Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S.K. Ali
Series: N/A
Pages: 325
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 13th 2017

      “There are three kinds of people in my world:
      1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
      2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
      Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
      But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
      3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
      Like the monster at my mosque.
      People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask
      Except me.”

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“I wish there was a way to still my heart. It feels like it’s not mine and wants out of my body. I seal it shut with another shrug.”

S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits follows fifteen-year-old Janna as she deals with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. Janna’s dealing with her first crush on a non-Muslim, navigating a world that isn’t always accepting of a hijabi, and doing her best to find a way to be herself when this huge, traumatic thing is weighing down on her shoulders. Keeping this secret isn’t easy and with her older brother moving back home, forcing her to share a room with her mother, her life grows even more stressful. The end of the year is fast approaching and while final exams should be the only thing she’s stressing about, Janna is juggling her parents’ expectations and being pulled in different directions by her friends. The guilt she’s been carrying around for something that isn’t her fault is slowly chipping away at her, and it isn’t easy to let that guilt go when the person who attempted to rape her walks around like nothing happened.

Ali does a masterful job of dealing with heavy issues in her novel, but also being very aware of who her character is at only fifteen. Janna is an easy character to related to and like. She has a subtle sense of humor that I appreciated and I more than once snorted aloud while reading. There is a constant stream of voices whispering to her what they think and in the midst of all that noise, Janna is just trying to figure out what’s right for her. This isn’t always easy when contrary opinions are coming from people she loves. Janna doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, but it’s what inevitably happens, especially when her divorced parents hold such differing views of her faith and how she chooses to express it. I loved the strong sense of community Janna’s faith provided. She’s very involved with her local mosque which is lead by her uncle. Everyone is very caring and supportive and they felt like an extension of her own family. But for Janna, this puts her in an impossible situation because the person who assaulted her is a valuable member of this community. She’s got that doubt in the back of her mind that if she does speak up, not everyone is going to believe her. Every compliment directed at her assaulter, every time someone tries to talk him up to her is like a knife to the gut. This coupled with her inability to avoid him completely makes the book utterly heartbreaking to read at times.

I empathized with Janna so much when she felt she couldn’t open up to Tats, one of her non-Muslim friends, because of the added pressure of being from a marginalized community. She knows that anything she says negatively about someone in her community can be attributed to everyone. The outside world does not judge you as individuals, but as a group. I loved Janna’s relationship with her brother Muhammad because it felt so authentic. Getting on each other’s nerves, feeling loyal to one parent over the other and having this cause division between the two felt very real. There’s a little resentment when it comes to which parent is playing favorites with whom as well. I loved what Ali did with the romance portion of Janna’s story. I felt her butterflies and anxiousness when it came to her crush, but ultimately appreciated the more subtle development of Janna’ relationship with someone else. It was unexpected and yet felt so right. I loved the pacing of this relationship and how it was rooted in respect and I kind of wish we got a glimpse of what comes of it down the line.

S.K. Ali’s debut Saints and Misfits will make you laugh and cry, it will make you angry and happy, and at the end of the day, you’ll be forever grateful you read it.

5/5

★★★★★

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ARC Review: Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Title: Star-Touched Stories
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: Star-Touched Queen, #2.5
Pages: 304
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: August 7th 2018
*I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review*

      “Death and Night
      He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.
      Poison and Gold
      Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Queen Gauri and King Vikram’s new reign presents itself, she is thrown into the path of the fearsome yet enchanting Spy Mistress. To help her friends, Aasha will have to battle her insecurities and perhaps, along the way, find love.
      Rose and Sword
      There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?”

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Roshani Chokshi’s delicious prose and spellbinding storytelling once again shines in her collection Star-Touched Stories. All three short stories in this collection take place in the same world as The Star-Touched Queen duology. While many novellas or short story collections feel unnecessary, reading Chokshi’s selected tales felt like a real treat. We get the backstory to a The Star-Touched Queen in Death and Night, a look at what happens to the vishakanya Aasha from A Crown of Wishes in Poison and Gold, and a short story featuring Gauri and Vikram in Rose and Sword. These stories reminded me just how much I enjoy Chokshi’s writing and renewed my love for her duology.

