Mini-Reviews: Listen to Your Heart + From Twinkle, with Love

MiniIt’s nearly the end of the year and I am never more grateful for mini-reviews. I’m feeling something akin to senioritis during these last couple of months of the year and find myself relying on the mini-review more than ever. I’m seriously contemplating only writing mini-reviews for the rest of 2018. On the other hand, I don’t want to get used to it and then struggle with full reviews when January comes around. This week I have two very fun contemporary reads to share with you. Both are from gifted storytellers that would both make my list of contemporary authors to reach for when you need a pick me up. Hope you enjoy. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Listen to Your Heart
Author: Kasie West
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Point
Release Date: May 29th 2018 

      “Talking to other people isn’t Kate Bailey’s favorite activity. She’d much rather be out on the lake, soaking up the solitude and sunshine. So when her best friend, Alana, convinces Kate to join their high school’s podcast, Kate is not expecting to be chosen as the host. Now she’ll have to answer calls and give advice on the air? Impossible.
      But to Kate’s surprise, she turns out to be pretty good at the hosting gig. Then the podcast gets in a call from an anonymous guy, asking for advice about his unnamed crush. Kate is pretty sure that the caller is gorgeous Diego Martinez, and even surer that the girl in question is Alana. Kate is excited for her friend … until Kate herself starts to develop feelings for Diego. Suddenly, Kate finds that while doling out wisdom to others may be easy, asking for help is tougher than it looks, and following your own advice is even harder.
      Kasie West’s adorable story of secrets, love, and friendship is sure to win over hearts everywhere.”

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“I put my hand on my forehead and groaned. Maybe the best thing to come out of this would be that I’d be fired.”

Listen to Your Heart is a great addition to Kasie West’s already impressive collection of YA contemporary novels. West is known for her lighthearted and fun books and Listen to Your Heart is no exception. Kate is the last person who would choose to be in the spotlight, but when an elective class lands her in one of the seats as cohost for her school’s advice podcast, that’s exactly where she ends up. Kate is forced out of her comfort zone, but discovers that she may have a knack for this kind of thing after all. I loved that this novel included a lot of different and unusual family dynamics. Kate and her family run a marina and as a result, she has cousins and aunts and uncles always in and out of her house at any given time. One of my criticisms of West’s novels has always been that I never felt like I got to know the love interests quite as much as the protagonists. But in Listen to Your Heart, West takes her time developing Kate’s love interest and aside from the protagonist, Diego felt like the most developed character. I really liked the chemistry between these two characters and aside from P.S. I Like You, this might be my favorite pairing of hers. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the relationship dynamics in this one (slight spoiler alert ahead: Kate ends up developing a crush on her best friend’s crush, but I think West does a good job of keeping Kate and Alana’s relationship intact while also allowing Kate to very organically develop feelings for Diego). Overall, I really enjoyed this latest West novel and it reminded me that a quick, laid-back read can be just as satisfying as a more dense novel.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: From Twinkle, with Love
Author: Sandhya Menon
Series: N/A
Pages: 330
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 22nd 2018

      “Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.
      When mystery man ‘N’ begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.
      Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?
      Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.”

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      “The more I think about it, the more I wonder if my mother and I are related at all. I bet I was dropped on her doorstep, like Harry Potter, and she just hasn’t figured out how to tell me yet.
      I walk off to my room to look for my lightning bolt scar. Because that is the only way any of this makes sense.”

