Book Haul: August ’17

Hi, everyone! Today, I come to you with a book haul – which is a post I haven’t done in a really long time on my blog. I’m currently on a book buying ban, meaning that I can’t buy a new book unless I’ve read at least five books that I already own, so I haven’t been buying many books, hence the scarcity of those types of posts.

Book Outlet

The aforementioned ban was going pretty well for me until I found out that Book Outlet (the devil on my shoulder) was having a sale. You could buy $25 of books, and get $5 off, or $50 worth of books and get $10 off, or $75 of books, and get $20 off. I decided to avail the second option, and bought $50 worth of books, and so the total of my cart was $40. They had a great selection of books this time around; many were already high on my TBR, so I decided to cheat a little, and buy them. For $40, seven hardcovers and two paperbacks was a steal.

HAUL 3

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HAUL 1

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Other Buys

This was a book that only recently came to my attention, even though I’ve now come to learn that it’s considered a cult classic. Apparently, The Hunger Games is sort of a rip-off of this Japanese classic. It’s over 600 pages long, but that only makes me more excited to read it. I’ve heard it’s dark and gory and disturbing – and those are all my favorite things in books. 😝

BATTLE ROYALE


Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books, and if you have – what did you think of them? What’s the most recent book that you got your hands on? As always, thank you so much for stopping by – and happy reading!

Arc Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright / Centers colonist guilt & has flawed racial representation

27 HOURS 2

FTC DISCLOSURE

F I N A L   R A T I N G

🌟 🌟


A visual representation of me trying to figure out how to write this review:

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In all seriousness, this might be one of the most difficult books I’ve had to review, simply because I have so many thoughts. So many different aspects to a novel as complicated and nuanced as this one, and so many thoughts about several of these aspects. More than this, perhaps – the reason why reviewing this book is so difficult is because I can fully see the invaluable benefits of it, as well as the potential harm it can cause, and the intersection of both can be difficult for a reviewer (who isn’t, by any means, claiming to be an expert) to encompass and do justice. But, I will try my best here, and if I start to ramble, resulting in a post that resembles word-vomit more than a structured review- well, you’ll have to forgive me here, I guess.

27 Hours is a futuristic (set, I believe, 150-200 years from present day), science-fiction, action-packed tale which counts down from 27 hours to certain war. When the clock hits 0, prompting the sun to come up, our characters’ world is going to be torn apart by the two species fighting on (over?) it. A couple hundred or so years ago, humans arrived at a moon from all over the Earth, giving rise to a civilization, unaware that an indigenous species was asleep underground. When the construction of a lake causes several underground tunnels to flood, the indigenous species (referred to as chimera, or “gargoyle” as a slur) lost many lives. Ever since, war has raged on. The humans consider the chimera blood-thirsty monsters, while the chimera are staunch in their belief that the land is theirs. A third group emerged some time during the war – a forest civilization – that broke away from the humans, formed an alliance with some chimera, and strive for peace.

Perhaps it’s my own background and cultural history, but I couldn’t fully root for any of the main characters, all of whom are human.

I was born and raised in Pakistan, a country that emerged in 1947 from India after a brutal war raged on, killing millions upon millions of people; much of that bloodshed, the consequent splitting, and the after-effects that exist even now were a direct product of the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent. We are still told horror stories, of piles of bodies at the border – riots, massacres, friends and families torn apart for the rest of time, as my ancestors, as my neighbors’ ancestors fought for their rights on a land that belonged to them. It was our land. It was our country, not some colonizers’. They had no right to be there.

It’s not an issue that raged just then – it’s an issue extremely current and relevant even now, whether we’re talking about the war over Kashmir (again, a direct product of British imperialism), or the Israel-Palestine situation that seems to have no end in sight. Maybe it’s my hypersensitivity to issues of indigenous peoples’ having their lands stolen by invaders who have no right to be there, but I found it almost impossible to sympathize with the main characters. When I realized that the theme of the novel was an indigenous species versus colonists, and the main characters all being colonists or descendants of colonists, I was immediately put off.

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Let me get something straight here: Wright does not excuse colonists’ actions, nor does she pass off the war as a binary issue. What does, however, happen is that all the characters who get perspective chapters are humans (in this case, colonists), and three out of four of the perspective chapters are humans who are learning to rid themselves of long-held prejudices against chimera, while the fourth perspective character is a forest-human who doesn’t have these prejudices anymore, who instead strives for peace. The issue here, at least for me, was glaringly obvious: in a war raging between an indigenous species and colonists, why is the colonist’s perspective centered? Why is the storyline so intensely focused on colonist guilt, and realizing that indigenous life that existed on this planet is still, you know, life? And despite them unlearning their prejudices against the species itself, the issue of invasion and settling is almost entirely ignored, while all the weight is put on violent warfare.

To me, it parallels a book where white characters realize that people of color are “humans as well,” and start working towards co-existence, while also refusing to (intentionally or unintentionally) acknowledge or dismantle the root cause of the issue: systematic, institutionalized racism and white supremacy. In this case, the human characters’ narrative is the only one being centered, while the root issue of invasion, trespassing and unethically settling over land that already belongs to beings living on the moon is thrust aside, instead focusing on the byproduct of this main issue: war. There was a moment in this novel where the villain (so often described as the monster who needs to be destroyed for peace to finally be achieved) says:

Humans are a parasite, and you’re destroying this land with your mining and your colonization. You came and took with no regard to the life already existing here and, according to your histories, that’s fairly standard for your species, isn’t it?”

This tells me that Wright is fully aware of the complicated issue at hand, yet the villain – hell-bent on destruction and blood and chaos – is the only one who brings it up. Bro, if I’m twenty pages from the end and I’m siding with the villain here? That’s not a good look.

Some of the thematic choices made regarding character prejudices were also… uncomfortable for me to read and consider.

27 Hours is a book full of underrepresented identities on the page, with beautiful relationships forming – both platonic and romantic. We have a truly diverse cast of characters. Our four perspective chapters are Rumor, Nyx, Braeden and Jude, while a fifth character can still be considered a main character, despite not getting a perspective chapter. Rumor is a bisexual, multiracial Nigerian/Portuguese & Indian who falls for Jude, who is gay. Nyx is Deaf, pansexual, chubby, signs ASL throughout the book, has Cuban ancestry, and is love with her best friend, Dahlia, who is an Afro-Latinx trans girl. Nyx’s abuela is also Deaf. Braeden is asexual, and has two moms. Jude is adopted by a family of two brothers – both are people of color, both are queer. There is an Asian side character who uses they/them pronouns, and there is discussion about using and normalizing pronoun introductions.

Rumor and Jude form a beautiful bond immediately, and their interactions are lovely to see unfold on the page. Dahlia and Nyx’s complicated romantic relationship is slow-burn, and the pay-off is ultimately swoon-worthy, for lack of a better phrase. Braeden discusses his asexuality often, there is sign language throughout the book – so these identities are given proper time and weight. But with three of your five protagonists being people of color, there is no discussion about race, but I’ll get to this later.

In line with the imperialist discussion I was having above, let’s talk a little bit about Rumor. I believe Rumor could be considered the driving force of the novel – his perspective chapter starts the novel off, and his actions and reactions are, for the most part, what drive the story. For me, when it was revealed that he has Nigerian and Indian ancestry, I was immediately intrigued. Why? Because for a story dealing with colonial issues, a main character having ancestry from both Nigeria and India – both countries that have been colonized by the British in the past? That seemed significant to me. But I was… disturbed (if that’s the right phrase) by the fact that Rumor, more than anyone else, holds the most vicious hatred for chimera.

Rumor’s past with the indigenous species is bloody; his mother and his father both died during the war, and the book quite literally begins with his colony being wiped out by an attack. So, his reactions are to be expected, but… I’m a little uncomfortable that a character who has ancestry tracing back to countries that were torn apart due to colonization is so staunchly pro-colonist, is so staunchly vicious in his hatred of chimera. That’s a strange thematic choice for me. And it gets especially strange (this is a euphemism for problematic, by the way) that the two people who, arguably, have the most sway over changing his prejudices are white. The two characters (Jude and Braeden) who basically show the boy, who has ancestry 🗣 tracing 🗣 back 🗣 to 🗣 countries 🗣 that 🗣 have 🗣 been 🗣 colonized 🗣 by white 🗣 people, that his prejudices are unfounded, unfair and discriminatory are white. Bro. White.

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“Aimal, you’re overthinking this. It probably wasn’t that serious, it probably isn’t that deep.” Is that what you’re thinking? I’ve already acknowledged that perhaps it’s because I’m hypersensitive to imperialist issues, I saw flaws in this novel that many others would have overlooked. But come on – even the most non-interested of you couldn’t say that it isn’t a big deal that the most racist (specie-ist) person from our cast of characters is a person of color, and that the people who changed his mind were white people. Like… that’s just… 🏃🏽‍♀️ Moving on.

You could argue that Rumor’s ancestry isn’t as significant as I’m making it out to be, mainly because Wright makes it clear that the humans have one language (referred to as “the human language”), and don’t retain much from their culture back from home. Which: if the book is set 150-200 years in the future (which is 7-8 generations at most), would people who immigrated from all over the world really have forgotten their language, their cultures? Here’s a passage from the book:

“My mom was Indian. Like India. My dad was… He was Portugese and Nigerian. I only know because we had a school project to see what, if anything, we’d kept from our Earth ancestors.”

This seems to imply that the humans don’t know much, if anything at all, about where they came from on Earth. And that’s fair, if the book was set even further into the future. Would entire cultures cease to exist in just a few generations? (More on this later, too). And even if they did, why does the book seem to imply that they gradually, over the course of a century, defaulted to a Westernized way of living? Where romantic, familial and platonic relationships are modeled after Western culture? This is vague, and this is where the holes in world-building start to seep through. Are there no other cultures? And if there aren’t, how did the near-7,000 languages that exist in the world right now get wiped out in just a century or two from now?! How did entire civilizations coming from all over the world forget their own cultures to default to the present “human culture?” How is there no variation past ideological thought (and even then, only as it relates to war versus peace)? And if there are cultures, why not show them? I’m so confused about this – there are so many gaps and holes in world-building here that it’s driving me up the wall just thinking about the lack of information there is to grapple with.

Is racial representation really REPRESENTATION if the characters of color can be replaced by white people without changing anything else at all?

The overwhelming response to this question, when I asked it on Twitter, was “no.” One person writes, “Nope. White culture and ____ POC culture is nowhere near the same, and the culture needs to be included for it to be representation.”

Another person writes, “Not even close. PoC and white people have vastly different experiences, so it’s not really representation if this isn’t shown. And if POC and white people do go through the world in the same way (maybe if race isn’t a barrier) you have to have a WHY and HOW.”

Yet another person writes, “Part of the human experience is that people treat you based on a lot of shallow things, and taking away micro aggressions seems unrealistic.”

And another person writes… “Nope. If they can be replaced, then they’re just in a diverse costume. We have different experiences, and even in the future, that will be so.”

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Basically, every single character of color in this book could be replaced with a white character, and nothing would change. Absolutely nothing, apart from a couple words here and there (and a large chunk of my review *badum tss*). Like I said, there is little to no significant mention of differing cultures, or different languages (the only non-English words in the book are “chai,” “prem,” and “abuela,” which just… make up your mind. Do languages exist, or do they not?) Fine, take away cultures, take away languages, but even people of color who live in diasporas, who have largely assimilated to the society around them and retain little to nothing of their ancestral culture still undergo micro aggressions, if not outright racism. And there is no mention of it. Anywhere. When I say that the characters of color could be replaced by white characters and nothing would change, I mean that quite literally. You’d just have to replace every time the color “brown” is mentioned with white, change the ethnicities, and… that’s it.

Apparently, in this society, people aren’t prejudiced based on race, because it’s of no consequence to anybody, so it doesn’t exist anymore, despite there being a very clear prejudice against the. indigenous. species. So, prejudice does exist – just not intra-human racism. Which, just…

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Racism has existed for centuries. It has been the cause of genocide in various parts of the world, wars, slavery, systematic and institutionalized oppression. Look at the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar right now, the refugee crisis and the fear-mongering against Middle Easterners and Muslims, the legal and violent war underway against black Americans in the U.S., the purging of Native American lands and rights in today’s society, the discriminatory rhetoric against Mexicans that won someone the election. Look at our fucking President. Look at the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis taking off their robes and parading around in the streets with torches and tell me racism is going anywhere. It has always existed, because as a human race, we’re prejudiced people. You mean to tell me that a colony, that exists and is an amalgamation of human society from cultures all over the world, has no racism?! Especially if this colony isn’t even that far into the future?! I…

The only way this could be even slightly possible would be if a scientific device existed that purged the very idea of prejudice out of your mind. I would buy this if prejudice, in and of itself, didn’t exist in the society. But prejudice does exist! Against the indigenous species! So that takes that out of the equation.

It feels a lot, and I mean A LOT, like erasure of the struggles people of color go through every single day, and have gone through every single day. For a white author to build a world where (1) colonialism thrives, but (2) racism no longer exists? It feels like a cop-out. It feels like Wright wanted people to say that people of color exist in her book, but didn’t want to do the heavy-lifting of representing the lives of people of color. So with the complete lack of representation of non-white culture, and the insinuation that racism no longer exists, while every other identity is given the proper balance and proper weight? Just… *endless sigh* I’m sorry. It’s lazy. It’s lazy writing, to me. It’s lazy world-building, it’s a lack of understanding of racial issues, both historical and contemporary, and it feels like simply checking off checklist items rather than actual representation.

I am not going to deny that this book has so much potential to benefit so many people, but it also participates in erasure, as well as a base misunderstanding of imperialist issues.

Which is exactly why it was so difficult for me to review this book. It is a diverse book and offers on-the-page representation for trans, gender non-conforming, asexual, pansexual, gay, bisexual, lesbian, and Deaf representation. And not even just that – it’s still a decent book with constant action, well-developed characters, an interesting (albeit under-developed or vague) world, and engaging dialogue. But it still falls flat in so many areas. And I hope that me pointing the things out that made me uncomfortable, that left a bad taste in my mouth doesn’t seem to you that I’m negating all the good this book can do in so many young people’s lives. I hope that if this review does anything, it at least sheds some light on the issues in the book, and maybe the issues will be rectified or redeemed in the sequel(s).

And with that ~3,000 word review…

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TRIGGER WARNING

Gore, violence, anti-indigenous rhetoric, colonialism/imperialist thought.

BUY IT

27 Hours releases on October 3rd, 2017.

Goodreads // Amazon

End of Summer Giveaway! [OPEN]

Hello, everyone! I haven’t hosted a giveaway on my blog for a really long time now, and a lot has changed since I last hosted one. I started self-hosting, got a new domain name, complete re-hauled the look by getting a new logo, a new theme, and a totally new formatting style. I’m extremely happy with how my blog’s been looking/doing lately, and since summer is on its way out, I thought I’d thank you all for your support with a giveaway.

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Rules:
  • You should be 18 years or older to enter – if you are not yet 18, make sure you have your parents’ permission to give out your address if you win.
  • This is an international giveaway, as long as THE BOOK DEPOSITORY ships to your country. You can check a list of the countries that ship to you on their website. If you are from the US, I will use Amazon to ship to you.
  • You do need a Twitter account to enter.
  • You must be willing to give me a shipping address if you win.
  • The giveaway runs from now to August 25th, 11:59 EST.
Prize:
  • One (1) diverse pre-order of your choice valued at $20 or less.

Here are some ideas (not limited to!) of the books you can potentially win. If none of these appeal to you, you can obviously choose one for yourself.


G I V E A W A Y

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Why We Need Diverse Books: The Push for Diverse Literature Isn’t a Trend. It’s Activism.

As book bloggers, we all have one thing in common: we love to read. Genres, writing styles, trope preferences, book formatting, reading pace, blogging pace – these are all subcategories that vary greatly amongst us, but there’s one thing common for all of us, which is our love for literature. You’re amongst the few people in the world who took their passion for reading, and stemmed another passion (or hobby) from it – blogging. Most of you started blogging because you wanted to share your love for books, because books mean more to you than mindless entertainment. Books hold a value for you. Reading isn’t idle consumption; for many of us, reading is a way of life. And for many of us, we all have that one book that changed our lives, or a book that shaped us into who we are today.

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“Fun” is only one of the infinite benefits of literature; cognitive functioning improves, and in many cases, books have deeply impacted society.

Literature has never been passive; it has always served an active purpose in society past “just entertainment.” We read because it’s fun, of course, but we also read to educate ourselves. We read to escape, we read to absorb, form communities within other readers as well as connections with writers. We learn writing techniques, gather a better understanding of other people with potentially opposing viewpoints, different experiences. There is infinite value in reading, and these are not idle ramblings of someone who enjoys reading; the activity has scientifically shown to increase empathy, and brain connectivity. It’s an effective way to combat stress, improve sleep (and sleep improvement further improves basically every facet of your life), can aid in improving relationships, all while making you happier (Source).

But beyond personal improvements, reading has clearly impacted society to the point where books have been burnt, banned and prohibited by people all over the world all throughout history. Whether it’s by uber-conservative parents who believe Harry Potter carries Satanic messages that poison children’s minds, or dictators who want to squash revolutionary ideology, books have always posed some sort of perceived ideological threat. And it’s because of these instances across our history that you come to realize how real of an impact books can have on society. Whether it’s George Orwell’s 1984 forcing us to think about overly controlling governments and unchecked surveillance that brought numerous thinkpieces to the surface when Edward Snowden blew the lid off NSA’s practices, or if it’s Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451’s subtle take on censorship and free speech. Whether it’s Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and its academic value in studying colonialism’s permanent effects on African culture, or Toni Morrison’s Beloved that highlighted the ‘legacy’ of slavery – these are all books that significantly impacted our society, and contributed for an ideological change that caused at least some sort of shift in the population on a large scale.