The first short story in this collection, Death and Night, is lush and romantic. If you ever wanted to know more about Maya’s previous life as the goddess of Night and how she first met the Lord of Death, this is the story for you. The Lord of Death seeks a bride, but a curse spells doom if he falls in love. Night is an enigma to most who meet her. Her existence a lonely one. Though she ushers in night, she does not have the power to create and shape fate with her own hands. Their meeting does not go smoothly as Night has always dreamed of a union based on love and the Dharma Raja is determined to marry without it. The Lord of Death is both amusingly and endearingly clumsy when it comes to trying to court Night. I loved Night’s sharp tongue and that she isn’t easily moved by the Dharma Raja. This was my favorite novella of the three because of how vivid the world felt and how easily I was able to fall back into The Star-Touched Queen universe.

Aasha was such a curious character in A Crown of Wishes. When I was still hoping for another book in this series, I was hoping to get Aasha’s story. I was delighted to discover that Poison and Gold is about Aasha and her journey discovering her place in a new world. As a vishankanya, Aasha is able to kill with a single touch, but she has taken on another role at Gauri and Vikram’s side. But as loyal as her friends may be to her and she to them, there is unrest in both kingdoms as they are set to unite with their two leaders’ marriage. Aasha must earn her place by their side and is sent to the current Spy Mistress for training. Aasha has been struggling to find where she fits in this world of mortals. Their manners can sometimes be unpredictable and Aasha continues to marvel at how easily they lie. Zahril, the current Spy Mistress, isn’t exactly what Aasha expects. She isn’t friendly, but curt and sometimes merciless. Though most would be unsettled by Zahril, Aasha finds her lack of pretense refreshing. Aasha finally finds a place where she can not only be herself, but where her key to success relies on it. When Aasha begins to develop feelings for Zahril, her secret identity as a vishankanya threatens to unravel their new bond. I loved that both of these characters, who have very different reasons for being closed off, get a chance to be vulnerable with the other. While the first story is about love, this one is about the potential for love and how Aasha and Zahril take those first steps to being open to the possibility of love.

The final story in this collection is Rose and Sword. We get a glance at both the past and future of Gauri and Vikram’s relationship. This one was a personal delight as these two characters were my favorite in the The Star-Touched Queen duology. This story is a little darker than the previous two as a character must venture into the underworld and save a loved one from death. This felt like a bittersweet tale for those who always imagined a happily-ever-after for the two leads of A Crown of Wishes. There’s an underlining bitter honesty to this tale where Gauri must confront the fact that her relationship with Vikram will not always be perfect. They are far too different to always get along and too used to getting their own way. She eventually has to choose whether the time she and Vikram have together is worth all the pain that will come when she loses him. I became unexpectedly emotional while reading this one. It’s amazing what Chokshi can still make me feel for characters I met over a year ago.

Star-Touched Stories is just as enchanting as The Star-Touched Queen duology. Chokshi made me fall in love with her writing each time I picked up this collection. If you are a fan of the original duology, this is an excellent short-story collection that will leave you both satisfied and wanting even more tales from this captivating world.

4/5

★★★★

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Title: The Belles
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Series: The Belles, #1
Pages: 440
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: February 6th 2018

      “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
      But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
      With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.”

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“I try not to be the little girl who always jumps as soon as she walks into a room. I try to be the girl who isn’t afraid of anything. Or anyone. But a twinge of fear grows inside me despite myself.”

Dhonielle Clayton paints an enchanting and dark world in her latest novel The Belles. Camellia Beauregard was born a Belle. In a world where beauty has been stripped from its people, Belles are the only ones who can manipulate and transform them into something beautiful. Camellia and her sisters have been training for years for their debut, hoping to be chosen by the queen of Orléans to be the crown’s favorite, the ultimate form of validation for all their hard work. But being the favorite comes with consequences none of the girls could have prepared for and soon Camellia finds herself caught between royals that not only expect her to be the best, but demand it of her. Not obeying has dire consequence for Camellia, her sisters, and the entire kingdom.

