Mini-Reviews: Where The Rhythm Takes You + Now That I’ve Found You

How far behind am I posting reviews? Both of these are reviews of books I read way back in February! One of these was my first five-star read of the year and while I’ve had a few since then, this one renewed my need for more Jane Austen retellings by BIPOC (if you have any recs, I will gladly accept them in the comments).

Title: Where the Rhythm Takes You Author: Sarah Dass Series: N/A Pages: 352 Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: death of a parent, cancer diagnosis, grief

"Seventeen-year-old Reyna has spent most of her life at her family’s gorgeous seaside resort in Tobago, the Plumeria. But what once seemed like paradise is starting to feel more like purgatory. It’s been two years since Reyna’s mother passed away, two years since Aiden – her childhood best friend, first kiss, first love, first everything – left the island to pursue his music dreams. Reyna’s friends are all planning their futures and heading abroad. Even Daddy seems to want to move on, leaving her to try to keep the Plumeria running. And that's when Aiden comes roaring back into her life – as a VIP guest at the resort. Aiden is now one-third of DJ Bacchanal – the latest, hottest music group on the scene. While Reyna has stayed exactly where he left her, Aiden has returned to Tobago with his Grammy-nominated band and two gorgeous LA socialites. And he may (or may not be) dating one of them… Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, Where the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances."

Sarah Dass debuts with an engaging YA romance about second-chances and learning to let yourself be happy. Where the Rhythm Takes You is a Persuasion-inspired novel that takes place in Tobago. On the cusp of adulthood, Reyna is grappling with her past and the uncertainty of her future. Her best friend is bound for London while Reyna stays behind, trying to keep her mother’s hotel afloat. Her father seems content to hand over the reins of the hotel to someone else, but Reyna can’t quite let go of the last thing she has of her mother’s. When Reyna’s first love returns unexpectedly, his presence throws her carefully curated world into disarray. She is forced to come to terms with her own life decisions and how she has let grief steer her away from her dreams. Easily in my top five Jane Austen retellings, Where the Rhythm Takes You is perfect for fans of second-chance romance. Reyna tries to keep old feelings at bay, but the more time she spends around Aiden, her old flame, the harder it becomes to deny those feelings. But she is also angry and hurt and it isn’t always easy to untangle all these emotions. Mutual pining and tension make this a compulsory read. I also really loved exploring Reyna’s relationship with her mother who passed away two years prior. A lot of the responsibility Reyna places on her own shoulders is tied to this relationship in particular. Reyna hasn’t allowed herself to dream beyond the hotel for so long and she isn’t sure she can when its fate feels so tightly wound to her mother’s memory, even if some of those memories are painful. Love, grief, and second chances each have their turn in this one and will keep romance fans engaged throughout.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Title: Now That I've Found You Author: Kristina Forest Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Release Date: August 25th 2020

"Now That I've Found You is a YA novel about searching for answers, love, and your eccentric grandma in all the wrong places. Following in the footsteps of her überfamous grandma, eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is poised to be Hollywood’s next big star. That is until a close friend’s betrayal leads to her being blacklisted . . . Fortunately, Evie knows just the thing to save her floundering career: a public appearance with America’s most beloved actress—her grandma Gigi, aka the Evelyn Conaway. The only problem? Gigi is a recluse who’s been out of the limelight for almost twenty years. Days before Evie plans to present her grandma with an honorary award in front of Hollywood’s elite, Gigi does the unthinkable: she disappears. With time running out and her comeback on the line, Evie reluctantly enlists the help of the last person to see Gigi before she vanished: Milo Williams, a cute musician Evie isn’t sure she can trust. As Evie and Milo conduct a wild manhunt across New York City, romance and adventure abound while Evie makes some surprising discoveries about her grandma—and herself."

