Book Review: Antigoddess

antigoddessTitle: Antigoddess
Author: Kendare Blake
Genres: Fantasy, SciFi
Pages: 333
Publisher: Tor Teen
Review Copy: Barnes & Noble
Availability: On Shelves now

It’s not very often that an author makes a bold move in a novel, especially the first novel of a series, that shocks the reader and has them thinking “Did Kendare Blake really just do that?” I’m not going to give it away, you have to read the novel to discover yourself, but Blake makes a shocking decision about one of her characters in her new series about ancient Greek Gods & Goddess fighting for survival, that leaves the reader with the knowledge that her series will be dark and brutal and one fantastic read.

Just like another popular YA series that deals with the Greek Gods, Blake does a fine job of weaving history and mythology into the current events of the story. Blake’s gods and goddess haven’t gone away, they’ve been living among us ever since the fall of the Greek empire and are now starting to die, thus bringing about a new war. The difference here, in Antigoddess, is that the story doesn’t just involved the stories of gods, but also of the humans that interacted with them. The humans the gods interacted with and loved are now reincarnated though they do not remember their previous lives. I frankly loved that twist to the story, especially as other human characters were identified and their 2013 selves are very different from their ancient selves. Athena and Hermes, both sarcastic gods who read like ancient teenagers that possess a wisdom of the ages, go in search of Cassandra who was an oracle during the era of the Trojan War. The two gods come across Odysseus, who is now a cheeky teenage Brit, as well as Hector and Andromache, who for now remain their 2013 selves. I have a feeling that will change however, because the book, and by extension the series, is unpredictable.

And gory, and scary and often times doesn’t feel like a YA novel because Blake does not play it safe. The novel is full of gritty violence, after all, it is a beginning of a war with “immortal beings” who see the earth as their playground, just as they did eons ago. The old Greek myths are much old stories that since we are so removed from them, we don’t often think about the catastrophes the real people of the time experienced to create the mythological stories. By being set in modern day, Antigoddess reminds the reader of the regular people, the collateral damage, of the god’s playground. It’s a sobering thought and makes it hard for the reader to root for Athena’s survival when the lives of humans are at risk. Yet, Blake breathes such life into all the characters, both human and god, that when Cassandra and Athena finally come together and begin to fight, you know they will be an unstoppable team; they just have to learn to trust each other first. And that journey will be worth the read.

I enjoyed Antigoddess as it moved at a fairly smooth pace, switching between Athena’s voice and Cassandra’s voice. The plot slowly builds and there are crossovers between the two stories that has the reader guessing at the links and figuring it all out before Athena does, and eventually Cassandra. As I said earlier, Blake weaves in historical stories well, and those bits do not slow down the action one bit. In fact, the historical information given actually adds to the tension (at least it did for me). Blake created a world that I truly believable and scary, and I can’t wait to read what happens next. If you’re looking for a new series, now that many are ending, this is a good place to start.

Works in Translation

I have to admit — I’m a lazy reader. I prefer books that make me laugh out loud over heavy dystopian books that make me think about the evolution of society. I want books with lots of snappy dialogue and easy-to-swallow plotlines. I wish all my books were light summer reads, even if it’s the dead of winter. It’s like how I constantly crave junk food.

Sometimes, though, I crave the kind of language you can only get through translated works.* Now, I’m not about to go back to reading translations of modernist Japanese lit (never again! okay, maybe someday). Fortunately, there’s a few translated Japanese YA lit and middle grade books out there. Here is my favorite one:

brave storyTitle: Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

Young Wataru Mitani’s life is a mess. His father has abandoned him and his mother has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Desperately he searches for some way to change his life; a way to alter his fate. To achieve his goal, he must navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. And to complicate matters, he must outwit a merciless rival from the real world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Brave Story is a long read, but worth every minute. It’s the sort of book that has such beautiful and detailed language that I just want to bask in the flow of words — you know, that kind of book. The intermingling of Wataru’s real life and fantasy world is gracefully done. Wataru’s adventure can be a bit puzzling at times, but if you just keep reading, it’ll all come together.

Note: Brave Story is written by Miyuki Miyabe, who is a Japanese author in Japan — not a POC written work from America, England, etc. But a change of pace is nice, isn’t it?

One New Release This Week

We have just one new release for this week. If we’ve missed any, please let us know!

tiger girl
Tiger Girl by May-Lee Chai

Nea Chhim, the spirited heroine of Dragon Chica, struggles with college. Nightmares of war flood the waking memories of this 19-year-old survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Nea decides she must confront the past to overcome her fear and begin her own life in America. Without telling Ma, she hops on a cross-country bus in Nebraska to see her biological father in Southern California. There Nea comes face to face with a man wounded by survivor’s guilt who refuses to acknowledge the family’s secrets. Nea determines to revive his struggling donut shop and help him recover. Her tireless efforts attract a mysterious young man’s attention—is he casing the place for a gang? It is up to Nea to find out the truth: about her family, the war that nearly destroyed them, and herself.

Tiger Girl weaves together Cambodian folklore and its painful past with contemporary American life to create an unforgettable novel about love, war, and acceptance. — image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Jumped In

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Title: Jumped In
Author: Patrick Flores-Scott
Genres: Contemporary & Poetry
Pages: 304
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Review Copy: Digital book purchased by reviewer
Availability: Published Aug. 27, 2013

Summary: Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words. — Image and summary via Goodreads

Review: From the beginning Sam pulled me into the Pacific Northwest with it’s gray sameness. The gloom just rolls across the pages with the weather completely matching his mood. Sam slowly reveals the reasons for his negativity. He has plenty of pain in his life, but fortunately, the book also has some light moments so readers don’t sink completely under the weight. Many of the lighter bits happen because of the poetry unit. The teacher, Ms. Cassidy, provides a lot of entertainment as she pulls out every trick in an attempt to catch and keep attention. The poems sometime bring smiles too. In the first poem, Luis compares the way people look at his scar to how people look at a “shriveled viejito grandpa smiling in his tiny Speedo.” The accompanying illustration adds to the humor. The rules of slackerhood also provide a few chuckles. Sam is completely serious about being an invisible slacker and goes to great lengths to fly under the radar of his teachers.

This is not a novel-in-verse but is a mix of poetry and prose. We hear from Sam predominantly in prose, but even that is lyrical at times. We only hear Luis through poetry though. Luis has fewer words than Sam, but every word is chosen carefully and the poems pack a punch. With Sam we see many details and the day to day business of life as he sleeps afternoons away or watches raindrops on the window and mold growing on the sill. The communication from Luis is brief and more direct.

And somewhere deep
Down by my heart and spleen
In my darkest guts
So they can’t see
I lock the worlds of ideas
That make me me.

In August, Edi Campbell wrote a post about Guy Pals. I recalled her post as I read. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but as Edi explained, there aren’t that many books that deal with male friendships though it seems like more are being written right now. I appreciated this look into the life of these boys. Though they certainly didn’t share all of their secrets with each other, they connected while creating something together. Many people can relate to such friendships. Often school friends are based on desk proximity and then grow into something more. I think it is fascinating to imagine the many ways that relationships can develop.

Jumped In is just over 300 pages, but there is a lot of blank space on the pages because of the poetry and the brief chapters, so this is a quick read in spite of it’s page length. The poetry breaks up the narrative and the humor keeps it from becoming too bleak. I have to admit, the title puzzled me for quite some time. “Jumped in” was a phrase that was unfamiliar to me. It’s related to gangs and I was glad that it was eventually explained in the book. With the mix of gangs, school, poetry, Nirvana, and family issues, there are plenty of things to catch a reader’s interest. Finding and listening to the Nirvana songs mentioned along the way added to the experience.

Patrick Flores-Scott has crafted an engaging novel that will likely win many hearts. I finished the book wanting to know more about the characters. I wanted to spend more time in their stories and see them continue to grow. Hopefully we will see more from Patrick Flores-Scott in the future.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a book that will speak to many — though I should warn you, tissues may be required.

Extra: Edi Campbell interviewed Patrick on her blog. Beware: there are serious spoilers so maybe read it after you read the book.

What I Mean When I Talk Diversity

In the spring I’m going to be teaching a class, currently titled “Writing the Other” and will focus on why we need diversity in literature, while giving practical tips and tools at the same time. As I was discussing the class with my reading group, one friend asked, “well, doesn’t calling it ‘the other’ further alienate, set up further differences?” Our group, which is diverse in its own right, went crazy explaining why the class is needed. I think we might have been a bit overzealous and I felt like we might have made her feel bad. Instead, she reflected on the conversation and wrote this touching blog post (Default white?) where she basically unpacked her privilege and thought about what she could do better. She explored the concept of the “default white”, which she admits, she had never given much thought too. In recognizing her own misconceptions, she realized the importance of having these discussions about diversity and that all of us, white, black, yellow, green and purple, have a responsibility to making our literature reflect our world.

diversity1
A few months ago I wrote about that I’m tired of the “it’s diversity surprise” but I think I have to amend my statement because as I was beta reading a friend’s novel, I had the “it’s diversity, surprise” and I was actually glad to have it. And when I sent her an email thanking her for the surprise, it made me realize that by sending the “Thank Yous” and the “Nice Diverse world” notes to authors who are not of color, we encourage more authors (and by extension publishers) to open the doors for more diverse stories. In my friend’s novel, the diversity isn’t forced, isn’t a “very special topic”, it just is. As diversity is in real life – it just is. The “it’s diversity surprise” is just a reaction to seeing diversity just as it is and not some overreaching lesson. Those stories still do have a place as well, but we also need to have more stories where diversity just is. It’s in the background where characters interact at the coffee shop, in the classroom, at the movies. It’s in the variety of friends, and not the token Person of Color, especially in a story that is set in a big city. Its in the way teachers, community leaders are presented in a story as diversity exists there as well. Diversity is everywhere and our literature needs to embrace it.

Those examples of seeing diversity in every day lives is what we mean when we talk diversity. We need publishers to understand that the world we live in is not filled with just one type of person, one type of story. The world is colorful with skin tones of every different shade, with numerous cultures that are just as valid as any other. We all have the responsibility to make diversity in literature a very real thing. No one group should be responsible for shouldering the work. We all have a stake in this world; we need to help each other when we make mistakes and lift each other up in praise when we achieve greatness.

So, what do I mean when I talk diversity? I mean that we are all in this fight together. With my friend who wrote the blog post, with my other friend who included diversity in her novel, with my fellow writers here at Rich in Color – everyone. We are a diverse group and if we want to see change, we need to make it happen.

New Releases

Happy book birthday to My Basmati Bat Mitzvah which will be released tomorrow on October 1st:
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My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Amulet Books

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith. [Image and summary via Goodreads]