All Boys Aren’t Blue | Book Review

Title: All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
Author: George M. Johnson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Publish Date: April 28, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Memoir
Pages: 304
Format: eBook

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy.

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults

I haven’t read a memoir in forever, and wow did I forget how much I enjoy them. I just wanted to preface this review by stating that I think there’s a lot to be learned from memoirs, a lot of lives and stories to be shared through these works. We all have our own experiences and journeys, and having the honor and privilege to read them is wonderful.

With that said, I highly enjoyed this memoir. Within the first two chapters I found myself reflecting on my own life, upbringing, past traumas, childhood, etc. to see what happened in my own life. Getting to read about Johnson’s was a journey, for sure.

One important aspect about this memoir is that (almost) every chapter is filled with love. He expressed that numerous times about how his family was so full of unconditional love for one another, which I think is a truly beautiful thing. I love seeing it in fiction, but love hearing about it more in real life. He expresses how even though his family knew his secret from the time he was young, they never forced him to be anything other than himself, and they accepted him regardless of anything. I loved seeing that dynamic, for sure.

Johnson talks a lot about being Black in this book, and it was another prime example for me as a white woman to understand another part of the Black experience, if I may call it that. I think that Johnson connecting so heavily to his heritage and culture was something that was inspiring to see, and once again allowed me to reflect on my own dynamics not just in my family, but of the environment around me. I will say that even though I don’t understand on a fundamental level what his experience of being Black was like, I still appreciate being able to have a glimpse into what it was like – and continues to be – for him.

He also talked about what being queer and his sexual identity was like as a young Black boy growing up in New Jersey, and he stated multiple times that he hoped other young, queer Black kids would also be able to see themselves in his words. I think seeing his journey of identity was eye opening. As an adult, I’ve been struggling with “labeling” my own sexuality, even though I hate labeling myself for that specific category. This book is giving me a lot to think about and to understand that it’s okay if you don’t get it right away.

I think it’s also important to note that he talks about some traumatic times, including sexual abuse, so please be aware of that going into this novel (it’s not until much later on in the manifesto). I definitely felt uncomfortable, but only in the sense that I knew he was opening up a dark portion of his past that I feel I was not meant to see or know. If it helped him, though, I’m glad it was in there, and if it helps others work through their own traumas, I’m glad it’s in their for them (and you), too.

From family, to friendships, to sexual identity, to Blackness, to much more, I found myself captivated by this memoir. I have been reflecting a lot on myself, and how I’m digesting the memoir to understand what it’s like for Black LGBTQIAP+ people out there.

The writing is very straightforward, and he gives a lot of stories into his background to give weight to the words he shares with you as the reader. I think that’s part of what drew me in so steadily is because I could definitely feel his voice through the pages.

Overall, I think it’s a great book for anyone to read, understand, listen, and reflect on themselves and their own identities and such.

I’m conflicted on rating a memoir, given it’s about a person’s life, but for the purposes of this review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Hate U Give | Book Review

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publish Date: February 28, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 444
Format: Hardcover

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

I bought this book when it first came out and I didn’t read it until now. There was an incredible amount of hype behind it – and rightly so – but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. A lot was going on in my personal life, but I knew I wanted to read it eventually.

And boy, am I finally glad I did. I started to read it at the height of the protests this past June, and I wanted to take it slow, so it wasn’t until almost a full month later that I started reading and couldn’t put it down. It’s such a fast, impactful read.

I’m just going to say it now: I really loved this book. It filled me with anger, sadness, relief, happiness, love, hope, disgust; pretty much a whole range of emotions. Let’s talk about my thoughts on the story itself:

First of all, the family aspect in this book is AMAZING! I never get to read a lot about family dynamics in any books I read, regardless if they’re YA, adult, middle grade, whatever. So being able to see such a strongly rooted family was so refreshing. I loved not just the relationship Starr has with her parents and siblings, but also her uncle and how he’s very much like a second father to her.

Of course, with this greatly tight-knit family comes the opposite for many of the other characters in Starr’s world, like her half-brother Seven’s mom and stepfather, or Khalil’s mom. There’s many sides to the dice, and I appreciated getting even just a glimpse into some of the other relationships some of the other characters had.

I felt sadness for Starr, not just because of what happened to Khalil right in front of her eyes (which is obviously tragic and horrible and no one should ever have to witness that), but also that she felt such a need to separate who she was depending on where she was: if she was in Garden Heights, she was one person; if she was at her school at Williamson, she was a completely different person, a held back version of herself. As the book goes through many ups and downs, Starr has many realizations about herself and the world and people around her, including one of her “friends.” I’m glad that she figures it out, to some degree, by the end as to who she is and where she fits in with all of it.

Reading about the gangs in the book kind of put in to perspective just how much gangs can be like a family to people, as well as how hard it can be to leave if you no longer want to be part of them. It can be scary, for sure, but it was also cool to see rival gangs come together for a similar purpose.

I felt that the whole journey that Starr took to reevaluate her stance on everything – her friend groups, her family, her race, everything – was handled really well and felt very real. I could see her struggle with it, especially when it came to opening up and being more vulnerable with her white boyfriend, Chris. I could see her struggle and how she really handled it with a lot of consideration and care for herself.

Of course, some of the hardest parts to read were her recounting the murder of her best friend. I almost cried at the very end of a chapter where she was recounting it in front of people and just her last sentence felt so impactful, so raw, so real, that I almost started to ball my eyes out because… wow. I’ll most likely never have to experience or think something like that ever in my life, and how she had to think that at 16? It hurts.

And how she had to call out one of her friends for having said several racist things over the years, and the white girl never admitted to it and would always play the victim. It was frustrating and I wanted to slap her, but I was also glad to see that there was also Chris, Starr’s boyfriend, who wanted to prove that he loves her for her, nothing else. It was nice to see.

Overall, this whole story is incredible. I’m not doing it justice by talking about it here (other than the fact that I’m rusty at these book reviews lol), but I can understand the hype, and I highly recommend you read this book – especially if you’re white – just to get a glimpse into the world Black people experience every day.

Also remember: Black Lives Matter, all day, every day.

★★★★★

Sorcery of Thorns | Book Review

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Publish Date: June 4, 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 465
Format: Kindle eBook

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery: magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught – about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Sorcery of Thorns is a standalone YA fantasy novel, which is not something that you often come by. It’s a story that began (and technically ended) in a library, with books that could talk, move, make noise, snore, etc. That part was super fascinating to imagine! Like, can you picture hundreds of grimoires just mumbling to themselves or trying to spit ink at you? It sounds fun, not gonna lie.

The main female protagonist, Elisabeth, grew up in one of the Great Libraries in the kingdom, as she was abandoned there as a baby. She grew up amongst the stacks and loved them very much. She was also very much trained in what it was that the librarians should expect of the novels: that they’re dangerous – especially those of higher class levels – and that they could kill people if they changed into Maleficts.

Also that sorcerer’s are evil and will kill you for the hell of it.

As she is thrust into a much different, much larger city than the one she grew up in due to tragic circumstances at the library she grew up in, she discovers that not everything that was taught is as it seems, and she slowly learns and grows from that over time.

However, I will say, I really didn’t like her character through 80% of the story. I found her to be just… too afraid of everything. She felt incredibly weak and not quite three-dimensional for a large portion of the story. It kind of felt like her growth was stunted for a while. As the story and the stakes grew, I saw more of her potential, but as a main character, there was a lot that I just wasn’t personally drawn to. Like, I felt like, especially in the beginning, that her biggest defining “trait” was her height, because it was pointed out so often. It was just very frustrating at times.

As for the secondary main character, Nathanial, who is a sorcerer, I really liked him! Quite the contrast to Elisabeth, I really liked his character. Yes, he has a dark past (that some parts weren’t explored too much or in too much detail, which is a shame), so sometimes he comes off as standoffish, but his humor genuinely made me laugh. I loved his sarcasm so much!

I also enjoyed seeing the magic and how it worked in this world from a couple of sorcerers. Nathanial’s magic was dark, much like his family’s past, and it was very powerful. I think the caveat of having a higher-demon being your patron in order for you to have magic was a great way to incorporate magic into the world – and one I don’t see often in stories!

I do wish, however, that there was more of him in the novel, and more interactions between him, Elisabeth, and Silas, who is Nathanial’s demon. When the two of them – and even the three of them, or just Silas and Elisabeth – were together, it felt like there was a lot more life added to the page, and I was just so curious about the two male protagonists and what they were going through.

Silas, the demon, is very forthright in his feelings towards humans, emotions, and other such things, and he really sticks to it through to the end. I can’t explain much more than that without spoiling it, but I really enjoyed how a high-born demon, in a bound pact with a human, is such a stickler for decorum as a butler. It’s a great juxtaposition, and one of the best highlights throughout the book.

I found myself often predicting a lot of what was going to happen next as I was reading, and then found myself becoming frustrated when it wasn’t obvious to Elisabeth for a bit after. I don’t know why it bugged me so much that she didn’t get it, but also I’m not the biggest fan of being able to predict things that are going to happen (I’m talking multiple times; once or twice is okay). And then when it did happen and Elisabeth would react the way she did just… didn’t help.

I found the plot to be interesting, though, especially with the lore behind the demons, the grimoires, the magic, and ancestors involved in the story. It was very intricate and I found it to be pretty enjoyable as a result.

The romance was both subtle and rushed all at once. I mean, I thought it was sweet and I enjoyed the scenes, but also, wow, they almost moved really fast and it caught me off guard. I do think, though, that they compliment each other well.

The epilogue, also, I enjoyed (and predicted, but I was glad I did), and found myself wanting more afterward.

Despite all that, I liked the book. I definitely think that if you’re interested in reading it, if you like books about books, magic, betrayal, and romance, that you’ll enjoy the story. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it’s not something I’ll gravitate back towards anytime soon.

★★★☆☆

The Play | Book Review

Title: The Play
Series: Briar U #3
Author: Elle Kennedy
Publisher: Elle Kennedy, Inc.
Publish Date: October 7. 2019
Genre: New Adult, Romance, Sports
Pages: 422
Format: Kindle eBook

What I learned after last year’s distractions cost my hockey team our entire season? No more screwing up. No more screwing, period. As the new team captain, I need a new philosophy: hockey and school now, women later. Which means that I, Hunter Davenport, am officially going celibate…no matter how hard that makes things.

But there’s nothing in the rulebook that says I can’t be friends with a woman. And I won’t lie—my new classmate Demi Davis is one cool chick. Her smart mouth is hot as hell, and so is the rest of her, but the fact that she’s got a boyfriend eliminates the temptation to touch her.

Except three months into our friendship, Demi is single and looking for a rebound.

And she’s making a play for me.

Avoiding her is impossible. We’re paired up on a yearlong school project, but I’m confident I can resist her. We’d never work, anyway. Our backgrounds are too different, our goals aren’t aligned, and her parents hate my guts.

Hooking up is a very bad idea. Now I just have to convince my body—and my heart.

This is the third standalone novel within this series, and I really enjoyed it! I love readying about these characters from the same school and stuff, because you get to see their perspective and kind of grow and root for them when you see them in previous books. It’s great!

Anyway, this story follows two characters: Hunter and Demi. Demi is a character we’ve never met before, but I thought that she was a great addition to the ever-growing Briar Univers(ity) because she is a half-black, half-Latina young woman who wants to become a psychologist, even though her parents (particularly her father) want her to become a medical doctor like he is. But she has her own goals and fascinations, and she’s incredibly smart.

Hunter we first met in the first in the Briar University books and, well, he had quite a roller coaster of a time in that book, so it was nice to see him much more level-headed in this one. I felt that he was well-developed and matured for the time that this took place at, and that he was definitely much easier to take in that the first book. He just wanted to be the best team captain he could be – even going as far as to take a vow of celibacy from sex – and he does a great job at it… for a time (because you know these books have lots of steamy sex scenes in them, haha!).

Another interesting dynamic within this book was that Demi started off in an already existing long term relationship. She was the first character through all the books in the Briar Universe that was in a pre-existing relationship. As far as the relationship goes, it felt realistic in how it was portrayed. There was a sense of unease as the book went along, and I saw what was going to happen for a little while, but it still floored me! Demi handled the situation much better than I was expecting, so that was good.

The plot followed the two as they were both in the same psychology class, and through heartbreak and longing – and lots of shenanigans – and it felt like a very organic progression into the relationship that formed between them. It didn’t feel rushed, and though the situation was a bit stressful at first given what happened with Demi, they managed to face a lot of situations where they encouraged each other.

And of course there were steamy sex scenes. The two characters were extremely attracted to each other – which is great! – and they definitely showed it. If you like your naughty reads, I definitely recommend these books.

I do, however, feel like the ending was a bit… off? Like, I can totally see how it’s plausible, because it’s definitely happened in real life and such, but it just felt so sudden that I was blindsided by it. I didn’t really know how to feel, but I am glad of the end message that Elle put into the book about seeking help if you need it – and please, if you do need help, please seek it out. You’re not alone.

Overall, an enjoyable read in this series. I’m not sure if it’s the last book in the Briar U arc, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

★★★★☆

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Titan’s Curse | Book Review

Title: The Titan’s Curse
Series: Percy Jackson & the Olympians #3
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publish Date: May 5, 2007
Genre: Middle Grade – Fantasy, Mythology
Pages: 312
Format: Kindle eBook

IT’S NOT EVERYDAY YOU FIND YOURSELF IN COMBAT WITH A HALF-LION, HALF-HUMAN.

But when you’re the son of a Greek god, it happens. And now my friend Annabeth is missing, a goddess is in chains and only five half-blood heroes can join the quest to defeat the doomsday monster.

Oh, and guess what? The Oracle has predicted that not all of us will survive…

As this is the third book in the series, there might be spoilers!

Oh man, this series is SO fun to read! Why didn’t I read these before? Haha, anyway, I found myself enjoying this third installment quite a bit. It was just as fast-paced and action-packed as the first two, but I found myself seeing Percy and his friends starting to mature as they get older with each book, starting to grow into their young teenage years. So not only do they have to face the monsters, gods, and other such things in their environment, but they also are starting to really come into their own and to discover more about themselves.

This particular book follows Percy, Thalia, and two Hunters who are usually hunting with the goddess Artemis: Bianca and Zöe, in their journey to not only save Artemis, but also Annabeth.

It felt like Percy was dealing with a lot more inner turmoil and emotions in this one than the last two. Being left alone or cast out, depending on where he was, he definitely seemed lonely a lot of the time. But through that, there was a determination to help his friend Annabeth, to save her from wherever fate might have taken her.

Thalia – who used to be a tree thanks to her father, Zeus, who changed her into one so as to save her life – is navigating her own feelings on her father, as well as her own situation and whether or not she fits into a prophecy told about a child of the three big gods betraying them. Though we see everything through Percy’s eyes, I still felt a sense of anger and frustration of Thalia at her decisions, and how she makes an ultimate decision so as to not be the one spoken of in the prophecy – which I thought was very mature for her to decide.

Bianca, and her younger brother, Nico, were such a mystery in the book, but when the reveal happened as to who they were, I had guessed it just before I read it. It was still shocking, but oh man, I wonder if and how they’ll return and how the situation could play out in the future. Although, I’m sad about Bianca, but also I found her to be very selfish in leaving her brother behind to join the Hunters, but… Ah, I don’t know what else I can say on that because of what happened to her in the desert.

And then Zöe. Oh man, I thought she was very mature for her “age,” though, to be fair, she was thousands of years old at that point. I didn’t quite understand the hostility between her and Thalia, though it was explained eventually later on, but I still thought that maybe they could have gotten along more. However, I did almost cry at the end with what happened to her because I really grew to really like her, and I wanted to know even more about her past, but I don’t think we’ll get any more than what we got.

And of course there were new villains to face in this story – a manticore, as well as a god who helped the Titans long, long ago – and it was interesting to see how it played out! I actually really liked the villains, in terms of villainry, and I’m interested to see if the betrayer god will make another appearance later on.

Overall, the plot was fast-paced, and it included a couple of twists I wasn’t expecting, as well as a few that I was. I found this particular installment to be really good, and probably my favorite of the series so far. There was a lot more at stake in this book, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Percy and the crew because I’m sure, especially after that ending, that there’s going to be a lot more trouble for the young teens to go through.

★★★★☆