Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

30653853Title: THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED
Author: Becky Albertalli
Release Date: April 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

This was such a light, charming read! I finished it in two days because I simply could not put it down!

Molly Peskin-Suso is a seventeen-year-old girl who has had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. She’s funny, tenacious, artistic – and fat. She’s not looking to lose weight or get a makeover. Molly generally has no issues with her body, but she’s uncomfortable with how other people might react to it. This has made her hesitant when it comes to relationships. Considering the rampant fatphobia in our culture, this is a perfectly reasonable reaction. The Upside of Unrequited chronicles Molly’s adventures as she and her twin sister Cassie both find their first significant others.

There is so much diversity in this book. Cassie is a lesbian. Molly and Cassie’s parents are an interracial gay couple. Cassie’s girlfriend Mina is Korean and pansexual. And on and on. The variety of people encountered in this book is stunning, which renders it realistic and believable. Something the author does that I very much appreciate – and that is rarely seen in books – is describe characters as “white.” Often it is only non-white characters who are described by their ethnicity or skin color, which leads to white characters being the default in the narrative. Albertalli deliberately subverts this, which was refreshing!

I also appreciated the layers and complexity to various characters. This isn’t a Utopia and people aren’t perfect. Molly’s grandmother, despite being vocally supportive of her daughter’s bisexuality, makes off-kilter racist and fatphobic comments. Cassie and Molly can both be selfish and self-centered (which makes sense, given that they’re twins!). Their aunt Nadine, a single lady with four dogs, is homophobic. The characters felt like they could be real people. In that same vein, the dialogue was excellent! The teens sound like teens, and the adults sound like adults. The conversations are never stilted or awkward, even though at times Albertalli will emphasize the pauses and stutters that can occur in real conversations.

The main criticism I’ve seen surrounding this book is its alleged obsession with boys and boyfriends and being in a relationship, and that the main character appears to only find self-worth once she’s in a relationship. While I understand that viewpoint, I can’t agree with it. Molly’s confidence is not dependent upon a relationship. From what I saw, the issue was that she mostly felt lonely and isolated from her friends, who were already embarking on that chapter in their lives. She also wanted to love and be loved – I don’t see anything wrong with a female character wanting that, especially since it doesn’t consume her. She has other issues and concerns besides boyfriends – namely, her relationship with her twin sister Cassie, who she worries is growing distant. Also, even if Molly’s desire to have a boyfriend teeters on the obsessive (it doesn’t, in my opinion), she’s seventeen! Remember what it was like to be seventeen? The tiniest things can seem like life or death. When you’re seemingly the only one in your friend group who hasn’t dated, and you’re dealing with fatphobia that makes you think you’re undesirable, of course this is going to be on your mind!

Speaking of fatphobia. It’s important to note that Molly is fat, and she stays fat, and she gets a boyfriend anyway. Maybe if Molly were your standard thin girl this resolution would be played out, but the thing is, fat girls hardly ever get to see themselves as the love interest. As Molly herself says, fat girls in movies are the joke, not the girlfriend. So for Molly’s storyline to culminate in her falling in love with someone who also loves her and finds her desirable is pretty damn awesome. I don’t think this sends the message that fat girls are only worthy if they find someone to love them – I think it sends the message fat girls can be loved. It may not seem like a big deal, but imagine being a fat teenage girl who has never seen someone who looks like her be loved and desired. It’s affirming. Like Molly’s mother says, nobody needs a significant other, but it’s okay to want one. Of course it is.

Plus, Molly’s freaking awesome. I loved her as a protagonist; she’s creative, artsy, witty, but can also succumb to jealousy and pettiness. In other words, she’s real. She also grows more and more confident over the course of the novel; though she is initially somewhat passive, she begins to assert herself as time goes on. When some douchebag at a party tells her she’s gorgeous “for a big girl” she responds with “fuck you.” It’s an amazing moment.

This is definitely a Young Adult novel in that its characters act like teens and their problems are reminiscent of teen problems, but I say that as a good thing. The relationships in this book are fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication that might make us adults claw at our hair, but I think for teens this book would be quite relatable! Overall, this was a super fun, cheerful read with an overwhelmingly positive message throughout. Loved it and would highly recommend!

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Book Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

30363359Title: THE THIEF
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Release Date: 1996
Pages: 279
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

Yikes, that was terrible. Really, truly, terrible.

