Tag Archives: diversity

November Round Up

Again, I’m still super behind, so I’m going to do a round up because I REALLY want to share these books with you and if I wait for a full post it might never happen.

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Being a teenager during the Summer of Sam is difficult – fun is always limited by how safe 25982606you feel and Nora is struggling to enjoy her last year of high school. She doesn’t know what will come next, her brother Hector is growing ever more unstable, and the family is struggling to pay their bills.

This is my second Medina book and I love how she draws out the small details to gives us a really full world and characters. I felt for Nora and celebrated when she made decisions that lead her toward more happiness. Diversity: Nora and her family are Latinx, Hector is dealing with some mental health issues, and Medina is Cuban American.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Miel fell out of a water tower and Sam was the only one that could make her feel safe. She lives with Aracely now and must face the beautiful Bonner sisters as they try to steal the roses that grow from her wrist and keep their ability to enchant the town’s boys. Sam paints moons that light the town and helps its children sleep while keeping his own secrets.

This is modern magical realism at its most lyrical. Pumpkins in a field turn to glass, roses grow from skin, the river can transform someone into their true self – and at the same time, a pregnancy and the ensuing gossip can destroy a girl, birth certificates are necessary for high school enrollment, and hate and misunderstanding can still tear people down. I’m still letting this book sit with me because I’m not totally sure how I feel about it yet. It made me feel and I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I ultimately liked it. HOWEVER – I will shove it at people looking for magic in the everyday and who love beautiful writing. Diversity: Sam’s mother is Pakistani, his father is Catalan (I think?), Miel is Latina, and there are two transgender characters.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Tara’s best (and only) friend is spending their junior year of high school studying abroad 25802922so Tara hates the idea of schools starting. She doesn’t want to be totally alone. But even as she dreads it, she must also face startling news – an alternate Earth with just a few changes has been discovered. As everyone comes to terms with what that means, Tara finds herself navigating a new group of friends, her mother’s obsession with the new Earth, and just what kind of person she wants to be.

I really wanted to love this book – it’s a great premise and it brought up a lot of interesting ideas, but I never felt fully invested in the story. I think part of it was the writing and part of it was Tara as a character. However, I appreciated the honest look at microaggressions that Tara has to put up with – though that appreciation is slightly decreased by the rather poor way the book deals with anorexia and weight in general. In some ways this felt like an older person’s interpretation of how “mean girls” interact without respecting them as full people. I’m not sure exactly what, but something was off. Diversity: Tara is biracial (Indian and white American) and less well off in a very, very wealthy area. Also, #ownvoices.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda is the new girl and, even though she has a secret to keep, she’s making a bunch of26156987 new friends. She even has a boyfriend – and she can’t hold herself back from becoming invested in the relationship even if it’s dangerous. And when the secret is out – who will stay by her side?

This is generally not my kind of book – contemporary, high school drama, and romance – but Amanda is an engaging character and the time switch across chapters adds an interesting depth to the story. And, even with the discrimination and violence that Amanda suffers, this is still a fairly light book. Russo addresses that in her afterword and I’m saddened that the story has to be made so, so palatable for cis/hetero readers (but I’m also glad that trans readers have something light and happy to read). Diversity: This is one of the (or the?) first YA books about a transgender character by a transgender author with a transgender model on its cover.

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (Book #1 of a series)

23495112Elli has been raised to become Queen of her people and when, on the night that she must accept the magical power that comes with the crown, things go wrong, she must find a way to stay true to her loyalties while saving herself.

This was so good! The world building is amazing and I loved the characters. I am disappointed that this is a series starter because I really thought things were going to be nicely wrapped up, but also – yay! more books! Diversity: Bisexual main character, lots of racial diversity among characters.

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (book #1 of a series)

Cas is a trainer of Reckoners, dedicated to protecting ships as they cross ever-growing seas24790901 and the pirates that call them home. But, when her first solo mission goes wrong, she must navigate the difficult obstacles that a pirate captain and a baby Reckoner put in her path.

