Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review of Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis

Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis
Format:  E-ARC 

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books 
Number of Pages:  240
Publishing:  September 7th, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by Keely Platte from SparkPress

Opening lines: "It should have been raining."  

It's Madalyn's first day of summer vacation and she should be excited, instead she's brooding over how bad of a year her sixth grade was.  It was a year of losses, first her dog died, and then her best friend moved away.  If that wasn't enough, her dad was laid off from work necessitating a move from their comfy townhouse to an older house on the other side of town.  The only saving grace about the move is Madalyn won't have to attend Robinson Howard Middle School anymore.  Mom says her and dad have a plan that will improve everything, but when the plan entails moving in with her seventy three year old great uncle,  Papa Lobo, Madalyn is hesitant.  Sure, Papa Lobo is pretty nice, and as mom suggested, he could use a little help around the house.  He even enlisted his neighbor's son, Jean to help get Madalyn settled at her new school.  How can she turn Papa Lobo down when he did open up his place to her?   

Madalyn's first day of school starts out kind of rocky when she slips and has an embarrassing fall that is witnessed by the entire school.  Then she finds out she's the only black girl in her class, and Carlin and Sydney make her feel very unwelcome.     But then Madalyn meets a few of the other girls from class and things seem to be looking up.  Natalie seems like a promising friend, until she makes a comment about being scared of "boys like that" when she sees Madalyn with Jean.  At first Madalyn feels weird about Natalie's comment, and then she gets angry.   Despite Natalie having one bad experience in the past, there's no reason for her to now develop a prejudice toward all black boys.  Madalyn is hurt by Natalie's off handed comments and isn't sure she want's to be friends with someone who makes racist comments like that.  But when a wildfire starts making their way toward their town, Madalyn decides to hold off having a "tough conversation" with Natalie until after their families are safe.

I've seen Partly Cloudy described as a quiet story and I would agree, with the caveat that it is also an important story.  The story tackles the issue of racism with sensitivity, highlighting Natalie's misjudgments and Madalyn's feelings with an authentic real life feel.  I also love how the author describes that the onus is not on Madalyn to explain or help Natalie to not have these racist thoughts but rather Natalie is the one who has to do the work.  Madalyn is the one to decide whether their friendship is worth having a hard conversation, and letting Natalie know how she feels.  I also loved how the story reflected a carrying family, Papa Lobo, Madalyn's mom and dad, Natalie's older sister and the many neighbors.  The wildfire added an element of danger, with Madalyn's mom travelling to Papa Lobo's and Natalie's sister being unaccounted for during the height of the fire, it also showed how situations like this can bring people together.  Overall, this was a very enjoyable read.       

Sunday, August 29, 2021

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY Blog Tour Excerpt + Giveaway

Today I am excited to be hosting a spot on the THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb  by Candace Fleming Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. I hope you'll check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About the Book:

Title: THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb
Author: Candace Fleming
Pub. Date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Scholastic Focus
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Pages: 304

Find it:
 GoodreadsAmazon, KindleAudibleB&NiBooks, KoboTBD, Bookshop.org

Award-winning and critically acclaimed author Candace Fleming presents the edge-of-your-seat true story of the search for Tutankhamun's tomb, the Western public's belief that the dig was cursed, and the battle for ownership of the treasures within.

During the reign of the New Kingdom of Egypt, the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun ruled and died tragically young. In order to send him on his way into the afterlife, his tomb was filled with every treasure he would need after death. And then, it was lost to time, buried in the sands of the Valley of the Kings.

His tomb was also said to be cursed.

Centuries later, as Egypt-mania gripped Europe, two Brits -- a rich earl with a habit for gambling and a disreputable, determined archeologist -- worked for years to rediscover and open Tutankhamun's tomb. But once it was uncovered, would ancient powers take their revenge for disturbing and even looting the pharaoh's resting place? What else could explain the mysterious illnesses, accidents, and deaths that began once it was found?


Excerpt :


About Candace:

Candace Fleming awarded herself the Newbery Medal in fifth grade after scraping the gold sticker off the class copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond and pasting it onto her first novel—a ten-page, ten-chapter mystery called Who Done It? She’s been collecting awards (her own, not Elizabeth George Speare’s) ever since.

Today, Candace is the versatile and acclaimed author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize honored The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Russian Empire; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award-winning biography, The Lincolns; the bestselling picture book, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!; the Sibert-Award-winning Giant Squid; and the beloved Boxes for Katje. She contributed the chapter on Katharine of Aragon to Fatal Throne. Photo credit: Michael Lionstar.


Website | Twitter | InstagramFacebook | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub



Giveaway Details:

3 winners will win a finished copy of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:
Week Two:

Week Two:


Log Cabin Library



BookHounds ya



Two Chicks on Books



Little Red Reads



Jaime's World



Locks, Hooks and Books






Two Points of Interest








Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Review of Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket
Format:  Hardcover 
Publisher:  Liveright
Number of Pages:  168
Publishing:  August 31st, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by Megan Beatie Communications

Opening Lines "This morning I had poison for breakfast."

From Goodreads:  This true story—as true as Lemony Snicket himself—begins with a puzzling note under his door: You had poison for breakfast. Following a winding trail of clues to solve the mystery of his own demise, Snicket takes us on a thought-provoking tour of his predilections: the proper way to prepare an egg, a perplexing idea called “tzimtzum,” the sublime pleasure of swimming in open water, and much else.

I was really excited to receive a review copy of Poison for Breakfast, it'd been a really long time since I've read a book by Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning is the last one that comes to mind.   For some reason I didn't continue on with the series, or maybe it was that my kiddo and I moved on to something else.  But I did end up watching the 2004 movie A Series of Unfortunate Events with Jim Carrey and the Netflix series with Neil Patrick Harris, which I quite enjoyed.

Poison for Breakfast is a truly different kind of book.  I'd say it's either geared toward YA or adults.  In some ways it is similar to Lemony Snicket's other books in writing style and humor.  Yet, also very different, more philosophical with a murder mystery to solve.  Namely, to solve the case of his own poisoning.    As Snicket describes it himself, "this book is about bewilderment, a word which here means not having the faintest idea what is going on at any given time."   It's a book about thinking about things and trying to figure them out.  At times it was difficult to follow the flow, Snicket meanders from idea to idea, but I think this was more of a factor of me than the book.  It's the kind of book that you can't rush through, and requires focus, a book I know I want to read again.  Especially to appreciate Snicket's rules of writing again and defiantly to read it much slower.  I found it very helpful that his notes referencing the poets, authors, songs and movies mentioned in the story were broken down by chapter at the back of the book, and overall reading Poison for Breakfast was truly a treat.   I can see this appealing to adult fans of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events series.  **Thank you to Megan Beatie Communications for my review copy.**   

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Happy Book Blog Birthday to me!


It's hard to believe that I've been book blogging for 9 years now, where has the time gone?  It still feels like I am learning something new every day and am so thankful for my followers who leave comments on my posts.  When I started this little ol' blog I wanted to have a place to keep track of the books that I read and my thoughts about them.  It morphed into participating in the Cybils each year as a judge and even branching out onto Twitter where I've made many author and fellow blogger friends. So I would like to take the opportunity to once again say thank you to all you lovely readers for your support, likes and comments.  It means the world to me!!  Brenda  

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

MG Realistic Fiction review of Carry Me Home by Janet Fox


Carry Me Home by Janet Fox
Format:  E-ARC 
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages:  208
Publishing:  August 24th, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media

Opening Lines "The day Lulu's daddy disappeared was, so far, the coldest morning of the year."

Twelve-year-old Lulu and her younger sister, Serena wake up one morning in their family Suburban to find that their daddy is missing.  All that was left behind was his wallet, a dead phone and the keys to the car.  Initially, Lulu isn't too worried about her daddy's disappearance, he did go missing once before and returned, but this time things feel different.  In the meantime, Lulu tries to keep to the routine that daddy established for them.  She makes sure she and Serena have breakfast, get off to school on time and even goes to the food pantry to make sure they stay stocked up on food.  But as the days go by and the money daddy left behind begins to dwindle, Lulu becomes concerned that someone might figure out that daddy has left them all alone.   

