Review: 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston

10 Truths and a Dare10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With 10 Truths and a Dare, Ashely Elston returns the Reader to the loving, yet chaotic, Messina family. You may recall them from Elston’s 2019-release, 10 Blind Dates.

In this installment, we follow Olivia, one of the cousins, at the very end of her Senior year in high school. In fact, there is just a week to go until graduation.

Olivia has always taken school very seriously, so it is no surprise to anyone that she will be graduating second in her class.

As Salutatorian, she will be giving the welcome speech at the graduation ceremony. It’s kind of a big deal.

What does come as a surprise to Olivia, is the email she receives from the school, saying her off-campus PE teacher never filled out the paperwork needed to show she completed her golf class.

Meaning, without that course officially completed, she is a half-credit short of the credits she will need to graduate!

Olivia cannot believe it. There has to be a mistake. Everything she has worked so hard for can all be taken away from her because of golf!?

She needs to get in touch with her PE teacher, Coach Cantu, in order to clear this up. Otherwise, she will never be able to enjoy all the graduation parties she has to attend this week.

After talking with the coach, it’s clear, she needs extra credit and the only way to get it, is by helping him with the 4-day golf tournament occurring that week.

Olivia needs to hide all of this from her parents, who are luckily out of town, but her Mom tracks her like a police dog. She literally has a tracking app on her phone.

Making matters worse, her Mom knows her graduation party schedule and is really excited for it. How can Olivia possibly be in two places at once?

She’s going to have to call in reinforcements. The other members of the Fab Four, her cousins, Charlie and Sophie, as well as their other best friend, Sophie’s boyfriend, Wes, agree to help and get Olivia through the week.

As with 10 Blind Dates, this story is full of wacky hijinks, romance, humor and touching family moments.

I laughed, cried and felt a whole host of emotions in between. I adored the dynamic of the Fab Four. They really go all in to help Olivia through, what turns out to be, the most difficult week of her life.

The narrative is so fast-paced. I completed it in under 24-hours. Once I started, I could not put it down. I had to know the conclusion.

While this story focused more on the Fab Four, and less on the extended family members, I didn’t mind that at all. The other family was still there around the periphery, bringing that classic Messina family chaos that I grew to love in the first book.

I hope Elston writes more books following this family. Could there be a book for Charlie in the works?

I highly recommend this, or any other book by Ashley Elston, actually. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. Also, be sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of this.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide my thoughts and opinion.

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Review: Love & Olives (Love & Gelato #3) by Jenna Evans Welch

Love & Olives (Love & Gelato, #3)Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jenna Evans Welch has done it again. I absolutely loved my time spent reading Love & Olives.

This brought back the tone, humor, heart and gut-punching familial relationships of Love & Gelato. I’m so happy.

Liv Varanakis is surprised when she receives a postcard from her father asking her to travel to Greece to stay with him. He needs her help with a mystery project; something involving the lost city of Atlantis.

Honestly, Liv has been trying to forget her Dad. She has had little, to no, contact with him since he left when she was only 8-years old.

He returned to his native-country, Greece, and her and her mom were forced to make ends meet without him. It wasn’t always easy, but her mom has since remarried and she even has a half-brother now, who she adores.

She has to go though. Her Mom is making her go. It’ll be fine. Even though she has to miss her boyfriend’s Senior Trip; it’ll be fine.

Arriving on the beautiful island of Santorini, Liv’s nerves begin to get the best of her. She has no idea what to expect. Will she and her Dad even get along?

Things get off to a bit of a rocky start when a strange boy shows up in her Dad’s place to pick her up from the airport. Should she even trust this person?

He claims his name is Theo and that he works for her father. It’s like something out of a movie. She’s pretty sure she shouldn’t just go with him. She’s seen, Taken.

This story is an absolute delight. The Reader gets to follow along as Liv and her father try to repair their broken relationship. She gets to live in his book shop, with Theo, and their relationship blossoms as well.

Central to the story is the mystery of the lost city of Atlantis and the documentary film her father is making on the subject. Liv, an artist, is put in charge filming, a task she excels at.

The story is told through Liv’s perspective and it is full of humor. She has such a sarcastic, honest view of the events; it’s hilarious to read.

I loved the interactions between characters and how Welch incorporated some heavier topics throughout. Liv really grows over the course of the story. Watching her relationship with her father change, as she learns more about him, and about herself, was really lovely.

