New Releases

Belated happy book birthday to twins! Beauty and Thorn Abbey, both by Nancy Ohlin, were released on May 7th. I’m especially looking forward to reading Beauty since I love anything that reminds me of fairy tales.

beautyBeauty by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? [image and summary via Goodreads]

thorn abbeyThorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Simon Pulse

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss. Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max. Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go… [image and summary via Goodreads]

Annnd happy graphic novel birthday to Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong! This comic has a special place in my heart — I’ve been following the webcomic online, start to finish, and now I don’t know what to do with my life now that the story is over.

nothNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

by Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

First Second Books

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely — until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figure-head in the ugliest class election campaign the school as ever seen. At stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms — but not both. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not! Nothing can possibly go wrong.

[image and summary via Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong]

 

Review: Shadows Cast by Stars

Shadows Cast by StarsTitle: Shadows Cast by Stars
Author: Catherine Knutsson
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Fantasy; Romance, Steamy
Pages: 456
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Copy: Checked out from library
Availability: June 5, 2012

Summary: Old ways are pitted against new horrors in this compellingly crafted dystopian tale about a girl who is both healer and seer. Two hundred years from now, blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet—especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antibodies that protect them from the Plague ravaging the rest of the world.

Sixteen-year-old Cassandra Mercredi might be immune to Plague, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe—government forces are searching for those of aboriginal heritage to harvest their blood. When a search threatens Cassandra and her family, they flee to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory protected by the Band, a group of guerilla warriors—and by an enigmatic energy barrier that keeps outsiders out and the spirit world in. And though the village healer has taken her under her wing, and the tribal leader’s son into his heart, the creatures of the spirit world are angry, and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument….

Incorporating the traditions of the First Peoples as well as the more familiar stories of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend, Shadows Cast by Stars is a haunting, beautifully written story that breathes new life into ancient customs —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I wish I liked this book more.

As a moving-to-a-new-town book, Shadows Cast by Stars is serviceable. Cass’s struggles to fit in with the people on the Island—including wanted and unwanted attention from boys—make for some interesting character dynamics and conflict. I particularly enjoyed Cass’s scenes with Madda and her (sort-of) friendship with Helen. The women are the most memorable characters in the novel, though the boys don’t give them much competition in that regard (more on this in a bit).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested in Cass’s relationship with Bran. They fall for each other far too quickly for my taste, and their relationship crosses off most of the plot devices for romances (down to an ex-girlfriend stealing a kiss in such a way that the heroine thinks the boyfriend is cheating on her). It doesn’t help that Bran spends large chunks of the story away from Cass, so they end up hitting their relationship milestones really quickly compared to how many hours they actually spend together on-screen.

I have three major complaints with the book, and the first is a matter of expectations. Based on the summary, I was expecting there to be a lot more time invested in exploring this particular disease-ridden world. I wanted to see the cultural, social, and legal ramifications of a world where the government is totally okay with draining people of all their blood in order to stop the spread of Plague. The premise promised me all sorts of interesting possibilities, from a black market for blood to exploitation to national testing and IDs.

I got none of that. The most I got was a chip in all the Corridor citizens’ wrists which let them…connect to the internet? The details are supremely fuzzy and leave more questions than answers: Why doesn’t the government keep better tabs on the people who are the only cure for the Plague? How could our heroes possibly have had time to run when a new plague outbreak occurs? Why isn’t there some kind of set-up where everyone immune to the Plague donates plasma/blood/etc. every [X] days, gets paid handsomely for it, and then the government distributes those vaccines/cures to the people who can afford to get them? Do the antibodies in Others’ blood grant immunity like a vaccine or is it more of a medicine given once the illness has been contracted? Does this government really think it’s an awesome long-term solution to execute the only people immune to the Plague? What is the government going to do when they’ve “overhunted” to extinction?

My second complaint is that many of the characters in the book feel distressingly shallow. Paul spends the entirety of the book as an enigma, and once they get to the Island, Cass spends more time with Bran than him. Neither Cass nor Paul seem to care much about getting ripped out of their lives—the closest we get to them missing anything is when Cass asks her dad if the Island has a school system. (As far as I remember, this never gets answered.) Neither Cass nor Paul apparently had any friends or even extended family in their previous lives. There was one attempt to humanize Avalon, which fell flat for me, Cedar was creepy and probably triggery, and Grace was creepy with a side order of broken. Much of the time these characters (except for Madda and Ms. Adelaide) simply didn’t seem to live in the world they inhabited.

My third complaint is that the culture of the Island felt really off to me. I’ll be the first to admit that my experience with literature starring or written by native people is pretty limited, but even I was able to pick up on many of the problematic bits that Debbie Reese identified. The mixture of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend didn’t mesh well with the story and were distracting (minor) players in the narrative. Frankly, I would have much preferred that they weren’t included at all.

Recommendation: Just skip it, unfortunately. While there are a lot of interesting ideas in the story, they got all tangled up around each other.

Mini-review: A Match Made in Heaven

cover27644-mediumTitle: A Match Made in Heaven
Author: Trina Robbins
Illustrator: Xian Nu Studio & Yuko Ota
Pages: 128
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, graphic novel, romance
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Aspiring comic book artist Morning Glory Conroy already has too much to juggle at her San Francisco high school–mean girls, inconsiderate cliques, wannabe gangbangers–without the complication of falling for new student Gabriel. Glory’s best friend, Julia, was interested in him first, and if it weren’t for Julia’s deteriorating home life, Glory wouldn’t have had a chance to get Gabriel to herself. But does he count as a real boyfriend if his overbearing guardian forbids even kissing? Soon Gabriel is pushing Glory to show her work at art events, and the new relationship starts taking Glory away from her bff just when Julia needs her. Glory is in for a startling revelation when she discovers not only Gabriel’s true identity, but also that of his mischievous cousin Luci, who trails their every move just to cause trouble. Can Glory and Gabriel keep their relationship aloft when the heavens themselves seem to be against it?
image and summary from Goodreads

Review: Glory and her friends kept me giggling and smiling. This was definitely light-hearted with a bit of quirkiness too. In one scene, readers are even treated to a paper doll type of layout with an attractive young man in his boxers. The illustrations were a lot of fun — especially since Glory’s comics are mixed in and they are a different style than the main storyline. Several startling action scenes are scattered about to keep you alert. I loved it. If you need a laugh or a quick read, this would be the perfect fit.

Recommendation: Get it soon. It would be just the thing when you need a bit of relaxation.

New Releases

Fans of Alyson Noel have a reason to be excited this week. The third novel of her Soul Seeker’s series hits bookshelves on Tuesday. I haven’t read the series, but the summary below intrigues me. Maybe it’s time to start?

MysticMystic by Alyson Noel

St. Martin’s Griffin

Since arriving in Enchantment, New Mexico, everything in Daire Santos life has changed. And not all for the better. While she’s come to accept and embrace her new powers as a Soul Seeker, Daire struggles with the responsibility she holds navigating between the worlds of the living and the dead. And with the fate of her boyfriend Dace in the balance, Daire must put aside her personal feelings and focus on defeating Cade, whose evil plans threaten everyone she loves and the world as she knows it. (summary & image via Goodreads)

We also accidentally missed last week’s paperback release of Kady Cross’s Girl with the Clockwork Collar, from Harlequin Teen.

clockworkIn New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling – or dangerous.
Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her “straynge band of mysfits” have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him…for the life of the girl Jasper loves.One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei’s neck tightens. And tightens. (summary & image via Goodreads)

 

 

Review: Flowers in the Sky

flowers in the skyTitle: Flowers in the Sky
Author: Lynn Joseph
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 232
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review copy: friendly local library
Availability: March 5, 2013

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Nina Perez is faced with a future she never expected. She must leave her Garden of Eden, her lush home in the Dominican Republic, when she’s sent by her mother to seek out a better life with her brother in New York. As Nina searches for some glimpse of familiarity amid the jarring world of Washington Heights, she must uncover her own strength. She learns to uncover roots within foreign soil and finds a way to grow, just like the orchids that blossom on her fire escape. And when she is confronted by ugly secrets about her brother’s business, she comes to understand the realities of life in this new place. But then she meets him-that green-eyed boy- who she can’t erase from her thoughts, the one who just might help her learn to see beauty in spite of tragedy. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I have to be honest — I borrowed this book because of its gorgeous cover. I mean, look at it! Those orchids, that blurred background, the italicized title — it’s like one of those artsy pictures on tumblr with the inspirational quote in the middle (“the road to love takes many paths”). Props to jacket designer Erin Fitzsimmons.

