Book Review by Nicole: Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy

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Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: May 9, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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A hilarious, brilliant, and witty YA read about coming out! Book Review: “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”, by Becky Albertalli

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 7, 2015)
Page Count: 320 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Young Adult; Contemporary/Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5
★★★★★

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I’ve seen this book on a dozen “must read” lists, and now I know why it was on there. This book was hilarious, brilliant, witty, and jam-packed with everything that makes the YA genre one of my favorites to read. Drama, angst, geekiness and more surround a teenage boy’s struggle to decide if he’s ready to come out to his family, friends, and classmates.

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.

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original graphic by Epic Reads, edited by me

1. Do you like young adult fiction with unique, interesting characters?

Simon and his friends are fantastic, quirky and well-rounded characters who add to the novel instead of just serving as filler. They’re a diverse group of teens, each with a fully formed personality. The story is told from Simon’s point of view, so through his eyes we get hilarious and insightful looks into the lives of his friends and family.

I love Leah. Love love love. She has her own ‘coming out’, in a way, with her own problems that Simon struggles to understand. But she’s a great balance for Simon’s over-the-top strangeness; she’s down to earth, realistic, and a rebel where Simon tries to fit in and be ‘normal’.

Leah avoids my eyes. “I made you a mix,” she says, handing me a CD in a clear plastic case. You can load it onto your iPod when you get home. Whatever.”

I turn the case over in my hands. Instead of a track list, Leah has composed what appears to be a haiku:

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2. Do you like coming out stories that are also coming of age stories?

Simon isn’t ashamed of being gay. In fact, he constantly wonders why gay people have to ‘come out’, when straight people don’t have to do the same. It’s frustrating, for the world to assume that you’re straight until you inform them otherwise. But Simon isn’t ready to come out just yet.

Coming out, and the significance behind it, is a major theme here. By blackmailing Simon, Martin basically strips Simon of his right to come out when he’s ready.

But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

Coming out stories are becoming more popular in the YA genre, but this one stands apart from the crowds.

3. Do you like sweet romances?

Through emails, Simon and Blue’s relationship evolves in a really lovely way. I was laughing over and over again (and craving Oreos like you wouldn’t believe!) because of their back-and-forth exchanges. And Albertalli did a great job of slowly unveiling the mystery identity of Blue, in a way that was realistic for the reader and Simon both!

With the anonymity of the internet, Simon (under the pen name Jacques) and Blue are able to get to know one another without fear of repercussion. It means their friendship turns to romance slowly, as they learn more about the other’s likes and dreams and personalities, and it makes the relationship feel so much more real.

I know it’s stupid, and honestly, at this point, I spend about half my waking hours imagining us meeting in person for the first time. But I can’t think of a way for that to happen without everything changing. I think I’m scared to lose you.

4. Do you like novels that are about more than meets the eye?

I think this book isn’t necessarily about coming out as gay, but about coming out as yourself. Simon and Blue go through a lot of indecision and fear as they try to find the courage to reveal their sexuality, but all of the characters are going through something similar. In the end, Albertalli isn’t telling a story to help gay high schoolers get the nerve to come out of the closet, she’s telling teenagers that they should be true to themselves.

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Review: None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio (Rating: 5/5)

gregorio-none-of-the-aboveNone of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 7, 2015)
Page Count: 352 pages
Genre: Young Adult LGBTQIA+

Rating: 5 out of 5

Buy Links: Amazon / Google Play / Book Depository

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That’s when I realized that life was a multiple-choice test with two answers: Male or Female. And I was None of the Above.

In a world where most forms and applications still only offer two gender options, None of the Above is both a poignant and painful novel to get through. I say painful not because it was a difficult book to enjoy, but because it was a difficult book to read. The stigma and phobia attached to the term ‘intersex’ (and the older, pejorative term ‘hermaphrodite’) is almost physically painful to read about, especially with the humiliation and bullying that accompanies Kristin’s diagnoses.

But it was also an eye-opener in a way, reading about the pain, physical and emotional, that a teenage girl goes through when faced with society’s response to a rare genetic syndrome. It hurt, but it made me appreciate and respect the intersex community even more.

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?

For a woman, the first time having sex is often painful. Kristen expects a little bit of discomfort; what she doesn’t expect is screaming agony, tears, and a flood of embarrassment. Her boyfriend, Sam, seems to understand, but her best friend Vee convinces Kristen to go see a gynecologist. And suddenly, eighteen years of certainty are thrown out the window.

Think about your deepest, darkest secret. Now imagine having that secret revealed to your entire high school, without your consent. Teenagers are cruel, and ignorance leads to fear and hatred. Kristen, the girl who had everything going for her, finds life taking a complete one-eighty.

I honestly believe this is a book that anyone can enjoy. Yes, the protagonist is a teen girl, and it’s clearly marketed toward the young adult audience. But everyone has a secret they don’t want to get out, and many people remember high school as a period they’re glad to have left behind. So I think Kristen’s story can really resonate with a lot of people.

Gregorio introduces a lot of educational facts about what it means to be intersex through Kristen’s conversations with her doctor, her father, and the other women she meets in the intersex community. It should feel a bit like getting a lecture, but Gregorio infuses the information with Kristen’s emotional reactions, making every scene feel real and interesting.

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I really loved every moment of this book, even when it was painful. Before reading this, I’d heard the term intersex before, and had a general understanding of what it meant. But this is the first novel I’ve read with an intersex protagonist, so it was a learning experience as well as a brilliant story about a teenager trying to adjust her understanding of who (and what) she is.

I hope that, with the release of this book and the praise it’s received, people will become more educated about the intersex community, and the stigma attached to it will fade away into history.

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