifesaver), complaints like this just sound like whining.

That being said, I get that teens can feel trapped regardless of where they are. They may not know who they are, or who their families are, or they may need to "get out" of whatever comfort zone (mental, physical, or emotional) they have to learn who they are and what they stand for - and Sanchez does a wonderful job of creating a narrator who I didn't always like, but who is believable in her angst and self-discovery.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having little in common with Wendy and Co. besides coming from a white Catholic family, I could still totally understand the need to leave your childhood neighborhood. Except I left to Chicago, but whatever. (See my review for IANYPMD above for my thoughts on city kids needing to escape.)

I loved that this book is firmly set in Chicago, in a specific neighborhood, and I’m glad Foley used that neighborhood to tell the story (ahem, writers who set their stories in “Chicago” and then disregard the city’s history and culture and basic aspects of its geography). The streets, trains, and old Polish ladies all feel very present. City kids who love their city (or enjoy the familiarity of it) and country kids who live vicariously through books with a real sense of place will both appreciate all the specific details.

I found the depiction of mean girl cliques just dramatic enough to be entertaining, and appreciated the themes of faith and belief using both Catholic icons and ghosts. The Our Lady of Lourdes imagery was great, and I love how extra people were about it. This shouldn’t be the only self-searching/faith-questioning/family drama/mean friends book in one’s collection, but there’s definitely an audience for it.

The House on Mango StreetThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cisneros tells Esperanza's story in a series of connected yet distinct vignettes, each one a poetic snack. Every word, every phrase, every sentence says something - no throwaway details or flowery prose with no meaning. In the past, I've read selections from The House on Mango Street (which is a great way to scaffold learning for younger readers - while the book as a whole is appropriate for high school or college, I've seen sixth and seventh graders analyze certain chapters with brilliant insightfulness), but reading it cover to cover is a real treat. I saw Chicago on every page, and it was beautiful and complex.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A New York City Weekend

A few pics from our Spring Break getaway last weekend!

We stayed at the Pod Hotel - Times Square and it was great. The room was the perfect size for what we needed (aka, just a place to sleep), and since they don't have all those "extras" that no one wants anyways, the price was right too! Definitely recommend for travelers trying to save a few bucks (to be spend on food, duh).

While most everything you can do in New York you can also do in Chicago, it was still fun to get away for a bit. We did so much walking and tried to do as many free things as we could so that we could splurge on pizza and dessert!

Riding the Staten Island Ferry there and back was a relaxing (and free) way to see the Statue of Liberty, and taking MTA to Brooklyn then walking back to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge allowed us to see some great views of the skyline. Another walk on The High Line reminded us of our own 606. Madame Tussaud's and the American Museum of Natural History were must-see for us, two museum fiends who also love anything weird. We walked around One World Trade Center and the nearby underground mall, saw Times Square in daytime and at night, and made sure Jesus got his photo op at a bridge in Central Park featured in his favorite movie.

As the perfect end to a weekend getaway, we saw Aladdin on Broadway. Genie stole the show, but Jonathan Freeman as Jafar was a fun throwback to our childhoods.

Monday, March 5, 2018


I'm not sure how I didn't review Coco when I first watched it back in December...but seeing as it was recently released on DVD and just won Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song at the Oscars (along with all of its other awards), I guess now is as good a time to remind everyone here to go watch the heck out of it.

Not only does this movie look and sound amazing (the colors! the music!), the story is important and told with heart, and the characters are funny, charming, and heartbreaking.

Jesus and I can't wait to watch it in Spanish with his family, though I know I'm going to ugly cry (again). Worth it.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane SinnerNice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Told as a series of diary entries and screenplay-style dialogue, Nice Try, Jane Sinner sits comfortably in the realm of current pop culture’s focus on self expression. Our titular protagonist enrolls in community college after dropping out of high school, for reasons eventually explained, but only after securing herself a place on (and residence in) House of Orange, a film student’s made-for-YouTube reality show. Living with five other students and enduring weekly challenges keeps Jane’s mind off her past life while helping her create a new one.

As relationships and alliances form in the house, Jane struggles to keep her former self hidden from her new friends. When the fictional Dr. Freudenshade reminds her that the past is “just a story we tell ourselves. And stories change each time you tell them” (p. 414), Jane discovers the satisfaction of allowing her stories to co-exist.

Jane’s sarcasm and proclivity for mixed idioms provides plenty of opportunity for humor, usually at her own expense, and contrasts with her parents’ conservative leanings. Readers who enjoy a self-deprecating narrator will appreciate Jane’s modest-yet-snarky confidence, which shows in conversations with her younger sister who adores her, a best friend who isn’t afraid to challenge her, and a psychiatrist who is completely made up.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther

Watch it:
 if you're a Marvel fan.
 for the music.
 if you like your heroes brave, funny, nuanced, strong, complex, and visionary.
 if beautifully choreographed fight scenes are your thing.
 for the drama.
 if you've ever wondered:

  1. What a car chase would look like with a remote driver.
  2. What a battle would look like with a rhinoceros army.

 if you love gadgets or clothing with style and function.
 for the sweeping landscape views of Wakanda.
 even if you don't think it's for you.
 because basically everyone else has.

Black Panther is both a standalone and part of a larger universe, giving it broad appeal to fans of Marvel comics and those who just want to see a good movie alike. This isn't your basic good guy versus bad guy (in capes and tights) fare - the conflict is nuanced, and highlights tensions that play out in the real world. The acting is stellar, the drama hits all the right notes, and the visuals had my jaw dropping. See this one in theaters, people.

Extra: What to read after you watch!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Hate U Give

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book is powerful, funny, heartbreaking, important, and so thoughtfully written. It's been impossible not to hear about it in the past year, and I'm grateful to have gotten to read it for my YA class and discuss it with other librarians-to-be.

Starr is such a dynamic character - stubborn and proud, sensitive and insightful - she felt very present. I loved her narration, even when her story broke my heart. Thomas writes from reality (police brutality, racial profiling, code-switching, interracial relationships, current pop culture references...), and the accuracy of her story is shattering, convicting, and empowering. This should be required reading, and is definitely a book unafraid of telling it like it is.

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Extras: Book Riot's list of books to read after reading The Hate U Give.