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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Noteworthy

Noteworthy-by-Riley-RedgateOkay, I cannot sing this book’s praises enough. (Ha ha.) The way Noteworthy handled Jordan’s questions of gender and sexual identity — there are so many books I’ve read that could’ve benefited from Noteworthy’s self-awareness. Jordan recognizes that although she is “playing a role” and trans people are not, she is uncomfortably occupying a space that people could easily mistake as trans identity. The first time anyone realizes that she isn’t a cis dude, they immediately assumes that she must be trans.

Similarly, when other characters realize she is attracted to guys, they immediately assume she’s a gay dude. Again, Jordan acknowledges that this is an experience she can’t truly claim, and is suitably uncomfortable. In real life, in these circumstances, I’m sure the answer to this discomfort would be “stop occupying these spaces where you doesn’t belong.” But, you know, the plot must go on, and plot demands Jordan continue her act for as long as possible — until the competition. The fact that the book even engages with this discomfort to such a degree is incredible. It makes the story that much stronger, allowing Jordan explore her own discomfort, thus solidifying her own gender identity (and eventually, her sexuality).

In terms of story structure, I loved how perfectly the emotional notes were hit. (So many music puns in one review!) There’s this underlying tension regarding Jordan’s home life throughout the novel, and it builds and builds. Jordan’s frustration is palpable. So the moment where her parents bond over how apparently NO ONE NOTICED SHE WAS A CHICK IN DRAG is pure catharsis. It’s the turning point in the background-tensions-at-home thing. The worst is over — Jordan has accepted a situation which has made her miserable, she and her parents are all communicating fairly honestly and bonding, and she is “out of the woods.” so to speak.

I loved this book so much I forgot to take notes. I had to go back and find all my favourite sections to draw little hearts. Definitely recommend.

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A Fresh Angle and All That

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, #1)A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD. And now that you’ve been warned, on with the review! So, as a YA fiction enthusiast who is also tired of tropes, this is the fantasy book I’ve been waiting for. There has never been a book I’ve more wanted on my bookshelf. There was such an original plot. It was so beautifully written. Everyone in this book lives in a dream world, dreaming that they’re Lord Byron or Isaac Newton and dreaming about colours and Colors and missing fathers and swan-mothers. Some lines I love:

“When Jack cast his gaze over Madeleine’s former life he caught glimpses of sails swelling in gusts of winds, reindeer stamping and breathing mist, diamonds woven through plaits and spilling like raindrops down a window.”

“Jack had gathered the names together by the stems; he’d arranged them in a vase that he kept to the right of his mind. At night, before he fell asleep, he’d breathe in the fragrance of each, the details that Madeleine had shared.”

“a whole bubbling brook sort of name”

“What hinders the fixt stars from falling upon one another?… She had to stop the stars from tumbling together… A sky full of stars was relying on her to keep her back straight, her shoulders firm, her head nodding now and then, her voice calm and polite… because as long as she did that, her mother would be okay… All she had to do was keep the stars fixed to the sky.”

“The thing is, Elliott, you were like a piece of magic. You held the fixed stars in place for me and you stopped them from falling. If I open another letter from you, I think they might start to tumble.”

There is this really clever extended metaphor revolving around Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, and Ada Lovelace, and how their lives parallel the lives of Madeleine, Jack, and Belle. What starts out as an annoying school assignment becomes this heartbreaking condemnation when Madeleine starts recognizing the cracks in her own worldview, realizing that her father is not some glittery hero and her mother is not a lost swan in a tower.

I also really appreciate how the romance was handled in here, mostly Madeleine and Jack’s relationship. In general, I am not a fan of romance in YA novels because nothing feels original anymore, nor does it ever feel realistic, or it will takes over the actual plot. What made this feel fresh was how both Madeleine and Jack both accepted that they worked better as friends at the end of the book. The power of Madeleine’s journey is that once she “wakes up,” she sees that Jack is remarkable just as he is, a teenage boy in Cambridge, her friend. Elliott and Kala’s relationship was tolerable for me. It felt very sentimental at times, but the burst of clarity from Elliot’s perspective injected some much-needed realism into their relationship. Elliott realizes that his feelings for Kala don’t make either of them as wonderful or perfect as they see each other; or else, how could he have cheated on her? It seemed a healthier alternative to seeing each other as perfect.

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A Gem on my Bookshelf

The Accident SeasonThe Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD. Okay, now you’ve been warned. This book was beautifully written. As another reviewer pointed out, the magical realism and even the prose reminded me of Nova Ren Suma, particularly her Imaginary Girls. The language was so lovely, so much like poetry. From a craft standpoint, I loved the construction of some of these sentences — the repetition, the way certain sentences fall like stones in a pond, the cold delivery of magical lines. Some stand-out lines:

“Alice wasn’t the first to jump, but she was the first to fall. It started with dares. Dare you to roll down the hill. Dare you to touch a nettle. Dare you to jump across the stream.”

“So let’s raise our glasses to the accident season, / to the river beneath us where we sink our souls, / to the bruises and secrets, to the ghosts in the ceiling, / one more drink for the watery road.”

“His mask is askew. Nick’s wolf face is on the ground in front of me. Its eyes are empty sockets. It has no mouth but it is still whispering: if you’re going to do this just give me one last chance you know you want to come on if you really want to end it you owe it to me just give me one last—”

“I am wet to the skin, I am shivering and my wings are shaking. I am cold stone behind my mask. I might not be human at all.”

“I remember a slap across my cheek in a hallway; I remember hands on my shoulders pushing me down, keeping me underwater; I remember being told to forget.”

This book perfectly straddled the line between our reality and magical realism. The accident season was the overwhelming shadow that hung over the entire book, but as you read, you start to get the sense that the accident season is an illusion that Cara’s family believes so that they don’t have to face the truth. Slowly over the course of the book, it becomes clear that something awful happened in their family, and no one can talk about it. The metal man with the evil smirk and Cara’s memories of almost drowning and being slapped as a child and Alice being “bundled up warmer than October every summer, afraid of showing her body.”

Cara’s blindness plays out in a similar way. At the start of the book, there’s the sense that she’s not seeing the world for all his ugliness, that she can’t face it, and it hits like a hammer when you realize she doesn’t see, doesn’t remember the ugliness of her childhood because her sister’s abuser told her to forget or he’d hurt her, and what else can a child do but forget when faced with an adult trying to drown them. When Cara starts to see, the horrible puzzle pieces start to come together, how Nick is hitting Alice and she takes it because she’s been miserable for so long, she doesn’t know any other way to live, she stays with him because at least this is the pain she chooses rather than the pain someone more powerful inflicted on her as a child.

“I laugh at the accident season, at the accident of Alice hitting her head on Nick’s mantelpiece, at the accident of the bruises on her legs, at the accident of the cuts on her arms. I laugh at the accident of the broken glass a few years ago that somehow managed to slice her wrist in a perfectly straight line. I laugh at the accident of Sam punching the wall in the secrets room. I laugh at the accident of the day I almost drowned. I laugh at the accident of my uncle’s death. Seth knew too, I think. That’s why he pushed him in… I stop laughing.”

I don’t know what else I can say. This book is a trip, but every heart-wrenching moment came together perfectly. The fact that not everything can be explained away at the end was lovely. The mystery of Elsie, their little guardian angel. The magical costume shop and the ghost house that listens to Cara’s wishes.

Just read it.

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