Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Grown
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 15th 2020

TW: sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, addiction, grooming, emotional abuse, suicide

      “Korey Fields is dead.
      When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
      Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
      Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
      All signs point to Enchanted.”

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“Trying to reclaim your life is a lot like drowning. You attempt to stay above water as waves of new information hit you sideways, carrying you further into the unknown. People throw life preservers, but the ropes can only reach so far, and once a riptide catches you by the ankle, all you can do is wonder why you ever thought you’d be OK jumping into the deep end, when you could barely manage the shallows.”

Tiffany D. Jackson delivers another riveting story with Grown, shining a light on predatory relationships and society’s complicity when it comes to disbelieving victims, especially when it comes to Black girls and women. Enchanted Jones is a talented singer, but knows the odds of being discovered aren’t in her favor. That is until Korey Fields, famous singer and heartthrob, takes notice of her at a competition. Drawn into his world, Enchanted can’t quite believe someone like Korey would take an interest in her musically and personally. He might be eleven years older than her, but no one seems to get her quite like he does. But his attention takes a dark turn and soon Enchanted isn’t sure how to escape this relationship. When Korey ends up dead, Enchanted becomes the obvious suspect. Proving her innocence won’t be easy when she had more reason than anyone to want Korey dead and can’t remember exactly what happened the night of his murder.

Grown is not an easy book to read. Told through Enchanted’s perspective, what feels like innocent flirting to this seventeen-year-old feels much more sinister to the reader. Enchanted is quickly enamored with Korey. His attention feels special, he makes her feel heard and in his eyes, she feels beautiful and more mature. He subtly manipulates her, first getting her to trust him and then using this trust as a weapon when she thinks about pulling away. As an adult, Korey already holds a lot of power over Enchanted, but when you couple this with the power he has in the very industry Enchanted is hoping to break into, his influence over her becomes almost unbreakable.

Tension builds as Jackson shifts between past and present timelines. As a reader, you watch as Korey’s attitude toward Enchanted slowly changes. He becomes irrationally possessive, threatening her, and isolating her from her friends and family. Korey’s death is not a surprise, you know it’s going to happen. And as he begins to continually abuse Enchanted, you begin to want it, to hope for it in order for her ordeal to end. But this is not the end for Enchanted. The present timeline begins with Enchanted discovering Korey dead and no memory of how it happened. Afterward Enchanted is further victimized by her peers and adults who slut-shame her behind her back, placing the blame of this relationship on her rather than the adult in the situation. The police are much more interested in building a case against her than hearing her story even when it becomes clear that Korey has a pattern of abusing underage girls. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent just how complicit those around Korey are. People like Korey cannot get away with what they do without the people around them turning a blind eye.

Grown is a gut-punch of a novel that will have the readers holding their breath from its bloody opening scene to the gradual exploitation of its protagonist and the final scenes where the truth of what happened to Korey Fields is finally revealed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Mini-Reviews: Raybearer + You Should See Me in a Crown

I got a chance to catch up on some 2020 releases by Black authors this Black History Month. Today I am bringing you reviews from two debut authors from 2020. Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer immediately caught my attention when I saw the cover below. Fantasy is my favorite genre and so I am always on the lookout for diverse fantasy books. Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown is also a book that caught my attention because of the cover. I know illustrated covers are the current trend, but I would still like to see more Black models and other people of color on covers.

Title: Raybearer
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Series: Raybearer, #1
Pages: 496
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: August 18th 2020

TW: domestic homicide, abuse, suicide

      “Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?
      Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.”

swirl (2)Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer is unlike any other fantasy I’ve ever read. From its magical system to its politics, the Arit empire is a fully formed world. Tarisai is a compelling lead character as Ifueko takes readers on a journey from her unconventional childhood to the tribulations she faces coming into her own power. Tarisai was raised for one purpose only, to be her mother’s weapon against those who had wronged her. But even as a child, Tarisai shows a strong sense of right and wrong. She finds herself as a potential future council member of Prince Ekundayo. But caring about the prince could spell his doom as well as her own if her mother has her way. Raybearer explores many different kinds of relationships, but none are more important than the bonds Tarisai forms with her fellow council members. She finds a kindred spirit in the kind Sanjeet, whose own childhood haunts him. Found family plays a significant role in shaping who Tarisai becomes. Council members are bonded by their love for their Raybearer and for each other. Tarisai is not a warrior in the traditional sense, her strength lies in her ability to lead, her desire to see the world become better, and the strong sense of justice that leads her to go against even the most powerful players in the empire. But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t falter. She continuously struggles with her own inner demons, trying to discern between whether she can determine her own future or if her fate has already been decided for her. Raybearer is perfect for those looking to be swept up in a unique fantasy world’s mythology as well as those interested in a character-driven narrative.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: You Should See Me in a Crown
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: June 2nd 2020

TW: death of a parent, racism, homophobia, public outing, panic attacks

      “Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
      But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
      The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?”

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Liz Lighty’s future is perfectly planned out. She’s going to attend her mother’s alma mater, Pennington, on her way to becoming a hematologist. But everything falls apart when she doesn’t receive the scholarship she needs. Now, in order to salvage her dreams, Liz is doing the unthinkable. She’s running for prom queen. Prom is not just a high school dance in Campbell County, it’s the event of the year. Thrust into the spotlight, Liz must find a way to carve space for herself in a world where her Blackness and queerness set her apart and sometimes makes her feel unwelcome. Liz is an easy character to like. Her dreams for the future are intertwined with the death of her mother and her younger brother’s same sickle-cell diagnosis. She tends to spread herself thin if it means keeping the burden off her loved ones. She isn’t used to having good things come her way easily and so accepting these good things can sometimes be hard. When she meets Mack, a fellow prom queen candidate, her attraction to her throws her off. I loved the easy rapport between these characters. Liz is only out to her family and close friends and knows that starting a relationship with Mack might jeopardize her campaign, but she keeps getting drawn to the gregarious and alluring Mack. Johnson explores a trope that we really don’t see often and that’s the second-chance friendship. Liz ends up reconnecting with her former best friend, Jordan, and even though there is still a lot of past hurt, they fall into step with one another effortlessly. These two get each other in a way that is rare and feels truly special. You Should See Me in a Crown is all about embracing who you, not allowing others to change you, and demanding that people make room for you. Leah Johnson’s debut is infused with charm and is guaranteed to leave you with a big grin on your face.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot Review: By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Title: By Any Means Necessary
Author: Candice Montgomery
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: October 8th 2019

TW: homophobia, police brutality, drug addiction

      “An honest reflection on cultural identify, class, and gentrification. Fans of Nic Stone and Elizabeth Acevedo will eagerly anticipate Torrey.
    On the day Torrey officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bee farm his beloved uncle Miles left him after his tragic death is being foreclosed on.
      Torrey would love nothing more than to leave behind the family and neighborhood that’s bleeding him dry. But he still feels compelled to care for the project of his uncle’s heart. As the farm heads for auction, Torrey precariously balances choosing a major and texting Gabriel—the first boy he ever kissed—with the fight to stop his uncle’s legacy from being demolished. But as notice letters pile up and lawyers appear at his dorm, dividing himself between family and future becomes impossible unless he sacrifices a part of himself.”

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      “What am I even doing? Everything in my life is falling apart. I swallow repeatedly, hoping I don’t choke on my tongue or something and screw that up, too. I’m not ready. I don’t know how the hell I made it this far, to a university in a city that isn’t the Hills, alone. Who do I even think I am trying to keep my apiary from drowning when I can’t even keep my own head above choppy waters?”

  • Torrey – Torrey is the kind of person who wants to do too much and doesn’t realize until it’s too late that he can’t. Often a ball of anxiety, Torrey internalizes his problems, has a hard time letting go, and places too much on his own shoulders. The bee farm his uncle left for him after he died isn’t a fun hobby he takes care of during his free time, it’s a way to remember Uncle Miles, one last connection he has with the man who gave him so much. Losing the apiary would be like losing Uncle Miles all over again and Torrey isn’t sure he could survive that level of trauma again.
  • The writing – Candice Montgomery’s writing is exemplary. One of the reasons I fell so easily in love with By Any Means Necessary is Torrey’s distinct voice. He’s cynical and sarcastic and funny. He is equal parts strong and vulnerable. Each of these characteristics come through so clearly. I can’t think of a book I read recently whose narrator feels so authentic.
  • Family (both the supportive and the toxic) – Much of Torrey’s motivation for wanting to keep the apiary stems from his relationship with his Uncle Miles, but it also hinders on his relationship with other relatives. His mother is currently in hospice because of her drug addiction and so Miles became his parental figure. Every since he died, Torrey has been under the care of his grandfather Theo and his uncle’s widow, Aunt Lisa. Lisa is one of the few bright spots he has at home, but it is his relationship with his grandfather that has defined much of his teen years. Theo is homophobic and would rather see the apiary go under than make any effort to save it. He represents the parts of home that Torrey would rather leave behind.
  • Friendship – One of my favorite parts about this book is the friend group Torrey ends up forming with a group of young women who are STEM majors. They are a large part of Torrey’s support group that he isn’t used to having. I especially appreciated Torrey’s relationship with Emery, who gives him that extra push he sometimes needs.
  • Romance – Torrey has an unexpected reunion with Gabriel, his first boyfriend in middle school and first kiss. These two made me heart feel so full. Their chemistry is off the charts and you can feel the magnetic pull between the two leap off the pages. Where Torrey is cautious, Gabriel is a free-spirit. They bring a balance to one another that I don’t think either of them knew they needed.
  • College YA – I would love to see more college-set YA. One of the most compelling things about Torrey’s story is his continued struggle to determine whether or not attending college is the right move for him. There are so many things working against him that activitely choosing something like college as a poor student or as a Black student in a largely white town feels like setting himself up for failure one way or another.

  • Nothing to note.


Candice Montgomery’s By Any Means Necessary explores various subjects from gentrification to toxic familial relationships while introducing one of the most memorable main characters I’ve ever come across.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Mini-Reviews: The Sound of Stars & 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

Not me finding five-month-old mini-reviews in my drafts! **insert cringe emoji** Honestly, I was tempted to just delete these instead of editing (they were very messy) and posting it since it’s been so long, but I figured you all need to hear how much I enjoyed these to books even if the reviews are long overdue.

Title: The Sound of Stars
Author:
Alechia Dow
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: February 25th 2020

      “Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
      Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
      Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
      Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
      Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.”

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Alechia Dow’s The Sound of Stars is a fun sci-fi adventure with two likable leads on an against-all-odds mission to save the world. Ellie has spent the last two years imprisoned by the Ilori, the alien race who invaded earth. One of the few things that bring her joy is the underground library she runs. Books have always been a refuge for Ellie and she knows people more than ever need a momentary respite from the world. When one of her books goes missing, Ellie meets M0Rr1s, a labmade Ilori, who is a little too human for her liking. Despite being from opposite sides of an intergalactic war, Ellie and Morris find a rare connection with one another. Ellie is a Black teen with an anxiety disorder that she has had to find ways to deal with without medication ever since the invasion. While the story does not focus on race, racism has still played a part in Ellie’s life. She understands that humanity isn’t necessarily worth saving because of its prejudices and in many ways humankind hasn’t necessarily earned its salvation. I loved the deep love shown to art in The Sound of Stars. For Ellie, it’s books that have helped her find who she is. For Morris, it’s his love of music that has moved him. I loved the affection these two characters have for one other. At its core The Sound of Stars is a celebration of the human spirit and the power of stories. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much these characters wormed their way into my heart by the end.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: 10 Things I Hate About Pinky
Author: Sandhya Menon
Series: Dimple and Rishi, #3
Pages: 368
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: July 21st 2020

      “The follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie follows Pinky and Samir as they pretend to date—with disastrous and hilarious results.
    Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny-tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.
      Samir Jha might have a few . . . quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady…
      Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions (aka boyfriends) she’s made, she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, Samir—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer. As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.”

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Sandhya Menon delivers her most enjoyable novel since When Dimple Met Rishi with this companion novel 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. Readers were first introduced to characters Pinky and Samir in There’s Something About Sweetie. Pinky Kumar has embraced the fact that she will never be the kind of goody-two-shoes daughter her parents hoped for. But she knows who she is and knows that standing up for what she believes is more important than having your entire future planned out. Samir Jha likes predictability, in fact, he thrives off of knowing what to expect at all times. When a summer internship falls through, leaving Samir desperate for another opportunity, Pinky proposes an arrangement. Be her fake boyfriend for the summer and prove to her parents she isn’t as irresponsible as they think and she’ll help him land a new internship. But the more Pinky and Samir spend time together, the animosity they once felt begins turning into something more like attraction. Though much of the novel focuses on the potential romance between these very different characters, it’s Pinky’s tumultuous relationship with her mother that drives the story. Pinky isn’t always great at communication but it’s easy to see how desperate she is for her mother’s approval. Samir makes an fantastic foil to Pinky, especially as an ally. He challenges her and isn’t afraid to call her out. He is secure in who he is and finds it far easier than Pinky to admit how he feels. Also worth noting is Pinky’s relationship with her cousin Dolly, who her mother always seems to praise compared to herself. I loved that neither of these characters fell into a rivalry with one another. They were always supportive and saw the best in each other. Fans of the fake dating and hate-to-love tropes, rejoice! Sandhya Menon’s latest, 10 Things I Hate About Pinky was written for you.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)