The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Release Date: February 28th 2017

      “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
      Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
      But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

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“An earsplitting scream emerges from my gut, explodes in my throat, and uses every inch of me to be heard.

Angie Thomas has put together a debut novel that is staggeringly honest and raw in its heartbreak. The Hate U Give is unflinching as it takes on racism, police brutality, and injustice. Starr Carter’s life in Garden Heights isn’t always easy, but it’s home. Since she started attending Williamson Prep, Starr has had to juggle two different lives. One in Garden Heights and another at school. As one of the only black students at Williamson, Starr knows she’s judged differently and more harshly. Her friends and even her boyfriend don’t know everything about her life in Garden Heights. They don’t know that she lost a close friend in a drive-by when she was younger and that she continues to be haunted by Natasha’s death. When Starr’s childhood friend Khalil is shot and killed by a white cop, Starr’s carefully constructed worlds begins to unravel. As the only witness, Starr finds herself the center of an investigation. As protesters take to the streets, Starr must find the courage to speak up for her friend as well as herself.

Starr’s family is one of the most supportive and loving families about whom I’ve read. They argue, challenge one another, and begrudgingly compromise, but at the end of the day, there’s a myriad of people who have Starr’s back. Her parents are protective and always have their children’s best interest at heart. Her Uncle Carlos, despite having issues with Starr’s father and being a detective himself, would do anything for his niece. Starr’s brothers can be a pain, but she’d never trade them for anything. The community of Garden Heights is really well-developed. I felt the connections between characters who may not be related by blood, but still share in the common interest of the whole community.

The Hate U Give explores different forms of racism from microaggressions exhibited by Starr’s classmates to the institutional racism that contributed to the shooting death of an unarmed black teen. Starr’s once-close friend Hailey makes a lot of offhanded, racist comments. Instead of acknowledging her hurtful remarks and apologizing, Hailey is much more concerned about being called racist than being racist. This is the kind of racist behavior that goes largely unchallenged, so I was glad to see Starr and her friend Maya recognize that silence means you’re being complicit. The criminalization of black and brown people in our society, and especially of young black men, is one of the reasons why stories like Khalil’s occur. All too often we see the media reflect these biases by dehumanizing the victim and rationalizing the actions of the perpetrator. When the news of Khalil’s death first hits the airwaves, the coverage is more like a smear campaign. Khalil is portrayed as nothing more than a drug dealer while the media is all too eager to show a more sympathetic side of police officer. His father is interviewed on national television, telling his son’s story and garnering sympathy from the public while the pain of Khalil’s family and community is little more than an afterthought.

I went through a whole range of emotions while reading Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. I felt Starr’s devastation at losing a friend, the community’s anger at seeing another young person’s life ended too soon, the powerlessness of those wanting justice in such an unjust society, and the pain of realizing this probably won’t be the last time something like this happens. The Hate U Give is a call to give heed to the voices of those largely ignored in our society and a reminder of how necessary a movement like Black Lives Matter is. Everything about this book demands more attention than I could possibly give it in a review, but I’m hoping it sparks a lot of discussion that extends far beyond the book blogging community.

5/5

★★★★★

The Education of Margot Sanchez

Title: The Education of Margot Sanchez
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: February 21st 2017

      “After ‘borrowing’ her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.
      With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…
      Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

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“Everyone in this house hides behind closed doors. We build fortresses to bar people from scaling the walls and getting in. But even with the amount of time we spend sheltering ourselves there’s no way of concealing our problems.”

Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez is story about a girl finding her voice even amongst the chaos that surrounds her. Rivera has written a multi-faceted debut that tackles topics like family, gentrification, and identity. Margot knows that a lot has been invested in her in order for her to succeed. She’s spent months trying to fit in at her new school Somerset Prep, but in order to do so, she’s had to reinvent herself. She’s desperate for her new friends Serena and Camille to accept her, so impulsively takes her father’s credit card and runs up a $600 bill. Her plans to spend the summer at the Hamptoms all but fall apart, as she’s forced to work at her family-owned supermarket in the South Bronx. Now she feels out of place again. She doesn’t fit in the other cashieristas, her family is driving her crazy, and she finds herself attracted to a boy she has no business being interested in. Margot is desperate for a way out, but she may discover that the world she’s so desperate to leave behind is the one she belongs in after all.

When the book opens, Margot’s understanding of her situation is very narrow. She doesn’t quite get how her actions have such harsh consequences and blames her parents for her missing out on a great summer. While Somerset does offer her more opportunities, Margot has also lost sight of who she is. Her mind is in constant overdrive: how can she impress her friends, what can she change about herself in order to feel more accepted, how does she spin the fact that she’s being forced to work at Sanchez & Sons in a neighborhood her friends would never be caught dead in. She sees herself through other people’s eyes and finds it easier to blame other people than accept her own culpability. Her friendship with her childhood best friend Elizabeth is a great example of this. They’ve been growing apart ever since Margot started Somerset and Elizabeth, a new art school. Margot resents the fact that her best friend found it really easy to fit in and the more they grow apart, the more Margot begins to realize that Elizabeth has found a way to be happy without her. It takes Margot time to see things from her friend’s perspective, to see that it was Margot who changed and many of the things that defined their friendship got thrown out the window as Margot took on a new persona.

One of the first people to challenge this new Margot is Moises. A community activist working for the South Bronx Family Mission, they meet while he’s collecting signatures to stop the building of a new high-rise which will force residents from a local apartment building out. I fell in love with Moises during their first interaction. He’s both a playful and serious character who helps Margot broaden her perspective, though at the beginning she’d rather stay in her tiny, safe world. We only get small glimpses of Moises’s past and while I’d like to know more, I thought his present actions were more telling than the mistakes of his past. Family plays a huge role in this novel. Part of Margot growing up is seeing her family for who they are and not what they pretend to be. There’s a lot of hurt in the Sanchez household and they all cope differently with their problems. This all comes crumbling down when secrets get out and there’s no easy solution for any of them.

The Education of Margot Sanchez has a very messy ending. Much like life, the storylines in this novel aren’t wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end. There are hard times ahead for several characters, but I still found it to be a hopeful ending for Margot, who is taking the first steps to rectify her wrongdoings and reclaim who she is.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

empress-of-a-thousand-skies-by-rhoda-bellezaTitle: Empress of a Thousand Skies
Author: Rhoda Belleza
Series: Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1
Pages: 344
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: February 7th 2017

      “Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.
      Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he’s forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.
      With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly are thrown together to confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

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“From his thumb to his index finger, the length of his hand fit cleanly around Rhee’s neck. He lifted her off the ground and squeezed. She felt her windpipe closing. She gasped for air as she tried to claw his fingers off one by one.”

There are some books with loads of potential that never seem to find their footing and then there are the ones that you wholeheartedly believe in despite their shortcomings. For me, Rhoda Bellaza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies falls into the latter category. Little spoiler here to open this review, please skip the rest of the paragraph if you do not wish to see. I want to start off by saying that the synopsis is very misleading when it comes to how the two lead characters converge. Their individual arcs do not directly intersect, but their stories do. I want to put that out there because I spent a large majority of my time while reading, wondering when these characters would actually meet and was really disappointed to see that they never did. With that being said, I do need to read a sequel soon because I’d love to see these characters in the same room together.

There are so many layers to Bellaza’s universe and this is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this debut so much. Interplanetary politics plays a large part. From Rhee’s home planet Kalu to Wraeta, a planet destroyed during the Great War and Aly’s birthplace, this world is populated by a variety of individuals who have all be impacted by this war. The peace treaty currently in place was Rhee’s father’s greatest accomplishment, but it has not erased the bad blood between the planets. The war itself created a population of refugees who continuously face discrimination. Technology plays a really interesting role in this world. Most people have what are called cubes installed that make it easy to access information as well as store important memories. Seeing how the characters relied so heavily on this form of technology and how disconcerting it was for them to power down reminded me of how often we rely on our phones for information and how eager we are to take a picture or video of an important event, not realizing that this can sometimes hinder the experience.

At the beginning of the story, Rhee is determined to avenge her family. I liked Rhee for the most part, but there were times when I was puzzled by her decision making. She’d been training for years, but when it came to her plan for revenge, she hadn’t thought much further than getting close enough to the person she believes is responsible in order to stab them in the heart. I mostly chalk up this lack of preparation to her youth and inexperience. She is the kind of character who is motivated more by emotion than reason. I believe Rhee had a lot more influence than she realized and wondered why she didn’t just come out of hiding, take the throne, and then enact her revenge. I loved Aly’s character, flaws and all. As a Wraetan refugee from a once-hostile planet, Aly carries around a lot of weight on his shoulders. He is judged more harshly and seen as untrustworthy by a lot of people. He struggles with living in a world that can be unfriendly and unfair, wanting to prove to everyone that he is worth more their prejudice views would dictate. Like Rhee, he has lost his entire family and is still searching for his place in the world.

Empress of a Thousand Skies has plenty of elements that are relevant to our current political climate, is multi-layered when it comes to its world-building, and introduces two very different and engaging characters that I’m dying to learn more about. It isn’t often that I say this, but I wish this novel had been longer, so I could get a chance to spend more time with both Rhee and Aly.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Series: The Bone Witch,, #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: March 7th 2017
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review*

      “Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
      Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

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Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch is a unique story of one girl’s rise through the ranking of the asha, a order of women whose responsibilities range from entertainment to battling daeva, the deadly creatures set loose by the False Prince. The story shifts between past and present storylines, as we’re given a glimpse of who Tea will become and what made her into an asha in exile. When Tea is far too young to understand her own power, she accidentally resurrects her brother. This show of power does not go unnoticed and Tea is given the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of the bone witch Lady Mykaela. But bone witches are not as highly revered as other kinds of asha. Many fear them as their power more closely resembles that of the Faceless, those who serve the False Prince. Tea learns that becoming an asha will not be easy, but she may not have a choice when those battling daeva are failing and she may be the only one who can stop them.

Chupeco’s world is well-developed and often times lush. As Tea learns what it means to be an asha, so we learn alongside her. While I enjoyed the various aspects of the asha life, there were times when this really slowed down the narrative and I got impatient for something to happen. One part of being an asha that was really intriguing was the importance of one’s attire. The wardrobe of an asha is unique and significant to her. Chupeco’s writing shines the most when she is describing these traditional ensembles. I found it really unique that each person had a heartglass that they wore around their necks that they could exchange with the person they loved as a sign of commitment. With the right kind of skill, you could learn to discern a person’s feelings from the color of their heartglass.

Readers are given two simultaneous portraits of Tea. Her younger self is bright-eyed and untested. She is only beginning to understand the power she yields and to many, she is an easy target. She is infatuated with Prince Kance as he is kind to Tea in a way that not many are. The most important figure in her life is her older brother Fox. He is forever tied to her because how she brought him back to life. Only a few years older, the exiled Tea we are introduced to is wise beyond her years. She yields her magic in a controlled and graceful fashion. She also holds close the loss of people dear her, one who died for her and another that chose to turn away from her. I’m really interested in learning more about this older Tea and what transpires in the couple of years between the close of this first installment and the future Tea.

You probably won’t read another book like Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch. Her world is both dark and enchanting. Chupeco pays particular attention to detail in a way that many other fantasy books don’t. I’m looking forward to finding out more about Tea’s journey and transformation, and I’m also hoping we get to explore her abilities more.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

a-conjuring-of-light-by-v-e-schwabTitle: A Conjuring of Light
Author: V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic, #3
Pages: 624
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 21st 2017

      “THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
      The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.
      WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
      Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?
      WHO WILL RISE?
      Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.
      WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
      And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.”

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“He tried to rise–he had to get up, had to find his brother—but hands surged from the darkness, fought him, held him down against silk sheets, fingers digging into shoulders and wrists and knees, and the pain was there again, vicious and jagged, peeling back flesh, dragging its nails over bone.

V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light is an engrossing and heart-stopping conclusion to one of the most inventive fantasy series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Schwab has crafted a complex and engaging world, one filled with magic that sunk its teeth into me from the very first page of A Darker Shade of Magic. In this final installment, Red Londen is under attack and Kell must face an enemy far more powerful than himself. Osaron has already taken control of one Antari, but he has his eyes set on Kell. The kingdom is buckling under the weight of Osaron’s power, people are giving in to the intruding whispers, unable to resist Osaron’s influence. A plan begins to form to take Osaron down, who is more apparition than man and thus harder to kill, but the cost may be far greater than anyone imagined.

I’ve really enjoyed all the characters’ arcs throughout this series. Brought up beside Prince Rhy, but invariably different, Kell has not quite belonged in his brother’s world. As an Anatari, Kell has been gifted with the kind of magic that others would kill for, but it has also made him a kind of prisoner. His dynamic with the King and Queen is complicated and at times heartbreaking. Kell, who has regarded them as family, discovers that he was a tool, a weapon used to protect the crown prince. There is a coldness between Kell and these two that never seems to thaw. Despite their missteps, Kell recognizes that his adoptive parents love him, maybe not in the way that he wants, but in the only way they know how. Kell’s unspoken loneliness is something that has always stood out to me. He is a prince, but has never quite felt like a son. He is an Antari, able to travel through worlds, but navigates these worlds very much alone. Holland was the first person he met who could truly understand him, but instead of a friend, he became a foe. But unlike Holland, whose choices have cut him off from building meaningful connections, Kell is unalterably tied to his brother Rhy and the enigmatic Lila. Where he once believed he must navigate the world alone, he comes to realize he doesn’t have to.

Lila has spent most of her life running. It is her coping mechanism, her way of protecting her heart from pain. She is arrogant, ambitious, and at times reckless. She’s convinced herself that she’s better off alone, that looking out for herself is the only way to live. But people like Kell and Alucard have managed to pierce the wall she’s built around herself and in this final novel, she must decide if running is something she still has to do. I was really happy to get more of the story from Alucard’s perspective. We’ve seen him mainly through Rhy and Kell’s eyes, which hold conflicting views of the aristocrat turned pirate. He isn’t a man used to being vulnerable, of waiting and asking for things he wants. He knows he still wants to be with Rhy, but is no longer the one in control. Alucard has caused pain, but has also been the target. Much like Lila, he has also been running, but has a chance to be the kind of person Rhy deserves.

Holland’s story is fraught with pain. He has been used, betrayed, and discarded. Despite everything he has done in the past, I found myself rooting for him. He may never be as noble and self-sacrificing as Kell, but he has his own brand of honor that is needed to overcome Osaron. A Conjuring of Light is undeniably Rhy’s book. It is a chronicle of his rise, of this once flippant prince shaking off the final bits of boyhood. It’s Rhy recognizing and accepting the weight of the crown upon his shoulders, of discovering that his life is not his own, but his people’s. My heart broke for Rhy more than any other character. I felt every doubt, every struggle, and every loss. But I also rejoiced in his triumphs, every brave act endeared him more to me and it was so satisfying to see all he had been through coalescing into a truly rewarding arc.

A Conjuring of Light managed to pull at my heartstrings more than the previous books. Schwab’s writing truly dazzles. I’m in love with every fight scene, which are sometimes elegant and other times messy, but always enthralling. Schwab has created a world that is easy to fall into and much harder to leave.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-to-the-universe-by-benjamin-alire-saenzTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1
Pages: 359
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 21st 2012
*This review is based on the audio version of this book, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda*

      “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

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“There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghost of my father’s war, the ghost of my sisters’ voices. And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet.”

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is compelling coming-of-age story, infused with both touching and tragic moments in the life of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza. The summer of Ari’s fifteenth year, he meets Dante and while the two could not be any more different, they quickly become friends. Over the course of two summers, both their lives are irrevocably changed by this friendship. This is the very first audio book I’ve listened to and although I was apprehensive about whether or not it would be able to hold my attention, I could not ask for a better narrator than Lin-Manuel Miranda. In fact, I might have been spoiled and need every audiobook I listen to to be narrated by him.

I loved how important family was in this book, not just for Ari but for Dante as well. Much of Ari’s resentment toward his parents comes from how closed off they are around him and this is never more apparent than with regard to his older brother, Bernardo, who is currently incarcerated. Ari wants so badly to know why, to be able to utter his brother’s name, but there’s a lot of hurt and shame that keeps both his parents tight-lipped. Ari’s father is also a veteran who continues to deal with the psychological effects of war. Ari is desperate to know his father, to have a real honest conversation, but this isn’t always possible for his dad. There is so much to love about Dante’s parents and it’s obvious right off the bat that they are meant to be a contrast to Ari’s. Dante’s father shows more affection in one interaction with his son than Ari has ever witnessed from his father. I thought it was still really important that Dante still finds it hard to open up to his parents. When he is contemplating telling them he is gay, he confesses to Ari that he doesn’t want to be a disappointment.

From the very beginning it’s clear that Dante is more sure of himself. He’s curious about the world and himself and isn’t afraid to share his feelings about both. He’s one of those people who lights up a room and his optimism is infectious. Ari’s feelings for Dante are gradual. Unlike Dante, he isn’t so sure of himself. He has a lot of internal dialogue that can be messy, contradictory, and evasive. He hides behind a lot of sardonic comments, but there’s so much happening underneath the surface, you can’t help but feel the weight he carries around. Of course, there were still times when I wanted to slap him upside the head to knock some sense into him. Ari feels more for Dante than he’s willing to admit, but still has to deal with his own internalized homophobia before being able to label what his relationship with Dante really is.

Both Ari and Dante are Mexican American and I found it really interesting and insightful how the characters deal with their ethnic identities. Dante never feels quite “Mexican” enough and is often convinced that other Mexicans don’t like him because of it. Ari makes snide remarks about what it means to be Mexican, even going so far as to say he’s more Mexican than Dante because of his darker skin. When you grow up in a society that stereotypes your culture and places less value on you because of your background, it can really do a number on how you perceive yourself, not just your place in society, but your place within that group. These stereotypes are often perpetuated within the community and I’ve known plenty of Mexican Americans that feel not quite American and not quite Mexican either and it’s a hard line to walk. That being said, I do wish the characters had come to a resolution regarding their identities or at least had a continued discussion about this part of who they are.

Sáenz does a fine job of capturing the pain and uncertainty of growing up when you’re on the brink of adulthood. Ari’s journey of self-discovery is incredibly moving and will have you rooting for him till the end.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★