Saturday, September 23, 2017

Review: Because You Love to Hate Me

Trying to justify buying books because of the insane amounts of hype involved in their marketing is a hard thing when you're only (only???) three-and-a-half months away from the end of a year-long book-buying ban. Thank goodness the public library will always be there for me... even if it meant waiting a couple of additional weeks for processing, and the person in front of me in the hold line to finish it. 

Because even when you're trying to get your hands on books about thieves, murderers, scoundrels, mayhem, and more, you've got to play by the rules. 

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, is a short story collection edited by R&B superstar and BookTuber Ameriie (which is one of the most bad-ass LinkedIn descriptions I've ever heard). Comprised of the works of thirteen published YA professionals and thirteen YouTubers, the social media super-fans were tasked with posing prompts from which the authors would design and create a new take on a classic villainous trait, origin, or figure. Each short story is paired with a response or addition from the YouTuber who helped spark the idea, and gives greater context to the worlds in which these characters came to life, or the ways they interact with the status of villainy in our own world. From bonafide baddies like Moriarty and Medusa, to competitive siblings grappling for royal power, to the personification of war in the form of a fourteen-year-old girl, no one villain is like another... and they're a far cry themselves from the fairy tales, myths, legends, and more, that you thought you knew, too.

Due to the sheer caliber of talent involved in the project - and the participation of some of my favorite BookTubers, too! - I couldn't wait to get my hands on this collection... and I know I wasn't the only one. This has probably been on every single "Most Anticipated" list I've seen in the past year, and its coming was heralded over quite a bit of social media (which was, of course, to be expected).

While I didn't end up being overwhelmed by the sum total of the collection, there were definitely individual standouts.  Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series, received a prompt from Zoe Herdt (of readbyzoe) that played to her strengths, calling for a little more intriguing backstory to the classic Sea Witch character from The Little Mermaid. My personal favorite BookTuber, Regan Perusse (of theperuseproject) tasked Samantha Shannon, author of the Bone Season series, with creating a compelling retelling of the Erl Queen tales, only in 19th-century London. And Jesse George (at jessethereader) handed one of my favorite fantasy authors, Victoria Schwab, what I thought was probably the best prompt of the bunch, with Death waking up at the bottom of a well in Ireland.

Of course, there were some stories that fell a little flat, too. Whether it was because they seemed to be more focused on retaining a strictly YA voice - like keeping things too contemporary, or leaving emotion at more surface levels instead of diving deeper into the characterizations - or just didn't take advantage of their (admittedly brief) space to make a lot of character impact, for every great short story, there was one that was just average, and another that was a little less than a chore to read. To be perfectly honest, I skimmed through a couple.

I also sped-read through the various commentaries that some of the YouTubers posed. While I think it was a nice concept - giving the fans who had initiated the concepts in the first place the opportunity to thematically respond to the work itself - in the end, the majority of them felt like either a throwaway Buzzfeed article, or worse, a half-hearted book report. Very few of them actively contributed to the larger presence of the story they'd helped create as a whole.

The stories themselves were, of course, the obvious stars here. The fact that the collection was intended for YA audiences lent a distinctly feminist take to some of the stories, whether that was due to the dimension and background not typically granted to female villains, given through additional context - like with the Sea Witch story from Meyer, or a Medusa retelling courtesy of Serpentine author Cindy Pon - or even the deliberate manipulation of setting and story to make a marked statement of female empowerment, like Samantha Shannon's Erl Queen in "Marigold."

However, while I feel that there was attention paid to the women's empowerment side of feminism, there wasn't a lot done for the sake of representing diversity. The Medusa retelling (written by, may I remind you, Cindy Pon, a co-founder of the Diversity in YA movement, and an advisor for We Need Diverse Books), and Shannon's "Marigold" are two of the only stories I can name  off the top of my head from the collection which made the specific point of including non-white characters... and yes, there was a mermaid, a giant, and even an alien race in this collection, too, so there definitely could have been more of an effort to emphasize diversity.

