Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits: A Meant to Be Novel kicks off new adult Disney retellings!

Okay, I know this isn’t technically a teen novel, but it falls under New Adult, is written by YA literary force Julie Murphy, and is a retelling of Disney’s Cinderella, so Here. It. Stays.

If the Shoe Fits: A Meant to Be Novel, by Julie Murphy,
(Aug. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $26.99, ISBN: 9781368050388

Ages 14+

Cindy is a new grad with a degree in shoe design and leaves New York to visit with her stepfamily – her mother, two stepsisters, and triplet half-siblings – in California before kicking her job search into high gear. Her dad died several years before, and her mom, a powerhouse executive producer of a popular dating reality show, Before Midnight, is busy getting the new season of the show up and running, but wants to take some time to spend with Cindy and the family before disappearing into her cell phone again. On a whim, Cindy and her two stepsisters find themselves cast as prospective suitresses; Cindy hopes the exposure will be what her fledgling shoe design career needs to get her name out there. The thing is, Cindy is a curvy girl: some may call her plus size, some may call her a lot worse, and her stepmother worries that she’ll be a target for abuse. Cindy isn’t having it. She’s as deserving of a spot as any of those other women, and sure enough, the masses respond with love! Week after week, Cindy holds out on the show and, despite a freeze on communication while she’s on set, Cindy hears word that she’s becoming a body positivity icon! She’s also falling hard for her suitor on the show, but we all know that real Hollywood endings don’t exist – or do they? Cindy learns that when you don’t like the way things in your life are laid out, designing your own future is an option.

I LOVED this book. I adore Julie Murphy, I love the way she writes, I love the characters she creates. She world-builds a fantasy within our reality, and she doesn’t give us “feel bad for me” heroines who hide on their couches with a pint of ice cream and Netflix. No, my friend, they charge into the middle of the spotlight and show everyone around them how it’s done. With snappy dialogue and strong female relationships, If the Shoe Fits is the kind of romance we all want to read, foundation by Disney and fit into today’s reality TV-obsessed landscape. There’s a memorable cast of characters, and I loved, truly, truly loved, that the “evil stepmother” and “evil stepsisters” don’t exist here. There are tense moments here and there, but it’s believable family moments, not cooked up for extra drama.

If the Shoe Fits is the first in a new series of Disney retellings for new adults, and I can’t wait for more.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Community meets Big Brother: Nice Try, Jane Sinner!

Nice Try, Jane Sinner, by Lianne Oelke, (Jan. 2018, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544867857

Good for readers 13+

Seventeen-year-old Jane Sinner has been trying to reinvent herself after an incident that resulted in her being expelled from high school. She enrolls in Elbow River Community College to finish her high school credits, and while there, discovers what could be her chance: a reality show. A student-led production, House of Orange is basically Big Brother, starring Elbow River students, produced and directed by Elbow River students, and streamed online. Jane sees this as a twofold opportunity: to reinvent herself and to move out of her home, away from her overbearing Christian family. She applies for the show, makes it in, and moves out. The show starts ramping up, gaining popularity and sponsors, and Jane loves the chance to be her competitive and snarky self. She’s determined to win, but things don’t always go as planned…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is alternately hilarious and unexpectedly deep. Jane, who narrates the novel, is deliciously snarky while deeply conflicted. Her incident – no spoilers – brings up plenty of discussion opportunities, one of the biggest being: can we reinvent ourselves? Do we need to, at 17? Jane and her fellow competitors form cautious friendships, but it’s tempered with the knowledge that, as the group shrinks and the stakes get higher, people are going to be backstabbed: something that will fuel Jane’s fire even more.

Lianne Oelke writes reality TV well. Her characters have the omnipresent camera and learn to work it to their advantages. She also creates smart, believable characters that you may like, you may loathe, but you’ll recognize; whether from your own reality TV viewing or real life. This one will be a hit with teens, who don’t remember life before reality, and readers will love Jane’s snark.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rollin’ with the Royces: YA’s answer to the K… well, you know…

Royce Rolls, by Margaret Stohl, (Apr. 2016, Freeform), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484732335

Recommended for readers 12+

Sixteen year-old Bentley Royce is the “bad girl” member of the Royces, reality TV’s family du jour. Her family: Mercedes, her narcissistic, media-obsessed mother; Porsche, her self-absorbed sister, and her brother, Maybach, who may or may not be nurturing a gambling addiction, live the high life in the spotlight – or is that the camera glare? The thing is, it’s all an act. Bentley is the classic middle child, overlooked and unheard; the one who takes one for the team when the family needs her, whether it’s pretending to be drunk and staggering out of a nightclub or sticking her tongue out for the cameras in true “Bad Bentley” character mode. But things aren’t looking so good for the Royces as of late: the show’s sixth season is up in the air, and Mercedes is desperate to keep her family’s business on the air, no matter how outrageous the shenanigans have to be to stay there. Looks like it’s up to Bentley to pull the family out of the fire one more time.

Royce Rolls is a biting send-up of all things reality TV, taking gleeful aim at shows like that show where everyone’s name starts with a K because the matriarK Klearly needs all the attention the world Kan give. Loaded with “footnotes” from various show insiders and taking a seemingly vapid character and giving readers an inside view of the “reality” machine, we get satire, a whodunit, and a brilliant reference to Stohl’s Black Widow novels (my favorite part of the book).

The novel is narrated through press releases, news clips, and a third-party narrator. There are plenty of pop culture and reality TV references for readers to spot and laugh at; the emphasis here is on the fact that reality TV is NOT real – they have writers and character treatments, just like any fictional show. It’s about the breakdown and redemption of a family, with a mother who would sell her daughter’s first period on television to get viewers and a Hollywood machine that treats people as disposable. And it’s about how one person can decide to finally say, “Enough”.

I didn’t love Royce Rolls, in part because I found most of the characters exasperating and in part because I’m sick of 99% of reality TV. (I have my vices, I am human.) But I did enjoy it; teens will get a kick out of the references, the unexpected romance, and the satisfying ending.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Caragh M. O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers is an unsettling YA thriller

cover46937-mediumThe Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439382

Recommended for ages 14+

In a not-too distant future, environmental upheaval and economic collapse have left many Americans in poverty. For creative teens who want a way out, the Forge School is the answer. A school for the most creative minds, and a reality show all at once, The Forge School/The Forge Show accepts students and keeps 50 out of 100 based on their “blip rate” – how many viewers watch their feed. After making it past the first cut, students’ popularity allows them banner ad income that they can receive, upon graduation, along with opportunities for success. Rosie Sinclair, aspiring filmmaker, is a student at the Forge School, and has discovered that the school has some big secrets. What is going on while the students sleep?

Vault of Dreamers is one of those books that takes a few chapters to build as O’Brien builds a solid story. We learn about Rosie’s background and the backgrounds of other students; we see family dynamics come into play, and we understand the motivation for many of these students to take part in a reality show that not only films you everywhere but the bathroom and shower, but a school that distributes sleeping pills to the student body on a nightly basis to assure that they will have a full 12 hours of sleep for maximum creativity. By the time the story kicks into high gear, we see what Rosie risks in order to learn Forge’s secrets: she’s putting her future and the future of her family on the line.

By the time we understand all of this, the story goes white-knuckle, non-stop. Is Rosie an unreliable narrator? Who can we trust? The reader is just as thrown off as Rosie is, and the need to know what was going on consumed me. The reality show setting will click with teens who have grown up with reality TV and popularity based on “likes” and approval ratings.

The ending nicely sets up a sequel, and even as a standalone work, offers a conclusion that will fuel some great discussions. You may howl in frustration, but you’ll be waiting for the next installment of this series.

The Vault of Dreamers will be published on September 16, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now.