Book Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

I have previously read three of Shaun David Hutchinson’s novels with varying results. We Are the Ants was an easy five stars for me. I could have cried while reading it. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley? Four stars. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried? One of my most anticipated books of 2019 and, really, kind of a disappointment.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza. I’d seen really mixed reviews when it first came out, I remember seeing people yelling (in a bad way) about the trans rep, and then there were all of the reviews that screamed “BUT NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS.” Well, I’ll tell you what. I enjoyed this. I enjoyed it a lot.

There’s some definite social commentary here. Elena makes frequent (negative) references to the current president of the United States. There are discussions about the right to choose, not necessarily with regard to abortion, but just in general. When Elena learns that she has the ability to heal people, she has a bit of a crisis about whether she should really be playing god. This is exactly what I expect when I read one of Hutchinson’s books, and I was so happy to find it here.

As for the story, I thought it was really interesting. Elena doesn’t have a father, and she doesn’t mean that in the usual “my dad is a deadbeat and left when I was little” way. As the product of a virgin conception, scientifically known as parthenogenesis, she literally has no father. This has had little bearing on her life, aside from a lot of teasing from her classmates, until she suddenly learns that she’s capable of performing miracles.

I’m not going to get into all of that for fear of spoilers, so instead, I want to talk about the subtle diversity of this book. Elena is a bisexual Cuban girl. Her main love interest is Freddie, a girl she’s had a crush on forever. Elena’s ex-boyfriend, Javi, is a fairly main character, and nobody makes any sort of deal over her having an ex-boyfriend and now pursuing a girl. Elena’s best friend, Fadil, is Muslim and in the process of figuring out his own sexuality. Since none of the characters made a big deal out of this and all of this diversity was woven very seamlessly into the story, it never felt like flashing lights and ringing alarms screaming, “HEY, GUYS, DID YOU NOTICE SHE’S BI?!?” It just existed.

And also, that thing about bad trans rep? There’s like one sentence in this entire book and it’s one character saying something like, “Hey, how is [male name]?” And another character being like, “Actually, she goes by [female name] now.” How anybody found anything to hate in that is beyond me.

So, yes, this book is basically about Elena deciding what to do once she finds out that she can heal people. I suppose I can see how some people might consider that “not much of a plot.” I really enjoyed it, though, and I hope to read At the Edge of the Universe after I take a little SDH break.


Have you read The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

I tend to avoid hyped books like the plague. Show me a book with 33,760 ratings and a 4.43 star Goodreads average and I will probably be very apprehensive about reading it. When averages are that good, I get scared away. What if I’m the only person on the entire planet who dislikes it?

Well, that fear is what happened with The Poet X. I knew it was supposed to be amazing. I’d read countless reviews saying so. So, naturally, I didn’t read it for a good year and a half. And then the mood struck, and I checked out the audiobook, which is narrated by the author and is absolutely incredible.

I am blown away. I loved this so much.

Xiomara’s struggle with religion really reminded me of my own feelings when I was her age. I’d been raised in a religious family, I’d gone to 13 years of Catholic school, and all of a sudden it was like these things I’d grown up taking as fact were now questions in my mind. I think this is a 100% normal and healthy thing that happens in your late teenage years and it was so nice to see that struggle showcased in such a well-written book.

Another thing that I thought the book addressed well was sexism and underlying misogyny. I appreciated that, more than anyone else in her life, it was Xiomara’s mother who perpetuated the idea that women needed to be pure and perfect in order to be desirable for marriage. (Because, of course, heterosexual marriage is The Most Important.) Even seemingly innocuous things that Xiomara does, like using a tampon instead of a pad, cause issues. And when she’s caught kissing a boy? Oh no.

I can really go either way with books that are written in verse. A lot of the time, it just feels like sentences broken up into several lines, but it really, really worked here. The emotion was right there, in every word, and Xiomara just felt so real. I already have a hold on With the Fire on High and can’t wait until I have the chance to experience that book too.


Have you read The Poet X? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Trinkets by Kirsten Smith

Trinkets by Kirsten Smith
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Sixteen-year-old Moe’s Shoplifters Anonymous meetings are usually punctuated by the snores of an old man and the whining of the world’s unhappiest housewife. Until the day that Tabitha Foster and Elodie Shaw walk in. Tabitha has just about everything she wants: money, friends, popularity, a hot boyfriend who worships her…and clearly a yen for stealing. So does Elodie, who, despite her goodie-two-shoes attitude pretty much has “klepto” written across her forehead in indelible marker. But both of them are nothing compared to Moe, a bad girl with an even worse reputation.

Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe: a beauty queen, a wallflower, and a burnout-a more unlikely trio high school has rarely seen. And yet, when Tabitha challenges them to a steal-off, so begins a strange alliance linked by the thrill of stealing and the reasons that spawn it.

Hollywood screenwriter Kirsten Smith tells this story from multiple perspectives with humor and warmth as three very different girls who are supposed to be learning the steps to recovery end up learning the rules of friendship.

