24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

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Abby Reads: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt, 2016, 368 pages
Realistic Fiction

Beginning at the end of Charles Wang’s beauty industry fortune, The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang follows four-fifths of the remaining Wang family on a road trip across the country to older sister Saina in New York. When Charles Wang loses his money thanks to a nation-wide The Wangs vs the World by Jade Changfinancial collapse, he gathers his wife Barbra, his younger daughter Grace, and his son Andrew before embarking on a trip which will reveal the priorities and desires of each character. A backdrop of a crushed American Dream sets the stage for this Chinese-American family while characters continue to grapple with the death of Charles’s first wife, now dead for many years.

It’s no surprise The Wangs vs. the World got as much praise as it did when it came out. Though Chang is an already-established journalist, this debut novel gets at the heart of first-generation life and the pressures the idea of America held against the country’s inhabitants — particularly immigrants. While I am not Asian myself, I recognized a lot of Chang’s stories from family stories my Chinese-American partner has shared with me. This prompted a lot of interesting introspection on my part, and opened a world that was somewhat new to me.

Chang’s characters are highly individualized, each dealing with their family’s downfall differently, or not at all. This high level of development is necessary to propel the prose forward as the novel is primarily literary fiction, and one that focuses on how an event impacts a group of people rather than how a group of people enact a plot. Like lots of literary fiction, The Wangs vs. the World does feel slow at times. With chapters alternating perspectives, still in the third-person, the novel sometimes struggles to keep an even rhythm with interruptions to reconnect with characters that have been ignored in favor of others and some characters carrying more weight than others. Chang, however, has something for everyone; one character might be supplementary for one person, but totally central to another. For example, Chang’s depiction of Charles’s second wife, Barbra, often felt secondary to me as we are such opposite people in every way imaginable. However, Barbra could easily find identification in the many women like her who read the book. Meanwhile, I found more connection with the three children of the story (Saina, Andrew, and Grace — all at different stages in their emerging adult lives), whose lives are more similar to my own.

While each character has a struggle that is specific to them outside of their shared collapse, Saina’s is perhaps the most disappointing. Though her career as an artist also seems to be in trouble, it is her challenges with men in her life that take the spotlight. Despite her otherwise successful adult life, Saina cannot get around the difficulties these men present her, seemingly feeling incomplete without them. Barbra, however, is just the opposite. Although readers might expect a particular mode of operation from the children’s stepmother, they may well be surprised by Barbra’s personality when it is revealed in full. Her complexity is easily one of the most interesting pieces of The Wangs vs. the World.

On top of examining individuals, Chang uses The Wangs vs. the World to inspect family relationships, particularly in the specific Chinese-American cultural context which offers pressures that are different from other cultures.

Ultimately, The Wangs vs. the World is a fascinating study of a myriad of things, juggled wonderfully by Jade Chang. Despite some moments of jerky pacing, the overall novel is definitely worth the read, even for those who typically stay away from literary and character-driven fiction.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #24, “Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 304 pages
YA Fiction

 

Full disclosure: I work with Jessica Spotswood. I wasn’t coerced into reading her work; it was something that would have interested me anyway. My thoughts here are my own and have no bearing on Jessica as a person, who is lovely. Onward!

After seventeen years without her mother, Ivy is beginning really to feel the pressure of her foremothers’ legacies. For generations, the Milbourn women have left behind amazing works of art in one form or another only to die young in Jessica Spotswood’s Wild Swans. On the coast of Virginia, Ivy struggles Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswoodwith her grandfather’s encouragement to build her writing portfolio while finding new companionship in his favorite student (Connor) and fighting against the assumed romantic entitlement of the boy with whom she grew up (Alex). Meanwhile, her mother returns with her two half-sisters, only her sisters don’t know exactly who she is.

