Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite

39072988Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a contemporary novel following a girl who is the daughter of divorced Haitian immigrants living in the US, and it’s set both in the United States and in Haiti.

I am always looking for novels set outside the US, especially ones written by authors who have lived there or have ties with the country they’re writing about, because American books, despite being read (translated and not) worldwide, always prioritize the white American perspective. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine was exactly what I wanted: it’s a story about a girl who is the daughter of immigrants as she visits Haiti for the first time and meets the rest of her family, learns more about her family history, and also gets to know both Haiti and her mother more. This book shows Haiti as a place that isn’t a stereotype, but a country with its own history, culture, flaws and good aspects.

What stood out to me about this book first was Alaine herself. I loved her narrative voice, the way she uses humor to connect with people and to protect herself at the same time, and I could feel her passion for journalism. And she grows so much during this novel!
I also really liked reading about her relationship with her mother, who has been distant for most of Alaine’s life, and who has now been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The way Alaine tries to deal with that felt very realistic to me, and it was heartbreaking at times.

My feelings on the mixed media format are less positive. On one hand, I loved that this was told through diary entries, parts of school projects, tweets, blog posts and emails. On the other hand, the poor formatting of the eARC meant that at times these were either unreadable or missing.

Another thing that didn’t work for me as much as I hoped was the plot. I would have loved this book more had it focused mostly on Alaine and her mother’s relationship, but it didn’t – there are a lot of side and minor characters (so many that “who is that again” is a reaction I had multiple times during this book) and a lot of side plots, involving embezzlement, a maybe-romance, and a family curse. I also felt that some characters that were relevant in the first half of the novel were barely there in the second, like Alaine’s dad (and I liked reading about him), or Alaine’s friend, who completely disappears.

Overall, I do recommend this, but I think it’s the kind of novel that works better in physical form.

My rating: ★★★¼

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Weekly

T10T: Rainy Day Reads

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Rainy Day Reads.


What Makes A Good Rainy Day Read?

I don’t choose books specifically because of a day’s weather, but there are some books that I associate more with rainy days than others. They are atmospheric, quiet, slow-paced novels that often feature plants or water in some way. They’re mostly books I associate with fall or spring.

I tried to make a list that included books from many different genres and not only magical realism/fabulism/contemporary fantasy, which for me are the Rainy Genres™.


Spellbook of the Lost and Found

Spellbook

This is the quintessential rainy day novel, at least for me. Not only because it’s set in Ireland and it’s raining in several scenes, but also because it’s a quiet story in which the atmosphere is the strongest point. It has the kind of writing that makes you feel the setting just as if you were in it, and it’s really mysterious, as it blurs the line between the real and the unreal.
Also, mostly-queer cast!


Witchmark

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While this is a second-world fantasy novel, it’s set in a country that is vaguely reminiscent of Edwardian England, so yes, it feels very rainy. And it’s a really cute paranormal m/m romance with steampunk and mystery aspects, which I loved. It’s also short, so it really is a perfect rainy day read (and I really should reread it).


Wilder Girls

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Are you looking for something creepy that has an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife? Look no further. Especially if you liked Annihilation and/or want to read about gay girls and biopunk horror. The gloomy, lost atmosphere Wilder Girls has is heightened both by the descriptions of the flora gone wrong (a plant horror book that is specific about which plants there are in the creepy woods? I love that) and by the amount of body horror there is in this book.


The Wicker King

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If you want something that is as gloomy and gay but less creepy, and that vaguely leans towards the fantastic instead of sci-fi, I recommend The Wicker King. It is, again, very atmospheric, and it’s the kind of story that makes you feel a lot. And the writing is… yeah. Anyway, gay teenagers trying their best in a world in which adults have failed them! Sad but hopeful reads really are the best.


The Queens of Innis Lear

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A very slow novel about political intrigue following three sisters fighting for the throne, The Queens of Innis Lear is a King Lear retelling and also possibly one of the most atmospheric things I’ve ever read. More than a “rainy day” read, it could be seen as a “rainy week” read, and I can say that picking it up and reading it for a week in April 2018 was worth it. I associate it with rain mostly because its magic system is tied to earth and wells.


The Dark Beneath the Ice

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This is a dark book in which water is a major symbol – both as an icy lake and as an overflowing river – so of course I associate it with rainy days. If you want an introspective horror read that is quiet, atmospheric, and full of a creeping kind of wrong, I really recommend this. Also, it’s f/f and has great anxiety representation in it!


When the Moon Was Ours

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I consider When the Moon Was Ours the perfect fall read, so of course it’s also a perfect rainy day book, with its atmosphere and quiet feel and introspective, character-driven nature. Anna-Marie McLemore’s books are gorgeous and I think this is her best one, it’s everything that I like in magical realism and it has one of the best romances in YA (m/f, cis latinx girl/Italian-Pakistani trans boy).


The Raven Cycle

I usually avoid mentioning really popular series in my list posts, because if you’re here, there’s no doubt that you’ve already heard of them, and not because of me. But honestly, a post about rainy reads that doesn’t include this series is incomplete. It’s atmospheric, it’s weird, it has that ordinary magic feel, it has plant magic and witches and tarot… yes, it’s a very rainy series.


An Enchantment of Ravens

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Again, if I see something as a perfect fall read, it’s also a perfect rainy day read, and the fun, romantic An Enchantment of Ravens is no exception. I recently wrote a post about what I feel has changed in YA over the years, and when I said that I wanted to see more fun books that didn’t take themselves too seriously, I meant books like this one. Also, I don’t see rainy day reads as something that needs to be gloomy and sad and heavy (even though some of the books on this list definitely are), fun and atmospheric is perfect too, and this has such a great atmosphere.


Other Rainy Recommendations

  • 43787590The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton: a slow-paced paranormal story set on a rainy island. Very atmospheric, and if the plot if somewhat messy, the depression and trauma representation make up for it.
  • Far From the Tree by Robin Benway: emotional contemporary! If you want the rain to fall from your eyes too, this is the perfect genre for you.
  • The Imitation Sea by Lora Gray: this is one of the most gorgeous, vivid and painful things I’ve ever read and I can’t believe I had never heard of Lora Gray before. The lake atmosphere was… I want a novel of that. Anyway, this is a story about grief and dealing with the aftermath of a suicide (also implied parental homophobic abuse of the character who died), so trigger warnings for that.
  • Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Yang: rotten ruin charm, witches, and knife-throwing lost girls? What happens when your past comes back to haunt you? This is one of my favorite short stories and it’s also very rainy, please read it
  • Girls Who Do Not Drown by A.C. Buchanah: Manx folklore and glashtyn stories from the point of view of a trans girl who refuses to drown. One of the most atmospheric things ever.

What makes a book a rainy day read for you?

contemporary · Discussion · Young adult

Out Of My Comfort Zone #5

My fifth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about middle grade, the next one will likely be about full-length adult contemporary romance.

This post will be about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries.


My History With Movies, and Specifically YA Contemporary Adaptations

I don’t watch them. As a general rule, if it’s on a screen, it’s not for me.

Not because I think movies are bad or that I’m above them or that books are just so much better – it’s that they give me so much anxiety (and often secondhand embarrassment) that watching them isn’t even fun.

Anyway. If we’re talking specifically about YA contemporary adaptations, I think I’ve only seen two, both without really wanting to – one American (The Fault In Our Stars) and one Italian (Bianca il latte, rossa come il sangue). I didn’t like either of them and I watched them just because of friends/classmates, but they basically had the same usual sicklit plot and I never like those.

This time, I’m going to try adaptations of books I liked.


What I Watched

mv5bntmyzddimzutzjcxns00mjc3ltljy2utyji4ymy5nzjlyjc1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymta5otkwntc40._v1_sy1000_cr006771000_al_Love, Simon (2018) an adaptation of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli [book review here]

I mostly like this because I’m glad it exists.

So. It wasn’t bad, but I had already seen so many gifs of this movie that I felt like I was rewatching it, and it still gave me so much secondhand embarrassment. I liked it, mostly, because I like the plot and characters, and I think it’s a pretty faithful adaptation while working perfectly even if you haven’t read/don’t remember the book.

I can say that the biggest thing I didn’t like about the book – the overwhelming pop culture references and complete lack of atmosphere – weren’t a problem here, so I think I would have liked it more than the book… if I ignored my inherent problems with this format. But those inherent problems take away a lot. I wish I could have found it cute and funny, but that’s just not how my brain works.

However, it did make me want to read Leah on the Offbeat, so…

ivb5-ps35vaTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), an adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

Again, I mostly liked this because it exists and because of the aesthetic. I’m glad this cute romance with an Asian-American main character got adapted, and the settings are beautiful.

However, this was emotionally exhausting. First, the secondhand embarrassment? So much of it. Not because this movie is more cringe-y than the average romcom – it didn’t feel like that to me, I can’t watch most of them and I did finish this, even though I just wanted it to end – but again, my brain just can’t with many things on a screen.

Also, there’s something about straight romances – or, to be specific, the tropes associated with straight romances – that tires me so quickly, and it’s true for many books, but for movies it becomes unbearable. The whole “I take away your hair tie because I prefer your hair down”, the drama with exes, it’s just… hhnng. And I really think it’s a genre thing and not this movie’s problem, so this is a reminder that I shouldn’t get swept up into the hype.


Will I Watch Other YA Contemporary Adaptations?

…maybe? I mean, I can’t say this went well, but it was still an interesting experience. One I don’t want to repeat anytime soon, but I could do it again, eventually. (Because when something gets hyped, I want to know!)

Things I learned from this attempt:

  • I think the reason I never get invested in movies is that the feelings of anxiety and/or secondhand embarrassment are so strong that they overpower everything else I might have felt about the storyline or the characters
  • I can’t imagine people doing things like these to themselves often and for fun but I guess that’s the beauty of human diversity and human brains
  • In both of these cases I preferred the books for the reason above, but I’ve noticed that YA contemporary adaptations tend to be more accurate than the YA SFF ones, or at least it feels like that to me
  • I still liked them more than the old sicklit ones! But it’s mostly because the overall quality of contemporary has improved so much in my opinion
  • not exactly “learned”, but it reminded me of how alien America feels to me. With books, it’s easier to ignore because I make up the setting in my own head, as contemporary books usually don’t bother to describe it.

Anyway! If you want to recommend me or just tell me about your favorite YA adaptations (both contemporary and SFF), I’d really appreciate that, because I’m curious – even thouhg I’m not sure I’ll watch them. Also, while I do know people who have Netflix, I don’t have it myself (it wouldn’t make sense, I watched more things for this post than I did in all of 2018), so I’m usually not in the condition to watch things that are only on it.


Have you watched/liked any of these?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

40148146Love From A to Z is the perfect balance of adorable, romantic and real. It’s the kind of contemporary that manages to develop a very sweet romance while also talking about painful and heavy topics, without neglecting any of these aspects.

This is the story of Zayneb, a hijabi girl of Pakistani and Caribbean (West Indian, specifically Guyanese and Trinidadian) descent living in America, and Adam, a biracial Chinese-Canadian boy who converted to Islam, as they meet in an airport during their trip to Doha, in Qatar. They’re both going through a difficult time in their lives, as Zayneb has just been suspended for speaking out against an Islamophobic teacher and Adam is coming to terms with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It’s a story about young Muslims living and falling in love, dealing with what it means to be a young Muslim in love in today’s world.

This book starts with a scene in which a teacher is being openly, unashamedly Islamophobic in front of his students. I wish I could say it felt unrealistic, exaggerated – I wish this weren’t the truth of so many people’s lives (and I wish I could say I didn’t have an experience with teachers being openly bigoted in class). This is a book that gets what it means to live when many people are uncomfortable with your simple existence. It gets the weight of everyday microaggressions, and the way they feed into bigger things; it gets what it means to notice that many people believe your life is worth less.

It gets all of these things, and yet it’s a happy book. I don’t mean that just because it’s hilarious at times – the sense of humor and banter in here… wow – but because while living as a marginalized teen means dealing with all of these things, marginalized teenagers experience joy as much as pain, and with its hopeful message, Love From A to Z shows the importance of finding your voice and speaking up against injustice, and also of accepting help while doing that.

