Book Review: the princess saves herself in this one by amanda lovelace

The Princess Saves Herself in This One is Amanda Lovelace’s debut poetry collection. This powerful collection follows the transformation of one woman coming into her own body. Divided into four sections, these poems follow a princess turned damsel turned queen, and finally conclude in the last section titled “You.” The Princess tells the story of a powerless girl in an abusive family who has to come to terms with her childhood. Many of these poems follow the harmful relationship between the mother and daughter and the impact of beauty standards on children.

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This above poem is an excerpt from the Princess section and follows the burning of the Princess’ childhood home. This poem reminds me of my own childhood and feeling like a stranger in my own skin. Lovelace captures the complicated relationship between the body and our self with which we constantly struggle. This poem also makes it okay to not feel at home in your own skin, though, which is something I wish I’d known at thirteen.

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This poem is from the Damsel section and addresses the Damsel’s complex relationship with her verbally abusive mother and how she comes to terms with her mother’s terminal cancer. Although the Damsel doesn’t give us a positive opinion of her mother in the first part of the collection, Lovelace was able to make me understand why this relationship is so complicated. The Damsel may have been mistreated by her mother, but she still loves her mother deeply. With her mother coming closer to death, the Damsel’s own existence feels debatable. Lovelace begs the painful question of how can a mother forget her own daughter’s name? How can any sickness take the love a mother is supposed to show towards her children (as complicated and harmful as it may be) and erase it? This stood out to me as one of the most painful and touching poems in the entire collection because of the questions I had after reading it.

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As someone who graduated two months ago with an English degree, this poem was the biggest relief to read. I mean, seriously, this poem felt amazing to read and summed up my feelings towards anyone asking about my future plans, which, I DON’T KNOW!!!! It also released a waterfall in my Little Writer Heart that kicked my Writer Drought out of the house until it can come back with Writer Rent. Seriously, this poem gave me such a feeling of momentary calm and relief in the middle of the summer in which I’m trying to figure out my entire life.

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This last poem is from the last section of the collection, the “You” section. While all of the poems in the collection so far had been following the narrator through her changing roles as she grew up and had to overcome obstacles, these poems feel like Lovelace wrote them for the reader. They are literally for you, and this one particularly felt directed at me. This poem is the reason I write, the reason I read. Writing is dirty and hard work, but when you’ve finish your work, you come through the other side of summer with a beautiful garden where you can enjoy the sweet fruit of your labors. Lovelace gives you a reason to keep writing (or painting or developing software tech. or teaching kids in a school, whatever it is you may do).

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Some days getting up seemed like a bigger commitment than I was ready for.”

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life? More like the inexplicable logic of the feels this book gave me. Once again Benjamin Alire Sáenz has graced the literary world with a new book that left me crying in my bed at 2AM. The story follows seventeen year old Salvador Silva in his senior year of high school as he tries to understand the violent outbursts he starts having and how it might be connected to his birth father who he had never met. Adopted into a Mexican-American family after his mother’s death when he was three and raised by a gay father, Sal grows up in a loving and tightknit family. Like Sáenz’s past novels, the story is character driven and follows the emotional struggle of the main character and his friend’s rather than giving an elaborate plot. Sal must learn how to be a person on his own and also accept that people won’t always be around no matter how much he loves them.

Sal’s caring family is contrasted by his best friend Samantha’s family: an absent father and a mother who is constantly out with boyfriends. Sal also befriends Fito, the hardworking son of a drug addict who is trying to get enough money for college so he can leave home for good (and honestly deserves so much better). Both Fito and Sam are ambitious, hilarious, smart side characters who weave their way into the hearts of readers and don’t for a second believe themselves to be anything but the main characters of this story. Together they teach Sal that family is not just blood but heart and soul.

Sal’s dad, Vincente Silva, is also undergoing a change as his mother gets terminal cancer and an old love comes back into his life. While Sal’s heart is willing to love everyone he meets, Vincente’s has built a protective shelter around it over the years and he must learn to let go of one love and let in another if he ever wants to be truly happy. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a love story through and through, following the men of one family as they come into themselves and let themselves love and be loved.

If I were a poet

I would write a poem

that would make the oceans

clean again.

I would write a poem

so pure that it would rain for days

and when the skies were clear again,

a million stars would fill the summer nights.

I would write a poem to make the people see

guns are guns and unworthy of our love.

I would write a poem to make

all the bullets disappear.

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book Review:  The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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If this book is important for nothing else, it is important for teaching me that drip drying was a thing that people do in desperate times and it’s pretty freakin’ somewhat socially acceptable. The Upside of Unrequited is Becky Albertalli’s second book and follows a summer in seventeen year old Molly Peskin-Suso’s life as her moms plan a wedding, her twin sister falls in love with a beautiful girl, and she finally decides to face her fear of rejection and get a boyfriend. Of course there’s only one little problem. Molly is a social disaster and can hardly speak to a boy without blushing, let alone date one. When Molly starts her summer job at a hip boutique, she meets the one boy she can talk to and not feel queasy. Enter Reid Wertheim. Molly finds a new friend in geeky, husky Reid, and her twin sister, Cassie, seems to think there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye.

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While this book is humorous and a good read, there were several issues I had with Molly’s story. First, why does she have to have a boyfriend? Now, I understand. I really do. I’m going into a book that is clearly going to be about love and crushes. The first sentence of the synopsis on the inside jacket cover states that she has lived through unrequited love twenty-six times. My problem is that Molly very rarely seems to actually want a boyfriend. When she sees her friends with their significant others, she feels lonely for a moment, but most of the insistence that Molly get a boyfriend seems to stem directly from Cassie or her friend group. Molly herself just seems to want someone to do date stuff with. Like a date. Which does not necessarily equal boyfriend. I would have really liked to see Molly date around and build up confidence in her dating abilities through a series of awful and terribly hilarious dates rather than feel pressured to get a boyfriend the entire book. Now that being said, I should note that I’m asexual and aromantic and don’t fully understand why people want boyfriends or girlfriends or both when you could just have lots of best friends and friend dates. So maybe there’s a desire that gets lost in translation here and that’s entirely on me, but Molly is seventeen and young and has her whole life to get a boyfriend.

Another issue I had was with Molly and Will. Will is best friends to Mina (Cassies’s girlfriend) and is the boy that Cassie wants Molly to date (and marry one day so that they can marry best friends). While Will is physically attractive to Molly, there doesn’t seem to be much else to him. Their conversations are barely conversations and they don’t really become friends or have any sort of comradery between them at all. Every interaction they had just felt pressured and like neither wanted to be having it. If they became friends, I would’ve rooted for them. Maybe.

That being said, I did enjoy this book. I loved Molly’s squad and when the girls all got together, #SquadGoals were achieved. It was refreshing to see such love passed between a group of female friends, all so supportive of each other. Molly was someone who I would love to be friends with IRL, funny and creative and so caring for her friends. Olivia, however, was my favorite. Not only does she realize her douchebag ex is a douchebag pretty quickly after they split, but she also befriends Reid when no one else seems interested and she supports Molly 100% in everything she does. Olivia is best. Everyone needs an Olivia in their life.

Cassie, on the other hand, grated on me. In the beginning, Cassie was great. She was funny, love-struck, and supportive of Molly turning a crush into a boyfriend. But as the story went on, she only seemed to care about Molly when trying to hook Molly up with Will. Their interactions began to feel overwhelmingly pressured and tense. Cassie was wrapped up in her first girlfriend, Mina, which happens, but that’s not a good excuse for pressuring her sister into also getting a partner. I will say this for Cassie though: she did try and include Molly in activities with Mina. They just weren’t really activities Molly would enjoy or they involved Will in some way.

Although this review feels more bad than good, Albertalli wrote a fun read about a fat girl coming into her own and learning to take up spaces she doesn’t think she can have. Molly accepts her body as a part of her and, although she doesn’t like her weight entirely by the end, she comes to realize that she is not defined by her size and that she doesn’t deserve less because of it. Although I enjoyed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda a lot more, The Upside of Unrequited is a good story that I would recommend for anyone a little afraid of love.

Book Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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Well, I never thought I could be this broken over a shapeshifting child monster and two gay and in love arch-nemeses. What a story! Nimona by Noelle Stevenson has been on my reading list for waaaaay too long now, but I finally picked up a copy from my library and sat down and read it yesterday. And wow. What. A. Story. Nimona takes place in a magical land in a magical time of knights and modern day science and technology and an evil institution that just so happen to rule the land. Nimona is shapeshifting child who takes it upon herself to be sidekick to the villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, who has spent years trying to exact his revenge on Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin who shot his arm off years before at the hero academy, ending any chance Blackheart had of becoming a hero.

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Stevenson’s graphic novel began lighthearted and humorous. Nimona appears in Blackheart’s laboratory insisting she was sent to help better his image. Blackheart, knowing she’s lying, takes her on after she reveals herself to be a shapeshifter. Together they plan to kidnap a king for ransom but their plans quickly go sideways, and instead the pair stumble across secret plans the Institution has for poisoning the food supply of their kingdom. Lighthearted, right? As the tale weaves on, the role of good and bad gets complicated as Blackheart tries to save the commoners, Goldenloin fights for the Institution, and Nimona murders many, many goons.

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Although Nimona follows the basic adventure plot, Stevenson leaves readers grasping onto each page waiting to see how the story climaxes and who Nimona really is. Stevenson’s art sets the tone in each page. Whether Nimona is shapeshifting into a shark, holding up plans to destroy a city while grinning hopefully from behind the paper, or setting fire to a game of Monopoly World Domination after losing epically, her presence makes every funnier and more heartfelt. If I haven’t convinced you to read Nimona yet, hopefully, the panels below will finish the job. Seriously, go out and read this right now.

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Book Review: Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book Review: Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I’m too busy trying not to be in love with someone who isn’t real.

I try not to make it a habit to review a book as soon as I finish reading it. My emotions are too built up from the experience I’ve just had and I need a breather to collect my thoughts. But with Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda I absolutely had to get my thoughts down before they were lost to the bundle of comics I’ll be reading through this weekend. This book is cute. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way or to say it is without deeper substance. Becky Albertalli does a wonderful job of looking at queer experiences in southern high schools. She also addresses race relations among urban youths today and the weird segregation of Atlanta Public Schools (Come on, Atlanta, what’s up with that?). But my first reaction to this novel was that it was sooooooo cute.

Simon Spier, a sixteen-year-old theater kid, gets blackmailed by his classmate Martin after Martin comes across some more-than-platonic emails Simon (using the alias Jacques) had been sending to another classmate going by the pseudonym, Blue.  Blue is a boy, and while Simon might be open about his sexuality with Blue, he most certainly is not in his offline life. While Martin uses this leverage to get closer to a girl, Simon must come to accept who he is online and offline and also try to save his friend group from falling to shambles while keeping up his relationship with Blue. Albertalli creates a beautiful, genuine, heartwarming story from the sorrows and triumphs of Simon’s junior year to tell the tale of young romance, coming of age, and coming out in the age of social media.

My favorite thing about this book was the feelings I got from every page. The entire time I was reading it, I felt like chocolate chip cookies just coming out of the oven, warm and soft and comforted. I couldn’t help but smile as Simon tried his first beer, and I felt utterly connected to him when he describes his sister, Alice, coming home after being away at college for the last three months. “I don’t think I realized until this moment how weird it’s been without her,” he says as the reunited siblings stay up late munching on cookies and gossiping. Then a few minutes later: “Everything is a little more perfect when she’s here.” In just two lines, I’m a fourteen year old kid again waiting for my brother to come back home for his fall break. Albertalli mostly keeps Simon’s story light and fun, but when she has to strike my emotional tear ducts, her aim is true.

