Reviews of Teen Books by Genre: Diversity

Book Cover
Zoboi, Ibi & Salaam, Yusef
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Yusef Salaam is one of the "Central Park Five", young men of color who were incorrectly accused of raping and beating a woman jogging in Central Park in the late 80s. After the five had served their sentences of 5-15 years, they were exonerated when the real culprit came forward. This book is clearly heavily inspired by Yusef's story as it tells the story of Amal, a teen in prison for a similar crime that he did not commit. It starts with the conviction and then moves into Amal's experiences in a juvenile detention center.

Every year, there's a book that I promote really heavily in classrooms. This will definitely be that book. It's so good. So sad. So spare in that way that only books in verse can be. It takes a while to read, because sometimes you just kind of have to sit with it for a while to process it. It does such a great job of illustrating just how deeply flawed and racist our "justice" systems are. I dare you not to empathize with Amal. I can't wait to share this important book with everyone I know! Also, like, that cover y'all. So pretty. And it's relevant to the story! Anyway, consider this required reading, especially for all the folks trying to "read woke". 5 stars.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Punching the Air is out 01 September - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Bayron, Kaylynn
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Cinderella is dead is about a girl in a society where women are expected to behave like Cinderella in the beloved (well, they're forced to love it) fairy-tale: wait until you're somethingth birthday and then you must go to a ball to be chosen by a boy/man/grandpa who you will be forced to obey for the rest of your life. Those who refuse are executed. When our main character falls in love with another girl instead of waiting to be chosen at the ball, she decides it's time for a change.

I saw this book ages ago on Netgalley and while I love the cover (and don't be afraid to chose a book by it's cover, kids!), I'm pretty over anything to do with Cinderella as I feel as though I've read around 8 million re-tellings in the last five years or so. Then, I heard some folks from Bloomsbury talk about this book at a recent conference, and I was sold! Unfortunately, though, there was way too much Cinderella in it for me to truly enjoy it. The worldbuilding and plot waffled between being creative and a bit silly. The characters were one-dimensional and the romance unearned. That said, I think the book's audience, younger teens, will enjoy it, so I'll definitely be recommending it.

This is the perfect book for younger teens who just can't get enough of Cinderella or who are looking to make the jump from middle grade to young adult fiction. For this older reader, the coolness of the author's innovation with the Cinderella fairytale was outweighed by bland characters and forced romance. 2 stars - it was ok.

Thanks to Bloomsbury YA and Netgalley for the eARC which I received for an unbiased review. You can put Cinderella is Dead on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Cho, Zen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water follows a nun who joins a group of bandits trying to protect a religious relic from those who would destroy it. It's a novella, so that's really most of the book, but Zen Cho crams a ton of character development and plenty of plot into this short little read. The two main characters are so well drawn, and I absolutely fell in love with them. The banter between the bandits is loads of fun - I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. There are plenty of fight scenes. I got to learn the word wuxia (think Chinese martial arts heroes). It's very rare that I want a book to be longer, but I so wanted more of this. I'll be checking out Cho's backlist work, Sorcerer to the Crown. 4 stars - that was very good.

Thanks to Tor and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected on Water is available now - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Berry, Julie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Lovely War by Julie Berry is such a wonderful book about two couples in the tragic and terrible days of WWI as narrated by the Greek Gods. I chose Lovely War because of my interest in historical fiction, especially historical
romances, and was not disappointed by this amazing story. The book centers on four young people who's path's cross during WWI-- British Hazel Windicott, a pianist, and James Alderidge, a would-be architect shipped off to war, Colette Fournier, a Belgian singer who lost her family at the hands of the Germans, and Aubrey Edwards, a black American solider in a jazz military band in a time of military prejudice and racial discrimination. Hazel and James meet and fall in love days before he is shipped off to the Front to face deadly combat in the WWI trenches. Distraught over the fate of James, Hazel, eager to help the war effort, enlists as a pianist at a volunteer job and meets Colette, a fellow volunteer. They become very close friends, and Colette begins to fall in love with charismatic Aubrey, who's jazz is redefining the world of music. What follows is a beautifully written novel about these four characters, their hardships, and loves.

This book is structured interestingly-- the story of these two parallel loves is narrated by the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, who tells the tale years later in the days of WWII to her husband, Hephaestus, god of fire and volcanos, and a few other gods to remind them what true love is and the transcendent power of love over war. The story is funny, heartbreaking, intense, and overall, beautiful. I felt as if I knew Hazel, James, Aubrey and Colette personally by the time the story is over. Julie Berry's prose is almost poetic in it's splendor, rich with meticulous descriptions about wartime France and Britain.


