If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If you know anything about lgbt+ YA books then you will have heard of this book. It has been everywhere the past couple years, with a huge reason behind that being that this book was part of the Zoella book club. This is why I will never say anything bad about Zoella’s book club because she is bringing books like this to teen girls who either aren’t huge readers or just may not have heard of this.

content warnings: transphobia, homophobia, sexual harassment, suicide attempt discussion, forced outing

If I Was Your Girl follows Amanda who is a trans teen who has moved to a new school. She wants to start off at this new school on a whole new leaf, without anyone knowing her history. She makes friends with a few people but she is always concerned that they will find out and all her new relationships will fall apart. On top of all that she has a fragile relationship with her dad.

Right off the bat, I am not trans, I am a cis woman so I don’t pretend to know about the representation in this book or the challenges that trans people go through. I tried to find an own voices review to link to but struggled, and I don’t have much time on my hands right now but if you know of one please send me the link and I will edit this review to include it.

This book was so easy to read. Now when I say easy I don’t mean the subject matter was easy to read because it 100% was not but the way it was written it just flowed and was unputdownable. I had to know what was going to happen next. I ate it up. Sometimes I had to put it down for a minute just to gather myself because it’s intense, but so worth it.

I adored Amanda, I just wanted to take her under my wing and look after her. She’s just a poor wee soul and deserves all the love. The rest of the characters are so well developed as well and it makes reading really tough content a joy. You hope Amanda’s new friends are accepting when they find out because they’re just so nice in the course of their friendship with Amanda and are so welcoming. You want Amanda to have friends who will be friends with her no matter what.

I’ve read a few reviews talking about the fact that Amanda gets forcibly outed and how they hated reading that and they wish that it had happened for Amanda a different way. And I totally get that, I felt so uncomfortable reading it and I could tell from the way it was being written that it was going to happen, there was this kind of gloomy feeling building up (great technique by the way). But I feel like marking the book down for that isn’t the right way to go about it, as it is an own voices review. Yeah sure if it was from a cis writer I wouldn’t be happy because it wouldn’t be their place to have the discussion, but this is Russo’s lane and she felt that this was this discussion needed to be had i the literary world from her own experiences.

Overall I think this book tackled the trans issues so well, now of course every human is different and every experience is different so if you are going into this thinking that this is the epitome of the trans experience it is not and nothing ever will be. The author herself is trans and the cover picture on the US edition also features a trans girl which is so damn important. Russo has 2 authors notes at the end of the book, one for trans readers and one for cis readers. The one for trans readers nearly had me in tears and the one for cis readers was really important for highlighting to readers what I have just said about this not being THE experience of trans people.

Also I just want to highlight how disrespectful I think it is that whoever wrote the blurb did not include that Amanda is trans just that she has a “secret” like that completely alienates the people that this book is for.

This book does tackle a lot of really intense issues and I just want to make it clear that if you are interested in reading this book now but are worried it may trigger you and you would like to have a discussion with me to see if it something you can read my inbox is always open, my contact email is listed on my about page and my twitter is listed below.

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It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

Content warnings: mental health problems and substance abuse, discussions of consent and sexual abuse/rape

I don’t really know where to start with this review. I absolutely adored this book but I read it when I was staying at my Gran’s house a month before she unexpectedly died so it’s one of those books that I just have weird feelings towards now. I didn’t think this would be a hard review because the book was so good but here we are.

Audrey does not care for love. Her parents marriage ended and it left her mother in a weird state so Audrey does not want that to happen to her so she swears off romance. That is until she starts a new job at her local cinema and meets bad boy Harry.

If you have ever read any book by Holly Bourne before you will know that her writing style is wickedly funny and super easy to read. I get so lost in her novels and they take me back to my teenage years. Her writing is super truthful at times that it hurts, she talks about sexual assault, the lack of sapphic relationships in movies, racism etc. At one point one of the characters talk about not being able to orgasm through penetration which I think is just something that is super important to include off the cuff in YA. Like it’s just spoken about casually but having that being in books lets young girls know that it’s a thing and it’s ok to be that way.

I read this so quickly that I didn’t really take any notes and I kind of hate myself for it. I remember the mother in this story was a bit of a mess, but you can 100% see where it comes from and how poor her mental health is.

I’m not going to talk spoilers but I would love someone who has read this to let me know because I want to talk about the ending and how satisfying it was for me.

My only thing with this book was because he was called Harry I could not stop imagining Harry Styles, who is an absolute sweetheart and not a bad boy and it was a bit disconcerting every time I read the name.

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The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Thank you to netgalley and Viking Books for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ok so this is an adorable book about a mixed race girl not knowing where her place is in the world. Malu has to move for her mum’s job meaning she won’t get to see her dad for a while and her dad is her best friend. Malu struggles in Chicago, her school sucks and she feels like her mum just doesn’t understand. She deals with all this by making zines and forming a band.

Malu is such a tough cookie and adorable and she’s so passionate. Her voice was so real and I loved reading from her perspective. She made some mistakes but she’s a kid so you expect that and she’s just a sweet bean. She reminded me of myself back when I was younger and super into rock music. I loved that Malu didn’t like coriander (Cilantro if you’re American) and was so adamant about it because I also hate it and it made me laugh a lot.

I really enjoyed reading from the perspective of a young girl who is super into rock and punk music. It was refreshing, not something that you find much in middle grade books, or to be honest books in general, even though we all had a goth phase.

I’ll be honest, the zine part of it kind of bored me but that’s just me. If you are interested in zines then you’d probably love it but I was just a bit meh about it.

There’s not much else I can say about this book as it is first and foremost about Malu, the plot is kind of an afterthought. I think if you are a mixed race latina who struggled a lot with where you fit in life when you were younger this could be super relatable for you. But I’m white so I may be wrong.

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I Heart Hollywood by Lindsey Kelk

Content warnings: outing ultimatums, gay closeting

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first in the series, I felt like some of the characters were slightly off. Kelk’s writing was as humorous as ever, but something wasn’t quite right.

The title being I Heart Hollywood when Angela absolutely hated it was wildly confusing. I felt like because Angela just felt so awkward and uncomfortable and sad the entire time she was there diminished my enjoyment.

The biggest problem I had with this book was that a character is gay and in the closet, and Angela finds out and (I can’t quite remember it exactly as I read this a while ago) but there was some kind of ultimatum/forced outing kind of plot to it. I realise that this may be seen as a spoiler but stuff like this shouldn’t be as it’s something that can be harmful and we should be aware of this. I hope that Kelk is aware that this is something that isn’t ok, but this book was written some time ago so I’m not super angry about it. But I did not like it. And I feel a little less positively about the series. I do however still want to continue it.

I really felt for Alex in this novel as he was just in New York whilst his girlfriend was off on some work thing falling apart and being a general nuisance. I hope the next book has more Alex because I really like his character.

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I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk

Now as I’ve been away I’ve kind of fallen out of my way of reviewing so I apologise if it’s a bit clunky. I also read this way back in September so my memories are a bit hazy but I’m going to try.

CW for: cheating, slut shaming.

After Angela finds her boyfriend of X amount of years having sex with another woman at her best friends wedding, and they all knew about it, she makes a last minute decision and flies across the pond to New York. She has no return flight and limited funds but she ends up really finding her feet and a new best friend. And her love life is heating up too.

I love Lindsey Kelk’s writing. She’s so funny and her characters’ voices are always just so real for me. This is Jess’ favourite book so I’ve always had my eye on it and I finally got it from the library and whilst it wasn’t perfect I did really enjoy reading it.

In regards the slut shaming it’s not great. There’s often mentions of sleeping around not being great and that it’s something to be judged for but there’s also some really sex positive scenes. However, as much as I felt uncomfortable reading the slut shaming, I tried to remember that this came out in 2008 and SO much has changed with people’s attitudes to sex especially with the mainstreaming of hook up apps.

Now because I went to a signing I already knew who the end game was out of the semi love triangle that there was in this book. But I don’t think that ruined it for me because reading it you could just tell from Kelk’s tone who she wanted her character to be with.

It may read to you as questionable what the main character does in this book after having her heart broken by someone cheating on her but it happens in real life. You get treated like an idiot by a man who completely betrays you so you just want to get back at all man kind and date a couple guys at once. Obviously it’s not the best thing to do. But it’s understandable.

This kind of book is perfect for when you want a light read to just take your mind off of everything and I love that sometimes as I have a lot of stress in my life. Eventually I’ll get around to reading the whole series.

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Truth or Dare by Non Pratt – Interesting concept, not sure about the representation.

This was a really interesting book. It’s one of those books that’s kind of not really had a lot of buzz, so I didn’t know what I was going to get going into this.

Content warnings for: neurodisability, thrill seeking, sexual harassment, ace/aro-phobia, mental health problems, racism.

This is a book split in 2 halves, 1 side you read completely from Claire’s POV then it switches to Sef’s before alternating for the end.

The best friend of the main character is ace! She also then clarifies that she is also aro later on and I had no idea before going in and I was so pleasantly surprised. There is little to no representation of people who are ace/aro in books. I am pansexual/romantic so I am not the person to speak about the representation but I found this review on GR from someone who is own voices. I’m in 2 minds about the fact that it’s the side character rather than the main character, I wish there was more of a focus on representation in books but I also feel like sometimes it’s better for that to be more in the background so that it just slowly gets embedded into normal thinking. But, like I said, I can’t really speak on it. But for me I felt the representation was really good as it differentiated between ace and aro and it kind of subtly taught the reader about what that means. If you are ace or aro or both and feel like it wasn’t good representation please let me know and I will link to your review!

There was also representation as Sef is British Pakistani, but I really wasn’t sure about the representation. This review I found from Kamalia talks about their wish for the representation to be less westernised and I can 100% see why they were let down in that respect, but I’m also aware of many 2nd/3rd/4th generation Pakistani people living in the UK who have taken on board a lot of British traditions etc. But again I am white, I can’t speak on it.

I honestly just didn’t really like Sef, he reminded me a lot of the boys I went to school with who would be one person in private then a complete jerk with friends. I am very aware that he had a lot to deal with so I can’t fault him because we all deal with stuff in or own ways. From working with teenagers for my placement it’s become even more apparent to me. I think that’s one thing this book did deal with really well, was showing just the general life struggles that so many teens go through on a day to day basis. I felt that in that respect it was pretty realistic.

There is a lot of sexual harassment in this novel, and it’s shown in a negative light as well it should be, but it kind of reminded me of my experiences as a kid in high school of the things that felt like nothing at the time that now thinking back on I realise could be considered sexual harassment. Kids are absolutely awful to each other and I think this showed that better than a lot of novels have done, as many just show run of the mill slut shaming or boys being mean to girls. This book really went deep into how conniving teens can really be.

I read this book pretty quickly, it was paced well and felt super easy to get through and for the most part I enjoyed what I was ready. There were a few scenes that made me uncomfortable but that was on purpose.

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Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard – A book all about female friendships

I really enjoyed Barnard’s sophomore work A Quiet Kind of Thunder so I was eager to read her debut. It was a good book but I can definitely tell her writing has improved.

Content warnings for: abuse, attempted suicide, manipulative relationships and slut shaming (which is called out on the page).

A new girl has moved to town and threatens the friendship between Caddy and Rosie as Suzanne goes to Rosie’s school and spends more time with her. However Caddy starts to hang out with Suzanne due to jealousy but that morphs into a strong friendship, but even though Suzanne has a tough and carefree exterior there is so much more going on beneath the surface.

This book is pretty harsh; it shows the ugly fleeting side of friendships in teenagers that are harmful but just as important as lasting friendships in our development as humans. Some of the decisions made by these young girls made me want to jump into the page and shake then because they were behaving so rashly. But that is what youth is.

I felt like the voice of the MC came across a bit young when I was reading. At times she read more like a 13/14 year old than a 16/17 year old, apart from talking about sex.

One of my least favourite tropes exists in this: overprotective parents who do not listen to their children and are super over the top about it. Of course I understand where this comes from, but it drives me wild. I wish they would actually listen to their children. Yes parents “know what’s best” for their children, but just because they’re younger doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make their own decisions.

What I absolutely loved about this book is that this is very much about the friendship between 3 friends. There’s some mentions of relationships and flirting, but it is never the main focus. There’s a couple arguments because of boys but it’s always just something that is a catalyst for further arguments rather than the sole focus.

The difference between this book and Barnard’s second book is very obvious so I’m pretty excited to read her next book to see how she’s came along.

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The Lady of Royale Street by Thea De Salle – Everyone is back for a reprise but main romance is less than I hoped

Rain and Sol from The King of Bourbon Street are getting married (oops spoilers), and everyone is flying in to be there for the special day, but a week before the wedding the wedding planner dies after leaking all the wedding information. So income Theresa, Rain’s best friend, and Alex, Sol’s brother, to save the day, and maybe develop some feelings along the way.

