Going Off Script

In Jen Wilde’s new novel, Going Off Script, she delves into the world of TV. Protagonist Bex Phillips wants to be a showrunner/script writer, so after graduating from high school, she secures an intern job in L.A. in the writers room of her favorite TV show, Silver Falls. Excited and nervous, Bex boards a bus from her small town in Washington and heads down to flashy L.A. to join her makeup artist cousin Parker.

Bex has a secret she’s hiding from Parker though – she’s gay. Though Parker is also gay, she’s afraid to tell him. Her aunt and mother call her Lil P because she always wanted to be just like her cousin, and she’s afraid he’ll see her coming out as just another way to be like him.

Putting that aside, Bex shows up for her first day on the job and is disappointed to find out that the showrunner/head writer, the man she’s supposed to be interning for, is a massive jerk. He can’t get her name right, treats her like garbage, and leaves her hanging after the writers’ meeting. Fortunately for Bex, executive producer Jane steps in as mentor. But Bex wants to impress her boss and writes a spec script for an upcoming episode to feature a lesbian love interest for a female character. The head writer steals the script (natch!) and eventually changes it to make the new character a love interest for the homophobic male lead.

Bex is livid, and with the help of a few of the cast members, her cousin, a friend from back home, and the Silver Falls fandom, she starts a rebellion to get “her” character portrayed the way she wrote it – especially because her OWN love interest was cast in the part.

This is a sweet, cute read. Very enjoyable if a little predictable. Wilde spins a fun story in a world that most of us can only imagine being a part of.

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This is Not a Love Scene

Though Maeve has Muscular Dystrophy, this is not a “disability” novel. In S.C. Meagle’s debut, This is Not a Love Scene, main character Maeve has a circle of friends, parents who love and support her, a great service dog named François, and a fledgling career in film.

Maeve doesn’t seem to resent her condition, with the exception of how it may or may not affect her love life. When she and her friend Elliot co-direct a film project for class, slightly-older man Cole Stone is cast as one of the actors for the film. And Maeve is surprised by the flirty text banter between herself and the sexy star.

Complications arrive in the form of Maeve’s friend-since-kindergarten KC, who has been harboring romantic feelings for her. Maeve doesn’t know how to deal with those, especially in conjunction with her lust for Cole.

This book has a lot to recommend it – I especially love the fact that though the main character has MD, it’s NOT the central focus of the story – however, it feels like Meagle could have delved deeper into some of the teases she placed on the page. I wanted to know more about her relationship with Mags and why Mags seemed okay dating a guy who was rude and condescending to Maeve. I wanted to know more about KC’s situation. I really didn’t like the way Cole jerked around Maeve and she kept letting him back in for more.

Meagle’s book is, overall, a nice read, even with questions left over at the end. I enjoyed Maeve as a character and as a person.

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What If It’s Us

So I count myself as an “ally” in the LGBQTIA equation, and I love reading all kinds of books including the entire realm of the rainbow alphabet. As a fan of the Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda book and its sequels, I was psyched to read Becky Albertalli’s collaboration with Adam Silvera, What If It’s Us. It did not disappoint.

What If It’s Us is the story of how Arthur Seuss (no relation) meets Ben Alejo, told in alternating viewpoints between Arthur and Ben. Arthur is a sweet nerdy guy, living in New York with his parents for the summer, interning for his mother’s law firm. They normally live in Milton, Georgia, but a big case has temporarily relocated the family. It’s on a coffee run for the office that Arthur spots Ben, carrying a box into the post office, and is entranced to the point that he follows Ben into the post office. Though the two talk, a sudden flash mob proposal separates the two before names or numbers can be exchanged.

Both boys have a coterie of friends – Ben has his best friend Dylan, Dylan’s new love interest, Samantha, as well as a strained relationship with a girl named Harriett (who dated Dylan but he broke up with her) and his ex-boyfriend, Hudson. Arthur has two college girls from his mother’s office as well as his friends Ethan and Jessie back home. The friends conspire ways for these two to re-meet, and then through a series of “do-over” first dates and insecurities, Ben and Arthur fall in love.

But Arthur is only in New York for the summer, and both boys have another year of high school to complete. Can a summer fling be more? You’ll have to read What If It’s Us to find out.

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Summer of 69

In Todd Strasser’s new historical fiction, he uses some personal experiences and some “borrowed” experiences to make this coming-of-age in the era of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, hippies, and freaks feel almost more like an autobiography than just a wonderful work of fiction.

Eighteen-year-old Lucas Baker is in love with his girlfriend, Robin, and hoping to gain acceptance into a college near where his ladylove plans to go to school in the fall. Before that can happen, Lucas must survive a summer alone while Robin works in Canada at Camp Loon Lake. Lucas notices Robin is acting weirdly before she leaves, but because this story takes place way before smartphones and free long-distance calling, communication between the two is limited to the USPS and old fashioned letter writing.

