My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephane Perkins

I was dying to read this from the moment I knew it existed.  After all I was a huge fan of Let it Snow! another YA holiday story collection.  It did not disappoint.  I think the only real disappointments were that the stories weren’t longer and that there were only 12 of them.  This will be an absolute hit for teens looking for a bit of winter-y romance.  I almost never say this, but I would buy this one.  I can see myself re-reading favorites every year.

As per my usual story collection reporting I’ve covered each story separately just in case people want to use them individually.  I had too many favorites to count, but sadly and terribly unexpectedly David Levithan provided one of my least favorite submissions – one of the more bittersweet tales, dropping the f-bomb as only Levithan does and even more disappointing as it’s the only same-sex story in the collection.

My plot summaries may seem a bit lacking, but I did very much want to preserve the stories for people to read and it’s remarkably difficult to summarize something that short without giving away the whole plot!  Sorry!

Good diversity stuff: There are some characters of color.  There are some same-sex relationships, although only one of those is the primary relationship of a story.  There are many, many different family structures with varying degrees of functionality.

Age recommendation: Well, there’s no out and out sex, although there are a few minor references to it, the actual action between leads isn’t particularly graphic.  There’s definitely underage drinking and drug use and with absolutely no negative consequences for those involved.  And there’s the f-bomb in a few places.  So I would say this is fine for most teenagers, and with parental discretion, there are probably some tweens that would really enjoy it as well.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell

One of my favorites which is unsurprising given my love for Rowell. Every New Year’s Eve has a midnight, but Mags doesn’t think she can possibly stand one more.  This time, she’s going to hide outside.  Whatever happens tonight, she wants it to be intentional.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There is talk of people wanting kiss other people and how you can tell if someone wants to kiss you.  People kiss.
Profanity – “shit,” “Jesus Christ,”
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A girl’s parents take away the alcohol when she has parties. A few years later, people bring alcohol, drink it, hide it.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link

Delicately otherworldly, I longed for this one to be a longer story! If one thing holds true at the holidays, it’s that there must be magic, real magic. Miranda’s story also takes place over the span of years, Christmases rather than the New Year’s Eves of the prior story. There’s a bit of fairy tale, a bit of real life and many kinds of love.

Sex, Nudity, DatingTwo men are kissing in the kitchen.  Two 14 year olds kiss on the cheek under mistletoe.  There’s a joke about orgies in the cupboards. Two women have an affair, ending in one’s divorce. A girl breaks up with a boy.  A couple kisses, it is described in some detail with tongues and bum cupping.  His erection is mentioned.  His hands are in places they shouldn’t be.  There’s more kissing.
“good god,”  
Death, Violence and Gore
There’s a joke about attempted murder in the pantry.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
There are champagne glasses.  People are tipsy.  A girl tries champagne for the first time at 13.  People are drinking.  Two teenagers are given joints by an adult.  They smoke it.  Someone is hungover.
Frightening or Intense Things
A kid wonders if the unknown person is not Santa Claus but perhaps an axe murderer.  A girl’s mother is in jail.

Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena

A bit of a tough transition from the last story, this one is modern romance.  It also offers one of the few characters of color (Random aside: interestingly enough, it seems as though every character of color is involved in a mixed-race romance). Shy is cat-sitting for his boss in a posh New York apartment that couldn’t be further from his California home and his Mexican family.  In this cold, sterile place, alone at Christmas, without money for the plane ticket home, or even for food for dinner, he doesn’t really know what to do.  But while the snow rages outside, he meets a neighbor and quickly finds things are looking up.

Sex, Nudity, DatingA man has his father warn his sister to “stay away from dudes.”  There is hand-holding. There is kissing while lying down.  A woman’s shirt is unbuttoned and her bra is undone by a man.  There is a brief mention of prostitutes.
“shit,” “ass,”
Death, Violence and Gore
A character seriously considers mugging someone.  A character’s mother has passed away, there is a reference to her in the casket.  A man slaps his son.  
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
There are bottles of vodka.  There is booze at a graduation party.  An adult drinks beer.  A character drank tequila at 15.  At a family gathering a relative gives underage drinkers hits off a Patron bottle. Teenagers drank wine from shot glasses.  Two college students drink wine.
Frightening or Intense Things
A character must go without food.

Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han

I know Jenny Han’s books and I like Jenny Han, really like her, but after three happy stories this one felt a bit too bitter. Natalie is Santa’s Korean adopted daughter.  But without any other humans at the North Pole to socialize with, she’s left to the company of the elves.  One of whom she has a terribly big crush on.  But to everyone she knows she’s just Natty, a little girl not a young woman.  Will she find love this Christmas?

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen has a crush on a male elf.  A couple kisses.
Profanity – “jav-lar” – sorry, missing the mark above the a, but it means roughly “damn” in Swedish, “darn,”
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins

Favorite.  Absolute favorite.  Marigold has spent the past month lurking around a Christmas tree lot trying to gather the courage to speak to a guy who works there.  Not because she likes him, but because she needs him to help her with a project.  When she finally gets up the courage to talk to him, things do not go as she’d planned at all.  They go much, much better.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A man moved in with his girlfriend.  There is some passionate kissing, including a girl wrapping her legs around a guy’s waist.
Profanity – “hell,” “shit,” “God,” “damn it,” “smartassery,” “Jesus,”
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan

I was so excited for the Levithan offering, but this fell flat for me, especially coming off a story so filled with happiness, to go to one with so much pain and anger was rough. When your boyfriend asks you to play Santa so that his little sister can hold on to one last childhood dream you say yes, right?  Even if it means that you may be getting deeply involved in something far more complicated.  Even if it means that you may be overstepping just a bit?

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Lana suggests that someone’s boyfriend has offered him sexual favors.  A character gets into bed with his boyfriend.  There is kissing.
Profanity – “dumbfuck asshat,” “goddamn fucking”, “shit,” “bullshit,” “pissed,”
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Connor’s mother is supposedly “tranq’d up”.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black

This was very cool and unexpected.  The initial premise didn’t impress me, but where Black went with it, that I liked. It’s been done before, the age old story of the rich boy with the fancy girlfriend at prep school and the secret townie girl on the side.  But it hasn’t been done this way before; a trailer park elegant New Year’s Eve party,  a confrontation, unexpected guests, chaos, madness and of course, much, much, magic.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – People are dating.  One guy is dating two girls.  A guy is bare-chested. One character had a much older girlfriend. A guy is called hot. A girl goes into a bedroom with a guy and returns wearing only her underwear. A couple is “sucking face.” There’s talk of “nailing” a girl. People kiss each other.
Profanity – “assholes”, “shit”, “godawful,” “scum-sucking dirtbags”,  “damning”, “crappy”, “douchenozzle,”
Death, Violence and Gore – A girl can knee a guy so hard his testicles rupture. A girl dreams her skin is flayed off. A guy grabs a girl’s wrist and twists her arm. Guys punch each other, some have bloody noses. A girl presses a knife to a guy’s throat. Krampus will whip you until you bleed.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A girl’s grandparents taught her to roll cigarettes.  People assume the girls have access to drugs and booze, which they mostly do, despite being in high school. A lot of alcohol is purchased for use at an under-age party, including vodka, Korbel, Andre and beer. A smoking area is created outside. Teenagers drink. People bring pink champagne, skittles vodka, bourbon,prosecco and a pie made with hash. A girl tells a story about how her aunt got so drunk she peed the bed. There is a mysterious clear alcoholic beverage served. Someone is smoking.
Frightening or Intense Things – Zombies are mentioned.  The devil comes up. Evidently a Krampuslauf celebration should involve terrifying people, using torches and whips and making children cry.  A character’s mother left.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth by Gayle Forman

Another great one, Forman did a wonderful job of capturing the identity struggles common to so many college freshman. Sometimes Sophie is not entirely clear how she ended up at a rural university in the middle of the country so far from her native Brooklyn, especially when she finds herself at a caroling party full of midwesterners wearing very sincere holiday sweaters.  She’s feeling lonely and Jewish and misunderstood and mutters a Ned Flanders joke she doesn’t expect anyone to hear, much less get, but as it turns out, she’s got an audience: a very tall, very attractive, black man.  As the evening goes on, she finds she has to question a lot of assumptions she’s made, but that she might be happier if she does.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There’s a joke about procreation and a mating ritual.  There are some insinuations about Rudolph’s red pulsating nose.  Someone mentions a former girlfriend.  A sweater orgy is mentioned (just as a joke).  There is kissing.
Profanity – “hell”, “Bumfuckville”, “shit”, “Kiss-My-Ass”, “shit-eating”, “piss-off”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Sophie makes a joke about ending up at the bottom of a limestone quarry.  A girls’ grandmother had a stroke and died prior to the start of the story.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire

Heartwarming,  but probably dangerous.  McEntire, please don’t go around convincing girls that the troublemakers really have hearts of gold and will show them with the love of a good woman!  That’s a recipe for trouble for sure! Vaughn’s pranks have gone too far when he accidentally burns down a church barn.  Now he has to help out with the Christmas pageant so that he doesn’t end up spending the holidays in juvie.  It would be almost unbearable except for the fact that he’s pretty much in love with the pastor’s daughter Gracie.  When some scheduling problems and an entirely unforeseen blizzard arise, Vaughn is determined to prove himself worthy of her.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Herpes is mentioned but in relationship to glitter, not actual herpes.    A girl touches a guy’s leg.  A joke is made about “free-swinging adults”.  Someone has a secret girlfriend.  There’s a question about Ben-gay in a jock.  There’s a lot of talk about whether people like each other.  A guy pictures a girl in a bikini.  Some speculates that waitresses will look like prostitutes if they wear certain costumes.  There’s a mention of conjugal visits at prison. There’s talk of kissing and tongues.
Profanity – “shit”, “ass”, “screwed”, “hell”, “hells yeah”, “crap”,
Death, Violence and Gore – A woman feel and broke her foot.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – There’s a joke about weed at a Miley Cyrus concert.  A dinner theater serves beer in feed buckets.  Gracie’s mom died when she was little.
Frightening or Intense Things – A church barn is set on fire by accident.  Vaughn’s father was an angry man who eventually left.  His mother needs medication to be functional, but is often not functional.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White

This one started out so very sad but I’m an absolute sucker for any story that involves both romance and cooking. Maria feels less than festive to be living in Christmas.  She’s counting the days until she can get away from her mom, her mom’s boyfriend and the diner where she works. On one of her endless drives to school and back, she learns the diner has a new chef, a fact that barely registers because she really doesn’t care.  But the new chef has a knack for knowing exactly what to cook for each customer plus a killer recipe for gingerbread.  By the end of the story Maria has figured out that even if she does leave, there may be some things worth holding onto.

Sex, Nudity, DatingMaria’s mom lives with her boyfriend.  A woman is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.  A girl asks a guy if he’s using a pick-up line.  She finds him pretty.  There’s hand holding.  There’s kissing.
“effing”, “Dios mio”, Maria gives someone the finger, “crappy”, 
Death, Violence and Gore
An elf figurine holds a knife and later, poison.  A woman is a victim of domestic violence.  She frequently has bruises and is forced to give all her earnings to her boyfriend.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
There’s a reference to chain-smoking.  Someone is asked if he dealt drugs; he did not.  A woman hands out free beers, but likely to of-age drinkers.
Frightening or Intense Things
A guy spent time in juvie, he does not say why other than that he was not violent.  Maria doesn’t remember her father.  Her mother is very proud of this, that she left soon enough so Maria didn’t have to feel scared.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter

One of the most frustrating in the set.  I loved the beginning.  I loved where it went.  And then the end.  The big reveal.  HUGE disappointment. HUGE.  Arg. In a post-9/11 world finding a story about passengers trading flights is unexpected to say the least.  The act is so simple, Hulda does not want to go on her flight.  She wants to go to New York.  And two girls trade places and it is done.  So while Hulda is in New York, another girl finds herself in Oklahoma, taking Hulda’s place at a ranch in the middle of nowhere. But she has many secrets of her own and it’s only a question of time before people find out.

Sex, Nudity, DatingA boy kisses a girl.
Death, Violence and Gore
A woman’s daughter and husband died in a car accident.  A girl’s mother is dying.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
A woman is under the influence of painkillers, but it might be for medical reasons.
Frightening or Intense Things

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

One of the darkest of the stories, although not sad, it was a rough transition from the conclusion of the prior story which felt very teeny-bopper in tone.  It is Advent, when men declare their intentions by leaving  a gift for the girl of their choosing.  In a place where girls are worked like slaves, an advantageous marriage is all some of them could ever hope for.  But when Neve is chosen by the sinister preacher who has already buried three wives, she will not submit.  She issues a prayer to something older than God, asking for protection.

Sex, Nudity, DatingThere’s an insinuation that girls would work a contract on a ship but that no one could hate life enough to do it.  The type of contract is not specified but the implication is that it is sexual in nature.  Freedom for a girl just means freedom to marry.  Someone tells Neve and the twins “what went on betwixt husbands and wives” and they blush. There’s talk of wondering what a boy’s skin tastes like and blushing and purring with longing.  A man says the bedroom is dark, a girl knows him to mean that he pictures another man’s wife as he “grunt(s) atop” his own.  Girls are given gifts by beaux for 24 days and then confirms the marriage with a dance. 
“blasted”, “Hell’, “damned”, “bastard”, 
Death, Violence and Gore
The main character was very close to twins who died. Children were orphaned by the plague.  There’s a reasonable amount of talk about being eaten by crows after death.  In a preacher’s tales of Hell, demons will peel you like fruit and devour you.  A boy is lashed.  A man’s wife dies of fever.  A man has buried three wives.  A mysterious force kills sailors.  A church is filled with saints’ bones.  A woman lost her toes.  Neve doesn’t want to bury her children (she has none yet), digging tiny graves. A girl fears a man will come in the night, again nothing is said, but the implication is that she fears rape.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking
People want to drink.
Frightening or Intense Things


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One Response to My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

  1. JMLC says:

    I loved these. LOVED these. Unsurprisingly, my opinions/favorites matched yours, though I was less bothered by the “big reveal” in the Bethlehem one.

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