I’m scrambling to catch up on my reviews, so please anticipate several combined reviews on a theme.
What’s the theme here, you ask, besides books that start with M? Or that I gave them both four stars?
Well, if you read my April Wrap-Up, you’ll know that these two books are about summer vacation, albeit two very different summers.
So read on, and I will try to make these short! Famous last words.
Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee
Trigger Warning: racial microaggressions, transphobia, misgendering, gaslighting, emotional manipulation
Noah Ramirez runs the famous Meet Cute Diary, an online blog featuring trans romances and happily ever afters. Except there’s just one problem: the Diary is a lie. There are no submissions of stories, Noah made it all up.
When an online troll exposes Noah’s secret, he scrambles to find a cover-up, all while spending the summer in Denver with his college-age brother as his parents move from Florida to California. While job-hunting, he meets Drew, the perfect, most adorable boy. And Drew is totally willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. Nothing can go wrong, right?
I think you just need to make sure you’re actually into him, not just using him to mark off checkpoints on your pegboard.
This is an incredibly tough book to rate.
On the one hand, I need to talk expectations. I expected cute, fluffy, meet-cute level YA rom-com. But like life, real romance is neither perfect, fluffy, nor entirely meet-cute level, and teens are messy. And this book gets that on an intrinsic level.
It is not fluffy or rom-comy. That’s the point. But the point is also that while real life is not rom-com adorkableness, there are happily ever afters and happily for nows, even if expectation does not meet reality.
“Stop treating me like a diva.”
“You are a diva. You’ve always been a diva. You’ll die a diva.”
I’ve seen a lot of criticism on this book (people either love it or hate it—I was more ambivalent but I appreciated it and it was engaging if enraging at times), and much of the criticism is centered on Noah, the main character.
I’m not going to mince words here.
Noah is a little shit. He’s messy. He’s self-centered. He’s convinced he’s right, even when he’s dead wrong. He’s a little damn diva.
But, mild spoiler, what fucking teen isn’t?
I want to say this is one of the more real depictions of a teenager that I’ve read, and it makes me happy, because unlike so much of YA, this is a book directed towards queer teens of color instead of 30+ year old white women like me. And, major spoiler: of course the Olds are going to dislike this, because it reminds us what absolute shitstains we were as teens.
Noah makes mistakes—so many. He lies. He enters into a fake-dating scheme with Drew, who is older (18ish to Noah’s 16) despite so many red flags about this relationship that it’s not even funny. He treats his friends like ass. He acts the fool at work. He bombs a (very informal, unprofessional and unempathetic on the part of the owner, IMO) interview. He digs himself so deeply into his lies that he can no longer see the opening and sunlight at the top.
And yet, you can see why he’s doing what he’s doing.
It’s hard to admit when you are wrong. And it’s even harder when you are young, and trying to figure yourself out, and breaking out for independence, and you are queer and a person of color and have the deck stacked against you. It’s really hard, particularly when you’re fighting tooth and nail for acceptance into spaces denied you, to take a step back and say, this isn’t working or this is wrong for me.
He is very much a child, and he’s very much growing and learning—slowly and not without lots of backsliding, but we must remember that growth is not always one way or ever-increasingly forward.
I’m not judging you, okay? I just think it’s kind of concerning that you start hanging out with some guy you just met and suddenly he’s got you doing things you would never do on your own
So let’s talk Drew.
Okay, yeah sure he’s eighteen and just graduated high school or whatever (I think he’s going to be a college freshman or something), but home dude is allllll about dating Noah, who is 16 and looks younger than that.
Yeah, there’s this meet-cute romance-aspect to it, but right away there are stranger-danger signals coming up. Noah sees the signals, but ignores his misgivings because Drew is cool, he’s not like the other guys, and he’s always so nice after not respecting Noah’s boundaries or priorities. And yeah Drew seems to be focused on the blog and despite being all into it seems to be going after it for increasing his own clout, and also treating Noah like a novelty (he calls Noah his boyfriend freely but also calls Noah special and insists he is not gay to his friends), but he has this grand gestures and his parents are divorcing and going through a really hard time so think of his feelings, k?
So mild spoiler that this fake-dating thing doesn’t exactly go over well.
Oh fuck I’m already way over mini review status. Wrapping up!
I’m always worried I’m going to pick something, and then people are going to tell me that’s my final form, you know? Like you can’t go back.
One of the things I loved, loved, loved about this book was the frank discussion of gender discovery, and that it’s okay and valid to change your pronouns, that each iteration of you is valid and right at that moment, and that it’s 100% okay to discover something new about yourself and adjust accordingly.
Combined with this is the notion of an anti-meet cute, and the understanding that first impressions don’t necessarily hold true—and that relationships change and evolve over time.
Basically, there is the idea that nothing is static—not you, not your family, not your friends, not your world. Sometimes things go sideways, and sometimes things go right, and both things are okay.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Meet Cute Diary releases May 4, 2021
Mare’s War by Tanita S Davis
Trigger Warning: child abuse, racism, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, assault, war
Octavia and Tali are about to embark on the worst summer vacation ever: a road trip with their eccentric grandmother, Mare. But as the trip continues, Mare tells them the story of her childhood—of growing up in Alabama and joining the Women’s Army Corps in WWII.
Didn’t nobody ever tell me I was this tough. Didn’t nobody ever tell me no girl could work this hard, and nobody never said that work this hard could give you pride. My nails might not be nice enough for polite folk, and my face might not be clean, but I earned my place in this man’s army. I earned it.
Whew. This was another book that was not quite what I expected. It was deeper and more richly layered and realistic than what I thought I’d read—it does not shy away from the racism of the 1940s or today, and neither does it shy away from the realities of a single woman raising two children and the predatory natures of many men who enter that woman’s lives. Definitely heed those trigger warnings, because the child abuse happens very quickly in the book, is explicit without being explicit and I was not prepared for that.
While the present storyline was intriguing, about two estranged sisters and their wild grandmother on a road trip exploring the southern portion of the US on a trip to Alabama, my attention was caught and held by Mare’s story of the past.
Her life was not easy, but she was determined to escape her home town and her fate, and so she lies about her age and joins the Women’s Army Corps and experiences a world that is both more equal and less than she had expected.
I really liked how Davis showed the hypocrisy of a nation of the free fighting for democracy and equality in Europe while actively destroying the lives of a significant group of people in their own nation. And how the Black soldiers find more humanity, empathy and appreciation from the Scottish, British and French people they are embedded with than in their own people, and how that insults hurts so badly, that their own people refuse to see what they are doing or change their behavior while exposing ideals they are not following.
But within the dichotomy of racism and Jim Crow in the land of the free is Mare’s expanding freedom within herself, as she realizes her own strength, independence and abilities. The army, while constraining, is also liberating. The opposing duality of her situation is not lost on her, nor her sister soldiers. There is being Black in a white man’s army, there is being a woman in a man’s army, and there is the intersection of the two marginalizations Mare faces every second she is serving in the WAC.
This book was published in 2009, but it holds up. While the present storyline is definitely the weaker one, and forms a rather unnecessary (okay, it has importance and meaning and added nuance but it could have been removed without making the book weaker) framing device, the past storyline is phenomenal.
I also really, really loved the realistic depiction of a military support unit. Davis really nailed the mentality and motivations and struggles faced by a unit that will never face combat but are just as important to the efforts (and treated as lesser because of well, many factors, including the fact they are a support unit).
Definitely a book to read if you want to learn more about Black women’s service in World War II. It pairs nicely with Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII.