Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ (#3 Heartstopper) by Alice Oseman

Love is in the air with a field trip to Paris.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 384

 The Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

This volume of ‘Heartstopper’ just upped the adorable factor! We start to get developed side characters and their own arcs, there’s more complexity in the plot, and Charlie and Nick are facing greater challenges. Again this is not a self-encapsulated story, rather just an episode in the growing closeness of Charlie and Nick.

The representation is handled with kitten gloves, but does not water down the fears minority groups face. ‘Heartstopper’ still manages to encapsulate that innocent charm from the previous volumes.

’Heartstopper : Volume Three’ deals with more issues around Nick’s coming out to a wider circle of people, and the pair heading off on a school trip to Paris. There they also start to address intimacy, and how far they are willing to go… and getting close to using the ‘L’ word. It’s nice to read a story that builds the relationship at a more realistic pace and have frank honest discussions about becoming intimate, and comfort levels. It feels like such an intelligent approach and is a great example for today’s youth. I’m sick of the trope when teens get into relationships and weeks later (sometimes much sooner) they sleep together and it’s a magical experience and like a love they could never imagined. That is so unrealistic and robs the characters of being able to grow the foundations of real (loving and intimate) relationships.

Queer relationships from others characters in Charlie and Nick’s immediate circle are also getting air time in the narrative, again giving examples of the many different hues of the rainbow. Tao and Elle. Tara and Darcy. Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk.

We also get a touch on the bullying that Nick suffers from his older brother, and I’m interested to see how the family is going to handle this issue. There is a little more about Charlie and his eating disorder. And the friendship dynamics the pair face in their separate friend circles. There is a lot to unpack from these graphic novels – Such a master of subtext and frank observations on the issues raised.

I’m loving the complexity and scope of this series now, and am eagerly ready to jump into Volume 4. Also with all the updates coming in about the screen adaptation by Netflix with casting and shots from filming on set, I’m incredibly eager to see what they churn out. Looks like we are getting eight 30 minute episodes, but no release date as yet.

Again, ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ was another quick paced tome I finished in about an hour. So sweet. I’ve become a major stan.

Overall feeling: Gushing over this!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 2’ by Alice Oseman

A gentle tale of discovering feelings.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 320

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

I liked volume 2 more than the debut. There is still that overwhelming cuteness in the narrative that simply captures your heart. Nick and Charlie are adorable innocence personified.

In this sequel, we see Nick and Charlie grow closer and come out, forming friendships with other LBGTQIA+ youth. Where Vol. 1 deals more with Charlie’s anxiety over his feelings for Nick and worries about getting his heart broken; this edition deals with Nick coming to terms with his feelings and coming out to those close to him. It’s all about Nick sorting things out in his head.

Again another quick read, and it’s getting me to like the graphic novel medium. I recently heard that there is a screen adaptation underway, and I am really excited to see that comes to fruition.

The plot isn’t all that complicated, we get some resolution to an issue, but this is really an episode in a much bigger tale. So don’t expect any theatrics or magical reveals, ‘Heartstopper’ remains true to its core about LGBTQIA+ representation and the story of Charlie and Nick navigating the world and their relationship. We do get new introduced elements which will no doubt get explored in following editions of this series. And it all got me hooked!

The presentation of this story in graphic novel form lends to a fast paced storyline. It took me just over an hour to complete the novel in full. And ‘Heartstopper’ has got me wanting to venture into Alice Oseman’s back catalogue.

Again, the story is easy to predict, but we do get a few little bumps in the road that I did not foresee that were a joy to read.

There’s not a lot to say without spoiling or repeating what’s in Volume 2, it’s a sweet progression of Nick and Charlies love for each other that I found endearing. Love the rainbow representation and I’ll recommending this to all my friends. It’s also accessible to younger audiences, not only because of its medium, but because it tackles issues of identity and community in a gentle way.

Overall feeling: Beautiful.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The First 7’ (#2 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

A group of kids, the last survivors of the human race…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 367

Clover Martinez and The Last Teenagers on Earth are busy exploring the galaxy after leaving earth behind…even if they can’t help but be a little homesick.

So when their ship receives a distress signal from their former planet, they hope against hope that it means other survivors. But as soon as they arrive, they realize something’s deeply wrong: strange crystal formations have popped up everywhere and there’s some sort of barrier keeping them from leaving.

Seeking the origin of the formations and the reason for the barrier, the group discovers a colony of survivors hidden in the mountains. But the survivors aren’t who they seem…

I enjoyed this more than the debut. I think with the ridiculous aliens out of the picture and the story starting out in space, it constructed a world deep in sci-fi, rather than a dystopian earth facing an alien threat, that slight shift in the tone of the narrative allowed me to shed preconceived notions and really get into the story.

The characters did feel a little more grown up – we still get moments of teenage melodrama, but it seems the war and travel in the stars have seasoned our group and I was less inclined to sigh or eye-roll. Still there is a tone with the presentation (description) of the aliens that we encounter in ‘The First 7’ that feels immature. I guess it will capture the minds of a younger audience (of whom it is intended.)

The First 7’ has a much stronger plot that its predecessor but there was the inclination to meander a little. The story is broken into three sections which didn’t necessarily transition as easily as they could have.

We see some great character arcs, and an aspect of humanity shone through brightest for me. Pohl even managed to surprise me with a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I’d love to see her write for a more mature audience, what I gather from her writing chops, it has limitless possibilities.

Again the greatest drawbacks were meandering plot and tone of the novel.

We see many of the hanging plot threads from the debut tied up in a rather unusual fashion. And Pohl is not afraid to serve out real-life consequences to her characters after facing apocalypse-level circumstances that you don’t see in a lot of YA. So I am unsure if teens reacting to mental coping mechanisms, combined with hormonal behaviour left the plot feeling that bit erratic: it is either a pretty accurate depiction, or a tone not befitting young adults placed in that situation… it’s hard to tell with them being changed with alien DNA – but it’s the same elements that had me humming and harring from ‘The Last 8’ as well.

I understand the title of ‘The First 7’ and its need to match the hook from the debut, but after completing the novel, I don’t see how it really fits. They mention it in the novel, but the justification felt tenuous at best.

The ending was sufficiently cinematic and while I enjoyed my time reading this duology, it’s probably one I’ll forget fairly quickly. I’d only recommend this for the younger end of the YA market. Adults and older young adults may find this a little juvenile.

Overall feeling: Okay, pretty good.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 1’ by Alice Oseman

Heart-warming innocence.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 278

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

I was encouraged to pick this up from many, many of my friends recommending this. I’m not one to read a lot of illustrated novels, but ‘Heartstopper’ is charming in its innocence. We meet Charlie, an out gay year 10 student who gets paired with a year 11 student, Nick in peer group for school. They become friends and need to learn to navigate their new feelings and what they mean. Charlie is determined not to fall for a straight boy, and Nick is surprised by his attraction to Charlie.

‘Heartstopper’ is cute! The story is paired back and sticks to the main storyline without too much dramatics. I’ve read manga in the past, where it’s melodramatic and packs a lot into the narrative – ‘Heartstopper’ keeps the main couple in its crosshairs from start to finish. In this fashion, I found the novel to be a little, well, plain. I wanted stronger emotion and some more plot. But I guess that is the charm of ‘Heartstopper,’ it’s a light romance of two boys finding each other in high school.

We get some character development from both boys, it’s not a lot, but enough to have me invested in their story and I have already ordered the rest of the published volumes to find out what happens next.

The illustrations are expressive and have a stylistic grungy aspect to set it apart from the common manga fare. I kind of wanted a more finished look on the page though – but that is a personal preference on my behalf. ‘Heartstopper’ is a happy addition to my library.

Because of the graphic novel treatment I flew through this novel in about an hour, the scenes weren’t too emotional and the characterisation in the illustrations didn’t really have me starting at the page to soak up tone or additional undertones in the scenes. This is paired back, simple, fitting of quiet and understated Charlie and Nick’s slow burn relationship.