This book deals with elements of WWI I did not know about-- Germany's brutal and heartbreaking invasion of Belgium, and the prejudice and racial discrimination in the U.S army during WWI. I wasn't a huge fan of the
inclusion of the Greek Gods as narrators at first-- the story is strong enough to stand without it-- and until the very end, the purpose of the Gods in the story is almost irrelevant. I would have been interested to know if Berry ever had a draft of the story sans-Gods. However, reflecting back on the book, the Gods add another tier to the rich narrative, one that is appreciated more after the novel is over. That said, I know that that
inclusion was to make the book more accessible to teenage readers. Fans of Greek epics and the Percy Jackson series will enjoy the inclusion of them Gods.

The central romance and characters in this book are Hazel and James, and their relationship and connection is deeper than Colette's and Aubrey's until the end of the story. Berry dedicates more time to the relationship of Hazel and James, and it is the best story line as a result. I wish Colette and Aubrey's story would have been given more attention, as it is truly unique and unlike anything I've read, but the last pages of the book focuses solely on them which I enjoyed.

This book never lacks action and is a very quick read. I often had to remind myself to slow down so not to rush through it! Lovely War is written for teenagers, but is just as accessible for tweens and adults, truly making it a book for all ages. Lovely War is one of those special books that you read and know that your perception of the world will be changed because of it. I cannot stress how much I recommend this beautiful book. It is a marvel of the historical fiction, romance and mythology genres that everyone should read.

Reviewer's Name: Allie S.
Book Cover
Ibanez, Isabel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Ximenia Rojas has been the decoy for Condesa Catalina ever since the usurper Atoc overthrow the Illustrarians a decade ago. Ximenia's family, along with the Condesa's, perished during the civil war, and Ximenia and her fellow Illustrians want revenge. When Atoc summons the Condesa to the palace to be his bride, Ximenia goes in Catalina's place and uses her weaving magic to send messages to the Illustrians via tapestry. With only eight weeks before the wedding, Ximenia must find intel about a magical gem that is the Illustrian's only hope.

My literary 2020 is off to a great start with this gem of a historical fantasy YA novel! I went in with fairly low expectations as 2019 was, on the whole, not a great year for YA fantasy. This was very good and felt like something of a course correction. The "historical" aspect covers Bolivian politics and the introduction of cocaine, at least somewhat (I know nothing about Bolivia and the eARC didn't have an author's note at the end, but the author does reference her two Bolivian parents) and deftly weaves a story of magic, moonlight and betrayal. The moon magic is subtle, but well utilized. Ximenia's ability is, for lack of a better phrase, quite cool. The author took a familiar story of rebellion and a headstrong girl and combined those seemingly stale tropes with magical realism and Bolivian flavor to create a book that felt like something new. The romance was earned. The main character grows a lot throughout the course of the book. Ximenia's story is tied up by the end, but there's an intriguing jungle based thread that's left dangling (not a spoiler!) that I'd be willing to bet will be a second book. I'll read it.

Also, I dare you to read this book and not want some tasty Bolivian treats. The food sounds amaaaaaaaaaaazing and it's mentioned a lot.

TLDR: Woven in Moonlight takes a familiar tale of revolution and spices it up with excellent character development and creative magical realism. I'm having trouble thinking of something to compare it to, because I like it better than most books that I've read that are similar (The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson for example - this is in the same zone, but I enjoyed it a lot more). Recommended for readers who like their fantasies to be revolutionary (ha) with a strong female lead and a touch of magic. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Page Street Books for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Woven in Moonlight is available for purchase or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: A River of Royal Blood
Joy, Amanda
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Eva's nameday is coming up. And on that day, she'll become a Rival Heir. From then on, she'll be expected to try to kill her sister (or die in the process), so that one of them could take the throne. Eva's always been her father's favorite, but in this matriarchal society, her mother, the Queen, who, of course favores Eva's sister Isadore, would do anything to make sure that Eva doesn't get the throne. Including helping Isa with her magic while trying to keep Eva from accessing hers. But the throne is Eva's destiny. It's that, or death.

This was another instance of the plot being hard to describe, though that's mostly due to the fact that there are so many things happening in this book. It's pretty complicated. Not in a bad way - I really enjoyed it. The worldbuilding was very cool, I loved the khimaer. A lot of it was new to me, or a fun twist on a familiar concept. I loved the book's mythology. Something about it felt fresh. I also bizarrely really liked the middle part of the book - its full of layered mysteries, court intrigue, training montages and the right amount and type of romance. It's built on mutual and earned respect (and yes, hotness). There's a lot to like in this book, and it won't be the last by this author that I read.

That said, the beginning and ending were rote and felt a bit weak. The end, in particular, felt like it existed only to get you to read the next installment. There was no resolution, and it felt very rushed, especially after a story that was otherwise taking its time unfolding. I don't want to spend a lot of time criticizing what was otherwise a fun read - give it a go!

TLDR: This was so close to being really good, but it just missed the mark (rote beginning and ending, super strong middle and worldbuilding). I quite enjoyed it, nonetheless. 3.5 stars - I almost really liked it. :)

Thanks for the eARC Netgalley and Putnam for the advance copy! A River of Royal Blood will be available for purchase on 29 October, but you can put your copy on hold today.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: War Girls
Onyebuchi, Tochi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Onyii and Ify live as sisters in an all-girls refugee/war camp on the edge of the Redlands, an area riddled with radiation from a long-ago nuclear disaster. Nigeria, their home, is in the midst of a civil war. Children are conscripted as soldiers and pilots for mechanized warrior robots. Onyii and Ify are separated, and as truths are revealed to each of them, they must decide where, and with whom, their loyalties lie all while trying not to die a terrible death in a bloody civil war.

Going into this, I knew nothing about the Nigeria - Biafran civil war of the 1960s, which is at the heart of this novel. Personally, I enjoy learning about parts of history that I know nothing about (I typically don’t gravitate to one of the 1,983,784,767 WWII novels, for example), and I really enjoyed the unique setting. The book is set in the future, and the futuristic elements really added a lot to the plot and were well employed by the author. Onyii, for example, is an Augment, meaning that she’s a little bit of a bionic woman. While I didn’t really relate to the main characters, I did really like them. They didn’t always make the best decisions, but their decisions made sense to their characters and their respective arcs. They were easy to root for. Really, my only complaint was that it felt overlong, and I skimmed through some of the battle scenes, but that’s more a matter of personal preference.

TLDR: Looking for something to read after Children of Blood and Bone? You’ve found your next great Nigerian inspired read! (And, honestly, if you haven’t read Children of Blood and Bone but it’s on your TBR, I’d suggest replacing it with War Girls, which is a much more original, engaging book). For readers who like apocalyptic novels and futuristic sci-fi battles. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Razorbill for the eARC which I received in exchange for an honest review. War Girls will be available for purchase on 15 October, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Future of Another Timeline
Newitz, Annalee
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tess is a time traveling member of the Daughters of Harriet, a group that does it's best to make their present time, 2022, a safe place for women, whether cis or trans. There's a men's right's activist group from further in the future trying to undermine their efforts by erasing the Daughters of Harriet and women's rights folks from the timeline. Meanwhile, in 1992, teenager Beth, a friend from Tess' past, finds herself in a bit of a pickle. She and her friends kill a boy who was in the process of sexually assaulting their friend. This starts the girls down a murderous path that Tess will do her best to stop.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I usually enjoy time travel, unless its being used as a cheap plot device which was definitely not the case here. Newitz did a lot of homework for this one - the historical notes at the end were really interesting and trips to the past often include historical figures. The story alternates between Tess and Beth with a few other perspectives thrown in on occasion. Tess mainly splits her time between the late 1800s (easily my favorite parts), the early 1990s and her present in 2022, while Beth's story is firmly situated in 1992. While I enjoyed both stories, I never really felt compelled to read the book. Both perspectives were interesting, but not captivating or thought-provoking (though I suspect the book will provide plenty of thinking material for some readers). As a result, certain plot points felt unnecessary and the book felt overlong. I really hated the way Tess' story ended. Nonetheless, its an enjoyable read that makes a great point (women are people too, who knew?) that I would recommend to science fiction readers that are interested in women, women's and LGBT rights. There's also quite a bit of 90's punk rock that readers of a certain age will love. The ending is also quite optimistic, which I wasn't expecting, but did welcome.

TLDR: The Future of Another Timeline is interesting book full of time travel shenanigans that is plagued by the same issues that all time travel book face. Ultimately, while the book was fun, feminist and full of salient social commentary, it wasn't compelling.

3 stars - I liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tor for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Future of Another Timeline will be available for purchase on 24 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Hive Book Cover
Lyga, Barry
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the near future, an app called BLINQ tracks all social media usage and amalgamates posts from a number of platforms. On BLINQ, you can vote to condemn a person for their social media output – if a person’s condemns to likes ratio gets out of balance, they’ll find themself condemned in real life. For example, a person who ignominiously dumps their partner on Facebook might find themself getting physically dumped in the trash. The punishment is designed to fit the crime. Called the Hive, its something our lead Cassie loved to participate in – until all of a sudden, it wasn’t. After a racy tweet, Cassie finds herself the target of the Hive, but her punishment is more severe than all that have come before it: death.

This was a fast paced, enjoyable dystopia which was a good change of pace from my normal fare of fantasy. I think teens are going to love it. Aside from a few horrendous decisions, our lead Cassie is likable, smart (ostensibly, anyway) and her experiences navigating a new high school will resonate with teens. As Cassie spends most of the book running for her life, it will definitely appeal to thriller fans or those that need their books to be very plot based. I read the book in a day or two even though I had a good idea of how it was going to play out. Little attention is given to the supporting characters, though the book did also present a few chapters from Cassie’s mom’s perspective, which I loved. The authors did a great job portraying a somewhat fraught mother-daughter relationship. There’s though-provoking, if heavy handed, social commentary to be found as well, and I think this book will stick with some readers long after they've turned the last page.

Ultimately, though, the book had what I’m going to call the “Scythe” problem: the premise just wasn’t believable. The Hive was certainly believable – its basically a physical manifestation of the shame that we’re willing to dole out to strangers online (if you’d like a great non-fiction read on the topic, try So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson ). Did I for one second think that the first person to get the death penalty would be a teenage girl who tweeted something offensive? I did not. I had trouble getting over that.

TLDR: If you liked The Maze Runner, Divergent or yes, Scythe, you should definitely check out this thrilling dystopia.
Lots of teens will love this one, but it didn’t do it for me – 2 stars. It was ok.

Thanks to Netgalley and Kids Can Press for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Hive will be released on 03 September but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Monster
Myers, Walter Dean
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is an interesting and suspenseful novel. It is filled to the brim with moments that will have readers on the edge of their seat. Monster also is written in a unique format, in the form of a movie script written my the protagonist Steve Harmon, who is awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit. This story is written with intense figurative language that paints a terrifying image depicting the horrors of prison. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great suspenseful read. Reviewer Grade: 7

Reviewer's Name: Kyle Y
Spin the Dawn Cover
Lim, Elizabeth
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I picked up this book as it was being sold as “Project Runway meets Mulan” which sounded really intriguing, especially to this reader who loves both Project Runway and Mulan. And that description really does fit the first third of the book or so – our main character, Maia, poses as a boy to take her father’s place in a royal tailor competition. However, the potential of this part of the book is really under realized. There was a lot of room for plots within plots and court intrigue, but the whole thing is pretty quickly abandoned so that Maia could go on a quest for three objects with a cute boy who is very much off limits. If you are thinking to yourself, “isn’t that the plotline of like, half of all YA fantasies” then you, dear reader, are correct. With that said, though, I think many teens, especially those new to the genre, will really enjoy it. For me, an interesting and unique premise quickly gave way to a fairly pat YA fantasy. 1 star – I didn’t like it.


Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Children's Knopf Books for Young Readers for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Spin the Dawn is available now.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Soul of the Sword cover
Kagawa, Julie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Soul of the Sword picks up directly at the end of the events of the first book in the series, Shadow of the Fox. If you haven’t read Shadow of the Fox, and you like Japanese mythology, what are you waiting for? Pick it up now! Also, skip this review, because spoilers.

If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too. I did not remember the first book that well as I read it last summer, but Kagawa writes this in such a way that it’s easy for the reader to jump right back in. Most of our characters (save Tatsumi, because he’s mostly a demon now) get further development, and Yumeko in particular really seems to have grown a lot throughout the course of the book. My favorite character, the ronin Okame, has an exceptionally fun development. The worldbuilding, which was fantastic in the first book, continues to be alluring as Kagawa further fleshes out what was already a well-drawn world. The plot, like the first book, is fast-paced and while this is definitely something of a bridge book, it’s a bridge book that is really fun to read.

Readers of Rick Riordan who are looking for something a little more grown-up, or folks who like their fantasy to be steeped in mythology, you won’t go wrong with this series. I’m excited for the next one to come out. 4 stars – I really liked it!

