Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Review of Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Bashardoust Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mina is the daughter of a magician who is only interested in expanding his own powers and influence, by whatever means necessary. Her father has no affection for her, but rather sees her as a posession, a pawn in his schemes. She lives in the warm South, but is lonely and shunned by everyone because of her father.

Lynet is from the cold North, where it is always winter, and is the pampered and spoiled daughter of the King. All the people adore her, her father most of all. However, he has placed unfair expectations on her, expecting her to grow up and not only take her dead mother's place as Queen, but to be exactly like her in every way, without giving any thought to what Lynet might want.

Two young motherless girls who seem to have nothing in common, but share the same sinister secret of their existence, find their lives intersecting. At first, their relationship is innocent, even touching, but soon becomes dangerous due to the actions and influences of others and events beyond their control. Are they destined to be ever at odds as long as they are both alive?

This story is described by many as a "feminist" retelling of Snow White. I'm not sure I'd agree with that, but I suppose that depends on your definition of feminist literture. It is conspicously devoid of the seven dwarfs or any hansome prince coming to anyone's rescue, and it does feature strong female characters who are fighting to determine their own destiny, rather be controlled by their fathers. Plus it has the same-sex attraction and romance that seems to be requisite in today's feminist literature. But there is no over-arching theme of fighting for all women's rights, they were strictly concerned with themselves and their own realities.

I would simply describe it as a unique and very interesting re-telling of Snow White, featuring strong female characters that were much more complex and multi-faceted than the original tale, with it's good versus evil simplicity, and handsome prince rescuing the damsel in distress. I was first intrigued by the caring, mother-daughter relationship Mina, representing the "Evil Queen", and Lynet, representing Snow White, had, and the genuine affection they each had for one another. Then enters Nadia, the young female surgeon who replaces the handsome prince and the dwarves from the original story, but also serves as a device to introduce conflict, and things begin to change.

The story moves along at a fairly decent pace, changing back and forth in both point of view and timeline in a carefully woven tapestry, and the characters are very well-developed over time. I almost quit reading, because I really didn't want to see the touching relationship between Mina and Lynet be destroyed as events along with Mina's ambitions seemed to be forcing her to become the Evil Queen. But I pushed on and, hopefully without giving too much away, I found that I was very pleased with the ending, and I think most readers will be, too.

While I had a little trouble buying some of the magic (a glass heart? really? how does that work?), once I got past that as the story drew me in, I found I really enjoyed it, and honestly can't think of anything I really didn't like about it. I would recommend this to fans of fantasy or magical realism with strong female characters, particularly those looking for something with themes of learning to be independent and standing up against others' expectations in order to be true to yourself and determine your own future.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

This appears to be the author's debut novel and is due to be released in early September, 2017.

[I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: Love, Hate & Other Filters

Review of Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Maya is a first-generation Indian-American Muslim teenager, who is struggling with her parents' traditional, old-world expectations and her very American desire to be independent and choose her own path in life, which is very different than the one her parents would choose for her. Her parents expect her to do whatever they tell her to do, which is to go to school close to home, be a doctor or a lawyer, marry a nice Muslim boy and have babies.

But Maya is in no hurry to get married, and in fact has a major crush on a boy at her school who is neither Indian nor Muslim, and she dreams of going to film school in New York and becoming a filmmaker. She is finally brave enough to tell her parents she wants to go to NYU, and with the support of her aunt, they finally agree. But then, a terrorist bombing is linked to someone with the same last name as their family, prompting attacks on her parents' office and Maya herself. In the midst of their fear, Maya's parents suddenly become very controlling and repressive, and put Maya on lockdown. Will Maya dare to defy them? Are they safe anywhere?

This story was not exactly what I was initially expecting from the description. I was expecting the central focus to be on the terrorist attack, and the resulting fear, suspicion, discrimination, and retaliatory violence towards Muslims. However, this was really a coming-of-age story, focusing on the conflict between the traditional "old world" values and expectations of one generation of immigrants and the greater demands of freedom, idependence, and choice by their American-born children; the bombing and acts of violence towards Maya's family was only part of the story, to show the fear that motivated Maya's parents' sudden change of heart and seemingly unreasonable controlling behavior and irrational response to her decisions. There is also some typical teenage romantic angst involved as well.

I really enjoyed this story. It was well-paced, the characters were well-developed, and I liked how it did address anti-Muslim discrimination and violence, showing it from the Muslim perspective, without being overly heavy-handed and preachy. The story revealed how the Aziz family was really not so different from anyone else, and may help readers develop a greater understanding of the issues and to develop empathy.

I liked Maya's parents, though did find myself disgusted by their rash overreactions to Maya's decision, and I loved her aunt, who was able to give Maya the support she needed and provide a voice of reason for her parents, as well as providing an example of a strong, independent Indian Muslim woman. Kareem was also a great character, and I found myself wishing Maya would forget her school-girl crush, and develop a mature romantic relationship with Kareem, despite the fact that he was her parents choice. I would have liked to have seen the character of her best friend developed a little bit more.

I thought it was a little odd that Maya didn't make much more of her parents' hypocrisy in expecting her to be a good little girl and let them control her life and make all the decisions about where she should live, got to school, and who she would marry when they themselves had defied the tradition of the arranged marriage and snuck around to make a love match, then moved to the U.S. to build their own life they way they wanted. It was odd that they had never been *that* traditional or devout as Muslims, yet they expected their daughter to simply fall in line and do what they said and make no choices for herself.

I think this would be a great book for many teenagers to read, and I think they might be surprised to find how much they can relate to Maya, whether they are Indian, Muslim, or neither. This is really a perfect example of a book providing needed mirrors and windows, and I would highly recommend it.

I believe this is the author's debut book, which is expected to be out in January, 2018.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: My Brigadista Year

Review of My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

From the award-winning author of "Bridge To Terabithia" and "Jacob Have I Loved", this fictional memoir is set during and shortly after the Cuban revolution, as seen through 13-year old Lora's eyes. While now most of the Western world views Fidel Castro as an evil dictator, at the time he was seen as a liberator by many of the Cuban people and the atmosphere was very hopeful. One of Castro's goals was increased opportunities for education, and his regime created a sweeping literacy program that recruited young educated people, the "Brigadistas", to go and live with illiterate families in the country to teach them to read and write while also working in the fields along side them.

Thirteen-year old Laura sees the recruitment poster at school, and is eager to do her part to help her country. Though her parents are understandably concerned about her safety and initially refuse to give permission, her grandmother persuades Lora's father to let her go, with the promise that Lora will come home if it becomes to hard or dangerous. Lora is very excited to be a part of something bigger than herself, and quickly forms strong friendships with her host family and their neighbors.

However, despite her enthusiasm and dedication, Lora has to adapt to a much harder life that she is used to and faces many dangers and challenges along the way, causing her to doubt herself. Will Lora be able to see her mission through until the end, or will the threat from the members of the Batista regime who have hidden in the mountains prove to much? One young literacy worker has already been murdered; will there be more?

This is wonderful coming of age story that I hope finds its audience. The voice is somewhat unique, while the events being described happened when the protagonist and narrator was 13, she is telling the story as an adult, thus the voice and point-of-view is more mature and sophisticated than that of many popular middle-grade books. Again, while this is historical fiction, I think being written as a memoir helps hook the reader and makes it seem more real, and I loved that it came complete with an epilogue, where the now grown Lora summarizes her life up to the present, which was a wonderful bonus to an already satisfying ending.

The story is well-paced, with characters the reader will grow to love and care about. While the focus is on dedication, giving back, and being a part of something important, it gives a glimpse into the events of the revolution, and the lives of the campesinos, and there is an element of adventure and danger. I would recommend this for ages 10-14, and for readers who like historical fiction, or like inspiring stories about children accomplishing great things and being involved in important causes. Readers who may be interested in mission work, social causes, or teaching in particular would enjoy this book.

While historical fiction typically doesn't find much of a readership among my patrons, I would talk up the revolution and adventure aspect and try to relate it to some of the dystopian novels that are popular to peak their interest, since they often deal with revolution, repressive regimes, and fighting illiteracy and misinformation as well.

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