Additionally, after all of the LGBT-friendly YA I've been reading this summer, I was a little shocked that none of the stories attempted to incorporate that particular point of diversity either.

(Side note: while the point could be raised that it might not be in the best intentions to advocate for more LGBT characters in what is ostensibly a collection of villains, there were plenty of non-villainous characters - and romance! - involved, as well. The reason this is even a point I brought up, is because of a short story that generates a relationship between boarding school students Jim Moriarty and Shirley Holmes... and when you work that hard to change the gender of the world's most famous detective, it just comes off as a little heteronormative. If the recent runaway success of "In a Heartbeat" shows us anything, it's that the world is more than okay with a sweet romance between two boys in blazers. And if an author could make Sherlock Holmes a girl, any of them could have easily flipped the genders of plenty of other characters in these works, too.)

Overall, the collection itself only felt like a taster. For some of the stories, I hope their authors branch them out more, taking them further and using them as the basis for some of their next work, because let's be real: they were so good! On the other hand, for others, it just felt like they were reaching for an idea they never quite got a firm hold on.

So here's my pitch: I'd love Ameriie to take some of those great stories, and curate a larger collection of villainous novellas those shorts could become. I'd also like her to keep posing these kinds of new and interesting challenges, perhaps even to up-and-coming writers, rather than established factors in the industry. There are just so many directions this project could be taken, I sincerely hope it gets pushed further, because let's be real: it feels so good to be bad. 

Final Verdict:  A fun and brief read, giving reason for favorite authors to stretch their writing styles and subjects in a new and interesting direction. I really hope Ameriie curates another grouping of short stories soon, because her editorial challenge was the thing that ended up generating such a fascinating collection in the first place.

What's your favorite short story collection? What villainous figure would you like to see undergo a literary makeover? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bits of Books: the Summer of LGBT YA

One of the most interesting byproducts of tracking your summer reading, like I do, is watching the trends of who exactly you're reading develop in real-time. From measuring how many female writers you're supporting, or how many authors of color you're reading, to tracking things like genre or time period or length or format, there's a lot to look at in that string of reads in a short summer period. 

The most surprising - and welcome! - trend I noticed, by far, was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ friendly young adult fiction I read in the months between June and August. While it certainly wasn't planned into my TBR schedule on purpose, the fact that two of these books were Summer 2017 releases demonstrates a certain focus within the industry that deserves some commentary, as well. 

Here are my mini-reviews of those reads: The Upside of Unrequited, The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

the upside of unrequited, becky albertalli

Molly Peskin is in a pickle: frequently the crush-er and never, ever the crush-ee, she's dealing with the fact that her twin sister, Cassie, has really got herself a new girlfriend, and she's feeling more left out than ever before. Thankfully - or maybe not? - she's found herself a new crush in Will, Cassie's new girlfriend Mina's best friend... but then again, there is her new nerdy co-worker Reid, too. But after her twin's new romance leads to her making some pretty adult decisions, and her moms decide to finally stage the wedding they always wanted, Molly finds herself caught up in more love than she knows how to deal with. 

First things first: Becky Albertalli is a master of YA romances, especially those involving LGBT+ characters, and her previous work - Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda - is absolutely one of my favorite YA books ever... a tall order, being that contemporary romance is not exactly my fave genre. And yet, this novel was such a highly-anticipated read, that the second it came home from the library with me, I sat down on the couch, and didn't get up again until it was finished that afternoon. It is absolutely clear that not only does Albertalli know how to write romance well, and especially in a way that appeals to modern teens, but she knows how to do so with the perfect amount of modern inflection, writing true to contemporary culture while keeping things relatable. 

(Also, shoutout to the chubby girls in the room! With Molly's weight being a frequent factor in her love life contemplations, I'm always happy to see more representation for our bodies in the sometimes cringe-y realm of YA contemporary.) 

While I didn't think this book left quite as much an impact on me as its predecessor, it was definitely cute, fun, and a perfect read for a sunny summer afternoon. Final verdict: 4 stars 

the gentleman's guide to vice and virtue, mackenzi lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Henry "Monty" Montague is an 18th century rake and never-wannabe gentleman, which is why his domineering father absolutely insists on nothing but sterling behavior as Monty - as well as his best friend, and longtime crush, Percy - navigate around a Grand Tour of Europe, before Monty returns to learn how to manage the family estate. However, such a request has never been Monty's strong suit, and after a major party foul during a Versailles fete throws French politics into chaos, Monty, Percy, and Monty's sister, Felicity, find themselves fleeing from an intense manhunt that leads them through Spain, Italy, Greece, and more. His relationship with Percy in jeopardy, his society name blackened, and a bounty on his head courtesy of a French duke, Monty has to decide for himself about what being a gentleman really means... and whether it's worth it.

If there's a book of this list that you've heard on people's lips this summer, it's definitely this one. From BookTube, to Goodreads (where it currently holds a 4.24 rating), to everywhere in between, this fun and flirty romp through Europe has been drumming up some incredibly intense hype.

Unfortunately, I don't think it totally lived up to it. It was the little things that did it in for me: while the period settings were fairly accurate, the intensity of action taking place within them strained believability too much for me to handle; where there were more fantastical elements - like the inclusion of alchemical compounds as a major plot point - I didn't feel that they fit the outer framework of the story; the main character came off as just, holistically, a jerk and a menace to society; and in terms of attempts to make it more modern, it was done in a manner that made it seem satirically anachronistic, rather than enmeshed in the reality of the setting.

However, it was very much a fun, short read, and it is a nice addition to the list of LGBT-friendly YA I've been reading recently. Final verdict: 3 stars

aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe, benjamin alire saenz

Aristotle is a loner, a fighter, an angry young man with a strained relationship with his parents, two sisters who don't understand him, and an older brother in jail. The summer seems determined to pass by in a haze of heat and days spent at the swimming pool... but when one of those days introduces him to Dante, Aristotle thinks that things might be due for a change. Tracking the friendship between these two boys across two summers, growing up might just mean growing closer than you ever thought possible.

This is a book that's been recommended to me for years and years, but I never could come up with a great time to read it. However, earlier this year, I vowed to do so after a round of Bookish Speed-Dating, so I finally settled down to peruse it during these last few days of summer.

I read it in under a day, and it made me both laugh and cry out loud, which is not an easy feat! The emotionally captivating story of these two unique and relatable teenage boys navigating a new friendship - and budding romance - was absolutely enrapturing, and difficult to put down. There were so many elements that made this book one of a kind, from the 1980s period setting, to the focus Saenz places on their Hispanic heritage, to the dramatic-yet-believable action that swallows these two boys up. Funny, unique, and relatable, both Dante and Aristotle are so easy to love, that it's beautiful to watch how their relationship develops over the course of the book.

With a diverse main cast, unique time period and setting, and realistic and relatable supporting characters, this has been one of the best YA romances I've ever read, and I can't believe I waited this long to read it. Final verdict: 5 stars 

side note: tracking LGBT diversity as a publishing trend

As a byproduct of this unintentional gamut of LGBT young adult fiction I've read in a relatively short amount of time, I've become increasingly more aware of these kinds of characters in books, and more importantly, when they're not included. In fact, it almost feels out of place for me to not encounter any gay or lesbian characters now, especially in the realm of recently-published YA... feelings I dealt with recently while reading the short story collection, Because You Love to Hate Me (review coming soon!).

Like I said in the introduction to this post, two of these books - Upside and Gentleman's - were both published to high acclaim this past summer. (At the same time, Albertalli's Simon is currently undergoing filming for its movie adaptation, due to premiere sometime next year.) Aristotle and Dante was originally published in 2012, five years ago, and has been held up as a prime example of LGBT YA... and has also been found on nation-wide Banned and Challenged lists every year since its publication.

