Oh FRIENDS, this is a batch of good freaking books. Like a really good one. Consider yourself warned, you’ll want them all on your TBR. Sorry, not sorry.
After an injury forces Ria off the diving team, an unexpected friendship with Cotton, a guy on the autism spectrum, helps her come to terms with the abusive relationship she’s been in with her former coach.
Ria Williams was an elite diver on track for the Olympics. As someone who struggled in school, largely due to her ADHD, diving was the one place Ria could shine. But while her parents were focused on the trophies, no one noticed how Coach Benny’s strict rules and punishments controlled every aspect of Ria’s life. The harder he was on her, the sharper her focus. The bigger the bruise, the better the dive. Until a freak accident at a meet changes everything. Just like that, Ria is handed back her life, free of Benny.
To fill her now-empty and aimless days, Ria rekindles a friendship with Cotton, a guy she used to know back in elementary school. With Cotton, she’s able to open up about what Benny would do to her, and through Cotton’s eyes, Ria is able to see it for what it was: abuse. Then Benny returns, offering Ria a second chance with a life-changing diving opportunity. But it’s not hers alone—Benny’s coaching comes with it. The thought of being back under his control seems impossible to bear, but so does walking away. How do you separate the impossible from the possible when the one thing you love is so tangled up in the thing you fear most?
I have been telling everyone and their mom to read this book. Because it is awesome. It’s a bit sweeter and lighter than my usual fare, which I think will appeal to a lot of people (especially at a time like this!) but it also definitely deals with some legitimately difficult issues, so I think it has a fabulous balance. Let’s just get right to talking about all the stuff I loved!
- This is a diving book! And look, I am sure as hell no diver. But I looked at the divers on our team (in high school, swimming and diving competed together, as one team, diving scoring points for the rest of the meet) in actual awe. To me, they were straight up superheroes, getting on that hardass board, running, jumping, flipping. Literally all the things we’ve been told not to ever do at pools, right? Anyway, it’s an impressive sport, and the author really did her homework here. Plus I love when books deal with sports and young women, for a myriad of reasons. In this particular one, Ria needs to figure out who she is without diving- or if perhaps she need to get back to it. Also a plus? Her reasons for quitting make sense. It’s far from arbitrary, or because she wasn’t devoted.
- Which brings me to my second point. Ria has an incredibly complicated relationship with her coach. I was worried at how this was going to be presented, but I was actually really pleasantly surprised. Benny, the coach… well, he sucks. This isn’t a spoiler, you know he sucks from the beginning. But Ria doesn’t know how much Benny sucks. She worships him, thinks his word is gospel. But it isn’t, and he doesn’t treat her appropriately, and Ria has to navigate this. And I kind of love the message that this book presents in this regard. Because coaching relationships are often quite complicated. I was extremely lucky to have an incredible high school coach, but my college coach was messy as hell, and I had no idea how to navigate it. So when I say this is an important subject to discuss with young women, it really, really is.
- Ria is a fabulous character who grows and learns so much about herself. Talk about a journey of discovery! Ria is so, so lost when the book starts. She has a boyfriend who’s fine, but clearly not the love of her life. Friends that she’s been keeping her distance from. Parents she hasn’t been open with. A coach who is controlling her even while she’s not on the team. And as the book goes on, Ria must confront all of these issues head on, or risk leaving her life a confusing status quo.
- Enter Cotton and caving. Ria meets up with an old acquaintance (nicknamed Cotton), and he introduces her to caving. And all kinds of other messy feelings. But stepping outside of her comfort zone, meeting new challenges head on, these are all so important for Ria to grow. And also, Cotton is a wonderful character who I would basically die for.
- The book is just straight up full of heart. You can tell that the author poured her soul into this one, because it just radiates off the page. From the start, I fell in love with Ria’s struggles, her family, her friends, her teammates. Ria was relatable, and so was her life. Everyone can sympathize with trying to figure out who you are, who and what you want to be, and we’ve all had to make decisions that will inevitably change the trajectory of our lives. And that’s all stuff Ria deals with here, in a really special way.
