We girls were sitting in the dark, watching an animated film of a gazillion sperm with dark crooked eyebrows and grimaces of effort and strain, snarled lips with teeth showing, all of them in a race of wriggling tails, trying to get to the egg, who was batting her long eyelashes, awaiting the lucky dude’s arrival.

Is that all they could have the egg do? Sit there and wait? Why wasn’t she charging around too, gnashing her teeth?

Flannery, by Lisa Moore

Flannery Malone has known Tyrone O’Rourke since they were both in diapers, and she’s been in love with him for almost that long, though they haven’t been close for years. Now they’re in grade twelve—they live in Newfoundland, hence ‘grade twelve’ rather than ‘senior year’—and have been paired up for a class project in Entrepreneurship class. Their assignment? To brainstorm and produce a salable product, something that people don’t already have or even need, but will want. Flannery and Tyrone, in a nod to their younger days, decide to create and make potions. Specifically, love potions.

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The first thing I did when I finished Flannery was text a friend to tell her to read it IMMEDIATELY.

Which, while I have a reputation for being… shall we say, passionate about books, is not something that I do particularly often. But it bowled me over and I loved it and I felt the need to share it before I did anything else. So, SPOILER, I loved this book. LOVED. IT.

Flannery’s mother Miranda had her when she was only nineteen, and Flannery’s father left town before she even knew she was pregnant. So he’s not in the picture and has never been in the picture. Flannery’s younger brother, Felix, has a different father, but he isn’t in the picture either. The three of them clash daily, but also love each other fiercely and unreservedly, and all three of them read like real, fallible, flawed people—if you’re always looking for strong family stories, absolutely put this one on your list.

Tyrone isn’t Flannery’s only long-time love. She’s known her best friend, Amber, for just as long. For well over a decade, they’ve ice skated together, wreaked havoc in the mall together, shared thoughts and feelings and secrets, supported each other, and cheered each other on. And now, Amber has a boyfriend and suddenly doesn’t have time for Flannery. It’s a wonderfully drawn story about the end of a friendship, and even though we only get Flannery’s view of Amber, she’s a believable, three-dimensional person with her own challenges and struggles and choices. If you’re always looking for meaty friendship stories, absolutely put this one on your list.

Miranda’s art barely—and sometimes doesn’t—pay the bills, and despite the government assistance they receive, it’s a struggle to even keep the heat on. Then there’s the added stress of welfare cops watching them like hawks, and the ongoing embarrassment and shame due to the stigma attached to being poor. If you’re always looking for strong books that deal with poverty, absolutely put this one on your list.

It’s beautifully written. Flannery’s voice moves from straightforward and dry:

             This week, for example, we are going to be put into pairs and given a bag of eggs to take care of. It’s supposed to show you how much work it is to have a baby. The eggs are always loose in a paper bag, and if one gets broken you must discuss the symbolic significance of the spilled yolk in an essay lamenting the evils of teen pregnancy.

            Since I am the product of a teen pregnancy I find the whole idea of the project insulting. And I don’t want to get stuck dragging around a bag of eggs.

To more lyrical and passionate:

            There are silver arrows they are eels they are licorice they are Lycra they are muscle they are will and will not and want to be and winning, for the first few seconds they are all winning and winning and winning and they are can’t and must and will never and don’t.

The dialogue is real, the imagery and descriptions are lovely and original and evocative, the parallels between the storylines are strong and effective, if a little on-the-nose. In addition to being about family and friendship and poverty and love and being IN love, it’s about responsibility and unfairness and different forms of abuse, about trust and forgiveness and manipulation and power, about how easy it is to be so wrapped up in your own stuff that you don’t notice when other people are drowning. If you’re always looking for all that AND MORE, if you want a read-alike for Melina Marchetta’s realistic fiction—I’m especially thinking of Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son—if you’re always looking for books that are heartfelt and funny and TRUE, absolutely put this one on your list.

In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.