Review: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe book coverI lucked into finding this book to fulfill the “genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author” category for the Read Harder challenge (which I am so not going to finish—my reading has slowed so much this year). It definitely fits that bill, as an urban fantasy grounded in Apache and other native cultures. The characters exist in an unusual world where certain aspects of the supernatural are recognized and handled in different ways, but otherwise it is just like modern America, microaggressions and all. 

The somewhat light supernatural element is established early on, as the story opens with a plastic skull with googly eyes in the eye sockets, which scares the crap out of Ellie’s ghost dog, Kirby. We learn pretty quick that she’s the one who raised him from the dead, because she can do that. At the end of the first chapter, we learn that Ellie’s favorite cousin has been in a serious accident and probably won’t survive, and her mom forbids her from raising him if he does die. 

That night, Trevor comes to Ellie in a dream and begs her to avenge his murder, even though everyone will think it was an accident. Soon afterward, Ellie and her dad follow her mom to Texas, where they are helping Trevor’s family. Ellie begins trying to figure out what happened to Trevor and how he could have been murdered. In the process, she uncovers the centuries-old secret of the town of Willowbee and its rather “special” inhabitants. She enlists the assistance of an old friend of hers, Jay, who helps from afar and then in person, and also brings along several other useful people (including a vampire). 

I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the world-building is great, as it gives you just enough info to know what’s going on without overwhelming you with details. And Ellie’s raise-the-dead gift isn’t as simple as you might think, leading to several interesting situations. The native aspects of the tale are woven in tightly and couldn’t be removed without totally changing the story. There is some mythology (I guess that’s what you call it) and old family lore (Ellie feels a big connection to her quietly heroic sixth great grandmother, whose name she bears), but there’s also some of the day-to-day crap that indigenous and other people of color have to deal with from a lot of white people, who are still the majority of the cast in this book. There’s enough of this last stuff to make it realistic, but not so much that it distracts from the fact that this is a book meant to entertain. So I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for an urban fantasy that’s fresh and interesting. 

Review: Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

Indestructible Object book coverThis is my third McCoy book, and one thing I think is cool is that they’ve all been fairly different from each other. Though this one and I, Claudia do share some similarities, in that both protagonists are recording their experiences (I, Claudia in an epistolary fashion, and Indestructible Object as within-the-story podcasts). 

This book opens with Lee and her boyfriend, Vincent, breaking up on the last episode of their own podcast (“Artists in Love”) not long after graduating high school. The conversation in the podcast is interspersed with Lee’s narration and reflection. They live in Memphis and Vincent is moving to Washington D.C. for an internship and then to start college at Howard, and Lee isn’t going with him. It’s a bit of a system shock to Lee, who’d been thinking things were going to continue as they had been for two years, only to discover that everything is changing. 

She tries to carry on with other aspects of her life, especially her job as a sound technician for music and poetry readings at a coffee shop, until that falls apart, as well. And all the while she is also watching her parents’ marriage dissolve. Her parents have an eclectic set of friends dating back to their college days, and two of them and their sort-of-adopted son, Max, who Lee has grown up with, come for a visit. 

Lee explores her own love life while ostensibly hoping to get back together with Vincent and soon she, Max, and a new friend embark on a project: a podcast again exploring love but focusing on her parents’ relationship this time. Because Lee has stumbled across a few things that have shaken her understanding of her parents and their history. 

Lee is a great but quite flawed character. She doesn’t know what she wants and is having trouble identifying that, though not for lack of trying. But it turns out that investigating other people’s relationships is not a bad way to shed light on your own—and your feelings about love. The book takes Lee on a satisfying journey of understanding what exactly she wants and why that matters. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this book.

Review: Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

I enjoyed one of Perkins’ earlier books, which I reviewed here. Forward Me Back to You is another winner. 

The book is about “Robin,” a teen boy born in India and raised—and renamed—by basically decent but clueless white parents. The parents have a lot of money and Robin is set to inherit it, but he’s not very interested in that. He’s also very Christian and involved in a weekly youth group whose members he’s close to. But Robin really doesn’t know who he is. And he doesn’t really know that he doesn’t know. He’s very meek and lets other people define him and make decisions for him. It bothers him, but he doesn’t know how to do anything about. 

Kat is a teen girl with a black father who’s been raised by her white mother. She’s also a very accomplished martial artist. But after an assault at school, she’s plagued by nightmares, self-doubt, and the fact that of course the piece of shit got away with it. Her mother decides to send her across the country to a close family friend’s friend, who she ends up calling Grandma Vee. Grandma Vee sends Kat to the youth group because she thinks Robin and Kat have a lot in common.

The initial meeting doesn’t go great, as Kat is prickly. But eventually Kat, Robin, and another member of the youth group, Gracie, decide to go with the youth pastor on a service trip to Kolkata, India, which happens to be where Robin was born before being abandoned at a hotel and landing in an orphanage. They will be helping with an organization that rescues trafficked girls. The trip is eye-opening for everyone, even though we only get Robin’s and Kat’s perspectives. But before they even leave, Robin reclaims his true name—Ravi—before going and abandons a long-time “friend” who constantly belittled him. So we can see Ravi begin to change even before they get to Kolkata. He spends some of his time trying to learn about his past and the results aren’t what he hoped for, and his friends have to help with the fallout. Kat went to Kolkata with a mission to empower the girls she was going to be helping, and her own efforts don’t go as planned, either. Gracie helps her deal with the consequences, and Kat eventually comes to understand things on a deeper level than she ever would have expected. 

There is a lot going on in the novel, and it’s longer than most contemporaries, coming in at around 400 pages. But the story warrants the length, and it’s wonderful to see these characters come to terms with the harsh world and learn to deal with it in healthy ways. I really enjoyed this book, especially with its diverse cast of kids (Gracie is Mexican-American, as well) dealing with so many complicated things. Highly recommended for fans of Perkins and readers of contemporary in general. 

Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie book coverI’ve been in the worst reading slump lately. From early March until a couple weeks ago, I read only one novel, and it was really hard to get through (not the novel’s fault—it was all me). But I’ve been wanting to break out, so I picked up Caletti’s newest. I started it on Friday and was so sucked in that I finished it the next day. It may have broken the slump (I’m hoping), as I’ve read another book since then, too.

So what made One Great Lie a reading-slump-breaker? Well, obviously it was good, which isn’t surprising given Caletti’s strong track record. This one starts in Seattle, too, with a girl, Charlotte, who has ancestral ties to a Renaissance poet named Isabella di Angelo. Her family had held on to a published book by the poet for centuries. Charlotte herself is a passionate writer and is a little fixated on understanding Isabella, whose association with a much more famous male poet overshadowed her own work. Charlotte’s trying to write a paper about Isabella for a class, but can’t find any information about her. 

This quest is important, but the story really gets started when Charlotte somewhat impulsively applies for a summer multi-week writing workshop in Venice with a very well-known author everyone, including Charlotte, admires. To her shock, she gets in and even earns a scholarship, the only way she could go. 

But things do not go quite as she expected. As one of the youngest there, she still befriends several of the other participants and they all learn that the author is … let’s say he’s complicated and very flawed. But she has an equally important other task while she’s in Venice: she is set on finding out more about Isabella, who was from the city. As the story unfolds, there’s a clear parallel between the horrible historical treatment of women and the gender-based challenges that Charlotte and other girls and women face nowadays. 

Caletti tackles another feminist issue in this book without sacrificing story in any way. I loved watching the tale of Isabella unfolding, and Charlotte’s friendships with local Dante and the other workshop participants are great to see. She had no idea she’d have to step up and do something really difficult and face unfair consequences, but she rises to the challenge and I enjoyed seeing how that happened. 

