Book Review: Beast by Brie Spangler

beast cover

by Brie Spangler
GoodreadsAmazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: no
Release date: October 11th 2016
Rating: Different in a good way.
Times Read: 1
Recommended By: Goodreads

I guess that I should start with saying that I am a white, straight, cis woman and my review is going to come from that perspective.  I can’t speak for others.  I really enjoyed this book.  I found the writing engaging and the characterization was strong enough to make me tear up a couple of times.

I found Dylan to be a sympathetic yet flawed character.  I found him lovable and at the same time I wanted to scream at him because he kept making TERRIBLE choices.  He was pretty damn self-centered.  I liked that his character arch included figuring out how to communicate with the people in his life because holy crap was he bad at it.  He is incredible uncomfortable with the physical reality of his body which is something that I haven’t really seen explored in a male character before. He also falls into the trap of projecting his ideas of himself onto others. 

I felt like Jamie was her own person.  I read a couple of reviews that mentioned that she felt like a “magical manic pixie dream trans girl” but it didn’t read that way to me.  I felt as if she had a life outside of Dylan.  The book focuses on how she is affecting his life but to me that was just because this book was being told from Dylan’s perspective.  I like that she was a strong enough person to refuse to compromise or hide herself to fit herself into Dylan’s life and into his future plans.  

I wish that the secondary characters were better developed.  Dylan’s mom is great in the whole “I am going to help you and in the process steamroller over your life” kind of way.  I never really figured out JP.  I think that he was supposed to grow from more than a douche but I am not sure that he did.  I could have used more closure there.  I am struggling to think of any other characters.

There is a lot of hype around this being a trans book but I found it more trans adjacent.  It explores transphopia, the cruelty and fear that trans people face everyday, and the trans experience in itself.  It does it however though the lens of another character.  This book normalizes those who are transgender.  It makes them part of the larger community of YA that inhabits my brain.  This is all great.  For me as an outsider.  I am not sure that this book is mirror up to trans women in which they will see themselves fully reflected. This book is more like someone else looking in the mirror and you can see yourself behind them.  Which is okay.  I think we need books like this.  I am just waiting for that other book to be written (actually lots of them!  There is more than one story to be told!) because there still seems to be a need.

My feelings about Beast, whatever the flaws, are overwhelmingly positive.  The message seems to that while the world and love itself are not perfect there is still hope for us all. And who couldn’t do with hearing that?

From Goodreads:
Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.

Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?

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
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)?