Review: Rebel of the Sands

rebelsandsTitle: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genres:  Science Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 314
Publisher: Penguin
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary: She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is. — Copy image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I’m going to admit that when I first read Hamilton’s debut novel, I was so involved with the story that I read it in a day. However, there was something about the novel that didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I decided to read the novel again. I figured that I read it too quickly and might have missed some parts of the story, hence why I was feeling a bit incomplete. I couldn’t figure out why I had this, “I loved it but…” feeling. I enjoyed the main character, Amani, and her male counterpart, Jin; I enjoyed the adventure the two went on and enjoyed the reveal of Amani’s gift. So, why was I hesitant about this novel?

Then it hit me. I don’t feel like this novel is all that original. Hamilton’s novel hits all the checkmarks of all the current trend in female driven hero’s journey novels (outsider girl – check, desires to live a different life – check, meets handsome rogue stranger – check, leaves in a hurry/goes on the run – check, falls in love, but doesn’t act on it – check, discovers secret power that rogue stranger knew about but she didn’t – check, joins a rebellion – check, survives first fight to live on for sequel – check). The “difference” here is that Amani’s world was inspired by Arabian mythology and culture and the way that Hamilton incorporated the mythology and culture is what bothered me.

One theme that rubbed me the wrong way was Hamilton’s portrayal of Amani’s society’s attitude towards women. In order for Amani to stand out, to be original, the oppression that Amani experienced from her society was a bit over the top. Throughout the story Amani states how Miraji men believe women are lacking in intellect and treat them as nothing but property. This is a real stereotype attributed to Arabian culture and I was bothered by the fact that Hamilton chose to include this stereotype in her novel as a reason for Amani to rebel. I would have like a more compelling reason for Amani’s desire to leave her home instead of relying on a harmful stereotype of a culture.

I believe that Hamilton was really trying to be original with the world of her novel, and I will say that she did an excellent job of world building to make Amani’s world believable. In the story, we learn of more of the outside world other than Miraji and Hamilton creates a unique and interesting mythology with the First Beings and the Destroyer of Worlds. The rules of magic that she created made sense to the story. Her characters are well written and she also passes the Bechdel Test where Amani develops a friendship with another girl and they have conversations that don’t revolve around men. To see her develop a healthy female friendship in a hero’s journey was actually very refreshing.

Recommendation: Overall, I am filled with mixed emotions for “Rebel of the Sands”. There was much that I enjoyed from the novel and some parts of it bothered me. I found that when the story ended, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Amani and Jin and am looking forward to seeing where their next journey takes them.

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Review: This is Where It Ends

This Is Where It EndsTitle: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary:
10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

 

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Review: Make no mistake, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel is a tough read. It is a read that, on my first reading, I sped through in one night because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was so caught up in the fight for survival for the characters that I couldn’t put the book down. My heart broke many times during that first read, and I even cried at the end (in fact, I cried at the end a second time). On my second read, while I knew what was coming, I still felt the horrors of the shooting in my gut. This is Where It Ends is the type of novel that will stay with you for a long time after; it’s one of those books where you allow the lives of the characters to linger with you for a few days before you move onto the next book.

This is Where It Ends is told through the eyes four characters who all, in some way, have a relationship with the shooter. Autumn is the shooter’s younger sister, Sylvia (Sylv) is Autumn’s girlfriend whom the shooter despises, Tomas is Sylv’s twin brother who has an antagonistic relationship with the shooter, and Claire is the shooter’s ex-girlfriend.  Autumn and Sylvia are in the school auditorium when Tyler, the shooter, begins his rampage. Tomas and Claire are outside in various locations of the school, hearing the gunshots, and both, in their own way, work to try to save the lives of their classmates and family. The story is a mix of present events and flashbacks as each of the characters reflect on their relationship with Tyler and wonder what they could have done to prevent his current actions, well except for Tomas. All he wants to do is protect his sister, and once he realizes who the shooter is, his focus is on getting people out safely and finding a way to end Tyler’s rampage.

The use of the four narratives worked well in creating realistic portrayal of such an horrific event and was an excellent device to create a full picture of Tyler. While he is clearly the antagonist of this story who betrays the love of his sister and former girlfriend, by seeing him through the eyes of people who knew and loved (and even hated) him, we get a picture of a troubled young man instead of a “mustache twirling” villain. We are also able to have moments of “levity” as we spend time with Claire and Tomas who are outside trying to help. Their terror and fear is different than Autumn’s and Sylvia’s in that Claire & Tomas are focusing their energy trying to help. This positive energy gives the reader a sense of purpose instead of being stuck in a state of terror if the reader were to be with Autumn and Sylv the entire time, because the way Nijkamp writes the auditorium scenes, it is truly terrifying. Tyler shoots without discrimination, without remorse, and characters like that leave a chill down a person’s back.