I loved this book, as I’ve implied, and highly recommend it if you like quality contemporary YA that addresses social issues. 

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

The Weight of Stars book coverThe premise of this quiet book is really interesting. A couple of decades earlier, a private space company send a bunch of young women on a one-way trip out of the solar system. While I do not in any way see the appeal of this, it is an interesting concept and I’m sure there are people who would sign up.

Alexandria, the daughter of one of them—born right before they left and given to her surprised father—appears at Ryann’s school one day. Ryann is sort of a tough girl, and sort of a peacemaker. Early on, she’s tasked with befriending Alexandria. She doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot, but after Alexandria gets injured in an accident sort of indirectly caused by Ryann and her friends, Ryann figures out a way to make it up to her, and they eventually work out their differences. Their friendship develops in some complex ways.

There are some really interesting diverse representations in the book: lesbians, Black and Sikh characters, and polyamorous parents. And Ryann’s younger brother has a son. So there’s a good range of characters in here, as everyone in Ryann’s friend group is different from each other. The only thing I should mention is that I did have trouble with some of the characterization. There were several times in the books where the characters would do things that I didn’t expect and that didn’t quite seem to make sense, based on what I knew of them. So there were decisions made that seemed jarring to me. 

However, a lot of people really love this book, so I think the characterization must not have bumped for everyone. So if you’re looking for a quiet book with a variety of different characters and a unique space theme, check this one out.  

Review: Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Dear Rachel Maddow book coverThis is a book I picked up for one of my reading challenges, but I was looking forward to it even though I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels. But I like Rachel Maddow and she always reminds me of an old friend, so I figured it would be a good read. 

Brynn has become an under-achieving student since her older brother died and left her alone with her weak-willed mother and horrible stepfather. On top of that, she was dumped by her girlfriend over the summer. She’s in remedial classes despite being smart and eloquent because she can’t muster the will to do anything better. The one thing she loved was being on the school paper, but she was kicked off when her GPA slipped too low. She wants back on the paper, but not quite enough to do anything about it. When something happens at school that finally gets her riled up enough to do something, she surprises everyone—but she surprises herself the most. 

There are a lot of great characters in the book, some good, some bad. Brynn’s ex-girlfriend Sarah is stuck-up, her tutor Lacey is a great friend (and in a wheelchair), Justin from the paper wants her to figure out how to come back, Michaela the hot new girl has a secret past, and Adam is the school’s resident nasty and entitled future politician. Her mom and stepfather are easy to dislike and her new older friends are easy to like, even if they don’t feature in the story too much. 

You might wonder where Rachel Maddow fits in. Brynn watches the show every night since getting started with Sarah, and she admires Rachel. Brynn writes to Rachel for an English assignment and when she gets a response, her teacher encourages her to write back. Instead she starts writing Rachel long emails, saving them all in her drafts folder rather than sending them. Some of them also get turned in as assignments, and her teacher’s comments are hilarious. The book is entirely told through Brynn’s emails, with a few emails from other people thrown in to liven up the mix. 

I mentioned that I don’t generally love epistolary novels, but I feel like this one worked. It was basically just a first person novel with a slight frame around it. Brynn’s emails are clear and full of details that tell the real story from her perspective. And although I was never super-into student government (too cynical), it’s interesting to see Brynn navigate that world. Brynn’s voice is great—funny and snarky, but not too much. 

Overall, I think a lot of people will like this one. It’s got a heroine that seems to be stuck getting herself unstuck, and a sweet romance. 

Review: Hanging Around for You by Stacia Leigh

Hanging Around for You book coverHanging Around for You is a YA romance set in Leigh’s biker world in the mountains of (I think) Oregon. The first two books were clearly tied together, but this third one’s connection is much looser, though it’s there. Pinecone, the heroine, made an appearance in Leigh’s second book (Burnout, previously reviewed here). 

Fifteen-year-old Pinecone has a terrible, narcissistic mom named Twyla who abandons her in the first chapter, leaving Pinecone with Twyla’s biker boyfriend, Ham. Both of them are upset by the abandonment, but what’s worse is what Twyla does after stealing Ham’s truck, which brings the police sniffing around, making both of them very nervous. Still, they make do, with Pinecone going to school while working at the Powerhouse Inn, which Ham owns, and avoiding her best friend, Dawn, because of the awkward situation of her missing, criminal mom. One day, Smiley walks into the inn’s lobby, and Pinecone is struck by his looks, but very much turned off by his interest in joining Ham’s biker club, the Pulver Skulls. 

But Smiley’s on a mission. He’s not just a hang around; he’s looking for info. But it’s important that no one figures that out. Still, he thinks Pinecone might be a way into some crucial intel. Soon, he finds that he genuinely likes her, despite the fact that Ham doesn’t want him around.

At a pivotal Halloween party, Dawn finds out that Pinecone lied about where her mom was and she and Smiley make out. The fallout is dramatic: Dawn pulls completely away from her and Smiley friend-zones her at school soon after. It takes a while for those things to turn around, but fortunately they do. Just in time for quite the confrontation in Ham’s basement. 

This romance may deal with the biker world, but it’s not gritty like you might expect, even though Smiley is really dealing in danger. Pinecone and Smiley make a great couple you’re rooting for, even though Smiley’s shady dealings are a little problematic. I suspect we’ll need a sequel to find out where things really truly land. But this book still makes for a nice story that fans of light YA romance will enjoy. 

Review: The Safekeeper by Esther Archer Lakhani

The Safekeeper book coverThis is a really creative YA sci-fi book with what I would consider fantasy elements, which is mostly set on a contemporary Earth. It really is very unique, with an interesting premise that’s revealed over the course of the early part of the novel. 

The protagonist is the 15-year-old Macy. She’s a good character anyone should be able to relate to. She has an unusual family secret: her parents run a retreat center for very unusual visitors. In the book, a group of visitors arrive and all sorts of trouble comes with them. While helping to work at the center, Macy also is trying to have a life and meets an interesting boy named Nick. Nick turns out to be a very important character with quite a surprise to be revealed. Macy really rises to the challenges that crop up in the story, proving herself to be strong and resourceful when the situation demands it.

As I mentioned, this book is super creative. Lakhani's aliens are incredibly original, as is the way they visit Earth. The powers they have are interesting and varied. There’s also bit of the fantastical in the book, which I think is really cool—I love genre-bending stories. 

Highly recommended for fans of YA sci-fi, especially if you're looking for something different.

Review: Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with a Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

Vampires Never Get Old book coverI’ve read a decent amount of vampire literature in my day, and I enjoy it. So I was looking forward to reading this collection of vampire stories. The editors really made an effort to incite a range of stories, with many diverse experiences represented. Some of the underrepresented characters include a girl who uses a wheelchair, a transgender boy, some gay kids, and several Black people. 

The first story is “Seven Nights for Dying” by Tessa Gratton. This gritty story features a bisexual artist protagonist who has to make a difficult decision.

The next is “The Boys from Blood River” by Rebecca Roanhorse, a creepy one with vampires that are summoned. 

Julie Murphy’s lighthearted “Senior Year Sucks” stars a chubby cheerleader who’s also a slayer. What happens she meets a local girl vampire who also happens to be very cute?

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig is about a transgender grave-robber who rescues an interesting boy who’d been buried alive.

“A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” by Samira Ahmed is a snarky take on vampires in India, exploring social media and the problems of colonization. 

Kayla Whaley’s “In Kind” asks serious questions about living as a disabled teen. 

“Vampires Never Say Die” by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker is another one that touches on social media, and how anonymous it can be. 

“Bestiary” by Laura Ruby is an odd story about a down-on-her-luck zoo worker who can understand animals, set in a slightly dystopian world. 

“Mirrors, Windows, & Selfies” by Mark Oshiro deals with a teen vampire sheltered from the world by his parents. He also uses social media to try to interact with he world, which turns out to be his escape. 

Dhonielle Clayton’s “The House of Black Sapphires” is a rich tale about a family of vampires set in historic New Orleans.

“First Kill” by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab has a vampire slightly obsessed with a slayer.

These stories run the gamut in terms of style, setting, and themes. In some cases, the main characters are vampires, and sometimes not, but the vampires in the story are always complex and interesting. In some cases, the ethics of underage vampires comes up, too, and there are even references to classic vampire literature. 

Overall, this is another enjoyable YA take on the age-old myth of the vampire, a must for fans of the genre. 

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue book coverThis moving book by Australian author Cath Crowley is really something. It explores grief and love in a deep way, bordering on philosophical but without straying from the novel that it is. 

Rachel had a huge crush on Henry in Year 9 and she bared her soul the night before she moved away, only to get crickets in return. She was humiliated and never really forgave him for choosing Amy over her, despite their long best-friendship. Now she’s back in town after failing Year 12 after her brother drowned. She doesn’t care about Henry anymore. She’s still numb. 

Henry has been hung up on Amy forever and doesn’t see how she strings him along and uses him. She breaks up with him early on in the book and the only thing he wants is to have her back. 

Rachel’s aunt arranges for her to work in Henry’s family’s bookstore, which she’s unhappy about, and she takes it out on Henry by being quite the grump. He finally calls her out on it and begins to break down her defenses just a little bit. 

Any reader will love the setting of the bookstore, which features heavily in the plot. Henry’s divorced parents are arguing over what to do about the shop, which would pull in a lot of money if they sell. Much of the novel’s ideas are expressed through discussions and character thoughts on books, some obscure, some not so obscure. The bookshop also has an unusual section called the Letter Library, where people are allowed to write in the books and encouraged to leave letters between the pages for others to find. Rachel’s job is actually to catalog that part of the shop. 

Rachel and Henry are both wonderful, fully-developed characters. The secondary characters are great, as well. I loved George, Henry’s sister. And George’s love interest is really nice yet still believable. Even Henry’s parents and Rachel’s aunt and mom are complex despite not really being super important to the story. Where things wind up at the end isn’t really a shock, but you’re never quite sure how it’s going to go. 

This book is definitely worth checking out, especially if you love the meta experience of reading about books, or just want a good emotional journey. 

2020 Books in Review

Here’s my annual review of my year’s reviews, where I look at my favorite five books of the year. 

The first favorite book I’ll mention is Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I reviewed in February. This is a very dark book with an ending I didn’t really see coming. It’s also got an interesting format: two different timelines with two different points of view. 

We Are Okay is another book by Nina LaCour. I pretty much love whatever she does, but this slim book about friendship took me on quite the emotional ride. Here’s my July review. 

Although I am a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I’m not always a fan of fresh takes on it. But I reviewed Pride by Ibi Zoboi in September and really enjoyed it. It’s a really fresh take, featuring two Black teens in modern-day Brooklyn. 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater is a nonfiction book I reviewed in October. This one is also about a Black teen, as well as a nonbinary teen and the unfortunate interaction they have (and then the aftermath). It provides some interesting perspective on justice. It’s really good and has stayed with me. 

The last book I’ll mention I reviewed in November: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. This one is a reboot of Cinderella (obviously), but it is one of the most original books I’ve read in a while and I really enjoyed it. It’s about a Black lesbian girl living in this oppressive post-Cinderella world. It deals with some deep subjects but manages to stay entertaining. 

There you have it: my top five for 2020, dumpster fire year. At least there were books.

Review: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Broken book coverThis is a rare book, featuring a Native American girl dealing with some interesting problems. The fact that her family is Native is important for a lot of reasons, including the plot and her identity. Lou is Muscogee (Creek), which was kind of cool for me because the Creek Nation extends from the southern edge of Tulsa a ways south, and the one time I went to a casino, it was the Creek Nation one that’s less than two miles from parent’ house. Not that I’m saying that casinos=Indian culture by any means, but I always find it fun to see something that is somewhat familiar to me in books I read, which rarely happens because I don’t generally live in cool places. 

Anyways, Lou. It’s the beginning of the school year and she’s a senior while her brother Hughie is a freshman. Her dad is a dentist and her mom is studying to be a lawyer, so she’s solidly middle class. They recently moved to a suburb of Kansas City (I think, could be a different city) from Texas. The book technically opens late the morning after her junior prom. Soon after she manages to rouse her very hungover boyfriend, Cam, they go to have breakfast with his family, where his mom makes some racist remarks against Cam’s brother’s Native girlfriend and then Cam himself makes some stupid generalizations about Indians, as well. Lou’s pissed and breaks up with him. The reader unquestionably cheers her on for this.  

The actual plot gets going once she starts school in the fall. The theater director casts several students of color, including Hughie, in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. This triggers the formation of of a group called Parents Against Revisionist Theater, led by the wife of the pastor at the biggest local church. While this gets started, so does Lou’s role as a reporter for the school paper and her friendship with Joey, the other reporter. There’s a little bit of healthy competition, as well as some sparks, between them. Of course, things proceed from there, with a lot of things happening. One of the things I liked about the book was how honest it was about the number and kind of microaggressions Indians have to deal with. People assuming, generalizing, saying overtly racist things (whether they mean them that way or not), etc. Then there were the ones that weren’t exactly “micro,” too. 

My one complaint about the novel is that her relationships with her boyfriends were not developed enough for my taste. I especially didn’t see what she saw in the first, Cam, who didn’t seem to have a single redeeming quality. Joey was more appealing, but we still never learned what she really liked about him. So they both felt like plot devices. Otherwise, I thought the characters were interesting, if a little underdeveloped. Despite these feelings, I overall quite enjoyed the book. The story was good and it brought up some really interesting history I didn’t know about. One example: that the author of The Wizard of Oz passionately advocated for the genocide of all Native Americans. Which, you know, wow. 

So I’d recommend this to anyone interested in a different perspective you don’t get much in YA (or literature in general, really). It’s a satisfying read. 

Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence book coverThis is a hefty book for a contemporary, coming in at over 420 pages, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Frances is a superstar student at her school in England. She is head girl, which is apparently a thing. She knows the head boy, Daniel, pretty well, and ultimately that sort of puts her in contact with Aled Last, who she accidentally finds out is the creator of her favorite podcast, a story show called Universe City. By chance, he had asked her—before she knew—to be the official artist of the show after admiring her fan art. Soon they start collaborating and Frances finds herself in heaven—she’s working on her favorite thing and now has the first real friend (someone she can be herself with) she’s ever had. Everything’s great. Living the dream.

But what happens if everybody finds out who the creator of the show is? She’s not telling because he doesn’t want anyone to know, but what’s she supposed to do if someone asks her? She’s a terrible liar.

I don’t want to say too much more because a lot happens in the book and it’s interesting and frequently surprising. But it’s about true friendship, finding yourself as you’re finishing up school, and figuring out what you really want to do with your life, even if you think you already know. It also ranks high on the diversity scale. Frances is mixed race (her father is Ethiopian, but he’s not around, and her mom is white). Daniel is Korean. Aled’s white, but none of them is heterosexual. And it all works. I just really felt like this book paints an accurate portrait of an aspect of British teen culture—specifically the university-bound high-achievers.

Overall, I’d recommend this to fans of contemporary, especially if you like settings outside the US. And if you’re at all into story podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale (apparently this was the inspiration for Universe City), you will eat this up.

Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead book coverThe premise of this novel is amazing. This is the magical kingdom where Cinderella found her Prince Charming, 200 years later—except everything is not all unicorns and rainbows. The current king has maintained the tradition of every sixteen-year-old girl going to the annual ball to get “selected” by the men from the kingdom. If they don’t get picked, they have to go back the next year and then the next, and if they don’t get selected by then, they’re “forfeit.” It isn’t clear to people what that means, exactly, but it’s not good. And the girls are supposed to go all out for the ball—actually, they’re supposed to be visited by the fairy godmother, if they’re "lucky" enough. But in reality, parents spend loads of money they don’t really have on dresses and everything so their daughters can be competitive at the ball. So that’s the basic setup—with a sexist medieval Western European-flavor. But there is a lot more going on than the characters know about.

The ball is coming up soon for sixteen-year-old Sophia, but she not only isn’t interested in being picked by some creepy guy who doesn’t care what she wants, she isn’t even interested in boys at all. Instead, she wants to marry her best friend Erin, something that just isn’t done. When Sophia and Erin do go to the ball, things go haywire and Sophia ends up fleeing, finding herself at Cinderella’s mausoleum, where she meets a new girl named Constance. Constance is descended from one of the “evil” stepsisters—who weren’t evil at all, as it turns out. Things have been twisted in the official, kingdom-sanctioned version of Cinderella’s tale. Sophia and Constance decide to overthrow the king and undertake a journey to find the fairy godmother in the White Wood.

From there, they learn a lot about Cinderella and the real story, suffer some notable betrayals, and find themselves challenged to the max. I’m not going to claim that the book is perfect—there are some questionable plot moments, but overall the story works and was so original that I could forgive small problems. Sophia’s a strong, single-minded-in-a-good-way girl, and Constance turns out to be a great character, too.

A lot of fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings should enjoy this one. Be prepared to be surprised.

Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus book coverThis time I’m reviewing a nonfiction book, something I don’t do very often. But I devoured this one. It tells the story of an attack on an agender teen by a Black teen on a bus in Oakland, California, and the aftermath. But it delves into the lives of both teens as well as the justice system and provides a really objective view of all the issues surrounding the attack.

The book starts with Sasha, the agender teen (this is the term they use for the majority of the book, rather than nonbinary), talking about their background, friends, school, and so on. Sasha was eighteen and a senior in a progressive private school. I really got a sense for who this person was from the section.

Then the book covers Richard, the Black sixteen-year-old. He’d had a tough time, losing friends to murder and getting robbed at gunpoint by someone he thought was a friend. He’d spent some time in a group home after getting in trouble for fighting (this whole thing seemed pretty sketchy to me—I’m pretty sure a white kid in that situation wouldn’t have ended up in a group home). But he was back at school and apparently trying to do well enough to graduate, something that would have made him stand out a little with his peers.

The next section of the book deals with the attack itself. Sasha was asleep on the bus when Richard started messing with a lighter, flicking it on just under the hem of Sasha’s skirt. He was goofing around, not appreciating what would really happen. He thought it would light and fizzle out, but instead the whole thing caught on fire (as anyone with a fully-developed brain would probably realize, or at least realize as a possibility). A stranger on the bus helped put the fire out but Sasha’s legs had serious burns, including spots that were third-degree (which means it burned all the way through the skin and into the fat, in case you didn’t know what that was). We learn a little about the ordeal Sasha had to go through to recover, but the book doesn’t dwell on it.

The next section covers what happened to Richard, basically. Because originally they charged him as an adult with a hate crime, but many people wanted him charged as a minor—including Sasha and their parents. The book explores the problem of charging kids as adults—because how do you know when a teen has done something stupid that they regret and that will keep them from ever doing something like it again, and when they are fundamentally bad? We know enough about brain science that we know the former is a real possibility.

This is a really interesting book that explores two completely separate issues: gender nonconformity and an imperfect justice system (especially as it relates to race). It’s incredibly well-written, keeping you turning the pages to see what happens next, just like a novel would. I highly recommend it to anyone.