It's Kind of a Cheesy Love Story by Lauren Morrill
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Why I LOVE this book: In the simplest terms, I love this book because it's just a feel good rom-com. I read this book in one night. I started it at dinner, Panera Flatbread Pizza keeping me company (for obvious reasons) and was loathe to put the book down when I had to go be the carpool mom. I was actively annoyed that I couldn't just keep reading and had to do things like "feed the family" and "finish work" before picking the book back up and reading the rest. That's all to say that this book was exactly the right book at the right time. The world kind of sucks right now, and has been really hard for awhile, and so sometimes you just need a cheesy love story, and this one 100% lives up to it's name. That's isn't to say that everything in the characters lives are perfect, it's defintiely not, but there's something comforting about settling in with some characters who are just going through your basic high school drama- dealing with friends and goofy families and falling in love. This is, at heart, a story about relationships and how we sometimes hide who we are because we aren't sure if people will still love us if we let ourselves be 100% authentic. That's something everyone can relate to. Getting to follow along as they get into fights, make up, deal with devestating losses and fall in love is the perfect nostalgic read- it's how we all hoped High School would go, and I'm totally here for it. Add in the whole concept of the Pizza Princess and the places we call home and you have the perfect book recipe.
As an adult I enjoyed this book because it was a great story with characters you can totally get behind and root for. As a middle school librarian I'm all about this book because it deals with issues everyone of my kids is going to experience in a way that keeps it light and readable. In between pizza jokes and make out sessions, they'll also get to see that it's totally okay to be yourself and love the dorky things you love, whatever that may be.
This post is going to pull double duty- first we're going to talk about this amazing book, and then we are going to dig into some deeper issues that this book brought up for me, that I think we need to talk about. But first- lets gush about how amazing this book is!
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Why I LOVE this book: So I actually read this book a few months ago after another author was hyping the title up on twitter. I fully lost my mind about it on twitter for a good week because I loved it so much. Even though I wasn't blogging at the time, I knew that I was going to have to come back to it at some point, because this one is far too good not to share.
For me this is the best kind of romantic comedy because it has all my favorite tropes. Honestly, the fact that it centers around fanfic and fandoms and the communities that builds up around people who unabashadly love the same things would be enough for me to be all in. I am forever falling headfirst into fandoms. You can track my entire life through fandoms and the found families that come with them, so seeing our main girl April be so deep into her chosen fandom (Gods of the Gate) was awesome. I loved seeing April and Marcus figure themselves out and figure out who they are together. The fandom and fanfic love isn't all it has going for it- theres also fake dating to real dating, found families, hidden identities, cosplay AND we get to see both April and Marcus deal with how they are percieved by others and who they want to be seen as. The whole story is a journey that anyone who has felt like they aren't being seen can relate to.
The story is also cut with bits of fanfic. Your mileage on that will totally depend on your personal level of fanfic love, but even if it's not your jam, it doesn't take away from the story at all. I personally love a good fanfic, so I was all in. And lets be 100% honest right now- once you get past the possibile mortification, what fanfic author WOULDN'T want to end up going out with a character from their favorite show? This is like the ultimate wish fulfillment.It's the whole basis behind /reader stories. It's not perfect, and Dade makes sure we see all the awkward ways this can go wrong, but man... it's kind of the dream, right?
To wrap up part one of this post- if you love love and are looking for a great read that centers on a fabulously geeky lady and her journey towards letting the whole world know that she's a badass... this one's for you.
Also- check out this teaser pic for Dade's next book, All The Feels, which centers on some characters from Spoiler Alert that you are 100% going to want to know more about. Everything about this tagline is perfection.
And now for Part 2 of this post- in which I maybe go all in on why this book (and ones like it are so important). If you're not here to read about body representation, I understand, but I'm ready to write about it- so buckle up buttercup.
Our girl April is, by societal norms, a bigger girl. She, like many of us, would be considered plus sized. She has a metric ton of confidence, but that doesn't make her immune to the harsh reality that people kind of suck, especially people online that can hide behind their monitors in the safety of their own anonymity. The book really kicks off when April puts herself out there online and gets some backlash about her size. The sting that April feels is one that everyone who struggles with their weight and body image knows. I could feel it through the page. It's like a swift kick to the gut, when you are feeling great, you put yourself out there, and people act like assholes. It happens a lot, people policing other peoples bodies and their clothing choices. As someone who is both bigger and a total nerd who digs a good costume, I could totally relate to April and how she was hesitant to put herself out there, because we all know what lurks on the other side of the screen and it's not pretty. That said, April and Marcus create a pretty super team and work through all the issues that press in on them (both Aprils and Marcus') and come out the other side solid. Part of this is that April knows her worth and has an innate confidence that serves her well. Not everyone has that, but it was phenomenal to see in this book.
I can only speak for myself and my experiences, but I want to tell you why, in between all the romance and comedy, this book also hit me right in the guts. I have body dysmorphia. I struggle with it every day. There are days where, like April, I feel pretty awesome, but even on those days I harbor a lot of hatred for myself and how I look. I don't remember a time where I didn't deal with it. As a kid I had bad teeth, and would hear things like "If you got your teeth fixed you might actually be pretty" (from my grandmother), and "maybe if you lost weight you'd fit in" (from other family members). While my own personal parents were relatively chill, theirs voices weren't the loudest. I was also a competative dancer. The first studio I was kicked out of weighed us in each week. At 12 I had a growth spurt and was no longer the "right body" for dance. I was 5'9" and about 140lbs and I was deemed unfixable. I found other studios and dove head first into musical theater, but there were always comments about what I ate and what I wore, whether I was too heavy to partner. By college, at 5'9" and roughly 130lbs I was labelled "too heavy" to even audition for certain schools. Logically I knew that any program or person that would limit my chances based on size and not ability were not places I wanted to be, but internally every rejection left scars. At that point, for a competative dancer, the recommended weight for my height was 125lbs. I have never been able to get to that weight. All throughout grade school and college I felt like I was gigantic. I couldn't see myself the way I actually looked. I actively hated myself. I'm pushing 40 now and I look back at pictures of myself and it's heartbreaking. I was too small for my frame. There was almost no muscle. I was in good shape, but I was not healthy. I did land at an amazing dance program at the University of Tampa, led by Susan Taylor-Lennon, who made me feel seen and worthy and who got me into therapy for first time. I can't say enough about that program and everything it gave me.
I still couldn't tell you what I look like. If you asked me if I was over weight you might get a different answer every day of the week. I can give you numbers, but we all know those aren't reliable. Besides, my numbers don't take into account whether or not I'm healthy or strong. They don't notice the good food choices or whether boxing 5 days a week have allowed me to hit hard enough to make a hole in the drywall. Somedays I feel like I am unstoppable, and others I simply hate myself. This is all compounded by both my anxiety and depression. I know that people who know me in real life will read this and think "but she's so confident! Look at her!" and yes, I am often confident. In front of a crowd I turn it on. How I look is often both a reflection of how I feel and the armor I put on to shield myself. The dyed hair, the clothes, and particularly the tattoos are all things that make me feel more like me, but also create a barrier. If you are talking about all that, you aren't talking about the me that's underneath. I often walk a very fine line between okay and not okay... but that's okay.
So what does this have to do with Spoiler Alert? Well, for once I saw myself reflected positively in the pages of the book. The people around April love her without any hesitation because of who she is and not what she looks like. More then that, there is very little indication that anyone thinks or believes that April isn't beautiful. Her weight is just a piece of who she is and not the centerpoint at which everything else revolves. Marcus, who could probably pull any girl in the world, chooses April. We often see celebrities talk about how personality is the most important thing, we see it written in books, and watch it play out in movies and on TV... but in many cases the love interest still fits into the stereotypical conventions of beauty. The words and actions, don't always match up. People say that anyone can have a chance with whoever, but when you look at it, people who look like April (and so many of us) rarely end up in the spotlight, rarely are celebrated as desirable or worth getting the guy in the end. More importantly, when someone does break through into the spotlight, they are qualified as being "plus sized", as if their size is still the most important thing about them and not whatever skill or work ethic or personality trait got them there.
This book, and these characters, jump right into the issues. They aren't ignored, because the reality is that we deal with them every day, but they also aren't given any more power then they deserve. April is amazing. Marcus struggles with his own issues, but in the end he appreciates April for everything that she has to offer. We talk a lot about being able to see yourself reflected in characters, and April is a mirror that many of us need to take a look at and find ourselves in. Go buy the book, and celebrate everyone for who they are and what they give to the world.
In my real life I rarely cry. I don't cry over movies and I often find myself struggling to have to the right reponse when someone else is crying. Basically, you crying is not going to make me sad or make me cry. I don't even cry at funerals or in other places where crying is commonly seen. In short- I'm not a person who cries. This week I discovered that I do cry at the Panera while reading. Can't Take that Away made me cry sad tears and happy tears, made me cry for the kid I used to be, and made me cry for all the kids who are still in the thick of it, but mostly it made me cry tears of hope (that's totally a thing, right?).
Now that we've gotten my crying issues out of the way, let's get to it.
Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore
Release Date: March 9, 2021
Why I love this book: We already talked about the crying situation. I promise it's a plus. You will feel better for having read this book and let out all the tears. Having a good cry doesn't even begin to touch all the great things about this book though. It's like the icing on a perfect cake.
And if the good cry is the icing, then the sheer volume of Mariah Carey content is like the sprinkles (I love sprinkles). As a 90's kid who grew up on Mariah Carey, who still can't help but think about 8th grade summer camp when Always Be My Baby comes on, I couldn't help but love Carey's love for all things Mariah.
What I appreciate the most about this book is that it shows EVERYTHING, the good and the bad, unflinching it how it holds up a mirror to what high school can be like. It's a hard time for a lot of people, and when you are different that can make you a target. What's beautiful here is that for every ounce of hate that Carey takes in, there are equal measures of love and support. That doesn't make it easy for them, but to be able to see a character that is in the thick of it, who is dealing with trauma and loss, who is also trying to figure out how to navigate love and friendship, AND who we see being confident and talented and fabulous, well, that is something that we don't get enough of. As a teacher I also fully appreciated that we got to see the good and bad there too- how some teachers can make everyone feel less then, feel like they don't belong, feel unsafe... but that there are other teachers who open their doors (literally) and create safe spaces for kids, who speak up for them when their voices aren't being heard, and who stand behind them when they need support. I try every day to be that second kind of teacher, because it's the kind of teacher I wish there were more of when I was a kid.
For me, when I think of this book and specifically about Carey, I think about one line from Walt Whitman's Poem Song of Myself. In that poem Whitman says "I am large. I contain multitudes". This book contains multitudes. Carey contains multitudes.
To sum up- go buy the book. If you are like me and have the ability to provide important books to kids, add this to your collection. Kids need to see that they contain multitudes too, and that sometimes you just have to slip on your ruby slippers and shine.
For reasons you will understand after you read the book- enjoy this picture of my Grandma Sophie, she was a roller skate dancer, raised kids and horses and dogs, started food fights at the dinner table, and taught us to not take shit from anyone (even family). She also haunted her house for years after she died much to our enjoyment. The sass survived even death. I hope I'm even half as cool as she is.
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