Even in your personal life, there has to be a book that impacted you so deeply that it changed something. For me, it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; I was a young kid living in Pakistan, and I had never been exposed to same-sex relationships before, or the fact of repressed memories and trauma. It was the book that made me decide that I wanted to pursue psychology in university, and here I am, one year from graduating with a degree in my hand. Sometimes I wonder what my life would’ve been like had I never read that book; would I be intolerant towards gay people like many in that society are? Would I have had an understanding or passion for mental health like I do now, since the society I grew up in still has a myriad of taboos against mental illnesses? Somehow, I doubt that I would be here right now had I not read that book. And ever since, I know that books have power beyond our wildest dreams. Most of us don’t even realize this fact.

One of these powers is the ability to increase, not only tolerance, but acceptance. And understanding.

Most of you have probably read and loved Harry Potter as a child, and though it’s definitely not a book without its glaring flaws, and I would never categorize it as a diverse book by any means, it’s still a series that has been studied widely because of its popularity and prevalence. In a study published in the Journal of Social Applied Psychology, three experimenters presented passages on discrimination from the series to subjects in the study, and found that the participants showed changed attitudes towards stigmatized groups, like gay people and immigrants (Source). The researchers write, “extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes.” If a story has the power to improve out-group attitudes (meaning attitudes towards people you don’t immediately identify with, or people from outside your immediate community), then… this is a powerful tool.

We live in a world where fear-mongering has increased to the point where presidential candidates in seemingly ‘progressive’ societies are elected based on the promise of keeping people of a certain ethnicity, or religion, out of man-made borders. We live in a world where being gay, lesbian or trans can serve you a death sentence or give you second-class citizenship in your own country, where minorities in societies as advanced as the United States and the United Kingdom undergo systematic oppression, persecution, deep-seated prejudice based on color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity and religion. Police brutality and constant erasure from racial minorities’ own accomplishments in history is a relevant and persistent issue. We live in a society where mental illnesses are still used as plot points in horror movies, where suicides have risen to an unprecedented level, yet the collective population doesn’t want to do anything about it past tweeting hashtags. In a war-ridden world where children flee after losing entire families, as we become spectators in watching them die and drown, as politicians use them in their agendas, closing the gates to them because “refugee” has become a bad word. You may think, sitting in the safety of your home that times are better than they used to be, but they’re bad, and change doesn’t seem likely with how things are deteriorating.

Change begins with ideology; it always has, it always will. Women were largely believed to be inferior to men, which is why they were not allowed to vote and work. The ideology around this is far from perfect now and the fight is far from over, but it evolved, which is why change began. Ideologies do not change if you do not listen. Ideologies cannot evolve if you willfully turn away from the plight of oppressed individuals. And although I’m not naive enough to believe that books can fix all that is wrong with the world, they have proved that they can be used to change ideology, and push towards acceptance.

So, what’s the problem here? The problem is that marginalized peoples’ ideologies aren’t given a platform – change, thus, becomes impossible to achieve. The problem is lack of diversity in media, but for our purposes, more specifically literature. The very problem lies in the fact that marginalized voices and diverse stories can’t reach the audiences that can collectively inspire change. And the problem is also the deep-seated push against diversity – for whatever reason this is.

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I hear you talking about “diversity,” but really – what is it?

I’m no expert, but let me try and explain. In the context of literature, diversity means more than just one thing:

  1. It means giving marginalized authors a platform to write their stories. This applies to publishers, bloggers, etcetera, for giving marginalized people’s stories the chance to reach the world.
  2. It means reading books written by marginalized authors, whether they write about their marginalization or not – supporting authors of color, authors on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, disabled authors, neurodivergent authors automatically allows for their experiences to shine through in their stories. And it helps diversify literature by boosting voices that are otherwise repressed in areas of society.
  3. It means reading books with prominent characters with marginalizations. Reading books with casts of color, books with characters with disabilities, with characters on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. The world is not white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical and allosexual/alloromantic. The world is a diverse place, so diversity in literature means supporting the diverse make-up of our society.
23% of the US’s population is formed of people of color and First Nation peoples, and this percentage continues to increase. Only 10% of kidlit contains multicultural content.

A significant portion of our population (and keep in mind, I’m only talking about ethnicity here) is severely underrepresented in literature. Look around you; the push for diversity exists because there is a lack of it. We don’t ask for more white characters to exist in books, because there is a 90% mathematical chance that if you pick up a book in the bookstore, the book will be majority-white, most definitely spear-headed by white characters and authors. We don’t ask for more heterosexual characters because the vast majority of storytelling is heteronormative, meaning that we automatically assume romance is between a man and a woman; many people with different identities are thus pushed aside. And believe it or not, this lack of representation can have significant repercussions.

Representation in the media is significantly linked to self-esteem.

In my previous semester, I conducted some research, and wrote up a review for my Psychology class on how racial representation in literature can impact minority self-esteem and self-worth. The issue with lack of representation transcends beyond literature; a study conducted by USC Annenberg evaluated over 11,000 speaking characters in fictional films, TV shows and series. The study found that female characters only accounted for 28.7% of all speaking roles in film, despite females forming half of the US population. Moreover, of all speaking roles, only 28.3% were given to racial minority groups. Keeping these statistics in mind, consider that further research has shown that women and racial minorities have lower self-esteem the more they consume media. In black children, increased media exposure reduces self-esteem, while in white boys, increased media exposure increases self-esteem (Martins & Harrison, 2012). This is perhaps due to the fact that white male characters on television are given positive roles – the hero, the savior, the good guy, while black characters are far and few in between, and when they do exist, they are often reduced to negative stereotypes. Black children, the more they consume the erasure and/or negative stereotypes, are impacted deeply by them.

What is self-esteem, and what is the point of increased self-esteem?

We often hear words like “self-esteem” in day-to-day life without realizing that they are scientific terms with scientific research and study backing them up. Self-esteem is defined as how a person views themself, and how they perceive their own worthiness. Self-esteem impacts many portions of your life;

  • Having a low feeling of your own value can cause depression, or increased symptoms related to depression.
  • Low self-esteem can have an effect on interpersonal relationships; people with low social self-esteem have more problems in their relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Higher self-esteem has been associated with improved academic achievement
  • Low self-esteem youth are at risk of abusing alcohol and drugs
  • Research further shows that low self-esteem is related to poor heath, delinquency, and limited economic prospects during adulthood
Underrepresentation or negative representation can thus have serious consequences.

People who call for diverse media, and representing marginalized groups in literature aren’t doing it to be petty. They’re not trying to take the fun out of your reading – they’re trying to use books, which we all agree are a powerful tool, to make a significant change in society.

L.A. Spears-Bunton (1990) theorized that racial minority students read at lower levels than their white peers because of a potential cultural disparity between their racial identity and the books they are given to read; if this disparity is decreased or eradicated, it can significantly increase reading (and think about the positive effects of reading outlined above) in marginalized groups. Arlene Barry (1998) asserts that through multicultural literature, minorities’ self-esteem can improve as they learn about the contributions their culture, or people who look like them, have made, and are making, to the U.S. and the world. Multicultural literature can form a much-needed balance between home and the outside world; this balance can prevent serious conflict from occurring, and children are not forced to choose between two environments; rather, they can feel a sense of belonging in both.

Enough of the academic talk; let’s get personal. Seeing yourself represented in a book is a priceless feeling.

Aside from self-esteem affects and the societal social value of diverse media, let’s talk about how seeing yourself represented in a book feels. More often than not, we love things that we relate to. I loved Hermione Granger as a character because I saw myself reflected in her – she’s smart, she’s bossy, she goes by the rules, she loves to read. And I also loved her because she was bad-ass; she could be fierce and heroic with the same qualities that I had, and it gave me the feeling that I could also do what she could. This harkens back to white boys having higher self-esteem than other groups; all the major superheroes, people in power, the “good guys” are mostly white males. It’s not a white male child’s fault that he immediately connects to these guys, which causes him to feel like he can be heroic, he can be powerful, thus boosting self-esteem. But it makes you think, doesn’t it? That we all connect to media we relate to, and if all the positive roles are going to white males, what about the rest of us?

Now imagine you’re me. A brown, Pakistani-Muslim, fat immigrant who has basically never seen herself represented in media. Beauty standards are white-centric and thin. Brown, desi heroines are non-existent. Pakistani-Muslims are typecast as terrorists, and that’s all I see when I turn on the TV, or read a book. It makes me feel alone. It makes me feel like I am not worthy, that my identities aren’t worthy of being shared, or seen in a positive light. It takes you to a dark place without you even knowing it happened. Imagine that you grew up with nothing to relate to. That’s how many people feel, and I still admit that I’m much more privileged than many others out there- people who have never seen themselves reflected at all.

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For a marginalized child or teen or young adult- to see your story, your experiences, your life reflected in the books you read, where you feel like you have a voice, where you feel like your life story is important enough to be written, published and read? That’s a priceless feeling. It makes you feel like people want to hear about you. It makes you feel like you’re an active part of this society, that people love and accept you as a part of their world, and that you can do whatever the privileged in the world can because your story is just as important as theirs. You can’t put a price-tag on that, which is why the fight is so important.

Diversity isn’t a trend. Wanting diverse stories shouldn’t be a phase – it’s activism. It’s a movement.

A movement that has infinite value. Reading stories about different experiences will not only help people from that particular experience feel valued and seen, it will also help you learn. It will help society grow collectively towards improved self-esteem in youth, as well as empathy, tolerance and equality. Having increased books by and/or about people of color will not make books with white characters go extinct. Having books by and/or about people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum will not make books with straight relationships, or allosexual/alloromantic characters, or cisgender characters go extinct. No. The movement only calls for diversity – never erasure. And diversity can never impact anyone negatively.

Once you realize that diversifying literature isn’t just that one trend that people have been talking about recently, that it’s not just about the personal value of marginalized readers seeing themselves represented (even though that’s a massive, important, crucial component), but that it’s also about changing ideologies towards building a truly equal society, you realize the global value of the movement. And like you perform activism for environmental conservation, climate change, animal rights, charity… I hope you see the value in performing activism for this, and bringing about a change that is absolutely crucial on a large scale.

Writers: here’s what you can do to diversify your stories.

🌸 First of all, don’t believe it when people (or that voice in your head) tell you that diverse stories do not have a market. They absolutely do; the success of stories like The Hate U Give (which has spent six months on the top of the bestsellers’ list), When Dimple Met Rishi, and movies like “Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Night Of,” “Sense 8,” and “Get Out,” goes to show that the market exists. People are desperate for representation, so your diverse stories will sell.

🌸 Research to the best of your abilities. Read books, hire sensitivity/beta readers, talk to the communities online, read other books by people who share the marginalization that you’re writing about. Nothing is worse for a person who goes into a book expecting to see themselves represented than to come out feeling disrespected, tokenized and stereotyped. Utilize research, and make sure you stay in your respective lane. Make sure your characters aren’t caricatures who serve as plot devices, or who can be replaced by non-marginalized characters without changing anything (that’s tokenism!) Make sure you’re not using language that you’re not supposed to be using (such as slurs). Make sure you’re respectful, always.

🌸 Realize that this isn’t a personal vendetta against you. Nobody’s saying you cannot write white characters, for example. Instead, you should think in terms of world-building. As a writer, your novel should sound realistic, and authentic. Is the world all-white? So how can an all-white novel be realistic/authentic? Realize that you can diversify your world by including peripheral characters, side characters, important conversations, all while having a white main character. You don’t have to make sacrifices. You just need to improve your storytelling, and diversity improves storytelling by making it realistic and reflective of the world we live in.

Readers and bloggers: the brunt of it falls on you. You need to do better.

🌸 Demand diversity. Let publishers know that you support the movement, that you think it is important, and let them know that you will buy diverse stories. There is a clear distinction between attacking and letting your voice be heard – know the difference, stay within your bounds, but be loud, clear, and proud.

🌸 Actively promote diverse books. Buy them, and if you can’t buy them, find them at your library; if it’s not at your library, place in a request. Read them, and promote them on social media – Tweet about diverse books, take photos, promote them on your blogs in lists. Review them on your websites, on retail websites. Spread hype. People buy books that are hyped, and if you hype up diverse books, that ensures that more diverse books are published. Be aware of this.

🌸 Boost bloggers who are from marginalized groups, who are proponents of diversity. Boost them so their voices are amplified, which will cause a ripple effect throughout the community.

We have a long way to go, but improvement is already visible. Join the movement; it’s more important than you think.

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If you enjoyed this post, I would greatly appreciate if you would consider sharing and/or buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi.com. Thank you so much.

kofi


R E S O U R C E S

We Need Diverse Books

The #DiverseBookBloggers tag on social media (Twitter, specifically).

The Brown Bookshelf

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in Kid Lit

SLJ’s Islam in the Classroom

ALA’s Rainbow Booklists

Great Gay Teen Books

Diversity in YA

Rich in Color

Reading in Color

* If you have more resources, or blogs that post about diverse books and diversity in kidlit, please let me know and I’ll try to update the list as soon as possible.

Monthly Recap: July ’17

I’m incredibly conscious now of the fact that I start every monthly wrap-up post with a generic line about how the year is flying by so fast, and that I can’t believe it’s X month already, even though it’s always true. So, I refuse to do that from here on out. But then… how do I start these posts? I’m in sort of a sticky situation.

July was a month of ups and downs in my personal life.

It started with a bang – quite literally. For the first time since I moved to the US, I was actually in New York City for July 4th, so my parents and I headed over to Manhattan to the East River to watch the legendary Macy’s fireworks show. Getting there a few hours early just to score a good spot was worth it – the show was absolutely beautiful, and I loved a nice outing with my family. My parents are always so busy with their business, and I’m almost always away for school, we rarely get to spend time together. The occasion was nice, if only for that.

I’m such a lazy person, you have no idea. I can spend days inside the house, watching TV, reading books, listening to music for days without a care in the world, so it’s surprising how many times I actually got off my ass and headed into the city this month. I live quite far away when I’m not dorm-ing for university. I need to take a train for forty-five minutes, then a thirty-minute ferry just to get into the city… then, the Manhattan travel is another story completely. But one day, I set aside everything and headed to the city to hang out with a friend. We saw The Big Sick, I broke my book-buying ban for just a little while and bought four books from the Strand, and then I saw Spiderman: Homecoming at the iMax in Lincoln Square. I honestly thought Spiderman: Homecoming wasn’t worth the hype, but I still enjoyed the film; The Big Sick was wonderful though.

I finally joined the gym, much to the glee of my parents, lol. I’ve been meaning to lose weight for a really long time now, but I hate exercising – especially if it’s the gym. I like to swim, but there aren’t any good pools around me, so the gym is always my last resort. I almost never want to go willingly. But hopefully I’ll start making a change to my lifestyle. It’s needed.

In memory of Chester Bennington

Perhaps the one thing that hit me hardest this summer was the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington’s death. When I was nine years old, I had just lost my younger brother to cancer, and my parents and I moved across the world from London to Pakistan to start over, for all intents and purposes. I had suddenly become an only-child, my parents’ relationship was fraying at the edges with more fights than I could handle, and I found myself in a surrounding that was completely foreign to me. At that time, I relied almost entirely on music to get me through the day. And when Linkin Park’s music came into my life, suddenly I felt that there was someone in the world I could relate to.

Ever since, I’ve turned to the band’s music – in its always-evolving creativity – to get me through some of my hardest times. The band wasn’t something that was there for me during my childhood or teenage years – they were there for me now. They were the first celebrities I decided to properly fangirl over, to the point of watching backstage videos of them goofing around, having fun. I sat through hours and hours of concert footage, in complete awe. I’ve cried with them, I’ve laughed with them, I’ve hurt with them… and then, to suddenly get the news that the person who literally saved your life has passed away by taking his own? That broke me for a while.

I spent days mourning Chester. I cried for him, and I’ve never cried over a celebrity death before- it just hit me so deeply in a place that hadn’t hurt for a long time. I spent days beating myself up: 1) I didn’t even know him, so how in the world could this hit me so hard, and 2) if he really did save my life, I strangely felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything to ease the pain he was in. But then I realized a few things – Chester’s music touched me because he was open about what he was going through, and by sharing himself, his heart and soul, he helped a lot of people. This became apparent as millions of people around the world mourned him, and wrote thinkpieces about how much Chester meant to them in their teenage years. And I realized that I wasn’t alone in mourning someone I didn’t know; he wasn’t just a singer, just some celebrity. He was my support system in my darkest of times, and I had come to consider him a friend. For me, losing him was like losing a friend, and it hurt. A lot.

I’ll miss Chester a lot, because for a while there after his death, I felt lost. Back in that nine year-old body. A kid who doesn’t know what to do anymore. How are you supposed to live in a world where the person who saved your life ends up taking his own? But with the support of my friends, the community and Linkin Park and Chester themselves, I’ve learned that it’s okay to hurt. It’s strange, but ever since he passed, I’ve shared more about my insecurities with my friends than I ever had before, and I’m slowly starting to learn that it’s alright to be vulnerable with people. We’re all human beings who hurt and suffer, and it’s so important to tell people what you’re going through. Ultimately, I’ll always be thankful to him, and the band for making me who I am, for staying with me when there wasn’t a light to hold on to. I’ll be… always thankful. And I’ll always remember Chester, both for what he’s done for me, and for the kind, funny, wonderful, brave person he was.

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But you’re all here for my reading wrap-up, so enough of this, and let’s get into the books!

I read a lot this month. And by a lot, I mean a LOT.

Back in 2014, there was a time when I was reading an average of one book every two days. Somewhere along the way, I lost my mojo – I blame Netflix and school, but after years, this month was an incredible one. I was reading constantly – in the form of audiobooks, backlist books, ARCs, whatever. I’m on a book-buying ban; I can only buy a new book after I have read five books that I already own, and in an effort to buy a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, I’ve been reading my owned books quicker. Does that make sense? So in total, I read a whopping sixteen books! A bunch of them were great reads –  some of them were bad eggs, so here’s the breakdown by the order in which I read them:

EARTH BOY (SON OF DJINN #2) BY SAMI SHAH // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Earth Boy was an incredible finale to an incredible duology full of djinn, chudails, infused with South Asian and Islamic lore, full to the brim with genuine scares, beautifully constructed writing, dark humor, and complicated social issues. I am so deeply in love with the world Sami Shah has crafted, with the characters in these two books, and the fierce adventures they go on. It’s genuinely dark and delicious with creatures and myths from some of my worst nightmares, but not only that, Sami Shah also ensures that he discusses relevant things like intolerance, poverty and terrorism while he’s telling a fast-paced, action-packed story. I cannot recommend this duology enough. It’s so underrated, so please check it out!

Triggers apply for: Torture, rape, child abuse, terrifying scenes, strong violence.

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LITTLE & LION BY BRANDY COLBERT // 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2

Little & Lion was definitely my favorite book of the month. It’s a wholesome contemporary by definition of the concept with a strong focus on one girl’s relationship with her stepbrother, her family, her friends, her two crushes, and herself. It’s a book with a diverse cast of characters, tackling issues of racism, microaggressions, biphobia, mental health stigma, and figuring out who you are at an age where very little makes sense. It’s a book I will recommend for a long, long time. It releases on the 8th of this month, so please jump on it. Here’s my review.

Triggers apply for: Micro-aggressions for racism, biphobia, lesbophobic slurs, mental health stigma, anxiety, bipolar disorder.

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THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE & VIRTUE BY MACKENZI LEE // 🌟🌟🌟

This was a book I was highly anticipating, and considering the hype monster around it, I was super excited to get to it. It’s a tome of a book with almost 600 pages with a diverse cast of characters on a road trip in eighteenth century Europe. There’s adventure, humor, romance, sex, scandal and some magic thrown in the mix, resulting in an extremely fast-paced, action-packed book that’s just incredibly fun to read. But despite enjoying it, I couldn’t bring myself to like the main character. He was too frat-boyish to me, and I understand he’s meant to be unlikable in order for the redemption to happen, but he says way too many things and does way too many things for me to be able to forgive him over the course of a hundred or so pages. Moreover, I felt the paranormal aspect fell flat, and the plot could’ve been more cohesive.

Triggers apply for: racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism.

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THE 57 BUS BY DASHKA SLATER // 🌟🌟

Like most autobiographies/biographies, I’m uncomfortable reviewing this… It zooms in on a hate crime committed against an agender teen named Sasha, who’s skirt was lit on fire by a young black teen one fateful bus ride. Sasha’s story is a real one – they went through the very real physical and emotional trauma of the crime, while Richard – the person who uncharacteristically committed the horrendous crime – underwent the punishment. Dashka Slater, through real interviews, police files, news clippings, etcetera, pieces together a deeply intimate look at the failings of the justice system, how institutionalized and systematic racism is ruining black youth’s lives, putting them at a severe disadvantage. However, Slater – a white woman – uses the N-word several times in the book… and… that word is not for a non-black person to use. To me, while the criminal justice system’s exposé was important, I also felt the book was unbalanced and the emphasis was placed on the person who committed the crime over the person who was the victim. This made me uncomfortable.

Triggers apply for: use of racist and nonbinary-phobic and transphobic slurs, misgendering, hate crime against an agender teen, institutionalized racism.

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THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN BY HOLLY BLACK // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was the first Holly Black book I’ve ever read, and it definitely will not be the last. It was perfectly balanced with the right amount of romance, the right amount of action, and the perfect creep-factor. I’m not big on vampire novels, because most of them have already been done already… what’s new to be offered in the genre? But Holly Black makes them sexy and interesting again; I loved the characters, and I enjoyed the main character’s feisty yet compassionate, kind, vulnerable self too. I’m so excited to read other books by Black.

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GOODBYE DAYS BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Goodbye Days was a book that took me by surprise; I became more invested in the characters than I thought I would, and I found myself mourning people that were dead before the book even began. I loved the concept of saying one final goodbye to people who’ve been taken way too soon, and I think Zentner deals with topics of grief, loss and guilt extremely well. I did, however, take issue with some of the unchallenged suicide/self-harm jokes in the book. You can read my full review here.

Triggers apply for: Racist micro-aggressions against a Filipina character, suicide/self-harm jokes, homophobic jokes (mostly challenged), grief, death.

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CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GARBER // 🌟

The hype monster for Caraval was one of the biggest hype monsters I’ve ever seen in my four years of blogging. And because of this reason, this book was a massive let down. I hated the main characters, the sisterhood bond was nothing short of a joke, serious issues were used as plot devices without exploring potential psychological ramifications, and the writing was inconsistent and seemed try-hard. You can find my full review here.

Triggers apply for: Suicide, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, self-harm.

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THE LOVE INTEREST BY CALE DIETRICH // 🌟 1/2

This was probably one of the most disappointing books I’ve read this year – mainly because I’ve had my eye on it ever since it was announced! It sounded amazing: a satirical take on dystopians with a love triangle where the two dudes fall in love with each other? Bro, that sounds so cool. But the characters were extremely flat, to the point where the satire became laughable on its own. The writing wasn’t special, and it read more like a contemporary than a sci-fi dystopian. I DNF’d at 55%.

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THAT THING WE CALL A HEART BY SHEBA KARIM // 🌟🌟🌟

As a Pakistani Muslim, I barely get any representation in YA lit, so imagine my glee when I found out that this was a book that offered me just that. And while Sheba Karim does a great deal of things right in this book, much of it fell flat. It deals with open, frank discussions about religion, Islamophobia in the West, expectations from hijabis, assigning statuses and labeling people as “representatives” of a certain identity. I adored the main character’s best friend to the point where I wanted the book to be about her, rather than Shabnam, the protagonist. I hated Shabnam, and that was the point but her development and redemption doesn’t come soon enough to save the novel. The romance was cringe-worthy and cheesy too.

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THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE BY STEPHANIE PERKINS // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

There’s Someone Inside Your House was a delight to read. I read it in a couple of sittings, flying through it with ferocious speed. It was so incredibly fun, reminiscent of slasher flicks set in small towns. Stephanie Perkins is a talented writer, of course, and it shows because she strikes the perfect balance between her trademark cutesy contemporary (because the romance in this is adorable), while also doing justice to the thrill and horror of the serial killer storyline. The cast was diverse as well, and I enjoyed the atmospheric quality of the entire book. It would honestly make a great TV show.

Triggers apply for: some transphobic language was in my ARC, but I know Perkins has since addressed and amended it for the final copy; racist microagressions against the main character who is biracial black/Native Hawaiian; graphic depictions of murder & gore.

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THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO BY F. C. YEE // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was a book everywhere on Twitter, and rightfully so. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is an incredible urban-fantasy inspired by Chinese lore with a feisty, relatable main character who’s trying to handle her schoolwork, her future plans for college, a separated family, and a bodyshaming yet loving mother… and now you’re throwing demons in the mix?! It was adventurous, fast-paced, action-packed, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, while never losing its charm of being subtly relatable with characters that you grow to adore. My only real complaint was that I would’ve preferred more balance between the action and the slower moments, even if that meant the book had to be fifty or so pages longer.

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SAINTS AND MISFITS BY S. K. ALI // 🌟🌟🌟

I set myself up for disappointment for this book, mainly because perhaps I was expecting a little too much. For one, there is so much this book does right. It’s true that Western media often only promotes Muslim books that fit their own version of what Islam should be like. Saints & Misfits is unapologetically Muslim, with a lovable, wonderful main character who takes pride in her culture, religion and is fully immersed in it, while never being defined by it either. I loved her relationship with her family and friends, and I loved seeing her develop over the course of the novel. But there was virtually very little plot, which will eventually be the downfall of the book for readers who enjoy a more cohesive storyline.

Triggers apply for: sexual assault.

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FINAL GIRLS BY RILEY SAGER // 🌟🌟

After the magic of There’s Someone Inside Your House, I was in a bit of a thriller/slasher kick, so I decided to pick up Final Girls – which was a book I was absolutely certain I was going to enjoy. But I was left severely disappointed. It was exciting and unputdownable, that’s for certain, but the characters were flat, and it was more mystery than thriller or horror. The mental illness representation was awful, and there were so many insensitive remarks thrown towards someone who committed suicide- it made me stomach turn. The ending was cheesy and cartoon villain-y. It was just… a disappointment.

Triggers apply for: Poor mental illness representation, suicide, violent murder.

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THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟 1/2

After loving Goodbye Days by the same author earlier in the month, I decided to give his debut novel a go too, but it definitely wasn’t as good as his second. The Serpent King explores the South, religion, guilt and feeling stuck as well as I expected Zentner too, but most of the characters didn’t connect with me. Plus, I felt that Dill’s mental health was glossed over – more emphasis needed to be placed on therapy and recovery. I also didn’t feel a connection between the two people involved in the main romance at all. I’ll avoid saying more for risk of spoilers. There’s also a lot of racism and use of slurs in the book – these aren’t unchallenged, and they’re clearly not Zentner’s views but rather an authentic portrayal of the backwardness of many in the South, but I felt this could’ve been done without the use of slurs.

Triggers apply for: pedophilia, depression, religious intolerance, racism, homophobic slurs, grief, death.

