24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: young adult (page 1 of 9)

Abby Reads: Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, 233 pages
Juvenile Fiction

After he is wrongly convicted of shoe theft in Louis Sachar’s Holes, Stanley  Yelnats is sent to a correctional facility known as Camp Green Lake. At the institution, he, along with dozens of other boys his age, are forced to dig precise holes throughout the barren desert. Meanwhile, Image result for holes louis sacharsomething from Camp Green Lake’s past is tickling the current inhabitants and influencing their lives in ways they could never begin to believe. As Stanely builds relationships with the other boys in the camp and begins to learn about the kinds of cruelty adults can bestow, a clever and quiet plot unfolds in fabulous reveals from chapter to chapter.

Despite being a fairly simple novel in many ways, Holes is quietly powerful with not only an incredibly-planned plot, but also with an unusual level of social commentary woven in through example rather than heavy-handedness. One of the most striking examples of this social commentary is Stanley’s conviction. Sachar makes it clear that had Stanley’s family had more money and more able to afford a competent legal team to represent him, he would not have been unjustifiably sent to Camp Green Lake. Stanley learns even more about social justice issues as he enters the camp, where he interacts with boys of color and begins to understand some of the implications of their lives. One awkward step away from this pattern is a description from the narrator, in which boys who are digging holes are described as being racially ambiguous due to the dirt on their faces.

With two plot lines running alongside each other, separate in history but together in consequence, Sachar handles most of the overlapping well. Though this concept could easily be difficult for younger readers to follow, Sachar’s attention to detail, refusal to overwhelm, and commitment to clear connections makes the structure completely accessible for its target audience. A few places marked as chapter breaks can feel jarring, but the overall effect is worth it and it is this feature that makes Holes so unforgettable.

Of course, how the two primary plots came together did not seem quite so impressive for me this time. I’ve both read the book and seen the film Holes. I recall my first reading being entrancing, so I have hope that my original experience holds up today. But knowing exactly how Stanely’s situation would be impacted by Kissin’ Kate Barlow did take some of the magic away from the book.

Sachar’s narrator speaks in a familiar and conversational style that feels entirely natural and fun. Holes has just about everything you could want in terms of literary value. It’s well-planned, engaging, imaginative, unique, and quite a ride. If you haven’t gotten to Holes yet, take a weekend ad get to it — you’ll thank yourself.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017, 528 pages
Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Sent off on a journey across Europe, young bachelor Monty with his friend Percy and sister Felicity (along with an escort for the three) begin an adventure they could never begin to guess in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Hailed as groundbreaking for its inclusion of a 29283884bisexual male main character and a love interest of color (and a character with a disability), this epic young adult novel touches on many of the successful genres from over the past several years, tied together in a period piece that evokes images of lace and fine brandy.

As an often-lighthearted epic of sorts, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is often fun and rompy. Monty and his companions encounter all sorts of characters as they make their way across Europe and conjure up their own trouble through theft and daring escapes. But each adventure leads to another, leaving the novel feeling a bit long, ultimately, especially as Lee dives into more serious topics such as slavery and homophobia. While both these (and many other challenging topics that are present) are fine and worthy things for literature, their combination with the otherwise explorative and dashing excitement never seems to fit quite right. Instead, these social justice issues come off as heavy-handed and included for the sake of being inclusive. Though certainly intersectionality is important, the handling of it here often makes the plot drag and doesn’t serve the novel well.

Though both Monty and Percy receive a fair bit of development (as do other more secondary and tertiary characters), Monty’s sister Felicity frequently feels like a sort of trope. I’ve since heard that a sequel will follow and develop Felicity further, so I still have hope there, but I was overall disappointed given the attention to other issues in the novel. Felicity’s simplistic stereotype, while perhaps useful for plot purposes, did nothing to improve the cast of characters. Meanwhile, Monty is decidedly unlikable, which was an interesting strategy for this particular novel. Though his selfishness and other undesirable traits are likely rooted in the poor treatment his father passes off to him via  homophobic reasoning, his unlikability and its roots do not make him terribly interesting. Unlikable is always fine for a character if he or she can be made interesting and worth following. The only way to find any sympathy for Monty, aside from how his father treats him, is through Monty’s feelings for Percy. As neither of these things are aspects of his personality and life that he has much control over, it’s difficult to find an entry point to truly cheer for Monty and his success.

