Review: Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

UnmadeTitle: Unmade (Lynburn Legacy #3)
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 368
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Powerful love comes with a price. Who will be the sacrifice?

Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.

Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

This final book in the Lynburn Legacy is a wild, entertaining ride from beginning to shocking end.

Review: I’m pleased to say that the Lynburn Legacy trilogy ended on a solid note with Unmade. While there were a few missteps, the book was a compelling, fast-paced read that ultimately answered the most important questions I had going into the story. It took me a little while to find my footing, but I think that is more a reflection of the fact that I read the previous book a year ago and less to do with any actual problems in the narrative.

Kami, our heroine, was a delight as always. Some of the most powerful scenes in Unmade were when Kami had to deal with the consequences of her or others’ decisions, whether that was counted in deaths or emotional fallout. I can’t really talk about any of these scenes without spoilers, but there were some great passages dealing with grief and fear and sacrifice, and I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. The other members of the Glass family—how they deal or don’t deal with the various tragedies and traumas in the book—stepped further into the spotlight, and the book was all the better for it.

Kami’s friends and allies were also some of the highlights of the book. While their quips and humor weren’t always on the mark for me, I was deeply invested in their health, happiness, and survival. While Angela and Jared continued to be favorites, I found myself drawn to Lillian in particular, which was an unexpected, but welcome, surprise. Sarah Rees Brennan’s characters were memorable and engaging, and I wished that several of them had been given more screen time or even their own POVs.

I will admit I was apprehensive throughout the book that the complicated and messy romantic relationships between characters would distract from the life-or-death peril, but Rees Brennan did a great job of not sacrificing the “bigger picture” plotlines for the romantic ones, and vice versa. The balance can be tricky to get right, and Rees Brennan generally knew when to swap from one flavor of distress for another (and when to combine them both).

Unmade was not perfect. Perhaps my greatest complaint is the climax of the book, which I felt was a bit too rushed after everything the characters sacrificed to get there. (Then again, that could just be my bloodthirsty desire to revel in the bad guys’ defeat.) My interest in Rob as the villain—and thus one of the major drivers of the plot—was inversely related to how much power he acquired, so by the end of the book I was pretty tired of him. As a whole, Rob and his sorcerers were largely forgettable, and the few that were slightly less awful than the others didn’t receive enough screen time for me to care about what happened to them.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you are a fan of the series. Unmade is a mostly satisfying conclusion to a strong fantasy series. While the Lynburn Legacy trilogy had its moments of weakness, it also delivered some wonderful characters who got to face difficult decisions and their consequences. Overall, I’d recommend the series to readers who enjoy gothic-flavored stories, mysteries and murders, and messy feelings everywhere.

The Thorny Issue of Race

As many of us writers gear up to participate in the craziness that is National Novel Writing Month, I think it’s a good time to think about the characters we create and why some of us might be hesitant to write about race. This next excerpt from my paper,  Diversity in Young Adult Literature, focuses on this very topic. __________________________________________________________________________

face

Inevitably, when one discusses diversity in YA, the question of how to write about race is always asked. True, open racial dialogue in our country is almost non-existent. A few out-spoken souls continually try to have the conversation, but common, everyday people do not wish to converse about a sensitive subject. This is because race is often discussed from an emotional viewpoint, rather then a logical one. Heated emotions get in the way of real discourse and communication breaks down. No matter how hard, however, the conversation must be had.

One of the ways we can help with the conversation is through literature, which has a way of expressing controversial ideas and opening reader’s minds to different views from their own. Young Adult literature has the perfect opportunity of doing the same for a younger generation. The problem? Not enough characters of color.  One cause of this problem?  A literary culture where the old adage “write what you know” becomes an excuse Caucasian writers use to not create characters of color.

I had a conversation with two writers, both of them Caucasian, and asked how they felt about writing characters of color. One of the writers was working on a novel where one of the main protagonists was a young black male and the other writer had yet to write a novel about character of color. The second writer stated she never thought about writing a story with a main character of color until I mentioned it, but also stated that she would feel uncomfortable writing a character of color. I prompted her further and she stated that she would want to be accurate in her portrayal of the character and feels that since she is Caucasian, she wouldn’t be able to, or rather have the authority, to create the character. In contrast, the first writer spent two years working in a low-performing high school in an economically depressed area of Los Angeles where her students were primarily African-American and Hispanic/Latino. She stated her character is based off of the many intricacies of her former students. She felt that based on her time spent around the students, she was able to create an accurate portrayal of a character of color.

These are the reason we write, yes?

These are the reason we write, yes?

In her article “Writing Race in YA” for the website YA Highway, Nicola K. Richardson gave advice to Caucasian writers about creating characters of color. She stated that in order for a writer to create a character of color a writer must do research and show respect.  “Take the time to speak to people from the cultures you want your character to have…Respect the culture and people that you want to write about.” (Richardson) I agree with that sentiment exactly. That belief is also an example of the two different writer’s approaches to creating a character of color. The second writer didn’t know where to begin and felt uncomfortable because she hadn’t done research, but wanted to be respectful, while the first writer had clearly done her research by using her first-hand experiences with her students. By completing research, she had shown respect of the culture of her characters.

The second writer also expressed she was “color blind” and feels that influences her writing;. another reason Caucasian writers often give for not creating characters of color. They believe that if they see everyone as equal and not as their race, then it will help bring about equality. That is a lovely sentiment, but it is one that is inherently dangerous for when people look at each other, the first thing they see is race. If they were being completely “colorblind” then how come all of their characters are Caucasian? I asked the writer this question and it gave her pause. It made her realize that being “colorblind” is just not possible. Richardson also expresses this viewpoint in her article. “There is no such thing as color blind. If you see me, of course you notice that I am a marvelous shade of caramel!…That is completely normal and in no way makes you a racist. It’s what you do and think about the difference in skin color that tells the tale.”(Richardson) I brought this viewpoint to the writer and noted that by not recognizing my race, she discounted my experiences and my culture. When Caucasian writers use the colorblind excuse, they are essentially discounting the unique qualities the different races bring to American culture. This belief is troublesome, but one that is easily corrected when pointed out. In fact, the second writer had never thought about writing a character of color until I mentioned it to her. Later that same day as she was brainstorming another story, the possibility of creating a main character of color occurred to her and she set about discovering this new train of thought.

colorblind

On the other hand many writers of color do not wish to carry the mantle of “writing about race” but rather want to just write good stories. I know I surely don’t. For the longest time I would refuse to describe my characters’ appearance because I wanted to the reader to associate with whom the character was, not what they looked like. I knew what my characters looked like, mostly African-American, but I wanted to reader to focus on their characteristics, their growth. Based on feedback I received, not knowing what the characters looked like hampered the reader’s experience. A common critique I received was “what do they look like?” forcing me to describe my characters. The reason I hesitated writing physical descriptions was that I didn’t want my work to be viewed within the context of race. Unfortunately for writers of color, their work is often viewed with a racial lens, rather than the actual writing. Writers of color are, more often than not, expected to make (or be making) some statement on race in their work. Their work is interpreted racially when the novel might not have any racial intentions. While writers of color often do make statements about race in their work, a number do not. It is frustrating for writers of color to have this misconception placed on their shoulders. I know this from experience. I have been “complimented” twice on a novel I wrote about my metaphor for interracial relationships. The problem with the “compliment”? I was not writing a metaphor for interracial relationships. This metaphor was interpreted because my main characters were of color.  If I had described my characters as Caucasian, the metaphor would not have been applied to the story. However, I live in a multi-cultural world and I wanted to my characters to reflect the world I live in. I chose to physically describe them as African-American and Hispanic/Latino; however, neither word is present anywhere in the novel. In fact, neither culture is presented in the novel, as it is a fantasy story, however, because of the racial descriptions I gave, a statement about race is inferred. Many writers of color experience this and it frustrates us to no end.

Author Coe Booth expressed the same sentiment in Jen Doll’s article, “The Ongoing Problem About Race”. It is an unfair expectation that Caucasian writers do not have. She states that for this to change the publishing industry needs “to open up the thinking about what a book by a person of color is supposed to do. It’s not an education; why do books by authors of color have to have that much responsibility? It’s just supposed to be a book. As writers start realizing that, and publishers and teachers and librarians start embracing that, more books will become available.” (qtd. in Doll). I’d like to take Booth’s sentiment a step further. When more authors create more stories with characters of color, YA literature will become more diverse and reflect the multicultural world we inhabit.

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During October, National Novel Writing Month & We Need Diverse Books teamed up to share some helpful hints for writing diversely. If you intend to spend November writing furiously, reflect on the issues I brought up in my essay and then click on the links below to get inspired and ready to write! Happy NaNoWriMo and good luck to all!

How to Prepare to Write a Diverse Book

A Guide to Spotting and Growing Past Stereotypes

Novels that Get Representation Right

Why Diversity Matters for Everyone

 

 

All images copyright of their respective owners. Posted with permission under Creative Commons licenses via Flickr.

 

 

 

 

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the following books!

talonTalon (Talon #1) by Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen

Available: October 28, 2014

Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they’re positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser.

Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

shadowboxerShadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan
Ravenstone

Available: October 28, 2014

Nothing she’s faced in the cage will prepare her… Jade is a young mixed martial arts fighter. When she’s in the cage she dominates her opponents—but in real life she’s out of control.

After she has a confrontation with a Hollywood martial arts star that threatens her gym’s reputation, Jade’s coach sends her to a training camp in Thailand for an attitude adjustment. Hoping to discover herself, she instead uncovers a shocking conspiracy. In a world just beyond our own, a man is stealing the souls of children to try and live forever.

bridgeOn the Other Side of the Bridge by Ray Villareal
Arte Publico Press

Available: October 31, 2014

Lon Chaney Rodriguez is a typical thirteen-year-old boy. He loves horror movies. His bedroom is a mess. He doesn’t like to read boring books. And he likes to skip church to hang out at Catfish Creek during services.

But his life changes completely when his mother is shot and killed at the apartment complex where she worked as a security guard. Life without her is unimaginable, and Lon is haunted by the feeling that he let his mom down. He didn’t prioritize his schoolwork, so he’s on the brink of failing. And worse, he lied to her. Why didn’t he tell the truth? Why didn’t he make better grades and help more? Lonnie’s life is turned upside down, both at school and home…— Cover image and summary via publisher website

shantiShanti and the Magic Mandala by F. T. Camargo
Lodestone Books

Available: October 31, 2014

Shanti and the Magic Mandala is an adventure in which fantasy and reality are mingled. The book tells the story of six teenagers, from different religious and cultural origins and different parts of the world, who are mystically recruited to form two groups – one in the Northern Hemisphere, and one in the Southern. They eventually gather in Peru, and through a single alliance, begin a frantic chase for the sacred object that can stop the black magician’s final plan. – Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: How it Went Down

howTitle: How it Went Down
Author: Kekla Magoon
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 336
Review copy: Digital Arc via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

Review: A black boy in a hoodie shot by a white man – sound vaguely familiar? How it Went Down is a book that would work well in a book club or discussion group because it is, unfortunately, very relevant. Kekla Magoon tells a story that, while not based on specific people or one event, reflects situations that have occurred in the U.S. in the past few months and years. Fiction is a perfect vehicle for contemplation and discussion of tough subjects. Obviously, race is an issue that is front and center in this book. The dialogues in the book also raise questions about privilege, violence, and responsibility for friends, family and community among other things.

The story occurs over a span of nine days and is told through the voices of a wide variety of people. In some ways this makes the book very powerful since there are so many perspectives represented. It also inspires questions. How can there be so many versions of the same incident? How can two people standing right next to each other see something radically different? The various voices reveal actions, motivations, fears, and beliefs that led up to the shooting. These perspectives add a depth to the narrative, but the large number of voices (more than fifteen) make it challenging to distinguish them in the beginning. It’s also more difficult to connect to characters since the voices change often and are usually speaking briefly. Most of the voices are distinct though, so over time, this becomes less of an issue.

I especially looked forward to the voice of Tina, Tariq’s little sister. She spoke poetically. Her comments were simplistic, but they were also beautiful. She knew what she knew and trusted her brother implicitly.

This wasn’t an easy book to read. There are many moments of pain to be found and experienced. The worst part is that our news headlines contain similar situations. The story seemed all too possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now – especially if realistic fiction is your thing. This is a book that shouldn’t be missed. There is much food for thought and the characters are likely to stay with you for a long time.

Extra: Interview with Kekla Magoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shorter Days Equals Shorter Stories

The days are getting shorter and shorter where Audrey lives, so she thought it would be fun to revisit some great diverse YA anthologies/short story collections:

KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
Twelfth Planet Press

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction stories.

What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgendered animal shifter have in common? They’re all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

open micOpen Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, edited by Mitali Perkins
Candlewick Press

Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

PrintThere’s a Name For This Feeling: Stories, by Diane Gonzales Bertrand || Spanish-language translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura
Arte Público Press

In the title story, Lucinda hatches a clever plan to get her boyfriend back and is crushed when she ultimately realizes that it’s impossible to force a guy to love you. Like all young people, she ignores the advice of her mom and learns that lesson—and many more—the hard way.

In this bilingual collection of ten short stories for young people, kids deal with both serious and humorous consequences after they ignore their parents’ suggestions and disobey rules. At a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve, Raymond plays with fireworks even though he promised his parents he wouldn’t. Kids on a track team search for a mysterious naked woman with embarrassing results. And two girls in a wax museum are in for a surprise when they ignore the signs about touching the figures.

These short and accessible contemporary stories are alternately amusing and poignant as they explore issues relevant to today’s youth. Teens deal with everything from grandparents suffering from dementia to difficult customers at a first job. And in one story, a young girl grieves the loss of her baby, a miscarriage her mom calls a “blessing.” These stories highlight the emotional tailspins of living in a complicated world.

diverseDiverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti
Tu Books

In a world gone wrong, heroes and villains are not always easy to distinguish and every individual has the ability to contribute something powerful.

In this stunning collection of original and rediscovered stories of tragedy and hope, the stars are a diverse group of students, street kids, good girls, kidnappers, and child laborers pitted against their environments, their governments, differing cultures, and sometimes one another as they seek answers in their dystopian worlds. Take a journey through time from a nuclear nightmare of the past to society’s far future beyond Earth with these eleven stories by masters of speculative fiction. Includes stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Daniel H. Wilson, and more.

New Releases

This book couldn’t be even more timely. While I haven’t read the book, based on the summary, this would be a good book to put in the hands of students of all colors to help them make sense of all the horrible tragedies taking place in the past few weeks.

howHow It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co.

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads