Monthly Archives: February 2017

The 228 Massacre: A Brief History and Book List

It’s been 70 years since February 28th, 1947, a day that marked the beginning of a very dark and bloody era of Taiwanese history. For those who don’t know, Taiwan has a very complicated history involving multiple waves of colonization. Taiwan was home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. (The indigenous Taiwanese are Austronesian and have linguistic and genetic relations with the indigenous people Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar and Oceania.) In the 17th century, the Spanish and Dutch established bases on Taiwan for a time, followed by Ming Dynasty loyalists under Koxinga after the fall of the Ming Empire. The earliest waves of colonists came from southeastern China, mostly the Hokkien-speaking Hoklo people from the Fujian province and some Hakka people, who eventually became the majority due to many indigenous people’s intermarriage and/or assimilation into Han communities and society. The Qing Dynasty claimed Taiwan despite never fully controlling the island and after the second Sino-Japanese War, ceded Taiwan to Japan. From 1895 until 1945, Japan governed Taiwan and touted it as their model colony.

Following Japan’s surrender in World War II, Taiwan was ceded to “back” to China. At the time, China was still under the rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party (a.k.a. the KMT, from “Kuomintang”) and was referred to as the Republic of China (present-day China is known as the People’s Republic of China, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP). The KMT installed a government in Taiwan that soon drew resentment from Taiwanese people due to its rampant corruption. On February 27th, 1947, a scuffle between a woman selling contraband cigarettes and a KMT soldier resulted in the soldier hitting the woman on the head with his pistol. In the ensuing chaos, another official fired a shot into the crowd, killing a bystander.

This event sparked protests and riots starting on February 28th that resulted in violent crackdowns from the KMT. Starting in 1949, the KMT instituted martial law on the island that lasted 38 years (until 1987), which is the second longest period of martial law after Syria’s (1963-2011). During the period from 1947 to 1987, otherwise known as the White Terror, anyone suspected of being against the KMT in words, ideologies, or actions was persecuted, tortured, murdered, or spirited away, never to be seen again. The persecution even crossed the Pacific Ocean to the United States, including the murder of Henry Liu. The total estimate for people who died ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 and remains a topic of debate.

Until the lifting of martial law, nobody spoke of what happened. The truth was dangerous, and it was heavy. In recent decades, a formal apology was issued by former President Lee Teng-hui, and a museum and memorial park were created and dedicated to memorialize 228 and the White Terror. However, some of the people involved in perpetrating the killing and persecution (e.g. government officials and soldiers) are still alive and have never been held accountable for their crimes. Until today, documents related to 228 were classified, thus impeding transitional justice. Without justice, there cannot be peace for the dead and the wronged. That is why it’s important to keep telling this story over and over and remembering the injustices that were committed.

That’s why I’ve created this book list for people who want to learn more about Taiwanese history, politics, and 228/The White Terror. The list includes four nonfiction titles and four fiction titles. The hyperlinks in the above paragraphs are for various Internet articles and sites.

Nonfiction

wealth-ribbonWealth Ribbon: Taiwan Bound, America Bound by brenda Lin

This autobiographical essay collection explores the author’s transnational identity as a Taiwanese American whose life has been split between countries. It tells the stories of three generations of her family, from her grandparents’ generation to her own.

my-fight-for-a-new-taiwanMy Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman’s Journey from Prison to Power by Annette Hsiu-Lien Lu

This is the autobiography of Taiwan’s former Vice President from 2001 to 2008. She came from humble origins but eventually became an activist and leader of feminist and pro-democracy movements in Taiwan during the late 20th century.

maritime-taiwanMaritime Taiwan: Historical Encounters with the East and the West by Shih-Shan Henry Tsai

This book maps out the complex history of Taiwan and the various powers that claimed and influenced it throughout the past few centuries.

taiwans-struggleTaiwan’s Struggle: Voices of the Taiwanese edited by Shyu-tu Lee and Jack F. Williams

In this essay anthology, “leading Taiwanese figures consider the country’s history, politics, society, economy, identity, and future prospects. The volume provides a forum for a diversity of local voices, who are rarely heard in the power struggle between China and the United States over Taiwan’s future. Reflecting the deep ethnic and political differences that are essential to understanding Taiwan today, this work provides a nuanced introduction to its role in international politics.”

Fiction

miahMiah by Julia Lin

This collection of interrelated short stories traces the lives of generations of a Taiwanese Canadian family, from the time of Japanese occupation of Taiwan, to the White Terror under the Kuomintang government, to modern Taiwan and Canada.

the-228-legacyThe 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow*

In this historical fiction novel set in the 1980s, three generations of an all-female, working-class Taiwanese American family struggle with their own secrets: grandmother Silk has breast cancer, daughter and single mother Lisa has lost her job, and granddaughter Abbey deals with bullying at school. When Grandma Silk’s connection to a shocking historical event in Taiwan comes to light, the family is forced to reconnect and support one another through their struggles.

the-third-sonThe Third Son by Julie Wu

Growing up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Saburo is the ill-favored third son of a Taiwanese politician. By chance, an air strike brings him into contact with Yoshiko, whose kindness and loving family bring hope and light to Saburo’s world. Years later, Yoshiko reappears in his live but at the side of his arrogant and boorish older brother. In order to make something of himself and win Yoshiko’s respect, Saburo pushes the boundaries of what is possible and winds up on the frontier of America’s space program.

green-islandGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan (review at hyperlink)

Told through the perspective of an unnamed first generation Taiwanese American woman, Green Island chronicles the life of the main character from her birth on March 1st, 1947, the day after the infamous 228 Massacre, to the year 2003, marked by the SARS outbreak, intertwining her personal, family history with the political history of Taiwan.

*Jennifer J. Chow is a Chinese American author married to a Taiwanese American. I’ve read the book and as far as I can remember, the facts checked out with the exception of a minor anachronism (regarding the year bubble tea was invented, ha).

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Asian Reads: Grandparents Edition

While white American culture focuses a lot on the nuclear family, in many Asian households, it’s not uncommon for three or more generations to live together. Because of this, I decided to put together this list of books that at some level explore relationships between the main characters and one or more of their grandparents. These are all middle grade titles. If you know of any YA titles, feel free to drop a comment. I’ve linked my reviews where applicable.

millicent-min-girl-geniusMillicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee – Chinese American MC

Millicent Min is a genius who is taking college classes at age twelve, and while that has its advantages, the downside is the struggle to make friends. In an effort to get her to lead a more normal life for a girl of her age, her parents sign her up for a volley ball class. Through this class, she meets and befriends Emily, but fearing that her nerdiness will be a turn-off, Millie decides to hide her genius status from Emily. In the meantime, she’s tutoring Stanford Wong, and between the two of them, they have their work cut out for them keeping secrets from Emily.

the-garden-of-my-imaanThe Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia – Muslim Indian American MC

Aliya has a lot of problems typical for a fifth grader: she wants to fit in, she worries about being popular enough for student council, she has a crush on a cute boy who will probably never notice her, and she’s loaded with homework assignments that she’s not too excited about completing. Unfortunately, on top of that, she faces Islamophobia from people around her, even though she’s not even very strict about observing certain Islamic traditions and has never really emphasized that aspect of her identity. Then, a new girl, Marwa, arrives. She’s Muslim and Moroccan and wears the hijab, which makes her a prime target for bullying. Aliya can choose to avoid association with her, or maybe Marwa has something to teach her about being true to oneself.

ticket-to-indiaTicket to India by N.H. Senzai – Muslim Indian and Pakistani American MC

Maya flies from the U.S. to Pakistan to attend the funeral for her grandfather. There, she finds out that her family has roots in India through her grandmother, who moved to Pakistan after Partition. In order to complete her grandfather’s final rites, her grandmother wishes to seek out an old family heirloom that was left behind in India. Maya sets off for India with her grandmother and older sister to hunt for this family treasure in a race against time, but unexpected complications result in her tackling the search completely on her own.

the-turtle-of-omanThe Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye – Muslim Omani MC

Aref’s home is Oman, where his house and cat and friends are, where his beloved grandfather, Sidi, lives. He loves it there, and he does not want to leave it behind to move to Michigan, a place so foreign and far away for him. With Sidi’s help, however, he begins to see his upcoming journey in a new light.

clara-lee-and-the-apple-pie-dreamClara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han – Korean American MC

Meet Clara Lee.
Likes: her best friends, her grandpa, her little sister (when she’s not being annoying, which is almost always), candy necklaces, and the Apple Blossom Festival.

