Hazel’s Theory of Everything by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Published: 8th October 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Hazel knows a lot about the world. That’s because when she’s not hanging with her best friend, taking care of her dog, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty encyclopaedias.

 But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade. What if no one at her new school gets her, and she doesn’t make any friends? What’s going to happen to one of her moms, who’s pregnant again after having two miscarriages? Why does everything have to change when life was already perfectly fine?

As Hazel struggles to cope, she’ll come to realize that sometimes you have to look within yourself–instead of the pages of a book–to find the answer to life’s most important questions.

I’m so glad this was published because I’ve tried to find LGBTQIA books for younger teens or kids in the past and the choices are limited. Now we have Hazel who is questioning aromantic asexual, her friend who is trans, and some great two mums rep. There is a lot of other fantastic representation throughout this book with a diverse set of characters. On top of great LGBTQIA characters there’s proud Jewish and Latin American families as well as a mixed race couple in Hazel’s mums and a character in a wheelchair. All of these characters feel fully fleshed out, had their own stories to tell and their representation never felt token or shallow.

Hazel is a 13 year old who has had everything thrown at her at once: new school, surprise expecting parent, and her old friend making new friends without her. Bigelow captures the awkward time of being a new teen where you’re on the cusp of childhood and not quite adulthood, and emotions are heightened and things are changing around you faster than you can keep up. I loved Hazel’s voice and outlook on the world and I understood her frustrations at the world around her.

There are some brief Lenny’s Book of Everything vibes with the encyclopaedic knowledge, and I enjoyed seeing Hazel fight for the sake of knowledge and demand respect for the forgotten animals who need saving just as much as the cute ones. I also liked how science and knowledge were her passions and she was going to keep trying to learn even if it was hard and people didn’t always understand.

The brother/sister relationship between her and Rowan is great, the age gap is treated realistically but there is also a strong family bond between them and Rowan is a great older brother. I also loved the relationship Hazel had with her two mums, both offering something different for her and could give support in their own ways.

There are some content warnings for this book including suicidal thoughts and miscarriage, but Bigelow writes about them in ways that are brief or are discussed in important but dominating ways. The realities of Mimi’s failed pregnancies is a key point of the story and Hazel’s emotional stress and I think Bigelow has addressed it brilliantly, especially through Hazel’s eyes, to give it importance and make people understand the impact it can have on a family. The exploration of the emotional toll was fantastic, and Bigelow puts into words Hazel’s fears, passions, and hopes in heartbreaking ways and it captures beautifully the pains of being a teen. This is a truly beautiful book full of emotions and growth and no doubt will have a bit impact on people’s lives.

You can purchase Hazel’s Theory of Evolution via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Published: 4th June 2019 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Square Fish
Pages: 281
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated–or understood.

I picked this up after the praise it got for being a good asexual book but it’s not great on a lot of other fronts. I know I am probably disliking a book based on character behaviours which are valid and not every character is perfect or likeable, but there are also structural and plot issues too.

I stopped and started a lot, there was a lot of eye rolling, and general confusion about the story. I don’t know what I thought this was going in, but it’s not what I expected.

In terms of the rest of the writing, it’s jarring – too many side comments in brackets, which obviously I do myself so I’m not faulting them, but there were a lot to the point of disruption. Plus a lot were less for commentary and more for things that either could have been explained better in narrative or were obvious and didn’t need additional clarification. I’ve seen a few comments that it might be the third person writing when it should be first which might have helped it flow a bit better, especially if Kann wants to include so many of Alice’s thoughts and opinions.

The repetition and overuse of “cute” makes Alice appear naïve almost childlike, and her dialogue is annoying in other ways as well. Whether it was because she was questioning her sexuality or lack thereof she couldn’t be mature, she needed to be regressed in some way and naïve I don’t know; even if it was unintentional that is how it came across.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Ryan and Feenie but they are side characters to Alice and the little bits we get are nice but only liking side characters isn’t really a wining feature of a book.

Alice is from a rich family but wants to make it on her own. Her family is overbearing and her mum uses her siblings to manipulate her into doing things she doesn’t want to do which is terrible but brings a nice complexity to the characters when there is little substance elsewhere.

Takumi is super sweet, perfect looking, and health conscious bordering on annoying if Kann hadn’t restrained herself. I took it as a character choice and judged Takumi A LOT but I accepted his unconventional behaviour. But as the story went on there were a few scenes that became so incredulous I felt Kann took Takumi’s philosophies too far in unrealistic and absurd directions.  I am unreasonably including his disrespect of Winnie the Pooh in my otherwise reasonable dislike of this book.

Far from the weird asexual rep, let’s discuss the bad library rep. Alice mentions the library she works at is better than the industrial boring academic library because it has wonderful nooks and colours and feels cosy. And then not long after Head Librarian Essie and her discuss how it’s boring and nothing is happening and she hates having a boring job. Can I say, no matter what level you’re at, there is always something to do in a library. Stop perpetuating these bad myths I beg you. Yay for librarian characters that aren’t old women with glasses and cardigans but stop saying the job is boring.

My second issue is having a head librarian who seems to dismiss any form of communication that is not library related because they’ve “clocked on” (I mean having to remember to clock on and off each day even at lunch sounds nightmarish let alone the ban on normal conversations during worktime). Plus watching a staff member do storytime and be chastised for it seems unfair.

Frustrated librarian opinions aside, it’s possible a lot of this is my early dislike of this book and I kept finding fault everywhere that no one else has even noticed. I struggled to get into this book from the start and essentially skimmed the last 100 pages. It clearly wasn’t meant to be with this story which is a genuine shame. It’s been listed on so many book lists for good Ace representation it must be deemed enjoyable to those who read it and find it good representation.  However, this is the eighth book I’ve read that has asexual characters in it and even those that don’t have their asexuality as a focal point portray a better asexual person than Kann has with this.

