Pointe: A Review

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Theo is better now. She’s eating, mostly. She’s dating guys her age. Even if they aren’t always technically available. Most importantly, Theo is at the top of her game and poised to have her years of work pay off to become an elite ballet dancer.

Then Donovan comes back. Theo still remembers the day he disappeared when they were both thirteen. She remembers what it felt like to lose Donovan and her first boyfriend–her first everything, really–all at the same time.

Theo can’t look away from coverage of Donovan’s abduction and his return. It’s the only way she can piece together what might have happened to him since Donovan won’t see her and won’t talk to anyone. Until Donovan’s abductor is arrested. And Theo recognizes him as her ex-boyfriend. He gave her a fake name, he said he was younger, but he is unmistakably the same person who kidnapped her best friend.

But the truth won’t help anyone, right? It won’t heal Donovan. It won’t erase the painful breakup. All it will do is shame Theo’s family and risk her future as a dancer because of a scandal.

Except the more Theo remembers about her past, the more she realizes some secrets can’t be kept forever in Pointe (2014) by Brandy Colbert.

Find it on Bookshop.

Pointe is a tense work of suspense. In addition to unpacking the aftermath of Donovan’s abduction, Theo is dealing with disordered eating. Theo and Donovan are both Black in a predominantly white Chicago suburb.

Colbert tackles a lot here and she does all of it well as Theo works through some difficult realizations in the wake of Donovan’s return. Theo is aware of the extra challenges she faces as a Black dancer and the pressure everyone in her class is under as they prepare for conservatory auditions.

Added to that are Theo’s complicated feelings about her ex-boyfriend/Donovan’s abductor. Yes, he lied about his age. But does that change that he loved Theo? Did he even kidnap Donovan or did they go away together willingly behind Theo’s back? While the answers will be obvious to readers, Theo takes longer to figure out that “dating” someone doesn’t mean they can’t abuse you.

Pointe pulls no punches. This is a messy story about a terrible turn of events and, at the end, an impossible decision. Theo is a flawed narrator but also a very authentic one as she works though a variety of bad decisions and hard choices to realize what she has to do to make things right–for herself and her best friend.

Possible Pairings: Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Far From You by Tess Sharpe, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Ever Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ever Cursed by Corey Ann HayduEveryone loves a lost girl, no one more so than the kingdom of Ever. The kingdom still mourns the Princess Who Was Lost decades ago, still demands justice for her.

Ever is slower to save the princess who still have a chance of being rescued.

Five years ago, a young witch named Reagan cursed all of Ever’s princesses with the Spell of Without. Jane has not been able to eat anything since that day. Her sister’s curses all began on their thirteenth birthdays. Nora can’t love, Alice cannot sleep, Grace can’t remember and soon, on her birthday, Eden will be without hope.

Ever is as it always was with the royals on their side of the mote and their subjects at a safe distance, their queen trapped in a glass box, and their princesses suffering. When Reagan forces the girls out of the castle for their one chance to break the Spell of Without, Jane begins to wonder if the way things are is really the way things have to be–for either the princesses or their subjects.

A princess without a curse on her is an ordinary girl. And no one cares about an ordinary girl. A witch without her spells is just a girl alone in the woods. And no one wants to be a girl alone in the woods. But as Jane and Reagan come closer to unraveling the spell before it becomes True, both girls will realize there is much more to Ever, its secrets, and themselves than either of them realized in Ever Cursed (2020) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Ever Cursed is a standalone fantasy. Despite the relatively short length, there’s a lot to unpack with this one particularly in the context of the political climate (post 2016 US election) that may have helped to inspire it. Alternating chapters focus on Jane and Reagan’s first person narrations. It’s not a spoiler to say that something is rotten in Ever and Haydu, throughout the story, confronts the deep-seated misogyny and rape culture in the kingdom including discussions of sexual assault and a scene of attempted assault.

Jane’s narration is, appropriately, very focused on her mortality. The Spell of Without has carved her down to nothing and, should the spell become True, will have fatal consequences for herself and for Alice who is physically incapable of sleep. Readers with a history of disordered eating should pick this one up with caution and read the content warning Haydu includes at the beginning of the book before proceeding.

Ever Cursed is an interesting examination of what it means to be an ally and to be complicit. Both Jane and Reagan have to unpack the privilege they’ve had in being able to look away from the day-to-day problems in Ever while focusing on their own (more personally pressing) problems of being royals and witches. Jane in particular unpacks what it means to benefit from years of her family being in power and abusing that power even when she herself is not complicit.

These conversations about privilege are important ones to have while dismantling white supremacy and male privilege however combining them with a fantasy setting where the consequences are very real instead of allegorical doesn’t always lead to ideal handling of the material. Because of how the Spell of Without works, the idea of complicit privilege distills to children being punished in a very literal way for their father’s transgressions. That another young girl (Reagan) is the one meting out this punishment in order to see the king suffer in retaliation for her own mother’s pain adds even more complexity to this conversation and exposes the deeply internalized misogyny at Ever’s center.