Carry Me Home is a riveting, quick read and Lulu will capture your heart.  Lulu is a beautiful example of a caring, loving older sister who is determined, strong, a talented writer, singer and wisher.  Although she's afraid that she and her little sister might be separated if anyone is to find out their secret, she tries to take over in her dad's absence.  Her goal throughout the story is to hide their homelessness from all the adults around her.   Lulu's life at times is sad, but also hopeful.  It's a realistic portrayal of the difficulties faced with homelessness and how some children can slide through the cracks.   There's lots of good information woven into the story about seeing what's around you, and that caring, helpful people do exist.  In Lulu's case, she finds help from a kind lunch lady, librarian, and Jack, the nice boy she meets at school.  

I read somewhere that the inspiration for Carry Me Home was a NPR story that Fox heard about a family living in their car in Montana.  She also drew inspiration from a Hiroshima survivor, Sadako Sasaki and her paper cranes, as well as the sandhill cranes migration.   I love how the author carefully crafted the story to include all of these elements while balancing Lulu's past with her dad in Texas with her present in Montana, providing just the right amount of details about how the family ended up in this situation without dwelling on the past.  I also liked that Lulu's father isn't a cruel man, although he made some poor choices, he truly loves his daughters and was trying his best to provide for them.    What will grab the reader is how Lulu "stands up" for herself and her sister.  How she takes charge and carries on until she can no longer.  Her wish will resonate with the reader and the story will draw out strong emotions and empathy.  The short chapters will make it easier to digest the information, just a beautiful story that had me tearing up at the end.  Books to pair this with might include Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo or Front Desk by Kelly Yang.  

**A huge thank you to Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media, I just adored this book to pieces!**

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

MG review of Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko
Format:  E-ARC 

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books 
Number of Pages:  288
Publishing:  August 10th, 2021
Source:  Review copy provided by Sabrina Kenoun from Spark Point Studio

Opening lines: "The storm that tore through Knobb's Ferry was unlike any that Zee Puckett had ever seen in all her eleven years."  

Zee lives with her older sister, Abigail in the quiet town of Knobb's Ferry, a place where nothing exciting ever really happens, that is until a storm wracks the town.  On the morning after the storm a few strange things start to happen, beginning with the school principal and a kindergarten teacher going missing.  When Zee's school is also cancelled because of the storm, she and her best friend, Elijah decide to go and hang out in one of their favorite places, the cemetery.  While exploring the coffins, Zee comes across a creepy dark shadow that morphs into a large wild animal, bigger than a dog with eyes so black and streaks of blood coming from them.  After surviving the scary dog attack and returning to school, Zee has her second mysterious encounter at a field trip to a library, where she meets a man named Paul while searching for a book, only to have him vanish.  When she is seen by her nemesis Nellie, talking to the man who is not there, she's given the nickname Ghost Girl.  Things start to take a turn into the macabre with the arrival of their new principal, Principal Scratch, a creepy man who's goal appears to be to help everyone in the town to get what they want most.  As the townspeople's wishes and desires begin to come true, Zee and Elijiah become concerned when their family  begins to behave in unusual, uncharacteristic ways.  Will they be able to uncover Principal Scratch's plans in order to save their family and themselves?

I was so ready to read something a little spooky and Ghost Girl hit all the right notes.  It's a very atmospheric kind of spooky, with the dark woods, mysterious enveloping fog, the cemetery and of course the dark stormy night.  Not to mention the scary dogs and ghosts that appear to Zee.  Yep all the elements for spooky.  Zee (11 yo) is an interesting character, and I really liked her relationship with her older sister Abigail (21 yo), who is put in charge of caring for her while their dad looks for work in another town.  I love how Zee likes reading Frankenstein over and over again, and loves telling scary stories.  Then there's Elijah, Zee's best friend who was by far my favorite character, partly because I had a best friend who was also a boy growing up, but also because I felt for his family situation.  Having a complicated home life with a mother who has a mental illness and a father that placed all these demands on him, belittling him because of his weight and his desire to have his son be an athlete.  I felt for his situation and think other kids could too.  Nellie even grew on me, even though she was bullying Zee in the beginning, her home life was also complicated.  However, I couldn't seem to buy into Elijah's and Nellie's romance, it happened way too quick, and I don't believe he would forgive Nellie's past bullying or let it slide like that.  I did like that Nellie redeemed herself by the end though.  

In addition to the spookiness, my favorite parts of the story would have to be the messaging that people are more complex than their initial appearance, more nuanced, and therefore we should never make assumptions based on popularity, money or trivial things.  It's important to see beneath the surface.   I also really loved the messaging about how words have power for good or can be hurtful.  How it's important not to stand by and watch someone be degraded or humiliated, to instead say something.  Even if it's just grabbing a teacher's attention.  Overall, this was a fun quick read with creepy and scary moments and a satisfying ending.  I'm hopeful there will be more stories with these characters.  Pair this with Nightbooks by J.A. White or perhaps The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby.  

**A huge thank you to Sabrina Kenoun from Spark Point Studio for the E-ARC**           

Sunday, August 1, 2021


Today I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE FOREST OF NIGHTMARES by Tehlor Kay Mejia Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


                                                    About the Book:

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Pub. Date: August 3, 2021
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 336

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonKindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the sequel to Tehlor Kay Mejia's critically acclaimed own-voices novel about science-obsessed Paola Santiago.

Six months after Paola Santiago confronted the legendary La Llorona, life is nothing like she'd expected it to be. She is barely speaking to her best friends, Dante and Emma, and what's worse, her mom has a totally annoying boyfriend. Even with her chupacabra puppy, Bruto, around, Pao can't escape the feeling that she's all alone in the world.

Pao has no one to tell that she's having nightmares again, this time set in a terrifying forest. Even more troubling? At their center is her estranged father, an enigma of a man she barely remembers. And when Dante's abuela falls mysteriously ill, it seems that the dad Pao never knew just might be the key to healing the eccentric old woman.

Pao's search for her father will send her far from home, where she will encounter new monsters and ghosts, a devastating betrayal, and finally, the forest of her nightmares. Will the truths her father has been hiding save the people Pao loves, or destroy them?

Once again Tehlor Kay Mejia draws on her Mexican heritage to tell a wild and wondrous story that combines creatures from folklore with modern-day challenges.


                    Excerpt from Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares:


There’s Almost Nothing Worse

Than Meat Medley Pizza

If it hadn’t been for the dream she’d had about her estranged father the night before, maybe Pao’s bonding time with her mom’s new boyfriend wouldn’t have been quite so awful.

But her luck never worked like that.

Six months ago, Paola Santiago had walked out of a collapsing magical rift after defeating the legendary ghost turned god, La Llorona, and freeing the spirit of the Weeping Woman’s last remaining lost child.

Pao had tamed a chupacabra.

She had even earned the respect of the girl who had tortured her in sixth grade.

And yet, she still didn’t have the power to turn this guy into dust? Ideally right now, across the sticky table of this pizza place?

Maybe if she glared at him a little harder . . .

Pizza Pete’s was full tonight, with chattering families, screaming kids, and illuminated arcade machines trying to trick dads into digging deeper for quarters. GHOST HUNTER 3! one of the games flashed in acid-green letters.

No way that’s realistic, Pao thought, narrowly avoiding a scoff. Like a series of zeroes and ones blinking on a screen could ever There’s Almost Nothing Worse Than Meat Medley Pizza get close to the real thing. Binary code was incredibly versatile, of course, but Pao had learned firsthand that there were some things that math and science couldn’t fully capture.

Pao’s mom looked at her like she had heard the almost scoff. Pao stared back insolently, tempting fate.

Ever since winter break had started three days ago, Pao had been prohibited from scoffing. Also scowling, smirking, stomping, and swearing (even using mild words like stupid or jerk). The message was clear: There was no room for sullen Pao when Aaron was around.

To be fair, though, it didn’t seem like there was much room for any version of Pao. So why couldn’t she mope to her heart’s (dis)content?

Because moms were unfair, that’s why.

In the arcade, three boys a little older than Pao were hurtling full speed toward Ghost Hunter 3. “I hear it’s, like, actually scary!” one of them squeaked.

“Yeah, Sully said the guys that made it went to real haunted houses and, like, slept in them and saw things.”

“So cool! They’re like actual experts!”

I’m so sure, Pao thought, returning to her scathing inner monologue. Like a bunch of white guys with phone cameras in a tourist trap knew anything about real ghost hunting.

But the truth—and Pao’s terrible secret—was that she would have given anything to be fighting real ghosts or monsters right now. She would have been thrilled to see a terrible hairy Mano Pachona, or a full-grown slavering chupacabra. Anything to prove that last summer had been real. That she had actually been through something.

That she wasn’t just a freak who no longer belonged in her own life.

Across the table, Aaron shifted uncomfortably in his seat, grinning goofily when he caught Pao looking at him. No one had spoken a word in nine minutes and forty-three seconds. So much for bonding.

Her mom was looking desperate now, and for a second, Pao almost felt sorry for her.

But only for a second.

After Pao’s disappearing act last summer, things had improved between her and her mom. For a while. But Pao had quickly realized that accepting her mom’s differences, as she had done while trapped in the endless throat of a magical void, was actually a lot easier than getting along with her in real life.

Especially now that her mom was dating Aaron.

Pao tried to ignore him, thinking of her dream the night before instead. Even a nightmare was better than this guy. She’d been walking through a dense pine forest, a weird green light filtering through the trees. The road she’d walked was long and straight, and at the end of it was a silhouette she’d somehow known was her dad.

It made sense, Pao thought, that she hadn’t seen his face. She hadn’t seen her dad in real life since she was four years old. Her mom never even talked about him. But in the dream, Pao had run toward him anyway, like he was coming home from a long absence and she couldn’t wait to throw her arms around him.

Of course, she hadn’t made it that far. Just before she’d gotten close enough, the ground had opened at her feet. A massive crack in the earth took Pao with it as it gave way, leaving her father shouting from the cliff above.

After waking from a nightmare like that, shaking and sweating, was it any wonder Pao didn’t wanted to spend the evening fake-smiling over greasy food with a total imposter?

Across from her, Mom and Aaron chewed in silence, exchanging an awkward look between them.

Pao could have made it easier for her mom, she knew, but right now that was the last thing she wanted to do.

Why would she want to help someone who hadn’t even noticed that her daughter was suffering the aftereffects of one of her notorious nightmares? The kind she had experienced ever since she was little and had led her to enter a magical rift to fight a legendary ghost.

Her mom was supposed to be highly attuned to this stuff. She always had been before . . . But tonight she’d just told Pao to get a handle on her hair and wear a clean shirt. Like it mattered how Pao looked for this totally inappropriate ordeal.

Mom had met Aaron, a firefighter, at the bar where she worked and within six weeks had decided that he was meet-the kid material. But impulsive choices were kind of the norm for Maria Santiago. Even Bruto the chupacabra puppy had given them an isn’t this too soon? look as they’d left the apartment tonight.

For about a month, Mom and Aaron had lied about him coming over to “fix the TV” or “drop off a book” or “look for a stray neighborhood dog” (Pao’s personal favorite excuse). Last week her mom had finally come clean, and now they all had to play nice.

At first, Pao had been offended by the lying—she was almost thirteen, she could handle the truth!—but an hour into forced bonding, she found herself wishing Aaron really was just the guy “redoing the shower grout.”

The boys in the arcade were fully enthralled by Ghost Hunter 3 at this point. The screen showed one of those cheesy paranormal activity videos, all shaky camera and blown-out colors and vague, pixelated shapes.

Pao remembered a time when it would have been her and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, crowded around the machine. Dante would have been effortlessly good, Emma hilariously bad, and Pao in the back, refusing to play, mocking people for believing in ghosts.

But she’d barely spoken to Emma in two months. And Pao and Dante were pretending things were normal between them . . . but then why had she told her mom that he was too busy to tag along tonight when he really wasn’t?

Not even science held her in the same thrall these days. Her microscope lay unused on the dusty top shelf of her closet. And she hadn’t bothered entering the fall science fair at school.

Everything had changed. And Pao didn’t know how to change it back.

“Ooh, that game looks scary!” Aaron said, snapping Pao out of her moody thoughts. “I’m not sure I could play it. Probably give me nightmares.”

This time, Pao really, really couldn’t help it. The scoff took over. It used her body as an unwilling host, like rabies in the brain of a raccoon, and a pfft sound escaped her lips. All Pao could do was hope no one heard it. But of course, her mom had laser-focused on her the moment Aaron had said nightmares.

And in terms of death glares, La Llorona had nothing on Pao’s mom.

She smiled at Pao, a kind of snarly smile, all her teeth showing. A don’t screw this up or I’ll take away that phone you just got kind of smile. “Paola, why don’t you tell Aaron what you’re working on in school?”

“Invisibility,” Pao said after a beat, pulling a pepperoni off her pizza and rolling it up into a greasy little tube. Her mom hated when she did that but wouldn’t dare say anything in front of “company.”

“Sounds pretty advanced for seventh grade!” Aaron said earnestly. His blond hair fell into his eyes, and he pushed it back. His face was that healthy-looking kind of tan that white people get when they go skiing or something. Pao wanted to wipe pepperoni grease on it.

“It’s more of a social experiment than a scientific one,” Pao clarified, watching her mother’s eyes narrow even more. “You know, camouflage, deflection, that sort of thing. Luckily, I’m getting plenty of practice at home.”

Pao had always distrusted people who smiled all the time, and Aaron’s ski-catalog grin never faltered. She matched it with something akin to a grimace, knowing she’d pay for the comment later but not caring.

“Well, middle school is a tough time,” he said, leaning down to look her in the eye. “I’m sure things will get better. Hey, only a year and a half until high school, right!”

“Yeah,” Pao said. “Because high school is historically easy on freaks.”

“Mija, you’re not a freak,” her mom said, waving a hand. “You’re just advanced for your age—the other kids are probably jealous.”

Pao would definitely had rolled her eyes if her mom hadn’t snapped her head to look across the room right at that moment.

“Oh! Isn’t that Emma?” She waved, not noticing that her only child was ready to sink into the floor. “Emma! ¡Mija! Over here!”

It was noisy, and Emma was sitting at a crowded table with at least five kids from school. Pao kept her eyes on her plate and hoped that Emma didn’t hear her name being called.

“Who are those kids she’s hanging out with?” Mom asked, craning her neck. “They sure have . . . interesting hair!”

Emma’s new friends dyed their hair in bright colors and wore jean jackets with patches and pins all over them. They kept up with current events and sometimes participated in protests. Across Pizza Pete’s, they all laughed loudly at something, and Pao glanced up reflexively, just for a second. Emma didn’t look their way.

“The Rainbow Rogues,” Pao muttered, trying not to sound sarcastic.

It didn’t matter anyway. Her mom was back to talking to Aaron, and Pao was back to being invisible.

Her eyes drifted over to where Emma’s blondish-brown hair (complete with a new purple streak) was just visible over the tall back of her seat.

In September, when Emma had decided to come out to her parents, Pao had been with her—via speaker phone—for moral support. Emma had been nervous, but after all the worry and wondering, her parents had been nothing but supportive. Mrs. Lockwood had even bought a LOVE IS LOVE sticker for their SUV.

Emma had confessed her secret to Pao just a week after they’d returned from the rift, and together they’d plotted the best way to tell her parents. After Emma did it, Pao was so proud of her best friend she’d thought her heart might burst. The next day, they’d eaten every flavor of frozen yogurt in one giant cup to celebrate.

