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2020 YA Recommendations

2020 has been a fantastic year for me as a reader because it’s the year I finally signed up for reviewer accounts on NetGalley and Edelweiss and the year I finally got onboard with virtual library services like Libby. This combined with joining the “Book Twitter” community means I’ve had a lot of great recommendations come across my screen, sometimes in time to request an ARC and other times shortly after release but early enough to get on that library hold list before it was 6 months long. Today I want to tell you about some of the best YA titles I’ve read that released this year.

Which ones have you read? Let me know in the comments!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means there is no additional cost to you if you shop using my links, but I will earn a small percentage in commission. A program-specific disclaimer is at the bottom of this post.

Boy Queen
by George Lester

Published 6 August 2020
by Macmillan Children’s Books

Genre: YA Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Page Count: 396
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Life’s a drag until you try . . .

Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to university, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realises there might be a different, more sequinned path for him . . .

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.

Boy Queen by George Lester is a sparkling debut full of big hair, big heels and even bigger hearts.

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My Rating: 5 Stars!
Original post | “like” it on Goodreads!

I received a free ARC of Boy Queen from the publisher in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley. Thank you so much to NetGalley, publisher MacMillan, and of course author George Lester for the opportunity to read this gem early!

Is the world ready for a drag queen’s coming of age story? It had better be ready because Boy Queen is here serving high school senior baby drag realness that you don’t want to miss out on! I read this book in a single day because I absolutely could not put it down!

This is the story of Robin Cooper, a turning-18-year-old theatre student from the UK whose hopes and dreams of attending drama school in London in the fall are about to be dashed. It also doesn’t help that his secret boyfriend, a still-closeted gay boy from a homophobic family and friend group, is less than supportive, ever the flake, and occasionally a bully. But when Robin’s friends take him to watch a drag show at a gay bar for his birthday, one queen in particular catches his eye and sparks a burning need to perform in drag. Robin spends much of the rest of the school year trying (and failing) to balance school, friends, romance, and his relationship with his single-parent mother with his newfound love of drag. He also spends a great deal of this time learning who he is (and who she is when in drag) and, as one of his teachers advises early on, learning to take up space.

The entire cast of this book is written so well. Robin’s friends Natalie, Greg, and Priya are believable teenagers with their own hopes and worries, and like any teen friends, they get mad at each other sometimes. Natalie and Greg are a little more fleshed out than Priya, but that’s likely because they’re also Robin’s school mates, while Priya is a friend from the dance studio. New boy Seth is intriguing, and the process of Robin and Seth getting to know each other is so beautifully organic.

I’d also like to say that I’m a 32-year-old mom reading this young adult novel, and I feel called out by the characterization of Robin’s mother in all the best and most humorous ways! I have so many highlights made on the mom moments because they made me smile. And yes, I absolutely do the weird meercat thing, too.

As I mentioned, I did read this book all in one go. I absolutely could not end my day without finishing it and getting my thoughts down! That said, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it in the first couple of pages. This book starts in the middle of a dance class with quippy teenage snark flying everywhere, and I honestly couldn’t quite tell until the practice number was over whether Robin was about to dance or sing. It immediately gets better when dance class ends and Robin and Priya start talking, and then it’s gold from there. Mood readers and those who DNF very early, give this book more than just the first scene. You won’t regret it!

I would also like to make a note for North American readers and parents: As this book takes place in the UK where drinking laws are different, these teenage characters spend quite a bit of time at a bar, and some drinking does take place. Remember that this is legal and normal in the book’s setting. I think this is handled well, and should not be a concern for readers from countries with different laws.

Trigger warning for moderate violence in a couple of scenes (fistfight style, no weapons.)

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Felix Ever After
by Kacen Callender

Published 5 May 2020
by Balzer + Bray

Genre: YA Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Page Count: 368
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Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle…

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

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My Rating: 5 Stars!
Original post | “Like” my review on Goodreads!

I finally got to this one on my reading pile this weekend, and oh my goodness, I couldn’t put it down! This is a charming, raw, beautiful story about a trans individual named Felix and his rather eventful summer arts program leading into his senior year of high school. About halfway through I realized I was getting a bit of Perks of Being a Wallflower vibes, but updated to this decade and not so white. I swear, it’s not just because of the gay best friend named Ezra, either! (If you’re confused because Wallflower’s gay friend is Patrick, the actor in the film adaptation is an Ezra.)

Felix has a lot of learning, growing, and figuring out to do this summer. He’s trying to get a good portfolio ready for his application to art school at Brown, but starting is intimidating him, and he hasn’t been inspired by a theme yet. (I get that!) He’s struggling with his father-son relationship, and hasn’t resolved his feelings about his mother walking out on their little family. He’s struggling with his gender identity. He’s struggling with finding and accepting love. And right at the beginning of it all, someone outs him as trans in a public way, complete with his deadname.

This book presents and unpacks a lot, and I think it will help a lot of people both young and old who are struggling with some of these issues themselves and don’t know where to start. I think it could also be helpful to the parents, siblings, family, and friends of people struggling with these issues. As a mother, I will absolutely be giving this book to my daughter when she’s reading at this level.

I appreciate the fact that even though Felix is deadnamed several times in this book, we the readers never find out what that name is. It’s none of our business! Every other book I’ve read or show I’ve watched that deals with deadnaming reveal the name, which I feel gives the wrong impression to non-trans individuals that this is information they’re entitled to.

All in all, an excellent novel, will read again!

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Grown
by Tiffany D. Jackson

Published 15 September 2020
Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)

Genre: YA Contemporary
Page Count: 384
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Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

All signs point to Enchanted.

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My Rating: 5 Stars
Original post | “Like” my review on Goodreads

First of all, I would like to open with a content warning for this title. Grown opens on a murder scene and features violence, child grooming, various forms of abuse including sexual assault and long term gaslighting, and frequently addresses casual racism. Although this is written for a young/new adult audience featuring a high school senior, it may not be suitable for all YA audiences.

As indicated by the author in the afterward, Grown is a work of fiction inspired by the real-world R Kelly case and drawing partially from her own personal experience as a BIPOC who dated an older man in her teens. As such, although this is once again a work of fiction, it feels very much like the novelization of a real victim’s experience.

Enchanted Jones is the eldest child of a middle-class black family who are trying their best to claw their way to a more prosperous life, and Chanty is expected to go to college and work toward a real, stable career. Chanty doesn’t want that. All she wants in the whole world is to sing. When she tricks her mother into taking her to a TV music show audition under the guise of an away meet for her high school swim team she meets her idol, 28-year-old music star Korey Fields. When she gets the opportunity to tour with him with the promise that someday Korey will help launch her solo career, Chanty’s life as she knows it ends forever.

This book is so raw and real. As someone who lives with PTSD from similar traumas, everything about how Chanty copes and develops throughout this book rings absolutely true to me. The conflict she feels between being afraid of Korey at his worst but loving him at his best and feeling like she’s wrong for not just loving him all the time is exactly what victims of grooming and gaslighting feel.

It feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter is horrifying, but it is so well written that I could not put it down. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who is interested in this sort of story and prepared for the graphic content. Chanty, Korey, and the events of this book may not be real, but this echos the real story of countless people all over the world, and most of them are never heard or vindicated.

I listened to the audiobook recording, so I would also like to comment on the narration. The narrator’s voice is easy to listen to and perfect for this performance. I was never bored, nor was I ever confused about who was speaking. I listened at 1.5x playback speed (my usual for audiobooks) and do feel like I could have comfortably listened both faster or slower, so this should suit all types of audiobook listeners.

Story: 5 stars
Performance: 5 stars
Overall 5 stars

This book is an important work, and it is timeless. Again, I recommend this to everyone who is prepared for the graphic nature of the content.

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Legendborn
Legendborn Book One
by Tracy Deonn

Published 15 September 2020
by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Genre: YA Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 512
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After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

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My Rating: 5 Stars
Original post | Post on group blog | “Like” my review on Goodreads!

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for granting me access to an ARC of Legendborn in exchange for an honest review.

Legendborn is a modern take on Arthurian legend and elemental magic with an infusion of Black American history. After losing her mother in a car accident, Bree Matthews is conflicted. The loss has changed her in more ways than she can express or understand, and she wants nothing more than to throw up a wall and move on as if nothing has changed. Bree and her best friend Alice are accepted into an Early College (EC) program at the Chapel Hill campus of UNC at just 16, and as it turns out, this is exactly where Bree needs to be in order to understand the changes she’s gone through since her mother’s passing.

She quickly becomes entangled in a secret society of students called Legendborn, descendants of King Arthur and his knights and their various squires and supporters, who defend the campus and surrounding area from unseen demonic threats. But Bree can see them. Is it possible that her mom saw them, too? Did she see something she wasn’t supposed to? With the help of a Legendborn named Nick, Bree is determined to find out what really happened to her mother and what it all has to do with this secret society.

I’ve been doing a lot of ARC and beta reading of Arthurian lore stories lately, but this is by far the best one! It’s a fresh take on the legend that was desperately needed with very compelling characters. It also confronts racism and xenophobia. As the only black page in this year’s page class, Bree has single-handedly made this year’s page class “the most diverse” the chapter has ever seen. She’s mistaken for “the help” on multiple occasions and always corrects that assumption with cutting whit. In the beginning, there is a police officer who assumes she’s made it into UNC on a “needs-based” admission and he reports that she “had an attitude” for telling him she got in on merit. The importance and prevalence of slave history intertwined with the history of both the campus and the Legendborns are integral in this book. These things are presented frequently enough to continuously remind the reader what the Black experience is like in the American south today and through history without making it the one and only plot point. This book has a lot to say about racism and a Black girl’s experience in today’s world, and this is handled well in a way that can be felt and understood by readers of all backgrounds.

Bree is not the only diverse character, either! We have a whole range of sexualities on campus, there are other black women teaching Bree about their own understanding of this magic she’s inherited, and her best friend Alice is a lesbian of Asian descent. This book also perfectly illustrates the very real reality that some (most?) people experience an abrupt disruption and distancing with their high school friends upon graduating and entering post-secondary education.

The magic system in this book is very well thought out and we get explanations of how it works as Bree learns what’s going on. Getting different explanations of the same magic from different perspectives (the Legenborn’s aether, the Rootcrafters’ root, etc.) is also fascinating and ties into the black experience in a white world storyline.

We do get some familiar YA tropes that may or may not be everyone’s favourite thing to read, such as instalove (remember the timeline of this book is only a couple of weeks), a surprise love triangle situation that adds little to the story, and the whole “chosen one” aspect. (To be fair, can you avoid the chosen one in an Arthurian story? I don’t think so.)

This book is advertised as YA and since the main characters are just 16 years old that does seem to fit. With that said, being that it takes place on a college campus, it also feels NA (New Adult) and feels more relatable to older readers like me (32) than a high school story. I think this book will appeal to a much wider audience than most YA titles.

I can’t wait for more from this author, and I hope I’m correct in assuming that this book is setting up a series. It certainly feels like it! I rate this title 5 stars out of 5, and I will be singing it from the rooftops for quite some time! I recommend this book to everyone, and I even think it would be a good introduction to fantasy as a genre for those who are looking to break into reading fantasy.

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How to Pack for the End of the World
by Michelle Falkoff

Published 10 November 2020
by HarperCollins Teen

Genre: YA Literary Fiction, Mystery
Page Count: 320
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If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do? This is the question that haunts Amina as she watches new and horrible stories of discord and crisis flash across the news every day. But when she starts at prestigious Gardner Academy, Amina finds a group of like-minded peers to join forces with—fast friends who dedicate their year to learning survival skills from each other, before it’s too late. Still, as their prepper knowledge multiplies, so do their regular high school problems, from relationship drama to family issues to friend blow-ups. Juggling the two parts of their lives forces Amina to ask another vital question: Is it worth living in the hypothetical future if it’s at the expense of your actual present?

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My Rating: 4 Stars
Original post | “Like” my review on Goodreads

I would like to thank the author Michelle Falkoff, the publisher HarperCollins, and iReads Book Tours for access to an eARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to iReads for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for this title. Thank you to Michelle Falkoff for trying your best to get me hooked up with a copy through NetGalley. Thank you to my influencer program contacts at HarperCollins for hooking me up via Edelweiss when we ran into regional troubles with the NetGalley listing. It was an adventure, for sure! This has not swayed my opinion on the review. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.

This book is not at all what I thought it would be from the title and official synopsis, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. I may not have read the book I thought I was going to read, but the book I read was excellent none the less!

Amina is entering 10th grade at Gardner Academy, a private boarding school you generally either attend because you earned a scholarship or because something went wrong and you’ve been sent away. On the first night Amina attends a “game night” for incoming first years that’s full of the typical icebreakers and the predictably gross and scandalous teenage questions in “Would you rather?” until someone asks the group about the end of the world. If the world were to end tomorrow and no one you knew and loved would survive, would you choose to die with them or survive and rebuild? In the coming days, Amina and four other students (including Wyatt, the boy who posed the question) form the Eucalyptus Society, a club that I like to think of as “Doomsday Preppers Lite.” Over the course of their first two quarters, each of the club’s five members holds a “game” to determine who would be best prepared for their end of the world scenario.

This book tackles non-Christian religion in a Christian dominated setting (specifically Judaism,) BIPOC issues and inter-racial relationships, LGBTQIA issues, and characters learning to trust and how to deal with betrayal. Content warnings for building fire linked to a hate crime (remembered event pre-book timeline), character recalling sexual and physical assault, racism, bullying, protests, and various reasons that some characters have “run away” in various degrees from their families and previous environments to this school. This book also features characters experiencing symptoms of PTSD and depression.

If I were any of the teenage club members in this book I would be Jo, the closed-off and mysterious tough girl with rainbow boot laces and an obviously tragic back story that she doesn’t care to share. I adored optimistic and genuinely kind Wyatt. I was occasionally frustrated with Amina for how socially blind she was about her friends and classmates, but it did make sense as a character flaw for a 16 (15?) year old girl from a secure and unbroken family. The nativity of youth! The hate crime that drove her to anxious doomsday research is the only smudge on her rose-coloured glasses so far, and it shows. She’s afraid of the system imploding in on itself, but trusts individuals implicitly. The other two cub members are Hunter, the climate activist born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and Chloe, the Instagram model who’s all about influence.

What holds me back from rating this book a full five stars is that this book almost seems to forget that these are high school students attending school. Classes hardly factor into the story at all, and once Amina has won the student council election we don’t see or hear what her meetings and duties are like. Her Jewish club meetings only come up when she’s campaigning for student council, when Eucalyptus Society might interfere, and when the plot requires that she talk to a friend who isn’t in the Eucalyptus Society. Her roommate is relevant three times, despite this taking place over half a school year. I understand that this book is about the Eucalyptus Society games and social unit, but like other YA titles I’ve read that take place in a boarding school setting that don’t remind the reader about classes and roommates and such, it starts to feel more like college kids on a college campus. These are 15/16-year-old teens making age-appropriate snap decisions. It’s important to remember how young they are.

I expected a book with outdoorsy events and actual survival situations. I got a book about troubled teens at a boarding school learning how to thrive in a found family, and I loved it! I read it in one day and really enjoyed the experience. It was well-paced (despite the lack of class & student council interludes I would have liked for the high school feel reminders) and the characters were all relatable in different ways. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for novels by Michelle Falkoff in the future!

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Summoned
The Demon Summoner Trilogy Book One
Author: McKayla Eaton
Narrator: Becci Martin

Published 19 August 2020
(Kindle)

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy, Canadian Fiction
Page Count: 270
Audio Length: 6 hrs 17 mins
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On an empty baseball diamond in a quiet Toronto suburb, a demon has been summoned. Seventeen-year-old Alton is miles away, just wishing he had a tutor he didn’t outsmart or outmatch. His prayers are answered when Professor Victor Orvius makes an unexpected visit, offering to teach Alton magic without the restrictions.

The only condition is that he follow Orvius’s rules and not ask too many questions. Alton soon discovers he’s not Orvius’s only student.

Reagan is a competitive young witch with a bad attitude and talent for sarcasm. Their personalities clash, causing trouble for both on more than one occasion, until they realize a greater threat than being one-upped. The demon threatens not only their chances at passing their magic finals — it threatens their lives.

If Alton and Reagan can’t learn to get along, they could be facing their deaths…or an eternity together, trapped in another realm.

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My Rating: 4 Stars
Original post | “Like” my review on Goodreads

I was granted access to an audiobook review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review through my participation in a book tour organized by The AudioBookworm Promotions. Thank you to McKayla Eaton and Jess at AudioBookworm for making this happen! My thoughts in this review are my own.

Story: 4 Stars
Audio Performance: 5 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars

This YA Urban Fantasy is set in a world just like our own, except with magic. Or is it exactly our world and since we aren’t magic users, we don’t know it? Our protagonist Alton and his classmates are studying to pass their written and practical final exams in magic use so that they can pursue magical careers. We meet Alton as he’s being taken on by a new tutor, Orvius, who takes him home to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where things get interesting. Orvius expects his pupils Alton and Reagan to banish a mid-level demon, one technically too advanced for students of their experience because for reasons Orvius is withholding, they cannot get the Council involved.

In the beginning (after the prologue demon summoning,) I was pretty bored with the story, to be honest. It felt like it was shaping up to be The Magicians but set in Canada, and the change of setting alone was not going to be enough to sway my Canadian heart away from my conflicted feelings about that (other) book. Fortunately for this book, it picked up and swept me along with it in directions I wasn’t expecting. As soon as the demon conundrum was presented, my attention was peaked, and the story did not let down from there. Plus, the more I enjoyed the story itself, the more I revelled in the familiar BC setting.

Alton, Reagon, Orvius, and his friend Christian all ended up being well-rounded characters with believable chemistry that I enjoyed. Alton and Reagon grew on me. Orvius and Christian had my heart the moment each appeared!

I wasn’t a huge fan of the random passages from wizarding handbooks scattered throughout.

Since my review copy was the audiobook, I’ll take a moment to comment on the narrator’s performance. Becci’s narration is clear and far from boring, though I do feel the pacing of the narration itself could have been a little faster. I was listening on 1.5x speed the whole way through and didn’t feel like I wasn’t listening to a sped-up version at all. I listened in two sittings, and when it started playing at regular speed the second session before I put it back to 1.5, I felt what I heard was too slow. Other than that, I have no complaints at all. This was an easy and entertaining listen.

Overall I enjoyed this story and I look forward to books two and three in this trilogy. Had the beginning gripped me sooner, this would have been a 5 all around.

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Why Can’t Life be Like Pizza?
The Pizza Chronicles Book One
by Andy V. Roamer

Published 30 March 2020
by NineStar Press

Genre: YA LGBTQ Contemporary
Page Count: 210
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RV is a good kid, starting his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School. Though his genes didn’t give him a lot of good things, they did give him a decent brain. So he’s doing his best to keep up in high school, despite all the additional pressures he’s facing: His immigrant parents, who don’t want him to forget his roots and insist on other rules. Some tough kids at school who bully teachers as well as students. His puny muscles. His mean gym teacher. The Guy Upstairs who doesn’t answer his prayers. And the most confusing fact of all—that he might be gay.Luckily, RV develops a friendship with Mr. Aniso, his Latin teacher, who is gay and always there to talk to. RV thinks his problems are solved when he starts going out with Carole. But things only get more complicated when RV develops a crush on Bobby, the football player in his class. And to RV’s surprise, Bobby admits he may have gay feelings, too.

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My Rating: 4 Stars
Original post | “Like” my review on Goodreads

Thank you to the author, Andy V. Roamer, for sending a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through Silver Dagger Book Tours.

Why Can’t Life by Like Pizza is a school year in the life of a teenage boy from an immigrant family who is questioning his sexuality. It’s told in the form of diary entries and holds nothing back. We see the main character RV’s dysfunctional family on the verge of falling apart while his best friend’s equally dysfunctional family actually does. We see him question whether or not he could possibly be gay (or bi, or any of many other different labels) as he muses about his school’s Gay Alliance club, develops feelings for his male lab partner, and forms a close bond with his Latin teacher, who is an openly gay man and no stranger to being persecuted for it.

I didn’t enjoy the beginning of this book, and if I had picked it up entirely on my own and didn’t owe a review, I would not have pushed through and finished. I didn’t like RV at first and downright hated his family. Thankfully I did owe a review and did push through because I ended up loving this book! Its saving grace comes in the form of RV’s many visits to his Latin teacher’s hospital room after the man has been brutally attacked leaving a gay bar early in the school year. The mentorship and life lessons displayed during these interactions made me feel a myriad of emotions and want to push this book on everyone I know despite how I felt about the beginning.

I’m glad that this book has a sequel as I didn’t feel the ending was a true ending. The book ends with the school year, leaving so many unanswered questions. The stakes for RV remained fairly low throughout the book, so it didn’t feel like he got any major answers or resolutions. I hope that the sequel picks up right where this one left off so we can all get the rest of the story.

Overall I rate this book 4 stars out of 5, as I can’t ignore the rough start or the non-ending, but the meat of this book is truly worth reading.

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

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With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo

Published 7 May 2019
Quill Tree Books

Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Page Count: 400
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With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

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I haven’t had a chance to write my review yet, but this is absolutely a 5 star book! I listened to the audiobook, and all of the conversations between Emoni and her friends felt like talking to my own best friend. This book is the journey of a financially strapped black teenage mom who learns that her dreams are worth it, love is out there, and she can do anything.

Keep your eyes open for a review of this title coming to the blog soon!


A Song Below Water
by Bethany C. Morrow

Published 2 June 2020
by Tor Teen

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 288
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Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

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My Rating: 4 Stars
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A Song Below Water is an alternate reality YA Urban Fantasy set in Portland, in a version of our world where mythical creatures like sirens exist as regular people with special abilities, and mundane racism is intermixed with magical racism. Black teens Tavia, a siren who wishes she wasn’t, and Effie, an orphan of unknown but probably not human origins, are trying to live ordinary high school student lives in a predominantly white and wealthy area. When a murder case is dismissed as self-defence after the victim was revealed to be a siren, everything changes.

Unless I’ve missed something, it would appear that all sirens in this version of the world are black. This world also suppresses sirens, pressuring them not to use the magic in their voices and collaring them in magic-suppressing collars if they do. Sirens who come out publically are feared and mocked in equal measure, frequently assaulted, and non infrequently murdered. This book is very clearly using the more family-friendly and detached “because they’re sirens” label in order to call out and expose racism in the real world, rather than writing a contemporary fiction where ordinary black women are going through these things like their real-world counterparts constantly are. The message of what’s happening and the fact that it’s wrong definitely gets across. Since our two POV characters are on the receiving end, the reader is automatically put in a position of being sympathetic to their plight. I don’t feel like this book has offered any commentary on solutions, and I fear that putting it all on the fact that they’re actually not human rather than putting it on mundane racism erases the fact that this is how millions of real people are treated in our real modern world every day.

I listened to the audiobook version, and as such didn’t have the visual queues of chapter headers and such to help keep track of which POV we were in. I’m not sure if it’s a point against the narrator or the original writing she read from, but at times I found it difficult to keep track of which girl was the siren and which girl was going through some other change because the voice (literal and figurative) of both POV characters sounded the same.

Given how much “day in the life” ordinary circumstances scenes we got in this book, particularly early on, I wanted just as much if not more explanation on the mythology and lore, how these creatures came to coexist with humans, and what exactly lies at the roots of the human vs magical beings racism. As mentioned above, it feels like we’re lifted real-world Black America racism issues as a whole and put it under the magical beings label without any tweaks or explanations. Normally when racism (or speciesism) is present in a fantasy novel, it’s either magical races being racist toward non-magical races (seen as inferior) or everyone vs races seen as violent or immoral by nature. In this book we have sirens being treated as inferior beings with differences to be feared, but we don’t know why. What happened between humans and sirens in the past to get here?

I do absolutely love the relationship between the two teenage protagonists. They love each other like true found family sisters, deeper than best friends, and this extends to the way they interact with and are received by one another’s parents/guardians. The relationship between Tavia and Effie alone makes this book worth reading.

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You Should See Me in a Crown
by Leah Johnson

Published 2 June 2020
by Scholastic Press

Genre: YA Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Page Count: 336
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!

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?

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I also haven’t had a chance to write my review for this one yet, but I listened to it via Libby and I absolutely loved it! Can this music nerd learn to be the most popular girl in the school in order to win the homecoming queen scholarship? You can probably guess that yes she can, but it’s the journey getting there that makes this book so special. Family drama, closeted LGBTQIA dating, and both support and betrayals from unexpected sources.


Still on my TBR…


Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Jenna is the artist/illustrator and author behind Westveil Publishing and its sub-banner platforms Jenna Gets Creative and The Westveil Archives. She live in Newfoundland, Canada with her husband, daughter, and feline overlords.

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