Before I get into this review, I want to say one thing: Trinkets is not my kind of book. It’s not the kind of thing I’d willingly buy if I saw it in a bookstore and it’s not the kind of thing I’d really ever think I’d check out from the library, either. But because of the Netflix show, my best friend asked me if I’d read it, and of course my answer was no. Shortly after, I saw the audiobook on Overdrive, and since it’s only four hours long, I figured… why not.

Why not is because it’s not my kind of book.

And this isn’t like a one-star, worst thing I’ve ever read kind of review. At least I finished it, which is more than I can say for many other books I’ve started this week. It’s just that all of the girls have the exact same voice and they’re all terrible.

(breaking a sentence up
into a bunch of lines
so that it’s technically
written in verse
doesn’t mean that character’s voice
is distinct from everyone else’s)

Because, yes, I really would like to spend my work day listening to the story of three bored teenage girls who just want to gossip about shoplifting and sex. That’s what this book is about. Shoplifting and sex. There are, of course, a few other themes thrown in and then almost immediately discarded without any adequate resolution, like an abusive relationship, but overall, it’s about sex and shoplifting.

In fact, it’s so much about sex that there are frequent penis jokes throughout! One high school boy has a penis as big as a horse! Amazing! An actor gets an erection on stage and just keeps acting, my goodness, like it’s his job or something!!! There are also period jokes, because it’s so funny to laugh at women for their natural bodily functions! SHE NEEDED A TAMPON AT A DANCE, GUYS, HILARIOUS. LET’S ALL LAUGH AT HER.

I mean, somehow the book managed to be both very boring and have me irrationally hate every character at the same time. But, the thing is, it’s an easy book. It requires exactly zero thought or effort to read. If you just want to zone out and stare at a page or listen to an audiobook without making any mental effort whatsoever, this is your book. If you’re looking for the most unsatisfying ending possible, go for it. If you’re looking for something more than that, I have reviewed approximately four hundred or so books that are better than this.

I hope a lot of things changed with the Netflix adaptation, but I will not be watching it.


Have you read Trinkets? Have you watched the show?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behaviour.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

I have a complicated relationship with Neal Shusterman. I really enjoyed Scythe but I didn’t much enjoy Unwind. I never really planned to read this book because it just didn’t sound like something I’d be interested in — I try to avoid sad books whenever I can — but I needed a book with the word “challenge” in the title for my Popsugar Reading Challenge, and, well… here we are.

First things first, this book is sad. It’s about a teenage boy deep in the throes of mental illness, and it’s just heartbreaking. I want to mention here that there are some books about mental illness that I’ve really appreciated. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine comes to mind right away, and so does Turtles All the Way Down. There are also some books about mental illness that I have despised, like All the Bright Places. Because, the thing is, mental illness isn’t something to glamorize. It’s not a cute quirk. It’s not something to be flippant about in a book. Luckily, Shusterman treats Caden’s story with the respect that it deserves.

I’m not going to say that I enjoyed reading this book, because I didn’t. It was hard to listen to. It’s confusing at the beginning, but it’s supposed to be confusing. Caden has trouble distinguishing between reality and his delusions, so we’ll be in his real life for a minute before we abruptly transition to him being on a ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s disconcerting, but again, it’s supposed to be. The book is very, very well-written, but it’s confusing and difficult to read.

There is a bright spot in all of this though, and that’s how supportive Caden’s family is of him. His little sister in particular handled everything so well.

It’s hard for me to say whether or not I’d recommend this book. I think if you’re interested in a really character-driven story about a teenager with schizophrenia, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. If you like your stories with a bit more action and with more of a clear plot, maybe skip it.

#ps19: a book with “pop,” “sugar,” or “challenge” in the title
#mm19: seasons, elements, and weather


Have you read Challenger Deep? Can you recommend any YA about mental illness?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Recent DNFs

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me talk about how rarely I DNF books. It happens, at most, a couple times a year. But when I get in a DNF-ing mood, I really get into it. I DNFed three books in one day recently, and here’s why.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Talk about an embarrassing introduction. On her first day of law school, Kailyn ran – quite literally – into the actor she crushed on as a teenager, ending with him sprawled on top of her. Mortified to discover the Daxton Hughes was also a student in her class, her embarrassment over their meet-cute quickly turned into a friendship she never expected. Of course, she never saw his betrayal coming either…

Now, eight years later, Dax is in her office asking for legal advice. Despite her anger, Kailyn can’t help feeling sorry for the devastated man who just became sole guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister. But when her boss gets wind of Kailyn’s new celebrity client, there’s even more at stake than Dax’s custody issues: if she gets Dax to work at their firm, she’ll be promoted to partner.

The more time Kailyn spends with Dax and his sister, the more she starts to feel like a family, and the more she realizes the chemistry they had all those years ago is as fresh as ever. But will they be able to forgive the mistakes of the past, or will one betrayal lead to another?

I’ve previously read one other book by Helena Hunting (I Flipping Love You) and I thought it was fun! I’d seen a lot of good things about Meet Cute, and it sounded just like the kind of book I’d enjoy.

Well, I didn’t. I made it to 7% before I quit.

There’s nothing overtly wrong with this book. It’s just not for me. Kailyn is a grown woman practicing law and she still spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing over one small event from college. There’s nothing sexy about her love interest other than, I guess, he’s supposed to be really hot?

I don’t know, I just couldn’t get into this story or these characters.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

I checked this book out from the library because it sounded so interesting and I figured the whole “moon” thing would make it count for one of my reading challenges. Well, I made it a whopping 5% into this one before I gave up.

This is the kind of book I would have probably loved as an actual middle grader. As an adult, not so much. Much like with Meet Cute, there wasn’t anything wrong with this book. I just didn’t like it.

#ps19: a book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in the title


Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: ARC via publisher

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA. 

Of the three books I DNFed, this is the one I wanted to like the most. I’d really been looking forward to this book and even did an interview with the author. But after reading this book for more than a month and only making it to 28%, I had to be honest with myself. I was not enjoying it.

To be fair, I’m not sure this is really the kind of book that you enjoy reading. It’s about conversion therapy, bullying, and an alcoholic parent. It’s really heartbreaking and it’s just not something that I need in my life right now.

I didn’t really get along with the writing style either. I didn’t mind it at the beginning of the book, but as it continued on, it just got to be way too much for me. Like, when Jonathan slams a door, the description is “whambamthankyouma’amSLAM.” Too much.

A lot of people have rated this book highly, but it wasn’t for me.


Have you read any of these books? What’s the last book you DNFed?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

American Panda is one of those books that I was curious about from the beginning but waited on because of the hype. It seemed like everyone who read ARCs of this or read it shortly after its release absolutely loved it, and that’s too much pressure for me. I hate being the lone dissenter. So I gave it about a year and a half and then jumped in, and guess what? The hype was real. This book was so good!

First, I loved that this was YA set in college. Mei is seventeen years old, so while she should be experiencing the end of high school, she’s actually venturing out on her own to start college. Her mom worries about her a lot, understandable, I think, for a seventeen-year-old living on their own, and her frequent voicemails that are interspersed throughout the book only make it better.

Second, I loved that while Mei’s hopes and dreams didn’t match up with those of her parents, she was so respectful of them. Mei is willing to do just about anything to make her parents proud and this was so nice to see. I mean, she definitely takes it too far sometimes, but that’s one of the main points of this book — how far should you go for the people who have sacrificed everything for you?

Another thing I really loved was that Mei’s main problem with being a doctor is her phobia of germs. She’s always carrying around her little bottle of hand sanitizer (I can relate) and there’s just nothing appealing to her about dealing with sick people. I worked in a hospital for seven years in an administrative position and I was asked countless times why I didn’t want to go back to school to be a nurse or doctor. I feel like Mei would understand me. The only sick people I can handle are the ones I love, and even then it’s a stretch.

The only thing I didn’t love about this book was that Mei’s actual hopes and dreams seemed to get lost between the main conflict and the (very cute) romance. But other than that, this was a great, feel-good contemporary that I would highly recommend!


Have you read American Panda? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Backstagers 2018 Halloween Intermission #1 by James Tynion IV

The Backstagers 2018 Halloween Intermission #1 by James Tynion IV
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 24, 2018
Source: Borrowed

With the days getting shorter and the nights getting SPOOKIER, the Backstagers are back for the Halloween season with all-new tales of terrors and creepy creatures. When Sasha accidentally falls asleep backstage, he ends up locked in the theater overnight! What lurks in the shadows, what terrors will he discover, and what the heck are the stage managers chanting?

From writers James Tynion IV (Detective Comics, The Woods) and Sam Johns (The Backstagers: Valentines Intermission), and artist Rian Sygh (Adventure Time Fionna and Cake Card Wars, Regular Show), this haunted oversized one-act is a night at the theater you won’t want to miss!

With back-up stories from artists Shan Murphy, Abby Howard, and Savanna Ganucheau this spine-tingling tale of the stage will leave you with goosebumps you can see from the back row!

I really enjoy the world of The Backstagers, so I was excited to find this little intermission on Hoopla! This is a single issue set in the magical Backstagers world over Halloween.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about this one. Of all the characters, Sasha really isn’t one of my favorites, so I was a little apprehensive about this story that primarily features him. I didn’t need to worry, though, because this was super cute. I may even love Sasha now.

I really liked that we got to see more of the stage managers and I wouldn’t mind getting to know them even better. I also really liked the positive message in this issue! I said it already but I’m going to say it again — this was just so cute.

I haven’t checked out the Valentine’s intermission yet, but I really think I should.


#mm19: tricks and trades


Have you read The Backstagers? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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