by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Every month, I lead a buddy read over @unabridgedpod, focusing on a YA novel. We cover backlist titles and new releases, and our genres vary as well. They're always enlightening, and whether it's a first read or a re-read, I learn something from discussing the book with our community. (We'd love for you to join us! Just message us on IG or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.)
In 2022, we've covered four books, and our April read is going to be a re-read for me. So, here are my IG reviews of our 2022 buddy reads . . . so far.
Natasha Deen's In the Key of Nira Ghani (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Here's my review from back in 2019!
Emiko Jean's Tokyo Ever After (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Here are five things to know about the book:
1. Izzy is an excellent, realistic character to center such a fantasy-driven YA book. While the circumstances here are definitely out of the norm, Izzy herself is flawed and funny, and I just love both the way she struggles with knowing who she is and finds confidence in understanding what she wants.
2. The development of the relationship between Izumi and her father, the Crown Prince of Japan, is sweet and awkward, as it would be for any father and daughter who have never met. Izzy's mom is also wonderful, and the way she handled such bizarre circumstances while supporting her daughter is lovely.
3. The romance at the center of the book will warm the heart of anyone who loves a bodyguard story.
4. There's a wonderful sense of place as Izzy travels from her small home in California through glorious palaces in Japan. That emphasis on setting works well to show just how far from home and comfort Izzy really is.
5. Izzy's friends, who are quirky and confronational and over the top, are the perfect complements to much of what Izzy finds in Japan. I loved the way they bonded over their shared Asian heritage (even though their families hail from *very* different parts of Asia) and the way it sets them apart from their predominantly white high school peers, but they also celebrate and are accepting of their differences from each other. I can't wait for the sequel!
Meg Medina's Burn Baby Burn (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Meg Medina's Burn Baby Burn, which I listened to on audio thanks to @audiobooksync, is a fantastic YA historical novel centered on seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez who lives in New York in 1977 when the Son of Sam was terrorizing the city.
Nora lives with her brother Hector and her mother; her father, who is remarried and has a young son, isn't part of her life. Nora is ready to be done with school, and though her guidance counselor is encouraging her to enroll in college, Nora just isn't sure. She loves her shop classes and excels at construction and design; she also loves hanging out with her best friend (the daughter of a fire fighter), dancing disco, and working at a local grocery store where she meets a sweet, handsome guy.
The threat of a serial killer looms, but for Nora, the more pressing danger lies in her own home. Facing abuse and reckless outbursts, Nora years to feel safe again. She's too afraid and embarrassed to share the truth of her life, even when the violence starts bleeding outside of her small family.
This book has so much going for it: a great consideration of women's roles and opportunities that came along with the feminist movement; plenty of action and thrills with the Son of Sam stories; fun references to disco and 70s glamour; and a vivid protagonist. The written voice here is so strong, and it's only accentuated by narrator Marisol Ramirez. This is my first book by Meg Medina, but I'll definitely be picking up more.
Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Note: Our episode focused on Concrete Rose dropped last week!
I pre-ordered Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose the day it was announced. I am a huge fan of her debut novel The Hate U Give, which I've read multiple times, and Big Mav is one of my favorite characters. So, when I learned that Thomas was writing a prequel about Maverick when he was a teenager, I was so, so excited. And this one lived up to my expectations.
Here, Thomas gives us a Maverick who is struggling to help his mom pay the bills while his father is in prison. He joined the gang, the King Lords, to which his father belonged for protection, since the rival gangs in the area would want vengeance on his dad through Maverick. He has a girlfriend he loves, Lisa, but he's just found out that a one-night stand when he and Lisa had broken up resulted in a baby. At first, they thought the baby belonged to Iesha's boyfriend, King, who is also Mav's best friend. So, things are complicated. Maverick takes in the baby, who he names Seven, and tries to juggle his friends, the gang, a job, his mom, and being a father, and he feels as if he's not doing well with any of it.
What I loved about this novel is that I could see the beginnings of Big Mav from The Hate U Give: though he has his struggles, he also has a great sense of responsibility and of caring. He wants to be a good dad and to let Seven know that he loves him and will take care of him. He makes mistakes—so many mistakes—but he also takes responsibility for them and tries to do better.
Thomas does such a brilliant job at building Mav's voice and of letting the readers see the beginnings of a beloved character. I just absolutely loved this.
And coming up in May, we'll be reading . . .
Malinda Lo's Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
I admire so much authors who excel in different genres—they're just plain good writers. With Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo confirmed for me that she is an amazing writer. (I mean, I already knew, but this book is FANTASTIC.) Previously, I'd read Lo's fantasy retelling of Cinderella, Ash, and her sci fi novel Adaptation. Last Night at the Telegraph Club is historical fiction, set in 1950s Chinatown. For most of the novel, we're following Lily Hu, a seventeen-year-old girl who feels as if her life doesn't quite fit. She has friends, and she has a family she loves, but she also doesn't feel as if anyone truly knows her. She is, however, beginning to understand herself more, but in secret. At school, Lily begins to become closer with an acquaintance, Kathleen Miller, and together, they take a big step and go together to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar in a part of town Lily isn't supposed to enter. It's there that Lily finally feels as if people truly know her and that she may, at last, know herself, too. The novel addresses the ways that Lily's other relationships change as a result of her decisions.
Periodically, the book flashes back to other characters' stories: when her parents first met or when they realize that they won't be moving to China, as planned. Lo includes a historical timeline that also features important events in Lily's family's lives. Because of her family's country of origin, they come under suspicion at one point as Communists, another type of prejudice with which Lily must contend. Last Night at the Telegraph Club is an amazing YA work of historical fiction, a beautiful coming of age story with a compelling, nuanced protagonist and vivid supporting characters. It absolutely swept me away.
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