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)

Blog Tour: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Thank you to Hear Our Voices for having me for this blog tour. Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. I have been a fan of both of these authors and have spent the last month and a half rereading books by both authors for the #MeteorShowerReadathon. They both create such wonderful characters, so it was no surprise that with Miss Meteor, Mejia and McLemore have created such memorable and enjoyable characters with Lita and Chicky. I hope you have the pleasure of meeting these two soon.

Title: Miss Meteor
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 22nd 2020

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

TW: bullying, homophobia, fatphobia, transphobia, xenophobia

      “There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.
      Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.”

swirl (2)

Lita – Lita Perez isn’t like other people, technically she isn’t a person at all. She wasn’t born on earth, but materialized from stardust from a meteorite that struck her small town. Lita knows she is different and in a place like Meteor, New Mexico, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, she loves this town and the few people who accept her for who she is, like her adopted mother, Bruja Lupe, and Cole, the boy, who despite his popularity, always makes Lita feel seen. Her one quiet dream is to be Miss Meteor in her town’s regional pageant, even though she knows girls like her, who are too short, too brown, and too fat don’t usually win. Lita has the biggest heart. Even when she and her former best friend, Chicky, aren’t on the best terms, Lita is always thinking about her and taking that extra step to nudge her in the right direction. Lita thinks her quest to become Miss Meteor is all about finding a way to stay in the only place she’s called home when it really is about her declaring herself to the world and taking her fate into her own hands.

Chicky – Chicky Quintanilla does not like the spotlight, in fact, there are times when she wishes she could just disappear. The youngest of four sisters, Chicky, short for Chiquita, is used to being overshadowed. There aren’t too many people in her life who get to see the real her and that’s partially her own fault. If Chicky is good at anything, she’s good at running away. It’s what happened with her and her former best friend Lita. It’s what’s happening with her current best friend, Junior Cortes. It’s easier to run away than to come out as pansexual in a town that might praise her family one minute for coming to this country the “right way” but will still look at them like they aren’t worth their time. Chicky’s journey isn’t just about gaining confidence, but about learning to be vulnerable with those closest to her.

Pros and cons of small towns – Many looking from the outside would call Meteor, New Mexico a quaint place to live with such staples like Selena’s Diner, Chicky’s family’s business, or the upcoming Fiftieth-Annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition. But the truth is, for people like Lita and Chicky, their small town isn’t always the most welcoming of places. There is a clear divide between the well-off white residents and the brown residents who work for them. There is also a lot of hypocrisy and surfaces-level acceptance of those belonging to the queer community. Cole, a trans boy, for example, knows acceptance by his peers is conditional. While he often challenges their bigoted views, he knows he is only allowed to go so far before they turn on him.

Friendship – The heart of Miss Meteor is friendship. Lita and Chicky used to be inseparable until Chicky pulled away. With Lita running for Miss Meteor and Chicky assisting her, the two find each other again. Lita needs someone to believe in her, someone who will be in her corner and push her when it feels easier to give up. For Chicky, she needs someone to listen to her and have patience with her. I love that these two become each other’s safe spaces and how they extend this to include characters like Cole and Junior.

Nothing to note.

With a little bit of magical stardust, Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore deliver an empowering story of friendship and belonging in their first collaborated work, Miss Meteor.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

#OwnVoices Reflection:

While reading Miss Meteor, I could not help but see myself in both Lita and Chicky. While Lita’s origins are something out of this world, her heritage is a grounding force. When she enters the Fiftieth -Annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition, she has no idea what her talent will be. After a few mishaps, she ends up on stage making tamales for a largely non-Latinx crowd. I have been here. I was here in fourth grade, trying to explain to a room full of mostly non-Latinx classmates how to make tortillas. It is awkward sharing a part of your heritage with a room full of people who will probably never understand all the history behind these traditions. Chicky’s family is often held up as the “right” kind of immigrants, the kind that came to this country the “right” way. Reading her story and how the townsfolk treated her family reminded me of the time we were assigned to make family trees. We were instructed to ask about our family history. I will never forget that I never got the full story of one of my family member’s history of immigration because they were too afraid to share. Because in this country, not all immigrants are accepted. It’s something I understood early on and something that unfortunately continues to be true.

I can’t tell you what it means to me to see these two Mexican-American authors finding success. Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the first authors I came across in YA who wrote about characters with family histories like mine. Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut We Set the Dark on Fire was one of the first fantasy books I read with Latinx characters. We don’t see a lot of these books, but I am hopeful that publishing has taken notice of the love so many readers have for the ones we do have. And hopefully, Miss Meteor will not be the last time these two collaborate.

About the Author:

      TEHLOR KAY MEJIA is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult fantasy novel WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, as well as several forthcoming young adult and middle grade novels (WE UNLEASH THE MERCILESS STORM – Katherine Tegen Books, MISS METEOR (co-written with National Book Award nominee Anna-Marie McLemore) – HarperTeen, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS + PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE FOREST OF NIGHTMARES – Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion).
      Her debut novel received six starred reviews, and was chosen as an Indie’s Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild selection, as well as being an Indiebound bestseller in the Pacific Northwest region. It was featured in Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and O by Oprah Magazine’s best books of 2019 lists, as well as being a book of the year selection by Kirkus and School Library Journal.
      Tehlor lives in Oregon with her daughter, two very small dogs, and several rescued houseplants.

Follow Tehlor Kay Mejia: Website, Twitter, Instagram

About the Author:

¡Bienvenidos! I’m Anna-Marie, author of fairy tales that are as queer, Latinx, and nonbinary as I am. My books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Books Review Editors’ Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and the forthcoming THE MIRROR SEASON.

Follow Anna-Marie McLemore: Website & Twitter

Click here to preorder Miss Meteor today!

Mini-Reviews [ARC Edition]: Land of the Cranes + Each of Us a Desert

How about another quick round of mini-reviews? I managed to get through all the ARCs I needed to get through (I only have two ARCs after this and I don’t know what I will do with myself when I finish those), but it would not have been possible without these mini-review posts. Both of these are out tomorrow, so if you are able, please preorder!

Title: Land of the Cranes
Author: Aida Salazar
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Scholastic/Levine
Release Date: September 15th 2020

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the author, which does not influence my review**

TW: deportation, psychological and physical abuse, mention of miscarriage, child molestation

      “From the prolific author of The Moon Within comes the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story in verse of a young Latinx girl who learns to hold on to hope and love even in the darkest of places: a family detention center for migrants and refugees.
      Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. The Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, what is now the Southwest US, called the land of the cranes. They left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe-Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. It was prophesized that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita that they are cranes that have come home.
      Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind on their own, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?”

swirl (2)Aida Salazar’s newest middle grade novel-in-verse, Land of the Cranes, shines a spotlight on the cruelty surrounding immigration laws and their enforcement in this county. Betita has a passion for poetry, she loves words and expresses herself though picture poetry. She and her family are also undocumented. When he father fails to pick her up from school one afternoon, the world as she knows it, irrevocably alters. Her pregnant mother and herself end up in a detention center and Betita’s once bright world grows more and more dim. Betita grew up on her father’s stories, believing that she is descended from cranes destined to soar and find freedom. The detention center where Betita and her mother are imprisoned contain unspeakable horrors and it’s where Betita learns that hope isn’t just something that can fade, it’s also something that can be taken from you, one cruel act at a time. Told through the eyes of a nine-year-old protagonist, Land of the Cranes does not hold back as it describes the inhumane ways migrants are treated. It isn’t an easy read and is made less easy by the fact that as a reader you know these stories have happened and are happening to thousands of people. It initially made me sad, but in the end, I ended up extremely angry. Land of the Cranes is the kind of book that should only exist as a work of dystopian fiction. It should not have to exist in order for people to condemn the treatment of undocumented immigrants. It should not exist in order to get people to pay attention and care. And yet, here we are.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Each of Us a Desert
Author: Mark Oshiro
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: September 15th 2020

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

TW: body horror, gore

      “From the award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life.
    Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
      Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
      One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.”

swirl (2)

Mark Oshiro’s Each of Us a Desert is one of the most unique novels I have ever read with writing that will have readers pausing to bask in its beauty. Xochitl has been her village’s cuentista since she was a child. Her gift enables her to take the confessions of her people, freeing them of their guilt. In turn, Xochitl gives up these stories, forgetting their confessions and returning them to Solís, a deity who watches over them. When Xochitl learns of a frightening secret, she is forced to set off on a journey to find answers. But the desert is an unforgiving place where travelers are confronted by dangers both external and internal. As Xochitl crosses paths with others and finds an unexpected companion in the unscrupulous Emilia, she discovers that the world is bigger and more complicated than she could ever imagine. Each of Us a Desert is more character-driven than plot-driven. Oshiro’s writing shines in their descriptions of the land, but also in the way they write Xochitl’s inner conflicts as she claws her way out of loneliness, grapples with her belief system, and finds solace in another. If you are looking for an introspective novel that will very quietly burrow its way into your heart, Each of Us a Desert is the one to reach for.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Title: Into the Tall, Tall Grass
Author: Loriel Ryon
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: April 7th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book from the author which does not influence my review**

      “A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.
      Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?
      When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.”

swirl (2)

  • Yolanda – I found so many things about Into the Tall, Tall Grass‘s MC relatable. This twelve year old is bright, opinionated, and struggles to express her feelings. Life hasn’t felt right ever since Yolanda’s grandfather past away. Her grandmother has fallen ill, her best friend dumped her for her twin sister, Sonja, and she’s still waiting for her family gift to appear. Yolanda is prone to jealousy, is desperate for someone to truly understand her, and just wants everything to go back to the way it was before.
  • Friendships tested – Yolanda and her best friend, Ghita, had a falling out and the former isn’t sure she wants to be mend this friendship. There is so much heartache on both sides of this relationship. I loved that both girls are allowed to feel resentful and angry, but also must learn where the other person is coming from before their friendship can be restored.
  • Grandparent-grandchild relationships – These were my favorite relationships in the novel to read about. From Yolanda’s special bond with her grandfather, who has been the only one to truly understand her, to Sonja’s relationship with her grandmother that has taken on a mentor-mentee dynamic, these bonds run so deep and have so many different layers.
  • Sister relationship – Yolanda and Sonja are at odds for much of the story, but it was so touching to see them find each other again. Much like Yolanda’s relationship with Ghita, this bond has been severed for all the wrong reasons, but at the end of the day, these two sisters will need each other going forward.
  • First crushes – Yolanda has an incredibly sweet first crush on Ghita’s brother Hasik. He’s very sweet and sees Yolanda as remarkable even when she doesn’t always see it herself. I was so happy to see a sapphic first crush explored in this middle grade. Sonja and Ghita have become more than friends, but there are still plenty of issues they have to work though.
  • Discussions on grief – This middle grade novel is hard hitting in the grief department. Yolanda is still grieving over her grandfather’s death and now her grandmother’s illness.
  • Multi-generational story – I really appreciated that this wasn’t just Yolanda’s story, but hers was just one piece of a very long, wearsome and yet hopeful story of the entire Rodríguez clan. Also appreciated that the adult characters were not perfect and that the author did not shy away from revealing their flaws to the younger characters.
  • The writing – The story felt magical from the very beginning. Not only does Ryon capture the tumulteous feelings of adolescence, but her descriptions of the pecan orchard of the past and the mysterious grassland that springs forth and which Yolander and her friends must journey through were so well illustrated that it was easy to fall both into the story.

  • Nothing to note.

Weaving together stories of the past and the present, Loriel Ryon’s Into the Tall, Tall Grass is an unforgettable tale of a young girl faced with the reality of loss and grief; bittersweet at its center but written with honesty and compassion.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)