Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.

Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018

Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.

When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018

“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: A Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay

 

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Dial Books, August 2018
Ages 14 and up

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.

Pride Month 2018 Reads

Pride Month is here, and with it new LGBTQ+ books for all audiences. This is only a sampling – visit us to see the entire selection and more!

julian

Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love, Candlewick Press

When Juliàn sees three beautiful mermaids on the subway, he is both in love and encouraged to embrace his true mermaid self. Will Abuela appreciate his transformation? Filled with evocative and whimsical illustrations, Julian is a Mermaid is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of non-conforming self-expression.

 

doing it by hannah witton

Doing It – Hannah Witton, Sourcebooks/Fire

There is a chapter specifically devoted to LGBTQ+ sex education in this nonfiction resource. Since the author is a straight cis woman, she rightfully invites several own voice contributors to write each section. Sex and gender are defined, followed by profiles on being transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, queer, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Witton then discusses coming out and ways to be a good ally (starting with acknowledging privilege).

 

girl made of stars by ashley herring blake

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Owen and Mara are twins, with an unbreakable bond. It was Owen who unquestioningly accepted Mara’s coming out as bisexual to their family, and Owen who consoled Mara after she broke up with her best friend and first girlfriend, Charlie. Then Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, accuses him of raping her and lines are drawn. Mara is torn between believing her friend or her brother, while also missing Charlie. With focus on consent, victim shaming, and the insidiousness of rape culture, Girl Made of Stars has emotional and timely relevance.

 

picture us in the light by kelly loy gilbert

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney/Hyperion

With a scholarship to RISD and the loving support of his family, Danny has almost everything he needs in life. Except a future with his best friend, Harry, and an explanation for his parents’ secrets of the past. Unraveling the mystery of his family along with exploring his own feelings for Harry isn’t easy for Danny, and could disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve, but he is determined to know how his past will affect his future.