Kent State by Deborah Wiles

I am sad to say that before reading Kent State by Deborah Wiles I had never heard about the shocking events which occurred at Kent State University from May 1-4, 1970. In school I briefly heard about Americans protesting the Vietnam War, but that wasn’t even in my history class. It’s a shame that events such as these are brushed over or grouped into a bigger movement because of how important it is to remember the past so that we can learn from it. The author treats this event as what it was, a lived experience. This novel is written in a way I’ve never seen a story told before, as a conversation. This allows the reader to get different perspectives and understand people’s varying emotions about the events of that day. The reader stands witness to the human need to place blame and point fingers, as well as the tendency of humans to misremember certain details. Overall, I found this novel both unique and compelling. I would strongly recommend this to other high schoolers who, like me, may not have heard this story before. It is a good reminder, especially as young people, to be present and informed in the happenings of our country and in the world because we truly are 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.

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.

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.

   

Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Truly Madly Royally is a fairly short and sweet contemporary by Debbie Rigaud. Especially for a debut novel, I thought it was well done. However, as there would be with any beginning author, the novel lacked a certain depth and complexity. All this considered, I still found the novel a fun and quick read. It was the idea behind the story that really caught my attention. The main characters Zora and Owen come from such different backgrounds and cultures that it was interesting to read how they made an effort to learn more about each other. Furthermore, the idea of a small town, empowered, American girl catching the eye of her very own Prince Charming creates a very compelling modern day fairy tail. If you are looking for a sweet romantic comedy about an adorable but unlikely pair, I would suggest this read.

Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is an extremely compelling novel about an alternate history of 1800s Paris. Upon opening the book you are immediately thrown into a world with a type of magical technology and a crew, made up of long time friends with different specialties, who find themselves on a heist. This world is so lush and detailed and complex, but my only criticism is that there were times when I got a bit lost in all of the information while reading it. However, this is made up for with the beautiful and vivid imagery, as well as the misfit gang of enjoyable characters it follows. The book is written in such a way that you can get a glimpse into the minds of each member of the diverse cast, while also getting an understanding of their makeshift family. The story takes you on a ride of twists and turns, constantly leaving you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to say too much so as not to spoil it, but I would highly recommend this book, and I sincerely look forward to the rest of the series.

A previous review of this book by a different reviewer can be found here.

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid is your classic high school contemporary. If I am being completely honest, I had a hard time getting into this novel. I didn’t quite have the time or attention to give to reading it, but when I did, I became entranced. Being a man, Mr. Alsaid has a surprisingly accurate insight into the mind of a modern day teenage girl. The main character, Lu Charles, is your average 18 year old American girl who some would consider an expert on love. I mean, she writes a love column for a magazine! However, as a reader you will soon come to realize that she is still figuring it out like the rest of us.

Having recently broken up with her high school boyfriend, Lu finds herself suffering from a horrible case of writer’s block until she becomes entranced by the relationship of two strangers. To me, the most attractive quality of this book was how relatable the main character is because she is dealing with the same issues which you and I deal with. I highly suggest this read to any teen who is looking for a story to represent their struggles, whether it may relate to love or friends or work or whatever it may be, because it is a good reminder that all the hardships you face, no matter how big or small, are valid.

Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Honestly, I think a lot of us are excited for the day that we finally have a woman president. And in the novel “Most Likely”  written by Sarah Watson, we get a glimpse of what that might look like in the future. The plot follows four friends; Cj, Jordan, Martha, and Ava, one of whom will eventually end up holding office. None of the young women know this at the time the book is set, which is the group’s senior year. As the four struggle to find their identities and futures, we as readers are left to speculate who will end up holding office, until the end of the novel. And let’s just say it’s not who I expected!

All four of the main characters are very relatable, especially for young adults like myself. Watson does a fantastic job of showing different perspectives of the same story, while still tying everything together. Because of the switches in perspective, there is never a lull in the storyline, which ended up being one of my favorite things about the novel. And despite that the plot does get a bit hard to follow at times, it always came back together just at the right moments.