It ends on a cliff hanger, so be prepared to invest in this series as a whole.

If you like queer stories and graphic novels without all the melodrama than this one is for you. Excited to hear it is being adapted for a Netflix series and eager to see their take on Charlie and Nick’s story.

Overall feeling: First kiss angst!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Last 8’ (#1 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

Alien Invasion meets The Breakfast Club.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 357

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

The cover art for this title is what really grabbed my attention, then the blurb – an alien invasion! It’s not a secret I love sci-fi. ‘The Last 8’ is a solid YA read full of sass and intrigue.

I will say this book read young, the protagonist (Clover) and her merry band of fellow survivors, though many with high intelligence, acted like tweens. These characters are meant to be on the verge of adulthood, but if I didn’t know their age, by the way they acted, I would have guessed 12-13 years of age. This was the biggest drawback for me. I was constantly on the verge of eye-rolling or sighing. The kind of patience I had for my younger sibling when he was doing something stupid, but I had to let him be and learn to navigate the world in his own way.

Leading on from this, with the characters floundering a lot, being reactionary, the plot felt like it too meandered a bit. Like the teenagers attitude bled through. I love the concept and reveals in ‘The Last 8,’ but I just wish the tone would have been a touch more mature. (Granted, I’m am waaay too old to be the demographic for this novel.)

The premise of the aliens was an interesting one, though it read like something you would see in an animated Disney film, it was, almost… comedic. You’ll understand if you have read the book. You don’t really get a sense of the terror from the aliens, just the fear and isolation inflicted from the actual invasion.

I do love the way Laura Pohl can craft an atmosphere. Her characters and character development are pretty great too – but I think maybe the tone of the novel stopped this aspect of her writing from being truly outstanding.

We get a diverse cast, of both nationality and sexual orientation, and while I praise the representation, it was still used as a plot device, a reveal, rather than simply a part of the character. There are subtle differences in approaching this sensitive topic if you compare this to how sexual orientation is dealt with from #ownvoices authors. I can’t speak for Clover and her Spanish heritage because I have no personal experience in that sense, but the fact you could read her thoughts in Spanish was fantastic.

There was a bit of language that I’m on the fence about. I don’t mind swearing when it services the plot or character, I felt it did neither here, merely used to attempt to give ‘The Last 8’ some street cred.

There is an element of mental illness, grief, PTSD, anxiety and depression in the story as well, which given the tone of ‘The Last 8,’ I was surprised at how this was handled… with the swearing, sensitive topics, the tone really clashes with the subject matter.

I feel like there were parts missing from the story – which are done on purpose to keep the pace going, but I feel like there were a few developmental moments skipped in building character motivation, despair, and tension. This is part and part of the tone I mentioned earlier.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last 8’ and am keen to see where the story goes in the final instalment to this duology ‘The First 7.’ We might see the tone change as the characters grow and overcome challenges, and because it sets up such a wonderful opportunity for world building, with what I’ve liked of Laura Pohl’s writing so far, she could really shine and bring home this series with a bang.

Overall feeling: fun, but a little let down.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Date Me, Bryson Keller’ by Kevin van Whye

Great book, shame about the plagiarism.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 336

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

This book grabbed my cold heart and didn’t let go. I think I had tears in my eyes half the time I was reading – it’s just so adorably sweet and expertly captures that first crush scenario. The desperation to be seen, loved, to find your person.

Kai, a mixed race protagonist, and closeted gay year 11 student takes the opportunity while Bryson Keller has been dared to date a new person for a week with in an unexpected surge of courage. Kai has to force himself not to fall in love with straight Bryson, but revels in finally being able to express his true self (even if it is in secret.) Bryson has to come to terms with new feelings and what it means.

I was going to award this novel 5 stars, but after doing a little research I found Kevin van Whye was accused of plagiarism from ‘Seven Days’ by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai. And only after the allegations persisted did Kevin claim that the story is a literary critique of the BL manga, trying to bring about a more realistic representation of queer youth. I might have been inclined to believe that interpretation except that the storyline is practically identical to the original ‘Seven Days.’ So I can’t in good conscience rate this from my initial impression. I’m a little flabbergasted how this was not flagged through the critical reading and editing stages.

It’s such a pity about the plagiarism because I loved Kevin van Whye’s writing style. I was sucked into the narrative and completed the book in one sitting. He should have had one of the characters making the dare in the preface mention they had read ‘Seven Days’ and were using it as the source of inspiration for the dare… then this story would have credited the source material and the story made sense, avoiding claims of plagiarism. And there, in the narrative, you could source the inspiration for the dare. I’ve seen this storytelling device successful in other novels and television shows, it pays homage to the creator of the idea rather than claiming it as your own. Isn’t hindsight a beautiful thing?

I’m not going to discuss the book further because it makes me feel a bit icky…

Overall feeling: Anger rising. Heart sinking.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Hold My Hand’ (#2 One Man Guy) by Michael Barakiva

There is a lot to love about Hold My Hand.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 272

Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn’t quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.

With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek’s not sure he’s ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it.

Alek can’t bear the thought of finding out who he’d be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can’t forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenian family are there to help him figure out whether it’s time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.

There are a lots of wonderful things to love about ‘Hold My Hand.’ The representation and essence of Armenian culture woven into the narrative (and the food. The Food!) As well as a frank discussion on education, discrimination and acceptance in society as a whole. When Alek points out that with helicopter parents, parental controls on devices at home and at school, and the curriculum refusing to teach sexual health for the LGBTQIA+ community, there was nowhere for him to learn about issues concerning his health and development. Alek also tackles the Armenian church his family attends, still holding fast to bygone attitudes and interpretations that discriminate not only against him for being gay, but women, people of colour, issues like abortion, etc. ? I have to say it was refreshing the tone and frank discussion Alek brings to the narrative. It does feel a bit dated, because shouldn’t we have addressed these inequalities and moved on by now? Its popular opinion that attitudes need to change – and they are changing. But ‘Hold My Hand’ lets you know that the fight of social justice is still alive and surging. That we should not become complacent. There is still work to do to improve the human race.

I feel like we get a lovely character arc with Alek, building on his growth from ‘One Man Guy.’ We really start to see him stand his ground while remaining true to his heritage and family values. I haven’t felt such a clear cut path into adulthood in a YA novel yet. And I loved it. It really resonated with me. Though Alek is still a nerd, a little neurotic, he is not this angsty emo teen we get a lot of in YA, he feels balanced and grounded. I like his stance on honesty and forgiveness. It’s something I feel we can all aspire to.

I wasn’t as sold on Ethan. He let me down as much as he did Alek – but I am much less forgiving. I would have liked to see him work harder to earn Alek’s trust – though is was great to read, he was proactive in dealing with the situation later in the book. I think there is something about his easy-breezy laid back attitude that still annoys me. He is a great counter balance to Alek, but still, he’s not a love interest I am totally invested in.

Remi as one of the stories antagonists was a stroke of genius. He was like a Bond villain and I wanted to reach through the pages and punch him in the face… though he doesn’t paint a particularly pleasant picture of Australians. As an Aussie girl I was grinding my teeth: but I do know some guys like this. Too slick for their own good, and always seem to end up on their feet despite the carnage they leave in their wake.

‘Hold My Hand’ was a cute, understated love story with a relevant social message. While I think the pacing was a little slow and there was a mix of the tone being immature and then mature at times, like it was slipping between target demographics, Michael Barakiva’s writing style is as breezy as Ethan’s demeanour.

Very easy to read and escape into, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading ‘Hold My Hand’ and feel like it did this series a justice. I definitely want to read more from this author.

It was educational on sensitive topics without being offensive. The romance is realistic with a social conscience, and this is a novel that is as thought provoking as it is endearing. Representation for the win! A soft recommendation from me.

Overall feeling: Oh, my heart!

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