Goth Girl, Queen of the Universe – Lindsay S. Zrull

Jess has moved from house to group home to house for the past nine years. Having entered the foster care system at seven, Jess doesn’t know what it’s like to have a safe place to call home.

Foster Care Pro-tip number eight: Never become emotionally involved with anyone. Ever.

Jess doesn’t expect this placement to be any different but Barbra, Jess’ new foster parent, is unlike any of the ones she’s had before.

Jess’ look is inspired by the “patron saint of goths”, Edgar Allan Poe. This has acted both as a protective layer and a way to express herself. She never expected her creativity to lead to cosplay but if that’s what she needs to do in order to make it to New York to see her biological mother, then that’s what she’s going to do.

Who knew dressing up in costume after the sixth grade could be so much fun?

Barbra was a foster kid’s dream come true. A big part of me tried to keep her at arm’s length, just like Jess did, because she seemed too perfect and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ultimately, though, I ended up loving her to bits and allowing myself to hope that she actually does represent reality for some foster kids.

Goofy, geeky Oscar was absolutely adorable and stole my heart early on. His enthusiasm and passion were infectious and I wanted to watch him as he created the foam weapons of my dreams.

This is a story of found family, of learning to be vulnerable and to trust, and letting people get to know the real you. The experience of being a foster kid was realistic and the discussions about mental health were refreshingly honest.

It’s suddenly hard to believe that I’ve lived this long without knowing another human being who understands what this is like.

The cover image, which I loved and was what drew me to this book in the first place, had me expecting a middle grade story. Imagine my surprise when Jess’ first day of school included a stranger mid psychotic break trying to get as many swear words in a sentence as possible and a reference shortly thereafter to a “kinky sex dungeon”. Spoiler: Not a kinky sex dungeon.

I did get irritated at times by Jess fairly consistently saying “thank the Goddess” and the way it all played out was predictable, but … the story was just so heartwarming, the pop culture references abounded and I loved watching Jess’ journey through the pages.

As I’ve come to expect, an email address that was mentioned during the story doesn’t currently exist. Every time I see one in a book I test it out, hoping that one time a publisher will figure out the marketing potential and set it up with an auto-reply. I keep hoping for something fun like a message from one of the characters, behind the scenes info from the author or a secret competition to win book swag. One day I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Until then I’m going to keep sending test emails into the void.

Content warnings include mention of abuse, bullying, death by suicide, fat shaming, foster care, mental health and neglect. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flux, an imprint of North Star Editions, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Bounced between foster homes since the age of seven, Jessica knows better than to set down roots. Most of the kids at her new Michigan high school think she’s a witch anyway (because, you know, goth). The only one who gives her the time of day is geeky Oscar, who wants to recruit her fashion skills for his amateur cosplay group. But Jess is fine showing off her looks to her Insta fans – until a woman claiming to be her biological mother barges into her DMs.

Jess was claimed by the state when her bio mum’s mental illness made her unstable. While their relationship is far from traditional, blood ties are hard to break. There’s only one problem: Jess can’t reunite with her mum in New York City without a bunch of paperwork and she worries her social worker will never approve the trip. That’s when she remembers Oscar’s cosplay group, which is aiming for that big convention in New York …

So, Jess joins Oscar’s team – with every intention of using them to get to her mum. But her plan gets complicated when she discovers that, actually, cosplay is pretty great, and so is having friends. And Oscar, who Jess thought was just a shy nerd, can be as gallant and charming as the heroes he pretends to be. As the big convention draws near, Jess will have to decide whether or not chasing a dream of “family” is worth risking the family she’s built for herself.

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