I’ll be honest, this is my least favourite of the series so far. I wasn’t drawn to either of the characters and I didn’t find their relationship particularly compelling. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not as good as the previous two.

TW for ableism. There was a few parts where Theresa is described as being “crazy” or a “lunatic” which just felt really unnecessary. Other words could’ve been used.

What really helped this book for me was because it focuses around Rain and Sol’s wedding we get to see all the previous characters, whom I adore. We got to see my faves get married and continue to be absolutely wild.

Like I said in my Sanctuary review I’m super sensitive to Scottish descended characters and Theresa was the opposite of what I like in Scottish characters. She just felt super cringey to me, and it felt like the author was just putting it in there constantly. And she used the wrong form of whiskey.

It was just as easy to read as the previous novels from it’s style and you can definitely get through it in one sitting if you’re so inclined. And whilst I definitely had my qualms with this one I still enjoyed it.

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Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Thank you to edelweiss and Harper Collins for sending a me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Vanni had always planned to leave her small home town that everyone else gets stuck in, but then her dad get’s diagnosed with Huntington’s, which can be passed to the next generation. So her fear of also being diagnosed stalls her in her plans so she spends her summer working at a water park and flirting around with different people.

So I really liked the exploration of being bisexual in teenagers and whilst the MC does eventually identify as being bi, I really liked that for a while there is a lot of talk of fluidity and a lot of it just kind of happens. Which felt really realistic to me, because it is such a complicated thing to go through. And I liked that it was in a majorly hispanic community as I feel like the majority of novels I’ve read with a bi MC have been very white and it was refreshing to read from another point of view.

As well as there being bisexual representation there is also a character who struggles with their gender identity, and as I am cis myself I didn’t really pick up on it properly until the end, but I think people who themselves have struggled with it would pick up on it much earlier. When I realised it was very much like “oh yeah of course”. I tried to hunt to see if any genderqueer people had reviewed it on goodreads but came up blank, and obviously I’m not going to ask people what they identify as for sake of a review. But yeah I’m cis so I can’t say if the rep is good but it felt good.

As with the genderqueer rep, I don’t have Huntington’s so I couldn’t tell you if it deals with that well but I really appreciated that it was part of the novel. It’s not a well talked about disease and it’s not as famous as things like MS.

I think the one thing that made this read not a favourite was just that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable. And when I say that I don’t mean like they were all awful people and I hated reading them. They’re well developed characters and have their own driving forces. I just got annoyed with them a lot, but hey teenagers can be pretty annoying so they definitely felt realistic.

I think if you’re looking for a diverse summer contemporary with a wide range of issues this is the book for you.

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The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Thank you to netgalley and Penguin Random House Children’s for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Flora Banks has no short term memory and her parents have had to leave the country to look after Flora’s dying brother. However Flora has one recent memory, and that’s of kissing Drake. So she leaves England and goes to Norway to find Drake at his uni on a tiny island in hopes that it will help return her memory.

Ugh this book. Every problematic trope you can think of to do with mental health is in it. And most trigger warnings to do with mental health you can think of are also needed. This was one of those books I somehow ended up hate reading about halfway through and I had to know the ending so kept reading it despite not liking it.

Most of the characters were just terrible people. The main love interest refused to own up to the mess he made. The best friend got so mad that she just left her best friend to fend for herself even though said best friend had a literal memory problem. And do not get me started on her parents. Her parents literally left her alone when they left the country to care for their other child, despite the fact Flora has short term memory loss and mental health problems. Which in my mind is just terrible behaviour from parents.

Even the end was such a disappointment that I wish I hadn’t read that far. Yes the writing definitely hooked me in but in the bad way. I knew what was going to happen but I just wanted to keep reading in hopes that I was wrong, but I wasn’t. The writing style is really different, it’s really repetitive but that’s because it’s told from Flora’s POV so whenever her memory reset itself she had to read notes to herself to remind her of what she was doing. I wouldn’t have had an issue with this because I understand it’s plot purpose but it was so focussed on Drake that I just rolled my eyes every time.

Another thing I really didn’t like was that this book kind of gave off the idea that pills are bad. That they turn you into a different person if you take pills for mental health reasons. I’m not sure if that’s what Barr intended but that’s what it read like to me. And I’m on anti depressants so I really hate reading that kind of thing.

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