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Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh – A treasure for the youth of now and for generations to come

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Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

I loved Flying Lessons and Other Stories. This book was the perfect book to start off 2017 – it filled me with so much joy, reminded me of the ups and downs of youth, and filled me with so much hope — hope, because kids with marginalized identities may read this book and find themselves in the stories’ characters. And I cannot emphasize how important this is – and consequently how this makes Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important and successful.

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

I adored this book. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is sweet, fluffy, and just downright cute.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is not a plot-driven novel, nor does it have a ‘point’. On the contrary, this book is a slice of the humble and peaceful life of Lara Jean, and the hilarious shambles that follow after her secret love letters are sent to the boys she loved. Yes, it may sound silly – I mean, it’s hardly apocalyptic if your crushes receive love letters that you secretly wrote to them – but it flipped her usual, quiet life upside down and I adored it.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda melted the icy cynicism encasing my heart and transformed it into a fluffy cloud that sprouts rainbows and unicorns and oreos. (Rainbow unicorn oreos. Or oreo unicorn rainbows?)

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Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer Smith

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My sincerest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

So here is a book I didn’t expect to love.

I hadn’t felt truly emotionally connected to a book in a long, long time before reading this lovely book. Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is quiet book that explores relationships, the rite of passage of leaving, and love – and I loved every minute of it.

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10

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

after i do

When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.

Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?

This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.

If you really think about it, we spend a large proportion of our lives making connections with other people. Starting with your parents and family, then branching out to friends, mentors, acquaintances, and then, one of the most significant in our lives, eventually lovers or our significant others. After I Do explores the relationship that most of us may commit to in our lives: marriage. Through the lives of Lauren and Ryan, Reid wonderfully portrays a relationship that is at the brink of breakdown. Though this book centers on the brink of marriage, After I Do is filled with themes or self-discovery and exploration, a deeper understanding of love in its absence, and the meaning of marriage and family.

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Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

(Trigger warning: death)

Heart-wrenching, poignant, powerful, and absolutely wonderful.

I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe in Another Life; it found its way into my heart and made a home within. There’s something about Reid’s writing that captures the splendors and afflictions of life and living, something about her prose that gives life a luminous quality. Loving Reid’s prose, I knew I would love Forever, Interrupted too – and I was right.

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Black Iris by Leah Raeder

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It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.

If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.

She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.

But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.

Which was the plan all along.

Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.

She’s going to show them all.

Do you know that song Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics? There’s a part that goes:

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused

I feel like these lyrics are in the same vein as Black Iris. 

Black Iris challenged me as a reader. Perhaps Black Iris has challenged me more than any book has to date. It wasn’t because of the characters, or its themes, or its writing – all of them and every aspect of the book was excellent. After much contemplation on why, exactly, Black Iris was such a difficult book, my conclusion is this: This book is so wonderfully crafted, so masterfully written, so bitterly real, and just so bloody fantastic that I was thrown headfirst into a world that I did not, could not, have ever dreamed of. It’s not fantasy or supernatural – it is as realistic as it gets. And that is what pulls you in.

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