Kristina Forest delivers a winning sophomore novel with Now That I’ve Found You, a YA contemporary with a focus on a grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Evie Conoway has big dreams for herself. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, Gigi, a legendary Hollywood starlet. After a video leaks of Evie mocking a famous director, her career is completely derailed. Unsure of her next step, Evie reaches out to one of her only constants, her grandmother, who she is hoping can help revitalize her career. But before Evie can find the courage to ask for her assistance, Gigi disappears. Now, with the help of Milo, a young musician who has befriended her grandmother, Evie embarks on a search to find her and save the tattered remains of her career. Now That I’ve Found You is a journey of self-discovery. Evie is forced to examine her own motivations and to reevaluate who she has become in recent years. The more she learns about her grandmother, the more she begins to realize that the loneliness she’s been feeling is reflected in her grandmother as well. This novel also deals with a friendship breakup and how a betrayal of a friend makes it harder to open up and trust again. Evie’s relationship with Milo is unexpected and sweet, even with its ups and downs. I really enjoyed getting to know Milo’s band and how it gave Evie a taste of what having a supportive friend group is like, something she has never had. Now That I’ve Found You really stands out amongst YA contemporaries as a novel that focuses largely on the main character’s relationship with her grandmother. Kristina Forest’s second novel is a must read for those looking for a coming of age YA that centers familial relationships.

★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: Hana Khan Carries On + Chlorine Sky

I have a ton of mini-reviews in my drafts it’s not even funny. I’ve been dragging my feet when it comes to editing them and am hoping this doesn’t mean a blogging slump is on its way. A reading slump and blogging slump happening at the same time is my worst nightmare. I actually read these two books quite a bit apart, but they ended up paired because it made sense for two other mini-reviews to be coupled together. I know this probably doesn’t make any sense to you, but just trust me, it makes perfect sense in my head.

Title: Hana Khan Carries On Author: Uzma Jalaluddin Series: N/A Pages: 348 Publisher: Berkley Release Date: April 13th 2021

TW: Islamophobia, racism, hate crimes

"Hana Khan's family-run halal restaurant is on its last legs. So when a flashy competitor gets ready to open nearby, bringing their inevitable closure even closer, she turns to her anonymously-hosted podcast, and her lively and long-lasting relationship with one of her listeners, for advice. But a hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana's growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival business. Who might not be a complete stranger after all..."

Uzma Jalaluddin’s Hana Khan Carries On is an adorable slow-burn romance for fans of the rivals to lovers trope. Hana splits her time between working at her family’s restaurant, her internship at a local radio station, and secretly hosting the anonymous podcast, Ana’s Brown Girl Rambles. Her podcast has become one of the few places where she is able to speak her mind. She’s found a small, but loyal audience including StanleyP. One of her first listeners, StanleyP has become one of her closest confidants. The only problem is Hana has never met him as they’ve been solely communicating through a text app. Their friendship has been one of the bright spots in her life and promises to become something more if Hana ever finds the courage to reveal who she really is. Her life takes an unexpected turn when newcomer Aydin Shah and his father intend to open a rival halal restaurant across from her family’s. Hana and Aydin immediately butt heads. Hana is immediately put off by Aydin’s arrogant and often condescending attitude. The fact that he is trying to take down her mother’s restaurant doesn’t exactly endear him to her either. Their relationship is filled with tension, but what started off as hatred soon turns into something like attraction. Dealing with microaggressions at work, Hana is trying to forge a path for herself in radio, but her boss seems bent on pigeonholing her by trying to make her the face of diversity. Hana’s true passion is storytelling, but she wants the freedom to tell stories from her Muslim and South Asian community without the burden of teaching outsiders a lesson. With a focus on family, Hana Khan Carries On is a heartfelt novel full of the ups and downs of family life and learning to embrace what you truly want out of life.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: Chlorine Sky Author: Mahogany L. Browne Series: N/A Pages: 192 Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers Release Date: January 12th 2021

TW: racism, drug abuse, alcoholism, bullying, sexual assault

"A novel-in-verse about a young girl coming-of-age and stepping out of the shadow of her former best friend. She looks me hard in my eyes & my knees lock into tree trunks My eyes don't dance like my heartbeat racing They stare straight back hot daggers. I remember things will never be the same. I remember things. Mahogany L. Browne delivers a novel-in-verse about broken promises, fast rumors, and when growing up means growing apart from your best friend."

