Tag Archives: feminism

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 Discussion: Uprooted

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Summary

 

Every ten years, the Dragon takes one girl from the Valley. He chooses between all the seventeen year old girls in the villages and keeps her in his tower for ten years.

Agnieszka is seventeen this year – and she is dreading the Dragon’s arrival. She knows that her best friend, Kasia – the most beautiful and sweet girl in the Valley – will be taken away from her by the Dragon. Once he chooses her (and he always chooses the most special girls), she’ll never be the same. After their ten years of service, Dragon-born girls always choose to leave the Valley forever.

But what happens when the Dragon arrives… and chooses Agnieszka instead?

 

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Good Effort [Warning: Includes Spoilers]

The romance between Agnieszka and the Dragon is built on shared power and understanding. In most situations, I would not be okay with a (seemingly) kidnapper-victim romance, but this story is so much more complicated than that. Their romance takes a while to develop, and the Dragon resists at every turn, but by the time it does, Agnieszka is powerful in her own right. I love that she instigates their intimacies and his gruff but well-meaning resistance until she wins him over.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

Both Agnieszka and Kasia are powerful heroines and best friends. They regularly put their lives in danger for each other, and play a leading role protecting their Valley. I love that Agnieszka is so powerful, even more so than the Dragon, and harnesses her magic to defend her people. I also like how Kasia uses her… changes… for the good of the kingdom.

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Diversity Score:  You’re Trying

This book wasn’t quite as diverse as I would like. While there was one witch of color, most of the main characters are pale. And perhaps this is wishful thinking – but I would have loved if the most beautiful girl in the land, the one the Dragon would choose for her beauty alone, was not another blonde, pale girl with delicate fairy features.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

really enjoyed this book. I didn’t expect the regular twists and turns of the story, and was constantly surprised. I also liked the world itself- the interaction between a kingdom, an enemy land, and The Wood.


Favorite Character

Agnieszka – From the beginning of the story, she’s extremely brave and willing to put herself in danger for her best friend and others in the village. I loved watching her discover her power, and soon have more skill and knowledge than the Dragon himself.

Favorite Line

There are many beautiful passages in Uprooted, but I love the opening few lines:

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacfirice, and he were a real dragon. Of course, that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted ot eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Woods, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you love dark fairy tales. The world itself, strong friendships, and twisted plot will keep you reading way past your bedtime! 

Fun Author Fact

Naomi Novik is a first-generation American who grew up listening to stories about Polish fairy-tales. Agnieszka’s name comes from an old Polish fairy tale, Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba.

Read This Next

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (check out our review here). Mare is a poor girl from a large family facing conscription in the army. But when she learns she has magic – a power that only the Silver upper-class possess – her life is changed forever.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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 Discussion: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

not otherwise specified

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

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

1202112022

 

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: Red Queen

 Red Queen

Red Queen by  Victoria Aveyard

Summary

Power is a dangerous game.

The Reds know this lesson all too well. Mere mortals, the Reds are ruled over by the godly Silvers, who possess incredible powers like ultra-strength, telepathy, fire, and much more. The Reds live to serve the Silvers in their homes,  castles, and on the battlefield.

Mare Barrow is one of the Reds. A poor, talentless girl from a large family, Mare faces conscription into the army if she does not find employment soon. When an unlikely circumstance lands her a job in King Tiberias’s castle, Mare soon learns that the world may not be as Red-and-Silver as she’s been taught. Can Mare help start a revolution to help the Reds? Or will her growing affection for the king’s two sons change her mind?

Red

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I was slightly annoyed that Mare can’t seem to have any male friends who are not romantic interests. The budding romance between Mare and one of the princes towards the end of the novel was sweet, but I wish I had seen a bit more … romance? I understood the initial attraction between the two (kind of like Peeta and Katniss) but I didn’t feel pulled into their romantic relationship. However, this is the first book of a three part series, so perhaps we will see more in later books.