I loved Adam and Zayneb, both as individual characters and as a couple. Zayneb is fierce and outspoken while Adam is quiet and kind, and they balance each other so well. While they do encounter obstacles in their relationship, they find a way to communicate and overcome them, and they were always respectful of each other. I felt really strongly about her romance – which is something seeing how overwhelmingly heterosexual this book was (which is probably the only thing I didn’t like about it, because I never like that, but all things considered, it’s minor).
Zayneb’s PoV was my favorite. She’s brave and flawed and just trying her best, and I both understood her and admired her. She feels so much and and is told to bury it, because society tells you you’re not supposed to mind everyday injustice. My favorite part about Adam’s PoV was his relationship with his family, how he cares about them and they care about him, and they’re all trying to help and not hurt each other while going through a difficult situation. They mess up, sometimes, but they’re always there for each other.

Love From A to Z is a love story written by a Muslim author for a Muslim audience, and it shows. It doesn’t feel the need to explain the things the characters do in everyday life, which means that sometimes I had to use google, and I loved that. I love learning new things in books that aren’t written to teach, and I love reading stories set in non-western countries that don’t pander specifically to a white, Christian, American point of view. No matter your situation, I think you can get something out of this, be it an adorable love story you can relate to or seeing things from a point of view that you hadn’t seen before in literature (or both!)
Also, I’m not American, and I really hope this book gets translated in my country. I think it really could be helpful to many people here, in different ways – for its multilayered and positive portrayal of Muslims, for its callout of white feminism and Islamophobic microaggressions, for being a very well-written, healthy romance.

One more thing: if you’ve read Saints and Misfits, this book has a Sausun cameo and… that was the most satisfying cameo I’ve ever seen in a YA book.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

39395857This is, without any doubt, the most interesting book narrated by a rock I’ve ever read.

The Raven Tower is a story about political intrigue in a coastal city, but unlike most books about political intrigue, it’s narrated in second person by a god who resides inside a rock to the main character, Eolo.

It’s interesting not only because the narrator is a god and this book explores the meaning of godhood and the relationships between gods and humans, and not only because the main character Eolo is a trans man in a world that, while not perfectly queer-accepting, is portrayed as having a normal amount of queer people, unlike most vaguely medieval-like fantasy.
It’s interesting because, seeing who the narrator is, we see this world’s prehistory, its versions of Eurypterids and its Carboniferous, which was fascinating, and maybe even the most interesting part of the novel (which sounds negative, and it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that I love everything about pre-human history. I have Priorities, ok?)
But the main reason this book stood out to me was that, because it’s told in a dual timeline, it’s as much a story about a power struggle between gods as it is a story about a power struggle between humans, and the similarities and differences between those two storylines were what kept me going when the casual queerness, the prehistory aspect, and the minor autistic-coded character (I loved her) weren’t enough.

And they often weren’t. This book is boring. The reason for that is a combination of excruciatingly slow pacinglack of meaningful, developed relationships between characters, and of a narration that keeps you at arm’s length from most of them.
When I say “lack of meaningful relationships” I mean that in theory I should have felt something about Eolo and Mawat’s friendship built on unequal footing and the mixed feelings it brings Eolo, or about Eolo and Tikaz, who were probably meant to be some kind of romance, but I didn’t, and as usual, I find Leckie’s just-outlined almost-romantic subplots really lackluster.

I kept thinking about how effortlessly compelling Ancillary Justice was, despite the fact that its worldbuilding was far more complicated than this, and about how The Raven Tower was many things but it wasn’t compelling and didn’t feel effortless – and all I can say is that Ann Leckie can do better.

As this novel is inspired by Hamlet, I feel like someone who knows more than I do about it (read: knows anything at all) will probably get more out of this. The Raven Tower is a story about the characters’ inability to communicate, and the dangers of hubris, that much I got, but I feel like if I had known Shakespeare I would have more to say, but I don’t. As usual.
[As usual, I’m annoyed by English-centrist assumptions and what is considered universal knowledge, but they’re not this book’s fault.]

