Under Shifting Stars by Alexandra Latos Book Review

Author Information

Alexandra has considered herself a writer her entire life. In fact, she won an award when she was only five years old for her story about a “dorphaned” bear. As a kid she liked climbing trees, walking to the drugstore to buy notebooks for her next story, and forcing family members and friends to act in her plays. 

Alexandra graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance, but after a few stints in various treasury departments, she quickly realized the finance world wasn’t for her (the stocks app is still the most under-utilized app on her phone). She returned to university to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English and a certificate in Technical Writing. Though she still picks up a technical writing contract here and there, her true passion remains creative writing, which she manages to fit in between taking care of her kiddos.

Alexandra has published Young Adult and New Adult fiction. She’s currently working on an Adult novel through a grant process with Alberta Foundation for the Arts. She lives with her husband, two (soon to be three) tiny tornadoes, and two black cats, one of whom thinks he’s a dog.

Book Description

This heartfelt novel for fans of Jandy Nelson and Adam Silvera follows twins Audrey and Clare as they grapple with their brother’s death and their changing relationshipswith each other and themselves.

Audrey and Clare may be twins, but they don’t share a school, a room, a star sign, or even a birthday. Ever since their brother Adam’s death, all they’ve shared is confusion over who they are and what comes next.

Audrey, tired of being seen as different from her neurotypical peers, is determined to return to public school. Clare is grappling with her gender fluidity and is wondering what emerging feelings for a nonbinary classmate might mean. Will first crushes, new family dynamics, and questions of identity prove that Audrey and Clare have grown too different to understand each other—or that they’ve needed each other all along?

Review

Thoughts and Themes: From the start of this book I really enjoyed listening to it and was glad that I decided to listen to it rather than read the physical book. I love this book as an audiobook because it feels like you are there with each of the characters.

I really like the way this book goes through Clare trying to figure out her gender identity and sexual orientation. I liked the scenes in which Clare is using google to search for things and we are told exactly what she finds on the site. I really enjoyed how Clare figuring things out for herself is handled and how the complexity of grief is mixed into it all. I thought it was great to see how she begins to separate her grief from who she is and realize that her grief has nothing to do with how she identifies.

I really like the way that each of the character’s feelings are addressed throughout this whole story. I like how we see them go through the process of grief and how these feelings are addressed at the ending of the story. I liked how we get to see not just Clare and Audrey have feelings about their brother’s death but their parents also shares their feelings too.

Characters: This book centers around two main characters who are twins, Clare and Audrey. Both of these characters are very different from each other and these differences keep them from being close to each other. You also get to meet their parents along with some of the twins friends.

I liked seeing the way that Clare and Audrey’s relationship changes throughout the book and how we see the reason that Clare has certain reactions to Audrey. I thought that it was interesting that Clare blames Audrey for their brother’s death but doesn’t realize that Audrey also blames herself.

I like the relationship that Clare has with Taylor and how that relationship helps her figure things out for herself. I like how they ease into their relationship and how their is no negative reactions to this relationship from the people who matter to Clare.

I also really enjoy Audrey’s relationship with Calvin and how she goes back and forth with her feelings about him. I like how messy the relationship begins and how he responds to her actions. I liked that through this relationship we see what autistic dating looks like for one person and I loved that Calvin likes her and explains things differently than the way she sees herself.

Writing Style: This book goes between both two different perspectives in the first person. You get both of Audrey and Claire’s perspective through this book which is something that I really enjoy. You get both of these perspectives and I like that both of the voices of the main characters are distinct.

The narrator of the story is really good and easy to listen to. I like how each of the girls is voiced by a different person so they have a distinct voice. I also like that you can hear the emotion in each of the character’s voices and that each character has a distinct voice. This is one book that you can just listen to and get lost in because of how it feels that you are in these scenes with Clare and Audrey.

Real by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard Book Review

Author Information

Carol Cujec is an educator and author. Her latest book, written with Peyton Goddard, is a middle-grade novel, called Real, which invites young readers into the world of a girl with nonspeaking autism. Peyton wants kids to understand autism not as a disability so much as a different way of experiencing the world. Real is a groundbreaking story that celebrates the magic that happens when we value and include all people.

Carol lives with her family in southern California and enjoys yoga, cooking, playing guitar with her daughter and, of course, hiding out with a good book

Peyton and Two Mints

Peyton Goddard was born to Patrick and Dianne Goddard on December 26, 1974, in San Diego, California. She was the second of two children. From the age of three, Peyton was deemed unfit to attend classes with “normal” kids because of her inability to speak or control her physical movements or bodily functions.

For two decades, she was segregated in schools with no appropriate accommodations for her learning, which only exacerbated her movement challenges and led to increasingly restrictive placements and social exclusion. During her years in the special education system, she experienced the unrelenting traumatic stress of daily being unable to obey the commands of her instructors, who viewed her as purposely “non-compliant.” She was the victim of aversive restraints, punitive seclusion, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Unable to tell her parents of this abuse, she could express herself only through self-destructive behaviors.

However, on March 21 of 1997, Peyton’s life changed dramatically when she was introduced to an innovative communication strategy called Facilitated Communication (FC), which uses applied resistance to enable intentional movement and communication through a keyboard or computer. Among her first words, Peyton typed, “i am intlgent.” For the first time, she had a reliable method for communicating with others and has since been supported by numerous trained facilitators. Peyton was finally able to request a real education and within a year found the courage to begin telling her parents about her experiences of abuse and neglect during her youth.

Peyton enrolled in Cuyamaca College in the fall of 1998. Four years later, she graduated as the valedictorian with a nearly 4.0 GPA and an Associate’s degree in General Studies, becoming the first person using supported typing to graduate valedictorian from a U.S. college.

Since then, Peyton has become an advocate for inclusion in education and society. Her wisdom is sought after by educators, doctors, parents and community groups nationwide, who have invited her to deliver more than 75 presentations at conferences and universities on the subject of esteeming all people. In 1995, she was awarded the Collaborative Advocacy Award from TASH, an international organization promoting inclusion and supported participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. In 2003, Peyton was awarded CALTASH’s annual Mary Falvey Outstanding Young Person Award.

Peyton writes passionately about her experiences and offers a rare perspective of autism by someone labeled as “low functioning.” In l993, even before she learned to communicate using a keyboard, she made a vow to herself (she calls it her I.O.U.) that the rest of her life would be devoted to “quietly changing this worrisome world.” She knows that children are dying in institutions and at the hands of parents who have lost sight of their child’s value. Her story has been featured in numerous publications such as the San Diego Union-Tribune and she recently co-authored the foreword of a book for K-12 educators entitled Collaborating With Students in Instruction and Decision Making (Corwin Press, 2010). Peyton has completed her book, co-authored with her mother Dianne and Carol Cujec, entitled i am intelligent: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from Heartbreak to Healing. Peyton considers i am intelligent, along with her continued advocacy, the fulfillment of her I.O.U.

Book Description

My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old. Actually, thirteen years plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.

Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?

When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.

Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.

You Can Find This Book At:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ IndieBound ~ Book Depository

Review

Thank you to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: This is a review that I really wanted to sit on and not write immediately because I have mixed feelings about this book. I also didn’t want to much time to pass that I forgot my thoughts about the book or that my feelings would simmer down way too much.

First and foremost I did actually enjoy this book and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what would happen to Charity and also how the story would develop. I think this is a great middle grade story for disabled children to relate to, and for educators to read and gain a different perspective. I love that this story is an own voices story so that adds a lot of value to the narrative.

There are discussions that do need to take place around this book as you read and when you are done with it though. I do think that this is one of those that you can’t just read and put aside and not think about what you just read. There were several themes that I got from this book that so far I haven’t seen in other reviews so I am unsure if I read the book wrong. I also have yet to read a review from another autistic reader so that could be the reason the book wasn’t criticized

For me, one of the things that I kept settling on was the idea that this book perpetuates that as long as a disabled child could learn then they are valuable to society. Autism occurs on a spectrum and this book kind of made it seem like depending on where you are on the spectrum dictates what you deserve from society. I was really frustrated with the plot focusing on how everyone thought Charity was dumb but actually she’s the smartest person at that school. It felt like oh because of this now she’s valuable and we can take on other disabled kids if they are like Charity. It really is hard to put my thoughts surrounding this into words and I would love to flesh this out with other Autistic people to see what they took away from the book.

