Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
Title: Songs of Insurrection
Author: J.C. Kang
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Source: Digital copy via Caffeine Book Tours
Age Range & Genre: YA, fantasy
Representation: Asian-coded characters
Content warnings: torture, misogyny, racism and racial microaggressions
Synopsis: When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.
But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.
When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents—especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.
The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.
But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.
Emma Lord’s debut, Tweet Cute, is one of my comfort reads for rainy days, so I had high hopes for her sophomore novel. With a knack for sort of wacky, but nonetheless fun and heartwarming plots, Lord is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary authors as she continues to interweave complex family relationships and emotions in an extremely relatable way. However, it is important to note that You Have a Match contains multiple Harry Potter references throughout the book, so I would just be mindful of that for readers who are trying to avoid engaging with Rowling’s work as much as possible.
As someone who has literally never attended camp before in her entire life, You Have a Match was a surprisingly nostalgic and charming read. Although I didn’t have any camp-related memories of my own to reminisce over, I used to devour the Camp Confidential series by Melissa J. Morgan, and You Have a Match dug up old memories of conspiring and whispering with my cousin and getting up to mischief with my friends from orchestra after hours of practicing together. There are some books that, while far from perfect, still manage to leave their mark because they come into your life at exactly the right time, and this was definitely the case for me. Maybe it was the childhood best friends to lovers of it all, maybe it was the sheer The Parent Trap vibes, but whatever it was, You Have a Match transformed me into a puddle of tears.
If you learn to capture a feeling, he told me, it’ll always be louder than words.
Annie and Halle Abby and Savvy and Camp Confidential
One of the things that I love most about reading recent YA contemporaries is seeing different manifestations of anxiety through different characters; I genuinely believe that if I had had some of these books when I was in high school, I would have realized that I had anxiety a lot sooner. On the surface, our narrator, Abby Day, seems like a reckless, impulsive, conflict-avoiding teen who’s struggling in school, but as multiple people point out during the book, a lot of what Abby sees as her most negative traits are actually caused by anxiety. She’s used to staying silent and repressing her own feelings in order to keep the peace, but throughout her time at Camp Reynolds, where she’s conspiring with her sister to uncover the mystery of their parents’ past, Abby learns how to be brave and advocate for herself and what she wants. And, thanks to Savvy, Abby finally knows what that is.
Savannah “Savvy” Tully is #goals. She’s a wellness machine with an Instagram following of half a million people, and her fans are even known as Savanatics. She’s also the complete opposite of her younger sister Abby. Savvy has a need for control that Abby can’t relate to, one that makes her seem less approachable, but Savvy’s grip on her life actually comes from her desire for freedom. When she’s in control, it means other people aren’t, and for Savvy, that almost feels like autonomy. Savvy and Abby both have something to learn from the other, even as they’re just barely starting to get to know each other and far from figuring out how to be sisters after so many years.
Abby and Savvy are naturally the most well-developed characters in You Have a Match because it is their story, but I also grew very fond of their friends, Leo, Connie, Mickey, and Finn. More than anything, I really appreciated how Leo, Mickey, and Finn frequently call Abby out on her snap judgments of Savvy. While they all develop their own relationships with Abby and Savvy as individuals, the other campers are still strong advocates of their friends, and challenge Abby about her attitude towards Savvy and encourage her to give her sister a chance. Friends should support you and lift you up, but they should also care enough to call you out when you’re in the wrong and help you do better – both Abby and savvy are lucky to have friends who do just that.
Brave. It’s a word I’m still getting used to, after a lifetime of ducking from my problems. But maybe I’m growing into it, in my own way. A little less running and a little more talking. A little less wandering and a little more found.
The Plot: Found Family (Literally)
At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s 23&Me test actually did reveal they had a full-blooded sibling who had half a million Instagram followers, but also it’s that just barely believable, ridiculous Parent Trap kind of situation that raises the stakes of the book while still being wildly entertaining. You Have a Match is a wild ride from start to finish, but while some of it may require a suspension of belief in order to enjoy the read, there’s an honesty and rawness to the emotions and experiences of the characters that I, for one, wasn’t expecting.
When we meet Abby, she’s still grieving her late grandfather, Poppy, and struggling to navigate a world without him in it. On top of that, her parents are so intent on helping her get her grades up that she barely has any free time between school and tutoring, which means things between her and her two best friends, Connie and Leo, are still pretty awkward because of the BEI – big embarrassing incident. But when Abby decides to do a DNA test to be supportive of Leo, she never expects to receive a message from Savvy, telling her they’re full-blooded sisters and asking if she wants to meet. They hatch a plot to go to Camp Reynolds together to try and uncover the reason why Abby’s parents put Savvy up for adoption, and why they never told Abby she had a sister, but their shared history is far more complicated than either of them could have expected.
The plot of You Have a Match is pretty far-fetched, to say the least, but the heart of the story contains messages that can hit home even for people who don’t find a surprise sibling through an ancestry website. Emma Lord tackles sibling relationships, family communication, loss, change, and trying to find a sense of belonging, but perhaps most impressively of all, she almost made me want to go to summer camp.
I think in life you can know you’re loved without peering too closely at the edges of it.
Reasons to Recommend You Have a Match
Abby’s friendship with Connie and Leo may have been my favorite part of the book because it is simultaneously so simple and not simple at all. They’re there for each other unconditionally, without question and without hesitation, and yet there is an undeniable awkwardness hanging over their little group because of Abby’s feelings for Leo and how they might shift the group dynamic. This was, unfortunately, all too relatable, because I was in the same exact situation with two other friends not just once, but twice. With the same people, just different roles. RIP high school Lauren, am I right.
But change is scary, and all of the characters work through that in their own ways. The misunderstanding between Abby and Connie is directly caused by Connie’s fear of change which, in some ways, is shared by Abby, who is desperately trying to get back some sense of normality after the BEI with Leo. Abby also has to contend with the fact that meeting Savvy means her life is inexplicably changed forever, and she’s initially not sure if that change is welcome. Is her relationship with Savvy worth altering the one she has with her parents, or is she making a huge mistake by digging into a past that’s been hidden from her? Abby can’t know for sure, so she just has to take a leap of faith – we all do, sometimes, and I think I needed that reminder.
And while change can be a great thing, it can also bring with it a peculiar kind of grief. Abby is no stranger to grief, but after meeting Savvy, she starts to grieve the relationship she once had with her parents before she realizes that what comes after might just be better after all. Abby discovers what she wants, how to ask for it, and how to make it happen while she’s at Camp Reynolds; she learns how to be brave, and that grounds her even when it feels like her entire world is shifting.
Overall, You Have a Match evoked feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness that I barely even knew I had about high school – because good God, who wants to go back to high school?? I recommend this to fans of The Parent Trap and Jenny Han, and anyone who wants some ridiculous, heartfelt charm in their lives.
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