TOP PICK: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Twins Mara and Owen are closer than close, so when Mara’s best friend, Hannah, accuses Owen of rape, Mara is shattered. Torn between the brother she loves more than anything and her own visceral understanding of the truth, Mara doesn’t know where to turn or how to reconcile family loyalty with right and wrong. As she tries to grasp this new reality, Mara must come to terms with a trauma from her own past as well.
In her highly anticipated novel Girl Made of Stars, Ashley Herring Blake (Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish) delivers a thoughtful, genuine exploration of consent, victim blaming and sexual assault—themes that fill the media today. Far from an ideological lecture, the novel forces readers to grapple with a difficult question: What do you do when someone you love is accused of rape?
Blake’s prose is specific and captivating, but what really brings this book to life is her ability to render fully developed, complex and diverse characters. From Mara and Owen to Hannah and Mara’s ex-girlfriend to the teens’ parents, all of the characters struggle in their own ways with what this situation means for their relationships moving forward. Each character is both deeply likable and deeply flawed, and readers will struggle to find their footing right along with Mara.
Though younger teens should be aware of Blake’s no-holds-barred exploration of the themes of sexual assault, homophobia and anxiety, Girl Made of Stars adds an important dimension to the discussions we’re having today, both in public and in private, and Blake’s deft handling of tough topics makes for an engaging and powerful read.
Review by Sarah Weber
Other Honorable Mentions
Julie Murphy’s companion to 2017’s Dumplin’ (read it first to avoid spoilers) is as full of heart, hope and hilarity as its predecessor. With an incredibly diverse cast of new characters, two unlikely love interests and emotions that are bigger than the state of Texas, Puddin’ will have readers laughing, crying and rooting for these teens as they navigate the tough terrain that is high school and find the strength to persevere when life throws a curveball or two.
While beauty queen Willowdean Dickson is still in the mix, Murphy’s new novel focuses on life after the pageant for reader favorite Millie Michalchuk. Millie hangs with a group of unpopular misfits and is a regular attendee of fat camp, but she’s thrown into an unlikely friendship with popular girl Callie Reyes when a prank goes wrong. Callie is co-captain of the Shamrocks, Clover City High School’s dance team, and the girlfriend of the school’s ace football player. When Millie’s family-run gym gets into financial trouble and has to drop their sponsorship of the Shamrocks, putting the dance team’s chance at winning a national competition in jeopardy, Callie and her fellow dancers decide to take revenge into their own hands—by vandalizing the Michalchuk’s gym, with Callie as the only identifiable culprit. Millie’s Uncle Vernon, the owner of the gym, agrees to drop all charges if Callie will work at the gym for free. Millie and Callie are then forced to either be miserable together or make amends.
In chapters that alternate between Millie’s and Callie’s point of view, Murphy nails the teen voice with online and in-person conversations that are filled with snort-laugh-out-loud lines. The characters are faced with typical teenage dilemmas, from dating and sneaking around (nobody is perfect, even Millie) to facing realistic consequences for their actions.
Hysterical and perfect for teen readers looking to have their voices heard, Puddin’ encapsulates everything that a high-caliber YA novel should.
Review by Erin A. Holt
More Honorable Mentions
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