Better Together by Christine Riccio

Jamie’s an aspiring standup comic in Los Angeles with a growing case of stage anxiety.
Siri’s a stunning ballerina from New Jersey nursing a career-changing injury.
They’ve both signed up for the same session at an off the grid Re-Discover Yourself Retreat in Colorado. When they run into each other, their worlds turn upside down.
Jamie and Siri are sisters, torn apart at a young age by their parent’s volatile divorce. They’ve grown up living completely separate lives: Jamie with their Dad and Siri with their Mom. Now, reunited after over a decade apart, they hatch a plot to switch places. It’s time they get to know and confront each of their estranged parents.
With an accidental assist from some fortuitous magic, Jamie arrives in New Jersey, looking to all the world like Siri, and Siri steps off her flight sporting a Jamie glamour.
The sisters unexpectedly find themselves stuck living in each other’s shoes. Soon Siri’s crushing on Jamie’s best friend Dawn. Jamie’s falling for the handsome New Yorker she keeps running into, Zarar. Alongside a parade of hijinks and budding romance, both girls work to navigate their broken family life and the stresses of impending adulthood.

Contemporary, 448 pages, published in 2021

Jamie’s an aspiring standup comic in Los Angeles with a growing case of stage anxiety.
Siri’s a stunning ballerina from New Jersey nursing a career-changing injury.
They’ve both signed up for the same session at an off the grid Re-Discover Yourself Retreat in Colorado. When they run into each other, their worlds turn upside down.
Jamie and Siri are sisters, torn apart at a young age by their parent’s volatile divorce. They’ve grown up living completely separate lives: Jamie with their Dad and Siri with their Mom. Now, reunited after over a decade apart, they hatch a plot to switch places. It’s time they get to know and confront each of their estranged parents.
With an accidental assist from some fortuitous magic, Jamie arrives in New Jersey, looking to all the world like Siri, and Siri steps off her flight sporting a Jamie glamour.
The sisters unexpectedly find themselves stuck living in each other’s shoes. Soon Siri’s crushing on Jamie’s best friend Dawn. Jamie’s falling for the handsome New Yorker she keeps running into, Zarar. Alongside a parade of hijinks and budding romance, both girls work to navigate their broken family life and the stresses of impending adulthood.
[Goodreads]

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Content Warnings: divorce, gaslighting

This book…was so bad. I had enjoyed the over-the-top cringey nostalgia of Christine Riccio’s first book, but the cringe factor of this book was not balanced out by anything good.

The story follows two sisters, Siri and Jamie. Siri was a ballerina facing an injury that ended her dreams, so she was interesting to follow. She was kind of lowkey. Jaime, on the other hand, was an aspiring comedian and she was just too much. Everything she did gave me second-hand embarrassment.

The sisters meet at a retreat after being split up by their parents Parent Trap style. They decide to switch places, but ~magic~ happens and the switch bodies, a la Freaky Friday. I’m not sure how they tricked anyone, because neither was very good at being the other.

Both sisters had developing romances in this book, as well as a relationship to mend with each other and with their parents. It just felt like too much, but at the same time, this whole book felt like build up to the event I actually wanted to see.

The writing….was not good. I’m not one to normally crave pretty writing, but this was so noticeably simple. Also, one character does not swear, so she uses “intercourse” in place of swears. It got so old so fast, and again, the second hand embarrassment. There were also a lot of weird Game of Thrones references that just did not do anything for me.

I thought the relationship between Siri and Jamie, as well as their parents, was so interesting, but it really wasn’t dealt with until the end. The title is ironic, given that the sisters didn’t spend much time together.

I do think this book had a ton of potential, but the execution fell so very flat.

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If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Set in modern day Seoul, the lives of four young women are examined.

Contemporary, 288 pages, published in 2020

Set in modern day Seoul, the lives of four young women are examined.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: abuse, suicide, predatory behavior, mental health, fertility problems, cheating, misogyny

I overall liked this book and I think it definitely dove into some dark topics, but there were definitely a few glaring issues I had with it as well.

