Review: You Bring the Distant Near

Title: You Bring the Distant Near
Author: Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Genres: Romance, Contemporary & Historical
Pages: 303
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley & personally purchased final copy
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve Bengal tigers and her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Review: In You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins created a beautiful story of family, love and identity. Sonia, a writer and reader, mentions Little Women on more than one occasion. I can’t help but make comparisons. These women have so much love for each other and they show that as they work through their individual challenges.

The relationships of Sonia, Tara and their mother Ranee are the primary focus of more than half of the book. These young women and their mother share many things like genes, culture, and having adapted to multiple countries over time. This is the magic of families. We often share so much, but our personalities and individual experiences shape us and our identities become distinct from each other. As the young women are trying to live their dreams, they are also separating from their mother and the past she clings to. By offering this story from so many perspectives, readers are able to see the diversity present within one extended family. Ranee has an obvious bias toward the Black people in their neighborhood yet she rebels against some of the confining requirements from her own culture. She pushes her husband and provides for her family. Sonia uses her voice and pen to fight for women’s rights and Tara focuses on being a star and keeping peace between her sister and mother. All hold onto and honor aspects of their culture that match their own beliefs. They are at work blending the many parts of themselves on a palette and making their unique mark on the world.

Every part of this book made me want to crawl into the story with this family. Even when certain characters weren’t speaking to each other, I could still see the love there and the belief in one another. The original group of women set the stage and then we get to see the children. The cousins add another layer to the story. I loved seeing how tightly each young woman clung to what and who they valued. These are teens who have doubts and fears, but move forward through them. Like with Little Women, I think readers will likely see bits and pieces of themselves within these characters and will want to cheer them on every step of the way. It sounds seriously sappy, but this book made my heart happy.

Recommendation: Get it now especially if you enjoy realistic fiction involving families. I did not want this book to end.

Extras: Our Interview with Mitali Perkins

 

Book Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One

Legend of KorraTitle: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One
Author: Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh (Illustrations)
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 80 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Relishing their newfound feelings for each other, Korra and Asami leave the Spirit World . . . but find nothing in Republic City but political hijinks and human vs. spirit conflict!

A pompous developer plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. What’s more, the triads have realigned and are in a brutal all-out brawl at the city’s borders – where hundreds of evacuees have relocated!

In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other – but first, they’ve got to get better at being a team and a couple! [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ll admit that the only reason I knew Legend of Korra was getting a graphic novel continuation was because I started following the illustrator (@kohquette) on Twitter for her cat pictures. When I found out after the fact that a queer Asian martial artist would be illustrating Korra, I immediately went and stuck it on my pre-order list because what! So cool.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars picks up where the cartoon ended. Major spoilers for the TV show ahead, so this is your chance to skip to the next, spoiler-free paragraph! Anyway, it begins with Korra and Asami holding hands and starting their romantic vacation in the Spirit World. All does not go according to plan — that goes for how people react to Korra and Asami’s relationship, and how Republic City is dealing with its very own spirit portal. Harmony is still far out of reach, and Korra has a lot on her plate as the avatar.

I’ll be the first to say that while I love Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, it’s not without its flaws. I didn’t manage to watch A:TLA until I was an adult because, as a middle schooler, I ragequit when I first heard that the moon princess’s name was… Princess Moon (Yue is moon in Chinese and painfully mispronounced in the show). The fact that the shows used Chinese as sloppy flavor text — Firefly, much? — and predominantly white voice actors for a heavily Asian-inspired world has always bothered me. But still, the shows were funny, the art looked cool, and it was Asian representation — ish.

That being said, I love where Legend of Korra is heading now. Queer Asian couple front and center? Yes, please. The art style is gorgeous, and I could spend hours just gazing at each of the panels. And, I love getting to see what happens next to the gang post-series. There will always be a spot in my heart for the Korra crew.

If you watched the Legend of Korra series and liked it, you definitely should pick up Turf Wars. I can’t recommend the art (and plentiful Korrasami) enough. I’ll for sure be keeping Part Two on my radar.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Book Review: Buried Heart

Title: Buried Heart (Court of Fives #3)
Author: Kate Elliott
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 465 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores

Summary: In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war?

