Mini-Reviews: Our Way Back to Always + Join the Club, Maggie Diaz

I had another review schedule to go up with Our Way Back to Always, but could not resist pairing Nina Moreno’s middle grade debut, Join the Club, Maggie Diaz, with her sophomore book. I am officially running out of reviews, so I should probably start writing reviews again. I’ve been very lackadaisical with reviewing lately and it’s about to catch up with me >_<

Title: Our Way Back to Always Author: Nina Moreno Series: N/A Pages: 368 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Release Date: October 19th 2021

TW: death of a parent, cancer, grief

"Luisa (Lou) Patterson grew up across the street from Sam Alvarez in the small, quirky town of Port Coral. They used to be inseparable--spending every holiday together, shooting silly YouTube videos, and rescuing stray cats. But then middle school happened, including the most disastrous (and embarrassing) serenade ever, and Lou and Sam haven't talked in the four years since. Sam is now the golden boy with plenty of friends, while Lou is an introverted romantic who's happy playing video games and writing fan fiction. But it's also the summer before their senior year, and life is knocking on Lou's door. With her older sister having given up a scholarship to Princeton to have a baby and work at the local botanica, all of their mother's expectations are now riding on Lou's shoulders. She's retaking her SAT's, signed up for way too many AP classes, and her sights set on colleges with fancy names like Duke and Vanderbilt. But when she finds the bucket list she and Sam wrote together as kids, before Sam's father was diagnosed with cancer, she's shocked to see that she hasn't accomplished any of the goals she'd set for herself. Go to a party? Nope. Pull the greatest prank of all time? Still no. Learn how to be a really good kisser? Definitely not. Torn between the future that her mother, sister, and younger self planned for her, Lou sets out to finish the list, and in a stroke of destiny or fate, Sam decides to tag along. Still trying to stay afloat amid the grief of losing his father, Sam himself is staring down a future that feels all too close, and is coming far too fast. But with the bucket list to guide them, Sam and Lou might just be able to find a way through the future, and also a way back to each other."

Nina Moreno delivers another heartwarming YA contemporary with her sophomore novel, Our Way Back to Always. Lou and Sam are entering their senior year with all the uncertainty of adulthood at their doorstep. When Lou uncovers a bucket list she and Sam made when they were kids, she is determined to finally check things off. Then Sam decides he wants in too, even though the two haven’t spoken in years. With the bucket list as their guide, Sam and Lou embark on an unforgettable year where they discover both new and old things about themselves and each other. Lou and Sam are struggling with decisions that will impact their future. Lou knows her grades and test scores leave a lot to be desired, but she is determined to get into a prestigious school. After his father’s passing, Sam can’t imagine leaving his family for college, but in order to stay, he has to let go of so many of his own dreams. He wants to be strong but his grief sometimes weighs him so far down. I really appreciated Moreno creating space for both of these characters to explore new paths for themselves. For Sam, in particular, this is important because his world has been irrevocably changed and moving forward, he has to find a way to form new dreams for himself. Lou is pushed beyond her comfort zone. It’s hard for her to trust people and let them in. I really enjoyed her new friendship with Rocky as Lou doesn’t find it easy to make new friends. As important as it was to see her open up to Sam again, I’m glad that she also found someone else to bring into her fold. Port Coral, the small sea side town shines once again in this companion novel to Don’t Date, Rosa Santos (loved the cameo as well!). From the sights and sounds to the people, this place is so full of love. Fans of Don’t Date Rosa Santos will rejoice with this one and those just being introduced to Port Coral with fall in love. Our Way Back to Always is sure to be adored by fans of small town romance and childhood friends to lovers.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: Join the Club, Maggie Diaz Author: Nina Moreno, illustrated by Courtney Lovett Series: N/A Pages: 240 Publisher: Scholastic Press Release Date: May 17th 2022

Disclaimer: This review is based on the ARC of this book, provided by the author, which does not influence my review.

"A humorous and heartfelt middle-grade debut by Nina Moreno with illustrations by Courtney Lovett, perfect for fans of One Day at a Time and Invisible Emmie. Everyone in Maggie Diaz's life seems to be finding their true passion. The one thing that defines them as a person. Her best friends Zoey and Julian are too busy to spend time after school thanks to band and comics club. Mom is finishing her last semester in college. And of course, perfect older sister Caro has her sports and tutoring club. So Maggie cooks up a plan to try all the clubs she can! But trying to fit in with type-A future leaders, gardening wizzes, and the fearless kids in woodshop is intimidating, exhausting, and seriously confusing. And when Maggie ends up disappointing her friends, she realizes that juggling school, friends, and all of her after-school activities isn't what she expected. Finding herself might just require some surprising help and possibly a little magic from the bruja next door."

Nina Moreno debuts with a fresh middle grade voice with Join the Club, Maggie Diaz. Courtney Lovett also provides fun and lively illustrations that bring this story to life. Maggie Diaz knows she isn’t the most reliable, her grades aren’t always the best, and she could be considered flighty. But seventh grade is going to be different. Maggie is determined to succeed and show she can take on more responsibility. In hopes of obtaining her first phone and more freedom, Maggie sets off on a journey to prove that she is mature and not a little kid any more. Maggie is an easy character to like. She’s incredibly determined and earnest. Although her plans do not always work out the way she imagined in her head, you can’t help but admire her ambition and gumption. I really enjoyed reading about Maggie and her family. Her abuela recently moved into her room, creating a new and sometimes chaotic new dynamic in the household. Maggie’s been spending less time with her best friends, Julian and Zoey, as both have their own interests and clubs they’ve joined. Feeling left out, Maggie decides to her first club, Future Leaders. Of course, Maggie quickly find outs how hard it is to juggle family life, school, and extracurriculars. Join the club, Maggie Diaz is a cute, coming-of-age middle grade novel perfect for tweens just beginning to discover who they are.

★ ★ ★ ★

2 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Our Way Back to Always + Join the Club, Maggie Diaz

  1. It was so great to be back in Port Coral again, having recently read OWBTA too, I’m still thinking about Lou & Sam 😭💕 Nina’s middle grade book sounds amazing, I need to read it asap. Loved reading your thoughts on these Alicia!


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