Dislikes: her little sister (when she’s being annoying, which is almost always), her mom’s yucky fish soup, and bad dreams (even though Grandpa says they mean good luck).

After a bad dream, Clara Lee has a whole day of good luck. But when her luck changes, she upsets her friends and family. Will Clara Lee have good luck again in time to try out for the Little Miss Apple Pie pageant? (from Goodreads)

 

On Carve the Mark: Asians Overstepping and the Misuse of “POC” as a Label

Note: This is a call-out and a call-in post. The point is to discuss issues and trends and critique people’s words and actions with the intention of holding people accountable for the harm they cause and pushing for people to do right by others, not to attack people’s personhood/character. If you can’t draw the distinction between the two and start feeling defensive of yourself or people you associate with or admire who are mentioned in this post, take a step back and ask yourself why you’re conflating criticism with an attack. Then come back and try again.

Hi, everyone. If you don’t know me already, my name is Shenwei (they/them pronouns), and I’m Taiwanese American. I consider myself a diversity advocate, and for this reason, I believe it is essential that I initiate and participate in discussions on issues that pertain to my communities, especially when someone who is part of my community has caused harm to people of marginalized groups.

For those who are not aware, there has been a lot of heated debate in the book community over the recent YA release, Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (a white author known for her dystopian YA series, Divergent). Specifically, this book has been called out/criticized for being antiblack and anti-indigenous for its use of the trope of dark-skinned, kinky-haired people as “savages.”

Here are some reviews and posts that discuss the racism in Carve the Mark and/or the history of the harmful trope of the “savage” in depth:

Carve the Mark has also been called out for ableism in its portrayal of chronic pain and use of chronic pain as a fantasy trope (note: Veronica Roth has said she lives with chronic pain, but having chronic pain doesn’t equal immunity to ableism, internalized ableism is possible and happens), but here I’m going to focus on the racial representation because that’s central to the issues I’m discussing in this post.

When these criticisms began circulating widely, I was completely unsurprised that white readers came to Roth’s defense. That’s a standard reaction as far as discussions of racism in books goes. POC/Indigenous readers call a white author out for harmful representation of their race/ethnicity, the white people go on the defensive and cry “witch hunt” and “bullying” and “career sabotage” (despite the evidence to the contrary showing that such callouts have ZERO effect on white authors’ popularity and success), and the people who dare to criticize people’s problematic faves get harassed on social media by anons and egg accounts who dedicate their time to targeting POC, especially WOC. Rinse and repeat every week.

What was far more concerning to me about the responses was the number of Asian authors (mostly Asian American authors, mind you) who showed support for Carve the Mark on its release date and/or came out in defense of the book in response to messages from their followers and other book community members regarding the racist content in the book.

This is far from being a comprehensive/exhaustive list, but here are the authors I saw Tweeting support for Carve the Mark, talking about how they did not find the book racist, or supporting (by reblogging/retweeting/boosting) authors who said they didn’t find it racist:

My point here isn’t to attack these authors (I have no personal vendetta against any of them, most of them are authors whose books I’ve read and enjoyed), but rather to point out the trend of my fellow Asians, especially Asian Americans stepping out of their lane and speaking when they shouldn’t. Since Sabaa’s post got the most attention, I’d like to critically examine her response, particularly the second part.

Before I do, I’ll just say that the anon who sent her the message was out of line in asking if she knew what racism was. There is no doubt that she has experienced racism, and she shouldn’t have to talk about her painful experiences in detail to prove anything.

However, after that, she made a very big misstep.

In giving her opinion on Carve the Mark, she said, “I read Carve the Mark critically and did not find the book to be racist.” Although reading something critically typically means you are more likely to notice certain things than if you were to read it uncritically, it is not a guarantee that you will find any and all problematic content.

Which brings me to my next issue. In her elaboration, Sabaa mentions that POC are not a monolith and will have differing opinions on the same text. However, the way she frames this statement, there’s an implication that all opinions from POC on a text are therefore equally valid. It should be the opposite. Because POC are not a monolith, we must be careful about whose opinions we are centering in a discussion about racism in a text. Although POC all experience racism, we don’t all experience racism in the same ways. Our experiences differ depending on our specific race(s) and ethnicities, among other things. As a result, the issues and harmful language and tropes that we are most familiar with and sensitive to are those that impact us most directly, that target our race/ethnicity specifically.

In the case of Carve the Mark, the story was criticized for being antiblack and anti-indigenous. Those of us who are nonblack, non-indigenous POC should not be prioritizing the opinions of people who are not Black or Indigenous in a discussion about antiblack and anti-indigenous racism. We’re not the ones targeted, so it’s not surprising that we wouldn’t find the book harmful.

Then, there’s the claim of silencing. While it’s true that WOC are often silenced in conversations about race, here we need to consider the particular power dynamic of the situation. Non-black, non-indigenous POC have privilege over Black and Indigenous people. White supremacy thrives on antiblackness and encourages nonblack POC, especially Asian Americans, to engage in antiblackness as a tactic to thwart solidarity between POC groups and maintain the subjugation of Black people. This is not just an individual issue, it is a trend with a history dating back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. And like other non-indigenous POC, Asians in the U.S. and Australia and New Zealand are settler colonists, living on land stolen from Indigenous peoples, thereby benefiting (unwittingly or not) from Indigenous erasure, displacement, and genocide.

For these reasons, Asians, specifically Asian Americans, need to be conscientious about when they’re speaking up and whose voices they are boosting in conversations about racial representation, so as not to continue these trends. When Asians give their opinions saying something doesn’t constitute antiblack and anti-indigenous racism, even though Black and Indigenous folks are saying otherwise, and someone tells us to take a seat, that’s not silencing. That’s a request for us to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.

POC is a term with great power for non-indigenous (though some Indigenous people do identify as POC; many do not because of the settler colonialism issue), nonwhite people. We rally around it in acknowledging our common fight against white supremacy. However, it can also be misused in ways that harm the cause of anti-racism. If you are speaking in the hypothetical, using POC is usually okay, but if you are talking about a specific issue, it’s important to name who exactly is impacted. Police brutality does not affect all POC equally. It disproportionately impacts Black folks. Surveillance for suspected terrorism doesn’t affect all POC. It is a result/manifestation of Islamophobia and prejudice against anyone who “looks” Muslim (basically people from West and South Asia). And so on. If you are not a part of the specific subgroup of POC who are affected by an issue, don’t go around co-opting it through the misuse of POC as an umbrella term or talking over the people who are targeted. That is erasure. That is silencing.

To be fair, there were a few Asian authors who spoke up in defense of and trusted the word of the Black and Indigenous critics. Here are the few I know of:

  • C.T. Callahan

  • Heidi Heilig

  • Elsie Chapman

And to be fair, Sabaa Tahir did make a follow-up post addressing her mistake in response to an anon who brought up their hurt. I’m assuming someone talked her through the issue somewhere behind the scenes. Here’s the post.

However, apology or none, the damage was done. The moment an extremely popular author of color stepped forward to say, “I didn’t find this book racist,” a huge mob of people seized upon those words as a pass to dismiss the concerns of those who criticized Carve the Mark. Though nobody can control the way other people respond to their words, it’s still important to be aware of the probable consequences of potential words and actions. Despite the attempts to frame the debate as “every POC’s opinion is equally valid,” the numbers tell a different story about people’s preferences and priorities .

I checked the notes on Sabaa’s original post several days ago.