I have read some reviews where people commented on the length of the story; that it is too long. It is long, over 500-pages for a YA Contemporary, but looking back on it, I cannot think of one scene that I would have removed.

For me, every detail was needed in order to become as attached to Liv and her story as I did. Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Ultimately, I am so glad I picked this up. I didn’t have the greatest experience with Love & Luck, but I knew what Welch was capable of because of Love & Gelato.

I actually think this story is my favorite out of the three. Liv is my favorite protagonist, combined with the Atlantis lore and the documentary aspect, makes this a near perfect book for me.

As one of my favorite BookTubers always says, 10 out of 10, recommend! Let Greece sweep you away!

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Review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

You Have a MatchYou Have a Match by Emma Lord
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

You Have a Match is exactly what I have come to expect from Emma Lord.

A light, fun, heart-warming, Contemporary story that fills you with hope and positive energy.

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to support her friend, Leo. He’s adopted and wants to know more about where he came from.

Unfortunately, while Leo doesn’t discover much, Abby sure does. A secret sister!

Not a half sister, a full blown, we have the same parents sister. Basically, her entire life has been a lie. She can’t believe it. How could her parents keep something like that from her?

As it turns out, this sister is not much older than Abby and lives nearby. It also turns out she is a bona fide Instagram celebrity, with perfect hair, skin and the lifestyle to match. Great.

The girls first meeting, while not a total failure, doesn’t get them any closer to getting to the bottom of the mystery of their parents choices.

Even though she has to lie to her parents in order to do so, Abby agrees to attend a summer camp Savvy will be working at as a Junior Counselor, so that they will have more time to figure everything out.

The camp is located on an island and on her ferry ride there, Abby stumbles upon her best friend, and uncomfortable love interest, Leo.

Abby knew he went to a summer camp every year, but she had no idea it was THIS summer camp! It turns out Leo will be on the staff as well this summer, and he and Savvy have actually been friends for years.

This book is absolutely adorable. From the very first chapter, I was hooked right in to Lord’s writing. She has such a smooth, easy-to-read style. It makes her stories completely engaging!

There is a lot of drama in this one. She does manage to bring some important topics to her books, even though, overall, the feeling is light and fluffy.

As you can tell from the synopsis, as well as what I have written above, this story explores family relationships; what makes someone family, different types of family constructs, etc.

Abby is also struggling with grief due to the loss of her Poppy, and I liked how Lord handled that. Somehow, she has the ability to keep things light-hearted even while tackling these heavier topics.

The summer camp vibes were very fun as well. It gave the teen characters a little more freedom to engage with one another, than they would have had in a more traditional setting.

Plus, who doesn’t love summer camp!?

Overall, I had a great time reading this story. I will continue to pick it up anything Emma Lord writes. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to share my opinion.

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Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to BeCracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**

Cracked Up to Be was originally published in 2008.

Early in 2020, it was reissued with a beautiful new cover matching Sadie. I fell for it like a Publisher’s Dream.

This novel follows Parker Fadley, who was once the perfect it-girl at her local high school. She has recently taken a huge swan dive from grace.

You can tell through Parker’s musings that there was a triggering incident in Parker’s which caused her sudden personality and behavioral changes.

Once cheerleading captain, she now watches from the sidelines as her frenemy, Becky, takes the reins.

Becky is also now dating Parker’s ex-boyfriend, Chris, even though Parker insists he is still in love with her.

A new boy, Jake, is definitely interested in Parker, although she doesn’t understand why. She’s certainly not giving him heavy encouragement.

Currently on academic probation, she is just taking one day at a time. She really wants to graduate and if she gets caught doing anything unseemly, she most likely won’t.

We follow Parker through the day to day, but also get flashbacks to the mysterious party that may have led to her downfall.

I got to say, I was intrigued by this.

I really wanted to know what Parker’s secret was.

Once I found out, however, I wish I hadn’t.

I don’t think I have ever instantly detested a character more.

There was also a whole plot line involving a dog that I definitely could have done without. After I was done, the more I sat with it and thought about it, the more I hated it.

I ultimately decided on a 2.5-star rating because for 3/4 of the book, I was really interested, but yeah, in the end I felt nothing but disdain for Parker.

Moving on.

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Review: The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1)The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Tress Montor and Felicity Turnado were best friends when they were younger. Not anymore.

Now in high school, Tress has an ax to grind with Felicity. She wants some answers to a long-standing mystery and she believes Felicity has them.

When the girls where in the fourth grade, Tress’s parents disappeared late one night while driving Felicity home from their house.

Felicity was found bruised and bleeding at the side of the road, but the Montors were never seen again.

After that, Tress loses her life as she knew it. With no parents, and no one else to claim her, she is forced to live with her drunken grandfather at what the locals call the ‘white trash zoo’.

There are animals that Tress helps to feed and care for. A zebra, an ostrich, an alligator, a panther, among other things. Life is hard.

Tress is not cared for as a child should be and becomes a social pariah at school. Literally abandoned by the entire town, she has no one to advocate for her.

Felicity feels guilty for all that has happened to Tress. Part of her wants to comfort and care for her ex-best friend, but she doesn’t dare. What would people think?

Felicity keeps her true thoughts tucked deep inside her, like she’s been taught, all whilst exuding that Queen Bee attitude that everyone expects.

She’s rich, beautiful, popular and has a secret way to suppress her negative thoughts.

Tress has had enough of it all, so she develops a plan to get the answers she seeks.

It involves a crowded costume party at a deserted house, a coal chute, a lot of bricks and mortar. Felicity is going to talk, one way or another. Tress has nothing to lose.

Alternating between Tress and Felicity’s perspectives, this novel follows the girl’s friendship from the start, to the present, and through various stages in between.

Both girls keep a lot of things to themselves. There is anger, guilt and plenty of low self esteem to go around.

This story is extremely heavy. There is a ton of baggage between these two girls. Even when they aren’t the ones doing things to one another, they are there to bear witness.

They’ve been intertwined in one another’s lives for a long time. As a reader, you can feel the weight of that history. It’s almost tangible.

I found this entire storyline unique and completely engaging. Once I started reading, I could not put this down.

It’s just so well written. I know that this story will not be for everyone, but I think the people who are going to enjoy it, are REALLY going to enjoy it.

McGinnis was not afraid to go dark and stay there. There is not one moment of lightness in this novel and I was here for it.

I cannot believe how this one ended up. The final few scenes, my word.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I really, really enjoyed this and cannot wait to see how this duology turns out!!!

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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: Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Today Tonight TomorrowToday Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A super precious love letter to Seattle and first loves.

Sticky sweet in every way. I absolutely adored this!

On the last day of Senior year, Rowan Roth wants to beat her archenemy, Neil McNair, one last time. The two have been in a brutal competition with one another since the start of high school, coming in first and second at almost EVERYTHING.

The rank of valedictorian is no different; a goal they have both been working towards. Early in the day, it is announced that Neil has won the honor, and Rowan is understandably crushed.

She now literally only has one opportunity left to beat him. Senior Howl, a scavenger hunt-type game arranged by the Junior class, and played by the Seniors on their last day.

Rowan is confident she has what it takes to go the distance with Howl. No one knows and loves the city of Seattle like she does. These scavenger hunt clues don’t stand a chance of stopping her.

When word gets out that a group of Seniors want to take Neil and Rowan out of Howl, the odd couple must team up and work together if they want to survive the night.

Please note, by survive the night, I just mean that people playing against them have the ability to tag them out of play, not literally that people are trying to kill them.

As the day and night go on, Rowan and Neil begin to open up to one another and something truly magical happens.

I have not felt this in love with two teens relationship since Love & Gelato. They are both incredibly smart, well-balanced characters and their banter back and forth was everything.

While the relationship between Rowan and Neil makes up the bulk of the story, this book also delves into some fairly serious topics as well.

I think as an examination of the feelings and concerns someone on the cusp of adulthood may have, Solomon did a great job. It’s a scary time, graduating high school and potentially leaving everything you have ever known behind.

It can be sad and scary, while also being exciting as you forge out on your own.

The dichotomy of those feelings can be incredibly confusing and I think the author did a phenomenal job of laying that out there.

Overall, I was really impressed with this. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves YA Contemporary stories.

I literally have no critiques. The more I think on it, the more I love it. I am definitely looking forward to reading more from Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon Pulse, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. It was a blast!

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Flashback Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

AllegedlyAllegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Hello, my lovely book friends! Today I thought I would bring you a Flashback review. I originally read and reviewed this novel back in September 2018.

Why am I bringing it up again, you may be wondering?

That’s easy. Because I love this book and still think about it to this day. Also, this novel introduced me to one of my FAVORITE YA Contemporary authors. Tiffany D. Jackson’s writing takes me places and I love every minute of it. Read my full thoughts below and I hope, if you haven’t already, you’ll seriously consider picking up some of Jackson’s work!