With From Twinkle, with Love, Sandhya Menon delivers another laugh-out-loud YA contemporary with a protagonist that is sure to steal the hearts of readers. Twinkle Mehra dreams of becoming a filmmaker, of one day making a name for herself, of changing the world one film at a time. But the reality is Twinkle feels like a nobody at her high school, surrounded by more affluent kids and cast aside by her best friend, being overlooked is unfortunately what Twinkle is good at. But when Sahil Roy approaches her asking to collaborate on a film project, Twinkle is convinced this is a huge breakout opportunity and it might even mean getting Sahil’s twin brother Neil to notice her. Twinkle soon learns the ups and downs of being in charge of a large project and how that power can change even the best of people. I immediately fell in love with Twinkle’s voice. She’s youthful and optimistic and made me laugh almost at every turn. Her relationship with Sahil was delightful and not just because of all the awkwardness between them. These two characters were their best selves when they were around each other. I loved that we got those small glimpses into Sahil’s POV through texts and blog posts because it really helped to round out his character. As much as I adored the romance in this one, I was really invested in Twinkle’s strained relationship with her best friend Maddie. I don’t often see friendships-on-the-rocks in novels and really appreciated how well Menon conveyed that a broken friendship can be just as heartbreaking as a romantic relationship gone awry. If you’re looking for a novel that will make you smile and root for characters even when they make terrible decisions, From Twinkle, with Love is the book for you.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Title: Pride
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: September 18th 2018

      “Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.
      When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.
      But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.
      In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.”

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever broken things go. What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love..”

Ibi Zoboi’s Pride reimagines Jane Austen’s classic in the modern world, making the story feel both familiar and new. Zuri Benitez is supposed to spend the summer before her senior year hanging out with her older sister Janae, back from her first year away at college. But Zuri’s summer takes an unexpected turn when the Darcys move in across the street and her sister develops a growing interest in the older Darcy son, Ainsley. Not exactly an ideal situation when Zuri can’t stand his judgmental brother Darius. With their fancy clothes, fancy parties, and fancy house Zuri can’t help but be wary of the Darcys. After all, rich people do not move into neighborhoods like hers without hoping to improve it and Zuri knows that means everyone who’s been there, even for generations, eventually gets pushed out.

Ibi Zoboi writes with a lot of heart and while a lot of Pride and Prejudice retellings focus heavily on the romance, Pride finds its stride with family and community at its center. Zuri is proud of where she comes from, she never pretends to be anything different than who she is, and is deeply protective of the people in her community. So while to many Bushwick might look a little run down with their dilapidated buildings and a little too loud with their block parties, Bushwick is always foremost Zuri’s home. I loved how much personality this community had, how it felt from the very beginning like a family rather than just a place you happen to live, and it wasn’t hard to see why Zuri loved it so much. We rarely talk about world building when it comes to contemporaries, but it’s an aspect that I’d love to see given more care in the genre. I want to get to know the characters, but I also want to see where they come from and how this has shaped the people they’ve become. This is very much what you get with Zoboi’s Pride. I really like that both American Street, Zoboi’s debut, and this novel have a subtle spiritual element to them. Zuri’s relationship to the character Madrina gives Zoboi an opportunity to bring Santería, a religion I hardly see explored in YA lit,  to life and added depth both to Pride’s characters and its world.

I really loved Zuri as a character. She’s independent, unapologetically opinionated, and fiercely protective of her family. While her older sister Janae has taken on the role of a second mother to her sisters, Zuri as the next oldest has become their defender. Though she shakes her head whenever her mother and younger sisters get a little too excited when it comes to gossip or boys, she loves them and has no room in her life for anyone who disrespects them. Zuri has big dreams for herself, to attend Howard University, to travel, but to always come back home and help the community that raised her. She’s a poet at heart and I loved all the poems sprinkled throughout the book. Words are a way for Zuri to work through her feelings and gives her an outlet for her emotions. Darius is a harder character to like. Like Zuri, you feel his disapproval of her family and her neighborhood from day one and you can’t help but feel protective of it. The two characters do not get off to a good start and part of this is Darius’s bad attitude, but another part is Zuri’s instant animosity of anyone rich moving into her neighborhood. For her, Darius and his family represents change–a familiar change that has happened to one too many neighborhoods like hers–the rich move in, soon people are forced out, and the neighborhood eventually becomes unrecognizable. By the end of the novel, I’m not sure I have the best grip on every facet of Darius’s character, but like Zuri, I don’t mind finding out more. 