Feminist Score:  A+ SuccessRosie

Mare kicks ass. Not only does she first land in trouble because she tries to save her (male) best friend, but she repeatedly fights for what she believes is right. And she doesn’t just fall into her power – she has to learn how to control it. The secondary female characters (like the Queen and Princess)  are just as powerful and important to the story.

In Mare’s world, men and women are treated as virtual equals. Both genders are conscripted into the army, and the potential princesses need to show off their power to get their positions. Women aren’t demure flowers waiting to be protected by men; they are warriors.

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Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Red Queen did a great job discussing economic discrepancies and class wars. The Silvers have all the power and privilege, and use the Reds to serve in their homes, build their technology, and fight their wars. There is very little economic mobility in this society, and the need for change is a theme that is highlighted throughout the book.

I do wish there had been some other form of diversity in the book. Other than an occasional secondary character with brown skin, all the characters were essentially white and straight. Hopefully we’ll see some people of color in future books.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Red Queen was a great adventure story with a admirable, likeable heroine. The world itself  – especially the power dynamics between the Reds and Silvers – is really interesting, and I enjoyed the power plays between the Red noble families as well. I can’t wait to see what comes next in Glass Sword, the second Red Queen book.

 


 

Favorite Character

Cal, the eldest son and heir to the Silver throne. He’s faced with the challenge of ruling a kingdom on the cusp of a revolution. Throughout the book, he’s faced with moral dilemmas and doesn’t always make the right choices.

Favorite Line

“…the last two days have been a ruin on my heart and soul. I think life has simply decided to open the floodgates, trying to drown me in a whirlwind of twists and turns.”

The metaphor of the floodgates really appealed to me. I think that often, especially when you’re a teenager, it feels like nothing happens and then EVERYTHING happens all at once.

 Fun Author Fact

Victoria Averyard has a BFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. I wonder if Red Queen will be a movie one day?

Read This Next

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass. In a reality-show style pageant, girls from various ranks in society compete to be the next princess and wife of Prince Maxon. Pretty awesome.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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 Discussion: Better Than Perfect

 

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Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

Summary

Juliet Newman knows that perfection is hard work.

She studies hard, takes part in all the right activities, and practices hard at swimming, all so she can have the perfect application for Harvard University. She’s a good, responsible daughter in a perfect, beautiful family. And she has the perfect boyfriend – with the same drive and goals as she does. She and Jason have “J power” – and will be at Harvard next year.

But then her parents separate, and Juliet’s perfectly constructed life begins to crack. How can she stay the perfect, devoted, driven daughter when her dad is living 30 minutes away, and her mom is turning into someone she can’t recognize? As Juliet faces these new challenges, she also begins to wonder why she needs to be perfect, and to what end?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort (SPOILER)

I’m not a huge fan of any cheating-related romances, especially without any lessons learned. Juliet blatantly cheats on Jason who, despite a few neurotic flaws, seems to be a decent guy. She doesn’t have any real remorse for it. The romance between Juliet and her love interest wasn’t really relatable to me. She has an instant attraction to him (understandable), but I couldn’t understand why she wanted a relationship with him. Not a huge fan.

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

As a hyper-competitive, driven person, I completely related to Juliet. I loved that she was just as (if not more) driven that Jason, and willing to do everything she could to get into Harvard. I loved how she took care of the other people in her life and made her own decisions. This isn’t an adventure book (so we don’t see any bad-ass sword fighting or saving the world), but in the context of a regular high school girl, I think the feminist score is high.
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Diversity Score: Not A Bit

There was… no diversity in this book. White, rich high school with white, rich students.(Though, yes, there’s one Asian friend who makes a racist comment about other Asians). Even the transfer student from China is actually a white kid born in London. I wish there was more to say about this… but there isn’t.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Despite it’s flaws (see Diversity Score), Better Than Before is a good read. I love high school romance stories with smart, driven characters. And even though I couldn’t completely buy into the romance, I enjoyed the family and school related plot. In a nutshell, this is The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen if Macy was just like Jason.

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Favorite Character

Juliet. If you can’t tell already, I can really relate to her, especially her need to be a “good girl” – the perfect daughter, student, and Harvard applicant.

Favorite Line

“Instead of running away from home, I texted my dad. I told him I was okay. I told him I was with Sofia. I told him I would meet Kathy at the house in the morning. I asked him to stop texting me.

Because I was a good girl. And good girls didn’t throw away their phones or leave home or make their parents worry about them for no reason.”

I really relate to Juliet being a good girl – the struggle between following your emotions and doing the rational, “good” thing. I think that is a struggle a lot of young women deal with, and it was well-described in Better Than Perfect.

Fun Author Fact

Melissa Kantor has a great answer to the question “What’s the craziest thing you ever did to get a boy to like you”.

She moved to Zimbabwe. Check out the full story on her blog.

Read This Next

For another high school romance with competitive characters (well, a crazy competitive boyfriend), check out The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. It’s one of my favorites from high school.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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 High School, Romance

Book Chat: Dumplin’

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Summary

Willowdean is trying to figure out life – what is happening between her and her best friend, Ellen? Does the cute guy at work like Dumplin'her or is she imagining the flirtation? Why can’t her mom (and everyone else) accept that she is fat and happy?

We follow Willowdean as she works her way through these questions and more – finally ending with a new group of oddball friends, a boyfriend that loves her for her, and the beginning of a new kind of love between mother and daughter. And Dolly Parton. Always Dolly.

Note: I use the word “normal” to refer to the majority/default white, cis, hetero world. That’s not ok and I’m working on!


Favorite Character

Aunt Lucy – Even though she’s no longer alive, she still serves as a great example and supporter for Willowdean.

Favorite Line

Three stood out to me because there are some great one line zingers:

“Plus, having sex doesn’t make you a woman. That is so freaking cliché. If you want to have sex, have sex, but don’t make it this huge thing that carries all this weight.”

“Marcus mumbles something about PMS and to my surprise, from the kitchen, Bo says, “Why can’t she just be having a shitty day? You don’t need to make up some bullshit reason why.” (THANK YOU.)

“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”

Fun Author Fact

Inspiration for her first book came from a discussion/argument with teens in a library about where they would barricade themselves in said library if the zombie apocalypse came.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes – while we both had mixed feelings about, I think the character driven story makes it a fun, quick read. The positive representation of a fat and happy character – as well as her new friends – will be really meaningful for some readers.

Read These Next

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero for a year in high school where everything is changing or Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught for another fat girl owning her size and making others reexamine their assumptions through a school newspaper column.

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

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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Filed under Contemporary, High School

Book Discussion: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Summary

Minnow’s parents decide to follow the Prophet into the wilderness. As part of the select group lead by his prophecies, they’re17185496 community learns how to live truly and serve the Prophet’s rules. But, Minnow is able to remember life before the Prophet. And when she makes a friend with someone she shouldn’t, the questions that had been slowly growing finally bloom into full doubt. But – that’s not when we meet Minnow. No, we meet her after. After she’s lost her home. Her family. Her community. Her arms. And maybe herself.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Part of Minnow’s relationship with Mr. Woodsman are cute, but ultimately, it’s two damaged teens trying to find solace from situations that are pretty messed up. And, while I’m glad she was able to think through and get over her community’s racism, I still feel like it happened pretty quickly. And, while Mr. Woodsyboy is sweet and there for Minnow when she needs someone, he tries to do the exact same, possessive stuff that she experienced at the community.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

This book is SO MESSED up in several ways – the community’s treatment of women, the perpetuation of rape culture (women are the holders of men’s honor, women need to dress modestly because it’s all their fault), and the ultimate punishment doled out to Minnow – so many wrongs. But, there are a couple of stand outs – Minnow herself doesn’t allow the Prophet to erase her humanity, Minnow’s roommate doing what she can to protect the newbie, and Minnow’s mother finally breaking out of her abuse-induced daze (maybe). I’m going to focus on the positives of Minnow’s resiliency and strength – and willingness to accept her broken spirit to heal – instead of the awful, brainwashed women in the community, especially Minnow’s sister.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

I’m giving this book points for including a minority religious group – although there is something to be said for who gets to decide what is a “legitimate” religion or not. I definitely think the Prophet’s group is an unhealthy, unsafe, cruel place/cult, but I think we should consider not discounting small congregations just because their different from the mainstream. Points also for Minnow arm loss – living without limbs means moving through the world differently, having to adapt everyday tasks, and I think the book did a good job of showing that – especially while Minnow is in detention. I also give points for showing up life in the detention center without making it exotic. The girls in there have done things, but listening to most of their stories we learn – through Minnow – that the world unfairly punishes them for protecting themselves.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

All the pieces come together to make an intense read. The community, the escape to a tree house, finding a sweet, innocent love outside the confines of the Prophet’s rules, and Minnow’s desire to keep her own secrets all create a pretty great whole. It was a little too much at times, but I still have recommended it to several people. I think the ultimate lesson that girls need to take their fate into their own is the takeaway.


Favorite Character

Angel – she does what she can to survive, keeping her hard exterior as protection, but she never really totally eliminated her heart.

Favorite Line

“…and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down. It’s the only kind of lie that I’d be happy to live with.”

Even in a dark place, Minnow can hope…even if it’s sexy times that gets her there.

Is it worth a book hangover?

Honestly, it’s a disturbing read, but I couldn’t put it down. I really liked Minnow’s voice and the cast of characters that joined her.

Fun Author Fact

Oakes based this off the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.”

Read These Next

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for another girl finding her way through (or out of) a religious community or Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert for a boy lead by faith trying to decide how much he should say during an investigation into his father’s actions.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: The Witch Hunter

 

 

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Summary

Elizabeth and best friend (and secret crush) Caleb are the best witch hunters in the kingdom. They regularly capture witches and wizards for Lord Blackwell, the king’s uncle and head of the witch-hunter guards. With the rise of magic (and witch-burnings) in the kingdom, their services are highly valued.

But when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft, she has a new challenge: How can she stay alive in a world where an accusation of witchcraft leads to almost immediate death? She has to rely on the very people she tried to capture to keep her alive.

Witch Hunter

 

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

The romance between Elizabeth and a certain young wizard is (naturally) complicated. They each bring their own baggage and prejudice, and are forced to live life-and-death situations every day. I thought the romance was nicely developing, but not particularly swoon-worthy. I’m excited to see where the next book in the sequel takes us.

Feminist Score: A+ SuccessRosie

Elizabeth kicks ass. She saves herself over and over again, puts her friends first, and doesn’t allow crushes to get in the way of what’s really important. She’s the kind of friend and protector you want on your side. Her personality reminded me of Kel from The Protector of the Small series, though of course in a different context.
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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This was my one big gripe with this book. I didn’t think it was particularly diverse. The characters were, to my knowledge, white and straight. The author created her own world (based loosely on Tudor England), so she had a lot of flexibility with creating more diverse characters.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The Witch Hunter was an interesting take on medieval times with (real) witchcraft. I enjoyed Elizabeth, her friendships, and the plot development throughout the book. I do wish there had been some more diversity, but overall, I liked the story.

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Favorite Character

Elizabeth – She is fierce, brave, and smart.  She’s a witch hunter. What a bad-ass.

Favorite Line

I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone. I’m going into that tomb alone; I’m going to die alone. This is what Nicholas knew, what he didn’t want to tell me. He didn’t have to. Because deep down I knew it, too.

In this line, Elizabeth learns that she has to (once again) face her biggest fear to save her friends. And in this moment, she has to decide what kind of person she wants to be – the witch hunter she always was, or the friend of the witches she’s starting to become.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I enjoyed the book, especially the plot an d the development of the main character, Elizabeth. It’s not quite on my “hangover” list, but it’s a good read.

Fun Author Fact

Virginia is a huge English history buff. Many of the settings for The Witch Hunter are based on real places in castles and  manors in England.

Read This Next

Try The Selection series by Kiera Cass. While the plot seems a little silly (think The Bachelorette for the next princess), the series is set in a dystopian kingdom with lots of political changes. Check it out!

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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 Discussion: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School