young adult

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

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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 ūü󣬆tracing¬†ūü󣬆back¬†ūü󣬆to¬†ūü󣬆countries¬†ūü󣬆that¬†ūü󣬆have¬†ūü󣬆been¬†ūü󣬆colonized¬†ūü󣬆by white¬†ūü󣬆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… ūüŹÉūüŹĹ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ¬†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.

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27 Hours releases on October 3rd, 2017.

Goodreads // Amazon

Wallpapers: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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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

ūüĒ•¬†Do not redistribute these wallpapers. If you would like to share them, you can share the link to this post.

ūüĒ•¬†You may not use these graphics in your own graphic design pieces.

ūüĒ•¬†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

ūüĒ•¬†The Raven Cycle¬†by Maggie Stiefvater

ūüĒ•¬†Six of Crows¬†by Leigh Bardugo

ūüĒ•¬†A Darker Shade of Magic¬†by V. E. Schwab

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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. ūüíõ

 

Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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FTC DISCLOSURE

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“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?

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

ūüĆ䬆The concept of goodbye days.

ūüĆ䬆An emphasis on familial relationships, friendships, and personal recovery.

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

ūüĆ䬆Carver’s character development.

What didn’t work?

ūüĆ䬆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.

ūüĆ䬆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.”

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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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Goodreads¬†ūüĆ䬆Amazon

ARC Review | Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault by Candace Robinson

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FTC DISCLOSURE

♡ ♡ . 5  s t a r s

Perrie Madeleine lives a normal life in the town of Deer Park, Texas. She goes to a normal high school, and has normal people problems – a messy ex-boyfriend, a friend she feels for a bit romantically, and a cousin/best friend that she shares everything with. But people begin to go missing in this town, and the police have no leads. When a museum of sorts pops up in the town overnight, Perrie’s best friend Maisie applies for a job. The day of her first night of work, she goes missing, and so does Perrie’s ex-boyfriend. Perrie sets out on a mission – figure¬†out what’s going on at this museum, and find her friend, no matter the cost.

Because I think problematic aspects of a book shouldn’t be tacked on to a review as an afterthought, let me begin by discussing them. I am aware that this is an ARC, and I sincerely hope that future publications will rectify these issues, but it’s important to discuss them now. Around the 5% mark, I came across this acephobic comment:

Maisie gets plenty of offers from both guys and girls, but as I have come to realize, there’s no one like her. Sometimes, I think she’s asexual like certain plants.”

If the author¬†had simply left it at, “I think she might be asexual,” and explained what asexuality is, it wouldn’t have left such a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a micro aggression- relating an aspect of someone’s identity to plants and leaving it at that, as if asexuality is an identity inherently¬†not¬†human. Also, saying that there’s “no one like her” in the context of asexuality is extremely off-putting. Asexuality¬†is real,¬†and asexual people¬†very much exist,¬†and to pass this off as some unique, one-off thing just furthers stigma.

Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was the fact that Maisie is biracial (her father is Middle Eastern), but this is only referred to in passing. She could easily be¬†white without there being any difference – not to mention the fact that the Middle East encompasses so many¬†countries and ethnicities, and it’s never specified what ethnicity Maisie is. She is described as “brown because she’s¬†Middle Eastern,” that’s it.¬†When you include a character of color in your story, especially if it’s a Middle Eastern brown character in the middle of a small town in Texas, you need to give some substance to their experiences – whether this is done through some cultural nods, some dialogue in a different language, or even just some more discussion about their heritage. If this is not done, it screams tokenism, and people of color are not tokens who exist to lend some “diversity credit” to your stories.

Moving on: Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault¬†is told through several retellings, and though it starts off dull and uninspiring, things pick up at the 25% mark when these horror retellings kick in. The world-building is delicious, and I can’t seem to come up with any other way to describe it, simply because the world-building was what made me devour the book in one or two sittings. Robinson sets up each setting of each retelling wonderfully, giving them all the time and attention to detail that they deserve, infusing true crime, fairytale, the paranormal and the realistic to form distinct experiences throughout each retelling. It’s unabashedly gory and violent; there are descriptions of horrifying scenes that genuinely made my stomach turn, and I’m usually not easily bothered by written descriptions of things. The magical aspects of it aren’t given too much description, but this works in the book’s favor; instead of getting bogged down in the technicalities of things, you are flung right into the action, ready to devour every scene as it comes. By far my favorite ‘portion’ of the retellings was the horrifying reworking of¬†Snow White.

While there’s some romance, the book isn’t dominated or ruled by it. One of the strongest aspects was definitely Perrie’s love for Maisie, and vice versa. Seldom do books emphasize female friendships, but this is one that places friendship above romance; thus, the romance – when it existed – was done¬†tastefully.

But, Glass Vault¬†lacks in character development; the character’s introspections, their development and the space they need to be given to evolve and grow is vastly overshadowed by the very many things happening in the plot. It’s a short book – the paperback spans just over 200 pages, and because there’s so much action, it passes you by in a blur. But upon turning the last page, I realized that the characters were rather forgettable; none of them struck out to me as particularly lovable, or people that I wanted to know more about. They were just tools to further an interesting plot rather than integral components of the plot itself. I will, however, give Robinson credit for the end – I didn’t see it coming¬†at all,¬†and I’m inclined to give the second book a read, just to see how the story ends; Robinson has a way for making you think that you know where the plot’s going, but veering it completely off-course along¬†the path. In a good way.

Ultimately,¬†Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault¬†is a fast-paced, fun, and deliciously horrific ride into the author’s creative talents, and there’s a lot going for it. If you’re a plot-driven reader, you’ll enjoy it, and if you enjoy retellings, this is the book for you. But be wary about¬†the acephobia and the tokenism before going into it.

TRIGGER WARNING

Attempted sexual assault; violence; graphic depictions of gore

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G O O D R E A D S  |  A M A Z O N

Book Review | Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡  s t a r s

Norah is seventeen years old, and she hasn’t¬†really¬†stepped outside of her house since she was thirteen except for the occasional visit to her therapist. She has agoraphobia, anxiety and OCD, and there are too many things in the outside world that can cause harm – so she stays inside the four walls of her home, her safe haven, where she reads, watches movies, and builds forts and miniature structures¬†from edibles. When the new boy next door starts¬†making an effort to talk to her, Norah feels the pull to step out of her comfort zone. He’s charming, he’s cute, and has a smile that sends tingles down her spine, but Norah, despite wanting to, is terrified of letting him in.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies¬†is as beautiful as the title¬†sounds and the cover looks. Written with fluidity and grace, Gornall weaves words like a mastermind, conveying emotion by employing just the right vocabulary, just the right tone. It’s poetic and lyrical, without ever feeling¬†purple. There’s something incredibly challenging about writing a book set almost entirely within the four walls of one girl’s house, but Gornall’s writing never¬†lets you notice this until you pause, think, and admire the feat. When we think of masterful world-building, we think about fantasy universes with their own continents, governments, schools, magic systems – but the world-building in¬†this¬†book is confined to a house… and it’s just as good as the world-building in the best of fantasy novels. That may seem like a hyperbolic statement to you, but I don’t think it is. The author¬†focuses on micro-details and makes it work- from the texture of Norah’s bedsheets to the contents of her refrigerator, the feel of her hallway and the aura around her windows, everything is precise, polished, and wonderfully done.

But the writing style and the world-building are just two facets of this beautiful tale. Its empathetic portrayal of the relationship between a mother and her daughter, between a young girl and her mentor, her therapist, between a girl and a boy, and this girl and herself – each and every relationship is given the perfect weight, resulting in a wholesome, balanced story that¬†never¬†gets boring, never does too much. Make no mistake – this is not a book about romance, it’s not one about Norah’s therapy, and it’s not a book about her relationships. It’s not a book that uses mental illness as a plot point¬†in any plot¬†mentioned above; it’s a book about a girl with¬†disabilities who’s living her day-to-day life, maneuvering through family, romance and therapy as best as she can. This is what we need in contemporaries. Books that place the¬†person at the forefront, while never ignoring, glamorizing or romanticizing their mental illness.

What makes the story lift and soar are the characters, but most specifically Norah. She’s everything I love in a character – in a human being, in fact. She’s shy and introspective, she doesn’t say much but when she does, she’s smart and funny. Her incredibly empathetic nature, her genuine regard for other people before herself, and her strength¬†and¬†vulnerability make her such a beautiful character. Her voice in moments when she’s vulnerable beyond anything she’s ever known, as well as when she’s navigating daily life, to her desires and hopes and dreams – everything feels so authentic. I felt like I was reading about a friend, and I teared up multiple times, just because I felt so deeply¬†for¬†her. Not¬†pity. NEVER pity, but empathy. This is an empathetic book, not a sympathetic one, and¬†I think it’s meant to be that way.

Luke, also, was such a beautifully constructed character. When he was introduced, I was apprehensive because too often have I seen the trope where falling in love cures mental illnesses, but that apprehension need not have been there. I loved the slow-burn of Luke’s¬†relationship with Norah, because it gave time for Norah to ease into an unfamiliar situation, and acquaint herself with feeling how she felt, and what it would mean for her. I loved Luke’s attitude; instead of giving her unwanted advice, instead of trying to change any part of her life, he sought to learn and understand. He’s not perfect; he makes mistakes, and sometimes I¬†wanted to smack him, but he’s such an incredibly kind, soft person who tries his best to understand, falters along the way, but is determined to learn and straighten himself up. He was given complexities and dilemmas of his own outside of this relationship, and sure, I would have liked to learn more about his family, but I don’t say that as a flaw in the book – it’s actually a compliment, believe it or not.

