I try to prioritize my reading in order of the release date, so I recently finished a few ARCs for some upcoming September releases. The books are in very different YA genres with wildly different characters, but they are all the same in that a core element of the story is the main character’s journey of self-discovery. So here’s my thoughts on a few solid September reads:
Vivian Carter is an average, quiet girl in a very stereotypical Texas football town. A group of popular/influential boys demean the girls at school on an ongoing basis – rating them in “March Madness,” yelling at them to “Make Me a Sandwich” and playing cruel games of bump and grab. Vivian reaches a breaking point and is inspired by her mom’s stories and mementos of the RiotGrrl’s of the 90s to create a zine – Moxie – empowering the girls at her school. We see her question her choices and struggle to stand up for herself. She has close friends and drama and a love interest with the new boy. Overall it’s a story of a normal girl finding the courage to speak up and with one small action, making a huge difference
It’s hard for Adam to be gay in a small town with a religious dad, but he has a good friend (Angela), a story of heartbreak (Enzo) and a boyfriend he may be in love with (Linus). There’s some drama with – to simplify- a very inappropriate shift manager and an official come out, but overall it’s a straightforward story, well… except for a parallel story about a girl who dies and meets a Faun and becomes Queen, and the symbolism gets a bit weird. But overall a quick read about a teen’s journey of self-discovery.
Honestly, I expected this to be a story about sisters fighting mystical monsters, something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and with the somewhat comic cover, I was surprised by the seriousness of the topics. The story is about two sisters (their names are shortened to Odd and True). Odd, the older sister, raises True on stories of magic and monster fighting. These stories offer hope and comfort to True when she is partially crippled by a serious case of polio. Much of the story unfolds through flashbacks and you slowly learn that Odd’s belief in magic was destroyed by her parents at a young age, while True still hopes that there is something magic about her family. Odd’s story is quite devastating – I don’t want to spoil anything – but it shines a bright light on how working class girls in this time were poorly educated, mistreated and often completely powerless. The sisters eventually embark on a journey to hunt the Leeds Devil in the Pine Barrens. And in hunting the Leeds Devil, they must come face to face with some of their own inner demons. There’s some clever symbolism with the MarViLus case and the Marvelous and Monstrous book mentioned in the story and the author keeps you guessing. A very thoughtful read about two sisters discovering themselves.
I feel like there’s been an increasing number of novels in a circus atmosphere lately, I think this one joins Caraval in the ranks of the few very well done entries. The story is about Sorina, a young Jynx worker who creates illusions so real that she has built herself a family out of them. Each character represents a family member you might find in a “normal” family, but they also have something strange and grotesque about them too. There is grumpy Uncle Gill who can only breath underwater, sweet baby Blister who belches fire, grandpa Crown who is made of something like fingernails, strongwoman nurturer Nicoleta, Verena the best friend and acrobat, Siamese twins Unu and Du, Hawk a girl who is almost a hawk and a Tree that protects the family (gotta love all their names). Things change for Sorina when one of her illusions, one of her family members, is cruelly killed. She soon teams up with Luca, a gossip worker who can’t be killed and who she just might like. The story unfolds with more murders juxtaposed against the magical sights of Gomorrah, political tensions between the upmountainers and downmountainers and the religious Ovren fanatics (sounds a lot like Salem). Despite the drama and the murders, I think the core of this story is Sorina questioning whether her illusions are in fact real. Do they feel real emotion? Do they need their own lives? And in this it becomes a journey to discover the truth, discover who she really is and discover what it means to be real.
I started this book knowing nothing about it, so I thought the “they” references on the back blurb were typos. But I was wrong! There is a very interesting main character, Sal Leon, who identifies with different genders on different days. As Sal says, “I dress how I like to be addressed – he, she or they.” Sal is an uncommon thief and fighter who enters a competition to become one of the elite assassins that comprise the Left Hand of the Queen. The story is mainly about the competition, but it keeps your interest with engaging secondary characters such as Maud the maid and Elisa the lady love. The actions also moves along quite quickly with some interesting hints of dangerous shadows (some sort of evil magic creature) that destroyed Sal’s home country, Nacea. I expect to see more magic and shadows in the next book. I think the selling point of the story is really the character of Sal, someone who is defined not for having just one strong identity, but is defined by the fluidity of it.