Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. One of only two out lesbians in her small town and standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the responsible adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, her responsibilities weigh more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool.

As Ramona falls more in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift as well, and she must decide if knowing who she is is more important than figuring out who she might become.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Ramona was just a child when Hurricane Katrina uprooted her life. Ever since, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Being one of the only two lesbians in her small town, standing over six feet tall, and with bright blue hair, Ramona feels like she’s outgrowing the trailer she’s come to call home. But with a flaky mom and an overworked father, and between juggling her two jobs, Ramona feels the weight of responsibility. Especially now that her sister Hattie has fallen pregnant. The return of a childhood friend, Freddie, is a welcome distraction. As Ramona’s love for swimming grows, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift.

I really enjoyed Ramona Blue. It’s a fantastic, well-developed YA contemporary with lots of talking points and issues. There are so many things I enjoyed. Firstly, the sibling relationship between Ramona and Hattie. I loved (and I mean loved) their relationship. I’m a sucker for well-developed sibling relationships, and I loved how Ramona knew Hattie better than anyone and vice versa. Hattie was a bit selfish, and I really enjoyed the exploration of the dependency and responsibility between the two. And on top of this, I thought that the familial relationship was very well done. Whilst I wasn’t a fan of Ramona’s mother, I really loved her father; I particularly enjoyed the loving and supporting figure her father was.

Additionally, I thought that exploration and the genuine look at poverty was very well done. It’s definitely something I would like to see more of in YA fiction, because I do think it’s lacking. And I think that this also ties in with the supporting familial relationship because it’s rare that we get a look at poverty and supporting families, because there is quite often this assumption that poverty means neglectful parents and that’s definitely not always the case. So yeah, that’s definitely something I really enjoyed about Ramona Blue (yes–her mother was flaky, but her father was a stable and reliable parental figure and that’s who she lived with).

I loved the exploration of sexuality and how it’s fluid, and how Ramona was the only one to define her identity:

“I was so scared that by having sex with Freddie, I would lose part of myself-part of my identity. Instead, I’ve embraced another facet of myself. Life isn’t always written in the stars. Fate is mine to pen. I choose guys. I always choose girls. I choose people. But most of all: I choose.”

Whilst I enjoyed the romance, and it was sweet and well-developed, it definitely wasn’t the focal point of the story, and so was probably the aspect I least enjoyed. Nevertheless, it’s still a sweet romance, and Ramona Blue is still a book I would recommend to YA romance fans too.

It’s not quite a 5-star read for me, but it’s pretty close. I would definitely recommend Ramona Blue to fans of realistic fiction and contemporary romance.

Rating: ★★★★☆


That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy via Edelweiss for review purposes.

Shabnam is a Pakistani-American teen, just finishing up high school when her friendship with her feisty BFF Farah begins to unravel when Farah starts to wear a headscarf without consulting Shabnam. Shabnam starts to make some kind of bad decisions - from kissing the most racist boy in school to telling a huge lie about her family and the partition of India. The end of her school year is really starting to suck; but now Shabnam needs to get through the summer before college. Things start looking up when she meets the charming and romantic Jamie who gets her a job at his Aunt’s pie shack for the summer. Shabnam starts discovering her first love, Urdu poetry, and begins to repair her friendship with Farah - and with Farah’s help, Shabnam discovers the truth about Jamie, and in turn, learns about the important of friendship and love in all it’s forms.

I really loved That Thing We Call A Heart. It deals with so many issues but it’s done so seamlessly. It’s about love and friendship, heartbreak, family, Urdu poetry, and forgotten history. Not to mention the characters are so well developed. I loved our protagonist Shabnam, and I especially loved Farah - our badass, hijab wearing, feminist BFF.

Whilst romance is pretty big chunk of the book,That Thing We Call A Heartis definitely a book that explores love between friends and family. I loved her friendship with Farah. At times, Shabnam is a bad friend - she’s selfish, and not exactly a good listener. When her best friend Farah starts wearing a headscarf, Shabnam is not exactly understanding; subconsciously, she starts to distance herself from Farah. I absoloutely adored Farah - she’s empowering, feminist, funny, feisty and I would absolutely read a book dedicated solely to her. Thankfully, as the book progresses, Shabnam develops and repairs her relationship with Farah and realises how selfish she was being.

Additionally, I adored her relationship with her parents. I loved her affectionate and caring mother, and I even enjoyed her passionate, yet lazy, father. I especially loved how Shabnam and her father connected over their love of Urdu poetry - it was definitely a lovely addition. I’m a sucker for loving and supporting familial relationships so this book is everything I look for in contemporary YA.

And last but not least, there’s lots of talk of what it’s like to be a contemporary Muslim girl, defying conventional stereotypes, what’s it’s like to be a hijab-wearing Muslim girl and how that doesn’t necessarily = good Muslim girl.

“I’m too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims. And the weird thing is, I realized I’ve been trying to prove to people that I’m cool, that yeah, I don’t drink and whatever but I’m smart and funny and extremely un-oppressed, but I wonder, at the end of the day, will they secretly think a girl in hijab can never be that cool simply because she wears hijab? But then I think, why does it matter what they think of me? I refuse to spend my life proving myself, not to the Muslims, not to the non-Muslims. I’m going to wear a headscarf and I’m going to pray and fast and I’m going to smoke ganja and I’m going to get into Harvard Medical School.”

There’s also discussions on the Partition of India and the Bosnian Genocide, two often forgotten parts of history.

This book is a real gem. It tackles so many important relevant issues and I think it’s messages about love and identity will resonate with a lot of readers.

Rating: ★★★★★


None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she’s intersex … and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.
What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

I received a free copy to review via Edelweiss

When I saw None of the Above, I was excited because I had never heard of a book with an intersex protagonist, and therefore I feel that None of the Above has made a giant leap in the diverse books movement. When I read it, I found it was a moving, raw and emotionally driven novel that tries its very best to stay authentic and provide a relatable intersex character struggling with her identity.

I knew very little about being intersex before starting this book and knew a lot more after finishing it. Whilst also being informative and discussing the prejudice of being intersex, it also discussing the psychological impact and decisions that come with a diagnosis.

When Kristin discovers she’s intersex, she feels that her whole world has fallen down around her as she struggles with her diagnosis and her identity, and when the whole school finds out Kristin, faces disgusting behaviour and prejudice from her classmates, and even her boyfriend.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kristin as our protagonist and I loved watching her progress throughout the story.

I.W. Gregorio handles the topic in a delicate and informative way, but also honestly and emotionally.

It’s a book that I cannot recommend enough.

MY RATING: ★★★★★


Love and Other Theories

by Alexis Bass

If you want more, you have to give less.

That’s the secret to dating in high school. By giving as little as they expect to get in return, seventeen-year-old Aubrey Housing and her three best friends have made it to the second semester of their senior year heartbreak-free. And it’s all thanks to a few simple rules: don’t commit, don’t be needy, and don’t give away your heart.

So when smoking-hot Nathan Diggs transfers to Lincoln High, it shouldn’t be a big deal. At least that’s what Aubrey tells herself. But Nathan’s new-boy charm, his kindness, and his disarming honesty throw Aubrey off her game and put her in danger of breaking the most important rule of all: Don’t fall in love.

I received a free copy from the publishers via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

First Impressions:
I can’t say, at all, that I’m a fan of Love and Other Theories. I disliked a lot of the characters and disagreed a lot with their malicious actions towards other people, particularly Chiffon. I can see how other people would really love it, but too much nastiness going on for me. 

Aubrey and her three best friends – Shelby, Danica and Melissa – have all made it to their last year of high school completely heartbreak free. It’s all thanks to a few rules, the theories, such as don’t commit, don’t be needy, and don’t mention the G word – (girlfriend, in case you’re wondering). But when Nathan Diggs, the new kid, falls into Aubreys life, it makes her learn the hard way that the theories are a load of bull. 

I put up with all the bullying and generally shaming other girls for not being as ‘evolved’ as they were for about 30-40%, hoping it would VERY SOON be contributing to some serious character development, but unfortunately, Aubrey and her friends remained AWFUL people till about 70% through. Not only did they completely disgrace their previous best friend, Chiffon, for YEARS (throwing around rumours of STDs, calling her a slut etc.), but they shamed other girls for not being like them. Sexual freedom is completely fine by me. I think girls should be able to have whatever freedom they wish. But what makes Aubrey and Shelby horrible is that they bully and put down other girls for wanting a committed relationship along with sex and for wanting to be girlfriend-boyfriend and for not being as sexually active as they were. Unless of course they were in their friend group in which was PERFECTLY OK. Eventually they got over their shallowness but it took way to long for it to have any sort of impact on me. 

Also, in a complete turn of events I ended up really liking Trent the jock who was a bit of a player over Nathan Diggs, the sweet and unassuming guy. 

Overall, I can totally see how others would absolutely adore this, but the characters arrogant and patronising attitude really brought it down for me.

RATING: ★★☆☆☆