A couple of years ago, I started a blog called Shannon’s Hot Takes on Hot Reads, focused on Teen Hot Reads. It went well for a few months, but then I realized restricting myself to only reading Teen Hot Reads was unsustainable. I can’t help it–I like reading all kinds of things! So now I am back with a new Hot Takes, but this time featuring YA fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and even adult books that would be suitable for a teenage audience. I’ll review three books that I read during the past month. All of them are available for check out from the library (I much prefer the feel of a physical book, but I will always note if the title is available digitally as well). Now, without further ado, let’s talk about scout camp, robots, and zombies!
Flamer by Mike Curato
Flamer is the debut graphic novel of illustrator Mike Curato, and is loosely autobiographical. The main character, Aiden Navarro, is a Filipino American boy who is at scout camp in the summer between middle school and high school. He loves being a Boy Scout, but he is also going through a lot of changes, not least of which is his realization that he is attracted to boys. Aiden must deal with racist and homophobic bullies at the camp, though he does have friends who stick up for him. He must decide whether he has the inner strength to keep moving forward and be true to himself.
To say that this graphic novel is powerful would be an understatement. I may not have faced the same issues that Aiden did at that age, but I do know what it is like to feel like you are utterly alone in the universe. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the climax of the novel hit so close to home that I was in tears and had to put it down for awhile. Also, his love for the Boy Scouts (despite their checkered history when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community) really shines through the page. And Curato’s artwork and use (or lack thereof) of color is inspired. Most of the art is simple black and white, with flame colors used to emphasize certain objects in the panels. Using red, orange, and yellow sparingly draws the eye and really ups the emotion of the scene.
Author Jarrett J. Krosoczka blurbed that “This book will save lives,” and I can’t agree more. I think that everyone who can should read this book. But it will be especially impactful for queer teens, who will see themselves in Aiden and his journey to self acceptance. I highly recommend checking it out!
The Preserve by Ariel S. Winter
Imagine a world where the human population has been decimated by disease, and robots are the dominant life form on the planet. These robots are nearly indistinguishable from humans, and most of them think that humans are better when controlled. However, about nine months before the book begins, the government opened up “preserves,” kind of like reservations for humans and ONLY humans. It was a controversial move, but our main character, Chief of Police Jesse Laughton of the SoCar Preserve (what used to be South Carolina), believes it is a step in the right direction. But everything is threatened when there is a murder on the preserve, and it might be linked to programs that are killing robots in the outside world. Jesse needs to solve the murder before the robot overlords decide that giving humans their own space was a mistake. Thankfully, he has the help of his old partner, a robot named Kir.
First of all, I would just like to point out how AMAZING this cover is! I don’t know if it is just me, but I could stare at it for hours. Anyway, this is actually an adult science fiction novel, but I think that teens who love cyberpunk and mysteries will enjoy it. It was a quick read–I finished it in 2 days. The atmosphere and the strong narrative voice really carry this story, and I liked the concept of robots and humans working together to solve murders. The book does address some weighty issues, like what makes someone human? But my favorite part was the relationship and banter between Jesse and his partner, Kir. Even though one is human and the other is a robot, they have a strong friendship that warmed my heart. There is a moment towards the end of the book that made me laugh AND brought tears to my eyes. It involves dolphins. That is all I will say (no spoilers here!).
I picked up this book because I’ve recently discovered how much I love cyberpunk (the genre/aesthetic, not the game), and I am glad I did. If you like noir mysteries with robots, this book is for you!
Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly deVos
Disclaimer: I LOVE zombie books more than most, so keep that in mind when I am gushing about how much I loved this one!
Vivian Ellenshaw is not happy to be shipped off to Camp Featherlite, a fat camp for rich teens. She knows that she is fat, but she is athletic, healthy, and knows she does not need to lose weight. But her mom recently remarried, to her fat-phobic gym teacher, and so off she goes over winter break. Her “pod” leader is a cute jock, but she is also in the same group as her ex-best friend Allie. They barely have time to meet the other three members of their pod when the power goes out at camp. During the worst blizzard in Flagstaff, AZ’s history. And the miracle cure that is supposed to make them all lose weight fast? Well, it has the unfortunate side effect of turning people into super fast, super strong zombies.
This is one of the best zombie books I have read in awhile. I loved the social commentary about body positivity, and making yourself into something that society expects you to be. Also, deVos used an interesting narrative technique in that she introduces you to the “character tropes” from zombie movies, since Allie is an aspiring filmmaker. This adds a layer of fun as you figure out which teen falls into which trope, and what their chances are of making it through the night. Each of the characters also have their own chapters, where you get their side of what is happening, and all the secrets they are keeping from each other. Plus, it is just really well-written. There were some passages that I found so beautiful that I had to pause and take a breath, and not because of the suspense and/or violence. Not all zombie books can pull that off!
Bottom line: if you like zombies, you should definitely check this book out. If you don’t, but you still like well-rounded characters, mystery, and a lot of action, then I think you will enjoy this one as well. I just hope that when the zombie apocalypse does happen, I am an Action Girl!