I thought the concept behind this was really interesting, though I would have liked more explanation about exactly why the person that made a rogue Reckoner possible made that decision (although, the “who” of this mystery was easy to see from the very beginning). Diversity: Cas is of Asian descent (I think Chinese?), there’s a main f/f relationship, and there’s a lot of diversity among the pirate crew.

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Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee26192915

Summary

Mercy lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. Her father spends long hours working in his laundry and expects his children to work hard for the family, too. Mercy dreams of something bigger and with the aid of a Texan lady’s business guidebook, she’s going to stop at nothing to get herself there. She uses her business acumen to secure a place at the local private school for wealthy girls and is on her way to finding success…and then the great San Francisco earthquake hits and everything changes.

outrun-moon

Romance Score: A+ Success

I really enjoyed the relationship between Tom and Mercy because it is the best kind – childhood friendship that becomes something more and then has to deal with family, future, and disaster. Tom and Mercy both have dreams and they selflessly do their best to support each other toward their goals – even at the risk of a future together.

I also appreciated that the romance, while obviously important to Mercy, is not the center of the story. Instead, it only serves to make Mercy a more complex character and to up the stakes of the story.

Feminist Score: A+ Success

This is a story about girls coming together to survive a terrible tragedy and unite communities to serve one another. Mercy doesn’t let racism, sexism, or her family get in the way of her dreams and she uses her wits to devise a plan toward success. I can imagine Mercy as one of the featured ladies in #BygoneBadassBroads because she will surely do even greater things as San Francisco and the Chinese community recover from the Earthquake of 1906.

Diversity Score: A+ Success

Through Mercy, readers get a glimpse into the early 1900 Chinese community in San Francisco. Her parents seek to maintain their traditions while adjusting to the necessities of life in the U.S. Through Mercy and the people in her neighborhood we see the racism, prejudice, and poverty that Chinese people in the U.S. had to (and continue to) deal with.

Plus, Mercy’s classmates at St. Clare’s School for Girls are a diverse bunch themselves – from heiresses from old money to Texan new money, these girls come from different places and families with their own stories. We don’t get to know all of them, but the main girls are more than the “mean” girl or the “friendly one.” I really enjoyed getting to know the ensemble of girls as well.

And, shout out to the headmistress who has her own story going for her!

Awesome Factor: A+ Success

Lee does an amazing job with historical fiction. She personalizes a dreadful day in U.S. history with rich characters and amazing setting details. The story is engaging and you’re rooting for Mercy after just a few pages. I loved that she referred back to a single book as her inspiration and guide for her success (and the twist at the end with regard to this book was fantastic). The reference to the power of books (especially when access to them is limited) makes the story that much more special.


Favorite Character

The Girls – Mercy is obviously a stand out, but the story is made even more amazing by the group of girls that she comes to know at St. Clare’s.

Fun Author Fact

When Lee won the Golden Gate Award at a SCBWI conference, she thought the winner was someone with the same name; she couldn’t believe it was her!

Is this worth a book hangover?

ABSOLUTELY! The characters and story are an amazing and, just like Lee’s other books, the window into history only adds to the richness of the book.

Read These Next

Obviously, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee because she is a boss with historical fiction and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a look at another tragedy with a much more disturbing end.

Post Author: Jess

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April Raintree

April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier 30732400

Summary

April and her sister Cheryl are Métis living in Canada. They are removed from their parents’ home and custody and we follow them through foster homes, school, marriage, and more. This book doesn’t flinch from showing how poorly Native people have been treated in North America and April’s journey to finding her strength, forgiveness, and happiness is powerful.

april raintree

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

When April finally finds happiness, it is a long time coming and the man she ultimately ends up with is totally swoonworthy with his willingness to wait, to uplift her, to give her support, to be there while she deals with her history, trauma, grief, and recovery. Plus, her romantic trajectory is one I think many people will relate to – innocence and a desire to be safe playing into her first pick and then defensiveness keeping her from a real winner…at least for a while.

Of course, there are also awful dirtbags in the book who contribute to April and Cheryl’s emotional and physical pain, including a rape, so it’s not all sunshine. The end is resilient and hopeful though.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

Women are pretty awful to April and Cheryl in this book – because they are Métis, because they are foster children, because they are poor, because because because…society has taught them to tear each other down. But, both girls rebel against this in their own way.

Cheryl is a spitfire protesting the treatment of Native communities in Canada and searching for the bits and pieces she can find to revive pride in herself and her identity. She offers support to other girls and women and she works within her community for change…until the weight of it all is too much to bear.

April takes a lot longer to find her space as Métis, but she has her own quiet resiliency. She faces slutshaming, betrayal, and more and still manages to retain her hopeful, gentle spirit. She tries to be there for her sister, even if she makes mistakes. And then, when the terrible happens, she doesn’t sit quietly and let things get neatly swept under the rug. Instead, she resolutely plows ahead with her rape trial. When she finally begins to heal – even through her grief – it’s a joy to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book features and centers Métis girls and their community. Through Cheryl, insidious racism is called out and we get a depiction of depression (and tw: suicice) that doesn’t flinch from how destructive it can be. Through April, the experiences of many Native women find a voice. Through the sisters and their experience as foster children, we see families torn apart by poverty and a system that didn’t (doesn’t) provide the support necessary for families to survive and prosper. Teachers and caseworkers expect the worst from the girls, never even offering another future. We don’t often get to see this kind of intersectionality and a clear illustration of the way systemic oppression works to prevent health…to prevent life.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This is a truth book – it’s  hard to read because your heart hurts for the sisters, but you know in reading it that you are being given a truth that needs to be heard. As an outsider, this is a reminder to address privilege and to do what you can to support communities that your privilege allows you to ignore. If your identity is more closely aligned with April and Cheryl, I imagine this is a book for your soul – showing you that you are not alone.

I am glad to have read this book. The writing is very straightforward and simple (not my preferred writing style), and I think this helps in some places to make the story more powerful; at other times, it felt like it was too bare.


Favorite Character

Cheryl – because she fights the system and offers her love and support to her community until it breaks her.

Fun Heartbreaking Author Fact

Much of what happens in April Raintree is based off of Mosionier’s own life. She remains active in Canada pushing for environmental and Native issues.

Is this worth a book hangover?

The story is interesting and the characters are compelling. The sisterhood – with its highs and lows – is one of my favorite parts. This is an important book and, while it’s not necessarily an easy read, I think it’s worth it…but it may be one you linger over as your heart takes breaks from the sadness.

Read These Next

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie offers a more humorous take on Native American life in the US or The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for an ensemble look at life for teens and children in 1970 Alaska.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Scavenger of Souls

Scavenger of Souls by Joshua David Bellin (Survival Colony 9 #2, but stands alone)27206580

Summary

Querry has no memory of life before a few months ago, but he’s doing his best to put the pieces together and keep his family and friends safe as they journey across the desert. His mother isn’t ready to give answers and things get more complicated when they find another group of people thriving in the wasteland.

As the mysteries deepen, Querry must find answers before the world erupts in a second apocalyptic fire.

scavenger-of-souls

Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I didn’t really feel the sparks in the main relationship, maybe because there was too much history between the two families or too many mysteries. I also think it’s tough when there are very small communities of people left and people end up with one of the only other survivors their age because it’s almost like an inevitable thing and not about feelings.

Feminist Score: Good Effort

The ladies in this book are interesting characters in their own rights. They make choices to keep themselves and the people they love alive. I appreciated that they were able to make mistakes, too. Through Aleka, we get an example of someone that does things for love and then must come to terms with the consequences – I like that she is allowed to without being villainized for her decisions.

Mercy is also a young woman that stands up for herself and struggles to find her place. She has been given a difficult situation and does the best she can to deal with it. She is strong, but allowed to be vulnerable.

There’s also a character that takes advantage of women. One of these women continues to fight against his (inhuman) power and the abuse on the page is light, so this wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

Diversity Score: Good Effort

I LOVED that this was a post-apocalypse book with people of color. And not like in Fury Road – in this world, background and main players are people of color – just like the real world.

There’s also a couple of characters with gigantism, although that isn’t explored in a very full way. Off of my limited knowledge, I would say this plays to stereotypes more than to a holistic picture of the physical issues that come with it.

One of the characters also ends the story as an amputee and, while we don’t get a lot of time with her at this point, her reaction provides some insight into what life may be like after losing a limb.

Awesome Factor: Good Effort

The story is intriguing and you don’t need to have read the first to get into this book. I’m always interested in seeing how an author has decided humanity will destroy itself – the premise here is definitely an engaging twist on the science-gone-too-far idea, although I was a confused on the exact specifics at the end (perhaps due to my own poor reading).


Favorite Character

Nessa – she doesn’t get a ton of time on the page, but when she does, she’s fighting everyone’s (low) expectations of her and doing what she must to survive

Fun Author Fact

Bellin has a blog highlighting YA and the writing process and the books he features are all over the place, so it’s pretty cool.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Scavenger of Souls features determined characters with a lot of spunk that face a difficult world and situation. If you’re intrigued by how far we’re willing to push science for the “good of the world” and what consequences may come from it, this is a story for you. If you’re interested in books that are about characters making difficult decisions, this is also for you.

Read These Next

Origin by Jessica Khoury for another story about (un)ethical science or 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil for characters that must face themselves and determine what, if anything, of ground-breaking discoveries the world should have.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy of Scavenger of Souls through Netgalley and then failed miserably through procrastination and bought my own copy.

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Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova 27969081

Summary

It’s Alex’s birthday and that means it’s also her Deathday ceremony. But instead of summoning the ancestors and welcoming her bruja gift, she tries to deny it and ends up banishing her entire family (dead ancestors included) to  Los Lagos. She must find her way to the in-between land, rescue her family, and come to terms with her bruja powers, all while dealing with the annoying company of her brujo companion, Nova.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6 – order now!

labyrinth lost

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There’s some good tension between Nova and Alex – and it starts early, so it doesn’t feel like an insta-connection. He’s physically attractive and she’s drawn in by his bad-boy persona and it was nice to see the hints of secrets and things left hidden that slowly appear as the story progresses. I didn’t love their ending, but it was consistent. The other relationship in the story felt a little sudden and underdeveloped, but was still a believable emotional discovery with the way the story played out. Plus – hospital kisses are always kind of fun! (edited: hospital kisses where everyone is celebrating their survival.)

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

Alex lives with her two sisters and mother. Charismatic aunts and grandmothers are important to the story and it’s the brujas that seem to lead the family. While Alex and her sisters bicker, there’s obvious love and strength between them – and it’s Alex’s loyalty and devotion that drives her to look for them in Los Lagos.

It’s also the determination of Alex’s aunt that gives her the final push to do what is necessary, though I won’t say exactly how. Ladies are doing what needs to be done in this book and it’s a sight to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book wins in several different ways.

Firstly, almost all the characters are people of color. I just went back through my copy to see if I can track down the specific country that Alex’s family is from, but I couldn’t find it and I actually think she just says “back home” or “the old country.” Either way, her family is Latinx/Hispanic and so are almost all the characters in the story. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, is Southeast Asian (I think Indian?). I can’t remember a single white person, except for awful classmates.

Then, we have a cultural/religious system that is rarely explored in literature – especially YA. Being bruja is just a thing that is in this book, it’s not exoticized, it’s just something that frustrates Alex because it gets in the way of her being “normal.”

And a main character is BI. On the page.

The one thing I will mention is that Nova’s eyes are referred to as “bipolar” several times. I thought that was a very odd way of putting it since I think it was about color and not like they were flashing two very different or frantic emotions. I would probably choose a different description.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I enjoyed reading Alex’s story and getting to know her family. When she got to the end of the journey and faced the Devourer, I was excited for her to own her power. The immersion in her world was exciting and I thought the premise was really interesting.

However, it did feel a little shallow in some places or underdeveloped. Even though it was an adventure story and Alex and Nova were traveling through a magical underworld, it didn’t feel like the stakes were really that high and things fell into place easily in some instances. I think the characters could have gone deeper and even though there was a lot of world building, it still felt a little more surface level than it could have been.

That being said, I’m excited to see what happens with the rest of the Brooklyn Bruja series and to see how Alex grows into her power.


Favorite Character

Rose – who can resist the creepy little kid with mystical, all knowing insights?

Fun Author Fact

Córdova was born in Ecuador and she was determined to publish her first book before she was 25 (she did! at 24 Vicious Deep was published).

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! The story and immersion in a deeply loyal, loving family – even if most of the book they are separated from one another – with an adventure through a mysterious, magical land is fun! The characters and world aren’t smothered in deep details, but there’s enough world building to sink into.

Read These Next

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi for another underrepresented cultural mythology and lovers fighting the underworld to be reunited or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig for a different kind of magic and diversity across a time-traveling heist adventure.

Post Author: Jess

I received my copy of Labyrinth Lost for free through Netgalley for my honest review.

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Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember 25231892

Summary

Mnemba is recovering from a terrible attack at her cousin’s safari business as one of his most successful guides. Kara arrives with her father to study unicorns in the wilderness – a final trip before she returns to “proper” society and marries. Together, they discover poachers abusing unicorns to exploit the land and must decide how to save the animals and reconcile their growing feelings for one another.

unicorn tracks

heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I thought the relationship between Mnemba and Kara grew slowly and naturally. There were a few lines about skin color that felt a little off, but overall I liked how these two girls found each other and found happiness.

Rosie Feminist Score: A+ Success

Mnemba is recovering from a brutal attack and finds relief with her cousin and his safari business. I appreciated her strength and resilience dealing with her history. Plus, she’s an entrepreneur making sure the business grows and helping Tumelo bring in the best customers. Kara is a scholar pursuing the secrets of wildlife and attempting to avoid her required marriage back home. Both girls are working the system to find their own kind of success.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t feel fully immersed in the book and its world. This is an alternate Earth, much of it is the same, but there are few changes – the country names, magically animals are real, and, apparently, the fact that girls are legally required to marry back in Kara’s home country. I’m not sure why, but the closeness of the worlds bothered me. This story centers around two women falling in love, which is apparently acceptable for Mnemba’s family but not for Kara’s, so that’s definitely a bonus. However, there were parts of the story that felt…even though there are comments made about the way the pseudo-Europeans that visit for safaris and how the two cultures mix and judge each other, it still felt a little unbalanced. If it’s an alternate-Earth, why couldn’t it be the Europeans that lack technology rather than the Africans?

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t that much. I really enjoyed Mnemba’s character and her family, but I didn’t ever feel like I really connected with the story. I just think the writing wasn’t completely there for me. BUT, I really loved the idea that there are magical beasts in the world and biologists study them just like other animals.


Favorite Character

Mnemba – I loved her resiliency and her head for business.

Fun Author Fact

Ember names her pets (and she has many) after Harry Potter characters.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think many people will enjoy this book – especially if you’re thirsting for lady-lady romance stories and different locations. 

Read These Next

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie for pirates, sea monsters, and lesbians or Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst for queens with forbidden magic and forbidden love.

Post Author: Jess

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The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

star-touched queen

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 22752127

Summary

Dill has had a rough life. He’s the son of a Pentecostal, snake-handling preacher and now the target for the bullies at school that hate him for his father’s faith and crimes.

But, his friendships with Travis, a boy obsessed with an epic book series and its world, and Lydia, a fashion blogger using her internet fame to get out of their Tennessee town, are what keep him grounded…at least until high school is over and Lydia leaves and Dill has no other choice but to accept the family legacy.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The relationship that develops is sweet and natural. And, in a way, it felt like the relationship was not just between the girl and the boy, but also the boy finding a safe, loving home in her family. But, this is an end of high school book, so it’s also a little bittersweet – no one is ever sure what will happen once graduation comes and the final pre-college summer is over.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

The main reason I’m giving this a good score, even though the mothers in this book suffer greatly due to their marriages and community expectations about staying with your spouse, is because Lydia is a mouthy, badass, self-confident example of girls that love something and won’t make excuses for it. Plus, her explanations of the hunt for clothes at shops, her interactions with her internet followers, and her joy in finding the perfect outfit were a great example of how girls don’t have to make apologies for loving something and that the things that are coded feminine are just as difficult and worthwhile as masculine activities. Plus, I loved that her feminist proclamations are coming from a girl in Tennessee – whose parents are also from Tennessee – so it shows that feminism is for everyone.

BUT, I will flag that if she were anything less than she is, the score would go down a grade because of the domestic abuse and women that make very difficult choices.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This book is important because it shows things that aren’t always common in YA: poverty, religious community, and the South. I really appreciated the perspective in this book because it’s rare to read a YA book where college isn’t an assumed next step for the characters. Dill and Travis both plan to finish high school, start working, and stay in their hometown. In fact, they don’t really have much of a plan at all, more like they’ll just keep doing what they already do because they’re not sure there’s much else anyway. Even though Lydia pushes them (from a position of privilege) to aim for something different/higher, it’s still their main consideration.

This is not common!

Plus, Dill talks about his activities in the worship band and about going to church and how the folks that left the community had to find a new, similar church and what that means for their Sunday plans. I appreciated that The Serpent King incorporated the day-to-day of living faith into the story – even if it is not necessarily a positive faith.

Additionally, Dill suffers from depression and has a “family curse” that he’s fighting to stay on top of. Plus, Travis has to deal with a dad that’s alcoholic and abusive and probably also depressed because Travis’s older brother died fighting in the Middle East.

There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book and I ended up crying a TON, but it was so, so good.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

This book, guys, this book is a heart squeezer. If you don’t cry at least once while you’re reading it, I’m not sure you’re human. Because Dill and Lydia and Travis…they are the trio of friends you wish you had in high school because of their loyalty and love for each other.

The writing is amazing, you can feel Tennessee around them, and the hopelessness of Travis and Dill weighs on you. When Travis gets his birthday present, my little booknerd heart bawled because it is just the.best.ever. And then…and then Travis goes home and then something else happens and I was crying again – very different tears.

Be prepared, there’s a lot packed in here.


Favorite Character

Travis – Because he loves books, lives in his fantasy world, and is doing the best he can to be happy and kind in a world that hasn’t given much to work with.

Favorite Line

Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.

Fun Author Fact

Zentner was a musician first who decided he wanted to give writing a book a try. WHAT a book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. Absolutely. It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s full of hope. It’s also very, very heavy, so be prepared for some sadness and shock. I don’t want to spoil it, but there was one thing that happened and I wasn’t ready at all and…this book will hit you like a ton of bricks, but then you’ll want to make everyone else read it too!

Read These Next

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for a book that will also tear your heart to pieces and then give you the shreds of hope you need to move on or When We Collided for another story of two people meeting and coming together just when they need it most.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock19370304

Summary

It’s 1970 and Alaska is changing and so are the lives of everyone that lives there. It’s not an easy life, and secrets make it even harder. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank are teenagers, but they much make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives now…and those decisions will change everything.

smell of houses

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There are two romances: one shows how privilege protects boys/men from the consequences of their choices and the other is a sweet, sort-of-love-at-first-sight-but-not-really story. That they both happen to Ruth makes the second all that sweeter. Usually I think the insta-love is a little silly, but in this case the serendipity and the vulnerable place where each person is at the moment they meet made it seem reasonable to me (plus, my romantic side wants to believe!).

Rosie Feminist Score: Good Effort

Parts of this book are hard. There’s partner abuse, child abuse, a grandmother that thinks she knows best, religious morality restricting choices, and boys that do whatever they want and receive no punishment. But, there’s also women that are respected, women that protect each other, women that work together to benefit the community, a grandmother that acknowledges her mistakes, and several teenagers that make empowering choices.

I feel like this is our most inconsistent category because in other books I would take points off for violence against women. But, it truly depends on the story and how it’s dealt with. Domestic violence/violence against women and, especially, violence against Native women is a fact and Alaska does have higher rates of this, so to ignore it would be a lie. I feel that the community involvement and the character development with this story line make it a strength, not a weakness of the story.

And, most important for me, the women and girls (generally) stand up for, protect, and encourage each other. And, even if they don’t do so at the beginning, they find a place of respect and love by the end.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This is Alaska in the ’70s, it had only been a state for 11 years and things were still settling down. Through the characters, we see how both Native and colonist/settler communities hoped and worked for a statehood that would benefit, not restrict them.

Through the girls, we see what life looks like for some Alaskan Natives – moved off their land, ridiculed, struggling with few resources, but also maintaining traditions through summer camps and sharing winter stores as a community. One of the comments that most struck me, though, was when the girls mentioned that teachers couldn’t even get their affiliations right – that there are many tribes and groups in the area and that one does not equal the other. There was a sense throughout the book of the tensions between the two communities (Native and settler) and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from that.

I also liked that this book featured characters living in difficult economic situations. So often YA features (upper) middle class (white) characters and life looks very different for someone that worries about where their next meal will come from than about which shoes they’ll buy for the dance. I am not saying the wealthy don’t deserve stories, they have important things to say too, I’m just saying that we also need stories of people without wealth.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really enjoyed this book. Almost to A+ Success levels.

I loved the setting and that we see a full picture of the community. I liked the characters and the variety of stories we got from them. I loved how the stories interwove with each other. I think this is an important, lovely book and I will recommend it. I think it touched on a lot of interesting and important topics that, although it took place in 1970, are still relevant today.

I think I’m held back because everything at the end wrapped up very nicely into a little bow and it just felt a little too perfect.


Favorite Character

I think I liked Alyce most. She had big dreams and she loves ballet, but she also guts fish and loves her family.

Favorite Line

….this whole book is beautiful. I loved the writing.

Fun Author Fact

Hitchcock worked in commercial fishing and radio before her book was published.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I really loved the characters, the story, and how much place plays a role in the narrative. I definitely recommend this!

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for a contemporary, place-based story focused on family or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for an ensemble cast set in a fantasy land.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Summary

David has always been on the outside of his school’s social hierarchy, but he’s always had his two best friends. And they know his deepest secret.

Leo is starting over at a new school hoping to use the opportunity to get away and find a better life. He wants to stay invisible through senior year so he can work toward that goal.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, everything changes and leads to secrets revealed and friendships born and tested.

art of being normal

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I liked Leo’s relationship with Alicia. I thought it evolved naturally and the reasons they fell for each other felt right. I think that Alicia’s reaction to learning more about Leo was also pretty realistic for the situation, though I don’t think it is an easy or fair reaction. I appreciated that they were both given a second chance and that each was willing to accept that second chance.

David is younger and less mature and that shows in his  longing for the high school hottie, but that also seemed fitting. (Edit: I use “David” here because that is where the character is when the crush is first revealed, but it would be more appropriate to use she/her throughout this review.)

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I liked some things from the story: the characters being true to themselves and finding the friends that care enough about them to let that truth live, the parents that are doing their best to love their kids as well as they can, and the courage to stand up for themselves. But, I felt like some of the stuff was stereotypical and didn’t really expand on much besides what is kind of expected.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is about transgender characters and characters of color and poverty and privilege and it hits some “right” notes. But, it also felt a little too quaint and like “here’s the story all wrapped up, with drama and closure.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain why things didn’t sit with me, but they didn’t. I think reading reviews from transgender characters may help tease this out, many of them said this is a book about them and not for them.

I did like that we saw how characters from poverty had to deal with something really difficult, though, because access to wealth can make a huge difference in how parts of this story may play out. It is also important that this takes place in England and not in the US, since health care access is very different in the US and access is much more separated.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wanted to know more about the characters and I was interested in their stories, but I felt like they were shallow and we didn’t actually get much in this book.

I really wanted to like it and I appreciate that this book shows that there are layers and layers of difficulty to everyone’s lives. But…it was lacking something.


Favorite Character

Felix and Essie, who really feel like one character full of life and lots of loyalty.

Favorite Line

I’m not sure anything really stood out for me.

Fun Author Fact

Lisa Williamson is also an actor.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure. If you are looking to learn more about transgender people and their stories, there are some great books coming out written by and about transgender people that may hit the notes a little better.

Read These Next

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo for a story falling in love while keeping a secret (this one is #ownvoices and we’ll be reviewing later this summer).

Post Author: Jess

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Note: I received my copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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