Pao had known this meant Emma could finally stop hiding. At last she’d get to be her whole, shiny self for the world to see. Pao had even convinced her to go the first yearly meeting of the aforementioned Rainbow Rogues, Silver Springs Middle School’s LGBTQIA+ club.

They’d both been surprised by how many openly queer kids went to their school, and Emma had walked out bubbling with excitement and plans to go back.

But the more time they’d spent with the Rogues, the more out of place Pao had felt.

There were plenty of kids in the club who weren’t ready to decide how they identified yet, and even kids who just called themselves “allies,” so it wasn’t her lack of specified queerness that made Pao feel left out.

It just seemed like most of the kids who were comfortable enough to be out at school were, for the lack of a better phrase, rich and white. Their parents drove them to and from the meetings in their fancy cars and sent them to school with organic lunches. They bought their kids unlimited poster board and, like, the nice markers in every color whenever they wanted to make protest signs.

Pao, with her bus pass and her subsidized lunch, couldn’t have the Rogues over to her small apartment or chip in for supplies. They never made her feel bad about those things, of course, but the way they were overly nice about them somehow made Pao feel even worse.

And then there was Emma, who was so focused on making sure Pao had a good time that sometimes Pao felt she was holding her back. There was no reason for Emma to be the odd one out. She fit in perfectly, and Pao wanted that for her.

So the next time Emma asked Pao to join in—they were protesting a new Starbucks going in across from a locally owned coffee shop—Pao had made up an excuse. After she did it enough times, Emma had stopped asking.

Pao knew it was normal, people growing apart. But that didn’t make it any less sad.

She pushed her plate away, her appetite suddenly gone. “I have homework. Can we go home now?”

Aaron had just taken another slice of “meat medley.” The worst pizza variety ever. Sausage, ham, and pepperoni? What was it trying to prove?

Her mom opened her mouth, undoubtedly to chastise Pao for being rude, but before she could form the words, Pao’s drinking glass exploded in front of her, soaking her space-cat shirt in all thirteen types of soda she’d combined from the fountain. It left them a whole different kind of speechless than before, which Pao couldn’t help but enjoy just a little.

There were glass shards on her lap and all over Aaron’s slice of meat medley. Next to the glass, a quarter was spinning like a top. It must have come from one of the kids playing in the arcade.

After taking a second to recover from her shock (and to make sure Emma and her cool friends hadn’t seen), Pao glanced at her mother, who looked murderous.

“Come on!” Pao said. “You can’t possibly think this is my fault! It was a freak accident! Look!” She held up the quarter, which had just stopped spinning and fallen onto its side.

Tails, Pao noticed, then shook herself before she went down a probability and statistics hole.

Her mom, thankfully, had turned her withering glare onto the kids shrieking in front of Ghost Hunter 3. “Honestly, where are their parents?” she asked, looking at Aaron to check his reaction. When he nodded, she continued. “Throwing quarters around, breaking glasses? So irresponsible.”

Pao bit her tongue. Her mom had left her unsupervised (or in the care of their elderly neighbor, SeƱora Mata) for the greater part of her childhood. Now that Aaron was around, she was suddenly Suburban Susie of the PTA?

Not that she was judging her mom for how she’d raised Pao. It was hard to juggle a kid and a more-than-full-time job on your own. But why did her mom have to pretend to be someone else just to impress this guy?

Wasn’t that, like, the opposite of what she always told Pao to do?

As the two adults chattered about bad parenting, Pao tried to soak up the soda on her shirt with two paper napkins, only to end up leaving little bits of wet pulp all over it. She was almost too lost in thought to notice.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Pao said, standing up abruptly.

No one stopped her.

At least this nightmare is nearly over, she thought.

She should have known better by now than to think things like that.

                                    About Tehlor Kay Mejia:

Tehlor Kay Mejia is an Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. When she's not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is the author of Paola Santiago and the River of Tears and the YA fantasy novels We Set the Dark on Fire and We Unleash the Merciless Storm. Follow her on Twitter @tehlorkay.

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