Hello, friends! I read a lot of books during Latinx Heritage Month and have so have many reviews for you. This week I am sharing a review of a book I read before LHM and my first read for LHM. Both were amazing reads and introduced me to authors I know I will be reading for years to come.
Title: Lupe Wong Won't Dance
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Publisher: Levine Querido
Release Date: September 8th 2020
TW: racism, bullying, grief
"Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She's also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.
Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who's Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she's not gonna let that slide."
Donna Barba Higuera’s Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is one of the most amusing middle grade novels I’ve ever picked up. Seventh grader, Lupe Wong, is determined to meet her favorite baseball player, Fu Li Hernandez. In order to do so, she has to get A’s in all her classes including P.E., which for Lupe ought to be a cinch, but this year is different. Her teacher is forcing her students to learn how to square dance! Lupe doesn’t think dancing should be considered a sport and makes it her mission to get her teacher to change her mind. Lupe is a great character. She is stubborn, smart, and endearingly precocious. Unfortunately, every plan she makes backfires. I loved seeing Lupe with both sides of her family. She is Mexican and Chinese and is blessed with being a part of both cultures. Her father passed away two years ago, but with the help of her mother and his grandparents, his memory is still kept alive. Her love for baseball is tied to her father and sometimes it’s hard for her to work through her feelings of grief. Lupe also learns important lessons in this one including how to be a better listener to her friends. Donna Barba Higuera’s Lupe Wong Won’t Dance was a true joy that had me laughing aloud from start to finish.
★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5)
Title: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
Author: Crystal Maldonado
Publisher: Holiday House
Release Date: February 2nd 2021
TW: fatphobia, mentions of racism
"Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard.
Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.
Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it's hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn't help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there's one person who's always in Charlie's corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing--he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.
A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves."
It was impossible not to fall in love with the lead character in Crystal Maldanado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega. Charlie is a romantic, who spends far too much time imagining what her first kiss will be like. She’s used to being a spectator even in her own life. Her mother is constantly reminding her that she’s too fat and often prefers the company of Charlie’s best friend to her own daughter. It’s hard for Charlie not to compare herself to her best friend. Amelia, who seems to have it all, including the unflinching support of her parents. Charlie wants to be able to love herself even when the world tells her otherwise, but this can sometimes be hard. I loved how vulnerable and genuine Charlie’s voice was. Charlie feels like a real person who struggles with insecurities and who is prone to jealousy. I appreciated how realistic Vega portrayed Charlie’s relationship with her mother. Some mother-daughter relationships aren’t healthy and like life, don’t have a neat resolution to them. Charlie’s relationship with her best friend Amelia also has its ups and downs. Charlie has always felt like she was living in her friend’s shadow, but doesn’t realize holding her friend up on a pedestal is also unfair to her. The romance in the novel is super sweet and I loved that Charlie’s confidence was boosted by her love interest, but was never dependent on him. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is perfect for readers who love love and endearing lead characters.
Today I have a couple of mini-reviews for ARCs I recently finished. It feels kind of odd to pair these two together as they could not be more different. One is a middle-grade sci-fi and the other is an adult horror novella. But both were amazing reads and if either of these are your genre, I highly recommend them.
Title: The Last Cuentista
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Publisher: Levine Querido
Release Date: October 12th 2021
TW: death of a parent, eugenics
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**
"Había una vez . . .
There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita.
But Petra's world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.
Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity's past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether.
Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?
Pura Belpré Honor-winning author Donna Barba Higuera presents us with a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human."
Donna Barba Higuera’s second middle grade novel, The Last Cuentista, is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Petra Peña and her family are part of the few who have been selected to board a space ship bound for the distant planet of Sagan. With Halley’s Comet on a collision course with Earth, humanity’s only hope is to find a new home. While Petra and those like are incubated for the 380-year journey, the Monitors are tasked with watching over them. When Petra eventually wakes, she quickly discovers that something has gone terribly awry. The Collective, descendants of the Monitors, is now in control and are bent on eradicating conflict by any means necessary. In their quest to save humanity, they have become inhumane. Differences in appearance or opinion have been eliminated. Every person must serve the Collective. Petra is a strong girl with strong opinions. Molded by her grandmother’s stories, all she’s ever wanted is to be a great storyteller. It is these stories that provide her comfort as she faces off against a foe far more powerful than herself. And it is ultimately the tales she shapes herself that help lead her and others toward a better future. The Last Cuentista is a unique sci-fi, spellbinding and unforgettable. A must read for any middle grade fan.
★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5)
Title: Nothing But Blackened Teeth
Author: Cassandra Khaw
Release Date: October 19th 2021
TW: gore, panic attacks
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**
"Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt."
Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth simmers with tension on multiple levels beginning with its cast of characters. Cat and her friends have known each other since they were teens and have made a game out of chasing ghosts. As years have passed, however, and relationships have evolved, there is both spoken and unspoken tension between them. The ghost of relationships past is always there, along with resentment and hate, boiling just below the surface. When things begin to go awry, all bets are off and polite facades disappear, giving way to anger and chaos. The mansion the characters find themselves in is steeped in horrid tales of women buried alive year after year. Their bones have become a different kind of foundation for this mansion. The residence sits empty, waiting and wanting. As trepidation builds, the mansion feels almost sentient. It relishes the animosity building between these friends. Khaw’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, raw and haunting. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a deliciously unnerving novella infused with Japanese folklore, in which its characters and house slowly begin to unravel, revealing the enmity underneath.
I have a super-sized mini-review post for you today. I typically keep these posts two-reviews long, but when I was formatting this post, I remembered that I had written a review for Counting Down With You over the summer that I never got around to posting. It’s perfect because all three of these are contemporaries and I felt more or less the same about all of them. I enjoyed them and though there were certain elements that really stood out to me, I wasn’t completely blown away by them. I would still recommend all of these, so if there are things in my review that appeal to you, definitely pick these up.
Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: May 4th 2021
TW: brief mention of forced outing and death of a child, anxiety attacks
"A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.
How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?"
Tashi Bhuiyan’s Counting Down with You is perfect for contemporary fans looking for stories with complicated family dynamics and page-turning romance. Karina Ahmed is a Bangeldashi-American teen on the fast track to med school. Nothing could make her parents prouder. The problem? Karina wants to study English, but admitting this to her parents would break their hearts, something she isn’t prepared to do. When her parents travel to Bangladesh for a month-long trip, Karina can’t help but feel a sense of relief. When her English teacher asks her to tutor Ace Clyde, her school’s resident bad boy, Karina can’t think of a worst idea. When he asks her to be his fake girlfriend, all her plans to have a drama-free month without her parents go out the window. The more time she spends with Ace, the more she starts to want the things she hasn’t allowed herself to really want. Counting Down with You does a really good job of showing the many facets of Karina’s life. We see her with her immediate family, her extended family, her friend group, and with Ace. All of these relationships require Karina to be a different version of herself and at the end of the novel, she has to choose whether or not to reconcile these parts of herself or continue to only to show part of who she is to those closest to her. I really enjoyed the evolution of Karina’s relationship with Ace. Aside from all the flirtation, they are great influences on each other. In many ways they are polar opposites, but both struggle to reconcile who they are with how their families see them. By far my favorite relationship was the bond Karina had with her grandmother. There is so much love and support here and I loved that it wasn’t her friends or her love interest who she truly needs in her corner, but it’s her grandmother. Counting Down with You will win the hearts of readers with its likeable protagonist and nuanced take on familial expectations.
★ ★ ★ (3/5)
Title: Simone Breaks All the Rules
Author: Debbie Rigaud
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: June 1st 2021
"Late bloomers unite! This fresh and funny #ownvoices novel from rising star Debbie Rigaud is perfect for fans of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Booksmart.
Simone Thibodeaux's life is sealed in a boy-proof container.
Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously).
Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up -- especially since she's crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn't approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven't had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah -- choosing your own prom date.
But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She'll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak."
Debbie Rigaud’s Simone Breaks All the Rules is a fast-paced contemporary novel about learning to advocate for yourself. Haitian-American teen, Simone Thibodeaux, is tired of doing everything according to her parents’ rules. In an effort to take back control of her life, Simone and two classmates make a to-do list in hopes of breaking free from their parents’ overprotective natures. Simone calls herself a late bloomer, not because she didn’t want to date or go out partying but because her parents always had certain expectations of her and she acquiesced. As seventeen; however, she is thinking about adulthood: what she wants and what compromises she is now unwilling to make. She finds it difficult to find the words to tell her parents she doesn’t want to live at home when she goes to college. This bucket list for her senior year becomes a small way where she can rebel and declare independence. It also gives Simone the confidence she needs to finally tell her parents what she wants. Simone Breaks All the Rules is perfect for fans of contemporary books with an emphasis on family and friendship.
★ ★ ★ (3/5)
Title: Rent a Boyfriend
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 10th 2021
TW: fatphobia, slut-shaming
"To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.
Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.
Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.
When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.
But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?"
Chloe Wang would like nothing more than for her parents to stop insisting she get marry to the most unsuitable guy imaginable. In an effort to get them to finally back off, Chloe enlists the help of Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company that provides the perfect fake boyfriend to fool even the most hard to impress parents. Drew has been working for Rent for Your ‘Rents as a way to support himself after his parents cut him off for pursuing his dream of becoming an artist. Chloe is just one client on a long list of young women looking for help in dealing with difficult parents. Being her fake boyfriend shouldn’t be too hard, except the more time he spends with Chloe, the more the line between fake and real begins to blur. I really liked the opposites-attract aspect to Chloe and Drew’s relationship because of how knowing the other helps them overcome some of their biggest personal obstacles. Sometimes Chloe finds it hard to be herself in front of her parents. She wants to make them happy, but this often comes at the expense of her own happiness. Drew is terrified of sharing his work with others because if he fails, his decision to drop out of college and consequently, lose his family, wasn’t worth it after all. Chloe and Drew encourage each other not by taking on the other person’s problems but by supporting who they are and giving each other the space to take control of their own lives. Gloria Chao’s Rent a Boyfriend has an undeniably sweet romantic plot, but it is the complicated and fraught familial relationships that really stood out.
Title: Illusionary Author: Zoraida Córdova Series: Hollow Crown, #2 Pages: 368 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Release Date: May 11th 2021
TW: mentions of alcoholism and self-harm
**Contains Incendiary spoilers**
“In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas. Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other. With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all. For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.”
“We were given the power of a goddess, but we are still breakable things.”
Renata – Renata has been used my others her whole life. She’s been taught that her Robári abilities are dangerous, and her only value is as a weapon. Much of her agency has been taken from her. When she was young Justice Méndez manipulated her and exploited her. When she became a Whisper, she hoped she had found a place where she belonged, but the Moria rebel group never truly accepted her. In Illusionary, Renataś journey is one of self-discovery, learning to reclaim and value herself. She is able to find people who accept her for who she is, who help her in accept herself, and who trust her unequivocally.
Castian – If there was one thing I wanted more of in Incendiary, it was more Castian. He is probably the most puzzling and intriguing character in the first book, so I was very pleased that we as readers got to pull back the curtain and find out exactly who the Prince of Puerto Leones really is.
Second-love – I don’t want to give too much away, but it felt really refreshing reading a YA where someone’s first love may not be their be all end all. Renata is a different person than who she was at the beginning of the first book and as a result who she wants to be with and what she needs in a relationship has changed.
World-building expansion – I loved exploring Córdova’s world more in this sequel, meeting new characters, and seeing the magical system itself expand.
Epilogue – I can only recall one other book whose epilogue goes so far into the future. There are books that end that leave you wondering what happens next for the characters and I loved that we got to see what happens years down the road. We don’t always get that kind of closure as readers.
Dez’s storyline – With the first book’s revelation about Dez, I expected to see more of him in this book and felt that he deserved more page-time. Also connected to this is my desire to see more Margo. She is partially responsible for what happens to Renata at the end of Incendiary, and their reunion is a little anticlimatic considering all animus.
Secondary characters – Incendiary and Illusionary have some great secondary characters like Nuria and Leo, but there were a few characters that I really wanted to get to know more about and we didn’t. At the top of my list is Queen Josephine, wife of King Fernando. I feel like she would have made a great ally or enemy. It’s hard to say as we learn so little about her.
Zoraida Córdova concludes her Hollow Crown duology with Illusionary, giving Renata the space to unlearn harmful beliefs about herself as well as the means to reclaim herself as her own.