Mini Reviews: Tyler Johnson Was Here {Jay Coles} and Sadie {Courtney Summers}

Today, I round up literally the two contemporary books I read last year. Yeah, I've been in a major #mood.
title: Tyler Johnson Was Here
author: Jay Coles
pages: 299
format: ebook ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
genre: Contemporary
topics: Death, Grief, Police Violence, Black Character, Lesbian Character 

4 stars - I really liked it

For me, a lack of review should never equate with a lack of interest. Especially last year, when life got messy. That's so true for Jay's debut. TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE was a poignant, fast-paced read highlighting the intersections between systemic injustice and personal grief. Our MC Marvin is the consummate nerd and I loved him. He and his friends chat about Harry Potter, video games, and girls. They read as the teens down the block. People you might know or pass by. Marvin's voice is straight out of someone's high school journal, lending authenticity to his story.

Murder is central to the plot, but it's not a mystery. Pretty quickly, we learn that Marvin's twin Tyler has been shot and killed by a white police officer after a party. It's contextualized by Marvin's life in general. Getting stopped for walking in the wrong area. Eating the same food because that's what his mom can afford. Being the kid everone stares at, because now his brother is a hashtag. Jay lays out the aftermath like a slice-of-life, inviting us to witness Marvin's grief, and how it's complicated by social media and public opinion. He deals delicately with larger issues of systemic injustice and personal responsibility, without becoming preachy.

A beautiful, raw read. You'll devour it in a night and find yourself thinking about it for months.

Contagion by Erin Bowman
title: Sadie
author: Courtney Summers
pages: 308
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5
genre: Contemporary, Thriller
topics: Murder, Runaway, Feminist  

5 stars - it was exceptional

Everyone raved about SADIE this year. I'm no exception. I originally shied away from it because I thought it was more a serious poignant contemporary, and at the time I wasn't in a good reading mood for those. Then someone told me it was a mystery murder revenge story and...yes please. It delivered on both fronts. Poignant and dark, SADIE is part thriller mystery, part sensitive exploration of how society treats women and girls. (Spoiler alert: badly) When Sadie's little sister Mattie is found dead, Sadie embarks on a cross-country journey to confront the killer. But that's only half of it. The alternating chapters feature the podcast episodes of an amateur journalist trying to track Sadie's disappearance. The two stories weave in and out of each other, crescendoing to a devastating conclusion.

Courtney writes with clear, incisive prose and masters both of her voices: the journalistic man investigating Sadie, and Sadie's own more scattered, wild thoughts. We're kept in the dark about the conclusion as we follow the track of both mysteries. Along the way, Sadie meets a whole host of bystanders and unwitting accomplices who each embody the different ways people react to women, without being caricatures. In fact, it's a story too real and recognizable to leave you without a pang. Sadie's rage explodes off the page and makes it impossible to turn away.

As with the problems it explores, SADIE ends with no clear or easy answers. I'd declare this "Required Reading" without reservation.

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