Bottom Line: Absolutely one of the best contemporaries I have read. I could relate so much to Ria and her decisions, and fell in love with her and her story.
In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.
The Overland Trail, 1853: Naomi May never expected to be widowed at twenty. Eager to leave her grief behind, she sets off with her family for a life out West. On the trail, she forms an instant connection with John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man straddling two worlds and a stranger in both.
But life in a wagon train is fraught with hardship, fear, and death. Even as John and Naomi are drawn to each other, the trials of the journey and their disparate pasts work to keep them apart. John’s heritage gains them safe passage through hostile territory only to come between them as they seek to build a life together.
When a horrific tragedy strikes, decimating Naomi’s family and separating her from John, the promises they made are all they have left. Ripped apart, they can’t turn back, they can’t go on, and they can’t let go. Both will have to make terrible sacrifices to find each other, save each other, and eventually…make peace with who they are.
I love The Oregon Trail and I want all the books about it. I legit think I could read about it forever and not get bored. Also, this happens to be my first Amy Harmon book, but I promise not my last! In this book, the author takes us on the journey that main characters Naomi and John are undertaking via the Trail. And the author pulls absolutely no punches here- this book is as brutal as life on the trail was. There are absolutely lighter moments, but the darker, difficult ones are in full force.
The huge focus on family was one of my favorite aspects. While John has a more complicated relationship with his own family, Naomi adores hers and is extremely close to them. And I love to see that! Naomi’s mother is one of my favorite characters, and I also loved every single one of her brothers. And of course, I loved Naomi! She had such a great spirit and was such a perfect character to take this journey with. John loved his family as well, but things were far more complicated. Born to a Native mother who passed away when he was young and a white father that he didn’t know until his mother’s death, he had a lot to work through. His father and stepmother loved and cared for him, but again, there is a lot for him to work out within himself and in regards to his family.
And of course the romance was phenomenal. It’s a lovely slow burn, even though it’s clear there are sparks from the first time our main characters meet. The scary part is, because it’s the Oregon Trail, because the prologue literally opens with the danger befalling our characters, we have no idea when, or even if the romance will come to full fruition. And that’s the crux of it: No one knows if they’ll have tomorrow. I suppose the same can be said for any of us at any time, but it’s magnified during an undertaking such as this.
The characters deal with so much fear and loss and heartache along the journey, but they also have moments of happiness and triumph and growth. I felt all the emotions with them, and cheered for them every perilous step of the way.
Bottom Line: Incredibly emotional, accurately treacherous, and so full of love of every kind, this is a journey I won’t soon forget.
**Trigger warning for violence, including rape
Solaris Spring 2020 Lead Title from critically acclaimed author, Adrian J. Walker
A startling, emotional, beautiful (and at times funny) book – one that feels like the best sort of science fiction, a book that should be enjoyed widely, a book that speaks of what it is to be human, a parent, and a child.
It is 500 years in the future and Earth is no longer populated by humans.
The new guardians of Earth, the genetically engineered Erta, have reversed climate change. They are now faced with a dilemma; if they reintroduce the rebellious and violent Homo Sapiens, all of their work will be undone.
They decide to raise one final child; a sole human to help decide if humanity should again inherit the Earth.
But the quiet and clinical Ima finds that there is more to raising a human than she had expected; and there is more to humanity’s history than she has been told.
This book… it spoke to me, okay? Not only about what it means to be a human being, but what it means to be a parent. And this isn’t to say you won’t love it if you aren’t one, but it just made it extra special for me, I think. In this story, a species of lab-grown Erta are tasked with restoring Earth to its pre-human state. They’ve succeeded, but now have a decision to make: Does humanity deserve a second shot at existence?
How do they decide this? By grabbing a human embryo out of the lab, and growing it, of course! Ima is a scientist through and through; she assumes she will have no issues at all unbiasedly raising said human child. All Erta have been engineered to take out the “worst” of human traits, and are both genetically built and trained from birth to forgo emotion and respond to logic. Ima has done this for centuries, and doesn’t see this being a problem.
But as every parent knows, Ima is wrong. And we, the reader, get to undertake this incredible journey with her. Not only is the child not hers biologically, he isn’t even her species. Ima and the rest of the Erta are about to find out how very little that matters.
This book attempts (and I think does an incredible job) of defining humanity. What makes us who we are, as both a whole and individually? Are we doomed to fight and pollute and kill? Or are we more than that? I won’t be telling you anymore about this book, because you need to discover these answers for yourself. But you can be assured that you will find an incredibly powerful, emotive story. And, it has a ton of fun, light-hearted moments that are such a perfect balance for the grittier bits. It’s beyond morally gray, and will examine both Erta and human history and politics. How we’re different, how we aren’t at all.
Bottom Line: I fell completely in love with this book, with heart seeping out of every page. Gorgeous writing, complex characters, and a very dynamic world made this one of the best books of the year.
One wave: that’s all it takes for the rest of Mae and Hannah Winters’ lives to change.
When a tsunami strikes the island where their parents are vacationing, it soon becomes clear that their mom and dad are never coming home. Forced to move to Boston from sunny California for the rest of their senior year, each girl struggles with secrets their parents’ death has brought to light, and with their uncertainty about the future. Instead of bringing them closer, it feels like the wave has torn the sisters apart.
Hannah is a secret poet who wants to be seen, but only knows how to hide. The pain pills she stole from her dead father hurl her onto the shores of an addiction she can’t shake and a dealer who turns her heart upside down. When it’s clear Hannah’s drowning, Mae, a budding astronaut suddenly launched into an existential crisis—and unexpected love—must choose between herself and the only family she has left.
Well, I just got done reading this and sitting in a long-cold bubble bath sobbing my face off. Because it is that good. I highlighted giant chunks of the thing because both the writing and the messages were just so damned beautiful.
Sisters Mae and Hannah have just lost their parents in a horrific tsunami, and have absolutely no idea how to move forward. Because who would, honestly? Mae is incredibly science and logic focused, which makes her grieving even more difficult, as there is no logic in grief. Hannah had been struggling with drug use since before their deaths, and obviously the loss of her parents shattered her even further, and sent her spiraling even more.
As they move across the country to live with their (incredibly loving) aunt, uncle, and cousin, they have to figure out how to rebuild. And there is a lot going on in both girls’ lives beyond just the loss of their parents. Mae needs to decide if she can and should leave her sister to follow her lifelong dream of being an astronaut, or if she needs to change her trajectory. She finds a great friend in her cousin Nate, and Nate’s friend Ben who is kind of the best and also kind of more than a friend. Hannah is recovering from an abortion that she isn’t sure she wanted to have, in addition to the addiction. She’s pulled from her long-time boyfriend Micah, and feels more alone than ever. She also finds out a secret about their parents that is eating away at her as she tries to spare her sister the pain.
There are so many tremendous side characters in this book, not all of whom I can even mention for fear of spoilers. I loved that the girls had so many supports (and they both acknowledge that they are quite lucky, too) especially in their family who were willing to step up to help them through this. They not only need to learn to navigate these new relationships (or rather, closer relationships) with extended family, but their new normals with each other.
And look, this book is heavy. It isn’t a quick or easy read. But it just so lovely, so full of heart, and at the end of the day, so hopeful, that it is completely worth the journey.
Bottom Line: It’s a story about the triumph and resilience of the human spirit against all odds. It’s love overcoming death, and there’s nothing greater than that.
**Trigger warning for death, grief, abortion, assault, attempted suicide, drug addiction/overdose