Backlist Review || Wild by Hannah Moskowitz

Note: This is a backlist review from my previous blog. To see more of my reading life, add me on Goodreads!

Wild follows high school graduate Zack, who’s training for a 100-mile marathon while caring for his 12-year-old sister and their mom as she deteriorates from her early-onset Alzheimers.

There are almost no white/straight/non-disabled characters in this book.

Zack, our main character, is a bisexual Filipino guy, and his girlfriend Jordan is a bisexual Jewish/Guatemalan Deaf girl. If that didn’t sell you, for some reason, Zack’s friend Chelsea is also Jewish, and Zack’s little sister Gin is a 12-year-old lesbian.

Something I really appreciated was how nobody questions anyone else’s sexuality—not even Gin, who’s super young, but just is gay. Nobody tells her that she can’t possibly know yet when she’s never had sex. Nobody tells Zack or Jordan that, since they’re now in a “straight” relationship, they’re no longer bisexual.

This book presents an honest representation of life after high school.

Zack and his two best friends are out of high school now, but none of them really follows the traditional path. Zack’s taking classes at community college so he can be around for his sick mom and little sister. His best friend Max is taking a gap year to “find himself”—and it’s not really going so well. Max’s girlfriend Chelsea is the only one attending a 4-year university, but she’s had to scrimp and save from her minimum-wage jobs just to afford to go.

All this was in the background, but I really appreciated the portrayal of the realities of being 18 or 19 and trying to figure your life out. Not everyone finishes high school and goes right on to a traditional college—and that’s okay.

Zack’s family situation is heartbreaking: his mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s, and he’s tasked with caring for her as well as his sister Gin. Although he could easily have become an unrealistic Hero Kid character, Zack really struggles with the situation he’s tasked with. He’s angry and bitter about having to care for his mom, who’s barely there at all and slowly digressing further as the book progresses. At one point, Zack goes on a rant at his mom about how unfair it is that he has to deal with her at all. He’s flawed—but it’s realistic. No 19-year-old should have to take care of his mom and sister, and Zack’s reactions are raw and true to life.

I really enjoyed the storyline that follows Zack as he trains for a 100-mile marathon in the wilderness of Tennessee mountains. In the beginning, it kind of seems like a quirky, unrealistic thing for him to do, but as we get to know him, it becomes clear that running is Zack’s way of trying to escape his circumstances. His now-absent father tried and failed to finish the marathon, so Zack’s hiding his running from his mom as well. It’s clearly his only time that he gets to be away from dealing with his home life. When he finally gets to the marathon, he starts to realize his own reasons for doing it, and ultimately he has to accept the ways he’s avoided responsibility in the past.

By far my favorite part of this book is the relationship between Zack and Jordan.

I loved that the book starts with an established romance: they’ve known each other for years and have a solid relationship, albeit one that depends on texting and chatting online. The romance plotline follows Zack as he learns that Jordan is Deaf, and as the two struggle to stay together despite the obstacles of distance (both physical and communication-wise).

There are several things to love about this. For one thing, this is a YA book that follows a relationship beyond the moment of them getting together, something that is so rare for some reason. It’s so enjoyable to see realistic struggles—because that’s how real relationships are.

On top of that, both characters are bisexual—which isn’t defined by the fact that they’re currently in a male-female relationship. Words cannot express how much I needed this story for that aspect alone. I’m bisexual and in a relationship with a guy, and my experiences are rarely accounted at all, much less still considered queer. I know I’m not the only one who needed this book.

The biggest obstacle for Zack and Jordan is one of communication. Zack takes it upon himself to learn ASL and it’s no easy task. Hearing readers get to learn about Deaf culture through Zack, from the way Deaf culture prizes blunt honesty, to the ways words and grammar change between English and ASL. I loved his little commentary about how translating his thoughts into ASL automatically makes the statements more up-front and honest—he can’t hide from Jordan when he’s talking with her.

I can’t speak for the accuracy of the Deaf rep, as I’m not Deaf, but anyone reading this book will notice that Hannah Moskowitz clearly put in the research for this story. Despite the fact that both characters recognize the near-impossibility of a Deaf/hearing relationship, they’re willing to make it work, which is such a positive thing to see. Zack and Jordan are there for each other in difficult times, even when they’re fighting. No matter how hard they have to work at being together, they know it’s worth it.

Wild was an easy 5-star for me because of the nuanced way it tackles multiple complex issues, to the way bisexuality is handled, to the Deaf representation. Despite the hard topics, it was ultimately an uplifting story about two people struggling to make their relationship work, no matter how much it takes. I highly recommend Wild to anyone who wants to see what a real loving relationship looks like beyond the initial stages.

Find this book:
Goodreads | Amazon

Have you read Wild or any other books by Hannah Moskowitz? What’s your favorite book with disability rep? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

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Backlist Review || Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Note: This is a backlist review from my previous blog. To see more of my reading life, add me on Goodreads!

Genre: YA Contemporary
Diverse Rep: Chinese-American + bisexual
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Noteworthy through NetGalley in exchange for a review. This did not in any way affect my joy in reading this book.

Jordan Sun is a junior on scholarship at the prestigious Kensington-Blaine Academy for the Performing Arts. She’s just been locked out of a role in the school musical for the third year running. Why? Because she’s an Alto 2, while most parts require a higher Soprano range. What’s a girl to do? Cross-dress and audition for the elite all-male a cappella group, the Sharpshooters, obviously! (And nail it.) Now, she’s living a double life, pretending to be a boy while watching her girl self fade into the background. But how long can she keep it up? You’ll have to read to find out.

It’s going to be really hard for me to write a review of Noteworthy that isn’t completely gushing because I absolutely loved this book. Jordan’s slightly sarcastic, highly observant, constantly questioning voice sucked me in from the very first chapter. Her internal monologue sounds exactly the way I felt as a teenager. I was really intrigued by the idea of a modernized cross-dressing plot that addresses gender as a social construct.

As she tries on a masculine identity, though, Jordan struggles with feelings of guilt: she wonders if she’s being disrespectful toward the trans community by using their advice to put on what’s essentially a costume for her.* Riley Redgate doesn’t shy away from these conversations, but shows how Jordan’s desperate transformation isn’t that far off from what any of us would do to get what we want. Isn’t high school all about trying on different identities and personalities, performing the part you think will help you fit in?

It’s made even more interesting by the detailed way Redgate constructs the Kensington-Blaine boarding school environment. Jordan is surrounded by rich kids constantly so she finds it hard to relate to them. She hasn’t made a lot of friends, since she spent the last two years isolated in her relationship with her ex—even more reason that she longs to belong with the guys in the Sharpshooters.

Part of why this book is so amazing to me is the grace with which Redgate tells a story that’s all about (say it with me!) intersectionality. Jordan is Chinese-American and from a working-class family; her dad is a paraplegic who recently got totally screwed by the health care and disability benefits system. She’s also figuring out her sexuality: she thinks she’s bisexual, but she’s never had the opportunity to figure it out, as she was involved in a long-term heterosexual relationship through the end of the last school year. Even the side characters are diverse, from her childhood friend Jenna to her new friend Nihal.

There’s a lot going on with this book, but Redgate manages to make all the pieces fit together and feel natural. The various side characters are fleshed-out with their own personalities and quirks. Even Jordan is surprised at how complex each of the Sharpshooters are in real life, and she realizes just how quick she is to judge rich kids by their clothes and status objects rather than who they are inside. This isn’t a political book, though, but a reflection of the complex diversity of humanity—it’s beautiful.

*For a more in-depth discussion of the cross-dressing conversations in this book, I highly recommend you check out Shenwei’s review.

I don’t have anything negative to say about Noteworthy, but I do have a few caveats for any potential readers:

This is not a bisexual “coming out” story. While Jordan does identify as bisexual, this is not the crux of her story. As someone who discovered my own bisexuality at the ripe old age of 22, I really appreciated the nuanced way Redgate handled this. So many stories with bisexual protagonists fall into the trap of “proving it.” As a girl who’s only ever had heterosexual relationships, it’s easy for people to say “well how can you really know if you’ve never been with a girl?” and while Redgate addresses this, she doesn’t spend half the book making a big deal out of Jordan needing to have a relationship with a girl to “prove” her bisexuality. It’s how Jordan identifies, and that’s enough. Even better? None of the other characters make Jordan feel bad about this. This is like some sort of bi paradise, let me tell you.

This is not a really romance-heavy story either. Jordan is dealing with a lot of stuff—namely, pretending to be a dude—so she’s not really wandering around having feelings all over the place. When she does have feelings, she works really hard to push those down. A lot of the early backstory deals with her ex-boyfriend, Michael, and the other romance takes a while to build.

The plot is music-heavy. As a former music nerd (and long-time fan of Glee—there, I said it), Noteworthy really struck a chord with me (teehee). The musical camaraderie is real and tangible and heartwarming, but if that’s not your thing, this might not be the book for you.

Ultimately, Noteworthy is about the age-old quest to find where you belong. Sometimes that place does fit into neat categories of boy-girl or gay-straight. Sometimes in order to find where you belong, you have to take big risks and let yourself transform. In the end, for Jordan, it’s worth it—and so is reading her story.

find this book
Goodreads | AbeBooks | Book Depository

Have you read Noteworthy? Do you have a favorite book set at a boarding school? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,

Review | Little & Lion

Note: This is a backlist review from my previous blog.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Black Jewish bisexual MC | My Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

25062038When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself—or worse.

Little & Lion is probably one of my favorite 2017 releases for this reason: It tells a complex story about intersecting identities, discovering sexuality, mental health, and family, and it doesn’t sell any of these elements short.

The story follows Suzette as she returns to her home in L.A. after a year at boarding school on the east coast. While she was away, she fell in love with a girl for the first time and worried about her brother, Lionel, who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When she and Lionel fall for the same girl, Suzette has to sort out her feelings and decide whether she’ll remain loyal to what her brother wants, or do what needs to be done for his health.

This book has some of the best natural diversity I’ve read.

Suzette is black, Jewish, and queer, and she talks openly about these intersections. At her boarding school, she’s kept her religion hidden, as her mostly white classmates can’t understand how someone can be both Black and Jewish. Most of the side characters are queer, including Suzette’s best friend DeeDee who’s a lesbian. Suzette’s close friend and love interest, Emil, is Black and Korean as well. And, of course, there’s Lionel, Suzette’s brother who’s dealing with bipolar disorder.

The diversity isn’t just there for show, either. Each of these intersections is explored in some way and really gives life to the identities represented. I was really impressed with how Brandy Colbert showed microaggressions, from the way people label Lion as “crazy” and unstable, to the mutual friend who makes a racist comment. Even a non-marginalized reader can see how these actions affect the characters: Lion avoids his former group of friends, while Suzette and Emil have to stick up for themselves and call out their subtly racist peers.

Even Suzette’s family is diverse, in a sense: her mom never technically married her stepdad, but they’ve had joint families for over a decade. I really enjoyed this unique touch and the way the novel explores how family bonds go so much deeper than blood alone.

One of the best things about Little & Lion, for me, was the nuanced discussion of bisexuality.

I’ll be the first to admit how fortunate we are, as readers, to have so many representations of bisexuality today. And yet, this is one of the few books I’ve read where the main character is actively exploring her own sexuality and isn’t completely set on a label at the beginning of the story.

As much as it’s empowering to read bisexual characters who are confident in their identity, 17-year-old me would’ve killed to read this book where Suzette struggles with what her feelings for different genders really mean. She questions if her attraction to girls was actually just limited to the one girl from her boarding school, or if her attraction to Emil is as real as she thinks it is. This is not only realistic, but it shows the very real effects of living in a monosexist society that encourages us, as bisexuals, to “just choose one or the other.” To be quite honest, I still question my own sexuality, and I’m 10 years older than Suzette.

For the most part, other people are supportive of Suzette’s exploration and biphobia is kept to a minimum. Again, as with the race rep, I appreciate the subtleties—for instance, the moment when a friend implies that being bi is about switching back and forth when you get bored of one gender or another. Again, the comment is challenged in the text, but it’s a realistic situation in my experience.

On the surface, this is a book about dealing with a family member’s mental illness, and about falling in love in different ways—but it’s so much more than that.

While I can’t personally speak for the mental health rep (my experiences with depression are only vaguely similar), I enjoyed Suzette’s perspective on Lionel’s bipolar disorder. She wants to do right by him but she also doesn’t want to break his trust or push him away. At the same time, she’s just a kid: she’s struggling with conflicting attractions to two different people while she’s trying to sort out feelings about her ex.

To be honest, my only conflict with this book was the romance itself. I enjoyed the friends-to-lovers situation with Emil, but I felt that Rafaela was too easily labeled as Trouble, both for Suzette and for Lionel. I’m mostly not a fan of love triangles in general, although fortunately this one didn’t dissolve into cheating. Ultimately, I appreciated that the story leaves things relatively open, with just enough closure, but showing how each of the characters has a lot to work on.

overall: highly recommend this favorite of 2017

Little & Lion sucked me in right from the beginning and I never questioned whether Brandy Colbert knew where she was taking the story. For a book that includes so many elements, from family to romance, from race to religion to sexuality to mental health, I loved every minute of this one. Despite its inclusion of a love triangle, I loved watching Suzette figure some things out and I was sad to reach the last page. I hope everyone will give this book the chance it deserves.

—find this book—

Goodreads | B&N | IndieBound

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Have you read Little & Lion or other books by Brandy Colbert? What did you think? Do you have a favorite book that tackles intersectionality? Let me know in the comments!