I’m back with more mini reviews of books that I’ve read recently, including a few retellings of Greek mythology, a surprise nonfiction favorite, and more!
Persephone by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky, translated by Edward Gauvin
This graphic novel retelling of the Persephone myth from Greek mythology is set in a fantasy world that’s divided between the underworld of Hades and a kingdom called Éleusis. Persephone, daughter of the magician Demeter, doesn’t think she’s anything special until she’s dragged into the underworld and embarks on a quest to discover the secrets of her identity.
This book felt like a Studio Ghibli film and I adored it! Ever since getting into the musical Hadestown a few months ago, I’ve wanted to read everything Greek mythology-related I can get my hands on, and this book delivered. Offering a different twist on a familiar story, this book focused on Persephone’s journey of self-discovery and coming-of-age. If you’re familiar with the Persephone myth, you’ll still be surprised by where this story goes! Sweet, hopeful, and surprisingly heartwarming (given the setting), Persephone is just the book for a fantasy and mythology nerd like me.
Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen
“I have spent a week doing nothing but talk to people. But talking is far from nothing. Words are the literal stuff of change.”
Content warnings: discussions of transphobia and homophobia
I read a nonfiction book?? Not only that, but I loved it??? What is happening.
Part travel memoir and part recent history of queer America, this book joins journalist Samantha Allen on a road trip across America’s most conservative areas as she finds communities of LGBT+ people and examines why they stay instead of flocking to blue states. Through telling the stories of the people she meets along the way and recounting her own experiences coming out as a queer trans woman, she celebrates the sense of community and activist spirit in these areas that are usually dismissed by coastal cities as “backwards.”
First of all, I listened to this on audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and Samantha Allen has the most calm and soothing voice. I absolutely recommend this as a reading method.
Secondly, I really did not expect to love this book so much! Yes, I love reading about found families, which is what this book is all about, and yes, I love anything that could be described as radically hopeful, which is this book in a nutshell – but, wow. This is such an important book for anyone who needs a reminder that America might be broken, but there are still people who are fighting to make it better and creating spaces of safety and acceptance for themselves and their loved ones. And it’s all written beautifully and lovingly by someone whose life was saved by these communities. I can’t recommend this book enough, you absolutely must read it.
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth #2)
“The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too.”
Content warnings: child death, physical abuse, gore
Honestly I don’t know how to describe this book without giving spoilers for the first book, and like I said in my review of The Fifth Season, you really should go into that knowing as little as possible. This second book in the series gets deeper into the fabric of this fantasy world, pushing its characters farther than they’ve ever gone. How’s that for vague, huh??
It’s N.K. Jemisin’s world and we’re just living in it. She’s a genius and I can’t tell you how many times I had to put this book down to scream as some new puzzle piece fell into place. Here’s the thing, though: during the incredible, mind-blowing parts, I was obviously 500% invested and glued to every word. During the in-between bits, however, I felt a teensy bit lost? The worldbuilding in this series is so in-depth that it was sometimes hard for me to follow along, and during parts I wasn’t entirely sure I understood what was happening. There was a lot of explaining going on in this book. Still, absolutely mind-boggling overall. Can’t wait to read the third book, even though my heart certainly isn’t ready.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
“But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
Content warnings: suicide, domestic abuse, homophobia, rape and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse
In this classic YA coming-of-age story, Charlie writes letters to an anonymous “friend” recounting his freshman year of high school, including life-changing friendships, brand new experiences, and his efforts to “participate” in his own life.
Well, I can certainly see why this book has been beloved for so long. This is pretty much the quintessential bildungsroman, dealing with important issues that high schoolers have to deal with, from the cyclical nature of abuse to difficult family situations to navigating first relationships. Charlie’s voice is earnest and candid, giving the reader an intimate look into his head and his life. I just wanted to give him a hug!
Still, there are parts of this book that haven’t aged spectacularly in my opinion. It’s still an important book, but if I were giving it to a high schooler today I’d probably do so with a few caveats. It dealt with so many issues, also, that at times it felt like they were being checked off a list – not all were dealt with fully. And…*hides face* I think I like the movie better???
That said, the quote “We accept the love we think we deserve” gets me every time.
Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black by Marcus Sedgwick, Julian Sedgwick, and Alexis Deacon (illustrations)
“I’ve a story to tell of Harry Black, / who went to the Underworld and how he came back; / of the love for his brother who’d pushed him away.”
Content warnings: war, bombing, claustrophobia
Told through alternating prose, poetry, and illustrations, this book follows a young artist named Harry Black in 1944 London. When he wakes up in a hospital after being caught in the blast of a bomb, Harry is told that his brother is dead, but he doesn’t believe it. Gravely injured and accompanied by a mysterious young girl who calls him Orpheus, Harry sets off to venture underground in search of his brother.
This is the kind of book in which you never really know what’s reality and what’s not – it has an extremely unreliable narrator due to Harry’s head injury. For me, that really worked, but I can see how it wouldn’t for other readers. The storytelling style is unique and at times difficult to follow, creating a semi-lucid, dreamlike quality to the whole book. Even though I was confused a lot, I still enjoyed the experience a surprising amount!
I very much loved how this book used the Orpheus myth, essentially turning Orpheus into this ageless poet watching people relive his journey throughout history in different ways. The ways that the aspects of this classic Greek myth played out in a World War II setting were creative and fascinating, helping to drive home the anti-war message. Basically, this book managed to combine two things that I generally enjoy – WW2 historical fiction and Greek mythology – so I liked it a lot!
What books have you read recently? Have you read any of these? What Greek mythology retellings have you enjoyed?