ARC Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Pub. date: March 14th, 2017
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481492065 
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Salaam Reads and Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Summary: Now that Amina is in middle school, it feels like everything around her is changing. Her best friend Soojin has started hanging out with another girl and is considering changing her name to something more “American”, her dad’s brother is visiting them from Pakistan for the first time so she needs to be on her best behavior 24/7, she’s forced to participate in a Quran recitation competition at her local community center, and she desperately wants to participate in the Winter Choral Concert but is too shy to sign up for it. Meanwhile, tragedy strikes as their mosque is vandalized, leaving Amina and her community utterly devastated. 

I haven’t read a lot of middle-grade fiction since well before middle grade ( I was the annoying kid that thought it was only cool to read ‘above’ her reading level and no adult told me otherwise), and it’s such a delight to pick them up and read them as an adult. Hena Khan has woven such a vibrant story with these babies at the heart of it, filled with warmth and leaving you with hope.

The first thing that struck me while reading this was how early in their lives non-white kids in the US and other white-majority countries begin to experience microaggressions and racial stigma. Their environment is made up of people that view them as “other”, including the white kids in their schools. Soojin’s story arc of wanting to change her name to one that would be easier for white Americans to pronounce particularly stayed with me. I didn’t even have to grow up in that kind of environment and three years of people in the States mispronouncing my name drove me batty, but to be a small kid whose environment moulds her into thinking the solution to the conundrum is assimilation (because of systemic white supremacy) is both rage-inducing and heart-breaking. I know a lot of people (in India) who make fun of desis in the States for shortening or changing their names, but they never ever take into consideration the extent of this name-fuckery that POC experience which lead to that decision. 

There are a lot of relationships fleshed out and explored in the story- particularly the family ties. There is a familiar ring to the conversations among members of Amina’s family. I loved that Amina and her brother are very supportive of each other. Amina is still at the cusp of adolescence and by nature quieter, but her brother is thrust into the chaos of self-discovery with basketball and peers on the one side and his parents and their expectations n0t to abandon his culture on the other side. This was extremely relatable, especially in the context of Asian families, and I don’t think that dissonance between these cultural values and what my parents called “modern thinking” ever goes away. At the same time, the parents are not portrayed unfairly- they’re loving, caring, and a little strict, but have their kids’ best interests at heart. The arrival of Amina’s uncle throws some complications in their first-gen family, and their khaatirdhari (hospitality) is so familiar. Guests are considered an equivalent to god, so even with family members hosts will go out of their way to make sure their guests are respected and always comfortable. 

Another thing that I was really glad to see was that Amina and her brother do not abhor or reject their culture. Often times second/third gen Asians are portrayed as rejecting, mocking or hating their cultures (said cultures are also portrayed as old-fashioned, whacky, or straight up weird), and this portrayal either seems like pandering to white people or just written from this white gaze. While Amina is probably a little too young and the typical rebellion we see against religion and culture is seen with older kids, it feels good to read about South Asians without the “backward” shadow. Culture and religion are complicated, and they’re a part and parcel of the Asian culture, so in reality it is almost impossible to disassociate from that without a thought. When crisis strikes with the mosque being vandalized, it is hard not experience horror at the event, especially with the story being built around Amina’s family and the extent to which their lives are tied to that community. However, it was encouraging to watch the community come together in the face of blatant Islamophobia, with the help of supportive allies, not to let the violent act tear them and whatever they’ve built down, leaving readers with hope at the end of it all.

The theme of identity and self-discovery are maintained throughout the book, and explored with the storylines of multiple characters. None of the characters were one-dimensional, and even with the multiple storylines, were written wholly human. This is a very empowering story, and exposing kids to stories like this one is very crucial if we’re to fortify them with the tools to be aware of diversity in experiences, backgrounds, and cultures and dismantle systemic bigotry. 

-J

 

Review: When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

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When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Pub. date: October 4th, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Format: Digital
ISBN: 9781250058669
Source: Chicago Public Library via Overdrive
Purchase links: Amazon| Barnes & Noble| Indiebound|Book Depository

 

 

Miel is the girl that emerged from a water tower one night when she was little, and Sam is the boy who paints paper moons and hangs them up on trees. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and not much is known about either her past or Sam’s. Their friendship finds common ground in their weirdness and secrets, and in their teens, blossoms into a lot more. The only people that the townsfolk choose to keep even further distance from tare he Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. The sisters believe that the scent of the roses growing from Miel’s wrist could make anyone fall in love and they are willing  to spills the secrets they have on Miel and Sam in order to obtain them. 

This book made me realize I truly do love magical realism. I enjoy the flowery prose, characters with mysterious backgrounds that only come forth as you progress through the book, and the mystical components, especially in book filled with such multicultural elements. Miel is Latina, Sam is Pakistani-American, the book references brujeria and bacha posh, and has a central trans character whose exploration of sexual and gender identity is unlike any I’ve seen in a YA book. 

I read the author’s debut novel The Weight In Feathers sometime before this book came out and instantly fell in love with her prose. Her writing is gorgeous. For example:

They would remember only that Miel and Sam had been called Honey and Moon, a girl and boy woven into the folklore of this place.

and

She was a place whose darkness held not fear, but the promise of stars.

*Cue swooning*

I mean, her writing allows the reader’s imagination to explode. It is truly a sensory experience, with descriptions of smells, tastes, and visuals. Whether it’s a field of glass pumpkins, or the smells of the spices used in Miel’s house, or the sound of the river. The love between Miel and Sam literally feels like a slow burn of heightened teenage emotions. 

The book is character-driven over plot, and McLemore gives her characters such nuance. Sam coming into his identity doesn’t necessarily happen throughout the book, but the story is deftly built up to that moment. It is far from a perfect moment, and McLemore’s storytelling prowess in exploring the messiness of teenage emotions shines through. The same can be said for Miel exploring her identity and finding out about her past and how she ended up in this town. The author lends complexity to the Bonner sisters as well, they aren’t your straight up villainous cliquey white sisters. Layers, layers everywhere. 

I’ve said this about other books and I’ll say it again: books like this one are the reason there’s such a push for diversity in publishing. Teenagers exploring their sexual and gender identities on the page is so crucial. Teens having sex and not being punished for it is almost revolutionary. Queer teens of color reconciling their identity with their cultural backgrounds is so needed. Also important, queer kids having stories with happy endings. I guarantee you there are Pakistani-American trans kids out there who will benefit from seeing a character looking like them and sharing their cultural identity undergoing similar struggles. 

This book is evidently a deeply personal one for McLemore, whose husband is trans. It is clear that an immense amount of research has gone into the writing of this book, both for the trans rep and the cultural practices described, for which I’m truly grateful. Do not miss reading the author’s note. With vivid prose and an ethereal narrative, McLemore has my heart once and for all. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

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Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

Pub. date: October 11th, 2016
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (2nd edition)
Format: Digital
ASIN: B01LW0O7KJ
Source: FYeahAsexual 

 

 

 

The city of Parole has been quarantined from the mainland, because it’s burning. Literally, people have been cut off and left to die on a land with an open flame directly under it.There’s a police force called Eye In The Sky that ensures that nobody leaves. Meanwhile, the city is also populated with a bunch of superhumans who have fantastic abilities and are keeping the city from completely wiping out. One of them, Regan (with snake eyes and a lizard tail), suffers from years of anxiety and PTSD, and needs to escape. He can’t, because Hans (a little shit of a ghost), knows how to help him, in exchange for Regan committing a murder.

Regan fails, loses his memory, and ends up running into Evelyn (singer by night, superhero by day). Regan joins her in hopes to piece his story together and escape from Parole. Here we meet the rest of the cast of characters: Danae, who can bring machines to life, Rose, who has healing thorns and vines growing out of her body, Zilch, who is made up of other dead people, and Finn, a lovable taxi driver who causes explosions when he’s feeling anything but happy. Together, they work to uncover the secret behind why Parole is burning, while trying to survive imminent annihilation.       

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy at the end of a dystopian fantasy novel. No, really. This book comes with a lot of hope, and it’s really hard not to love any of the characters (well, maybe not Hans. In case you couldn’t tell, I really don’t like Hans, the conniving little piece of- you get my drift). I loved reading the story from multiple POVs, because the entire premise of Regan losing his memory allowed for the story to unravel and give us context, as he was piecing his life together. This plot point also made it super easy to follow the other characters’ POV. There is a romance ARC, and a fully fleshed out secondary romance narrative as well, which is quite lovely. Not gushy, not out of place, it just flows naturally with the rest of the story (while casually tugging at your heart). 

I can’t talk about this book without talking about it’s inclusiveness. Oh man, I want to shake my fists and shove this book in the faces of people who are all “ugh it’s not always about a diverse cast, can’t we just love the book” and other bullshit because HOLY COW this book is as diverse as it is good. I’m talking trans rep, ace rep, polyamorous rep, mental illness rep, etc. If you’re white/cis-straight/able and are eye-rolling, I challenge you not to fall in love with these characters. Not only is it inclusive, but my most favorite part of the book is all the conversations surrounding these representations. Not in a “let’s center this aspect of your character and make you one-dimensional” kind of way, but in a way that completely fit into the scene. These conversations are so important, so vital, and even when we see diverse representations we don’t often see such nuanced conversations. Those scenes validated me and my experiences. That these characters were still struggling with some parts of their identity and hadn’t quite worked it out, without reducing the plot to their flawed identity situations; I didn’t realize how much I wanted to see that on the page till I actually saw it on the page. 

The book is basically made up of several tiny pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that’s fun to piece together, while being enveloped in inclusion and validation. I absolutely loved it (in case that wasn’t already clear). I’m so glad I chose to participate in #AceBookClub because there was no other way this book would ever have made it into my radar, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel. Please, please read this book. 

-J

 

ARC Review: The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang

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The Wangs Vs. The World: A Novel by Jade Chang

Pub. date: October 4th, 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9780544734098
Source: Netgalley

 

Thanks so much to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Charlie Wang moved to America to become filthy rich. He succeeded with a cosmetics empire until the day he went bankrupt. They’ve come for his money, his assets. His next course of action is to pack whatever belongings he has left, load up the car, take his wife and their faithful nanny, pull his son out of college and his youngest daughter out of boarding school, and road trip it to New York from California to his oldest daughter’s house. Welcome to The Wangs Vs. The World. 

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang”