Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will PayYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

UNDERRATED BOOK ALERT!!!

Oh, shoot. Wow. This book packs a punch.

I highly recommend the audiobook. It’s chef’s kiss.

Set in L.A., this novel examines racial tensions, grief and absolution, through the lens of two families tied together by a decades old crime.

Our protagonists, Grace Park and Shawn Matthews, aren’t even aware of their connection to one another until after Grace’s mother is shot outside of the family-owned pharmacy.

As Grace tries to grapple with why anyone would target her mother, she discovers a long-buried family secret.

Through this discovery, she learns why her sister, Miriam, hasn’t spoken to their mother in almost two years. Grace doesn’t know how to react, or how to deal with the fact that her mother isn’t who she thought.

Following a police shooting of a black teenager, as well as the recent release of his cousin, Ray, from prison, Shawn Matthews experiences a lot of painful memories coming to the surface.

In the early-90s, when Shawn was a kid, his beloved sister, Ava, was shot. After the beating of Rodney King by L.A. police officers, the city was in turmoil. Ava’s death occurred during that intense time period.

I’m trying to be very careful with what I write here. I don’t want to spoil a single thing for anyone who may want to read this.

I thought the choices Cha made in the format of this story were incredible. It is so well done. I became engaged extremely quickly, the characters definitely draw you in, and keep you wanting to know more.

I thought it was cleverly plotted, alternating between the past and present timelines, as well as between Park and Matthews.

While the historical aspects demonstrate that not much has changed, we are still fighting the same fights when it comes to racism, police brutality and cultural mistrust within cities, I also think there is a lovely underlining message of hope.

That change can come. That we can break the mold. That we don’t have to fall into the same patterns as those that came before us.

It really is a powerful message. One that I think is so important for a wide audience to ingest.

There were many times when a new fact would come to light where I would audibly gasp. It was rapid fire reveal, reveal, reveal, as it all comes together.

I felt so much for both Shawn and Grace, as well as their families. Imagining all they had been through, and the reasons why, really weighs on a heart.

This novel seems to be flying under the radar. I am really hoping this review will make at least one more person pick it up. The issues tackled are so topical and important.

Why can’t that person be you!? Seriously, particularly in today’s climate, this is such an important story. Grab a copy if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

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Review: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black KidsThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ashley Bennett is a Senior in high school. The year is 1992 and she lives in a posh L.A. neighborhood with her parents.

Attending a private school, Ashley has had a somewhat sheltered existence.

Her parents do everything they can to provide their girls with a less stressful upbringing than they had, which I think is something a lot of parents do.

But even her parents admit, for reasons you learn as the novel progresses, they may have sheltered them a little too much.

At her school, Ashley is one of only a handful of black kids in attendance. Regardless of the numbers, all of her friends are white.

Ashley doesn’t find it odd that she is the only black girl in her friend group. It has always been that way and even when her closest friends make racist comments, she shrugs it off. It’s just how it goes.

Her comfy existence is shaken, however, after a young black man, Rodney King, is beaten nearly to death by LAPD officers and the subsequent trial of those involved.

Even though there is video evidence of the heinous acts of violence, the policemen are acquitted and the city erupts in anger. Protests and riots sweep the city and the topic of race is on everyone’s lips.

Ashley’s sister, Jo, becomes involved in the protests and her Uncle’s store is threatened by looters. It becomes unsafe to leave the house and the smell of smoke and char lingers in the air.

These events force Ashley to examine her life and her position as a black woman in a way she never has before. She starts to learn more about her family and what it means to be black in America.

This book was a ride for me. I feel like my attachment to it evolved along with the story itself.

It was a difficult one for me to rate, as I was torn almost the entire way through about how I felt about it.

On the one hand, the content, real-world issues and personal growth, were A++, 5-stars. This story is extremely topical and definitely packs a punch.

On the other hand, there’s the style in which it is told. That is what was rough for me. The stream of consciousness narrative is always very hard for me to get into. It just does not vibe for me at all.

If I were rating this book based solely on that, I would have given it 3-stars. I decided on a 4-star rating as it is a fair way for me to express my overall experience with the story; style versus substance be damned.