On one level, these three books speak to the greater inclusivity and positive trends within the scope of just this division of publishing, especially because this range of book consumers is such a powerful, voracious, and vocal one. On the flip side, it's a little annoying that this marked shift is visible in only a small portion of literature: while there are certainly LGBT characters found in adult fiction - and I even read some of them this summer, as well - I don't think that they are always written as realistically, relatable, or intersectionally as in YA.

YA is still viewed as "lesser" reading: written for younger audiences, primarily written and read by women, YA has been fighting for as long as its been around for not just literary attention, but respect. These three books demonstrate significant changes in contemporary reflections of sexuality, race, social justice, and it's important for industry leaders to note that they're not any less worth noticing because of the library shelves they're found on.

So, it's up to us now to make sure this particular trend has staying power: publishing stories for diverse readers and LGBT teens cannot pass by the same as watching the tide of dystopian novels blow over. There are no swoony immortal vampires with a penchant for high schoolers here. These are real stories, written by real people, being read by real teens who see themselves really reflected in their pages... whether those reflections are as varied as a girl watching her lesbian twin fall in love for the first time, as a continent-crossing rake in the 1700s, or a young man realizing his true relationship with his background and his best friend at the same time.

While I've always been a champion for books to help shape the minds and empathy of its readers, this is a particular trend that is absolutely capable of doing real, lasting good, and I hope it's not just a trend, but an industry paradigm shift.

What are some of your favorite LGBT-friendly YA reads? What do you think of more recent diversity trends in publishing? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday, Throwback Edition: Ten of My Most Impactful Pre-High-School Reads

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!
As of last Wednesday, my younger siblings are back in school. Fall has commenced in earnest in our household, and I've found myself reflecting fondly on those glory days of my youth, filled with plaid-skirted and khaki-panted uniforms, the holy grail snack of pizza Lunchables, and the long-awaited and oft-celebrated Read-In Day.

Thank goodness this week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is a "Throwback Freebie," so I can ruminate on the books of my youth, too!

What, you didn't think that I could grow to be this big of a book nerd, without having fostered the habit back when I was a kid, right? From waking up early on weekdays so I could fit a Magic Treehouse book into my busy schedule before going to school, to passing around Percy Jacksons like contraband around the lunchtable, to viewing Book Fair and Sustained Silent Reading days like they were national holidays, I've been this kind of a nerd since I soared through my first Bob book.

So, in celebration of the new academic year, here are ten of the books and series I remember loving back in elementary and middle school!

elementary, my dear reader


1. The Magic Treehouse series, Mary Pope Osborne
I'm not kidding when I say I used to wake up early before school to read one of these smart, short installments before being hustled off to second and third grade. Then, when I'd gotten home from post-school daycare, I'd sit on the couch and read another while my mom made dinner. I blame this series for my adamant need for historical context in period pieces.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
One of the first books my Dad ever read us kids before bed, and one of the most frequent rereads when I need an extra shot of inspiration, this book remains one of my all-time favorites, even though it took me a little while after first hearing it to understand all of the witty wordplay. I will always and forever be a proud resident of Dictionopolis!

3. The Princess Tales series, Gail Carson Levine
While Levine's other books - including middle grade icon, Ella Enchanted - were also frequently found in my reading rotation, it was the petite and pastel Princess Tales hardcover series that originally won my heart. Set in the fictional kingdom of Biddle, this collection of brief fairy tales like The Princess Test, The Fairy's Mistake, and Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, were spunky and original, riffing on classic stories with hilarity and fun.

4. The Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
You know how every classroom had that one girl who was obsessed with horses, or that girl who loved cats? Well, I was the girl who loved dragons. And Dragonsong's Menolly was probably one of the first blatantly feminist influences I remember reading. So, double foundational personality trait points, there!