Meanwhile, Lucas learns he was waitlisted for the only college he applied to, and is now in danger of being drafted as he doesn’t qualify for deferrment. While he’s trying to figure out how to stay out of Vietnam, prison, OR Canada, he works in his father’s junk-mail company and spends time with his friends Arno and Milton, his cousin Barry, and a hippie chick named Tinsley. It is with Tinsley that Lucas attends the legendary concert Woodstock.

Throughout this story, Strasser weaves the tale in both first and third person, in flashbacks and present tense, in such a way that when Lucas trips on acid, we feel the trip (both good and bad). The book is hard to put down and the trials and tribulations Lucas goes through both with his friends and his family (Dad cheats on Mom, Lucas has a developmentally slow younger brother, etc) bring the reader deep into the plot. We root for Lucas to find a way out of serving in Vietnam, and the couple of surprises toward the end warm the heart.

Two thumbs up for this trippy exploration of a time known for turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

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If I Was Your Girl

This is an older book, released into the world in 2016, but still a very important and worthy read. Meredith Russo’s #ownvoices story of a transgender girl trying to live her life “normally” is important for both trans readers, who will relate, and cisgenders, who can learn.

Amanda, born Andrew, has moved from her mother’s home in Atlanta to her father’s small town of Lambertville, where no one knows she was born a boy. She has had gender reassignment surgery. With her father, Amanda hopes to be who she was meant to be. And she develops friendships with a group of girls, as well as a returned crush on a boy, Grant. But she agonizes over whether to tell Grant about her past.

When she writes a confession letter to give to him, Grant burns it, telling Amanda he will never regret dating her and that the past doesn’t matter. However, that faith is tested on Homecoming night, when the one person Amanda trusted with her secret, a bisexual girl named Bee, blurts out ALL of Lambertville’s secrets, saving Amanda’s for last.

Though this is not Russo’s own story, and some elements are, as she notes at the end of the book, stretched and fictionalized to make Amanda’s story work, this is a poignant and necessary work. Russo uses alternating chapter flashbacks to build Amanda’s backstory, so the reader knows exactly what she had to endure to find herself. By the end of the book, I was right there with Amanda, and grateful that the author gave her a hopeful ending.

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Serious Moonlight

I am a serious Jenn Bennett fan. I totally love contemporary YA, and romance, and Bennett has that in spades. Her newest book, Serious Moonlight, is a winner.

Eighteen year old Birdie has led a sheltered life since losing her mother at ten years old. Her mother’s best friend, her Aunt Mona, fills some of the hole, and her overprotective grandparents kept her homeschooled and sheltered from life in their home on Bainbridge Island. After her grandmother passes, Birdie convinces her grandfather that she needs to take responsibility and be a grown-up, so she looks for a job in Seattle. It is at her favorite haunt, the Moonlight Diner, after a promising interview, that Birdie has a one-night fling with a stranger, a stunt that embarrasses her to no end.

When Birdie starts her job on the graveyard shift at a charming Seattle hotel, the Cascadia, she is shocked to discover her one night stand, Daniel Aoki, is also employed there, and did not want to just be a one-night stand.

The story has swoops and turns and mysteries – Birdie loves mysteries, and sleuthing – that reveal both Birdie’s and Daniel’s secrets to each other. The building of their relationship blossoms over the book, and Bennett brings rich details into the plot to swing the reader along with Birdie. It’s a wonderful read and hard to put down. Highly recommend!

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On the Come Up

Angie Thomas’s follow up to her extraordinary The Hate You Give is a total winner as well. In this novel (which gave Thomas both the #1 and #2 spots on the NY Times bestseller list upon its release), we meet Bri, a sixteen year old whose dream is to be a rapper like her late father, Lawless. Bri’s mother and older brother Trey do their best to keep their household running, but there are days where the gas is off, the electric is off, or where they are ducking the landlady because she wants the rent. Bri’s mom is a former junkie, but she’s clean and sober and Bri prays she stays that way.

In her quest to be a rapper, Bri is managed by her Aunt Pooh, her mother’s sister, who is a neighborhood dealer as well as a member of the Garden Disciples. Bri’s life is really complicated, but she gets an opportunity to shine in her first battle in The Ring, where her stylin’ rhymes take down the son of her father’s former manager, Supreme. Supreme starts sniffing around Bri, wanting to rep her.

A pivotal moment in Bri’s development as a character comes when her school’s security guards, known for singling out the black and brown students, single Bri out to search her bag. She’s selling candy (contraband) so doesn’t want to show them. She ends up on the floor and cuffed, and when her Aunt Pooh gets her studio time, the song that comes out, the title of the book, On the Come Up, sets loose a torrent of events that Bri was not prepared to deal with.

Thomas has a gift for bringing her unique voice to her characters, and Bri is a great character. I was with her the whole book, and can’t wait to get this book onto my classroom bookshelf to share with my predominantly African American students.

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