Nonfiction and anthologies aren't usually my thing, but this nonfiction anthology about mental health is good! As with all anthologies, some essays/stories are better than others. However, in (Don't) Call Me Crazy, there were only two that I skimmed, and that is more because the writing style wasn't to my liking-- not because the content was unimportant or trite.
People who struggle with mental illness will find (Don't) Call Me Crazy a mirror and find comfort in the time-and-time-again fact of what is written on every page that they aren't alone. Not everyone's experience with depression or an eating disorder or anxiety or PTSD will look the same, and that multiple authors are writing on the same mental illnesses highlight that fact. HOWEVER, that's not to say that some mental illnesses are not covered. Kelly Jensen has done an excellent job in curating the essays and making sure there is a wide array and diversity of authors from straight to anywhere and everyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and from up and down the socioeconomic hierarchy. Because everyone is affected by mental illness.
People who have not experienced mental illness first hand will have the "window" experience. (Don't) Call Me Crazy does a wonderful job of explaining how, often, receiving that diagnosis is comforting in the fact that's it not something we're making up. But that we are more than our diagnosis, too; it doesn't define us.
I'm very proud of the work that is being done to make mental illness and its treatment less taboo, and I have a feeling that (Don't) Call Me Crazy will help teens find comfort and/or the courage to get the help they need-- or be a positive ally to a friend who may be suffering from mental illness.
Check, Please!: #Hockey is the Eric "Bitty" Bittle's vlogging of his first two years at Samwell University, specifically as a member of their hockey team. Bitty quickly becomes "bros" with his teammates, even the semi-mysterious-because-he-doesn't-hang-out-with-the-team-a-whole-lot captain, Jack, the son of a famous hockey player. Despite his short stature, his history as an amateur figure skater, and his fear of getting checked (getting physically hit during the game by an opponent), Bitty fits in well. When he's not playing hockey, he's busy baking for his vlog. (His teammates love all the baked goodies they get.) Oh, and Bitty is gay. But it doesn't matter because everyone on the team is straight (or are they...) and Samwell is highly inclusive and accepting of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Check, Please!: #Hockey is Bitty's progression through freshman and sophomore year as he makes friends with the guys, bakes pies, plays hockey, and-- unbeknownst to him-- catches someone's eye....
I did not think I would like Check, Please!: #Hockey. I'm not a sports person, and I know even less about hockey than I do about most other sports. But, I kept seeing it everywhere in the book world. I knew it featured an LGBTQIA+ character, and I was curious to see how if it lived up to the hype. AND IT TOTALLY DOES! The slow burn of romance is even better because we are led to believe that it's unrequited... All the feels! And the minor characters are a good mix of people who supports Bitty's story.
Author Ukazu includes a forward that describes the extensive anthropological study of hockey teams she conducted for her thesis; Check, Please!: #Hockey came from that in that it's the exact opposite of that meticulous and Great Art: it's all about feels and being a cute story.
I didn't expect to like this one, but it surprised me! A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Shirin’s time at her 12th school (she and her family move a lot). Because she is Persian and wears a hijab, she is bullied, harassed, and stereotyped a lot— especially as this book takes place a year after 9/11. Because of that bullying, she has created a shell that she hides within throughout the school day. Despite that barrier, a boy, Ocean, falls for Shirin and has to do quite a lot of convincing to get Shirin to agree to date him. Unfortunately, everyone at school—his basketball coach, even his mom— despise this turn of events and try to get Shirin to break things off with Ocean. What will Shirin do? They have an extraordinary connection and care deeply about one another. Is the even-more-bullying worth it for her love life?
The bullying Shirin ensures that causes her to create her shell is an incredible mirror for my own middle/high school experience. Obviously I wasn’t harassed and prejudiced like she, a Muslim post-9/11, is, but I still connect so hard with the shell she has built around herself as a protective barrier. I did that, too, as someone who was bullied, friendless, quiet, and “therefore” intimidating. I was so worried and shy (and my brain chemistry so messed up thanks to depression) that I was actually afraid of interactions at school, just like Shirin is. But when she finally learns about opening up and putting aside her shell, high-school-me would not have understand. Now, 15 years later, I can better appreciate Shirin’s growth and the resolution of the story. (And while I still wish we could have the shy-kid story, I have to remind myself that this isn’t what AVLEoS is, so I have to stop aligning my own history with it.)
Maddie and Logan were best friends. It's a natural occurrence when one dad (Logan's) is the president and the other is the head of his security detail (Maddie's). And at 10 years old, there's nothing that can destroy that friendship... except moving to Alaska, six years, and refusing to answer letters. Now, at 16, Logan is sent to Maddie and her dad's shack/cabin as a punishment. Turns out he's going to have to rough it a lot more than even his parents expected because Logan has been kidnapped by a Russian bad guy and Maddie, now, has to save him. If she doesn't kill him first for ghosting her all those years.
Equal parts action, adventure, survival, Alaskan wilderness, and a bit of romance, is great for 7th-12th grade readers!
The Poet X is a novel-in-verse of Xiomara, a 16-year-old Latina growing up with her twin brother in NYC. Their parents are first-generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and Mami and Papi rule the family like many other first-generation Latinx parents: steeped in the traditions of the past, a healthy dose of Catholic fear, and not quite understanding the culture their kids are growing up in. Xiomara is a pretty good kid. Not as good as her devout bestie or her genius brother, but a decent student and someone who follows most of her parents' rules. However, she invites trouble into her life when feelings emerge for her science-lab partner, Aman. The reader understands how she struggles with desire and not wanting to "put out" like a lot of the girls in her neighborhood do. Nevertheless, her secret does blow up her life when Mami finds out about Aman. Will Xiomara find her voice again? Will she get a happily ever after or will Mami send her to the DR as punishment?
Wow. Just. Wow. No wonder The Poet X has won so many awards this past year, and they are so deserved! The language, the poetry, the imagery are all stunning.
Aside from the beautiful language, my favorite part of The Poet X is all the questions Xiomara asks about religion. Her doubt is not met with scare tactics from the priest (Mami is much less open-minded), and he even encourages her to ask more questions and think on her doubts before continuing with the confirmation sacrament. It's so refreshing to see how it plays into Xiomara and her understanding of her world-- these questions help her frame her understanding of how she fits into the world and how she finds her voice in her poetry. It's just so beautifully done by Acevedo.
At 13 years old, Summer was murdered, and her best friends Brynn and Mia were considered the murderers by their town. The truth, though, was much more complicated than that. The girls were mega fans of a book written decades earlier wherein the protagonist travels to a mystical place called Lovelorn where no one ages. They were obsessed with the book and Lovelorn, especially Summer, who led the way in them writing fanfiction to finish the story, which famously ends mid-sentence. But Summer wasn't the charming, flirtatious girl everyone thought her to be. She withheld her love and friendship from Brynn and Mia when they wouldn't do what she wanted. She toyed with Brynn's emotions as a lesbian, and more. Cut to five years later, and the case is cold and Brynn and Mia see each other for the first time since the fiasco. They set out to find the real murderer, someone they call the Shadow. Will they solve the mystery or will the Shadow get them, too?
Broken Things is very similar in tone to Stranger Things: you feel like someone/something is watching you and you get a tingle up your spine, but when you glance behind yourself, there's no one there. Creepy for sure!