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!

 

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.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Wayward Son, I was dubious. After all, the first book (Carry On) was essentially a Harry Potter fanfic from a book about fanfiction, and it seemed as if it had been pretty thoroughly wrapped up. The premise of the second book is a time honored favorite among fanfiction authors as well— a road trip. Hearing this, I naturally assumed that it would be a fluffy, feel-good story about the main characters post-adventure shenanigans. Perfect, I thought, for a quick, cute read as I waited for the final book in my favorite trilogy to be released. I would already know the characters and the world, Rowell is always fun, it will be a fast, fairly easy read. I mean, it’s a road trip fic

    Going in with these expectations I was somewhat surprised when right from the start the book did its best to defy conventions. The initial chapters address the fallout from the events of book one. Simon is suffering from depression as he struggles with a bevy of repressed issues, ranging from the loss of his powers to figuring out that has been in love with Baz this entire time. Stuck between the worlds of Mages and Mundanes by his lost magic and newly gained wings and tail, Simon has been living with Penny and Baz as they all try and figure out their lives after the events of Carry On. As the story progresses, we see development in the characters, but this angst persists in a way that is unusual in books of its kind.

It is here that the series’ quick POV switches and short chapters truly shine, as we alternate between Baz, Simon, Penny and occasionally Agatha away in California. Because of the short chapters and informal format, Rowell is able to switch points of view without disrupting the narrative, a feat few multiperspective books manage to achieve. It is this seamless transition that allows the reader to see different parts of the story, without being taken out of the storytelling. This is incredibly important as a reader, since all of the main charactes are extremely unreliable, and only when we are allowed to compare and contrast their perspectives on a situation does that situation become clear.

Still, the tone doesn’t quite work. It is a subversion of the usual road trip tropes, yes, but the pacing is a little off, and the end result is a book that feels like the author tried to put multiple plots into one novel. It is readable, and it is entertaining, but the plot was weaker than that of the first book. The villains in particular felt like fillers, a big baddie that could be easily defeated in one book and a blaze of glory. Which would have been fine, except that a recurring conflict througout the book was dealing with the four main character’s mental health and their struggle with various traumas. This ended up as a ridiculously underutilized plot point considering that it had so much more potential and was far more interesting to me as a reader than the bad guys ever were. 

So it is that the worldbuilding ends up being the strongest part of the book, which came as a surprise. The first book established a Harry Potter style world, you knew the general rules but that was about it and in the end that was all you really needed to know. But in book two our main characters are in a foreign country (America, which added a running gag of culture shock) and have to learn new rules and come to terms with some of the realities of the magical world. This is aided greatly by the introduction of some new characters of differing backgrounds who pop up in later chapters and give some much needed context. And while a lot of the ideas presented are as yet undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped, I have hope that further exploration will happen in book three. Overall, Wayward Son is a solid YA. You don’t want to think too hard or else it unravels, but it is engaging and fast paced enough to be forgiven.

   

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera was a fun, light, feminist story. The protagonist, Juliet, is gay and Puerto Rican, and the book mainly focuses on her attempts to reconcile those different parts of her identity. Juliet grew up in the Bronx, but by the time the story starts she is in college, and about to start an internship with the author of her favorite book Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. Juliet mainly faces emotional issues in this book, a lot of them relating to feminism’s traditional whiteness and Juliet’s struggle to reconcile her feminist side with her Puerto Rican side.
The night before Juliet leaves the Bronx, she comes out to her family, to mixed reactions. The very next day, she is on her way to Portland, Oregon, a place so foreign to her, her family can’t remember what city she’s going to. There is a lot of initial culture shock when she reaches her destination. The majority of people are white, the lgbtq+ community is out and proud, and almost everyone is a hippie. There are things Juliet doesn’t like about Portland, and there are things she doesn’t like about the Bronx, and as she compares the two cities, she discovers her identity and what kind of environment she likes to be surrounded by. As you probably could tell, the book is based heavily on setting, which I found unusual and refreshing. The book is also set in 2003, which I thought was an unnecessary and strange choice, since the author didn’t take advantage of the time period at any point in the book. There were so few placing details, in fact, that I forgot the book wasn’t set in the present for the majority of the time I was reading it.
Most of the characters were well-developed and interesting, but most of them were fairly unrealistic. Juliet’s 14-year-old brother reads the Animorph series, which is meant for elementary schoolers. Harlowe, Juliet’s idol, and the author she is interning with, is a hippie to a degree so extreme, it would be near-impossible for a real person to reach it. Other than that, the characters seemed realistic, and almost all of them were a person of color or a member of a minority group. This book was delightfully diverse, with a ton of people of color and lgbtq+ representation.
Juliet Takes a Breath was very contemplative and conversational. Juliet muses on indirect and unintentional racism she experiences in Portland, and whether she can find a sense of community with people who make so many mistakes and seem so inconsiderate. The writing style was unique, almost a train of thought. It was rambling but charming, and fit Juliet’s narrative perfectly. It took a lot of the emotional weight away from the story, so most of the time I was reading it I just felt entertained, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was fun but not life-changing, although I do think this could be a very meaningful book for some people. I think everyone, although especially Latinas, who have recently discovered their sexuality, or are trying to work up the courage to come out could appreciate this book. I would also recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about social liberalism or likes reading stories about culture shock. Overall, Juliet Takes a Breath was a fun, though not very deep book, that mostly discussed what it means to balance different aspects of your personality.