It’s very disappointing to read a book so beloved by everyone only to end up hating it. Or, no, not hating it – the only emotions this book roused within me were boredom and apathy.  As a fan of high fantasy, I know that the Hero’s Journey is a popular trope, and ordinarily I enjoy it, because that journey is full of twists and turns and interesting events. In this book, the journey is literally just that. I mean, we are treated to hundreds of pages of characters just traipsing through the land and having discussions about the lore and history of their country. It’s the exact type of exposition we as writers are taught to stay away from. The way the story unfolded was so uninteresting that even moments that should have been fraught with tension were incredibly dull.

I have so little to say about this book, because so little happened. I had to force myself to make it to the end, because I kept expecting it to get better, but it was just a lot of repetition. A lot of walking around, and talking, and worrying about where to find food. Not much else. The big reveal at the end was rather obvious, so I was completely expecting it when it happened. I suppose the characters were all right, but they were also all men, which, if you know me, you know that means that 50% of my attention span is already gone.

Otherwise…I don’t know, what can I say? The writing is fine, I guess, solid but not astounding. The worldbuilding is derivative and unoriginal. By the very end I was skimming lengthy passages just to get to the end. This was one of the blandest high fantasy books I’ve ever read.

I’ve heard that the sequels to this are better, but I care so little about the characters and this world that I don’t know if I can bring myself to give it a try.

Book Review: Witchtown by Cory Putman Oakes

30971734Title: WITCHTOWN
Author: Cory Putman Oakes
Release Date: July 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is one of those books that appears to have a spectacular premise, only for the execution to be a huge letdown. It’s also one of those books whose blurbs is misleading – from the description, I thought Macie and her mother would be a well-oiled machine, a team. Instead, the mother is a cartoonish villain with hilariously unbelievable motivations and actions, and her daughter pretty much hates her, though it’s difficult to tell, since Macie is so bland.

Essentially, the premise of the book is this: Macie and her mother Aubra settle into a witch haven called “Witchtown” (oh, the creativity) intending to rob it for all it is worth. Once they dig deep into the town’s finances, they discover the town is broke. And then…basically there’s a lot of drama between Macie and her mother, a lackluster romance, some nonsensical and pointless twists, and very little excitement.

I’m going to break down some of the issues I had with this book one by one.

First, the setting. This is a town of witches! And yet the town is one of the blandest settings I’ve ever read. The author simply did not have the talent to show us how magical such a town could be. And yet, the town is never really described, never fully fleshed out. In Sweep, Cate Tiernan did a much better job crafting the wonder of magic, and her characters weren’t even living in a town of witches!

Second, this novel is blindingly white while usurping a narrative of oppression that belongs to people of color. At the start of this novel, we are told that witches have been persecuted and forced to the fringes of society, an event described in a way that made me seriously side-eye the entire book. The main characters are white, but then, so is literally everyone else! In fact, the only person of color in the entire novel is Macie’s old boyfriend Rafe, whom she describes as “dark and dangerous” and had apparently mistaken for a drug dealer when she first encountered him. We discover that Macie has lost Rafe – the love of her life, apparently – only five days before arriving in Witchtown, and yet she already begins to fall for milquetoast white boy Kellen.

Third, the characterization. All of the characters here were completely bland. I could barely tell anyone apart. The only somewhat interesting character, Aubra, is revealed to be cartoonishly evil, to the point of trying to seriously hurt her own daughter. After this, Macie appears to be perfectly fine, when one would think she would be utterly distraught after losing her mother, the only person she has in the world. Even if the author had wanted to have this relationship be complex and grey rather than supportive, she could have done it in a much more subtle way. The dialogue is really cringey at times, especially when Aubra uses words like “defy” like she’s Mother Gothel and we’ve been transported into a Disney movie.

Fourth, the plot. Or the lack of a coherent one. Initially we are made to think this is going to be a heist novel, but that falls apart. Then, we’re made to think that, because the town is being sabotaged, there’s going to be some kind of mystery to solve. That is also tossed aside. Instead the story jumps from one subplot to another without really laying out a coherent narrative. Also, this is a very boring book. It took me nearly a month to finish it because the first half is so dull. It’s a lot of introductions and expositions that should have been interesting – because hey, witches! – but is instead really boring. Finally, the “twist” was one I could see coming a mile away.

This was a disappointment. I was already predisposed to like this – mother/daughter stuff, witches (witches! I love witches!), strange towns, a heist – so I went in with high expectations, but I’m sad to say I was let down on every single point. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it’s a relatively light, easy read, but overall I would say it’s a waste of time and energy.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Woman Crush Wednesday: Jessica Huang (Fresh Off The Boat)

I’ve been wanting to watch Fresh Off The Boat pretty since I started seeing GIFS of Jessica Huang being amazing.  Once the entire series went up on Hulu, I immediately jumped on it and was not disappointed.  Jessica, who should really be credited as the show’s breakout character, is a hilarious, pragmatic, tough-talking mother of three.  In her youth, she immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and is now a successful real estate agent.

jess2 jess1
jess11 jess3

 
One of the things I love about Jessica is her complete and utter confidence in herself. She will often make off-hand remarks about how she is the best at absolutely everything, but it’s pretty true. She aces her real estate exam, she’s a great businesswoman, she’s fantastic at raising her kids, and she pretty much gets shit done.

jess14 jess6
jess9 jess15

 
One of my favorite quotes by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi applies here: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Sure, Jessica does embody some traits that we consider Asian stereotypes: she’s a strict parent, she is very concerned with her kids’ grades, she’s thrifty…but those are not her only traits. She is also hella self-assured, clever, and ruthless. She loves Stephen King and colonial American history. She’s also gorgeous (and knows it), super proud of her Chinese identity, and comfortable with who she is. She’s just…well, there’s no other word for it – cool. And her casual disdain for white culture makes my day everyday.

jess4 jess5jess12 jess7

 
I mean, how often do we see characters like Jessica on TV? How often do we see comedies about immigrant families? Though my family is Arab and not Chinese, we have so much in common with the Huangs, and Jessica very much reminds me of my own mother. It’s so refreshing to be able to laugh at situations I could see cropping up in my own life. It’s nice to finally see one aspect of my experience in the media I consume. Seriously, y’all, go watch this show. You’ll love it and you’ll love Jessica.  She’s one of the most badass female characters I’ve seen in a long time.  I want to transplant her personality into my brain.

And finally, because I can’t resist:

jess13 jess16

This or That Book Tag

Chelsea @ Spotlight on Stories has nominated me for the This or That Book Tag! Thanks Chelsea!

Rules:

  • Mention the creator of the tag (Ayunda @ Tea and Paperbacks)
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you.
  • Choose one of the options, you don’t have to tell the reasons why you chose that but you can also do them if you want to.
  • Tag other people to do this tag to spread the love!

This or That?

Reading on the couch or on the bed?
The only couch we have in my house doubles as my mom’s bed, so I normally have to read on my bed.  I think I would prefer a couch, though, as reading in bed tends to be uncomfortable.  And then, if it somehow manages to be comfortable, I’m likely to fall asleep!

Male main character or female main character?
Female main characters for sure! To be completely honest, I tend to avoid books with male main characters (who don’t share the spotlight with female protagonists). I just have no interest in men’s narratives.

Sweet snacks or salty snacks?
Hmm, it really depends on my mood. I tend to get really intense cravings, and I also have blood sugar issues, so it just depends! I’m also one of  those people who loves mixing sweet and salty because of the contrast.

Trilogies or quartets?
I don’t think I’ve ever met a quartet! I’ve only seen duologies, trilogies, and epic 6-10 book series.  To be honest, it takes a really amazing series to hold my interest past a trilogy.  Normally stories that stretch themselves out over four huge books are slow and include a ton of superfluous details.  Also, I get bored pretty quickly, so there’s a good chance by the time I get to the fourth book I’m just about ready to bow out.  I’m really not a fan of this recent series trend in YA (and fantasy in general).  I miss stand-alone novels!

First person POV or third POV?
I actually like both! First person is so personal, it really helps me get into a character’s head, but third person reads more like a story, I guess, and it gives you the chance to be more literary.

Reading at night or in the morning?
At night.  I’ve been known to stay up until sunrise finishing a particularly compelling book.

Libraries or bookstores?
Oh, man. As a budding librarian, I have to say libraries. Not to mention, as a kid growing up with no money, libraries were the only way  I could read! I have so much respect for the library as a community center.

Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry?
Sometimes I like books that make me laugh because of something epic the character has just done, or if a character has overcome a challenge.  But I like dark books too! I just like to mix it up.

Black book covers or white covers?
Like, hardcover? Hmm, black, I guess? I’m not a fan of hardcover in general.

Character driven or plot driven?
A good combination of both! I need to feel connected to the characters on some level to get into the story, but I am not very likely to stick around if little to nothing ever happens. In general, though, I would say people know me as a fan of plot-driven work.