Marieke Nijkamp’s novel is timely as it allows us, those of us who have only experienced a shooting through the lens of the media, to feel the terror that shooting victims experience, the fear family members face as they wait to hear about the safety of their loved ones, and the betrayal that friends and family members of the shooter feel, for they are victims too. No one is safe in Nijkamp’s novel and the death toll is quite high, but I mourned each and every character’s death. I felt the pain Autumn, Sylv, Tomas and Claire felt and their fear. This is Where It Ends is a moving novel and a reflection of the turbulent times we are living in.

Recommendation: Get it now!

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Book Review: On the Edge of Gone

goneTitle: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 456
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

Review: I was talking to a co-worker about The Walking Dead and why he doesn’t watch it, and he remarked that he hates to read/see stories that has our worlds in ruins, that it hurts him, It was in that conversation I realized just why I was so sad about Corinne Duyvis’s new novel. It’s not that the novel was bad (because it wasn’t) or that it wasn’t a page turner (because it was) but what made me so sad was that it was the story of the destruction of our world, and having that knowledge made me really sad. In books like Hunger Games, where the dystopian future is man made, you root for the hero to overcome systematic oppression. In On the Edge of Gone, the disaster is a natural one and our hero, Denise, is just trying to survive in a brand new dangerous world, and that is what made me so sad. Which is, in a sense, a bit ironic because I’ve always wanted a book that dealt with the disaster in the moment, not years later, which I got, but it also broke me.

Let’s look at the first line shall we, “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034.”  Talk about a punch to the gut from the start; and the novel never lets up. It opens with Denise’s reaction to the announcement about the comet, and then fast-forwards to the day of, specifically 30 minutes before the comet is supposed to hit. Denise and her mother have not left the house yet, and it will take them about 45 minutes to get to the shelter. Logically, I knew that Iris would survive the blast, however, Duyvis writes Denise so well that I felt her panic, and frustration at her mother’s lack of urgency to get to safety. I wanted to scream at her mother as well. In fact, there were many times I was frustrated with a number of characters, but when your world is ending how rational is one really going to act? When it comes to matters of survival, won’t we often look out for our own?

And that is the main question that Denise faces throughout the book as she tries to get a spot on the generation ship for not just herself, but for her mother and her sister. She struggles with trying to help others survive, yet look out for her family as well. I love that Duyvis explores Denise’s guilt and turmoil over the desire to save her family versus her desire to help others because the inner conflict made the novel very true. Denise is a caring person, evident in her love of cats so much that she works at a animal shelter, but yet is learning how to deal with others in the worst scenario possible. Denise’s world, er everyone’s world, has been shattered and Denise must work a little harder, due to her autism, to adjust to life after the comet.  Denise is fully aware of how she can be perceived (which also hurt when Duyvis didn’t hold back on the micro aggressions Denise faced) yet she makes an active effort to adjust her behavior to be accepted on board the generation ship. Denise uses this opportunity to prove, not only to everyone else, but mainly to herself what she is truly capable of.  And in the end, well, I don’t want to give it away, but Denise does find that her future vanished as she knew it on July 19, 2034, but she got a new one by learning more about herself, and her ability to survive, than she ever thought possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

P.S. While we here at Rich in Color focus on characters of color, I’m glad that Duyvis wrote a character who, in addition to being bi-racial, is autistic. I’ve had, and currently have autistic students and love that there is a book where they can see themselves reflected in a novel, where they get to be the hero. Many people think there is only one type of way a person with autism interacts with the world (a micro aggression that Duyvis brings into the book) and those of us who work with students who have autism know that they are completely different and unique in how they perceive the world. Denise is a perfect example of the broadness of the autism spectrum and how a person with autism’s mind works.

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Book Review: The Love that Split the World

The Love that Split the WorldTitle: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genres:  Magical Realism
Pages: 390
Publisher: Razorbill
Review Copy: I should start owning stock in Barnes & Noble
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Review: Emily Henry’s debut novel is being marketed as a mix between Friday Night Lights and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and while I haven’t read Friday Night Lights, I did fall in love with The Time Traveler’s Wife so I figured I would most likely enjoy this novel. And I was right. I greatly enjoyed Henry’s novel and found myself lost in the story, trying to discover the mystery of who was Grandmother.

