Get this one on your shelf book friends! I may be a convert. I’ve always complained about verse novels, and here I am falling in love with another one. Home is Not a Country took my breath away, and now Clap When You Land revived me. Rich with sadness, longing, loss, and the complexities of being a young adult dealing with tragedy and trauma, this book is a powerhouse. A father dies in a plane crash on his way to the Dominican Republic. Two daughters mourn his tragic death – one in New York City and one in the Dominican. Each girl doesn’t know the other exists until they start piecing things together. In their grief, they find ways to deal with their anger and find forgiveness, family, and each other. Elizabeth Acevedo paints a picture of two very different settings, both colorful and charming. I love how each character tells her story in the back-and-forth chapters, slowing coming to grips with this new reality and the blank spaces that used to be filled with a father’s presence. It’s a really touching story of how ties bind people together in often bittersweet, unplanned ways.
This verse novel left me wrecked. Safia Elhillo’s writing is so elegant and intense that I had chills the whole way through. I’m not typically into verse novels, but I wanted to pick one up in honor of National Poetry Month for April. What a standout. Run to the book store or grab your digital reader; it’s worth the rush. Nima lives in America but feels like an outsider. She struggles with identity and clings to the idea of a life she was meant to have instead of this one filled with isolation and post 9/11 harassment. She wears the same dirty sweatshirt every day, doesn’t engage with her classmates, and endures bullying and physical harassment. Naima’s mother was an immigrant from an unnamed Muslim country, and as Nima feels detached from both her mother and her American life, she begins to imagine a parallel universe ushered by her alter-ego, Yasmeen. Yasmeen’s father is alive and lives in their Arabic-speaking homeland filled with family, friends, music, and dancing. Nima is disillusioned and adrift in her present life. She’s angry and unable to accept why her mother brought her to this country. In America, she views her mother from afar with sadness and frustration, but when she travels “home” with Yasmeen, she sees her as a dancer full of life and promise. But as Yasmeen pulls back the curtain of this past life like the spirits in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Nima begins to also see the cloudy, wavering parts of the mirage. This life she thought she was meant to have is not what she had conjured up in her longings. Yasmeen reveals a darkness that helps Nima embrace her present, reconnect with her mother and family in America, and discover her identity in ways that satisfy both her love for nostalgia but also her desire to belong. Nima’s home is what she makes for herself. I can’t stop thinking about the beauty of this book. It’s both gentle and shocking at the same time. I ached for Nima and her mother as they circled their distant relationship, never quite reaching one another. Elhillo’s book provides countless avenues for thoughtful reflection and is going straight to my “new loves” shelf.
I like this book, but I’m dying for the cover. Finally, a cover highlighting the female protagonist to look as I imagine her; she’s straight-up dazzling. I enjoyed this YA read, but wasn’t blown away. Enchanted Jones is an aspiring singer, swimmer student athlete, and feeling like an outsider after her close family moves to the suburbs. She’s the only black girl in her school, and she’s trying to figure out exactly where she fits in. Cue Korey Fields, a famous adult R&B artist, who spots her at a talent audition and grooms her R. Kelly-style. Enchanted yearns to be a professional singer but is also at a tender age when teens are just trying to figure out who they are. She notices Korey’s controlling behavior but writes it off because he’s an adult, and she believes in him. Korey gaslights her and manipulates her family into trusting him. Tiffany D. Jackson does a good job showing the subtle ways that Enchanted’s abuser creeps into all parts of her life, taking advantage of her drive to be a singer and alienating her from her loved ones and friends. The book starts off with a shocking scene where Enchanted wakes up to blood everywhere and a body. The murder mystery element gets convoluted in the end and is ultimately where I lost interest in the book. I also found the plot was too carbon copy replica of the R. Kelly scandal. I wanted Enchanted’s story to be more of her own instead of what felt like a re-telling. With that said, it’s a book that will surely resonate with many young adults.
