Snapshot (ARC) Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Title: Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun
Author: Jonny Garza Villa
Series: N/A
Pages: 341
Publisher: Skyscape
Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: physical abuse, homophobia including slurs, forced outing, suicidal thoughts

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.
      Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.
      Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.
      Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.
      Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.”

  • Julián – Julián is an easy character to like and root for. He knows he can’t come out because of the hostility his father has always shown about the very idea that he could be gay. The only thing that gets him through is imagining life after high school, of going to college in another state where he’d be free to be himself and finally be happy. When he accidentally comes out on social media, he has to deal with the inevitable falling out, but there is also this new idea that he doesn’t have to wait to be happy, that if he embraces himself and puts himself out there, he has a chance to experience good things in the now.
  • Friend group – I really enjoyed Julián’s friend group. They are all different people, but they balance each other out so well. When they are together, it is chaotic and fun. They are there for Jules in different ways and it was so nice to see this support system. I especially loved Jules’s relationship with Jordan. They are so supportive of one another and effortlessly affectionate. It’s the kind of relationship between two male characters that I would like to see more often.
  • Discussion of homophobia in Latinx communities – There is a clear juxtaposition between Jules’s friends’ reaction versus his father’s. Jules’s has kept a part of himself hidden for fear of how his father would react, especially because he’s been abusive in the past. It isn’t unusual to encounter homophobia in Latinx communities and Jules’s father isn’t the only Latinx character who is homophobic in this book. It’s a stifling environment to grow up in and unfortunately creates a lot of self-hate. And it’s ever more heartbreaking when these derogatory comments come from people you love.
  • Familial relationships – Jules’s older sister, Xo, and his grandfather became the family he deserves. They are the ones who embrace him when his father rejects him and do not expect anything from him other than the opportunity to love him. Friends are one thing, but I think it was really important for Jules to have the support of family as well.
  • MatFifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy issues, but it also provides plenty of smiles. Most notably is Jules’s relationship with Mat, a boy he meets online and one of the first people who supports him after he comes out. Their interactions are flirtatious and butterflies-in-your-stomach inducing. There are so many sweet moments between the two, but the real world is always there to remind them that they live so far away from one another. They have to figure out if what they have is real, if their relationship is plausible, and what happens after they graduate if they don’t end up in the same place.
  • Nothing to note.

Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun is an addicting, swoon-worthy read about coming out and finding that happiness can exist at the end of even the darkest tunnel.

★ ★ ★ ★

Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Title: Once Upon a Quinceañera
Author: Monica Gomez-Hira
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 2nd 2021

TW: slut shaming and sexual harassment

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      “Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently ‘happily ever after’ for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship! All she has to do is perform! In a ball gown! During the summer. In Miami.
      Fine. Except that Carmen’s company is hired for her spoiled cousin Ariana’s over the top quinceañera.
      And of course, her new dance partner at work is none other than Mauro Reyes, Carmen’s most deeply regrettable ex.
      If Carmen is going to move into the future she wants, she needs to leave the past behind. And if she can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off Mauro’s texts, and stopping Ariana from ruining her own quinceañera Carmen might just get that happily ever after after all.”

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Monica Gomez-Hira debuts with Once Upon a Quinceañera, a story about forgiveness and growth. Carmen Aguilar cannot catch a break. Just short of earning enough credits to graduate, she’s forced to intern over the summer for Dreams Come True, a princess party company that caters to children. Not a bad gig until her aunt hires the company for her bratty cousin’s quinceañera. Family drama is hard enough to deal with but now Carmen’s sort of ex-boyfriend is back in town stirring up feelings she’d rather see stay buried. Then there’s Carmen’s current crush Alex, who is finally showing interest in her. Maybe her summer won’t be as disastrous after all.

Once Upon a Quinceanera has a strong lead character who is made more relatable by the way she stumbles when it comes to her personal relationships. On the surface Carmen is prickly and abrasive. She isn’t an easy person to get along with and can be unforgiving in her views of other people. When you dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent that Carmen is not this way by accident. Much of her tough exterior is the result of how other people see and treat her. Guys think she’s easy, her peers whisper behind her back, and even her aunt thinks she’s a bad influence. Carmen is defensive because it’s the only way she knows how to protect herself and when there aren’t a lot of people on her side, she has to be her own advocate, something that doesn’t always come easy to her.

Family plays an important role in this debut, but like in real life, family can be complicated. Carmen has a really close relationship with her mother and if asked about her father, would say she doesn’t care that he left, but deep down it hurts. Her Tía Celia severed their relationship years ago. Carmen hides behind her anger instead of fully acknowledging how much having another adult in her life reject her stung. Her cousin Ariana has always been a thorn in her side; she always gets her way and leaves Carmen feeling inadequate. All of these relationships have their ups and downs as Carmen grows as a person, she learns to see her family members in different ways even if forgiveness doesn’t come easy to her. I really enjoyed seeing Carmen and Ariana’s relationship evolve. They don’t realize until later that the jealousy they were harboring against one another is actually something they have in common. Neither of these young women is faultless when it comes to their rocky relationship, but it was so rewarding to see them be there for each other in the end.

I did find issues with how the sexual harassment in the novel is handled. Carmen is sexually harassed by a former boss and is forced to find another job to complete her high school credits. We never really explore this and even though I didn’t find it unrealistic that Carmen would very quickly move on from this, as a young adult novel, I think it’s important to not be flippant with these subjects and they should be addressed head on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the love interest storyline. Carmen is torn between two different boys, but it was difficult to root for either one of these characters. It often felt like the two were more interested in marking their territory than giving Carmen the space she needed in order to figure out her own feelings.

Once Upon a Quinceanera is a reminder that life can surprise you if you open yourself up to its many possibilities and that it’s never too late to begin believing in yourself.

★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: Hide and Seeker + The Midnight Bargain

This is my first post trying to use the new block editor for my reviews and I hate it so much. It was so much easier to copy and paste html code from previous posts, but now when I try to do so, the html is just a mess to navigate. Why have you done this to us, WordPress? I need my classic editor back. I can’t even do something as simple as put a border around the synopsis because every time I do, I get an error message. This is the worst, ugh! I am beyond frustrated, but today I am bringing you two mini-reviews of recent reads. Overall, I enjoyed both, but I definitely preferred one over the other.

Title: Hide and Seeker
Author: Daka Hermon
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 15th 2020

TW: death of a parent

“One of our most iconic childhood games receives a creepy twist as it becomes the gateway to a nightmare world.

I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?

Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend. Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee’s welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.

One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker.”

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My tongue skims across my dry lips as my numb fingers release the dead bolts. Click. Click. Click. With a slight push, the door glides open with a loud whine. Cold air whooshes from the room and chills my skin.”

Daka Hermon delivers a gut-punching horror novel with her middle grade debut, Hide and Seeker. Justin knows his life will never be the same after his mother’s passing. With bills piling up and his sister struggling to support them, Justin knows that they are barely getting by. One of his best friends just returned after going missing and what should be a celebratory birthday party for him, ends up being the beginning of another nightmare. After a game of Hide and Seek, Justin’s friends begin disappearing. Justin and those who still remain must piece together what is happening before they too are taken. The antagonist of Hide and Seeker taps into children’s fears, holding them captive by bringing their nightmares to life in a place called Nowhere. Middle grade horror always hits a little differently than YA or adult horror. Maybe it’s because the characters are so young or maybe it’s because their fear feels so much more palatable, but reading the horror these kids go through was intense. Justin makes a great lead character and I enjoyed seeing his arc come full circle. In the beginning of the novel, Justin knows he’s never going to be the same person he was before his mother died. His friends have always relied on him to keep them together, but he is unsure if he can be that person anymore. Justin’s fears are tied to his mother. He is forced to deal with this loss while also trying to survive in this world of fear and keep his friends from losing hope. Daka Hermon’s Hide and Seeker is sure to provide enough thrills and chills to make you reconsider ever playing Hide and Seek again.

★ ★ ★ ★

themidnightbargainTitle: The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Erewhon
Release Date: October 13th 2020

“Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?”

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She breathed in magic, shaped it with her need, and charged the circle closed. She was between. Her body felt bigger than it was. Her awareness had expanded to to the skin of her aetheric form, the body that spirits and magicians could see, glowing softly within the circle spun of her mortal life.

C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain had all the elements needed to be a sweeping, romantic fantasy but faltered with its protagonist constantly being outshined by a minor character. Beatrice Clayborn is entering her first bargaining season in which she is declared eligible for marriage. But marriage is the furthest thing from her mind. She wants to pursue magic, to become a mage and help her family financially. But in this world women with magical abilities are only prized for their ability to produce male children with magic. When Beatrice meets someone who makes her think marriage may not be the worst fate, she’s torn between two impossibilities. Give up her dream or her only chance at finding someone who understands and respects her for who she is and wants to be. Beatrice is up against a patriarchal society that devalues womanhood. They’ve adopted harmful methods to keep pregnant women safe from evil spirits by collaring married women, cutting them off from their own magical abilities. Only widows and spinsters are allowed to study magic further. Beatrice has very strong opinions that run counter to these ideas and though this should have endeared her to me immediately, I grew frustrated with how passive she was. Though she wanted something different for herself beside marriage, she didn’t seem willing to give up her relationships with the men in her life who were essentially holding her back. This was never more apparent than when Ysbeta entered the picture. Ysbeta, like Beatrice, wishes to expand her knowledge of magic and does not wish to marry. She enlists Beatrice’s help in teaching her magic that has been beyond her reach and is prepared to do anything to take control of her own life. I could not help but wish the novel had cast Ysbeta as its lead on multiple occasions. Ysbeta did not wait for the approval of those around her, but dove head first into her ambitions. I did enjoy the development of Beatrice’s relationship with her younger sister Harriet. The latter does not understand why her older sister is so interested in magic and all its dangers. They have very opposing views but both their fears are valid and no fault of their own but of the misogynist society they have been raised in. The Midnight Bargain provided an interesting exploration of female autonomy in a world where marriage is a type of prison, but failed to hook me with its lead character.

★ ★ ★

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Grown
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 15th 2020

TW: sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, addiction, grooming, emotional abuse, suicide

      “Korey Fields is dead.
      When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
      Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
      Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
      All signs point to Enchanted.”

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“Trying to reclaim your life is a lot like drowning. You attempt to stay above water as waves of new information hit you sideways, carrying you further into the unknown. People throw life preservers, but the ropes can only reach so far, and once a riptide catches you by the ankle, all you can do is wonder why you ever thought you’d be OK jumping into the deep end, when you could barely manage the shallows.”

Tiffany D. Jackson delivers another riveting story with Grown, shining a light on predatory relationships and society’s complicity when it comes to disbelieving victims, especially when it comes to Black girls and women. Enchanted Jones is a talented singer, but knows the odds of being discovered aren’t in her favor. That is until Korey Fields, famous singer and heartthrob, takes notice of her at a competition. Drawn into his world, Enchanted can’t quite believe someone like Korey would take an interest in her musically and personally. He might be eleven years older than her, but no one seems to get her quite like he does. But his attention takes a dark turn and soon Enchanted isn’t sure how to escape this relationship. When Korey ends up dead, Enchanted becomes the obvious suspect. Proving her innocence won’t be easy when she had more reason than anyone to want Korey dead and can’t remember exactly what happened the night of his murder.

Grown is not an easy book to read. Told through Enchanted’s perspective, what feels like innocent flirting to this seventeen-year-old feels much more sinister to the reader. Enchanted is quickly enamored with Korey. His attention feels special, he makes her feel heard and in his eyes, she feels beautiful and more mature. He subtly manipulates her, first getting her to trust him and then using this trust as a weapon when she thinks about pulling away. As an adult, Korey already holds a lot of power over Enchanted, but when you couple this with the power he has in the very industry Enchanted is hoping to break into, his influence over her becomes almost unbreakable.

Tension builds as Jackson shifts between past and present timelines. As a reader, you watch as Korey’s attitude toward Enchanted slowly changes. He becomes irrationally possessive, threatening her, and isolating her from her friends and family. Korey’s death is not a surprise, you know it’s going to happen. And as he begins to continually abuse Enchanted, you begin to want it, to hope for it in order for her ordeal to end. But this is not the end for Enchanted. The present timeline begins with Enchanted discovering Korey dead and no memory of how it happened. Afterward Enchanted is further victimized by her peers and adults who slut-shame her behind her back, placing the blame of this relationship on her rather than the adult in the situation. The police are much more interested in building a case against her than hearing her story even when it becomes clear that Korey has a pattern of abusing underage girls. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent just how complicit those around Korey are. People like Korey cannot get away with what they do without the people around them turning a blind eye.

Grown is a gut-punch of a novel that will have the readers holding their breath from its bloody opening scene to the gradual exploitation of its protagonist and the final scenes where the truth of what happened to Korey Fields is finally revealed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★