I’m really late to the party on this book, but hey! At least I got here, right? “Simon vs.” is a cute, contemporary self-discovery book that had me on the verge of tears on occasion. We get a close-up view of Simon who KNOWS he’s gay, but no one else does. When he finds a Tumblr post from his school from another gay boy, he responds, and a whirlwind email pen pal relationship ensues. But there’s one problem: these boys don’t actually know who each other are, and because neither is out to their friends and family, they decide to keep their identities secret. But part of the thrill is getting to know someone without fear of judgment, because they don’t really know you, right? But then these adorable boys catch a case of feels, and suddenly the excitement of anonymity begins to slip away… Except anonymity is only fun with Blue, Simon’s crush, but that secret is important for Simon to keep from the wider school. Now he just has to keep the guy blackmailing him from spilling the beans to everyone… This story was endearing, and fun, and quick, and each time I was CONVINCED I knew who Blue was, the author did the old switcher-roo, which kept this otherwise straight forward story exciting.
This is only the second book I’ve read that’s written in verse, but it’s my first book from this author, so I went into this pretty blind. While I still can’t say anything about the structure of the verses and how that plays into the story tempo, I can say that this was an immensely powerful book. “Clap When You Land” is the story of two sisters who only learn of each other’s existence when unthinkable tragedy and grief pulls them together. The story gives us both sister’s POV so the reader can really see how these two girls, connected by blood, view their world and home, their parents and culture, and how they process grief and betrayal differently. I felt Acevedo captured the different voices of her main characters incredibly well and how she captured their grief, their anger, and just the rawness of their tragedy in an incredible and moving way, but the heavy to the light ratio did seem just a tad disproportional to me come the end.
“The Fall” is a modern take on the classic 1984, and boy, how is it! This story is very much a social commentary on the current world we live in (2017, though it still very much applies in 2020) where the populace is controlled by their technology, digesting only the news the government feeds them, preferring to lose themselves in social media platforms and trying to get a larger following, then noticing that the idyllic world they live in is anything but. The parallels to the world we have now (in America anyway) are uncomfortably obvious, and Doellinger is a very talented writer not only to bring all this together, but to craft such a twist and bittersweet ending. But I had a hard time really getting into the book.
“Black Girl Unlimited” is the ‘based on a true story’ life of the author herself, with a fantasy-magical realism overlay to everything, especially the traumatic parts. This book is devastating, but not in a bad way, but more in the way of a gifted girl, hating how she looks because she is a dark skinned black girl, believing she is an ugly beast because she isn’t lighter and doesn’t have ‘good hair’, kind of way. It’s heartbreaking to see how she views herself, not to mention watching her family’s struggle with racism, and Echo’s parents being drunks and addicted to cocaine. That’s not to say the book isn’t laced with hope, because it is! But the story is primarily focused on the young Echo and her struggle to survive in a world that has been stacked against her. There are some very heavy topics here alongside the systematic racism Echo faces, such as: drug abuse, sexual assault, and the rape of minors. All of these topics fit with the world Echo lives in, so they aren’t there just for shock value, but if those are sensitive topics for you, be forewarned. This book also happens to be my first foray into magical realism, so it’s very possible that I just don’t “get” certain things, but to me, the magic was more a metaphor then actually, well, magical.
“Riot Baby” isn’t really about Ella and her magical “Thing”, nor is it about, as the synopsis suggests, the revolution for racial equality in this barely alternate and vaguely more futuristic version of America. I say that because the events that define Kev—the actual Riot Baby—like the LA riot of 1992, and the police brutality aimed primarily at Black communities is all very real, and in Ella and Kev’s world, only taken to a slightly bigger level by the futuristic technology and weaponry the police use to terrorize these communities. This book is really about the anger felt with structural racism and brutality shown through the lens of an intimate family view of those who suffer under such conditions. Ella, her mom, and brother Kev are all just trying to live, but that becomes almost impossible with how America treats its Black citizens. This book is written in such a beautiful, raw, and angry tone which demands readers to confront systematic racial injustice head on. This novella evokes so many emotions and is crafted in really a magnificent way—Onyebuchi is a masterful writer! But story wise? I had a really hard time connecting.
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