Book Review: Poison’s Kiss

Title: Poison’s Kiss
Author: Breeana Shields
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 300
Publisher: Random House
Review Copy: Purchased from B&N
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review: I was a little hesitant to read and review Breeana Shield’s debut novel because I’ve been in a #ownvoices kind of reading mood since that cold day in Nov. but since the book I really wanted was not at the store, I chose this Poison’s Kiss. The premise was intriguing and fantastical, which appealed to me because I love nothing more to get lost in a fictional world that is so unlike my own. And while I did read the book quickly and got caught up in the story, I was left with wanting more. I couldn’t figure out what it was and then it hit me…the world building of the story could have been better.

While I don’t know much about Indian folklore so I’ll leave that critique to someone smarter than me as to how well Shield’s incorporated mythology and folklore into her novel, I do know about world building and where I find the story lacking. One of the aspects of the story that continually drove me crazy was establishing a time and place for the novel. The world that Marinda lives in, Sundari, is very different than our own, but I was somewhat confused as to the time period the novel took place. It seemed to be a mix of modern society and an pre-industrial society. For example, uses some modern sayings that don’t quite fit into the world Shield’s established. I feel like Shields couldn’t decide between being inspired by ancient and modern India so she combined the two, but it ended up being confusing because modern India is such a dynamic country and quite different than a colonized idea of India of old. I’m also a bit of a geography nerd when it comes to my entertainment, so when an author establishes that a city is two days travel for two characters, but then the characters make it back in a matter of hours, I get twitchy. I feel Shields does spend an significant amount of time establishing the mythology of Sundari and the beliefs of the people, which was really well done. I could see where her inspiration from Indian folklore blended into a mythology and folklore of her own making.

In her author notes, Shields states that she wanted to explore the idea of making a child an assassin, essentially taking away their choice for what they’d like their life to be, and that theme is perfectly explored here. Marinda is kept ignorant of who she works for and why, as well as other aspects of being a visa kanya and Poison’s Kiss is all about her awakening. While the impetus for her to start searching is her becoming “friends” with Deven, I feel like her search for self was beginning before she ever met him. Marinda is unhappy and filled with guilt over killing boys and young men, but does it out of love for her brother. She knows she is being manipulated but doesn’t see a way out. Her interaction with Deven is what actually makes her take action because he is the first person, aside from her brother, to show her kindness. I feel like this theme of ignorance trapping a person is wonderful metaphor for American’s current state of affairs. When one is kept in ignorance, the powers that be, and in Marinda’s case it is her handler Gopal, can convince people of anything. It is when one decides to search for their own answers that one becomes free. And Poison’s Kiss is ultimately about a girl who actively works toward getting her freedom.

Recommendation:
Despite it’s flaws, Poison’s Kiss was an entertaining read, and I intend to read the sequel.

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Standing Behind Our Young Writers

Within days of the surprising outcome of our election, students around the country left class and took to the streets to protest against the newly elected president. Because I teach at a middle school, our students were not so inclined to protest, but the neighboring high schools did. I participated in discussions with other teachers about the protests (some supported the students, some did not) but the overall consensus was that we  were all proud of these young teens who were standing up for their rights because they felt like their future was in danger. We all agreed that these students should be encouraged to continue to express their hopes and fears about a changing world and their role in it.

Young voices that definitely need to be encouraged over the next four years are those of marginalized youth. Not only must continue to strive for more diverse and #ownvoices novels, we must encourage the next generation of writers of color to be fearless and truthful in their own writing. We must encourage them to find their voices and believe that their stories are just as valid, as important as their white counterparts. We need to help them find their truth and not be afraid of the blank page. We need to be there for them when the writing is hard, gut-wrenching, and celebrate them when they achieve their goals.

Teachers & School Librarians, we are on the front lines and the ones who can make or break a potential writer. Remember that over half of our students are of color, therefore you have the responsibility to assist a young writer in achieving their dreams. What you say, or what you don’t say, can have lasting effects. If you see one of your students has a talent for writing, encourage them to keep writing. Share with them teen publishing sites and/or encourage them to seek out after school or summer writing programs; better yet, create writing clubs of your own.

Parents, & everyone else who interacts with a young person, you have a responsibility too. You have to encourage the young writers in your lives by giving them the space to write. Help them seek out after school or summer writing programs, take them to see their favorite authors speak who, by just being in that author’s presence, will inspire your young writer to create. Most of all, however, is to give them your support. Remind them that their voice is important and needs to be heard.

Lastly, the next four years will definitely be challenging for all, but especially for marginalized peoples. Some of our kids are scared, uncertain of what the future may bring, but it is our job as the adults in the room to provide them with the support they need to overcome any challenges that come our way.

Below are just a few organizations that cater to helping young writers. If you know a young writer, share with them these organizations, become involved and/or donate. These organizations will need your support, as they encourage our youth to create, over the next four years.

WriteGirl is a LA based organization that pairs authors with teen girls.

 

826 is a national organization with with chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Boston & Chicago, to name a few, that works with students and teachers for tutoring and creative writing classes.

National Writing Project is a program that partners collage campuses with K-12 teachers in working together to improve writing. Teachers, look for a site near you.

National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is a fun writing competition that is held every year in November, with their “summer camp” series in April and July. Nano can be done individually, or as a class (I did it with my Honors classes this year and we had fun). If a student/young writer meets their word count goal, they receive all sorts of goodies including having their book printed by CreateSpace so they have a copy of their novel.

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K. Imani’s Favs of 2016

Usually each year I keep a list of all the books I read, but this year I got lazy therefore had to really think about which books I absolutely loved this year. Basically the deciding factor came down to books I want everyone to read, but wouldn’t let anyone borrow my copy (yeah, I’m that selfish, lol).

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddThe Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (My Review)

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

This Is Where It EndsThis is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp (My Review)

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

 

evereywhereThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Jessica’s Review)

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

 

Star Touched QueenThe Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chockshi (Read an excerpt here)

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

 

bladeThe Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives #2) by Kate Elliott (My Review)

The Fives Court is treacherous.
The world outside is far worse.
Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the change to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion….She must become a warrior.

 

doorThe Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott (RiC’s Book Discussion)

One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling

through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?

The Door at the Crossroads is the long-awaited sequel to A Wish After Midnight by award-winning author Zetta Elliott.

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New Releases

Only one new book this week as we inch closer to the end of the year.

dearDear Yvette (Throwback Diaries #2) by Ni-Ni Simone
Dafina

All sixteen year old Yvette Simmons wanted was to disappear. Problem is: she has too many demons for that. Yvette’s life changed forever after a street fight over a boy ended in a second degree murder charge. Forced to start all over again, she’s sentenced to live in a group home far from anything or anyone she’s ever known. She manages to keep her past hidden, until a local cutie, known as Brooklyn, steps in. Slowly, Yvette lets him into her heart and he gives her the summer of her dreams…

But in Yvette’s world things are never as they seem.

Brooklyn has a few secrets of his own and Yvette’s past comes back with a vengeance. Will she face life head-on? Will she return to her old ways? Or will an unexpected letter decide her fate?

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Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddTitle: The Sun is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genres:  Realistic/Romance
Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Review: I didn’t know I needed a fun quirky romance story to get my mind of current events until I read Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel, “The Sun is Also a Star.” I enjoyed her first novel, “Everything Everything” and was looking forward to this second one. I’d heard a lot of reviews say it was “lovely” and “charming” and “heartwarming”, and the cynic in me was skeptical, but it really was all that and more. The novel is also very deep in that it drops a lot of truths, is a wonderful commentary on the complexities of immigrants in the US, addresses racial tension, destiny and fate, all within the span of a day in the lives of Natasha and Daniel.

The novel is told in alternating POV chapters between Natasha and Daniel, which I loved, but also interspersed are little vignettes that give background insight into side characters that have either direct impact on Natasha & Daniel’s lives, or have a small impact on their day. There are also small vignettes that drop knowledge about history, as told in the context of how the topic relates to the characters, for example, there is a whole section about Black women’s hair. At first, when I learned about the vignettes, I was afraid they would take away from the story, but I ended up loving all of them and felt like they were placed perfectly, as if they were a very long footnote. Take in the case of the vignette about Black women’s hair; the section gives the reader background information on the complex relationship Black women have had with their hair since our ancestors were stolen from their land and brought to the Americas. The tone used is not as a boring “The More You Know” type of vignette, but more as a glimpse into Natasha’s thought process of deciding to wear her hair in an Afro and the tension it brings between her and her mother. Yoon also does the same for Daniel and his parents, giving backgrounds into why his father pushes him so, which creates a complex character instead of an “evil archetype”.  The vignettes really connect with the theme that everything we do, every person we interact with has meaning in some small way, and for me, it enriched Natasha’s and Daniel’s world.

I obviously cannot write a review about a romance book without mentioning the love story. Many people critique the concept of “instalove” in YA, but for this novel, it really works. Well, it’s not that Natasha and Daniel have “instalove”, as they definitely have to work on it, but their love story is sweet in the way as you watch two people who meet randomly fall for each other. The love story is also steamy as Yoon definitely did not hold back in the way the two characters expressed their attraction to each other. And for that alone is another reason why I loved the novel. Natasha and Daniel are 17 year-olds on the brink of adulthood, with real adult feelings, and I like that Yoon didn’t try to sugarcoat it. Both where honest about their physical attraction towards the other, therefore the chemistry between Natasha and Daniel felt very real.

Lastly, “The Sun is Also a Star” is beautifully written. I enjoyed Yoon’s prose with her first novel, but it feels like she just went to a whole other level with this second one. There are so many wonderful gems that I ended up highlighting my Kindle, which is something that I never do.  For example, take this line when Daniel is explaining his belief in God. He says, “God is the connection of the very best parts of us.” I just…love the philosophy that Daniel is saying here and the meaning of these words are so profound. I have to admit that I think one of the reasons why I feel in love with both Natasha and Daniel is because of Yoon’s beautiful prose. I feel in love with her words, the way she played with language, the way she dropped knowledge, and the way she made Natasha and Daniel’s love real.

Recommendation: Go buy it in Hardcover so you can add it to your “Books I loved” shelf.

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A Changed America

I had planned a wholesome post tonight about the presence of families in YA literature, but like often, I wait until the last minute to work on it. I figured I could knock it out while I watched election results. However, as the returns came out, I found that I couldn’t write a light-hearted post about families and Thanksgiving and love because my heart kept sinking in despair.

It is 11pm in California as I write this and as of right now America does not know who our next president will be. But what we do know is that many of us tonight are terrified for our lives. We are terrified of our country taking a gigantic step backward and all the progress we have made in this country to be open to people of all backgrounds, disabilities and LGBT-ness, will be gone because of one power hungry, egotistical man. I am near tears because I think about my students, many who are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants and who are fearful of what a Trump administration will bring. I am in tears because my sister-in-law asked this evening, “What type of future will I have for my children?”. I am in tears because I think of my Muslim friends who might face all sorts of violence just because of how they worship, and I think of my fellow African-Americans who have been gunned down, and could be gunned down by police. I think of all the people in my life whose very lives are in danger because of this man and I am in despair.

However, I can’t seem to break myself away from social media and am now seeing calls to fight, to stand up for justice, to fight for all the gains we have earned. And I so agree! Tonight, we mourn and then tomorrow we get ready to fight. We continue the work we’re doing to diversity YA & kidlit because education is one of the best ways to create empathy for other people. We also push harder on editors, publishers, book buyers, to publish #ownvoices authors and to market those books like they market white authors. We also take to the streets and do what we can to make sure our rights are not trampled on. We have to gather and work together to show that we will not allow for the destruction of the country that we love. This is our home and we must fight for it.

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