When I first started writing this post, this was the status of Sabaa’s posts:

Notes on Post 1: 1924

Notes on Post 2: 47

The math: 41 times the number of notes. More than 4000% the stats.

As of February 11th, this is the new count:

Notes on Post 1: 1991

Notes on Post 2: 54

The math: 37 times the number of notes.

Think about that. That difference speaks volumes on what kinds of opinions from POC people are interested in listening to and boosting.

One of the most disappointing things about what went down is that so many of the authors who overstepped are authors who are on the front-lines of the diversity movement. Just last year, several of them featured in a video from We Need Diverse Books with a message of “We Write For You.” However, the way things played out over Carve the Mark, I have to wonder, do they really write for all of us marginalized folks, especially teens? Because if they excuse or overlook antiblack and anti-indigenous racism in others’ writing, what’s to stop them from perpetuating that same harm in their own books? Moreover, their words and actions outside of their published writing matter as well. Marginalized kids and teens are following them on social media and looking up to them as role models. Imagine how much it must hurt to see your favorite authors, the one who said they write for you, ignore and minimize your pain. That’s what is at stake. That’s why uplifting the voices of those who are harmed by a book is so essential.

To me, what happened with Carve the Mark is a sign that authors who consider themselves diversity advocates, especially my fellow non-black, non-indigenous POC, need to be more proactive in listening to and participating in discussions about effective allyship because even as they are marginalized, they are also privileged in other ways, and ignorance about that privilege can cause harm to groups outside of their own, to teens who are among their readership.

I’m guessing for some of y’all who are readers and bloggers, the realization that certain authors have caused harm may change how you feel about reading and supporting their work. There are a variety of ways to deal with such a situation, and while I’m not going to police how people respond or tell people they can’t read books by certain authors, I do encourage everyone to engage critically with their favorites, make informed decisions about who and what you’re supporting, and use their problematic words, actions, or writing as an opportunity to promote constructive discourse about how best to ensure that marginalized folks, especially teens, aren’t harmed.

Now, for some practical tips on options for what to do when your favorite author does/says something problematic:

The most extreme action is straight up boycott, i.e. not reading their book(s). However, I understand that some of these authors do have important #ownvoices books coming out that people are really hoping to read, so here are some other things you can do to decrease your support.

  • Don’t buy their book and borrow it from the library or from a friend or read it at the bookstore.
  • Buy their book, but buy it secondhand so they don’t make money from your purchase.
  • Don’t review their book and just keep it to yourself.
  • Review their book, but mention in your review somewhere how they fucked up so that other people can make a decision regarding whether they want to support the author in light of their actions.

If you’re looking for resources on how to deal with a book that is problematic, I highly recommend reading Jen (BookAvid)’s posts:

Review for The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

the-abyss-surrounds-us

My Summary: Cassandra Leung has been part of the family business to train Reckoners, sea monsters that protect ships from pirates while crossing the Neo-Pacific, for her entire life. Her first mission with the Nereid is supposed to be a walk in the park. But everything goes wrong, and she is captured by pirates and forced by pirate queen Santa Elena to train a newborn Reckoner pup to protect the Minnow. If she succeeds, it will disrupt the delicate balance of power in the Neo-Pacific. If she fails, she’s dead meat.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. I did enjoy the story for what it was. The premise, the plotting, and the worldbuilding were solid. I was definitely hooked by the story and enjoyed watching the progression of the Reckoner pup’s training and Cas’s inner struggle with the gray areas of her moral landscape. The story combined high-stakes suspense with thought-provoking questions and themes.

But under the surface, several things felt off to me about the racial representation. Cas herself is supposed to be Chinese, but aside from a few small touches, there are virtually no references to her Chineseness. It felt really superficial. And then my inner Chinese-speaker went “umm…” when Cas brought up a possible variant for the Reckoner pup’s name. His name is Bao (包), the Chinese word for “bun,” as in steamed bun, pork bun, etc. The pronunciation of 包 is basically the same in both Mandarin and Cantonese, with a high flat tone.

When Santa Elena asks Cas about her naming him after steamed buns, the narration follows with “‘If you’d like, you can call him Bao Bao instead,’ I tell her, shifting the vowels slightly as I speak.”

Bao Bao does indeed mean “precious baby,” as the story points out a few sentences down, but there are two things that are off about this sentence.

One is that Bao Bao is the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese word/phrase, 寶寶. The Cantonese equivalent is Bou2Bou2 (using Jyutping for the romanization), with a different vowel sound than Bao. Mandarin and Cantonese are related but distinct languages that are not mutually intelligible (Cantonese and other regional Chinese languages that aren’t mutually intelligible with Mandarin are referred to as dialects for political reasons), and while it’s possible Cas knows both, the narrative doesn’t ever indicate that she understands anything besides Canto. Her last name is Cantonese, she hears some Cantonese while she’s on the docks somewhere, and that’s it.

Even ignoring the Mandarin vs. Cantonese part, the  bit about “shifting the vowels slightly” is an inaccurate way of describing the difference between the pronunciation of Bao and Bao Bao. In Mandarin, Bao for bun involves the first tone, Bao Bao has the third tone for both syllables (usually pronounced as second tone-third tone though). The vowel sound is the same for both Bao and Bao Bao, it’s the pitch that’s different.

Although a majority of the supporting cast were POC, their characterizations were likewise superficially diverse. Santa Elena’s race/ethnicity isn’t explicitly mentioned as far as I can remember; I read her as being Filipina because of her physical features, her name (Spain colonized the Philippines, so Spanish names are a thing), and the fact that the Philippines is in the Pacific, but she could be Latina.

Two different characters are described as being Islanders. In this future world, the Pacific Islands have been flooded into nonexistence due to rising sea levels, and there is a group of artificially created islands known as Artificial Hawaii, where I can only assume the Islanders, who are descendants of original Pacific Islanders, live. This generalization of these characters as Islanders with no reference to their specific heritage/ethnicity strikes me as problematic because it homogenizes Pacific Islanders, who despite their linguistic and cultural similarities and ancestral relations, are still a very diverse group of peoples.

The narrative doesn’t give us any details as to the history of the Pacific Islanders following the flooding of the Pacific Islands due to Global Warming. Did they all move to the islands of Artificial Hawaii or some of them flee elsewhere? How many of the nations survived? Did they retain their distinct cultures or intermix and blend their cultures? These are important questions because in the present day real world, Pacific Islander cultures have been and continue to be threatened by the effects of colonization and globalization. Given this reality, the loss of these cultures in an imagined future would be a big deal.

One of these two Islander characters is Chuck, who’s described as a “princess,” specifically the daughter of “the man who owns Art-Hawaii 5.” That’s all we get about her background. To me, this reads as a thing that was thrown in for the hell of it to “spice up” her character, as there is no deeper sense of where Chuck comes from, i.e. her roots, which is an important part of Pacific Islander cultures from what limited knowledge I have.

The other Islander is Hina, the cook aboard the Winnow, who aside from being described as brown and “giant,” is completely in the background and does not contribute to the plot in any meaningful way. Where is she is from and her exact ethnicity is a complete mystery.

There was a third reference to Islanders, when Swift tells another character to “dream of an Islander prince who’s going to take you away from this wretched life,” which to me reads as “fantasy of an ~exotic~ brown man sweeping the white woman off her feet to take her to his exotic utopian island kingdom.” That line did not sit well with me, and I’m wondering why it was even necessary.

One other more significant supporting character who’s a POC besides Chuck is Varma, who’s Indian and Hindu. My quick Internet search told me that Varma is a surname. It’s never mentioned whether Varma is supposed to be his given or family name, it’s simply what everyone calls him. If that was supposed to be his given name, that’s poor research on the author’s part. If not, then the narrative should have been more clear about that. The only other reference to him being Indian and Hindu is one line where he says a prayer in Hindi.

The last POC is Lemon, who I remember being described skinny without any other memorable physical details. Going back to skim the book, apparently she’s Aleut and can “speak the ocean’s language.” There’s something a little “mystical POC guide” about that description, but maybe it’s just me.

