Review | What Does Consent Really Mean? | Pete Wallis, Thalia Wallis, & Joseph Wilkins

consent

What Does Consent Really Mean?

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“Consent is not the absence of ‘NO’, it is an enthusiastic YES!!”

While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realise just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships. Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.


My feelings for this book are complicated. On the one hand, I love that this conversation has been made so accessible and in such a cool way (graphic novel format). I also appreciate how straight-forward the message is, rather than hiding it within subtext. At the same time, I was taken aback by just how straightforward the message is; if, like me, you thought there would be an actual narrative here, with the message explaining consent, then you’ll be disappointed. It’s my feeling that this novel lacks a narrative entirely. It’s very much like those “moral lesson” books you were given in elementary school where the characters are basically having a dialogue explaining the concept you were meant to learn. There isn’t really a storyline, a plot, a climax, etc. The book is solely argumentative.

I see the merits in this for sure, especially for school age kids. However, this was another point on which I struggled; the subject matter is at times appropriate for all ages (and I definitely think it should be made to be—let’s teach our kids what consent means as soon as they learn to talk!) but there were other times where the content was definitely more mature, with swearing and semi-explicit discussions of sexual relationships, that I would never feel comfortable giving to, say, an eleven-year-old to read. On the flip side, the artwork definitely depicts the characters as younger. Even while they were swearing and talking about their sex lives, I was looking at the drawings of the flat-chested girls with baby faces thinking, There’s no way these girls are older than twelve. Yet the actual verbal content of the book suggests that they are much older than twelve.

Overall, I really appreciate that a book with such a straight-forward approach to the topic of consent has been made available, but I think there is some confusion as to the age group of the audience. I also think the author and publishers will see less success than they hope because of the lack of a narrative; it feels very much like a lesson book, and I foresee this only being read by kids if it’s mandatory.

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I received a free digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect my professional associations or affiliates in any way.

Review | A Little Something Different | Sandy Hall

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A Little Something Different

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The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….


Here’s the thing: this romance is super cute and the way the story is told really is “a little something different.” But I would go so far as to say that the story is TOO cute. There’s not much substance here, to be honest. For example, two of the viewpoints come from a squirrel and a bench, and it’s kind of ridiculous in a roll-your-eyes way. Then you have the fact that all these different characters are basically the same: they talk the same ways, they think the same things, they feel the same about stuff. Even the one character, Victor, who is supposed to hate Gabe and Lea (our couple) doesn’t actually hate them. (The author tells us over and over that he does but then he’s as obsessed with them as everyone else and it makes no sense.) It’s a prime example of telling, but not showing, and it is–quite frankly–weak writing. 

I would argue that Hillary has the potential to be one of the most unique characters and yet her parts are very short, AND Sandy Hall does her a HUGE injustice by slotting her into the “blonde bimbo” trope. I mean, COME ON.

In second place is Danny (yeah for LGBTQIA!) but he has the least amount of sections (boo!), and again, he is slotted into a few stereotypical “gay college boy” tropes.

In third place is Charlotte, who starts off as a character I could like but then turns into all the other characters (they are honestly the same–take away their names and you wouldn’t know the difference). AND everyone’s obsession with this couple for sure crosses into creepy. My frustration for this book bubbleith over.

Not to mention that there’s nothing about Gabe or Lea that is particularly likeable. Not that there was anything wrong with them; I liked them both just fine. But they are tertiary character material at most. While everyone is going gaga over their supposed romance, I’m sitting here as the reader going, “But why?” Honestly, they’re so boring! And everything that happens between them is SO. BORING. Another prime example of the author going, “Oh, they’re so cute, they look great together, we love them” and providing zero actual substance for these assertions. The author was shoving this down my throat and I was choking on it going, “BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVEN’T PROVEN ANY OF THESE THINGS!”

So much potential. So do not recommend.

Review | How It Went Down | Kekla Magoon

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How It Went Down

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*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

A black boy is shot by a white man and killed. The white man is released on claims of self-defence without an investigation. What follows is what we see everyday on the news—media interrogation, racist assumptions, ghetto-blaming, and injustice. Told from the perspective of several people who live in the Underhill neighbourhood where the boy was killed so that voices are given to both sides and everyone who had a part in the murder. An undercurrent of mystery and accountability runs through Magoon’s writing—who was Tariq Johnson, really? Was he a member of a gang, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Are people seeing what they want to see? When you truly believe you are acting out of goodness, does that make your actions right?


What I enjoyed most out of this book was Kekla Magoon’s crazy good ability to write a variety of different characters with their own narrative style. The language changes in each new chapter and keeps the story interesting. It was also really striking to me how, when you get to see everyone’s different perspectives, you can see how mistakes were made, namely with Tom Arlen’s character who, if he hadn’t assumed the worst of Tariq and stopped him on the street, wouldn’t have gotten Tariq killed. At the heart of it, though, you know that Jack Franklin’s motivations can’t be mistaken for anything other than racism and murder. Out of all the characters, he’s the only one who can’t be forgiven for his actions. For everyone else, you can chalk it up to the neighbourhood, or their parents, or what have you—but with Jack Franklin, there is no excuse. His actions were not a mistake. They were intentional.

I wish we had gotten more of Jack’s perspective, and I wish we had seen a happy conclusion for the people of Underhill, but if anything, this is an accurate portrait of race issues today. I believe this should be necessary reading on all high school curriculums in America and Canada, for sure. I’m going to keep this book and give it to my children to read, when I have them. I do believe that, even at its worst, this book is a rosy picture of ghetto life and violence, but I feel like we rarely get to see a portrayal of that lifestyle at all, so I’m happy to take what I can and learn from it. I will definitely be looking out for more work from this author. Highly recommend.

*Side note: The day I started reading this book, my papa passed away. The funeral is today, which is why my review may not seem as up-beat or detailed as normal. For a post on my experience with grief, go here.

THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill

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1.5 out of 5

[ARC provided by Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for my volunteer position as a VIP Trendsetter.]

All aboard the Destiny, a cruise ship hosting a high school music competition where the winning group receives a $25,000 cheque. Liza is the only one who knows how desperately her band needs it, and her one goal as she boards the ship is to win the prize and keep her marching band afloat.

A huge mishap involving an out-of-bounds bowling alley and a stray bowling ball throws the entire competition in jeopardy, and Liza finds herself putting all the blame on the school’s quarterback, Russ, on the trip as a form of detention. Serving as the band’s—and thereby Liza’s—lackey, Russ only causes more harm than good in Liza’s eyes. To top it all off, Liza is sharing the cruise not only with her arch nemesis Demi, but with her crush and son of the band director, Lenny. She can’t afford any distractions, but one little kiss wouldn’t hurt…

It’s rare that I finish a novel and ask myself what on earth just happened, but that’s what I did upon finishing this. The Trouble with Destiny lacks the charm of Morrill’s Meant to Be and is a severe let-down in terms of plot, character building, and writing style.

Let me start off by saying that the opening was good but very long; there is not much action until about a quarter of the way in. That being said, the plot is predictable, and the writing and pace are both flat. There is way too much going on and not enough space devoted to properly developing relationships or the varying storylines in order to make the outcomes believable. For example, there was zero chemistry established between Liza and Russ. Therefore the shift in Liza’s characterization and tone, particularly towards Russ, is so sudden that I was experiencing whiplash. It takes about a paragraph for Liza’s entire personality to change, with no decent reason or warning.

Additionally, as someone with seven years of concert band experience, the band setup seemed very unrealistic to me. For example, the sheet music for Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars isn’t that difficult for a band with experience and skill (I’ve played both pieces in band at the senior level), so it seems unlikely that they would win a competition using such simple music. With this in mind, it is quizzical to me why someone headed for Juilliard would be wasting their time with a band that plays such lower-calibre pieces.

Overall, The Trouble with Destiny is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Definitely steer clear of this one, but bear in mind that Morrill has done better. I look forward to seeing her next novel and hope it demonstrates the quirky skill that I know she has.

-Ember Book Reviews

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Sex in YA: An Ode to Authors

I love YA. Of all the books written in the various age groups, I find YA to be one of the most diverse groupings of novels that you can find. Even though I’m in my twenties, I still prefer YA to Adult novels, but as I get older, I do have one complaint that has been plaguing me since I was about, oh, sixteen.

In my past reviews, I’ve hinted that I love when an author actually describes a sex scene, however briefly or detailed. Now, of course I only mean when the timing is appropriate and it advances or contributes to the plot in some way. This isn’t Game of Thrones the TV show, here. But I strongly feel that a descriptive sex scene between characters can help to strengthen the growth of characters and their relationships, much like in real life. It’s so frustrating to me when a YA author builds up the steaminess in a novel to an all-time high only to skip over the sex part even though it’s strongly suggested that it happened. It’s almost like if books were given ratings, they’re trying to keep it at PG-13, and it’s super annoying, for a few reasons.

1: As I said, a descriptive sex scene helps to develop character and can strengthen the relationship between characters. I think knowing what happened during that really intimate, vulnerable moment is key from a reader’s perspective, because I want to know that both characters were respectful and caring with each other, and when it’s skipped over, I have no way of knowing that.

2: I’ve noticed that in a lot of older YA books (where the characters are sixteen or older), the steaminess will be really loaded on but none of the actual sex is seen. This relates to my PG-13 comment. First of all, the characters are older. They know about sex. Most likely, the older readers know about sex. When you make the book really steamy and sometimes even talk about the character getting turned on but leave out the sex, it’s like you’re saying we can only handle it to a certain extent. That we, as readers around the same age as the characters, can handle the foreplay but not what’s happening behind closed doors. I think it sends extremely mixed messages to the audience, and it often leaves me feeling confused, left out, and like the book wasn’t fully whole. My feelings on this are that either the author thinks we can handle sex or thinks that we can’t, but they need to decide one way or the other before writing the book. It’s like if you write a book but end it right before the climax (no pun intended). I mean, really? As a reader, I feel really condescended to.

3: It also really annoys me because the writers of YA are adults. They are adults who know about sex, might have even had sex, and have a bunch of life experience behind them. All this considered, their book is a platform where they can share that life experience and help to shape the viewpoints of their readers. When it comes to sex, descriptive sex scenes can help teenagers to form healthy ideas about sex, consent, and come to understand themselves better through that. I mean, we start getting taught sex-ed at ten years old, so why can’t we read about it at sixteen?

My complaint is that there isn’t enough descriptive sex (like I said, however brief or detailed) in older YA novels and the previous are my three reasons to support that complaint. Basically, at the end of the day, it just feels really condescending, especially considering the authors are adults. I mean, come on. You’re an adult writing for teenagers. You’ve been a teenager. Surely you know that we know about sex and aren’t afraid to read about it. And for those that are (likely a very few percentage), they can just not read that part. It’s really that simple.

Feel free to share any of your thoughts on this subject. I know it can be touchy for some, and I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve said in this post. Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

THE UNBEARABLE BOOK CLUB FOR UNSINKABLE GIRLS by Julie Schumacher

The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls

5 out of 5

Adrienne was supposed to spend her summer with her friend Liz near the Canadian border before she busted her knee. Now she’s stuck at home with her mom, who Adrienne is pretty sure wanted her out of the house as much as Adrienne wanted to be. To make matters worse, Adrienne’s mother pairs up with the other mothers in her yoga class to create a mother-daughter book club based on their daughters’ AP English reading list. The four girls that are thrown together couldn’t be less alike, and it’s clear that outside of this book club, they aren’t friends. They aren’t even acquaintances. But there’s something about this book club and the turmoil it brings that, if only for a summer, create a bond that the four of them never expected.

Julie Schumacher’s The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls is a great book best enjoyed on a lazy summer afternoon by the pool, or up on the roof of your house while searching for meteors while the power in your town is out.

Wow, I’ve been giving a lot of books 5 out of 5 lately. I guess I’ve climbed out of that book slump after all, but I don’t want my readers thinking I’ve gone soft on them. 😉 Take my word for it that when I give a book a 5 out of 5, while I’m not the authority on this, I truly think it deserves such a rating.

I highly recommend this book for anyone because it’s so short and such an easy read, but I recommend it for book lovers especially. Each chapter heading features an SAT prep word (which I’m unfamiliar with, as I live in Canada and we don’t have SATs), but the word at the beginning of the chapter points to what is about to happen in the book. This builds suspense really well. Additionally, the book is about a book club, so the characters are constantly reading and talking about books. It’s a really interesting parallel that I think many people will appreciate.

The book is short but well-paced and meaningful. Do like the girls do and hunker down by the pool with this baby. You’ll be finished it in no time and, if you’re like me, you’ll feel really good about it afterwards. Reading this was a very enjoyable experience.

I don’t know if you guys will have the same feelings, but I related so strongly to the main character, Adrienne, that it was spooky. I even took pictures of some of the passages that reminded me of my own thoughts and made me think that Schumacher could somehow read minds. It was eerie but made the event of reading it so fulfilling. The thing is, I don’t think it’s a one-off that I related to Adrienne. I think all readers will in some way or another. She really embodies that moment of reaching the end of adolescence and wondering who the heck you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. I really loved that.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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SOMETHING REAL by Heather Demetrios

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5 out of 5

Chloe Baker and Bonnie Baker couldn’t be more different. Chloe Baker is a shy senior with a few close friends and a crush on the mysterious, grungy, but sweet guy in her government class. She’s camera shy and hates having the attention on her. Bonnie Baker is one kid in a family with twelve who once starred on a reality TV series based on her family called Baker’s Dozen. Her family was crumbling and at age thirteen, she overdosed on her parents’ medicine cabinet and got her stomach pumped on TV. Just because they share the same body and history, doesn’t mean they are the same people.

Chloe couldn’t be more thrilled to finally be living a normal life. Nobody at school recognizes her for who she once was, and this new normalcy takes on an air of permanence when she bravely gets her photo done for the yearbook. On top of all of that, it seems that her crush, Patrick, might actually like her back.

But then Chloe comes home from school one day to see her home invaded by those all-too familiar cameras. Chuck, the producer, is threatening her to behave and do what is required for the show or he’ll sue her family. Her mom refuses to listen to her or her brother Benny’s pleas to give them their privacy. The panic attacks that Chloe had finally gotten under control—the ones that lead to her swallowing the majority of her parents’ medicine cabinet back in season 13—come back in full swing. To top it all off, everyone at school knows about Bonnie and her twisted life on Baker’s Dozen.

Heather Demetrios’s Something Real is an enthralling take on the reality of reality television and its effects on the kids involved. Laced with charming dialogue and an adorable love story, Something Real has been one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far.

*SPOILER ALERT*

This book was so good. It really gets the reader thinking about reality shows and how scripted they probably are. It also puts what life for kids who star in these reality shows must be like in perspective. It must be horrifying and I pity the children that are forced to go through that.

There were two other books that Something Real reminded me of in different ways. Reading Something Real gave me a similar feeling to what I felt reading Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed; the two are totally different books in almost every way, but the characters and friendships were developed in a similar fashion and I was invested in the story in similar ways. The love story also reminded me of Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After; it progressed in a similar fashion and while Something Real’s wasn’t as much of a roller-coaster and wasn’t as heartbreaking, it was still emotionally tough to read through at times. I really felt for the all characters, but especially Chloe and Patrick (who I related to more because I started dating my own boyfriend when we were sixteen).

This is the first time I’ve had a hard time coming up with any criticisms since I started blogging. I guess I would say that I wished it explored Chloe’s dark past in a more in-depth way, or her relationship with her father. I also wish her changing relationship with Lex had been expanded on. I felt like Chloe didn’t view her adopted siblings as her actual siblings in the same way that she viewed Benny or Lex as her actual siblings. I felt this way because she associates with Benny and Lex way more, and this is not an age thing because they have adopted siblings close to their ages (they mention that one is fifteen years old, for example). I am forced to conclude that it’s a “Benny and Lex are my biological siblings so we’re closer” thing, which I didn’t think was fair. The way the extended family was written was also very vague and at times awkward.

Like I said, I really had to stretch to come up with those criticisms, which just goes to show you how great this book is. It’s a longer read, so if you’re looking for something to really sink your teeth into, this would be a good choice. It is also a great commentary on reality television and what constitutes as child abuse, in addition to growing up and the freedom to take control of your own life. I would highly recommend this book both for pleasure as well as for a discussion group of some kind. There is a lot of great stuff to discuss in here.

Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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