Something else that didn’t sit right with me was how easily the people who abuse Charity were left off the hook by others and also by Charity. I really didn’t like how they made it seem like Charity has to be full of grace and forgiveness for others because “oh they just don’t know any better.” I really would’ve liked to see her actually express the original thoughts she had towards people who were abusive and ableist towards her.

There are some scenes in this book that really feel like inspiration porn, such as the scene at the end of the story as well as the scene where they bring up Jaz as part of the court. These scenes felt like they were tokenizing the disabled students as well as saying “if they can do it so can you.” It was just so frustrating to see this happen and not have anyone comment on it. In the start of the story, Charity would comment about the ableist things that others were doing but that stopped happening once she was able to express herself through her keyboard.

Characters: This is the easy part of this review to write because there are so many characters in this book that are loveable. There are also plenty of characters in this story who I just didn’t like and still didn’t like at the end. I really love the group of friends that Charity has at her school and love how different they all are from each other. I liked that we get to see different disabilities through each of these characters. I also liked how we got to see Charity interact with neurotypical people as well in school and at home.

I really loved Charity’s parents and how her mother always adovated for her until she was able to speak for herself. I liked that they did have Charity’s mom take a step back once Charity could speak and she only helped her express herlsef rather than speak for her. I also loved how her dad was supportive of everything she wanted to do and just wanted to help her do all she could.

There are several characters who are ableist towards Charity and they change once she is able to speak. My opinion of these characters did not change even after they were accepting of Charity because it showed that she wasn’t important to them until she could contribute like they did. It showed that disabled peoples weren’t going to be allowed to participate in society or be accepted unless they were able to contribute in the same way that those without intellectual disabilities can.

Writing Style: This story is written in first person and is told through the main character’s perspective. I really enjoyed this style of writing because we got to see what Charity was thinking before she was able to speak. I liked that we were able to also see her thoughts that were not said out loud. I also really liked that her actions were included as well as the random animal facts that were going through her head. It was interesting to see her thought process throughout the whole story.

Books to read to support Autistic Authors for Autism Acceptance Month

I know the month is almost over but I wanted to make sure that I gave you all some options on how to support Autistic people this month and beyond. Try to read one of these books before this month ends or read these at any time of the year, there is no reason to limit when you read a book. There is a lot more options for you if none of these sound like something you would enjoy, just go to Goodreads and search for books by autistic authors.

Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby 

As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang 

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison 

Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be counted on.

After fleeing his parents and dropping out of high school, his savant-like ability to visualize electronic circuits landed him a gig with KISS, for whom he created their legendary fire-breathing guitars. Later, he drifted into a “real” job, as an engineer for a major toy company. But the higher Robison rose in the company, the more he had to pretend to be “normal” and do what he simply couldn’t: communicate. It wasn’t worth the paycheck.

It was not until he was forty that an insightful therapist told him he had the form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way Robison saw himself—and the world.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde 

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, is an empowering novel for anyone who has ever felt that fandom is family.

Queens of Geeks Book Review

Summary: Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Thoughts: This one was recommended by a fellow bibliophile on twitter and the recommendation came just in time. I love to read books about pandemics, epidemics, outbreaks, and more but right now not even those can make me happy. I feel like my anxiety has gone up and just won’t come down and my depression went right along with it but this book has made my days a little brighter. This book has made me feel like I’m not alone.

I like how this book goes back and forth between two characters and really love how different the characters are from each other. It gives two distinct perspectives even if some of their lives are combined. Since I listened to it on audio each of the girls had a distinct voice.

Often times I forgot that this book took place over the span of a convention because so much was packed in. I really liked the pace of the book and didn’t think that too much was going on even if there were several plots happening at once. I think the stories came together nicely and each character that was introduced complemented the others.

Something else that really made me love this book is the LGBTQ+ representation along with the fact that they have an autistic character. I love that both of the characters bring up the challenges that they face because of their identity, it makes them so much more relatable. I think that they tackled some of the important issues regarding sexuality with one of the characters being bisexual and how her ex feels about it. I also think that the autistic representation was done well and I really enjoyed when Taylor meets another autistic girl and is overwhelmed with emotions.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy reading LGBTQ+ books and those of you who really enjoy the concept of fandom. You can get this book at Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or look for it at your local library.