Review: Allegedly

Title: Allegedly
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 387
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us.

Review: Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel is a hard-hitting examination of what it’s like for a teen girl to spend a significant portion of her life in jail and then move to a group home. Jackson tackles issues like racism, child (sexual) abuse, mental illness, poverty, and a justice system that just doesn’t care about the people trapped inside it. Mary’s struggle to forge a path for herself after getting out of jail is a gripping story, filled with people who want to help her and others who just want to tear her down or are entirely unequipped to be useful.

Mary is a compelling narrator whose reader-friendly goals (survive the group home, go to college, and save her baby) make it easy to root for her. However, she is also an unreliable narrator, and I found it fascinating to compare her thoughts to the (also biased and unreliable) excerpts from court documents, books, etc. about her and her case. Mary’s particularly difficult relationship with her mother was fascinating, since she had many reasons to hate her—but she still wanted affection and love from her mother all the same.

The group home Mary is sent to is a nightmarish place where it’s every girl for herself and the adults do the barest minimum to collect their checks. Contrasting all those awful people and events against the better people and things in Mary’s life made the briefer moments of kindness a welcome relief. Ms. Claire and Ms. Cora are particular standouts; I have mixed feelings about Ted due to the age gap between him and Mary.

I am not enamored with the ending, which is difficult to talk about without massive spoilers. Suffice it to say that I felt that the final twist undermined some of the good work the narrative had done earlier, particularly since it seemed redundant in light of the conclusion to Sarah’s story arc. It was not the ending I wanted, but I’m not sure that what I wanted would have produced a better story.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Allegedly is a compelling story told from the POV of an unreliable narrator who explores the injustices in the justice system and how hard it is to try to get back on your feet. Opinions will be divided on the ending, but overall, Jackson’s debut novel is worth a look if you’re up for a story that tackles difficult–and timely–topics.

Extras

Author Interview: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Darker Side of the Story: Tiffany D. Jackson talks ALLEGEDLY

The Next YA Movie Series

Earlier this month, the CEO from Lionsgate Films, which produced the Twilight and Hunger Games films, stated that he would love to produce more films or spinoffs from both of the series provided that both authors agree to it. Twitter was quick to point out that both series are well past their expired date and that there are many new series that could be adapted to movies. Others pointed out that now is a good time to adapt a series that has a character of color as the lead and I couldn’t agree more. So, I have some suggestions for the Lionsgate CEO for series with diverse leads that need to be made into a movie now!

All of these series are much loved with a ton of fans, so their movies would come with audiences ready to throw down tons of cash. All of these books also deal with deeper issues such as race and sexism, which, if done well, would add depth to a movie and have audiences not only be entertained by a great story, but think about those very same issues in our world. In addition, a few of these series are not finished, so the publishers could pull in new audiences by producing the first movie and having fans anticipate the second. It just makes great business sense, as we all know that movies with diverse casts to very well. So Lionsgate, contact these author’s publishers & agents and get negotiations started!

Killer of Enemies Series by Joseph Bruchac

Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones — people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human — and there was everyone else who served them. Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets — genetically engineered monsters — turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “Lo siento” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

New Releases

You Don't Know Me But I Know You Happy early book birthday to You Don’t Know Me but I Know You! What’s on your to-read list this week?

You Don’t Know Me but I Know You by Rebecca Barrow
HarperTeen

There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about. Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life.

Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, consisting not only of the greatest family ever but of a snarky, loyal, sometimes infuriating best friend, Rose; a sweet, smart musician boyfriend, Julian; and a beloved camera that turns the most fleeting moments of her day-to-day routine into precious, permanent memories.

But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves. Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Library of Fates

Title: The Library of Fates
Author: Aditi Khorana
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 354
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Review:The Library of Fates is a timely book that calls for action on the part of individuals. Amrita is not sure who she is, but in the midst of turmoil she must find out what she is willing to do and what she believes. Mala, the woman who helped raise Amrita, explains that you find out who you are by the choices you make and the actions you take. When we reflect on what we do and how we decide things, we see what is actually important to us. I really love that in this discussion Mala also tells Amrita “Develop some swagger” and “You’re far more powerful than you know.” I think many young people can stand to hear such encouragement.

As Khorana mentioned in her author’s note, some issues in our nation right now seem to be much like the things happening in this book. The Emperor Sikander comes from a place where things are wonderful for the wealthy, “but if your poor, or disabled, if you’re a foreigner, or even a woman, Macedon isn’t so kind. This country is built on the backs of the disenfranchised.” The author explains the moral of the story at the beginning of the book. “When we act with only our selfish interests in mind, disregarding the rights and experiences of others, everybody loses. But when we act in the service of the greater good, even if it costs us something–even if it costs us a lot–we are deeply and profoundly transformed by love, empathy, and wisdom.” If things matter to us, we can’t stand by and just watch – we must act and create change. Amrita decides to do something, but definitely struggles as she tries to figure out how best to help her kingdom. There are so many unknowns and that is more than a little terrifying to her. Amrita’s physical and emotional journeys are both intriguing.

Amrita has grown up hearing stories of magic, but she has also been taught that as royalty, logic and strategy can save the day. Amrita hasn’t put a lot of faith in magic, but as her world is crumbling and she sees possible evidence of magic, she begins to question her unbelief. The book is filled with magic and reminds me that there is more to our world than what we can see. I tend to believe that if we are still and listen, the world will share its mysteries with us. They may not be quite as fantastic as what Amrita and Thala experience, but there are still plenty of mysteries to discover if we only pay attention.

And yes, there are also some romantic relationships within this tale. The relationships do have a physical aspect, but companionship tends to have a high priority.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy fantasy with a little romance.

Extras:
Interview

3 Books I Want to Read This Fall

As we head toward the end of summer and the start of autumn weather, I’m looking forward to evenings curled up in fuzzy blankets with excellent books. I have my eye on three books this fall! Are any of them on your TBR list?

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
Feiwel & Friends

Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Long Way Down Jason Reynolds
theneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
Dutton Books for Young Readers

The line between best friend and something more is a line always crossed in the dark.

Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend. And that’s the most important thing, even if Angie can’t see how Jess truly feels. Being the girl no one quite notices is OK with Jess anyway. While nobody notices her, she’s free to watch everyone else. But when Angie begins to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can see it coming a mile away. Suddenly her powers of observation are more curse than gift.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess discovers more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets and cruelty lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world of wealth and privilege, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences.

When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

“It doesn’t even matter that she probably doesn’t understand how much she means to me. It’s purer this way. She can take whatever she wants from me, whenever she wants it, because I’m her best friend.”

A Line in the Dark is a story of love, loyalty, and murder.

Interview with Abdi Nazemian

Today we welcome Abdi Nazemian to the blog. We’re excited to learn more about his new novel The Authentics, which was released earlier this month.

Summary: The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?


How did you find your way to this story of family and identity?

I started my career as a screenwriter, and I still work in film and television. I love that medium, but one of the unfortunate realities of the business is that getting movies about Iranian characters made is extremely difficult. I’ve tried many times to write stories that explore my culture for the screen, and inevitably the conversation turns to the lack of bankable stars that could be cast in the roles. Take a look at some of the highest-profile movies about Iranians that Hollywood has made for a peek into this problem. Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfred Molina are Hollywood’s version of Iranians. Jake Gyllenhaal is their Prince of Persia. The argument for these decisions is that there are no Iranian stars, but how can there be if no one gives Iranian actors a chance? I’ve always loved books, and at some point in my screenwriting career, I had this epiphany that in the literary world, no one could tell me they needed a celebrity to publish my book. Then I discovered that writing novels was also a far more personal journey than screenwriting, and that liberated me to write stories that explored issues of family and identity that were (and still are) closest to me. For this particular story, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that helped me find my way, but I think the biggest inspiration was my own children, who were born with the help of an incredible surrogate, and who are being raised in a very modern, very multicultural family. They were babies when this book began to take shape, but I projected forward to the kinds of questions they might have, and I began to write a fictional story inspired by those questions. And then, luckily, Daria took on a life of her own. She had a lot to say. And for the record, I have no secrets from my own children.

What did you like most about Daria?

I love so much about Daria, but perhaps what I love most is her passion. That passion is partly inspired by myself as an older teen (I was very outspoken about my views on right and wrong), but mostly inspired by many young people I know who are devoted to speaking out for what they believe in. Daria’s pride in her culture, her commitment to her friends, her patience and empathy for her family, are all offshoots of that passion. She is a deeply moral person, and wants to live a life of truth. Sometimes circumstances make that difficult, and that’s what the book explores, but Daria never strays far from her core desire to be honest and make moral decisions. I love that about her. Also, I love her capacity for forgiveness.

What forms of media were you most interested in when you were a teen? What kinds of stories got your attention?

Before my teen years, I was a huge reader (a lot of Ramona books, endless readings of Charlotte’s Web and an insatiable obsession with Archie Comics).  By the time I became a teenager, I developed a fascination with Old Hollywood. I watched old movies voraciously, everything from film noir to musicals to silent film. Those films transported me to a fantasy version of the world, which was very appealing to me as a kid who usually wanted to crawl out of his dark, gay skin. I read a lot back then, though YA wasn’t the thriving world it is now, and there were few diverse reads to be found. My favorite book as a teen was Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I worshipped it. And in my later teen years, I discovered James Baldwin, who remains my favorite author. His writing is ridiculously good, and perhaps sadly, more relevant than ever. If we all read his words and studied them, we’d probably live in a much more beautiful world.

Though this is your debut YA novel, you’re not new to writing. Did writing The Authentics have any unique challenges?

It absolutely did. First and foremost, this was my first young adult novel, and I love YA, so I wanted to enter this world with a story that would have an impact and feel honest. Also, this is a far more personal piece of writing than most of my screenwriting work. This is a chance for me to represent the people I love most: Iranian-American characters, LGBTQ people of color, young people questioning their identity, and struggling with how to define themselves in a world obsessed with labels. I am painfully aware of how rare depictions of minorities are in our stories, and so I felt an added responsibility here to get it right, and to make sure that all my love for these characters came through loud and clear.

Being authentic is obviously a focus in this story. What does it mean to you to be authentic? How does that look in everyday life?

The word “authentic” is thrown around so often these days that it starts to lose any real meaning. Sometimes it’s a badge of honor (that’s how Daria and her friends use it), and sometimes it is hurled as an accusation toward anyone or anything we think is false. I wanted to explore this subject matter because I feel passionately that there is more than one way to be authentic. To me, being authentic only means being true to oneself, and that looks different for every human being. That might be why the relationship between Daria and her ex-best-friend Heidi (who Daria calls a “Nose Job”) is one of my favorites in the book. Daria considers Heidi inauthentic for focusing so much on her appearance, while Heidi feels that she is authentic because she is projecting the person she wants to be. To me, both characters are authentic in their own way, and their journey is to see authenticity in someone who is different from them. I recently read this quote from one of my favorite singers, Lana Del Rey, who is constantly accused of being inauthentic, and she said a lot of smart things on the subject: “Of course. I’m always being myself. They don’t know what authentic is. If you think of all the music that came out until 2013, it was super straight and shiny. If that’s authentic to you, this is going to look like the opposite. I think that shit is stylized. Just because I do my hair big does not mean I’m a product. If anything, I’m doing my own hair.”

I just found and read Madonna’s picture book The Adventures of Abdi at my local library. Are you certain there’s no connection to you?

There are few things I want more in the world than to be connected to Madonna. I fell in love with her when her very first video was released, and made my parents take me to The Virgin Tour despite being way too young for it. Not long after that, I converted a room in our home into “The Madonna Room” (no, this is not a joke). You can imagine my extreme excitement when I saw that Madonna had released a book about the adventures of a boy named Abdi, who does look a little like me. Sadly, I have no proof that the character is connected to me, though I can confirm I knew some people who worked with Madonna at the time, and that she signed an autograph to me well before the book was released, so perhaps my name seeped into her subconscious somehow. A boy can hope.

What’s up next for you in writing? Are we likely to see more YA books from you?

I write both screenplays and novels. In my screenwriting life, I am currently adapting a phenomenal documentary called “Out of Iraq” into a narrative feature. It’s the story of two Iraqi men who fall in love against the backdrop of the Iraq War, and their struggle to be reunited when one moves to the United States and the other gets stuck in the bureaucracy of the immigration system. It’s an honor to adapt it. In my life as an author, I am committed to continuing to write young adult fiction. Writing “The Authentics” was so gratifying, and I have more stories to tell in this space. I’m about halfway done with my next book, so I shouldn’t say too much about it, but I can say that it is probably the most personal writing I’ve ever done, and that it tells the story of a love triangle between three teens who get caught up in the world of AIDS activism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Is there anything you would like to tell our readers that I didn’t ask?

I’d like to say thank you to the young adult reading community for demanding diverse reads from publishers. Reading young adult fiction gives me so much hope for our future. I believe storytelling is our greatest tool for creating empathy, and seeing the way young people are demanding and consuming literature about characters who don’t look or think like them is so exciting to me. It’s easy to be pessimistic about the world, and seeing a book like The Hate U Give on the bestseller list makes me optimistic. Discovering there is a whole community of Iranian YA authors makes me optimistic. Reading YA books about cultures and experiences that were foreign to me gives me hope. And that’s all the result of readers creating demand for these stories. So, I’d like to just say thanks, and keep seeking out stories you may not think are for you.


Abdi Nazemian spent his childhood in a series of glamorous locations (Tehran, Paris, Toronto, New York), but could usually be found in his bedroom watching old movies and reading. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his two children and his fiancé.

Abdi has written four produced films: MENENDEZ: BLOOD BROTHERS (Lifetime, 2017), THE QUIET (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006), CELESTE IN THE CITY (ABC Family, 2004), and BEAUTIFUL GIRL (ABC FAMILY, 2003). He also wrote, directed and produced the short film REVOLUTION (2012). He is proud to say his words have been spoken by the likes of Carmela Soprano, The Nanny, and The Girl With The Most Cake.

Abdi’s first novel, THE WALK-IN CLOSET, was released in 2015 by Curtis Brown Unlimited, and was awarded Best Debut at the Lambda Literary Awards. His debut young adult novel, THE AUTHENTICS, was released on August 8, 2017 by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins.