Mini-Reviews: One of the Good Ones + The Mirror Season

I have so many reviews in my drafts and since I am going to go on hiatus very soon, I am going to do my best to get as many as I can out before then. This week I am bringing you reviews of two of the hardest books I’ve ever read. Both deal with heavy subject matter and I literally had to take breaks while reading them. Both were incredible reads, but definitely approach these titles with a bit of caution. Take note of the trigger warnings before diving in and always take care of yourself.

Title: One of the Good Ones Author: Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite Series: N/A Pages: 384 Publisher: Inkyard Press Release Date: January 5th 2021

TW: death of a sibling, police brutality, racism, assault, homophobia, lynching

"The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. ISN'T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH? When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic. One of the good ones. Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there's a twist to Kezi's story that no one could've ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite’s sophomore novel, One of the Good Ones, gives an unforgettable look at how victims of police brutality are stripped of their humanity, held up as saints or criminals under media scrutiny and deemed worthy or unworthy of being mourned as a result. Kezi has her whole life ahead of her. Passionate about history and social justice, Kezi has made a name for herself online with her YouTube channel. But her life is cut short after she attends a protest and is taken into police custody. One of the Good Ones for the most part alternates between Kezi’s POV before her arrest and present day from her sister Happi’s perspective. Kezi is dealing with internet fame, falling in love for the first time, and hiding the fact that she is gay from her very religious parents. After her death, her family is thrust into the spotlight and while her parents and older sister have adapted to this, her younger sister Happi struggles to deal with their grief constantly being put on display for public consumption. I loved reading about the different dynamics between the three Smith sisters: Happi, Kezi, and Genny. They are all very different people and don’t always have seamless sisterly interactions. It was both heartbreaking to read about how much Happi regretted not knowing her sister as well as she should have before her passing, but there is also a sense of hope as she begins to learn more about who Kezi was. I won’t spoil the book, but there is a POV in the novel that felt so pertinent as the book explores who and who isn’t publicly mourned when it comes to police brutality. The book also features letters and narrative non-fiction, the latter of which really stood out to me. Like their debut Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite utilize different mediums in One of the Good Ones, crafting a unique and unforgettable story that will undoubtedly stun readers.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: The Mirror Season Author: Anna-Marie McLemore Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Feiwel Friends Release Date: March 16th 2021

TW: sexual assault (on-page), drugging, PTSD, panphobia, assault

"When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family's possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore's The Mirror Season... Graciela Cristales's whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned. But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela's school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened."

Anna-Marie McLemore’s delivers their most emotionally-charged novel with The Mirror Season. Ciela is known as La Reina de las Nievas, gifted with the ability to read customers and know exactly what kind of pan dulce they need at her family’s pastelería. After she is sexually assaulted at a party, Ciela would like nothing more than to forget that night, but when the boy who was assaulted at the same party shows up at her school with only a vague memory of what happened, she is forced to relive events. The Mirror Season can be overwhelming at times as it recounts the aftermath of Ciela’s sexual assault, the continued trauma of seeing her perpetrators at school, and the turmoil of keeping the truth of what happened a secret. Her relationship with Lock becomes a double-edged sword. Their connection allows Ciela to talk about her sexual assault for the first time with someone who understands, but she is unable for Lock’s sake as well as her own to be entirely truthful. Ciela spends a lot of time lying to herself as a coping mechanism, dealing with misplaced guilt, and struggling to reconcile the person she was before the assault with the person she has become. Though her journey is heartbreaking, The Mirror Season is also about Ciela rediscovering the parts of herself she thought were lost for good, reclaiming these parts as her own, and standing up to her assailants. The Mirror Season is a difficult novel to get through, at times it will hurt, shock, infuriate you to read, but like Anna-Marie McLemore’s previous novels, the characters in this story are more than their trauma and their path to empowerment though not smooth still feels hopeful even in the midst of the wounds they endure.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria

Title: Fire with Fire
Author: Destiny Soria
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: panic attacks and ableism

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      “Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.
      Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.”

  • Dani – Dani was born into a family of dragon slayers, but dragon slaying is the last thing on her mind. While a natural when it comes to combat, she wants a life outside of the family business. She wants to spend time with her best friend Tomás and work a summer job instead of spending endless hours training with her sister. She’s driven by passion which often makes her impulsive, but it also makes her determined to do what’s right even if it means going against the people she loves.
  • Eden – Eden is determined to be the best dragon slayer she can be. More rigorous in her training, she often grows impatient with her sister’s cavalier attitude. She should be the superior fighter, but no matter how much work she puts into training, Dani always seems to outshine her. Something that doesn’t seem fair when Eden has dedicated so much time and has given up any semblance of a social life in pursuit of the family legacy.
  • Sisters – I love that Fire with Fire‘s main relationship is sisterhood. Dani and Eden are very different from one another. They don’t always see eye to eye and there is a lot of frustration between the two, but they also love one another fiercely and in time discover how much they can learn from the other.
  • Dragons and magical system – I don’t think we can ever get too many dragon books and this is only the second book I’ve read with Latinx protagonists in a dragon fantasy. In this story, dragons are the source of magic, it flows from them, but they are also dangerous creatures prone to violence against humans. Both dragon slayers and sorcerers have made it their mission to rid the world of dragons, but they often clash when it comes to the right methods.
  • Magic and mental health – Appreciated seeing the novel address magic and mental health. One really important storyline is that magic does not fix mental illness because having a mental illness doesn’t mean a person is broken.
  • Romance subplot – There is one romance subplot that plays out really quickly and that I couldn’t buy into. If the character had been introduced earlier, it would have made it more believable.

Destiny Soria once again delivers a unique fantasy with Fire with Fire, filled with heart-stopping action and the resilient love between sisters.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

Title: Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun
Author: Jonny Garza Villa
Series: N/A
Pages: 341
Publisher: Skyscape
Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: physical abuse, homophobia including slurs, forced outing, suicidal thoughts

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.
      Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.
      Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.
      Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.
      Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.”

  • Julián – Julián is an easy character to like and root for. He knows he can’t come out because of the hostility his father has always shown about the very idea that he could be gay. The only thing that gets him through is imagining life after high school, of going to college in another state where he’d be free to be himself and finally be happy. When he accidentally comes out on social media, he has to deal with the inevitable falling out, but there is also this new idea that he doesn’t have to wait to be happy, that if he embraces himself and puts himself out there, he has a chance to experience good things in the now.
  • Friend group – I really enjoyed Julián’s friend group. They are all different people, but they balance each other out so well. When they are together, it is chaotic and fun. They are there for Jules in different ways and it was so nice to see this support system. I especially loved Jules’s relationship with Jordan. They are so supportive of one another and effortlessly affectionate. It’s the kind of relationship between two male characters that I would like to see more often.
  • Discussion of homophobia in Latinx communities – There is a clear juxtaposition between Jules’s friends’ reaction versus his father’s. Jules’s has kept a part of himself hidden for fear of how his father would react, especially because he’s been abusive in the past. It isn’t unusual to encounter homophobia in Latinx communities and Jules’s father isn’t the only Latinx character who is homophobic in this book. It’s a stifling environment to grow up in and unfortunately creates a lot of self-hate. And it’s ever more heartbreaking when these derogatory comments come from people you love.
  • Familial relationships – Jules’s older sister, Xo, and his grandfather became the family he deserves. They are the ones who embrace him when his father rejects him and do not expect anything from him other than the opportunity to love him. Friends are one thing, but I think it was really important for Jules to have the support of family as well.
  • MatFifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy issues, but it also provides plenty of smiles. Most notably is Jules’s relationship with Mat, a boy he meets online and one of the first people who supports him after he comes out. Their interactions are flirtatious and butterflies-in-your-stomach inducing. There are so many sweet moments between the two, but the real world is always there to remind them that they live so far away from one another. They have to figure out if what they have is real, if their relationship is plausible, and what happens after they graduate if they don’t end up in the same place.
  • Nothing to note.

Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun is an addicting, swoon-worthy read about coming out and finding that happiness can exist at the end of even the darkest tunnel.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Title: Once Upon a Quinceañera
Author: Monica Gomez-Hira
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 2nd 2021

TW: slut shaming and sexual harassment

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      “Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently ‘happily ever after’ for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship! All she has to do is perform! In a ball gown! During the summer. In Miami.
      Fine. Except that Carmen’s company is hired for her spoiled cousin Ariana’s over the top quinceañera.
      And of course, her new dance partner at work is none other than Mauro Reyes, Carmen’s most deeply regrettable ex.
      If Carmen is going to move into the future she wants, she needs to leave the past behind. And if she can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off Mauro’s texts, and stopping Ariana from ruining her own quinceañera Carmen might just get that happily ever after after all.”

swirl (2)

Monica Gomez-Hira debuts with Once Upon a Quinceañera, a story about forgiveness and growth. Carmen Aguilar cannot catch a break. Just short of earning enough credits to graduate, she’s forced to intern over the summer for Dreams Come True, a princess party company that caters to children. Not a bad gig until her aunt hires the company for her bratty cousin’s quinceañera. Family drama is hard enough to deal with but now Carmen’s sort of ex-boyfriend is back in town stirring up feelings she’d rather see stay buried. Then there’s Carmen’s current crush Alex, who is finally showing interest in her. Maybe her summer won’t be as disastrous after all.

Once Upon a Quinceanera has a strong lead character who is made more relatable by the way she stumbles when it comes to her personal relationships. On the surface Carmen is prickly and abrasive. She isn’t an easy person to get along with and can be unforgiving in her views of other people. When you dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent that Carmen is not this way by accident. Much of her tough exterior is the result of how other people see and treat her. Guys think she’s easy, her peers whisper behind her back, and even her aunt thinks she’s a bad influence. Carmen is defensive because it’s the only way she knows how to protect herself and when there aren’t a lot of people on her side, she has to be her own advocate, something that doesn’t always come easy to her.

Family plays an important role in this debut, but like in real life, family can be complicated. Carmen has a really close relationship with her mother and if asked about her father, would say she doesn’t care that he left, but deep down it hurts. Her Tía Celia severed their relationship years ago. Carmen hides behind her anger instead of fully acknowledging how much having another adult in her life reject her stung. Her cousin Ariana has always been a thorn in her side; she always gets her way and leaves Carmen feeling inadequate. All of these relationships have their ups and downs as Carmen grows as a person, she learns to see her family members in different ways even if forgiveness doesn’t come easy to her. I really enjoyed seeing Carmen and Ariana’s relationship evolve. They don’t realize until later that the jealousy they were harboring against one another is actually something they have in common. Neither of these young women is faultless when it comes to their rocky relationship, but it was so rewarding to see them be there for each other in the end.

I did find issues with how the sexual harassment in the novel is handled. Carmen is sexually harassed by a former boss and is forced to find another job to complete her high school credits. We never really explore this and even though I didn’t find it unrealistic that Carmen would very quickly move on from this, as a young adult novel, I think it’s important to not be flippant with these subjects and they should be addressed head on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the love interest storyline. Carmen is torn between two different boys, but it was difficult to root for either one of these characters. It often felt like the two were more interested in marking their territory than giving Carmen the space she needed in order to figure out her own feelings.

Once Upon a Quinceanera is a reminder that life can surprise you if you open yourself up to its many possibilities and that it’s never too late to begin believing in yourself.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)