You can purchase Let’s Talk About Love via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published: 17th January 2017 (print)/17th January 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Recorded Books
Pages: 294/9 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Tom Picasso
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   – 1 Star

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

When I realised Silvera had another book out I picked it up instantly because I adored They Both Die at the End, but it didn’t take me long to realise that this book and that book are vastly different in terms of enjoyment.

I kinda see the point. Theo is already gone, and we flash back and forward to how the memories Griffin has are all that’s left versus how he is living his life now. But on the flip side – it’s boring. Even listening to this at 2x speed did not help me get through this faster. Every time I thought I was close to finishing I still has ages to go.

It was definitely a combination of a few things. I didn’t have any connection to these characters, they weren’t one dimensional exactly but at the same time there isn’t any depth or emotion to them that I could find substance in.

There’s emotion of course, we get descriptions and experiences of their time together and how Griffin feels after Theo is gone but it only ever felt like words. The story takes place so close after his death yet I kept thinking it was months afterwards the way everyone behaves and how hollow the words felt.

There’s a little bit of “mystery”. Theo’s death is a slow reveal and we find out gradually what happened, all the different layers and circumstances, but at the same time it meant nothing. Even the eventual reasoning didn’t make sense and at times the circumstances and the behaviour between Wade, Griffin and Jackson felt unnatural and clunky.

Good points: Silvera portrays compulsions well with Griffin’s behaviour about counting and routines. His OCD is not a focusing factor, but it isn’t treated as a background feature either. It butts into scenes, affects interactions, and has flare ups based on experiences and events but being OCD isn’t the focus of Griffin’s story which was nice. It wasn’t about him having OCD and Silvera keeps the balance of it being a part of Griffin and not the point of the story well.

I cannot understand how someone who wrote They Both Die at the End, a beautiful, philosophical, amazing book also wrote this. I know this came first and writing evolves, but they both came out in the same year and the shift from this to that is drastic. I’m now wary with his other books because knowing it could go either way I’m going to have to do a little bit more research than picking up a book based on author alone.

You can purchase History is All You Left Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Published: 7 July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Casablanca/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 427/13 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I adored this book but I have found it incredibly hard to write a review for it which is always a weird experience. The set up for Luc and Oliver’s fake dating is interesting and realistic in that it is a wild idea that needs persuasion and rules which I loved because it is an inherently strange thing to start to do and seeing it being set up like a contract was great.

Having there be a semi long term date to aim for meant there was a solid investment in these boys that wasn’t the following week and it gave plenty of time for the plot to unfurl and have all the wonderfully devilish chaos, drama, emotional toil and evolution of feelings one needs for such a sweet story as this.

What I liked about this is the drama comes from two messed up people, one more open to admit they’re messed up than the other, and seeing the pair of them grow and learn, become comfortable with themselves and each other, but then also have to face their own fears breaks is brilliant.

Luc’s wall to suppress his feelings and not look any deeper than the surface is slowly broken down beautifully and the way Hall has built up his character for the reader means you understand him quite quickly but also have so much more to learn about him.

Oliver seems perfect from the start as we see through Luc’s eyes, but he too is broken down into more complex pieces and realise he’s putting up a wall and façade in his own way.

The story itself was well told, we explore the depth of their lives and see friends, colleagues and families in a way that makes them full, rich characters and you see the worlds in which they live where a fake boyfriend would be a necessity at times.

I loved the use of mirroring scenes and the in-jokes are incredibly cute. I love these boys and their unorthodox relationship and friendship and seeing them try to act naturally around one another when they are both a small mess is highly endearing and entertaining.

I haven’t read many (maybe any?) fake dating stories but this is a fantastic one because Hall gives it time to be convenient, messy, complicated and heartfelt and as the days and weeks and months go by the relationship between Luc and Oliver reshapes itself multiple times which benefits them both as people, but still leaves you wondering whether they will stay together in the long term.

The writing is amazing, the story is clever and funny, full of love and heartbreak, vulnerability and hope. For all the extra plot and life happening around them it all comes back to the focus around these boys which is perfect because they are delightful even when they’re being fools, which to be fair is a lot of the time.

You can purchase Boyfriend Material via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Published: 7th June 2016 (print)/7th June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Crown Books/Listening Library
Pages: 272/4hrs
Narrator: Jazz Jenning
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Separate from the picture book Jazz co-wrote, this is an autobiography and educational story about Jazz’s life growing up and her trans journey. The subject of being trans is addressed in a way that speaks to kids and adults and the story is told with a youthful tone but one which is blunt and honest.

Jazz has a good memory of her experiences, that plus the combination of stories from her parents her journey offers an informative story of her life. I was impressed about the soccer battle that had such a wide impact on the country. It goes to show how such a seemingly small issue can become huge and important so much it makes national attention.

It’s obvious some words she uses have been learnt later on but used to explain situations when she was younger, but I liked that approach because it gives clear terms for experiences that adults can understand that a child may not be able to articulate. It’s just as important for the adults to understand Jazz’s story as it is for kids and while the story is understandable for kids, it isn’t written in a childlike way full of vague metaphors or uncertain descriptions.

The fights and battles Jazz experienced, as well as her own reflections on her feelings and thoughts growing up are fantastic insights into the life of a trans kid and it’s incredible Jazz has shared her story with everyone.

Jazz narrates the audiobook herself which only enhances the autobiographical nature of her story. This is an educational book and one I think would benefit all audiences. It is a first hand experience of a trans kid and the language Jazz uses and the topics covered make it a great read for those trying to understand.

You can purchase Being Jazz via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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