We Are Totally Normal

The music in the car was so loud that my teeth vibrated.

We Are Totally Normal, Naomi Kanakia, Harper Collins 2020

God, I hope not. I picked this YA novel because it was on a queer reading list; I did not expect this showcase of casual alcoholism in teens with absent parents and severe cases of word-vomit (and also regular ones).

Main dude Nandan (I assume he’s a teen?) is lost in life and in the societal hierarchy of things, while pondering if he’s confused about his sexual identity or just wants to use it to become popular (yes).

Maybe it’s a clear sign that I’m too old but I really hope that teenagers going from hangover to hangover, performing oral sex at a first meetup and walking home alone at night is a normal thing. Nandan may be confused about what he wants (until he very suddenly isn’t anymore), he manages to showcase that in an entirely unappealing way.

This is what I get for trusting library recommendations?

The Jasmine Throne

In the court of the imperial mahal, the pyre was being built.

The Jasmine Throne, Natasha Suri, Hachette Book Group 2021

Honestly a little bit surprised by how much I didn’t care for this book. It has fantasy with a non-western background, gay women, and attempts some world-building. Why so demanding, brain?

Because all of it feels like it’s been generated instead of created. I didn’t care for any of the characters or what they went through. Childhood abuse? Oh. Your brother trying to sacrifice you? Okay. Fighting for independence? Uhuh. Fighting a disease that turns you into a tree? Are there images?

None of it touched me because there’s this weird imbalance of continuously adding new characters while trying to flesh out previous ones. And the plot: it felt like I was reading a game concept, not a novel. Like someone wanted the epic world-building of a Tolkien, a Martin, but forgot to put the silly, appealing and terrible in.

And of course; it’s a set up for sequels. I might catch up if it’s ever turned into a TV-show.

The Inheritance Games

When I was a kid, my mom constantly invented games.

The Inheritance Games, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Little Brown and Company 2020

Two things YA novels could easily do without: the first person POV and the endless need to add (implied) heterosexual romantic relationships to it.

The Inheritance Games is the first book of a trilogy (possibly, who knows how long Barnes will make this last?) which uses the Knives Out story and gives it to a teen. Avery inherits a lot of money from an unknown billionaire, but why?? And why are there so many male grandchildren??

Anyway, except for some plot holes due to sloppy writing, and the aforementioned unnecessary heterosexual activities, it’s all quite entertaining. When I know how many books she’ll get out of this idea, I’ll read the last one for the clue so I can satisfy the smidge of curiosity that obvious cliffhanger left me with.

Fiebre Topical

Buenos dias, mi reina.

Fiebre Topical, Juliana Delgado Lopera, The Feminist Press 2020

Well, this wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to get a YA romance about discovering your queer identity while struggling through immigration, but.. I kind of got all that, minus the romance, plus depressed family members, a much more serious (and desperate tone) and a lot of Spanish. Without translation.

That took some time adjusting, and I still don’t know if I liked the novel. It was definitely an original experience, and I think the story told was genuine and heartfelt. The way it was told was sometimes hard to follow and frustrating.

Protagonist Francisca moves from Colombia to Miami, where she quickly loses half her family to a pretty extreme version of Christianity. She isn’t clear on what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t and it is this; but how to fix it? And how to feel about the pastor’s daughter?

All this happening in a sweaty, oppressive Miami doesn’t make things easier. I felt like I had to step outside into the cold after having finished Fiebre Topical.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

“Sana, chotto… hanashi ga arun-ya-kedo.”

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura, Harper Collins 2017

It warms y heart to see YA that 1. doesn’t involve inappropriate relationships; 2. doesn’t have damaging ideas about body, romance and society; and 3. has queer protagonists. And it seems to happen more often!

Sana isn’t sure about her sexuality yet, and her life gives her plenty of reason to be distracted: a state-swapping move, her father possibly having an affair and her Japanese mother rejecting everything that would make both of their lives easier.

Her problems are not necessarily teen-related: it’s to Misa Sugiura’s merit that she doesn’t make them bigger or smaller because of the protagonist’s age. And yes, there are oh-my-god-teenagers moments, but the author sells those well as well. Honestly, this is a YA novel that deserves the blurbs and attention.

Be Dazzled

The Boston Convention Center has good security, but it doesn’t have missile launchers, which means it would have a pretty tough time defending itself against Evie Odom.

