We Deserve Monuments: A Review

We Deserve Monuments by Jas HammondsSeventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is still smarting after breaking up with her first girlfriend over an argument she’d rather not remember. But that doesn’t mean she’s excited to have her entire life uprooted so that she can move from DC with her Mom and Dad to the middle of nowhere in Bardell, Georgia.

Avery barely knows her grandmother, Mama Letty, but with news of a terminal diagnosis Avery’s mother tells the family they have to be there for Mama Letty–whether she wants them there or not. Avery has known about the tension between her mom and Mama Letty for longer than she can remember. Based on the less-than-warm welcome they receive, Mama Letty dying seems unlikely to change anything.

Thank goodness for Simone Cole the cute girl next door who offers Avery some much-needed fresh air while being totally crush-worthy. Simone is a big personality and she’s quick to let Avery into her inner circle alongside best friend Jade Oliver–daughter of one of the town’s most prominent families with one of the most notorious reputations.

Secrets run deep in Bardell. As Avery unpacks the town’s racist past she also begins to fill in the gaps in her own family’s tragic connection to the town. As endings get wrapped up with new beginnings Avery has to decide if some secrets are worth burying when it also means keeping the peace in We Deserve Monuments (2022) by Jas Hammonds.

Find it on Bookshop.

We Deserve Monuments is Hammonds’ debut novel. Avery is biracial (Black mother and white father) and queer, Simone and her family are Black, and Jade’s family is from one of the wealthiest white families in Bardell. Avery’s first person narration alternates with short vignettes throughout the novel exploring different aspects of Bardell including painful pieces of the past as well as moments of first love and even an unlikely refuge for the local queer community highlighting just how varied even a small town can be for each of its residents.

Hammonds packs a lot into this deceptively slim novel with explorations of generational trauma, racism, and identity both through Avery’s story and her investigation into her family’s legacy in Bardell. Avery’s changing feelings about her family, especially Mama Letty, serve as a counterpoint to her complicated new friendships with Jade who Avery is hesitant to trust and Simone who might end up being something more.

In learning more about Mama Letty’s history in Bardell, Avery also starts to understand more about her own identity as a biracial and queer young woman and how to embrace both of those pieces of herself to take up space in her own life. Spare prose and evocative descriptions immediately draw readers into both Avery’s story and her search for answers.

We Deserve Monuments is grounded in a post-pandemic world that feels both timeless and current. Come for the romance, stay for the story of two girls learning how to love every part of themselves and their families–even the pieces no one wants to talk about.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Be sure to also check out my interview with Jas!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview: Jas Hammonds on We Deserve Monuments

Jas Hammonds author photoJas Hammonds’ debut novel We Deserve Monuments follows biracial teen Avery as she learns more about her Black maternal grandmother, family secrets, and her own queer identity over the course of one turbulent summer. I got to read We Deserve Monuments early for a panel I moderated in May for SLJ’s Day of Dialog (read the recap) and I have been thinking about this book ever since. I’m very happy to Jas here today to talk a bit more about their debut novel.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jas Hammonds: I grew up in the reigning era of Fictionpress.com. My best friend and I were obsessed with reading and writing stories we found on that website. We’d upload our stories and eagerly await feedback from anonymous reviewers on the internet. But writing for fun slipped away from me in high school and college when all my time was taken up by required reading and assignments. It wasn’t until I was out of college and working as a flight attendant that I found myself itching for a creative outlet. I started writing on my layovers and slowly We Deserve Monuments emerged.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for We Deserve Monuments? Your book has an interesting structure where Avery’s first person narration is interspersed with third person narrations that expand the story. Did you always know you’d intersperse these wider-view vignettes with Avery’s narration?

Jas Hammonds: I was largely inspired by trying to capture the feelings of loneliness and yearning that were so present in my life when I started drafting it. I had just moved to a new city, my family was all the way across the country, it was the 2016 election—there was a lot going on! I always knew I wanted the story to revolve around a woman who was full of so much anger because of some horrible incident in her past, but all the details took a lot of time to iron out. That character became Mama Letty, my main character’s grandmother.

The third person interstitials came later. As a reader, I love when authors play with narrative structure. During edits, I realized there was so much backstory about Avery’s family and the town that needed to be included, but I didn’t just want characters giving long-winded speeches about these things. Everything kind of clicked when I was talking with my editor and I mentioned how much I love it when settings feel like their own character. Once I started letting the town of Bardell speak for itself, the third person narrations came pretty naturally.

