Rick by Alex Gino

Published: 21st April 2020 (print)/22 April 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic
Pages: 240/3 hrs and 27 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that … understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

This is set in the same universe as George and takes place a couple years after the events in that book but this time we focus on a different character. Rick, who we met as a side character before, now takes centre stage and we see him a little older, a little wiser but also a little more confused.  You do not need to have read George to understand this story but it was wonderful to see what happened after the events in that book even if it isn’t the focus of the story.

It was amazing to see this story grow and develop and see Rick grow and develop along with it. Rick and Jeff’s friendship is one that kids form when they’re young: easy, they have fun together, they have a great time, but as they both start to get older their different personalities start to develop and this is where conflictions can occur.

As readers we’re meant to think Jeff is a creep straight away even if Rick doesn’t see it or completely agree, as everything about Jeff’s language and behaviour is gross and/or offensive. My limited understanding of American middle school is that these kids are in year six. They are eleven and twelve years old and they’re talking about girls in totally creepy and sexist ways. It is one way to show how Rick feels by seeing him fight emotionally against what Jeff does and says, but he doesn’t stop how Jeff keeps objectifying these girls.

Rick’s dad is also a sexist and a creep, he says inappropriate things to Rick and I liked that Rick’s response to this is that he feels like he’s “coated in a sticky layer of ick” when he hears it. He also doesn’t like that people expect him to become a ‘hormonal beast’ now he’s in middle school. Which again, is now he’s twelve. Even at my age I feel dirty hearing that phrase.  I am not blaming Gino for this at all and I love that they highlight the weird and inappropriate language people use around kids of a certain age, especially boys. I love that our main character doesn’t feel comfortable hearing this kind of talk and it’s great that Gino shows him working out who he is and makes it ok that he feels confused about his identity.

There is a great representation and exploration of the LGBTQIA+ community and it was great to see kids this age be so supportive and open about who they are, as well as so understanding of those who are still trying to figure themselves out. The kids manage to teach the adults something and the story explores great themes like acceptance, understanding, and support.

Melissa (who we’re introduced to in George) is in the story and I loved seeing her again and seeing her story after the end of George but I also loved that she doesn’t take centre stage. Rick’s story isn’t connected to Melissa’s and while she is in his story, I love how Gino hasn’t connected the two stories in such an obvious way.

There are other things Gino explores about getting to know and understand family and accepting the differences and realising there is a lot more to a person than there first appears. The relationship he has with his grandpa is sweet and it was a nice safe place for Rick to talk about his feelings and not be ridiculed or embarrassed.

This is a fairly quick read but it covers a lot of topics and explores a range of important topics not only about the LGBTQIA+ community but also about being a good person, a good friend and knowing you have the ability to make big decisions even at such a young age. I can’t wait to see what else Gino does next because based on these last two books I can only imagine it’ll be just as wonderful.

You can purchase Rick via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Love, Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Published: 17th September 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
RHCP Digital
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GROWING UP. FALLING IN LOVE. COMING OUT.

Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school.

When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together.

But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?

Frankie doesn’t want Sally to just be her friend. She wants her to be her girlfriend. But does Sally feel the same?

I picked this up because I was looking for some LGBTQIA books that were directed at younger audiences and while this does have a storyline of a hopeful romance, it honestly falls short. There are a lot of things to praise Wilson for, she shows a strong character who deals with her sick mother and stands up to bullies which is good, but this wasn’t the coming out story I was expecting.

That’s not to say it isn’t there at all. There are a few major themes playing out through this narrative from illness, bullying, as well as a young girl trying to work out if she loves her new friend. Wilson combines all of these together well so we see and understand the pressure Frankie is under concerning her mother and the girls at school, but also her own internal struggles she has to come to terms with.

I found myself becoming worried for Frankie and what Sally’s intentions were for her, I didn’t want to read about any homophobic slurs, especially since Frankie is so unsure herself and since the blurb wasn’t matching up with the story I was reading. However Wilson brings it together in a slow but sure way and you see the start of a story between these girls where there is something more than friendship on the cards.

This story is young adult but it is very much aimed at the low end with younger readers. There is drinking and talk of drugs but none are actually done and there is never a feeling of long term between Frankie and Sally, more is placed on the long lasting friendship than the romance. But it is still an important story about young girls of thirteen and fourteen discovering who they are.

While it feels unresolved and open, the ending is positive in its own way. Not to have Sally outed if she isn’t ready is an unspoken hurdle but there is a light in the future for both girls. The story ends in hope for Frankie and for her mother as well which is a good decision from Wilson given the young age of her main character. For young teens trying to work out their own sexuality it is a stepping stone to show how small steps can feel like big steps and at this age there doesn’t need to be definitive answers or pressure. It just wasn’t the full experience I was looking for and it fell flat in terms of voice. I may have forgiven it if it fell into the junior category, but bumping this into the YA group I wanted a strong voice and writing style that felt less childlike.

