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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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  • 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)

ARC Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: January 14th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

TW: contains a slur for Romani people

      “Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
      Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
      With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.”

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Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest novel, Dark and Deepest Red, is equal parts magical and horrifying as the novel shifts between two timelines where young women are caught in a never-ending dance, unable to stop. In 1518 Strasbourg, France, a fever takes hold of the residents. First it is a small group of women, fallen under a spell that compels them to dance. As the frenzy continues, some of these women begin to dance themselves to death. With each passing day, more are brought under the spell, losing themselves while their families become desperate for a cure. Lala and her aunt have done their best to blend into this small town, have hoped they have hidden their Romani heritage deep enough in order to escape persecution. But as the townspeople grow more desperate to put a stop to the sickness and find someone to blame, suspicions turn to those who’ve never quite fit in.

Five centuries later, “the glimmer” has once again fallen over the town of Briar Meadows. This strange phenomenon overcomes the town every year, bringing about both innocuous and life-changing magic. This year pairs of red shoes begin turning up, casting a kind of love magic on their wearers. For Rosella Oliva, donning these red shoes has unforeseen consequences. They take hold of her, refusing to let go, forcing her dance and putting her life in danger. The only person who might help is Emil, a boy who has done his best to tuck away the parts of himself that others in his town once whispered about. He’s closed himself off from his own history, like the story of his ancestors once being blamed for a dancing plague. But in order to help Rosella, Emil will have to reach across centuries to find the truth of what happen to those before him.

Dark and Deepest Red explores various marginalized identities and how these have influence the way characters move about the world. McLemore’s stories are always unapologetically brown and queer and this one is no exception. McLemore has a knack for forcing their characters to see beyond the surface, to splay themselves open and prod all those little things they keep hidden from the world. Much like the dancing plague, these characters have been forced into a kind of dance where they must deny a part of themselves. I loved how McLemore uses these biases and turns them on their head, allowing their characters to turn powerlessness into a moments of cunning and strength. The story is a reminder than even one small act of defiance can have a ripple effect, how one small act may not be small at all, but may have ramifications that transcend time.

Plenty of parallels can be drawn from the two timelines in Dark and Deepest Red. Lala has learned to make herself more gadjo, non-Romani, tucking parts of herself away and folding herself into the circle of young women in town who are looked upon with envy rather than suspicion. Her aunt and her have explained away their brown skin with rumors of Italian nobility. Their proximity to whiteness has become their only defense against the prejudice shown to their people throughout the region. But there is always danger in their very existence, as it is for the trans boy they took in years ago. Alifair’s almost mysterious appearance from the woods has never been fully explained, but Lala and her aunt made him family when he had none. Lala knows that while loving Alifair may always have been inevitable, her love for him might also be his downfall. Scenes between these two range from beautiful to heartbreaking and I’m always in awe of McLemore’s ability to write love stories that both devastate and uplift.

Rosella, like Lala, has discovered that in order to keep the people of Briar Meadows from treating her family as less than (at least more than they already do), she has to make herself more like the girls around her. She may not be able to hide her brown skin, but she can dress like them and talk like them. The only other person who ever understood what it was like to be othered in this town was Emil, but that was years ago when they were both children and understood their place in the world a little less. For Emil, keeping himself from his people’s history has been a way for him to protect himself. Rosella has always been a reminder of the things he was only beginning to realize as a child, that the town he called home was only ever going to look down at his family and their culture if he shared too much. I loved that their story isn’t just about each other, but about who they are individually in relation to their ethnic identities.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red fused magic and terror into an enthralling tale that will leave you breathless with its piercing truths.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)