Monday, September 21, 2020

#AmReading YA

Pretty Funny for a Girl

Rebecca Elliott
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
A candid and laugh-out-loud journey of family, friends, and fierce mistakes.

Haylah Swinton is an ace best friend, a loving daughter, and an incredibly patient sister to a four-year-old nutcase of a brother. Best of all, she's pretty confident she's mastered making light of every situation--from her mom's new boyfriend to unsolicited remarks on her plus-sized figure. Haylah's learning to embrace all of her curvy parts and, besides, she has a secret: one day, she'll be a stand-up comedian star.

So when impossibly cool and thirstalicious Leo reveals he's also into comedy, Haylah jumps at the chance to ghost-write his sets. But is Leo as interested in returning the favor? Even though her friends warn her of Leo's intentions, Haylah's not ready to listen--and she might just be digging herself deeper toward heartbreak. If Haylah's ever going to step into the spotlight, first she'll need to find the confidence to put herself out there and strut like the boss she really is.

Rebecca Elliott's hilarious and authentic narrative voice is sure to capture readers' hearts as her plus-sized, teenage heroine navigates learning to love the body she's in while dealing with friends, family, and boys.
Haylah was a self described "comedy nerd". She watched every clip she could find, listened to any podcast available, and read all the books on the shelves in an effort to hone her craft. Yet, she kept her stand up comic aspirations a secret until an opportunity to help cool and popular Leo write his set for a competition arose, and that had her contemplating if she had what it took to step up to the mic herself. 

I am going to start with my takeaway from this book, which was learning to believe in and love yourself. Haylah often talked about being fat. Sometimes she was ok with it and sometimes she wasn't. I thought this was rather realistic. From what I gathered, she was a 14 year old girl, and many teens her age can be insecure from time to time. I can understand her struggle with not fitting or even trying to subscribe to the beauty standard. Overall though, she seemed happy with herself, because for her, it was more important to be funny than thin. I can imagine her, older and wiser and totally accepting her body, but I believed she was in a good place at fourteen. 

It's great seeing all these YA books about female comedians. It's a well known fact that the industry can be less than hospitable to women, but how fabulous to see all these young women pursuing their dreams. Indeed, Haylah was funny, but it was her dedication to the craft that I admired. The way she would go through her day, recording amusing bits for later, or all the research she did. She definitely showed that it was hard work, AND that she was more than willing to put in the time and effort to edge closer to making her dream a reality. 

This book wasn't just about becoming a comic. It was about family, friends, crushes, making mistakes, and making amends. I loved Haylah's family. She was being raised by her mother, who worked nights, and therefore, Haylah had to help out a lot with her little brother, Noah. He could be a handful, but they really shared a sweet and beautiful bond. Noah was such an injection of cute into this story too. 

There were some subplots in this book, where I saw Haylah err a bit, but also grow. Whether it be her mother jumping back into the romance game, her friends drifting away from her, or her first real crush, mistakes were made. Part of me really felt for Haylah, but another part of me wanted to give her good shake and tell her to snap out of it. However, I never gave up on her, and I am glad to say, she did not disappoint me. 

It was a delight to meet Haylah and watch her finally take the stage. I know there are going to be times where you will find yourself frustrated with Haylah, but all the steps, forwards and backwards, were part of her journey to being able to be her most authentic self. And yes, she was pretty funny for a girl.

Smash It!

Francina Simone
Series:Smash It!, #1
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Refreshingly authentic and bold… Don’t miss this smashing #ownvoices novel from Francina Simone! Filled with heart, humor and a heroine to root for, Smash It! is a perfect read for fans of Julie Murphy, Ibi Zoboi and Ashley Poston.

Olivia “Liv” James is done with letting her insecurities get the best of her. So she does what any self-respecting hot mess of a girl who wants to SMASH junior year does…

After Liv shows up to a Halloween party in khaki shorts—why, God, why?—she decides to set aside her wack AF ways. She makes a list—a F*ck-It list.

1. Be bold—do the thing that scares me.
2. Learn to take a compliment.
3. Stand out instead of back.

She kicks it off by trying out for the school musical, saying yes to a date and making new friends. Life is great when you stop punking yourself! However, with change comes a lot of missteps, and being bold means following her heart. So what happens when Liv’s heart is interested in three different guys—and two of them are her best friends? What is she supposed to do when she gets dumped by a guy she’s not even dating? How does one Smash It! after the humiliation of being friend-zoned?

In Liv’s own words, “F*ck it. What’s the worst that can happen?”

A lot, apparently.

Liv had been pining away for her best friend and allowing her insecurities to keep her from new experiences. Fed up with missing out on so many possibilities, she took a vow to say "YES". This new philosophy won her a part in the school play, some new friends, and a possible boyfriend, but saying "YES" also came with some bad decisions, which might result in the end of her longest friendship. 

I read Othello a very, VERY long time ago for school, and never really looked back. Therefore, I did not find myself looking for the parallels in this loose retelling. What I did find was an entertaining story of a young women who took some chances, made a few mistakes, and learned several life lessons along the way. 

Five Things I Really Enjoyed about SMASH IT!
  1. Olivia was fabulous! I found her to be a very open and honest narrator, while also being extremely amusing. I related to her fears and was proud of all the chances she took. Yes, I did wince at some of her missteps, though she learned and grew from each blunder. She recognized when she was wrong  and attempted to correct her errors, and growth is always a good thing.  
  2. There was romance in this book, but the biggest love story was about Olivia learning to love herself. She was insecure about her size and how she looked. She was always being compared to her cousin and wondering why the boy she adored wasn't interested in her.  This lack of self love was a big obstacle for Olivia. It was one the main things, which kept her from stretching her wings. It was great to see her gain that self confidence and shed her need to blend in, thus allowing herself to finally shine. 
  3. This book was very sex-positive. One of the storylines revolved around Olivia wanting to have sex for the first time. There were open discussions about intimacy, and I appreciated that different points of views regarding sex were presented. The idea that what was right differed for each person, and at the same time, no view was wrong. 
  4. There were some great friendships in this book. When I first met Olivia, the trio of her, Dre, and Eli was strong. They had been friends for many years and their memories of one another ran deep. But what I really loved was the friendship that developed between Olivia, Jackie, and Lennox. This was women supporting women, and it was great seeing that in this story. There was also an adorable relationship between Olivia and her senior citizen co-worker, which was super cute while also quite meaningful. 
  5. So much delicious drama. I was reading this book at the right moment, because I ate up all that drama. Sometimes it might have seemed over the top, but I was into it, and it kept me flipping those pages. 
Even though I have a thing about awkward love triangles, I found I really enjoyed this book. I think I was in the mood for some drama, and there was lots to be found here. I also liked the overarching themes, the idea of being more honest, trying new things, seeing the possibilities, and learning to love yourself.

**ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.

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