I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA fantasy, a MG contemporary retelling, a YA contemporary and a MG contemporary in verse. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
Published by Amulet Books on 4/14/20
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong
My content rating: YA (Some violence)
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein in Frances Hardinge’s latest fantasy adventure
The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?
A fascinating YA fantasy with incredible worldbuilding! Deeplight had me entranced from the very beginning. It reminded me of books by my favorite fantasy author, Robin Hobb, because of its unique worldbuilding and epic-but-not-overly-ponderous fantasy feel. Hardinge’s gorgeous writing accompanies incredible worldbuilding—the way religion and myth and healing magic are woven together is fantastic. Then there’s Hark himself. It’s easy to empathize with him, especially since he’s so obviously being manipulated by his best friend. Hark’s loyalty is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness, and it’s interesting to see how that plays out throughout the book. Hark is one of those characters who always wants to do the right thing, but figuring out what the right thing is isn’t ever easy. And as the mysteries of the gods unfold, Hark finds himself embroiled in their stories in ways he never imagined. Anyone who enjoys fantasy will love this incredibly unique standalone tale!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
More to the Story by Hena Khan
Published by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on September 3, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Retellings
Narrator: Priya Ayyar
Length: 4 hours and 55 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Library
Cover Artist: Abigail Dela Cruz
My content rating: MG
From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.
When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.
Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all...
This modern Muslim retelling of Little Women is a perfect MG read! I’ll confess that I’ve never read the original, so I can’t make any comparisons, but I can attest to the fact that this was a wonderful read, even without knowing the details of the story it retells. Jameela is a bright young girl whose greatest desire is to be a writer one day and make her father proud. But when her father has to go out of the country on business and her beloved little sister gets sick, Jameela’s life is turned upside down. In the meantime, she also faces a dilemma with her journalism that lands her in trouble with her new family friend (and kind-of crush?). The themes of this book seem truly timeless, so I’m not surprised that it’s a retelling of a classic. When Jameela’s sister gets sick, the thing that gets them through it all is the strong bonds they have with friends and family. This support system is the highlight of the book and shows how we can rally together in times of crisis. Kids who like to write will relate to Jameela’s journalistic ambitions, but even those who aren’t interested in journalism will find themselves pulled into Jameela’s dilemmas with how to write a worthy story (without ruining her friendships in the process). Overall, this was a wonderful read!
NARRATION: I ended up listening to the audiobook version, and the narration by Priya Ayyar was wonderful!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes (but then ended up listening to the audiobook from my local library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on September 20, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Amanda Dolan, Justis Bolding, Dan Bittner
Length: 7 hours and 7 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Library
Cover Artist: Tracy Turnbull
My content rating: YA (Violence, Sexual Assault)
A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives.
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
Wow! This book definitely captures your attention. First of all, right from the start you’re told that one of the three narrators has killed someone. I mean, he deserved it, but still. And there’s always the question of might she do it again? She’s kind of a female teenage Dexter-in-the-making. (If you don’t know the show, Dexter is a serial killer, but he only kills really bad people, and you kind of have to love him even while you’re disgusted by him—my feelings for Alex were somewhat similar, though perhaps less extreme.) The book highlights rape culture and the fact that there are unfortunately predators out there, some who don’t even necessarily seem like predators. There are so many things I love about this book. The friendship between Alex and Peekay (which stands for preacher’s kid) is wonderful—and I love that PK is a Christian character who doesn’t come off as horrible and judgmental (and neither do her parents! A breath of fresh air!). Then there’s Jack. who is by no means perfect, but he’s always striving to be a better person, which you have to admire. Best of all, it’s the type of book that makes you think—you will find yourself pondering the many shades of gray these characters face long after you set the book aside. I highly recommend it!
NARRATION: I thought all three narrators were great, but I actually didn’t realize that there were separate narrators for the girls because Amanda Dolan and Justis Bolding sounded so much alike! I’ll admit I was confused sometimes in the beginning about which character was narrating. Dan Bittner also did a great job narrating Jack.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes, (but then ended up listening to the audiobook from my local library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Knockout by K.A. Holt
Series: House Arrest #2
Also in this series: After the Fire, House Arrest
Published by Chronicle Books on March 6, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Verse
My content rating: MG
Levi just wants to be treated like a typical kid. As a baby, he had a serious disease that caused him respiratory issues. He's fine now, but his mom and overprotective brother still think of him as damaged, and his schoolmates see him as the same class clown he's always been. He feels stuck. So when his dad—divorced from his mom—suggests he take up boxing, he falls in love with the sport. And when he finds out about a school with a killer boxing team and a free-study curriculum, it feels like he's found a ticket to a new Levi. But how can he tell his mom about boxing? And how can he convince his family to set him free?
This book is a follow-up to House Arrest. It focuses on Levi, the little brother whose health issues caused all the craziness of the first book. Now that Levi’s a teenager, he’s struggling to escape his family’s view that he’s helpless—he doesn’t want his illness to define him forever. When his dad suggests he take up boxing, Levi thinks he’s gone a little crazy—but then he tries it and he loves it. Problem is, he knows his mom would never let him keep it up if she knew. The story is told in verse, just like the first book in the series was, and I love all the ways that Holt plays with language to make it truly come alive. Levi’s desire to be his own person and not be perpetually treated like a child will resonate with many kids, even if they’ve never faced an illness like he has. And many kids will also relate to a kid who’s dealing with divorced parents who don’t necessarily always agree. Navigating that sort of situation can be tricky, and it’s nice to see it addressed. I really enjoyed this book—I loved seeing who the Levi from the first book eventually became, and his journey toward independence was compelling. I’m looking forward to reading even more of Holt’s work in the future!