Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

In her debut novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters; Samira Ahmed weaves a story that is bittersweet and beautiful. In Ahmed’s tale we can easily see the similarities and differences that both create and bridge the gaps between us. The story follows Maya Aziz, an Indian Muslim girl growing up in modern day America and the challenges she faces at home and at school after a terrorist attack whose main suspect is a Muslim.

After the attack Maya faces bullying and prejudice at school and work. As the only Muslim family in town- one with the same last name as the suspect, Maya’s family receives threats and hate from the people around them. As their fear grows, Maya’s parents begin to tighten their grip on Maya’s life, making her dreams harder to follow, and her future seem more full of fear than hope. As Maya does her best to walk the line between her parents wishes and expectations for her, and her own dreams, she encounters a wide cast of characters, both friend and foe.

These will help her find her way as Maya navigates the treacherous waters of high school and college. Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a timely novel that many people would benefit from reading. Not only does the story address racism and prejudice, but also manages to capture the essence of what it is to be a teenager.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

The city of Kos is a place of divisions. From the dust of the city commons, the Forum, to the gold and marble halls of the royal palace, the line between the lives of the rich and poor is clear and unbroken. But perhaps even more pronounced is the line between the normal people, and those with gifts: the mages, and the Aki.

Mages have the power to draw a person’s sins from their hearts, forcing them to take the form of great beasts made of shadow, the inisisa. Taj is an Aki, a sin-eater. He and his kind kill and absorb the insisa that the mages conjure. But despite what they do for them, Aki are despised by the people of Kos, shunned for the “sin spots” that mar their skin. But Taj is special, his sin spots don’t fade like others do, and more importantly, he can command the insisa. But as Taj’s gift grants him privilege and prestige in the palace, Taj is drawn into a web of conspiracy and deception. With traitors in their midst and rebellions on the rise, Taj must find a way to keep himself– and the beautiful princess Karima– safe, and the city of Kos standing.

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

Christina Masika doesn’t exist. For four years she’s been a ghost, a shadow. It’s been four years since she’s been a girl with a family and a home. Four years since her mother was found dead in her employer’s office. Now living with the Goondas (Sangui City’s local gang), Tina is out for revenge. It is with the Goondas that she finally finds a way to strike back at the man who murdered her mother and destroyed her life.

But with the reappearance of a familiar face everything Tina thought she knew is called into question. With the help of Michael (her childhood playmate), and Boyboy (a tech genius from her time with the Goondas), she travels to her birthplace for answers. But some secrets are better forgotten and the more Tina uncovers about her mother’s past– and her own– the deeper she is pulled into a world of corruption, violence and danger.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

In the book All the Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater, the Soria family lives with many secrets from the past, and many to come. The Sorias live in the town of Bicho Raro, located in the Colorado desert. The large family lives with pilgrims occupying the rest of their empty rooms. The Sorias fall in between the line of magic and faith. They have a designated person called the Saint, who can perform miracles to whoever passerby has searched for the famous miracle desert town and wants to be healed. The miracles happen by the Saint bringing out whatever darkness is in the person. These miracles are done in two parts. The Saint performs the first part, and the pilgrim themselves have to finish the second part. The first part is where the pilgrim’s darkness is brought out, usually in weird physical forms that make them abnormal. The second part is the pilgrim realizing what their darkness is, and solving it so they return to normal. Some of these crazy first miracles end up with pilgrims growing to be twenty feet tall, or gaining the head of a coyote. However, the Soria family cannot interfere with the pilgrims on their journey to the second miracle, or the Sorias themselves will end up with their own even greater darkness. Lately, the pilgrims haven’t been completing their second miracles though. Our three protagonists, Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin, run a pirate radio station on the side with none of their family in on the secret. Soon, they realize they can somehow help the pilgrims finish their second miracles with the help of their radio, as long as they are cautious about the long-known taboo and extreme darkness.

All the Crooked Saints presents a new take on family values, and coming together after years of drifting apart. This story is different from everything else you can imagine. Reading this fills you with hope and a newfound sense of miracles. Stiefvater writes with a description so real, the feelings of the characters come alive. This book is great for anyone who believes in miracles, or who believes family and friendship is a huge part in one’s life. Or with a taste for magical adventure. Magic is presented in a new way in All the Crooked Saints.


At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

Shaun David Hutchinson writes At the Edge of the Universe with so many amazing characters. He evicts every feeling possible out of us. It’s impossible to put down. This book is a great story about a boy named Ozzie, and his boyfriend Tommy. One day, Tommy vanishes, and Ozzie discovers the universe is shrinking. Rapidly. And weird events keep taking place, targeting Ozzie specifically. While searching for Tommy, Ozzie gets paired up with a weird kid in physics named Calvin. They grow closer as the universe grows smaller. Ozzie’s life soon becomes a mess, with too many things happening all at once, and the world getting tinier and tinier.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves John Green with a hint of sci-fi. At the Edge of the Universe is an amazing story filled with love, sadness, and laughter. It is a touching story about adventure and finding yourself. Everyone needs to read this sometime in their life.

La Belle Savauge by Phillip Pullman

Over a decade and a half after the release of The Amber Spyglass, the last book in his groundbreaking  His Dark Materials trilogy, Phillip Pullman returns to the world of Lyra Belacqua. In this debut novel La Belle Savauge, first, of a new trilogy titled The Book of Dust, Pullman introduces new characters, while at the same time giving us a closer look at the pasts of some old ones. Set in a time when the church has nearly every scrap of power, Pullman manages to perfectly demonstrate both the good and bad sides of religion.

Nearly a decade before the events of The Golden Compass, a boy named Malcolm roams the streets and canals of Oxford with his daemon Asta at his side. As the son of an innkeeper and the holder of a dozen odd jobs, Malcolm is the kind of boy who hears a little too much for his own good. When he finds a message meant for an agent of an organization known as Oakley Street, dedicated to fighting the church’s chokehold on politics and science, he is drawn into a world of secrets and spies. However, when he meets Lyra, the baby girl the nuns in the local priory are taking care of, his entire world is flipped upside down. Since Malcolm has no siblings, he begins to think of Lyra as his little sister, one he would do anything to protect. And Lyra needs protection.

Malcolm finds himself caught between the opposing sides of the Magisterium and Oakley Street. In a web of secrets and conspiracies Malcolm and Asta struggle to keep themselves and Lyra safe, but as the forces of the church close in, together with mysterious strangers and dark rumors, that is not an easy task. With the help of a peculiar and unlikely cast of characters, Malcolm and Asta navigate their way through this surprising and wonderful tale.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf is a harsh and beautiful book, vivid and brutal and haunting from the from the first page.  Wolf by Wolf is set in 1956 Germany, with one twist– the Nazi’s won the war, and Adolf Hitler rules most of the world. The protagonist, Yael, is a girl with the ability to alter her appearance at will, due to experiments conducted on her in the prison camp before she escaped. Now Yael is an agent of the resistance, an agent with the most important mission of all upon her shoulders—assassinate Hitler.  Yael is one of the strongest female characters I have ever encountered in YA literature, strong and smart and fearless. Wolf by Wolf provides a hauntingly plausible look into an alternate past that is powerful and engaging.  The book is brutal and beautiful at the same time, making for an amazing story as Ryan Graudin blends historical fiction with science fiction, and adventure in this brilliant YA novel.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

The novel Girl in Pieces is an amazing story depicting the hard life of a teenage girl. Kathleen Glasgow writes from the perspective of the seventeen year old Charlotte Davis. The writing is so raw that it feels as it Charlotte is a real breathing person.

Charlotte Davis, or “Charlie”, is seventeen years old and has lot practically everything. The only way she is able to cope with her traumatic life is to forget. She takes thick shards of glass and cuts and cuts until all the sorrow and memories have flown away. Charlie tries to forget about her dad and his plunge into the river, her only friend who is broken and will never be the same, and the seed house where young girls go into the room filled by mattresses with strange men. She tries to cut it all out. If she cuts deep enough maybe she won’t care about “f#%*ing Frank” and how he is still out there, or her abusive mother. Charlie is admitted to a rehab hospital for girls.
Everyday in Group she listens to girls cry until they are empty. To their stories of self harm and drug abuse. Unlike the girls who drain their bodies of tears, Charlie never talks or cries. She doesn’t tell of her life on the streets, the drugs, or of the underpass. When her family can no longer pay for her treatment, her mother comes, but once again throws her onto the streets.

Through out Charlie’s journey you will become attached and sincerely care for her. While reading I became addicted to the pages and kept reaching for more. Glasgow was able to capture an angle that is not always seen, the uncensored side of teenage life. Nothing is held back. Charlie’s story is heartbreaking brutally honest, and one to remember.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Follow us on instagram— teen_book_crew.

It Looks Like This

It Looks Like This is Rafi Mittlefehldt’s first novel, but you wouldn’t know it from the masterful prose.  Mittlefehldt chronicles a young queer boy Mike’s journey to maturity through the trials and tribulations of being “soft” in a very conservative family, being bullied at school, and the pain of first love.  When his father learns that Mike has been kissing a boy from school on the beach, his father gives Mike the choice of going to conversion therapy or remaining how he is. While on the surface this seems like an easy choice, Mike is crushed by the weight of his family’s shame and the torture of facing bullies every day at school, and he accepts his parents’ offer, sending him on a rocky journey to self-discovery and confidence filled with tragedy, realization, and hope.

Mittlefehldt constructs a distance between the reader and Mike through his short choppy sentences and matter-of-fact manner of storytelling, giving it the numb feeling of being in someone else’s dream. This distance makes the novel black-and-white with bright bursts of color as emotion and surety slip through Mike’s shielded state of existence.  Part of Mittlefehldt’s greatest success is in his ability to paint a sensory picture, describing everything from the rich colors of scenery to the smells and sounds, giving the reader enough to plant them firmly in space and time, but not so much as to lose the sense that there is something that is always just beyond reach. Mittlefehldt also weaves in many subtle metaphors so that he almost never has to explicitly tell the reader what characters are feeling and thinking. He does this with foreshadowing, often telling the reader exactly what’s going to happen, but it does not become clear that he has done so until everything comes together.

The plot is also magnificent. Mittlefehldt jumps around a bit, sometimes breaking up the story with little vignettes from Mike’s past, which help to shed light on why Mike behaves like he does and gives clues as to what might happen next. Even so, Mittlefehldt draws the reader in with Mike’s disjointed tale, creating the sinking feeling of climbing the biggest hill on a roller coaster and knowing that the fall is coming but being unable to do anything about it. The story is enrapturing in that way and its deep realizations stick long after the final page has been turned.

It Looks Like This
manages to be strikingly beautiful, heart wrenching, and hopeful all at once. There is little―if anything―to complain about in Mittlefehldt’s debut novel and is certainly worth reading for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite fit in or who is simply looking for a gorgeous and breathtaking read.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

In a world with a solar system filled with planets, governed by a body known as the Assembly, there exists a planet with violence and a vicious ruler. In this galaxy, some are favored by fate and others are not. Some will discover their future, set in stone, at a young age. Everyone in this new world will develop a currentgift as they age, a unique ability for each person that is established to affect the future. As it is seen as a normal and blessed thing, most people benefit from their currentgifts. However, Akos and Cyra do not. On the same planet, Akos and Cyra live in opposing societies, countries that have been fighting for what seems like forever. Their specific gifts end up making them weak and exposed to those that wish to hurt them. Through a twist of fate, Akos and Cyra are pushed together in a situation that never seemed possible in this world. Akos, with a deep love for his family, hails from the peaceful nation of Thuvhe. Cyra, with a unsettling distaste for her living family, hails from the violent nation of Shotet. Akos’ currentgift keeps him safe, but all he’s ever thought about since he and his brother were captured by the Shotet’s is how he can escape safely without his brother getting injured.

Cyra’s currentgift brings her an insurmountable pain that her brother manipulates to his liking, but what he doesn’t know is she is smarter than he knows and she is done being his weapon. Will Akos and Cyra be able to work together to save their fates and establish peace on their planet? Or will they end up destroying one another?

Carve The Mark by Veronica Roth is a story in a new world that centers around two teenagers coming together against all odds to save their world. Veronica Roth pulls at many elements in Divergent and describes things that seem unimportant to the story, but help deepen the reader’s knowledge. By describing things like a broken chair in a corner to the smell of cooking herbs, Roth delves deeper into the story with the reader. This could have actually taken away from the story instead of adding to it, since it doesn’t directly affect the character’s and their future in the pages. However, by detailing the surroundings for the reader, the immense scope of the world the characters live in is unearthed and reader’s imagination are let free, to create vivid images of the world that they have just entered into.

Also as she did in Divergent, but more strongly, Roth allows the reader to slowly learn about this new world. A key thing in writing when creating a totally new environment is to inform the reader of details of the new world, so they can better immerse themselves and understand it. However, instead of just laying down the facts for the reader, Roth chooses to slowly tell them more and more details. It makes the reader feel immersed, as if they just walked in on the journey that is about to unfold in the coming pages. When authors choose to just simply write out the facts easily for the reader to understand, the reader feels more like an intrusion, more like the story is only happening for them, unnaturally. When Roth slides in information, about the new world, she is making sure the reader knows that with or without them, this epic adventure was going to happen no matter what. This helps the reader feel more involved in the story and allows them to consciously pick up on the simple sentences that describe how the government system works or how the current connects everything.

Carve The Mark is told from two point of views, Akos and Cyra, and through this artistic decision, Roth gives herself control over establishing the character for the reader. The reader is able to see how the character’s perceive the world and allows them to better judge the character from the inside, instead of just from the point of view of a main character. Roth often also has the two characters describe the same things. Allowing the reader to see how they differ in personality. For instance, by comparing how Akos describes the broken chair to how Cyra describes it, the reader can easily understand their personalities through their differences and their similarities. Interestingly, as the book unfolds and Akos’ and Cyra’s relationship strengthens, the reader can see their personalities slowly meld together. Going back to the chair example, Akos ends up describing it with elements that only Cyra would only notice. Cyra ends up describing the chair with elements and insights that only Akos would notice. By telling the story from two point of views, Roth allows the reader to take a stance on each character and by doing so the reader gains a little bit of the character in themselves.
Unlike the Divergent trilogy, specifically Allegiant, Roth takes a very important thing into account when writing from the two point of views. In Allegiant, Roth wrote from the point of views of the two main characters, Tris and Four. Each chapter from their separate perspectives was told in first person. In contrast, in Carve The Mark, Roth writes Cyra’s point of view chapters in first person and Akos’ in third person. This style change from Roth is a major one and gives off a different effect, although it was minimal. This change allowed the reader to know who the main characters were, as they were each significant enough to have a point of view, however it also established who the story is following.

Cyra, the one with the painful gift, ends up pulling Akos into her world. She helps Akos learn more about himself and helps him with the one thing he desires most. Writing from both viewpoints gives each of the characters equal importance, but through a careful and slight artistic decision on Roth’s side, the reader is given a better understanding of who the story is truly about.
Carve The Mark is a creative storyline brought to life through Veronica Roth’s words. Because this is a new world, the reader needs to be introduced to the characters that will be important and establish the story. Roth introduced about six or seven characters in the first chapter which becomes slightly overwhelming for the reader. Being thrust into a new world is hard enough, but it also became even more difficult to keep all the characters in order. For instance, one might forget that Akos is the youngest son of the Kereseth family because we were introduced to all of the children almost immediately at the beginning of the chapter. Understandably, Roth wanted to introduce the characters quickly so that the reader could get a better understanding and a vaster knowledge of the story. However, by introducing so much so quickly, the reader becomes a little overwhelmed, having to look back to remember the characters. In addition, because this was a new and unknown world, the characters had unique names. This was helpful enough, allowing the reader to better remember their names because they were different than the common names in our world. However, it also made the reading process more complicated. It was just one more confusing thing to remember in a new world with new characters and now new names. Although the first chapter was a little confusing, that was one of the only faults that really stuck out in the entire book.
Carve The Mark is an adventurous tale of two teens whose whole world rests on their shoulders. Roth takes her defining style from Divergent like how she describes things, the concept of writing from two point of views, and how she slowly lets the reader sink into the world she has created, but adds some new artistic decisions that make the story feel fresh and never ending. Veronica Roth’s writing has no loopholes unless it was by her specific doing. Her story telling ability is incredible and her imagination is never ending and more vast than one could imagine.

That is her currentgift. Her writing will undoubtedly get better as she ages. One can only wait for the next amazing and immense world she will create!

If you enjoyed the following books I think you will also enjoy Carve The Mark:

  1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  2. Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
  3. The Divergent Trilogy

Buy a signed copy of Carve the Mark here and support your local bookstore.