Mahogany L. Browne’s Chlorine Sky is a compelling novel-in-verse chronically the loss of a friendship, but also the empowerment of its young MC. Sky has always been in her friend Lay Li’s shadow. Everyone is drawn to Lay Li. Like the sun, she is beautiful and bright. She is full of life and it often feels like the world revolves around her. As they’ve gotten older, Sky begins to realize that being so close in proximity to the sun can also be blinding and scorching. As Lay Li and Sky grow apart, Sky begins to reminisce about their relationship. Their first meeting felt like the first time Sky found someone who could understand her, who would stand by her. But as their friendship progressed, cracks began to form that she might not have seen when they first happened. Sky might have been Lay Li’s right hand man, but Lay Li has never been hers. Lay Li didn’t stand up for Sky when the boys Lay Li was interested in started making unkind and racist remarks toward her. She laughed it off as though it were a joke and Sky eventually begins to realize that although losing her best friend been one of the most heartbreaking things for her, their friendship was rather one-sided. Chlorine Sky also explores contentious sisterly relationships and first love. Mahogany L. Browne’s debut novel-in-verse is about finding yourself in a world that refuses to really see you, about embracing who you are and not making yourself smaller to accommodate how others view you.

★ ★ ★ ★

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Title: How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 10th 2021

TW: suicide, racism, xenophobia, colorism, ableism, slut-shaming, death of a parent, emotional abuse, religious abuse, depression, fatphobia, brief mention of marital rape

      “When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.
      Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.
      Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.
      Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?”

      “There’s an invisible thread pulling me in. I am a piece of wool, brown, about to be stitched into a great cosmic blanket. Or maybe I’m a petal stuck to a spiderweb, one tiny fabric-like spot making a whole universe undulate like wisps in the wind.”

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a compelling exploration of self-love, featuring some of the most beguiling prose I’ve ever come across. Moon and her twin sister Star could not be any different. Star is a social media darling while Moon often hides behind her camera. Their mother only has eyes for Star while never losing an opportunity to remind Moon how much she falls short. When Moon is roped into accompanying her sister on an Influencer tour of the country, she begins to realize that maybe she isn’t meant to live in her sister’s shadow. With a new potential romance and an opportunity to step into her own spotlight with her art, Moon is finally able to take control of her life, but in so doing, must confront those who’ve held her back for so long.

Moon Fuentez has never felt like she could compete with her twin sister. Her mother has saved all of her affection for Star and has only had criticism for Moon. As a result, Moon has a hard time believing her own worth and struggles to accept when others show their preference for her. This has led to a lot of distorted ideas about herself and in particular her body. Part of Moon’s journey is coming to the realization that she has endured years of abuse from her mother. All the insults from her mother about being too fat or too loose have shaped her self-esteem. Her mother is very Catholic and has raised her daughters to believe sex is sinful, teaching them about La Raíz, a family cursed past down through the women in their family, triggered when they have sex for the first time. Her mother also has a lot of internalized prejudices that she’s projected onto her daughters in a very unhealthy and abusive way.  Moon is at home in nature. The flowers, the trees, the stars all speak to her and she can’t help but be pulled into their orbit. She’s introspective and full of wonderment, always looking to fall in love with another part of the world she never noticed before. She is full of curiosity, largely encouraged by her father who, as an anthropologist and archeologist, made a career out of exploring the great mysteries of the world.

Star is not an easy character to like, but like Moon, she is also a byproduct of her mother. Deeply religious, Star has built her image around this idea of purity. For Star, other people are either part of her supporting cast or accessories she needs to collect in order to uphold her image. It’s easier for Moon to let go of her mother as opposed to her sister. Star feels like more of a part of who she is because they are twins, because they grew up together and are one of each other’s constants. They also have shared childhood trauma that helps them understand each other in a way no one else will.

Santiago and Moon do not get along in the beginning. Both have a tendency to be pugnacious, but it isn’t long before their sparring gives way to banter. Like Moon, Santiago is used to being in his brother’s shadow. He’s used to people using him. He also has a disability, having lost his hand, and has to deal with ableism from other people who either think he is inept or worse, an inspiration. Moon and Santiago bond over their love of food. Santiago is a chef, who finds his own kind of wonderment in the ingredients he uses. While Moon shows a reverence for nature, Santiago shows the same kind of appreciation for the food he prepares. Their relationship develops slowly, each learning to be vulnerable with the other, but they also have a lot to unlearn. Santiago and Moon stumble a lot when it comes to their relationship. It’s so easy for them to hurt each other because of their own insecurities. 

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a mesmerizing story about unlearning harmful beliefs about yourself and embracing every part of who you are. Beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s latest is an utterly enchanting read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: We Are Not From Here + The Taking of Jake Livingston

I am still sharing reviews from my reads from Latinx Heritage Month if you can believe it. I read a lot and reviewed almost everything I picked up. I believe I have one full length review left to post for that month. It always feels weird pairing very different books when I do mini-reviews, but this really is a good representation of what my October was like. I read for Latinx Heritage Month during the first half of the month and then transitioned to horror the last two weeks of October. I got through a good amount of horror last month even though I split my attention between that and LHM. Next year I might have to start horror reads earlier because even though I read a good amount, Halloween came and I was still in need of the genre. You should see at least one set of mini-reviews dedicated to horror, hopefully by the end of the month.

Title: We Are Not From Here Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez Series: N/A Pages: 326 Publisher: Philomel Books Release Date: May 19th 2020

TW: death of a parent, abuse, suicide attempt, sexual assault (forced kissing and rape)

"A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they've grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families--both biological and found--create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives. Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom--if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there's no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be. In this story inspired by real--and current--events, the plight at our southern border is brought to life."

Jenny Torres Sanchez’s We Are Not From Here tracks three migrants’ desperate and heart-shattering journey from Guatemala to the US. Pulga has spent his life trying to be tough because he knows that the world would eat him up and spit him out in a second. His dream of following in his father’s footsteps as a musician is the only thing that has kept him going. Chico lost his mother at a young age and Pulga became his family. His tender-heartedness often gets him into trouble and unlike Pulga, he has never taught himself to shut off the part of his heart that cares too much. Pequeña has been drowning in her own despair for months. Her mother is constantly reminding her that her pregnancy is a blessing, but to Pequena it’s a reminder of all the things she’s kept secret. When the violence from the only place they’ve ever called home threatens to swallow them whole, the three teens have no choice but to run. There is nothing easy about their journey, ever step forward demands more and more from them. After the money, the tears, and the sweat have run out, it slowly begins to take their hope too. The trek is traumatizing to all who must take is on and even for those who survive, it’s impossible to be the same person you were at the beginning. You pay with parts of yourself. Told in dual POVs, We Are Not From Here is beautifully written and brutally honest. One of the single most impactful reads I’ve read in my entire life.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Title: The Taking of Jake Livingston Author: Ryan Douglass Series: N/A Pages: 244 Publisher: Putnam Release Date: July 13th 2021

TW: school shooting, suicide, child abuse, attempted rape, depression, bullying, domestic violence

"Get Out meets Danielle Vega in this YA horror where survival is not a guarantee. Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win"

Ryan Douglass’s The Taking of Jake Livingston has its fair share of unsettling scenes, but falts in its development of certain relationships. Jake has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember. Being an outsider comes with the territory of being a medium, but Jake is also gay and not exactly out to his friends or family. He is also one of very few Black students at his private school. When Jake crosses paths with a vengeful ghost, all the things he thought he knew about the dead realm go out the window. Sawyer is able to manipulate objects in the real world and he has his sights set on Jake. Most people see Jake as absent-minded, prone to zone out when the truth is Jake’s mind is always engaged, just not necessarily focused on the world in front of him. Dealing with homophobic and racist teachers and peers, school is more of a nightmare than a refuge. At home, there is a lot of tension between him and his brother as well as unresolved issues with his mother, stemming from the abuse he endured from his father. Jake doesn’t have too many places that make him feel safe and wanted which makes him vulnerable to nefarious influences. One of the most interesting elements of The Taking of Jake Livingston is its dual POV. Not only do we get inside Jake’s head, but inside Sawyer’s. We see Jake trying to balance two sides of his life and then we jump back in time to witness the unraveling of Sawyer, as his journey catapults to a violent end. Both of these characters are vividly drawn; however, I wanted more from the side characters. Jake makes new friends and gains a potential love interest in a new student, but neither Fiona nor Allister really felt developed enough. It was so important to Jake’s arc to find his own people, but we spend very little time with them and when we did, their relationships felt accelerated. Still, if you’re looking for a quick horror read that delves into what pushes individuals to violence, The Taking of Jake Livingston might be the book for you.

★ ★ ★