Let’s talk about some of the books I’ve read recently! I still don’t know how to do intros for these things. Moving on!
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
“This book is a fairy tale in which I am the prince and the princess. I am the king and the queen. I am my own wicked witch and fairy godmother.”
Growing up as a mixed race gay kid in London, Michael never really found his place until he joined a drag society in university. I listened to the audiobook (as usual with books in verse), which is narrated by the author and very good.
This is a coming-of-age story that felt so, so real. I actually had to remind myself a few times that it was fiction, not a memoir. All of the characters felt like real people — flawed and multilayered and wonderfully written.
Something that I really appreciated about this book is how compassionate it is to Michael’s experiences. Even though he has to go through some awful things, it never feels like the book is just saying, “this is how terrible it is to be a queer person of color, now sufferrrrr.” It allows Michael to be angry and hurt, yes, but it also gives him a support network and shows the joyful and beautiful aspects of his identity. I loved how the author never simplified these issues, letting them be messy and complex with no easy answers, which feels so much more true to life in my opinion.
Content warnings: bullying, homophobia, racism
Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson
Told all through text messages, this book follows two high schoolers, Haley and Martin, after he texts her about a school project. The only problem is that there are two Martins in Haley’s class, one of whom she hates, and she only thinks she knows which one this is.
This book is full of banter, which I highly appreciated. Haley and Martin’s conversations are so enjoyable to follow along with (and way more interesting and witty than any text conversation I’ve ever had lol). Seeing their connection bloom as they come to know and understand each other was just so sweet.
I do think that the text message format limited the story, however, and didn’t let me connect to it quite as much as I wanted to. It also required a suspension of disbelief just a tiny step beyond my capabilities. That said, I still liked this a lot — it was a quick, enjoyable read with really well-written characters.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise by Gene Luen Yang
Set a year after the end of the show, this comic follows the gang dealing with the aftermath of a century of war and dismantling the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. One colony’s refusal to leave, though, puts Aang and Zuko at odds on how to deal with it.
In my never-ending love of Avatar: the Last Airbender, I figured it was time to venture into the comics…and I have mixed feelings so far. I liked the complex themes surrounding empire, the lasting impact of war, and Aang’s duty to the world vs. his people. I especially enjoyed the subplot involving what was essentially cultural appropriation of the Air Nomads and how Aang reacted to and dealt with that.
However, I wasn’t terribly excited about how the characters were portrayed; compared to the show, they felt flat. Zuko in particular was frustrating, since he seemed to act very out of character. I get that he was under a lot of pressure as the new Fire Lord, but it felt like a regression of his development and I wish that he had reacted to that pressure in a way that felt more true to the Zuko we know and love. Also, every time Aang and Katara called each other “sweetie,” I wanted to die a little.
I still want to read more of the Avatar comics, especially so I can find out about Zuko’s mom!
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
“People can always say I don’t look impressive enough, but they can’t argue over how strong I am once I punch them in the face.”
Genie Lo’s plans to do well in school and get out of her Bay Area town are upended when a new kid shows up and tells her that she’s the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese hero. Despite Genie’s reluctance, she and Quentin, who claims to be the mythological Monkey King, have to team up to stop the world from being overrun by demons.
For about the first half of this book, I didn’t think I liked it. The narration felt like it was trying too hard to be funny and #relatable, to the point that it was occasionally a bit cringey. The mythology was interesting, but I wasn’t terrible sucked into the story or the characters.
Luckily, the second half picked up and improved my opinion. I don’t know if the narration got less annoying or if I just got used to it, but it didn’t bother me as much. And I appreciated that Genie was allowed to get mad — really, truly furious — from time to time. Those moments were quite satisfying. Although there were some minor plot threads that felt unresolved by the end, I found myself enjoying the book by the end. I’ll might even pick up the sequel.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
In an alternate version of the US where ghosts and mythological creatures are a common feature of everyday life, Ellie can raise the ghosts of dead animals. When her cousin dies in a mysterious accident, Ellie is determined to uncover what happened to him.
I’m a huge fan of magical elements mixed into our everyday world, so I loved the worldbuilding in this book. The author incorporated folklore from her, and Ellie’s, Lipan Apache heritage, in addition to mythological creatures from all over the world. It all fit together wonderfully and made me wish we could have explored the worldbuilding even more.
Ellie was a fantastic hero — bright and curious and analytical, which made her fun to follow around. Her relationship with her ghost dog, Kirby, was adorable. And I really appreciated how supportive her parents were! I kept expecting them to forbid her to do something, forcing her to go behind their backs (as happens in many YA novels), but that never really happened.
The writing, however, took me out of the story more than anything else, since it seemed to lean more towards telling rather than showing. The characters always said exactly what they meant, with very little variation in voice. It read very much like a debut, but I’m still looking forward to whatever this author does next.
Content warnings: microaggressions, mentions of animal death
*ARC PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER. QUOTES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.*
Have you read any of these books? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts? What books have you read recently?