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14. Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson: Wilson’s first novel, and one I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t gotten to before now. It’s a combination of cyberpunk and Middle Eastern myth with the Arab Spring percolating in the background. The combination of these myths with a significant discussion of the idea of faith and how it affects both these mythological peoples and the people living in the world. There are some wonderful characters, good explanations of computing for those who don’t entirely get it, and a wonderfully compelling plot that unfolds, especially for a first foray into fiction. As much as I love her comics writing, I’d love to see more of her in novels. Also: fuck yeah Vikram.

15. We All Should Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: A chapbook transcription of her TED Talk on feminism, and a fantastic talk at that. Also I needed a quick read and this was definitely it.

16. Lost Children Archives, Valeria Luiselli: Luiselli’s first full length novel written in English. This is about partners whose relationship is falling apart, the kids caught in the middle of it, and an intersection with the migration crisis on the road trip they take. The best way I can describe this is “very interesting”. It’s a combination of illustrations, POV narration, and a narrative within a narrative that’s a response/allusion to various works about journeys/migrations, according to the author. After a certain point it just feels like she’s trying to do too much. The introduction of the ten year old boy’s voice part of the way through doesn’t entirely land for me, nor does the chapter that’s a single run on sentence with various things that there’s no way he could have known at that age. (The end chapter where he records something to his stepsister did hit, though.) Still definitely worth a read, just didn’t entirely land for me.

17. Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward: A memoir about Ward’s life growing up in the South, her parents’ divorce, how that affected her emotional state growing up, tied together by five deaths among her family and friends that happened in as many years and how her experiences growing up were reflected in their deaths. It’s a rough, harrowing, but gorgeous read.

18. Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table, Boris Fishman: The parts of this memoir that focus on anyone except the author (his parents and grandparents, their lives before and after immigrating to America, his grandfather’s home nurse, the recipes), are all amazing. The parts that specifically focus on the author make me want to punch him in the face. Repeatedly. Still a solid read.

19. The Cruel Prince, Holly Black: Pure YA faerie junk food, and some days, that’s just what you need. Solid plotting, complicated family dynamics, that good good enemies to lovers trope. Will this win any awards, or will I remember this towards the end of the year? Lol no. Is it something nice and light to read for now, with characters from the books I read as a teen cameoing? Oh yes.

20. Xenofeminism, Helen Hester: I came into this book hoping for an expansion on the Xenofeminist Manifesto, and for one brief shining 36 page chapter, I got it. Then most of the rest of the book was a case study of a specific technology from the 70s, and that case study barely remembered to focus on women of color and transwomen (less than a quarter of the case study chapter). The way this tended to careen from topic to topic and some very rote “I am going to cover x in this next section/chapter” make this feel like this was someone’s tenure paper or maaaaaaybe their senior thesis that got published, and less the further dive that I was hoping to get. I’ve been struggling with this one for a while, and I managed to finally finish it waiting in this DHS office today, and I’m mildly frustrated with it. That the author appears to be a white female associate professor makes all of the former even more frustrating.

But hey, I got to read the word Cthulucene.

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All Eyes on Us by Kit Frick:

Ms. Frick's sophomore YA novel following "See All the Stars". A love triangle between a high school "It Girl" and a closeted lower class girl both dating the same kid who are then targeted by a mysterious texter and threatened to ruin said guy's life.

 

Re-reading the review I wrote months ago reminds me of the cons I had with this story, and helps to determine what I think are growing pains I hope Frick can move out of in future stories. This story is more explicitly a thriller, with suspense building from the end of the first chapter. Overall I enjoyed this more'n "See All the Stars". It was an engaging, entertaining read with a really good story and quick, easy-to-read chapters. I rarely felt bogged down by any extraneous information, which has been a trend with the last several books I've read.

One of my problems that carries over from Frick's last book is the characterization of her teenage girl protagonists. Rosalie, the closeted girl who's locked in her family's fundamentalist church and suffered conversion therapy years prior, is sympathetic enough. Her story is more urgent, the stakes are higher, and the constant conflict feels real. Amanda, the queen of her senior high school class, is just a closed door of charm or charisma. Admittedly it may be harder for me to intuit the problems of teenage girls, but this is a person who is introduced shitting on every other character in the scene, people who are her friends and family. Now her parents, particularly her mother, are wrecks, and her friends are typical flighty high schoolers. But Amanda's really no different, and her status as Ms. Thing gives her problems - wanting to end up the rich wife of her rich boyfriend like everyone wants - makes her storyline almost completely bare of genuine interest. Without using the "B" word, I don't think she displays a single charitable trait for at least the first solid half of the book. Granted, there are a lot of crappy people in this story, but this is primarily our chief protagonist. 

The prose tripped me up again as well. One of the lines "These provocations are chipping away at my resolve...", no teenager sounds like that. If she were a creative type, like a writer or an artist, okay, but it only sounds severely melodramatic. 

The revelation of the villain gave me a double take. I had a theory on who it could've been, and still think that would've been a better reveal, but it would've made the story darker. Still, it turns the character into a one-dimensional villain. Feels very much like Riverdale's annoying reveal at the end of season 1. 

Despite all of my cons, I did enjoy reading this book. It's engrossing and incredibly well paced, and despite the characters, the plot was such a fun central problem for them to get past that I couldn't really look away. 

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