2976715. A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Lemony Snicket
The fact that one of my favorite series from my youth has garnered such a sterling media adaptation, I can't tell you. I mean, the fact that they included one of my all-time favorite lines from the actual third book in the series - "If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats" - made me gasp out loud. This series made me think eating straight wasabi would be a good idea (Grim Grotto), and gave me second thoughts about attending a fictional boarding school (Austere Academy), as well as wildly misplaced conceptions about how precocious my incredibly young siblings would be (ie, Sunny). It definitely had a hand in forming part of my brain, which I'm choosing to believe is a good thing.

stuck in the middle with you


6. The Percy Jackson series, Rick Riordan
In what I can say was probably one of the only book clubs I've ever been a part of - and a definitely non-official one at that - my friends and I swapped around the books in this series as a part of a regular middle school cafeteria exercise. I have no idea whose copies the originals were, but since then, my younger sister and brother have invested in their own boxed set to share.

7. The Luxe series, Anna Godbersen
I can't remember if this series was actually billed as "Gossip Girl in 1899" or if that's just something that I used to label it in my head, but whatever the case, it's an apt description. Involving a set of friends experiencing love and scandal for the first time in the New York petticoat set, I was actually kind of embarrassed to be caught reading this at school... until some of the cool girls I sat next to in Social Studies complimented me on it.

8. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
While my great group of friends was in the midst of experiencing Percy Jackson, we were also undergoing a bit of a British Invasion, courtesy of two key members with family who were originally from England. Because of them, I got to experience the genius of British sci-fi humor, including Red Dwarf, and this genius book. We even celebrated Towel Day together in high school, and there's a pic of about five of us packing hand towels in our backpacks floating around on Facebook somewhere.

9. The A Great and Terrible Beauty series, Libba Bray
5I still regularly read Libba Bray's amazing work - like the Diviners series, set in paranormally-inclined New York, or her standalone Beauty Queens (aka, the only Lord of the Flies female-driven homage anyone should be caring about) - but the first book that got me set on this brilliant author still got me a few weird looks once classmates read the back blurb. It became one of my defining regular series in middle school.

10. The Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
Um, yeah, we all knew this would be here. What you might not have expected? That there was a period for about a year and a half, where - instead of seeking out any new or interesting reading material - I just reread a whole bunch of Harry Potter books over and over again. And not even in order, either! I just skipped around. I think I topped out at reading Prisoner of Azkaban a grand total of about13 times.

What's in your Top Ten? And what are some of your favorite school reading memories? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review: All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers

The fact that all of my siblings ventured back to school this week, and I'm back to spending all my time by myself, is forcing me to confront the fact that summer is officially over. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of books I've read since June, that just haven't made their way onto the blog yet! 

So, here's to the spirit of catching up: I read this book a little less than three months ago, but it was still one of the best things I picked up from the library all summer. 

Everyone has at least one celebrity they follow, identify with, or otherwise enjoy. Whether it's seeing the latest Tom Cruise movie opening weekend, buying the September issue of Vogue because Jennifer Lawrence on the cover, or regularly keeping up with the Kardashians more than you do your own family, these famous figures factor into not just the media we regularly consume, but also, the ways we, by extension, define ourselves. 

Thanks to the rise of social media in the past decade or so, it's never been more easy to feel closer than ever to your favorite idol. By making the intangible more tangible, these once-godly figures have been brought down a little closer to plebeian orbit, factoring them into personal perspectives more than ever before. And the lives of those most remarked upon by tabloids, news sources, chat rooms, and more, those most widely followed on platforms like Instagram or featured on E! News and Access Hollywood, are by far, those of female celebrities. 

In the essay collection All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, by Alana Massey, she explores what this intimate relationship - between the famous and their followers - means, not just for those who see famous women as something they have a personal connection with, but for the women who are placed on these pedestals. From Amber Rose to Courtney Love, from Anna Nicole Smith to the Olsen Twins, to Nicki Minaj to Sylvia Plath, the door is opened to all kinds of critique, like what entails the status of a diva, how we perform body politics, whether female musicians are allowed to be angry or female authors are allowed to be emotional, and how the iconography and vulnerability of girlhood is monopolized by movies.

First off, this book was not what I expected, but only in the best of ways. Maybe because I spend too much time reading half-hearted cultural commentary on the internet, or because I've been burned by the vapidity of celebrity-worship books before, but I was coming in with a completely different destination in mind as to where these essays would lead me. While I was ready for commentary on the status of female celebrities in our current cultural sphere, what I wasn't prepared for was the sharp and insightful nature of Massey's voice - which was swift, eloquent, and unyielding - nor the scope of the celebrities and pop culture figures deemed worthy of her reflection, which was arguably vast.

Not just varying and fresh topics, either, but focused ones: personal fave chapters involved Britney Spears and America's relationship with her bodily autonomy, an ode to Sylvia Plath and a condemnation of her emotion-averse male detractors, and the ruinous class distinctions involved in the downfall of Anna Nicole Smith. Others included the morbid fascination with damaged girls at the heart of horror films, the intrinsic duological nature of Mary Kate and Ashley's twin-fame, and the manic attitudes of Courtney Love and the implied retribution of Kurt Cobain's death. Even the relative anti-feminist characterizations at the heart of Sofia Coppola movies - like the tragic Lisbon teens serving as immaculate objects of lust in The Virgin Suicides, and the lost identity of Scarlett Johansson's character in Lost in Translation - don't escape commentary. That's a lot of ground to cover, and that's not even half the essays available in the collection.

Because of this breadth, I feel like it filled out my knowledge in the most nuanced of ways, offering these women the context they deserved above everything else. Sure, it's easy to follow a celebrity, but it's just as easy to villianize them, too (especially because it seems like they're worshiped just as much for good behavior as they are for bad sometimes, like with the recent Taylor Swift single). One of the most notable ways the collection does this is in the context of abused women, from the infamous Lorena Bobbit to TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez. Featuring these often tragic figures alongside the rest of the story the media doesn't always feel like including is empowering... and notable for how much main stream gatekeepers feel like excluding from the narrative.

In terms of the scope of cultural commentary and intersections of feminism within that field, there are several notable authors to compare Massey to, but I'm most tempted to call it something like "Roxane Gay Lite." While feminist interpretations of her subjects were at its focus, Massey herself was as much a figure in the proceedings as the women she wrote about, interweaving each essay with pieces of her own life (something you could probably glean from the title). Unsurprisingly, Leslie Jamison - who wrote another one of my recent favorites, another collection of personally informed essays, The Empathy Exams - wrote a glowing blurb for the jacket.

And because I just can't help myself, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book. One of the only downsides to this reading experience, was that a library copy wouldn't allow me to underline... so instead, I resorted to papering the pages with enough post-it notes to turn the whole thing into a pinata:

  • Courtney Love plays her part in "narratives that dismiss female rage as symptomatic of a juvenile character, rather than the logical response to a hostile world." (pg 94) 
  • From the chapter "Public Figures," involving the destructive body politics of the popular tabloid convention of a starlet losing weight to "get her body back" : "This phrase is not about a woman getting back something she lost, as much as it is about our approval that she has returned to something we want her to be. What is meant by this phrase is 'We got her body back.' We got the body we felt entitled to. In the case of Britney, that is the impossibly lean and limber body of a teenage girl, a body that was enthusiastically characterized as 'insane.'" (pg 18)
  • The ridicule of Anna Nicole Smith and public condemnation of her lifestyle and behavior "demonstrate our hatred for anyone who dares to pursue the American Dream using skills from their own class and culture of origin." (pg 154) 
  • discussing the strangely significant gender-influenced disparagement of Sylvia Plath as a literary figure, specifically referencing two of her most iconic quotes ("I am, I am, I am," and "I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart") : "I struggle to think of any line of thinking more linked to being a socialized female than to consider the declaration of simply existing to feel like a form of bragging. But that, of course, is the plight of the feeling girl: to be told again and again that her very existence is not something worth declaring." (pg 50)

Final Verdict: Pop culture commentary and feminist conversations about the celebrities that make up our contemporary American cultural sphere have never been cooler, or more carefully articulated. I can't wait to see what Massey does next!

Do you like to read cultural commentary? What female celebrities do you follow regularly? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: Meddling Kids

You know a book is a good one, when you have an actively difficult time summarizing in a succinct and/or comprehensive way for Goodreads. You either want to spill all the beans, and tell everyone exactly what's got you so hyped... but you want them to discover all the glory for themselves, so you keep your spoilers on lock. 

Here's how keyed up I am about this book: I literally finished it yesterday afternoon, and, overlooking the approximate six other partial reviews I've got completed, instead furnished an entirely new blogpost, just so I can tell you about it. 

Teenage sleuths have long played a part in the American nostalgia canon: from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, to the lesser known Three Investigators, to the iconic and ever-evolving universe of the Scooby Doo Mystery Gang, these optimistic explorers and intrepid do-righters have given plenty of collective baddies reason to curse these roving bands of "meddling kids." However, suppose that maybe, one of those countless cases didn't quite end up catching the real bad guy. Perhaps, in one haunted house, something more sinister was lurking... something those teens weren't quite ready to confront. Something still following them all these years later. Something that's still waiting for them to return.

Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero, follows the story of one such gang: the Blyton Summer Detectives Club, made up of youngsters Peter, Nate, Kerri, Andy, and their lovable pup, Sean. Their last case didn't end quite right, and what they saw that fateful night is still haunting them so many years later... Andy's on the run after a jail break, Kerri's adrift and nursing a drinking problem, Nate's in an asylum, and Peter's the reason he's there (because, despite the fact that Pete's been dead for two years, he's still hanging around Nate). When the gang decides to regroup - alongside Sean's descendant, a new dog named Tim - and face their demons, both metaphorical and real, back in the town where it happened, they'll find a mystery that reaches far beyond simply a man in a mask. 

What starts as an homage to these classic youth literary figures, quickly gives way to a madcap adventure, led by a cast of leading characters that cleverly riff on familiar tropes, while still clearing space for something incredibly new and unique. It's easy to spot the doppelgangers of the Scooby Gang's founding members, but no one is an exact replica: each carries remarkable traits and quirks that not only serve to separate them from the source material, but provide a more solid and dimensional background for not only the original mystery, but the flawed adults those kids grew into after chasing one too many monsters.

Better yet, Cantero deliberately emphasizes those commonalities you do observe: bringing forth the deliberate nostalgia of his source material by regularly peppering the storyline with plenty of pop culture references, both real and almost-real. He further expands his reach by breaking through the fourth wall with cases of extreme meta, weaving the framing of the story - as if it was one of those Saturday morning or Sunday evening television shows - into the narrative itself, making it absolutely clear that anything is possible in this novel.

While this kind of deliberately evocative writing style can sometimes seem a little obtrusive - especially in the beginning, when you're not quite used to character dialogue and action randomly written in screenplay format, or the idea of characters "sweeping away the title card" throws you off - eventually it melds so well into the zaniness of the overall story that it becomes a perfect fit, yet another unique element of an out-of-this-world novel.

And let me be very clear: this book is out of this world. It's fun, plain and simple, and while there might be some who get thrown off by the unconventional writing style, or the slightly bananas plot twists throughout the book, I can't emphasize enough how great this whole boundless ride was. Never has a novel from the Horror genre made me smile this much. 

One last note: I read this book at a peak moment for my personal perusal of that particular genre, which for me, is the end of summer. If you don't get the chance to read this in the next couple of weeks, absolutely read it this Fall. I think it's a perfect choice for September or October book clubs!

Final Verdict: Anyone who likes diverse LGBT leads, SyFy Channel Original Movies, or, of course, Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred in all their iterations (but ESPECIALLY the Zombie Island kind) should absolutely give this book a read.

Which teenage detectives were your favorites when you were a kid? What Scooby Doo movie is your favorite? Let me know, in the comments below!