YA – Fat Chance, Charlie Vega

Maldonado, Crystal. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44717-6. 343 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is an homage to every brown girl who has experienced fat shaming. The main character of Crystal Maldonado’s debut novel, sixteen-almost-seventeen Charlotte “Charlie” Vega struggles with self-acceptance. An unabashed nerd, the Connecticut teen excels at her studies, likes her after school job, and has a kind and loyal best friend, Amelia. On the down side, she still grieves for beloved Puerto Rican father, butts heads with her recently slimmed-down mother, and feels diminished next to the perfect Amelia. A striving idealist and aspiring writer, Charlie longs for the ever-allusive storybook romance. When popular, athletic Cal invites her to the homecoming dance, Charlie is on Cloud 9 and is humiliated when she discovers Cal expected her to deliver Amelia as his date. She finds a ready ear to share her troubles in her kind and understanding class and job mate, Brian Park, who is Korean-American. As her relationship with Brian develops and deepens, Charlie’s self esteem increases. She and Brian are sympatico; he is a thoughtful boyfriend and even his two moms like her. Bolstered with this newfound confidence, Charlie is able to feel secure about her appearance, despite her mother’s insistence on protein shakes and popularity. Talking (and making out) with Brian feels so good, Charlie neglects her bff who is also in a new relationship with a girl from the soccer team. In a rare argument, African American Amelia reveals Brian asked her out in the past. Charlie once again feels second best and takes steps to guarantee a miserable life and fulfill her belief that she just isn’t good enough. Through listening to the positive feedback from her supportive network of co-workers, family, and friends, Charlie comes to believe that she is deserving of love, no matter what her physical appearance. The casual, almost chummy, tone of the language, the inclusion of references to current celebrities and trends, and the relatable theme will make this novel a winner.

THOUGHTS: No matter what gender one identifies with, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega picks up the despair of rejection and invisibility and the thrill of feeling chosen and desired. Though skirting any graphic description of sex, Maldonado woos the teen reader with the building up of her feelings in the make out sessions with Brian. Charlie’s volatile relationship with her well-meaning but issue-ridden mother can be the script for many students dealing with a parent who mixes up wanting the best for one’s child and creating a safe, accepting space. In addition, Charlie’s devotion to writing and Brian’s interest in art make for interesting reading while the humor-infused narrative makes the serious theme smoother going down. Author Maldonado blends diverse gender roles and races seamlessly in an accessible book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

New Realistic Fiction: 99 Days and My Heart and Other Black Holes

99days

Cotugno, Katie.  99 Days.  New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015.  978-0-06-221638-0. 372 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

After her mother wrote a best-selling novel about her tragic love life, Molly Barlow ran off to boarding school in another state to avoid the backlash.  Now, however, she is back in her hometown for 99 days of summer before her freshman year of college.  Unfortunately, her year-long absence didn’t seem to help matters; she is still despised by everyone in town.  Julia Donnelly, the sister of the two boys whose hearts she broke, eggs Molly’s house and leaves her nasty letters.  She can’t talk to her mom, as she doesn’t want her pathetic life to end up being the subject of another novel.  Even her former best friend doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her.  The only person who seems happy to see her is Gabe, Julia’s oldest brother.  As she tries to mend broken relationships, Molly begins a tentative relationship with Gabe.  Things become complicated, however, when Patrick – Gabe’s brother and Molly’s first love – returns home.  Caught in a steamy love triangle, Molly finds herself right back where she started when she left town in the first place and looks forward to starting over again with a clean slate in college.

Realistic Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Despite her transgressions, Molly is a very likeable protagonist, and I found myself rooting for her throughout the course of the novel.  I was disappointed, though, that while she​ grew emotionally and became more thick-skinned as the novel progressed, she did not seem to learn from her mistakes.  There are definitely themes in the book that will resonate with young readers, including sibling rivalry, adolescent love, and unfair double sexual standards.  I would give this book to anyone looking for a dramatic summer romance.  Be forewarned, however: the book does contain off-page sex, swear words, and instances of underage drinking.

myheart

Warga, Jasmine. My Heart and Other Black Holes. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-232467-2. 302 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

The only way Aysel can be sure she doesn’t end up like her mentally ill father is to kill herself — or so she thinks.  Ever since her dad murdered her town’s star athlete, she’s been ostracized and depressed.  She spends her days surfing a suicide website, looking for a partner to help her commit the act.  She finds one in Roman, who on the surface seems to have everything going for him — athleticism, friends, good looks — but carries an enormous amount of guilt from a heartbreaking loss.  As they plan their deaths, a slow shift in perspective causes Aysel to begin to waver on carrying out their pact.  Readers will hang onto Warga’s honest and graceful narrative to find out whether Roman can be saved, too.  Teens struggling with depression can relate to the “black slug” devouring Aysel, whose dark humor makes her an endearing narrator.  The list of resources in the back for depressed and suicidal teens is essential.  Suggest to teens who couldn’t put down Jay Asher’s immensely popular Thirteen Reasons Why.

Realistic Fiction     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School