This book kept me on the edge of my seat mainly because I had no idea what was going on until the very end, but when I finished it, I felt let down. The idea behind Wilder Girls is so cool - a bunch of girls stuck Lord-of-the-Flies-style on an island plagued by the gruesome Tox. They're all living at a boarding school when girls suddenly start experiencing horrific, painful symptoms. Byatt grows a second spine. Hetty's eye seals shut. Someone sprouts gills. Reese gets a scaly hand. I mean, how twisted is that? The island is quarantined from the mainland, and the girls and two remaining adults set up a system for survival. The mainland sends food and supplies as they try to discover a cure. This is how I like my horror, grisly and terrifying.
I loved how all the elements of this meshed together into something cohesive - post-apocalyptic, survival, feminist, sapphic horror, environmental critique, and a smidge of romance and longing. If I'm ever cut off from society in a pandemic, I want the girls from this book with me as my survival squad. The whole book felt very girl power-ish but not in a corny way at all. I appreciated the unique name choices, unique but not outrageous like Moon Puzzle. Some of the names I've been seeing in YA fiction lately make me cringe. Who can take Moon Puzzle seriously? All of the main characters are assumed white.
One of Byatt's cyclic changes forces her into the infirmary, but she never returns. Hetty is determined to find her. Reese is quiet and brooding, and the sexual tension between Hetty and Reese is electrifying and gradual. The girls grapple with the physical challenges created by the Tox but also with one another and the elements outside their compound. The Tox has affected nature, and wild animals show signs of infection. My biggest issue with the book was the reveal of the nature of the Tox including the secrets surrounding it and the adults who are controlling information on the island. Answers are teased through the whole book and then dumped in your lap in a giant, messy pile with no fanfare. It's like the author decided to wrap things up by spilling all the secrets in one anticlimactic word vomit. I felt like I was holding my breath through the entire book, and then the big gulp of air I got to take at the end was stale and smelled like a paper mill at the same time. Harsh. If you've never smelled the emissions from a paper mill, consider yourself lucky. It's a putrid mix of sauerkraut and rotten eggs. I digress. My main point is that I was frustrated with the ending and the reveal, and it ultimately ruined the book for me.
Ryn is the main character, and she's a badass gravedigger who also slays bone houses (living dead) in her spare time. This YA fantasy reads like a step back in time but it packs a modern punch. Ryn and her siblings live on their own in a small village surrounded by an iron fence built to keep the bone houses out. Much of the folklore surrounding the bone houses in Colbren is viewed as just that - old stories, but Ryn knows better. She comes upon a mysterious man named Ellis being attacked by one of the risen dead, and after she saves him (hooray for females who do the saving) she finds out he's a mapmaker who has gotten himself lost. I felt very distant from the characters when I first started reading this, and the magical elements felt too separate from Ryn's story, but I stuck with it and was not disappointed. In fact, I was riveted. Things pick up when Ryn and Ellis team up to figure out why the bone houses are suddenly attacking in mass. Some of the plot elements surprised me so much that I had to reread parts to make sure I was understanding what happened. I love when books take me by surprise.
I especially love how both Ryn and Ellis' characters were developed slowly and expertly. Ellis may have some physical weaknesses but Ryn's strengths make up for it, and they complement each other in a way that doesn't leave one overpowering the other. They become a team that isn't based on stereotypical gender roles. When Ellis is tender, Ryn is tough. They bond as orphans and the agony of not knowing exactly what happened to one of their parents.
Without spoiling anything, there's also a zombie animal that plays a big part of Ryn and Ellis' journey to stop the bone houses. This decaying pet becomes their savior in many ways and was a fascinating supernatural element. Bravo to Emily Lloyd-Jones for a fantasy zombie book that is so satisfyingly unique and special.
This is a prototypical, young adult, dystopian series that leaves teen girls swooning in a science fiction love triangle between Cassia and two super hunky, brooding boys. All is not as it seems in Cassia's world where young people are paired up with their spouses at age 17 at a special banquet. She's matched with her best friend, Xander, but when she views her Match video giving information about Xander, a picture of mysterious Ky flashes into view and makes her question whether the Match is destiny or not. The Society has close control over romantic partners, death, jobs, and food intake, and Cassia begins to wonder why everything is chosen for them. Matched is an interesting YA exploration of free will and how a tightly controlled environment always has dirty secrets lurking in the shadows. This was a very popular series when it first came out, and a classic constant in the dystopian genre.
