Review: Promise of Shadows

promise

Title: Promise of Shadows
Author: Justina Ireland
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 371
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: March 11, 2014

Summary: Zephyr Mourning has never been very good at being a Harpy. She’d rather watch reality TV than learn forty-seven ways to kill a man, and she pretty much sucks at wielding magic. Zephyr was ready for a future pretending to be a normal human instead of a half-god assassin. But all that changes when her sister is murdered—and she uses a forbidden dark power to save herself from the same fate. Zephyr is on the run from a punishment worse than death when an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend (a surprisingly HOT friend) changes everything. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: (For the good of everyone, I’ve abbreviated the book blurb above, since it pretty much gives away everything that happens in the book. You’re welcome.)

The book starts out with Zephyr Mourning serving time in the Underworld, in the pits of Tartarus. Zephyr is, essentially, a failure of a harpy. She’s no military genius like her tough, high-powered mother and she’s not much good at magic either. How Zephyr, a peace-loving harpy afraid of the dark, ends up a murderer shovelling mud in the pits of Tartarus is a story that slowly unfolds as the plot moves forward.

Zephyr’s background and past are revealed through a series of convenient reminisces and flashbacks that gradually color in the story. At times, I felt like I’d picked up the wrong book, and that there was a prequel waiting to be read first. (There isn’t, alas.) Some of the relationships were explained through flashbacks — with Nanda, her godmother, and with Tallon, her childhood-friend-turned-hot-love-interest — which made it a little difficult to connect with them. Fortunately, her relationship with Cass, her levelheaded companion in Tartarus is both believable and heartwarming.

Promise of Shadows is set in a modern-day world where, where Greek mythology is both true and relevant. The immature, petty behavior of the pompous Greek gods and goddesses is the highlight of the book and pretty hilarious. More than once, Hera (Zeus’s wife/sister) makes an appearance just so she can act haughty and turn her nose down at Zephyr. Both the worldbuilding and the background history in Promise of Shadows are fascinating enough that I would love to read a prequel.

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, Promise of Shadows is definitely a must-read!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Justina Ireland’s post at Diversity in YA: Writing About Diversity Is Harder Than I Thought 

 

Novels in Verse

April is one of my favorite months because it finally starts to look like spring where I live and more importantly – it’s poetry month. If you’re interested in grabbing up some poetry for April, we had a post with suggestions back in October. In that post I included novels in verse, poetry collections and novels that focused on poetry in any way. Today I’d like to share a more thorough list of novels in verse. I’ve read some of them, but the others are on my list of books to be read. If you’ve read some of the titles, let us know what you thought of them. If you know of any others to add to list, please tell us in the comments.

dreamer

Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
Harcourt Children’s Books

Summary: Newbery Honor-winner Margarita Engle tells the story of Cuban folk hero, abolitionist, and women’s rights pioneer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in this powerful new YA historical novel in verse.

mesquite

 

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books

Summary: When Lupita discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of their close-knit Mexican American family.

In the midst of juggling high school classes, finding her voice as an actress, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, Lupita desperately wants to support her mother by doing anything she can to help. While Papi is preoccupied with caring for Mami, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. Struggling in her new roles and overwhelmed by change, Lupita escapes the chaos of home by writing in the shade of a mesquite tree, seeking refuge in the healing power of words.

Told in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about the testing of family bonds, the strength of a teenage girl navigating pain and hardship, and the kind of love that cannot be uprooted.

braider
The Good Braider by Terry Farish
Marshall Cavendish

In spare free verse laced with unforgettable images, Viola’s strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family s journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, in the sometimes too close embrace of the local Southern Sudanese Community, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

Terry Farish s haunting novel is not only a riveting story of escape and survival, but the universal tale of a young immigrant s struggle to build a life on the cusp of two cultures.

 

inside

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: A nuanced novel in verse that explores identity in a multicultural world.

Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma’s grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

Emma feels out of place in the United States.She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother’s urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena’s poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.

dancers

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle
Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: Quebrado has been traded from pirate ship to ship in the Caribbean Sea for as long as he can remember. The sailors he toils under call him el quebrado—half islander, half outsider, a broken one. Now the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera uses Quebrado as a translator to help navigate the worlds and words between his mother’s Taíno Indian language and his father’s Spanish.

But when a hurricane sinks the ship and most of its crew, it is Quebrado who escapes to safety. He learns how to live on land again, among people who treat him well. And it is he who must decide the fate of his former captors.

lemonade
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Henry Holt & Co.

Summary: Viginia Euwer Wolff’s groundbreaking novel, written in free verse, tells the story of fourteen-year-old LaVaughn, who is determined to go to college–she just needs the money to get there.

When she answers a babysitting ad, LaVaughn meets Jolly, a seventeen-year-old single mother with two kids by different fathers. As she helps Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons her life has given her, LaVaughn learns some lessons outside the classroom.
firefly

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle
Henry Holt & Co.

Summary:The freedom to roam is something that women and girls in Cuba do not have. Yet when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden in 1851 to learn about the people of this magical island, she is accompanied by Cecilia, a young slave who longs for her lost home in Africa. Soon Elena, the wealthy daughter of the house, sneaks out to join them. As the three women explore the lush countryside, they form a bond that breaks the barriers of language and culture.

In this quietly powerful new book, award-winning poet Margarita Engle paints a portrait of early women’s rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer and the journey to Cuba that transformed her life.

dark sons
Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes
Jump at the Sun

Summary: Sam can’t believe it when his father leaves the family to marry another woman–and a white woman, at that. The betrayal cuts deep–Sam had been so close to his dad, he idolized him. Now who can he turn to, who can he trust? Even God seems to have ditched him.

Ishmael is his father’s first son, the heir, his favorite. But when his father is visited by mysterious strangers who claim that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, will finally give birth to a legitimate son, Ishmael is worried. And when baby Isaac arrives, Ishmael becomes more isolated from his father. Could Abraham’s God, who had spoken to Ishmael’s mother, to whom he has made countless sacrifices, now betray him in favor of this new son?

dance

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her. (pub date May 1, 2014)

poet

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle
Henry Holt & Co.

Summary: Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.

Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.

jimmi Jimi & Me by Jaime Adoff
Jump at the Sun

Summary: After his father is murdered, Keith and his mother try desperately to pick up the pieces of their lives. But his father s death has left them devastated-both emotionally and financially. Forced to leave Brooklyn and move in with his aunt, Keith urgently clings to every last reminder of his dad, discovering comfort in his own music and that of the late legend-and his father s idol-Jimi Hendrix. In Jimi s music, Keith finds solace, and brief moments of reprieve from his chaotic new life. But just as he begins to get a handle on his father s death, he discovers the secrets of his father s life–secrets that threaten to tear apart what s left of his fragile family.
girlnamedmister

A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes
Zondervan

Summary: Mary Rudine, called Mister by almost everyone, has attended church and sung in the choir for as long as she can remember. But then she meets Trey. His long lashes and smooth words make her question what she knows is right, and one mistake leaves her hiding a growing secret.

Another Mary is preparing for her upcoming wedding and has done everything according to Jewish law. So when an angel appears one night and tells her that she—a virgin—will give birth, Mary can’t help but feel confused, and soon finds herself struggling with the greatest blessing the world will ever know.

Feeling abandoned, Mister is drawn to Mary’s story, and together both young women discover the depth of God’s love and the mysteries of his divine plan. — Cover images and summaries via Goodreads

Six New Books This Week

The month of April is off to a great start with six different titles that are being released this week. Check them out!