I Nominate:

Steph @ Lost Purple Quill
Sue @ Sue’s Reading Corner
Katie @ Read With Katie

 

Book Review: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

31626660Title: WOMAN NO. 17
Author: Edan Lepucki
Release Date: May 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Hogarth Press
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This book was, in one word, underwhelming. The blurb advertises a “sinister, sexy noir” and relationships that take a “disturbing” and “destructive” turn. I saw none of that. The novel does capture some hints of noir in its cynicism and moral ambiguity, but the overall tone is not dark and moody, and there’s no mystery. It is gritty in some of its descriptions of sex, bodily fluids, etc, but almost in a way that seems like it’s trying too hard.

Most of the novel takes place in Hollywood Hills, an affluent California neighborhood where Lady, one of the protagonists, lives with her two sons. Seth is eighteen years old and suffers from selective mutism. Marco, Seth’s father, abandoned Lady when Seth was barely two years old. Now, Lady is separated from her husband, Karl, with whom she has a toddler named Devin. In order to write her memoir of her life with Seth, Lady hires a nanny to watch Devin. The nanny Lady hires – which she does without conducting a background check or following up on references – is Esther “S” Fowler, who decides to become a nanny as part of an elaborate art project wherein she “becomes” her mother by dressing like her and adopting her alcoholism.

I feel like this book had a lot of potential, but it all ultimately fizzled out, resulting in a lot of pretentiousness and inane aphorisms. The entire novel seemed to be building up to something significant, an explosive conclusion, but the conclusion was incredibly anti-climactic and abrupt, to the point where I wondered if this were intentional. I also expected a lot more of the friendship between S and Lady, which really only materialized towards the very end of the book and then fizzled out rather quickly when Lady discovers something about S. The very final chapter skips eight months ahead. I’m normally fond of time jumps, but this one did not really provide me with closure or any sort of new information, so I think it should have either been scrapped or altered.

I also expected to see more of their relationships with the protagonists’ respective mothers, since that seemed to be such a huge part of the plot. The book had some interesting implicit commentary on motherhood, but again, it never really reaches any sort of satisfying conclusion, never really digs deep the way I wanted it to. Lady is unhealthily attached to her son Seth and wants to keep him all to herself; there are some disturbing sexual undertones to this relationship particularly given how Lady talks about Seth’s father, and I honestly thought that was where this was headed, but in the end it yet another detail that was just…there. There was a lot more that could have been said about motherhood and the toll it takes, the necessary sacrifice, the belief that once you are a mother you are no longer a person…the book circled around all that but it never really commits to anything.

Essentially, this novel felt like a whole lot of Chekhov’s Guns strewn about. Very little happens that isn’t just rich, privileged white people being dissatisfied with their lives. It’s that sort of pretentious MFA literary fiction that tries to unveil some sort of universal truth but ultimately just ends up being pompous. It was difficult to relate to either character’s ~ennui when both of them are so well-off and have people in their lives who care very much about them (both men, interestingly the women in this book are not shown in a positive light at all). That said, the book was a quick read, and it definitely wasn’t boring despite the lack of plot, so that speaks to some writing talent (and the writing does have some pretty unique and fresh metaphors)! I’m probably being overly critical because I had such high expectations for a book that is way outside of my preferred genres.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Mystery Blogger Award

Man, I’ve been MIA for a while now! I was visiting a friend for a few days, and when I got back home I realized that I was somehow already behind on schoolwork (grad school started without my knowledge).  Given all that, I haven’t had very much time to be on here or to read! But I don’t want to leave this blog without a post for much longer, plus I was tagged for this meme by two people – Rachel @ paceamorelibre and Steph @ Lost Purple Quill.  Which means I’m mixing up the questions!

mystery-blogger-tag

The Rules: 

  • Put the award logo/image in your post.
  • List all the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Nominate 10-20 people and notify them.
  •  Link back to the creator of the award.
  • Ask nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with a weird or funny question.
  • Share the link to your best/favourite post of yours.

3 things about myself

  1. I’m currently working full-time and enrolled in two Masters degrees simultaneously, because I am a ridiculous person. Well, actually, it’s because that just happens to be most convenient, in terms of finances and my Life Plan.
  2. I really want to get an MFA in Creative Writing at some point in my life. However, this would likely entail moving to the Midwest, where all the fully funded programs are, so it would just take a lot of planning and consideration.
  3. My favorite season used to be Winter, before I came to my senses and realized there’s really nothing that great about being freezing all the time (though I would always rather be freezing than hot, and I do love snow and Christmas!). My actual favorite season now is Fall.  It’s such an aesthetic-heavy season, with all the pumpkins, hot cocoa, cinnamon, sweaters, boots…plus Halloween!

Questions:

  1. What is your dream job?
    Novelist! Or something to that effect.  I’m really not a big fan of the heavily structured 9-5 routine, so pretty much anything that allows me to work creatively and/or from home would be the dream.
  2. If you had to live in another country for a year, where would you choose?Oh, United Kingdom, hands down. I was actually just thinking about this; I really want to live in Europe for a year, but not on the continent, in the UK.  In addition to the fact that I would be comfortable speaking English, the UK is very culturally familiar. I wish I were adventurous enough to live in a non-English speaking country by myself, but that’s something I would only do with a friend or significant other (what can I say, I’m quite susceptible to loneliness and homesickness). Plus, the UK is so, so, so gorgeous and cozy.
  3. What’s something you used to love, but have no interest in at all now?
    Anime. From the ages of 11-18 I was absolutely obsessed with anime.  I watched it all the time, I read manga, I bought action figures and various other paraphernalia. Now, though, I only very occasionally watch it, if I hear about a particularly good anime (Attack on Titan, for example), but for the most part anime has a particular breed of blatant misogyny that I just can’t stomach any longer.
  4. Describe your ideal breakfast in detail.
    This question is made for me! I love breakfast; it’s my favorite meal.  On weekends, my mother cooks full Egyptian breakfasts.  They consist of: ful, or fava beans, which are flavored with lemon, olive oil, salt, and cumin; taamiya, the Egyptian version of falafel, made of fava beans rather than chickpeas; and tomatoes with olive oil and feta cheese.  With this I usually like to have an ice coffee and warm pita bread!
  5. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
    Nope! My life would be much more exciting if I did, I’m sure. I’m fascinated by the idea of ghosts and hauntings, though! I’m one of those people who loves watching reenactments of a family being haunted or readings about various supernatural things people have experienced (and trying to figure out scientific reasons for them!). Funny story: my brother is convinced ghosts exist because when we were little, living in our little one-bedroom apartment, we both saw a chair move by itself and completely freaked out. I barely remember the incident, but my brother insists it happened and that it was a ghost.

Tagging

Because I’m lazy, I’m not going to tag anyone.  If you do this, though, be sure to link back here so I can read your answers! Oh, and also because I’m lazy, rather than make my own questions, you should just use the mishmash I’ve got here!

Book Review: Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

31123249Title: SAINTS AND MISFITS
Author: S.K. Ali
Release Date: June 2017
Pages: 352
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I loved this book. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.

I will try to write a coherent review, though mostly I just feel like squeezing this book and hugging it tight and typing something nonsensical in all-caps, so forgive me if this isn’t especially eloquent. As a Muslim woman (and Egyptian! like the protagonist of this novel! I’ve literally never read about an Egyptian girl before!), this book meant so much to me. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, but I do not recall ever reading a book where I saw myself and my community represented. Especially not in such a positive light. I am so happy this book exists now. Not only that, I am so happy that it is a good book. A positively excellent, hilarious, entertaining book that I will be recommending to every single Muslim girl I know.

Janna Yusuf is a high school sophomore with plenty of wit and snark to spare. The story is told entirely in her perspective, which is fantastic, because Janna is one of the most realistic, likeable protagonists I’ve ever come across. She’s hilarious, sarcastic, intelligent, and oddly self-aware for a teenager. She’s also half-Egyptian, half-Indian, Muslim, and a hijabi. She’s a part-time photographer, part-time graphic novelist, part-time Flannery O’Connor geek.

There are no stereotypes in this book. Out of habit, I tensed when the older brother Muhammad was introduced, because I am so used to Muslim men, especially older brothers, portrayed as misogynistic oafs. But Muhammad is delightful – your typical annoying older brother, sweet, charming, caring. He wants to study philosophy and marry his “girlfriend,” whom Janna refers to as “Saint Sarah” because she seems to be perfect (though there’s more to her than meets the eye)!

Janna’s uncle, an imam at the local mosque, answers religious questions with humor and wisdom. Janna’s father is ultra-liberal and secular, now married to a white woman. When we first meet him, he loudly proclaims to anyone who will listen that he would rather his daughter wear a bikini rather than a burkini – not the best thing to say, but still, a refreshing change of pace from what we’re used to seeing of Muslim fathers.

Another great character is Sausun, a niqabi girl who also wears Doc Martens and is the Muslim equivalent of goth/emo teen. She’s tough as nails, hosts a YouTube show about niqabis, and absolutely shatters any stereotypes about women who wear niqabs. The niqab itself, the act of wearing one, is given nuance: Sausun implies she wears it because she wants to decide who is worthy of seeing her face. Janna talks about the protection the niqab offers, to someone who perhaps might wish to see but not be seen.

And then there’s Nuah! A black Muslim boy who clearly has a crush on Janna (though she doesn’t see it until the end of the book), he’s sweet, optimistic, and silly. I loved him so, so much. Please, give me a sequel to this where Janna and Nuah are dating!

Not all is rosy, however: the main conflict in the book is that Janna has been sexually assaulted by Farooq, a boy who has memorized the Qu’ran and is seen as the most pious Muslim around. For those of you non-Muslims out there who don’t know, memorizing the Qu’ran is a big freaking deal. Doing it pretty much guarantees you’re untouchable, which is why Janna has such a difficult time telling anyone what happened. She worries people won’t believe her, especially as Farooq has started talking about how Janna is “straying” from Islam. Janna is also hesitant to say anything for fear of making her community look bad.

There are two important things I want to say about all this:

1. There’s a slang term in the Muslim community called “wallah bro.” It is used to describe a Muslim man who thinks waaaay too much of his own alleged piety and takes the time out of his day to admonish Muslim girls on how they should behave. Wallah bros, a side effect of patriarchy as it manifests in Muslim communities, are pervasive and annoying as hell. Now, Farooq, attempted rapist, takes this to a whole new level, but he still displays the utter hypocrisy of a wallah bro when he posts vague statuses on Facebook about how it’s “sad” that Muslim girls are straying from their religion (in response to Janna accidentally being seen without her hijab), when he’s literally going around assaulting women. Growing up Muslim, I’ve witnessed this hypocrisy so many times that it was so validating to see it utterly destroyed here on the page.

2. When Janna talks about not wanting to make her community look bad, my heart hurt. I completely understood. No community is perfect, but non-Muslims are always so ready to talk about backwards Muslims and men who beat their wives and savage religions that it’s difficult to say anything in criticism of your own culture, for fear of it being co-opted by others. It’s not that our cultures shouldn’t be criticized – but these outsiders looking in, blinded by prejudice and ignorance, simplify an enormously complex issue to suit their racist existing narratives.

I fully expect this book to see criticism from such people who will insist that the representation of the Muslim community in this book is “too positive” or “unrealistic” or whatever. To those people, I would say two things: first, screw you for thinking that Muslim communities can’t be good and kind and supportive. Second, yes, Muslims communities have their issues. You know what? So does literally every other community. We’re not special. What is special about us is that we’re nearly always portrayed negatively, so let us catch a fucking break for once. We don’t always have to talk about our intra-community problems just because that’s the narrative that people have come to expect.

This is one of very, very, very few #ownvoices books about Muslims by a Muslim, and it’s lost in a sea of books written by non-Muslims that portray us as violent sadists at best, ignorant savages at worst. It’s nice to have some positive representation for once. We deserve it. If that bothers you, work hard to make sure that thousands of other #ownvoices books about Muslims flood the publishing industry, so we can see more variety of stories.

Anyway: you guys, this book was so, so, so good. Every time I read something in this book that I related to, I got this…jolt. Like, hey, yeah, that’s me! That’s my family! That’s my community! It was an amazing feeling. Is this what everyone feels when they read books with people they can relate to on such a personal level?

Read this book. Even if you’re not Muslim – actually, especially if you’re not Muslim. Especially if you don’t know much about Muslims or have conflicting feelings about Muslims. You’ll learn a lot. And even if you rarely read YA contemporary, I highly recommend picking this book up. It’s worth your time, I promise. It’s not juvenile or overly preachy and though it discusses many heavy topics, it’s never heavy-handed with them. And I literally could not put it down. Janna’s hilarious and deadpan narration kept me hooked, in a book where not too much happens! This is one of the few books I can see myself reading again and again, and I can’t wait for it to come out so I can buy a copy for my bookshelf.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Get to Know Me Tag

My friend Rachel @ paceamorelibri just did this meme/tag, and it looked like fun, so I thought I’d do it as well! Sorry I stole so many of your answers, Rachel…



Name: Hadeer

Nicknames: Nothing official, but family members have been known to call me Haddoora, Dorra, or Hood-Hood.

Birthday: February 5.

Star Sign: Aquarius.

Occupation: Librarian. Sort of. My title isn’t officially “librarian”, but I do basically everything an academic librarian does, and I’m earning my Masters in Library Science starting this summer.  So, close enough.


