Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book–Henry “Monty” Montague, bisexual teenager and soon-to-be British lord, is a drunk disappointment to his abusive father. His last hurrah before descending into the doldrums of running the estate at his father’s side is his grand tour, the trip around the European continent that many young male aristocrats take to shore up overseas alliances and soak up some culture. Monty is not interested in alliances or culture; he’s interested in (read: has a massive crush on) his traveling companion, his biracial best friend Percy, and in getting drunk and laid as much as possible. Monty’s tour gets hijacked by his father sending along his sharp-tongued little sister Felicity and, even worse, a chaperone to keep Monty on a strict itinerary. However, when Monty swipes a MacGuffin from one of his father’s allies and highwaymen ransack their carriage to get it back, their tour takes a sharp turn toward adventure, complete with alchemy, pirates, and even true love.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so darn much fun. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all such well-drawn characters with great dialog and relationships with each other. While each of the characters has some darkness and secrets in them, the overall tone is optimistic. If I had any complaint about this book, it’s that it felt too modern. Monty’s coolness with his bisexuality (and conception of it as such) among other things seems anachronistic and is not entirely explained away by the Author’s Note at the end. If you enjoy this one, you might also like the Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette for a darker, more complex take on an adventuring and queer romance story or Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda if you were into it for the character dynamics and romance, but not the adventure.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Book–High school senior Desi Lee likes to have her life under control. With perfect SAT scores, high school popularity, and a great relationship with her goofy, Korean-drama-obsessed widower dad, Desi’s drive and methodical determination have gotten her almost everything she wants in life. The only thing she’s missing is a boyfriend. When she feels an instant connection with impossibly cool and handsome new student Luca Drakos, she decides to apply her scholarly single-mindedness to the project of snagging Luca. Using her father’s Korean drama formulaic romances as a template, she devises a step-by-step plan to win Luca over. Staged near-death experiences and contrived K-drama hijinks ensue.

I had mixed feelings about this book; Desi’s plans cause real harm to real (well, fictional-real) people and she is upfront about how bonkers her plans get. I found that this book was immensely fun if I didn’t take it too seriously, sort of like Korean dramas themselves, in fact. Desi is a charming, strong-willed protagonist with an out-of-whack moral compass who, without spoiling anything, gets off a bit too easy for some of the dangerous stunts she pulls. If you enjoy I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I recommend books by Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Book – Ginny Moon is an autistic fourteen-year-old finally living in her “Forever House” with her adoptive parents, Maura and Brian. Abused and neglected by her mother, Ginny had been placed into foster care when she was nine. Ginny works with a therapist, Patrice, to help her set up guidelines for more successful relationships and behavior. She struggles to make sense of her world and rituals and rules help her. When her Forever Parents learn they are expecting a baby, their fears about Ginny’s behavior derail her progress. In the midst of their struggle, Ginny becomes increasingly intent on finding Baby Doll, who she remembers leaving behind in a suitcase when her mother was arrested. With her limited ability to communicate, she attempts to explain about Baby Doll. As Ginny’s story unfolds, we meet her biological family and, through Ginny’s eyes, we begin to understand what she is searching for. This poignant story made me think about how easy it is to jump to conclusions instead of really listening to the meaning behind the words. Ginny’s journey shows that life isn’t easy, being a hero isn’t easy and, most of all, being an outsider isn’t easy.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book— Despite 26 crushes, Molly Peskin-Suso has never had a kiss or a  boyfriend. Her twin sister Cassie gets a girlfriend, her friends have boyfriends, even her two moms are getting married, but Molly has no one and obsesses about it, feeling awkward and left behind. Molly decides to do something revolutionary–rather than just crushing silently, she chooses to risk rejection and go after the boy she wants. The trouble is deciding which one. Will she go after Will, the cute, hipster-cool best friend of Cassie’s girlfriend, or Reid, the nerdy, so-uncool-it’s-almost-cool boy at her summer job?

While Molly is sometimes so boy-crazy that it’s suffocating to read about, she is a witty, engaging narrator who feels like a real teenager, complete with a Pinterest obsession and dialogue laden with tumblrspeak. Molly is chubby and suffers from anxiety for which she takes medication, situations which Albertalli portrays realistically and sensitively. This is a light, fun book with lots of diverse representation that’s perfect for summertime. The Upside of Unrequited will appeal to readers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell as well as those who enjoyed Albertalli’s Lincoln-nominated first book, Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda.

Beast by Brie Spangler

Book--Ever since the 6th grade, Dylan has been larger than other boys. Now at over 6 ft. tall, improbably hairy, and still growing, 15-year-old Dylan (called Beast by his peers) hides his face under hats and feels trapped in a body that doesn’t match his insides. When his school bans hats, Dylan walks off the edge of the school building and breaks his leg. He claims it was an accident. His orthopedist and his mother don’t agree. They send him to counseling for teenagers with self-harming tendencies, where he meets Jamie. Jamie is beautiful, smart, and funny, just the kind of girl that would impress Dylan’s friends. Because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Dylan starts to shed some of his shallowness and misogyny as he falls in love with her, and begins to let go of his anger at the world. However, when Dylan learns that Jamie is transgender (a fact that she told him when they first met, had he been listening), he freaks out and pulls away from her. Will Dylan be able to get over his knee-jerk transphobia and apologize to Jamie? Will she be able to forgive him? Will they get back together?

Of course they will. But reading about how is the whole fun of it. I really enjoyed reading about Dylan’s journey from crass and callow teenage boy to sensitive young man. Despite being a fairy tale retelling, Beast stands on its own. If you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy other LBGT classic story retellings aimed at young adults (yes, this is a whole genre) such as Ash by Malinda Lo (retells Cinderella), Great by Sara Benincasa (retells The Great Gatsby), and As I Descended (retells Macbeth).

As I Descended by Robin Talley

imagesBook–Roommates (and secret couple) Maria and Lily are students at the elite boarding school Acheron Academy. The girls excel at academics, extra-curricular activities, and popularity contests, especially Maria. The only problem, from their perspective, is that they are not the very best. Fellow student Delilah Dufrey holds this honor: she is valedictorian, captain of their soccer team, and a shoo-in for homecoming queen. Delilah is also at the top of the list to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley prize, a full college ride and two years of free grad school to the winner. While none of the girls actually need the money, they all crave the status, and Maria wants to ensure that she gets into Stanford with Lily.

To ensure the prize goes to Maria and to stay together, Lily is willing to do anything, even exploit Maria’s belief in ghosts and the supernatural to convince her that getting the prize is foreordained. What follows is a a full-on, ghost-laden, Shakespearean tragedy that neither girl could have predicted where bad decisions pile on top of each other and lies beget more lies. Like The Tragedy of Macbeth that it’s based on, As I Descended is an exploration of the lengths that the desire for power can drive people to.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016)

MV5BNjQzMTczNjI0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY5MTY5OTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,631,1000_AL_Movie –  Having been kicked out of a couple previous middle schools Rafe (Griffin Gluck) is sent to a super conservative strict school with many rules. This school is void of any creativity and personalization. Its more about the test scores than the student taking the test.  Rafes only outlet is a journal he doodles in day in and out. With his active imagination anything is possible. At this new school, along with his best friend Leo, he vows to anonymously (as to not get expelled again) break each and every rule the principal has set.  At home his life is not much better. Mom is dating a total freeloading jerk who hates kids. Rafe and his little sister do the best they can to stick together and get through life. Overall its been a rough few years for Rafe.

To be honest, I was up in the air on if I even wanted to see this one. I wasn’t sure I would be able to empathize with any of the characters of this age group. This movie is rated PG, but I feel the overall story line is superb. The pranks that are pulled in this movie are hysterical, and the dramatic parts are well highly dramatic. This movie had me in tears at the end.  This movie is based off of The Worst Years of My Life by James Paterson and Chris Tebbetts. Although I have yet to read the book, I suspect it will dive into the educational system structure and flaws in a comical manner.

Nerve (2016)

10768Movie –  A new game has hit the internet. Its a game like truth or dare, but without the truth option. If you want to participate in this came you become one of two positions. A Player or a Watcher. A player is given dares. If the dare is completed with self photographic/video graphic proof then they win money and move on to another dare more intense than the last. If you are a watcher- you watch others doing dares, and can suggest to the creator what the next dare should be for specific Players. The more watchers a player has the higher up in the ranks you move, therefor the more money you can make.

Venus (Emma Roberts) is a safe boring high school girl who has a “popular” best friend that is at the top of the leaderboard. After its made abundantly clear Venus is super lame, she decides to become a Player in the game of Nerve herself. She finds herself paired up with Ian (James Franco) per the watchers request. The dares get more and more extreme as she tries to prove to everyone that she really does have what it takes to be cool.

I found this teen thriller mildly predictable in the overall story line. It was certainly entertaining, fun, and intense. The dares that are in this movie are all natural things that would/could really be dared by someone. I was nervous that it would be blown way out of proportion, but I am happy to report that is not the case. I am sure everyone can relate to at least one person in this high school drama movie. I found the ending brilliant and suspenseful. The colors and graphics are outstanding. It really shows how this game is played in real life.