A Beautiful Ghost Story

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour was published Sept. 15, 2020.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
emotional, hopeful, mysterious, reflective, sad, medium-paced

Plot- or character-driven? Character
Strong character development? Yes
Loveable characters? N/A
Diverse cast of characters? Yes
Flaws of characters a main focus? It’s complicated
4.0 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The way the title turns from referencing a biological mother/familial relationship to referencing a chosen family 👌 Deeply love this movement and journey.

The relationship between Mila, Liz, and Billy was rendered so well. It doesn’t feel entirely platonic but neither does it feel entirely driven by desire — it feels driven by love, and that’s as simply as I can put it. As unnamable as it, this was probably my favorite aspect of the book. I love how the three of them lean into comfort and connection without ever entirely putting a boundary around their relationship.

My pop culture trope osmosis had me expecting the big secret to be about a sinister ghost and for this book to go in a dark, cult-y direction, and I was pleasantly surprised how the book used my own expectations and anxieties against me. It ended up being really cathartic.

This is entirely my preference as a reader, but I think that ending would’ve hit me harder if it had not switched between reality and fantasy so rapidly in the final few pages.

Read more of this review on my StoryGraph.

Delightful

Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks & SconesCheck, Please!, Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5/5

Really liked it, but think it really should’ve been split into 2 volumes — a full volume of junior year and a full volume for senior year. There were parts of the story that felt rushed, and there were missed opportunities. Junior year particularly felt a little underdeveloped. I think Bitty’s very real concern about his father not accepting him and the homophobia in hockey was glossed over a little quickly, as was the Whiskey subplot. If it’s going to be raised as a plot point, it should be given the time it needs, not brought up and solved within the same episode.

We never really saw Ransom and Holster as team captains despite that being a really heartwarming moment in book 1 when they both won the role. We only got glimpses of it. The extra comics at the back, especially Ransom and Holster’s educational comic about hockey-splaining, continues to be wonderful.

I think the tweets felt more engaging this time, too. Possibly because it felt like they were compensating for things we didn’t see covered with as much detail in the main book, so I felt like I needed to read them in a way that I didn’t necessarily feel with the first volume.

There was this new technique used in this volume in which we got flashbacks to the past. Overall I enjoyed how the timey-wimey slipperiness was utilized in the episode(s) in which Bitty and Jack went public with their relationship. I think it also reflected how extremely drunk the characters were in that chapter. That said, I think Ukazu sometimes relied a little too heavily on flashbacks to add parallels and resonance to an episode. A more spare and targeted use would’ve made the volume a little tighter.

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A Book I’ve Been Waiting For

Little & LionLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a book comes along, and it’s so good it makes you rethink every other book you’ve read that tackled similar subject matter. Little & Lion was that book for me, setting the new standard for books about mental illness, difficult romantic relationships, and fraught families. I’ve seen a little bit on the internet on how there wasn’t much of a plot, and I guess that’s true or false depending on what counts as a plot for you. For me, the driving force of the plot was Suzette’s struggle to accept herself, to feel safe, to protect the people she loves. Above all, she just wanted to feel safe and secure, and for better or worse, every choice she makes is driven by that deep emotional need.

When the book begins, she’s on the tails of a traumatic spring semester and is realizing she’s bisexual, trying to figure out what that means. Her brother is bipolar, and their relationship has fractured as he tries to rewrite his identity to include his mental illness but never, never be defined by it. Suzette’s anxiety and fear for her brother’s safety was so palpable, and I cried so much in this book for her. I really appreciated that there were a variety of opinions on how Lionel’s mental illness should be considered, but that Lionel’s safety was so prioritized.

It meant so much to me that Suzette’s feelings were validated. Throughout the story, she was so anxious, afraid, and confused. People lashed out at her and hurt her, but then they apologized and acknowledged how they hurt her, and Suzette forgave and loved them anyway because she’s an absolute gem who’s too good for this world.

Suzette has this line about how when you mess up, you apologize, and I appreciated how that came due at the end of the book. An apology may not fix the thing you broke or the person you hurt, but it means so much to openly acknowledge that you hurt someone. I didn’t know how much I missed that in other books until I finished this book and clutched it to my chest and was retroactively angry on behalf of other books’ characters who never got their feelings validated at all.

I also love how the romantic storyline concluded. I think it was perfect for Suzette, and I appreciate her growth and ability to prioritize her own needs and desires.
I honestly don’t have the words for what this book meant to me.

Okay I’m gonna say something spoiler-y after all the dashes below, so skip if you don’t want to be spoiled, but I think if anyone gets triggered or upset by unhealthy dynamics the way I do, it would help them to know the spoiler-y thing when they go into the book.












Although there are definitely hints of unhealthy dynamics in this book, especially with how Suzette watches Rafaela enjoy and delight in Lionel’s spontaneous joy while he’s hypomanic, and how it just makes Suzette feel like she’s the crazy one for being so scared for her brother, I appreciate so much that Suzette realized how badly matched she and Rafaela would be romantically, even if they’re super attracted to each other.

I am so happy for her that she recognized, “Huh, Rafeala is amazing, but her behavior caused me stress, so I don’t want to be around it or to date her,” and was able to articulate what she did need from a relationship by the end of the book. As someone who has been in a relationship that constantly kept me in that feeling of stress and fear, I was so relieved that Suzette figured that out and saved herself from further distress.

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Homeric Tragedy for a Modern Me

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. The hype wasn’t wrong about what an excellent story this is. The development of the friendship and relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was very organic and sweet, and also bittersweet at times. Because this is based on the legend of Achilles, it got darker toward the end, and that was emotionally difficult to read sometimes. However, I don’t think it lingered too much in its own grimness or brutality, and Patroclus, despite being grieved by people’s deaths in the Trojan War, remained hopeful enough that I never felt so overwhelmed that I needed to put the book down for a while. There was a moment very close to the end where I was very scared and pained for a particular character, and I had to skim over that, but for better or for worse, that part is over quickly, and the story continues on toward its endgame.

What I was most struck by in the second half of the book — which is all about the Trojan War — is how the ending comes about. Anyone who’s familiar with the legend knows how it ends for Achilles and Patroclus, so it’s hard to write an ending that feels satisfying when the original Homeric tale is a tragedy. My fluffy little heart may have wanted a little more joy, but honestly, I’m still blown away with how she approached the ending. As someone who struggles with writing endings, I feel so inspired by how well she handled it.

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First Book of 2019

Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer DesireFist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire by Amber Dawn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In an effort to be less precious with my words, I’m going to start posting reviews even if they are less intellectual and more my impressions of books. So, here goes.

This collection was a little darker than I expected — somehow, I wasn’t expecting actual horror stories, and I thoroughly regretted reading some of these at night. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I really appreciated the fact the queer content in here was expansive in its definition of “queer.” Whereas other collections I’ve read focus very narrowly on the individual letters of LGBTQIA+, a good portion of these explored varied kinds of relationships and kinks as well. That’s not something I see very often, and it was kind of refreshing, even as I wanted to pull the covers over my eyes because I was scared of ghosts.

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