Clayton’s writing takes you through a whirlwind of sensations. She captivates readers from the very first page, tapping into each of our senses with such ease. I not only saw Orléans, I felt it, heard it, smelled and tasted it. One of the things I loved about Clayton’s use of beauty is that it is all-encompassing in this world. It isn’t limited to the rich social spheres of Orléans. It is not just the people who must be beautiful, it is the homes, the teahouses, the fashion. Clayton’s descriptions are vivid and delectable; at times, it felt like I was devouring the words instead of reading them. Beauty has become the only way of life for those in Orléans, and for many this has become an obsession. There are some very ugly and terrifying characters in this one who make very chilling villains. They are willing to do anything to be beautiful and to control those who can wield such power. Inevitably, envy and jealousy are byproducts of a world that demands perfection. Though Camellia is the heroine of our story, she is not immune to these more ugly attributes. When one’s value is defined by how beautiful one is, morality takes a back seat and even Camellia find herself giving in when she knows she shouldn’t.

It’s clear from very early on that Camellia and the other Belles have been purposefully isolated from society. There is an undeniable innocence to them and they are told that vices like passion and even love can throw off the balance of their arcana, the essence of which makes them able to work their transformations. Whether this is true or not is yet to be determined, but I could not help but draw a parallel to how we as a society define beauty in girls. From doe-eyed models to lipsticks named Lolita, it sends the message that innocence is alluring and sexy, and any tainting of this especially with sexual experience, poisons the whole apple. This comes to a head when Camellia is attacked by one of her customers later on in the story. There is a particularly unnerving scene where Camellia is tasked with altering a woman’s body and with a writing instrument, marks the places that need to be improved. It was a jarring reminder of the stories I used to hear growing up of girls marking each other’s bodies with permanent marker, circling the parts they viewed as flaws. 

I do wish we had the opportunity to get more acquainted with the other Belles. Though I do understand why they are kept separate from Camellia. Still, we are first introduced to these young women together and though some of them were driven by ambition and others by defiance, they form Camellia’s family and helped her become the person she is. We get a more complete glimpse of Camellia’s relationship with her sister Amber and though I wanted to worry over her like Camellia did, her unquestioned obedience and jealousy didn’t exactly endear her to me. I am much more interested in the rebellious Edel who I hope we get to see more of in the sequel. Another issue I had was the romance. While I can’t complain of the pacing as it feeds into the inexperience of Camellia, I fully admit I wasn’t moved personally by the allure of the love interest. I’ve always preferred the slow burn, so I’m awaiting the development of Camellia’s relationship with someone else.

Clayton’s writing is delicious, her story unique, and her commentary on beauty poignant. If you haven’t picked up The Belles yet, I encourage you to do so.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: These Ruthless Deeds + These Vengeful Souls

MiniIt doesn’t happen often, but I love when you revisit a book that you didn’t love the first time around, only to discover how enjoyable it is upon a second reading. I reread Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks a couple of months ago because I had bought the second from Book Outlet and didn’t want to give up on the series even though the first didn’t blow me away. But with a reread, I ended up falling in love with the story and characters. And after finishing the second, I felt the pressing need to buy the third. It only seems appropriate to pair the final two books together in this edition of mini-reviews. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: These Ruthless Deeds
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: The Vicious Masks, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: March 14th 2017 

      “England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.
      As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…”

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“Perhaps grief was my companion now, to be dragged behind me as intrusive and burdensome as a heavy trunk.”

I recently revisited Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks and ended up enjoying their historical fantasy debut so much more the second time around, so much so that I immediately dove into the second installment, These Ruthless Deeds. Upon discovering that she, along with others, are gifted with special abilities, Evelyn Wyndham soon discovered the lengths people will go to to control those with unusual powers. Still reeling from the loss her sister Rose and the disappearance of the enigmatic and alluring Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn throws herself into doing the only thing she is sure of: rescuing others like herself. Her mission leads her to the mysterious Society of Aberrations, a team of gifted individuals who recruit those like Evelyn and help them develop and control their abilities. With new and old friends at her side, Evelyn soon discovers that nobody, including this Society, is what it seems. I love how willful and stubborn Evelyn is. She can’t afford to be easily taken in because of what happened to her sister, but still holds out hope that those like herself can find a place in this world. Sebastian remains one of my favorites in the series. Tormented by his ability to absorb energy from others, causing illness and even death, Sebastian is always trying to outrun himself. The prospect of learning to control his abilities is almost too good to be true, but Sebastian is desperate. I loved every scene with Evelyn and Sebastian. Not only do their powers cancel the other’s out (Evelyn having the ability to heal), but their personalities compliment one another. Evelyn and Sebastian have an undeniable chemistry that had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for them to finally figure things out between the two of them. Another standout character for me is the charming Mr. Kent. I loved all the humor he brought to the story and though I do wish he would have realized sooner that Evelyn only wanted friendship from him, his presence brought much-needed lightheartedness to the novel. These Ruthless Deeds ends with quite a bang which had me scrambling to buy the third. Please note that a character does contemplate suicide in this installment.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: These Vengeful Souls
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: These Vicious Masks, #3
Pages: 304
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “England, 1883. On the run with the grieving Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn wants two things: to be reunited with her friends, and to get revenge on the evil Captain Goode. Not only has he misused his and Sebastian’s powers to rack up a terrible death toll, but he’s also completely destroyed any hope of Evelyn or her friends regaining the life they once knew.
      Evelyn is determined to make Captain Goode pay for what he’s done, but is her revenge worth risking the lives of Sebastian and her friends? Or is it better to flee the city and focus on staying alive? And with the Captain spreading lies about Sebastian in an attempt to flush them out of hiding and turn the populace against them, does she even have a choice at all?”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

These Vengeful Souls, the final book in Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s historical fantasy series, These Vicious Masks, is packed with action as Evelyn and company make one last stand against the nefarious Captain Goode. There’s an added wrinkle in this final book where the public has become aware of individuals with these amazing and dangerous abilities. Goode uses people’s fears to turn them against Sebastian in particular and the handful of allies he has left. Both Evelyn and Sebastian carry loads of guilt; Sebastian because his power was manipulated, resulting in ballroom full of dead people and Evelyn because she had a chance to stop it, but chose to save her sister. Evelyn wants to put an end to the war between Goode and those who no longer wish to be his pawns. Unfortunately, Evelyn is prone to rash decisions, driven by love and a need to protect those around. She often chooses to go in alone rather than put her friends in danger. Despite mistakes Evelyn makes in this one, I loved that she eventually got to a place where she learned to trust those around her to help her in taking down Goode. Seeing Evelyn and minor characters like Rose, Mr. Kent, Miss Chen, etc, come together and work as a team was really rewarding. It’s a testament to their development as characters. I feel like Sebastian never really got a moment to breath throughout this series and I really wanted this for him. It’s hard to blame him for brooding all the time when he never really had much to celebrate. I really wanted to see him get a handle of his powers and in general, I wanted to see more happy moments for all the characters, but that probably says more about my attachment to them than anything else. Overall, this has been a really enjoyable historical fantasy series that I’d recommend to fans of the genre.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Ruined by Amy Tintera

Title: Ruined
Author: Amy Tintera
Series: Ruined, #1
Pages: 355
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: May 3rd 2016

      “Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.
      But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.
      In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.
      Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.”

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“An elaborate jeweled sword hung on the wall not three steps away, and another one, sheathed and ready to be grabbed, sat on the dresser in the corner. Five seconds to kill the prince. If she hadn’t just saved his life, she might have been tempted.”

With a cast of likable characters and a high-stakes scheme at center stage, Amy Tintera’s Ruined is a delightful fantasy. Emelina Flores watched as her kingdom of Ruina was destroyed and her parents were murdered. In a desperate attempt to save her little sister, the only family she has left, and avenge her kingdom’s destruction, Emelina poses as the last heir to the Vallos throne. As Princess Mary, Emelina will have to marry Cas, the prince of Lera, and fool him as well as the king and queen if she has any hope of finding her sister. Hiding her true identity and her hatred for Lera’s ruler becomes harder with each passing day. While Emelina has always been convinced that the royal family deserves to suffer the same fate as her parents, her conviction begins to waver when she unexpectedly finds a sympathetic ear in her new husband.

Emelina has always stood out her world, just not in the way she would have liked. As a Ruined without magic, Emelina has never been regarded as the heir apparent to Ruina’s throne. Still, Emelina feels a responsibility to her people and her sister Olivia who has been taken captive by the king of Lera. Driven by anger and blood-lust, Emelina risks everything by impersonating the princess of Vallos. Rescuing Olivia and working with another kingdom to overthrow Lera’s king is the only way Emelina can ensure the survival of her people. The strongest influence in Emelina’s life has always been her mother. I loved every glimpse we got of this woman. Wenda Flores was efficient and merciless when it came to ruling. She saw magic not as a gift, but as a symbol that those like her are destined to rule over those without it. Emelina has spent so much time trying to accomplish her mother’s vision of the world that she hasn’t had the opportunity to ask herself what kind of world she wants to live in. Her relationship with Cas has her calling into question who she wants to be and not just what others have told her she must be.

The king and queen of Lera have waged war on the Ruined. In an attempt to snuff them out for good, they make an alliance with Vallos, arranging a marriage between their son and the Vallos princess. Cas is more open than his parents and when Emelina challenges him to think about what his kingdom is really doing to the Ruined, he can’t help but listen. I loved that Cas isn’t the most confident person in the room. He can be shy and awkward, but in this novel it felt like he gained a voice. He was able to stand up to his father and challenge the beliefs he’s been told he needs to just accept. No one’s actions in this novel are entirely justified. Emelina and Cas have both erred, but they also take the first steps to taking control of their own lives instead of letting their parents’ battles dictate who they are going to be.

I was hoping for a little more magic in Amy Tintera’s Ruined or at least a broader look at the kind of magic the Ruined are known for, but the ending opens up so many possibilities that I’m eager to dive into the next book.

4/5

★★★★

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Monday’s Not Coming
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 22nd 2018

      “Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
      As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?”

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      “Missing.
      I held my breath until it burned in my chest, the word frightening. Is she missing? Missing from my life, yeah, but is she, like missing for real? She couldn’t be, she has to be home. Right?”

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming is an intricate mystery with characters who come to life and an unforgettable story. Claudia and Monday have been inseparable since they were in first grade. The summer between 7th and 8th grade promises to be agonizing, with Claudia spending the season with her grandma in Georgia and Monday stuck back in D.C. The two girls, however, hatch a plan to stay in touch through letters over the summer. But Claudia doesn’t hear from Monday all summer long. When she gets back home, Monday doesn’t visit. Claudia calls, but Monday’s phone number is disconnected. When the first day of school rolls around, Claudia is sure she’ll see her best friend, but Monday’s not there. Claudia knows something has to be wrong, but as the weeks pass with no Monday in sight, she grows increasingly concerned. Monday’s mother and older sister won’t give Claudia a straight answer and the other adults in her life don’t seem quite as concerned. Claudia will do anything to discover the truth, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Claudia and Monday’s relationship is easily recognizable. It’s the kind of friendship that is all-consuming, in which it feels like your best friend is the most important person in your world. It’s hard to untangle one person’s wants from the other, not just because you’re so in sync, but because having your best friend’s approval is imperative. A single fight can feel devastating one moment and your bond with one another unbreakable the next. Claudia and Monday live very different lives. Claudia has a stable home and loving parents. Monday has always been good at hiding the problems she has at home and perhaps Claudia has always been good at pretending everything was fine with her best friend. For Monday, Claudia and her family are like a refuge from everything that isn’t right at home. For Claudia, Monday is her refuge from everything that isn’t right at school. Both girls are bullied by their peers, on the receiving end of both homophobic and slut-shaming rumors. Claudia feels increasingly isolated at school without Monday and struggles to hide a learning disorder that was always easier to cover up when Monday was around to help her.

Claudia’s story is emotionally charged. It is honest and raw and hard to read at times. Like Claudia, you as a reader can’t help but feel her frustration. The callousness and indifference shown by the adults in her life is hard to swallow, but they are a reflection of how society handles stories like Monday’s. There are some ugly truths to be found in this book including child abuse. And there is a whole lot of culpability to go around. Jackson’s novel is a commentary on the treatment of missing black girls, how easily they are forgotten, sometimes not even acknowledged, and the untold pain their absence leaves behind. Monday’s Not Coming pulls no punches when it points a finger at the community, schools, social workers, and the police. All of whom bear some responsibility when it comes to countless missing children’s stories. Jackson also explores gentrification in her novel, how easy it is for people to take over whole neighborhoods without a second thought because they know these low-income communities do not have the means to fight back, especially financially.

Monday’s Not Coming alternates between different timelines, taking readers on a heartbreaking journey, and whose ending hits you like a freight train.

4/5

★★★★