Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale

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Kavya Joshi is competitive, to say the least. There’s a word she’s always been called- besharam. Her relatives and classmates, especially the ones that don’t speak Hindi, describe her with some intricate spin on the word. Brazen, bold, brash, or shameless- anything that indicates that she tries a bit too hard and talks a bit too much. Kavya knows what people think about her, but she’s determined to achieve much more than anyone ever expected her to. More than anything, she’s steadfast in beating her childhood rival and once friend, Ian Jun. He’s the only one who can defeat her in everything (including AP Stats), and she’s not going to give up anytime soon. However, due to an unexpected turn of events, a long coming break-up with her boyfriend, and a twisted game of truth-or-dare, she ends up kissing Ian. That’s right- kissing her arch nemesis. Kavya continues to treat Ian like a rival, but she can’t shake the feeling that something is different. Sick of the never-ending bickering between the two, their respective friend groups decide to create a series of challenges for Ian and Kavya to complete over the course of summer break. Along the way, Kavya navigates a difficult relationship with her sister, cracks in the Moon Girls, and of course, her painfully expanding feelings for Ian Jun.

I loved all the characters in the book because of their apparent flaws. The most prevalent example of this is the main character, Kavya Joshi. Kavya makes some poor choices throughout the story. However, she never hesitates to help her friends and family, making her a good person regardless of her mistakes. The duality of her personality is what makes her an interesting character. This description can also be used for many characters in the story, like Simran (Kavya’s sister) and Ian. One thing I slightly disliked was the writing style of the book. I feel like some sentences were structured a bit awkwardly. However, this didn’t detract from the overall message of the story. The trope “rivals to lover” is often overused, but this book incorporates it in a way that doesn’t feel cliché. The side characters feel like real people instead of props to push along the plot. Overall, this book is great!

One memorable thing about this book was the pop culture allusions. The book cleverly references relatively modern-day franchises like Pokémon, Sailor Moon, and Schitt’s Creek. Also, the title is an incredible pun. I might be a bit biased because of the awesome Desi representation.

Reviewed by Vaidehi, Twin Hickory Library

Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Drawn That Way by Elissa Sussman

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Hayley is one step closer to her dream of becoming a renowned animation director when she makes it into the summer internship held by her animation hero, Bryan Beckett. Inspired by the well-known film Beckett directed based on his son, A Boy Named Bear, Hayley has loved animation for her entire life. She will do anything to become a director on one of the four short films her and the other interns will be making. However, when Bear himself shows up as one of the 41 interns, and Bryan Beckett isn’t the type of man she thought he would be, Hayley’s well-thought-out future plans begin to crumble.

I loved Drawn That Way because of the powerful narrative of representation and inclusion. Within Hayley’s internship group and the employees at the studio, the vast majority of people are white males. The girls in the internship learn from their own experiences and the retellings from their female advisors that the world of animation is often sexist and cruel. While Hayley has a real, authentic talent, she has to fight harder than any of the boys in the internship to make herself be seen, and she doesn’t always win the battle. Reading Hayley’s story is empowering and will show young girls and people of color that even when it may seem like the world is against you, you have the strength to continue fighting and achieve the recognition you deserve.

It may seem like this book would only be relatable to teenagers who love art and animation, but that is not the case. Drawn That Way is a story of making and losing friends, failure and recovery, healing broken relationships, and realizing that what you wanted wasn’t what you thought it would be. Hayley learns many valuable lessons about her own self worth and relationships with others that will be remembered by anyone who reads her story.

Reviewed by Kayla, Glen Allen Library
Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Take Me With You When You Go by David Levithan and Jennifer Niven

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Bea Ahern has a tendency of running away from her problems, and this time is no different: except it is. This time she’s gone for good, leaving nothing but an email address and a hole in the life of those who knew her. Ezra Ahern has the honor of being on the receiving end of his sister’s secret emails, and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that it wasn’t just about their terrible childhoods, Bea left for something more. She wasn’t running away; she was running towards something, or someone. She’s begun her own journey in the real world; one that could uncover the truth about both her and her brother. Meanwhile, Ezra’s left dealing with their sorry excuses for a mom and stepdad, all while uncovering the skeletons of their past with Bea. Told in a series of email exchanges, Bea and Ezra’s individual journeys find a way to both parallel and intersect in unimaginable ways, making for a breathtaking story about family and finding yourself.

I really enjoyed this book because it was a lot different than I expected. I thought that most of the book’s focus would go to trying to figure out what happened to Bea, but there was more to it than that. It went very deep into each character’s fears and desires which made it easier to understand them. Also, the emails from Bea and the ones from Ezra and completely different writing styles and tones which made it much more believable that they were written by two different people. The descriptions in the book made it possible to vividly imagine the characters and different places that are described throughout. I really liked that a lot of attention was put towards this because so much of the book’s focus is on the characters themselves. Finally, I found the plot to be engaging with quite a few twists and turns that made this an interesting read.

Something memorable about this book was the dynamic between Bea and Ezra. Even while the world around them was crumbling, their relationship stayed the same. Their love for each other stayed strong no matter what came their way.

Reviewed by Nainika, Twin Hickory Library
Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

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After spending multiple years at boarding school, Eleanor Zarrin is coming back to a home filled with family members she used to understand but doesn’t anymore. She never fit in with any of them, as all of them appear to be monsters when she was just normal. At least, she doesn’t think she’s a monster. As Eleanor sorts through family secrets and feelings, the questions are raised: Does she trust their version of reality? Or does she trust herself more? In this novel, fantasy and horror are combined to reveal a story about a young woman learning to understand the people she once loved.

I adored the puzzle aspect of the story. Eleanor was clearly an anxious character that couldn’t even admit her actions to herself, so she uncovered secrets slowly and carefully. I wasn’t able to figure anything out before it was revealed. The character dynamics were enjoyable and I loved the way they interacted with each other. Eleanor, as a character, was frustrating, but understandable. She made incorrect decisions without question, but no one can get upset with her after seeing her reasons. Character development is essential to the plot as well, which explains all the annoying scenes where Eleanor refused to believe her family members. The book itself was a bit dark, and I admit that I felt a bit depressed after reading it. I still really liked the writing style though. It was descriptive and painted an effective picture.
What Big Teeth caught me off guard. You would expect the story to be scary in a way that makes you afraid to be alone at night, but it doesn’t do that at all. The book is scary in a melancholy way. It displays the supernatural, but it’s the supernatural portraying something much more commonly seen: a family broken apart by misunderstandings.

One thing about the story that will stay with me was the family’s behaviors. They were unapologetically outlandish and demonstrated violent acts without a second thought. That’s quite different from any boarding school environment, so I can see why it affected Eleanor so much. But they were also kind in their own way, so you can see the love behind their actions.

Reviewed by Annabel, Twin Hickory Library
Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee

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Savannah thought things would be different in college, especially after sacrificing so much to go to Wooddale University. Her mother worked constantly and she completely gave up her social life to get perfect grades, all for her future. She thought being the first in her family to go to college, especially one as prestigious as Wooddale, would be one of the best experiences of her life. However, her excitement quickly turns sour when she realizes she is one of the only Black people on campus. On it’s own this may not be a huge problem, but when the statue of Wooddale’s first Black president gets vandalized and no one does anything about it, Savannah can’t stay silent. Her mama told her to keep her head down, but Savannah is willing to sacrifice her future to uncover the secrets and scandals of Wooddale’s past.

This book did a good job of navigating difficult topics in an informative way, while also moving the plot forward. The obvious racism directed towards Savannah and other Black characters happens more often than it seems, and this book brings that to light. Savannah is also a well written main character and her determination and boldness enhance the story. She has a strong moral compass and which dictates her choices throughout the book. I think that the diversity of the characters added another layer to the story. Within all the characters, socioeconomic status affected the way they were perceived by others on campus. I also liked that there were quite a few twists, and that the supporting characters were shrouded in mystery, making it so that it was hard to know who to trust. The only thing I disliked was that all the racism Savannah faced was very obvious, when in reality it can be more nuanced and come in the form of microaggressions. Overall, I think this book had a good concept and a meaningful message.

Something memorable about this book was the juxtaposition between Savannah’s neighborhood at home and her life at Wooddale. Her mostly Black neighborhood can’t even have pizza delivered to them after seven, while Wooddale has a female Black president. Savannah calls both these places home, but watching these two separate worlds collide was intriguing.

Reviewed by Nainika, Twin Hickory Library