This is a young adult romance with a contemporary twist. There are tons of books out there with teenagers battling rare and complicated illness while falling in love with someone. This one is a little different so it's nice to see some plot changes within the genre.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Based on the tons of glowing reviews for this book, mine is going to be highly unpopular. I like the simplicity of the title. I love how Isabel writes a column where she asks people questions but offers no advice. I like how the characters are two teens living with chronic illness. Isabel tries hard to repel her feelings for the gorgeous, funny, and completely loyal Sasha but ultimately grows to appreciate finding someone who can relate to the world of illness and chronic pain. I like the message that everyone's pain or problems are relevant no matter how big or small they may seem. They're important and life-altering for that person, and that's all that matters. I can see how high school kids would love this, but I just couldn't get into it. In fairness, I read a lot of YA and am fairly critical. It's not your typical YA romance fluff; there's substance to it. I just didn't really like Isabel, and she carries the story. She's terrible at letting people know her feelings, and it often makes her interact poorly with others. She gets upset when friends and family don't know how to respond to her battle with rheumatoid arthritis but doesn't try to explain what she needs or wants to anyone either. While it's certainly unfair she has to deal with this debilitating condition, it's also unfair that she has set expectations for how others should treat her but doesn't communicate those to the people that care about her. The romance is sweet and slow, a little weird, but lovely and realistic at the same time. I wanted to like this more.
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Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ruby's young adult historical fiction novel takes readers on a swirling, sweeping flight in and out of various decades, both for the living and the dead. I was a little reluctant to read this because I didn't care for Bone Gap at all with it's heavy-handed magical realism, but this one was more supernatural and bizarre in a way that has some boundaries and eventually an explanation. Frankie, her audacious little sister, Toni, and their big brother Vito have spent much of their childhood living in an orphanage getting Sunday visits from their Father who "temporarily" put them there until he could get back on his feet after riding the wave of the Great Depression. On the eve of WWII, Vito ships off to serve his country along with other boys from the orphanage including Frankie's first love, Sam. As some of the nuns enact brutal punishments on the orphans, Frankie just wants to be free even though she's not sure exactly what that means for her. The entire story is told through the "not-eyes" of ghost, Pearl, who floats aimlessly in and out of people's lives, yearning to find her purpose and what really caused her death in 1918. There are so many sad and eerie secrets revealed in all of the characters' lives that it's clear the author has done a lot of research. The murky line between fact and fiction in this book is blurred in a beautiful, scary, and haunting way. Some of Pearls' chapters in the beginning felt muddled and clunky, but it all came together in the end. This doesn't mean there's necessarily a happy or tidy ending, but there is resolution. I like how one of Ruby's many themes is about women's voracity for creativity, independence, and freedom. No matter what that freedom looks like to each woman, it is her own choice, right, and journey to take.
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I promised the girls we would go do something special together this weekend, and we settled on glow bowling. I ended up getting a mild stomach virus on Friday and spent the evening curled up in the fetal position on the couch with cramps. I had booked a lane for Saturday evening and knew they would be really disappointed if we didn't go. So I felt mostly better Saturday afternoon and decided to chance it. I packed a trusty box of Immodium and got through the evening feeling relieved that if I crapped my pants, at least the place was dark, and I could slink out of there without anyone knowing. I'm happy to report that I walked out with clean clothes and a memory of a fun night unmarred by the stomach bug's vengeance.
Rocky Springs is located in Lancaster on Millport Road. In addition to bowling lanes, they have laser tag and an arcade. They also have a restaurant and bar called Red Pin Bar & Grill. I had drinks there before with friends but didn't try the food. It's a nice, small restaurant and much nicer than what you would normally expect for a bowling alley.
They have glow bowling every weekend evening from 4pm to close. The girls loved the atmosphere. They have giant TV screens with music videos playing and loud music thumping through the building. My youngest was baffled by the big hair in the 80s music videos. You can have food delivered directly to your lane, but we didn't get anything this time. This place is clean and had a steady stream of people coming in to enjoy a fun night out. This is a perfect family fun night or a different kind of place to hang with friends for some drinks and laughs.
I can't think of anything glowing without immediately thinking of both the historical fiction YA book, Glow, and the nonfiction Radium Girls that follows below. I enjoyed both of these books so much and couldn't stop thinking about the brave women who worked for these companies who cared nothing for their well-being. Company owners were presented with evidence time and time again of the harm that radium was causing their employees, and they choose to do nothing except cover it up and continue to deceive their workers and the public. It's a shameful time in history but one full of lessons and the courageous bravery of so many women who stood up to save those that followed in their footsteps.
Glow by Megan E. Bryant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Glow made me so interested to learn more about the Radium Girls who were exposed to toxic amounts of radium while painting watch dials in a factory. The horrific ways these women died and the disgusting, shameful way the radium companies tried to hide the dangers by blaming the women’s health problems on syphillis is incredibly sad. This historical fiction book did exactly what it set it to do by sucking me in and making me want to learn more. I appreciated the author’s note at the end as well.
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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The horrifying story of the women who worked in the radium dial factories captivated me from page one. These women were told that everything was safe. They continued painting watch dials with radium paint, twirling the bristles in their mouths, and went home each night with the luminous material shining in their hair and on their clothing and bodies. They were repeatedly lied to and the dangers of radium were concealed as more and more women complained of aches and pains, loose teeth, and rotting jawbones. Even as doctors, dentists, and lawyers began to fight for these women, the radium companies still did not admit their wrongs or ever offer help as a sense of humane obligation. The radium girls lived in constant agony - miscarriages, tumors, amputations, etc. - but still they fought the companies and the radium eating holes in their bones. Many women died with no knowledge of what caused their gruesome suffering, and families were told it was caused by STDs or women's hysteria. Just as a reader, I was endlessly frustrated with the years of litigation and legal technicalities so I can't even begin to imagine what these families suffered as they watched their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters wither away with no one taking responsibility for their poisoning. Highly recommend.
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A Few General Notes:
Safety - We did our research and stayed in areas that had good reviews for safety and security. Miraflores is one of the most affluent districts of Lima and has tons of hotels, apartments, shopping, restaurants, and bars. The Airbnb we chose in Miraflores had a doorman with a secure entrance. We felt extremely safe in this neighborhood at all times, and we walked to everything. It felt like there were police and private building security on every block. We walked everywhere day and night and didn't even use Uber until we were closer to the end of our trip.
Transportation - Driving in Peru is bonkers. Car horns are used instead of turn signals and stop signs. The traffic noise is grating and made me really appreciate the quiet of the rural area we live in. The constant honking and blaring was something I just couldn't get used to and by the end of our stay in Lima, I kind of wanted to bash my head into a wall. We wouldn't have felt comfortable renting a car here and trying to get around on our own. From Jorge Chavez International, look for the official airport taxi companies to take you to your next location (Taxi Green, Taxi Direct or Taxi 365). For around 60 soles, (approximately $18) they will guide you out past the exit gates directly to your driver. Finding an Uber here would be a challenge. When you exit, there's a mob of people trying to give you rides, sell tours, and look for arriving guests. It's insanity. There's a tiny opening in the exit gate and then they are upon you like vultures on a carcass. The $18 is worth making it out unscathed and unfrazzled. We actually ended up getting the airport driver's number, and we used him for private transport for several more trips. We also used Uber at least 3 or 4 times and it was incredibly cheap. Our longest trip (about 45 minutes) cost around $12.
Money - Peru's currency is the sol. We chose to order soles from our bank ahead of time. There is a shortage of small coins in the country. Try to carry as many small coins as possible and use them whenever you're shopping or eating at small stands. Use your big bills in hotels and nicer restaurants.
Tipping - Tipping is not customary in Peru; however, we definitely tipped people that went out of their way to have great conversations with us, kindly tolerated our poor Spanish speaking skills, gave us great recommendations, or were just generally cool people. Since we met a lot of awesome drivers, bartenders and tour guides, we ended up tipping a lot.
Turning Pages: Places to Check Out
The Malecón is a 10km walkway that gently curves along the Pacific coastline high above enormous cliffs with spectacular views. There are little cafes, parks, statues, strolling couples, runners, and humorous outdoor exercise equipment (check my Insta for the elliptical video).
Keep pace on the Malecón, and you'll see a take-off spot for paragliders. You'll also eventually come across el Parque del Amor (Love Park). In addition to a little fence area where you can hang the requisite lover's lock with you and your partner's initials, there's a giant, romantic statue called El Beso (The Kiss). The park is lined with glittering mosaic benches and walls and is a perfect spot for a rest with your lover and maybe some PDA (only a little - control yourselves people).
Uncovered in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Miraflores, this pyramid made of clay bricks is a fascinating juxtaposition of old against new as the city buildings tower all around it. The Pre-Incan people of ancient Lima made this structure for a variety of purposes including burial grounds for leaders and a location for religious rites and sacrifices. We toured the ruins at night, and it was mesmerizing and even a little spooky. A guided evening tour costs about $5.50 (a dollar more than a day tour) and is well worth it. They also have a restaurant on the grounds that allows you to dine in view of the ruins. We didn't try this out the night we were there because it was closed for a swanky, private party.
Kennedy Park is huge and located in the direct center of Miraflores, surrounded by restaurants, shopping, and street vendors. The thing I liked the most about this park is that there are cats everywhere: cats in trees, cats in flower pots, cats stretching, cats sleeping, cats staring creepily at nothing, cats playing tag, cats getting back rubs, cats riding bicycles ... wait sorry that last part's not true. I got carried away. I just find it fascinating that this park is completely overrun with cats, and everyone's just cool with it.
We consistently found that when we did eat at restaurants or had drinks, Peruvians take food service seriously. Bartenders take pride in creating drinks with fresh ingredients and present drinks as an experience. We went for drinks two nights in a row at Pitahaya just because the bartender was so incredible. He gave us tastings of all the different Peruvian liquors, and had us smell each of the ingredients he put in our drinks before mixing and serving.
Appendix: a Hodge Podge
Larcomar - Larcomar is a shopping mall with a killer view. This multi-tier shopping center is built into the cliffs boasting a view of the Pacific. It's gorgeous and worth a stop whether you want to shop or not.
Indian Market (on Av. Petit Thouars) - This artisanal market was our first introduction to Peruvian shopping and haggling. There are tons of stalls. We didn't end up buying anything here because it was too early in the week to start adding to our luggage weight, and we had another flight to Cusco in a few days. My suggestion is to wait to make purchases in Cusco because it's much cheaper.
Postscript: What I Missed
Things I wish we had time for (for the next visit):
Bike rental on the Malecón - Get some exercise on the clifftops with a view of the Pacific.
Ceviche - Everyone said we had to get ceviche in Miraflores, and while we saw it everywhere, we just didn't get around to trying it.
Peña - A Peña is a venue that has traditional, live Peruvian music and dancing. There are many different restaurants and clubs that have this authentic folk scene including La Candelaria and Don Porfirio.
This is the book that motivated me to start Travel All the Pages. Set in several locations in Peru, the main character Nita starts off in Miraflores. I loved reading Nita's descriptions of the district. While I wasn't a big fan of this book, I do appreciate how it inspired me. This book is pretty gruesome for a young adult selection, but I think there's definitely a market out there for this type of supernatural/horror combo. It gets pretty good reviews overall in the book world. It just wasn't for me.
Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was really pumped about this one, and it was the worst. First, it was set in Peru, and I enjoyed reading about some of the spots we just visited but aside from that, there was little to appreciate. The world-building is non-existent, making it hard to connect with the characters. This is supposed to be set in a future where different species with supernatural powers exist around the world. The main character Nita is able to heal herself from injury and also enjoys dissecting unnaturals while her mom sells their body parts on the black market. Nita struggles with the morality of what they do and rationalizes it as acceptable because the unnaturals they deal with are bad people. Plus, they never come to her alive. This all changes when her mom brings one back alive and eventually Nita gets kidnapped to sell on the same same black market she’s been feeding. In theory this sounds fascinating but the entire story felt stilted and disconnected.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.