Title: What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin
Page Count: 336
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 23, 2020 by Wednesday Books
Review: This book tackles a very difficult topic: human trafficking. The book felt very well-researched, and it goes into a lot of detail about how young women (and men) are groomed and eventually coerced into sexual slavery. What I liked about this book is that this process is shown through what happens to Lex, rather than the author simply explaining it. It can be difficult to understand why people fall into these traps, but when you see it happening in the story, it becomes abundantly clear how easy it is. Anyone is susceptible to this sort of coercion, and it is very insidious how these pimps lure youth into a life of prostitution.
Lex is a deeply scarred character, both physically and emotionally, and my heart broke for her so many times. The topic of human trafficking in the United States is not widely addressed in YA literature, although I think it should be. It is unfortunately more common than people realize, and could be very well happening in their own backyard, so to speak. Other things happen in this book that demonstrate the lack of education in regards to this topic, and the ignorance of people who choose to look at forced prostitution as a choice. This book is largely about Lex accepting her self-worth, healing, creating personal boundaries, reclaiming her sexuality, and recognizing what makes healthy relationships. At the start of the story, she is broken and recovering from addiction, but by the end, she is learning how to build herself back up and how to stand up to her abusers. It is a painful and beautiful story, and I hope to see more like it in the future.
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.
Title: The Downstairs Girl
Author: Stacey Lee
Performer: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 10 hr, 27 min, 24 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Tantor Audio
Review: A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine. I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books. Chinese Americans are one such group. Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.” Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group. This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.
This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic. Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect. I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her. Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.
Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book. I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.
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.
Title: Tiger Lily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Page Count: 292
Publishing Date/Publisher: July 3, 2012 by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Review: I had a very difficult time rating this book because it had a lot of elements that I loved, and yet the ending did not make the impact on me that I was expecting it to.
I really enjoy reading retellings of classic tales, and this one really takes the cake for originality. I thought that the author very cleverly wove in concepts such as modernization, colonialism, and the proselytization of indigenous peoples into the narrative. She also touches upon some very difficult topics such as abuse, rape, murder, suicide, trauma recovery, and transphobia (for lack of a better word). A lot of these subjects can be gleaned through subtext, so they may not be apparent to every reader. I want to stress that this book is not at all graphic or gratuitous. It simply shows that even in a place as magical as Neverland, darkness lurks beneath the surface.
The author does a really good job of balancing the heavier content with the yearnings of first love. Tiger Lily and Peter’s love is intense and raw, but their naivety adds an element of innocence to it. It is heartbreaking as a reader to witness their struggles as they try to define themselves and what they mean to each other. This book very eloquently shows that although we may not always end up with our first love, they can still hold a special place in our hearts long after we have moved on.
The ending of this book was satisfying in it’s own way, while at the same time feeling a bit rushed. That, coupled with the slow pacing, prevented me from giving it a full four star rating.
Title: Patron Saints of Nothing
Author: Randy Ribay
Page Count: 323
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Kokila
Review: This is a coming-of-age story about struggling with identity and belonging. The main character, Jay, must learn to cope with the senseless death of his beloved cousin, while also coming to terms with how his own decisions may have played a role in the unfortunate series of events that led to the tragedy. It is also a story of the many ways people can surprise and disappoint us. For better or worse, our family and friends do not always live up to the image we have of them in our heads.
The writing style of this author is very similar to the writing style of Kelly Loy Gilbert. The first person perspective feels very authentic, and you very much feel like you are inside the head of the main character. This book didn’t emotionally gut me the same way that Picture Us in the Light did, but it is similar in that the story touches on some very heavy topics and reveals some very painful truths about Jay and his secretive family.
The cover art for this book is absolutely stunning. If I had not needed to read this book for a mock Printz committee, I probably would have picked it up simply for the cover art alone. Both front and back incorporate beautiful colors and symbolism.
Title: Crown of Midnight
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 418
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 2
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 27, 2013 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Review: Sarah J. Maas is a truly an exceptional storyteller. These days it seems most fantasy series are trilogies, but she manages to drag her stories into long sagas without becoming boring. Her characters are engaging, her twists surprising, and her plot layering is superb. The only reason this is not a 5 star book for me is because it reads very much like a second book in a trilogy (i.e. setting the stage for a final installment), at least at the beginning. I have noticed this is a common trend in Maas’ writing. She starts out slow and then hits you with a lot in the last 25% of the book. Her ability to write strong endings is what keeps her readers chomping at the bit for more. I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Heir of Fire.