Book Review: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Book Review: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Director, writer, and native New Yorker Michael Barakiva debuts his first novel, One Man Guy, a coming-of-age story following an Armenian American boy who experiences falling in love for the first time while dealing with the social struggle of being both Armenian and American. Barakiva writes a comedic, gratifying love story where fourteen-year-old Alex Khederian learns how to love, not just someone else, but his overbearing family and himself. This novel includes:

  • Many mentions of delicious Armenian food
  • Conflicting family pride
  • Sk8er Bois (Avril Lavigne™ 2002)
  • Many old film references
  • A full scale teen movie makeover
  • Free tour of New York City
  • The Most Awkward Parent Meet-&-Greet Ever!!!

Alex is a sweet and intriguing narrator and my heart went out to him on every page. Give this book a try if you want a short, fun, heartfelt New York City Guidebook disguised as a bildungsroman. Plus, come on, guys. Watching a makeover on screen is one thing, but reading one? It is literally one of the greatest scenes in any book I’ve ever read. Read this!!!

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Book Review: Sometimes We Tell the Truth by Kim Zarins

Book Review: Sometimes We Tell the Truth by Kim Zarins

“It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a young, unmarried woman is in want of a dolphin.”

In a modern day retelling of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, twenty-two high school seniors sharing a Civics class, their young, hopeful teacher, Mr. Bailey, and a disgruntled bus driver take a class trip to Washington D.C. How does Kim Zarins’ debut novel, Sometimes We Tell the Truth, adapt The Canterbury Tales to a modern day high school field trip? Zarins has each student tell a story and whoever has the best story by the end of the trip will receive an automatic A in the class. Our narrator, Jeff Chaucer, a shy writer, quietly watches the tales unfold while giving readers a glimpse into his own story where he and his ex-best friend haven’t spoken in months and the truth of what happened behind the senior prank gone wrong comes unveiled. In the nine hour bus ride, Jeff is forced to realize that while he may have gone to school with these kids for the last four years, he never really knew them until this day. Zarins does a fantastic job of giving attention to each storyteller throughout this novel, keeping them in character, and keeping each character uniquely their own.

While Zarins is obviously using The Canterbury Tales as a foundation for this story to follow, she pulls from other authors when the students tell their own story, using fanfiction to give each student a voice. Pard uses Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels to tell his own story using DEATH’s character and three original characters to tell the story of his broken friendships and how he was betrayed by his best friend, Jeff. Many of the students put one another in the stories to add familiarity and fun to the storytelling or just to put a classmate in their place. Mari, a writer like Jeff, creates a continuation of Charlotte’s Web where one jock classmate, Rooster, plays a cocky, sex-crazed rooster who almost gets his neck bitten off by a fox because of vanity. Narnia, Harry Potter, and King Arthur’s court all appear as background worlds for some of the stories, giving credit to the stories that influenced these students’ childhoods just as The Canterbury Tales pulls on classic medieval literature.

The number of characters does make it difficult to keep track of who’s who at first. That’s why Zarins includes a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the novel with detailed descriptions of each student. This novel is hilarious, distinctive, and a treasure to read. Each character pops out of the page, but most importantly, Sometimes We Tell the Truth has saved me from ever having to read The Canterbury Tales!

“I’m going to write this whole thing. I’m going to write everyone’s stories and make a novel of it. A NOVEl. Not just the stories, but everything. The interruptions, the bickering, the coffee breaks. It’s going to be about loneliness and finding each others’ truths on the slant through the stories they tell. It’s going to be about lies and big reveals and how we shuffle and deal the cards and bet our souls away. It’s going to be about EVERYTHING.”

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.

Princess 1

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

Nimona

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.