REVIEW: Social Queue by Kay Kerr

Illustrated cover in purple/lilac with pink "talk bubbles" for the titles. On the top talk bubble is a rear view of a brown-haired white girl in red and a cat by her feet, on top of the bottom talk bubble are 5 white people, 4 guys and 1 girl all looking up at the girl on top and holding something like a flower or a coffee or an ice creamWhy I read it:  I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. The book is currently only available in/from Australia and New Zealand.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) I thought I was nobody’s teen crush, but turns out I was just missing the signs.’

Zoe Kelly is starting a new phase of her life. High school was a mess of bullying and autistic masking that left her burnt out and shut down. Now, with an internship at an online media company—the first step on the road to her dream writing career—she is ready to reinvent herself. But she didn’t count on returning to her awkward and all-too-recent high-school experiences for her first writing assignment.

When her piece, about her non-existent dating life, goes viral, eighteen-year-old Zoe is overwhelmed and more than a little surprised by the response. But, with a deadline and a list of romantic contenders from the past to reconnect with for her piece on dating, she is hoping one of her old sparks will turn into a new flame.

Social Queue is a funny and heart-warming autistic story about deciphering the confusing signals of attraction and navigating a path to love.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I don’t read a lot of YA – let’s face it, I’m in it for the romance. Zoe is 18 and so technically an adult but the book is very much a YA, not least because while there is a romance with a hopeful HFN ending, the main story is of Zoe’s own self-discovery and coming of age.

In her first year of university studying journalism, she wins one of three coveted four-week internships at “Bubble” an online media outlet which seemed something like a small Buzzfeed, based in her hometown of Brisbane. She’s also recently dipped her toe into the murky waters of online dating (something I have no experience with because I’m old and married) and it hasn’t gone so well. So she pitches an article for Bubble about her experiences as an autistic young woman navigating the apps. After the first article goes live, there are a five comments which seem to indicate that she’d missed prior signs from people she’d gone to school or worked a part time job with and that spurs a series where Zoe gets in contact with each of the five to find out what she missed and see if there’s a spark of something now.

Romance readers will not be surprised by who the eventual HFN is with but I will not name names here.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

Blue cover as background, an illustration of a bloody knife with the reflection of the murderer mirrored in the blade, blood dripping from the black titlesNarrated by Christine Lakin, Maxwell Hamilton, Zach Villa & Jake Abel

Why I listened to it:  It was recommended to me by a friend and I’ve enjoyed other books from this author too.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) In 1982, two teenagers—serial killer survivor Emma Lewis and US Marshal candidate Travis Bell—are recruited by the FBI to interview convicted juvenile killers and provide insight and advice on cold cases. From the start, Emma and Travis develop a quick friendship, gaining information from juvenile murderers that even the FBI can’t crack. But when the team is called in to give advice on an active case—a serial killer who exclusively hunts teenagers—things begin to unravel. Working against the clock, they must turn to one of the country’s most notorious incarcerated murderers for help: teenage sociopath Simon Gutmunsson.

Despite Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between Simon and the FBI team. But while Simon seems to be giving them the information they need to save lives, he’s an expert manipulator playing a very long game…and he has his sights set on Emma.

Captivating, harrowing, and chilling, None Shall Sleep is an all-too-timely exploration of not only the monsters that live among us, but also the monsters that live inside us.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): None Shall Sleep is a YA crime thriller set in the 1980s – a mix between a kind of Mindhunters and Silence of the Lambs with teenage main characters. The primary POV character is Emma Lewis. She’s 18 now but when she was 16, she was abducted and held by a serial killer. She was the only one who escaped. She is approached by Agent Cooper from the FBI for help in researching serial killers for the fledgling Behavioural Analysis Unit. There are some teen serial killers who won’t talk to the FBI; will Emma be perhaps able to get through as a fellow teen?

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane, narrated by Caitlin Kelly

Cartoony type picture of the silhouette of a kissing boy/girl couple in a tent outside among the trees.Why I read it:  I picked this one up cheap when it was an Audible Daily Deal.

Content warning: The book contains themes of suicide, disordered eating, homophobia, abuse/neglect and self-harm.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  According to sixteen-year-old Zander Osborne, nowhere is an actual place—and she’s just fine there. But her parents insist that she get out of her head—and her home state—and attend Camp Padua, a summer camp for at-risk teens.

Zander does not fit in—or so she thinks. She has only one word for her fellow campers: crazy. In fact, the whole camp population exists somewhere between disaster and diagnosis. There’s her cabinmate Cassie, a self-described manic-depressive-bipolar-anorexic. Grover Cleveland (yes, like the president), a cute but confrontational boy who expects to be schizophrenic someday, odds being what they are. And Bek, a charmingly confounding pathological liar.

But amid group “share-apy” sessions and forbidden late-night outings, unlikely friendships form, and as the Michigan summer heats up, the four teens begin to reveal their tragic secrets. Zander finds herself inextricably drawn to Grover’s earnest charms, and she begins to wonder if she could be happy. But first she must come completely unraveled to have any hope of putting herself back together again.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  What a lovely surprise this audiobook was. I didn’t really know what to expect going in to be honest. I tend to be more adventurous with audiobooks though and the title and blurb promised some romance so I took the plunge.

While there is a romance, it isn’t the major theme of the book and it’s not even the most prominent relationship. It was sweet and I enjoyed it but Zander and Grover are only 16 so it wasn’t the fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever-and-ever-happily-ever-after I mostly read. It did end on a happy hopeful note but the point of the book wasn’t really about Zander having a HEA romantically.

The story is told in first person present tense which I don’t mind at all (in fact, I quite like it, especially on audio) but not everyone does, so it’s worth  mentioning here. Each chapter begins with a brief letter, most often from one of the campers home but the rest of the book is told from Zander’s POV. For most of the book, we don’t know why Zander is at Camp Padua, a summer camp in Michigan for at-risk teens. We know there’s something but not exactly what. We slowly find things out as the story progresses until the full truth is revealed. At times I found it slightly frustrating (because I’m impatient) but I understood why, from a narrative and story perspective, the reveal took time. Zander wasn’t going to tell anyone until she trusted them. And trust takes time. Also, the impact of why Zander came to camp is so much more once you’ve spent some time in Zander’s head.

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