Miss Print: Avery discovers a lot about her maternal grandmother and her mother’s pasts in We Deserve Monuments including finding an unlikely refuge in a restaurant known by regulars as Renny’s. Was it always clear what locations would be touchstones for your story? Did any real locations inspire the landscape of Avery’s story?  

Jas Hammonds: Absolutely. I love when I’m reading a book and I feel like I’m there. Renny’s (although it wasn’t always named that) has been in the book since my very first draft. I knew I wanted to create a safe haven for Avery and Simone when they’re in the midst of so much friendship and family drama. It was largely inspired by different juke joints in the South as well as the history of underground gay & lesbian bars.  

Miss Print: Avery cites the pandemic as an added source of stress (on top of academic pressure and the danger of school shootings) early in the novel. What was it like writing about this historic moment that we’re all still in? How did you decide to include it in We Deserve Monuments? 

Jas Hammonds: It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I know mentions of COVID and the pandemic are automatic turn-offs for certain readers. But We Deserve Monuments is a contemporary story set in the present day so as I was working through edits (largely in 2020 and 2021), it started to feel odd to not include it. The pandemic has touched everyone’s lives, especially kids in school. Having Avery’s “typical” high school experience ripped away from her became yet another stressor to her character arc because she’s even more cognizant of time and how little she has left with Mama Letty. I also think it adds to the novel’s sense of urgency of trying to make the most out of time with your loved ones before it’s too late.

Miss Print: How would your characters be handling the pandemic?

Jas Hammonds:

Avery would be spending a lot of time in nature and trying out new hairstyles (I honestly can see her just shaving it all off hahaha). Mama Letty and Zora would be bickering, per usual, but would eventually start a movie night routine. Jade would be painting and Simone would be giving online tarot card readings to make some extra cash.

Miss Print: Avery does a lot of learning and growing over the course of the summer as she discovers new things about her family and herself. What is some advice you would have given Avery or advice you wish you’d received as a teen?

Jas Hammonds: My advice to Avery comes via her dad Sam when they are having their father-daughter talk at the ice cream parlor. He tells Avery she needs to breathe and give herself grace. She’s only seventeen but she’s so hard on herself, trying to figure out all the world’s problems alone. Like Avery, I was also very hard on myself as a teenager. I didn’t apply to certain colleges because I’d convinced myself I wouldn’t get in and I stayed in certain relationships because I was afraid of exploring (or even thinking about!) my sexuality. I’m glad I chose to give Avery certain knowledge I didn’t get until I was in my mid-twenties­—mainly making sure to surround yourself with people who uplift your full spirit, not just their ideas of who they think you should be.

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Jas Hammonds: I’m a flight attendant so no day is ever the same. Sometimes I write on layovers, but I’m usually too tired. I do my best writing when I’m at home, in my cozy reading/writing/puzzle nook. I definitely don’t write every day, but when I’m in the zone I can spend hours working on a single chapter.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Jas Hammonds: I’m currently working on edits for my second YA novel. It’s another contemporary standalone about a girl who is desperately trying to gain admittance to an elite sorority. It’s full of friendship and relationship drama, all told over the course of one hot Virginia summer.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Jas Hammonds: Get yourself a solid group of critique partners you trust. Publishing can be a tough industry, and it’s invaluable to have friends in your corner to weather the highs and lows.

Thank you to Jas for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Jas and their books on their website.

You can read my review of We Deserve Monuments here on the blog.

Week in Review: November 19

Blog Posts:

My Week:

I’m having a weird tech week. Did you know that it’s possible for the Libby app to freeze? I didn’t either. Somehow it got stuck on an audiobook I had already returned and would not register any other titles. I had to delete all my downloaded files and re-download to fix. Then I’m also having a thing where Goodreads won’t let me post status updates in the app. I don’t know what is going on, but I’d like it to stop because I am tired of troubleshooting.

In other news, I am on vacation through to the start of December and I could not be happier.

Bounce Back: A Graphic Novel Review

Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!Moving to a new country means a lot of changes for Lilico Takada. In Japan Lilico was popular and the captain of her school basketball team. In Brooklyn, Lilico has to start from scratch with her best friends on the other side of the world and a whole new school culture to figure out–all while working on improving her English. When Lilico’s hopes of finding new friends on the basketball team ends with a painful rejection, Lilico finds unlikely help from her cat, Nico, who turns out to be way more than a regular housecat.

