Mini-Reviews: Lakelore + My Mechanical Romance

Please excuse these very late reviews. I am currently trying to draft all my reviews, so I’m not in a frenzy trying to put them together. Though I enjoy writing my reviews on various apps and sometimes on paper, when it comes time to draft them, I easily forget where I wrote them.

Title: Lakelore Author: Anna-Marie McLemore Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Release Date: March 8th 2022

TW: transphobia, misgendering, bullying, sexual harassment, ableism

"In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake - but can they keep their worlds above water intact? Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate. Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide."

In Lakelore, Anna-Maria McLemore takes readers on an unforgettable journey of acceptance and love. Bastián is a transmasculine nonbinary teen with ADHD who has found many ways to deal with their often demanding brain. One such way is making alebrijes and sending them into the world beneath a local lake where they come alive. It is their way of dealing with days when the thoughts in their head become unbearable. Lore is a genderfluid and nonbinary new kid in town. They want very much to leave behind the events that led their family to make the move, but there are some things that will follow you no matter how far you go. As Bastián and Lore grow closer, they discover that something is causing the world under the lake to spill over into the real world. They must reckon with truths about themselves they would rather stay hidden in order to stop it. Both Bastián and Lore have dealt with transphobia and ableism in their lives. But having similar experiences doesn’t mean either are quite ready to share their wounds with the other. Bastián immediately finds a connection with Lore not just because they are both trans, but because they both have disabilities that make them navigate the world differently. For Bastián, it’s their ADHD, for Lore, it’s their dyslexia. McLemore always treats their characters with tenderness and care. One of my favorite things about their writing is how vulnerable they allow their character to be while also allowing them to explore parts of themselves that might hurt to do so. McLemore takes a lot of care walking readers through each of these disabilities and taking the time to explain how both characters struggle with them in a world that doesn’t often make room for them. Anna-Marie McLemore’s Lakelore is a tender novel that highlights both the beauty and fear of being known, of finding someone willing to wait while you peel back your layers, and gives its characters space to make mistakes and stumble.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: My Mechanical Heart Author: Alexene Farol Follmuth Series: N/A Pages: 272 Publisher: Holiday House Release Date: May 31st 2022 TW: misogyny

"Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn't seem to like her either. Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they've made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM. In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. With an adorable, opposites-attract romance at its center and lines that beg to be read aloud, My Mechanical Romance is swoonworthy perfection."

My Mechanical Romance, Alexene Farol Follmuth’s YA debut contemporary, is a charming contemporary with flawed but lovable characters. Bel Maier doesn’t like thinking about the future. She’s isn’t ready to figure out where to go to college or what to do with the rest of her life. She’d rather live in the now, but when new opportunities arise at her new school, Bel discovers a love for robotics. Teo Luna is the golden boy at Essex Academy for Art, Science, and Technology. He is captain of the soccer and robotics teams with the road to MIT pretty much set in stone. When the unpredictable Bel joins the robotics team, it throws both of their lives into a whirlwind and has them both questioning their futures. My Mechanical Romance features two great lead characters whose flaws make them feel more real. They are both bright and tenacious which also makes you want to root for them. I loved how different Bel and Teo are from one another. Their differences cause a bit of tension in the beginning, but having somebody challenge them is actually a good thing. Both Bel and Teo have a lot to learn and they each bring something to the table that the other needs. Bel lacks direction and Teo pushes her to imagine more for herself. Teo has put an unbelievable amount of pressure on himself and his relationship with Bel gives him a chance to be himself without outside pressure telling him he has to be the best. The novel also explores how difficult it is for girls to navigate male-dominated spaces. Bel and the other female members of the robotics team are often looked down upon, not given enough credit, and have to work twice as hard to get any kind of recognition. I also really loved how much the novel focused on both characters’ familial relationships. These relationships are not always easy and contribute to the way both characters see themselves and their place in the world. Alexene Farol Follmuth’s My Mechanical Romance is a smart romance with off-the-charts chemistry and playful banter between its leads.

★ ★ ★ ★

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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★