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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #652

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 3:28pm

Conversations with Friends * * * by Sally Rooney (Trinity College, Dublin) is drawn largely from conversations with the author's own friends.

Frances, a poet and aspiring writer performs at spoken-word poetry events around the college with her best friend and former lover Bobbi. At one of these events, Melissa, a well-known photojournalist proposes to do a piece on them. Invited to her Monkstown home, Bobbi falls under Melissa's spell while Frances is more impressed with the trappings of wealth and success, and instantly drawn to Melissa's gorgeous and standoffdish husband, Nick, an actor.

Mild flirtation and furtive conversations between the two turn into a clandestine affair, but it is Frances' literary ambition and secrets kept that ultimately attenuate the bonds among them all.

"With painful missteps and wise triumphs, Frances probes her beliefs in most everything—sexuality, relationships, politics, and her family—and learns to distinguish between what she’s told and what she thinks. Less a coming-of-age story and more a coming-of-now tale, Rooney’s first novel is a smart, sexy, realistic portrayal of a woman finding herself in and out of a well-depicted friendship." (Booklist)

"Readers who enjoyed Belinda McKeon's Tender and Caitriona Lally's Eggshells will enjoy this exceptional debut." (Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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The Unlikelies

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 8:15pm


Soon to hit the shelves this June is a story to start the summer about five diverse teens who form an unlikely alliance.

With her best friend headed of to camp and college, high school senior Sadie is bracing herself for a long, lonely, and boring summer. Things take an unexpected turn when she rescues a baby in distress and a video of her good deed goes viral. Suddenly internet-famous, Sadie's summer changes for the better when she's introduced to other "hometown heroes." These very different teens work together to right local wrongs and do good in their community.

This second and anticipated book from [a:Firestone, Carrie.|Carrie Firestone] delves into issues that impact teens daily lives from bullying, body shaming, cyber group behaviors, and addressing the horrors and destruction of heroin addiction. The story maintains positive themes while dealing with such serious issues and is regarded as similar to stories like [t:The Breakfast Club] and [t:The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks]. Firestone weaves a rich story using humor and romance in a style consistent with her first novel adored by readers, [t:The Loose Ends List].

A captivating read for fans of Young Adult fiction, readers will find plenty to relate and aspire to as the kids attempt to better the world and confront their own struggles with love, loyalty, and friendship.

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Ramona Blue

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 5:45pm


[a:Murphy, Julie, 1985-|Julie Murphy] is back with a new novel, [t:Ramona Blue], a story about a strong, marginalized teen doing her best to make sense of who she is.

Ramona Leroux is a 6 foot 3, blue-haired, gay teen who lives in a FEMA trailer with her dad and sister, Hattie, in Eulogy, Mississippi. Things aren't looking so stellar for Ramona after her dreamy summer romance comes to an end, and her grand plans to leave Eulogy don't look quite as likely when her family suddenly needs her more than ever. But when her childhood friend, Freddie, moves back to town, their reconnection brings more than either of them ever expected.

Author of [t:Dumplin’], Murphy is familiar with navigating the world of girls on the brink of self-discovery. In Ramona Blue, she addresses how we use labels and identity markers for defining the relationships we engage in. With coming of age to adulthood labels change and it's challenging to redefine who were and who we are now. Heartfelt, humorous, fun and sure to be a must-read for teens and fans of YA fiction.

A recent interview with the author can be found in current issue of [|Book Pages].

“An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Unbecoming, by Jenny Downham

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 2:35pm


In [b:1489803|Unbecoming], by [|Jenny Downham], we meet three generations of red-headed women, all with their own secrets and stories.

Seventeen year old Katie lives with her uptight mother Caroline and her younger brother, until one day Caroline’s Mother Mary abruptly comes into their lives. Estranged for years, Caroline does not want her mother to come live with them, even though she is suffering from dementia and needs care. As she temporarily stays with the family while social services sorts things out, everyone’s world turn upside down in different ways. On top of caring for her brother, and now her grandmother, Katie struggles to please her mother and keep secret who she’s been kissing. Caroline tries desperately to keep the past in the past and shove Mary away, while Mary tries so hard to remember her past as she wakes up daily wondering who these people are that she’s living with.

Wonderfully crafted, the book mostly stays in present day, but shifts back to Mary’s young adult life. The truth begins to unfold a rich family history of strong women who are either trying to break the rules or trying hard to follow them and keep things quiet and uneventful. Mary will have none of it! She wishes for adventure. If only she could remember.

It is an absolutely touching YA novel and it was a pleasure to spend time with these characters finding their place within their family and in the world. I would love to have a picnic with Mary on the beach.

The [|Stonewall Book Award] is given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. This year there was one winner and three honors – one of which was [b:1489803|Unbecoming].

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Gender Identity for Kids

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 9:55am


Do you know a little one who is starting to learn about the big, fun, sometimes messy world of gender and gender identity? We’ve got books for that!

[b:1503427|Introducing Teddy] is an adorable new picture book about a boy and his best friend and teddy, who wishes that she was a girl instead of a boy. Teddy is afraid to share her feelings with her friend, but when she does, she’s very glad she did! This is a wonderful book about both gender and unconditional love.

[b:1503454|Who Are You?: The Kids’ Guide to Gender Identity] is a new nonfiction book by Brook Pessin-Whedbee that teaches children about gender identity with simple language and bright, engaging pictures.

[k:flamingo rampant|Flamingo Rampant Press] is a new publisher offering picture books about gender and sexual orientation. The stories in these books are imaginative, diverse, fun, and feature all kinds of kids.

If you want more information on supporting kids in their gender exploration, take a look at [b:1504137|The Gender Creative Child] by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft. This title offers lots of information on supporting children as they grow and discover who they are. Included is information on how to talk with children about gender expression, how to make sure all of a child’s needs are getting met, how to navigate schools and other environments, and when to research medical options like hormone therapy. [b:1504145|Raising the Transgender Child] is a great resource for parents of transgender children and offers lots of detailed, science-backed, information.

For more great books on gender for kids and their grownups, take a look at [:user/lists/61428|this list!]

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Family Books for All!

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 7:13pm


We have two new beautiful picture books celebrating diverse families.

[b:1499002|A Family is a Family is a Family,] written by Sara O’Leary and with illustrations by Qin Leng, is a wonderful meditation on how many different kinds of families there are. The narrator is a young girl who is nervous to tell her class about her family because they are different than other families. However, after each of her classmates describes their unique families, she feels comfortable talking about her own foster mom. The illustrations in this sweet book show all different families as they explore, play, eat, and most of all, love each other.

[b:1498433|Home at Last] is the last book by renowned children’s book author [a:Williams, Vera B.|Vera B. Williams]. Finished posthumously, with illustrations by Chris Raschka, this lovely book tells the story of Lester, whose adoption day has finally arrived. Although he already feels that he, Daddy Rich, and Daddy Albert are a family, he is nervous to sleep in his own bed at his new home. Luckily, their dog Wincka jumps in to help out. This book is great not only for adopted kids, but for any kids struggling with change or getting used to sleeping in their own big kid bed.

Want to find more great picture books about families? Take a look at [:user/lists/61613|this list!]

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U of M LGBTQ Welcome Carnival

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 2:22pm

[img_assist|nid=346304|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]For many, August is a time of transition when education takes precedence over leisure activities. But, that doesn't mean that back to school can't be fun!

On Thursday, September 8th, the [|U of M's Spectrum Center] will host an annual LGBTQ Welcome Carnival. This free event is a great chance for new, and returning, students to meet with their LGBTQ peers and allies. This event is geared toward University students but all are welcome!

If you'd like to learn more about LGBTQ topics and authors, be sure to check out some of our [:user/lists/public/search/LGBT?page=1|public lists,] or create your own!

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You Know Me Well

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 4:27pm

[cover_image]|b1493937x[/cover_image][b:1493937|You Know Me Well] is a new teen book by acclaimed YA fiction authors [|Nina LaCour] and [|David Levithan].

The story revolves around two characters, Mark and Kate, and the chapters of the book alternate between the two as narrators as the story unfolds.

Both are yearning for something bigger than what their lives are as the last week of high school hangs over their head.

We begin on a wild and fateful night at a club during Pride Week in San Francisco when Kate and Mark see each other and realize they know each other from school. In fact they sit next to each other in a class. “Why is he here,” she wonders. “Why is she here,” he wonders. Kate happened to be there hiding from meeting the girl of her dreams named Violet. And Mark was there with his best friend (and secret love interest) Ryan enjoying Pride festivities. At the time Kate and Mark had no idea of how much they would come to mean to each other, but this chance meeting changes the lives of all involved.

With a new found friendship the two and their band of misfit pals learn a lot that week about first love, friendship, fitting in, and what the end of high school means.

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More Shakespeare Re-Imagined

Thu, 06/16/2016 - 7:09pm


"A riff on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, reimagining the character of the queen who becomes a statue as a devastatingly popular cheerleader who refuses to become a cautionary tale after she's sexually assaulted.” [|E.K. Johnston's web site]

In [t:Exit, Pursued By a Bear], a brilliant update of [t: A Winter’s Tale], [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] takes one of [a: Shakespeare, William|Shakespeare]’s most unconventional plays and turns it on its head. With character names and some plot points heavily inspired by the play, [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] uses [t: A Winter’s Tale] as a platform from which to launch her well constructed and extremely relevant YA novel. Hermione Winters, the story’s main character, is the captain of a cheerleading team in a small town in Ontario, at a school for which cheerleading is a very big deal. At the beginning of the book, Hermione is heading off to her last summer of cheerleading camp with her best friend Polly and her boyfriend Leo. While at camp, Hermione is drugged and raped, and her life as she knows it changes. No longer the confident leader of the squad, Hermione struggles to come to terms with what happened to her and the way in which it alters her forever.

Shakespearean influences aside, [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston]’s book is an important contribution to young adult literature for a number of reasons. This book takes on the ugly but germane topic of rape in a brave and forthright manner. [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] does not shy away from what happens to Hermione nor does she spend time focusing on the graphic details of it. What is central to the novel is the support that Hermione receives from many, sometimes unexpected people and the constant reminders to Hermione from these characters that she is not at fault. These messages are ones that cannot be reiterated enough for young adult readers, both male and female, today.

The strongest relationship in this book is the friendship between Hermione and Polly, and for [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] to put this first speaks to the complexity teens face in balancing friends and romance and also to the idea that teens can feel many kinds of love. Acceptance is a theme that runs through [t:Exit, Pursued By a Bear], religious acceptance, acceptance of sexual orientation, acceptance of choices made, no matter how difficult. The strength in [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston]’s female characters comes through both physically and in spirit. Polly is a stellar example of this fortitude. There are many character throughout [t:Exit, Pursued By a Bear] that will stay with me for while.

In her note at the end of the book, [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] recognizes that many sexual assault and rape victims might not have the support network that Hermione finds, and provides readers with resources for support in both the US and Canada. [a:Johnson, E.K.|E.K. Johnston] is giving us Hermione’s story as a possible outcome and in this, it is an exceptionally worthy pursuit.

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A Most Unusual Love Story

Tue, 03/08/2016 - 11:15am

[t:The First Bad Man]

Author: [a:July, Miranda|Miranda July]
Narrator: [a:July, Miranda|Miranda July]

Length: 7.5 Hours

Listening to [a:July, Miranda|Miranda July] read her unforgettable novel, [t:The First Bad Man], was an engrossing experience that provided me with many laughs, surprises, and moments of reflection. Giving voice to her narrator, 43-year-old, Cheryl Glickman, [a:July, Miranda|Miranda July] creates a story full of the minutiae and inner-musings of a singular, single woman. This debut novel defies categorization. It is sharp, funny, detailed and challenging. July’s narration is the perfect way to hear this story, so much of which comes to us from inside Cheryl’s head. To hear Cheryl’s thoughts conveyed by their original creator provides the listener with extra layer of nuance and knowledge.

As [a:Groff, Lauren|Lauren Groff] said in her [|New York Times] review of [t:The First Bad Man], “Cheryl is ...such an acute observer that her life is never as pathetic to the reader as it appears to the people around her.”

When we meet Cheryl, her existence is one of systems and order, fueled by an obsession with Phillip Bettelheim, who serves on the board at Open Palm, where Cheryl is the manager. Open Palm is an organization that teaches self-defense to women as a way to be fit, but, even as manager, Cheryl works primarily from home, per the request of her employers. They seem to feel a little of Cheryl goes a long way. Due to her solitude, many of Cheryl’s interactions with other people are fantastical or imagined. Her life is suddenly disrupted when she asked to take in the daughter of her employers, Clee. Clee turns out to be a challenging roommate in many ways, as she defies Cheryl’s carefully constructed systems and ultimately breaks down Cheryl’s rigidity. The relationship between Cheryl and Clee evolves many times, and passes through some unexpected territory.

July’s novel is an exploration of violence, both real and imagined, sexuality, and physical expression. The most explicit physical of these interactions take place in Cheryl's imagination. In an interview in [|The Guardian], July explains that “it is perfectly possible for people who live primarily in their own heads (artists, writers, intellectuals) to hanker after a physical communion.” Through Cheryl, July examines and exposes relationships and intimacies. We meet characters, including Cheryl, who are learning to love on different levels, self-love, mother-love, married love, new love, and we see how powerful and terrifying these attachments can be.

“Sometimes I looked at her sleeping face, the living flesh of it, and was overwhelmed by how precarious it was to love a living thing. She could die simply from lack of water. It hardly seemed safer than falling in love with a plant.”

“We thrust our babies into the air again and again, showing them what it felt like to be a mother, to be terrifyingly in love without the option of getting off.”

Parts of the story seem absurd and here is where listening to July’s telling is helpful. Her tone makes us implicit in her folly. July’s writing, while amusing, is also beautiful, poetic and sad and her reading of it is at times, breathtaking.

“But as the sun rose I crested the mountain of my self-pity and remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway. What did it really matter if I spent it like this—caring for this boy—as opposed to some other way? I would always be earthbound; he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or to live forever. I appreciated nuns now, not the conscripted kind, but modern women who chose it. If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?"

I found everything about this book to be unique from its absurdities to its breathtaking moments, many of which I rewound to hear again. [t:The First Bad Man] will appeal to fans of [a:Dunham, Lena|Lena Dunham], [a:Nelson, Maggie|Maggie Nelson], and [a:Brownstein, Carrie|Carrie Brownstein].