With magical Nico dispensing advice and two new friends excited about Japanese culture (and talking cats), Lilico finally start to find her footing. As Lilico navigates a year full of changes for her entire family, she’ll take any help she can to figure out where she fits in Bounce Back (2021) by Misako Rocks!

Find it on Bookshop.

Bounce Back is a standalone graphic novel filled with sports, friendship, and some magic. The book reads in the Western (left-to-right) style with artwork in Misako’s typical manga-infused style. The pages include quick asides, footnotes, and even back matter with a guide to draw Nico, create some of the characters’ signature fashions, and learn Japanese. Nico’s transformation from beloved pet cat to talking guardian spirit also makes this a great stepping stone from magical girl stories to more contemporary fare.

Lilico comes from a close-knit family and Bounce Back does a great job of showing the upheaval for both Lilico and her parents as they adjust to the move–especially Lilico’s mom who has to work even harder to make her own friends and learn English since she doesn’t work outside of the home. With a strong focus on basketball this graphic novel blends sports with Japanese culture and even fashion as Lilico and her new classmates find intersecting interests.

Full color illustrations are easy to follow and bring Lilico and her semi-magical world vibrantly to life. Bounce Back is a fun manga-style graphic novel perfect for anyone whose ever had to deal with being the new kid.

Possible Pairings: Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas, New Kid by Jerry Craft, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza, Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai, Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, Front Desk by Kelly Yang

This Golden State: A Review

“I didn’t even know the choices, because I didn’t have the information.”

This Golden State by Marit WeisenbergPoppy has grown up with five family rules:

1. No using your real name.
2. No staying in one place too long.
3. If something’s weird, take one thing and run to the meeting spot.
4. Keeping our family together is everything.
5. Don’t ask about the past. For your own safety. It’s the smallest mistake that will get us caught.

Lying constantly, hiding all the time, always waiting for one disastrous slip up hasn’t left much room for seventeen-year-old Poppy to ask questions. When she was little it all seemed normal. Now, Poppy has her little sister Emma and her parents. What more does she need?

Right away, Poppy knows that their latest move is different. Her parents never answer Poppy’s questions but once they arrive in California, Poppy has even more: like how a room prepared in a safe house can feel more like hers than anywhere else she’s ever lived and why it feels like pieces of her family’s secrets are waiting to be discovered.

With her parents distracted, Poppy has more freedom than she’s used to with a chance to attend an advanced math class, earn her own money, and maybe make a real friend in the unlikely form of ultra-wealthy and popular Harry. Family has always been enough for Poppy. It has to be. But as Poppy begins to dig deeper into her parents’ past with a secret DNA test and to think more about her own desires, Poppy also realizes that no secret can be kept forever in This Golden State (2022) by Marit Weisenberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Golden State is a tense standalone novel narrated by Poppy. The Winslow family and most characters are cued as white with Harry’s DNA results showing ancestry going back to Jamaica, South India, and Europe.

Perfect pacing and an urgent, close-focus narrative amps up the tension immediately as readers are drawn into Poppy’s world where nothing can be taken at face value. While family secrets and the looming results from Poppy’s DNA test drive the plot, this is ultimately a story about a girl who is leaning to dream and understanding how much bigger her world can be. As Poppy tries to keep up with her wealthier classmates who have had more consistent schooling, Poppy also starts to unpack the privilege that comes with stability and everything that she has lost growing up on the run–losses that her younger sister Emma has already begun to chafe under.

Harry gives Poppy a window into a world she knows she can never inhabit living the way she currently does–one fileld with opportunity and growth. Brief moments with Harry’s verbally abusive father also underscore to Poppy how much her parents have sacrificed to keep their family safe and intact. Weisengerg thoughtfully unpacks Poppy’s loyalty and deep love for her parents alongside her growing resentment at their rules and how they have to live. As she learns more about her parents’ roles in leading the family to this point, Poppy also has to learn how to maintain her affection and fond memories while leaving room for the anger that comes with understanding.

This Golden State is a taut exercise in suspense where family is everything. Until it isn’t. While the payoff for all of Poppy’s questions and investigating can feel anticlimactic, This Golden State is a story that will stay with readers long after the open-ended conclusion. Recommended for readers seeking a thriller focused on tension instead of scares.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth, The Safest Lifes by Megan Miranda, The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson, Remember Me Gone by Stacy Stokes, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Week in Review: November 12

Blog Posts:

My Week:

This was a catch up week where I got a lot of errands done. I also finished putting up our Christmas decorating which is making the apartment very cozy. Last year the holidays were a wash between my getting sick and my mom being in the hospital so we’re all excited for a do over as it were.

Happy to report Bella’s tail is back to normal and she’s her old self again too which is a huge relief.

In other news, I’m mourning the Twitter that was and trying to figure out what happens next if that social media platform becomes untenable which is seeming more and more likely. As a reminder you can always find me on here as well as on Goodreads and Instagram. I also signed up for Mastodon but until more people I know join that site it’s not exactly what I need.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick by Diana PeterfreundJust when everyone thought things couldn’t get worse at the formerly prestigious Blackbrook Academy, an accident strikes bringing another tragedy to the school’s door and into the lives of the infamous Murder Crew.

Orchid has survived her toxic former career and a deadly encounter with her stalker. But she isn’t sure how to survive losing Vaughn when they were just getting started.

Beth is still recovering from her injuries in the car crash that killed Vaughn. Tennis is a wash. But maybe that will give her a chance to focus on something else.

After losing her status as part of Blackbrook’s best platonic power couple, Scarlett’s confidence in choosing the right people is shaken. She can support Orchid and help her launch Vaughn to posthumous super-stardom. But it’s just not the same as plotting and dominating with Finn.

Finn is desperate to get back in Scarlett’s good graces for help protecting his invention as much as for their friendship. But he isn’t sure what to do if winning Scarlett’s friendship means risking whatever it is he has with Mustard.

Mustard doesn’t know what to do about his growing feelings for Finn or the deteriorating state of his new school. Things get even worse when Mustard’s roommate turns up dead and Mustard is the prime suspect.

With Blackbrook crumbling around them, the Murder Crew will have to rally together one more time to save one of their own, finally unearth the last of Blackbrook’s secrets, and throw a prom that no one is going to forget in In the Ballroom With the Candlestick (2021) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick is the final book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue (find it on Amazon). Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers. Like its predecessor, this novel is broken up into alternating chapters between the six main characters. Scarlet is Indian American, Mustard is Latinx, the rest of the cast is presumed white.

This final installment picks ups soon after the dramatic conclusion of book two with the entire Murder Crew still picking up the pieces as they sort through the school’s remaining secrets–most notably Vaughn’s past and his history with the school.

Readers who have been with the series from the beginning will appreciate the growth of all of the characters as they work together to solve one final round of mysteries at everyone’s least favorite boarding school. Finn and Mustard in particular have a lot of development as they try to navigate their fledgling relationship. Unfortunately, the primary focus of this series remains squarely on Orchid and Vaughn despite them arguably being some of the least interesting characters among the Murder Crew.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick stay true to the board game (and the now classic 1985 film!) that inspired this series delivering murder, mayhem, and multiple endings that guarantee that this finale will have something for everyone.

Possible Pairings: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Killing November by Adriana Mather, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Alice Austen Lived Here: A Review

Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex GinoSam and TJ love being best friends and they love being nonbinary. Sam knows they’re lucky to have a family that gets it and is supportive and even luckier to have cool neighbors like femme Jess (who is fat and fabulous like Sam) and her family right in the same building.

Even at twelve, Sam already knows that not everyone is going to be as supportive which is why it’s no surprise that Sam and TJ’s history teacher is way more interested in teaching about Dead Straight Cis White Men (DSCWM for short) than anything really interesting. When they have to work on a presentation to create a new statue for Staten Island, Sam and TJ are determined to find someone outside of the DSCWM spectrum. Someone like photographer Alice Austen who lived right on Staten Island for years with her female partner.

When the kids find out that Alice Austen lived right in Sam’s very own apartment, the two become even more committed to their project. In researching Alice Austen and preparing their contest entry Sam learns more about the queer history surrounding his own friends and neighbors like Jess and 82-year-old lesbian Ms. Hansen as well as the larger history found throughout New York City.

Sam has never felt more connected to the queer community but as the contest deadline looms Sam and TJ worry their passion for representing Alice Austen might not be enough in Alice Austen Lived Here (2022) by Alex Gino.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gino’s latest novel taps into the moment as Sam and TJ become part of the movement to create monuments throughout New York that are more representative of the city’s diverse population. Be sure to check out the audiobook to hear Gino read their own words but check out a print copy for an author’s note about Gino’s connection to the story (and Alice) as well as some pictures of Alice Austen.

Sam is described as pale and blonde while TJ is described as having dark hair and tan skin. Most of Sam’s neighbors are presumed white. In addition to immersing readers in Sam and TJ’s ultra supportive community, this story also introduces readers to both Alice Austen and (later on) Audre Lorde–both real people whose work had lasting impact in New York, in queer communities, and beyond.

Alice Austen Lived Here is a gently told story about queer community, found family, and standing up for what you believe in. While Sam and TJ aren’t always sure their statue will win, their commitment is unwavering and an object lesson in staying true to yourself.

Possible Pairings: A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner, Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker, Pride: An Inspirational History of the LGBTQ+ Movement by S. A. Caldwell, Twelfth by Janet Key, Ciel by Sophie Labelle, Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff, A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Week in Review: November 5

Blog Posts:

My Week:

Terrible, terrible week. My dog Bella came back from her groomer with a case of limber tail which means she could not move it at all. Which is a very miserable thing to see on your dog. She was exhausted by the entire experience but I’m happy to report that she is doing better now and almost fully recovered. What a mess. I can’t believe Halloween was Monday–it feels like last year already. I dressed up as a flapper and work was actually fun that day seeing everyone in costume but the rest of the week is a thumbs down. Would not recommend.

Listen, Slowly: A Review

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha LaiTwelve-year-old Mai has a lot of plans for the summer including hanging out the at the beach with her friends, being cool, and maybe even talking to HIM. Mai’s plans do not by any means include traveling to Vietnam with her grandmother, Ba, to find out what happened to Ba’s husband during the Vietnam War. Although her parents thing the trip is important and a great chance for Mai to connect with her Vietnamese culture, all Mai can see is missed opportunities in her actual home which is California.

Arriving in Vietnam Mai is unprepared for the hear, the smells, or how isolated she feels in a country that everyone says is hers where she still feels like a stranger. With limited Vietnamese and even less familiarity with local customs, Mai can’t wait for this summer trip to end. At least she’s with her grandmother.

Ba doesn’t speak much English and Mai doesn’t speak much Vietnamese but they always understand each other. As Ba returns to a country she never thought she’d see again and Mai discovers a place she never imagined visiting, Mai begins to understand that embracing her Vietnamese heritage isn’t going to diminish her life in Califorina; instead, if she lets it, this trip has the potential to make her world a lot bigger in Listen, Slowly (2015) by Thanhha Lai.

Find it on Bookshop.

Listen, Slowly is set primarily in Vietnam–all main characters are Vietnamese. Lulu Lam’s narration in the audiobook perfectly captures Mai’s conversational voice along with pronunciation of all the included Vietnamese words and phrases which might be harder for non-Vietnamese speakers to parse from print.

Mai’s snappy narration captures her California aesthetic and barely contained energy with an exciting crush on HIM, dashed summer plans and, eventually, tentative excitement about seeing Vietnam herself for the first time. With no previous interest in her cultural identity, Mai experiences a series of shocks as she learns about Vietnamese customs, foods, and how to deal with the unbearable heat and bugs.

The heaviness of the journey with Ba making what might be a final trip to the country she had to flee as a much younger woman to confront the truth of her husband’s death add melancholy to this story but are handled well. Lai expertly balances all of these nebulous feelings to create a story that focuses on resolution and progress rather than leaving any character stagnant. Mai navigating being decidedly out of her comfort zone as well as a potential friend who would much rather talk to her frogs than to Mai add levity and humor to the plot.

Mai’s explortation of Vietnam and tentative new connections with both family and her prickly friend contrast with Mai’s efforts to keep in touch with her American (presumed white) friends. Feeling isolated and left out from summer adventures back in California, Mai begins to wonder if having to make herself smaller and deny keys parts of herself–like being Vietnamese–are things she should have to do to keep up any friendship.

Listen, Slowly is a beautiful middle grade novel that blends a coming of age story with a travelogue as Mai and her grandmother explore Vietnam, reconnect with relatives and, for Mai, with her heritage.

Possible Pairings: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton, Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm, Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly, Dumpling Days by Grace Lin, Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh, Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia, Front Desk by Kelly Yang