You can purchase Love, Frankie via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Audible

Pulp by Robin Talley

Published: 13 November 2018 (print)/13 November 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HQ Young Adult/Harlequin
Pages: 406/11 hrs and 48 mins
Narrator: Stephanie Cannon
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favourite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

I loved this story. I loved how Talley created these two lives that shone on the page so well and their bravery and determination, passion and heart comes through. Talley has been remarkably clever with this story; dual narrators but if often feels like there are four. You get the story of Janet and Abby, but you also get each of their stories that they’re writing. We get snippets of the lives of their fictional characters and it was a great way to include each story and reflect on how they gained inspiration and changed their ideas. Told across two different eras it blends together beautifully and seamlessly, interconnecting and mirroring but each voice and experience unique.

The similar experiences mirrored back sixty years apart was clever and Talley has done a great job in cementing us in each era without needing to go into heavy detail or description. Fashions are included naturally; jobs, society and the general societal beliefs at the time comes through in dialogue and character actions and activities and this helped keep the story about the characters. Talley doesn’t set things up so we know we’re in the 50s, aside from the date to show a change we’re thrown right in and pick it up almost immediately based on the writing. It’s almost as if we’ve started reading right in the middle of Janet’s life, already playing out as we’ve arrived. The different worlds but same experiences are a great reminder of common experience and that young love, family drama, and outside forces happen all the time.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the narrative because learning more about pulp stories and how and why they were created was a fascinating story to be woven into the fictional lives. Janet and Abby both offer perspectives about its purpose from both consuming it, as well as discovering it historically and seeing the evolution. It was a great way to weave in the romances and the friendships, as well as the personal dramas. They provide an escape, an outlet, and inspiration for both girls and their lives.

Nothing in this story felt like it was wasted. Every action, scene and conversation had intention and whether that was to bring depth to friendships, explain about lives and circumstances or the history of LGBTQIA struggles. The world that Janet lives in isn’t fun and even seeing the contrast with Abby’s where it’s more open and accepting, where her friends are out and proud with their various identities, the sharp contrast back to Janet where even the idea of holding another girl’s hand in a certain way would be enough to endanger you is shocking as you forget it wasn’t that long ago and is still happening today no matter how far we’ve come.

There’s so much going for this novel – the characters are likeable, it puts you into the world and each character feels established and unique. The story is slow but it builds into a story that is enriching and fascinating and one that was full of little surprises.

You can purchase Pulp via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky (#1.5) by Mackenzi Lee

Published: 26th November 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 128
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

In this funny and frothy novella that picks up where the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue leaves off, freshly minted couple Monty and Percy fumble through their first time together.

Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.

Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood? 

It was a complete shame I didn’t get to read this as an audiobook because I am still living off the high that those books gave me. Instead I had to read it myself but I had all those wonderful voices stored in my head so I could re-enact it as I went along.

There is so much to love about this novella. Not only the further adventures of Monty and Percy, but the joy of seeing them trying to navigate their new relationship in all its awkward and blushing glory.

Narrative wise it is amazing. There are actual proper conversations about feelings and insecurities, not to mention an overflowing display from these two emotional boys who adore one another. The premise of trying to progress their relationship is dealt with in a fun but respectful manner. Lee has already established these characters are flawed but wonderful and seeing the exploration about love and waiting, and the amount of self-reflection about this entire endeavour was so refreshing and I loved that Lee took the time to do that.

Once again Monty steals the show. Monty who is broken but healing, who is insecure but is trying his hardest. His character growth in Gentleman’s Guide was incredible but is clearly hasn’t stopped. There are heartbreaking lines like “Why do you think everyone needs some sort of recompense for being around you?” which crushed my soul, but there is also a lot of the fun and jovial nature we’ve seen between Monty and Percy as well.

This is truly not in a younger YA scope because Monty is not entirely shy about describing various parts of Percy that he enjoys. Considering this novella’s entire premise is trying to find the right time and a bit of alone time to finally be together it is more suited to older readers.

This story also contains new characters which bring their own fun and help set the mood. Felicity makes an appearance as well, Monty’s fabulous sister who deals spectacularly with her brother. I mentioned this in my review of the second book but her character around Monty is divine and I loved seeing the sarcasm and sibling interactions once more.

This is a relatively quick read but there is an emotional depth and a detailed story throughout. With new places and people to introduce their introductions are woven into the narrative well so there is no unnecessary clunky exposition. The blending of a Santorini adventure alongside trying to navigate your own emotions and relationship is juxtaposed wonderfully. I honestly could read about the Montague family forever, no matter how trivial their lives or adventures may be.

You can purchase The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Previous Older Entries