Hello, it’s book o’clock!
Intros are the worst. I’m just going to dive right in to give mini reviews for six books that I’ve read recently. Buckle up!
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
“Truth does not care if it feels true or not. It is true nonetheless.”
Content warnings: child abuse
In Pet‘s utopian future, all of the world’s monsters have been eradicated, leaving the world peaceful and prosperous. Then a girl named Jam accidentally summons a creature that calls itself Pet and claims it’s here to hunt a monster.
This book had a lot of potential with a unique concept and interesting ideas to explore, and in certain ways I think it met that potential. I’m so used to reading “utopian” worlds in which it turns out that everything is actually horrible, so it was refreshing – and surprising – to read a book that doesn’t go down that route. Of course, not everything is perfect in this world, but it has a genuinely optimistic view of the future. Plus, we’ve got a black trans protagonist who doesn’t face any discrimination because of those identities. The worldbuilding as a whole in this book is lovely.
However, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing in this book, as it ended up feeling rather simplistic. I kept expecting some major reveal that would make me rethink everything I had read up to that point, but it never happened, and I finished the book a little disappointed that I couldn’t take more away from it. This was clearly written for a younger YA audience, which isn’t an issue for me, but I wanted a bit more from it.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
“We were too heavy. Not with our bags. Not with our bodies. But with our burdens.”
Content warnings: police violence, racism, drug use
Fabiola arrives in Detroit alone, after her mother is detained while they’re trying to emigrate from Haiti. Moving in with her cousins, she is introduced to a brand new world, unfamiliar and strange, as she tries to do whatever she can to get her mother back.
I listened to this as an audiobook, which I highly recommend, because the narrator does a wonderful job with the accents. It gave me a strong sense of Fabiola’s voice, perhaps even more than if I had read it physically.
I wasn’t sure about this book at first, since it seemed to be trying to go in many different directions at once. The themes were interesting, but for a while they felt somewhat muddled up in the various plot threads. It wasn’t until the ending that it came together for me – I think Ibi Zoboi managed to nail those themes home in a clear, emotional way that I really appreciated. At the same time, though, some of the plot threads still felt unresolved by the end. So while I liked the ideas presented in this book – as well as the writing and the morally gray characters – the plot itself was somewhat tangled…if that makes sense.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
“Bravery wasn’t an identity, so much as a choice.”
Content warnings: references to past abusive relationship
Following a near death experience, chronically ill Chloe Brown realizes that she doesn’t want to die having done nothing, and she resolves to Get a Life. The first step on her list is moving out of her family’s house, and after that, she reluctantly recruits the help of her superintendent, Red Morgan, even though the two of them seem to do nothing but argue.
I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this book. I guess it’s not that much of a surprise, but romance books are kinda hit or miss for me…and this one was a hit! I actually read it all in one day because I couldn’t put it down.
Not only was this book romantic in all the best ways, but it dealt with some actually serious topics with sensitivity. Chloe has chronic pain, and even though that’s something I’ve never experienced, it was written in such a way that I understood exactly what she was going through. (Plus, it’s ownvoices!) Red recently got out of an abusive relationship, which colors how he interacts with others and sees himself. Both characters felt realistic and sympathetic, so that even when they were being frustrating, I still understood them.
Overall, this was a lovely book that made me smile and laugh out loud numerous times, with a beautiful message about courage and vulnerability. And there’s a cute cat, too!!
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
“All that I am is a terribly brave small thing, with a terribly brave small life, and a terribly brave love that spans eons.”
Ryann Bird wishes she could travel across the stars, but she’s stuck on earth taking care of her brothers. Then she meets Alexandria, who spends every night listening for radio signals from her astronaut mother, and though Alexandria rejects Ryann’s friendship at first, they eventually begin to grow closer.
For about the first half of this book, I wasn’t sure I liked it. It has a very distinct writing style – short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters – that at first made me feel distant from what was happening. But then I got used to the style, and then sometimes there would be a sentence so beautiful that I had to stop and close my eyes to let it sink in…and I realized that I kind of loved this book.
It’s a rather quiet, unassuming story that’s much more about the characters than anything else. Think Aristotle and Dante meets Interstellar. It’s a book about big things and ideas like space travel and loss and family, but it’s so human in the way that it explores those ideas. While this book wasn’t perfect, it was beautiful and soft in all the right ways, and I think I’m going to be thinking about it for a good while.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Twelve-year-old Nizhoni has recently been able to spot monsters. When her father goes missing, she sets out to find him with her brother and best friend, discovering a world of Navajo stories coming to life to aid them along their quest.
This is the first book I’ve read from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, and it was fun. A little formulaic, a little predictable, but it was definitely the kind of book I could hand to a kid who just finished Percy Jackson and wants something similar. The Navajo mythology was my favorite part, since that’s a culture I don’t know much about and it’s always interesting to learn more about mythologies and how they’ve carried on or changed through time. This book wasn’t mind-blowing or anything, but it was an entertaining adventure that would probably be great for younger readers.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
Somehow, I had managed to go my entire life up until this point without reading this book. (Not somehow, because it was a deliberate choice, but still.) And now that has changed at last.
After watching – and loving – the 2019 Little Women adaptation, I finally caved and decided to give the book a try. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have liked this book so much if I hadn’t already seen the movie, which managed to update a lot of the outdated parts while keeping the spirit of the book intact, but who knows. Either way, I’m glad that I’m finally Cultured.
There’s a lot about this book, particularly its views of womanhood, that feel out of date today. Meg’s relationship with her husband and her “wifely duties” are a little uncomfortable by today’s standards; Mrs. March telling Jo never to show her anger or any negative emotion whatsoever; the male characters constantly mansplaining morality to the women. I didn’t like Professor Bhaer or his relationship with Jo at all, especially when he told her what she could and couldn’t write.
Yet despite all that, I found myself loving this book. There was something so relaxing and lovely and human about it; the writing was engaging, and all of the characters were so fun to read about. I can certainly see why this is an enduring classic. It got right at that feeling of growing up and wishing that everything could stay the same even as you see it changing around you. And the fact that this book centers entirely on women’s emotional and domestic lives, and is beloved by so many, is so important, even if parts are outdated. I’m really happy that I read this.
Have you read any of these books? What books have you read recently?