Because, for the life of me, I did¬†not¬†want it to end. It read like a movie, something playing in front of my eyes, with characters that I loved, adored and wanted to stay with for much, much longer. I wanted it to go on, and I would have happily read on for a couple hundred more pages. Not because it was too short; no, it was the perfect length. I’ve just become so invested in these characters’ lives that I’m craving more, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this for a contemporary stand-alone before. Any stand-alone, in fact.

If you’ve been following my reading and my reviewing for a while now, you’d know that I don’t give out five-star ratings easily. Very rarely do I come across books that I can’t find a flaw in, that I can start over right after finishing them gladly, but this is one of those rarities. It flung itself in my ‘favorites’ list, and I didn’t even realize it until after I’d turned the last page, but here I am: enamored, gushing, and wanting – no – needing more.

TRIGGER WARNING

Anxiety-inducing scenes, some suicidal ideations, and self-harm.

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ARC Review | When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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FTC DISCLOSURE

♡ ♡ ♡  .  5   S T A R S

Dimple Shah has issues with her parents, more specifically her mother. Dimple’s a career woman with a passion for education and coding; she can’t stand putting on makeup or dressing up, and she couldn’t care less about finding an I.I.H – the Ideal Indian Husband. The problem is that her traditionally cultural¬†mother doesn’t understand this, and if it were up to her, Dimple would be married to a suitable, nice boy by now. When Dimple gets the chance to go to San Francisco for the summer to attend a coding camp, she encounters a nasty¬†surprise: Rishi. He was sent by his and her parents¬†who’d promised Rishi that they’d get married after they’d met. But their first meeting doesn’t go quite as planned. Now, they have to spend a summer together – Rishi, a hopeless romantic is smitten by her, and Dimple, frustrated and annoyed, needs to achieve her coding goals and possibly get by without murdering Rishi or her parents.

When Dimple Met Rishi¬†is the perfect example of what a Bollywood movie on paper looks like. It’s heartfelt, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and at times it’s so melodramatic that it’s ridiculous – but mostly in a good way. Part rom-com, part coming-of-age story, Menon’s woven a story that will capture the hearts of hopeless romantics like Rishi, as well as the more ‘practical’¬†ones who put their career goals before¬†their love lives. It offers well-integrated insight into Indian culture, includes Hindi dialogue seamlessly into the narrative with food and Bollywood references that any person who’s familiar with the culture will immediately spot and grin at, while those who are unfamiliar will learn, and may want to know more. But make no mistake,¬†When Dimple Met Rishi¬†is not¬†about¬†Indian culture – that’s just there.

Which is one of the things that makes the book so special, in my mind. So often, South Asian cultures are reduced to stereotypes – even, to some extent, by authors from the same background. Which is not me saying that their experiences are less. They’re not, but just that it can be incredibly alienating for readers to find the same type of narratives everywhere they turn.¬†This particular book doesn’t do that; it’s about a young girl, living her life, doing what she loves, having her issues, falling in love. These stories far outweigh the negative ones, and we rarely get to see them in books. There is infinite value in books like these because they serve to¬†diversify,¬†not¬†other.

There is also infinite value in Soft Boys – I’ve said this time and time again, but I’m sick and tired of the bad boy trope. I need me some soft boys in YA lit – guys who are just nice, and do nice things, and think nice thoughts, who respect other people and thus get respect back. Rishi Patel is the ultimate soft boy, and I¬†love¬†him. He’s such a kind, thoughtful person who does little things to make people happy; there are facets to his personality that everyone can relate to.¬†His respect and love for his parents was something that immediately clicked with me, while his struggle with needing to be the perfect son and wanting a career in something that might not make him bags of money is something that I feel a lot of South Asian kids would relate to. Soft, but not without his own flaws and complexities, and I¬†really¬†loved how Menon executed his character.

On the flip side, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Dimple. I admired her initially – gutsy, outspoken, strong-willed and feisty, but as time wore on, her initial charm wore off – particularly when it comes to her behavior around Rishi. There is a scene near the beginning of their meeting where she¬†forces¬†him to drink alcohol at a party, after he repeatedly refuses.¬†She pushes him into situations that are uncomfortable for him more than a few times; she crosses the line more than a few times, and even though I didn’t mind her individually, her behavior was frustrating and frankly, a little shocking. Some may say that this ‘flaw’ is what makes Dimple’s character complex, but I would disagree. Not to give anything away, but these things are never challenged. They just are,¬†and Rishi goes along with them. If the genders were flipped, perhaps more people would notice that it is¬†not¬†okay for someone to constantly push and shove someone else into¬†literal¬†submission.

When you don’t like the main character, other things start to pop up. For one, the insta-love is an issue. I can’t say much about that at risk of spoilers, but falling so madly and deeply in love within a few weeks? Not buying it. On top of that, the romance was a little too cheesy for my taste, but some people enjoy the thrill of first-love cheese, so that’s entirely subjective. I also felt that the ending was rushed, and way too melodramatic – the ending was one I’ve seen in one too many Bollywood movies, and I felt that Menon could’ve done something different, something more interesting.

But ultimately, despite all the flaws,¬†When Dimple Met Rishi¬†is a good addition to your summer reading list; it is fun, it’s flirty, you’ll devour it because it’s addictive. And¬†by the turn of the last page, you’ll definitely want more – come to me for some Bollywood recs; you’ll need them!

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Adult Books for YA Readers

Hello, everyone! Today I come to you with a different type of blog post. Since I’m the master procrastinator, I’m putting off the nine reviews that I have pending to post this. And that’s because I’ve noticed something about myself recently: whenever I’m in a reading rut,¬†the only books that can get me moving are from the adult genre.

Now bear with me – this is not me saying that adult books are generally superior which is why they can get me out, and keep me out, of a slump but rather it’s me emphasizing the importance of reading at different wavelengths. YA books are so fun, for me. I love reading them; I love the tropes, I love the youthful feel of them, I love that there is a strong online community surrounding them, but sometimes, it’s good to change it up. It’s good to venture into the adult genre and read something that you wouldn’t usually pick up.

But, how to do that? Adult fiction is such a vast genre – where do you start? How do you even begin to look around the hundreds¬†and thousands of books that are released every single month to find something that’ll fit with you. The genre can be intimidating; the scope is larger, the books are longer, and there just isn’t the community to help you launch into it and widen your scope.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m some established reader of the adult genre, but I do like to read at least a couple adult books every month.¬†But I’d like to¬†make this post anyway, to shed some light on books that you might be too intimidated to try, or books that you haven’t heard of because adult books simply don’t get the spotlight in your usual circle. These are books that will appeal to a large audience, which makes them really good “transition” reads, if you will.

Note: these are not all my favorite adult books – these are just books that I think are good transition books, and have a wide age appeal.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

S C I E N C E  F I C T I O N

D A R K  M A T T E R  B Y  B L A K E  C R O U C H

post insertS Y N O P S I S РDark Matter follows the story of Jason, a physicist living a content life; he made some difficult decisions in the past, choosing to give up a large portion of his ambition and career to make way for a healthy family, but he is happy now. When Jason leaves his house one night, a man in a mask abducts him, asks Jason if he’s happy with his life before knocking him out cold. When he wakes up, Jason finds himself in an unfamiliar room surrounded by people in hazmat suits- all strangers, yet they seem to know him. Soon enough, Jason realizes that he hasn’t woken up in a different area. He has woken up in an entirely different world, a world where he hadn’t abandoned his career. A world where his wife is not his wife anymore, where his son does not exist, and a certain group of people are adamant on extracting information from him that he doesn’t even know…

This¬†is a fairly recent adult read for me, but it was one that I fell in¬†love¬†with. It was near the top of my best books of 2016 list, because even after I finished it, I could not stop thinking about it. From the fast-paced, easy-to-follow writing style to the deeply sympathetic characters, to the sheer mind-fuckery of the plot (without it being too science-y either, so you could follow along pretty easily). Despite it exploring themes relating to infinity and parallel universes, it’s really a deeply moving love story at its core – about one man’s love for his wife and son, and the fact that he would do anything to find his way back to them, even if that means making impossibly difficult choices. I think it’s such a fun, fast-paced, enjoyable read that moves a lot like a movie in front of your eyes, and it¬†just takes the science fiction genre to incredible new heights. If it helps, it was optioned for adaptation before it was released!

It’s quite perfect for fans of¬†Illuminae¬†by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman,¬†A Thousand Pieces of You¬†by Claudia Grey, and anyone who loves¬†Interstellar, Inception¬†and¬†Doctor Who.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

H I G H  S C H O O L  T H R I L L E R S

E V E R Y T H I N G  Y O U  W A N T  M E  T O  B E  B Y  M I N D Y  M E J I A

post insert LEFTS Y N O P S I S –¬†Hattie Hoffman is a senior in high school, and she‚Äôs admired by many ‚Äď she has a stable boyfriend, lovely parents, and a dazzling personality that everyone is charmed by. But Hattie has a secret; she was involved in an online relationship with a man that was the only person Hattie related to in her small-town life, surrounded by people who have different ambitions. She‚Äôs an actor, and she‚Äôs spent her entire life playing parts, both on the stage and in her relationships, but with this one person, she can be herself. But before she can achieve her dream of moving to New York and becoming an actress,¬†her body is found floating in the river, brutally stabbed. During the investigation, the town‚Äôs secrets begin to emerge.

This is another book that I read very recently, and I’m so glad that I requested it off Netgalley because I never would have read it otherwise. This, to me, is a perfect transition book because it rests precariously between the two genres’ target ages. The main character, Hattie (despite being dead) is a senior in high school, and a lot of the themes and characters are about coming-of-age, finding yourself in a cruel environment, etcetera.¬†But it does feature a relationship between her and her English teacher, dealt with in an extremely sensitive and honest way without any glamorization or justification, which I really appreciated. I say it’s the perfect balance because the other main character is the teacher in question, and his perspective deals with the very adult themes of a broken marriage, a midlife crisis, etcetera. They come together brilliantly to form a dynamic, engaging, un-putdownable read.

This book is¬†perfect¬†if you enjoyed¬†We Were Liars¬†by E. Lockhart;¬†Wink Poppy Midnight¬†by Genevieve Tcholke;¬†Gone Girl¬†by Gillian Flynn, and if you watch¬†Riverdale¬†(I haven’t seen this but feel it’s of a similar nature), and¬†Pretty Little Liars.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

P S Y C H O L O G I C A L  D R A M A S

T H E  S E C R E T  H I S T O R Y  B Y  D O N N A  T A R T T

the secret historyI’m not going to write a synopsis for this because it’s a book that I believe should be gone into blind. It’s my favorite book of all-time, and if you know me, you’d know that I don’t say that lightly because I’m a tough critic and a tough rater. But I read this four years ago, and trust me when I say that I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. There’s just something about Donna Tartt’s writing that draws you in so completely and gets you lost in the words and pages. Each character is tremendously developed, despite them¬†all¬†being anti-heroes and really despicable people.

I know for a fact that this is a double-edged sword, because all the characters are college students. The setting is a Midwestern college campus with looming forests, romantic dormitories, etcetera, and if that appeals to you at all, you would really enjoy it. But it’s more sinister than any college novel you’ve ever read. It’s kind of a mystery in reverse – you know a murder happens, you know who does it, and you know who dies, but you don’t know¬†why.¬†There’s a special kind of intrigue about the fact that it’s a¬†whydunnit¬†rather than a¬†whodunnit,¬†and Donna Tartt executes it so perfectly. There is just the right amount of action and tension leading up to the murder, and the psychological aftermath after that is delicious in and of itself. There’s some talk about classics and cult-like things as well, and lots of secrets that come out like bombshells, and I honestly just cannot recommend this book enough.

This would be a perfect fit for you if you enjoy psychological thrillers and dramas – if you enjoyed¬†Vicious¬†by V.E. Schwab and¬†Six of Crows¬†by Leigh Bardugo (for its characterization), you might love this too. I’ve also said this time and time again, but I low-key think that¬†The Raven Cycle¬†is a rip-off of this book; the characters, the atmosphere, and even the setting is very similar.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

H I S T O R I C A L  F I C T I O N

A L L  T H E  L I G H T  W E  C A N N O T  S E E  B Y  A N T H O N Y  D O E R R

all the lightS Y N O P S I S –¬†Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and at¬†twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure‚Äôs great-uncle lives. With them they carry what might be the museum‚Äôs most valuable and dangerous jewel.¬†In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure‚Äôs converge.

I read this book a while ago, but I remember that I was astounded by its simple yet beautiful prose, its deeply moving characterization, and the fast-pace of it despite it being a rather lengthy book. This, quite like¬†Everything You Want Me to Be¬†is a really great transition book because both characters are young teens, leading extremely difficult lives in increasingly¬†tumultuous times. I also really love that¬†All the Light We Cannot See¬†strays far from the Jewish-Nazi romance, which I think is just a really disgusting trope – it focuses on the independent lives of a¬†German boy and a French girl without falling into overused, tired, offensive tropes. It’s deeply impactful, and I’d highly recommend it – don’t be daunted by the size; you’ll fly through it!

This is perfect for fans of¬†The Book Thief¬†by Markus Zusak, of course. I don’t have very many other recommendations or comparisons because historical fiction isn’t really a genre I usually reach out for.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

 H A R D  H I T T I N G  C O N T E M P O R A R I E S

N I N E T E E N  M I N U T E S  B Y  J O D I  P I C O U L T

19 minsS Y N O P S I S –¬†Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens–until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state’s best witness, but she can’t remember what happened before her very own eyes- or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show–destroying the closest of friendships and families.

The synopsis found on Goodreads skirts around the issue – it’s about a school shooting. But it’s not just about a school shooting, it’s about the aftermath, the legal side of it as well as the emotional side of it. I read it a while ago, but if I recall correctly, it focuses on several different perspectives, including the perspective of an ex-friend of the killer who witnessed the shooting, the prosecutor (who is also the mother of this ex-friend), the mother of the shooter, and several others. There’s always the precarious question of why this happened, could it have been prevented, and how do people move on from it? I especially appreciated that Picoult included the shooter’s mother’s perspective – it just adds yet another layer to an already impactful, moving novel.