Ibi Zoboi’s Pride is the kind of retelling I’d like to see more of. It centers a Haitian-Dominican character surrounded by a strong community, allows said character to be both confident and sometimes wrong, and there’s a strong undercurrent of hope present even in the most catastrophic of circumstances.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: The City of Brass + Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

MiniI have a set of very different books for you for this round of mini-reviews. These are both titles that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’m glad I finally found the time to pick them up. Everyone has been raving about S.A Chakraborty’s The City of Brass and I’m so happy to have finally met these characters. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero has been on my TBR for years. With the start of Latinx Heritage Month coming, I wanted to finally get to this one in early September. I am very disappointed in myself for not picking it up sooner. You can read my thoughts on these two titles a little more in depth below. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #1
Pages: 533
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 14th 2017 

      “Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
      But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
      In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…”

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“A hot breeze swept past her cheeks, and Nahri lifted her eyes. The cliffs were on fire; the wet trees snapped and cracked as they burned. The air smelled poisonous, hot and seeded with tiny burning embers that swept across the dead landscape and twinkled above the dark river.”

S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is an all-encompassing fantasy with great characters and a world that’s spellbindingly brilliant. Orphaned and penniless, Nahri has managed to survive on the streets of Cairo, stealing and swindling her marks out of money. When she inadvertently summons a dangerous djinn, Nahri discovers the fantastical stories she grew up hearing are rooted in truth. Chakraborty’s world is deliciously multilayered and I loved that with every page, we discovered something new. Nahri was an easy character to like. She’s cunning and resourceful; she wants more than what life has dealt her and is willing to do what is needed to get it. I really enjoyed Dara, not just because he’s the kind of brooding character I’m immediately drawn to, but because like Nahri, he is also thrown into a world he doesn’t quite understand. The world as Dara left it has shifted. His people are no longer in control of the city of Daevabad; instead, the Qahtani, a djinn family, have taken over. The royal family have tried to find a balance in their city between djinn, daeva, and the shafit (offspring of djinn and humans). Their methods are not always humane. Ali is King Ghassan’s second son, both a scholar and a warrior; his own convictions often pit him against his own father. Ali was often times a frustrating character. I liked that he wanted to be better than the example his father and often his brother gave him, but his self-righteousness and naivete made me want to shake him by the shoulders. Chakraborty does a fantastic job giving voice to every side in this story. The internal conflict in Daevabad is not new and the characters’ decisions have far reaching consequences. The City of Brass is a perfect read for those looking for a dynamic fantasy and complex characters.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Gabi,a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Series: N/A
Pages: 284
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14th 2014

      “Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
      July 24
      My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

I am mentally kicking myself for not picking up Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces sooner. This contemporary features one of the most genuine voices I’ve come across, handling difficult issues with honesty and care, with representation that spoke directly to this Latina reader. Gabi Hernandez is many things. Best friend. Daughter. Sister. Fat girl. Mexican-American. In her senior year of high school, Gabi is trying to juggle all her different identities while simultaneously not disappointing her mother and not letting her father’s meth addiction take her whole family down with him. Told in diary entries, Quintero’s novel feels intimate and personal. Gabi feels fully-fleshed out; she’s candid, self-depreciating, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. So many of these characters felt familiar from the eccentric tía to the judgmental mother. The novel addresses teen pregnancy, homophobia, being the child of an addict, and gender roles in the Latinx community. I loved that Gabi found a creative outlet in her poetry and found it really rewarding to see how her poetry matures over the course of the novel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the kind of novel I wish I had as a teen as several of Gabi’s hopes and fears felt like my own. TW: homophobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, rape, and drug use.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Title: Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Author: Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #3
Pages: 336
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 2nd 2017

      “Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.
      Life couldn’t be more perfect!
      At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news.
      Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

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“Everything is ruined. My chest hurts; it’s hard to breathe. All my plans, everything I was counting on, none of it will come true now.”

Jenny Han bids farewell to her protagonist Lara Jean in the final book in her To All the Boys I Loved Before series. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean the beloved protagonist is on the brink of adulthood as the end of her senior year approaches. The last year of Lara Jean’s life has been a whirlwind of new and exciting events. She’s been dating Peter Kavinsky for a year, her dad has reentered the dating scene, and her college plans are all but set in stone. Then the unthinkable happens and Lara Jean is forced to rethink her entire future. Suddenly things that she was so sure about like her future relationship with Peter and the university she’s going to attend are no longer a guarantee. Lara Jean must decide who she is going to be, how this will affect her decisions for her future, and who she is able to make room for and who she isn’t.

Lara Jean has always been one of my favorite contemporary protagonists. She doesn’t stand out with her bold personality or wow with her unrivaled genius. She enjoys baking, spending time with her family, and volunteering at a local retirement home. As much as I admire ambitious and sometimes over-the-top characters, Lara Jean has always been more my speed. Sometimes she lacks confidence and has to be pushed out if her comfort zone and these two things make her instantly relatable In Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Lara Jean discovers that even the best laid plans cannot account for life just happening. Lara Jean’s greatest comfort is that her life is predictable. When it isn’t, she will grab on to her hobbies like baking and scrap-booking as a way to feel like she’s in control again. I’m so happy that Lara Jean got to a place where she began making decisions based on what was best for her and her own wants rather than what others were pressuring her to do. The decision she ultimately makes might be Lara Jean’s greatest act of courage in the entire trilogy.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean was a bittersweet novel. I’ve come to really love Lara Jean and her entire world. I love how important her family has always been to her. Lara Jean has always presented herself and her family like a package deal. Her father has been raising her and her sisters alone since her mother’s unexpected passing. The biggest constants in her life have been her wise older sister Margot and her rambunctious little sister Kitty. Han not only taken us on Lara Jean’s journey to maturity, but we also got to see her sisters grow up some as well and see the evolution of their sisterly bond. Kitty will always be a favorite if mine with her I-know-what-I-want attitude, but I loved that we got a Margot arc involving the Covey’s expanding family. Ms. Rothschild was a delightful addition to this unit. How each of the girls felt about their father dating again was very faithful to who these characters are at their core.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean unexpectedly hit me with a wave of nostalgia, reminding me of those uncertain and exciting final days of high school. With this final book Jenny Han has solidified Lara Jean and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as a character and series that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

4/5

★★★★

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S.K. Ali
Series: N/A
Pages: 325
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 13th 2017

      “There are three kinds of people in my world:
      1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
      2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
      Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
      But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
      3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
      Like the monster at my mosque.
      People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask
      Except me.”

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“I wish there was a way to still my heart. It feels like it’s not mine and wants out of my body. I seal it shut with another shrug.”

S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits follows fifteen-year-old Janna as she deals with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. Janna’s dealing with her first crush on a non-Muslim, navigating a world that isn’t always accepting of a hijabi, and doing her best to find a way to be herself when this huge, traumatic thing is weighing down on her shoulders. Keeping this secret isn’t easy and with her older brother moving back home, forcing her to share a room with her mother, her life grows even more stressful. The end of the year is fast approaching and while final exams should be the only thing she’s stressing about, Janna is juggling her parents’ expectations and being pulled in different directions by her friends. The guilt she’s been carrying around for something that isn’t her fault is slowly chipping away at her, and it isn’t easy to let that guilt go when the person who attempted to rape her walks around like nothing happened.

Ali does a masterful job of dealing with heavy issues in her novel, but also being very aware of who her character is at only fifteen. Janna is an easy character to related to and like. She has a subtle sense of humor that I appreciated and I more than once snorted aloud while reading. There is a constant stream of voices whispering to her what they think and in the midst of all that noise, Janna is just trying to figure out what’s right for her. This isn’t always easy when contrary opinions are coming from people she loves. Janna doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, but it’s what inevitably happens, especially when her divorced parents hold such differing views of her faith and how she chooses to express it. I loved the strong sense of community Janna’s faith provided. She’s very involved with her local mosque which is lead by her uncle. Everyone is very caring and supportive and they felt like an extension of her own family. But for Janna, this puts her in an impossible situation because the person who assaulted her is a valuable member of this community. She’s got that doubt in the back of her mind that if she does speak up, not everyone is going to believe her. Every compliment directed at her assaulter, every time someone tries to talk him up to her is like a knife to the gut. This coupled with her inability to avoid him completely makes the book utterly heartbreaking to read at times.

