Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Authentics

The Authentics  by Abdi Nazemian

15-year-old Daria Esfandyar has always been proud of her Iranian-American heritage.  So proud, in fact, that she is no longer friends with Heidi (aka one of the "Nose Jobs") and now hangs out with a group of friends who pride themselves on keeping things real.

But, what is real?

While researching her family tree for a school project, Daria learns that she isn't exactly "pure" Iranian.  And this discovery leads to other revelations, which lead to disclosures that nobody saw coming.

If you're looking for ethnic and cultural diversity, here's your book:  characters include a gay couple (Daria's brother and his husband), another gay couple (Caroline has been "out" since age 13, her girlfriend is still closeted) immigrant families (Iranian, Mexican, Chinese), religious variety (Muslim, Catholic, agnostic)...the list goes on.

With all that, Daria shouldn't have to work so hard to figure out what she really, authentically is.

But, she does.

This is a quick, heavy-handed read without much depth.  Many plot points depend on coincidence and contrivance, and Daria's selfishness was not endearing.  If readers missed any of the Points About Being Authentic, fear not:  Daria sums up the entire Message of the Book while presenting her school project in the penultimate chapter.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Black Witch

The Black Witch  by Laurie Forest

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter -- and the perfect likeness -- of the original Black Witch, who drove back enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War.  Because of the power of the Black Witch, Elloren's people are undisputed rulers now.  

Long after the death of her famous grandmother, Elloren was raised by her uncle in a small village, surrounded by people very much like her and her family.  Now it is time for her to travel to the big city, to attend University there, and possibly to meet someone to marry. 

Unlike those in the village, the people in the city are very diverse.  And, because this is a fantasy book, these diverse people don't simply have differently-colored skin and hair; instead, some of them have wings, some turn into wolves, and others have types of magic that Elloren has never seen before.  Elloren has always been told that people who are different are also inferior, or even evil. Why should she question this?

If you have ever read a book before, you will probably be able to predict what happens to Elloren when she actually gets to know a werewolf, a selkie, and some people with wings.  In The Black Witch, as is common in literature, the main character evolves and grows from a state of ignorance to a state of enlightenment (or at least, less ignorance).

However, YA blogger Shauna Sinyard didn't think that the change happened fast enough or convincingly enough.  In a very long and damning book review, she condemned both the book and those who enjoyed reading the book. She calls the book "the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read.  It's racist, ableist, homophobic, and is written with no marginalized people in mind."

Ms Sinyard is welcome to her opinion, of course.  However, by urging Twitter and Tumblr followers to boost the signal by posting 1-star reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere without actually reading the book, a line is crossed.  

I do not always write glowing reviews.   

(Here's a review of a book that was originally well-received and later banned, which I consider a 3-star ho-hum of a read.  Here's another review of a book that just wasn't very well-written.) 

I do, however, always read an entire book before reviewing it.  

So, what was my verdict?

First off, I read this book in about a day and a half, skipping meals and ignoring bedtime to finish it. 

It's a quick, engaging story with magic, family drama, and several star-crossed romances. There was minimal cussing, some nekkidness, discussions of mating rituals with no sex on the page, and mentions of off-page sexual abuse.  The story did not explore new ground, philosophically speaking.  From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, literature is filled with characters who overcome ignorance by getting to know an individual.  The Black Witch follows absolutely in those footsteps.

Ms Sinyard also seems unaware that "The Black Witch Chronicles" will be a series.  Her complaint that the character changes happen too slowly over hundreds of pages would be valid if the entire tale were told in a single volume.  However, the advertisement for book #2 The Iron Flower (due for release in May 2018) included at the back of my book served as an important clue:  the story is not yet finished.  

And as soon as I finished The Black Witch, I put myself in the library's hold queue for book #2.

Read it, and decide for yourself.  I thought it was a great book, and entirely appropriate and recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans Up  by M-E Girard

Pen doesn't want to be a boy.  And she isn't.  So why does everybody have these weird ideas about her?

Pen likes to dress in baggy jeans and her brother Jimmy's t-shirts.  She doesn't want to be her mom's "princesa."  She doesn't want to get married to some guy and go to nursing school. She wants to hang out with her buddies--guys like Colby, who plays first-person shooter video games almost as well as Pen, and who totally has her back.  

Or...does he?

Readers will see that Colby lacks the loyalty and respect Pen craves long before Pen catches on.  But when Colby tries to sexually assault her, even Pen can see what a ratbag her "friend" really is.  At that point, Pen has to make some changes.  And none of the choices she might make will be easy.

This book features some fabulous allies, including an older brother and (to Pen's surprise) a couple of girls.  

Three cheers for a strong gender-fluid protagonist, a teen romance that does not fly apart at the seams by the end of the book, and a sibling who is friend, brother, and parent to Pen.

Recommended for readers ages 12 and up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Aftercare Instructions

Aftercare Instructions  by Bonnie Pipkin

17-year-old Genesis Johnson walks out into the waiting room at the Planned Parenthood clinic and discovers that Peter, her boyfriend and one true love, is gone.  Cramping and bleeding after the abortion she has just endured, Gen can't believe he has abandoned her.  But he isn't waiting for her, and he won't answer her calls or texts.  What else could it mean?

Events are revealed in alternating formats:  the present day episodes are a straightforward narration, but flashbacks to the past are written as a stage play starring Gen, Peter, and a few important supporting characters.  The details revealed build a story that will surprise readers almost as much as it surprises Genesis herself.

The chapters are titled with excerpts from the aftercare instructions booklet provided by the abortion clinic, which serves as an anchor point for the story and also offers insight into events as they unfold. 

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.