Lee has done an incredible amount of research for the finer details in the novel, including various physical artifacts and vocabulary. It is this work that makes the book interesting and, perhaps, worth the time if you’re up for such a tome. With an apparent background in history, Lee makes an impressive amount of work seem easy and seamless.

While The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is, at times, fun and engaging, it was overall too long for my tastes and not up to the hype. Though diversity and inclusion are crucial to modern literature, it was ultimately overbearing here, feeling more like a contest to fit in as much diversity as possible without conscious thought to it. If you enjoy period pieces and don’t mind a bit of slogging through it, you might enjoy The Gentleman’s Guide, but don’t be afraid to put it down if it doesn’t strike you — you won’t miss anything more.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Random House, 1970, 192 pages
Juvenile Fiction

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume encounters Margaret, a young girl who has moved with her parents from New York City to the suburbs and is beginning to question what it is to be religious and what it is to be a woman. With crossover between her personal religious life and her new social circle, Margaret finds tension in her parents’ relationships with their own parents as well as neighborhood friends and 37732their older brothers. Blume asks important questions about what religion means to the unindoctrinated religious explorers and what it means to be a young girl growing up in America.

Prior to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I had never picked up a Judy Blume novel. Where I admittedly expected some level of innocence and naivete (this was published in 1970! Certainly those were simpler times. No? Well, another discussion for another day), I found a great deal of honesty and challenging topics wrapped up in a beautifully simple narrative and prose. Without a complicated plot, Margaret is left to ponder the wonders of the world and the universe, leaving plenty of questions unanswered for young readers to think on themselves. Despite the natural complexity of religion and puberty (and what a combination!), Blume makes both simple and accessible for her young target audience.

What was especially impressive was Blume’s dedication to making the depiction of Margaret and her friends one of the truest I’ve seen of young girls’ friendships. A particular scene in which Margaret’s group of friends determine rules for their friend group stuck out as especially familiar to me, despite the absurdity of it. I, too, could recall sitting down with friends, notebooks in hand, to place arbitrary rules on our group about boys, communication, and other relevant aspects of our lives. (As an aside, from a professional perspective, I can now tell you that this type of play is in preparation for adulthood, which is pretty neat and makes Blume’s work here even more impressive. As Margaret and her friends are on the verge of experiencing puberty, they are also mentally practicing their adult lives through these exercises. Interesting!)

Similarly realistic, if perhaps slightly underdeveloped, is Margaret’s secret crush. These new feelings that develop within her are scary in some ways, so they’re largely ignored until they can’t be. Even when the crush cannot be ignored, Margaret tiptoes around it, creating a delicious sort of tension that will entice readers to read on.

Meanwhile, though the book is written for older children and younger teens, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret can easily be enjoyed by adults. Plenty of the subtleties of Margaret’s life (to which she does not catch on) are fascinating to watch play out in various ways. Where adults will be savvy about the implications and consequences of various events, Margaret is often oblivious beyond some surface information. This is not Margaret being stupid, either, but it highlights a compelling piece of childhood that we often forget. That said, there were moments and a general feeling of lack of development — while the book remains completely accessible, its deeper symbolism and meaning are really not so deep at all, which might leave something to be desired for readers who prefer to do a little more thoughtful work.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret only takes a couple of hours to read and is a fun experience. Glittering scenes with her grandmother make for a unique piece to an already-important story. Whether you’re religious or not, this novel provides a nice look at what it can mean for some and where sometimes, meaning falls short.

❤❤❤💔 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: 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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