From the very beginning, you are awash with a sense of the bittersweet. The protagonist Nina Perez does not want to leave her “seaside home in Samana on the north coast where the humpback whales come every winter and fill Samana Bay with miracles and tourists” (1). She has every reason to love her home in the Dominican Republic, a place brimming with sunlight and blooming life. Nina is the flower girl and she belongs there. The chapters set in Samana are truly beautiful.

The first person narration allows you to view New York through Nina’s eyes as an immigrants unused to city life. While Nina’s perspective makes her plight easily understood, it does little to explain her sudden love interest. To me, it felt like the romance split the narrative into two parallel stories. There is the story of Nina, the flower girl who adapts to New York and grows strong enough to recognize the desperation of her brother. Her strength and independence manifests itself in the orchids blooming on her fire escape. And then there is the story of Nina, the helpless girl who needs her green-eyed love to rush in and carry her off on his trusty white steed. (Seriously, the guy has a white jeep.) The sibling dynamic between Nina and her brother is compelling enough to drive the story forward and I wish it had gotten the attention it deserved.

For the most part, Flowers in the Sky lives up to its title. The story and the floral theme work together to conjure up an image of orchids struggling to flourish in the sky — it’s a poem in the guise of a novel.

Recommendation: Borrow it sometime if you see it in the library. (If lover-to-the-rescue isn’t your thing, maybe skip it.) It’s a short, sweet read.

It’s the Pattern that’s the Problem

A few years ago a friend and fellow amateur writer asked me whether or not her main character being white was a problem. We had been discussing diversity in media, and I was caught by surprise by the frankness of the question. I managed to babble something that was semi-coherent, assuring her that nothing was wrong with the character, and the topic drifted from there.

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot since then, and I think I’m ready to give a more thorough answer. With a few exceptions (like the Mighty Whitey trope or deliberate erasure/whitewashing), there’s nothing inherently wrong with a main character being white. I have no quarrel with Harry Potter for being both white and The Boy Who Lived. Alanna of Trebond is still the best knight in all of Tortall no matter how fair her skin is. John Cleaver is equally terrifying and delightful as he hunts down supernatural killers.

Then there’s Tris, Peter, Bella, Rory, Hazel, Ender, Janie, Cas, Letty, Gemma, Miles, Jonas, Anne, Lyra, Charlie, Clary, Clay, Melinda, Tally, Alice, Sophie, Will, Eragon, Mia, Lena, Anna, Nora, Ginny, Jerry, Meg, Nathaniel, Samantha, Thomas, Cammie, Todd, Grace, Aerin, Lia, and hundreds of other white protagonists in young adult books whose stories dominate the bestseller lists.

The problem isn’t that these characters are white—the problem is that they all are. Last year, NPR posted a list of the 100 best ever teen novels (as voted by NPR’s 87% white audience), and only two of those books featured protagonists who were people of color. (A third book split the POV between three white girls and one Latina.) Readers submitted over 1,200 titles, which were narrowed down by a panel of experts to just 235 books. But even with an extra 135 books thrown in, an NPR assistant only found four additional titles starring people of color.

The problem is that when I look for people who look like me in the media I consume, I am thrilled when they actually exist, let alone have some plot-significant dialogue or get a POV. The problem is that this horde of books starring white characters is teaching me that the people who look like me aren’t smart enough to lead a team of heroes, aren’t powerful enough to be agents of their own fate, aren’t skillful enough to be looked up to, aren’t sexy enough for makeouts, aren’t loyal enough to be true companions, aren’t interesting enough to have their stories told.

White boy finds out he’s the chosen one, white girl overthrows corrupt society, white boy finds a doomed love, white girl goes on epic road trip to discover herself, white boy becomes a man, white girl becomes a woman, everyone else plays either a supporting role or functions as sentient scenery—that pattern is the problem.

Is any specific author obligated to write a book from the point of view of a person of color? Absolutely not. But who gets to star in the stories we love matters just as much as what happens in those stories.

It’s going to take a lot of people—writers, agents, editors, publishers, readers, bloggers, booksellers, etc.—to replace the current pattern with something more inclusive. So buy books that star people of color, interview authors/agents/editors about why they chose to write/acquire diverse stories and voices, recommend those stories to friends, create fanart or fanfic or fancasts, and reblog and retweet and comment and like and share whenever you can.