Book Review: The Nerdy and the Dirty


Book Review: The Nerdy and the DirtyThe Nerdy and the Dirty by B. T. Gottfred
Release Date: November 15th 2016
Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 304
Source: Library

His classmates may consider him a nerd, but Benedict Pendleton knows he's destined for great things. All he has to do is find a worthy girlfriend, and his social station will be secured. Sure, Benedict is different--but that's what he likes about himself.

Pen Lupo is sick and tired of hiding who she is. On the outside, Pen is popular, quiet, and deferential to her boyfriend. On the inside, however, Pen is honest, opinionated--and not sure that she's quite like other girls. Do they have urges like she does?

When fate intervenes, Pen and Benedict end up at the same vacation resort for winter break. Despite their differences, the two are drawn together. But is there such a thing as happily ever after for this unlikely pair?

I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. I first saw it on Edelweiss, but I didn’t get to it before it was published. I love  frank sex talk for teens ala Forever (Blume). I truly believe teens need those type of books; however, this is not it.

But it got good professional reviews and has decent buzz! Indeed it has gotten lots of praise, but I found the book incredibly problematic. I seriously cannot understand why no one but School Library Journal pointed out any of it, even as a precaution. While this is a rant for another day, I will say we need to do better. Hopefully, by the time I’m finished, you’ll agree with me.

Okay, let’s start with the writing. I found most of it to be choppy and stilted, especially when it came to Benedict. I do believe this was done on purpose, to highlight his “tin man” likeness, but it drove me crazy. Here’s an example of what I mean:

When I got home, I wanted to talk to my dad. He would have great advice. He’s brilliant. I’m not saying that just because he’s my dad. He’s a psychiatrist and an author. (p 17)

I know there’s technically nothing wrong with the sentence structure, but most of the book is in this format. For me, it’s jarring and pulls me out of the story. I honestly almost DNF at page 30 because of the writing.

Benedict as character has a lot of issues. I would wager by the way he talks and acts, that it is possible he is on the spectrum. I do not know this for sure, though, so it’s strictly a guess. However, if he is, the whole storyline that he can just be “normal” if he tries hard enough is problematic. Although, even if he is, that does not excuse some of his actions/allow him to be a jerk. I absolutely hate the way he treats his mother. Several times it is mentioned that his mom is the beauty and not the brains. She couldn’t possibly help him because she’s not intelligent enough to help him. It has to be his dad. I know a lot of this was force fed by his father, but it’s still not okay, especially since this attitude is basically applied to all women. I will give points for Benedict back pedaling on this train of thought as the book continued, though.

Of course, there is sex in this book. I’ll admit at times it is gratuitous, like telling me which hand is used to masturbate, but most of it isn’t too bad. I do like that most of the sex talk is straightforward. No cute slang for genitalia and consent is usually asked (at least with Benedict and Pen). However, it does at time makes the scenes seem a bit unrealistic, especially the first actual sex scene. It felt a bit too mature, however, that’s me mainly being nit picky. What is not okay is how female masturbation is treated. Pen repeatedly calls herself a freak because she likes to masturbate and think about sex. She even gets sent to in-patient church therapy when her mom discovers her in the act. Benedict does tell her it’s healthy and that more girls should masturbate, but there is still a sense that Pen believes she’s a freak. Also, I do find that hard to believe that none of the girls on school talk about sex, even with religion thrown into the mix. I can remember sitting in 7th grade and listening to girls talk about their sex lives. Considering that was over 20 years ago, I can’t imagine it’s changed too much, especially the amount of times I’ve told my teens our program talk is PG-13.

I’m going to start delving into some of the stuff that really bothered me. The top of my list is abuse. Pen’s (ex) boyfriend, Paul, is highly abusive mentally, sexually, & physically. Here are just some of the passages that highlights how abusive he is:

“You’re not beating him up, Paul,” I say. Shit. I never tell him what to do or not to do. You know. I always do my passive thing….
“Babe, you can’t talk to me like that.” (p 24)

“I love you too.” I always said “I love you” after he did. I said it first once and it weirded him out. So I say it second. Always. (p 34)

After school, Paul grabbed me under the arm and dragged me out to his car. He kept twisting the skin under my arm. It felt like flesh would tear off, and I never told him to stop. Just take the pain, Pen. It’s okay. Paul would never really hurt me…..”If we hadn’t had sex, i would totally break up with you, Pen! But I love you and we’re going to get married. But we’re going to hate each other like your parents hate each other unless you stop acting like a cunt.” (p 52)

“How are you going to make it up to me?” ….Before I even undid my seatbelt, he put his hand behind my head and started guiding me down toward his crotch. It’s not like he shoved me down there. But, I don’t know, I guess I made it up to him. (p 53)

There is more I could pull, but I’ll stop there. Paul is abusive, no excuses. He breaks up with her after her mom decides Paul shouldn’t join them on vacation at the resort. He knows she was sent away for therapy, but doesn’t know the details. Instead, he uses it as an excuse for them to take a break and for him to mess around with another girl. During this break is when Pen hooks up with Benedict. Three days. Three days is all it takes for her to magically break “free”. When the vacation ends disastrously (I’ll get to this in a bit), she goes to see Paul. She doesn’t even care that he cheated and tells him it’s over. He refuses to let her go and then hits her, which she reports to the cops. I’m glad that she that she reported it, but it feels unlikely that after being in an abusive relationship for years she could stand up for herself so fast. It makes it appear that walking away from abusive partners is simple, but in real life it would have been way more of a struggle. Also, I hate how it was kind of swept under the rug/explained away because his own mother was abusive as well. It was odd how Pen was just like “well, that explains it” and go on her merry way.

Pen’s mother is also pretty abusive, which again is swept away with an explanation  as to why it happens. Not only does Pen mother send her away to therapy for masturbating, but she also calls the cops to assure she goes. It’s also implied many times that Pen’s mother is verbally abusive. The reason? View Spoiler »

If that wasn’t enough, the way crazy, retard, & whore are thrown around is horrible. This is the area I’m most upset that professional reviewers didn’t at least call out as a precaution. Pen repeatedly calls her mom or herself crazy or nuts. I hate how loosely the word is thrown around. This passage struck me the hardest

So, yeah, it was a panic attack. I’m crazier than my mother. (p 83)

No. No, no, no, no. I hate the implications this makes on people who experience panic attacks. How would a teen who experience panic attacks regularly feel after that statement? It’s an illness that no one should be ashamed up and it certainty doesn’t make one crazy.

As for retard and whore, once Benedict and Pen are discovered in a warming hut naked, those words are thrown around without care. Her mother repeatedly called Benedict a retard and Pen a whore. A sentiment that his father echoes. A sentiment that Benedict starts to repeat to himself/believe.

Do you think she ever wants to see a boy again whose father called her a whore? Use your brains, retard. (p 225)

If I’m correct and Benedict is on the spectrum, this is unforgivable, especially since no one tries to stop them from saying it. In fact, only Pen says not to use those words, once, to Paul during their fight. That’s it. One could argue it was the parents lashing out, but I’m extremely disappointed by how casually those words are used.

I wish I had more positive things to say about this book, but it was a complete miss in my eyes.

30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2

I fell a bit behind this week, but I hope to catch up next week. Here’s what I read


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Asking for It by Kate Harding
Release Date: August 25th 2015
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Pages: 272
Source: Library

Every seven minutes, someone in America commits a rape. And whether that's a football star, beloved celebrity, elected official, member of the clergy, or just an average Joe (or Joanna), there's probably a community eager to make excuses for that person.

In Asking for It, Kate Harding combines in-depth research with an in-your-face voice to make the case that twenty-first-century America supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims. Drawing on real-world examples of what feminists call "rape culture"—from politicos' revealing gaffes to institutional failures in higher education and the military—Harding offers ideas and suggestions for how we, as a society, can take sexual violence much more seriously without compromising the rights of the accused.

Whew, this was a doozy of a book, but in a good way. This is a book that everyone needs to read no matter the gender. It’s fitting that I read it right before that horrid Bloomingdale’s ad appeared. Rape culture is far from being conquered and the only way we’re going to do so is if we continue to talk about it and correct our behavior.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Don't Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche
Release Date: September 13th 2016
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 304
Source: Library

Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them. Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.   Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little.   After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.   Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first--herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before....   Una LaMarche triumphs once again with this rare and compassionate look at how racial and social privilege affects one family in crisis in both subtle and astonishing ways.

I enjoyed this one. There were a couple of little things that were problematic, but overall I loved the road trip aspect and the economic differences. Not to mention there were a lot of heartstrings pulled involving absent parents and what it means to be a family. This one easily was added to me booktalk list.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras
Release Date: November 3rd 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 288
Source: Library

Reeling from her mother's death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave - all the things she's wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she's always been afraid to do - including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most - and you learn that you're stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

I have a larger review for this one, which will go up on Wednesday. I liked the book, but it did have some things that made me raise my eyebrows. However, some of the scenes and quotes were amazing. It’ll be one I will still tell the teens about, but wasn’t good enough to be one I booktalk.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Non Non Biyori by Atto
Series: Non Non Biyori #1
Release Date: June 30th 2015
Publisher: Seven Seas
Pages: 180
Source: Library

Welcome to the countryside village of Asahigaoka, a quaint town far-removed from the hustle-and-bustle of the big city. You couldn’t imagine a more isolated setting in all of Japan. So when Tokyo-raised elementary school student Hotaru Ichijo transfers to the tiny Asahigaoka Branch School due to her father’s job, she’s in the for the culture shock of her life!
Join Hotaru and her new friends, the eccentric Renge, and the mischevious sisters Natsumi and Komari, as they share daily adventures in the idyllic Japanese countryside.

This one was a cute and silly manga. Easily one that is good for my younger manga-readers. It is rated Teen, but judging from the first volume it’s going to be a mild one that can be handed to 5th grade and up with no issues.


30 Day Reading Challenge: Week 2Rose Guns Days Season 1 Series: Rose Guns Days #1
Release Date: September 22nd 2015
Publisher: Yen Press
Pages: 195
Source: Library

After suffering unprecedented disasters in World War II, Japan accepts the American and Allied Forces' terms of unconditional surrender. Now the citizens of a ruined nation, the people of Japan come together amid an influx of influences and immigrants and--cunningly, carefully--survive...This is the unrecognizable Japan to which the sharpshooting, sweet-talking womanizer Leo Shishigami returns three years after the war. Against this backdrop, in the spring of 1947, everything is set into motion when Leo meets Rose Haibara, the madam of Club Primavera...

Ahh, this manga totally reminds me of old school type stuff. It has this total Trigun feel to it that I love. It is definitely older teen though. While there has not been any nudity, there are women of the night and the main villain is a complete sexual predator who has made it known he has no problem taking what he wants. However, everything is implied but not shown, which makes me okay leaving it on my teen shelves.

Book Review: If You Wrong Us


Book Review: If You Wrong UsIf You Wrong Us by Dawn Klehr
Release Date: October 8th 2015
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 240
Source: Library

"An intricate psychological page-turner that explores the darker side of vengeance and reads like Gone Girl through a teen lens." - Kirkus Reviews
Becca and Johnny become entangled after a car crash steals the lives of two people they love. Officially, the crash is an accident. But Becca and Johnny are convinced: someone did this.
As they plot revenge against the person responsible, a bond—intense, unyielding, and manic—takes hold of them. And in an unexpected turn of events, they fall for each other.
Or so they think.
In an upside-down world where decay is beautiful and love and hate become one, Becca and Johnny find themselves grappling with reality. Nothing is exactly what it seems, including what they've come to believe about the crash. Question is: will they learn the truth before it's too late?
No. The question is: when they learn the truth, will they care?

 

This is one of those books that I wanted to like so much, and tried to, but ultimately just couldn’t. The story itself isn’t bad. It’s a weird and twisted revenge plot where nothing is quite as it seems. The whole Gone Girl for teens is pretty accurate. Becca herself is a highly unreliable narrator and by the end it’s quite obvious that she’s mentally ill.  The ending is a bit rushed and it kind of falls apart as well. There were some “suspension of disbelief” moments , but none of that truly bothered me. In fact, it’s a quick fast read that I could have easily sold to reluctant readers had it not been for some highly problematic lines/issues that start popping up.

These issues started showing up pretty fast. In fact, on only page four we get this

I shift around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. It’s impossible because I’m stuffed into this desk-and-chair combo – much like Rosie is, sitting next to me jammed into her two-sizes-too-small bedazzled jeans.

There are so many other analogies that could have used. Why, why, why does it have to be this one? All it really serves is demeaning a female classmate. Sure, it forms an image, but does it have to be at the expense of a girl? Girls already have so many people yelling at them about their body, this does not need to added to their list.

 

The commentary on women’s body doesn’t end there. Less that 20 pages later, we’re given these lines:

Becca has no idea how hot she is, and that only makes her more appealing. pg 19

“Here, take this,” I add, shoving a granola bar into the chest pocket of her button-down shirt. I like my women with a little meat on their bones.” pg 20

No, no, no. A woman who lacks self-confidence is not sexy, and we do not need to be teaching our girls this. It’s okay, even good, to have self-confidence and know you’re beautiful. Also, can we please stop the commentary on what women should look like. I know this line was in a larger reference to her losing weight because of their revenge plot, but we need to express those words and not comments like “needing more meat on their bones”.

 

Speaking of weight, there are a couple of problematic lines on that as well. The worse offender is:

My brain is like a fat guy at an all-you-can-eat rib joint. Things are going along just fine, I consume, take things in just as I’m supposed to. But then, without warning, I reach out and grab something – a word, a phrase, a number – and it slips out of my greasy hands. pg 30

Again, I get what she is going at, but does it have to be at the expense of someone else. Why can’t it simply be “someone at an all-you-can-eat rib joint”? Why does it have to be someone that’s fat? It’s a stereotype that fat people eat/consume more than anyone else. It’s false and highly insulting.

 

The other line that deals with weight/unflattering description is

Mom checked in with an overweight blonde who smelled like perspiration and rubbing alcohol. pg. 49

This one seems not so bad compared to the other, but it still really bothered me. She’s overweight so she sweats more? I tried to find an angle that maybe she’s just moving around a lot, but she’s a hospital check-in desk person. Most likely, she is only manning the desk and maybe doing other light office jobs. Nothing that should make her reek of sweat.

 

There are other things that bothered me, like calling a psychiatric ward the Nut Hut, but the final nail in the coffin for me was the following passage

Call me sick, but I liked Travis’s dark side and the cloud of mystery and danger than hung over him. Brit didn’t understand this because she always got the attention. For me, it was new and exciting the way he fussed over me. I liked his possessiveness. It made me feel precious or something. pg 76

This passage comes a short time after we find out it’s rumored that he beat up his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps that’s not the dark side Becca  is referring to, but it’s the connection that I made. However, even if it isn’t, a relationship where someone is possessive is never good. This is an emotionally abusive relationship and it should not be spun as something good. Yes, I know there’s a twist to this passage that we learn later, but it still doesn’t make this passage okay. Her sister does try to use this fact to force Becca to break up with him, but it’s spun in a way that Brit just doesn’t want to be linked to the “talk” not that she’s worried he may be abusing her as well.

I know these passages seem small in comparison to the whole book, but I do think it’s still worth highlighting problematic things. It’s by no means an attack on anything, but something I believe we should be talking about.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced read with some problematic passages. It’ll be one that teens can still find on the library selves, but not one I promote/handsell.

Book Review: Alex as Well


Book Review: Alex as WellAlex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (BYR)
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she's a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn't as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents.

Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex-the boy Alex-has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces


Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in PiecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Pages: 208
Source: Library

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for  months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.

Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.

I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.

You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.

Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.

The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to  keep  her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.

The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should  learn.

Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.