Monday, June 22, 2020

In a Nutshell Reviews: YA Edition

In a Nutshell Reviews are my version of mini-reviews, because sometimes, you just want the highlights. 
You Should See Me in a Crown

Leah Johnson
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Rating:  5 out of 5 stars
Liz Lighty has always believed she's too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it's okay -- Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz's plans come crashing down . . . until she's reminded of her school's scholarship for prom king and queen. There's nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she's willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She's smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
Liz had a plan. She would earn her way into Pennington College, become a doctor, and find a cure for Sickle Cell Disease. When she doesn't win the scholarship she was banking on, she had to come up with an alternate plan. This plan required Liz, who had been flying under the radar for the past four years, to be front and center, but would she be able to survive being in the spotlight?  
  • Pro: If I pick the best thing about this book, it would be LIZ! She stole my heart early on, and continued to burrow her way, deeper and deeper, throughout the story. I will never not root for an underdog, but I also found so many other reasons to love Liz. She was driven, witty, sweet, smart, and ambitious. She was a good granddaughter and sister, and dedicated her time to helping others. She charmed me to no end, and I loved her to pieces. 
  • Pro: Liz and Jordan's relationship was very special. Once besties, they had became "estranged" freshman year. Reunited via the competition for the crown, I saw the rift between them slowly narrowing, and it made my heart sing. Jordan became a very important part of her support system, as Liz sought her title, and they shared some really beautiful and meaningful moments too. 
  • Pro: Liz's #EffYouFairyTale movement was inspiring. Seeing her take back some power from those, who had made her feel less-than and unworthy was empowering. I may have let loose some applause, maybe a "whoo hoo" here and there as well. 
  • Pro: You all know I came for the romance, and it was so sweet and adorable. The flutters, the looks, and the kisses were all there. I adored Mack, and could not have picked a better love interest for Liz. She really seemed to have met her match in Mack. The way they geeked out to their favorite band was so fun, and I was rather pleased to see a sort of mini grand gesture in there too. I wanted to shout about it, but I want you to enjoy it as much as I did. 
  • Pro: I may label this book as "fluffy", but Liz's story wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. She faced many issues as a poor, Black, queer woman. It was her struggle with her "otherness", however, which touched me the most. It was heartbreaking to see her have to hide pieces of herself, and that she felt like she had to keep those parts hidden. 
  • Pro: This book was treat to read. Johnson wrote a story, which filled me with so much bliss. It was the feel-good book I really needed, and I am grateful, that I had the opportunity to see Liz realize her own fairytale. 
Overall:  When a book can make me laugh, cry, smile, swoon, and dance for joy, it gets all the stars. 

Little & Lion

Brandy Colbert
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars
A Stonewall Book Award Winner!

"Little and Lion is beautifully insightful, honest, and compassionate. Brandy's ability to find larger meaning in small moments is nothing short of dazzling."-Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything A stunning novel on love, identity, loss, and redemption.

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she's isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.
After a year away, Suzette returned home, happy to be reunited with her friends and family, but slightly nervous about her brother's mental health. She also had many big things to work through, such as school issues, her sexuality, and herself. 
  • Pro: The thing that stood out to me the most was how many issues Colbert tackled, and how she deftly handled them all. This book took on mental illness, intersectional identity, and sexual orientation, and they were explored so well, with many misconceptions being addressed head-on. 
  • Pro: The characters in this book were fantastic! There was so much depth to each of them. They were complex and complicated, and Colbert did a magnificent job helping me get to know the many parts of them. 
  • Pro: Diversity in books is so important, and not only was there a plethora of diversity in this book, but there was intersectional representation. Suzette was Black, Jewish, and questioning her sexuality. She couldn't hide being Black, but she could, and did,  hide her faith and sexuality, because she believed she had to do so. It was heartbreaking, that she felt the need to hide parts of herself, and that people felt the need to attack those pieces of her identity. 
  • Pro: The relationship between Suzette and Lionel became more complicated, when he became ill. She always regarded him as her closest friend and confidant, but now she felt a huge sense of responsibility for him. She loved him dearly, and grappled with the secrets he asked her to keep. Watching her struggle between loyalty and betrayal was not easy, as I didn't necessarily agree with her reasons, but I understood them. 
  • Pro/Con: The ending felt like the beginning of so many things. The direction for each character was established, but I never got to see what happened. I called this a Pro/Con, because I think it's a pro that I cared so much, and wanted to know how everything turned out for Lionel and Suzette.  
  • Pro: I will never not love seeing non-traditional families. Suzette's and Lionel's parents never married, but they had all lived together for many years. Suzette and her mother even converted to Judaism, and Suzette referred to Lionel as her brother. It didn't matter that they didn't share a last name (or race), they were family. They loved and supported each other. They stood by each other, through thick or thin, and they accepted one another with no exceptions. 
Overall: I found this to be a beautiful and touching story of family, friendship, and self identity, which addressed many tough issues honestly and with sensitivity. 

Was prom a big deal at your high school?
Let us know in the comments!

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