Book Review

Book Review: The Universe is Expanding and So Am I

Long time, no see! Let’s not do that again. After some time off from writing, I am back at it again –

(at the worst possible time, admittedly. I’ll be hanging out at BookExpo all week. Whoops.)

– With some exciting books to review, thanks to NetGalley (and my overwhelming stack of books that I’ve never gotten to, ANYWAY.)

Let’s start with the much awaited sequel to a classic.

imagesThe Universe is Expanding
and So Am I

By Carolyn Mackler
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Bloomsbury YA
ISBN 9781681195995
Price: $17.99 (USD)

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Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

*Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, rape.

 

I first discovered this series as a a young high school student. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, released in 2003,  was legendary for me and my friends. I can only assume, though, that it meant a little more to me. I understood the character of Virginia Shreves. I knew what it was like to walk the halls and feel heavier than everyone else. To me, she was an idol and I found myself returning to the book more times than I can count. Virginia gave me strength. If she could ignore the world and be her best self, so could I.

Imagine my utter joy when I found out that there would be a sequel. Fifteen years later! A sequel!

The Synopsis:

High school sophomore Virginia Shreves is heading into a turbulent time. She’s fallen out of like with boyfriend Froggy, her best friend is on the opposite coast and often without cell service, her favorite kickboxing class has been taken over by her arch nemesis, and worst of all, her brother Byron has been accused of sexually harassing a fellow student at Columbia. Her one saving grace is Sebastian, an adorable, clumsy artist she meets while on a conquest for bagels. But Virginia soon discovers that even her relationship with Sebastian is complicated. Can love overcome all?

Good Things:

I haven’t picked up the first book in this series in ages. But I didn’t have to. The story came flooding back and I remembered why I loved Carolyn Mackler’s writing. She’s funny. Her characters are filled with empathy and you find yourself glued to every page. I picked this book up on a Saturday. I abandoned a different book to finish it within the day. I needed to find out what happened and as a result, I flew through the pages of this book.

As always in these books, there’s fat girl representation (much appreciated, Carolyn Mackler). There’s LGBTQ+ representation in this novel, which I was happy to see. And I enjoy Mackler’s ever-present message that people are more complex than they originally seem. Mackler’s writing is deep, important, and soulful. I remembered at once just how much I loved her storytelling and the chronicles of Virginia Shreves.

Not-So-Good Things:

As much as I loved how this book was written, I couldn’t forgive one very important aspect of it:

The victim of sexual abuse was not painted in a very fair way, nor did she receive a fair ending.

I get it. Byron is Virginia’s brother. We’re sympathetic to Virginia so we are naturally sympathetic to Byron. But what about the girl he assaulted? She’s often painted throughout the book as someone who is mentally unstable. She’s not “dealing with her abuse well” and so she takes Byron to court.

That, to me, makes it sound like she’s getting revenge. Not that she’s trying to heal.

And honestly [major spoiler alert], I find it very unfair and very irresponsible to allow Sebastian and Virginia to end up happily together at the close of the novel. Sebastian is the brother of Annie Mills, the young woman Virginia’s brother assaulted. To force these two families together and to force Annie to relieve her abuse at every encounter is simply cruel.

I appreciate that this is a different story. This is Virginia’s experience as someone innocent who is unfortunately tied to someone very much not innocent. And I appreciate that at the end of the novel, her family admits that their perfect son and brother did do something cruel. It’s a tricky topic to cover and I do think that Mackler was close to being successful with such a story.

Was this a happy ending? No, not to me. I felt uncomfortable at the ending, especially with all the news surrounding the #MeToo movement in recent months. We want victims of abuse to feel comfortable naming their assaulters and finding justice. Instead, in this book, Annie’s abuse was often swept under the rug in favor of a more appealing story. She was told to get over it for the sake of a summer fling.

Unfortunately, that was unforgivable to me.

In Summation:

I loved this book the entire way through. However, I couldn’t find peace with its ending. In this era of female triumph where women are finally being heard, we can’t tell girls that their assault is less important than a teenage romance.

(That isn’t to downplay the importance of teenage romance. I believe in it above all others. But when compared to something as severe and traumatizing as sexual abuse, sexual abuse takes precedence.)

I give this book 3 stars. It truly is written beautifully. The final message, though, is not as poignant and powerful as it should be. Instead, I can see it being harmful to the readers who have lived through abuse in the same way Annie Mills did. There was a neat way to wrap up this story and I wonder if it’ll come in the form of a sequel. In this volume, however, I didn’t get the peaceful and moral ending I was hoping for.

For any of you at BookExpo, I’ll see you there! It’s my first one so I’m trying not to have a panic attack over it. But I’ve been promised free books so…a girl’s gotta love that. Stay tuned! If I survive BookExpo, I’ll have a fun recipe from The Universe is Expanding and So Am I. As a native New Yorker, I can’t resist giving it a try.

Ramblings

YO awesome news.

Any fans of Jason Reynolds out there?

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Jason Reynolds is the acclaimed author of, to name a few, When I Was the Greatest, Miles Morales: Spider-Manand the newly-released Long Way Down (released today!).

I adore this man. Not only is he on his way to being this generation’s Walter Dean Myers, he visits schools across the country and talks to students — on their level.

“I don’t talk about reading — I talk about Kool-Aid and ramen noodles, Jordans and basketball, because that’s what matters to them.”

Reynolds wasn’t a reader himself as a child. And that’s one reason why he began writing books. If there are books meant for kids in urban societies, kids in underprivileged societies, kids of all backgrounds and ethnicities, then surely, kids will read. “I want these kids to know they’re not invisible, that their lives matter,” says Reynolds.

Want to hear from the man himself? Jason Reynolds will be speaking at Montclair State University (my alma mater, what what) at the annual NJCTE Conference. The event itself is amazing — great speakers, free books, booths full of more books for purchase, raffles — and this year, you’ll have the chance to hear Reynolds speak and maybe even get a book signed.

If you’re in the Jersey area, sign up! You won’t regret it! I’ll post some links here to do just that once the date gets closer.

Keep reading, folks.

Book Recipe

Bookish Recipe: Pumpkin Mocha Breve from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl

“What is this?” She leaned over the cup and took a breath.
“My own concoction- Pumpkin Mocha Breve, light on the mocha. Don’t try to order it from anyone else; it’ll never turn out the same.”

Fun facts!

  • I don’t drink coffee very often. Nor do I know how to make coffee. (We’re getting rid of our Keurig at work and replacing it with a coffee pot, you guys, and I’M PANICKING.)
  • hate cooking/baking with coffee because the strength of the coffee can completely make or break the recipe. I’ve ruined many a recipe because of this.
  • hate cooking/baking with tea because, well, the exact same reason.

So naturally, while rereading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I decided to recreate one of Levi’s Starbucks creations.

Smart. So smart.

But you guys? I was successful. I feel like a barista.

(Which is saying something because I once worked in a coffee shop and, well, I sucked.)

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Look. At that. Majesty. That whipped cream on the top? It’s chai-flavored.

I know.

I got the recipe from Emma Likes Books and I swear, forget Starbucks. (Don’t tell Starbucks I said that, they finally made me a Gold Star member. Whatever the hell that means.) It tastes exactly like something you’d buy at a gourmet coffee shop. It’s sweet and autumn-y and creamy and perfect. And if I can make it? So can you.

I warn you, it does take a while to put together but:
1) Once you make it the first time, you’ll have the pieces to make it again and it will take you a lot less time. And trust me. You’ll want it again. (I read the recipe and thought, “How the hell am I going to use all this stuff within just two weeks?” Not asking that question anymore.)
2) Still thinking it’s too much? Try this Pumpkin Mocha Breve tea blend from Adagio teas instead. It’s obviously lighter and more subtle and, well, not coffee but it’s still lovely. And try the Levi blend while you’re at it. I’ve had both and they’re wonderful.

I usually leave tips here for making the recipe more successful but I actually don’t need to this time. Emma Likes Books covers it all.

In summation, it’s really friggin’ hot here in New Jersey but I’ll be recreating this drink a lot in the next few weeks. It’s worth sweating over.

Enjoy, my friends!

Book Review

Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours

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When the Moon Was Ours
Written by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
Page Count: 288 pages.
Tea Pairing: This Caramel Cream tea from Adagio perfectly matches Miel’s favorite cookie called alfajores, a Latin-American dulce de leche concoction. Want a recipe? Check it out here!

