Recommending Feminist YA


Laura Bates

Feminist author, Laura Bates is known for her non-fiction titles Everyday Sexism and Girl Up and the famous Everyday Sexism project. I was so inspired after reading Everyday Sexism that I instantly handed my kindle over to my boyfriend and he started reading it then and there, becoming as much a fan of Bates and her writing as I. When I found out she was turning to fiction, I was thrilled, but also a little nervous. Not every author can pull off the transition from non-fiction to fiction with flair, but I shouldn’t have worried. The Burning is didactic without being patronising. Emotional without losing hope.

Fire is like a rumour. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames ...

Anna moves to Scotland to start a new life after something horrible happens at her school in Birmingham. She’s immediately wrapped up in a history project that has her studying the treatment of women as witches hundreds of years ago and can’t help but notice the parallels between the way women were treated historically and today. When her secrets follow her to Scotland, Anna feels the burn of rumours and has to figure out how to handle her life falling apart when her and her mum are still grieving her dad.

You’re kept in Anna’s head throughout, and even though I’m quite a bit older than her, I still found myself wondering what I would do in her situation. The frustration and unfairness of it all stings. I wasn’t such a fan of the inserted visions of alleged witch, Maggie, but that could be because I have a grudge against italicised excerpts in general. I loved the vivid settings and appreciated Scotland and Birmingham as an alternative to London. All round, this is is a well-thought out and wonderfully executed first fiction novel.



Holly Bourne
Considering she blurbed The Burning, Holly Bourne is the natural go-to for feminist YA. Well known for the Spinster Club books, all of Bourne’s characters approach feminism in a different way, showing there’s no one size fits all approach. Despite their wildly different lives, the issues are always relevant to them in some way. I’m a big fan of the pop culture references, appreciation for food and integration of other heavy topics such as mental health. Bourne also writes for adults and her novel How Do You Like Me Now? looks at self comparison, having it all and the expectations put on women. I bet even her shopping lists are feminist.
Top pick: It Only Happens In The Movies





Louise O’Neill
If you’re looking for something that will punch you in the face, Louise O’Neill’s books will do just that. Never afraid to shy away from dark subject matter, O’Neill’s books ask the question, what if? What if girls grew up in schools where men decided their fate? What if a girl was raped and photos were taken - would she be the victim or the joke? They can be hard to face at times, but that’s exactly why we need to read these books. As both an adult author and YA, O’Neill writes broadly and defiantly in every new book. Her reimaging of The Little Mermaid takes the story back to its original roots and puts a feminist spin on it. It’s like nothing else you’ll find in your local library or bookshop.
Top pick: The Surface Breaks





Laura Steven
Although Laura Steven is more of a newbie in the feminist YA world, she’s definitely made a mark with her debut, The Exact Opposite of Okay. Taking a political spin and discussing the laws that put women at risk through the confident Izzy O’Neill gives Steven’s writing a balance of shock and hilarity. When private photos of Izzy and a politician's son spread across the nation, Izzy goes through something terrible and makes something epic out of it. I can’t wait to see her return in A Girl Called Shameless.
Top pick: The Exact Opposite of Okay


These are just a handful of the fabulous YA writers I’ve been reading and if you’re new to this world, I hope you find lots of books you love here. Feel free to recommend some of your own favourite feminist authors and spread the word!
You can see THREE of these authors speak at an International Women's Day event on Friday 8th March! Details here: https://www.waterstones.com/events/international-womens-day-laura-bates-holly-bourne-laura-steven-and-laura-coryton-in-conversation/london-piccadilly

Make sure you continue to follow the blog tour for The Burning.


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January Favourites


It didn’t occur to me to blog about my January Favourites until I read and loved similar blog posts by Ashleigh from A Frolic Through Fiction and Jemima from Be Aware of Books. Not only is it a cool way to look back and see the phases I went through in 2019, but it’s a great chance to reflect on the small things that have brought a smile to my face this month. Make sure you go and check out Ashleigh and Jemima’s posts and then come back and let’s talk about the things that defined my January.



Yoga
I kicked off the year with the ambition to get into yoga. I’ve tried it a few times before. You know how it goes, you’re twisting about on the living room floor thinking why isn’t this relaxing? All the tutorials I’ve ever found online are either too easy or too hard. Until January, when I discovered Yoga with Adriene and instantly went online to buy myself a yoga mat. She’s one of the most popular yoga instructors on YouTube and every January runs a 30 day home yoga practice. Instead of choosing Dedicate, the 2019 series, I took part in Yoga Camp which launched in 2016. I chose this one to start because each session has a positive affirmation and as you go through, Adriene talks about toxic thoughts and showing up for yourself.

As well as aiming to improve my flexibility and fitness a little bit, it helped me to get more in control of my thoughts and to stretch my body every day. It felt so good to release the tension of sitting at a desk all day and I feel so much better for it. I’ll definitely be moving onto another series on her channel for February - this is hopefully just the beginning of yoga for me!



Suits
I couldn’t not mention Suits. Since November it has become such a big part of my life. I never thought I’d like it because when it comes to TV shows, I’m picky. I thought it’d be boring, male dominated and in the same vein as House of Cards. It turned out to be clever, funny and pretty diverse and feminist!

If you don’t know much about it, it follows the story of Mike Ross, a guy without a law degree who manages to get a job at one of the top firms in New York. From keeping his secret, to developing new relationships and trying to save the firm countless times, Suits combines the intelligent detail of Prison Break with a sense of humour that has made me fall in love with it. Now I’m pretty much caught up so February will definitely feel empty without it.


Marie Kondo

After binge-watching her new Netflix show, Marie Kondo showed me the light! I spent January decluttering and cleaning my flat. I unhauled 150 books and gave them to a local charity, two local schools and a local charity shop, as well as getting rid of a further 15 bin bags worth of stuff. I'm hoping to move to a new flat this year so this has definitely lifted a weight of my shoulders in relation to that.



Leena Norms
I’ve known about Leena for years, watching her on Book Break, being aware of her in the publishing industry and watching the occasional video on her booktube channel. This January she posted a couple of videos that really caught my attention, including why she’s not shopping in 2019, 30 books Marie Kondo couldn’t make her part with and how to beat your imposter syndrome. Now I’m addicted and will click on all of her uploads! I feel like our opinions on many topics are similar and I love how in depth she will go into some topics. She’s hilarious, blunt and a little bit all over the place (all good qualities).

Lentil and Bean Chilli
Last year I got really into baking but it didn’t do me a lot of good so this year I’m trying to move more towards cooking. In January, by accident, Patrick and I discovered a new favourite meal. Usually when we make chilli, we make it with a fake-meat mince and kidney beans but our pledge to eat less meat substitutes and our own stupidity of not buying kidney beans led to an experiment that has brought me so much happiness. Let me share this joy with you.

You need: brown rice, 1 red onion, 1 (or a few) garlic cloves, 1 tin of green lentils (drained), 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 tin of butter beans (drained), 1 tin of black beans (seriously, drain those tins), a pack of chilli spice, or your own combination and my extra special ingredient is chilli rock salt. Just put the rice on to boil, fry the veg and garlic, add the tins, add the spices and devour it. It takes half an hour from start to finish and makes enough for four portions. Thank me later.

Editing
If you’ve made it this far - YAY! That’s how I felt when I reached the halfway point of my first round of edits on my WIP. I’ve been editing since the start of December and have found that at points it’s taken me longer to edit than it did to write the first draft. Whenever I draft, I let the words flow, but now it feels like every word counts and forcing myself through all of the challenges is painful so these small milestones keep me focused!

There we go! If you’re wondering why no books have cropped up, then here’s my reading wrap up to explain it all…



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My Dad and his Mate Stewart Went Vegan for a Month - Here's What Happened

Pan Macmillan gifted these two copies of The 28 Day Vegan Plan.

Cast your mind back to the start of 2018, when you couldn't believe another year had flown by. Everyone was talking about Dry January and new year's resolutions and there was my dad getting all of the hits on my blog with his 28 Day Alcohol Free Diary. Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone. people actually care about my dad and his fad diets and personal experiments?!

This year, Dad (let’s call him Matt from here on) decided to take things to the next level. Not only did he rope in a mate, but he took the plunge and took on both Dry January and Veganuary with the help of Kim Julie Hansen’s 28 Day Vegan Plan. I interviewed both Matt and Stewart at the end of the month to review how it went. Here’s what they had to say...

WHY


Matt: Other than the fact that I'm a curious person, there are three main reasons why I wanted to go vegan for a month.

  1. My daughter is vegan and I thought it’d be interesting to live a month in her world.
  2. From a health perspective, I was intrigued to eat a more plant based diet and how it would make me feel.
  3. I wanted to know how easy or difficult it would be.
I never planned to turn vegan. The aim was always to do a month and then review how I felt about these changes I’d made and see if there was anything I’d like to carry forward.
Stewart (L) and Matt (R)
Stewart: I’ve read quite a lot of endurance athlete books, including one about ultramarathoner Scott Jurek. He’s very high profile and in his autobiography he talks a lot about going vegan and plant based power. It always interested me. On top of that, my cousin is vegan because she thinks it’s the right thing to do for the environment and the animals. Both my interest in plant power and knowing about the environmental and ethical impact of eating meat drove me to Veganuary.

EXPECTATIONS


Matt: I thought it might be difficult and I imagined myself going hungry, not knowing what to eat and missing meat. I worried about feeling lethargic and having this extra complication in my life but then I thought… go on, try it anyway.

Stewart: I was open minded but I thought there’d be a few challenges like missing meat, getting enough of the right kinds of foods for my high volume of exercise and finding the right kind of recipes to keep me interested.

REALITY


Matt: It was none of the things I expected. For one, I didn’t particularly miss meat and I didn’t feel deprived. From a health point of view, I felt exactly the same as before - no better, no worse than my regular diet. Ultimately, it wasn’t as big of a fuss as I thought it would be.

Stewart hits the gym
Stewart: It turned out easier than I thought and my wife was really good. She investigated vegan recipes and did a lot of cooking. I did lose a bit of weight but I think that was because of not drinking, eating plant based and all the exercise I did combined. Interestingly, I have more muscle mass now than I had when I finished the Iron Man. The thing I really noticed was how people’s views and opinions around veganism were strong and often unfounded. I tried not to be preachy at all but people were giving their opinions whether they were invited to or not.

WHAT DID YOU EAT?

BREAKFAST
Matt: This was easy, I just had porridge with almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

Stewart: This was very easy. Prior to doing this I’d have porridge oats with almond milk or soy milk so that was still a viable option. I’ve got a nutribullet and I’m into doing breakfast smoothies and they’re easy to do on the go. I freeze fruit and vegetables before they go off so I’m not wasting anything.

LUNCH
Matt: Lunch was the hardest. At home I often had baked beans on toast but out and about was more of a challenge. I took fruit and nuts out with me but I did have to think ahead so I wouldn’t go hungry around lunchtime. While there are options for eating out, there aren’t many and they can be hard to get hold of. I was lucky to try a Greggs sausage roll and I enjoyed it. It’s just a shame that most stores either don’t have them yet or sell out before lunchtime.

DINNER
Matt: For dinner, I had a mix of whole foods, such as making my own vegetable casserole, and convenient foods, like meat substitutes for when I was in a rush. The meals I enjoyed the most were vegetable curry and burritos. Both were dead easy to make and I genuinely enjoyed them. Quorn was straightforward to use as a meat replacement and I didn’t mind it, like Quorn mince in chili is fine. My vegetable stews were alright but I overdosed at the beginning when I wanted to be super healthy and eat lots of vegetables so I quickly learnt that I needed a balance.

Stewart: I thought I’d eat lots of salads and I did eat some, I had a lots of other things too and ended up throwing chickpeas into everything because they’re nice and filling. I liked having spag bol with meat substitutes and because of sauces it tasted the same. My favourite meal was vegan chilli. It had lots of texture, lots of flavour, and it was quick, easy and convenient. I also discovered a new love for mushrooms and avocados.

Stewart completing an Iron Man in Maastricht

THE CHALLENGES


Matt: Eating out was a little bit trickier. At home it didn’t bother me, but if I’m paying good money to eat out, it’s hard to choose something different to what you instinctively want. I did have one particularly bad experience when I was charged £15 for a plate of vegetables… Then again, I had a good experience ordering an Indian takeaway. Other than that, the only real challenge I felt was getting a bit bored and frustrated in the final few days.

Stewart: Socialising and eating out was one of the biggest challenges. One of the Sundays I met with friends and we took the kids out before a pub lunch. The only thing on the menu I could have was tomato soup. I had two big bowls. They all thought it was hilarious. I also went to a dinner party where my friend Donna was lovely and cooked a load of vegan food. It was all great until the dessert which was horrendous. It tasted like an energy gel…

HOW IT CHANGED YOUR LIFE


Matt: It makes you think twice about what you put in your mouth. That’s a good habit to continue!

The biggest thing that will change because of this is, surprisingly, how I drink my coffee. It sounds daft but one month as a vegan has changed my coffee drinking habit for the rest of my life. I’ve had milk in my coffee but now I prefer it black. That’s probably because your taste buds naturally adapt and change. I appreciate proper coffee now.
Nice armpits Dad
I’ll definitely eat less meat. Me and my wife have talked about having meat free days as there are lots of alternatives and you don’t need it every day. When we do get meat, I’ll see it more as a treat and pay more for ethically sourced meat. I have no desire to go back to processed meats like sausages or bacon but I’m a realist so maybe I’ll slip from time to time. I’m glad I did this experiment - I learnt a lot. It turns out, it’s not that hard to be vegan.
Stewart: I felt good being vegan and I want to eat less meat and a lot more fruit and veg from now on. Even though Veganuary is over, during the week where I get the option I take the vegan one. It’s not any effort - maybe because I’m now better at finding the food. I also drink my coffee black now, I continue to have porridge with plant milks and I always choose soy yoghurt over dairy yoghurt because it’s much nicer.

On the first day of eating meat and drinking again I had massive Wagyu steak, red wine, cheese board and some port. It was very tasty but I woke up the next day with a horrific hangover and I felt dirty. It was weird. It felt wrong on some level. It cemented in my mind, that I should be eating less of this stuff and eating more vegan food.

THE BOOK


Matt: Even though the book claims to be a 28 day vegan plan and is marketed towards Veganuary, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be about the health effects of a plant based diet, but really it went more into the personal journey of the author and offered a more complex plan than you needed. For instance, it had 28 different breakfasts, 28 different lunches, 28 different dinners… Who has that much variety, ever? Really, I think this book would be more beneficial to someone who has been vegan for a few months and wants to rely less on meat substitutes and turn to more whole foods.

I also thought it was a little preachy in places and went off on tangents about journaling, blogging and the author’s life. While I respected the journey she’s been on and think it’s brilliant she’s channelled her energies into a book, I was looking for something more practical from a 28 day vegan plan.

Stewart: I wasn’t particularly inspired by the recipes or content in the book and I think that was partly because the author approaches veganism for different reasons than me. It’s better aimed at someone who has done veganuary and wants guidance in the next steps. It was useful as an emergency crutch if I was desperate for ideas and I used the recipes to find out about ingredients I could use in my meals. In an ideal world, I would have loved a book with an athletic perspective and more information about how to balance a plant based diet.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Matt: I'm really glad I did Veganuary, it really makes you stop and think about what you put in your mouth. The pleasant side effect of this was that considered eating combined with a heavy training month saw me drop 6lb in the month. It's also a great excuse to eat Bonneville dark chocolate...

Stewart: I can see why a lot of athletes have embraced veganism. Getting started is hard but once you learn the basics it gets easier. Lots of press and social media come at veganism from a place of negativity and fear but I think if they showed it from a more encouraging light, more people might give it a go. People come to it from different points of view and can sometimes appear against it but then have a silent interest.

There is a stigma around men and veganism but it didn’t phase me. I’ve got involved in pilates and at work I once had to pose like Hugh Jackman with some natural essential oils. Basically, I have a weird second job as a bloke doing ‘women’s’ stuff so veganism fits in perfectly with my brand.


If you are interested in giving veganism a go or want to learn more about it, here are some resources.

Books
How Not To Die - Gene Stone and Michael Greger

Documentaries
Forks over Knives - Netflix
Cowspiracy  - Netflix

Try Challenge 22 and give veganism a go with mentorship, advise on recipes and more! All completely free. https://www.challenge22.com/challenge22/
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"Du Maurier was a depraved genius" - An Interview with Lisa Gabriele

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele
If you're a big fan of Daphne Du Maurier and Rebecca then you need to know about Lisa Gabriele's new book, The Winters. A modern version with an added step daughter creates an interesting twist on this incredible story. I was lucky enough to ask Gabriele some questions about her inspiration, writing habits and reading loves. 

Do you remember the first time you read Rebecca? Tell me about it!

I first came to the movie Rebecca as a child, but only finally read the book when I was seventeen. Rebecca was one of only a few books we kept in the house—we were poor, so library people. I don’t know what possessed me to pick it up. It was my mother’s favourite. I thought I knew the story from the movie. How wrong I was. I remember a sharp intake of breath when Maxim admits he murdered Rebecca in cold blood (in the movie she died by accident, remember). The unnamed narrator barely blinks an eye. And yet…I still wanted them to be together. It took me a long time to realise that Du Maurier was a depraved genius.

Is Rebecca your favourite Daphne Du Maurier book or do you have a soft spot for any others?

Well, it’s my favourite for a lot of obvious reasons, but one story I have reread again and again is Don’t Look Now, which was also an incredible (and different) movie. It’s a nightmare of a story; a dead child, psychic sisters, the gothic decay of Venice. Perfection.

What inspired you to write this contemporary retelling?

It was the fall of 2016, between TV contracts, and I was enjoying that rare convergence of time plus a bit of money. I had the itch to write another novel, smack dab in the middle of the U.S. election and the most distracting news cycles in modern history. Every time I’d get momentum, a news alert would flash across my screen and shatter my concentration. So I shut everything off and popped in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and remembered in the book that Maxim had murdered Rebecca. Suddenly I wondered how a modern woman would react in a similar situation. Surely she wouldn’t be so easily swept off her feet. She’d definitely better adjust to life in a remote mansion, this time inhabited by an imperious step-daughter-to-be. And if things turned dark and dangerous, surely she’d bolt. The questions became so compelling I had to write the book, surprising even myself by each answer.

Would you do another Daphne Du Maurier retelling in the future?

I don’t think so. I had a particular fixation with Rebecca. Though I think about Wuthering Heights a lot. It was also about real estate in a way, which would be a major theme in my modern update, were I to write one. I think my new book is going to have vague All About Eve vibes. I’ve always been a bit of a pop cultural magpie.

What do you think is so compelling about retellings? What do you hope fans of Rebecca get from your book?
The Winters isn’t a strict retelling; things change dramatically when you add a step daughter in the mix. And of course, the end is…well, quite different. I’ll leave it at that. But my favourite retellings (Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a recent fave) simply allow me to spend more time with characters I love. I sometimes want that experience as a reader. What I hope fans take away from The Winters is how much I love and admire Rebecca, and that writing a modern response is a way to demonstrate its indelibleness. I also want people to contemplate all the ways in which women have changed and men, especially rich and powerful ones, have not. Mostly I want them to have a bit of fun in noting the ways the books align and how they depart from each other. I certainly had fun writing it. I hope that shows.  

I’d love to hear about how you became a writer and getting your first book deal?

I was one of those lucky people who sent her work out to a dozen agents and received one reply. I signed with that agent. Prior to that I was (and still am) a TV producer. I’d done a bit of writing, mostly funny essays for newspapers, and I had published my teen diaries in an early iteration of Vice magazine before it became a global empire. A friend suggested I gather up the essays and get an agent. When I met with the agent she asked me if I had a book in me, and I said yes—God knows why. But when I looked at my essays and articles I saw a bunch of funny, heartbreaking stories about my childhood woven into them, and from there started elaborating them into Tempting Faith DiNapoli, a largely autobiographical novel that was a bestseller in Canada. That was almost twenty years ago. Since then I’ve written nine books in and around TV contracts, some more successful than others, some in my name, some ghostwritten, some under a pseudonym. It’s been a meandering career.

When you’re writing, do you have a routine?

Yes. Nothing special. I get up early, sometimes as early as 5:00 am. I make coffee, eat breakfast, check email. Then I shut everything off. I have a playlist (mostly Max Richter and Jonny Greenwood) that sets the mood. I write for 5 to 6 hours, eat lunch, nap, get a bit of exercise and then go to bed early. When I’m in the throes of a book, I don’t make plans during the day, and only vital plans at night.

Any writing advice?

My favourite bit of advice that really works is to leave off the day’s work at a critical moment in the book. That way you’re guaranteed to get back at it the next day, anxious to figure out that bit. This lulls you into continuing, day after day, even when the work is hard and feels pointless. Also your first draft is going to be garbage. They all are. Just keep going.

What other books do you recommend for fans of Rebecca?

Well, all of the rest of Daphne du Maurier, but especially My Cousin Rachel. Anything by Patricia Highsmith. There was a book out last year called A Separation by Katie Kitamura that had Rebecca vibes, that urgent first-person narrative; a missing person haunting the story in his absence. Next year look for Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland, a Rebecca-esque mystery set in the art world of New York and the Hudson Valley. It just blew me away

Finally, what have you read lately that you’ve enjoyed?

See above. That’s one of the perks of being a writer; publishers send you books coming out to read and possibly blurb. There are a few great ones coming out soon, including Tamara Jenkins Reid’s next one, Daisy Jones and the Six. I inhaled it. Like everyone else, I loved Shari Lapena’s new one, An Unwanted Guest. I tore through that. I loved Sunburn by Laura Lippman; a master. On a less deadly note, I loved Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. And Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation was a wild ride.

Thank you to Lisa and Vintage for working with me on this blog post! Make sure you follow the rest of the blog tour:


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Dear Evan Hansen


Today's going to be an amazing day, and here's why...

Dear Evan Hansen is the novelisation of the Broadway musical you may have heard of. It tells the story of Evan who writers letters to himself and what happens when one of these letters is taken by someone who should never have had it. It mimics the usual, chatty style of a YA contemporary novel and throws you into the world of American high school with anxiety-ridden Evan. He doesn't fit into many of the social groups and doesn't have many friends. He's one of those quirky YA characters that wonders if he's alone but never really is. It's typical of the genre, but that's okay. I found that his story was easy to connect to.

Evan's letters reminded me of those one line a day books. The idea is to write one line every day for five years so that you can look back on what you were doing on this day last year, and the year before that etc. Kind of like Facebook but hand written in a cute notebook and without the embarrassing photos/text speak. The point is, I keep one of these diaries. Every day I try and think of one good thing to write down. It doesn't always happen, I'll be honest. Some days I just write 'Today was crap because...' But most of the time, I have something. I'll give you some examples...

Today I baked cupcakes and they were so good. Went for a run and got to finish season four of Brooklyn Nine Nine.

Today I finished an absolutely brilliant book - can't stop thinking about it.

Today I saw Mum, went to the cinema to see The Greatest Showman. It was good to spend time together.

I don't want to remember the bad things. It's the same but different to Evan who writes his letters anticipating the day. In both cases, we're trying to get into the same mindset. Appreciate everything that is right with the world and forget the bad. In a time where everything can feel so disheartening - the planet, politics, the scary, unknown future, I think it's so important to be present in the now. It's something I've always struggled with, whether it's putting too much pressure on myself and getting feelings of derealisation or stressing too much about next year, yet I'm determined to keep trying to relax more and enjoy the now.

You don't have to be like me to relate to Evan's stories, there will probably be something else you connect to. Even though it's very typical of a YA Contemporary, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It has all of the elements that makes this genre so popular as well as the issues that many young people are dealing with on a day to day basis. Grief, anxiety, broken families and unrequited love are all themes that comes across vividly in the story. In parts, it's awkward to have such an insight into Evan's mind. You want to give him space because he's obviously so uncomfortable around people. When you're done with the book, I would recommend listening to the soundtrack, especially seeing as the music is coming to the West End in 2019

For fans of: Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera and John Green. 

Sincerely, Me.

Thank you to Penguin for sending me this book for review.
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