May the Best Man Win by ZR Ellor
Release Date: May 18, 2021
Why I love this book: I love this book first and foremost because it employs my absolute all time favorite trope- and that is lovers to enemies. Most people like enemies to lovers, but for me, it's all about the opposite. It's all about two people who used to be everything to eachother, and who know each others deepest secrets, suddently using all that knowledge to absolutely destroy the other person. Jeremy and Lukas are perfect in this trope- neither is a bad person, but they are both hurt and angry and have goals that pit them against each other and neither is willing to give even an inch and so they take all that pain and aim it at eachother, no matter who might get caught in the crossfire. Even though we know they might circle back around to find each other again, getting to follow along as they try to one up each other and become Homecoming King is pretty great.
I also love this book because I adore both Jeremy and Lukas, who are, quite possibly the most disasterous main characters I've even encountered. I say that with the absolute most love possible. Teenagers are, generally speaking, a mess. If I had even a nickel for everytime I looked at one of my students and said, "Does that seem like a good idea?" I would be rich. I would be able to retire young and just enjoy reading about teens making hysterically bad decisions instead of watching it happen in real time. That said, there is something so good about following characters like Jeremy and Lukas battle it out. Here is the thing that I think is a super important takeaway from Jeremy and Lukas that both teens and adults need to hear... even when you are at your worst, you are worth loving. Even when you are letting your hurt and pain and confusion cloud your judgement, you deserve to find love. If you are lucky you will find people who will hang with you as you muck it all up, and if you are, make sure you apologize for being an asshole and do what you can to make it up to them, and then hold on to them as hard as you can. Jeremy and Lukas are a perfect example of how you can get horribly off track, but find your way back, and that's something we all need to see.
Bruised by Tanya Boteju
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Why I love this book: It's safe to say that I'm not sure if I loved this book or not. Which isn't to say that this isn't a great book, it is, it truly is an amazing book. However, some books are like a window to another world, they let you hop out of your own space and explore new worlds... and then there are books that are more like a mirror and reflect back to you experiences you've already had, even the ones you don't always like to see. For me, Bruised is a mirror.
Daya is at the center of this story and she is dealing with the aftermath and trauma of her parents death. Her world has been completely upended and she doesn't quite know where she fits anymore. One thing she knows for sure is that causing herself physical pain gives her a level of control over her hurt that she doesn't normally have, and so she seeks out opportunities to get bruised. The bulk of the story finds her diving into the world of Roller Derby, and while she thinks this will just be an opportunity to get out her pain and anger, it also leaves her open to building new relationships, which she may or may not be ready for.
Here's where Bruised really hit me hard. Like Daya I use physical pain to deal, I've been known to punch a wall, hit a desk, or land a swift kick into the end of a bookshelf. That sharp pang of pain taking my mind off of whatever else is hurting. It's often a physical manifestation of emotional pain or anger, it offers me (and Daya) a level of control that we don't always have. Daya looks to channel her hurt into Roller Derby, I kickbox, which allows me to blow off steam without actaully hurting anyone. Like Daya in the Derby, once upon a time I was a bruiser on my soccer teams, my need for that contact channeled into punishing the other team (and myself) by getting as physical as possible, sometimes outside the bounds of the rules of the game. In fact, when I returned from college to play in an adult league, the first thing that happened was that I was pulled aside by a referee and made to sign a contract agreeing that I wouldn't get into any fights, wouldn't hurt anyone, and that I acknowledged that if I did I would be kicked out, no second chances. after 5 years my reputation still held. It's not something I'm proud of, but in and of itself, it was a coping mechanism that worked, until it didn't.
Seeing that reflected back at me on the page was tough to read, but also really, really nice. It's not often that we look at the different coping mechanisms in an honest way, because it's not pretty. It is however, really important, because it's common for people to find something that works for them, even if it isn't actually healthy. I don't know that I would say I loved this book, because it shines a spotlight on the things about myself that I don't particularly love, but this book is pretty amazing and I think it's one of those books that everyone should read, especially if you work with teens/young adults because it will give you some serious incite into trauma responses and coping mechanisms. Plus there is a lot of fun and humor along the way as well!
Jay's Gay Agenda by Jason June
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Why I love this book: The number one reason why I love this book is that it's predictable. Yes. Predictable. A lot of times books jam in uneccessary twists and turns and try to be clever, and a lot of times, it just doesn't work. Sometimes we just need a story about a boy who is finally living the life he dreamed about and all the totally predictable twists and turns that come with that. To be fair, as a teen, I probably wouldn't have seen all the writing on the wall, but as an adult who has been there (and failed at so many things), part of the fun of this book was knowing that the things Jay was putting on his lists were not likely going to work how he envisioned, and still getting to watch him go through the process. From the jump we know who Jay will end up with, and we know he's going to screw it up (because, real life spoiler alert, teens screw up a lot), and we know that eventually he will find his way, and we still get to enjoy the journey.
The second reason I love this book is that I too came from a very small town that didn't allow the freedom to really be the person you were meant to be. it felt like life existed somewhere out there, just outside of easy reach. Leaving for the first time and getting to meet new people, explore new places, and try new things, is incredibly exciting. It was really fun to watch Jay experience those things for the first time.
This is a great book and I can't wait for more!
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