- I'm a wife, mama, writer, reader, and country music fanatic. I like baking, beer, jelly beans, sunshine, social media, planners, and yoga. I write young adult books about cool girls, cute boys, and steamy kisses. Look for KISSING MAX HOLDEN in 2017, and THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US in 2018, both from Swoon Reads/Macmillan.
- Reach me via email at Katy.Upperman@live.com
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Two selections from my book club, and four remarkable YA novels.
Your TBR list is about to grow!
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer – This is a hard book to review. Had my local book club not selected it for March, I never would have picked it up. That said, I did enjoy it, though it was hardly the “global thriller” its synopsis promised. Yes, there’s some spying, some advanced technology, some wild political occurrences, and a mysterious uprising, but that all comes second to what is essentially a character study. Leo, Mark, and Leila are all fascinating leads, charming and flawed in their own distinct ways, but — whoa — this is a long book with a lot of backstory, a lot of character development, a lot secret plotting, and… not much else. Plus, that ending. 🤔 Have you read WTF? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments — I’m curious!
We Are Okay by Nina Lacour – The Disenchantments is one of my favorite YAs (a road trip story about a girl band — yes, please!) so I had high expectations for this college-set story. The two books are quite different, though they’re similar in their subtleness and their sensitivity. We Are Okay takes place over a few days, on an isolated and snowy New York campus, though it flashes back to the previous year in California often enough, chronicling the friendship-romance-demise of Marin and Mabel, two girls who share a tangible bond. I loved every moment I spent with these characters, though my very favorite thing about this story is the way it reflects life’s bittersweetness — how happiness can follow even the most tragic moments. Pick up We Are Okay if you enjoy enchanting prose and quiet but emotional books.
You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow (August 29, 2017) – I’m not even a little bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this contemporary YA; its author is lovely and wonderfully sharp, much like her debut. I really can’t pinpoint why, but it reminded me of my all-time favorite Judy Blume book, Just As Long As We’re Together (though You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is firmly YA). It’s the story of Audrey, a girl who finds herself accidentally pregnant — even though she and her boyfriend, Julian, have been careful — and is forced to make some seemingly impossible choices. It’s also about stretching friendships, unique families, and love of all sorts. Audrey’s voice is stellar — totally authentic, at times funny, and always forthright. I appreciated this novel’s exploration of circumstance versus choice, and I think its message is both courageous and important. Watch for it this August!
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – Well, this was adorable. If I can be frank for a moment, though — at first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this contemporary YA. Its beginning is full of California stereotypes, and main character Jessie is pretty resentful about her circumstances. Her widower father’s just remarried, forcing a move from Chicago to L.A., completely uprooting his daughter. Luckily, Jessie grew on me super quick (come to find out, her personality is really similar to Teen Katy’s) and those stereotypes? Thoughtfully dismantled. Tell Me Three Things boasts a delightful secret romance, which definitely kept me engaged, and Jessie’s sense of humor is spot-on. I LOLed more than once. Give this one a read if you like your contemps fresh, fun, sex-positive, and full of voice.
Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson (May 16, 2017) – This YA debut is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and it’s wonderful. I’m a big fan of the “best friends turned sweethearts” trope, and author Kate Watson pulls it off fantastically. Finley and Oliver so obviously belong together (their chemistry is equal parts sweet and swoony), yet the obstacles keeping them apart are real and compelling. Seeking Mansfield isn’t all romance; there are some really interesting family dynamics at play, and when movie stars Emma and Harlan roll into town, there’s plenty of friendship angst, too. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this novel is the affinity that develops between Finley and Emma. If you’re an Austen enthusiast, a theater lover, or a contemporary YA fan, grab a copy of Seeking Mansfield in just a few weeks!
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – Another book club pick, and oh-my-gosh, I adored this novel. It was a difficult read, as it’s about foster care and motherhood and loss and chosen family; perhaps that’s why it made me feel ALL the things. The Language of Flowers follows two significant times in main character Victoria’s life: her tenth year, the one she spends with Elizabeth, the foster mother teaches her how to communicate with flowers, and her time as a young adult, emancipated, homeless, and alone. While all of this story’s characters are layered and complex, Victoria is deeply flawed, unable to bond, to love, to tolerate being touched, and yet… I never stopped rooting for her. Her story gave me literal chills more than once and, upon finishing, I immediately wanted to begin again at page one. Big recommend if you like literary novels that’ll make your heart hurt, but will also make you better for the experience.
So… What’s the best book you read in April?
I read so many great books this month, including a few extraordinary 2017 debuts. You can pick up Allegedly and The Hate U Give at your local bookseller now; make sure to add Gray Wolf Island and Kat Greene Comes Clean to your To-Read list!
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This story tackles weighty issues like immigration, racism, familial expectations, and fate vs. free will, but it’s also a romance between two meant-to-be teens. Main characters Natasha and Daniel leap off the page, their spark burning bright and hot. I love stories with unusual timelines and this one takes place in a day, but never fear — Natasha and Daniel aren’t in instalove. What they experience is an intense connection that builds minute by minute. Also! This novel features a scene that takes place at noraebang, which is the BEST. I love, too, the way The Sun Is Also a Star shows how the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential interactions can have lasting impact on the lives we touch. Recommend!
One Summer With Autumn by Julie Reece – Sometimes I just really enjoy reading angsty, impassioned romances full of flawed but lovable characters who do dumb things in the name of love — or, dumb things in the name of avoiding love. (I enjoy writing these sorts of romances, too. 🙃) One Summer With Autumn gave me exactly what I’d hoped for, including steamy chemistry between plucky Autumn and complicated Caden, its romantic leads, plus compelling family and friendship dynamics. Check it out if you’re into more mature YA, especially stories set in that strange in-between time that is the summer after high school and before college.
Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott (October 10, 2017) – This book is so mind-blowingly good it gave me chills, even on my second read. Author Tracey Neithercott’s prose is gorgeously lyrical, her plot (a treasure hunt involving an atmospheric island and a host of tragic secrets) is full of surprises, and her cast will burrow into your heart — particularly sad-but-strong Ruby, and enigmatic, sensitive Elliot. Gray Wolf Island is like a darker, swoonier version of The Goonies, and is absolutely one of my newest favorites. You’ll love it, too, if you enjoy books with unique settings, evocative writing, and authentic friendships, as seen in books by Maggie Stiefvater and Nova Ren Sum and Laura Ruby.
Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske (August 22, 2017) – This middle grade novel is so cute. Kat’s grappling with her mom’s mental illness, changing friendships, and her rather underwhelming role in her school’s production of Harriet the Spy, yet she’s still utterly delightful. This debut’s got the same timeless feel as Judy Blume’s middle grade books, and it relays its themes in a similarly clever and entertaining way. Along with its winsome voice, I most loved the way author Melissa Roske empowers Kat and, as a result, her tween readers. Can’t wait to pick up a copy of this book for my daughter (and me!).
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I enjoyed everything about this #BlackLivesMatter-inspired novel, but especially main character Starr. She makes such thoughtful, poignant observations over the course of the story, while her occasional naivety makes her easy to relate to. Her family, too, is layered — equal parts charming and flawed, making them feel real and vibrant. They lend Starr much needed support as she struggles to come to terms with being the only witness present the night her longtime friend, Khalid, is murdered by a police officer. While fictional, The Hate U Give offers an important perspective on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I found it a timely, must-read novel that has earned the accolades it’s received.
Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – Allegedly is the story of Mary, a pregnant teen who’s living in a group home after years spent in “baby jail” thanks to a murder conviction at age nine. This book is gritty and unflinching, and I loved it. I had the pleasure of hearing author Tiffany Jackson talk about researching and writing Allegedly at recent book festival, and knowing now that much of this debut is based on the accounts of real-life girls caught up in a system that’s constantly failing them made this read all the more riveting. Big recommend, especially if you favor books that’ll leave you feeling shredded, and changed.
Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage – This novel is as strange and beautiful as its cover. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s perhaps not for everyone, but whoa. I found it fascinating. It’s the story of Ben, a sixteen year old boy who’s tracking down notes left for him by his now-dead ex-girlfriend, Mira, who fell (jumped?) into the local quarry with her sister. Beautiful Broken Girls has strong religious themes, and it’s set in a small, close-knit community where most people are not who they seem on the surface; I loved the mysterious, almost creepy vibe, as well as the novel’s creative format. Plus, Kim Savage’s prose is stunningly emotive. Read this one if you like your YA dark and literary.
What’s the best book you read in March?
Six fantastic novels for your To-Be-Read list…
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – What a relevant, necessary, wonderful book. If I Was Your Girl is thought-provoking, and helps to give a candid and relatable face to the trans community. Its prose is spare but emotive, and it’s #OwnVoices — it reads as such. More than anything, though, this nuanced story of Amanda, who’s trying to make a place for herself at a new school, as well as navigate the relatively unfamiliar experience of living life fully as the female she’s always known she is, is absorbing and entertaining. I was rooting for Amanda from page one, and cheering on the friends she made and the new romance she pursued. And when things got tough, well, my heart broke right along with hers. An important and engaging novel.
Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (May 2, 2017) – This book is delightful — a charming and romantic beach read, but with depth. California girl Anise’s summer plans are turned upside down when she’s forced to make an extended trip to Nebraska to help care for her young cousins. There, she meets dreamy skateboarder, Lincoln, who challenges her in both silly and significant ways. She also begins to confront the baggage that’s come along with her mother’s abandonment. There’s even a mini road trip in this story, cementing its status as a Katy Book. Laura Silverman’s prose is an unusual but appealing blend of lyrical and gritty, dropping me right into Anise’s world. If you’re a fan of Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord, definitely pick up Girl Out of Water in May.
Just Friends by Tiffany Pitcock (August 1, 2017) – Tiffany and I share a publisher and a release date, which made me all the more excited to get my hands on an ARC of her forthcoming debut. Just Friends is everything I wanted it to be: cute, angsty, and fun. Main characters Chance and Jenny become friends thanks to the ultimate meet-cute, and they share adorable chemistry. This one’s a romance so the conclusion is expected, but the path we get to travel toward Chance and Jenny’s happily ever after has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and it’s populated by an excellent supporting cast. I love how Chance and Jenny grow and change over the course of this story, all the while supporting and caring for each other. Snag Just Friends this August if you love to read contemporary YA romance à la Kasie West.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If I can get behind a couple’s chemistry, I become blind to any and all flaws a book might otherwise have. Such is the case with The Hating Game. Is it a technically perfect novel? Who knows! I was so completely mesmerized by the legitimately hilarious writing, the I-hate-you-wait-actually-I-might-love-you nature of the plot, and the heat between main characters Josh and Lucy. Their back-and-forth is utterly flawless, their characterizations are deep, and Lucy’s narration is so bright and sparkly and fun and funny, I literally could not put this book down. I know there’s all sorts of hype surrounding The Hating Game which, for me, can be a turn off. But in this case? YES. BUY THE BOOK. #NewFavorite
Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard – This book is so lovely and melancholy. It’s a middle grade novel about Jory, a boy who lives a mostly secluded life with his stepfather, mother, sister (who has a fascinating backstory all her own), and baby brother. After a meteor shower, Jory’s stepfather, a war vet who’s always talking about “signs,” insists the family descend into the nearby canyon every night to dig a hole in the dirt. As Jory begins to make new friends at school, he starts to question his stepfather’s edicts, and his family’s way of life. Watch the Sky‘s themes–family and loyalty and secrets and fear–are profound, but the story is narrated in a way that feels both accessible and safe. My nine-year-old read this novel a month ago, then immediately put it into my hands. So, it’s earned both of our stamps of approval. Big recommend for middle grade fans.
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – A few things you should know about this debut novel… First, despite what I’d pegged as a fantastical cover, this is a Tennessee-set contemporary about three very different teenagers with a host of diverse struggles. Second, it’s a tale of friendship, and how friendship (and first love) can help a person overcome what might otherwise be a tragic fate. Third, Jeff Zentner’s writing is extraordinary; I listened via audiobook, and the voices of Dill, Lydia, and Travis were so authentic and distinct and vivid, I was blown away. Fourth, I think Jeff Zentner must take a tiny bit of pleasure in shredding hearts, because by the end of this story, mine was in tatters. I see now, why The Serpent King won the Morris Award this year. It is an exemplary novel.
So? What’s the best book you read in February?
Fun fact: There’s a Valentine’s Day scene in Kissing Max Holden.
“Saturday’s Valentine’s Day,” I say. “Can we hang out?”
“Yeah, of course. What should we do?”
I ponder while he toys with the ends of my hair, and then inspiration strikes. “Seattle. I want to take you to my favorite restaurant.”
“Cool. Can I plan the rest of the day?”
“Depends on what you’ve got in mind.”
“Fun stuff. Stuff that’ll cheer you up. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but my happiness relates directly to yours. I never want to see you cry again.”
“That might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said, Max Holden.”
To celebrate this most romantic day of the year, how about an ARC giveaway?!
(Fine print: Giveaway runs February 10th – February 15th at midnight. One winner will be randomly selected and notified by email on Friday, February 17th. U.S. entries only — sincere apologies to my international friends! ❤️)