Title: Home Is Not a Country
Author: Safia Elhillo
Page Count: 224
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 2, 2021 by Make Me a World
Review: I could have never predicted the direction of this story based on the cover or the synopsis. There were many aspects of the story that were beautiful – the title, the emphasis on friendship, and the mother/daughter relationship – but where it started to get a little sloggy for me was when the elements of magical realism were incorporated. There was a turning point about halfway through where the author lost me and never really roped me back. I kept being reminded of A Christmas Carol after this point, and the conclusion was about what I would expect knowing how that story ended.
The style of poetry that this author uses has recently been trendy in the YA sphere. I understand that the spacing, use of symbols, and lowercase letters are all creative choices. I assume they have a purpose, but I don’t know enough about poetry to figure out what that purpose is. Sometimes I found it distracting because I would spend a lot of time trying to glean why these choices were made. Hopefully I will find somebody who can explain it to me, because Google cannot.
Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Title: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
Author: Laura Ruby
Performer: Lisa Flanagan
Length: 9 hr
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Balzar + Bray
Review: I had great expectations for this book, because I really loved Bone Gap. Ruby does a great job with magical realism, and this book is no exception; however, I found this book to be a bit too meandering for my liking. It follows two characters, one alive and one deceased, and oftentimes there really doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the plot. It jumps from one story to another, with the reader occasionally getting a glimpse of the past. The deceased character, Pearl, is fascinated by Frankie’s life although it isn’t really clear to me why. Pearl isn’t sure why she hasn’t ascended, and there isn’t any real resolution to this (in my opinion). Secrets are revealed, but they didn’t blow my mind because there was no anticipation built up around them. I wasn’t bored listening to this audiobook, but I also wasn’t chomping at the bit to get back to it. It was a nice snapshot of the time period, but overall a very average read for me.
On an entirely different note, I loved the title of this book, loved the cover, and I thought the reader did a great job.
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Page Count: 208
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 10, 2019 by Make Me a World
Review: After reading this book I am surprised that it is cataloged as YA Fiction. It really read like J Fiction to me. I had to keep reminding myself that the main character is seventeen, because her character seems much younger.
The setting is a sort of Utopia where the “monsters” have been eliminated and everyone treats each other nicely (or so they think). From the very first chapter I could have outlined the entire plot of the story. I can’t say much more than what is in the synopsis without completely giving everything away, but I can tell you that the story follows a very predictable path.
I admire what the author is trying to do with this book – she is revealing the dangers of complacency and denial – but it is all overly simplified. The backstory as to how this “Utopia” setting was achieved is completely preposterous. Basically anyone and everyone who has ever committed an atrocity has supposedly been identified and imprisoned. Society has realized the error of their ways and all people are accepted regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, etc, etc., etc. This book was very short, but I honestly think it could have been shorter. This would have been a great short story for an anthology if all the repetitive filler was removed.
I generally enjoy books that employ elements of magical realism, but this one just wasn’t for me.
Author: A.S. King
Page Count: 394
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 26, 2019 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Review: This book is bizarre from start to finish. It comes together in the end, but I was confused for about 3/4 of it. Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea. It was dark and delved into difficult topics such as abuse, murder, and deeply entrenched racism. There were many things that still didn’t make sense to me even at the conclusion, but I just did not have the bandwidth to wade back through the book to try to make all the connections. The writing style is very unique and it took me awhile to adjust to it. I would not be surprised if people DNF this book simply because it is difficult to follow. Although I can see why there is buzz surrounding this book, it is not one I will be widely recommending.