CapriciousCapricious by Gabrielle Prendergast

Ella’s grade-eleven year was a disaster (“Audacious”), but as summer approaches, things are looking up. She’s back together with her brooding boyfriend, Samir, although they both want to keep that a secret. She’s also best buddies with David and still not entirely sure about making him boyfriend number two. Though part of her wants to conform to high school norms, the temptation to be radical is just too great. Managing two secret boyfriends proves harder than Ella expected, especially when Samir and David face separate family crises, and Ella finds herself at the center of an emotional maelstrom. Someone will get hurt. Someone risks losing true love. Someone might finally learn that self-serving actions can have public consequences. And that someone is Ella. –Image and summary via Goodreads

deathDeath Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery by Janie Chodosh

Life is tough when you have a junkie for a mom. But when sixteen-year-old Faith Flores—scientist wannabe, loner, new girl in town—finds her mom dead on the bathroom floor, she refuses to believe her mom really OD’d. But the cops have closed the case and her Aunt T, with whom she now lives in the Philly ‘burbs, wants Faith to let go and move on.

But a note from Melinda, her mom’s junkie friend, leads Faith to a seedy downtown methadone clinic. Were her mom and Melinda trying to get clean?

When Melinda dies of an overdose, Faith tracks down the scientists behind the trial running at the methadone clinic. Soon she’s cutting school and lying to everyone—her aunt, her best friend, even the cops. Everyone, that is, except the strangely alluring Jesse, who believes the “real” education’s on the street and whose in-your-face honesty threatens to invade Faith’s self-imposed “no-dating” rule. A drug-dealer named Rat-Catcher warns Faith to back off, but it doesn’t stop Faith from confronting a genetics professor with a guilty conscience. When the medical examiner’s body winds up in the Schuylkill River, Faith realizes if she doesn’t act fast, she may be the next body in the morgue. Can Faith stop this deal gone bad from taking a sharp turn for the worse? — Cover image and summary via Amazon

Lies we tell ourselvesLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it. — summary via Goodreads

soulsA Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick

From the shores of Africa to the bowels of a transatlantic ship to a voting booth in Mississippi to the jungles of Vietnam, all human connection is a matter of souls. In this stirring collection of short stories, Denise Lewis Patrick considers the souls of black men and women across centuries and continents. In each, she takes the measure of their dignity, describes their dreams, and catalogs their fears. Brutality, beauty, laughter, rage, and love all take their turns in each story, but the final impression is of indomitable, luminous, and connected souls. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads
.

moonMoon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

Fifteen-year-old Farrin has many secrets. Although she goes to a school for gifted girls in Tehran, as the daughter of an aristocratic mother and wealthy father, Farrin must keep a low profile. It is 1988; ever since the Shah was overthrown, the deeply conservative and religious government controls every facet of life in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guard finds out about her mother’s Bring Back the Shah activities, her family could be thrown in jail, or worse.

The day she meets Sadira, Farrin’s life changes forever. Sadira is funny, wise, and outgoing; the two girls become inseparable. But as their friendship deepens into romance, the relationship takes a dangerous turn. It is against the law to be gay in Iran; the punishment is death. Despite their efforts to keep their love secret, the girls are discovered and arrested. Separated from Sadira, Farrin can only pray as she awaits execution. Will her family find a way to save them both?

Based on real-life events, multi-award winning author Deborah Ellis’s new book is a tense and riveting story about a world where homosexuality is considered so abhorrent that it is punishable by death. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

sonSon Who Returns by Sylvia Olsen

Fifteen-year-old Mark Centeno is of Chumash, Crow, Mexican and Filipino ancestry–he calls himself “four kinds of brown.” When Mark goes to live with his Chumash grandmother on the reservation in central California, he discovers a rich world of family history and culture that he knows very little about. He also finds a pathway to understanding better a part of his own identity: powwow dancing. Riveted by the traditional dancers and feeling the magnetic pull of the drums, Mark begins the training and other preparations necessary for him to compete as a dancer in one of America’s largest powwows. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Book Review: The Forever Song

safehTitle: The Forever Song
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available April 15

Summary: VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

MONSTER

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone. (Via Amazon)

Review:
One wouldn’t think a book whose primary theme is family would be about killer vampires, but one would be wrong because with “The Forever Song,” Julie Kagawa finishes her epic Blood of Eden trilogy with a novel focused on family. If you read “The Eternity Cure,” you know that Allie, Jackal and Kanin make a good team, but in this novel, you get to experience them interact as a “family”.  And OMG is it hilarious! Allie and Jackal are the typical big brother and kid sister who love to hate each other, with Jackal getting some good zings in. And poor Kanin is the exhausted parent on the family road trip who puts up with the kid’s shenanigans until a certain point and then threatens “Do you want me to pull over” to calm everyone down. I loved the fact that despite being ferocious killers, Kagawa really humanizes the three with this familial , especially Jackal and Kanin, so by the end, the three of them are really a picture of a functional family.

Of course The Forever Song, being a novel with vampires and dealing with a crazy vampire such as Sarren, has “happy” times are equally punctuated by events that just hurt. I can’t go into detail without giving spoilers, but I can say there were a few moments in the novel where my heart broke. There were also a few times where I thought, “Should I really be eating while I’m reading this?” Kagawa does not insult her readers by holding back on descriptions of violence and I respect that quality of hers. The world that Allie lives in is desolate and dangerous with the struggle to survive in a land filled with raiders, psychotic vampires and rabids.

Lastly, one theme I really enjoyed throughout this book, and the series, is the concept of being human. Kagawa truly explores this concept by having Allie deal with the loss of Zeke, her link to humanity, and her struggle to maintain the monster she knows lurks beneath the surface. The questions that Allie ponders, and is challenged by Jackal, and encouraged by Kanin, really give a balance to the deep philosophical questions most of us would have if we were facing the end of our known world.

I’m sad that the Blood of Eden trilogy has come to an end because I greatly enjoyed the world that Kagawa created and being inside Allie’s head for a short time. While the novel ends in such a way that the story is finished, there is room for more. Ms. Kagawa, I’m not quite ready to leave Allie behind; is there a chance we’ll ever visit her again? Please?

Recommendation: You better go buy this book on April 15!

Is Eleanor and Park racist? And other questions to ask

Recently, there’s been an attempt to resurrect affirmative action in Californian universities. This attempt failed and news outlets flooded with articles reporting the Asian American backlash against affirmative action. Sure enough, when I went by the library the other day, I saw a banner proclaiming “SCA5 = RACISM” and two Asian American girls tabling a booth outside city hall.

And I wondered — how in the world did it get to this point? How did so many of my fellow Asian Americans end up thinking that affirmative action was racist? Well, I’m guessing the model minority myth played a role. By buying into the mindset that Asians, as the ‘model minority,’ have more in common with white Americans than with other POC, concerned parents and political leaders came to the false conclusion that affirmative action would be detrimental, and therefore racist, towards Asians.

Tell your parents, tell your uncles, tell your aunties: Stereotypes are toxic, kids. There is no such thing as a good stereotype.

Which brings me to this question: When it comes to YA lit, media, etc — is all representation good? Representation certainly matters, but to what extent does the need for representation of marginalized groups in fiction excuse shoddily written characters and stereotypes? Short answer: It doesn’t.

The thing is, there is great representation out there. It might require some searching, but it’s out there. To unquestioningly accept any-and-every form of representation means dismissing and devaluing the fantastic stuff already out there. Representation of marginalized groups in YA lit shouldn’t simply be a matter of putting a check mark next to the diversity box. It shouldn’t involve stereotypes, exotification or cultural appropriation. It can and should be done right.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an incredibly lazy when it comes to reading. I’m my English professor’s worst nightmare — a passive reader. When I read, I let the words wash over me and think of nothing but the story until I’m finished. When people ask me for book recs, my answers are vague — “You should read this book, because it’s … cute? There’s a hot guy with a six-pack?” I barely even remember the books I read — that’s how lazy a reader I am. Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to become a more proactive reader and question the things I read.

A while back, I reviewed Eleanor and Park. I was all ready to cheer for the wild success of a book with a Korean American hero and love interest. But when I read Eleanor and Park, I was a teensy bit troubled by the racism vibes — I attributed this to the POV of the heroine Eleanor and her good-intentioned-yet-ignorant views, and thought little of it.

Fast forward a few months: I picked up Fangirl, another book by the same author, and gobbled it up. Though it was a fun read, I finished the book with the same troubled feeling, this time about the novel’s problematic treatment of mental health and anxiety issues. Same author, different book, and a pattern emerged, causing me to question my initial reading of Eleanor and Park.  By itself, Eleanor and Park is a cute, Romeo and Juliet style romance. But books don’t exist in a vacuum. Historical context and prevalent stereotypes cast the book in a different, and more unforgiving light.

Still, I wanted to cheer for the success of a book with a Korean American boy as the hero and a lower class girl as the heroine. Wouldn’t pointing out the problematic elements of the book do more harm than good?

Around the same time, I read Stormdancer, a self-proclaimed ‘Japanese steampunk’ fantasy novel. It ended up a huge disappointment and was, to put it nicely, pretty dang racist. This, to my mind, was a classic example of ‘not all representation is good representation.’ Each time I saw Stormdancer and its sequel Kinslayer listed on diversity blogs and goodreads shelves as a ‘diverse read,’ I cringed inside. Something was amiss here.

I don’t mean to cast Eleanor and Park or any other book, for that matter, as the villain. And it’s incredibly telling that people are more afraid/angered by the label of ‘racism’ than by, well, racism itself. For some, calling something out as racist is considered worse than actual racism (or sexism, homophobia, classism, etc). This makes for an environment hostile to critical reading and analysis.

I firmly believe that there are questions that should be OK to ask of any book: Is this book racist? How are these character depictions influenced by society and stereotypes? Is this respectful borrowing or cultural appropriation? –and so on. No book should be off-limits. Representation matters, and because it matters, giving it the careful thought and attention it deserves is paramount.

One of the things that makes YA lit so awesome to me is the fact that it’s a genre-bending category open to experimentation and fresh ideas. It’s a safe space for new voices, innovative ideas, and social activism — or so I like to think. If we can’t question, examine, and re-examine works in this brave not-so-new world of YA lit, then where can we?

tl;dr Is all representation in media good representation? Not necessarily, and asking questions/thinking critically about YA lit is important! Representation matters, so we should give it the thought and attention it deserves.

IF YOU’RE CURIOUS ABOUT ELEANOR AND PARK (and Stormdancer)*
The Author Rainbow Rowell on: Why is Park Korean? <take with a grain of salt
Angry Girl Review: Eleanor and Park
Clear Eyes Full Shelves on Eleanor and Park
Ellen Oh on Eleanor and Park
The Book Smugglers: On Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Addressing Troubling Tropes Regarding Asian and Asian-Americans in YA

And always relevant:
Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story
caring is not trying, trying is not succeeding
There’s no such thing as a good stereotype.

*Not even the point of the post, but okay. My bad for making it the title (heh). Your bad for not bothering to read the post.

One Year and Counting

Wow, can you believe it? It’s been a whole year of Rich in Color! To celebrate our anniversary we’re giving away twelve wonderfully diverse books to thank everyone for their support!

Additionally, we thought it would be fun to do an audio interview with co-founders Crystal and Audrey about why they started Rich in Color. Listen along as they share how a year of running the site has changed the way they look at and consume books. Hope you enjoy!

Download Rich in Color: Co-Founders Interview MP3 [21:14 min]

a Rafflecopter giveaway