I’ll Give You the Sun | Jandy Nelson
Summary: Nelson’s work is a character study that skips not only through time but between points of view as the teen years of twins and the reasons for their enmity are revealed. Jude settles for her mother’s attention through standard teen-to-parent fights about how she is possibly becoming “that girl” with wild tendencies. Noah finds love and jealousy when a newcomer takes over the focus of both bullying from the local Neanderthals and popularity with the ‘In’ crowd. The twins share the universe between them (in pieces, thus the title) and alternate points of view as they experience crushes, fears, and challenges while we discover how they have each become their own worst enemies. There is family loss, misunderstandings, assumptions, gain of a mentor, anxiety over identity, questioning of purpose, and finally the disclosing of traitorous acts that may or may not be forgiven.
Gush Sesh: This is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I loved reading this work. Both Jude and Noah had authentic character qualities making them easy to differentiate from each other, but I’m not convinced their family situation was terribly realistic. Every action and reaction of theirs seems extreme to me, but so are their personalities, and I can accept that for a piece of fiction. The ending left me with a sense of hope that I am grateful for as a need for closure demanded something happy out of all this chaos.
Almost Perfect | Brian Katcher
Summary: Logan isn’t certain college is for him, especially after his disastrous romantic break up that left him confused and hurt. Sage is the quirky new girl at school, an outsider in more than one manner, but Logan finds her approachable, attractive, and mysterious all at once. As he comes to know her better, he learns the big secret she’s desperate to hide – Sage was born male. Once Logan understands this, how does he react and learn from it? First there is panic, rage, and denial that slowly matures from shock and awe to understanding as self-improvement; something we’ve come to expect from our heroes.
Gush Sesh: I read this work over a 5-6 hour morning nonstop. I loved Katcher’s take on Logan’s friendship and flirtation (and so much more) with new-to-school transitioning teen, Sage. To be blunt, it isn’t an easy read because the protagonist isn’t altruistic or even all that sensitive to other peoples’ needs at first, but then who is when you’re eighteen and fairly sheltered from the exotic? The author’s strength I admire most is in the many different perspectives he gave life to, making each voice feel authentic and not caricature-thin. There is an author’s note section at the end I highly recommend, especially if the reader is at all confused about the medical and legal issues Sage seems to skate around (she’s not completely safe or responsible with her actions and choices, just like many teens).
Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Vol 1) | G. Willow Wilson
Summary: This modern teen-to-hero story is a collected work of the first five issues of a comic book illustrated by Adrian Alphona. If you are unfamiliar with any previous versions of Ms. or Captain Marvel, you can get through Kamala’s story without difficulty as she discusses her admiration for those who came before as her own role models. Upon sneaking out to attend a party, Kamala finds herself caught in the mist of a terrigen bomb, the source of her body alteration powers. Becoming the guardian of her neighborhood and classmates doesn’t make her normal life any easier. Kamala deals with her issues as any teenager might, with brash immediate gratification, a sense of guilt as she redefines her priorities, some near impossible idealism, and eventually acceptance.
Gush Sesh: Young adults make up a large portion of the readership for comics/graphic novels for various reasons. With a teen hero as the star of this series, anyone will be capable of connecting with Kamala’s worries and recognize the stress she endures. The strength of this work is definitely the collaboration of author and illustrator, both being excellent in their crafts and working well together to bring life to this brilliant character. One of my favorite points is when Kamala questions her sense of identity and purpose. She’s heroic, funny, rebellious, and will hopefully find her balance after some stumbling practice.
Does My Head Look Big in This? | Randa Abdel-Fattah
Summary: Taking place in Australia, Amal is a teenager like many others – she shares opinions and advice about fashion and heartthrobs with her besties and complains when expected to do housework. Worse yet, she has a crush on the same guy as her arch nemesis. What’s different about her is attending a prep school in her latter high school years, being Australian-Muslim-Palestinian, and discovering her concepts on how to communicate her faith with a hijab. Like surviving high school wasn’t already a challenge.
Gush Sesh: The ups and downs of this intelligent story are conceived from Amal’s modern drama queen attitude and the very serious moments shared by her family and friends as she investigates the different extremes of her Muslim faith. Being an outsider to the faith/culture myself, I felt better informed by Amal’s progression as a young woman facing both real and invented crises while a junior in high school. Her hero’s journey shows her maturation into wisdom as the secondary characters around her experience bigotry, sexism, cultural divisiveness, and danger. This is a great example of character development and a strength of Abdel-Fattah’s writing.
One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies | Sonya Sones
Summary: After her mother dies, Ruby is destined to live with her father, a man she’s only seen from theater seats as he is a Hollywood megastar. Navigating her extended ‘loss’ of everything she knows (aunt, friends, Boston) while trying to avoid her eager, previously absent father, she writes to clear her mind, to feel a connection with her loved ones, and get out all the frustrations of being a teenager. Being the new girl is tough enough – changing one coast for another, one parent for another… it’s a nightmare of confusion. This free-verse novel offers slices of Ruby’s life in prose sections, sometimes harsh and sometimes delicately sweet. Language is a beautiful tool and Sones wields it with passion.
Gush Sesh: Imagery is a foundation of Sones’ style, Ruby’s voice being the method of delivery. The words on the page may be conversation, description, a glut of emotional reaction, a dream, or an attempt at written communication between the characters. The creative and unique use of language makes Ruby come to life, sounding exactly like a conflicted teenager who needs comforting and reassurance but who denies the same coming from a stranger that is assigned (even by the fact of her birth) to raise her. The emotional impact delivered was stunning as Sones managed to express the emptiness of someone already cried out, numbed to the point of ennui. I thought this work complete genius.