To end on a positive note, I can tell you that I really did like the ending, and that I definitely want to see what Leckie will write next.

My rating: ★★★½

Discussion · Young adult

What Changed In American YA, 2010-2019

The first American YA novel I had ever read was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, at the very end of 2009. It didn’t get me into reading – I was already reading a lot by then, but mostly old adult books and some middle grade – and it didn’t get me into American YA either, because I thought it was so boring that I didn’t pick up another until 2012.

I started actually reading and reviewing YA in 2015, and at the time I mostly read books published in the 2010-2013 period, because books almost always take a while to get translated.

Today I want to talk about what and how much YA has changed since then, according to what I see in the age range now that I read mostly new releases.

Keep of course in mind that this is the perspective of one person, and that there are far too many YA books published in a year for a blogger to read them all when they’re not even all of what they read! (I read adult SFF just as often.)


Pros

The things that changed for the better.

Diversity: this is the big one. Not because there weren’t diverse books before, but because they weren’t as frequent and as frequently hyped as they are today. (I hope publishing won’t think they can stop buying and hyping diverse books now.)

Some examples of books I doubt would have been published in the 2010-2014 era, and if they had been, they definitely wouldn’t have gotten the hype they got in 2017-2018:

  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – a story about rape culture and being a rape survivor with a main forbidden f/f romance set in a Malaysian-inspired kingdom? I’m so glad we’re at a point now in which we can see this on the shelves and on the NYT bestseller list.
  • For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig – an ownvoices book about a bipolar Asian heroine who is also queer set in a world inspired by Southeast Asia which also talks about colonization and what it does to a country? I don’t think I would have seen it a few years ago. (However, this deserved a lot more hype than it got).
  • The Wicker King by K. Ancrum – a tense and weird and difficult but definitely not tragic genre-bending slow-burn gay story that also ends in polyamory (m/m/f), featuring major characters of color? I don’t think I know any other tradpub story with that premise and I love that this book is relatively well-known on goodreads and twitter.

A note: YA isn’t the only age range that is doing this. Adult SFF is too and in many aspects is better at it than YA SFF, which mainly-YA readers would notice if they stopped mislabeling diverse adult books as YA.

Its old, glaring misogyny problems: I can’t say these have been solved, but I almost never see open slut-shaming and the actual not-like-other-girls trope anymore (but there are so many reviews calling things that aren’t the NLOG trope the NLOG trope). Which is a big progress! And sometimes I even see complex, positive female friendships, which were a rarity in the books that were popular in 2010-2013. (I can only think of Karou and Zuzana and even then they’re not together for most of the series…) Again, YA can get even better at this, but I like seeing the progress.

The average quality of contemporary: while one could find quality YA SFF pretty easily (Shadow and Bone is very well-written, many people just wanted a different story, fight me; The Hunger Games is pretty good all things considered; The Raven Cycle too), finding good YA contemporary was a struggle – especially if you were reading what was really popular and got translated here. The Fault in Our Stars was cliché sicklit that tried to act like it was Not Like Other Sicklit Novels, Anna and the French Kiss was really annoying and just not that great even if you don’t care that much about fictional people cheating, and to this day the Becca Fitzpatrick contemporaries are some of the worst things I’ve ever read. And today, we have so many well-written contemporaries that I’d say it’s almost easier to find quality contemporary than SFF. To make some examples that aren’t as obvious as The Hate U Give:

  • Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali comes out this month and it’s one of the best contemporaries I’ve ever read. It’s a novel set in Qatar that tackles Islamophobia and talks about living with multiple sclerosis while being the cutest, most adorable YA romance ever written and… read it. I hope it doesn’t become an under-the-radar book – I think it’s the kind of story that could be helpful to a lot of people. I don’t think we would have seen this kind of novel a few years ago and I’m so glad it exists.
  • Even though diverse books that deal with contemporary issues are the ones that get more popular and get more hype from publishers, there are so many great ones that don’t! They just don’t get the hype they deserve. An example is This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow, a story about three girls (two black, one white, and one of the black girls is queer) in a band, and the novel focuses on recovery.
  • A hyped contemporary that isn’t an issue book but that is really good and diverse is Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, a story about three siblings reconnecting after living with different families because of adoption/foster care.

Cons

The things that changed for the worse, at least a little – I think most of the changes I’ve seen in YA have been positive.

Finding teenage girls that actually feel like teenage girls is more difficult, especially in fantasy. I think this has to do with the absurd standards we hold female characters to (I should make a whole post about that) and the result is that there are so many female protagonist that are bland, and… not even bland in a way you can relate to. We barely have realistic, insecure, messy teen protagonists in fantasy anymore, because they’re called weak and annoying and whiny (because teen girls need to be perfect) and we trade that for carefully constructed characters that feel completely incoherent (cruel but mostly for the aesthetic, so smart but not when the plot requires them not to be, “morally gray” but as we say here, all smoke and no meat). And I do mostly like them and root for them, but I don’t see this walking on eggshells to create a character you’re told is badass and is actually… not, that is “morally gray” only in words, that never feels like a human teen girl, a positive thing. Give me weak characters who have to come to terms with their self-esteem problems, characters who make mistakes and learn from them, and that actually do morally gray things if you’re hyping them as such.

A lot of them have content I wouldn’t have wanted to read when I was 14-17, which to me didn’t seem to happen that frequently a few years ago:

  • No, I’m not referring to sex scenes. I’d find the “most teens don’t want to read sex scenes in books” discussion funny, but the more I think about purity culture the more I just find it sad.
  • One problem I see more and more often in YA, especially SFF, is how it seems to have forgotten how to have fun. Everything, especially in fantasy, needs to either be Important, Gritty or outright comedy. It’s just… YA takes itself a lot more seriously? Which is a good thing at times, but I’m here to have fun. (I recommend the self-indulgent just-here-for-the-aesthetic very-goth and fun book Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan if you want to know what I want more of, and this time I’m not even talking about the villain romance)
  • A lot of YA I read now is really disturbing, and while I love that now, I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t even have been able to read that when I was the actual target audience and I have some mixed feelings about that.

42505366For example, I know I would have DNFed Wilder Girls by Rory Power a few years ago. Not just because its plant horror hits specifically the plant-related phobia at times and because there was a really upsetting (to me) scene I wasn’t warned about, but because it’s full of body horror and despair and I wouldn’t have even understood the point it was trying to make a few years ago. While I believe in trusting readers, even if they’re young, I don’t really understand why this was marketed as YA, as I think older readers will appreciate it more. And yes, it specifically talks about the horrors of girlhood in a misogynistic world, and the experiences of teenage girls, but the way it talked about felt very… adult, to me? I don’t know. It felt more like Annihilation (adult sci-fi) than like any YA book I know.


What Hasn’t Changed As Much As It Should Have

YA still heavily relies on trends. Be it bad Twilight copycats with a love interest whose name was some variation of the word “demon” but totally wasn’t a demon, endless vaguely futuristic novels that were dystopian only in name, books that attempt to have a Kaz Brekker-like character and fail, or the same exact novel about a girl who starts a rebellion to take down an evil empire, just set in a different world this time – finding YA books whose plot actually feels unique is still difficult, in my experience far more difficult than it is in adult SFF (where there are trends, but the books inside them don’t feel like they’re trying to emulate the book that started it). This worries me mostly because I don’t want to see publishers decide that diversity isn’t trendy anymore in two years or something.

There are still very few non-American and especially non-western stories. Most stories set outside the US still have American characters. Every time this discussions comes up, someone says that if they didn’t they wouldn’t sell, because Americans “can’t relate” to them. To which I say:

  • American books are translated worldwide, and if they weren’t basically most of the YA books people in my country can get, I wouldn’t have such a big problem with this, but since they are, it’s their responsibility to include and represent all the people they’re writing for, both as authors and as readers;
  • Believe it or not, western Europe isn’t America-lite and we don’t go through what the average white American is going through just because they vaguely look like us;
  • This is even more true for non-western countries;
  • It isn’t good for Americans to only read books about themselves or written by themselves, just like it isn’t good for white, straight people to read only about white, straight people. Reading from different perspectives isn’t only interesting, I think it’s necessary.
  • No, the random [European Culture]-inspired fantasy book written by Americans definitely doesn’t count.

I’m sure that there’s even more to say if some of you have been reading YA for a longer time and didn’t have the “I can read only what’s translated” bottleneck, but right now, this is all I can think of.


What do you think has changed in YA over the years? What do you think should change?

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

40523931I feel like I’m back to a Too Like the Lightning situation: The Light Brigade is just as unreadable as it is clever. But finished it, and I have feelings, so it must mean something. How do I even rate something like this?

The way I rated Too Like the Lightning, I guess.

My first reaction, when I finished this, was “I want to lie down somewhere and look at the stars”. Which, one could think, is an odd thing to take away from one of the bleakest, most depressing books I have ever read – something I actively hated reading.
But the ending was… I don’t know if I can even describe what worked exactly about the ending. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.
And I think that it takes skill to write a book as bleak as The Light Brigade that still manages to make the reader feel something in the end that isn’t completely negative. Most SFF books about the horrors of war don’t do that (and I dislike them for it. I don’t know, I’m stressed and sad enough as is, and if I want more, I have real stories to draw from).

But I think it’s also fair to say that a book isn’t only its ending, and someone might want to know if reading 300+ pages of pure ugly is worth those last few chapters. For me…. it was, mostly.
There was nothing to keep me reading this book. Nothing apart from the fact that Kameron Hurley wrote one of my favorite books – and, to quote The Light Brigade, this probably also had an influence:

[…] there’s this thing called escalation of commitment. That once people have invested a certain amount of time in a project, they won’t quit, even if it’s no longer a good deal.

Anyway. I’m glad it worked in my favor, I’m glad this isn’t the first book I’ve read by Kameron Hurley, and I’m glad this made me trust her enough to finish The Light Brigade.

This is a novel set in a future in which corporations own everything, from infrastructures to healthcare to the people themselves and their access to information. And they’re in a war with the humans who settled on Mars, because the Martians are evil. Supposedly.
The worldbuilding here was… solid, for the most part. I had no idea how anything or anyone looked like, but if you look for novels in which the worldbuilding is focused on the themes and low on the details, The Light Brigade is exactly that. So much that one might even criticize it for lack of subtlety in its discussions on the role of war, the meaning of freedom and heroism, and its criticism of capitalism, but sometimes that’s necessary. Not because readers won’t get it, but because there was no way the main character wouldn’t react strongly in situations like these.

All of Kameron Hurley’s books end up doing interesting things with gender. God’s War had a woman in a stereotypically male role, The Stars Are Legion had an all-lesbian cast, and The Light Brigade has a main character who narrates the book in first person whose gender isn’t explicitly stated until the ending. Which makes sense, because why would it matter, in a book about a sci-fi war? But Dietz is also explicitly bi/pan, and while that doesn’t “matter” either – Dietz just is attracted to people of different genders – I really appreciated it.
Also, I think Dietz is afrolatinx too (lives in São Paulo and is of Ivorian descent).

The Light Brigade is also a very confusing read. It’s a story about a character who starts experiencing time jumps because of an unusual reaction to sci-fi technology. Which means that Dietz doesn’t experience time the way other characters do, and this story is very difficult to follow – there are still some details that are lost on me – but the way it adds distance between the tragedies and the main character oddly made it easier to read? It also meant that there was a lot of distance between the main character and all the side characters, and if you’re the kind of person who reads books for the interactions between characters, this is something to keep in mind. But I didn’t have a problem with the “all the side characters kind of blur together” thing, as I imagine that’s how it would feel to be around so many people who die.

I (mostly) hated reading this, and continued just because writing and pacing were great and because I trusted the author, but it also made me think about a lot of things, which I guess was the point. I don’t want to penalize a book for what it meant to do. Also, if a book has so many things I don’t like reading about in it – dystopian worlds, time travel, a lot of meaningless-feeling death – and still works for me?
It means it’s really good.

My rating: ★★★★