I empathized with Janna so much when she felt she couldn’t open up to Tats, one of her non-Muslim friends, because of the added pressure of being from a marginalized community. She knows that anything she says negatively about someone in her community can be attributed to everyone. The outside world does not judge you as individuals, but as a group. I loved Janna’s relationship with her brother Muhammad because it felt so authentic. Getting on each other’s nerves, feeling loyal to one parent over the other and having this cause division between the two felt very real. There’s a little resentment when it comes to which parent is playing favorites with whom as well. I loved what Ali did with the romance portion of Janna’s story. I felt her butterflies and anxiousness when it came to her crush, but ultimately appreciated the more subtle development of Janna’ relationship with someone else. It was unexpected and yet felt so right. I loved the pacing of this relationship and how it was rooted in respect and I kind of wish we got a glimpse of what comes of it down the line.

S.K. Ali’s debut Saints and Misfits will make you laugh and cry, it will make you angry and happy, and at the end of the day, you’ll be forever grateful you read it.

5/5

★★★★★

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Monday’s Not Coming
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 22nd 2018

      “Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
      As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?”

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      “Missing.
      I held my breath until it burned in my chest, the word frightening. Is she missing? Missing from my life, yeah, but is she, like missing for real? She couldn’t be, she has to be home. Right?”

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming is an intricate mystery with characters who come to life and an unforgettable story. Claudia and Monday have been inseparable since they were in first grade. The summer between 7th and 8th grade promises to be agonizing, with Claudia spending the season with her grandma in Georgia and Monday stuck back in D.C. The two girls, however, hatch a plan to stay in touch through letters over the summer. But Claudia doesn’t hear from Monday all summer long. When she gets back home, Monday doesn’t visit. Claudia calls, but Monday’s phone number is disconnected. When the first day of school rolls around, Claudia is sure she’ll see her best friend, but Monday’s not there. Claudia knows something has to be wrong, but as the weeks pass with no Monday in sight, she grows increasingly concerned. Monday’s mother and older sister won’t give Claudia a straight answer and the other adults in her life don’t seem quite as concerned. Claudia will do anything to discover the truth, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Claudia and Monday’s relationship is easily recognizable. It’s the kind of friendship that is all-consuming, in which it feels like your best friend is the most important person in your world. It’s hard to untangle one person’s wants from the other, not just because you’re so in sync, but because having your best friend’s approval is imperative. A single fight can feel devastating one moment and your bond with one another unbreakable the next. Claudia and Monday live very different lives. Claudia has a stable home and loving parents. Monday has always been good at hiding the problems she has at home and perhaps Claudia has always been good at pretending everything was fine with her best friend. For Monday, Claudia and her family are like a refuge from everything that isn’t right at home. For Claudia, Monday is her refuge from everything that isn’t right at school. Both girls are bullied by their peers, on the receiving end of both homophobic and slut-shaming rumors. Claudia feels increasingly isolated at school without Monday and struggles to hide a learning disorder that was always easier to cover up when Monday was around to help her.

Claudia’s story is emotionally charged. It is honest and raw and hard to read at times. Like Claudia, you as a reader can’t help but feel her frustration. The callousness and indifference shown by the adults in her life is hard to swallow, but they are a reflection of how society handles stories like Monday’s. There are some ugly truths to be found in this book including child abuse. And there is a whole lot of culpability to go around. Jackson’s novel is a commentary on the treatment of missing black girls, how easily they are forgotten, sometimes not even acknowledged, and the untold pain their absence leaves behind. Monday’s Not Coming pulls no punches when it points a finger at the community, schools, social workers, and the police. All of whom bear some responsibility when it comes to countless missing children’s stories. Jackson also explores gentrification in her novel, how easy it is for people to take over whole neighborhoods without a second thought because they know these low-income communities do not have the means to fight back, especially financially.

Monday’s Not Coming alternates between different timelines, taking readers on a heartbreaking journey, and whose ending hits you like a freight train.

4/5

★★★★