APPEARANCE:

Hair color: Very dark brown, nearly black.

Hair length: Okay, so, when it’s stretched out, it’s about bra length. When it’s dry and succumbing to shrinkage, it sits right at my shoulders.

Eye color: Brown.

Best feature: Hair.  Kind of amazing considering I used to hate my year only two years ago.

Braces: Never.

Piercings: My ears.

Tattoos: None, and I don’t want any.  It’s not the needles/pain, it’s my personality.  I get really intensely obsessed with certain things for years, and then the obsession fades and I’ll find a new thing.  At this point in my life I’d probably get a tattoo of a line from the Iliad or something, and in ten years I’d look at it and go ‘Rachel why.’  /Rachel

Right or left: Right handed, left politically.  /Rachel


FIRSTS:

Holiday: Probably Eid?

Best Friend: Shereen, who is still my best friend to this day! Our parents knew each other from ~the old country~ so naturally we grew up together.

Award: No idea.

Sport: My earliest memory involving a “sport” is me in a single gymnastics class that one of my friends took part in.  Otherwise, nothing. My parents never put me in any sport, and I’m not really big on exercise, to put it mildly.

Concert: I’ve never been to one!


FAVORITES:

TV shows: Argh, I used to think Once Upon a Time, but that’s been crap lately.  Elementary is the show I look forward to most each week, but I don’t know if it’s my favorite. Honestly, maybe Avatar: The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra? I’m also fond of Legend of the Seeker, Friends, Desperate Housewives (I know), Parks and Recreation, iZombie, The Americans, Agents of Shield, Jane the Virgin, The Good Wife, and Grey’s Anatomy.  I don’t know. I watch way too much television to be able to answer this properly.

Color: Purple. Also yellow, blue, and pink.

Song: I…definitely cannot choose just one so I’ll pretend this is asking about favorite bands and singers.  Those would be The Moulettes, Mashrou’ Leila, Florence + the Machine, Faia Younan, and anything to do with Hamilton.

Restaurant: There’s this Japanese restaurant called Sakura in Queens that I’m fond of.

Shop: Not sure.  Is it weird if I say grocery stores? I love grocery shopping really late at night.

Books: I’ll pretend this is asking for genres, so I’ll say fantasy and YA.

Shoes: I have this pair of boots from Target that I love.  See, my calves are normally too big to fit into standard knee-high boots, but they’re way too small for extended width boots.  So this pair of Target boots comes with laces so you can make the calf as big or small as you need! Incredible.


CURRENTLY:

Feeling: Excited! I’m visiting my friend Rachel in Vermont tomorrow.

Single or Taken: Single.

Eating: I just had a spoonful of peanut butter, because I do that every now and then.

Thinking About: How long it’s going to take my nail polish to dry.

Watching: Nothing. Listening to Spotify, though.

Wearing: Tank top and sweats.


FUTURE:

Want Children: Nope.

Want to be married: I don’t really care either way, to be honest.  If Colin Farrell is single I meet the right person, great.  If I don’t, oh well.  /Rachel

Careers in mind: I’m pretty happy with being a librarian, I think! Hopefully I can also add “published author” to my resume one day.

Where you want to live: Not in New York City is pretty much all I know at this point.  I really, really want to move to California, but it’s so damn far from everyone I know that I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay there forever.  So maybe somewhere closer to NYC but far enough away that I will never even have to think the words “tri-state area.”


DO YOU BELIEVE IN:

God: No.

Miracles: Not really.

Love at first sight: No.  That’s lust, not love.  /Rachel

Ghosts: Not really.

Aliens: Of course.  Probably not little red people who live on Mars and speak perfect English, but it’s impossible that in this vast universe we’re the only sentient life.  /Rachel

Soul Mates: Not in the predestined sense, but I’m sure some people feel that profound connection with their partners, and if they want to call that connection ‘soulmates,’ fine. /Rachel

Heaven: I really wish I did, but no.  /Rachel

Hell: Nope.

Kissing on the first date: Sure.

Yourself: At times.  /Rachel

Book Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

33574143Title: THE BEAUTIFUL ONES
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Release Date: October 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Damn, I knew I was right to be excited about this book. It wasn’t what I expected at all, but I was utterly enchanted, like, reading-on-the-subway-with-a-stupid-smile-on-my-face enchanted. I actually read half of this book in one day, reading into the night, so enamored I was. Moreno-Garcia has created captivating, vibrant characters in a novel written with grace and elegance.

Immediately upon beginning this book, I felt like I was reading a Jane Austen novel (well…I’ve only ever read a single Jane Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice, but you get the idea). This is fitting, considering the author, on her blog, describes this book as a novel of manners. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a novel of manners is “work of fiction that re-creates a social world, conveying with finely detailed observation the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed and complex society. The conventions of the society dominate the story, and characters are differentiated by the degree to which they measure up to the uniform standard, or ideal, of behaviour or fall below it.”

To that end, the story is told from the perspectives of three very different characters: Hector, Nina, and Valerie. Hector is a telekinetic “talent” who has clawed his way out of poverty by becoming a stage performer. He is also, despite his aloof exterior, a shy romantic who has spent a decade pining for his first love, Valerie, who left him for a wealthier man. Valerie, the antagonist of the novel, is a bitter, jealous woman, shaped by her upbringing as the daughter of a family that has lost its former glory. Essentially guilted into marriage to a wealthy man who could uplift her family, Valerie is utterly resentful of Nina, who has a world of choices ahead of her. Nina, Valerie’s cousin by marriage, is a budding entomologist who seems to have little regard for the social mores of the world she lives in. She is honest and straightforward, naive and somewhat impulsive, and she is, like Hector, a telekinetic who resents being told her powers are not “ladylike.”

The story begins with Hector and Nina, in what I’m tempted to call a “meet cute.” Soon after, Hector realizes that Nina is related to the woman he is still pining over, and he begins courting Nina as an excuse to see Valerie. However, eventually, in a beautifully written-slow burn romance, Hector begins to fall for Nina instead. With excellent craft and technique, Moreno-Garcia traces significant character development for all three of her main characters. Hector comes to see the error of his ways as he slowly opens up and allows himself to care for someone again. Nina sheds some of her gullibility and youth, yet retains the open-eyed wonder of an ingenue. Valerie grows more bitter and cruel by the chapter, yet the reader is not totally unsympathetic towards her fall from grace as she elucidates her disappointment with the turn her life has taken (she reminds me quite a bit of Cersei Lannister, actually…make of that what you will).

As I said, this novel was not what I expected. I thought I was going to read something heavy on the fantasy, and I was definitely left wanting in that arena. I would have liked more emphasis on world-building; it’s not super clear whether this is meant to be a straight-up second world fantasy or some kind of alternate European country. In that same vein, I wish the existence of powers in this society had been expounded upon more, because for me it was fascinating to see telekinetics existing openly in a society that very closely resembled a mixture of early 20th century England and France. However, I do think that none of that was really the “point” of the novel; it’s a story about love and relationships, with a touch of the fantasy element to add some color. I was reminded, in a way, of the film Another Earth, in which the fantastical (or sci-fi, in that case) elements were really only window-dressing to the overarching story of love, regret, and redemption.

Despite its underdevelopment, the touch of the fantastical definitely added to the story. Nina is made even more of an outsider because of it, having grown up under the epithet of “the Witch of Oldehouse.” It has certainly shaped her character, perhaps even spurring her various acts of rebellion. In Hector I think she meets a kindred soul, a fellow telekinetic who has made something of himself because of his talent and not despite it. It is significant that Hector, I think, is the only person who never admonishes Nina for using her talent in public and being “unladylike.” For all his flaws (and there are many, which is what makes him such a fascinating and likable character!), he respects Nina’s autonomy and he loves her for who she is: an excitable, enthusiastic, and forthright young woman.

Minor characters were similarly endearing. Etienne, Hector’s only friend, somehow manages to read him like a book, commenting wryly on Hector’s various subtle changes of emotion throughout. Nina’s sister, Marlena, is only around in a few scenes, but her love for her sister in those moments is clear and shining. Luc, Etienne’s younger brother and would-be suitor for Nina at one point, is capricious and impetuous, but also childish in his innocence. Gaetan, Valerie’s husband and Nina’s beloved cousin, is seen as weak-willed and pathetic in his wife Valerie’s eyes, but is shown to be a kind, indulgent, and forgiving man. Garcia-Moreno brings all of these characters to life in a narrative style that straddles third-person limited and third-person omniscient.

If it hasn’t been clear amidst all this ebullient praise, I absolutely loved this book. I can see it as the kind of book to be read in schools one day as a classic, and I will definitely be recommending it for my library. More importantly, it has also inspired me as a writer. The vibrant characters, the deftly elegant writing style, the simple yet engaging plot – it has made me want to write my own novel of manners someday, in homage to this lovely book.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!