While this novel is being marketed as a romance, I feel like it was more a novel of discovering the self. The story opens with Natalie graduating high school and preparing to leave for Brown University in the fall. She is preparing for her goodbyes from family and friends, yet is also looking forward to beginning a new life. This time of change, for many who decide to go away for school, is a time where you reflect on your life, specifically your high school years, and try to anticipate what your college life will be like. Natalie is going through these emotions, but with an added pressure by her “Grandmother” to save him. Natalie doesn’t know who “he” is, but also learns that “Grandmother” the supernatural being who has been with her, sharing beautiful parables with her throughout her life will also be leaving her. And with that knowledge, Natalie sets out to discover who “Grandmother” really is and what role the old lady plays in her life. Natalie has to look inward, at her past, her childhood, and even look at her heritage, in order to find her answers. To me, this search for self was much more powerful and interesting than the romance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the romance, but Natalie’s search for understanding herself, understanding her own mind and beginning to take ownership of her ability to manipulate time really connected with me.

Natalie was already on a path of claiming herself and her heritage, she is American Indian and adopted by a White couple, by deciding to forge her own path. Henry did an excellent job portraying the personal tensions that come from when a child is a different heritage from their parents, and she even mentions the complexities of American Indian adoption. I loved that Henry did not pretend that Natalie’s heritage didn’t effect her outlook on life, but that it colored how she viewed her world.  About a year prior to the start of the novel, Natalie has experienced an identity shift where she decides to be true to herself and to stop trying to fit in to a concept of who she should be. She has quit dance and has become more outspoken about many social issues. I think by having Natalie already think about her role in the world and already be on the journey of discovering the self, what she experiences, the growth she undergoes through the novel, helps the reader understand the choice she makes at the end.

One part about this novel I do want to mention is the parables that Grandmother shares with Natalie. Henry did a great job of presenting different types of parables from different American Indian nations and even includes a Biblical parable. Like any elder, the stories Grandmother shares with Natalie not only teach her about different cultures, but also provide lessons and insights into Natalie’s situation, helping her solve the mystery of who Grandmother is and how Natalie needs to save him. Well, not all the parables add to the mystery, sometimes a story is just a story that elders tell to their children, and that is what really endeared me to many of the tories. In her acknowledgements, Henry gave credit to the nation’s stories that she used and it was clear she did proper research.

Recommendation: Overall, I found Henry’s debut very enjoyable and got lost in the story. If you are a fan of time bending romance, this is the book for you.

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Book Review: Untwine

untwineTitle: Untwine
Author: Edwidge Danticat
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Support your local library!
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Giselle Boyer and her identical twin, Isabelle, are as close as sisters can be. They are each other’s strongest source of support even as their family life seems to be unraveling and their parents are considering divorce. Then the Boyers have a tragic encounter that will shatter everyone’s world forever.

Giselle wakes up in a hospital room, injured and unable to speak or move. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her sister, to her family, to herself. Trapped in the prison of her own body, Giselle must revisit her past in order to understand how the people closest to her—her friends, her parents, and above all, Isabelle—have shaped and defined her. Will she allow her love for her family and friends to buoy her and lead her on the path to recovery? Or will she remain lost in a painful spiral of longing and regret?

Review: Much talk has been made, erroneously, that YA literature  is not literary enough and for all those folks, I’d suggest they pick up Untwine as Danticat’s novel is the epitome of a moving literary character study novel. It is the story of sisterhood, tragedy, family and ultimately healing. The writing is very chewy, like enjoying a gourmet meal.

While I ultimately enjoyed the novel and was moved by the story, the pacing was a little slow and the beginning, due to the structure of the novel, took a bit to get to. The novel begins with the accident that lends Giselle in the hospital and her time in the hospital. However, because Giselle is in a coma like state, the first quarter of the novel is spent in her mind, which creates a sort of stream of consciousness feel to the novel. That is also when we experience Giselle and Isabelle’s relationship as Giselle spends much of her coma reflecting on the past. She is able to see and hear her doctor and her family members, but she can’t interact with them. And because of that, it seems for the first part of the novel, there is very little movement within the plot and I can understand how some readers would be thrown off by that. Since I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness stories, I will admit that I struggled a bit and was concerned that the novel would be entirely in this style. It isn’t and the plot begins to move forward when Giselle finally wakes up.