Thanks to Harlequin Teen & Netgalley for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Soul of the Sword will be available for purchase on 18 June or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
We Hunt the Flame Review
Faizal, Hafsah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Zafira has gained respect amongst her community for being the only person brave enough to dare the forest of a the Arz – a rapidly growing magical forest from which most who enter don’t return. She’s known as the Hunter. However, all respect Zafira has gained would be lost if folks were to find out that she was a girl. Nasir has a name of his own: Prince of Death. He assassinates all who cross his autocratic, despotic father, no matter how he feels on the subject. As the Arz grows and resources get more scare, both Zafira and Nasir find themselves on a journey to find a magical relic long buried on a dangerous island long presumed lost.

Another nearly impossible to write description! The worldbuilding in this thing is complex, and its really hard to give a short summary of the plot outside of “awesome” girl and scary-but-hot boy go on a quest for a magical object. While I do love complex worldbuilding, it bogged down the story for the first 40% of the book, and I kept getting confused by which peoples had what characteristics if they weren’t the peoples of our main two protagonists. Speaking of our two main protagonists, they were the least interesting characters in the story. Zafira is your standard strong-but-still-insecure-attracted-to-the-bad-boy YA fantasy protagonist, and Nasir kills people for no reason. The author tries to describe it away (his girlfriend will be brutally tortured), but this guy kills hundreds of people to (maybe) spare the lives of a few. Utilitarian he is not.

Anyway, after a lot of labored worldbuilding, we finally get to the island and team up with some other folks on the same quest. After this, the book is a lot of fun for about 30%. The characters have great chemistry, and the new ones are all dynamic and interesting people (beings) who we learn about slowly through the switching perspectives of our main characters. There’s a heist vibe and some great chemistry between friends and enemies alike . If that section had been the whole book, you would be reading a very different review. However, unfortunately, the book then focuses on a romance between our two leads, and I never found it to be convincing or compelling.

TLDR: This book was so close to being a really fun read, but a forced romance between two largely un-compelling leads overcame my love of the supporting characters, their chemistry, and some really fun worldbuilding elements.

I think folks who liked The Gilded Wolves or the Throne of Glass series will find things to like here. For this reader, it was mostly a miss. 2 stars – it was ok.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. We Hunt the Flame will be available for purchase on 14 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Cover
Menon, Sandhya
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Sweetie Nair is fat. She doesn’t care, but her mom cares. Like, a lot. A lot a lot. Definitely too much. So much that so when Ashish, a hot local boy from a good (and crazy rich!) Indian family tries to date Sweetie, Sweetie’s mom shuts it down. But Sweetie won’t give up without a fight, and so she, Ashish and Ashish’s parents hatch a plan in which the kids will go on four dates. If it works out, they’ll tell Sweetie’s parents. If not, no harm done. Plus, what can happen in four dates? Turns out, a lot.

If you’ve read any of Menon’s other books, this one is completely on brand. I’ve read her other two books, and this one might be my favorite? It’s up there with Dimple, for sure. It’s a funny romantic comedy with endearing, mostly believable characters from a culture that’s different from mine. In addition to reading an adorable book, I get to learn a little bit about Indian Americans. This one has an added element of pointing out our society’s horrible ways of treating fat people. The way a folks react to Sweetie will have you seeing red – but you know it’s unfortunately totally realistic. Luckily, Sweetie is a self-confident young lady, and it was a joy to see her grow throughout the book. Ashish isn’t too bad himself! He has a very believable journey through the course of the book, and was a male lead you could root for even as he made a few terrible decisions.

TLDR: If you’re looking for a light, funny and very swoony read, this one will do it for you. I know it put a smile on my face.

Sandhya Menon is coming to PPLD to be the keynote speaker for Mountain of Authors! Meet her, listen to her give a talk and get a book signed on 27 April at 21c. More information about the event can be found here: https://research.ppld.org/mountainofauthors

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. There’s Something About Sweetie will be available for purchase on 14 May – don’t forget to put your copy on hold!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
All Out: the no-longer secret stories of queer teens throughout the ages
Mitchell, Saundra
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

All Out is a collection of short stories from different times in history.
These short stories keep you on the edge of your seats with every page. Being a LGBTQ+ Short story book I was delighted with detailed stories keeping with historical values and cultures. Everything from Pirates to Runaway Brides this book has it. Lovely storylines and flow. Definitely a must read for teenagers.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Lizzy B
Awards: