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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.

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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: Akata Witch

 

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Summary

Sunny has albinism and lives in Nigeria; her distinct appearance garners lots of attention and she’s tired of dealing with her frustrating classmates. After she gets into a fight and finds herself defended by another student, Orlu, she discovers there’s a lot more to the world – and herself – than meets the eye. Joining with her neighbor, Chichi, and newly arrived troublemaker, Sasha, the group of four are quickly embroiled in a dire race to stop the end of the world. They must quickly learn complex magical skills and gain wisdom beyond their years to stand against the evil that is coming. Together, the four discover truths about friendship, loyalty, and bravery.

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heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This score is almost a default because this is definitely on the younger end of YA (really MG) and there’s no real romance. Sasha and Chichi end up flirting and getting a little involved with one another, but there’s still not much there to gauge. You can see where friendships can turn into deeper, more romantically inclined relationships, but it’s not happening in this book.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

There are a ton of role models in this book – Sunny, Chichi, Chichi’s mother, Sugar Cream, tons! And for the most part, they’re able to be themselves without harsh judgment. For example, it’s very clear that Chichi’s father has left his family behind, but because of her life choices – intentionally never marrying and focusing on knowledge – Chichi’s mother never comes off as pitiable, pathetic, or an “easy woman” (all stereotypical ways that an unmarried mother could be treated). Sunny and Chichi both have strong skills and are respected for them. Power and magical strength also generally comes through the mothers in this world, so there’s a lot of respect there. Plus, Sunny calls out and fights for equality in several situations – once the sun can’t bother her, she won’t give up her chance to play soccer with the boys. Being a girl won’t get in her way.

The one thing that drops this down from a full score is Sunny’s father and the way he treats both his wife and daughter. It’s never really made clear why he dislikes Sunny so much, except that he didn’t want a daughter and definitely not one with albinism. That’s obviously a big reason, but it doesn’t explain why he never moved past the disappointment and embraced his child. He’s also not the most tender of husbands, but it’s hard to tell if this is rooted in dissatisfaction with the “odd” mother-in-law he married into or general unhappiness with his situation. But, the lack of clarity is somewhat fitting for a younger narrator. And, I can see how this would give comfort to girls living in a similar situation – here’s a powerful character with a father and brother that don’t like her much, but that doesn’t hold her back from being amazing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

So, this is one of those books where this score could go a couple of different ways depending on where you’re reading it. In Nigeria, it might get a lower score, although having a character with albinism does add some weight. Plus, two of the characters have lived/were born in the USA, so that’s different. In the US, this obviously tells a story placed outside the country’s borders with characters that look different from those currently the majority in most books. Really, no matter where you read it, you’ll get some level of representation that is generally lacking, so I’m going with the highest score.

BUT, big caveat – there can be an issue mixing albinism and magic. This is a huge stereotype and something that can lead to horrific treatment of albino people (especially in Africa). I think this gets a little bit of legitimacy because Okorafor is Nigerian-American, so she’s aware of the issues, and because Sunny is not the only magical person. Her three friends don’t have albinism and they’re just as magical as she is. This helps offset the “magical albino” trope quite a bit. It’s also clear that Sunny is not magical because she is albino, but that it’s an inherited trait from her grandmother, which further works to disconnect it from the stereotype. Still – something to be aware of.

Another note, Sasha and Sunny are both treated a little differently because they’ve lived in the US for extended periods of time. You do get a bit of the mistreated immigrant story line, mostly through microaggressions, like calling Sunny akata which is a negative term used for black Americans. Sunny, however, tries to accept and then find power in the term – so we get an immigrant narrative in a country that is not the US (!) and someone subverting an insult to find power.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Right between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really loved getting to know Sunny and her friends. I loved the world that she discovers as she learns more about the Leopard People and I LOVE a magical realm that is centered somewhere besides Europe with a distinctly African flavor, but which does not totally ignore the existence of magic across the globe. And, this is very specifically placed in a particular country and town (because Africa isn’t a country!). I would love to know more about what happens and how Sunny’s life changes as she grows into a young woman. I also would love to see how she balances the two lives and her relationship with her family…You know a book is good when it leaves you wondering what happens after you close it.

The one downside is that it felt like the end wrapped up very, very quickly and in a much tighter little ball than expected. I have seen Okorafor post on twitter that the published ending was not her intended one, so hopefully she will get a chance to expand on the story and flesh things out for us! (Note: A sequel should be here late 2016!)


 

Favorite Character

Orlu – I feel for him so much! He is like little-me – the rules are there for a reason, the rules help and guide us, don’t break the rules! And yet, he finds the strength to do what he must.

Favorite Line

“Neither (brother) even glaced at the counter. She smiled. Her dumb brothers never cooked. She didn’t think they even knew how! A human being who needs food to live but cannot prepare that food to eat? Pathetic. In this case, it was an advantage. They weren’t interested in any food until it had been cooked for them.”

Okorafor has a way of pulling out issues with just a few phrases – showing inequality, family dynamics, and Sunny’s personality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! It’s fun, it’s about magic and magic school, and the characters are engaging. And, it’s closer to middle grade so you get some of that innocence and joy that can be missing in “older” YA.

Fun Author Fact

Nnedi Okorafor is a heavily awarded writer and at least 3 of her stories are optioned for film or being adapted into a screenplay at this very moment.

Read These Next

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall for a middle grade, magical Mexican story about five sisters and their journey from Texas to Mexico to return a dead man to his family or Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for a Brooklyn based, Carribean-flavored story about magic and fighting for your family (review coming soon!).

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: The Weight of Feathers

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The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summary

Cluck is a Corbeau, a feather-growing, tightrope-walking family. Lace is a Paloma, a family of mermaids that dance in the water. Their families have been enemies for as long as they can remember. Each knows that contact with anyone from the other family would mean infection from black magic. But, when an industrial accident nearly kills Lace and Cluck is the one to save her everything they’ve ever known turns upside down. They have to decide if they can stay true to themselves and let their hearts guide them.

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Favorite Character

Tia Lora – She hasn’t let her past bring her bitterness like some of the other women in the feud and she does her best to give Lace the strength and love she needs to survive within the Paloma family.

Favorite Line

“He was beautiful in ways that made him ugly to his family.”

Fun Author Fact

McLemore has her own mermaid tail! It’s red.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! It is beautifully written with some amazing lines and great characters. The families and their stories are just as interesting as the main characters and the interwoven storylines make it richer and deeper than “just” a story about Lace and Cluck.

Read These Next

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt for another Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in present day Georgia or Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez for another couple divided by family and social expectations with a hint of magical realism.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

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Book Discussion: The Secret Sky

18350034The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Summary

Fatima and Samiullah have been friends since childhood – even though his family is Pashtun and own the land that Fatima’s Hazara family and friends farm. When Sami returns from the madrassa a young man, Fatima realizes they’ve both grown. But neither realizes just how much trouble trying to keep their friendship alive will cause. Sami’s cousin discovers their secret meetings and triggers a swirl of events that brings in the local Taliban, violence, dishonor, and death.

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Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship between Fatima and Samiullah is pretty cute and I appreciate that it builds on their childhood friendship rather than on a fleeting glance or an instant connection. They have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going which bumps up the sparks. But there are things that happen that make it difficult to give a higher score. The relationship springs from real respect and love, but they’re forced into a decision that is rooted in a very unromantic cultural situation.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Again, it is really difficult to give a score for this. Fatima herself is awesome and I love her determination to live the life she wants. But, there are so many things stacked against her socially and within her family that I can’t give it anything higher. Fatima studies and cherishes her reading lessons from her best friend’s grandmother. The small part that the grandmother plays is important because she shows what life could be like and encourages Fatima to dream of a life more than the farming, wife-ing, and mothering that is her likely future.

But, when her family finds out that Fatima and Samiullah have been meeting and he’s interested in marrying her, things rapidly go downhill. Horrible things happen, and one of the worst parts is her mother’s behavior.

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

This book is set in Afghanistan with Muslim characters, one family is very poor and the other is wealthy. In many ways it’s winning in the representation field. But, the Taliban comes into the story and things just go downhill. I’m really excited to see more international characters with stories giving us a fuller picture of the world. But, I’m a little concerned that we’re falling into the “one story problem” with young girls from South Asia. I know these are important stories, but they’re also the only stories we see in the news and mainstream media. I’d love to see something counter to the mainstream stories. That being said, I know that the authors do struggle with their decision to write these stories – Aisha Saeed has talked at length about her fear of writing her forced marriage book, Written in the Stars, because she didn’t want to be providing another negative story. It just illustrates our need for greater breadth of representation for all groups.

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

The writing in this book in beautiful and I think Abawi captures the people and landscape beautifully. I really liked Fatima and her determination to carve her own path. I liked the alternating point of view and that, while the story is centered on Fatima and Samiullah, Rashid gets a lot more depth as the story proceeds. It’s also great to see characters redeemed, though it’s a rather sad redemption. I would still recommend this book, but I’d emphasize that it continues the narrative of Afghanistan that is most prevalent in the media.


Favorite Character

Fatima – because she’s determined and hopeful and optimistic even when the situation is terrible.

Favorite Line

“This is when I realize that my mother doesn’t love me anymore. Her children aren’t people to her. We are her accessories, like a new payron or bangle. She wanted me to marry the boy in the other village because it would have made her look good, not because she was looking out for my welfare.”

I know this is kind of a depressing line, but it struck me because it is so true for some mothers everywhere. Sometimes they forget that they are bringing people into the world and not beings to maneuver.

Fun Author Fact

Atia Abawi has worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN in Afghanistan, Israel, and many other countries. Her work experiences inspired this story.

Read These Next

Like No Other by Una LaMarche for another couple fighting cultural and social expectations to be together or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another South-Asian girl fighting cultural norms to fulfill her dreams.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: Huntress

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Summary

Taisin and Kaede are studying to be Sages while the kingdom’s lands and 9415946people suffer and dwindle due to fluctuating weather and the arrival of strange new beasts. Neither knows exactly where their path will lead, though Taisin’s strong skill with dreams is promising. Kaede, with little skill, must fight the growing pressure to make political alliances through marriage. But, when a message from the Fairy Queen pulls them into an adventure, everything may change. Together, they face many obstacles, including growing feelings between them and a dream-promised loss that might tear them apart.

huntress


Favorite Character

Taisin – she’s powerful, she’s determined, and there’s a lot roiling beneath the surface that we don’t get to see. I like that her background gives us a bit more commentary on privilege and that her unease with her growing feelings allows the romance to burn slowly.

Favorite Line

“All you can do is make your decisions based on what you know now.”

It’s not especially “new,” but I appreciate that this is repeated and gives both girls strength and self-confidence. Plus, it’s too true.

Fun Author Fact

Malinda Lo is a rockstar and does a lot (A LOT) about queerness in YA. For the past few years, she’s pulled together all the numbers she can on published books with queer characters to show how representation is lacking. Here is her post for 2014.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think so – it’s a fun adventure and the romance is perfect – a slow burn with lots of feeling behind it so when you finally get there, it’s super satisfying. There are also good side characters to give the story depth. It’s a little quick with the storytelling and lacks some depth, but I had fun getting to know Taisin and Kaede.

Read These Next

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee for two very different girls traveling across the US as settlers expand West or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a group adventure with full of character and a touch of fantasy.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

 

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Book Discussion: Mark of the Noba

The Mark of the Noba by G.L. Tomas

Summary

Sterling Wayfairer is just trying to make it through the last year of high school. He’s dealing with his mother’s mental illness, nightmares, and best friends that are cooler than him. He seems to be making it until a mysterious girl collides with his life and he learns things about the weird mark on his arm, the nightmares that feel more real than dream-like, and his birthright. Once Tetra reveals everything, Sterling must accept the truth and his powers to save his friends, family, and world.

mark of noba

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Once Tetra and Sterling meet, their relationship becomes hard to read. It’s not friendship, it’s not romance, but something deeper – but you don’t necessarily feel that depth. Tetra also falls into a relationship with Sterling’s friend, Kip, and that felt like it didn’t fit with her earlier characterization while still being pretty hot. And Sterling’s awkwardness around his crush is adorable!

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Tetra is kick-ass and she doesn’t mess around. I loved that she was willing to wait years to accomplish her mission and did what she had to for survival. But, she didn’t have much space and I felt like her interest in Kip was more of convenience than owning her interest in sexy times. I also disliked the storyline for Sterling’s mother (without giving away too much).

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

A SFF book with a person of color as a main character!!! Very exciting! I thought there was a good mix of diversity – with mental illness, skin color, and economic class pretty well represented. Two issues, though: That the mental illness can just “go away” once things are adjusted and the odd use of “type 1/2/3” for skin color description. I think this was to help show this isn’t Earth as we know it, but I think it would have been stronger without that device. I also noticed when the foreign name was “too hard” and Sterling decided to shorten it; I think this could feel like a microaggression for readers that have this happen in their daily lives because people don’t care to take the time to learn.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

There’s a lot here that can become something amazing. The world needs a little more development to make it truly stand out and the characters are still learning about themselves, but I think the multiple worlds and the adventure can play out in other books to tell a great story.


Favorite Character

Kip – I loved his ballsy confidence even if he’s a little annoying. He’s a genuine friend and does what he can to draw Sterling out.

Fun Author Fact

This is actually written by a set of twins! Guinevere and Libertad run the Twinja Book review blog and they are awesome!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think this will depend on your preference and what you like. It’s a fun adventure and you can get through it pretty quickly, but the story seems like it’ll really get going in future books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has a diverse cast in a world with a hint of magic and a grand adventure or Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham for a mystery book with a brown-skinned, Muslim lead.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Rebel Queen

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Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Summary

Sita does not like her future.

Her mother died at childbirth, leaving her with a baby sister, a cruel grandmother, and a loving but poor father. Sita is bound by the rules of purdah, and cannot travel outside of her home without a male to accompany her. She has to wait for her father to find her a husband, but with almost no dowry money and a lot of ambition, she’s not sure that she wants this for herself.

Her only chance to get out is to join the durga dal, a group of elite women who help protect the queen of Jhasni (Tamora Pierce fans, think Thayat’s Riders). Sita knows that no girl from her village has ever been a durga dal but she’ll do everything she can to make her own life for herself.

But even if she becomes a durga dal, her life will be even more challenging. Her Queen, the famous Lakshmi, is the second wife of a weak king of a small princedom. She is effectively ruling for him, and trying to manage the ever-growing power and requests of the British East India Company while remaining publicly demure to her husband. Can Sita be the protector of such a complex and powerful woman?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wasn’t completely hooked by the romance in this story. Sita and her suitors romance is not particularly compelling to me. Given all of the details around the treatment of women in this story, I had a hard time believing a romance could exist for a female fighter.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Sita is a female fighter in a male-dominated society, which automatically gives her some brownie points. In many ways, though, she was still very much powerless. Even with all her training and skills, she is still beholden to her grandmother’s rules, and still allows her sister to remain in the village and under the rules of purdah. I think I expected more fight out of Sita, and was disappointed when I did not see it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

I loved that this book tackled a story that is relatively unknown to the Western world, and enjoyed a picture of historical Indian life from a unique female perspective.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

While this story had a lot of potential and great reviews, I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t think I really connected with Sita, and I was frustrated by her lack of action. As one of the few women with power in her society, she did shockingly little to help the one person she loved the most, her sister. And while I enjoyed learning about her back story, I would have preferred to have the story narrated by Queen Lakshmi.


Favorite Character

Queen Lakshmi. She has to balance both the traditional duties as a queen (serving her husband and producing heirs) and the challenges of ruling. I would love a story from her point of view.

Favorite Line

The War stole so many people from us, and still it’s not over. Sometimes, when Raashi is taking me on the train, I’ll catch a glimpse of a young man struggling against the guards who are trying to remove him from the first-class cabin, where only British are allowed to sit, and that’s how I know the war isn’t finished”.

I love timeless lines, and this rings true today. In how many ways are our own race wars not yet finished?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. It wasn’t my favorite Michelle Moran book (I’m partial to Cleopatra’s Daughter), but it was an interesting perspective on a relatively unknown story.

Fun Author Fact

Michelle Moran and her husband had an Indian wedding (in India). Pictures of her beautiful wedding, including her awesome henna, can be found on her website.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Chat: 5 to 1


5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Summary

The book takes place in a walled-off state in future-India. Women were tired of watching their world favor men and boys, so they rebelled. They walled off their land and built a women-led government to protect their daughters and those to come after them. They instituted a set of trials to allow the now-revered girls to determine their spouses and all of society now benefits girls, young women, wives, and mothers (of girls). And yet, Sudasa wishes to escape this world of luxury and privilege. At the trials that will determine her future spouse, she meets Kiran, a young man also dreaming of a way to escape the system.

 


Favorite Character

Sudasa’s father – His backstory is heartbreaking, his gentle spirit is sweet, and his love for his daughter(s) is a gentle reminder that the pressures of society aren’t always reflected in individual people. Plus, I love that we realize he hasn’t let the system get him down quite as much as Nani thinks.

Favorite Line

There are so many! If nothing else, this book is beautifully written, alternating free verse and prose, Sudasa’s and Kiran’s voices. It’s really difficult to pick a single sample!

Fun Author Fact

Holly Bodger works on both sides of the book world – as a published author and in publishing.

Is this worth a book hangover?

5 to 1 is a quick read with its beautiful descriptions, quiet poetry, and quick-moving story. The characters are easy to like, if not always to understand and the world Bodger creates is a compelling one. There may be some difficulty understanding exactly what happens because of the imagery in the poetry, but I still think this is an important story that captures what the world could easily look like very soon.

Read These Next

It’s an emotional book, but Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed also features a young girl fighting to break out of family and cultural expectations. Or, try Bumped by Megan McCafferty about what life might look life if only teenagers are able to get pregnant.

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations. She received her copy of 5 to 1 as a raffle prize (but doesn’t know if it was from a blog or the publisher!).

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Book Discussion: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Summary

Many little girls take ballet class, and dream of one dancing as a professional soloist. But there precious few positions in the professional dancing world, and even fewer leads. To become a soloist, you must be mentally and physically strong, and willing to do anything to be the best.

Join the cut-throat, elite American Ballet Conservatory, where every girl wants to be the next prima ballerina. Bette, who comes from an elite ballet family and grew up watching her sister star as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will stop at nothing to remain the favorite.  June is struggling on every front – trying to convince her mother to let her stay at school, maintaining her tiny weight while not alerting the school nutritionist, and learning about her family history. And Gigi is the new girl – new to the school, the state, and the level of competition. All three of them want to be on top, but only one girl can dance the soloist position.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Who knew that there was so much romance going on at a competitive ballet school? Surprisingly, Tiny Pretty Things explores a number of interesting romances, including a few ballerina-ballerhino couples. The power dynamics in the relationship were so complicated and interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing where future relationships take these characters. This isn’t exactly a romantic book (given the cut-throat, competitive nature of elite dance), but it definitely added to the story.

FRosieeminist Score: You’re Trying 

I really enjoyed this story, but some of the tactics really, really scared me. While I think these relationships are likely true to elite competitive activities, I would have liked to see one or two examples of great female friendship.

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Diversity Score: A+ Success 

Tiny Pretty Things excellently captured the struggles of being different in a world in which every ballerina is expected to look the same. Many of the characters struggle with their identity in a compelling manner. June struggles to fit in as a half-Korean half-white ballerina, Gigi battles wild assumptions about her race, and even Bette struggles to maintain her level of perfection. I easily related to all three of their struggles, and Tiny Pretty Things perfectly captured the identity confused associated with growing up.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

As a former dancer and current type-A person, I really enjoyed this book. Although there are some parts that were hard to read (especially around certain tactics used to get ahead), I couldn’t put it down. Even if you’re not a dancer, it’s worth the read – the characters alone will keep you thinking long after you finish the story.


Favorite Character

Bette. I love a good villain, especially one as smart, complex, and confused as Bette.

Favorite Line

“It’s finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting all my sixteen years for. The moment that will lift me out of mediocrity and onto the horizon, make me the next prime-time-worthy prima of the dance world, elevate me higher than I ever truly thought possible.

Make no mistake: I’ve fought long and hard for this moment, given blood, sweat, and tears, deprived myself at every turn. I’ve earned this.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes!  Between the interesting setting (the dance studio), the dynamic and complex characters, and the insane competition, this book can easily be finished in one sitting. It was well written and totally worth the read. 

Fun Author Fact

Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton co-authored the book in a fascinating way. In an interview with the School Library Journal, they explained their process: Dhonielle wrote Gigi, Sona wrote June, and they both wrote Bette.

Read This Next
I have yet to find another book that discusses dance so completely. Instead, I’ll recommend Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School