Wild Swans is quietly and realistically feminist, with plenty to consider in terms of fate, self-determination, and taking charge. Though Ivy is not a strictly active character, her power appears in other ways and her thoughtfulness adds to her as a person and to her narrative. Much of Ivy’s development comes through her introspection. She’s incredibly mature and self-aware, which leads directly from her upbringing and grandfather’s role in her life. Spotswood’s characterization of each person is touched with a heavy dose of realism: many characters are paradoxical in their actions and speech, all characters are nuanced, and their interactions with and influences on each other clearly have an impact as relationships do in real life.

Connor is, in some ways, slightly cliched. He occasionally falls into the poet-boy trope, with tattoos and a coolness that many of the other characters find slightly off-putting. But in many other ways, he’s refreshing and real: Spotswood carefully handles Connor as a complete foil to Alex, which helps to reinforce the feminist message of not oweing a sexual or romantic relationship to anyone, regardless of how long a couple of people have been friends.

Spotswood’s story is wrapped up in excellent prose, too. Despite having a rather quiet plot, the book moves quickly with language that isn’t overly long but still exact. Ivy, as a narrator, is able to communicate quite a bit of context without going overboard. She’s concise and uses fairly simple language, but the quality and clarity of the plot, setting, situation, and beyond are not sacrificed for it. The quiet plot, however, also ends quietly. By the end of Ivy’s story, little seems to have truly changed. A few more beats might have tied things up in a more satisfying way, but this might have cost the novel its deep sense of realism, which in some ways feels more valuable.

If you’re looking for something that’s steady and fleshy but not overwhelmingly heavy or dark (though there’s darkness in Wild Swans, to be sure), Wild Swans could be a great next pick for you. It’s a quick read that delivers on balanced emotion and subtlety, well worth the couple of days you’ll spend with it. Whether you’re in on a rainy evening or enjoying the sun’s rays on the beach, give Wild Swans a shot — you just might find something in yourself that will surprise you.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Witch Child by Celia Rees

Witch Child by Celia Rees
Candlewick, 2000, 288 pages
YA Historical Fiction

After her grandmother is accused of and executed for witchcraft, young Mary is left to fend for herself in Celia Rees’s Witch Child. A mysterious woman collects Mary following her grandmother’s execution advises Mary to make a journey to the New World and start a new life there. With the means to do 803120so and nothing left for her in England, Mary strikes out across the sea. But the suspicions which plagued her grandmother follow her and the relationships she fosters across the community aren’t helping to assuage any fears in her town.

Told in a sort of diary format, Witch Child details its narrator’s life with quite a bit of detail, often straying to the mundane aspects of the characters’ lives even as they make a perilous and fraught journey across the sea and develop a new community from scratch. With Mary being a rather passive character who says little but observes frequently, her narrative is somewhat uneventful. While the potential for much is there — and certainly, action happens in subtle ways — little actually seems to happen on the page that is capable of holding the reader’s attention. The prose is fairly aimless, as real diaries often are, and makes for slow and sometimes frustrating progress.

The conflict around Mary and her relationship with her mother is compelling. Much of it is an enigma, and perhaps it is the lack of information Mary gives about the backstory and what else she learns along the way that makes it especially intriguing, but in a book that is otherwise fairly devoid of riveting narrative, this plot point feels like a missed opportunity. Beyond the first quarter or so of the novel, Mary barely considers her mother or the lack of her mother’s presence, even as she is surrounded by women giving birth, it seems, and families. While another woman steps in to play the role of mother in Mary’s life, this relationship never quite passes as the same thing and, in fact, the woman in this role seems to fade in and out of the narrative. This, I think, is again typical and realistic for the diary format in which the novel is written, but it means potentially interesting thematic elements are, at best, weak.

In another show of dedication to realism, Mary meets many, many people on her journey. As several of them are beholden to Puritanical ideals and their primarily personality traits are condemning those who are different from them, telling each apart can be a challenge. This is especially difficult when the pace of the story moves slowly and the narrative offers few moments of conflict or action to hook the reader’s attention and give them a reason to keep track of so many names.

