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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Review | Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Diverse Rep: Deaf MC + side character of color

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.🌙

“Sound can move anything if it’s strong enough.”

IMG_0546**I received an ARC of this book through my work. While I am grateful for the opportunity to review, this in no way influences my opinion of the book.**

When 12-year-old Iris learns about a whale called Blue 55, who can’t be understood by other whales because he sings at a different pitch, she’s drawn to help. Using her wiz kid skills with electronics, she crafts a song at Blue’s frequency. Despite her parents’ refusal to understand, Iris manages to travel all the way to Alaska in search of one lonely whale, determined to let him know that he’s not alone.

I picked up this book for the beautiful cover, but I decided to read it as soon as I learned that the main character is Deaf.

It’s been a looong time since I’ve read anything Middle Grade, but this story really sucked me in. I was impressed by Iris and her skills at deconstructing and fixing old radios. While I don’t know much about whales, I enjoyed getting to learn more about their communication skills. Lynne Kelly’s poignant and descriptive writing really helps the reader feel Iris’s loneliness. I haven’t read a lot of MG books, so I don’t know how it compares, but I found this a really fun read that didn’t feel “dumbed down” for kids.

Blue 55, the whale who sings differently from the others, acts as a metaphor for Iris and her struggle to connect with hearing people.

Iris quickly becomes obsessed with helping him, because she understands so deeply understands what it’s like to feel unable to communicate with people. At home, Iris has her hearing family, who do pretty well at using sign language but don’t truly understand her much of the time. Iris has her grandmother, who’s also Deaf, but both she and Grandma are mourning the loss of Grandpa. Grandma’s healing is a big part of the story as well, which was beautiful to see.

This kind of story is so important, not only for hearing kids to understand what it’s like for someone who’s different from them, but for Deaf kids to see themselves represented. My only real “concern” with this book is that it might encourage kids to solve their problems by running away from home, which isn’t really a great thing to promote. It’s pretty clear that Iris’s parents are mostly okay with things in the end, too, which I felt was a little unrealistic. For more on this perspective, check out this review.

Iris as a character is believable, spunky, and incredibly relatable.

Her loneliness, while specific, really hit home for me. I think most kids struggle to be understood by and fit in with their peers at some point, and I vividly remember my feelings of invisibility at this age—and I spoke the same language as my peers!

I loved watching Iris grow and progress in the story. In the beginning, she’s very isolated, communicating only with her friend Wendell who attends another school. As the only Deaf kid in school, Iris resents Nina, a girl who attempts to learn sign language but mostly just flails around. Later, though, we see Iris learn to reach out through her friendship with Bennie, who shows Iris that hearing people can be her friends too. Lynne Kelly is not Deaf, but has made her career as a sign language interpreter. It’s my understanding that she spoke to Deaf people while writing this book. I would defer to Deaf readers to verify the accuracy of the rep.

Iris’s grandma was also a wonderful character. For such a hopeful book, Song for a Whale does a great job at showing the process of grief. At the beginning of the story, Grandma is in a cloud of sadness, but through the journey with her granddaughter she begins to come back to life.

Overall, do I recommend:

I love that there are kids’ books with this kind of representation as well as the hopefulness of the storyline. I will definitely be recommending this book to my customers at work, as well as to anyone who’s interested in reading more Middle Grade books.