If you’ve read¬†The Hate List¬†by Jennifer Brown (another book I’d highly recommend, and it’s YA),¬†Thirteen Reasons Why¬†by Jay Asher, and enjoyed watching¬†One Tree Hill,¬†you may really enjoy this book too.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

 H I G H  F A N T A S Y

T H E  N A M E  O F  T H E  W I N D  B Y  P A T R I C K  R O T H F U S S

name of the windS Y N O P S I S –¬†This¬†is the tale of a¬†magically gifted young man named Kvothe who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. It follows the intimate narrative¬†of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king. From magic schools to dimly-lit taverns,¬†The Name of the Wind¬†is richly woven, creative and unputdownable.

If you’ve been around for a bit, you’ve probably heard of this book, and rightly so. Despite having not read its sequel (I’m still waiting on the third installment so I can finally binge), but¬†The Name of the Wind¬†is one of those fantasies that you need to read. The main character is endlessly fascinating – his life story, his current persona, everything about him screams bad-ass, and I love reading stories¬†with bad-ass main characters. It involves magic schools and classes and a really sweet romance in the teen years, which makes it yet another great transition read because it focuses on¬†themes of growing up and coming-of-age. It’s just a fantastic read, all-in-all, and I’d highly recommend it as a stepping stone if you’re interested in getting into adult high fantasy.

This is perfect if you enjoy¬†Game of Thrones,¬†if you’ve read and loved¬†The Seven Realms series¬†by Cinda Williams Chima, and even though it has very little similarities, and is¬†just infinitely better, infinitely more intricate than¬†Throne of Glass¬†by Sarah J. Maas, something tells me you’d enjoy it if you enjoy that series.

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So there it is – if you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below, and I might make this a series. There are so many other fantastic adult books out there that have double-appeal, and I cannot stress enough the importance of reading a wide variety of books, so I’d love to make more posts like this. Until then, thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

Review | Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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FTC DISCLOSURE

♡   S T A R

Libby Strout is fat – she was once called “America’s Fattest Teen” after an¬†unfortunate incident in her past. Libby’s¬†just trying to live her life after her mother passed away, but kids in high school are cruel, and nobody wants to look past Libby’s weight and really get to know her for who she is. And then there’s Jack Masselin – he’s popular, he’s attractive, but he has the reputation of the school douche because people think he’s too egotistical and arrogant to remember who they are. In fact, Jack has prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. He can’t recognize and recall people’s faces – not his family’s, not his friends’, not anybody’s. When Libby and Jack’s paths collide, they form an unlikely bond.

As a fat person, media can be alienating. When I¬†turn on the TV or go to the movies, everyone on screen looks a certain way, the way that¬†my parents want me to look, the way that society wants me to look, and I’m constantly reminded that no matter what I do, what successes I have in life, my fatness will remain the focal point for many people. The stark lack of representation fat people have in¬†the media- past crass stereotypes and being the butt of cheap jokes- is a slap in the face. And I’ve learned to turn the cheek, for the most part, but when a book like¬†Holding Up the Universe¬†comes along, promising representation, promising a narrative that I can see myself in, I foolishly lean forward.

Which is exactly what’s wrong with this book. Libby Strout is written to be some sort of strong force in the world that constantly puts her down; as a result, she is a caricature. A battle warrior facing off against the cruel world, with no flaws of her own, with a larger-than-life personality, giving off the message that unless you’re fighting and winning¬†some sort of war every second of your life, are you really doing fatness right? Now, I understand that not all people’s experiences mirror mine, and that’s okay. But when the main character in a book is a fighter archetype, battling against society’s perspectives on fatness, that character has to live up to it.

But Libby is¬†nothing¬†but fat, and that defeats the purpose, no? Niven was trying to give ¬†off the message that fat people are more than just fat (no shit), but she fails astoundingly because Libby’s life revolves around her fatness. Her love life revolves around finding someone who will look past her fatness, someone who’ll have sex with her regardless of her being fat – another thing which blows my mind, because the book starts off with her wanting to lose weight by having sex! Her relationship with her father revolves around how it’s not¬†his¬†fault that she’s fat. Her past is described by how she used to be fatter than she is now, and her future is also about how people will eventually look past her fatness, hopefully, maybe. Fat people¬†are more than their fatness,¬†and for a book about a fat character to contradict the very message it’s trying to pass along is laughably offensive.

Because what are Libby’s goals? I didn’t¬†see any! She was a reader, but that doesn’t really go past anything except her relating her fatness to the character in her favorite book. Is Libby good in school? What are her career goals? What are her hobbies? She likes to dance, alright, but even that one aspect of her not directly related to her fatness is still saturated by it. We are¬†people with lives – every single moment of our lives does not involve our weight.

Something similar happens with Jack’s character, though I can’t speak extensively about it since I don’t have a disability. It¬†seems to give off the stench of “Jack is broken and must be fixed to have a good life.” These narratives written by authors who do not share their characters’ disabilities make me very uncomfortable; I am a firm believer that you can¬†write whatever you’d like to, but there are some narratives that are better left alone if you can’t navigate them in a sensitive way. That coupled with the fact that Jack’s afro was described as a “lion’s mane,” and his hair was the only thing¬†that seemed to indicate that he was black screamed tokenism to me. Where Libby’s outward appearance extended to¬†everything¬†she ever did, Jack’s race was strictly superficial, and as any person of color living as a minority in the US knows, it is never that simple.

So there it is – this book had very many thematic issues that ran deeper than technicalities like characterization and writing style, both of which were actually pretty good. If Niven was writing in her lane, as I say it, I’m sure I’d adore her work – she does have the ability to pull you in and keep you reading, but there was so much thematically wrong with this book that I can’t seem to give credit where it may be due.¬†If you’re looking for good fat rep, just skip this, and maybe read a book by a fat author – like¬†Dumplin’.

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Beast: a beautiful tale of love, loss, acceptance and forgiveness

Beast by Brie Spangler


Goodreads | Amazon

Trigger Warning (Highlight below to see)

Transphobia, insensitivity to self-harm, self-harm, mental illness, mild violence


Disclaimers

I am a cisgender female, and thus am obviously not qualified or educated enough to speak about the elements revolving around the trans character in this story. I will try to keep my review focused on the narrative because that’s what I feel I can judge appropriately. ūüôā For a trans¬†woman’s perspective on this book, I found Meredith Russo’s review, which I urge you to check out.

While we’re here, I’d just like to state that I have never reviewed a book with a transgender character before. Although I have read a couple of blog posts about how to review books with trans characters as a cis person, I am aware that my knowledge is incomplete. If you find that I said something potentially problematic, please, please, please let me know.


The Review

beastDylan looks nothing like a fifteen year-old. He’s well over 6 feet tall, his body’s covered with muscle, and as he describes it- he’s hairier than a throw rug. He’s been made fun of his entire life, ever since he hit puberty in the fourth grade. Nicknamed “Sasquatch,” or more commonly, “Beast,” Dylan¬†gets along with his mother well enough, but she can sometimes be overbearing. And more often than not, he wishes his father was alive, or up in the heavens just listening, so he could have someone to relate to. On the worst day of his life when hats and long hair are banned at school, Dylan falls off the¬†roof of his house. Although he insists that he fell while trying to retrieve a football, his mother insists that he go to at least one session of therapy. There, he meets a beautiful girl named Jamie whom he bonds with immediately. Their connection is something special. But when Dylan was wallowing in self-pity and had zoned out during his¬†first therapy session, he missed it when Jamie¬†revealed that she was a trans girl. This shouldn’t change anything, but will it?

Going into this book, I didn’t know what to expect. I had the idea that it would be a cutesy love story, but the fact that it’s a¬†Beauty & the Beast¬†retelling threw me off. And while the cutesy romantic aspect is very much there,¬†Beast¬†is an incredibly layered, complicated tale revolving around characters so human and so flawed that it will leave you breathless from the thrill of it, from the reality of it. And it took me a while to realize just how much I was enjoying the story- perhaps because I was caught up in the retelling aspect of it initially, wondering how it was going to come into play apart from our protagonist’s nickname. But as the story naturally unraveled, as pieces of the puzzle started to simultaneously come together and fall apart, this novel was a delight to read.

The relationships in¬†Beast¬†are so layered and strong- especially, Dylan’s relationship with his mother. There’s so much negativity and tension in their dynamic, (I believe he’s even slapped once in the novel.) but¬†they rely so much on each other that it becomes beautiful in its imperfect¬†nuance. A lot like how our relationships are with parents. We don’t always love them, we’re sometimes sick of them. But ultimately, they’re who we go to. I loved that part of this book. And the symbiotic romance between Dylan and Jamie was also incredible, full of¬†slow-burn build-up and chemistry that was almost tangible.

But my favorite aspect of this story was definitely our main character. His heart’s in the right place- that much becomes apparent from the very start. But Spangler created this incredibly complex, broken teenager who’s trying very hard to be as tough as his exterior suggests he is, but he’s simply not. He’s a fifteen year old boy with many, many insecurities- particularly with how he looks (I would actually argue that he has body dysphoria, even though that’s not on-the-page mentioned, although the Meredith Russo review linked above makes a good case for gender dysphoria). He looks like a man, but his inner monologues remind us that he’s still a child who has much to learn. He has a best friend, JP, who’s kind of an asshole, but Dylan¬†sticks with him because JP is the good-looking, popular kid that offers Dylan the protection from straight-up bullying. Dylan misses his father, and is constantly looking for signs from above to guide him to¬†the right path. And he tries to hide his pain and sorrow behind sarcastic quips- but you can only hide for so long.

