Sunday, July 26, 2020

Book Review: Beneath Wandering Stars

“People are the only home the Army issues.”

This book is full of so, sooo many gems! Like the above line and many others that I wish I could share them all, but then it would be the whole book. I’m not doing that. What I will be doing is talking about reasons why you should read the story.

Book: Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles
Genre: YA Contemporary
My rating: 5/5 stars
Awards: Colorado Book Award for Young Adult Literature (2017)
Mini description: Army brats

I first found out about the novel when I was doing a search for contemporary young adult novels set in Europe. Historical fiction is great, and it has its place, but I haven’t read as many contemporary novels set in Europe. I’m making a list. When I found out the book was set on the Camino de Santiago, I was ecstatic. For those of you who may not know, I walked the Camino (aka the Way of Saint James) with my Mom last spring. To have a YA novel set along the pilgrimage sounded awesome.

What I didn’t know about the book was that it was about an Army Brat who walked the Camino by an Army brat who walked the Camino. Wait… I’m an Army brat. Is this a book I can actually, finally relate to in a way that’s deeper than your typical travel narrative? The blurb never told me this tidbit! I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BOOK MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!

The military aspects of the books were pretty easy for me to understand but were explained well for readers who may not come from a military background. The book also addressed elements such as soldiers who are wounded in action and what is like for those who come back and don’t necessarily struggle with PTSD but are still never the same. Even having grown up in a military culture, the book reminded me that I don’t know all the aspects of what it’s like to serve in the military.

The characters themselves are super well developed. Gabi, the protagonist, is both frustrated with and proud of her life growing up amid the Army. Her list of things she hates about being an Army brat that turns into a list of things she learns to love at the end of the story is just beautiful. Seth, her brother’s best friend and comrade, seems like your typical stoic soldier, but as it turns out, he has a soft spot for cats and is terrified of chickens of all things.

Not only does the story have a protagonist I can relate to, but it also has gems like this one:

“I’d forgotten what mountain skies are like—how they make you feel insignificant and infinite at the same time.”

The setting is amazing. Of course, it’s the Camino. The book itself covers parts of the pilgrimage that I didn’t get to walk, like the journey up the mountains from St. Jean and even a chapel with chickens in it at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I guess this means my mom and I are going to have to go back to walk the Camino again someday.

In all, I gave Beneath Wandering Stars 5/5 stars for great setting, characters, and themes. I would recommend the book to anybody who enjoys YA contemporary novels and to those who would like to better understand what it’s like to be a military brat. For my fellow Army brats, this book is for you.

Interested in Beneath Wandering Stars? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Almost American Girl, Forward Me Back to YouThe Someday Birds, and Summer Blue Bird.

Let’s chat! Has Beneath Wandering Stars made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Any fellow military brats out there? Have any recommendations for YA contemporaries set in Europe?


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Recommended Reading: Disability Representation

When I was a kid, I hated The Phantom of the Opera. At first, I didn’t exactly know why. It wasn’t until I came to enjoy it in college that I understood my initial dislike. It wasn’t just because the story is depressing (what? it is!), but that it also had an incredibly negative portrayal of a character who was born with a facial deformity. Now, this post isn’t so much about how I learned to empathize with the Phantom or whether or not he was justified in his actions but rather about disability representation in literature.

For a long time, most disabled characters were portrayed in a negative light. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a despicable character and he was a hunchback (though it is based on historical fact, there is still a lot of speculation put into the play). Mary Shelly’s creature in Frankenstein was often likened to a monster and hated mostly because he was hideous. Even Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame portrays Quasimodo, deaf and hunchbacked, as being hideous despite being the most admirable character.

Once I was able to understand the context of a story, like The Phantom of the Opera, I was better able to appreciate it as a piece of literature, even if I disliked it for those very reasons. This post is not about those stories though, but rather a list of recommended contemporaries that have explored various stories from various perspectives, from characters with physical disabilities to those who are neurodiverse. Books are organized by authors’ last names.

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

Physical disability representation.

Tessa has been blinded after being in a car accident, and she doesn’t know if her vision will even return. So her grandma helps her find somebody who can help her write her poems, and he happens to have prosthetics. She initially tries to refuse his help, but they quickly become friends.

Though I’m not usually a fan of books shelved under the romance category, I really enjoyed this one! I particularly liked how it seemed to start off being overly cheerful, like seriously, Weston does seem too happy. But as the book goes on, it explores his psychology as well, which I greatly appreciated.

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C. G. Drews


Sam just wants to find another house to temporarily stay in with his brother Avery. Even though Avery’s older, Sam feels like he has to take care of him. Then he accidentally breaks into the wrong house, one that’s full of people, and instead of getting arrested or kicked out, he makes a friend. This book is also an #ownvoices story featuring characters on the autism spectrum.

Not to mention the story actually helped me out of a bout of depression. Though it didn’t actually speak to my circumstances at the time, it was still the story I needed at that time.

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

Physical disability representation and neurodiversity.

These books are intense. Shoya is a boy who bullied Shoko, a partially deaf girl, in his school until she left. Years later, isolated from the rest of his classmates, he attempts to make amends. I particularly liked the way the story addressed physical disability as well as the concept of forgiveness, which is never as easy as it sounds. I’ve only read the first two Manga, but my sister and I watched the Anime, and I cried. Twice.

Since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found it can be difficult to hear people when everybody is wearing a mask. So I started using some sign language (ASL) to communicate little things (e.g. single-file lines I dubbed “the snake” and used the snake gesture), and I’m actually thinking about learning as much ASL as I can. The only problem is that like other languages, sign language can differ from country to country.

Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl


Martin is spending the summer in France with his mom and sister. As a teenager on the autism spectrum, he may not always understand his family, but he is doing his best to make friends at his local school. Not only are the characters stunning, but the cultural aspects are great as well. I really appreciate how the author touched on what it’s like to live in a foreign country, and how it can be difficult whether or not one is neurotypical.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to lean toward books with autism representation. I have several family members on the spectrum, so I like to do my best to understand their perspectives. Yes, I realize you can only learn so much from fiction, but it’s like the saying goes “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” No two people are alike, and fiction is merely a tool that I like to use to help me learn more.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby


Finn is determined to figure out what happened to Roza and why she disappeared. The only problem: he’s face-blind, and recognizing people can pose some difficulties. This kind of disability isn’t often addressed in fiction, and more often than not, I’ve seen it done poorly instead of well. But Ruby does an excellent job, and her writing style is stellar. I also like how this book has fantastical, magical-realism-like elements to it, though it can be confusing at times.

The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims

Physical disability and neurodiversity.

Sam has had to use crutches since a car accident that killed her mother and left her disabled and dealing with bouts of depression. She ends up meeting Eliot, a boy who can’t physically feel anything (Anhidrosis), by accident. As their friendship develops, Sam struggles to remember what happened during the car accident. I recently reread this one and enjoyed it just as much as the first time, though it had more swearing than I remembered. Still a good read.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Eliza doesn’t like talking to people, so when she makes friends with Wallace, they text each other for several days before they say anything aloud. She’s also the author of a popular webcomic series, but nobody knows about her online identity, not even Wallace, who’s a huge fan. Socially awkward adventures ensue. Although my social anxiety has never been as bad as Eliza’s, I found her story to be incredibly relatable.

So there you have it! Seven great books that represent disabled characters. You might also enjoy these neurodiverse YA novels: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, A World Without You by Beth Revis, and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.

Let’s chat! Have you read any of these? Have they made it to your TBR? Do you actively seek out books with disability representation? What are some of your favorites?


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Poem: Writing a Poem

I was thinking about poetry the other day—surprise, surprise. I remembered reading some book reviews by readers who claimed that certain novels in verse shouldn’t be in poetry form because, as they claimed, all the author had to do was hit enter throughout their sentences. Which just made me frustrated. What exactly does that mean? Did the reader prefer the complexities of form poetry to free verse? Did they not understand poetry? 

Sure, some stories clearly deserve to be told in verse whereas others border on the edge between fitting best in verse and prose. But poetry is often overlooked. Perhaps my two favorite things about verse is its use of metaphor and imagery. Writers can combine things in poetry that would never make sense in prose. How exciting is that?

Writing a Poem 

Poetry is more
than hitting Enter
after every other word
in a sentence.

Poetry is
playing with the upside-down rain,

dancing in the desert dunes,
singing in the tepid shower,
crying beneath the dry boughs,
screaming with the howling wind.

Poetry has
helped me find the x in an algebraic map,
reminded me how chalk and flour feel similar,
spent every last word I have to buy
a feather.

Shall we play a game?
1Three down, 2four across,
3four down, 4two across, 5five across.

Tell me one more time
how all I had to do
to avoid itching
these mosquito bites
was to hit Enter.


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Do you write poetry? Readers and writers, do you prefer form or free verse?

Similar poems: The TBR List, Silent Words, and Pile of Words