Sunday, August 16, 2020

Book Reviews - Strong Leads and the Boys in the Band

Back with another round - as I always do. For this round, there were three books that had really strong main characters. Two of these were YA and one was a middle-grade. Honestly, I don't remember these books being so strong and real when I was a kid/teen. And even though I'm many years beyond the intended audience these days, I find I get so, so much from this genre. Oh, and I also read a book about boy bands because when I was an actual teen, that was my life. Well, let's be honest, that girl still very much lives inside of me. Now, let's talk books.

Running by Natalia Sylvester is a perfect "themed" read as election season is upon us. This is a wonderful story of a Cuban American teen finding her voice. Mariana's dad is running for president. As her father's campaign progresses, Mari begins to realize she might not agree with his political views and plans. What I loved about this was even though Mari couldn't yet vote, she was exploring issues in her community. She was also working through the dissonance of how she might disagree with someone she loves. Additionally, this was Mari figuring out how she wanted to be active and impact change. This was an amazing and important story centering an emerging and powerful woman. I loved reading about how Mari navigated not just being thrust into the spotlight with a campaign, but figuring out where she fit into the world.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammons Reed is a story about a black teen in LA in 1992. Ashley lives in a world full of privilege. Her parents have intentionally raised her in this way and area of the city. When the riots happen after the Rodney King verdict, Ashley begins to explore questions around her identity, as well as the relationships she has with friends and peers. I was in elementary school during this, so I honestly don't have a strong memory of what happened, so it was interesting to read a novel set in this time against this backdrop. Anyway, as the protests happen, Ashley begins to realize what she thought to be true is not. For all the work her family and she has done to "fit in" to the world of privilege, she is different. She starts to realize she is indeed a black kid, and she begins to learn what that means. It means some relationships aren't what she thought, and it means she has to figure out where she does have connection. This was such a captivating and emotional story. The characters were so authentically written, especially Ashley as the character who is centered in it all. While a fiction read, there was so, so much truth in this, and it is one that y'all absolutely need to read. Thanks to NetGalley for the look at this recent release!

Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS by Maria Sherman was always going to be my jam - Pun totally and completely intended. Y'all should know that I love boy bands. *NSYNC is my forever #1, and I continue to hold out hope for a reunion. I'd even take that reunion without JT. Anyway, this isn't about me. This book is for every human who ever loved a boy band. What I loved about this was that it covered my own #1, but I got the chance to learn about other bands. I found this especially interesting for the bands that have come after *NSYNC because I haven't had the chance to keep up. I knew much of the information about NKOTB (my first boy band love), BSB (which just kind of happened given when they were biggest), and obvs my guys, but the way it was all packaged together was just so wonderful. It was a definitive history, and I love the trips down memory lane, as well as the window into the experiences of other bands/fandoms. If you've been the one who had their walls plastered with posters, who knew more about the guys in the band than people you actually know in real life, and have spent all the money on merch/CDs/concerts, this book is clearly for you.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin focuses on an autistic boy named Jason. He knows he is living in a neurotypical world, and that can be hard for him. One place he finds he can connect and feel normal is the online site where he posts his stories. There he can just focus on writing, and there he finds connection with a girl with the username PhoenixBird. I loved that this was told through Jason's eyes throughout. He has an awareness of how he sees and feels differently, and he shares what that experience is like. Specifically, he shares his struggles as he seeks understanding, connection, and even normalcy. This was an emotional read at times because Jason wants so much to just fit in, find friends and belong. He knows what the barriers are to that, but that doesn't make him not still hope that can be his life one day. This was a middle-grade read with such heart. I found myself rooting for Jason so hard, and I loved the window into his world with all its ups and downs.

Onto the next ones!