Book Thoughts

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Rarely have I read a YA fantasy novel with a contemporary setting that evokes such a sense of place. Brooklyn isn’t described so much by its physical landscape, but the way that the people interact with it, how they speak, and inhabit it. ‘Community’ might be a better word for it.

The story follows Sierra, a talented artist, that has to come to terms with a family legacy that no one wants to tell her about, and figuring out both the past that’s come back to haunt them, and how she fits into it for the future.

In the book, magic shaped by creative acts. Painting is the main form, but some people use magic, and her grandfather used stories to control spirits that aren’t so much fearsome but can be used for good or ill by the people that shape them.

And Sierra, she’s not always right, but she’s bold, and when she makes decisions, other people support her even if they don’t quite agree. The story might be about her, but it also wouldn’t be much of a story without the family and friends who are part of it.

Which brings me back to ‘community’. You get a sense of it from the way Sierra knows the domino players down the street, the multi-generations coming and going from her home. There’s a real sense that everyone watches out for one another, that blood or not, they’re family. That’s something I can relate to in my own upbringing.

And, you know, it was so good to read about a young woman who doesn’t hate how she looks, is opinionated, strong willed, and isn’t punished for it by her family or the circumstances of the story. Instead, she’s rewarded for sticking to what she thinks is right. That feels oddly subversive. It shouldn’t be, but it does.


Book Thoughts

The Wrath and the Dawn & The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

This is a re-imagined tale of Shahrzad, (teller of the Thousand and One Nights), how she fell in love with the king who executed so many women before her (Book 1), and how she defied fate/magic for love while saving save her country (Book 2).

It takes a lot of skill to make a love story that you can root for. Not only do you have to care for the characters, you have to make your readers believe that they are perfect for one another (AND make them perfect for one another). I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t even figure out why people are together in real life, much less in fiction. But Ahdieh makes it work.

Sharhzad / Shazi is defiant and strong willed, adept with a bow. She is no mild princess. What she wants, when she volunteers to marry Khalid, knowing that he will have her executed in the morning, is not love, but to kill him in revenge for the murder of her best friend.

We also get Khalid’s point of view, which adds tension to the story, and acts as a much needed foil to Shazi’s impetuous nature. He’s cool, and controlled, and yet matches Shazi for the intensity of his passion and feelings towards everything.

The whole story is so lushly told, I could almost smell, and taste everything in it. My mouth kept watering with its descriptions of food. That is OK BY ME (Seriously, I was craving lamb for days). It had a richness/realness I like in a semi-historical setting (Persia in this case), that balanced nicely with the fantasy elements of the story.

The prose itself sometimes felt simple (it was smooth as butter), but going back over it (I took copious notes) it was clear the feeling was deceptive. There are things I could learn about inserting dialog into action, and minimizing dialog tags, and how to give enough space for events to have emotional impact.

Boy my emotions were up and down, with the characters, but I was completely invested in Shazi and Khalid as a couple.

Honestly, I felt the second book wasn’t long enough. It got straight to the action and the ending with the swift effectiveness that YA fiction is good for. I’m almost feel it needed a third book in between, but this might be because I’ve read more trilogies than duologies, or that threes resonate in a narrative sense. It’s probably just me. I did appreciate that there were no saggy parts to the story . I guess the only fault was that I wanted more – which is no fault at all.


Book Thoughts

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

This is a book of interwoven stories, that revolve around Daniel and Natasha. Two teen aged strangers, that meet by happenstance, on the day that Natasha is scheduled to be deported from the USA. It’s not only a love story, but a exploration of fate, and how the string of choices we make affect others, and what binds us all together.

Have you ever read a book that felt like it was meant just for you? I haven’t until now. I doubted such a story existed, but here we are again. These days the world doesn’t feel all that hopeful, but this story filled me up with hope. Not brash, overly sugar coated hope, but the kind of hope that feels grounded in truth and possible.

Natasha is the realist, calculating the probabilities of love and happiness, using a scientist’s lens to make sense of things that are not totally rational, questioning if love really exists, or if it’s just the effect of a chemical cocktail in the brain. Yet she’s full of passion that wars within her.  On the other hand, we have Daniel, the poet, a dreamer, follower of hunches, and intent on proving to Natasha that they are meant to be – even if it seems impossible.

My younger self was very much a Natasha, and sometimes the wars between the dreamer and the scientist still rage in my head. But, one thing I do know, is that this story, however improbable, feels plausible. It’s pretty much how I met my husband, but substitute Greece for NYC, and give me four days and a plane ticket home, instead of one.

But I digress into reminiscing. The Sun Is Also A Star is  a lovely, nerdy, diverse love story, filtered through the immigrant and second gen experience. Read this book. I don’t say that often.

Oh Nicola Yoon, you grow my heart every single time.