While I expected something atmospheric and witchy (that cover!), or something similar to Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity, what I got was something rather disappointing. Bland with probably an abundance of subtlety I was too lazy to pick up on, Witch Child was not the late-October kind of read I was looking for when I slogged through it. Mary’s lack of personality and adherence to quiet inaction makes the novel a tough one to be excited about while the strict realism reinforces monotony (real life is boring: that’s why I read). Witch Child is probably one you can skip, but it might be worth the money just for that stunning cover.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse, 2017, 384 pages
YA Fiction

In When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, readers are introduced to gutsy Dimple and amorous Rishi. The summer before she’s to go to college, Dimple packs her bags for a computer coding camp where she expects to work hard to earn the prize of working with her idol and developing an app28458598 which will help her father and thousands of others. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her future husband, Rishi. Enamored by Dimple and her drive, Rishi is hardly deterred by her naturally horrified response to the rude realization that her and Rishi’s parents have conspired to put the two teens together. When Dimple and Rishi are paired together for their coding project, Dimple is hesitant at best. But perhaps Rishi has more to offer than what Dimple wants to believe.

Young Adult fiction publishers seem to finally be getting the message that we need more diverse books. This is only the very beginning, but with a publication date that quickly followed the final installment of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, When Dimple Met Rishi came at the perfect time. The buzz around the novel is well-deserved. Because the novel is written by a woman who can racially and ethnically identify with her characters, stereotypes are nonexistent or, in the cases where they do appear, are explained to inform the reader and flesh out the stereotype that is actually a cultural feature or, an unconnected individual quirk.

Not to continue comparing Menon to Han, but another fantastic similarity between the two is the novels’ abilities to take a fairly slow, everyday plot without outrageous dips, dives, and heights and maintain a high level of interest in readers. Characters in the novel experience everyday problems with loved ones and friends, many of which readers might recognize from their own lives. However, these conflicts are rarely yawn-inducing. Instead, Menon props up the novel with characters who are well-developed and emotive. With such a high level of development, managing chemistry between characters might seem like a stiff challenge, but Menon proves her skill again in helping readers become invested in Dimple and Rishi’s end with the considerable gravitation between the two characters.

Menon’s setting of a pre-college camp for computer programmers is also highly interesting, and a bold thing to actually show a young woman entering. For all the talk we have around girls in computer sciences, it seems rare to see such a person reflected in fiction and even rarer to see it done well and realistically. Dimple meets plenty of detractors when it comes to her love of coding, but perhaps what really sets this environment apart from similar locations is that Dimple’s coding camp is full of all kinds. While some of Menon’s secondary and tertiary characters become caricaturistic, the presence of those characters at all (such as the stereotypical Mean Girls) assist in creating realism.

Some reviewers had problems with examples of Dimple’s physical abuse of Rishi. I’m not one to believe that characters must be nice or likable to be interesting or worth reading about, but the abuse, particularly as something that was never resolved as a character trait, felt out of place in When Dimple Met Rishi. These instances might have informed readers of Dimple’s character, but given that she never seems to outgrow the behavior, its existence in the novel is troubling.

Finally, When Dimple Met Rishi did run a little long for my tastes. A particular beat of the romance plot toward the end might have been left off for a read that felt a little snappier, which likely would have suited the experience better. However, When Dimple Met Rishi is, overall, almost as good as the hype and certainly worth the time to read. Even aside from being an important novel due to its status as a “diverse” novel (scare quotes because we shouldn’t need novels featuring non-white characters as direly as we do, and yet here we are), When Dimple Met Rishi is worth it simply for the pleasure.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: First & Then by Emma Mills

First & Then  by Emma Mills
Henry Holt and Co., 2015, 272 pages
YA Fiction

Obsessed with Jane Austen and dealing with the new presence of her cousin in her home, Devon of Emma Mills’s First & Then doesn’t want a whole lot to do with anyone. With her cousin Foster comes local superstar football player Ezra, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be out of her life anytime soon, no matter 23310751how much she may want him out. But Ezra perhaps does not have the perfect life everyone believes he does.

With a plot and structure that mimics Austen to some degree, First & Then follows Devon and her mild obsession around the famous author. Mills struggles to define Devon, however — for all of Devon saying she loves Austen, it’s rarely demonstrated in action and the origins of her interest are never explained. It feels, instead, like a symbolic character trait: Devon loves Austen, so her story — at least in this novel — will be one about love and commentary on societal contentions. You know, like an Austen novel.

