Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

41139049._sy475_You Must Not Miss is a contemporary fantasy revenge story, and one of the most unique YA novels I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, I’m individuating a pattern with me and Katrina Leno’s novels: I really like their premises, fall in love with the first half, and then everything falls apart in the second one. It’s true for this, and it was true for Summer of Salt as well.

I want to start by saying that You Must Not Miss is the kind of book that starts out slowly, very slowly, until suddenly everything happens at once. It does pay off, but I spent some time around the middle wondering whether something was ever going to happen. It’s a revenge story, yes, but far from a planned, slow-burn one.

I absolutely loved the main character Magpie. She’s a young teen – a sophomore in high school – and her life has fallen apart because of her father’s cheating, her mother’s alcoholism, sexual assault, and a lot of other reasons. She’s in an objectively horrible situation, and she deals with it like someone her age would: she’s barely surviving. She treats the people around her increasingly worse as the story goes on, and seeks refuge in the fictional world she invented – Near – which is consuming her in turn. This book never treats her with anything but empathy, and not only it makes you understand her, it also allows her to be bad without ever turning into a cautionary tale.

The way escapism is a double-edged blade – as much a refuge as it is a trap – is a theme that is really important to me, and I think this is one of the reasons the ending didn’t work for me.

The spoiler-y bit:

Magpie ends up leaving this world for Near, a fictional world she can control almost every aspect of. And maybe I’m over-interpreting things, because while she’s happy, the message of the only way you can be happy if your life is difficult is to leave this world is one I’ve spent… ten years fighting against? It’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s that I believe it too much, and to me there’s nothing as dangerous as an echo chamber when it comes to that.

At the same time, I think this is more about me than the book. I think that for some people, this ending could be comforting or liberating. I would like to read a book about escapism vs. real life in which the main character for once finds a balance. This is not that book, and it makes perfect sense for it not to be. Also, it’s not like I ever saw a book end like this before, so it was really interesting to read as well.

42052420._sy475_One thing I really appreciated was how this book explored how terrifying the concept of a teen with magical powers inherently is. I know that if I had had magic at 15 I would have used it for revenge as well! This doesn’t shy away from any of that.
This book also underlined just how important it is to have supportive friends in high school, and just how much a bad friendship and a friendship break-up can make things difficult. A lot of YA is focused on the coming and going of romantic relationships, with friends as reliable but not-so-relevant sidekicks, and this is pretty much the opposite. There is a sweet romantic element – and I really liked Ben as a love interest (queer m/f is great! Ben is trans) – but don’t expect this to be a romance.

It’s also really atmospheric, which I liked a lot. It’s not that it’s set in a particularly remarkable place, it isn’t, but I could see it, and I could see why Magpie felt the need to leave.

Overall, I did like it, but I’m still not completely sure about my feelings on the ending. I recommend it, especially as an audiobook – it was a really good audiobook – but I don’t know if I will reach for more by this author.

My rating: ★★★½

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Reviews: Two F/F Summer Romances

Today, I’m reviewing two f/f books with the word “summer” in the title. One of them I really liked, the other I liked less, but both delivered cute f/f couples and summer-y atmosphere.


31246717If you like Becky Albertalli’s books, you need to read The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding. It’s the same kind of happy queer book, with a similar sense of humor and characters who are just as charmingly messy and trying to figure things out, but in my opinion it’s even better, as it’s ownvoices and isn’t obsessed with pop culture references.

My pre-review of this book was “help I can’t stop smiling my face is stuck”, and it is true – every time I think of this book, especially of certain scenes, I smile. This is the kind of happy, summer-y f/f romance I would never have thought I could get a few years ago, and I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it because of the mixed reviews. The romance starts out with mutual pining and continues with really cute dates, some misunderstandings, and character growth. I loved Abby and Jordi as a couple so much – to give you an idea, I read it in less than an afternoon.

I’ve already mentioned that this book is f/f – both girls are lesbians – but it’s really diverse in other ways, since the love interest is Mexican-American and Abby is a fat fashion blogger who specifically talks about plus-size clothes. Fashion is a relevant part of this book, as the main characters meet during an internship at a local boutique, and the book makes you feel both Abby’s love for it and Jordi’s love for photography.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel was the message: at its heart, The Summer of Jordi Perez is a story about how you don’t need to be anyone else’s, and not even your, definition of perfect to find happiness, and about how the person you love doesn’t have to be perfect either for you to love them. Despite talking a lot about body positivity and fat acceptance in the fatphobic world of fashion, Abby is insecure about her body, she’s not quite comfortable with it yet – and that’s fine, she’s 17 and the world can truly be awful to fat girls. Even her mother wants her to change. In this story, Abby becomes more comfortable with herself, and learns that mistakes and imperfections – hers, or other people’s – don’t have to be the end of things. This is a really important message.

In this book, the main characters actually feel like teenagers. Which means that they make a big deal out of crushes and dating and not having kissed anyone yet. Immature? I prefer to say realistic. However, some parts of this were kind of alienating to read as an aromantic person (and some parts could be for asexual people, too). I mention this because, while this doesn’t hurt me now, know this would have been the kind of book that would have hurt me at 17, when I was still trying to understand my romantic orientation – reading about characters who thought that not having kissed anyone at 17 is clearly abnormal, that it must mean there’s something wrong with you, made me feel terrible. I felt pressured to date – specifically, I was told that at this age I had to have, or at least want to have, a boyfriend – even though I was not interested in boys and probably also not interested in dating.

What made me give this book a four stars instead of a five, apart from some not always developed side characters and what I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, were the last fifty pages. Romcoms always have that part in which the main characters split up and get back together again, and in this book, Jordi and Abby get back together only right before the end. I would have liked to see them together again for a little longer.

But let’s get back to the things I liked: this book is set in LA, and it makes you feel the atmosphere, and since food is a relevant part of this book – Abby and her friend Jax (relevant platonic m/f friendship!) are trying to find the best burgers in the city, and there are some wonderful scenes in which Abby is cooking with Jordi’s family – I can also say that the food descriptions were great, and I always love those.
Anyway, I’m glad this book exists and I wish it were more well-known; it may not be flawless but there are never enough atmospheric lesbian romcoms.

My rating: ★★★★


35230420Summer of Salt is a slow-paced, atmospheric contemporary fantasy story with a dash of mystery. It follows Georgina, a Fernweh girl who, unlike the rest of the women in her family, hasn’t developed her powers yet. While I thought it was far from a perfect book, I can say that I liked the half that I read while on the beach immensely more than the other, so I do still kind of see it as a perfect summer book. It’s a quick, nostalgic novel to read while you have salt on your skin and waves in front of you.

What stood out the most to me about this book was the atmosphere. It kind of reminded me of The Price Guide to the Occult – a less creepy, summer-y version of it – and the flowery writing helped with that. Maybe it was a little overwritten at times, going from pretty to awkward really quickly, but for the most part, I liked it. Also, can I say how much I love that I can now easily pick up f/f atmospheric summer romances? And so many other kinds of f/f books that have nothing to do with homophobia? 2016 me would never have thought, but even if Georgina and Prue weren’t the most developed characters ever and even if the romance wasn’t the most well-developed or even the most interesting, their interactions made me so happy.

Which is why it hurt even more when I started realizing that the aromantic representation in this book was pretty terrible. At first, I was liking it, as the side character Vira didn’t just say that she was “asexual and didn’t care about dating”, she specifically said she was aroace. Yes, she wasn’t the most interesting character ever, as she had exactly the same personality as all the aromantic best friends (is this a new trend?) I have seen in YA so far – cold-but-soft-on-the-inside, tries hard to be edgy and dresses unconventionally. That was fine, if boring.
But then, it came up that her hobby was taxidermy. That was when I started worrying, because aroace characters being associated with death is actually a common stereotype in fiction, and not one with positive implications. Summer of Salt didn’t go into that direction, not really; in my opinion, it did worse.
There’s a scene in which Vira shows her new kitten to Georgina and then says, unprompted, that when it will die, she’ll make a lamp out of it.

Now.
I don’t know how many people know what the most common aromantic stereotype is, but it’s exactly that we are “sociopaths”. It comes from the ugly idea that romantic love is the only thing that makes humans… well, human, and so aromanticism is inherently evil and creepy. And more people probably know how cruelty against animals/obsession with animal death has been traditionally associated with “sociopathy”.
I like to think that these things aren’t well-known, and that’s why no one thought to mention that in this book the aromantic character collects roadkill and makes flippant remarks about her pet dying and what she will do with its body. The idea that aromantic people don’t feel romantic love and then that must mean that they don’t get attached to anything is more widespread that one would think, and it’s horrible, damaging and false.

And like… Vira isn’t evil. She’s mostly portrayed as a loyal friend, but really, this isn’t the ~quirky hobby~ you should give your aromantic character (by the way: flippant remarks about pet death are generally unwelcome no matter the romantic orientation of the character) and in any case, I shouldn’t have to settle for bad representation just because it doesn’t try to outright tell me that aromantic people are evil, just weird and obsessed with death and corpses.
(To give you some context: she is the only aromantic character I’ve met in a book so far this year, and I almost only read queer books.)

But let’s get back to the book as a whole. Another problem I had with Summer of Salt is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. For the first half, it looks like a summer-y romance, then it becomes a mystery about a missing, magical bird, then in the last third it’s a story about rape, but not from the point of view of the person who is directly affected by it. While having “lighter” stories that deal specifically with that topic but in which the characters are supportive and no one ever victim-blames is important – books that deal with heavy topics but that go out of their way to not be triggering are necessary – I felt like this was completely aimless for at least half the story.

My rating: ★★★¼