Allegedly was Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel!?

Yeah, think on that for a while. This. Is. A. Debut.

I am still reeling from this book. It’s one of those stories that sticks with you long after you turn the final page.

Following teenage protagonist, Mary Addison, after she is released from ‘Baby Jail.‘, she now resides in a group home and is trying to adapt to surroundings.

Mary Addison entered Baby Jail after being accused, and prosecuted, for killing a baby that she was helping her mother take care of.

Allegedly.

The majority of the book is stream of consciousness narrative, which generally is hit or miss for me. This is a definite hit and how it should be done.

It was incredibly moving to hear Mary’s remembrances of various parts of her childhood, her challenging relationship with her mentally ill mother, and of her alleged crime.

The rest of the book cleverly fills in the blanks with an excellent assortment of mixed media sources, such as police interviews and court transcripts.

I thought the blending of these two styles together was executed perfectly to reveal the truth at the heart of the story.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the way it reflected upon the juvenile justice system. Shining a much needed light on the hopelessness and desperation these kids experience, not to mention the general systematic failures.

Behind every case number, inmate number and statistic, is a story. This is just one.

Mary Addison is a whip-smart, mixed race girl, who struggles with low feelings of self-worth and faces a boatload of obstacles.

Her codependency with her mother and her mental illness was so raw. I truly felt for this girl. I was drawn into her story. It was such a struggle to get through some sections, but completely worth it.

It was so well done that at times, I would be so wrapped up, I had to remind myself that Mary Addison is FICTION. Sadly, for a lot of kids out there, too many kids, this story is all too real.

I did listen to the audiobook for this and DAMN, Bahni Turpin can make you feel all the feels. She is so talented and truly brought the story to life for me. I was listening to Mary as far as I was concerned. I could not recommend this audiobook highly enough.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Tiffany D. Jackson is one hell of a writer!

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Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black FlamingoThe Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!!!

The Black Flamingo is a novel written in verse. My first read ever in verse. Going in, I was concerned. I wanted to read it because of the subject matter, but I just wasn’t sure if the format would work for me.

My experience with poetry, of any sort, is limited, and those I have had, were not great. My mind just generally doesn’t work that way. Maybe I’m too literal, but I tend to have a hard time deciphering the meaning and I become easily frustrated.

I decided to try the audiobook because it is read by the author, Dean Atta, who happens to be a well-known poet, and I figured, who better to hear the words from, in the way he wants them to be heard.

Upon conclusion, I know that was the correct decision for me. I definitely recommend the audiobook for other readers who may be apprehensive about a novel written in verse.

It literally feels like you are sitting down to coffee with a new friend and hearing about their life thus far.

This story follows Michael, a mixed race, gay boy growing up in the UK. The narrative follows him from the very beginning of his life, up through his time at University; although the bulk of it does take place during his teen years.

He goes in depth into his thoughts and feelings surrounding his family, his heritage of being part-Greek Cypriot and part-Jamaican, his heartache over his absentee father, his discovery of his sexuality and many other topical issues.

As a reader, it completely sucks you in. I could not stop listening. I just let the words wash over me and take me into Michael’s world.

With this novel, I felt the same as I did with Kacen Callender’s, Felix Ever After, in that I was completely and whole-heartedly entranced by the main character’s story and emotions.

I think with both it has to do with the writing. You are reading from the main character’s perspective the entire way through and you get access to their deepest, most open thoughts. Thoughts they may never choose to vocalize to other characters.

I think due to this special insight and openness with emotion, it is very easy to become attached to them, as you know how precious they are and how hurtful the world can be. It made me feel protective of both Michael and Felix; it also opened my eyes to perspectives they discussed that I will never experience myself.

That’s the best way I can think to describe how this book made me feel. My apologies if that makes no sense at all.

My best advice, read it for yourself. I think you’ll understand after you do.

I loved the evolution of Michael’s character as he literally grows up and discovers the best ways for him to express himself and live happily. His character is very open to the experience of University life and takes in all the activities that may not have been available to him when he was younger.

When he joins the Drag Society he begins to gain the confidence he needs to finally be the person he wants to be. These sections, particularly the final scene with his performance, were incredibly moving. Applause for days!

In short, this is an amazing novel, one I think any person can read and take their own lessons from. I will definitely be more comfortable picking up novels written in verse in the future.

Let this be a lesson to you, read outside of your comfort zones!! You never know what GEMS you will find!

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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

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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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