Despite Devon being somewhat bare bones in the personality department, her love interest is rather interesting. Genuinely mature (as opposed to the fake mature that you often see in YA literature — Edward in Twilight comes to mind first: seemingly mature and experienced, but really just brooding and quite emotionally immature when it comes down to it), the character provides a refreshing example. Though a revealing detail (see more on that at the end of the review, if you don’t mind major spoilers)* ends up being half-baked and underdeveloped, the character overall is fascinating as an individual.

Other folks in Devon’s life make the novel a touch crowded. Too many characters come in and out, which is a mark of real life, but ultimately makes First & Then harder to follow, canceling out any of the realism this aspect provides. Meanwhile, Mills’s plot is a bit slow and subtle, which adds to the vague lack of readability. Furthermore, if you’re not a fan of football and know nothing about it, several football-heavy scenes will again make this book a bit more of a chore than you might expect.

Finally, Devon’s tendency to call other girls at her school “prostitots,” or “PTs” for short, is a frustrating one. She never grows out of this, which I found disconcerting for a number of reasons. While main characters need not be perfect by any stretch, there seemed no real reason for this inclusion, except perhaps some dislike of girls typically deemed as pretty, popular, and perhaps promiscuous (alliteration unintended) by the author in her high school years.

First & Then is not something I’d go out of my way to read. It needed a bit more polishing and a stronger structure to hold my attention. While the prose style was sufficient, the overall concept was in places too subtle or otherwise underdeveloped to be gripping.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

Ultimately, the love interest holds a secret to avoid attention he doesn’t want. This “secret” is that his younger brother died in a car crash. This felt terribly gimmicky and, from someone who lost a brother to fatal injuries in a car crash, I was mildly insulted. The love interest never even gives his brother a name, suggesting that the crash only matters in so much as it is connected to the love interest and his life, as opposed to just being an important event on its own. Though everyone grieves differently, I found this portrayal strange, off-putting, and generally tone deaf to what it’s actually like.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Storytimes for Everyone! by Saroj Ghoting

Storytimes for Everyone!: Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy  by Saroj Ghoting
American Library Association Editions, 2013, 296 pages
Nonfiction

When I learned I was going to be hired as a Children’s Librarian, I panicked. My Library and Information Science program focused on adult and young adult services. At the time, my goal was to be a Young Adult Librarian and, if I had been required to list, in order, in which positions I was interested, Children’s Librarian would have been last. So, I needed something that would be a crash course in one of the main pillars of children’s librarianship and I needed something that would make me excited about the job. (As an aside, since I started a several months ago, I’ve found I enjoy children’s librarianship after all!)

This, anyway, is the story of how I came to read Saroj Ghoting’s Storytimes for Everyone!: Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy. This text was, first and foremost, incredibly practical and easy to implement. With sample storytime plans and a complete explanation of the leading early literacy theories, Ghoting prepared me well for my introduction to storytime. With lots and lots of repetition, Ghoting drills in the main components of early literacy. This might make for somewhat dry reading for those looking for something more casual, but I found this style extra helpful for my needs.

Ghoting is clearly an expert in the field and, if her catalog doesn’t show it, her adeptness at describing these concepts does. The complete clarity she writes with shows a deep level of skill and knowledge while making the book and its concepts super accessible for even the most beginner of novices. Ghoting also supplements her writing with plenty of resources and examples, some of which are available free online.

I checked this one out from the library, but I’ve since considered purchasing it. With lots of storytime plans at the end of the book paired with plenty of instructional materials at the beginning, Storytimes for Everyone is incredibly useful and great to have on-hand. Whether you’re a total newbie to storytime and early literacy or you’re a long-time pro, there’s something for everyone in Ghoting’s text.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero
Henry Holt and Co., 2016, 272 pages
Memoir

In Diane Guerrero’s memoir In the Country We Love, the actress recounts her life from her earliest memories to the present. Guerrero, an advocate for immigration reform, relives some of her most difficult moments, including the process with a lawyer who promised citizen status but stole thousands from her parents, and the eventual deportation of her family. While she bounced around friends’ homes and eventually In the Country We Lovefound her way into acting, Guerrero never forgot the struggles of her family and continues to fight for immigration reform today. In an updated edition of her memoir, Guerrero wonders about the impact of America’s 45th president with a renewed dedication to her cause with an added afterword.

The prose in Guerrero’s memoir is fantastically eloquent. Despite taking on a challenging and complicated topic — and one which many people feel strongly about and, even further, strongly against Guerrero — her arguments are always clear and made simple to follow. Though immigration reform is likely a difficult topic for Guerrero to write about at length, she always makes social issues easy to understand and visceral, for readers who are more removed from the challenges wrapped up in immigration. It is her ability to make these challenges real and immediate that sets her arguments apart. The February 2017 addition to the book makes this even more evident with words and ideas that are both powerful and unapologetic. From her discussion around immigration to her descriptions of more light-hearted topics, Guerrero paints a clear and vivid picture without fail, making In the Country We Love an enjoyable read.

Toward the earlier pages of the book, Guerrero admits the memoir will be difficult to get to for her. She acknowledges that talking about immigration and her own story will be personally emotionally challenging. Despite this, she says, it’s important to her that the book is written: she felt alone when her parents were deported, and she feels a responsibility to let other young people in her position know they are not alone. Guerrero certainly gets the job done as she is painfully honest in her storytelling. This means she not only lets others know they are not alone, but lets those who have not been in her position in on the reality of it, perhaps to the benefit of swaying them to her “side” if they aren’t already there. This goal is incredibly admirable, given that this story is one that is, often, incredibly personal.

But Guerrero’s memoir is not all hard edges and realities. She’s endlessly funny and finds humor in dark places. With optimism and lightness of heart, Guerrero makes her otherwise heart-rending work one that is a breeze. In the Country We Love is fantastically readable and a breeze to move through, despite its heaviness. Her sense of humor combined with her determination and interesting story propels the reader through to the end quickly. Yet In the Country We Love is not strictly brain candy — with her calls to action and explanation of social issues, Guerrero easily leaves her readers feeling as if they’ve learned something and are empowered to act.

Though Guerrero does not go into extreme detail on her work with Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, she provides enough information that most readers will be satisfied. More interesting, perhaps, is Guerrero’s journey to her life as an actress. Her skill as an actress is especially highlighted not in her descriptions of her work, but rather the vivid images she provides of people in her life. Her deep understanding and sketches of these people make it clear how she is able to so exactly bring her characters to life in her various acting jobs.

Whether you’re interested in Guerrero as a celebrity or interested in opinions on immigration reform, In the Country We Love is a heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute to life as a new American and living in immigrant families.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #5, “Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative,” and I leave it behind with four-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Co., 2015, 480 pages
Fantasy

Offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Kaz Brekker knows he has to pull together the best possible team to pull of the most ridiculous heist ever attempted. It’s hard enough with antagonists after the team left and right, but with a team that can’t get along with itself, the caper is even more difficult. Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoRelationships old and new appear in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, set in a world familiar to readers of her other books.

Okay — let me be completely honest: I didn’t really know what was going on for 90% of this book. It’s a hefty object in hardcover, though I was surprised to find it was only 480 pages when I checked for the data above. It felt like at least 600. Six of Crows has an interesting premise and its fans love the characters and root for their favorite couples. I would, too, I think, if it weren’t for the fact that it was like walking through molasses mixed with superglue to read. Six of Crows is especially slow at the beginning as Bardugo introduces readers to her main characters and their motivations. When the group finally gets together, they are rarely all present on the same page, making it difficult to see how they really operate as a team.

The plot is burdened not only by its slow pace, but by its seeming lack of stakes. Though Kaz and his crew are clearly motivated to receive their rewards for the heist (which I’m still not clear on the details for), the stakes never felt particularly high or driving. This lack of drive might come from the lack of clarity I struggled with so much, but regardless, it had a serious impact on how interesting I found the book.

Adding to the slow pace of the plot is a narration style that is overly stylized. While this might have been appropriate for a shorter work, Six of Crows is already weighed down with a slow plot and a whole lot of world building (not to mention characters who are guarded — I’ll get to that). Although the prose might help suggest the sort-of-steampunk setting, it doesn’t do so enough to warrant how severely entrenched the style is.

Bardugo does produce an interesting round of characters, to some degree. Nina and Matthias, in particular, are both characters who often behave in unexpected ways and play off each other nicely. This is heightened by a fascinating backstory (which is perhaps part of her other series? I’m not familiar and can’t say.) that is touched on here and there throughout Six of Crows. The pair have a realistic and smoldering sort of chemistry, which left me skimming through pages just to reach scenes that featured them together. Meanwhile, Kaz, for all his Tumblr fans, seems awfully simplistic in his jaded ways and, beyond Kaz, Inej, Matthias, and Nina, none of the other characters are terribly memorable (including the two other main characters, Wylan and Jesper, both of whose names I forgot multiple times while reading).

Despite the decided cliffhanger at the end of the novel, Six of Crows didn’t compel me to run out for the next in the series, Crooked Kingdom. While I’d consider returning for the sequel, it’s not at the top of my list and it has some serious redeeming to do for Six of Crows in my book.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #12, “Read a fantasy novel,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to Your by Nina LaCour
Speak, 2014, 336 pages
Fiction

A set designer for movies, Emi lives in Los Angeles in Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads to You. With her brother out of the country, she and her best friend move into his empty apartment. Though regular interactions with her ex-girlfriend (and her ex-girlfriend’s current partner) make her uncomfortable, EmiImage result for everything leads to you is determined to make the most of this opportunity and make a break into the behind the scenes of Hollywood. When she discovers a note from a famous actor in an estate sale, Emi is driven to a new mission: find the woman referenced in the note and join the woman with her inheritance. But things are never as they seem in the movies and only sometimes as they seem in real life.

LaCour pieces together a beautiful coming-of-age in Everything Leads to You. Unlike so many other LGBTQIAA+ novels, Everything Leads to You features a young lesbian woman but the story does not revolve around her coming out or around her sexuality at all. While her relationships play a large role in the plot and her sexuality is by no means glossed over, it is not the novel. Coming out novels are, of course, important — but so are celebrations of homosexuality as the everyday. LaCour’s depiction of Emi and her relationships emphasizes the normalcy of it all, which is something sorely missing in most LGBTQIAA+ fiction I’ve encountered.

What’s more, the novel has a totally unique setup, particularly for a young adult cast. Just out of high school, Emi has a job that is unlikely for most people her age, but reasonably realistic all the same. The Los Angeles backdrop makes for an environment that feels new. LaCour’s commitment to the unique location helps to create an atmosphere that is rich and and full of the sort of wonder and style that is only inherent to Hollywood — or, at least, how many of us imagine the area.

LaCour does fall short in prose. While adequate, the sentence structure and vocabulary doesn’t do anything to add to the emotion of the book. It simply tells the story, leaving much of the ambiance up to setting and character actions. Further, Everything Leads to You might be categorized as a sort of light example of literary fiction wherein the focus is on character development over plot, but it remains that the primary conflict simply did not drive the book forward enough. Without a higher level of definition and development, the plot seems more offhand than suits the rest of the novel. This is again emphasized with the lack of chemistry between Emi and the primary love interest.

Everything Leads to You is an important addition to the LGBTQIAA+ fictional catalog, but it has its faults. Like a book in watercolor, it’s a lovely reflection of even the slightly grittier sides of movie making and a tribute to films themselves. A few more rounds of edits might have bumped this one up several notches, but I ultimately finished the novel feeling interested in LaCour’s other works.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #15, “Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+,” and I leave it behind with three-and-a-half hearts. 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson
Ember, 2015, 304 pages
YA Fiction

After the death of her politician father in an unnamed Middle East country, Laila, her mother, and her little brother — the heir to her father’s seat — move to the outskirts of Washington, D. C. for protection. As Laila adjusts to her new American life, she discovers her mother is perhaps not as innocent as sheThe Tyrant's Daughter originally believed and there is more to the American government’s intent than she’s told. J. C. Carleson tells Laila’s story in The Tyrant’s Daughter.

With Carleson boasting her background in international affairs (specifically, “as an officer in the CIA’s clandestine service”), readers might expect her to bring knowledge, expertise, and detail to destigmatize the Middle East, refugees, Muslims, and people of color. Despite her personal experiences, Carleson seems only to perpetuate stereotypes and the fear many Americans express around these groups. While Carleson, in the notes of the book, points out she does not name a country for Laila’s origins for a variety of reasons, she fails to acknowledge that, in not naming a country (or, alternatively, making one up), she allows readers to assume all Middle Eastern countries are suffering under the rule of a nefarious dictator who, among other things, oppresses women in the name of Islam. This problematic approach only serves to other those from the Middle East, those who are Muslim, those who are refugees, and, to some extent (though less so, in this context), those who are of color.

This is further underlined when Carleson, or Laila, as the narrator, describes a moment in which she thinks of her female classmates as “whores” because of the typical American clothing they wear. While this might serve to illustrate Laila’s upbringing, it also once again stigmatizes Muslims and the Middle East in a way that is unnecessary. As a whole, Laila is neither a likable nor interesting character. Manipulative and selfish, she has few inherent traits that are about her. Anything that makes her interesting comes from external forces — her status as a de facto princess, for example. Laila consistently rejects everything around her and understandably so, having been plucked from her home and dropped in a foreign world in which the inhabitants believe the worst of her father. But as her defining character trait, this makes Laila difficult to cheer for or care about. What matters most, perhaps, is that Carleson hasn’t motivated Laila to any kind of concrete character development by the end. Instead, Laila remains as she has throughout the novel, her story only improved by circumstances.

Plot-wise, The Tyrant’s Daughter moves slowly and is enveloped in politics that influence Laila’s circumstances at a level well above her. She is unable to do much or be of significant agency, aside from a relationship that may or may not have romantic leanings with a young man who has come from her home country and may have a stake in the rebellion which killed her father. But Laila and her family are not, it would seem, in any kind of witness protection program despite the dangers their identities pose. As a former CIA officer, Carleson should know here, so she’s owed the benefit of the doubt, but it’s strange to not acknowledge the option, especially when it’s so prevalent in similar fictional stories.

One other small thing — the narrative is told primarily in the present tense aside from a few flashbacks. While this does help to differentiate between the flashbacks and the main events, the present tense is more distracting than anything and this differentiation might be better marked with another font style or a simple scene header describing the date or even simply before. In fiction, present tense often is useful when keeping readers in suspense as to whether the narrator will survive the story or when trying to obscure other potential events, but here, the present tense seems to be strictly a stylistic choice that has no real purpose.

A final aside — Carleson’s representation of librarians struck me as disappointing. After inquiring about information regarding her father, Laila is “assisted” by a librarian. In this instance, “assistance” means recalling an article about him in a magazine the librarian happened to have on her desk and handing the magazine to Laila with little other help. The librarian does not conduct any sort of reference interview (to ask questions such as is Laila, who the librarian doesn’t know is related to the man, interested in his personal life? political life? qualifications? downfall?) nor does she offer more substantial or official materials. I’m not convinced this woman went to library school.

 

 

The Tyrant’s Daughter isn’t what it could be. It’s misleading in its portrayal of Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees which may be forgivable to the extent that fiction is interesting because it’s about interesting people — the outliers — but it ultimately does damage to people who have and continue to suffer from a lack of education in those who are outside their groups. Carleson’s narrative structure and writing style are, simply, mediocre and it’s difficult to side with Laila or even find her interesting when the bulk of what does make her interesting has nothing to do with her character or personality. This is one novel that is perhaps best left to itself.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #10, “Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location,” and I leave it behind with one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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