This felt less like a novel, with a beginning, middle, and end, and more like a collection of moments from these girls’ lives. There were four POV characters, so each chapter was devoted to their past and current situation. The four characters are:

  • Ara, a hairdresser who lost the ability to speak because of an incident in her past and is obsessed with a singer from a K-Pop band
  • Kyuri, who has fought her way to the top to work at one of the top room salons in the country
  • Miho, a poor art student who was able to study in America with the South Korean elite
  • Wonna, a newlywed struggling to get pregnant, despite not knowing how she will be able to afford a child

There is also a fifth character, Sujin, who is pretty prominent, but doesn’t get a POV. All five women live in the same apartment building. Ara and Sujin live down the hall from Kyuri and Miho, while Wonna lives downstairs with her husband. One of my main issues was that Wonna just felt a little too disconnected from the other girls. The rest are “friends”, while Wonna doesn’t really know them, so I think it would have made more sense for Sujin to have a POV. Wonna’s story felt like something that still needed to be told, but maybe not in this book.

I did also think that the POVs didn’t have distinct enough voices. They all had vaguely similar childhoods, to the point where I can’t really distinguish them now.

There was a ton of social commentary in this book. One constant throughout is the pressure of being beautiful. Kyuri spends enormous amounts of time and money on skincare and cosmetic surgery. It is important to her job that she looks beautiful, but that pressure is reinforced by men who visit room salons and will pay more, depending on how beautiful the women are.

Miho is surrounded by extremely rich kids when she is studying in America. While they are friends with her, it is in an almost superficial way. It is clear that they are uncomfortable when Miho’s poorness shows in a way that they can’t ignore, so she does many things in order to make them comfortable.

I think the common ground that a lot of these issues have is that societal norms are so rigid and exact that anyone who falls outside of them is left to struggle. Kyuri is beautiful, but works in a room salon. Miho is talented, but comes from nothing. Wonna gets treated terribly at work for taking maternity leave, even though it is expected of her to have a child.

I felt like the book ended kind of abruptly. There wasn’t any real “plot” necessarily, so nothing really got resolved. I did really enjoy the messages that this book was trying to get across, so I was able to put aside some of my disappointment. It feels a little unfinished and not totally cohesive, but I definitely look forward to what Frances Cha writes next!

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The Switch by Beth O’Leary

After throwing herself into work to escape the loss of her sister, Leena gets sent on a two month sabbatical, where she ends up living at her grandmother’s house in the countryside. Meanwhile, her grandmother Eileen goes to live in Leena’s flat in London in order to do the things she missed out on.

Contemporary, 330 pages, published in 2020

After throwing herself into work to escape the loss of her sister, Leena gets sent on a two month sabbatical, where she ends up living at her grandmother’s house in the countryside. Meanwhile, her grandmother Eileen goes to live in Leena’s flat in London in order to do the things she missed out on.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: anxiety/panic attack, loss of a family member, cancer, grief, abusive relationships, cheating

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it did not disappoint at all! I can firmly say that Beth O’Leary is a favorite author of mine and I will read anything she writes.

I loved the parallels of Leena and Eileen’s journeys. Eileen was held back by her dead-beat husband for her whole life, so she finally gets a chance to see what she missed out on when she was Leena’s age. Leena throws herself into work, so she had kind of lost all sense of who she was. They both had the opportunity to do what actually makes them happy, without being held back by what other people want from them.

The cast of side characters was great in this book! Leena and Eileen have their group of friends in their respective places, so seeing them get to know a whole new group of people was fun. I particularly enjoyed Leena settling in to her grandmother’s role and getting to know the small town.

Leena’s sister passed away from cancer about a year before this book takes place, so she not only has to deal with the grief, but also her relationship with her mother, who also lives in the small town. The grief has caused their relationship to fall apart, so Leena being so close by allows her the time to mend that relationship.

There is also a fair amount of romance in this book, but I don’t really feel like it is the focus, or at least, it was balanced very well with the other elements of the story.

Balanced is actually a great word to describe this book, in my opinion. There isn’t too much or not enough of any element of this story. It is quite sad at times, but it can also be incredibly heartwarming. This book just felt so warm and inviting, like a comforting hug.

I adored this book and I can’t wait to read whatever else Beth O’Leary releases!

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You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

After losing a scholarship that is her path to her dream college and life, Liz Lighty enters into the Prom Queen competition because winning offers a scholarship. She doesn’t think she has a chance, because the town that she lives in is very white and very rich – the opposite of her. But then she starts to get to know the new girl, and the competition becomes bearable.

Contemporary, 328 pages, published in 2020

After losing a scholarship that is her path to her dream college and life, Liz Lighty enters into the Prom Queen competition because winning offers a scholarship. She doesn’t think she has a chance, because the town that she lives in is very white and very rich – the opposite of her. But then she starts to get to know the new girl, and the competition becomes bearable.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: death of a parent (mentioned), cancer (mentioned), chronic illness, public outing, anxiety

This book was overall just so cute and heartwarming! I loved seeing Liz’s relationships with her friends and family change over the course of this book.

I really enjoyed that Liz’s hobbies and goals made complete sense. She is super into orchestra and playing music, because to her, it feels like an escape and it’s also something she can control. She wants to become a doctor, so she can help people like her brother (and her mother) who have sickle cell anemia. I feel like sometimes in YA contemporary, characters have interests just because they need to have an interest, but Liz’s really are important to her.

Throughout this book, Liz repairs a an old friendship that ended and also questions a current friendship. I liked how these two things were kind of parallel to each other, and both were interesting, complicated relationships, so I really enjoyed watching where they went!

I also absolutely adored Liz’s relationship with her family. She lives with her grandparents and her little brother and they are all just so supportive and so caring. There were so many scenes with them that were just so heartwarming.

The romance was super cute! My one complaint was actually that I wished there was more romance. I just wanted a little more development between them, but they were still so cute together! For a pretty short book, there was definitely a lot packed in.

Overall, this book was just such a fun time! It was a really quick read, because it is short, but also because the story was just addicting and I didn’t want to stop reading. I’m definitely keeping an eye out for whatever Leah Johnson writes next!

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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

After quitting her job to have a baby and be a full time mother, Kim Jiyoung starts flawlessly impersonating other women. Her concerned husband sends her to a male psychartist in order to get this odd behavior checked out.

Contemporary, 176 pages, published in 2016

After quitting her job to have a baby and be a full time mother, Kim Jiyoung starts flawlessly impersonating other women. Her concerned husband sends her to a male psychartist in order to get this odd behavior checked out.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: sexism, sexual harassment, depression

I have been so excited to review this book because I had such strong feelings towards it! I randomly saw it and was intrigued by the cover, so I read the blurb and was sold.

I know this book is not going to be for everyone. The story follows fictional Kim Jiyoung’s life, but there are so many instances in her life that many women can relate to and see themselves in. This book feels kind of like a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, because there are occasional footnotes with sources for facts. I don’t really feel like I got to know Kim Jiyoung as an individual, but that was kind of the point because the story is more about her experience as a woman growing up in South Korea than it is about her as a person.

As Kim Jiyoung grows up, the reader gets to see all the ways that she is discriminated against, both ingrained in the system and culture and overtly. She has a brother who constantly gets new things and even more food, while she gets secondhand items. She and her peers have to fight their way to just getting the same treatment as the boys in her class.

The world has changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts, and customs had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.

-pg. 119

I think one reason why this book impacted me so much is because it just feels so validating to see that others have experienced things that you have experienced (and fear). Kim Jiyoung enjoys her career, but ultimately has to give it up in order to be a mother, but by doing so, she loses respect from almost everyone around her, even though it wasn’t even necessarily her desire to have a child.

I am not Korean and I’m not super knowledgeable about what it’s like to actually live in South Korea, but I think this book does a good job of showing what a woman’s life is like in South Korea, or at least a peak into what it could be like. Not only are women harassed and judged by their male peers, but they are also pressured by female relatives and friends to conform to the standards of society.

The ending of this book literally gave me chills. I won’t say what it was, but I still think about it all the time.

This is one of the only translated works I have read, and I think the translation was good! I saw some reviews saying that things got lost in translation, but I don’t feel that way.

I just saw that a movie was made out of this book and I definitely plan to watch it! I’m curious to see what was changed since the format of this book doesn’t seem super conducive to making a movie.

I really think more people should read this, especially since the English translation just came out this year. This book is a massive hit in South Korea, becoming the most borrowed book from the library in 2018 and 2019. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most important feminist novels in Korean. It is quite short and easy to read, but either way, I think the impact is worth it.

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I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee

Even though society and even her mother have told her that she can’t dance because she’s fat, Skye doesn’t let that stop her. She auditions for a K-Pop reality show based in LA in order to become the first plus-sized K-Pop star, but she has to try to stay true to herself, even when so many people are telling her she needs to change.

Contemporary, 336 pages, published in 2020

Even though society and even her mother have told her that she can’t dance because she’s fat, Skye doesn’t let that stop her. She auditions for a K-Pop reality show based in LA in order to become the first plus-sized K-Pop star, but she has to try to stay true to herself, even when so many people are telling her she needs to change.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: fatphobia, emotional abuse

I just need to say that I freaking loved this book! I read it in one sitting and stayed up late to do so because I could not put it down. I was already really looking forward to this book because it features a fat protagonist and has to do with K-Pop, but it totally exceeded my expectations.

Skye is so unapologetically fat and I loved to see that. I am also fat and always have been, no matter how active I am, just like Skye, so it just felt so nice to see myself in her. She is definitely confident and doesn’t let the fact that she’s fat stop her from doing anything, but she does also have times were she gets a little down about it, which I think is so realistic. It was definitely a little hard at some points to read what people online and in real life were saying to Skye about her weight, especially one of the judges of the show she is competing in, because people actually say and think those things about something so insignificant like how much someone weighs or what someone’s body looks like.

Skye also has a complicated relationship with her mother because of her weight. Her mother constantly tells Skye that she’s an embarrassment and that people will think she is a bad mother because of Skye’s weight. You do discover why her mother is like this, but it does not at all excuse how she treats Skye.

If you are hesitant about this book because you aren’t into K-Pop or don’t know much about it, I still think it’s accessible! As a fan of K-Pop, there were tons of little things that felt like little easter eggs, but plot-wise, nothing depends on any previous knowledge of K-Pop because it is explained if necessary.

I loved all of the main characters in this book! Skye’s friends from the competition were all so cool and it was also quite a diverse group of people.

The love interest in this book is Henry, a popular model who is also competing in the K-Pop competition. At first, he seems very cool and professional, but as Skye gets to know him, she’s learns that he’s a huge dork. I really loved their relationship because they both are so supportive of each other and they help each other grow and work through their problems. Also, they are both bisexual, which was also explored in this book.

Even though this book deals with some tough stuff, like society’s view of fat people and the rejection of people who aren’t straight, it still manages to be such a fun time! I highly recommend this book! This is definitely a new favorite of mine.

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Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, where her father visits every summer. Yahaira lives in New York City with her parents, and every year, her father goes to the Dominican Republic for business. When their father’s flight crashes, Camino and Yahaira find out about each other. Not only do they have to grapple with the grief over their father’s death, but also the hurt and betrayal that come with finding out that their father was lying.

Contemporary, 432 pages, published in 2020

Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, where her father visits every summer. Yahaira lives in New York City with her parents, and every year, her father goes to the Dominican Republic for business. When their father’s flight crashes, Camino and Yahaira find out about each other. Not only do they have to grapple with the grief over their father’s death, but also the hurt and betrayal that come with finding out that their father was lying.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: grief, sexual assault (described), stalking, plane crash, death of a parent, cheating

I didn’t think this book was going to be a walk in the park, but it hit me so much harder than I expected. This book was written in verse, which I loved and I think it added to the emotional element.

I also listened to the audiobook for this one. The author narrates her own books (so cool!), but since this one is dual POV, she only narrates one part. The audiobook was fantastic! The emotion in the narration was heart-wrenching and there were powerful moments when both characters would speak together.

The emotions in this book are so complex, especially for it not being particularly long. The plane that the father was on crashed into the ocean, so there was some delay in confirming deaths, so both girls were hoping that their father would somehow be alive. They both had to come to terms with the fact they didn’t know the entirety of their father, only a part of him. It was made even harder by the fact that they couldn’t really get answers. He couldn’t be there to explain why he was living two separate lives.

Camino’s feelings towards Yahaira were particularly contradictory. She dreams of being a doctor and going to college in New York City, but her circumstances in the Dominican Republic make that almost impossible. Finding out that she has a sister who is living where she wants to be, a sister whose father lived with her almost year-round, makes her resent Yahaira, but knowing that Yahaira is also a part of her father makes her want to meet her.

I also learned a lot about the Dominican Republic through Camino’s descriptions and the problems she faced. Throughout the book, a man is stalking her, trying to get her to work for him as a prostitute for the resorts down the beach. Tourism has a big effect on Camino’s area, from creating operations like that man’s to creating huge resorts for tourists when many of the locals are living in one room houses. Camino’s aunt works in healthcare, and it is shown that people can be denied care based on where they are from.

This book was also dedicated to/based on the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001. Many of the people on the flight were Dominican, and after it was discovered that it wasn’t a terrorist attack, it lost a lot of media coverage. I am grateful for books that allow me to learn and do my own research about events that don’t get talked about as much as they should.

There was a lot of Spanish in this book, but especially with the audiobook, the meanings and emotions portrayed were clear from the context.

I highly recommend this book, especially the audiobook! I can’t wait to read more from Elizabeth Acevedo.

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Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix’s dream is to be loved and get into a specific art school, but when someone posts pictures of him before his transition, along with his deadname, for the whole school to see, he comes up with a plan for revenge.

Contemporary, 368 pages, published in 2020

Felix’s dream is to be loved and get into a specific art school, but when someone posts pictures of him before his transition, along with his deadname, for the whole school to see, he comes up with a plan for revenge.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: transphobia (outing, deadnaming, online harassment), swearing, drinking & drug use, catfishing

I wanted to absolutely adore this book because I’ve seen nothing but praise for it, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The elements I liked, I really loved, but there were just a few things that I couldn’t get past.

The Cons

One thing that immediately shocked me was the amount of swearing in this book. Swearing doesn’t bother me at all, but this is YA and the characters were dropping f-bombs multiple times a page. There was also a ton of casual drinking and smoking. I think this story would be great for younger kids to read, but because of all the swearing and drinking, I don’t know if it would be appropriate. The characters are all around the age of 17, I believe. It definitely felt more like these characters were college age, especially because they could just go all over the city and not see their parents for weeks at a time.

This book is set in New York City, which is fine, but there were just so many mentions of street names, subway stops, and neighborhoods that mean absolutely nothing to me. As someone who has always lived in a fairly rural/suburban area, all these references just went way over my head.

The biggest thing that I just didn’t enjoy was the friendship/romantic drama. Everything just felt so petty to me a lot of the time. There were conflicts over the smallest of things or a small comment that someone should have just apologized for. Also, the catfishing in this book went on far longer than I would have liked.

The Pros

My absolutely favorite part of this book was Felix’s journey. When the book begins, he identifies as a transboy, but knows that there is something a little off about that label. Throughout the book, he questions his identity and labels in general. There are so many people around him that show him that questioning, at any point in your life or for your whole life, is valid. There was also discussions around labels, how they are confining to some people, but to others, they bring comfort.

Felix’s mother left him and his dad for a new life when he was a kid, so Felix definitely has some abandonment issues. Because of this, I thought there was a really strong sense of found family in this book, and how important it is to surround yourself with people that care about you for who you are.

This book also had a huge array of different characters. There were different ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, family backgrounds, ect.

The Neutralities

Felix is in school for art and wants to go to a specific art school, which is one of my least favorite tropes, but I didn’t really have any feeling either way about the art in general. It kind of felt secondary to the relationships and self-identity.

The romance in this book was also neutral for me. It didn’t feel formulaic at all to me, but I didn’t feel a strong emotional connection to the relationship.

Felix has a pretty complicated relationship with his dad. His dad was super supportive of his transition, but still can’t call him by Felix. Felix gets really upset about this, which is understandable, but he never really tries to talk to his dad about it, so there’s no way he can know what his dad is thinking. I found this pretty frustrating, but it does eventually get resolved.

Final Thoughts

I appreciate this book for all the things I loved about it, but the things I disliked definitely put a damper on it. I am glad that this book is getting so much love and praise though, because I think it’s an important story. In the book, Felix didn’t know how to describe how he felt as being trans until he read a book about it. Kacen said in the author’s note that they hope that other people also are able to learn about themselves in a similar way by reading this book, and I wholeheartedly agree.

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Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have been friends since kindergarden and one of them will become the President of the United States. The story follows each of the girls as they deal with their own struggles through their last year of high school.

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have been friends since kindergarden and one of them will become the President of the United States. The story follows each of the girls as they deal with their own struggles through their last year of high school.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I originally picked this book up because it was the April pick for the Barnes & Noble YA Book Club, but due to COVID, it was moved to an online liveshow type of thing. I did not want to attend that because I just wasn’t interested in it, I like the people at my local store that I get to chat with. I don’t think that I would have given this book a second glance had it not been for the book club, so I was pleasantly surprised!

