Tag Archives: We Need Diverse Books

A YEAR OF THE BOOKMARK!

IMG953345It’s our anniversary! We’ve made it a year – highlighting the books and authors that are underrepresented and marginalized in publishing. During our very special birthday week, we’re bringing you posts about The Bookmark and a fantastic giveaway!

Today, I’m writing about how The Bookmark has changed us. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll share interviews, so you can get to know us a little more. On Thursday, Jess will talk about our future – personally and for the blog.

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Can I just say that the blog has changed us in All The Ways?

In all seriousness, running The Bookmark has profoundly changed both of us. We’ve learned more than we could have ever imagined. Most importantly, we’ve learned about the challenges facing marginalized and underrepped communities. We weren’t very knowledgeable to start with (and we certainly don’t claim to be experts now!), but we’ve learned how to do our research, where to go to learn more, and how to navigate the learning process.

Through the blogging and twitter community, we’ve also realized how much we still have to learn. From Jess, “Through the blogging and twitter community, I’ve realized how much I still have to learn about being sensitive. I thought I was a pretty empathetic person and I try to be kind. But, I know no matter how careful I am with my words, I will always manage to say something that offends someone. Being in the community, I’m gaining a better sense of the nuances and issues that surround certain terms. And I realized that the best source for learning is from the community you’re talking or learning about.”

We’ve also learned about the incredible online community. There are tons of people dedicated to a similar goal who come out to cheerlead the stories. But we’ve also learned how divisive diversity, marginalized groups, and repping the underrepresented can be. That’s why we’re going to keep fighting the good fight.

The Bookmark has also changed the way we see our roles as allies and advocates.

Says Jess, “The blog has taught me more about being an ally than any class or lecture or scholarly book ever did. I’ll never forget reading on twitter somewhere (if you have the source, help me!) that being an ally is only good for 24 hours. No matter how hard you worked and how well you did on Monday, it expires when you go to sleep. On Tuesday you have to earn your right to be called an ally all over again. I try to remember that every morning and make the intention to do better.”

From Anisha, “I think that prior to The Bookmark, I worried that online advocacy really just focused on speaking to those who already agreed with your views – so how are you changing anything? But over the past few months, I’ve realized that even ‘good people’ – people who want to be sensitive and go about advocacy the right way – don’t know everything. And more than anything, you can help inform those people. I learn about new terms, sensitivities, and the “rules of engagement” every day by reading blogs. Advocacy comes in many forms, and writing a blog certainly matters.”

We’re trying to live up to what we’ve learned.

On a more technical level, The Bookmark has taught us the basics of blogging and podcasting. Neither of us knew how to even record a podcast prior to our launch, but we stumbled through it with trial and error – and we are finally getting the hang of it. (Even if Audacity restarts on us at least once per recording!)

Finally, on a personal note, The Bookmark has allowed the two of us to stay connected. Although we used to work in the same place (I would stalk Jessica’s cube every morning in a desperate plea for friendship), we now live a plane-ride (or very, very long car-trip) apart. The Bookmark has given us something tangible to discuss, with regular dates and deadlines. We’ve both had a very busy year – and it’s easy to see a friendship slip away if you aren’t careful. But the Bookmark has given us even more of a shared connection. And through it, we’ve grown closer.

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: Shadowshaper

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summary

Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.

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Romance Score: A+ Success

The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.

Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.

The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.

I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.

Also – THAT COVER.


Favorite Character

Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)

Favorite Line

This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family  – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.

Fun Author Fact

Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.

 

 

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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 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 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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Book Discussion: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Summary

Toni and Gretchen have the cutest relationship in their high school and 22082075have set the bar for love and all future relationships that their classmates dream of. But what looks perfect on the outside isn’t always so and when they go off to college, the two find their relationship buckling under the pressure of navigating their changing identities. In high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, but once at Harvard begins to explore other terms and feelings that have always been bubbling under the surface. Gretchen is left trying to understand everything from afar.

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heartRomance Score: You’re Trying & Good Effort

Toni and Gretchen are adorable and sparks fly from the moment they first see each other. The sexy times are hot without being explicit and the kissing is on point. And, because we end up watching them navigate very difficult terrain, it feels like a realistic relationship. However, it also feels realistic because Toni treats Gretchen pretty terribly. It becomes all about Toni’s issues and what Toni is going through rather than an equal relationship.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Firstly, this should probably be changed since the book is not really about feminism. But, both characters are empowered to make choices, own their identities and actions, and to feel free to be themselves – whatever that means. I think the book displays some wonderful examples of what it means to navigate expectations and how difficult it can be to feel like the “lesser” person in a relationship. I admired Gretchen’s struggle with why she chose NYU a lot because it seems to be something lots of people deal with when coupled up. And, Toni’s struggle gives a point by point map for thinking about gender, the binary vs spectrum, and the roles we choose and how we present them – something everyone should consider.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book has genderqueer, transgender, lesbian, and straight characters, so it definitely has that category covered. Additionally, there is a Korean character, several black characters, and a decent representation of regional differences (Northern vs Southern US, urban vs rural). It’s a little lacking on the economic lines and there were a few times where I felt the story was aided by the characters’ privilege, but that’s ok. I think this book is important because it’s not a “seriously traumatic QUILTBAG” book – there’s difficult issues and families aren’t always loving, but it’s not about depression, suicide, or violence.

I will note that, by the nature of Toni and Gretchen’s relationship, it’s a little “time for some definitions” in some sections, but it never crosses into “let me give you a lesson” territory. The explanations fit into the story fairly well and aren’t being shoehorned into the conversations. Rather, they flow from the characters’ experiences and emotions instead of from the need to get a point across.

NOTE: After reading a lot of other reviews, I’ve learned that many readers find the use of “genderqueer” and the portrayal of the community very problematic. I think this is one of those times where my personal lack of knowledge/non-identification was clearly a blindspot. I’m not going to change the score, but encourage you to do your own research.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I loved getting to know the characters and seeing them struggle to find the middle ground (or not) for their relationship. I thought Toni and Gretchen were great examples of what going to college feels like – especially how your life can change drastically in just a few days and it’s hard to translate to someone that’s not there with you just how big those changes are when it happens in the simplest details. I’m excited to see more characters on the gender spectrum and a wide spectrum of family reactions as well. I love Robin Talley’s writing style – the two person perspective works especially well here as we see the confusion on both sides of the relationship and the desperation as things begin to change.


Favorite Character

Samantha – We don’t get to know her well until the end, but I loved that she played against stereotype.

Favorite Line

“Nothing good in the history of ever has started with the words We need to talk.

The characters are well developed and I really loved the dialogue and being in their heads (and I’m not a lover of first person).

Fun Author Fact

Talley is writing a lesbian retelling of MacBeth and I am SO EXCITED.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The characters are engaging and their relationship is beautiful. It’s also a great book for being introduced to what genderqueer and transgender mean – for those not identifying as such and, I think, for those struggling to understand where they live on the spectrum. Plus, the writing is awesome!

Read These Next

I’m going to recommend Talley’s other published book, Lies We Tell Ourselves for more teens struggling to fight preconceived notions and Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz about a girl trying to break off the labels and make a space to live in.

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, Romance

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.

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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: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

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 Chat – Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Pérez

Summary

It’s 1937 and Naomi has recently moved with her half-brother and sister 25256386to a new town where her siblings father will care for them all. There she must try to navigate the racial divides of the oil town while navigating the difficult relationship between her and her stepfather. Then she meets Wash and things begin to improve. Set against the worst school tragedy in US history, the explosion is a larger framework for the individual crises and turmoil that Naomi and her family suffer.

Trigger warning: racially motivated violence, sexual violence, child abuse

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Favorite Character

Beto – His old soul seems out of place in the real world and it feels like he’s connected to something deeper; he reminds everyone around him to cherish small details and his connection to something more will serve him as he deals with the aftermath of the book’s story.

Favorite Line

Guys, there are a ton of beautiful lines and the book is amazingly written, but don’t you know by now that I’m the worst at keeping track of them?

Fun Author Fact

Pérez is a teacher, though she also loves libraries, and has taught all school levels. She’s currently a professor of world literature and credits her students for encouraging her to write.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It’s beautifully written and the characters are amazing, but it’s not a happy story. I think this book is valuable, especially if you’ve lead a life privileged enough to not experience racial or sexual violence. If you have personal experience with racial, ethnic, or sexual  violence, I would hesitate to recommend this and would give a full disclaimer that this will only underline what you already know.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson for a contemporary look at similar issues with a more positive ending or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for another look at the end of segregation with another boundary-crossing love story.

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 Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance

Book Discussion: Six of Crows

Six of Crows (#1) by Leigh Bardugo

Summary

In a world where some people have the power to create, destroy, and control, there are those that despise them and those that 23437156use them. In a city with a dark underbelly, anything can be bought or sold for the right price. Someone is leaking a substance that will take it all to the extreme. And so, Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind, is offered the biggest heist in history –  but he’ll need the perfect team.

And so, six outcasts join together to attempt the impossible.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

The relationships in this book were good starts but just didn’t go all the way for me. One couple met each other in considerably unkind circumstances and, while I do enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers transition, the depth of hate/prejudice felt like it was a little too easily overcome. I really enjoyed the second couple and loved the respect that one of the people demanded for themself, it’s just too early to give much weight to that relationship. The third couple was more of a flirtation, so I’m not sure I can really count it at all, but it was super fun. Plus, that third couple added some diversity to the bunch, so I doubly liked it.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ success

First, I’ll point out that I debated this for a bit because prostitution and sexual exploitation is a big part of the story for one character, but I finally decided that the way she deals with it and uses her experiences to find strength trumps the abuse. Additionally, the ladies in the book know what they want and they go for it, they’re respected for their skills, and are treated as equal contributors. I appreciated that there was a sisterhood and supportive relationship between the two girls; they know they have scars and give each other the love and comfort needed to acknowledge painful pasts and move forward.

The other tough point for me was with one of the relationships. As mentioned above, I definitely feel the appeal of a hate-to-love relationship development, but the enmity between two characters in this book is based more on ingrained aspects of their identities than on personality clashes. When I think about a racist falling for someone with the skin color they’re prejudiced against but justifying it because “they’re different than the rest,” I get a little uncomfortable. While I think the relationship can eventually grow so that both characters move away from their deep prejudices, I still wonder about it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are six main characters and we get a good range of people. I’m going to try very hard not to spoil things that come out slowly in the story, so…Kaz has a poorly healed leg that gives him a limp and lots of chronic pain. He also is suffering from what looks like PTSD thanks to an awful experience when he first arrived in the city. Inej is brown skinned, from a nomadic people, and has the agility and silence of a ghost cat. Nina is beautiful and curvy and takes pleasure in all of life’s tiniest joys. She also owns her sexuality and is determined to protect the life she wants. Underneath Jesper’s penchant for gambling is an interest in someone that was fairly well hidden until half way through the book. There are two other main characters that make up the six, one has some deeply hidden secrets that come out very near the end and the other would, I suppose, be the “normal” character, if you discount where he spends half the book.

As a fantasy world, there’s no excuse for not reflecting the diversity of the real world and I think Bardugo does a good job with this. She also has a note in the back that I found sweet considering the focus of this blog.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had been feeling like I had abandoned my fantasy roots for a bit (untrue, but I had an itch) and Six of Crows brought me back around. I really liked the characters, the story, and the world – the hints of our own world that came through added extra dimension. I also thought the intrigue and underworld were engaging; I wanted to know what happened and if the crew would be successful. I’m not giving it a full score because it slowed down slightly in the middle and I’m still feeling a little confused about the true feelings or alliances of some of the characters. It’s clear they’re in it together, but I feel like it’s uncertain if that is forever or just until we escape.

All around, it was fun and intriguing, and I’m waiting eagerly for the next book.


Favorite Character

All six are well-rounded and I felt like we got to know all of them equally, but I really love Inej. She’s suffered, she’s deeply embedded in the underworld, but she doesn’t let the brutal gangs beat hope and faith out of her. Plus, I’m concerned if I don’t choose her, she’ll let out all my secrets!

Favorite Line

“Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns you heart.”

Fun Author Fact

Bardugo wrote a song for her book series, the Grisha Triology.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Definitely! If you like ensemble books full of adventure and big personalities, you’ll like this. The characters are amazing and the different points of view made the story richer and more exciting. It also kept the mystery longer as pieces dripped out slowly.

Read These Next

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another trilogy-starting, intense read with strong characters and lots of adventure or Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith for a spy, fantasy, intrigue story.

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 Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy