Hazel’s Theory of Everything by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Published: 8th October 2019Goodreads badge
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

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Published: 26th  June 2018
Simon and Schuster
Pages: 372
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka suddenly finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust in the limelight: She’s gone viral. Her show is a modern adaption of Anna Karenina–written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the 40,000 new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr gifs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever. And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with a fellow award nominee suddenly has the potential to become something IRL–if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual. Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?

I bought this book because of the high praise of asexuality rep and I’m glad I did because it is a great book. Alice Oseman has set a high standard with Loveless but what I liked about this was that is showed not all LGBTQIA books have to be the same. Some are about coming out, some are about realising your identity, some are about living your life and your gender and sexuality has nothing to do with any of it but is still represented. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a little bit of all three.

There’s diversity without it being a focal point, Tash’s family is split between Buddhism and Eastern Orthodox Chrisian, as well as a celebration of different cultures. I love how things are a non-issue so the things that are an issue become the focus. The divide in the family between food preference and faith is easily managed and has become a routine practice in the family. The celebration of family is a huge factor which highlights how close knit and important family is to Tash and I loved seeing it discussed and expressed so beautifully, both through absence, distance and change.

The story explores friendship and family dynamics really well and the complexities of friendships as you grow up. Knowing someone their whole life doesn’t mean you know everything about them and people’s own assumptions can cause tensions and Ormsbee shows this throughout.

Ormsbee gives us a strong family bond but also shows that they’re not perfect and you never know what’s going on inside people’s heads. The imperfect sisterly relationship shows that there’s no rule that sisters have to get along and I loved how Tash acknowledges that being close in age doesn’t mean that sisters will be best friends.

To her credit, Ormsbee blends all of these complicated feelings and topics together well. A lot of themes are touched on throughout but they sit comfortably side by side and mix together well that it never feels like too much is happening.

I loved the exploration of YouTube and making a web series. I have watched some fantastic web series over the years and despite having never read Anna Karenina I would love to see how Tash’s web series was done. I liked Tash’s complexity as a character, her love of Tolstoy, her ambitions as a film maker, but also her side vlog about reading and tea shows how invested in the online and book community she is.

The built up to the awards was done so well and we see Tash fall deep down the rabbit hole of internet fame and juggling fans and subscribers and being a team player. I also loved the ending because Tash’s growth and reflections are important and Ormsbee could have ended it so many ways but I loved the route she took.

I bought this for the asexuality rep but I think I ended up loving it for everything else. The story flows easily and you keep turning the page, the story pulling you along. Even when I picked it up with the intent of only reading a few pages I found myself drawn back in to this story of Tash and her web series and these characters and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.

You can purchase Tash Hearts Tolstoy via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust