Thursday, June 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh



Flame in the Mist
by Renée Ahdieh
Publication Date: May 16th 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Find This Book: Flame in the Mist
Rating: 4.5/5




**Something I need to get out of my system before I review**

It’s kinda upsetting that this is being called a Mulan retelling. I’m not sure if the author has addressed this or not, but this isn’t a Mulan retelling. ‘Girl dressing as a guy’ is such a trope in YA books but nobody calls those other books Mulan retellings... it feels like the only reason people are saying that is because a girl dresses like a guy in east asia' while totally ignoring that fact that the plot is nothing like Mulan and also ignoring the cultural differences of China (folklore of Fa Mu Lan) and Japan (setting of Flame in the Mist). Ahdieh did such a fantastic job of recreating Feudal Japan and it just feels so disrespectful to blanket her work like others have been doing. Fa Mu Lan is a woman warrior of Chinese Legend/Folklore. She was known for practicing martial arts such as kung fu, for being skilled with the sword, and for mastering archery before joining the Chinese army to fight invading nomads. She fought in the army for 12 years and returned home after it was over- all without ever being discovered to be a woman. Even if you want to compare the better know Disney film “Mulan” to this novel, the similarities stop at “woman disguised as man” which, again, is a pretty common trope in Fantasy and YA to begin with. This novel is so entrenched in beautiful Japanese culture that it’s genuinely upsetting for it to be called a ‘Mulan retelling’ seemingly only because they are both from East Asian settings.

Review Time


I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought this book was a standalone? So watching the pages dwindle down made me super anxious considering that there was still so much unanswered. Thank goodness there will be a second book! With hopefully a cover just as gorgeous as the first. Seriously- I adore this book cover!!!

I liked how blurred the lines between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were for most of the book. It felt like the grey in-between was finally being acknowledged and that the protagonists and antagonists were that way because of circumstance and misunderstandings. A stand-off between the Black Clan and Mariko’s betrothed was honestly a bit of a let down because a clear ‘bad guy’ was defined. I liked the idea that each individual thought that what they were doing was best and that they all just happened to be on opposing sides and that was offset at the near end.

I also really  really liked Mariko as a main character (though the POV occasionally switched). Frequently in YA Fantasy the female main character acts like an idiot and is downright annoying to read for me. Take Meg from the Iron Fey trilogy or Clary from the Mortal Instruments as examples. This was not the case for Flame in the Mist! Mariko isn’t perfect but she generally did smart things and made decisions that I think I would have made if put in a similar situation. She fought and lied to protect herself, she didn’t get boy-crazy, there was no “insta-love”, and she even kept her budding feelings in check for the most part. She was curious and asked the right questions and knew the right time to ask them. Additionally, she made use of her odd and inventive mind and had great discourse about the place of women in society. She even had a healthy amount of doubt for everyone. She never trusted anyone on blind faith- even her family- which was enjoyable to read.

The other characters were cool and mysterious, and rightly so considering Mariko was meeting them along with us. Did I get as much detail and background information as I would have liked? No. But I’m sure we’ll be given more information in the next book! The book had some awkward pacing a points, and a bit of romance but very lightly romantic. This book also has some complex and a bit confusing political dynamics underlying the obvious political dynamics, so I hope that gets fleshed out later. With assassinations, tea and good food, magic, and samurai warriors- this book pretty much has it all!

Furthermore, it was so fantastic to see a book including a Feudal Japan lifestyle, weaponry, and culture. Bushido (the way of the warrior), Samurai and Ronin, honorifics, politics, mythology, Shoguns and Daimyos- these were all things I learned about and came to appreciate and respect through academics and my own research. I haven’t read a single other YA book like this and it was so rewarding to read and just know that this book now exists. Diversity is so important, *looks up at paragraph above where I had to distinguish between China and Japan*, especially in children’s books. The glossary at the end defining Japanese words and ideas is a great learning tool for this book as well. Kids need to be able to see themselves, their cultures, their pasts, and learn about other cultures in literature in order to create understanding and acceptance at their age. As an East Asian minor, I hope to discover more novels like this because it was fantastic and so rewarding to experience all I had learned now outside of the academic setting. Honestly, this book was so hyped up and I think it lived up to the hype. Excited for the next book!!!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Grit by Gillian French




Grit
by Gillian French
Publication Date: May 9th 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Find This Book: Grit
Rating: 2.5/5





*****CW: RAPE, SEXUAL MANIPULATION BY TEACHER, SLUT-SHAMMING, SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, KIDNAPPING/DISAPPEARANCE*****

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for honest review.

This book was a disappointment to me. It feels like it barely scratched the surface. I don’t read a lot of contemporary, so it was refreshing in that regard, and I enjoyed Darcy and reading from her perspective. Darcy is slut-shamed throughout the book which isn’t really warranted and was upsetting the whole way through. Even her aunt trash-talks Darcy in her own home. It was disgusting to read those scenes to be honest. I hate her aunt so much. The ‘tragic’ backstory of her aunt does not excuse her present behavior. Though apparently it does to the characters within the novel. All of the characters were flawed in their own way but there was so much going on it was hard to find a main plot or point. Darcy’s ex-best friend is missing, Darcy’s dad is dead, Nell’s father left her family before she was born, there’s rape, and sexual manipulation of a teacher to a student… there’s a pageant thrown in there, it’s a lot going on at once.

I think the slut shaming was done in semi-good taste. Slut-shaming by the main character is so prevalent in books these days that it was fantastic to read about the damage the rest of YA protagonists inflict. Darcy gets so much crap from everyone around her based off of rumors. Nobody ever listens to her truths and she takes the brunt of it to protect those she cares about from getting similar harassment. Hopefully a learning lesson for young readers to just keep an open mind about their peers.

What really disappointed me was that the rest of these issues aren’t actually addressed. Most of the events happen before the start of the novel, and the novel is Darcy living her life harvesting blueberries in Maine as secrets slowly spill out. It felt weird not knowing what all the horrible secrets were until the end of the novel. It didn’t leave any room for doing something about all of the secrets, or moving forward, or opening the discussion up for readers. It mostly felt like these serious issues were just quick plot points- aka my disappointment. The secrets-revealed-the-end sort of thing doesn’t work with stuff this huge.

The author says one of the characters may have been depressed and suicidal in one sentence and then never brings it up again. It needed to be addressed. Similarly, the rape happens and then it’s never brought up again with any sort of resolution. They even have to encounter their rapist multiple times throughout the book pretending like nothing happened. And the rapist is so casual and oblivious about how encountering him makes her feel. This was the biggest issue in the book for me, primarily because the other problems got more ‘screen-time,’ the whole town knew about them, and felt more resolved. This rapist is walking around and nobody knows and it’s implied that nobody will know. It was very uncomfortable to read. The victim doesn’t really take the time to address her situation either because they’re dealing with so many other people’s problems too. Suicide, kidnapping, sex, alcohol, rape, and teacher manipulation are deep and important issues. It felt like the least the author could’ve done is go in a bit more, hash out the problematic stuff, and leave the reader more fulfilled. Not closure per-say, but with more doors opened for discussion about these issues instead of just making them feel like plot points.

The author had the opportunity here to really do some good and bring light and understanding to tough situations, and I was really let down by how it turned out. Sure the book was more complicated and in-depth than I’m making it sound, pretty much all the characters are realistically flawed and have reasons for being problematic. I also don’t think I could really expect the author to do much more while still being under 300 pages, but I’m dismayed that the author created this platform… and then just did nothing with it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy



Ramona Blue
by Julie Murphy
Publication Date: May 9th 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Find This Book: Ramona Blue
Rating: 3.5/5




This book's review is a bit scary for me, as I feel a bit vulnerable when I compare it to my own experiences. I think it's so important that conversations like this have been allowed by the doors this book has opened, but it's sensitive to all. Be aware and be kind.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for honest review.

The first half of this book was absolutely great for me. The spaghetti-o’s were cute, Grace was cute, the summer fling was cute. Ramona’s problems with Grace’s confusion and reservations was emotional and powerful. Ramona’s mother was disheartening, but real. Even Hattie’s struggle, which is not relatable to me in the slightest, still felt relatable. It was when the self-declared lesbian kissed a guy that I became super scared about the rest of the novel. I’d heard so many good things about this book, I was really looking forward to it. How could people not warn me about a lesbian finding the guy to “turn her straight”?

As a confused sexuality-fluid female myself, I was super worried about where this twist was going. Is the author going to make this one boy invalidate all of Ramona’s past relationships with girls? I didn’t think I’d make it through a book about that. Maybe Ramona was Bi? Fortunately for me, Julie Murphy emphasized Ramona’s love for this person because of the person and everything they mean to her, not really taking gender into account. This then left me wondering if Ramona was Pansexual or Demisexual. What was super powerful for me was Ramona’s internal struggle with sexuality. Did her love for this guy mean that she liked guys? Or was it just this specific guy? And every time she kissed him, she said she felt like she was betraying her old identity. Death by a thousand cuts to the Ramona who thought she had it all figured out in high school being a lesbian in Mississippi. I can’t count how many times the same thoughts have gone through my head. I’m a cis female, dating a cis male, that is probably seen as a heterosexual relationship to everyone. If it’s not visible does it even count? Does this mean I am queer enough for LGBTQ+ clubs, safe spaces, pride marches etc.? It can feel like people feel like I’m an intruder, which of course makes everything even more confusing. This is what saved the book for me. Ramona doesn’t label her sexuality by the end of the book. She hasn’t figured herself out yet and maybe she never will, but the point is that the pressure to have a label has been removed. And maybe it will help fellow confused queers not feel pressured to label themselves as well.

What brought this book down the stars is how long it took Ramona to be her own person. The whole book is spent following her sister Hattie around, picking up the pieces and trying to keep things together. While I can respect that, every single person in her life tells her that that’s not the destiny that’s set in stone for her. The future is still up to her and she could go to college after graduation if she really worked for it. While money is obviously an issue, it saddened me to watch Ramona counter everyone supporting her, and shut down any possible future that wasn’t staying in Eulogy, working 3 jobs, and living with her sister in the trailer park. In life, you really only need one person supporting you: yourself. Ramona didn’t even have that which made the book really hard to get through for me. I could only end up reading a couple chapters at a time because of this mental block Ramona has.


I thought this book was going to disappoint me, but it ended up pulling through. The ending was comfortingly bittersweet. I can appreciate how Ramona is going to figure out her sexuality, her career, her relationships etc. as she goes along. She’s finally come to accept that the future isn’t set in stone and that she has a life to live- a super important message. Honestly, if Ramona wasn’t her own worst enemy, and if the writing didn’t originally indicate that this guy was going to ‘turn Ramona straight’ as her mother had hoped, it definitely would’ve gotten a better rating. While the payoff was worth it, the author put me through a lot to get there.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

BroodyBFF Challenge #3: LGBT+ Lit History/Most Anticipated

So my prompt for this challenge is to talk about my favorite, or most anticipated LGBTQIA+ YA books. Unfortunately, I haven't read too many YA books where the main character doesn't identify as cis and het. SO, this post ventures a bit beyond my usual realm and shall dive into important books in queer history (aka not YA) and my anticipated YA reads that are available to us because of the books that opened the door before them!

History

1890

A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. What would this list be without the most famous closeted, subtext-riddled book?  Dorian, can be interpreted as bisexual, and the affectionate painter as gay. It's a pretty tragic story of corruption and untimely deaths, but we would be amiss to not include Oscar Wilde on our list!

1936

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. Honestly this book isn't just about queers, it embodies queerness. The novel is a disorientation from reality, centered around Robin Vote who is also bisexual and is mostly seen with female lovers. This book is seriously a piece of work and tough to tackle, I don't think I'll ever fully understand this novel. It's been called "a masterpiece of modernism" by the Washington Post Book World, and a "lesbian classic" by Dorothy Allison.

1973

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. Honestly this is my favorite book on this list. This book is about growing up a lesbian in America. It's pretty humorous, and tackles being human and her sexuality in a less serious tone than the rest of this list. Now you may be questioning this book's artistic merit- fair point. It's not quite the prose of Nightwood, however, it contains radical ideas. It shows that society values women as a necessary component to male sexuality. Women are objects for the male libido. Having value as an individual, outside of men is so important.

1982

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde is a technical and emotional master with a pen. Feminist and Civil Rights Activist, this book is an biomythography about herself. In my personal opinion, this is the most powerful book in this list. Audio Lorde gives us a look into her poor, lesbian, POC life in (primarily) New York. This is so multifaceted, facing a wide range of issues starting early in her childhood.

2008

A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee. A gay, illegal immigrant in London, and an English woman in India during Partition are intertwined in this novel. Partition is not talked about much in the world, and this book contains so many important elements. They both go through a lot with culture shock and working towards self-discovery.

2015

Hanayome wa Motodanshi (The Bride Was a Boy) by chii. This is in manga form and will be one of the cutest things you ever read. This is about a trans women and the experiences that led her to her present situation. Written by chii, about her life, this was so powerful to read. chii describes meeting her husband, many of the tricky laws in Japan regarding sexuality and gender, and her experience navigating everything.


Anticipated Reads!


A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Bisexuals in 18th century Europe. (June 27th 2017)

Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan. Genderfluid child of Loki. (October 3rd 2017)

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann. Asexual Biromantic librarian. (January 23rd 2018) 

What are your most anticipated LGBTQIA+ books?


You can check out my fellow #BroodyBFF responses on Twitter




Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me 


The BroodyBFF's street team will run from May to November, so check back here at Love at First Write regularly for new challenges and updates, and follow me and @broodingyahero on Twitter to see the hashtags, visual challenges, and #BroodyChats!