I think the author tried to go against the “white-as-default” trend, but it didn’t quite work for me. Although one character, Code, was explicitly labeled as white when Cas first laid eyes on him, Swift’s character was not similarly described in racial terms. I can’t remember either of Code or Swift having their skin color described the way Santa Elena, Chuck, etc. were described as brown. The only physical characteristic I can remember about Swift is her blonde hair, which isn’t exclusive to white people, whether naturally or dyed, but generally gets coded as white.

Throughout the story, the only [human] characters that get much development are Cas and Swift. Cas could have been white and not much would have been different. I started off excited about the POC but walked away feeling a bit cheated.

I’m still going to read the sequel, The Edge of the Abyss to see what happens (I have the eARC from NetGalley). I’m hoping maybe some of the POC will get more development.

Recommendation: If you want a quick and action-packed sci-fi read, go for it. If you’re looking for good POC rep, this isn’t the book for that.

 

 

Review for God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen

god-smites-and-other-muslim-girl-problems

Note: I received a review copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Note 2: I interviewed the author a few weeks ago, so I highly recommend reading the interview. 😀

My Summary: Against her parents’ desires, Asiya Haque goes for a walk alone in the woods with her crush, Michael, but what could have been a romantic getaway turns into something else completely when they come across a dead body. Asiya flees the scene at Michael’s behest, and then Michael goes missing himself and is accused of being the murderer. Asiya finds herself digging up clues to a murder mystery, a search that is not at all helped by a overly smug police officer who needs serious sensitivity training or her overly protective parents.

Review:

I went in with high expectations for this book, and by and large, it did not disappoint.

The decision to make this a first-person narrative was absolutely perfect. Asiya has a very distinctive character voice that made her so real to me. Her internal world is rich and complex and compelling. On top of that, she is downright hilarious. I lost count of the number of times that I busted out laughing because of something she said aloud or in her head. And though she’s not perfect, she does have a sense of justice and tries to do the best thing.

Asiya’s narration also brought to the fore an insider’s perspective on Islam. There are the congregations at her masjid, where you get to follow along with the communal prayers and witness the true foundations and tenets of the religion: peace, generosity, empathy, etc. There are also the interactions between Asiya and individual Muslims in her life. And of course, the internal dialogue she has with God as she faces her troubles.

From these passages, it’s clear that Asiya has an intimate relationship with her faith and God, but it’s complicated by other people’s cultural and individual biases that favor certain interpretations of God’s word. Through Asiya, her family, and her fellow Muslim community members, the author shows how Muslims are not a monolith. Even Asiya’s parents interpret certain lines from the Quran differently from one another and from their imam.*

Speaking of the parents, I really liked the way Asiya’s relationships with her parents was developed. Although they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, they do care for one another and stand up for one another when it counts. Her parents were flawed but sympathetic characters, giving the scenes of family tension emotional weight because they’re more complicated than one side being right and the other wrong. I really loved her relationship with her father, who clearly has a soft spot for her. I have a similar relationship with my dad, and I wish there were more representations of such relationships when it comes to Asian dads in diaspora, who tend to be stereotyped as distant or controlling.

Asiya’s relationship with her younger brother was also a surprising positive. Although he definitely has his annoying brother moments, he still respects her, and Asiya in turn stands up for him when their parents disparage him over his academic performance. She’s the one to validate him and what he brings to the table in terms of talents and skills. This is so important in an Asian diaspora narrative because I think second generation kids internalize so many toxic beliefs about the value of grades, where we’re not just being encouraged to succeed in our education but are punished for every mistake made, to the point where we feel like we’re never good enough because of some numbers and letters.

There were a lot of little moments like this, little critiques of the harmful norms and practices around Asiya, including Islamophobia, body-shaming, and even the theft of indigenous children by the government. It was like an Easter Egg hunt for little nuggets of Keeping It Real.

The mystery elements didn’t take a backseat to all of this, of course. Between the different competing murder suspects and the obstacles to Asiya’s attempts at investigating, there was plenty of suspense to go around. The clues were laid out very cleverly to spring one on the reader when the dots are connected to reveal the whole picture. Maybe I’m not that great at piecing things together, but I definitely did not expect the answer to the whodunnit question.

And then at the end of the book, I got a cliffhanger that just ruined me. I’m eagerly anticipating the second book, Mutaweenies and Other Muslim Girl Problems!

For problematic content, I did notice issues with how Nate was portrayed with respect to his supposed OCD, which I wasn’t sure was intended to be clinical OCD/OCPD or just a personality thing that was described hyperbolically as OCD. However, I saw from Glaiza’s review that this part was edited out of the final edition, so that shouldn’t be an issue for most of you.

That issue aside, there were four other things. First was a place where Asiya’s remarks about Michael were heteronormative and exclusionary toward asexual people regarding his assumed sexual history. Second was the use of “opposite sex,” which excludes non-binary people. The third issue I picked up on was when Asiya said she heard a “male voice,” even though you can’t and shouldn’t assume someone’s gender based on how they sound. Better wording would have been to describe the pitch and texture of the voice without automatically gendering it as male or female. The last was the labeling of the culprit as “crazy,” which I found to be disappointing because there are ways to express that someone is terrible without stigmatizing mental illness.

*If you’d like to read some #ownvoices reviews from Muslim readers, here are a few:

Saadia Faruqi | Ayah Assem | Ruzaika Deen

Recommendation: Recommended for those looking for a good mystery that’s equal parts funny, heartfelt, and suspenseful.

Review for The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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Note: I read this book as part of the #DiversityDecBingo reading challenge. You can find my list of books that I read and the links to the reviews for those books here.

Note 2: Parts of this review were originally published as a part of my Favorite Books of 2016 post or showed up in the #DSFFBookClub discussion during December 2016.

My Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world in which tectonic shifts have merged all land masses into one continent, Ashala Wolf is a leader of a Tribe of young Illegals, children who manifest supernatural powers that are seen as a threat to the sacred Balance of the world. A mission gone awry results in Ashala’s capture, and she must resist the government’s attempt to forcibly take her memories from her to use against the Tribe and escape the clutches of people who see her as an abomination.

Review:

This was one of the last books I read in 2016 but also among my favorites. I’ll admit that one of the gaps in the scope of my reading is indigenous authors (Native American or otherwise), so I was glad to find this gem by an indigenous Australian (Pylaku) author in my favorite genre (SFF).

One of the things I really liked about this book was the worldbuilding. People with supernatural abilities are mostly seen as a threat and are classified as “Illegal,” but it’s a little bit more complicated and nuanced than that. There are some whose powers are mild and/or useful enough for them to be granted exceptions by the government and thus exploited. And there are others that can “pass” as normal and therefore slide under the radar. I can’t help but think about the parallels that can be drawn between this system and systems of oppression in the real world, whether it’s assimilation into the dominant group, attempts to “pass” as a member of the dominant group, or striving to become more “acceptable” to the dominant group in some way.

Ashala’s character is descended from the indigenous people of former Australia (“former” because in the story, all of the continents collided and reshaped to form a supercontinent). Although the story is supposed to take place in a “post-racial” world, it isn’t completely divorced from real world notions of difference in terms of culture/ethnicity/race. Ashala in particular is able to communicate with a powerful divine entity, the Grandfather Serpent, who is among the creators of her ancestral people and the Firstwood, where she and her Tribe take shelter. Her conversation and relationship with the Grandfather Serpent and the Firstwood anchor the story in a deeply spiritual place. That was an aspect of the story I really enjoyed.

The structure of the story is nonlinear since it takes you backward in time multiple times as more of her memories are revealed. Moreover, there’s unreliable narration. The misdirection is written so skillfully that you don’t realize just how much you’ve been tricked until the reveal comes along and yanks the carpet out from under you. It’s layered in such a way that each new memory shifts your perspective and what you understand to be true.

Although there are many books that tackle the question of human progress vs. nature, this one stood out to me in the execution. The idea of balance is normalized into an ideology that structure the society and politics of the dystopia. Moreover, the narrative calls into question whether the dichotomy of humanity vs. nature is really valid, and whether what we view as “unnatural” is necessarily bad.

As far as problematic content goes, most of it was minor. There was one place where a character’s eyes were described as “almond-shaped,” which is a stereotypical shorthand for East Asian features that I wish would die in a fire. In another, the narrative used “his or her,” thereby excluding non-binary people. The more repetitive issue was ableism. One of the villains was described as mad and necessarily mad in order to do the morally depraved things she did. That was the one damper on this otherwise great book.

Issues aside, I’m eager to read the sequel, The Disappearance of Ember Crow. The third book, The Foretelling of Georgie Spider, is coming out on May 9th in the U.S.

Recommendation: A good book for people looking for diverse SFF in YA.

Common Cover Theme Thursday: Arches

After buying and reading several books by South Asian authors (specifically Indian and Pakistani), it became apparent that the arch is a common motif. It’s definitely eye-catching, though maybe a bit overused? In the case of A Torch Against the Night, it’s more incidental than a deliberate evocation of an aesthetic associated with South Asia.

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Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman – YA, historical fiction

Set against the background of India’s independence movement, Climbing the Stairs tells the story of Vidya, who has ambitions to attend university. Her move to her grandfather’s house means living by their restrictive rules where the men and women are segregated in the household. However, she breaks the rules by spending her days in the second-floor library and comes to know Raman, who lives in the house as well and nurtures and respects her intellectual curiosity. Then her brother does the unthinkable, and her world is turned upside down.

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Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi – Literary fiction, historical fiction

Spanning decades from the mid 20th century to the early 200s, this book begins when Kokila is engaged at a young age to a stranger. Given the chance, she decides to back out of the marriage and remain at the local ashram (monastery) instead. This decision sets the course for the rest of her life living among a complex family of women who share in their statuses as outcasts. Note: The story is set in a Telugu-speaking area in India. (Trigger/content warnings noted in my review linked above)

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The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – Literary fiction, retelling

This one is still on my TBR. It’s a retelling of the Mahabharata, which is one of the two major Sanskrit epics, the other being the Ramayana. In this retelling, the story is narrated from the perspective of Panchaali, who has five husbands, the Pandavas brothers, who are out to reclaim a birthright that was stolen from them. Aside from telling a tale of war and strife, it explores Panchaali’s relationship with her mother-in-law, a complicated friendship, and her secret attraction to a man who is forbidden.

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir – YA, fantasy

In this second installment to An Ember in the Ashes, Laia and Elias are on the run together and on a quest to free Laia’s brother from the highest security prison of the Martial Empire. With pursuers on their heel and a near-impossible mission before them, it will take all of their strength and their wits to prevail. (Notes: Author is Muslim Pakistani American; some of the cultures/fantasy elements in the book are based on Middle Eastern/North African cultures)

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Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – YA, contemporary

Naila’s parents have given her a lot of freedom to do as she wants, but the one thing they are adamant about is that she cannot date. When they find out that she has been seeing Saif in secret, they respond by hauling her off to Pakistan, supposedly to get her to reconnect with their heritage. Soon, Naila realizes what her parents intend for her–an arranged marriage to a stranger–and finds herself trapped and desperate to escape.

My Most Anticipated Sequels and Cover Reveals of 2017

So I already made two different anticipated 2017 release posts (YA, MG), but I wanted to make a post dedicated to the sequels being released this year that I’m looking forward to since I’m definitely a big series reader. In addition, I wanted to gush about which book releases whose cover reveals I’m looking forward to seeing, whether because the previous books in the series are gorgeous and have set the bar high or because the premise creates possibilities for breathtaking visuals.

Note: As usual, I’ve linked my reviews for prequels I’ve read and the rest are links to Goodreads.

the-ship-beyond-timeThe Ship Beyond Time (The Girl from Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig (out Feb. 28th) – YA, fantasy

So The Girl from Everywhere captivated me with its diverse cast, headstrong protagonist, and lush portrayal of 19th century Hawaii. Apparently, some trollspeople felt the diversity was unrealistic, to which I say, you have a magical pirate ship that can literally travel to any time and any place, including fictional ones, and you’re expecting everyone to be cis, straight, white, abled, etc.? That speaks more to the limits of people’s imaginations than anything else. I, for one, am eager to see where Nix and the Temptation’s diverse crew’s adventures take them next in this sequel. I already pre-ordered the book, so I’m just sitting here waiting for it to drop into my mailbox. Also, for U.S. and Canada folks, there’s a pre-order giveaway for a pin shaped like the Temptation, a map of New York City, and a TSBT bookmark, so hop on that if you like bookish goodies. I have mine already. 😀

a-crown-of-wishesA Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2) by Roshani Chokshi (out Mar. 28th) – YA, fantasy

So, I actually have the eARC for this book, so I’ll probably read it before it’s even released. I read the first book prior to starting my blog, so it’s still sitting on my immensely long backlog of books to review. If you had told me that one of my favorite characters would be a talking, carnivorous horse before I went into The Star-Touched Queen, I would’ve looked at you funny, but that’s what happened. The Star-Touched Queen is a beautifully written and romantic tale steeped in Hindu lore that explores the nature of destiny and whether there is room for agency when the threads of fate command your life. It was full of surprising twists, and the ending really got me, in a good way. A Crown of Wishes focuses on a different but related set of characters from TSTQ, specifically Maya’s sister Gauri and her dealings with Vikram, who is mentioned in TSTQ, as they set aside their enmity as rival monarchs and attempt to win a dangerous, high-stakes contest where the prize is the granting of a wish (and you know what they say, be careful what you wish for).

I also really love the covers for this series. They really capture the feeling of the books perfectly, in my opinion.

always-and-forever-lara-jeanAlways and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han (out May 2nd) – YA, contemporary

I got To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before signed/personalized by Jenny Han at the Texas Teen Book Festival in 2015, which is also the year that I read TATBILB and P.S. I Still Love You. The main character, Lara Jean Song (technically her last name is Covey, but because of the Song sisters thing, I like using Song) drew me in for a number of reasons, among them her position as a middle child between two sisters and an Asian American. Some people have criticized her character as being too innocent and naive, but those aspects of her are in fact what make her relatable to me. My parents never really gave me The Talk; I read about what sex was in an encyclopedia, and then my high school friends had to bring me up to speed with various Teenage Things. I was very innocent at Lara Jean’s age, and being the second child meant that I didn’t have the same sense of responsibility and independence as my older sister, as was the case with Lara Jean and Margot.

Anyway, once I found out that there was going to be a third book about Lara Jean, I was so thrilled because I’d been hoping for more. I’m really excited to see how her character further matures as she prepares to go off to college, and I’m wondering how her relationships with the people around her change.

Also, another thing I love about this series is the cover photos. They were custom-shot for the the series, and they feature someone of the correct race/ethnicity (biracial white/Korean American), and it’s the same model throughout. After suffering through so many terrible, lazy, or straight-up whitewashed covers for books with Asian protagonists, the covers for this series were a Gift. Seriously. Also, for those who are curious, the model is Helen Chin. You can find her on Instagram here.

dove-alightDove Alight (The Dove Chronicles #3) by Karen Bao (out May 23rd) – YA, science fiction

This third book in the Dove Chronicles brings the series to a close. I just read and reviewed the first book, Dove Arising, recently, and I’m ready to dive into the second book once I’m done with all eight of the books I’m partway through. The Dove Chronicles are a diverse science fiction series with a Chinese [American] protagonist living in a colony on the Moon whose personal mission to better her family’s circumstances becomes political when she’s exposed to the dark side of the government. If you’re looking for diverse YA scifi, try this one out.

Heroine Worship (Heroine Complex #2) by Sarah Kuhn (out July 4th) – NA, SFF

I still need to review Heroine Complex, but it was one of my favorite books of 2016. In this series, we get not one, but THREE Asian American heroines. Book 1 was about Evie Tanaka, biracial Japanese American with quarter-life crisis, discovering her powers and stepping into the spotlight, out of the shadow of her best friend, the local superheroine and media darling Aveda Jupiter. In this second book, Aveda Jupiter, real name Annie Chang (Chinese American), is the protagonist. I’m curious to see how my perspective on her character will change now that she’s the viewpoint character because she came off as a huge drama queen in the first book from Evie’s point of view. She was competent at the ass-kicking business but a bit much to deal with on a interpersonal level.

The Speaker (The Sea of Ink and Gold #2) by Traci Chee (out Sep. 12th) – YA, science fiction

Despite being from the Big 5, I feel like The Reader was underhyped compared to other YA fantasy series. Apparently, people who read The Reader were polarized into loved-it or hated-it camps, and obviously I’m in the Loved It! camp. I thought the premise and the plotting was extremely original, and the characters won me over, especially Sefia and Archer and their cute but deep bond. The Big Reveal at the end was mind-blowing, and now I’m curious as to how Sefia and Archer are doing in the aftermath of everything that has happened (Narrator voice: there was A Lot that Happened).

The Reader is another example of a cover illustration that I love. The colors, the gold lines, the book motif, the Asian girl front and center, just stunning. I’m really hoping they use the same cover artist for The Speaker and Book 3, and I can’t wait to see how those cover illustrations turn out. *fingers crossed* The illustrator for The Reader is Yohey Horishita, a Japanese artist based in NYC. There’s a peek at the original artwork here. (Also, it warms my heart when they have Asian artists do the cover art for books with Asian MCs by Asian authors.)

Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper #2) by Daniel José Older (out Sep. 12th) – YA, fantasy

Another sequel to a book I’ve read but not yet reviewed, oops. I talked a bit about Shadowshaper in my Favorite Books of 2016 post, but long story short, it’s urban fantasy that’s by, about, and for black and brown POC that blends the supernatural with the realistic. It uses art (visual art, music, etc.) as the basis of magic and also spares none in its critiques of cultural appropriation, colorism, and so on. The author has explicitly stated that Shadowhouse Fall is a protest novel, and it’s going to be more magical and more political than its predecessor, which has me begging for the release date to come sooner.

Also, the cover for Book 1 was breathtaking, so I’m expecting Book 2’s cover to be more of the same.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (out Sep. 26th) – YA, fantasy

I actually won a pre-order of this book through a giveaway, and up until then I hadn’t known about its existence, but I’m glad I found it. It’s a fantasy story based on Nigerian culture, set in a world where guilty emotions manifest a physical form, known as sin-beasts, and special people, the aki, are trained to eat the sin-beasts in order to get rid of them. Talk about creepy but amazing, right? There aren’t nearly enough Black boy protagonists in YA or in fantasy, so this is a welcome addition.

Needless to say, if they don’t put a Black boy on the cover, I’m going to be extremely disappointed because as many have pointed out, there are so few stories about Black boys that don’t involve heavy real-life issues of systemic violence like police brutality and racial profiling. They deserve to see themselves in stories that are magical.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie Dao (out Oct. 10th) – YA, fantasy

Now, here is the first debut book on this list. If you’re following me on Twitter you probably already know how pumped I am for this book. It’s a retelling of the story of the Evil Queen from Snow White that’s based on Chinese folklore. I mean just read the blurb. If that’s any indication, it’s going to be a Tale of Epic Proportions. If you’re still not over The Young Elites coming to an end and want a new diverse villain story, check this out.

I’m really hoping that the cover features a Chinese girl front and center looking magical and badass. I hope it’s colorful and poster-worthy. I hope it knocks the socks off the other fantasy books coming out this year that feature more of the usual white girl fare. (Not even sorry.)

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Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2) by Tara Sim (out Nov. 7th) – YA, fantasy

Timekeeper was one of my favorite reads of 2016, and now we finally have a title for the sequel! As I mentioned in my post on Supporting Characters Who Need Their Own Book(s), this second installment will take place in India, which means the author will get to flex some of her #ownvoices muscles. While I love Danny and Colton, I’m really, really hoping to see stuff from Daphne’s point of view as a biracial Indian girl visiting and experiencing her family’s homeland. I think that would mean a lot to multiracial and/or diaspora readers who feel estranged from their heritage.

Based on the cover of the first book, it seems like they’ve opted for object-focused illustrations, so I’m expecting something in a similar vein for the cover of Book 2, hopefully as bold, textured, and atmospheric as the first.

Circle Unbroken (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova (out in November) – YA, fantasy

There has been so much buzz about Labyrinth Lost and its bi Latina protagonist in my circles that I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read it yet. However, I have made steps toward remedying that, and I now own a copy of the book. It is on my TBR, and hopefully I will get to it in March, after I get through my Black History Month TBR. Labyrinth Lost tells the story of Alex, whose attempt to rid herself of the magic that runs in her family of brujas (witches) backfires.

The cover for Labyrinth Lost is quite eye-catching and memorable, so I have high hopes for the sequel to deliver on that front.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee (out fall/winter 2017) – YA, fantasy

Another debut novel! The description for this book is very 0 to 100: a Chinese American teen girl is worried about the usual high school problems like standardized tests and college apps when suddenly she discovers she can break the Gates of Heaven with her fists. Damn. I need this book yesterday.

If they don’t feature a Chinese American girl for the cover illustration being badass (and breaking things?) I am going to flip a few tables.

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (Peasprout Chen #1) by Henry Lien (out fall 2017) – MG, fantasy

This one is a middle grade debut. The author has previously released various short stories, and this is his first full-length novel. It’s the first book in a fantasy series featuring a girl who competes in a [fictional] sport called Wu Liu, combining the “wu” from 武術/wushu (martial arts) and the “liu” from 溜冰/liubing (ice skating) to give you martial arts on ice! Honestly, given the success of Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi in the 90s all the way up to today’s Karen Chen, Nathan Chen, and several other Asian American top figure skaters, an Asian American ice skating story is long overdue.

(The author is Taiwanese and Chen is the most common Taiwanese last name, so I’m high-key hoping the MC is Taiwanese.)

Also the cover photo potential! You can get a taste of the aesthetic it entails from the bibliography page of the author’s website.

Not Your Villain (Not Your Sidekick #2) by C.B. Lee (out summer 2017) – YA, SFF

Bells from Not Your Sidekick would have been on my Supporting Characters Who Need Their Own Book(s) list, except I don’t even need to ask for it because he is already getting his own book! Bells is a trans boy, and he’s a Black Creole of Color. In Not Your Villain, he takes center stage in trying to fighting corruption among the superhero league while surviving high school and working up the courage to tell his best friend Emma that he’s in love with her.

The cover for Not Your Sidekick had a distinct style and texture, and the book included interior chapter header illustrations by the same artist. I’m hoping that pattern continues since the first book had featured Jess looking at once mundane in her dress but also heroic in her posture and expression, striking a balance between down-to-earth and larger-than-life. If we have a Bells version of that same aesthetic, my bookish heart will be happy.


And after skimming through this list, it is very apparent that I’m biased toward fantasy. Or maybe there are just more fantasy series?

February TBR and Book List: #ReadYourResistance and Black History Month

I decided a while back to do some mini themed reading challenges in 2017 that I create for myself in order to make it easier to pick what to read next out of a few hundred titles on my TBR. These challenges follow various history, heritage, and awareness months in the U.S. Though this decision predates and wasn’t inspired by #ReadYourResistance, it ties in neatly with that hashtag, which symbolizes a commitment to reading books by marginalized voices to challenge the dominant narratives that dehumanize them and to fight the increase in persecution of marginalized people under Trump’s regime.

February is Black History Month, so most of my TBR will be books by Black authors. Aside from the books I want to read for the month of February, I’m also listing January and February releases by Black authors, some already released books by Black authors on my 2017 TBR that I won’t get to in February, and books featuring Black characters (mostly #ownvoices) that are coming out later this year. And lastly, I’ll list a few February releases by non-black authors that I’m looking forward to.

