Wednesday 21 October 2020

Books Read In September

So I meant to post this earlier in the month, but my new-found love of constructing crosswords, and the general time taken settling in to a new country, getting my social security number (which finally arrived, yay!) etc has left me with less time to write stuff. Finally getting around to it, though!

This is hopefully the first in a monthly series looking back at some of the things I’ve been reading. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything (although once I hit a reading slump and only get through 2 or 3 books a month it probably will be!), more musings about stuff I’ve enjoyed, repeating themes I’ve noticed, etc.

The big discovery of September for me was audiobooks! I’ve tried listening to them before but I’m INCREDIBLY bad at focusing when there’s anything to distract me. However I’ve started playing them while running and I listened to Queerleaders and Blood Moon that way, and really enjoyed both. (Also, literally as I was typing that, my Adidas app sent me a notification basically saying “Do you even still run?! Okay, I should get back to it soon.)

Queerleaders is a really fun read, despite dealing with some pretty aggressive homophobia. Lead character Mac gets forcibly outed at her Catholic school, bets the quarterback she can steal the cheerleaders who the football team are dating, and hilarity ensues in a late-90s romcom style. Full review here, but in short a strong recommendation for a great read with a heartwarming ending, brought brilliantly to life by narrator Chloe Cannon. In addition to the cheerleaders and Mac herself being great characters, I loved Mac's friendship with Lila, which took a hit as Lila (justifiably) got annoyed with Mac for spending so much time going after the cheerleaders and not being there enough for her oldest friend.

I also really enjoyed Blood Moon, Lucy Cuthew’s verse novel, narrated by Harrie Dobby. It’s a contemporary novel about Frankie, who gets her period during her first sexual experience with a boy. While they both laugh about it fairly quickly, agreeing “It’s only blood”, somehow what happened gets out and quickly becomes a meme. This is a really thoughtful contemporary looking at online shaming, friendship issues, and trying to figure out who to trust. All the main characters - Frankie, best friend Harriet and love interest Benjamin - were vividly portrayed, and while some of Harriet’s decisions caused me to wince just as badly as Harriet did, they felt like realistically terrible ones for a teen girl to make. Lucy was the first author to take part in my revamped 5-4-3-2-1 feature, which you can check out here.

One of the things I really loved about both these books is how supportive the teens’ families are of them - Mac’s mom and dad are behind her all the way, while Frankie’s parents are devastated when they find out what’s been going on, but are quick to make sure she knows that she’s got nothing to be sorry for. I also really loved the strong family ties in Ashley Woodfolk’s hard-hitting but wonderful The Beauty That Remains. Full review here, again, but one of the things I really liked was the way in which Shay has to try and rebuild her relationship with her mom in the wake of her twin sister’s death after a long illness. All three MCs are superb here but of the three characters dealing with the deaths of friends or family I think it’s perhaps Shay’s story that has stayed with me the most.

Of course, not all parents are supportive, and it’s really interesting seeing portrayals of teens at odds with their families, especially when those family members are as well-drawn as some of the ones I read last month were. Ten Things I Hate About Pinky, the third in the Sandhya Menon series of companion novels which started with When Dimple Met Rishi, is a stand-out here. Pinky - a proud social justice warrior - is often at odds with her lawyer mom, so decides to impress her family by introducing them to her polite, well-mannered and charming boyfriend. She doesn’t actually HAVE one, but this is a minor drawback, because she knows the perfect person for a fake relationship - Samir, who’s keen to be a lawyer and has just had a prestigious internship fall through. He can impress her mom and win a future place as an intern for her, Pinky can enjoy her family seeing her as a responsible person - what could go wrong? 

It’s a fake-romance, so it’s almost certainly incredibly obvious what can, and does, go wrong, but reading these two opposites fall for each other is a delight. Menon is one of my favourite current contemporary authors and she excels at flirting, awkward encounters, and great dialogue. As good as the romance is, though, Pinky’s commitment to activism - trying to save the butterfly habitat holding so many good memories for her - and the way this brings her into conflict with her mom, but also leads to her finding out more about her mom’s past - is even better. Throw in bonus points for a super-cute opossum, and this is a superb read.

Another book about a real conflict between parents and child is Natalia Sylvester’s Running. Mariana is a Cuban-American girl who adores her father, Senator Anthony Ruiz, but is starting to feel overwhelmed by the amount of attention his presidential campaign is bringing to her. When she starts to find out more about his policy positions, and fall in with a group of people who are deeply opposed to them, she’s left in a difficult position. Can she be true to herself despite parental pressure? And does her mom agree with all of her dad’s actions? This is a really thought-provoking book which looks at Natalia’s political awakening and her father’s problems dealing with that while he’s also in the middle of the most important period of his career. I thought the friendship group was excellent and Natalia herself is a very well-written MC.

And then, with perhaps the bitterest of all the clashes, there’s Pen and her family in Girl Mans Up by ME Girard. This has been one I’ve been meaning to read for years, but somehow never got around to. It was absolutely worth the wait, and I’m kicking myself for not getting around to it sooner. Pen is a butch lesbian whose closest friends are all boys, including Colby, who she often plays wingman for. But when Blake, Colby’s next target, is interested not in him but in Pen herself, and Pen also befriends Olivia, who he had a brief fling with, she sees a different side to the guy. This is fairly heavy - dealing with toxic masculinity, family expectations, and other tough themes - but it’s a really good read. I loved the relationships between Pen and Blake, and between Pen and her older brother, the only member of her family who’s supportive of her.

For slightly different family issues, This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams was a fantastic read. Full review here, but in summary it’s about a Cuban ballet dancer and Dominican baseball player who fall for each other after several meet-cutes on the subway. There’s lots to like here - including really thoughtful takes on how dark-skinned Alex suffers from racism to a far greater extent than Isa, a white-passing Latino girl - but one thing I found really beautifully portrayed was the love between Isa and her family, despite the bipolar disorder which affects both her brother and her mother. 

And speaking of great chemistry, perhaps my favourite of the month (although looking at the above books there were a LOT to choose from) was that of Evie and Milo in Kristina Forest’s Now That I've Found You. An unlikely pairing, Evie is a rising film star who makes a silly mistake which costs her a huge part, and Milo is a young friend of her grandmother’s (also a film star, and a reclusive legend) who helps Evie search for her when she goes missing. Again, full review here, but I love Evie’s character development - despite the short space of time which the novel takes place over - and the way in which the pair’s relationship moves from irritation to romance. It also builds up to an absolutely outstanding last page, with a quote at the end which had me grinning hugely.

How about you? Any fabulous recent reads you'd recommend to me? Does anything mentioned above particularly appeal to you? I'd love to know! Leave me a comment or message me at @yayeahyeah on Twitter!

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