As we head into summer, Sophie, Rebecca, Kay, and Amy share some of the books they’ve been reading over the last month. They hope you find something great from their recommendations, either to read alone or with your own children.
Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen
Sophie’s favorite book this month was Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen. The central protagonist of this YA novel is Olivia whose dream of spending summer at an NYU screenwriting program has been stopped in its tracks after she failed to secure a place. So while all her friends will be off having amazing adventures, Olivia is stuck working at a ziplining company in the Catskills.
The one good thing about this is that she will be able to spend more time binge-watching horror movies, writing her own horror screenplay, and chatting with Elm, the funny guy she’s been talking to on Reddit. Nevermind that when he requested they swap photos she panicked and sent a photo of her gorgeous BFF Katie; it’s not like they’re ever going to meet in real life. So, of course, Elm turns out to be Jake, the cute guy who’s spending his summer at the same ziplining company.
The majority of this light-hearted tale sees Olivia getting wrapped up in ever more convoluted lies as she tries to balance both her real-life persona and her online horror-obsessed identity. The more she realizes she really likes Jake/Elm, the more difficult it seems to reveal the truth to him, and when Katie turns up unexpectedly, everything gets even trickier.
Sophie thought this was a great, fun read that will go down really well as a summer read for teens and anyone who has ever put their foot in it when it comes to romance. The farcical elements of Olivia’s awkward double-life are reminiscent of Shakespearean comedies, with the reader wanting to shout at the characters to just reveal the truth and straighten everything up. In fact, the only thing she really didn’t like was the cover, which didn’t suit the story at all.
Potato by Rebecca Earle
One of the odder books Sophie has read over the last few years has to be Potato by Rebecca Earle. This short book is part of the Object Lessons series, a collection of titles about the “hidden lives of ordinary things.” The book looks at the way the potato has spread across the planet going from a crop only grown in one region of the Americas, to one of the most-consumed foodstuffs across the globe. Looking at the journey of the potato allows us to see the movements of ordinary people throughout history.
Potato also shows us how intertwined potatoes are with politics. Not the most obvious connection you may have made, but a true one. Potatoes allow individuals to be self-sustaining far more than some governments have been happy with, and the book shows us that there is far more to the connection between potatoes and Ireland than you may have learned about in the odd history lesson about the Irish potato famine.
A strange yet compelling book, Potato will give you plenty of interesting anecdotes to drop into the conversation next time you’re hanging out in someone’s kitchen while they peel a fresh batch of spuds.
The Wolf in Underpants by Wilfrid Lupano, Mayana Itoiz, and Paul Cauuet
Rebecca is usually the one shoving books into the hands of her kids and nieces, but this time, it was her niece who gave her a thin graphic novel and said, “Review this! It’s so funny!” The Wolf in Underpants is pretty funny, and also has a strong theme for our times, which happens in the best of comedies.
A narrator guides us through a small forest community with the usual squirrels, deer, boars, bears, hedgehogs, owls, and more critters who wear clothes, set up shops, and print newspapers amidst the trees. In wide artistic spreads with lots of sideline humor, we see how their lives, activities, and businesses revolve around the wolf. The big, scary wolf with an “Icy cry. Crazy eyes. In these woods, we know to move our butts when the wolf comes down to eat.” Everyone’s day is filled with how to deal with their terror.
After a massive build-up about the wolf who “must” be behind the disappearance of the three little pigs, we see a furry figure come down into their forest… in red striped underpants. The sight of a happy, panty-clad wolf strolling casually through the woods sets the community in an uproar. They can’t believe this is the same animal that used to terrorize them. But it is! The wolf explains that he used to be cold. “Everything was so cold and wet! The humidity made my eyes look crazy… Ever since I got these underpants, my butt isn’t cold any longer! Comfort! It’s SO important.”
Instead of being relieved, the forest community is angry at the loss of their focus. But the wolf continues on his merry way, “Sorry, but maybe you need more in your lives than just fear.”
