book reviews, books, children's lit, ya

…Autumn Reading?

I’m full-force back into reading all the time, so I’m going to try to continue logging what I read! The list remains fairly random, based on assignment, recommendations, and whatever’s around.


PROMINENT ASPECTS: immigrants, mongooses (mongeese?), the Dominican Republic, magical realism, geekiness, comic books, sci-fi, romance, cancer, family, prostitution, dictator Rafael Trujillo, fuku, zafa

ALSO READ: I did not get this book. I liked it, but did not love it at all. Its exploration of the supernatural-esque believe of a fuku, or a curse, set by the reign of real-life dictator Rafael Trujillo is eerie and intriguing. You can learn more about it on this questionable website. This book also taught me about the incredibly daring story of the Mirabal sisters, who were amazing and I highly recommend reading more about! Julia Alvarez’s In the TIme of the Butterflies is a novelization of their story, and I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-read list.

20. THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: invalids, bratty girls who come around, nature, Magic, British imperialism in India, blatant racism tbh, secrets, gardens, Yorkshire accents

ALSO READ: Another book I was not a huge fan of. It was racist and dull and I do not care if a book is a classic if it is so racist. Here is a list, compiled by the Atlanta BlackStar staff, of seven more racist kids’ books, including this one. What Culture provides another compilation. Stay alert, folks.

21. YOU DESERVE A DRINK by Mamrie Hart (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: bartending, drunkenness, alcohol, friendship, rutabaga, YouTube, summer camp, airplanes, North Carolina, constipation, embarrassing stories, poison ivy, hilarity

ALSO READ: So, as you probably know, Mamrie Hart is a pretty famous YouTuber, known for her show You Deserve a Drink, where she concocts elaborate alcoholic beverages (knowledge from her bartending days) for figures in the media. She’s also known for her collabs and friendships with fellow vloggers Hannah Hart (no relation) and Grace Helbig. I am not into YouTube at all and I knew next to nothing about these women, but my friend Maddy (a former struggling vlogger herself– she vlogged for 103 days straight last summer!) LOVES them, and this book was laugh-out-loud hilarious and I am SO glad I read it! I’d recommending checking out those funny lady channels instead of reading another book, mostly because alcohol-based-memoirs-by-YouTubers is a genre with only Mamrie in it.

22. RAT GIRL by Kristin Hersh (2007)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: punk, music, bipolar disorder, songwriting, college, intergenerational friendship, hippie parents, a band that gets along like really well, stepsisters, divorce, Providence, Boston, fish, swimming, psychiatry

ALSO READ: This was such an awesome rockin’ music memoir, and it really got you into the author’s head. I’ll recommend two books: my current fave memoir, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and the music memoir that’ll be released in October but I know will be amazing, Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Both Brownstein’s and Hersh’s memoirs specifically explore mental health and being in girl-dominated bands, making them especially rad.

23. THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (1992)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: psychological thrillers, Greek, Vermont, Classics (the major in college), cult-like behavior, friendship, incest?, hidden homosexuality, twins, so much drinking, also cocaine, the winter, deer, murder, bacchanal, homework, remorse

ALSO READ: This book was so gripping, even when I was baffled by the characters’ motivations, which were shrouded in layers of mystery. I haven’t read Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner The Goldfinch, but I’ve heard it’s even better than this one, so that’s my recommendation!

24. THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL by Veera Hiranandani (2012)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: biracial identity, India, Jewish, unemployment, depression, cheerleading, Spin the Bottle, nontraditional schooling, race, class, little sisters, jealousy, middle-grade, identity

ALSO READ: I LOVED THIS BOOK, and highly recommend it to readers of all ages, but especially those in late elementary/middle school. The protagonist has a Jewish mom and a dad from India, and she struggles with labeling herself for the whole novel. Race and class are explored without at all being dumbed down for young readers. Another book about discovering identity that I adore is Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah– if you loved Hiranandani’s book, definitely check out this one! (I’m also so pumped to know Veera i.r.l. since we both work at the amazing Writopia Lab!)

25. ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: graphic novels, roller derby, girls, hair dyeing, friendship, middle school, single moms, empowerment, mentorship, Hugh Jackman, trying and failing and trying again

ALSO READ: So, for a girl who can’t roller skate at all, I have a pretty weird obsession with roller derby. I thought that a graphic novel was a beautiful, visceral approach for the protagonist (and the reader’s) intro to derby. Also read Whip It by Shauna Cross, which was adapted into the super-rad movie starring my girl Ellen Page!


PROMINENT ASPECTS: science, primates, sisterhood, siblings who leave, getting arrested, ventriloquist dummies, losing something(s) very important, moving, searching, finding

ALSO READ: This NPR story– and many others- about real-life family’s like Rosie and Fern’s in the novel. It’s fascinating!

27. PIE by Sarah Weeks (2013)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: pie, jealousy, family, cats, mystery, competition, death, promises

ALSO READ: The movie Waitress (2007) also has a strong thematic use of pie, and it is also a precious and moving and lovely film. There’s also, for pie-loving history buffs, a book called Pie: A Global History by Janet Clarkson. I haven’t read it myself, but it looks very comprehensive!

28. DOUBLE DOG DARE by Lisa Graff (2013)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: media club, competition, hair dyeing, divorce, little sisters, peanut allergies, guinea pigs, moving, friendship, loyalty, mommy-and-me yoga, double dog dares

ALSO READ: A fantastic kids’ series about competition, which is what this novel’s plot thrives on, is about two warring families of siblings by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The first book is called The Boys Start the War; the next is The Girls Get Even, and it continues in kind.

29. ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: donuts, babysitters, reality TV, parents who ignore their kids, biracial identity, New York City, having trouble with math, stuttering, spelling tests

ALSO READ: First of all, this book was so precious. My friend Scarlett, who recommended this middle-grade novel for me, said she cried when she read it; I didn’t, but I see how she did. The narrator in this book reminded me a little bit of the girl in Where I’d Like to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell, which was one of my favorite books growing up. Both books are about smart, strong narrators who deserve much better grown-ups in their lives than they get sometimes.

30. WICKED by Gregory Maguire (1995)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West, sibling jealousy, disability, unfit parenting, affairs, human rights, Animal rights, activism, terrorism, sorcery, evil, the existence of souls

ALSO READ: First of all, if you’re a diehard fan of the musical like me, the backstory of these characters is very welcome, but also very sad. Things don’t work out as pleasantly for them as they do in the stage show, that’s for sure. Although it is MUCH less dark because it’s for kids, another relatable modernization of established fairytales is The Sisters Grimm series (written for a middle grade audience) by Michael Buckley.

31. FOXFIRE* by Joyce Carol Oates (1993)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: girl gangs, upstate New York, never saying sorry, poverty, racism, tw: child sexual assault, tw: rape, Communism, juvenile detention centers, sisterhood, queerness, outer space, men are the enemy

ALSO READ: When searching for similar books, the internet suggested one of the many brilliant other novels by this prolific author. Another one suggested is An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, which I haven’t read, but is probably amazing because she is amazing.

32. GIRL IN A BAND by Kim Gordon (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Jenny Holzer, Kurt Cobain, William Burroughs, did I mention namedropping?, New York City, Los Angeles, punk, Sonic Youth, art, NYC in the ’80s, Madonna, Warhol, music, guitar, memoir

ALSO READ: I didn’t like this book very much, mostly because I think Gordon wrote it when she wasn’t in the greatest place. The last music memoir I read was Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh, which I strongly recommend, and the next one I’m planning to read is Carrie Brownstein’s, which I recommend without reading it yet (I’ll keep you posted.)

33. CORALINE by Neil Gaiman (2002)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: parents who ignore kids, Other Mother, button eyes, little girls, aging stage actresses, mice who sing and dance, cats who are your allies, stolen souls of little children, England, tea parties

ALSO READ: This book would be genuinely psychologically scary for a child. At the same time, I loved that because it shows the writer has true respect for their reader. I’d also read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne Valente or Matilda by Roald Dahl (which you’ve probably already read. 🙂 )

34. THE LIGHT PRINCESS by George MacDonald (1969)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: gravity (physical & emotional), princesses, swimming, curses, selfishness, selflessness, Scottish fairytales, the importance of crying

ALSO READ: Ok, so I found out about this book because Tori Amos just adapted the original Scottish tale and turned it into a musical. This story is for people who don’t want to take up space, who don’t want to be weighed down by their own solemnity, who can’t find any value in their own gravity. Honestly, the only book I can think of is Horton Hears a Who because of the whole “a-person’s-a-person” thing, but I think that’s just fine. It’s a good book!

35. THE STONE GIRL by Alyssa B. Sheinmel (2013)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: unrequited love, EDNOS, private school, NYC, marijuana, NYC, Columbia University, weighing 111 pounds, mental health, eating disorders, tw: ed, new friends, single moms who are lawyers

ALSO READ: This book serves such a vital space in YA lit about eating disorders. There are many books that either feature or skate around this topic, and I’ve read a ton of of them. The reason this book is important is because Sethie, the protagonist, doesn’t have diagnosable anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder; if she were to be treated for her obsessions with food, her body, and weight loss, she’d probably be diagnosed with EDNOS, or “eating disorder not otherwise specified,” which was recently added to the DSM V. Although- or because- EDNOS is not taken as seriously, it has the highest fatality rate of any eating disorder. Other than the books I linked to above (tw: ed for most of them!) I’d recommend the nonfic Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin, a personal and journalistic account about girls Sethie’s age in the same mental health situation.

36. HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL by Carrie Brownstein (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: guitar, queer identity, feminism, Sleater-Kinney, Seattle in the ’90s, Portland, celebrity, anxiety, shingles, friendship, animal shelters, songwriting

ALSO READ: UGH this was just as good as I hoped it’d be! Go back to Rat Girl (#22) if you still haven’t read that one. This one is a more traditional music memoir, and it is so incredibly well-written. I think Rat Girl is much less traditional, but still absolutely brilliant and telling the story of another woman musician around the same time as Brownstein.

37. AFTER ALICE by Gregory Maguire (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: deceased mothers, big sisters, governesses, baby brothers, religion, Charles Darwin, abolition, marmalade, corsets, the White Rabbit, imagination

ALSO READ: This book was very rad, and displayed astounding vocabulary, but I also know a lot of it went right over my head. If you love Alice as much as I do and want more of her story, I’d recommend a trilogy I haven’t read yet but a friend loves: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.


PROMINENT ASPECTS: best friends, divorce, self-love, when fame goes to one’s head, crushing on the wrong boy, body image, unrealistic media expectations, that feeling when your bff accidentally hands in your online diary to your English teacher…

ALSO READ: This book was transformed into an iconic Disney Channel movie called Read it and Weep starring Kay and Danielle Panabaker; if you’re around my age and a girl, it’s very likely both the film and that sister acting team are familiar to you. But honestly, I’d recommend the book itself. It says some incredible things about self-love and feminism and empowerment that the Disney version simply glosses over. (I also had the pleasure of reading this book to my favorite ten-year-old this time around, which made the journey so much more rewarding.)

39. BITCH PLANET by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (2015)

PROMINENT ASPECTS: graphic novels, feminist sci fi, non-conforming women, fight clubs, nsfw, lesbians, race/class/gender/sexuality/size are all factors in identity, unlikely friendships, satire

ALSO READ: I’ve never read a book like this, a collection of the first 5 issues of the Bitch Planet comic book and serving altogether as a graphic novel. It was an astounding and incendiary piece of feminist work. Anyone have any suggestions?!

Summer reading list here!

Winter list will be added soon! 

Adorable image via A Girl and All Her Books


Vocab Words Learned from “American Gods”

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was, for me, a wild introduction to the genre of fantasy/mythology novels for grown-ups. It went from being intriguing to baffling and, when the end of the epilogue rolled around, genuinely epic. I learned so much from this book, most notably more vocab words than I’ve learned from a novel in years. I read this book mostly on the go, so I kept track of all the words on the first page. (Don’t judge, book purists!)


(the first page)

But because so many of the words were so phonetically wild, I decided to play a game I used to play in a summer writing camp as a kid, where you ask someone to spontaneously define a word they don’t know and there are no wrong answers. I did that on the phone and over text for this crazy vocabulary, and it was super-fun. Here are the definitions, and thanks to my friends and family members for helping me out with their fake definitions!

avuncular:to take a specific path, literally or figuratively” –My dad

actual definition

avuncular (adj):

  • of an uncle
  • like an uncle

becalmed: “not so mad” –Amanda

actual definition

becalmed (adj):

  • kept from moving because there is no wind
  • made calm

blippeting: when something is jumpy –My mom

actual definition

blippeting: ????

  • this is the only word for which I could not find a defintion anywhere! I think it’s similar to “blip,” though, a verb meaning “make a short high-pitched sound or succession of sounds”

brook (v): “to move quickly” –Dad

actual definition

brook (v):

  • put up with; endure; tolerate

cadge: being stuck -Abby

actual defintion

cadge (v):

  • beg shamelessly

caracole: a lively action of some sort in the motion of going backwards -Scarlett, age 10

actual definition


  • (n): a half-turn to the right or left, made by a horse and rider
  • (v): to make such half-turns
  • (v): to prance from side to side

clangor: noisy – Mom // group of rocks –Dad

actual definition

clangor (n)

  • a continued clanging (clanging: a loud, harsh ringing sound)

cloy: carve clay -Abby

actual definition

cloy (v):

  • make or become weary by too much of anything pleasant

disgorge: to jump –Mom

actual definition

disgorge (v):

  • to throw up the contents; empty; discharge
  • give up unwillingly

durance: the opposite of endurance, being unable to maintain an activity –Maddy L.

actual definition

durance (n):

  • imprisonment

enmities: perks you get for collecting loyalty points at chain hotels. used in a sentence: we stayed in 8 Best Westerns around the country last fall, and the last one we got an upgraded to a suite because of our enmitie points –Maddy F.

actual definition

enmity (n)

  • the feeling that enemies have for each other

flay: frolick -Abby

actual definition 

flay (v)

  • strip off skin
  • scold severely; criticize mercilessly

frisson: French derivative, meaning fruity –Maddy L.

actual definition

frission (n):

a sudden strong feeling or emotion

galoot: someone stupid –Amanda

actual definition 

galoot (n):

  • a fool

(congrats to Amanda for getting a word’s exact definition by random guess! <3)

glutinous: thickness –Tania

actual definition

glutinous (adj):

  • feeling like glue; sticky

hectoring: bothering someone -Abby

actual definition

hectoring (v):

  • bullying or teasing

inter: to decide –Mom

actual definition

inter (v):

  • to put a dead body into a grave or tomb

libation: freedom –Amanda

actual definition

libation (n):

  • pouring out of wine, water, etc. as an offering to a god
  • the above offering

mandlin: a miniature mandolin –Victoria

actual definition

mandlin (adj):

  • agreeable
  • sweet

mellifluous: an ingredient in mucinex –Victoria

actual definition

mellifluous (adj):

  • sweetly or smoothly flowing

modalities: services included in a modern day basic package of utilities in a house or apartment. This is included but not limited to: air conditioning, cable & wifi. –Maddy F.

actual definition

modality (n):

  • the quality of being modal
    • modal: having more to do with form than substance

perspicacity: the finite number of ways you can view a particular situation. A mix of the words “perspective” and “capacity”. For example: “Joe missed curfew last night and his parents were out convinced he was being a hooligan with his bros. Joe argued that he could have been out late studying. His parents said there was a perspicacity of reasons why he was out late, and studying is not an adequate excuse.” –Maddy F.

actual definition

perspicacity (n):

  • keen perception; discernment

prestidigitation: pompous or being too wordy/intellectual –Maddy L.

actual definition

prestidigitation (n):

  • slight of hand

reprovingly: annoyingly –Maddy L.

actual definition

reprove (v):

  • show disapproval of
  • blame

roiling: really mad –Amanda

actual definition

roiling (v):

  • making water muddy by stirring up sediment
  • disturb or vex

susurrus: to dig in & set up a protective area, like to protect your property or building –Dad

actual definition

susurration (n) (this is another word I couldn’t find, but this seems close):

  • whispering
  • a rustling murmur

symptic: someone who always seems to have the symptoms of fake diseases -Victoria

actual definition

symptic: ????

  • couldn’t find this one either

thylacine: a type of medicine -Scarlett

actual definition

thylacine (n):

  • “The thylacine was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It is commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger or the Tasmanian wolf.” –Wikipedia

tumescent: the smell of dead people. derived from the root word “scent” and Latin word “tume” meaning tomb –Maddy F.

actual definition

tumescent (adj)

  • swollen or becoming swollen, especially as a response to sexual arousal (eww)

hope you learned something! 🙂