Book Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In
by Angelo Surmelis
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indibound
Series: no
Published: January 30th 2018
Rating: it hurts to read but can't stop
Times read: 3
Recommended by: I preordered it maybe because of Twitter?

So. Many. Feels. The Dangerous Art of Blending In is the #ownvoices telling of Evan Panos a seventeen-year-old Greek American living under the specter of horrific family abuse complicated by the fact that he is gay and fears what will happen if the world, or more specifically, his mother finds out. Yeah, you are going to ugly cry.  Accept it for the gift that it is. 

This book was well written.  I stopped and reread in a couple of places because the phrasing was so beautiful and touching.  The plot and conflict were character based which I love but can feel a bit meandering. The Dangerous Art of Blending In was fast paced. It was made up of intense emotional beats so when I try to summarize "what happened" in my head, the plot is a bit hard to pin down.  I'm okay with that.  The characterization was well done. It is easy to become fully invested in them. In the back of my mind, I was trying to come up with a plan to get Evan out of his home situation the entire time I was reading.  Actually, the back of my mind is still doing that. 

Mostly, I’m scrambling to do different things to please different people. I wonder what would happen if I only spent time doing what interested me.

In some ways, Evan remains a mystery even to himself throughout the book.  This seems deliberate. So much of how he identifies himself (Greek, Christian, straight, perfect son) are merely costumes that he has been forced to put on to survive. The things that he loves, such as art, writing, and Henry are the very things that put him most in danger. The more he learns who he is the more he risks become a target. That he still dreams is amazing.  That he survives and does become his true self is a miracle.

This is an #ownvoices book, so the rep for Greek Americans, abuse survivors, and being gay are legit.  Evan does have sex which made me realize that I haven't read many YA LGBTQIA+ books where the MC do have sex and even fewer where the sex is a positive experience.   I was especially touched be the "morning after" scene.  I was going to say that the sex isn't graphic. But then I wonder if I would have felt the need to say that with a straight couple in a YA book and if I don't there why would I here? On the other hand, the scene is very delicately and masterfully handled, and that deserves kudos. 

This isn't a happy book. The abuse is described in graphic but not sensationalist detail and was hard to read. I spent a good portion of the book in tears. And yet it is also hopeful?  How does that even work?  I internally pulled for Even from the first page to the last. However bad his situation becomes hope is never out of reach. This book isn't cynical and is all the better for that. This book is recommended for readers looking for a hard-hitting emotional journey.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer. 

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Book Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)
by Amy Spalding 
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indibound
Series: I firmly but kindly request a sequel
Published: April 3rd 2018
Rating: SO ADORABLE
Times read: 2
Recommended by: Gabrielle, the power librarian

Cute cute cute cute. This. This is the book that I have been looking for. This is a sweet, funny, touching summer story about seventeen-year-old Abby who is starting out a new internship, making new friends, and falling in love. 

Abby is more how I wanted Leah from Leah on the Offbeat (even though I really liked that book) to be. Abby is so relatable. I think that we have all been that person who forgot how to stand or walk normally. Is this how I hold my arms? Why am I so aware of my young now? There are a few parts where Abby misses part of a conversation because she was daydreaming and oh man, have I ever been there. I am not gay but omg I was so Abby as a teenager. There is a scene of holding hands, and she is trying not to think about it too hard in case it isn’t happening. The way to loud inner dialogue, awkwardness, and self-doubt. So real.

I have a friend who told me once that she would love it if she didn’t have a body. That she wishes that people were just floating masses of energy or whatever. Reading about Abby’s struggle to be in front of the camera modeling the clothes that she loves reminds me of that. I also love that she has a complicated relationship with how she looks. One the one hand she is good with it in some setting and on the other it is her kryptonite, a secret, vulnerable spot that can easily hurt her. 

The human condition is bullshit.

The balance of Abby’s gayness seems just right. I like that this isn’t a coming out story. It is just a part of who she is, but it also affects a lot of things in her life because... reality. It is there but not the ultimate cause of drama.

I think that this is the first time that I have read a book about a fashion blogger and had a crystal clear idea of their style. Full skirts, fruit patterns, and belts. I am here for it! It is also clear that the author actually knows how social media works. 

The secondary characters in this book are all well defined and rich. You can imagine them having lives that are happening off the page. Abby and her best friend, Maliah are struggling a bit with balancing friendships and realationships. They are both seventeen and in their first relatioships. Of course, that is going to happen. It is sensitively and realistically explores the desire to stay as close to your best friend as you always have and the desire to be with this new person that you are in love with. I appreciate that Jax becomes her friend. He is that almost “stereotypical obnoxious boy from high school” but he manages to be sweet and funny and supportive. 

Food is very important in this book. It was interesting to see how different everyone's relationship to food and cooking was. Abby's mom is fixated on food but not the comfort that it can bring. Jordi's family makes empanadas together as a way to become closer. Abby and Jax scour Los Angeles in the search for the perfect burger. 

I have had some trouble finding f/f books that I actually liked and shipped. There are a bunch where the writing was found I was just not getting invested in the love story. So many of them read like really unhealthy friendships. So much angst. So I ha e have been questioning myself about internal biases because generally, I don’t have that problem with m/m books. Do I just have different standards for these books? Is it too much to just want something adorable as an option? I have been making an effort this year to read at least one f/f book a month. The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) is the first book that I have been 100% on board the relationship. Like, I will go down with this ship. Abby and Jordi are meant to be, and I will hear nothing to the contrary. Do not @ me you are wrong. Pardon me while I squee over them a bit.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people's lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn't expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it's a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.

Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She's competing against the girl she's kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She's somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.'s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn't feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby's finally in her own story?

But when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?

Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda   by Becky Albertalli cover

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda  
by Becky Albertalli
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: Would that it were
Published: April 7th 2015
Rating: 100 Oreos with milk
Recommended by: Gillian from Writer of Wrongs

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the story of sixteen-year-old Simon who is on the edge of coming out but finds himself being blackmailed over his emailing of an unknown boy who he has feelings for.  I just… I mean… You guys… This book. It is sweet, adorable while managing to remain sharp. 

I genuinely love Simon. And not in a normal love for a book character way. No, I love him as if he was a real person.  Much like Marissa in What Can(t) Wait I want to know what his future holds and be reassured by Facebook posts.  I loved that he sometimes struggled to put himself in another’s place and knew that he needed to listen more and be more sensitive. I loved that his avoidance of drama sometimes caused it.   He is a sixteen-year-old boy and this is realistic. 

The supporting cast was amazing.  Every single one of them.  Becky Albertallimanaged one of my favorite things.  She made all the characters of Simons book seems as if they were in a book of their own at the same time.  They all managed to have a character arch and depth.  I loved that he was close with his family.  Parent erasure in YA is one of my biggest pet peeves.  The different relationships that he had with each of his sisters were very well done.  Relationships, even positive ones, aren’t all the same.  Different people bring out different sides of us.

Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.

It is impossible to talk about this book and not discuss Simon being gay.  What I found particularly lovely about this book was Becky Albertalli allowed Simon to be both gay and happy.  Being gay is not a tragedy that is going to ruin his life. You have probably seen that whole campaign “It gets better.”  Which is immensely important because middle and high school sucks and sucks especially for anyone who is an outlier.  In Simon’s story, we see that not only will things get better but that you should be able to expect things to be okay NOW.  

This is a romance and I 100% shipped it. Blue was so grounded and sensible and it just felt that he balanced out Simon’s exuberance and impulsivity.  I loved their emails. I am a sucker for an epistolary romance. I completely understood why they feel for one another.  

This is my second time reading it.  This time I listened to the audiobook which is read by Michael Crouch. I enjoyed his performance.  He was quite believable as Simon and I got the same feels while listening to this book as I did the first time reading it.

I really liked the writing style.  I am not usually attracted to the descriptors of “adorable” and “heartwarming”. I don’t avoid it but I am not instantly drawn to it the way I am with angst (I am a so easy). But I smiled all through this book and even thinking about and writing about it now I am smiling.  There are worse things to recommend in a book than a perma-smile. If you have somehow overlooked this gem or were just thinking of a reread I highly recommend it.

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From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.