Friday, June 11, 2021

Almost Flying

Arlow, Jake Maia. Almost Flying
June 8th 2021 by Dial
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dalia's parents have divorced recently, and she hasn't seen her mother much, but she and her father have a cozy existence. She's on the swim team, which helps pass the time, especially since she has had a falling out with her longtime best friend Abby, whom she felt left her for another friend. Through swim, she's met Rani, who has recently move to Long Island from Minnesota. Rani's family is better off than Dalia's, but the two have fun hanging out, watching videos of roller coasters (Dalia's obsession) and make up tutorials (Rani's). When Dalia's father tells her that has been dating Vanessa and wants her to meet his new girlfriend. The surprise and shock don't end there; Vanessa has a college aged daughter, and the relationship is more serious than Dalia is first led to believe. Alexa has been fighting a lot with her mother, and is planning a road trip to amusement parks with her friend Dhruv. Vanessa doesn't like this idea, but feels better about it if Dalia would go with Alexa, and bring a friend. Rani's mother is fine with it, and soon the group is hitting various amusement parks and staying overnight in motels, checking in with parents by video chat every night. Dalia has never been on an actual roller coaster; she's only watched videos. Luckily, she does enjoy riding them, so that part of the trip is a big success as she uses her previous knowledge of different types of roller coasters to educate her travel companions. Less success are the relationships. Alexa is angry but hiding the fact that she has a girlfriend, Sara, who soon joins the group. Dalia overhears Dhruv talk about his boyfriend and is surprised he is gay. To further complicate matters, Dalia has wondered for a long time if she likes Rani as more than a friend. How do you tell a friend that you have a crush on her? Sara is very helpful and understanding, and picks up on the clues that Dalia likes Rani, and gives her good advice. Alexa makes some unwanted comments, which increases the tension between the two potential step sisters. When Dalia kisses Rani and doesn't get quite the reaction she expects, she worries that she might have made a mistake. Will Dalia be able to survive her summer of actual and emotional roller coasters?
Strengths: I'm officially declaring a lack of amusement parks in middle grade literature! Not all middle school students are lucky enough to go, and I know it was a huge deal the first time I went with my church group. It's a rare instance when tweens are allowed to go about on their own, spend some money on food and souvenirs, and reading about different parks (including the nearby Cedar Point!) was very fun. So lets have more of that. I was completely oblivious to the existence of YouTube roller coaster videos. We are seeing more books about parents getting divorced, and blended families getting used to each other, so that was a good aspect of the book. I wish there had been more about swim team! This book also offers a unique story of emerging identity by having three older queer friends to advise Dalia about her crush and also dealing with her feelings. There's also some discussion about the difference in economic backgrounds that Dalia and Rani have, and the arc of the relationship with Abby was interesting and a bit surprising.
Weaknesses: While the trip and the roller coasters were interesting, a bit more of a plot would have been nice. Most of the plots concerned themselves with relationship issues, which is more young adult. I also found it hard to believe that Dalia and Rani were allowed to travel around to amusements parks with two college students!
What I really think: There is a fair amount of interesting in LGBTQIA+ stories in my library, so I will definitely buy this, and hope that readers who pick this up for the roller coaster inclusion will find this informative about the LGBTQIA+ as well. 

Conford, Ellen. Seven Days to a Brand-New Me
March 1st 1981 by Little Brown and Company
School library copy

Maddie Kemper is in high school, and besotted by the gorgeous Adam Holmquist, who has a locker next to hers. She's too shy to talk to him much, since she's convinced she is not only drab looking but uninteresting. While at the mall helping her best friend Sandy pick out running shoes, she stops at the books store and picks up two books that will change her life; the Harlequin type romance, Sweet Suffering Love, and the self-help book Seven Days to a Brand-New You. Between being inspired by the bodice ripper (which her mother borrows as well) and the advice of Dr. Dwayne Dudley, she's determined to become so enticing that Adam won't be able to ignore her anymore. She spends $50 at the mall on new clothes and makeup, and devotes herself to becoming irresistible in between exchanging sexually charged barbs with classmate Terence and imagining Adam shirtless while she should be concentrating on her Spanish class. Will she be successful in her attempts to get the boy of her dreams?
Strengths: It's not 1981 anymore. The quality of the paper is super good. I loved Conford's work when I was in middle school (I'm not sure I read this in high school), and she certainly is responsible for many, many of the things that are wrong about my own magnum opus, the politically incorrectly titled story of a summer camp testing out a computer dating program, I'm Going Crazy, Want to Come. People are described as fat or not fat, and Adam isn't someone with whome Maddie wants to develop a mutually beneficial relationship; he's someone she wants to "get". What she'll do with him then is a bit unclear. This made me want to apologize to my own long term crush in school. So sorry, Jon. I hope you've had a nice life. 
Weaknesses: Not much of a plot, not much character development, weak supporting characters, weird inclusions of passages from the two books (in a different font), and so many questionable interchanges. Terence LEERS at Maddie, and they discuss swingers and the sex life of insects. Cringe worthy.
What I really think: Should I keep this for the decades project? If I get rid of it, it has to come home with me. Conflicted. 

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