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!


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.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Let me preface this review by saying that this is not a YA book. However, as an older teen, I think that it is a perfect book for someone transitioning out of YA, as I myself am. It must also be said that it has trigger warnings for violence and sexual assault. If these statements do not exclude you from potential readership, please do read this book. The Power by Naomi Alderman is epic, terrifying, unflinchingly honest and utterly brilliant. I am of the firm opinion that it should be read by everyone.
Let’s rewind a little. The premise is simple: one day, girls and young women start exhibiting the strange new ability to generate shocks like electric eels. These girls are able to wake up the same power in older women (there is a scientific explanation for this, so the book falls firmly into sci-fi rather than fantasy). Suddenly, with women holding an inherent biological advantage over men, the balance of power in the world shifts. It starts slow, a woman winning an important election in America, a new branch of religion with the Holy Mother at its center growing in popularity from South Carolina. It spreads and strengthens from there. Revolutions are built off of women banding together to use their newfound power to change the world they live in. But what starts off as a fight for equality, for autonomy, soon tips too far.
The Power follows four point of view characters, Margot, an American politician; Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a British crime boss; Allie, a foster care kid turned religious leader who hears a voice a la Joan of Arc; and Tunde, an aspiring photojournalist who captures one of the first scrap of footage of the power being used. Together, the four protagonists— I hesitate to call any of them heroes— let the reader follow the slow progression of different parts of society as the world changes. The characters themselves have amazing development— although admittedly not always for the better. While some of the characters develop into what you might call heroes, others continue past that, and change from victims to heroes to oppressors. The hard part is that you care about all of them, even as you are horrified by their actions, and herein lies Alderman’s strength: she writes about humanity. She writes flawed, complicated, scarred characters that you care about because they feel inherently real, even if sometimes you can’t like them as people. But she also understands the relationships between those people, the different dynamics in groups and cultures and as a result, her book feels terrifyingly plausible.
If that wasn’t enough, it is also an excellent novel. The Power is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I would argue that Alderman’s book is superior, for the simple reason that it is more easily readable. I personally think that Handmaid’s Tale, while an important book and a fascinating culture study, wasn’t written in a way that people could read it easily, especially those who don’t read very much. The plot was meandering, the main character was complacent, and her understanding of the world was negligible. While I understand while Atwood chose to write it as she did, I was simply not invested in the story other than academically. The Power, however had an engaging plot, captivating characters, and an excellent study of the world we live in today.

The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth

The End and Other Beginnings is a collection of six short stories (two from the Carve the Mark universe) written by Veronica Roth. All of them are set in the future, with all kinds of sci-fi fantasy technology. Some are more realistic than others, but all of them draw you in and leave you wanting more. Roth successfully writes six journeys, setting the scene, addressing the conflict, and sewing up the ends in the shorter amount of space than usual. But these stories feel like their own, drawing you in and letting you live in that world. Her writing is effective and beautiful, bringing in love, hatred, loss, and friendship. Her characters find the true meaning of the feelings they possess without previously knowing what was going on in their minds.
This collection is an interesting read, perfect for any sci-fi lovers and Veronica Roth lovers because it stays true to her previous writing, just taking on a different pathway. Roth makes us realize that despite the non-human beings and massive technological advances possible for the future, humans will always have the same set of problems

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Paupreto

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Paupreto is perfect for those who love fantasy and mystery and suspense. About how even those closest to you might not have the best intentions, and how secrets are sometimes better left untold. Fans of Embers in the Ashes and Three Dark Crowns will love it. A rare fantasy book without romance. In this dystopian world exists people with the power to control and communicate with animals. When two sisters are separated, not just by distance but by emotional connections. When the two sisters find a pair of phoenix eggs and nurse them. But, when it comes time for them to hatch, only one survives and in her anger the older sister kill the phoenix. The younger sister distraught with grief runs away to the resistance. A group of phoenix riders. She disguises herself as a boy and becomes a servant. All while more and more people attempt to overthrow the corrupt government.

A Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Haidee and Arjun live in a land of perpetual light. Haidee, daughter of the goddess-queen of the golden city, is expected to take her mother’s place when she is old enough. She is expected to wed and have daughters and rule and, in the meantime, obey. But Haidee knows there is a better way to rule than her mother’s method of shutting out everyone but their own and hoarding their world’s swiftly dwindling resources for their city alone. She also knows that the answers to her questions about what happened to her world and how she can fix it, lie in her family’s past. But her mother is cagey about her past, and refuses to tell Haidee what happened the day the world split in half, much less what befell the sister and father she never knew. So, Haidee does the responsible, sensible thing: runs off on her own, without telling anyone, looking for the end of the world.
Arjun belongs to one of the nomadic groups that sprung up in the wake of the world’s Breaking, salvaging and scavenging what they can to survive. He has no love of the goddesses who tore their world apart, but when he meets Haidee, things get a bit more complicated. It’s easy to hate a goddess responsible for his family’s struggle. It is less easy to hate a rainbow-haired girl who makes friends with dolugongs, and who is terrible at making sensible plans but incredible with machinery. She is smart and strange and he has no idea how she is still alive, but they are traveling together now and are, if only grudgingly, friends. So as near as he can figure out, it is more or less his duty to keep her that way.
Odessa and Tianlan live shrouded in shadow, their dying city caught between the danger of the icy sea and the ravenous creatures within on one side, and the treacherous and uncharted wildlands on the other. Tianlan of the Catseye, former ranger of the wildlands, never wants to return to the place that killed her friends. Unfortunately, when monsters not seen in decades appear at the shore and speak to the Princess Odessa, Asteria, the queen, sends Lan and a ship full of other powerful spellcasters to find the Rift where the world broke— and find a way to fix it. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Odessa, intent on following the monsters who spoke to her of powers beyond imagining and the trials she must face to gain them, sneaks aboard.
As the four teens draw closer to each other and the Rift, danger grows. Dark things lurk in the past of Odessa and Haidee’s family, and soon both princesses will need to take terrible steps to protect those they love.
I went into this book with high expectations. I have read Rin Chupeco’s other books and loved all of them. A Never Tilting World did not disappoint me. Chupeco is an expert at the first person narrative, which can too easily become tiresome to read, and all four characters have a distinct voice and personality that work well with the story. The world is stark and colorful and unique, while still managing to invoke farmiliar fears of dwindling resources and uninhabitable homelands that are all too real in our world. I highly recommend A Never Tilting World to anyone who loves fantasy with vast magical powers, monsters, dystopias and grand romances.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

When BeiTech, a powerful corporation in a futuristic, space traversing society, attacked an illegal mining colony run by one of their competitors, the lives of the colonists were irrevocably destroyed. Thousands died, and those who managed to escape are being pursued by the remainder of their attackers, who plan to destroy any who might reveal the atrocities they commited. Kady and Ezra, newly exes, were finishing high school when the attack came. They lost everything that day, and now, licking their wounds, are pursued by the very people who tried to kill them the first time, all they have left is each other.
Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae is not like anything I’ve ever read. In fairness, I don’t read much in the way of space operas, so I may simply not have much to compare it to. The genre is generally too overpopulated for my tastes with leather-clad protagonists (you’d think styles would have changed in a few centuries) shooting blasters at a strangely uniformly humanoid collection of aliens (seriously, can we get, like, a highly evolved society of blue space bats that communicate using bioluminescence? Or just something instead of green humans? Thanks.)
But while Illuminae does employ many of the genre’s tropes, it does so in a unique way. Giant spaceships? Sure, but not all of them are battlecruisers or have guns (I mean… some of them are.) Ability to do jumps from one place to another within the galaxy? Of course! But only the huge, expensive ships have the technology to make them. Hot, intelligent hero on a mission, accompanied by an equally hot sharpshooter with a dark past? Check! But she isn’t particularly interested in the greater good (I mean, she is a bit, she is the hero after all…) and her love interest is less tall dark and broody than he is a loveable doofus with the texting grammar and etiquette of every teenager in your contacts.
Illuminae combines sci-fi and horror in an addicting story told not in the traditional methods of storytelling, but in a hodgepodge compilation of stolen documents. Everything from ship’s logs, to casualty reports, to text messages, are employed to tell the tale. The result is a riveting book that, despite depriving the reader of a deeper understanding of the characters’ states of mind, allows for a wider picture of the situation. The inclusion of official documents and communications gives the reader a sense that the book chronicles real events, and the text messages between the two main characters, Kady and Ezra, endears the protagonists to the reader and thus makes us care when they and others are in danger. I highly recommend this book, and urge you to get it as a hardcopy. I think any other format just couldn’t do it justice.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

The apocalypse starts at Starbucks. Because of course it does. Elena Mendoza has never been normal. She was born through a virgin birth (proved by a scientist to be the only example of an asexual form of reproduction called parthenogenesis) so depending on who you ask she’s either a miracle or an anomaly. On top of that she has heard inanimate objects speak to her since she was a child. But things really start to get strange when Frankie— the girl she’s had a crush on for literally years— is shot right in front of her, and the Starbucks Siren tells Elena to heal her.
But when Elena does the boy who shot Frankie (and dozens of others across the world) are raptured away in a beam of golden light. From there the book is a wacky rollercoaster of satirical humor, world-altering choices and just a little bit of existential crisis. From cover to cover, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is a hilarious read that has something for everyone.

Internment by Samira Ahmed

“What’s that thing people always say about history? Unless we know our history, we’re doomed to repeat it? Never forget? Isn’t that the lesson? But we always forget. Forgetting is in the American grain.”
Set in a world where Islamophobia is the latest epidemic. A world where the Muslims of America are the new Jews of Germany, where internment camps are real and fascism has reigns on the government. A world so grim, it’s hard to imagine it happening but powerful enough to create an impact on the present generation into perceiving what is and can happen.
Internment is a dystopian fiction that follows the story of Layla – a 17-year old whose entire life changes instantly, after she, along with her parents are forced to evacuate their home in L.A. and are brought to — along with several hundred muslims — to an internment camp called ‘Mobius’. There they are told that they are to create a community built on, “Unity. Security. Prosperity.” (the irony of this motto will be hard to digest from the very first page)
But Layla is not in the mood to stick around, plastering a fake smile and act as if everything is just fine. Her resistment in accepting to build a “normal life” while living in a heavily guarded community barbed with electrifying fences a.k.a prison, is what builds the plot. Her unwavering determination for wanting and going against odds to acquire the freedom promised as a citizen of America heightens the incentive factors of the book.
From her Yemeni-Jewish boyfriend, David to her progressive Muslim parents to her newly acquainted friends (and enemies) at the camp – the characters are all interesting and help in equalizing the light and dark parts of the book. Unfortunately, we don’t get to read anything about the other characters – where they came from or who they are, besides Layla’s perception (or specifically, her thoughts) on them which I found to be a tad-bit disappointing. Because many of the characters who played important roles in the book ended up becoming a mystery with no background, making it hard to really decipher what to make of them.
Albeit the missing pieces here and there, the book does its job of instilling fear within a reader – not the fear you hate but the fear you learn from. This story had to be told and i’m glad Samira Ahmed went along to write this book based on her fear and comprehension of what’s been going on for the last couple of years – pointing out the prejudices based on race and religion.
Until we don’t learn from our history, there’s no saying it won’t repeat itself, no matter how confident one may be…

Archenemies by Marissa Meyers

In Renegades Marissa Meyer blurred the lines between hero and villain as Nova began to question whether the Renegades, an organization of superheroes that run her city, are truly as bad as she has always been told. In Archenemies Nova faces a different internal struggle. After the reveal of Agent N, and the council’s plan to destroy the powers of all prodigies that oppose them, she has made her peace with taking down the organization; to her mind it is a necessity. The problem isn’t the Renegades, it’s her teammates. The problem is Adrian Everheart, son of Captain Chromium and the Dread Warden, her best friend and crush that won’t quite believe that Nova’s secret anarchist alter-ego, Nightmare, is truly dead, despite the stunt she pulled off with Ingrid to convince the Renegades. The problem is Ruby and Oscar, her friends who are, despite their proud status as Renegades actually really good people, and the worst problem of all may be her last teammate, Dana, who is becoming increasingly suspicious of Nova.
The stakes have risen for everyone as time grows short and new dangers arise from every side. Nova must find— and steal— Ace’s helmet from the Renegades before the superheroes catch up, while Adrian struggles with keeping his own secret identity— the Sentinel— hidden from his family, and from Nova. Archenemies is an epic sequel that will take you on a wild ride of secrets, betrayal and action and leave you wanting more!