DRC Review of Camp by L. C. Rosen

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

For the last few summers, Randy has come to Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. He was free to be himself more fully, even being the lead in the musical there last summer. But this year, Randy is gone, and Del is here instead. Del doesn’t wear nail polish. Dell doesn’t do musical. Del does sports instead. Del wears different clothes.

Why? So Randy aka Del can attract Hudson, a guy who is only into “straight-acting” guys. He has a plan. He will get Hudson to fall in love with Del and reveal himself as Randy, hoping that Hudson has fallen in love him enough that he won’t have any problems being himself around Hudson.

At first, Del’s plans goes better than he expects. Turns out, Hudson was so oblivious to Randy in the past that Del is able to fully pass himself off as a new camper. Hudson takes advantage, eschewing his former reputation as a playboy at the camp, to quickly begin a romance with Del.

But as the summer unravels, pieces of the past find ways to pierce into the relationship, and Del finds himself wondering, is a relationship worth it if he has to change who he is to be in it?

Camp is an important look at toxic masculinity as well as some of the issues that are very real in the queer community, from problems with those that won’t accept you outside of the community to problems with those that won’t accept you from inside the community. It is a very worthwhile read.

Camp releases May 26, 2020.

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Author Interview with Adib Khorram

Today, I have the great honor of doing an interview with Adib Khorram, author of the award-winning (and life-changing) Darius the Great is Not Okay.

First, here’s a bit about Adib (from his website)

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY. If he’s not writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his 100-yard Freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz Jump, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at adibkhorram.com.

And here’s a bit of Darius the Great is Not Okay (again from his website):

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. 

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home in Portland, and he just knows things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Sohrab introduces Darius to all of his favorite things–mint syrup and the soccer field and a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, friends don’t have to talk. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

And now for the interview!
Darius the Great is Not Okay is frequently included on lists for LGBT+ books, but in the book itself, Darius’ sexuality is never overtly stated. Was this an intentional decision/what drove that decision?

It was quite intentional. For me Darius’s story was always, always about friendship; I didn’t even realize he was queer until I was deep in revisions. I think it’s important to show pre-coming out queer narratives, and I think it’s important to show that queer identity is only one small part of people.

Darius has won quite a few literary awards which is incredible. What has been your most personally rewarding moment in the year since the book first released? (Doesn’t have to be literary award related!) 

It’s hard to pick a rewarding moment—there have been so many—but I will share a trend that’s stuck with me. I do a lot of school visits and I talk about my own growing up as a queer kid, and a diaspora kid, and I love the conversations that spurs. Sometimes it’ll be a big discussion and the students will get to see their friends and classmates with greater empathy than before. And sometimes it’s a quiet moment of connection where a student is struggling with something and asks me for advice. Making life better for young readers is why I do this.

Darius portrays the quiet struggles of mental illness so well. After I made my mom read it, she told me, “now I understand you and your dad a little better.” Why was it important to you to include this mental health representation?  

When I first started writing Darius back in 2015, it felt like there was a huge crop of books about mental illness that all dealt with suicide. While that’s certainly a possible outcome of living with depression, it’s not the only one, and I wanted to push back on that narrative.

You work a job outside of writing. Because of that, what does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t know that I really have a typical writing day! Sometimes my dayjob will be kind of slow and I’ll take time off to write. Sometimes it’ll be busy and get no writing in. Sometimes I’ll be on a job site but waiting for someone else to finish before I can do my work, and then I might squeeze in some writing there. My favorite writing days are when I can gather with some other local YA authors and we write, talk, and get lunch!

Your next sold book is a picture book. How has this process been different than the process for Darius?

With a novel, I’m in charge of describing everything in words. But with a picture book, I have to leave room for the illustrator. So much gets to go unsaid. It’s been so cool to work on something and know it’s going to be transformed into something even more amazing.

If you had the opportunity to co-write a YA novel with any author (living or dead), who would you pick and why? (And if you wouldn’t want to do a co-write, explain why.)

I met Lana Wood Johnson back in 2014 when we were both querying bad novels. We posted our queries for critique, ripped each others’ to shreds, and have been friends ever since. Her debut, TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT came out this year, and it shares a lot of themes with Darius: nerds, queerness, mental health, parent relationships. I think we’d have a blast working on something fun and nerdy together!


Thank you so much to Adib for doing this interview with me! I’m still in shock that so many authors said yes, and I’m still shocked that Adib said yes.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is such an incredible book. You can read what I had to say about it here, and I included links below to check out.

Add Darius the Great is Not Okay on Goodreads

Buy Darius the Great is Not Okay

Add Seven Special Somethings (the forthcoming picture book) to Goodreads

Author Interview with Phil Stamper

Up next in the author interview series is an interview Phil Stamper, author of the forthcoming The Gravity of Us. I read this as an ARC (read the review here), and I loved it so much.

Here’s a bit about Phil Stamper (from his website):

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. THE GRAVITY OF US is his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing. His self-insert Legend of Zelda fanfiction came with a
disclaimer from the 14-year old author: “Please if you write a review don’t criticize my work.” He has since become more open to critique… sort of.
And here’s a bit about The Gravity of Us which releases February 4, 2020.

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

And now for the interview!

In the book, you take the world that was built in the 1960s for the first era of human space flight modernize it. Why did you specifically decide to do this?

This is a great question, and I think it was actually a bit of trial and error that got me to this point. I started drafting the novel as a YA historical fiction novel, actually. In the plan for this novel, I was going to build a teen m/m love story into the actual Apollo program. But I had a hard time making it work. Among the issues, it didn’t feel very relevant or exciting as a story. I wasn’t feeling that “spark” you get when a piece is really coming together.

And then I had the idea to make it a contemporary, and I started to find so many parallels between the issues the astronaut families would face today and what they really did face 50 years ago. I replotted the book, adding the social media and reality show elements, the “Orpheus” missions to Mars, and I found a way to reference the drama of the 60s while not getting too caught up in nostalgia. I decided to go for it during NaNoWriMo 2016, and ended up drafting the full book in three weeks. It just worked so well.

In the book, both Cal’s mother and Leon struggle with mental health issues. However, Cal does not explicitly struggle with mental health. Why was it important to you to include mental health issues from the perspective of a perceived outsider (i.e. Cal)?

This really came from my own personal experiences—I’ve spent a lot of time (over the last half-decade especially) learning how to manage my own mental health, and for me, part of the challenge of that is in how to communicate it to others. Too often, it can feel like it’s “me against the world” when mental health is concerned, and I found it almost therapeutic to write from the perspective of a character who may or may not have the same experience, but who still takes the time to listen and understand.

Given the right circumstances, would you consider a sequel?

Absolutely! I loved spending so much time in this world, and I could definitely see the potential for more stories within it. Keep your fingers crossed. 🙂


Thank you so much to Phil for his time and thoughtful answers!!

I’ve linked some important links below:

Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads

Pre-order The Gravity of Us

Info about Phil Stamper’s awesome pre-order gift (a bookplate that’s been flown into space!) 

Follow Phil on Twitter

ARC Review of Only Mostly Devastated by Sophia Gonzales

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ollie was in North Carolina, just for the summer, spending time with his aunt who has cancer and helping to watch his cousins. This was the perfect time to start a summer fling with a boy named Will. What Ollie didn’t plan on was his parents springing the news on him that they were staying in North Carolina for now because his aunt’s cancer is progressing.

And what Ollie definitely didn’t expect was for Will to be attending his new high school.

However, school year Will is quite different. He ignores Ollie, and Ollie is left to try to forge his own path while trying to figure out what happened with this summer romance.

Despite being labeled as a rom-com in the author’s bio, this is NOT a rom-com. I found this to be an immensely heavy book, dealing with homophobia, the fear of coming out, the fear of leaving friends behind/calling them out if they are homophobic, and dealing the impending loss of a family member. And while there are some lighter moments within this book, the majority of it really does deal with all of that.

Overall, I felt a bit let down because I went expecting one thing and got something quite different.

DRC Review of The Map From Here to There by Emery Lord

Disclaimer: I received an DRC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Map From Here to There serves as a sequel to Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You. While it would be better to have read the first book first, it’s not actually a complete requirement to enjoy this one.

Weeks before the start of her senior year, Paige’s relationship with Max is just beginning. But at the same time, her world that she’s made in Indiana may be coming to an end. Faced with questions about where to go to college, what she wants to major in, changing interests, Paige’s relationship with Max becomes a lot more complicated.

Add into that, Paige’s anxiety, a constant undercurrent to her life, becomes worse after a car accident. Suddenly all the decisions that she’s facing become a lot more complicated. The anxiety representation is completely realistic for me. While Paige had made a lot of progress in the first novel, mental illness doesn’t always have a linear trajection. Sometimes, events happen that cause a worsening mental illness. Sometimes, it just happens. I appreciate the honest look at how just because you get better for a while doesn’t mean you stay better and that it’s okay to get help again.

The Map From Here to There is a very heavily character driven novel where the characters drive the plot instead of the plot driving the characters. Emery Lord pulls this off very well.

The Map From Here to There  releases January 7, 2020.

 

DRC Review of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

NASA is preparing to go to Mars. They’ve had a nationwide search for astronauts to prepare for this mission, and they are about to announce the final one. Meanwhile, Cal is Brooklyn, trying his best to get through his senior year so he can become a journalist. He has a FlashFame account with hundreds of thousands followers, and he has a Buzzfeed internship lined up.

All of his plans are quickly derailed when his father is announced as the final astronaut for this mission. Quickly, his family has to leave Brooklyn and head to Clear Lake, Texas to prepare.

Cal quickly finds himself at odds with the reality tv show that’s covering the astronauts and their families, but he also quickly finds himself taken in by Leon, a fellow Astrokid.

The Gravity of Us is quite simply amazing. Stamper takes the world that was built in the 1960s for the first era of human space flight, and he modernizes it. It feels so real throughout the entire thing, as if I should be preparing to watch a launch for humans to go to Mars next year.

Additionally, there’s a different type of mental health rep in this book, where the main character doesn’t necessarily struggle with mental health issues but his mom and his love interest do. Both are done with such delicate care which is so appreciated from someone who struggles with mental health issues.

Throughout the entire book, I was heavily invested, and I didn’t want it to end. Selfishly, I hope it does well enough to demand a sequel.

The Gravity of Us doesn’t release until February 4, 2020, but you can pre-order this amazing book now. (P.S. Phil Stamper has an amazing pre-order campaign going where he’s sending bookplates into space. I’ve linked that info below the pre-order links)

Pre-order Links

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Phil Stamper’s Pre-order Campaign

 

 

DRC Review of Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Nina has just one semester left of high school. She’s enrolled in a radio broadcasting class, but much to her annoyance, she doesn’t have friends in this class. As she watches everyone else pair off into teams of four, she quickly pairs up with someone she remembers from an old class, and they join up with another pair. Unfortunately for her, this means that she’ll be working with Jamie who used to be a friend before she ruined everything.

As the group of four begin planning their broadcast and begin their show, they must learn how to deal with each other’s quirks, and Nina has to figure out how to face her past with Jamie.

When the show finds an accidental cult following of an old grunge band coupled with the team’s plan for a mysterious guest who is most definitely not one of the band members, chaos ensues.

Emma Mills’ books are always an utter delight to read, and this is no exception. With short, punchy chapters, this is a fast read, and it’s highly, highly enjoyable. And for readers who have read all of Emma Mills’ books, you will find some delightful Easter eggs in this!

While Lucky Caller doesn’t release until January, I highly, highly encourage you to pre-order now!!

Pre-Order Links

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

 

ARC Review of Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Simone has always been HIV positive. Now seventeen, she’s starting over at a new school after her ex-girlfriend blasted that info to everyone at the boarding school. Now, she’s more determined to keep her status quiet, but there’s a problem: she cannot stop thinking about someday having sex with someone.

She begins crushing on Miles, and much to her surprise and delight, Miles is interested in her too. But then a note shows up in her locker: break things off with Miles or everyone will know she’s HIV positive.

Full Disclosure is a timely look at both how much progress has been made in the treatment of HIV while also looking at how much prejudice still remains against those who are positive.

 

ARC Review of The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Esme started a babysitters club with three friends when she was 12. Now 17, she and her friend Janis are the only two left in this club where they mostly use it as an excuse to hang out together while babysitting occasionally instead of getting a traditional job.

Strange things, however, start happening to Esme and Janis while they are babysitting. One charge ends up on the roof with no idea how she got there. And someone breaks into the house another night.

Strange things also begin happening to Esme. She finds that she is able to make things happen by thinking about them, but at first, she’s not sure what’s going on.

Enter Cassandra, new to town, who knows exactly what’s up with Esme. They both have powers.

As alluded to in the official plot description from the publisher, the two of them discover that they have lineage as Sitters who are protectors of the normal world. And something is definitely up in their town, and they may be the only two that can stop it.

The Babysitters Coven is a fun read, a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Hocus Pocus. Stories with a paranormal element aren’t usually my cup of tea, but this made it really fun to read.

As a final note, one of the disappointing things was the use of the word “crazy” thrown around to describe Esme’s mom. Esme tried to say that she was reclaiming the word from all those people who called her mom “crazy,” however, you cannot personally reclaim a word if you aren’t the person directly affected by it.

Overall, a fun read and one to check out when it releases in September 2019.

 

ARC Review of How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Remy Cameron has sworn off dating. After a bad break up last year, he’s determined that the rest of high school will be about doing all the steps necessary so he can get into Emory. To do this, he needs to do well in AP Lit, but his teacher throws him a curveball the same time life throws him one too in the form of a boy.

In order to pass the semester of AP Lit, Remy has to write an essay about who he is. Suddenly, Remy who is adopted, Black, and gay, doesn’t know quite who he is besides all of the labels that society puts on him. He begins to question all of this while becoming interested in Ian despite swearing that he would not get involved with another boy.

How to Be Remy Cameron is a unique look at how labels can be more harmful and helpful while still being an entertaining story.

Additionally, the novel manages to have a great ensemble cast. While there are some moments of homophobia from a couple of characters, we see teachers and students challenge it on page which is refreshing in respect to the teacher aspect.

How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters releases September 10.