Face like Glass by Frances Hardinge is completely original and imaginative to the point of near insanity. It’s the kind of fantasy that forces the brain to stretch and contort and stretch into brand new outlooks. It forces the consideration of brand new perspectives and possibilities.
When Master Grandible, a reclusive cheese artisan, discovers a lost child in Caverna’s highly secluded tunnels, he realizes immediately that the girl is different. Seeing an opportunity but also wishing to protect her, he takes her in, hides her strange expressive face behind a black velvet mask, and raises her as his apprentice. Weary of Caverna’s society, he barricades them in, dealing only with a select few through his well-defended door. Seven years later the girl, called Neverfell, follows a small white rabbit to a crack in her master’s domain and wanders out into the world of Caverna. Caverna’s inner city is beautifully detailed and immersive. The passages and caves are so convoluted that anyone who tries to map them goes mad. The elite families are at constant war with each other for control of the city, and for the favor of the Grand Steward. The Grand Steward is so obsessed with staying in control that he has artificially extended his life and cleaved himself into two beings so that one part of him will always be awake. The members of the elite class are trained in a wide array of facial expressions, each carefully donned for the greatest manipulative effect, while the commoners are not allowed to have visible emotion and must wear only five approved faces. In contrast, Neverfell wears her thoughts and feelings on her face and that is the most dangerous thing of all. But there are people that definitely finds such a thing to be useful and that is how Neverfull ends up becoming a pawn in a dangerous game of power.
The progression of this story follows Neverfell in a character arc that shows realistic, slow growth. For the first part of A Face Like Glass, Neverfell is nothing but a pawn being moved from side to side and things happen to her. But as she starts to interact with people and learn about the true facade of life in Caverna, the more she grows, changes and becomes an active participant not only of her story but of everybody else’s in Caverna. Her resolve, goodwill, and resilient nature make her an engaging heroine, not an irritating one. All the characters of A Face like Glass are three-dimensional. In many ways, the elite are just as trapped as the commoners or even more so. The Grand Steward may be the most imprisoned of all. Frances Hardinge draws him so subtly and with so much nuance; it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him. Overall, A Face Like Glass is a multi-faceted tale, forcing the reader, to not only join in on a world full of lies, but also to question the lies in their everyday life. Even more than that, though, it is a tale of revolution and of resisting control in terms of social class.-Nika G
Highly Illogical Behavior is a sweet coming of age story that comments on the topics of agoraphobia, anxiety disorders and stigma surrounding mental health. John Corey Whaley does so by blending humor with heart while being sure to write with a touch of empathy.
Solomon Reed is 16years old. He hasn’t left his house in three years, since a panic attack compelled him to sit in the fountain at his school until his parents came to take him home. He’s smart and funny, he loves movies and books and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the thought of leaving his house makes him hyperventilate to the point he cannot breathe. So while his parents worry about his future, for now they’re content to let him go to school online and spend his life inside his house, with only them and his spry, sassy grandmother for company.
Lisa Praytor is determined to escape her home town and make something of herself. She has her sights set on attending the second-best psychology program in the country, but there’s a catch: her essay must deal with her personal experience with mental illness. After a chance encounter with Sol’s mother, she finds a solution to that problem: she’s going to “fix” Solomon and get him to leave his home again. Lisa soon realizes that Solomon is more than his disease and the two form a strong friendship. Lisa soon introduces Solomon to her boyfriend Clark, with whom she is having slight relationship problems. As Sol shares his secrets and starts to think about life outside his house, Lisa starts questioning her relationship with Clark, and what Sol’s role might be in the problems they’re having.
Highly Illogical Behavior has well-developed, believable characters, however it’s portrayal of other aspects regarding mental health leaves something to be desired. Solomon is a very pleasant and realistic character. He is funny, very aware of his limitations, relatable, adorable, and intelligent. His character traits are not portrayed as less important than his agoraphobia, on the contrary his agoraphobia only serves to increase the depth of his character without taking away from his personality. However the main plot point of this novel: Lisa’s attempts to fix Solomon seem insensitive and degrading. The novel’s suggestion that people with mental illness are something to be “fixed” is crass and derogatory. Lisa felt manic and manipulative, her portrayal as an “anti-hero” was unsuccessful. The novel’s portrayal of Solomon’s mental illness felt simplistic. Solomon felt mostly comfortable inside, but he got spontaneous panic attacks and negative thoughts with no background or lead up. The end was rushed and didn’t end off with a clear resolution, or a clear message about anxiety. Overall, Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley is an acute, fluffy read that was slightly insensitive at times.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a riveting and heart breaking story of a girl who discovers brutal realities of racism and police violence. This incredible stand alone is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Hate U Give follows Starr, a girl torn between two realities: a poor black neighborhood where she lives and the posh prep school she attends. She is also torn between two identities: her polite prep school self and her slightly wild neighborhood self. When her friend, Khalil, is unjustly killed by a police officer, Starr’s world falls apart as she struggles to grapple with new realities and is torn apart by the many opinions regarding Khalil’s death. The Hate U Give is about how Starr deals with the aftermath of Khalil’s death. She’s afraid to speak out, yet angry that Khalil’s murderer could escape justice. Starr knows that her words will make a great impact, she is also aware of how they will endanger her life. Angie Thomas uses Starr’s experiences to portray the media’s prejudice against young black men: guilty until proven innocent.
The Hate U Give comments on racism, interracial dynamics and police brutality by capturing the perspective of a scared young girl. Starr is such a developed, multidimensional character. She’s clearly written with so much heart and honesty. Her inner conflicts are so believable. Every side character is treated with just as much respect and honesty as she is. The relationship dynamics that run alongside the fight for justice are no less compelling. Thomas deftly portrays complex, nuanced relationships between all the people in the book, considering the divides between Starr and her white classmates, but never allowing anyone to become cliché or one-dimensional. This novel is phenomenal, a timely must-read that educates on the hard ships of those silenced by society’s flawed regime.
Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor captures the reader’s attention with its vivid imagery and flowing prose. It the first novel in Laini Taylor’s new duology of the same name. Strange The Dreamer follows Lazlo Strange, an orphan librarian who was rescued by monks and dreams of a magical city.
The novel opens with Lazlo as a child, bemoaning the harsh order of the monastery in which he lives. The only joys in Lazlo’s life are stories told to him by a senile monk of a mystical exotic city full of knowledge and culture. As Lazlo grows older, his obsession with this city he calls Weep does not fade, yet he is constrained by the strict order of the monastery. He is sent by the monks to deliver a manuscript to the Great Library and does not return, becoming an apprentice. Lazlo begins to meticulously research the lost city through his resources at the library, compiling tomes of the research in his room. One day, Lazlo sees a caravan coming through the city and he is stunned at his realization that the travelers are from Weep. He finds out that they are coming in search of great minds to restore Weep to its former glory. Through his knowledge of Weep’s culture Lazlo convinces the caravan leader to let him join them, fulfilling his dream of seeing the lost city in person. In Weep, Lazlo is amazed at the diminished glory of the city he so vividly imagined. He is determined to restore it and fix the problem that has been hanging above the citizens’ heads (literally). The city of Weep had been taken over by gods who had tortured the citizens and stolen away children. The gods were killed, yet the shadow of their influence still hangs over the city. In his dreams, Lazlo meets a blue skinned girl named Sarai who by his knowledge should be dead because all gods were killed. At first Lazlo believes that she is a figment of his subconscious, but as they begin to have interactions inside his dreams he realizes that she is indeed real. They begin to form a romantic connection. Sarai becomes imperative in Lazlo’s quest to save the city of Weep.
Strange the Dreamer is a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Laini Taylor’s writing is beautiful and the plot is captivating. The story is addicting and the end comes abruptly and unexpectedly, causing the reader to crave more. While the novel is set in a fantasy world, real-world themes such as discrimination, emotional and sexual abuse, rape and racism are developed throughout the story. Characters in Strange the Dreamer are all deep, complex and flawed, having both a good side and a bad side. They deal with the weight of their responsibilities and the repercussions of their actions. My only critique for this novel is the speed of Lazlo and Sarai’s romantic relationship. They seemed to form a romantic connection the second they laid eyes on each other, and this relationship intensified very quickly with seemingly no background or reason to. Their relationship seemed almost akin to “insta-love”, in which characters fall in love the second they see each other. Overall, Strange the Dreamer was an amazing book with a great plot and deep characters. I look forward to the next installment in the duology.