Color Outside the Lines Edited by Samira Ahmed

Color Outside the Lines is an anthology about interracial relationships across time and genres.It’s about the ways in which these relationships are both different and the same as the ones that aren’t interracial; it not only talks about love, culture, and prejudice but also about family, friendships, communication, expectations, and legacies, from different points of view.This book elaborates on one point: love has no boundaries! It’s not caged within walls with certain rules and regulations, but creates a pathway for the union of two souls, regardless of the so-called societal beliefs which the authors did a wonderful job in exploring and conveying many of these factors in their stories. Although I could review each story, it wouldn’t do justice to the book, because collectively this
book voices a stronger message and is easier to understand and refer to, when reading each author’s take on the shared topic. There’s a story for everybody within these pages, a story you will connect to in some way or the other – whether it’s about not being aware of the monumental differences between cultures, the way one kind-hearted person can change your life, or the female/female Hades/Persephone reimagination you’ve always wanted – while also enlightening and making one aware of other’s feelings and thoughts. The authors have created a kaleidoscope of voices that illuminate how much we need more diverse literature and just how important these voices are. A very interesting and encouraging book that I would recommend to readers of all ages.

Suggested Reading by Dave Connis

Clara’s entire life has been defined by books. She can count the changes in her life by the stories that caused them, and define her achievements by her role as a reader. So when on the first day of her senior year at Lupton Academy, she discovers that the school plans to ban a list of fifty books, many of which have changed her life, she is understandably angry. Said anger grows when the school librarian tells her that this is not the first time, and that the school will simply make the books disappear from the shelves without telling the students. So Clara does what any bookworm worth her salt would do: convinces the librarian to let her deal with the books (technically she tells him that she will redistribute the “bannies” to little libraries in the area, but you know, details). And then she starts up an underground library (UnLib) in her locker.
UnLib takes off in ways she wasn’t expecting; in ways that a southern girl just trying to get through her senior year is definitely not prepared for. Soon enough she is meeting patrons of her library every day, between every class, in every free period, even giving up her lunch just to keep the UnLib functioning. And as the UnLib starts to draw new people into her orbit, people she has barely spoken to, like the resident rich kid clique the star-stars, her best friend and Student President LiQui’s Student Cabinet (StuCab) and even the very adults trying to ban her beloved books, Clara finds her world changing in ways she never could have anticipated. Not all are bad though, and Clara soon finds herself making friendships that she never would have thought possible, and learning, along with the rest of her school, just how much books really can change you— for better and for worse.
In the end, Suggested Reading is about understanding. It is about how we make assumptions and interpretations of things and people based on our own limited knowledge, and how the conclusions we draw are not always right, or the same ones that somebody else, somebody with a different history and perspective might in our place. It is about accepting those differences and using them to create discussion and narratives that expand our own understanding of the world, and how books influence us.

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The town of Four Paths is cursed. Hundreds of years ago, the four founders of the town fought a monster and used the powers they bargained away from it to lock the creature in the Gray, a dead version of the town trapped in the time of the Gray’s creation. Now, the descendants of the four founding families use the powers passed down to them to defend Four Paths still.
Justin’s family, the Hawthorne’s have been the most powerful family in Four Paths for years. His mother, the town sheriff, rules Four Paths and the other Founding Families, and expects her children to follow in her footsteps. But while his sister can read people’s futures in the Deck of Omens passed down from the Founders, Justin has proved himself completely powerless. And in a town where being a Founder with power makes you all but a king, and being one without a pariah, Justin’s family has determined to fake his power until he can be shipped off to college.
Harper Carlisle is a pariah. On the day she performed the ceremony in which she was supposed to gain her powers and take her place among a family of Founders, she was trapped in the Gray. When she emerged from the Gray a few days later it was without power, and without her arm. Sheriff Hawthorne decided to cut her out, and her family allowed it, and worse, her best friend, Justin Hawthorne abandoned her. Now, Harper would do anything to get revenge on the Hawthornes and even more, to get even a scrap of the power that was stolen from her in the Gray, a scrap of the power she deserves.
Violet Saunders is still grieving from the death of her older sister when her mother uproots their lives to move to her childhood home of Four Paths to take care of her own sister, who suffers from early onset dementia. She’s expecting old friends of her mother and that small town drama from the movies, but what she finds is much, much weirder. And scarier. Definitely scarier. But also small town drama. And, you know, an ancient evil nobody knows much about but still kills people in creepy ways if they wander into its territory.
The Devouring Gray is wholly original and darkly fascinating. I spent half of it turning my audiobook off and on because parts of it are just that creepy and the other half glaring at anyone who tried to talk to me because I didn’t want to miss a second. It is that one horror story in a hundred where you actually like the characters and agree with their decisions, the one fantasy novel with a story original enough that you don’t actually know what is going to happen. It also has love interests you can get behind and, yes, a love triangle— but not the one you expect! It’s amazing, and I promise you’ll love it!

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare

If you’re a fan of Cassandra Clare or love romance and Europe and demons, you’ll love The Red Scrolls of Magic.

When Magnus Bane and his boyfriend, the heroic Alex Lightwood, go on a vacation across Europe, they encounter a cult known as the Crimson Hand, which was founded by Magnus or the Great Poison. A new leader threatens to summon Lucifer’s right hand man, Asmodeus. Also known as Magnus’s father. They go across Europe to stop them, and to prove Magnus’s innocence.

 

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us, by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, is magical. It tells the story of Arthur, a high school student who lives in Georgia but is spending the summer as an intern in New York, and Ben, a New York native spending the summer in summer school. Their sweet, romantic-movie meetup is incredible. Neither of them can believe it. Somehow, in the chaos of the huge city, the universe managed to put them together in the same place, at the same time. They knew they had to make the universe’s wishes come true. Their desperation to find each other is adorable and admirable. Everyone is rooting for them, and the lead up is amazing. This story is two boys, finding love and a perfect summer in the magic of New York.
Silvera and Albertalli write this book with familiar and comfortable characters. They feel so real and relatable, making them even more lovable. Every character is unique; every interaction special. There are laugh-out-loud moments, and serious moments, and very romantic moments. Everything an amazing story needs. This book makes everyone believe in love. All different kinds of love. It is about taking chances, and do-overs, and forgiveness. A great story for anyone and anytime.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

After months of waiting, the time has finally come to welcome into the world What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. The long awaited collaboration between two of the best authors of queer YA more than lives up to both author’s previous books. While Albertalli’s light and cheerful style gives the story a rom-comesque feeling (while still flipping the genres usual stereotypes), Silvera’s chapters ground the book, giving it a thoughtfulness and dimension needed to balance it.
When Arthur accompanied his parents to NYC for the summer he had three goals: make friends at his internship, explore the city, see Hamilton. But now his parents are fighting, one of his best friends won’t text him, and there has been no sign of Lin Manuel Miranda. To top it off he was too clueless to get the name of the cute guy he met at the post office.
Meanwhile, Ben has his own set of problems. His friend group splintered after a couple of breakups, his boyfriend cheated on him and his best friend has all but abandoned him for his latest romance. Oh, and he has to attend summer school. With his ex.
With the help of craigslist, their friends, and plenty of internet stalking via instagram they may find each other, but what then? Will they work together, and what happens when Arthur has to leave at the end of the summer?