Hmm… a good message set in a very funny book. Grades two-five.
Speaking characters: five male, seven neutral, three female.
There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Kay has loved this series since Dimple first pitched her coffee at Rishi in terror, all the way back in When Dimple Met Rishi. Menon’s series has featured three Indian-American girls who are all navigating different relationships to their cultural backgrounds. There’s Something About Sweetie is the third full novel in the series. It tells the story of Ashish, Rishi’s younger brother, fairly disconnected from his Indian roots, and Sweetie, who is much more engaged with her family’s culture. It is also, very specifically, about how Sweetie is fat, and how that changes how the world around her works.
Sweetie is a track star, certain to get into college on scholarship due to this, and fat. Sweetie’s basically okay with this; she’s been reading about body positivity and it really resonates with her. Her mother, however, hates this. She’s constantly trying to encourage Sweetie to lose weight, never considering how Sweetie feels about the matter.
Ashish, meanwhile, has been living in the shadow of his brother Rishi—who he describes as the perfect Indian son—for a long time. The novel is never clear why he has pushed away his Indian heritage so sharply, but it’s somewhat implied that his parents have pushed too hard, and he needed to distinguish himself from his brother. He has never dated a Desi girl, and after his latest relationship breaks his heart, he finally suggests to his parents that they arrange a relationship for him. His mother goes to Sweetie’s mother to suggest that their children could date, but Sweetie’s mother shuts it all down, feeling that Sweetie is too fat for a high profile boy from a wealthy family. Ashish and Sweetie meet anyway—and decide to date against Sweetie’s parents’ wishes.
This is a sweet, funny romance, and it delivers the happily-ever-after that it deserves. Sweetie’s journey reminded Kay of that in Dumplin’; Sweetie is perfectly comfortable with her body personally; what she needs to learn is that her body doesn’t need to hold her back publicly. If Kay had any complaint about the book at all, it’s that the last chapter was very monologue heavy as the various characters worked through their concerns about dating and specifically Sweetie’s weight. Kay wished this could have happened as a slower journey throughout the book. That said, there wasn’t anything unsatisfying about the ending and she still cried until my eyes hurt at the conversation between Sweetie and her mother (Amma).
Aru Shah and the End of Time and Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi
Amy finally got around to reading the first Rick Riordan Presents book, Aru Shah and the End of Time, to her Percy Jackson-loving, ADHD-infested 10- and 12-year-olds, and when the second book in Roshani Chokshi’s series, Aru Shah and The Song of Death, turned out to be released when they were 2/3 of the way through with the first one, they ordered it right away so they could read right through uninterrupted. Now they’re a little sad that they’ll have to wait at least a year for the third book!
The series follows the pattern of Riordan’s own books—awkward middle-school kid discovers they’re descended from the gods and must save the world from mythological evil—and will definitely satisfy any Percy Jackson cravings a reader might have.
Aru lives with her mother, an archaeologist and museum curator, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. When she accidentally releases a demon that will bring about the end of the world from one of the artifacts, she discovers that she’s the reincarnation of one of the Pandava brothers, great heroes of Hindu legend, and therefore the only one who can stop the demon, with the help of another reincarnated Pandava, the anxious and morbid Mini, and a grouchy enchanted pigeon the girls call Boo.
In the second book, having temporarily stopped the demon, Aru and Mini are joined by a third soul sister, the belligerent foodie Brynne, and Aru’s cute neighbor Aiden (exactly how he fits in their pantheon is a hilarious surprise), to stop someone turning people into zombies.
The books are not only a fun adventure based in stories not as well known in America as Greek mythology is, but they’re very funny—possibly even funnier than Percy Jackson. Amy’s only concern is, as a librarian who has to think about things like this, whether the many pop culture references will date the books in a few years or if the jokes will stay relevant. But for the time being, having to burst out singing “Despacito” in the middle of a chapter had Amy’s kids in stitches, so you’ll probably enjoy it too.
Some titles were provided to GeekMom for review purposes.