What to Read: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga


Summary

Jude is a young girl living in Syria with her family in a quiet town. Political unrest endangers cities around them while Jude dreams of growing up and becoming a movie star and her older brother grows increasingly invested with people who some dub “radicals,” but who he sees as people wanting better things for their country. When Jude and her mother are eventually sent to live in the United States, Jude must wrestle through the complexities of middle school life while learning how to reconcile two lands, and cultures, as home.

Overall Impressions

This is a story all about hope and the struggle that it blooms from. Jude is such a relatable, lovely character and her innocence makes her the perfect narrator to take on the heavy topics of the book. The lyrical and poetic structure of the novel crafts a story that handles big ideas in beautiful and simple terms that are easy to understand and take to heart. Not only did I love the story in its fictional elements, but I gained a deeper understanding of the beauty and struggle of another culture. This is the kind of book that bridges differences and opens us up to empathizing with those who we may think are too different from us, but are really looking for what all of us are looking for–love, security, and acceptance. Although this book is marketed for middle-grade readers, I would highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

Happy reading!

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Weekend Writing Prompt: The House on the Hill

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What to Read: The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig


Summary

The Temptation can travel to anywhere and to any time, so long as it has a map to get it there. Nix has spent her entire life helping her father, Captain Slate, travel the world–past, present, and future–to obtain the only thing he’s ever cared about: a map that will take him back to before his wife died in childbirth. But no one knows what will happen if they succeed. If Slate can Navigate their motley crew back in time to prevent his wife’s death, will Nix, this Nix, cease to exist?

Overall Impressions

I really liked the premiss of this book, and while the story itself felt simple, it was just the right amount of unpredictable and familiar. The characters’ relationships are engaging, frustrating, and intriguing throughout. I was immediately charmed by Nix and Kash as a partners-in-crime duo and subtly flirtatious duo. Their underlying charisma paired with the magically tinted world they reside in makes for a satisfying read. I recommend this book to those who enjoy YA novels with complex family relationships, a hint of romance, and time-bending adventures.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: America for Beginners

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui


Summary

After the death of her husband, Pival embarks on a journey from India to America in search of the truth: is her son really dead, or was that a lie made up by her husband after learning that their son is gay? Led by Satya, a Bangladeshi immigrant and newly employed tour guide, and Rebecca, a struggling American actress, the widow tours the U.S. from New York to California in search of her son—though neither guide knows quite what they’re in for.

Overall Impressions

I know, the premiss sounded a little strange to me at first, too. But the story turned out to be far more than I expected and in the best way. At its core, it’s a story about challenging perceptions and finding space to discover something beautiful in every circumstance. Its subtle humor, poignant observations, and genuine approach to divisive topics are sewn together neatly inside the lives of the characters. I would highly recommend America for Beginners to readers looking for a book with simple prose that is diverse, enlightening, and full of heart.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: We Hunt the Flame

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal


Summary

Zafira hunts the Arz forest to feed her village, a place where most who enter go mad. But her people wouldn’t be thanking her if they knew she was a woman. In her village, women have been blamed for every misfortune since the Six Sisters, powerful protectors of the realm, vanished. When mysterious forces lead Zafira away from home and into a shaky alliance with the assassin prince Nassir, she must find a way to outsmart those who would keep her from obtaining the one thing that may save not just her village, but the entire kingdom.

Overall Impressions

This book felt refreshing in a genre overflowing with the same retold stories (this coming from a writer who largely writes fairytale retellings). Centered in an Arabian styled world, it injects some much-needed diversity into the realm of fantasy, and the author’s world-building is beautiful. It took me a few chapters to settle into her style, but once I did I really enjoyed it. There’s a classic push-pull in Nasir and Zafira’s relationship throughout, jaded assassin versus resilient small town hero; a dynamic I can happily get behind, romantic or otherwise. And throwing comedic relief and right-hand-man Altair to the mix made me laugh more than once. I recommend this book for fans of fantasy, especially darker stories, like the Shadow and Bone series.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: Again, but Better

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio


Summary
For Shane, college hasn’t been like she expected. Pushed into a degree she doesn’t want by her parents and alone except for her fraying relationships with once-close cousins, she decides to break from her complacent, wallflower life by embarking on a study abroad in London to try again. Make friends. Be who she wants to be. But life outside her comfort zone is messier than anticipated, and it may take some unexpected magic to make it better.

Overall Impressions
Confession: I initially decided to read this book based on how I judged its cover. (Yes, I know.) Upbeat cover design aside, I was delighted by Riccio’s novel, and immediately felt way too familiar with the character of Shane. As a shy commuter and then transfer student who preferred books to parties, it was hard to make friends in college. Riccio accurately captures what it feels like to be that girl, the one balancing scared between reality and possibility, and even though I’m past that stage in my life now, it meant the world to read something so true. I highly recommend this book for realistic fiction fans and lovers of cheese (both figurative and literal). It’s a perfect summer read.

Happy reading!

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Agree to Disagree

From The Office‘s Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute to Harry Potter‘s Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, or Wicked‘s Elphaba and Glinda, there’s something irresistible about a frenemy relationship. A spark of rivalry between characters can lead in a lot of different directions for a story—comedy, romance, tragedy— and is even at the center of many narratives. There are four basic stages to the frenemy relationship: harmony, the incident, tension, and acceptance.

Of course, we all know the harmony phase. It’s the time when the two characters are either friends, or have yet to experience each other in a competitive or negative way. So we’re going to dive straight into stage two.

The Incident
This is the root of the rivalry, and it can come in many forms. It could be an actual event, a verbal misunderstanding, a difference in opinion or morality, or a born-and-bred resentment brought to the surface, just to name a few. Whatever it is, the incident sets the tone for the relationship as a whole and can majorly impact the story’s direction. For example, when Elphaba (green, edgy, and dry witted) is mistakenly roomed with Glinda (glittery, popular, and seemingly air-headed) at their university, two women with opposing values must find a way to survive living together. The incident is further agitated when Elphaba’s natural magical abilities begin to visibly outshine Glinda’s. This sets the board for a complicated, competitive relationship.

Tension
Once the characters decidedly loath each other (though sometimes frenemy relationships can be one-side), it’s time to build the tension. The tension is what keeps us hungry readers biting the edge of our smiles or holding our breath in anticipation; in a moment of vulnerability, you never know if one character will choose to help or hurt the other. These moments can be small, like when one sees an opening to make a verbal jab and embarrass their rival. Banter is beautiful. But a build up of tension can also set enormous events into motion, like when one walks away from helping the other and tips their frenemy status into a betrayal that becomes the story’s center conflict. Or, on the flip side, when one chooses to help the other in a dire moment, maybe even saving the day by doing so.

Acceptance
The last phase can go a couple of ways. Acceptance could mean the characters make peace with each other and become true friends. It could also mean they just accept that they will always be rivals, and that while they don’t always agree, they would never do anything to actually harm the other person. Of course, though, there is always the third option. They could accept that they are actually too different to continue having any sort of friendly relationship and resort to full-on enemy status. However the cookie crumbles, there is usually some sort of resolution to the relationship by the end of the story, even if the resolution is that they continue on as rivals.

The frenemy stages don’t always fall into a neat order like I’ve listed here. For example, sometimes the relationship is cyclical. Whatever the case, they give a writer the opportunity to create dynamic and authentic characters who be wildly charming and impactful to the story.

Happy writing!

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What to Read: The Upside of Falling Down

The Upside of Falling Down by Rebekah Crane


Summary
Before waking up as the only survivor of a devastating plane crash in Ireland, she was Clementine Haas. Now, she isn’t sure. Suffering from complete amnesia, Jane (A.K.A Clementine) escapes to a small town with the help of a roughish boy named Kieran, who agrees to temporarily take her in. Overwhelmed by the weighted emptiness of a forgotten life, Jane struggles to recover her memories as Clementine while simultaneously wrestling the question: does she even want to remember?

Overall Impressions
This book was charming, well-paced, and made a perfect weekend read. My favorite part was probably the supporting characters and their interactions with Jane throughout her recovery. I also thoroughly enjoyed Jane as a protagonist. There was once or twice I was tempted to wrinkle my nose at the romance storyline, but I didn’t, satisfied with how it toed the line of cheesiness while maintaining the integrity of Jane’s emotional struggle. (I’m kind of a sucker for cheese anyway.) The story all came together in one solid click at the end, and I was content when I closed the cover. I’d recommend this novel for YA fans looking for a fresh summer read about self-discovery, relationships, and new beginnings.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: To Best the Boys

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber


Summary
A mysterious plague is ravaging Rhen’s home and she is determined to stop it. In a city where women are expected to maintain traditional roles while men are encouraged to higher education, her progress on finding a cure suffers. When Rhen finds a loophole in Mr. Holms’s yearly invitation for locals to compete for a scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University, she takes it, sure it’s where she will finally have the tools she needs to find a cure. But the competition is dangerous and not everyone survives. To win, Rhen will have to outthink the eccentric mastermind who designed the contest and, of course, best the boys.

Overall Impressions
I’m a sucker for reading about off-kilter men of mystery like Mr. Holms and was delighted by the fantasy elements subtly woven through the characters’ world. Especially considering it is balanced against a main character with a passion for science. The book’s portrayal of inspired and determined women is refreshing. It respects the different ways women choose to live their lives (Rhen, striving to be a scientist while her cousin Seleni aspires to be a thoughtful homemaker) and pits men against women without aggressively vilifying either. It makes its point, and it does so in a way that is thoughtful and entertaining. I’d recommend this book as a summer read for fans of low key, YA sci-fi/fantasy genres.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: With the Fire on High

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo


Summary
Heading into her senior year, Emoni Santiago is faced with the unknown. As a teen mom living with her abuela and just trying to get by, her options feel limited. Her only place of peace is the kitchen, where she doesn’t have to think to create something beautiful. When Emoni is given the opportunity to pursue her culinary dreams she must decide what she’s willing to do to reach them, and what it could mean for her future and her family.

Overall Impressions
Add this book to your summer reading list because Elizabeth Acevedo has created a poetic masterpiece of young adult literature once again. Realistic fiction is not the genre that usually has me glued to the pages, but I could not pull away from With the Fire on High. The authenticity and heart of Emoni’s story is compelling, emotional, and eye-opening as it takes the reader through the daily of being a teen parent trying to form an identity while raising someone else. The women in this book are strong examples of how we can empower and love each other, and as the daughter of two amazing teachers I was warmed by how educators were portrayed as part of Emoni’s support system. Be warned that there is some more adult content, but I think it is handled thoughtfully, and would recommend this book to just about anyone.

Happy reading!

More books by Elizabeth Acevedo: The Poet X

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