Another line that tugged my heartstrings is after Blue finds out Simon’s real identity and Simon, still clueless about who Blue might be, goes to school the next day hoping Blue will approach him, only to get through the day and still not know. “When the school day ends,” Simon says, “and nothing extraordinary has happened, it’s a tiny heartbreak. It’s like eleven o’clock on the night of your birthday, when you realize no one’s throwing you a surprise party after all.” A tiny heartbreak doesn’t allow me to feel what Simon feels, but “no one’s throwing you a surprise party” tells me exactly how Simon felt going home that afternoon: alone, sad, and like your best friend disappointed you.

If you want a good, heartfelt love story, this is the book for you. Albertalli doesn’t get too Afterschool Special in this book, but she does point out predisposed notions white people tend to have when talking to someone they don’t know the race or sexuality. “White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.” Simon’s story may feel light and full of fluffy warm love clouds (Never write that again, Rebekah) because it is, but it’s also so much else. I’m definitely going to check out Albertalli’s second novel The Upside of Unrequited (which came out in April!) as soon as my library gets a copy.

I can tell from her expression that a conversation is coming. Some kind of awkward discussion about ground rules. Some kind of big deal.

But maybe this is a big deal. Maybe it’s a holy freaking huge awesome deal.

Maybe I want it to be.

 

Book Review: Because You’ll Never Meet Me & Nowhere Near You

Book Review: Because You’ll Never Meet Me & Nowhere Near You

“Our relationship is not determined by proximity. We are boundless, Ollie.” 

Remember when you were a kid playing Would You Rather and the choices were would you rather live in the middle of the woods with no one around and unable to see your friends or live surrounded by people who hated you because of how you looked? For Ollie Paulot and Moritz Farber these options are not a game. Leah Thomas’ debut novel, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and its sequel, Nowhere Near You, tell the story of two teenage boys with abnormal birth defects who become pen pals as a way to cope with their isolation. Oliver Paulot was born allergic to electricity and has lived his whole life in the deep forests of Michigan. Moritz Farber, born with no eyes and raised in a laboratory where he was experimented on by his mother, attends a public high school in Germany and hates every second of his public exposure. Through their correspondence, Ollie finds the strength to leave his isolated cabin and live his life in a world that could kill him while Moritz overcomes the isolation inside himself that has shielded him from the world and makes friends, defeats a bully, and learns that even he deserves a shot at life. Thomas has created a beautiful, poignant story of friendship, love, and finding family in the people with the largest walls.

Thomas combines science fiction and the epistolary novel to create this heartfelt coming of age story. Over the course of the first book, readers learn that Ollie can destroy electrical devices just as they send him into seizures. Because of his allergy, he has developed some form of electroreception and can see waves of color coming from different electrical devices when they are turned on. That is, if he doesn’t have a seizure first. Moritz was experimented on as a child and witnessed dozens of other children like him who had too many or too few body parts to be considered normal. Because of his lack of visual sight, his ears have developed increased hearing and he is able to see people’s actions through this enhancement. This is called Echolocation (Note: He’s basically Matt Murdock before Matt Murdock became Daredevil).

Because You’ll Never Meet Me and Nowhere Near You are two incredibly well-written books following the lives of two endearing, courageous, complex boys. As a reader, I was helpless to fall in love with Ollie and Moritz and cheered them on as they found power within themselves and in those like them. Thomas took me on an adventure in these novels and proved herself to be a truly inventive up-and-coming author. Add this series to your to-read list and keep Leah Thomas in mind when looking for a new book to fall in love with.

“They left us in the toilet. In the deepest pile of shit. And we’re coated in the crappy residue of their decisions. But that does not mean we are the ones who pooped Moritz. And neither are we the poop. 

Never think that. We are not the poop.”

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(Image: Me, so pumped the books offered to take a photograph with me that I couldn’t contain my excitement in time)