Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

This is a fun rom-com with a somewhat awkward main character that you hope get his happily ever after!

Chapter book, fiction, LGBTQ+
Young adult
William C. Morris YA Debut Award, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

This premise of this book reminds me of You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 Nora Ephron film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Two people meet over the internet, trade emails, and fall in love before meeting in person.

I think the story’s strength lies in the characters. The main character is Simon Spier. He has a close and goofy family and supportive friends. He has longtime friends Nick and Leah, and newer friends Abby and Blue.

This book is often touted as a coming out story, which it is, but it is also about friendship, discovering who you are, and how change affects friendship. Becky Albertalli does an amazing job depicting Simon wrangling with his feelings and struggling when friendships hit rocky patches. It can be hard to juggle school, extracurricular activities, family, and friendships. Add in being blackmailed and not being ready to come out and let people know you’re gay, and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes in life things get out of whack and people get hurt or feel left out. Simon has to learn to trust people with new information about who he is and that can be scary. The reader goes with Simon on his journey and it is both funny and heartfelt.

My favorite line is, “White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.” (p. 269) This probably sums up much of the story and the message that readers should take away. The default much of the time is straight and white. Simon makes us think about eliminating our default thinking and accepting people for who they are and how they define themselves.

This book will appeal to a lot of readers. It is funny, while tackling a serious topic in a thoughtful way. Fans of romantic comedy will really enjoy Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.


Young adult fans of dystopian fiction will love the story of Day and June and their battle to find the truth.

Fiction, dystopian, science fiction
Interest level: young adult
2013-2014 YHBA middle grade nominee
5 out of 5 stars

Set in some unspecified time, Legend is a fascinating look into a futuristic world. Some cataclysmic event has occurred which changed both the physical and political landscape of the United States. The area of the country that we know as California is now called the Republic, and the two main characters hail from very different classes.

June is an brilliant prodigy, born into an elite military family. Day is her opposite — born in the slums, he failed the his Trial and was scheduled to die. He is street smart with a true strength of character. Day is accused of killing June’s brother, and as she sets out to seek revenge and destroy him, she learns more about the Republic and herself.

I find the worlds that authors create in dystopian fiction to be fascinating. Marie Lu has done an amazing job envisioning a society based upon class struggles, propaganda, and mystery. She gives the reader brief glimpses into what might have happened to lead to a fractured United States, but she does not offer any type of complete picture or description. A deep cover-up is also briefly hinted at, which I am assuming becomes more central to the story as it continues in the next two books in the trilogy.

Legend is told in alternating points of view between Day and June. This lets the reader into the thoughts and motivations of both characters. The characters are well-developed and multidimensional, causing readers to become highly invested in their story.

Due to a more mature theme and high levels of violence, I would recommend this book to readers grade 7 and older.

by Marie Lu
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-57052-7

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give is a book about racial inequality and injustices, but it is also a complex story about love, family, and survival. This is a must-read book for anyone over the age of 14. Bring Kleenex.

Chapter book, realistic fiction
Interest level: Young adult, ages 14 and up
5 out of 5 stars

Angie Thomas is a debut author who has crafted a well-written novel that takes a look at racial issues in America. Thomas has given a voice and a story to the Black Lives Matter movement that has the ability to reach people of different races, no matter the cultural space you occupy.

Starr is the 16-year-old main character of the story. She exists in two different cultures. The location of her home is in the ghetto where she is known as “Big Mav’s daughter who works in the store.” The other part of her life exists in her mostly-white private school, where she tries to fit in by making sure she doesn’t sound “ghetto.” Rarely do her two different worlds intersect.

One night a childhood friend is giving her a ride home from a party. The scene in the car is warm and sweet as these two people who have drifted away reconnect over childhood memories. Khalil is concerned about getting her home and away from the trouble of the party. As the lights of a police car flash through the back window, the entire tone of the scene changes. Starr begins reciting the protocol that her parents drilled into her from the age of 12…what to do if you encounter the police. “Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.”

As a parent with two white children, I have never had that talk with my children. Never even occurred to me that anyone had to have that talk with their children until about six years ago when I read about it. That would be the blessing of white privilege: not assuming that if my child is pulled over for a traffic violation that there is even the remote possibility he or she will end up dead.

Khalil and Starr are treated like criminals from the minute the officer stops the car. As a reader, you watch the scene escalate, unable to halt the horror you know is coming, until Khalil is shot dead as he tries to make sure that Starr is doing okay.

This part of Starr’s story we see constantly in the news. In fact, just yesterday, a story emerged from Georgia that shows video of a man with his hands up being punched and, when handcuffed, stomped on by police officers: Or you can watch this video of an unarmed black man who was shot while lying down with his hands in the air

What Thomas has done is take the reader into the lives of Starr and Khalil. To the reader, they are not two unknown people that the police and media can portray as problems that were going to die one way or another. We, the reader, are in the car with them. We know how Khalil is being protective and helping Starr. We know how terrified she is. We watch Khalil as he is shot and realize that Starr can’t save him. And then we sit with her as the blood leaves his body and the officer points the gun at her.

I truly believe that you cannot read this book and come out unchanged. I believe that Black Lives Matter; I did before I read The Hate U Give. My understanding of the world was even further enlightened by reading Angie Thomas’ book.

I never noticed before how the media will dig into the past of the black victims of white violence, even if it is irrelevant to the incident, and broadcast any negative they can find. Take Timothy Caughman, killed on the street in Manhattan by a sword-wielding white supremacist. The killer admitted to killing Caughman for no other reason than he was black. Yet the media, reporting on Caughman’s death, included the information that 15 years ago he had been arrested. You can read more thoughts on this case here: Caughman’s arrest 15 years ago played no part in his death. So why report it? Would it have been reported if Caughman was white?

Angie Thomas sheds light on so many issues of racial inequality and systemic racism: police brutality, victim blaming, poverty, gangs, code-switching, bias, stereotypes — and she does it all within a story that has characters that are deep and complicated and so very human. Readers will relate to the characters in the story.

The Hate U Give is a story that celebrates family and the strength of communities. It shows that human beings are more than their past mistakes. And The Hate U Give is a celebration that an author of color was able to speak out in her #ownvoice. An authentic voice of someone who is opening up her community to the world with the hope of making this a better place.

In an interview in New York magazine, Thomas was asked why she thinks there has been an increase in the publication of books that deal with racial issues, and this is her response:

These are the issues that teenagers are vocal about. They’re finding their voices. We’d be doing them an injustice if we weren’t giving them the mirror to see themselves in. These kids will be the ones to run this country. In one year, two years, four years, they’re going to be voters. If we start building empathy in them, maybe some of the things we have to fight for now, we won’t have to in the future.

I am hoping that Thomas’ successful novel will inspire more people to write diverse books that share their #ownvoice. I hope that enough young adults read books like The Hate U Give so that we can change the future of the country with empathy.

The Hate U Give is a book about racial inequality and injustices, but it is also a deep story about love, family, and survival. I am so thankful that Angie Thomas wrote this book. May she get all the love at awards time!

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, a imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 978-0-06-249853-3

By Your Side

An enjoyable teen romance for middle grade and up.

Fiction, young adult
4 out of 5 stars

Read it in one setting. Kasie West writes entertaining novels that feature teen characters working to discover who they truly are. I liked this story, and the growing relationship between Autumn and Dax, but felt that Dax wasn’t as well-developed as a character. That is partly because the story was told from Autumn’s point of view, but some of Dax’s changes felt unexplained and not realistic.

Overall, By Your Side is an entertaining read and suitable for middle grade and up who are looking for a romantic story.

By Your Side
by Kasie West
HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-53791-237-0

Book review: The great American whatever; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

The great American whatever book coverby Tim Federle
Young adult novel
Interest level: Grades 8 and up
5 out of 5 stars

Tim Federle has crafted a story that features complex and real characters, and placed them in a setting that is full of both sadness and joy. It is a complex undertaking that he balances very well.

Quinn Roberts is about to turn 17, and he has a lot to deal with. He’s never had a boyfriend, his mom is homebound and sleeps on the couch, his air conditioner has died during the heat of summer, and oh yeah, his sister died in a car wreck six months ago and he isn’t sure how to move on. His best friend, Geoff, basically drags him out of the house and back into life, and the journey that Quinn starts on will help him learn not only about himself, but more about the people he thought he knew best.

I listened to the audiobook version that is read by Tim Federle, and let me just say, that it is fabulously AWESOME!! Federle’s characters are real, flawed, and full of personality, and his literal voice brings them to life even more.

I recommend this book for young adults who like realistic fiction that covers the full gamut of emotions. There is plenty of sarcastic humor in this book that made me laugh out loud, and also made the sadness of losing a sibling not feel overwhelming. It feels a lot like life in that way.