Review: I enjoyed the first two installments of Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series so I was really looking forward to seeing how Elliott would end Jessamy’s story. Buried Heart picks up moments after the end of Poisoned Blade as Jessamy, Kal, and their families are running from Saryenia after Nikonos pulls a deadly coup and takes over the city. I expected most of the book would focus on Jessamy and Kal working together to unite the Commoners and Patrons and somehow overthrow Nikonos. I have to say I was surprised by what actually happened in the novel. Working with her father, Jessamy and Kal are able to takeover the throne fairly easily at that happens only a quarter of the way into the book. After that, the novel takes on an interesting turn where Jessamy is captured by Lord Gargaron and is separated from everyone she loves. While I hated that Lord Gargaron had the upper hand over Jessamy at one point, but this allowed Jessamy to find an inner strength and leadership ability that she didn’t know she had. It fully allowed her to choose a side and when it came time to fight for Efea, Jessamy was able to use her skills from the Five Court and her new found leadership skills to truly help turn the tide of the war.

One of the many aspects I liked about Poisoned Blade was that we traveled with Jessamy and saw more of the world of Efea, and in Buried Heart we experienced more of the same, but we learned more about the people of Efea (i.e. the Commoners). We also learned more about the customs and beliefs of the Efeans before the Saroese (Patrons) invaded and took over the land. Learning more the history of Efea and it’s colonization, bring a deeper meaning to the novel. At it’s core, through the story of Jessamy, Buried Heart is the story of an oppressed people rising up, and of the privileged people learning how to recognize their role in oppression and working with the oppressed to make change.

Even though Jessamy and Kal spend a lot of time apart in this novel (again) this time it was much more satisfying to me, as in their time apart they grew into the adults they were going to be, and their relationship grew as well. At the beginning of the novel, Jessamy and Kal are so sweet together, but their relationship is much more mature based on their first separation. Kai truly accepts Jessamy for who she is, the good and the ugly, though Jessamy tries to still “protect” Kal’s more innocent nature. It’s sweet at the beginning, but devastating for Jessamy when she must watch Kal make tough choices when he becomes king, a position he never wanted. However, with this second separation, both have to make tough, adult decisions and each lose their innocence in a way. They both change because of their experiences in the war and when they are able to finally come together (if only for a brief moment) they see each other as true equals. I loved that Elliott wrote a relationship that was equally balanced where each of the lovers grew not just together but on their own. Both Jessamy and Kal look out for each other and push each other to be better, which is a very healthy relationship not often seen in many books. The tension between them came from outside sources and these two had to find a way to create their happiness and find a way to be together. To me, that is what made their love story so touching.

There is so much more I could say about Buried Heart, but I would be giving away so much of the story. So I will say this, Buried Heart is a fitting end to a wonderful trilogy that had a beautiful love story, a villain you just loved to hate, complex family drama, and a world that was so complete it felt real, but at it’s heart was an amazing heroine that us readers could root for.

Recommendation: If you have been waiting for this third book to come out you need to run to your nearest book store and buy it. If you haven’t read the Court of Five series, you also need to run to your nearest book store so you can begin the adventure and read the whole series in one sitting!

Queer and Here in YA Lit

I feel like I’m always running around being like, “Look at this book! It’s going to be amazing! You need to read this when it comes out! Ahhhh!” It’s kind of a constant thing with me. But I’m here to say that this is my current to-read and must-read book on my radar:

Not Your VillainNot Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee

Available: October 5th, 2017 (soon!)

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government? Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

I loved the first book in this series, Not Your Sidekick, and I’m pretty darn excited for the sequel. Not Your Sidekick is all about queer superheroes doing their thing, and it’s just a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of fun genre YA lit starring queer and PoC characters, and this fits the bill. What’s your favorite queer PoC YA book?

Review: The Victoria in My Head

Title: The Victoria in My Head
Author: Janelle Milanes
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: A shy, rule-following teen winds up joining a local rock band in this laugh-out-loud, heartfelt coming-of-age novel.

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

Review: It’s very easy to relate to the heroine of Janelle Milanes’s debut novel. Victoria has always lived her life according to her parents’ expectations, and she is at the point where her parents’ ideas of what should bring her happiness are clashing with what she actually wants from life. (Not that she’s always right about what would make her happy, but she knows the status quo is definitely not it.) The repetition of her life is wearing her down, and she constantly makes decisions in reference to what would make her parents happy. That’s an inevitable recipe for rebellion in YA, and after some hesitation (overcome with the help of Victoria’s BFF, Annie), Victoria dives right in to quitting school sports and secretly joining a rock band despite her stage fright.

The members of the band are all distinct, interesting characters, and I appreciate that they didn’t supplant Annie in Victoria’s life. Levi, the perfectionist bass player, whose head is filled with plans and goals and too many details; Krina, the punk drummer, who has fierce opinions and an empathetic heart; and Strand, the hot guitarist, whose laidback attitude challenges a lot of Victoria’s worldview. The ups and downs of their relationships with each other made for an engaging group of characters. Victoria’s family members were also strong presences, and it was easy to see that her parents loved her and wanted what was best for her—the problem being that they and Victoria disagreed on where she could find happiness.

One of the things that I think Milanes excelled at was creating a relationship that should have been great on paper and then slowly proved just how wrong the two people were for each other. Personality clashes, differing priorities, confusion about needs and wants—all of those culminated into an increasingly awkward relationship disaster that fueled Victoria’s personal growth. It was a great contrast to the second romance in the book, which had been built up slowly and blossomed out of both attraction and friendship.

There are some missteps in the novel. There were a couple of scenes with ableist language, and I was a little sad that a lot of Victoria’s negative thoughts about her body never seemed to be strongly challenged. I wish that the reveal of a secondary romantic couple had been independent from Victoria’s own romantic plotline, especially since Victoria’s cluelessness about Krina’s romantic orientation had already been blatantly pointed out in text.

Recommendation: Get it soon. While there are a few blemishes, THE VICTORIA IN MY HEAD stars a relatable heroine and has a comfortably predictable romance. Music lovers, dreamers, second-generation immigrants, and anyone who has settled for something safe instead of taking risks for their heart’s desire will find something to relate to in Janelle Milanes’s debut novel.

Extras

Interview with Janelle Milanes + Giveaway

Review: #NotYourPrincess

Title: #NotYourPrincess
Editors: Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
Publisher: Annick Press
Genre: Nonfiction collection
Pages: 109
Availability: October
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Review: #NotYourPrincess is another fabulous collection brought to us by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The magic of the book is that the many voices are seen and heard through a wide variety of formats with the design of the book framing the pieces beautifully. In most cases artwork compliments the texts and the words provide context for the artwork. There are images on nearly every spread and it’s a magnificent visual experience.

The stories shared both visually and in text reveal what it means to these women to be Native. They share challenges, triumphs, losses, hopes, family ties and so much more. These are stories that acknowledge the pain of the past, but also point to strength, resilience, and hope for the future. In the essay “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) explains it this way, “When we begin to understand the colonial legacy and its collateral damage to the minds and bodies of Indigenous women, we can begin to forgive, accept, and heal ourselves from the countless hurtful, damaging ways in which this trauma manifests itself.”

These stories do not ignore the past, but they are very much stories of the present and the future. The many voices sound out against the stereotypes that often prevent people from seeing and recognizing Native women. The women ask to be seen as they are – not as they are expected to be. This is especially obvious in “A Conversation with a Massage Thereapist” by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis). The questions the massage therapist asks reveal much about biases people can have. The therapist asks, “What are you?” Indigenous and Cree are answers, but they are pretty much discounted as the therapist responds with, “You don’t really look it.” After learning that the person was raised in the city, “Oh, well, I guess you’re not a real one then?” It doesn’t take long to realize this person has completely succumbed to stereotypes. In “The Invisible Indians,” white-faced, red-haired Shelby LIsk (Mohawk) writes about a similar point of view. “They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.”

There are also many examples of confident young women who are using their strengths. We see young women like AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) who are demanding to be heard. She’s an activist fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been raising her voice loud and clear in defense of the land, water, and her tribe.

Lisa Charleyboy describes this as a “love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way.” This is an excellent description. Readers will find love and encouragement here on every page.

Recomendation: #NotYourPrincess should be available in all young adult collections. Get it as soon as it’s available.

Extras:

Excerpt available here