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WHEN I CAST YOUR SHADOW BY SARAH PORTER // 🌟

Listen… I wish I could tell you what this book was, but I genuinely have no clue. It was so… weird and disturbing. For starters, the characters were all one-dimensional, flat and pretentious even when they showed the slightest bit of personality. The book was messed up on so many levels with some incest going on, some statutory rape that is never properly addressed, a dude possessing his own brother and then sleeping with his girlfriend, like… what the fuck was this book, and how was half this stuff greenlit?! It’s safe to say that I despised it, and I honestly cannot believe I made it through the whole thing.

Triggers apply for: vague incest stuff, sexual assault, statutory rape, drug use, death by overdose, suicidal ideations, self-harm.

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NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO // 🌟🌟🌟 1/2

Never Let Me Go had been on my TBR for approximately 4459679456 years, and I finally got around to reading it – and I must say that I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. I couldn’t put it down; it was definitely a page-turner, and I enjoyed the personal way it was written. It felt like Kathy was sitting in front of me, telling me the story as it happened, rather than me reading it from the eyes of someone who lived it. I enjoyed the duplicity and multi-faceted personalities of the characters, and was invested in all their conflicts; however, for a large portion in the middle of the book during their time in the Cottage, I lost interest, and much of that interest never came back. Plus, the ending was super info-dumpey.

Triggers apply for: disturbing thematic content, grief, loss.

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Apart from reading, I watch Netflix and listen to music.

I’ve been re-watching The Office over the summer, and I’m almost done with Season 6 now; if you haven’t looked into watching it, I highly suggest you do. The first season is a little dull, but it gets incredibly funny during the second season. I’ve been meaning to watch a new TV show before the summer officially ends, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

Also, Game of Thrones is back! I loved the first three episodes, even though parts of them felt very fan-fictiony. I’m just so stoked that these storylines are continuing, and I’m getting to see some of my favorite characters be bad-ass. Just crossing my fingers and hoping for George R. R. Martin to hurry up with the sixth book.

As for music, I’ve decided that instead of individually linking videos like I do every month, I would construct a playlist of what I’ve been listening to for the month. So here’s my Spotify list of great songs you should maybe (definitely) check out, including some pop, some rock, some electronic. All over the place, like it goes.


So that’s it for my July wrap-up. Let me know if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above, and if you did, what’d you think of them? I hope July was a wonderful month for y’all, and I hope August is even better. As always – thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

#TheReadingQuest TBR

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With time passing by at an ungodly speed, I have come to realize that I have way too many books lined up to read, and much too little time to read them. Which is why I’m scrambling to participate in every single readathon I come across. I’ll be participating in the #MakeMeRead Readathon from August 6th to 13th, and as soon as that finishes, I’m going to launch into #TheReadingQuest Readathon challenge hosted by the wonderful, magnificent, talented Aentee over at Read at Midnight.

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What is #TheReadingQuest Challenge?

The Reading Quest Challenge is a video-game inspired reading challenge, where you have to fill out a bingo card of sorts with main quests, side quests, and characters.

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It runs from August 13th to September 13th, and is hosted by Aentee from Read at Midnight. You can read her announcement post for the full details, the rules, the prizes, and the challenges within the challenge itself.

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The character I’m going to be starting off with is the Mage. Most of you know how much I love magic and fantasy, and I’ve been feeling like I’ve neglected the genre these past few months, so this will be a great way to dive right in. After, I hope to get to the other characters as well, if the challenge goes well, I’m not going to set up a TBR for them, just the main quest. So, as a Mage, the row I must complete is the first down.

TBR for main quest:

First book in a series: City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

A book set in a different world: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

A book based on mythology: The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

A book that contains magic: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

A book with a one-word title: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

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Like I said, I definitely hope to read more than just these five books. I hope to get to some of the side quests, as well as some other characters if the challenge goes as well as I hope it will. But these are the five books that are my main priority, and I’m so excited to read them all.

I’ll continue to update the character card as I gain experience points, and all my live updates for the reading challenges will obviously be on my Twitter profile (I’m kind of a Twitter junkie, if you’re unaware), so if you’re interested in those, you can follow me on there.

Let me know in the comments below whether you’re participating, and if you are, link me to your TBR post so I can check out what you’re going to be reading!

Two Releases You Need on Your Radar // Mini Reviews: Mask of Shadows, Little & Lion

2017 has been an incredible year for releases, especially because I’m starting to see more diverse books being talked about, being published, and being scheduled for future releases. As a fierce advocate of diversity in literature (and specifically children’s literature), I’ve made it a point to read mostly diverse books. Not all, but mostly. I’m extremely happy with how this decision has impacted my reading, because I’ve come across books that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. Today, I’m here to spotlight two fantastic diverse ARCs I read in June and July that I think have the potential to be the next big thing, if they’re given the exposure and love they deserve.


mask of shadows books

FTC DISCLOSURE
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller // Assassins, tournaments and a protagonist with a vengeance

Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Synopsis: Mask of Shadows follows the story of Sal, a genderfluid thief who’s living and working for a hardened crime lord. When Sal hears about the tournament held by the Queen, where contenders will fight to earn a place in the Queen’s Left Hand, Sal sees a chance for a better life. Sal isn’t professionally trained – they don’t have any experience in archery, poisons and the art of high-elite living, but they’re a thief. Quick. Nimble. Cunning, with experience in the streets, and the quiet comfort of chaos. But more than that, Sal has a vengeance. They will wreak havoc on the people who destroyed Sal’s home all those years previously…

What worked?

🌿 The diverse cast, spear-headed by a genderfluid main character in YA fantasy. Sal goes by “he,” “she,” or “they” depending on how they are dressed. Other than Sal, Miller understands what it means to have a diverse world in the way that there are several prominent characters of color, a bisexual/pansexual (unspecified as of yet) love interest of color, and several characters with disabilities.

🌿 Sal is an incredible main character, all-in-all. They’re complicated in the way that sometimes you doubt whether they have the best intentions at heart, but ultimately, you’re rooting for them. Sal is sarcastic, humorous, deeply compassionate for the people they care about, and has a swagger and air to them that you can’t help but fall in love with. Also, I do love me an underdog.

🌿 It was well-paced, with just the right amount of attention given to the slower-burn moments like the romance, Sal’s relationship with their helper, the introspection, as well as the faster moments like the action. The result was an exciting, tantalizing book that you couldn’t put down, but you also felt fully acquainted with the characters.

🌿 The assassin tournament itself was extremely well-developed, with proper detailing about how it works, who the competitors are, and what’s at stake. There are several “rounds” and classes in play, all of which are given a balanced amount of time. It’s also incredibly difficult for an author to give characters that usually go by numbers a distinct personality, but in Mask of Shadows, I was keenly aware of the different characters, their back-stories, and their personalities. That’s impressive.

mask of shadows aesthetic

🌿 The friendship between Sal and the helper they are assigned was moving; I often found myself looking forward to their scenes together. There was an immediate chemistry between the two, and they fell into easy banter. You’re always aware that they’re both benefiting from each other’s success, but you never doubt that they both care deeply for each other. I would’ve loved to see more of this dynamic, and I hope we get that in the next book.

🌿 Linsey Miller writes with such graceful ease. From developing tension between Sal and their love interest, the sharp sense of vengeance Sal always feels, the urgency of the action, as well as the descriptives of world-building, politics and history, Miller does it all extremely well. It’s hard to believe this is a debut. Although Mask of Shadows relies on tropes that many of us have definitely seen in other YA books, she brings a unique spin and flavor to them, which makes the book stand out among its peers.

What didn’t work?

🌿 My one major complaint was that there were several instances where I felt information was being dumped onto my head all at once. I like my fantasy books to be thick for this very reason; I don’t mind long paragraphs, and slow-burn development as long as the information is given to me naturally. But there wasn’t much of it in here, just inklings of it.

🌿 Everything comes a little too easily to Sal. They didn’t know much going into the tournament past having base instinctual skills, but they learn everything a bit too quickly. It seemed to be that everybody was on Sal’s side, which lowered the stakes of the story. And although I thought the tournament was imaginative, I found it difficult to believe that it ended as quickly as it did, with our contenders becoming experts in everything they’ve learned within just a few days.

🌿 I would’ve liked more focus on the political aspects of the world-building, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see more of that in the second book.

Mask of Shadows releases on August 29th, 2017.

TRIGGER WARNING

Graphic depictions of violence; purposeful misgendering; some self-harm; PTSD.

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Little & Lion: Book Review

FTC DISCLOSURE
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert // Family, Love, and Finding Yourself

Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette moves back to her home in Los Angeles after her boarding school in Massachusetts lets out for the summer, she has a lot going on in her life. For one, she was sent away against her will and now her relationship with her stepbrother, who has bipolar disorder, isn’t like it used to be. Suzette’s also figuring out her sexuality; at her school, she fell in love with Iris, her roommate and she made some mistakes that she hasn’t forgiven herself for quite yet. They left things on a bad note, and in LA, amidst everything, Suzette’s drawn to her childhood friend, Emil, as well as a girl that her brother might be into as well.

Let me begin by saying that Little & Lion was absolutely one of my favorite books of the year so far, and I fell in love with everything about it. It’s so incredibly moving, discussing things like what it means to be a family, discussing sexuality and the stigmas surrounding bisexuality. It discusses what it means to be human – flawed, but willing to accept your mistakes, and how you go about sticky situations without combusting or hurting the people around you. It’s beautifully written with fluid prose, complicated but well-fleshed out characters, and a pair of siblings that feel like your own. I finished this book at 5 AM, in just over a couple of sittings, with tears streaming down my face… just because it was that beautiful.

What worked?

🌿 Again, this is a wonderfully diverse book. Our main character is a black, Jewish, bisexual girl who’s brother has bipolar disorder. Emil, Suzette’s childhood friend, is biracial – black/Korean – who has a hearing aid. Suzette’s best friend is lesbian- in fact, most of the secondary characters in this book are on the LGBQ+ spectrum.

🌿 This is also an #OwnVoices book for black representation, and Brandy Colbert discusses ‘casual’ racist micro-aggressions throughout the book, from Suzette being kept an eye on at an expensive store, her identity as a Jewish woman constantly under appraisal, as well as extremely ignorant remarks made by people that she’s surrounded with. Even people who have other marginalizations, illustrating that just because you are also a minority doesn’t give you a pass for saying ignorant things.

Colbert doesn’t shy away from having outward, frank discussions about stigmas surrounding bisexuality, mental health, and discussions about racism and privilege in this novel. But somehow, she integrates these vital conversations within the plot, giving dimension to the characters while doing so. It’s incredible.

little and lion

🌿 The characters make this book soar. Each one of them, but especially Suzette and Lionel (her brother) are given distinct personalities and character arcs. They never feel like props to Suzette’s story- they are alive, in and of themselves, so you feel like you’re watching actual people interact within a story, rather than reading a fictional novel. Suzette stands out in that she’s deeply flawed. You know this, and she knows this too, and so her development from start-to-finish is self-aware, and interesting to see unfold. Lionel was a character easy to love; he’s smart, quiet, reserved, but strong-willed with such intense compassion for those around him.

🌿 Balance! Nothing screams a good contemporary quite like a wholesome one, which means that the author strikes the perfect balance between the multiple facets of our main character’s life. Scenes with family, her sibling, her friends, her love interest(s), as well as timely flashbacks that give you insight into Suzette’s past relationships. Each of these things is done beautifully, resulting in The Full Picture – something I crave so deeply in contemporaries.

🌿 The relationships are beautifully constructed – especially the familial ones – with the perfect amount of tension, the perfect amount of conflict. Yet you never doubt that Suzette loves her family, and they love her back. Suzette’s relationship with her brother, especially, was nothing short of intensely moving. Their fierce love and devotion to each other was permeated by several factors throughout the novel. It wasn’t an easy dynamic, but it was an authentic one. I loved it.

What didn’t work?

🌿 In a similar vein, the only thing I craved more for was Little & Lion’s dynamic. I wanted to see more flashbacks when their relationship was steady, and I wanted to see it deteriorate further. I grew to love them both so much that I couldn’t help but need more of them; if that meant the book was fifty pages longer, so be it. I just wanted more.

Little & Lion releases on August 8th, 2017.

TRIGGER WARNING

Anxiety; bipolar disorder; some self-harm; lesbophobic slurs; racist microaggressions; some biphobia.

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Begone, Hype! // Mini Reviews: Caraval, The Star-Touched Queen, Flame in the Mist

Let’s start these mini reviews by a confession: I am approximately 15 reviews behind, and to catch up and get some of my sanity back, I need to divide my time and commitment unevenly, unfortunately. Over the course of the next few days, you can expect to see grouped mini reviews that follow some theme; in these reviews, I will review three books to the best of my ability. There are so many books that I’ve read that I feel need proper time and attention, so those are the ones that will get individual reviews (or groups of two, instead of three). Hopefully this way, I can catch up on my reviews while not completely ignoring them either.

Expectation is the root of all disappointment.

When you expect something from a book because a) you’ve heard people talking about it, b) the author has previously done really great work, and c) (because we’re all a little bit shallow), the cover is just really darn beautiful, so you automatically expect the content is too. And so, you get your hands on this book, and much to your dismay, it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s disappointing, and nothing bums me out quite as much as disliking a book that I thought I would like. In this post, I will get to three books that left me with low spirits and a heavy heart (because melodrama is my forté!)

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caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber // also known as, “No, seriously, why are you so popular?”

Rating:  🌟

Synopsis: Caraval follows the story of Scarlett and her sister Tella, who’ve always dreamed of playing the legendary, magical game of Caraval. Ever since they were young girls, their grandmother has told them stories about the Caraval master, the whimsy of the game, how the experience is unparalleled. The problem is that the game is incredibly exclusive – you can’t go unless you receive an invite. When Scarlett receives an invite after years of writing to the master of Caraval, she and Tella escape the clutches of their abusive, terrifying father with a companion in tow and flee to make the game.

What worked?

🍓 The first couple of chapters immediately grabbed my attention.

What didn’t work?

🍓 Important, serious issues are used as plot devices – Scarlett and Tella’s abusive by their father is only used as a launching point for them to go to CaravalThe abuse is shoved aside except for when you’re being reminded that the two are at Caraval to escape it. Suicide is used as a plot device in the most bizarre, offensive manner. The severe psychological repercussions on characters are pushed aside and overlooked.

🍓 Scarlett was a terrible heroine. Absolutely horrendous. She’s incredibly passive – she does very little by her own volition, but instead lets everyone guide her movements. She’s easily manipulated, and has no backbone. The result is an unreliable protagonist (and not in a good way), because you constantly doubt what she’s hearing and seeing, simply because you never know when the next person will come along and change her mind.

🍓 The writing style was strange and inconsistent; at times, Garber used metaphors in consecutive rotation, and at other times, it seems like the editor either a) went overboard, or b) didn’t look at the script at all. The book goes from purple prose to absolutely juvenile prose without any feeling constantly. The result is rather jarring.

🍓 Garber would have you believe that the sisterhood aspect of the novel is prominent, yet… it’s really not. Tella isn’t present in the majority of the book, and when Scarlett is thinking about her, it’s usually in the context of, “Oh, how can I possibly choose between my sister’s life, this boy I met two days ago, and making my arranged wedding on time?” If that’s the type of sisterhood that’s considered “close,” you can keep it.

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🍓 I don’t know whether Garber was trying to achieve a constant twist-and-turns type of plot, but she consistently decided to change the motives of the characters, and the way the game is supposed to be played as she saw fit. The result is incredibly jarring. I got whiplash from the constant back-and-forth. It was naaaht a fun reading experience.

TRIGGER WARNING

Suicide; physical, emotional abuse; some self-harm.

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star touched queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi // also known as, “Damn, you’re pretty but you’re such a mystery.”

Rating:  🌟🌟 1/2

SynopsisMaya has a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction; she’s known she’s cursed ever since she was a child, and so does everyone else in her life. When her father, the Raja, arranges for a political marriage to eradicate rebellions, Maya finds herself leaving home and the Queen of Akaran – a kingdom she’d never heard of before. Akaran is mysterious, but magical, with locked doors, empty halls, and impossible things. But her husband, Amar, is sweet, and kind, and she can almost find love in him, as long as he stops his constant secrets.

What worked?

🍓 The Indian lore incorporated into the narrative was done masterfully; from reincarnation to gods and goddesses, to cultural traditions and the pitfalls of the subcontinent’s history, to food and dress – the story is seeping with Indian culture. It’s delicious to read.

🍓 Roshani Chokshi is a skilled writer. I don’t particularly enjoy floral prose, but I can appreciate when it’s done well. She utilizes figurative language beautifully, and she structures her sentences so that they read more like a song than prose.

🍓 The world-building was vivid, albeit confusing, and that speaks more for Chokshi’s ability to write descriptively than it does anything else. From mysterious Night Bazaars to enchanted gardens and vulgar horses… there’s a lot in this book to devour.

What didn’t work?

🍓 First and foremost: the characters were an incredible let-down. There’s so much for us to absorb in the world-building that I felt Chokshi focused more on the characters’ surroundings than the characters themselves. The result was largely flat, one-dimensional people guiding the story. Maya was yet another passive character for the large part of the novel; she does very little of her own volition and allows herself to be manipulated. But I will say that this got better around the 50% mark.

🍓 The romance – there was little to no chemistry between Amar and Maya. It was hard for me to believe that despite Amar keeping so much from Maya, she still falls in love with him. I would have liked a slower burn build-up.

🍓 The world-building itself fell flat for me – it was descriptive, and I could picture most everything on the page, but the universe, its history and how the magic worked wasn’t given enough attention. Perhaps if the book was longer and more attention was given to the mechanics, I wouldn’t have been so confused.

🍓 I wanted to see more of Maya’s life before she is sent to Akaran.

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Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh // also known as, “Why couldn’t you be more like your older sibling?”

Rating:  🌟 🌟 1/2

Synopsis: Flame in the Mist follows the story of Mariko, the only daughter of a prominent samurai in feudal Japan who is on her way to the imperial palace to be married off in a political move. On the way, her party is ambushed by the Black Clan, and everyone is slaughtered. Mariko is able to get away, but finds herself in a deadly forest. Determined to discover why the Black Clan ambushed her carriage in a way so unlike them, she disguises herself as a boy and sets off to infiltrate their camp.

Note: this book is often marketed as a Mulan retelling, which it is not. For one, it is set in Japan and not China. Secondly, there are no similarities past the cross-dressing component.

What worked?

🍓 Mariko. She’s a wonderfully developed character with a strong sense of herself, her values, and what needs to be done to achieve her goals. She’s determined, and utilizes sharpness and wit to maneuver tricky situations. She’s a woman in a patriarchal society, so she starts off with a ton of internalized misogyny, but develops wonderfully by the end of the story. She’s also super sex-positive!

🍓 Kenshin (Mariko’s twin brother) and the love interest, Okami, were both well-developed characters as well. There are some POV chapters from Okami, though most of the book is told from Mariko and Kenshin’s perspectives, but I enjoyed these perspective-shifts and the flavor they brought to the story. I would’ve liked to see more of Mariko and Kenshin’s dynamic though.

🍓 The romance was very swoon-worthy, as Ahdieh’s romances are. Shazi and Khalid in her previous series are one of my ultimate OTPs, and Mariko and Okami made their way into my list too. They both complement and challenge each other well – their dynamic is hot-and-cold, but incredibly entertaining to see unfold.

🍓 Ahdieh is a wonderful writer; she writes with fluid grace, utilizing descriptives, dialogue and emotion very well. You mostly feel what she wants you to feel, and that’s the hallmark of a good writer.

What didn’t work?

🍓 I cannot speak for the Japanese representation since I am a) not Japanese, and b) not very familiar with the culture in the first place. But after having read a few reviews by Japanese readers, I now know that the representation is very appropriative and inaccurate. Ahdieh utilizes entertainment tropes, stereotypes, and poorly researched elements into the narrative. Here is an #OwnVoices review, and here’s another one.

🍓 While utilizing the “I disguised myself as a boy” trope, and as Okami forms a strong bond with her while he believes she is a boy, the book is very cis-normative, and there is absolutely no discussion of bisexuality. The first review linked above discusses both these issues as well, since the reviewer is Japanese, non-binary and bisexual. Do check out that review, please.

🍓 I simpy do not believe that Mariko formed a stronger bond with the Black Clan than she has with her twin brother, because the relationships (beyond the romance) aren’t developed well. You don’t get to see much interaction between Mariko and the rest of the Black Clan that gives you the sense that yes, she feels like she belongs there. This makes the climax a little… cold.

🍓 The launching point of the novel is basically the same as The Wrath & the DawnA girl seeks out for vengeance, infiltrates her enemy’s household under disguise and falls in love. It’s literally the same thing. The similarities were a little difficult for me to overlook, which ultimately made the book seem uninspired.

TRIGGER WARNING

Attempted assault; violence; misogyny.

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Wallpapers: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

aetia wallpaper graphic

Hello, everyone. I haven’t made wallpaper graphics for a series in a while – in fact, the last ones I made were definitely the Six of Crows wallpapers I made back in October. So, I thought I’d make a couple for Sabaa Tahir’s wonderful An Ember in the Ashes series.

I did something different with them; I don’t think I’ve ever utilized a dark background in my wallpapers before, and I almost always use lighter watercolor texture for the background. But I’m happy with how these turned out. I went for a minimalist look, and I didn’t want to crowd the graphic up with everything in every corner, if you know what I mean? But I’m ultimately happy with how they turned out, and I really hope you like them to.

Feel free to download and use them on your phones. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Terms of Use

🔥 Do not redistribute these wallpapers. If you would like to share them, you can share the link to this post.

🔥 You may not use these graphics in your own graphic design pieces.

🔥 If you are going to share them on your social media, please provide proper credit to Sabaa Tahir and myself.

Note: the quotes are not mine, the series they are based on is not mine, and the vectors used belong to FreePik.com.


Dropbox link for Graphic 1

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Dropbox link for Graphic 2

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Other Wallpapers

🔥 The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

🔥 Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

🔥 A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

kofi

If you enjoyed this post, and/or are going to use these graphics, I would really appreciate it if you would consider sharing and/or buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi.com. 💛

 

Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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FTC DISCLOSURE

🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

“Where are you guys? Text me back.”

That was the last text Carver sent to one of his three best friends before they were all killed in an accident. Mars had been driving when he got the text, and while he was checking it, their car collided into a truck, killing Mars, Eli and Blake. In one moment, Carver’s life is upended. His conscience weighs down on him, proclaiming that of course it’s his fault his friends are dead. Mars’s father is a powerful judge who’s looking to press negligent murder charges against Carver. But in all this hubbub, Carver still manages to find other people to find support in and with – Eli’s girlfriend, Blake’s grandmother, and his new therapist. When Blake’s grandmother suggest a Goodbye Day, – a day where Carver and her can do the things Blake loved, and have a proper goodbye – the other families start asking for these days too. Will Carver finally find redemption, some sense of closure, or will this end with him being declared the criminal that he thinks he is?


What worked?

🌊 The in-depth portrayal of Carver’s PTSD and anxiety after the accident, as well as multiple therapy sessions that are executed rather well.

🌊 The concept of goodbye days.

🌊 An emphasis on familial relationships, friendships, and personal recovery.

🌊 The slow-burn nature of it inspired constant empathy, rather than one gratuitous pay-off that often reads like tragiporn.

🌊 Carver’s character development.

What didn’t work?

🌊 Some problematic content – suicide, and self-harm jokes go unchallenged, largely. (You can read more on this further into the review) and some homophobic jokes that – while challenged – aren’t done so in-depth.

🌊 The goodbye days past Blake’s aren’t given as much attention as I would have liked.


There is no word better than “intense” to describe Goodbye Days. From start to finish, it packs a punch- whether that’s in the sad reality of the death of three bright young people, or in the loss our main character is reeling from and dealing with, or in the guilt that’s crushing him, making him do things and think things that you don’t agree with, but can’t really refute either. It’s an emotional book with themes of family, friendship, guilt and grief layered one atop the other – masterfully, poignantly, and unflinchingly executed. It’s a Southern novel, and has the elements found in traditional Southern fiction; close-knit communities, a prominent presence of religious themes, discussions of justice, as well as some references to the realities of “Othering” in the South.

It’s not gratuitously tragic in the way that sad books more often than not are. It doesn’t follow the formula of everything building up until it finally implodes in one tragiporn climax… instead, Goodbye Days slowly burns away at your sense of empathy. There were several moments where I touched my face and realized a tear or two had spilled over at the random-est of moments. Sometimes, when you’ve lost someone or something, the smallest thing can set you off, and it’s so fascinating that this book felt a lot like that. I mourned for Eli, Blake and Mars. I mourned for them constantly, despite never having met them in the prose except through flashbacks. That’s an incredible feat.

Zentner does a fantastic job of pacing his story and balancing the sadder aspects of it with moments of hope; though the flashbacks of Carver’s life with his friends are tragic in and of themselves, they also provide insight into the meaning of friendship, into holding onto happy memories, even if they’re painful. His Goodbye Day with Blake’s grandmother was one of my favorite moments of the novel, because even though they’re mourning the wonderful person that was Blake, they’re still celebrating his life. In this way, it’s also a hopeful novel, while being a sad one, and this quality is what sets it apart from so many other novels characterized as “sad.”

goodbye days by jeff zentner

I mentioned before that Zentner discusses the “Othering” in the South, and I thought this was brilliantly executed as well. Eli’s girlfriend Jesmyn, now one of Carver’s closest friends and support systems, is Filipina – there are several moments where Carver makes a seemingly innocuous remark that Jesmyn calls out as ignorant. She challenges him on some of his racist and misogynistic remarks every step of the way, and you really start to see him develop. To the point where he challenges a sexist remark that his therapist makes, and a racist remark that Eli’s grandmother makes. Carver and his friends have a history of joking about serious issues. They make homophobic jokes (this is challenged in-text, though not in a way that I agree with) and suicide/self-harm jokes (this is left unchallenged, largely, which is something I had a problem with), and it begs the question: after Carver’s development and his growing awareness, would he still make these jokes? I would’ve liked to see more in-text, explicit acknowledgement of the problematic nature of these jokes, though I still appreciated the conscious effort in the existing acknowledgment and correction. It speaks a lot for the authenticity of the Southern nature of the novel that ignorance exists. But this ignorance is also challenged (90% of the time), going to show that you can be authentic in showing the problematic aspects of your culture and characters without excusing them.

Goodbye Days was a damn good book, though not a perfect one. For one, like I mentioned above, some of the problematic jokes went unchallenged. Secondly, I would’ve liked a bit more emphasis on Eli and Mars’s Goodbye Days as well, especially because both their families’ have a very different reaction to Carver’s involvement in the accident than Blake’s grandmother did. I would have liked for this to be expanded upon. But other than these issues, Goodbye Days was a wonderful read. Poignant, moving, and incredibly memorable, and I’ll definitely be keeping Jeff Zentner in mind for any of his other books and new releases.

TRIGGER WARNING

Suicide/self-harm jokes, homophobic jokes (challenged), homophobia, racist micro aggressions, grief, anxiety/PTSD.

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