As a feminist allegory disguised as a fairy tale, Ever Cursed is very successful. As a feminist fairy tale it is less so. The world building is thinly sketched and sometimes haphazard with fantastic imagery (witches wearing cumbersome skirts for ever spell they cast so that they always carry the consequences) that doesn’t hold up to any internal logic.

Ever Cursed has the bones of a truly sensational story that ultimately would have benefited from a bit more length to give proper space to both the world building and its characters; a fascinating if sometimes underdeveloped picture. Recommended for readers with an equal interest in feminism (or feminist theory) and fairy tales.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

Tumbling: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tumbling by Caela CarterGrace cares more about gymnastics than she cares about anything. She has the “international” look that appeals to judges. But with younger, smaller gymnasts coming along all the time, Grace is desperate to keep her edge–even if it hurts her.

Leigh is Grace’s best friend but it’s hard to balance friendship with their constant competition for first place. Leigh balances a normal life in school with her professional aspirations at the gym but she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

Camille was an Olympian four years ago–but only for a day. Now everyone is cheering  for “Comeback Cammie” as she tries to make the team again. Between her mother’s expectations and her boyfriend’s disapproval, she isn’t even sure she wants to be an Olympian anymore.

At nineteen Wilhemina is practically a different generation from the other girls competing when it comes to gym years. She missed her chance four years ago because her birthday was four days too late. This time she isn’t going to let anything stand in her way, especially not petty gymnastics politics.

Monica is far from the top and everyone knows it. She’s a decent gymnast. She’ll definitely qualify for an NCAA scholarship one day. But she knows to keep her expectations low because hoping for more and falling short will hurt too much.

These five girls are gambling everything–every choice they have made for their entire lives–on how well they perform at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. At the end of the trials some of the girls will be stars, some will have nothing. All of them will be changed forever in Tumbling (2016) by Caela Carter.

Tumbling rotates between five perspectives (all close, third-person) throughout the novel to explore Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhemina, and Veronica’s stories. Set over the two days of the meet for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials this story explore their individual stories as well as their (sometimes unexpected) moments of intersection. These girls are also a diverse and inclusive group that reflect the real face of this sport.

Carter takes this ambitious structure and handles it well. Each girl’s personality comes through in her individual sections as well as in the larger plot of the novel. Supplemental material including a roster with all of the characters (and the seven other gymnasts competing at the trials) and a glossary of gymnastics terms will help even the least initiated feel like a gymnastics expert while reading.

Tumbling explore the competitive and grueling nature of gymnastics. All of the girls are struggling with something whether it’s body image and not eating, self-esteem, figuring out if being a lesbian really needs to be a part of a public gymnast persona, or just self-esteem. While this book highlights the thrill of competition (and the drama), it also is an honest portrayal of the work and dedication needed to compete at such a high level. Themes of body positivity and staying healthy while competing are also stressed throughout.

While there is drama, fierce competition, and some intense conflict the overwhelming focus of Tumbling is on positivity and friendship. Yes, these five girls are competing. But it’s not always with each other so much as it is to be the best. While each character is flawed, by the end of the story they are all striving to build each other up and be better versions of themselves both in and out of competition.

Readers will think they know what to expect at the start of Tumbling but Carter artfully includes realistic twists and surprises that leave several characters in surprising circumstances by the end of the novel. Veronica and Wilhemina’s arcs are particularly satisfying and work well to bring the entire novel together. Highly recommended for gymnastics enthusiasts as well as readers looking for an exciting book with a strong cast of female characters.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Rival by Sarah Bennett-Wealer, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Rest of Us Just Live Here: A Review

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessMikey isn’t the chosen one. He’s not going to fall in love with a vampire. (It’s hard enough just trying to tell Henna how he feels now that she’s finally broken up with her boyfriend.) He isn’t going to change his name to Finn or Satchel or Kerouac. He isn’t going to fight zombies. (Not when he’s busy trying to keep his own OCD tendencies under control.) He isn’t going to rid the town of ghosts. (Not when the almost-loss of his sister is still so fresh.)

Sometimes it’s hard being the chosen one. Just ask any of the Indie kids at school. But, as Mikey knows all too well, sometimes it’s also hard just being a regular guy trying to make it through senior year and make sense of his life–hopefully before the high school gets blown up. Again.

When it feels like every week there’s a new impending doom, sometimes the most extraordinary thing to do is live your regular not-chosen-one life. Even if your best friend is worshiped by cats in The Rest of Us Just Live Here (2015) by Patrick Ness.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is Ness’ clever send-off of almost every recent supernatural/paranormal trend to have hit YA literature. Remember when everyone was falling in love with vampires? What about the soul eating ghosts? Or way back when the big thing everyone was dealing with was Gods? They all make an appearance in Mikey’s town where high schools get blown up more often than kids named Finn end up at the center of a battle for humanity.

But none of that is really Mikey’s problem because he isn’t an indie kid and, as such, it’s also not a concern of The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Chapter headings explain the “big” story as indie kids Satchel and Finn (not the dead one, the other one) try to save the world from something . . . weird. Meanwhile this book focuses on Mikey’s life in the background of this supernatural drama as he looks toward the end of high school and all of the uncertainty it holds for himself, his best friend Jared, Henna–the girl he thinks he loves, and Mikey’s sister Mel.

The thing to remember here, is that despite the backdrop of supernatural on every level, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is basically a contemporary story. And a familiar one at that with Mikey’s uncertainty about nearly everything except his rock solid bond with his best friends.

While the premise of characters doing the best they can on the periphery of a bigger drama seems original, in Ness’ hands it feels decidedly trite. Something in the execution of The Rest of Us Just Live Here–with its obvious nods to classic YA like Twilight and TV shows like Buffymakes this otherwise enjoyable novel feel unoriginal and slight. While not necessarily a bad thing for every reader, it can make it hard to connect with (or even care) about these characters.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an ideal choice for readers who like their stories a bit zany and their adventures madcap. Recommended for readers suffering from paranormal romance/dystopian adventure fatigue.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Geek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin, All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder

A Trick of the Light: A Review

A Trick of the Light by Lois MetzgerMike Welles thought his life was pretty great. He did well in school, he played on the school baseball team. He and his best friend Tamio have a great time talking about stop motion animation and watching old movies.

Everything was fine.

That was before things started going wrong at home. Mike’s parents started to act strangely. Especially his mom. And his dad is just gone for huge chunks of time.

Mike thinks he can still handle all of the changes–even talking to a beautiful new girl at school–but it just keeps getting worse. He’s out of shape. He’s losing control. It’s all just so wrong.

Mike keeps hearing a voice that wants to help him. The voice says that Mike can be stronger. Better. But no one else can hear the voice. And the voice never tells Mike what that kind of strength can cost him in A Trick of the Light (2013) by Lois Metzger.

At a slim 208 pages (hardcover) it is really hard to talk about this book without spoiling some of the twists Metzger has skillfully created. Suffice it to say, Mike is in trouble.

What I can tell you is that despite touching on some familiar territory, Metzger comes at the issues in A Trick of the Light in a very clever and original way. Mike is not the typical protagonist in this type of story.

The narrator of this book is not typical either. (It’s not a spoiler to say it is not Mike but I’ll leave it at that.) Metzger’s choice of narrator is extremely interesting and makes for a very creepy read. At the same time it also adds a lot of distance between Mike and the reader as Mike’s story is told at a remove. The technique works but it does make the book a little confusing at first.

That said, once you get into the rhythm of the story this book really takes off. Metzger expertly draws readers into Mike’s struggles without ever coming across as heavy-handed or preachy.

A Trick of the Light is a subtle, engrossing read that would be ideal for reluctant and avid readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Paperweight by Meg Haston, Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King, The Beautiful Between by Courtney B. Sheinmel, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Exclusive Bonus Content with a SPOILER: This book is a fascinating read about eating disorders but I can’t stop wondering if it could be a trigger or a workbook for kids who are at risk for eating disorders. Lots of stuff to unpack with this one. I think it’s a totally great book but I feel like it’s one that really begs to be discussed.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Lois Metzger!

Paper Valentine: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffLudlow is in the midst of a heatwave that refuses to break. The thermometer is staying in the hundreds. Birds are dying. And Ludlow seems to be at a breaking point.

Hanna Wagner might be at a similar breaking point. Really, Hannah wants nothing more than to keep pretending she is the shiny, happy girl she used to be. She wants to go back to living the shiny, happy life everyone remembers her having.

But it’s hard to pretend to be perfect and untouchable when her best friend, Lillian, died six months ago and has been haunting her ever since. It’s even harder when all Hannah really wants to do is think about Finny Boone and his expansive shoulders and sudden but surprising moments of kindness.

All of that pretending to be normal becomes nearly impossible when a girl is found murdered and Lillian’s ghost insists that Hannah should find out more about the dead girl and the investigation.

Soon Hannah realizes that she and Lillian may know more about the so-called Valentine Killer than either girl realized. Drawn into complicated dealings with ghosts, killers, and the enigmatic Finny Boone, Hannah begins to understand that nothing about dying–or living–is as straightforward as she once thought in Paper Valentine (2013) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Equal parts mystery and ghost story, Paper Valentine is a gripping, unexpected read. Yovanoff expertly weaves the suspense and tension of a mystery into Hannah’s subtler story of grieving (and being haunted) and a summer that has the potential to change everything even before the murder.

Hannah is a vivid, lovable heroine. She is handy, artsy, fashionable, has a healthy home life and is generally fantastic. A proverbial lady-in-waiting without her queen, Hannah is adrift in a world she may not even like anymore. This novel is as much a story of her growth throughout the summer as it is a mystery or a ghost story.Populated with a vibrant ensemble cast and evocative settings, Paper Valentine is an excellent story of enduring friendship and suspense (and it has a beautiful cover to boot–this one is definitely the full package.)

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Damaged by Amy Reed, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters