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

28220826

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARC Review: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

30358505-_sy180_The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

Pub. date: February 7th, 2017
Publisher: Grove Press
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9780802125392 
Source: Edelweiss

Thanks so much to Grove Press and Edelweiss for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

I have two confessions: I haven’t finished reading The Sympathiser yet (not because I didn’t like it, I set it down months ago because of life and more urgent reads in my TBR and haven’t picked it up since), and my knowledge of the Vietnam war is pretty insignificant. I requested this book anyway because I figured there would less pressure to love it than its Pulitzer-winning predecessor. Turns out I didn’t need to be that cautious because I’m officially now a member of the Viet Thanh Nguyen fan club. 

As the title indicates, this collection of previously-published pieces revolves around the experiences of refugees from the Vietnam War. In just eight stories, set in America as well as Vietnam, Nguyen manages to capture and share a plethora of viewpoints and characters. He starts off strong with ” Black Eyed Women”, where we meet a ghostwriter, a Vietnamese-American refugee who is the middle of working on a very traumatic memoir when she’s visited by the ghost of her brother who died when they were fleeing Communist Vietnam. Nguyen conveys a powerful message with simple sentences. For example, when the narrator asks him why he’s wearing the same clothes as the day he died: 

“The dead move on,” he had said, coiled in his armchair, hands between his thighs. “But the living, we just stay here.”

This sentiment is echoed in “The War Years”, where the narrator recalls an incident from his childhood about a woman who approaches his mother seeking donations for an anti-Communist guerillas back in Vietnam, yet cannot come to terms with the disappearance (potential death) of her husband and son who were both guerilla soldiers. 

“While some people are haunted by the dead, others are haunted by the living.”

The stories also represent so much internal conflict that can be seen among several characters. Whether it is the young refugee who is deeply attracted to one of his hosts, or the wife of a professor who is struggling with her husband’s deteriorating memory and saving face in front of her own children, the man who let’s his dad take revenge on his own ex-wife merely out of spite, regardless of his complicated relationship with the man, or two sisters, one American and one Vietnamese, and their complex relationship. 

My favorite story of the collection is “The Americans”, in which Nguyen tells the story of a man who was an American pilot during the war, and is visiting his daughter in Vietnam who works there as a teacher in a rural part of the country. The father is haunted by memories of the war, which are further aggravated by his daughter’s insistence that her move to Vietnam is permanent. When her mother attempts to diffuse an argument on the subject with her father, the daughter says:

“I am home, Mom. It sounds strange. I don’t know how to put it, but I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I have a Vietnamese soul.”

I’m a sucker for stories that revolves around tensions between parents and their children, especially in the Asian community where such conflicts are further complicated by a culture that has always emphasised children respecting their parents wishes no matter age or life choice. Yes, they make me feel validated, because this is something I struggle with a lot, and I can relate to this particular story especially as the child of expatriates. For parents and children, coexisting without severing ties despite having polar opposite views on nearly everything is increasingly common among the present generation. 

It’s pretty hard to pinpoint any weak links in this collection. Even though they’ve been published separately before, and despite the variety of experiences, they all echo fear, love, loss, and internal struggles. The fear that refugees and immigrants experience as depicted in these stories feel very authentic; that inclination to be contained, subservient, and to assimilate, such that any contrasting behavior, especially from the younger generations, feels like a shock to the system. The stories themselves don’t come with surprises, extreme plot twists, or sensationalized details. Rather, the simple writing conveys raw feelings of displacement that are in tandem with these experiences. This is a very timely book with unforgettable characters, so I urge you to pick this up soon. 

-J

 

 

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

thorn

 

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Pub. date: January 2014
Publisher: Intisar Khanani
Format: Ebook
Author’s website: http://booksbyintisar.com/

 

 

Princess Alyrra does not see the appeal of being royalty. Deprived of the luxury of making choices, with no power to stand up against her cruel brother, calculating mother, and a contemptuous court, she has spent her life avoiding the spotlight. THen she is forced to marry someone she doesn’t even know (for political reasons), and is being shipped off to a foreign land with very little hope that things are going to get better for her. On her journey there though, her party is attacked, and a magical spell switches her identity with another woman. Once she reaches her destination, she is assigned the lowly station of a goose girl, and for the first time in her life, has the freedom to make her own choices: either fight for her rightful identity and subsequent future with this prince she’s never met, or start off fresh in this new life, as Thorn. However, she becomes increasingly aware that there are some dark forces in play in this new kingdom, and becomes acquainted with the prince, and the choice she needs to make is tied to some serious consequences. 

Here’s the first reason I loved this book, it’s a retelling of The Goose Girl by the Grimm’s Brothers. I love retellings, particularly fairy tale retellings. There’s so much beauty in playing around with them, especially since a lot of them are written by white dudes, and let’s face it, could use some color. 

The second reason I loved this book, and why I also love retellings, is that it is an opportunity to flesh the characters out and give them more dimension. Which is exactly what Intisar does. Alyrra doesn’t just carry out her duties as the goose girl, but she becomes involved in the lives of the other servants she has to live with. Intisar does a phenomenal job describing the political and social unrest, using many scenes to depict issues of classism, how people who didn’t grow up in palaces had so many other odds to contend with. There is a scene where one of her new friends is assaulted, and despite her friendship with the prince and seeking his help, Alyrra is unable to get help from them. Meanwhile, the locals dealt with the attackers by implementing their own form of justice, because they had no expectations that the law would care for those that were underprivileged. The power dynamics and imbalance between Alyrra/Thorn and the prince are also explored in multiple scenes and interactions between them.

Another relationship that gave me both joy and crushed me was Thorn’s relationship with Falada, a strong-willed talking horse (though nobody other than Thorn knows about the talking part). Another character that was just a caricature in the original, Initisar portrays Falada as a loyal companion and dispenser of sagely advice, and the bond between the two of them is strong.

As for the writing itself, the prose is beautiful, even though world building is slow and took me a little while to comprehend. It all flows together. The magical and sorcery aspect isn’t something that leaps out of the page as bizarre, because it is woven into the world and belongs there. Alyrra’s character is a beautiful example of nature vs. nurture, of a victim that ultimately saves herself, as a result of her very best qualities which are the ones that were developed and not inherited.

Here’s my third and probably most favorite thing, the relationship between Alyrra/Thorn and Prince Kestrin. You can watch it develop through their interactions. It’s pretty obvious that he knows she’s the princess, even though he hasn’t quite worked out how her identity was switched. Given all that has happened, it is only natural that Alyrra/Thorn is extremely wary of the prince and basically everyone in the court, which is why she is extremely reluctant to accept help from him, and he doesn’t push her. There’s various points in the story where we get to see Kestrin’s POV, where instead of trying to save her, he tries to guide her to save herself. This relationship between two strangers isn’t one of immediate romance, but one that is a combination of mutual understanding and slowly developing trust. Even in the end, it’s not all neatly tied up, as evidenced by these lines:

“I take a step forward, so that I am barely a handspan away from him, and rest my other hand on his chest, feeling the rise and fall of each breath. “I have no doubt of it,” I say, because I cannot yet tell him I love him, because we need more time without games and deceit between us to find such love.”

This book left my heart singing, so I’m immensely grateful to both Jenny and Memory for recommending it to me. Thank you, friends. I’m of course now an absolute fan of Intisar Khanani and will of course be devouring everything she’s ever written in the near future. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diverse-A-Thon is Back!

diverse-a-thon

Hey ho, it’s that time again! So remember a few months ago when that trashfire video resulted in a weeklong readathon dedicated to boosting marginalized voices? Well, they’re back! That’s right, Diverse-A-Thon is happening from January 22nd to the 29th, which means I get to spend this weekend participating in two readathons. My body is ready. 

This ‘thon is hosted by the wonderful Joce, Christina Marie, Monica Watson, and Simon Savidge. They are all booktubers, but there are participants from all over all varieties of social media. For example, I learned from Joce’s announcement video that Naz and Mara will be joining the hosts to promote Diverse-A-Thon across both Instagram and the blogging platforms. 

The great thing about this ‘thon is that it’s a super low stress one- there are no reading challenges or specific prompts involved. Participants can read one, two, or ten books within the space of the week. There will be daily twitter chats, which are very interesting, and give you an opportunity to discuss a lot of key issues surrounding diversity in publishing, as well as get a ton more books recommendations. The group book selected this time is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is one hundred percent optional, and will not detract from your readathon participation if you don’t choose to read it. 

Personal note: I’m not sure if the challenge specifies this, but I’d like everyone to keep in mind that promoting diversity in reading is about boosting marginalized voices and experiences. So if you’re choosing to only read books by white/cis/het/able authors who’ve included marginalized characters in their story, then that isn’t really the same thing. If we are to change the landscape of publishing, then we need to support authors and experiences that are of a wide range and a variety of intersections. I don’t intend to police anyone’s reading choices, but I’d just like to gently remind everyone why these events are being organized in the first place. 

If you need more incentive: Naz is letting everyone that participates and creates a sign-up post with a TBR submit that post to earn 1 point towards a badge for #ReadDiverse2017 (Yes yes that definitely motivated me to create one instead of simply participating in the ‘thon). 

Alrighty, since I’m still in my YA/light books zone, here’s potentially what I’d like to read during the week: 

Meanwhile, let me know in the comments if you’re participating. This is such a cool initiative and I’m glad to be participating. Know that I’m a social media junkie that will be cheerleading you through the week if you need a boost. I am also linking the announcement videos by Joce, Simon, and Christina Marie if you’re looking for more information, or just really cool booktubers. Be sure to follow the official Diverse-A-Thon twitter account for the latest updates!

-J

 

 

#DAReadathon TBR

I have several issues with the lack of diversity in the world of Harry Potter, especially with the kind of crap JKR has been putting us through this year. But I think you’ve known me long enough to know I can’t resist a readathon, especially one that is focused on promoting diverse books. I’ve been mulling over my reading goals for 2017, and it only seems fitting to kick it off with a readathon highlighting diverse books, organized by an awesome blogger. The details are right here, and I’m excited to be repping team Slytherin!

name-jananiblog-the-shrinkettehouse-slytherinpatronus-white-swan-2

Aentee has given us eight awesome prompts, and I’ve picked one book each in order to rack up some sweet house points:

expectopatronum

everyheartdoorway

 

I haven’t read a lot of books repping ace characters, and it is totally for lack of trying. I’m making more of an effort and have found quite a few titles, so I’m reading one that has been recommended to me the most from all corners of the interwebz. 

 

 

expelliarmus

undertheudalatrees

 

It’s safe to say that I’ve discovered plenty of gaps in my reading, so many that I’m not actually sure I’ll get to all of them in my life, but I’ll be damned if I don’t keep trying. So for this category, I’ve picked this highly acclaimed title which hits both titles by Non-US/European authors and features lesbian characters. 

 

protego

lolitatehran 

 

This book has been sitting on my shelf for months; I only bought it because the premise sounded interesting. A quick scroll through Goodreads indicated that this is highly acclaimed, so I’m using this readathon as an excuse to crack this beauty open. 

 

 

reducto

hidden-figures

 

You guys, my body is so ready for this movie. I can’t explain what it means to see women of colour nerds on screen. It is going to be glorious, and you bet your bottom dollar I need to read the book before I go see it on screen. 

 

impedimenta

fifthseason.jpg

 

I keep picking this book up and I’m never in the right mood to read it, but I’m thinking having a print copy will help me this time. I know it’s a slow burn and there’s a ton of world building, but I have mad respect for the author and I’d really like to finally be hooked along with the rest of you. 

dareadathon-stupefy

sunsstaryoon.jpg

 

It’s really simple, my library hold finally came through, and I need to read it because the holds list is a mile long. Also, I’ve heard so many good things and I’m having serious FOMO. THAT COVER IS EVERYTHING. *heart eyes for days*

 

dareadthon-lumos

leztalk.jpg

 

This book has been recommended to me by both Naz and Bina, which made it the perfect pick for this prompt. I’m knee deep in my need for intersectional feminist works, so this automatically made the list for that as well.

 

 

 

 

Right, those are my picks. Looking for more options? Allow me to direct you to Naz’s blog, where he gives us more than 60 awesome options for the readathon prompts. Excited to see everyone’s picks, and looking forward to start off the year reading fantastically inclusive books! 

-J

 

 

 

 

 

ARC Review: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

wp-1479113487650.jpgLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Pub. date: January 10th, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781101982242
Source: Netgalley

 

Thanks so much to G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Eighteen-year old Solimar Valdez undertakes an arduous journey to cross the US/Mexican border, during which she meets and falls in love with a young man. Weeks later, separated from due to a series of events, she arrives in Berkeley, California at her cousin’s house, impregnated and in love, both of which were not part of her plan. However, her cousin gets her a job, and teaches her to keep a low profile so as not to have her legality questioned, and she does just that. She gives birth to a lovely baby boy Ignacio, who becomes Soli’s most precious possession, one she guards with her life. Until one day, the unluckiest set of circumstances result in Soli taken to a detention center, separated from Ignacio. 

Kavya Reddy has a stable job, a stable marriage, and a complicated relationship with her mother. She’s looking for more in the fulfillment and happiness department, and is unexpectedly overwhelmed with a desire to become a mother. It becomes her sole focus. She and Rishi struggle with trying to get pregnant, and their marriage goes through the hoops of trying and failing IVF and such. The couple look into adoption, and this is where their lives collide with Soli’s- they end up fostering Ignacio. Kavya takes on the role of mother willingly, although it doesn’t come without its tribulations, and falls in love with this child that is not her own. 

There’s several beautiful things about this book. The writing, for starters, is gorgeous. It’ll capture you from the first few pages, the author using it to weave such an emotional story. Sekaran has also done such an excellent job of portraying two strong women, women who in their own rights care so deeply for this child, and will stop at nothing to try and keep him with them. A comparison of their determination and experiences is futile. This is not a story that has a clear winner at the end; but it portrays so many emotions vividly that it leaves you raw and aching.

The book also tackles the reality of the circumstances of undocumented people and immigrants. The sections of the book tackling the legal and judicial systems, the horrific realities of people thrown into detention centers and the terrible choices they are given, made me feel angry and helpless, all at the same time. As someone that has grown up with a lot of chatter of the American dream, the true nature of what that looks like left me disillusioned. Especially in the current political climate, it was very hard not to experience real fear and anxiety when reading Soli’s story. 

I can’t say that I wanted the book to end differently. I devoured this book in a couple of days, but I was unable to pick sides. Not that picking sides makes any damn difference in the world, because the entire situation is beyond fucked up and there’s no alternatives for a satisfactory of comforting conclusion. My guts were wrenched, and my heart was torn. I can’t recommend this enough. 

Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

wp-1470615948554.jpg

The Ballad Of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Published: February 16th, 2016
Publisher: Tor.com
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780765387868
Source: Library
Challenges: Diverse SFF Book Club

 

Here’s the favor I’m doing myself (and you should too)- I’m not going to be reading Lovecraft’s The Horror At Red Hook. There’s plenty of books in the world not written by bigots towards which I would like to give my time and money. That said, well, if you want to know more about the horror show that was Lovecraft’s book, Tor did a great synopsis. Was more than enough for me, that’s for sure.

Here’s the first thing that I loved about the book- it’s existence. Warms my grouchy heart that someone took it upon themselves to respond to Lovecraft’s racist book- a well-written response, might I add. I mean, these were his opening lines:

“People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They don’t see it. They look for magic, and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

That made me grin so hard, and I was hooked (sorry guys, I’ve been all about the bad puns recently). LaValle manages to create such a juicy story in this tiny novella, only things like packing and moving could really force me to put the book down. The plot: Tom Tester is a young black man in 1920’s New York City, living with his father and hustling to make ends meet. He’s a mediocre guitar player, a terrible singer, and uses his guitar case to make his “deliveries.” One of these jobs results in his introduction to Suydam, who has a serious case of white savior complex. He exposes Tom to an occult experience where he is exposed to several hidden realities and possibilities. In the second half of the book, the perspective shifts to Malone (Lovecraft’s original protagonist), who is an NYPD detective that has been keeping tabs on Tester and Suydam and the horrors that ensue.

New York is strife with racial tension in the Jazz Age, and the author manages to convey this masterfully. Everyone- the cops, Tom’s dad, train conductors- everyone keeps reminding Tom of his blackness every time he dares set foot out of Harlem, reminding him to stay where he belongs. The racial tension isn’t unfamiliar, and LaValle has done a splendid job outlining it in the book. The underlying implication of the persuasion of power and its effects depending on whose lap it falls on, is so well-crafted by the author, he didn’t even have to explicitly state it in the prose. The characters have stunning emotional depth, the feelings of hurt, pain, and suspicion are very, very real. For lovers of the genre, I’d say this is one you shouldn’t miss, because it is such a well-crafted story, and it comes without all of Lovecraft’s racist narrative. Within this tiny, tiny book, the author manages to touch readers’ fears that are very real. Moral of the story: Things can get real dicey when people that have been power-deprived for too long are suddenly exposed to it. The preventative tactic would be to make power legitimate and not an exclusive shiny toy so that it loses some of its lustre and people don’t get desperate from the deprivation. 

So glad I took the time to participate in this edition of the Diverse SFF Book Club- it would’ve been a shame to miss out on this book. Can’t wait to see everyone else’s reactions and reviews. There’s a chance I might read it once more before I return it to the library.