ARC Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

34728667Children of Blood and Bone (Legend of Orïsha #1)

Pub. date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers  
Format: Print
ISBN: 9781250170972
Source: Publisher

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

Content warnings: Attempted rape, physical abuse, death, murder, gore, torture, war themes, loss of parent, racism, colorism

Synopsis: Eleven years ago magic disappeared when the king mercilessly slaughters the maji. Zélie Adebola, now has one shot at bringing magic back and retaliating against the throne. With the help of her brother and the rogue princess, she must thwart the crown-prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Every once in a while a book comes along that is so hyped you keep putting off reading it, and when you finally get to it you end up kicking yourself for waiting as long as you did because the hype is real. Y’all, the hype is so real. I’m not even much of a fantasy reader, and much less a dark fantasy one, and this book had me by guts from beginning to end. It was impossible to put down, so bear with me as I rave about it. Also, let us take a moment to appreciate that cover. Look at that cover. What a friggin’ stunner. It’s hard to stop staring at it. 

First of, this is an all-Black cast. All. Black. In the year of our lord 2018 we have an all-Black YA gritty fantasy novel. Typically, I shy away from gritty fantasy because they’re all-white and rapey, but this book isn’t like that at all. It’s brilliantly-paced, the plot will have you at the edge of your seat at an ungodly hour of the night because you’re unable to put it down, the imagery is lush, and the characters are so well fleshed-out. Yes there is violence and it is gruesome at times, but it is purposeful in the narrative and commentary, rather than as pain porn, which is such a refreshing change. Nothing in this book is present without purpose or meaning, which speaks to Tomi’s talents as a writer; it’s very rare that a 600 page galley doesn’t have the parts that one usually skims over (we’ve all been there, let’s not even pretend).

The world-building in this book is absolutely phenomenal. Tomi’s homage is to West African heritage, and she demonstrates it not only in the descriptions and settings but in conversations as well, all woven together seamlessly. The book is padded with descriptions of food, clothing, traditions, etc. it’s an absolute treat for the reader’s imagination. Her mastery comes through with her commentary on race, ethnic cleansing, and colorism in communities of color- how systemic oppression works, the horrors of police brutality, how people who are raised in privilege so easily believe the narratives fed to them, how their worldview is challenged when they step out of the comforts of their spaces, how the only way for oppressed people to become free is to claim it themselves. It is clear that Tomi’s taken inspiration from modern times and the issues affecting Black people in America today, and it is a superb use of allegory in the crafting of this book. 

Now the characters. The story is told from the points of view of Zélie, the rogue princess Amari, and Inan. the crown prince. Zélie’s twin brother Tzain is a crucial part of the storyline as well. Each of the characters have clearly distinguishable perspectives and voices. Zélie is a strong protagonist, and even though she’s rash at times, her heart’s in the right place. Amari has spent so long under the thumb of her father that she’s afraid to unleash he own strength, and is quick to realize how her father’s regime has harmed so many people. Inan is the disillusioned prince, who wants to believe that everything his father has taught him about the maji and magic, and is unable to reconcile everything he witnesses when in pursuit of Zélie with his entire life up to that point. My favorite thing about Zélie is how she doesn’t let Amari or Inan off the hook for their privilege, challenging it every single time. 

“They built this world for you, built it to love you. They never cursed at you in the streets, never broke down the doors of your home. They didn’t drag your mother by her neck and hang her for the whole world to see.”

(I just. She’s such a phenomenal writer. There’s so many lines like this that will make you stop and really ponder the inequality and injustice that the maji have been subjected to for years. Take that and think about what marginalized people are facing right now. It really hits you.)

Another thing the book does brilliantly is subverting some very familiar fantasy tropes. Zélie is the embodiment of the Chosen One trope but she’s never just fighting by herself- she’s always got people fighting that she’s fighting for along with her, which I think is pretty cool. No man is an island after all, and in a rebellion you need every person you can get. Like I said before, the book deals with oppression brilliantly, and especially for Zelie, who has to struggle with the potential ramifications of how the diviners will handle the magic that she plans to unleash. She’s aware that saving magic wouldn’t automatically solve all their problems, and there was still potential for a new wave of oppression to come in place. Then there’s the romance subplots, and without giving anything away, all I’ll say is I was so afraid one of them would take a route I loathe but it didn’t and I think that served all the character arcs involved in that subplot so well. 

Undoubtedly, I am so ready for the sequel (especially because that cliffhanger of an ending left me with many, many feelings). Tomi is such a brilliant writer y’all, it’s so hard to believe this is her debut novel. I’ve been following her book two updates on her Instagram, and I will be hitting that pre-order button so hard. If you don’t believe me, just go ahead and get yourself a copy of this book by any means necessary, you’ll be drawn into the fandom with me. 

P. S. Check out the fun quiz on the CBB website to see which Maji clan you belong to. I got Tider (I’m such a water baby). 

ARC Review: The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

29736467The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Pub. date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781524715878
Source: Netgalley

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

Trigger Warnings: Death of a sibling, death of a best friend, death of an ex-boyfriend, suicide, leukemia, alcoholism, mentions of drug dealing, marijuana use, death of a queer character.

Plot: Told from the perspective of three teenagers, all of whom have experienced the loss of a loved one. Autumn lost her best friend, Shay her twin sister, and Logan the boy he loved. They’re navigating grief each their own way, and are reunited by their love for one band’s music. 

I often hear about how people find contemporary novels formulaic and clichéd, and while a lot of it boils down to taste, I think some it also depends on the kind of contemporary novels people are reaching out to read. For skeptics of the genre, I invite you to give Ashley Woodfolk’s debut YA novel a shot. It tackles grief in such a profound way while delving into the many complicated and flawed things that make us so human.

The three main characters, along with the secondary characters, are all linked to each other via their connections to a local indie band called Unraveling Lovely. Autumn’s best friend Tavia dies in a car accident while driving to a party, and Autumn is racked with guilt because she was supposed to accompany her to the party and chose not to at the last minute. Her coping mechanism involves spending all her time she can at Tavia’s house, particularly with Tavia’s brother Dante, and emailing her constantly. Her grief seems immeasurable and she doesn’t think anyone else’s, not even Dante’s, can even compare. Shay’s left ‘twinless’ after losing her sister Sasha, who’d succumbed to the leukemia she’d been suffering with since the age of 11. The twins, along with a couple of their friends run a music reviewing blog, and Sasha is constantly reminded of Shay from every queued blog post, and every time someone else, including their mother, looks at her. Like Autumn, she’s in place where she feels nobody can possibly understand what she’s going through. Logan struggles with grief and guilt over the loss of his ex-boyfriend Bram, and blames himself for some things he said to him as their relationship was ending. He feels responsible and struggles with a lot of “what ifs”, wondering if he’d contributed to Bram’s depression and consequent death by suicide. Logan’s depression lead him to alcoholism that resulted in the breaking up of Unraveling Lovely, of which he was a member. Now, he harbors resentment for Bram’s girlfriend Yara and leans on watching Bram’s vlogs as he grieves for the person he loves. 

The three teens are narrators of their own stories, and while their losses are separate, their grief brings them together. As the stories develop, we’re shown how their lives overlap and intersect. They each lean on their love for music, even when sometimes it doesn’t seem enough. This is a poignant thread that ties together all of them and the book itself, as the characters otherwise don’t have anything else holding them together. However, the story in itself such an emotional and captivating one, and I think these connections, fragile as they are, just speak to how grieving can be both an individual and universal experience all at once. 

The writing style in itself is pretty simplistic- lots of short sentences with strong, distinguishable narrators. I thought this worked well for a story that was fraught with so many emotions and the writing didn’t distract from that. In the end, you’re not left with characters that are completely healed with all their issues resolved and closure experienced, rather, you’re shown the significant effects of the tiny steps taken towards the beginnings of their healing process, with the help of good and necessary support systems. These strong themes of love, loss, pain, and hope will surely resonate with the book’s target audience, many of whom need books like these to feel a little less alone as they navigate a complicated world and tumultuous emotional spaces. 

Overall, a phenomenally strong debut offering a perspective on grief that stays with you even after you’ve finished reading the book. If you’ve known me a while you know that I inhale stories that tackle grief, loss, and pain, especially realistic stories, so this book was tailor-made for me and has officially made it high up the favorites-of-2018 list. Fans of Adam Silvera and Nina LaCour, consider this me shoving this book in your hands. 

 

ARC Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

35297380American Panda by Gloria Chao

Pub. date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781481499101
Source: Netgalley

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

Plot: Seventeen-year old Mei is a freshman at MIT, thanks to skipping fourth grade- all part of her parents’ master plan. This plan also includes Mei becoming a doctor, marrying a Taiwanese boy selected by her parents, and have a bunch of babies. Unfortunately, between her hatred of germs, her inability to stay awake during biology lectures, and a crush on her Japanese classmate Darren, Mei knows that she doesn’t want this future that her parents have planned and worked so hard for. When she reconnects with her estranged brother Xing, she begins to wonder whether it was worth keeping so many secrets from her parents, or if it was possible for her to find a way to live life on her terms. 

I think the Goodreads synopsis of this contemporary YA novel can be a little misleading. I went in expecting a hilarious romantic comedy of errors, but instead was hit with a plethora of intensely complicated emotional drama. Gloria delivers a very real story that is not uncommon in many Asian families. Mei is a strong narrator throughout the book, and I found myself getting caught up in her angst and conflicting emotions. She’s clearly experiencing a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance- wanting to make her parents happy and not let their sacrifices go for nought, while at the same time having ambitions and dreams of her own that are so far left field from what her parents have envisioned for her. While I didn’t grow up with parents as intense as Mei’s, my expat childhood was filled with a lot of these constant, conflicting desires. Gloria does an excellent job as portraying them for what they are- hardworking immigrant parents who’ve lived their lives holding firmly onto these perspectives and values and wanting their kids to have a secure future to the point where they’ve lost sight of personal happiness and their kids’ happiness, and the fact that the world and the country they live in is very different from the one they grew up in. Mei’s parents are very conservative and old-fashioned, ascribe to all manner of superstitions and beliefs, and yes, their love is conditional on their kids’ obedience- as evidenced by the fact that their son is estranged for falling in love with a non-parental-approved girl. I developed a certain appreciation for Mei’s mother, especially towards the end of the book. She’s a complex woman, her own story is sad and touching, and as a reader you’re definitely given some perspective on how the same cultural values and beliefs she upholds has had its effect on her own life. 

Mei’s character arc itself is really strongly written and great to follow- she goes from being the kid who is too scared and too sheltered to disobey her parents, to a person that accepts that in order to live her life on her terms she is going to have to be okay with disappointing them once in a while. Boy, is that a life lesson, and one that does not get easy over time (yes, this is indeed the voice of experience). Juxtaposing her passion for dance and her lack of interest in her pre-med courses is a really good choice in terms of the writing and helps with the progression of the story. It also really made me empathize with her emotional turmoil. I also absolutely loved that she’s a college student; that transitioning worldview and exposure to a plethora of ideas, experiences, and possibilities was one that I related to completely because I remember experiencing those things when I was 17 and had moved away from my parents for the first time. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking, and superbly depicted in the story. 

As for the other side characters: I adored her brother, and I was super invested in their relationship. Again, I could relate to that entire story arc on a personal level (not my immediate experience, but it’s happened within our family). You can still see how he does hang onto some of the values he was raised with, and it’s interesting to see how sometimes you can fall into the traps of sharing your parents’ thought processes even if you don’t mean to. Ying-Na serves as a reference for all the things that could happen if you choose to go against your conservative parents and community, and I really liked how she doesn’t just remain a caricature in the end. Darren is an adorable love interest, but I definitely appreciated that their romance was a secondary arc that was there to reinforce the primary narrative instead of taking over Mei’s story. 

Overall, this is an intense and emotional read. All the tiny pieces of the puzzle don’t miraculously fall into place in the end; these characters are all a work in progress, as in life, which I appreciate deeply. Unfortunately I didn’t write this review before my ARC expired but I think there’s a potentially amatonormative sentence in there somewhere that made me wince (don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember it. I’ll just have to wait for the finished copy to double-check). However, this novel is still deeply personal and Gloria’s voice and writing are an important addition to the Asian diaspora. Familial expectations versus following the path of uncertainty; undoubtedly, many will find a home, heart, and connection in it.

 

 

 

ARC Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

31207017

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Pub. date: January 16th, 2018
Publisher: Soho Teen  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781616958473
Source: Edelweiss

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

Trigger Warnings: Anti-Islamic verbal statements and incidents, domestic terrorism, bullying, physical assault, suicide bombing, kissing

Plot: Seventeen-year old Maya Aziz is your not-so-average teenager straddling the line between two worlds; one where she’s expected to be the good Indian daughter to conservative Indian parents, well-mannered, possessing decent culinary skills, and on her way to college to become a lawyer, and the other where she goes to film school in New York City, and maybe kiss this white boy she’s been crushing on for a while now. She’s busy living her life with her best friend Violet, sneaking off to spend time with the crush, and making documentaries, when an act of domestic terrorism results in absolute upheaval in Maya’s life. 

I often hear readers complain about how contemporary fiction can sometimes be too predictable, falling into a few standard tropes with the players dressed in different costumes, lacking imagination and the ability to draw them in. Well, I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with this book. Sure, there’s teens, there’s angst, there’s conflict, a plethora of emotions, but Samira Ahmed has managed to deliver a gorgeous coming-of-age story that doesn’t necessarily cater to the formula. She’s done such a great job combining the fluff, the angst, and serious relevant issues, drawing the reader into what turns out to be a very compelling novel. 

Maya as a protagonist and narrator is such a wonderfully developed character. She has super conservative Indian parents, and Her relationship with them resonates with (I think) a lot of diasporic Indian kids- parents who worked extremely hard and made sacrifices to ensure their kids have good lives, parents who want their kids to have steady and secure futures, who are afraid that their kids not growing up in their homeland means that all their morals and values will be lost, parents who want to keep their only child close by because they’re hesitant of the world they will have to send them into, and parents who rebelled for their own life choices and then turned around and promptly became the same naysayers the previous generations were, because they’re conditioned to react that way to new experiences. All of the best interests at heart but unable to recognize that their children are growing up in an environment so different from their own and navigating their own challenges. These traits can seem like stereotypes of Asian parents, but to me they were written and portrayed from such an honest perspective, and several times I felt such empathy for Maya. My parents don’t share all of those qualities, but they most certainly fall into several of these archetypes. It’s always simultaneously comforting and frustrating to see this represented so accurately, especially in YA fiction- teen me would definitely have benefited from reading books like this one. This again, is not necessarily representative of all Indian parents (we’re not a monolith), so I’m sure these characters arcs will resonate with some and not with others.

Besides her complicated relationship with her family, Maya is an ambitious girl with big passions, which is so great to see. Film-making is clearly not just a hobby, but her passion, and her tenacity is evident by the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to make it happen for her. I’m a big fan of ambitious teens of color who are unapologetic about their passion. They’re unabashedly nerdy about this thing that they love and determined to figure ways to make it happen for them, it’s very affirming.

An integral portion of this book is how it tackled anti-Islamic rhetoric and events, and this is where it shines without turning into just an “issue” book. Throughout the novel are tiny microaggressions interspersed in the narrative (and appropriately challenged), all leading up to the tumultuous event that casts a dark shadow on this small town. A brutally honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a Muslim in America in the aftermath of an incident of domestic terrorism. Maya’s own reactions and experiences, as well as that of her family’s, how it affects their relationship with each other, their choices, their fears, and how they’re viewed in the eyes of their small community- Samira delivers with gut-punching accuracy. This makes it such an important book, not just in terms of representing Indian-American Muslims, but a book that should be read by those outside that community, and give them some food for thought on how they could be complicit in maintaining such a rhetoric and how they can be solid allies. 

As for the romance and the side-characters, these were equally well-done. There’s a bit of a love triangle early in the book that’s resolved quickly, and the romance is pretty cute for the most part(bit of an overkill with the mentions of Phil’s dimple, but hey, that’s an alloromantic thing you can’t avoid I guess). Her friendship with Violet is just awesome (love me a supportive best friend all day everyday). Hina is the aunt that dreams are made of, what an amazingly supportive parental figure and buffer. The dual narrative was fine, I don’t think it did much for the story, but it didn’t get in the way either. 

All in all, an absolutely emotional and gratifying story. Samira’s prose is gorgeous, and Maya’s wit and sarcasm is brilliant and cracked me up throughout the book. Full of nuance, with the ability to kickstart several important conversations among readers, Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a well-rounded and gripping debut. 

P. S. In case you’re looking for some #ownvoices reviews of this book, I’m linking both Fadwa and Maha‘s reviews for further reading. 

 

 

ARC Review: Chainbreaker by Tara Sim

34138282 Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2) by Tara Sim 

Pub. date: January 2nd, 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781510706194
Source: Edelweiss

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

 

Plot: Danny Hart was hoping to settle into his life, what with his father returning and his relationship with Colton blossoming. But clocks have begun to fall in India yet time hasn’t Stopped, so Danny’s being sent to investigate, along with Daphne Richards, a fellow clock tower apprentice. The two of them travel to British-occupied India, and as their investigation proceeds, realize that occupation might be sparking a lot more than just attacks. Meanwhile, Colton’s having strange dreams, and stumbles upon dark secrets from his past. Will both Danny and Colton survive the dangerous path upon which they’ve been thrust?

Timekeeper had been on my TBR for ages, so when I saw that Chainbreaker was available for immediate download on Edelweiss, I immediately scooped up a copy so that I’d have to read the first book, and I was immediately charmed by these characters. The first book did a great job with the world-building and character development, so I was eager to jump into Chainbreaker right after.

Whoa baby, talk about a gripping story. I absolutely devoured this one. It was really hard to put down and more often than not had me at the edge of my seat. Daphne, as I’d predicted for myself in book one, is absolutely one of my favorite characters. I’m always rooting for characters who are hardcore on the outside and soft on the inside. T

This book opens with a heart-breaking scene with Daphne and her mum, who following a scary breakdown, lives in an asylum (St. Agnes’ Home for Women). Their relationship (or lack thereof) has a marked effect on Daphne. The scandal of her white English mum marrying her dad, the son of an English officer and an Indian woman, still weighs on their family. So, when Daphne is instructed to go to India with Danny to investigate the clock attacks there, she proceeds with a lot of hesitation. Tara does a really great job exploring Daphne’s feelings as a biracial woman, especially considering the time period chosen for the book. Trying to feel some connection to a land that is part of her ancestry, but viewed with disdain by the locals as one who belongs with the English, Tara captures this complicated position really well, once again demonstrating her character development skills. 

Of course, who can forget our boys Danny and Colton? Danny, who puts his heart before everything else, and Colton, who puts Danny before everything else. The boys go through hell in this book, and learning more about Colton’s past was intriguing, and I can’t wait to see how things get tied up for these two in book three. 

Overall, I thought Tara once again did a great job modifying historical events to fit the narrative and the existent world she’d created in Timekeeper very well. I especially appreciated the author’s note at the end, which did a great job outlining historical events as we know it, and how they’d been incorporated in the story. I really liked that it was a description of India that felt real and not fetishized, and the introduction of Meena and Akash lent itself well with no hint of white savior complexes from our English characters (or if there were any, were suitably challenged), for which I was immensely grateful. It can be a delicate position to talk about colonizers vs. the colonized, and Tara has done a fantastic job addressing that at various points in the story. It is a testament to her skills as a writer. 

There were some things I absolutely did not see coming, especially towards the end. Danny, Daphne, and Colton are racing against time and each other while it seems like everything around them is unraveling, keeping me at the edge of my seat at a godforsaken hour of the night because I just couldn’t put it down without finding out where we were going to be left at the end of this book. Also, I’d like to point out that Tara is evil for messing with my feelings, and that’s all I can say without giving anything away. Chainbreaker was an excellent follow-up to Timekeeper, Tara Sim continues to be a champion storyteller and world-builder, and I can’t wait to see what happens in book three.

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.