Sunday, June 18, 2023

Rhythm & Muse and So, This is Love

Brown, India Hill. Rhythm & Muse
May 30, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Darren loves music, but in his junior year, he is pulling back a bit, since it doesn't seem to be a productive use of his time. He's dropped out of chorus and even his church choir, although his school counselor tells him he should stay with it if it gives him joy. What gives him the most joy is classmate Delia Dawson, who has a popular podcast, Dillie D. in the Place to Be. Since he thinks she is so fantastic, he gets tongue tied around her, although they do seem to share some interests and attend the same church. When she announces a contest for a theme song for her podcast, Darren makes one up, and when he is in a recording studio with his friend Justin and cousin Jerrod, he uses some of the time to record it. Of course, his friends send it in anonymously, and it gets a lot of attention, even being played on the radio by local DJs who note the local interest in it. Darren still doesn't want to tell Dillie how he feels, even though others are claiming that the song is theirs. Dillie seems to like it, and the two spend more and more time together. He almost asks her to the dance, and rumor has it that the mystery singer will reveal himself there, so he chickens out. Bouyed by his secret success, Darren rejoins chorus, and even sings a new song for Dillie at the dance. What are his chances of being number one on Dillie's charts?

This was a bit of a departure for Hill Brown, whose middle grade books The Forgotten Girl and The Girl in the Lake are horror novels with some history to them. It was great to see more of a middle grade sensibility applied to a young adult romance for several reasons. Young adult romances tend to be whinier and unhappier than middle grade ones, so I half expected Dillie to decide to hate Darren once she found out that he kept information from him. Also, YA often includes saltier language as well as alcohol drinking and more descriptive, interpersonal romantic encounters. These are fine for older students, but it was great to see a high school character in situations were younger students aren't necessarily going to learn any life lessons they have plenty of time for later!

Darren is a great character who is trying to balance his friendships, his future, and his family along with his overwhelming crush on Dillie. I loved his interactions with Justin, who is trying to push his friend a little bit, and Darren's parents were deliciously embarassing and in love. They were involved in what Darren was doing, but still in the background. Dillie is popular but truly interested in Darren, and they spend a lot of time together having coffee, hanging out, and texting, so they do have a real connection. A lot of young people's social lives depend heavily on church groups, so it was good to see that depicted. 

Social media is well handled, with Clip Message being used as a Snap Chat alternative. It's a hard balance, since some social media does disappear. Using a made up platform can protect books from being outdated when things like MySpace disappear. Of course, for the average 14 year old, MySpace might as well be a fictional platform! 

It's a bit harder to find romance books with male protagonists, although there are a growing number of YA and middle grade romances with gay male characters. It's even harder to find ones that don't spend half the book wallowing in a fight or misunderstaning. This reminded me a bit of Rigaud's Simone Breaks all the Rules, or Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project, since Darren and Dillie are friends, and treat each other as equals. I love that Hill Brown mentions that she saw a lack of stories with "a teenage, Black male protagonist" and wanted to write something joyful. Well done! 

Andreen, Tracy. So, This is Love
December 20, 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After spending winter break in her Oklahoma hometown in So, This is Christmas, Finley returns to her prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, bringing her best friend Ayisha with her. She's on the outs with Arthur over a perceived slight, and thinks that he is flirting with her nemesis, Bronwyn. She has a new roommate, Petra, who  never seems to leave the room, and makes a new friend in Gaines. Even though she was quite the mover and shaker at her school in Oklahoma, Finley still hasn't gotten the hang of dealing with fellow students with "law firm names", and is a bit envious that Ayisha has jumped in and made a lot of connections. She even tries to unseat Bronwyn as the head of the Valentine's dance committee, but the two end up co-chairing it. There is a school ski trip that Finley and Ayisha decide to go on, even though they don't ski. Ayisha is happy to stay in the lodge and socialize, but Finley takes ski lessons that end with Arthur having to save her and ending up in the hospital. Meeting his father doesn't go particularly well, as Lord Watercress is even more formal and uptight than his son. Finley is still obsessed with Arthur, so pays a lot of attention to what he is doing, and the two finally are able to talk about what happened and decide to stay friends. Because Arthur is turning 18, his father is planning a big party that coincides with the dance, and is expecting him to go back to England for college. This sends Finley into a tizzy, since she hadn't thought their time together would be so brief. It gets even briefer when Arthur is accepted into another school in England, and his father is expecting him to return to England in two weeks. Even though the school dance runs into problems after some sabotage, Finley is preoccupied with Arthur. Finley's grandmother and Arthur's aunt are still an item, so it's possible that the two will be able to see each other on occasion, but what does their future hold?

Finley is a fairly typical high school girl whose fascination with one particular boy colors everything she does. While this is very true to life, it's also a little alarming to read about as an adult! It's good to have some balance with Ayisha, who is interested in Caldwell but also pays attention to the rest of her social life, watches out for Finley, and also keeps academics in mind. Bronwyn is a good example of a student entitled by her family's local reputation and her history of being in charge. We don't see a lot of what Arthur is feeling, but this also seems true-- teen boys play their cards close to the vest, and don't necessarily let everyone around them know what's going on. 

The real appeal of this book is the Barrington Academy setting, with all of the posh students who assume that everyone has a cook and housekeeper, and the teachers who know how to deal with these students. There's plenty of friend drama and romance, and the ski trip was a nice touch. (There aren't a lot of books that deal with those, although Ellen and Ivison's The Never Evers does.)

Finley is a bit self centered, but is also dealing with an unusual change of venue from her small Oklahoma home town. This will be a popular title among readers who love Kasie West, Sarah Dessen, Suzanne Colasanti, Emma Lord, and other young adult romance writers. 

There are sevearl f-bombs in this one as well. I still don't understand why YA writers feel a need to include these. Do high school students use this language? Absolutely. Should it be encouraged? No. 

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