All Girls by Emily Layden

Books that take place at a boarding school are my favorite, so needless to say, I was very excited about the opportunity to read All Girls.

As the prestigious Atwater School prepares to welcome its students back for a new school year, they encounter an unexpected surprise: signboards along the local roads, except instead of presenting a jovial message like the Burma Shave ads of almost a century ago, they announce that the school is harboring a rapist.

Naturally, this sends shockwaves through the entire Atwater community. Rather than presenting one girl’s experience at school like Sittenfeld’s Prep, this book presents a cohesive narrative of the school year through the eyes of a series of girls. While the scandal—a student from 25 years ago has accused an unnamed male faculty member of coercing her into a sexual relationship when she was a senior—is always in the background, the main themes are much more about American girlhood than this particular scandal. The students are from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; they also have different interests, presenting the breadth of the student body at a place like Atwater.

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As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

After graduating from high school a year early, Marty moves to London. He’s a talented oboe player, but he’s not going to the conservatory like he planned, but his parents don’t exactly know that. He’s supposed to be going to church every Sunday, but he’s not doing that either. Marty came out to his parents last year, but it didn’t go very well. Still, they’ve allowed him to go to London, and Marty’s determined to make the most of it.

Marty is always looking for places to showcase his musical talent; there isn’t a lot of demand for an oboe player, but the opportunities he finds prove to be rewarding. He’s also coming to terms with being out. Back home, he’s only out to his parents and his two best friends, but in London, he can be fully out, and that means that he can find a boyfriend.

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Admission by Julie Buxbaum

Chloe is a high school senior living in Los Angeles. Her mother starred in two popular television shows as well as Hallmark movies. Her mother also engaged in an elaborate scheme of cheating and bribery in order to help Chloe get into college.

The narrative alternates between Then and Now, exploring the dual perspectives of the events that preceded Chloe’s mother’s arrest as well as what she and her family do after being implicated in the scandal.  

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Cobble Hill by Cecily Von Siegesar

I enjoyed the Gossip Girl novels in my youth—although I never got into the TV show—so I was intrigued by the prospect of a new novel by Cecily Von Siegesar.

Cobble Hill features an eclectic cast of neighbors, who meet and mingle in the titular Brooklyn neighborhood. Their shared narrative unfolds via a multitude of perspectives; quite frankly, I lost count of the number of POV characters, but there are four married couples and three children, most of whom have at least one POV scene.

One might think that it would be difficult to keep track of all these characters, but fortunately, they all have well-developed personalities and motivations, so they all stand out in their own ways. The author has infused these characters with quirky little details to help make them memorable.  

As for the plot, not much happens. But also, a lot of things happen. Much like Seinfeld, the focus is on these amazing characters and how they interact with their environment and with each other. On the other hand, much like Gossip Girl, there are *some* juicy secrets, like the fact that one of the characters pretends to have MS in order to gain attention and sympathy from her husband, which left me anxiously waiting for the fallout from this duplicity. Yes, some of the events do beggar belief, but then again, truth is stranger than fiction.

I would absolutely recommend Cobble Hill. This book is engaging and fun, and held my interest amidst all the chaos going on in the real world. Von Siegesar has once again given us a glimpse into the world of a select group of New Yorkers. This time, we’re dealing with Gen-X Brooklynites rather than UES Millennials, but the commonalities are astounding. I would love to see Cobble Hill turned into a limited series on Netflix.   

I received an ARC of this book from Atria Books/Netgalley.

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

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I want to begin this review by saying that I have followed Adam Sass on Twitter for quite awhile and when I saw Surrender Your Sons pop up on NetGalley, I immediately “wished” for it. When my wish was granted a couple of months, I literally shrieked out loud.

Connor Major trusted his boyfriend when he suggested that Connor come out to his family, but it turns out to be an utter disaster. Connor’s religious mother strongly objects to the revelation, confiscates his phone, and ultimately has him shipped off to a conversion camp on a secluded island near Costa Rica.

In theory, if Connor follows all the directions, he can leave after a week.

But no one ever leaves after only a week. Read more

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

Shoshana loves working at Once Upon, an independent bookstore at her local mall. She’s always loved reading, but lately, it’s become a place of refuge for her because her two moms are fighting a lot and her car needs expensive repairs that she can’t afford. But when Jake Kaplan starts working at Once Upon, Shoshana’s beloved bookstore becomes full of tension, and not because Jake is a total hottie.

Okay, maybe because he’s a total hottie, but he’s also a bit of a jerk who doesn’t even read, and when the owner announces a holiday sales competition, Shoshana is determined to win.

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Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rowan Roth has spent her four years of high school locked in a bitter feud with Neil McNair. They compete over EVERYTHING.

Finally, it’s the last day of senior year, and Rowan is determined to beat McNair at Howl, the city-wide scavenger hunt that takes students all around Seattle. There’s a $5k prize waiting at the end.

There’s also a catch—while everyone is going around collecting clues, they are also playing a game of Assassin: elimination means being out of the game.

When Rowan realizes that some of the students—annoyed by her and McNair’s constant one-upmanship of each other—are planning to collaborate and take the two of them out, she has no choice.

So that’s how she and McNair team up together, going all over the city, and getting to know each other for the first time. Maybe they’ll become friends, or—maybe, just maybe—even more than friends.

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The Mall by Megan McCafferty

New Jersey: 1991

Cassie Worthy’s senior year spring did not go as planned—she got mono and missed prom and graduation and a bunch of other stuff. But now she’s better, and she’s starting her job at the America’s Best Cookie store with her amazing boyfriend of two years. They’re going to spend the summer working at the mall together, and then head up to NYC together for college.

And then almost immediately, everything goes wrong. Cassie finds herself dumped, jobless, and wondering what happened. Our intrepid heroine has pick herself up, find something to do all summer, and most importantly, realize that plans can only go so far.

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The Friend Scheme by Cale Dietrich

Matt’s father is the head of an organized crime family, and now that Matt is 17, he’s expected to join the family business. But Matt just wants to be normal and not have to worry about the retaliatory attacks that could come at any moment from their rivals.

And then Matt meets Jason and finds him utterly fascinating. He’s not supposed to have friends outside the “family”, but as their friendship grows closer—and the possibility of something more than friendship emerges—Matt tries not to worry about whether or not the whole thing might be a setup.

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Camp by L.C. Rosen

I want to begin this review by saying that I have been looking forward to this book since it was announced because I’ve spent seven summers at camp as a camper/counselor and now my oldest goes away to camp too. With summer camp being cancelled for the year, I was looking forward to a camp story even more.

Randy has been going to Camp Outland for queer teens for years, but he wants things to be different: Randy wants to catch the attention of Hudson, a fellow camper, but Hudson only likes straight-acting guys, and that’s not Randy. But it could be, right? Randy spent the entire school year formulating a plan, and he shows up at camp as “Del”, who is totally not into nail polish and musicals and all the things that Randy likes.

And the plan works! Hudson notices Del right away and he doesn’t even realize that Del is the same kid he’s been going to camp with for four years, but as the summer progresses, Randy is spending all his time playing sports and doing ropes course challenges instead of being in the musical with his friends, and he begins to wonder if all the sacrifices he’s making are worth it.

As a veteran camper, I remember the intensity of summer romances, so I can empathize with Randy’s pining for Hudson, but he’s changing his entire personality for another boy and missing out on all the things that he loves—and more importantly, by doing this, he’s not being true to himself. That said, I truly understand why he would want to do something that drastic.

Camp provides an interesting retrospective on masc4masc culture, and how the attitude is already evident among 16-year-old kids. The campers might all have a place on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but there’s already a division among the returning campers; they choose to live in separate bunks, they sit at different dining tables, and they don’t even interact at group activities. However, Randy chooses to live in the “drama cabin” with this theatre friends, so some of the sporty kids end up sitting with the drama kids, and this leads to new friendships.

In Rosen’s book Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), he used the advice column medium to impart a lot of useful sex-ed information to the readers. In Camp, he uses a weekly camp program to share queer history with the readers. I love the way that both of these devices were blended seamlessly into the narrative.

I would absolutely recommend Camp. It captures the magic of camp perfectly. Randy is such a sweetheart, and he certainly learns a lot over the course of the book. I am already looking forward to Rosen’s next book.