We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian

We Are The Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian is a book about a varsity girls field hockey team and their toxic, controlling coach. It takes place over the 24 hours leading up to their first match of the season, as we see their bonds strengthen. Personally having played on a great deal of high school sports teams, I was truly able to relate to these girls. This novel brought me back to all of the team bonding and sleepovers, as well as to my own experiences with toxic coaches. The varying perspectives were a nice addition as well, allowing the reader to relate to a senior trying to come off an injury, a leader carrying the weight of her team on her shoulders, the freshman with the pressure of proving herself, a misfit trying to find her place, etc. In my opinion, these varying, relatable perspectives mean allow this story to become accessible to any reader, not just someone who has played sports. Although some aspects of the story are a little out there, this was all in all a very enjoyable story of strength and resilience which I would definitely recommend to anyone, but especially to women athletes of the past or present.

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by Vesper Stamper

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue, by Vesper Stamper, tells the intricate story of a young girl named Edyth in the 1300s who sees the world in a different way than most people. She sees colors and vibrations and is filled with sensations when she hears new noises. She hears a constant Sound in the back of her mind. She imagines and draws complex and exciting sketches. After getting teased for explaining the way she sees colors, she realizes that she is different. With both of her parents dead and her brother Henry trying to scramble for food and work in their small town, Edyth is sent away to a priory in hopes that she will be able to live a good, stable life. Her world is completely changed from tending to animals and the house to Latin lessons, prayers every day, and a clean room to stay in. She settles in, not exactly feeling permanent in this new place but glad to have food and a bed to sleep on.

Suddenly, a sickness begins to sweep the nearby towns and eventually reaches the priory. Edyth senses something horrible coming with her visions and her drawings. The Great Plague sweeps up every living thing in its clutches. Edyth knows she is supposed to do something, but she can’t figure out what exactly. Can the way she sees life differently help her? Can the Sound lead her to a miracle to save the hundreds of dying people surrounding her?

A Cloud of Outrageous Blue is a beautiful story of celebrating one’s differences. Edyth learns to embrace her uniqueness and it in turn embraces the world. This historical fiction book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It shares a distinctive side of the devastating Black Plague outbreak in England during the 1300s. The descriptions of how colors feel to Edyth are incredibly delicate and astonishing. Stamper writes a brand new history of this monumental time in Europe, and does so with grace and interest, as well as beautiful illustrations.

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick is a mystery thriller that follows a girl named Anna Cicconi who gets a job nannying in a wealthy, small town in the Hamptons for the summer. However, she soon learns about the disappearance of a local girl, Zoe Spanos, months prior to her arrival who she happens to bear an eerie resemblance to. Anna continues digging and learning more about the case, until she becomes convinced that her and Zoe are connected. Flash forward, we know Zoe is dead and we watch Anna confess, however when Zoe’s body is found, it is clear that there are holes in Anna’s confession. So we spend the length of the novel wondering, what really happened to Zoe Spanos?

    There were multiple aspects of the novel which made it unique and intriguing. For one, I really enjoyed the then and now split timeline. We jump back to then when Anna was nannying the summer after Zoe’s disappearance, to now after Anna’s confession leading up to her trial. Each storyline gives new information and new perspectives for us to theorize with. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a podcast to this story. It provided an interesting source of information about Zoe’s disappearance. I haven’t personally checked out the audiobook, but I’m sure the podcast aspect along with the full-cast recording could make it an interesting way to experience this novel. However, I must admit I’m more of a physical book lover myself, especially with this novel’s beautiful yet mysterious cover art and the blue sprayed page edges.

I must admit I don’t read many murder mysteries or psychological thrillers, but I truly could not put this book down and I ended up reading it in one sitting. This novel had me constantly on the edge of my seat and theorizing the truth, and the ending truly surprised me. There were certain things that were easy enough to puzzle out on your own, however there were also bits that I didn’t see coming. This is honestly one of my favorite recent reads and I would highly recommend this entertaining story.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong

Iris Wang has caught her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend, drunkenly crashed her parent’s car through their garage door, gotten into none of the colleges she had applied to, and failed her senior year of high school. What else could go wrong? For Iris, the main character in “My Summer of Love and Misfortune” by Lindsay Wong, it’s being sent to Beijing by her parents to find herself and her culture. She expects living in a foreign country with her cold cousin and uncle that she’s never met before to be awful, but she finds romance and her family history along the way.

I thought this book was fun and light-hearted, and I enjoyed the story. With this in mind, Iris was not a character you could root for, and none of the other characters in the story were either. Iris was incredibly naive and selfish, and there was absolutely no build to her character transformation. It was a complete 180-degree turn.

Although there were some problems, I did enjoy this book. The exploration of Beijing through Iris’s eyes added a fun element to the story. I would recommend this book to those who like realistic fiction and to any Asian Americans trying to reclaim their heritage.

Faith Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

A lot of people have told me over this quarantine that they’ve gotten into things that they previously weren’t as interested in. Whether said interest was a new Netflix show, virtual yoga, or becoming a less-than-expert chef, the common theme seems to be that people are trying something new. And as I am no exception, my “new thing” during this pandemic has been superheroes. I was always more of a fantasy person, but recently I’ve become obsessed with these heroic stories. However, as I watched every Marvel movie available and read every comic strip in the house, I noticed something common about every hero pictured in these stories. Almost every single one of them seemed to be straight, white, and thin. And that’s where Faith Taking Flight comes in. 

“Faith Taking Flight” by Julie Murphy is the first in a duology that tells the origin story of superhero Zephyr from the Valient Comics universe. Faith is a pretty average 16 year old, who spends her time volunteering at the local animal shelter, writing for her school’s journalism club, and hanging out with her two best friends, Ches and Matt. However, she has a secret, and it’s a pretty big one- she recently discovered she is able to fly. Throughout the story, Faith must learn to control her newfound powers in order to save everyone she loves from a mysterious group wreaking havoc on her town. 

Faith is a hilarious and witty protagonist, and in addition to her charming personality, she’s also plus-size and queer, two things that are scarce in the superhero realm. And the best part is that these two traits aren’t the main focus of the book. It was really refreshing to see a story about an LGBTQ person where their sexuality isn’t the main focus. Murphy did a great job of making sure readers would see representation, while also making it clear that Faith’s weight and sexuality doesn’t define her. And it makes for some pretty cute LGBTQ romance, too!

Although the beginning of the book was a bit confusing, I really enjoyed Faith’s story. It is rich with suspense, mystery, and action, and although the plot twists were slightly predictable, I appreciated them all the same. I personally can’t see myself rereading this book, but I really liked the diversity and charm it brings to the superhero world. And I really hope to see most superheroes like Faith in the future!

 

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats is a historical fiction novel set in Wales in 1109. That fact alone was enough to draw me in. I have never read a book set in this time period, let alone heard much history about Wales at all, so I immediately wanted to pick it up. This book is about a girl named Elen who, to quote the synopsis on the back of my copy, “must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family”. Reading the full synopsis does give away a lot of information, including some details which take a long time to be fully explained. So, because of that, I am going to keep my description vague in case you wanna skip the details and go in blind so as to be more surprised by certain aspects.

In my opinion, the novel was quite a bit lacking in depth in everything from the plot to the characters. That said, I still found the story itself very intriguing. After I read it, I was surprised to learn that this is based on a real woman and story in 12th century Wales. Obviously the book is fiction, so some portions were embellished or added to make for a more compelling story, but I still find it incredibly cool that Elen and Nest were real women, and that Owain ap Cadwagan was a real Welsh prince. It was so interesting to learn the history of all the chaos in Wales and its relationships with other countries, however, what I found the most interesting was the accurate portrayal of women during this time period. Nowadays, we are so used to having strong independent powerful heroins as lead characters, so much so that the whole time I was reading, I was expecting Elen to start embodying that. However, I am very impressed by Coats’ decision to write the female characters correct to the time period, almost entirely powerless, because it made the book feel that much more real, as historical fiction novels should.

All in all, although it was a bit lacking, this was still a good book because of its’ unique inclusion of a very interesting lesser known piece of history. If you are a fan of historical fiction and you maybe haven’t read a book from this time period or if the story has just drawn you in like it had me, I very much suggest giving it a try.

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia

We Are Totally Normal” by Rahul Kanakia is a snapshot of Nandan’s life in high school. He begins to question his sexuality after breaking up with his girlfriend, Avani, and hooking up with his peer, Dave. Even though he feels happy with Dave, he misses Avani and is confused about what being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community could mean for him.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it is essential to have diverse characters in books (especially YA and children’s books) so that many different types of readers can see themselves in the narrative and relate to the story. The main character is Indian-American and also under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. That said, I feel as though Dave was not a very likable character. He took his labels and other people and used them to his advantage. Although I didn’t like Dave, the story did keep me engaged.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book, but maybe those looking for romance and realistic fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

 Namina Forna has created an intriguing and captivating world in her novel The Gilded Ones. A world in which women are subjugated to men, and monstrous deathshrieks roam the land. When Deka is revealed to have the cursed gold blood, marking her as a demon, her only choice is to join the emperor’s army and be trained as a soldier to fight the deathshrieks. However, what she learns there changes her world forever. Maybe the deathshrieks aren’t the monsters she was taught to believe?

I give props to Namina Forna for creating an original, and exciting storyline. While areas of the story and characters may have been underdeveloped, it’s impressive the amount of action and plot she managed to get through in 400 pages. I also enjoyed the strong female heroines, and sense of sisterhood Forna added to this novel. In a world dominated by men, she shows the strength, perseverance, and intelligence that only comes from bringing women together.

Throughout the book Namina held my attention, and while I don’t see myself rereading it, I enjoyed it. The Gilded Ones is a fun, light read for those obsessed with fantasy, adventure, and discovering new worlds.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Black Kids” by Christina Hammonds Reed is a very engaging narrative about race, violence, and self-worth. Ashley Bennet lives in Los Angeles in 1992 as an African-American high school senior. When a man named Rodney King is beaten to death, Ashely questions her place in society, as well as the decisions and microaggressions of her white friends that she had previously brushed off. She worries about her sister, who becomes involved in the riots over King’s beating and tries to come to terms with the rumor she spread about another Black classmate.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought the characters were very relatable and that the author portrayed a very authentic school experience. The small flashbacks to Ashley’s childhood were a nice touch to the story. I also thought Lucia (Ashley’s nanny) helped me better understand the somewhat rocky relationship Ashley had with her parents.

I would recommend this book to anyone right now, especially non-black teens wishing to educate themselves a little bit on racism. Seeing the Black experience of someone their age may be beneficial, and I found that this book had many parallels to the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement currently.

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is a fantastically unique novel. From dealing with intense themes to exploring extraterrestrial life, this book seems to have it all. Not to mention the wonderful smattering of romance. In fact, it’s got so many different facets, I don’t really feel comfortable describing it as just a “sci fi” novel. If anything, it’s more like a coming-of-age-romance-YA-science-fiction story. Of course, the multitudes of concepts are a bit hard to keep up with at times. But overall, it has a very interesting combination of ideas and genres.

The story follows 17-year-old Sia, a Mexican American struggling to overcome the unfairness of her mother’s deportation and subsequent death. But this reality may not be exactly as it seems. When visiting her favorite spot in the desert– the place her family considers the beginning of the world– Sia spots mysterious lights flashing across the starry sky. At first dismissing them as nothing, Sia begins spotting them again and again, until finally she sees it: a triangular UFO, burning through the desert sky. Aliens. This discovery, of course, changes Sia’s entire world as she seeks to find out the truth and what it means for her and her family.

I loved the authenticity of this novel, which, despite it being a science fiction novel, felt more like realistic fiction than anything else (except for the aliens of course). The book is infused with beautiful creation stories, gorgeous imagery, and just a hint of magic. I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a heartfelt and unique novel.