Be Dazzled, Ryan la Sala, Source Books 2021

I know a story – and definitely a YA one – needs a clear villain, but Be Dazzled picking the protagonist’s mother without ever even mentioning his father somehow didn’t sat right with me.

It’s the one bother in this cute story about a neurotic, talented cosplayer that has to take his ex on in a cosplaying con competition. Of course the adorable, in the closet cool guy ended things terribly and our protagonist will never love (him) again. It’s YA, after all.

With such a title anything but an overload of glitter and loving descriptions of outfits and designs would fall short, but La Sala delivers. It outbalances the negative and circling thoughts of Raffy about himself and everything he does.

If I enjoyed it, the target audience might really run with this. I hope they do.

Night Teeth

108 min.

Talking about lost potential.. here’s a prime example. We have snappy, chrome/neon looks, youths that can be considered attractive and vampires – a genre that never needs much to still deliver.

So to not do that could be called impressive. Almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. Bad acting? Could be saved with okay plot. Corny, cringe-worthy dialogue? Could be accepted with some smooth (action) scenes. But in the story of a cab-driver driving around vampires on a rampage it’s error on error. Bad decisions are made without any back up to make it slightly believable. Plot motivations are thin. Acting is bored or over-done. It’s vampires! Any kind of nonsense lore would have sold this film!

But no. It seems like they went for a music video with a bit of blood and fangs and forgot about the rest – ending with a whole lot of nothing.

Her Royal Highness

“There’s a unicorn on this.”

Her Royal Highness, Rachel Hawkins, Penguin Random House 2019

I find some time to read in between the films. Although you don’t need much time for this 200 page YA novel that is a wish-fulfillment fantasy involving Scottish castles, royalty and a Cool Girl. It’s YA, very obviously. That I didn’t pull out any hair in frustration about dumb teenage actions is a compliment to the author.

Millie likes geology and doesn’t care about her looks. Because of Reasons she decides to do her final year of high school in Scotland. There, she becomes the room mate of a princess. A snooty, tiresome princess but oh no – are those feelings?

It all works: the surroundings, the side characters, the absolutely wonderful love interest. While struggling to get through The Shadow King and seemingly to only pick serious films or duds – this was a breath of fresh air.

Wish Dragon

98 min.

Also known by Aladdin or any other story involving a genie and/or three wishes. Even ‘it’s not laugh, I just want her attention through wealth’ is used. It’s not a bad film, it’s just impressively mediocre.

This time the story is set in a contemporary Asian city and the princess is a young celebrity. She and Din grew up together before her father moved them to have a better chance at life. Meanwhile Din is struggling to get by and basically working to make enough money so he can meet Li Na on “her level”.

Even the genie, this time a wish dragon, paints by numbers. First he’s snotty, than confused, than finally learns that there’s more to life. He’s well-created and okay-ish voiced but – meh. A lot more of the myth(s) behind it would have elevated it to something more; now the entire film is nothing more than the uninspired decision for a rainy Sunday during which we have to slightly entertain the kids until dinner.

Parachutes

I lie in bed listening for the shuffle of my father’s slippers.

Parachutes, Kelly Yang, Katherine Tegen Books 2020

Just to showcase that the element of immigration and immigrant characters can create very different stories (of course). Because this time there’s more Filipino characters (but they’re not the immigrants), but the real immigrants (although temporarily) are the so called parachutes: Asian teenagers that are dropped at prestigious American high schools so they can get an international diploma.
That was a lot of brackets used.

This is a good YA novel. It’s clearly written for a teen audience, (yet) manages to discuss subjects teenagers may experience yet know little about – sexual assault and rape, in this case. There’s even a warning about it in the front of the book, which caused me to kind-of-nervously count down to when things would happen.

That doesn’t mean that Parachutes is an after-school-special disguised as a novel: it’s the troubles of high school life, worrying about fitting in, crushes and clamouring to be older/out of there. Besides that there’s a class difference: Dani is a daughter of a single mum, working alongside her and on a scholarship, while Claire is a parachute who gets an unlimited credit card in her luggage to make sure that “she’s safe in the USA”. You read along with both of their stories.

All written super smoothly, making Parachutes a novel to stay up late for, wonder how the characters will develop further and gush about it online.