Book Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Title: Genesis Begins Again
Author: Alicia D. Williams
Genre: MG/YA Own Voices Contemporary Fiction
Page Count: 385 pages
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Release Date: January 15, 2019

Publisher’s Summary: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

My Thoughts: I don’t even know where to begin with Genesis Begins Again. This book is beautiful, moving, heartbreaking, charming, inspiring, devastating, and everything in between. This is simply a phenomenal work of YA Own Voices Fiction about a girl learning how to love herself. It also takes place in metro-Detroit, where I live, which was pretty cool. I was so invested in Genesis’s story—everything from her personal internal struggles with her skin tone and her flawed but well-meaning father, to her new teachers and classmates and profound musical talent—I found it impossible to put this book down even to eat a meal. Memorable was her newfound friendship with a Greek classmate suffering from OCD, and the contrast between the two girls. I absolutely adored everything about this book and enthusiastically recommend it.

Editor’s Review: The Songs We Remember (The Songs in Our Hearts #2) by Chantal Gadoury

*Full disclosure: I was the editor of this novel for 48fourteen Publishing.

The Songs We Remember is the heart-rending yet lovely sequel to The Songs in Our Hearts by Chantal Gadoury. In the next installment of this contemporary YA love story, we return to our lovably conscientious heroine, Charlie, and her now-boyfriend, the charmingly laid-back Micah. In many ways, though opposites, Charlie and Micah are an ordinary high school couple. They navigate the everyday pressures and decisions of teens who date, like whether to be intimate or stay chaste, when to say “I love you,” and how to act as an item around friends and family. In the same way that the first book celebrates and evokes autumn, the sequel brings the winter and holiday season to life, and all the romantic trappings that go along with it.

But then unexpected tragedy hits. Blindsided by loss, Charlie withdraws – from everyone and everything. Though Micah tries, not even the boy she loves and the music they shared can mend her grief-shattered heart. These parts of the book had me blubbering like an infant (you will need a box of tissues. But it will be worth it). And yet, slowly but surely, loyal and devoted Micah and their friends gently coax Charlie out of her mourning and into a sobering but new normal. It isn’t easy, and nothing will ever be the same for Charlie again. But with time and patience, Charlie and Micah will learn that the music – even if just the memory of it – plays on.

I unequivocally adored this book. It is currently my favorite YA contemporary romance. Gadoury’s stunning strength and growth as a writer has been among the most beautiful and inspiring things to witness in my career. She writes authentically with grace and poignancy, as well as delightful humor and affection that make her characters pop right off the pages. Even when the book is sad, it is also full of hope and laughter. Gadoury is one of those YA authors that reminds you of the goodness and light that’s still out there in the world, and who’ll make you laugh and cry simultaneously. I recommend this duet to fans of YA contemporary romances like Anna and the French Kiss, What Happened to Goodbye, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and The Fault in Our Stars.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen is the charming story of high school senior, Mclean. Mclean’s life was her family, her family’s restaurant, and basketball… until their restaurant went under. Then, her mother cheated on her father with his favorite basketball team’s coach, and got pregnant. With twins. Needless to say, her parents suffered a bitter divorce.

Disgusted with her mother– who now has the audacity to act as if nothing’s the matter, and even fight for custody of Mclean– Mclean chooses to follow her dad and his new restaurant consulting job. But Gus Sweet’s new job requires constant moving, every several months. No problem; Mclean takes it as an opportunity to totally reinvent herself in all her new towns and schools. But now in Lakeview, her attempts at creating another alter-ego are thwarted.

Mclean tries to avoid establishing attachments, because she knows at anytime her father’s job may relocate them. But somehow, new friends are finding her: from Opal, the tattooed, retro-punk manager of Gus’s new restaurant; to Heather and Riley, the cool girls, yet something of misfits themselves; to Deb, the type-A personality “spaz,” who also happens to have a good heart and a surprising interest in metal music. And then, of course, there’s Dave, the long-haired boy genius who lives next-door. Despite her efforts to be standoffish, Mclean can’t help but begin to fall in love with Lakeview, her classmates at Jackson High, and the colorful staff at her father’s latest restaurant. But causing turbulence behind the scenes is Mclean’s mother. Guilt-ridden on her father’s behalf, but wanting to avoid another custody battle, Mclean endures awkward dinners and basketball games with her new step-dad and toddler-age half-siblings, and a mother whom she hardly recognizes anymore.

I loved reading about Mclean’s friends and their own stories. I also enjoyed the scenes with the restaurant staff. Even Mclean’s mother, whom you can’t help but both pity and hate, is an interesting and sympathetic character. Mclean’s lovable, handsome workaholic father is someone I missed as soon as the book ended. But the true heart of the story are Mclean’s friends – in particular, her budding relationship with the kind and mysterious Dave. This novel had heart and soul, and I would recommend it.

Book Review: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

After experiencing a deep personal sorrow, Salamanca’s Native American mother, Chanhassen, leaves her husband and daughter, for a time, to find herself. She takes a bus tour westward from their Kentucky home out to Idaho. When Chanhassen does not return, Sal and her grandparents decide to retrace Chanhassen’s steps by car on a road trip together. Sal plans to find and bring her mother home.

While sightseeing cross-country and ensuring they make all the stops that Chanhassen’s bus made, Sal enjoys her grandparents’ stories and company. Meanwhile, she weaves a yarn to them about her “friend” Phoebe, whose mother also disappeared, but continued to send Phoebe mysterious messages. As Phoebe’s story unfolds, so does Sal’s in this heartbreaking but beautiful YA novel, entitled Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech.

I should warn that this book will bring on the tears. It is an exquisite work of YA fiction, emotionally investing and geographically inspiring! The characters do not soon leave the reader. I highly recommend this unforgettable book to all ages. Creech poignantly teaches that life does continue after tragedy, love conquers all, and that one should never judge a person until having “walked two moons in his moccasins.”

Book Review: Dear America: Dreams in the Golden Country, The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl (New York City, 1903) by Kathryn Lasky

dreamsZipporah and her family are Jewish immigrants to the U.S. in the early 1900s. This book could have focused more upon Jewish culture, family values, and life in America in the early twentieth century, but the narrator was more consumed with her fascination with drama and acting. Instead of the story of a Jewish immigrant, this book is more of an “origin story” of a fictitious actress.