Monday, October 12, 2020

#AmReading YA

You Know I'm No Good

Jessi Ann Foley
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
From Printz Honor winner and William C. Morris Award finalist Jessie Ann Foley comes the story of one girl’s battle to define herself as something other than her reputation.

Mia is officially a Troubled Teen—she gets bad grades, drinks too much, and has probably gone too far with too many guys. But she doesn’t realize how out of control her parents think she is until they send her away to Red Oak Academy, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Minnesota.

While there, Mia starts confronting her painful past, and questions the purpose of Red Oak. After all, if the Red Oak girls were boys, they never would have been treated the way that they are. Amidst the revelations that cause her to question the way that society treats young women, circumstances outside of her control force Mia to discover what happens when she makes herself vulnerable enough to be truly seen by the rest of the world.
Mia used to play soccer and was considered "gifted". She was a good girl, who followed the rules. That was her past. Now, she was the oppositional daughter, who spent her time cutting school, doing drugs, drinking, and having sex. After assaulting her step-mother, Mia was sent to a therapeutic school for girls, where she finally confronted her painful past and began to imagine a future for herself. 

From what I have told you, I bet you thought Mia was very unlikable, but that wasn't the case. There was something about her that made me want to get to know her better. Obviously, her mother's murder left a mark, but I just knew that Mia had suffered some other trauma. It was both painful waiting for it to be revealed and hearing about it. But even before I knew the whole truth of the situation, I found myself caring for her and wanting better for her. 

The way Foley allowed the story to unfold kept me absorbed in everything that was happening. The bits and pieces of Mia's past slowly came together to help me understand this young woman. She was complicated and hated herself. She pushed away anyone who could care for her and resisted forming any real friendships - until Red Oak Academy. There, she met other "troubled girls". This group formed an unlikely friendship, and I think their friendship was an important part of Mia's healing process. 

Though gritty and painful at times, this was a very hopeful story. I saw Mia begin to open up and connect with others. She reexamined past events and viewed them through a new lens. She forgave herself for things she believed were her fault, when in reality, they weren't. Though it was difficult seeing all the injustices society heaps upon young women, I found myself very moved by Mia's story and hopeful that we can do better for our young people. 

The Code for Love and Heartbreak

Jillian Cantor
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Retelling
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From bestselling author Jillian Cantor comes a smart, edgy update of Jane Austen's beloved classic Emma.

Emma Woodhouse is a genius at math, but clueless about people. After all, people are unreliable. They let you down—just like Emma's sister, Izzy, did this year, when she moved to California for college. But numbers...those you can count on. (No pun intended.)

Emma's senior year is going to be all about numbers, and seeing how far they can take her. When she and George, her Coding Club co-president, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born—a matchmaking app that goes far beyond swiping, using algorithms to calculate compatibility. George disapproves of Emma's idea, accusing her of meddling in people's lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma's code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other and her own feelings defy any algorithm? Emma thought math could solve everything. But there's nothing more complex—or unpredictable—than love.
Emma had always loved numbers more than people, and one big reason was because numbers would never up and leave her on her own the way Izzy, her sister and only friend, had. But, Emma had a plan. She needed to focus -  on school, on winning the coding competition, and on getting into Stanford. She believed she could use her penchant for numbers to help her team come in first place this year. How? By developing the code for love. However, Emma soon learned that not everything in life could be quantified. 

This book delighted my STEM girl heart! I felt as though I found a kindred spirit in Emma. I used to teach chemistry and physics, and I was known to tell the kids, that people were complicated, science was easy, predictable, and beautiful. So, yeah, Emma and I definitely had a lot in common right there, and because of that, I found myself so invested in seeing things work out for her. 

She often tried to downplay her sister's cross country move, but it was obvious that there was an Izzy-sized hole in her heart. However, there was an upside to the whole situation. Izzy's absence forced Emma to make her own way. Via the coding club, she was finding new friends, expanding her social circles, and simply growing in many ways. 

One of my favorite parts of this book was seeing the relationship between Emma and George grow. They had always known each other, but Emma never realized the importance of George in her life. She didn't see or recognize all the little things he did, the way he supported her, and how comfortable he made her feel. He was sweet to her, but also challenged her, and towards the end of the book, these two had me a big sappy mess. 

There was a great supporting cast of characters in this book too. At first, the coding club seemed like a bunch of misfits, but friendships and more blossomed among them, and they formed quite a fabulous friend group. Cantor may not know me personally, but she made my heart grow a size or two by also including a grandmotherly character, who was simply wonderful. 

This was a fun and fresh twist on a classic tale. Emma was meddlesome, as expected, but her love of numbers, tech savvy, and general awkwardness made her so lovable to me. I had a fantastic time with Emma and her friends as they tried to find the code for love, while also falling in love, making friends, and planning for their futures. 

**ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.

What's the best retelling you have read this year?
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