Please note, my personal preference for not liking stream of consciousness narrative is in no way a reflection on this author. She is clearly very talented and I am sure she chose the format she felt best to tell Ashley’s experiences.

I loved the story behind the style. Does that make sense?

Additionally, I thought using a historical event to frame this discussion was such a smart choice. It made the whole story feel very real.

I was in the 8th-grade at the time the officers were originally acquitted and although I lived on the opposite-side of the country, the impact was felt like a shock wave. I have never read a fictionalized story framed around that time and really appreciated that context.

I also appreciated Ashley’s growth as a character. She truly transformed from start to finish and by the end, I was attached her.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this novel. It’s a hard-hitting Contemporary that everyone should read.

A huge thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I look forward to reading more from Christina Hammonds Reed in the future!

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Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

PetPet by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Angels can look like many things. So can monsters.

Wow, this book is a lot to swallow. It is heavy; there is so much here to process.

Pet is a wildly creative story following, Jam, a black transgirl, living in a sort of metaphorical utopian city called, Lucille.

In this futuristic-feeling city, the angels have gotten rid of the all the monsters. There are no monsters left, or so they say.

Jam lives with her parents, Bitter and Aloe. They are so loving and supportive of Jam. She is content.

That is until when night when she is alone in her Mom’s art studio, Jam accidentally cuts her hand and drips blood on one of the paintings.

Okay, no big deal, right? Her Mom won’t get that mad.

But then the painting starts to come to life!

A being is literally crawling off of the page and coming to life. He’s big, he has horns, he has claws; Jam can’t believe her eyes!!

This mess is certainly going to require a bit more explaining then a few drops of blood on a page.

Jam begins communicating with this new being. His name is Pet and he is here to hunt a monster from the House of Redemption.

How can this be? There are no monsters left and Jam knows Redemption.

He’s her best friend. She knows his whole family; there are no monsters there!

Pet is insistent though. He is not wrong and Jam begrudgingly agrees to help him in his hunt. She doesn’t think he will find anything, but she’s goes along with him anyway more to appease him than anything.

Jam and Pet work together to try to weed out the monster hiding among them.

As mentioned above, this book is heavy. Initially, I was under the impression that this was Middle Grade for some reason, but that can’t be correct. I would definitely classify this as YA and maybe the marketing even does that, I’m not sure.

Dealing heavily in metaphor, this story lays out a horrifying reality for Redemption and his family. I was moved by where this went and the vigilante justice that followed.

If you are looking for an impactful, unique, moving story to pick up this summer, with a ton of great rep and beautiful, metaphoric writing, you should ABSOLUTELY pick up Pet!

I am looking forward to reading more from Emezi!

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Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Ever AfterFelix Ever After by Kacen Callender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel offers a cornucopia of queer identities and was just so moving, beginning to end.

I had to take a time out before I could even consider writing a review.

This novel is everything right now. It is everything I needed in this moment. It is certainly everything the world needs.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this one touched me so deeply and all I can say is, Felix Love. Felix Love who wants to know love, but first needs to learn he is worthy of love.

Felix Ever After is told, as you may expect, completely from Felix’s perspective. Getting to read his deepest inner thoughts, particularly the thoughts he would probably never admit to anyone, was so raw and real.

Felix is busy attending a summer arts program at his high school. While the school has a lot of diversity, he still faces personal attacks and acts of transphobia from the very beginning of the story.

I will say, Callender does not shy away from how brutal and painful such acts are, so if you think this may effect your mental health and wellness, tread carefully.

It hurts to read, but I think it is so important for people to face it. So important. This whole book is so damn important.

After a fellow student creates a gallery listing Felix’s deadname, along with photos of him before his transition, he is rightly shattered. How could someone do this?

He vows to find the person responsible and make them pay. Along with his best friend, Ezrah, he sets out to do just that. For a while, Ez is on board, but eventually Felix goes rogue and continues his revenge plot on his own.

There were times when I wanted to scream at Felix, to stop him from making hurtful choices, but he is a teen, acting out of anger and in a way, fear. I also wanted to hug him super tight, but that’s a whole other story.

I had to remember, oh yeah, I was a teen once and I totally would have plotted revenge day and night if someone did to me what was done to him.

In addition to all of the stressful things happening to him at school, and via social media, Felix is also still questioning his identity.

He utilizes local resources to learn more about himself and his feelings. I thought that was such an important detail, showing him reaching out to others in the community that may help him, or provide illumination, on the questions he has.

I think for Felix, it lifted a huge weight off of him, when he realized he wasn’t alone. No matter what he was going through personally, he was connected to many others who were, at the end of the day, fighting very similar battles.

I feel like I could babble on about the minutiae of this story for decades, but I wouldn’t do that to you. In short, READ THIS FREAKING BOOK!!

Oh, also, gender fluidity. Chef’s kiss. So well done.

Okay, okay, that’s it.

P.S. READ IT!!!

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Review: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Clean GetawayClean Getaway by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Clean Getaway follows 11-year old, Scoob, as he goes on an unexpected RV adventure with his beloved Grandma, nicknamed, G-Ma.

G-Ma is an extra special lady, one who Scoob loves to be around. She always seems to understand him and have the right thing to say.

Scoob’s Dad has been pretty tough on him lately. Particularly after he got into a little trouble at school just prior to Spring Break.

As far as Scoob and his Dad are concerned, any plans Scoob may have had for fun during Spring Break are cancelled.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, G-Ma arrives in a legitimate house on wheels and tells Scoob they are going on an adventure.

He packs a bag and off they go. It seems G-Ma has a plan, the specifics of which are a mystery to Scoob.

Once on the road, G-Ma gives Scoob a copy of a book called, The Green Book. She tells him that she, and his Grandpa, had to use this book while traveling together in the 1960s.

The Green Book was used as a guide by black people in the United States initially, and then I believe in other countries around the world, seeking safe lodging and amenities during their travels.

While I knew of the existence and use of The Green Book, I have never read about it as part of a fictional story.

I thought this was a tremendously clever plot device to open up communication between the characters. I think as a discussion point for adults, with children, it is an easily understandable way for children to begin to learn about the history of race relations in our country.

Scoob is initially surprised by the book. Sure, he knows a bit about the Civil Rights Movement and the people involved, but he never really considered the real life implications on his own family.

As an interracial couple in the 1960s, G-Ma and Grandpa faced a lot of hostility and discrimination when they were seen together in public. Scoob begins to understand that more as him and G-Ma are given nasty looks when they stop at a diner in a remote town.

Apparently, a white woman together with a black boy can still raise some eyebrows. Scoob doesn’t like the feeling at all, it makes him so uncomfortable. Later, thinking about it more, he even comes to fear that some of the hateful people from the diner may follow them with the intent to do them harm.

Yeah, as you can tell, there are definitely some serious issues tackled in this book. Scoob and his G-Ma have some great, candid discussions about things that G-Ma has experienced and I think Scoob learned a lot about his family and himself over the course of the story.

Stone is such a gifted writer. Her stories, while full of serious, topical issues, also contain such wit and humor. It really makes them so accessible to every reader.

Scoob is a sweet, funny, caring boy; a great protagonist to follow along with. And don’t get me started on G-Ma. I love that woman.

Although this is a fairly short story, even for Middle Grade, it packs a serious punch. There is so much emotion and heart in this story. It is truly lovely. I just find Stone’s style of writing so engaging. It is more than writing, it is absolutely storytelling in its purest form.

I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. I do feel that this would be a great book for parents to read with their children this summer though!!!

So, add it to your summer reading list and prepare for a great adventure! Don’t forget to pack your tissues.

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Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the SeaThe Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

🧡💛💚💙💜

Violet Larkin’s life is spiraling out of control. Even she realizes she is not making the best choices for herself, but she can’t stop.

Urges hit her and the NYC nights grow longer, the drinking more ample and the sex more risky.

When her younger brother, Sam, attempts to take his own life, Violet even acts out at the hospital.

The situation is overwhelming and scary. Despite the serious nature of their circumstances as a family, she just can’t stop herself.

Her parents catch her hitting on a much older man at the vending machines and know that something must change or they risk losing both of their children.

While her brother Sam heads off to Vermont for treatment, Violet is sent to Lyric, Maine, to stay with her Uncle.

Luckily, Violet doesn’t see Maine as a punishment. In fact, her great-great-great Grandmother founded the town of Lyric after surviving a shipwreck, and they travel there as a family every summer.

She has a lot of good memories in that town. Maybe it will help her slow her brain down and find some inner peace.

Violet settles in quickly. Her Uncle is kind and understanding of her needs.

She gets a job at the local aquarium, and although still struggling with the stressors of her regular life, begins to make a new group of friends.

One of Violet’s missions for the summer is to locate the shipwreck that her ancestor survived. It is something she and Sam always talked about doing together and she wants to find it for him.

Along with her new friends, including a truth-seeking girl who makes Violet’s pulse race, she sets out to unravel the mystery of the wreck.

This is such a beautifully told story about family, self-discovery and forgiveness. Drake packed this full of hella serious subject matter, while writing with such humanity and care, it filled my heart.

The friendship group that Violet finds in Lyric are complete friendship goals. Additionally, the evolution of her relationship with Liv…

It was everything. It felt so real. The anticipation, those moments when you first figure out your feelings for another person. The excitement. I was legit swooning.

I also really appreciated Violet’s family. I like that her parents were supportive and loving. You could tell they wanted what was best for their kids.

I think oftentimes in literature, YA in particular, it seems like if a character is struggling with their mental health, they come from a horrible family, or their family isn’t there for them.

I thought it was nice to show that issues with mental health impact people from all segments of society, great families and not so great families alike. I also thought the ranges of the issues both Violet and Sam are working through were more varied than you generally see.

As you can tell, I was really impressed with how this novel handled the topic of mental health.

Overall, The Last True Poets of the Sea is the perfect read for anyone looking for a hard-hitting, Queer YA Contemporary. If those buzzwords work for you, make sure you pick this up!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. It is a story I will never forget.

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Review: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White AmericaTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the synopsis:

‘Short, emotional, literary, powerful―Tears We Cannot Stop is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.’

There are innumerable passages within this insightful and thought-provoking work by Michael Eric Dyson that I could quote here, but I’m not going to do that because I want you to read it for yourself.

The audiobook, narrated by the author, is just over 5-hours and in my opinion, is the most impactful way to read this. His gift in oration brings such fire and heart to the message, it is not to be missed.

Five hours out of your life.

Open your ears, open your mind, open your heart. Just listen. Don’t argue, nit-pick, ‘yeah, but’ your way through this.

JUST LISTEN.

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Review: In the Role of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby

In the Role of Brie Hutchens...In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Brie Hutchens is a dramatic girl, but she sort of has to be!

She wants to be an actress and she’s learned most of her craft from the Soaps she watches with her Mom.

As an 8th grader, she currently has her sights set on the school play, which she will use as a stepping stone for her application to a Performing Arts High School.

Additionally, at her private Catholic School, it is tradition for one of the 8th grade students to ‘crown Mary’ at a May Crowning ceremony. An acting gig of sorts. Perhaps she could do that too?

One afternoon, her mom catches her looking at scandalous photos of her favorite Soap star, Kelly Monaco, and she sort of jumps the gun on the crowning Mary thing. She tells her Mom, in haste, that she has been selected for the honor.

Her Mother, distracted by this tremendous news, seemingly forgets about the dirty photos. Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg for poor Brie.

In the Role of Brie Hutchens is an Own-Voices LGBTQ+ Middle Grade story that examines one girl’s discovery of her own sexual identity while trying to navigate the complexities of family, friendship and faith.

It’s a lot to juggle for anyone at any age, but for Brie the complexities quickly begin to feel overwhelming.

My heart absolutely ached for Brie. You can tell, as the reader, how personal this story is. It is written from the heart with passion, and compassion, for any young person dealing with a less than sympathetic world while they try to discover their truth.

For the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Brie.

The drama is real people, but as the story continues, you learn, that is just who Brie is. She certainly doesn’t mean anything by it. It is absolutely how she deals with the world around her.

With each turn of the page, my heart was more attached to her. I yearned for it all to just be okay. In my opinion, Melleby is absolutely brilliant at eliciting such emotions from her readers.

This was true for Hurricane Season and I believe it will be the same here.

The relationships in this book, particularly between Brie and her Mom, they were so moving. I have no words to describe how poignant those scenes were.

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet, yet deep, coming out tale. Some scenes were uncomfortable, but I believe the overall take away is worth it.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I will continue to read anything Melleby has published. She is a gem!

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Review: The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the WarThe Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

If you are looking to have your soul crushed in a beautiful way anytime soon, pick this book up!

In 1943, when Elise Sontag is just 14-years old, her Father is arrested under suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer.

A neighborhood boy, in their small Iowa town, claimed that Mr. Sontag told him he was ‘making a bomb’. A completely baseless accusation.

Sadly, that was all it took for the FBI to show up on the Sontag doorstep. The lives of the family would never be the same.

Ultimately, they, along with numerous other Japanese, German and Italian families were sent to an internment camp in rural-Texas, only taking with them what they could easily carry.

Their lives before nothing but a distant memory.

As a teen, Elise didn’t fully understand what was happening to them. She tries to take it one day at a time and just make the best of it. That’s a hard task for anyone, let alone a kid.

Early on, she meets a fellow internee, Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American girl from L.A., and the two become fast friends, bonding over their shared experience.

This story follows them through their time at the camp and beyond into adulthood. Told by an elderly Elise, I found this story heartbreaking.

Although this is purely a work of fiction, this situation did in fact happen to many, many families. That is a humbling thing to think about.

The strength of spirit it would take to overcome what the families in this story went through. I can’t even imagine. I really enjoy when historical fiction is able to bring the past to life in such a palpable and touching way.

It was overwhelming for me at times. Particularly the moments told by present day Elise, as she struggles with her pending memory loss and slide into the grips of Alzheimer’s. That hit very close to home for me and was hard to read.

I thought, as always, Meissner tackled each of the topics explored in here with care and grace. She has a beautiful storytelling ability and I was definitely swept away in Elise’s tale.

There were a few minor details that I wasn’t crazy about, some descriptions that I thought were a little odd, but overall, this was a wonderful book and I know a lot of people will enjoy it!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I apologize for taking so long to get to it and am kicking myself for not picking it up earlier!

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Review: Coral by Sara Ella

CoralCoral by Sara Ella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Coral, through the platform of a Little Mermaid reimagining, follows three perspectives through their struggles with mental illness.

Coral: A little mermaid who lost her oldest sister to Red Tide, a condition that mirrors depression.

Estranged and misunderstood by the rest of her family, Coral sets out to find the Prince she blames for her older sister’s demise.

Merrick: A young man whose controlling father is definitely the villain of his story.

After his little sister attempts suicide, and their mother runs off, unable to cope, he blames his father for the entire situation.

When his father announces that he is planning to send his sister, Amaya, to a residential treatment program, Merrick disagrees. He thinks she should be with family and essentially kidnaps her to avoid her going into treatment.

Brooke: The most mysterious of the perspectives, Brooke is struggling with depression and anxiety and currently residing in a treatment center. She is the most challenging to decipher.

As a reader, you can tell all three perspectives are related somehow, as the storylines begin to run parallel but you don’t know exactly how.

Once all is revealed, it makes sense and is a very heavy story to take in.

While I understand how important the topics tackled in this book are, I personally had a hard time connecting with the story.

The writing is strong and I know for the right person, read at the right time, this book could mean so, so much.

For me, the perspectives began to run into one another and I just never felt fully engrossed in the story. With this being said, I am still glad that I read this.

I think it is a completely unique way of exploring very serious mental health issues.

I urge you to read the author, Sara Ella‘s, review for this book as she includes a full list of trigger warnings. I definitely think that is important for this one.

Tread cautiously if you are at all worried that something may be harmful to your mental state.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I do consider this a heartbreakingly beautiful tale and appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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