It is at that point that the novel focuses on dealing with loss and the eventual steps towards healing. It is also when I fully began to connect with Giselle. I will fully admit that I cried during Isabelle’s funeral as Danticat fully tapped into the pain and sense of loss that Giselle’s entire family was feeling, but more so with Giselle who feels like she has lost a part of herself, a part of her identity. Giselle also struggles with survivors guilt as she also has to come to terms with a life without her sister. She even questions her existence because if her twin is dead, is she still a twin? This existential question that Giselle faces (and the title of the book alludes to) is what makes this novel such an interesting literary character study. And ultimately, what makes this a good read.

Even though I struggled to get into the story, I was deeply moved by the end and even shed a few tears. To me, if a novel brings actual tears to my eyes, then the author has done an excellent job of connecting me to the characters, making me think, but most importantly making me feel. It is the ability to make my heart wrench of her characters is why I love Danticat’s writing and was so excited for this novel. And I was definitely satisfied.

Lastly, on a completely shallow note, I absolutely adore the cover. It is just absolutely beautiful.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of literary character study novels, this is the book for you.

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Book Review: Consent

ConsentTitle: Consent
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Review: To be honest, I was hesitant to read, let alone review, Consent due to the subject matter of a teacher-student romantic relationship because being a teacher these stories tend to make me really uncomfortable. I know these relationships are, unfortunately, all to common and I often wonder what propels these teachers to cross that line. On the flip side, I do know of students who also take it to far in their affections for their teachers (I once came across a site that was about what girls would do to get their male English teachers to notice/date them. It was very disturbing.) With that in mind, I decided I would get over my discomfort and read Nancy Ohlin’s Consent with an open mind and I’m thankful I did.

Consent is a morally complicated novel that explores how Bea and Dane’s relationship is even able to develop. It starts of innocently enough with the connection that many student-teachers have when a teacher sees the potential in a student and helps them see that potential. Bea does acknowledge her attraction to Dane, but stifles it because he is her teacher. The same can be said for Dane as in their interactions, he often realizes he’s about to cross that line and takes a huge step back. I love that Ohlin made the relationship a slow burn, and had both parties recoginize how a relationship between them would be wrong. At no point does their relationship feel salacious, as Ohlin focuses on the conflict between what their heart’s desire and what is the right thing to do. In fact, when they do actually become intimate, the moment makes sense. They are both caught up in the emotion of a successful day, where Bea had auditioned for Dane’s former, very famous, teacher at Juliard, and well, begin their romantic relationship. Ohlin makes their relationship brief, as they decide to wait until she actually turns 18, but end up being discovered anyway. The rest of the novel then focuses on the fall out of the discovery of their relationship.

The fact that Ohlin chose to make the relationship brief, and focus on the build up, and the fallout is what makes the novel work, for me. Bea and Dane’s story becomes real, true, because relationships, particularly student-teacher relationships, are complicated. Bea is at a moment in her life where she is in need of guidance as she is on the cusp of adulthood, and Dane is the person who opens her eyes to a path that she had convinced herself that she couldn’t travel down. Bea’s relationship with the men in her life (her father and brother) is a tense one, and at one point Bea even wonders if her fascination with Dane is because she has daddy issues. It is this thoughtful analysis that Bea has with her relationship with Dane, before they become intimate, is why I greatly enjoyed the novel. Bea is a character is who is fully aware of her issues and owns them. At no point is she pulled into the relationship with Dane; she enters an intimate relationship with him fully acknowledging all the risks and the consequences should they be found out. Olin did a masterful job in her creation of Bea, as she is a character we can relate to, and understand how and why she becomes involved with her teacher.

Despite my hesitation at the beginning, I really ended up enjoying Consent. Bea’s voice pulled me into the story and I connected with this girl who was hiding a large part of herself in order to please her family. Her relationship with her teacher does allow for Bea to find herself, to grow, and become the person she always wanted to be and for me, that is what made the novel, what made me accept Bea and Dane’s relationship.

On a side, much funnier note, Bea and her friend Plum call Dane “Kit Harrington” after the actor from Game of Thrones because Ohlin describes him in that manner. As a fan of Game of Thrones and Harrington’s character, I had a clear picture in my mind of what Dane looked like and every time either girl called him Kit, I couldn’t help but giggle. If you don’t know who Kit Harrington is, google him. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation: If you love morally complicated novels, go buy this book!

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