Dylan’s development throughout the narrative is- at the risk of sounding ineloquent- such goals. If I could write a character that deeply flawed and transform him into such a lovable, such an empathetic individual, I will have succeeded as a writer, in my eyes. You know those characters where you know they have flaws, but the flaws are still endearing? Not with Dylan. He’s actually an asshole in the beginning of the book- to the point of being characterized as an anti-hero even. When he goes to therapy for self-harm, he makes condescending and insensitive remarks towards the other people in his group, and when he finds out that Jamie is a trans girl, he lashes out. Not at her, but in a general sense. Spangler doesn’t sugarcoat this at all. Although it’s discomforting and almost disturbing to read, he asks questions that I’d imagine every teenage boy would ask. And from that insensitive, clueless teenage boy, he grows and grows to become a beautiful, wonderful young man.

So, it’s obvious here that I really enjoyed this book. Which is not to say that it was perfect. Primarily, my problem was with Jamie’s character. I feel that all the other characters were so flawed and complicated that she stuck out as this almost-perfect girl, which inhibited me from being as invested in her character as I was in Dylan’s. Moroever, I felt that there were a couple of loose ends that weren’t resolved, particularly with regards to Dylan and JP’s relationship. I also thought that mental illness plays such a prominent role in this novel, particularly with Dylan (can’t say much for¬†the risk of spoilers) that I definitely wish it had been explored more. And finally,¬†Dylan looking for a sign from his father was a little overdone, but apart from these issues, this was a solid, solid read that I would highly recommend.

Please, please, please give heed to the trigger warnings above. This book is so unabashedly honest, and the characters say some cruel things, so please be aware of this.


beast


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Diversity Spotlight Thursday: #8

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT


Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by yours truly. Every week, you come up with one book in each of three different categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and one that has not yet been released. You can check out the announcement post for more information.

P.S. if you decide to participate (yay!), please feel free to use the graphics in this post. No credit is required! Also, if you¬†link back to this post or the announcement post, and I’ll add a link to your post to mine!


READ

Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

six of crows“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price‚ÄĒand no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.¬†A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.¬†A runaway with a privileged past.¬†A spy known as the Wraith.¬†A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. ¬†A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction‚ÄĒif they don’t kill each other first.”

With the recent release of¬†Crooked Kingdom,¬†I thought I’d talk a little about the diversity in this duology. I’ve spoken a little on other social media about how important it is to include diversity, especially in fantasy where it’s completely unrealistic to have a huge world with all cishet white able-bodied characters. I think all fantasy authors should look at Bardugo and use her as inspiration. We have six main characters- all very important people. You can say there’s one character that is held above the others, but the other five are on the same level.

Kaz Brekker is disabled and suffers from severe PTSD. Inej is brown- her culture is inspired by Hindu and South Asian culture. Nina is a larger woman who is bisexual, while Matthias is our brooding straight-white hero (so there’s that too). Jesper is black, and has an addiction to gambling. He’s also bisexual, and Wylan suffers from what I think is dyslexia and is gay. And they are all so beautifully developed and presented. I mean, honestly, this series has little to no flaws.


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tbr

the summer of chasing mermaidsThe Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

“The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d‚ÄôAbreau was destined for stardom‚ÄĒuntil a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can‚Äôt sing. She can‚Äôt even speak.¬†Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend‚Äôs invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse‚Äôs home in the Caribbean isn‚Äôt: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry‚ÄĒexcept for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy‚ÄĒinsolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He‚Äôs also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn‚Äôt treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life. When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove‚Äôs high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn‚Äôt the only thing making waves, though‚ÄĒswept up in Christian‚Äôs seductive tide and entranced by the Cove‚Äôs charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn‚Äôt what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who‚Äôs best known for breaking them.

I hadn’t heard much about this book until very recently when a blogger said that the representation in this one was so spot-on that she hadn’t even realized that it wasn’t an #OwnVoices novel. I’ve never read a book set in the Caribbean before, so I’m excited to see how this one fares.


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coming soon

beastBeast by Brie Spangler

“Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn‚Äôt look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg‚ÄĒand a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.

Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy‚ÄĒuntil he meets Jamie. She‚Äôs funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She‚Äôs also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie‚Äôs humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn‚Äôt know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn‚Äôt listening. Something that shouldn‚Äôt change a thing. She is who she‚Äôs always been‚ÄĒan amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?

This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a transgender character! That’s so fucking awesome, don’t you think? I remember thinking that retellings are such an interesting way to include diversity in your stories- it much be fun to play around the tropes and see how gender-swaps and inclusion of different races or removing heterosexuality of the main couple would affect the story- if at all. This one sounds awesome because it’s a contemporary retelling, whereas most of the B&tB retellings I’m familiar with are fantasy. Very excited.

This book releases on October 11th, 2016


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