The overarching theme of this book was definitely friendship. There was some romance sprinkled in, but it always came back to the friendship. Sometimes someone would mess up, but they knew how to communicate and apologize and always had each other’s backs. It was just so nice to see, especially because the friendship was so much more of a priority in the story than the romance.

I also really liked that there was an air of mystery, since I was constantly trying to guess which girl would become President. There is a pretty major hint in the prologue, but it definitely had me guessing until the very end. What I thought was interesting was that I could see each of them in that position. They were all quite different people with different backgrounds and goals, but I could still see each one’s path to becoming President.

I also loved that this book tackled so many different issues. One character begins working with kids in wheelchairs and has to confront her discomfort around people with disabilities. Another character deals with depression and working to find more about her birth family. A bunch of other stuff happens, but those are the two that stick out to me. This point is interesting because I liked that it tackled so many issues, but at the same time, I wish it had spent more time on each. The book is fairly short, so there wasn’t a ton of room to be exploring each girl’s story in a ton of depth.

The ending of this book definitely got me a little emotional. The bond between friends was just so sweet and inspiring. Also, seeing a female President…that definitely got to me.

Overall, I thought this was a fun book! It’s not something I would normally pick up, but I appreciate it for what it was and I had enjoyable time reading it. I think if you like YA contemporaries, this is definitely a good one to check out!

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Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Harley has dreamed of joining the circus as trapeze artist, but her parents, who own a circus, want her to go to college because they think she will be limiting herself if she commits to her dream. Tired of having them ignore her feelings, she runs away to join a rival circus. However, the price of her entry into this new troupe is betraying her family. When things don’t go as she excepts, she has to face her dreams and the people she hurt.

Contemporary, 384 pages, published in 2020

Harley has dreamed of joining the circus as trapeze artist, but her parents, who own a circus, want her to go to college because they think she will be limiting herself if she commits to her dream. Tired of having them ignore her feelings, she runs away to join a rival circus. However, the price of her entry into this new troupe is betraying her family. When things don’t go as she excepts, she has to face her dreams and the people she hurt.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Akemi Dawn Bowman is absolutely one of my favorite authors, so I was super hyped for this book and it did not disappoint one bit! I think she tackles so much in her books, but she does that so well and so completely. One (of the many) reasons that I love her books is because while her books are YA and are accessible for a younger audience, anyone can relate to the themes and topics she covers.

Immediately, I felt a connection to Harley. She is multiracial, being a quarter each of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Irish. She struggles a lot with finding her place. She never feels like she’s enough of anything to belong to that group, culture, or even that side of her family. I related with this feeling of not belong a lot because I am half Jewish. I feel too Jewish for one side and not Jewish enough for the other, which is how Harley feels. It’s a complicated feeling, so it is always nice to see it represented so well in a book. Akemi’s first novel, Starfish, also dealt with this, but I think it was to a lesser extent.

We exist because we work hard, we don’t give up, and when we hear “that can’t be done”, we find a way to do it anyway.

-pg. 87

When Harley gets to the rival circus, things don’t go immediately how she planned. She has to do a lot of things that she doesn’t think is necessary, like selling popcorn instead of performing. She definitely had to work hard, but she also had to be flexible and take alternate routes in order to achieve her goal.

Harley also burned a lot of bridges when she left home. She stole something important to her parents and she also didn’t tell her best friend that she was leaving town. For a long time, Harley thinks that it is better to just completely cut them out of her life, because there is no way that they would want anything to do with her. Seeing her face her own bad actions and work on her relationships was so nice. The complexity and care needed to cultivate and keep relationships healthy was a big part of this book.

“I think telling someone to have a backup plan is just an attempt at shaming someone for their life choices while also trying to appear well-meaning.

-pg. 211

The discussion around mental health is very present in this book. Harley has times where she feels like she can do anything and feels intense motivation, but other times where everything is meaningless. This is never labeled, but Harley does have to come to terms with it.

There are also other characters that Harley meets at the circus, including a few friends and a love interest. I enjoyed the friendships and the romance, but Harley’s journey as a character was definitely my favorite part of this book.

There’s something about Akemi’s writing and stories that speaks to me on a soul-deep level, so I will continue reading and loving them! I absolutely can’t wait for her future releases, so in the meantime, I’m planning on rereading her other books!

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