Girls of Paper and Fire

By Natasha Ngan

Genre: YA LGBT Fantasy

Avg. Rating: 3.87

“I don’t want an easy life. I want a meaningful one.”

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge. (Goodreads)

Its been a while since I’ve read this book, and though my memory of it is beginning to fade I still remember it fondly. It was the first book I had read in a while that I really enjoyed, and was one of the first fantasy books I’ve enjoyed in a few years. I’ve never really been a huge fan of fantasy (unless it is magical realism), but yet this book had me utterly enthralled in the world. So much so, there were times it overwhelmed me and I was forced to set the book down for a short time.

There are many great things about the book, but what made it stand out to me (other than the LGBT representation) was the exceptional world-building. I found the caste system in this book particularly interesting, with its heavy ties to species dictating the hierarchy. An allegory for race, that was inclusive and relatable to all readers. The real surprise was how well-developed and easy to understand it was upon first reading. It was easy to catch on the customs of this society without the book becoming lengthy to the point of absurdity. YA has a reputation for underdeveloped world building, the focus often put on the characters and the situation. While this book is very character heavy, it does a very good job of creating a realistic and understandable world. Not so fantastic that it’s unimaginable, but fantastic enough to allow the reader to escape the clutches of reality. The only downside is, especially at the beginning, the story seemed very info-dumpy. After reading the first few chapters I found my brain a little tired from absorbing so much. Regardless I enjoyed the world.

The true downside of the story, for me, was the characters. They were not bad, in the sense that I enjoyed reading about them, but they were not the best. The protagonist particularly often came off as inconsistent. She constantly went back and forth between being empowering and annoying in her indecisiveness. To be entirely honest, I found her love interest far more interesting, with a backstory more prone to action and with a certain amount of finality in her decisions and fate. Lei, the protagonist, on the other hand, lacked this. And though I understand why the author chose to focus the story on her, I struggled to relate to her constantly going back and forth between deciding to try to live happily and rebel. It is not an easy decision, I understand, but her belief that she had no hope of escaping her reality made her indecisiveness all the more annoying.

I have to admit, that I’ve already recommended this book to a few people because even though some aspects of the characters annoyed me, I still overall enjoyed it. Additionally, I gave it a resounding high rating on 4.7, higher than the average, because I will be definitely rereading it in the future. Additionally, I see myself pre-ordering the sequel when the option is made available.

If you are interested in reading this book, consider supporting your local library and checking it out, and of course, you can always find it on Amazon.

The Darkest Minds

By Alexandra Bracken

Genre: YA Dystopia

Avg. Rating: 4.21/5   

“‘Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem.’”

Superpowers. Sounds fun right?

Well, when you have to survive an unknown and extremely deadly disease in order to get these powers only to be segregated from society and essentially kept in concentration camps is far from fun.

Bracken’s The Darkest Minds Series begins with a very X-Men-esque scenario, as described above. After an unknown disease kills off the majority of the State’s children, only a relatively small percentage are left, but there were after effects to this illness. Those who survived would develop one of a five of abilities ranging from telekinesis to powerful telepathy. These abilities are assigned colours, which are later used to segregated its users, separating them into groups based on their potential threat level. Greens (those with enhanced intelligence) are considered the least dangerous, while the most dangerous include the Red (those with pyrokinesis) and the Orange (telepaths). The most dangerous of the group were often killed on the spot.

The follows an Orange, who against all odds, has survived many years in a “rehabilitation” camp under the guise of a Green. Upon rescue from the camp, she not only realizes just how much the outside world has changed, but she realizes for any true change to occur there are hard decisions ahead of her.

I enjoyed this book, for the most part, though I often found it to be a slower than usual read for a YA novel. This books also differs quite a bit from other dystopian YA in that it tends to take a bit more of a political standpoint on the subjects it presents, while still pandering to the action-filled expectations of it’s intended audience. With many parallels to the ever so popular superhero genre, this book does a good job setting itself apart from other superhero-based stories and succeeds in created characters who are multi-dimensional. The book spends a lot of time on character development, a lot more than you would expect from a YA novel coming at what some may be considered the current fall from grace of Dystopian Sci-Fi.

As I’ve already sort of alluded to I found the book to be a little slow at times with scenes that I did not find entirely necessary (though they did achieve what they were meant to.) My most notable problems with the book are subjective: because when it comes down to it I simply did not find many of the characters likeable. I often found that the protagonist tended to be inconsistent. The inconsistencies are, for the most part, excusable due to the circumstances of the driving plot. Regardless, I often became a little annoyed because the character seemed to have sudden unexplained bursts of a newfound confidence that didn’t quite seem appropriate.

The scoring system that I use is based on a few factors, but the primary fact is my willingness to reread the book and/or series. So far, I don’t have the desire to read this book again, but I am happy I read it because it wasn’t bad. It was entertaining enough to keep my interest. My final rating for this book will have to be a solid 4 out of 5.

If you are interested in this book it is, of course, available on Amazon, and very likely your local library.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Genre: YA Coming-of-Age

Avg. Rating: 4.3/5  

“‘We accept the love we think we deserve, Charlie.’”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, at this point, is a long-time favourite of mine. At this point, it can probably be considered an older book, but– at least to me– it doesn’t read like that. The many reasons it reads that way is probably the same reason this book is considered banned in many places.

A realistic examination of what it’s like to be a teenager, this book follows Charlie as he begins his first year of high school. Charlie immediately struggles with the transition and it’s not until he befriends two seniors, Sam and Patrick, that his year begins to make a turn for the better. Chbosky leads us through a graphically realistic teen experience that includes concepts regarding LGBT struggles, drug experimentation, mental health, and much more.

I feel like there really is something for everyone in this book. Though I personally did not have the “traditional” teenage experience (far from it, actually) I still find myself relating heavily with the characters in this book. You may not have direct experience with certain things, such as drugs and certain mental health struggles, but it’s hard to be a teenager nowadays without being exposed to these concepts one way or another. I feel it’s even that indirect connection that fosters understanding and compassion for the book’s characters in the readers. Having read many books in my few years on this earth, this is one of those rare books that truly captures what it’s like growing up.

Regardless of all these great things, I am aware that this book is banned in many schools and to some extent, I understand why. I would probably recommend this book for a more mature audience, but not in the sense that maturity equates age. With hard subjects including molestation and suicide, this books is not for everyone. Though I think this should be read by all highschoolers, I admit that the individual should be taken into consideration. I wouldn’t go so far as to right out ban the book, rather, I’d explicitly warn younger readers what is to come and open it up for conversation if there is something they need help understanding.

This is one of my most favourite books of all time and, as a result, I have no excuse for the high rating I give it: 4.8

If you like to read this book you can find it on Amazon, and, because it’s an older classic, it will likely be available at your local library.

The Hunger Games, Revisited

By Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Science-Fiction

Avg. Rating: 4.33/5

“You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope.”

Do I really need to write a synopsis for this book at this point? Whatever… Let’s get this over with!

In a post-civil war United States now called Panem, a battle royale is held among 24 children between the ages of 12-18, chosen in pairs at random from twelve districts. The titular Hunger Games is used as a form of propaganda to remind the citizens of Panem what would happen if they revolt against the countries capital. When a young woman named Katniss finds herself in the arena she is forced to make some hard decisions in order to survive.

When I first read the Hunger Games I was starting middle school and preteen me loved it! Me now– who is not only an adult but a writer– found the book mediocre at best. My primary complaint, which seems to be common, is regarding the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. While rereading the book I found it hard to understand her and her overall personality. It seems as though her personality changes for the convenience of the plot. Though acting differently was crucial for her survival, her mental commentary was inconsistent in its representation of her true personality. She seems to constantly change her mind for the sole purpose of progressing the plot when it starts to fall a little short. Additionally, the use of dues ex machina was often obvious, and could leave the reader thinking: Well that was convenient.

I have to give the book credit, though, for being a good battle royale. It introduced many to the concept for better or for worse, as well as sparking a mass interest in YA fiction and dystopian settings. Additionally, the world is well developed and even with the relatively minimal introduction, it is easy to understand. Part of this may as well be due to the fact that Panem is a post-civil war United States– this fact may not always be obvious to younger readers. Character-wise, secondary characters were handled very well and were well written as well as consistent. In fact, I can’t help but believe the book would be overall better if it had been written in some interaction of the third person.

At the end of the day, I have to give the first book of this series a lower rating than the average. After some consideration, I have decided to give this book as solid 3/5.

If, for whatever reason, you have yet to read this book, it is available on Amazon; as well as your local library.

Annihilation

By: Jeff VanderMeer

Genre: Science-Fiction

Average Rating: 3.67/5

“‘We all live in a kind of continuous dream,’ I told him. ‘When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.’”

Annihilation is an interesting examination of our world evolving into something new, something rarely seen by modern eyes. This series seeks to answer the question of how the world would look and how it would affect us as industrialized beings; introducing us to key characters as well as the surreal version of our very own world. Strange things occur in the pristine landscape dubbed Area X. We follow the protagonist, the unnamed biologist, as she and her team explore the alien terrain.

I knew before I even picked up the book that it wasn’t going to be one of those books you simply just breeze through. Even with a pretty good understanding of many of the concepts explored in this book, I found myself still having to pause to contemplate what I had just read. Whether it be for reasons of reflection or comprehension, I feel this book would require occasional breaks for even the most advanced readers. For me, this is the primary negative of this series thus far.

Nevertheless, VanderMeer creates a vibrant world with characters capable of showcasing its mystery. Often time the book is somewhat poetic in its execution and very thought-provoking as a result. Character development among the voyagers we follow is exceptional, as we watch them become overcame by the power of Area X, and in some instances overcame by nature itself. The objectivity of the author of the world outside her mind is just as interesting as her personal opinions regarding what is going on around her.

In the end, I find this to be a good introduction to this world, as well as a good introduction to a character we will hopefully be seeing more of. I give it 4.3/5.

If you’d like to get a copy to check out for yourself you can get one here.