(Note: Release dates are U.S. release dates.)

Books by Black Authors I Plan to Read in February

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Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

This book is a sort-of Snow White retelling that tackles the complex issue of mixed race identity and “passing” for white, with critical attention to racialized beauty standards. I’d already seen it here and there, and when Barnes & Noble was selling a copy at a reduced price a few months ago, I snatched it up. I’ve heard that there is some problematic content, so I’ll be on the lookout for that so I can discuss it in my review.

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

I was first introduced to her through two different TED talks, one on feminism, the other on the “danger of a single story” and stereotyping. I read We Should All Be Feminists about a year or two ago and have been meaning to read the rest of her work. Americanah shall be that first step toward that goal. It’s a story of race, romance, and immigration that spans three continents, Africa (Lagos, Nigeria), North America, and Europe (London, England).

All of Nnedi Okorafor’s books, aside from Akata Witch, which I read in December last year.

She writes both YA and adult SFF and has won multiple awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Awards, among others) for her books. She’s Nigerian (Igbo) American and draws on her Nigerian heritage and West African cultures for her work.

  •  Zahrah the Windseeker – YA, fantasy, in the kingdom of Ooni, those born with the dadalocks are feared for their powers. Zahrah is one such person, and when her friend Dari is endangered, she is forced to confront the things that make her different
  • The Shadow Speaker – YA, science fiction, in 2070 Niger, a young woman seeks revenge for her father’s murder and finds herself on a trans-Saharan quest to save her people from a force that threatens to annihilate them all
  • Binti – Science fiction, when Binti becomes the first of her people to be accepted at the prestigious Oomza, the best university in the galaxy, she must leave her family and travel among people who neither understand nor respect her culture
  • Binti: Home (Sequel to Binti)
  • Kabu-Kabu – Anthology, SFF, a collection of short stories that take you to far-flung places of magic, adventure, and danger
  • Who Fears Death – Science fiction, as a biracial child of rape, Onyesonwu (“Who Fears Death?”) faces prejudice wherever she goes. However, she has great powers and an even greater destiny
  • The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death #2)
  • Lagoon – Science fiction – after a large object crashes into the sea on the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, three people from different walks of life must work together to save the country they love

All of N.K. Jemisin’s books.

Also a multi-award-winning author (the Hugo and the Locus). She has three different adult SFF series so far.

The Inheritance Trilogy:

  1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Yeine Darr hails from the north, and when her mother dies, she is summoned to the city of Sky, ruled by the Arameri family and named an heir to the king. However, her ascendance isn’t a given, and she must compete for the throne with many cousins.
  2. The Broken Kingdoms
  3. The Kingdom of Gods

The Dreamblood Duology:

  1. The Killing Moon – In the city of Gujaareh, the Gatherers maintain order by harnessing the power of sleeping minds to heal and kill those deemed corrupt. Peace reigns until Ehiru, the most famous of these Gatherers, realizes that someone is killing innocents in the name of the Goddess.
  2. The Shadowed Sun

The Broken Earth Trilogy:

  1. The Fifth Season – Chaos has struck in just one day. An empire falls, a continent rends in two, spewing ash to blacken the sky, and in a small town, a woman named Essun loses her son to murder and her daughter to kidnapping at the hands of her own husband. Resources are scarce, everyone is fighting for their survival, and Essun will do anything to save her daughter, even if it means breaking the world itself.
  2. The Obelisk Gate
  3. Book 3 is not out yet, but it’s called The Stone Sky and is releasing later this year on August 17th!

Two books by Octavia Butler.

Octavia Butler is one of the most well-known Black women in science fiction. Her books are considered classics by some and overlooked by many because of racism/misogynoir, of course. Here are my two picks:

  • Kindred – Described as a “combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction,” this book is about an African American woman who travels backward in time in order to save her own ancestor.
  • Parable of the Sower Given the current state of affairs in U.S. politics, it feels appropriate for me to read a dystopian novel by a Black woman.

Parable of the Sower is the #DSFFBookClub (Diverse Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, hosted by Naz at Read Diverse Books) pick for February, so if you want to read and participate in a discussion at the end of the month, definitely join us. 😀

January Releases and February Releases by Black Authors

  • Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson – MG, historical fiction, a fictionalized account of the Emmett Till case through the perspective of a young black girl in Jim Crow era Mississippi
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson – YA, contemporary, tackles systemic racism in the American justice system through the story of a Black teen girl in the foster care system who allegedly murdered a baby (note: I’ve seen reviews/comments from diverse book bloggers about problematic content re: homophobia, rape apologism, anti-Indian racism, etc., so be careful if you are planning to read this)
  • The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley – MG, contemporary, three kids, Elvin, Jin, and Alex, work together to solve the mystery of what happened to Elvin’s grandfather, only to stumble on priceless artworks that might just save their neighborhood from gentrification by a wealthy politician
  • Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (out Feb. 14th) – YA, contemporary, addresses the intersections of racism, classism, sexism, sizeism/fatphobia and more through the story of a Black girl who attends an elite, mostly white school
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi (out Feb. 14th) – YA, contemporary, focuses on a Haitian American immigrant girl trying to fit in and her mother’s undocumented immigration experience
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (out Feb. 28th) – YA, contemporary, a novel inspired by Black Lives Matter that addresses police brutality and systemic antiblack racism through the story of a girl who witnesses an unarmed friend’s fatal shooting at the hands of police

Later 2017 Releases by Black Authors

  • One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson (out June 6th; Black author) – MG, magical realism, the story of a Senegalese boy dealing with the difficulty of keeping his family together and honoring a promise to his deceased father after he and his sisters are orphaned
  • Solo by Kwame Alexander (out July 25th; Black Author) – YA, contemporary, a novel-in-verse about a Black teen whose father is a famous musician with an addiction problem as he explores family secrets and forbidden love
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (out Aug. 8th; Black author) – YA, contemporary, a Black Jewish girl moves back home to L.A., helps her brother with his bipolar disorder, and falls in love with the same girl he loves
  • Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (out Sep. 26th; Nigerian American author) – YA, fantasy, a debut novel featuring a talented young sin-eater who is called upon to eat the sin-beast of a royal, only to find himself caught in a web of political intrigue that puts the life of the princess he loves at stake
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone (out Oct. 17th; Black author) – YA, contemporary, a incisive story about police brutality from the perspective of a Black teen whose status at the top of his elite prep school doesn’t prevent him from being racially profiled
  • My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi (release date TBA; Haitian American author) – MG, historical fiction, a young Black scifi geek girl tries to find a place to belong in the 80s hip-hop explosion in Harlem
  • Akata Warrior (Sequel to Akata Witch) by Nnedi Okorafor (release date TBA; Nigerian American author) – MG/YA, fantasy, no blurb yet, but I’m sure Sunny and her friends return for another juju-filled adventure

Already Released Books by Black Authors I’d Like to Read in 2017

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – MG, memoir, novel-in-verse, tells the story of the author’s experience growing up as a Black girl in the Civil Rights era of the 60s and 70s and the joy she found in words and writing
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert – YA, contemporary, a story of a Black ballerina that addresses heavy topics like eating disorders and child sexual abuse
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds – YA, contemporary, a young Black teen deals with the loss of his mother and his absent father’s alcoholism while working at a funeral home and meets a girl who gives him hope
  • This Side of Home by Renée Watson – YA, contemporary, identical twins Nikki and Maya start to diverge when they go off to attend college at a historically black college and develop different opinions on the importance of home and their ethnicity and culture
  • Endangered by Lamar Giles – YA, contemporary, a Black teen runs an anonymous blog on her high school’s scandals and ends up drawn into a deadly game by someone who threatens to expose her identity
  • Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin – YA, contemporary, a Haitian American girl struggles to live a normal life and change her situation for the better after her abusive father is taken away
  • All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds – YA, contemporary, a Black teen, Rashad, is beaten by the police for supposedly stealing when he didn’t, a white teen, Quinn, witnesses it, and when the incident becomes national news and the center of a debate on police brutality and systemic racism, all of a sudden Quinn’s silence is no longer just a personal choice
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – MG, contemporary, this novel-in-verse tells the tale of twins Josh and Jordan as they play basketball and learn lessons about life both on and off the court
  • Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid – YA, contemporary, interracial romance (Black girl, Korean boy), when Drea’s parents disappear, her perfect girl facade as junior class valedictorian begins to crumble and she finds herself in the company of delinquents from her school who share more in common with her than one might expect

Nonfiction Books About Black Women

  • Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More – in this memoir, Janet Mock, a Black trans woman activist, talks about her transition and the struggles to live her life as her authentic self
  • Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland – in her memoir, ballet prodigy Misty Copeland recounts her path from living in a motel room to becoming a successful professional dancer and the first Black principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – in this historical biography, Margot Lee Shetterly tells the stories of four extraordinary Black women (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden), who worked at NASA during the height of the Space Race and an era of segregation and Jim Crow laws and made monumental contributions to their field
  • Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles – Gymnastics champion and Olympian Simone Biles shares the story of her journey to becoming a gymnast with the help of faith and family
  • Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia Mckenzie – in this honest, humorous, and accessible essay anthology, popular blogger and activist Mia McKenzie shares stories about intersectionality, identity, activism, and allyship from the perspective of a queer Black woman

Some Highly Anticipated February Book Releases by Non-Black Authors

  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (out Feb. 7th; Korean American author) – YA, fantasy, An atmospheric retelling that chronicles the life of a girl after she trades her life to save her sister’s and binds herself to the Goblin King in marriage
  • Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza (out Feb. 7th; Filipina American author) – YA, SFF, an intergalactic adventure of political intrigue, war, and vengeance that brings together two people from very different walks of life, one a princess, the other a war refugee turned superstar
  • The Education of Margot Sanchez (out Feb. 21st; Puerto Rican author) – YA, contemporary, a Puerto Rican girl in the Bronx learns a lesson about privilege and gentrification when she gets into trouble borrowing her dad’s credit card
  • The Ship Beyond Time (Sequel to The Girl from Everywhere) by Heidi Heilig (out Feb. 28th; biracial white/Chinese American author) – YA, fantasy, Nix and the diverse crew of the Temptation are back for another time-traveling adventure

Supporting Characters Who Need Their Own Book(s)

A common phenomenon that happens in a publishing industry that is skewed toward cis straight white people is that so often the representation marginalized folks get is table scraps in the form of side characters. Not only are they marginalized by society, they’re often marginalized by the fictional narratives they exist in. For this reason, I wanted to round up some side/supporting characters who I wished had books/stories of their own where they take center stage. For most, I’ve included either fanart or a picture I’ve picked as a fancast representing how I’d imagine the character. If you click on the fanart/fancasts you’ll see a description of the model’s background or artist credits where applicable.

Note: I couldn’t think of any side characters with disabilities that I could include in this, but if I think of any later on, I’ll add them.

the-inside-of-out

Hannah from The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne – YA, contemporary

I definitely bought this book because of the queer Asian girl on the cover. The story is told from the perspective of a cishet white girl who’s Hannah’s best friend, and it does explore a lot of the common pitfalls of allyship, but unfortunately Hannah took a backseat to the main character’s Good Intentions. Because of that, I want a book about Hannah’s side of things, about her experience as a biracial, Vietnamese American lesbian.

Risha from Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee – YA, science fiction, thriller

The main character of Zeroboxer is Carr, who’s a professional zero-gravity prizefighter and ethnically mixed/ambiguous as is common for scifi protagonists since they’re supposed to represent the end result of the “melting pot.” Risha is his brandhelm, or marketing and public relations manager, and girlfriend. She is half-Martian and of Asian descent (in an interview, the author mentioned that much of the Martian colonies was populated by descendants of people from Asian countries affected by overpopulation, so I imagine her as being a mix of Indian and Chinese) and feels like she doesn’t belong with either Terrans or Martians. Unfortunately, she comes off as kind of an accessory to Carr’s character and is largely seen through the male gaze. She’s intelligent and graceful and I wish I knew more of her perspective as someone with a hybrid identity, an experience I relate to a lot as an Asian American.

Nara from The Prophecy Trilogy/The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh – YA, fantasy

Nara was one of my favorite supporting characters from the Prophecy trilogy. She’s a fox demon whose greatest desire is to experience being human. I wanted to know more about her background and her adventures after the events of the series, whether she had any luck finding love or companionship. (I emailed the author about the lack of queer rep in the series except for one minor character who was heavily implied to be gay, and she told me that Nara’s character was supposed to be a lesbian, but that was edited out because she was on a tight deadline didn’t want to risk getting Nara’s representation wrong, so I’m 100% headcanoning her as queer.)

Zhen Ni from Serpentine and Sacrifice by Cindy Pon – YA, fantasy

Zhen Ni, the MC Skybright’s mistress and best friend, is a lesbian and I wanted to see more of her relationship with Lan and other girls. She’s a supporting character in the first book and then a viewpoint character in the second. SPOILER (highlight to see): She ends up with someone at the end of the series but there’s very little about the details of her relationship and how she got into it, just a brief summary of it as she tells it to Skybright. She also raises an adoptive daughter who’s a demon, and I wanted to know more about her mothering adventures. END SPOILER

Raffaele Laurent Bessette from The Young Elites Trilogy by Marie Lu – YA, fantasy

My favorite gorgeous queer guy. I want to know more about his relationship with (and sadly, one-sided love for) Enzo prior to the events of The Young Elites and what he’s up to after the events of The Midnight Star. Raffaele is a sex worker, and while his clients include men and women, the author’s out-of-text comments seem to point to him being gay. I originally read him as bi though, maybe because I really want bi rep. (On a related note: I was disappointed by the way sex work was treated by the narrative in The Young Elites. During a conversation between Adelina and Raffaele, it was said that nobody would ever choose to be a sex worker, which erases the agency of sex workers who aren’t trafficked/coerced into the work. I want more narratives that are nuanced and center sex workers and portray the diversity of experiences they have.)

Whit Wu from The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee – YA, contemporary, magical realism

Stacey Lee took a departure from her established pattern by not featuring a Chinese American protagonist in The Secret of a Heart Note. However, one of the supporting characters is the handsome and talented Asian (most likely Chinese or Taiwanese based on the last name) American soccer player, Whit Wu. It was mentioned during the narrative that Court, Mim’s crush, got a magazine cover shoot because he looked more “all-American,” i.e. white, even though Whit is the more skilled player between them. I really want more stories about Asian Americans playing sports and kicking ass and the struggles they face because of stereotypes. A fictional Jeremy Lin, you might say.

Daphne Richards from Timekeeper by Tara Sim – YA, steampunk/alternate historical fiction, fantasy

Although the main character of Timekeeper is white, there is a supporting character who, like the author herself, is biracial white and Indian and white-passing. That would be Daphne, who is an extremely competent clock mechanic and a total badass who rides around on a motorbike flouting society’s rules about how women should dress and act. Since the story is mostly told from Danny’s point of view, we don’t get to see much of Daphne’s inner world as a WOC. However, the second book of the trilogy, Chainbreaker (coming later this year!), will be set in India, so I’m hoping Daphne will be there and play a larger role in the events.

Bucket from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – NA, urban fantasy

As I mentioned in my review, Last Call has a very diverse cast across the board. Bucket is a trans guy who befriends the protagonist Bailey, and he already transitioned prior to the events of the book, so his storyline isn’t about transitioning. There is one scene where he discloses to Bailey that he’s trans, and it’s written in a way that’s hilarious but not at the expense of trans people. It was probably one of my favorite scenes in the book. Bucket is very much a comedic relief type character, but I’m sure he has his inner demons somewhere, and it would be cool to learn more about how he got into the demon-fighting business. Also, he works at a gay bar, so delving more into that setting as it relates to the story would be a bonus.