No one in town really knows a lot about Miel and Sam. Miel has the ability to grow roses from her wrists and some say she was born from a water tower. Sam paints moons and hangs them from trees to illuminate the neighborhood. No one knows where he and his mother originated from or why they left.

Despite all of this, they aren’t the most mysterious ones in town. The Bonner sisters hold a strange sort of magic – they’re able to enchant and lure any man they want. Except for Sam. When Miel is threatened and blackmailed, will she protect herself or the boy she loves?

4.5

Anna Marie McLemore’s book, When the Moon Was Ours, is such a beautiful and important text. Written poetically and with a lot of heart, this story gives us something I have shamefully never seen before in a novel, young adult or otherwise:

A character who is trans.

I don’t want to give too much away. I think there’s so much magic to this book that needs to be discovered by the reader. But there are teens that feel alone in their sexuality and I think it’s our closest form of magic that we have books like this available to help heal wounded readers.

(This book isn’t getting enough love, you guys. I will scream it from rooftops if I must.)

There are other lovely things in this book:

  • When the Moon Was Ours points out that those things that make us different, those strange metaphorical roses growing from our wrists, are the same things that make us beautiful.
  • It lets us know that even those people we revere as perfect are not so flawless. And it informs us that even they are struggling.
  • This book offers us a magical world that seems oddly real and familiar at the same time.
  • It features a cast of characters who are POC, something we don’t see nearly enough.

I found the end to be a little forced, hence the 4.5 star rating, but other than that? I was madly in love with this book. It was so clever and so profound and I’ll be returning to this book again, I guarantee.

What’s everyone reading? Leave it here! I’m going to be doing a throwback to Fangirl this week (complete with recipe!) and then I’ll be diving into a couple of ARCs that I’ve received.

(Including ARCs about vampires, teens with Asperger’s, and a meditation book for middle graders. And maybe John Green’s new book if I have the nerve.)

Keep reading!

Book Recipe

Bookish Recipe: Alfajores

Finding that memory was as bright as catching trees bursting into bloom. It was a memory from when Miel was barely old enough to make them. After that, she would turn three, and four, and the roses would come, and they would take everything. But she could hold on to this, her hands and Leandro’s pale with sugar and flour.

Alfajores de nieve, coated in powdered sugar so each looked made of winter.

She didn’t have Leandro anymore, or his hands, smooth and dark as finished wood. But she had Sam, this boy and his brown hands.

Miel pulled her eyes from the knotted carpet, and looked up at Sam. “I think I am hungry.”

“Yeah?” Sam’s smile was slight, but without caution. “Anything in particular?”

Miel pushed herself up on her hands, her body stiff as if she’d slept on it wrong. “Have I ever shown you how to make alfajores?”

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I can say with absolute confidence that Miel had every right to believe these little bites of winter would cheer her up. Alfajores, small confections from Latin America, are the perfect bite of butter, confectioners sugar, and dulce de leche. They’re versatile, fun, and downright adorable.

I found the recipe here over at Chowhound and though I was nervous I would mess up somewhere, they’re a pretty simple treat to recreate. Some tips!

  • Make them your own. I used a 2-inch fluted cookie/biscuit cutter and mini star cookie cutters in the middle.
  • The 2-inch cookie cutters were a good idea because the recipe says it makes 12 cookies. I ended up with 24?
  • The dough, when you roll it out after it’s been chilled, will be crumbly. Don’t fear! Add a little flour and be patient. It will mold back together.
  • Consider adding some lemon zest to your dough. It will complement the flavors wonderfully.
  • The flavor of brandy is very subtle. I bought a bottle just for this recipe but I’m sure you could substitute another liquor if you don’t have any.
  • You might want to invest in rolling pin rings like these from Amazon to ensure a more even dough. You’ll get an even bake and a more successful cookie if the dough is rolled out to the same thickness.

Those are really all the tips you need! These will make another appearance in my home. If you’re having a sad day? Follow Miel’s advice, fire up your oven, and start kneading that dough. These will cheer you up in no time flat.

My review of When the Moon Was Ours is coming soon. I know, I’ve been saying this for a while now. But when I write the review, it’ll truly be over. And I’m sad about that.

Keep reading!