Tag Archives: Young Adult

Magic Number 3: SFF YA Trilogies by POC and Indigenous Authors

Even though POC and Indigenous authors are finding success in SFF YA more so than in the past, it’s still hard to find longer series by POC and Indigenous authors, especially ones that are #ownvoices or feature POC and Indigenous characters. I can only think of one prominent SFF YA series by an author of color featuring protagonists of color that’s longer than three books, and that’s An Ember in the Ashes, which is planned for four books total (Book 4 is coming in 2019). Anyway, in order to put the spotlight on some SFF YA series by POC and Indigenous authors, I decided to put together this post of trilogies because I seemed to come across a lot of them in my reading journey. Three is the magic number, I guess. (Note: I’ve included some series that only have 3 books announced so far that may end up being longer.)
Completed Series

 

The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. Legend
  2. Prodigy
  3. Champion

 

The Young Elites by Marie Lu (Chinese American)

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star

 

Blood of Eden by Julie Kagawa (Japanese American)

  1. The Immortal Rules
  2. The Eternity Cure
  3. The Forever Song

 

The Feral Trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation)

  1. Feral Nights
  2. Feral Curse
  3. Feral Pride

 

The Prophecy Series/Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh (Korean American)

  1. Prophecy
  2. Warrior
  3. King

 

The Vicious Deep Trilogy by Zoraida Córdova (Ecuadorian American)

  1. The Vicious Deep
  2. The Savage Blue
  3. The Vast and Brutal Sea

 

The Dove Chronicles by Karen Bao (Chinese American)

  1. Dove Arising
  2. Dove Exile
  3. Dove Alight

 

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki Nation)

  1. Killer of Enemies
  2. Trail of the Dead
  3. Arrow of Lightning

 

Penryn and the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee (Korean American)

  1. Angelfall
  2. World After
  3. End of Days

 

The Tribe Series by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Palyku Nation)

  1. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
  2. The Disappearance of Ember Crow
  3. The Foretelling of Georgie Spider

 

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Puerto Rican)

  1. The Girl at Midnight
  2. The Shadow Hour
  3. The Savage Dawn

 

Forget Tomorrow Trilogy by Pintip Dunn (Thai American)

  1. Forget Tomorrow
  2. Remember Yesterday
  3. Seize Today

 

Ruined by Amy Tintera (Mexican American)

  1. Ruined
  2. Avenged
  3. Allied

 

The Beyond the Red Trilogy by Ava (now known as Gabe) Jae (Latinx)

  1. Beyond the Red
  2. Into the Black
  3. The Rising Gold

 

The Sea of Ink and Gold Trilogy by Traci Chee (Asian American, not sure of exact ethnicity)

  1. The Reader
  2. The Speaker
  3. The Storyteller

 

The Effigies Series by Sarah Raughley (Black)

  1. Fate of Flames
  2. Siege of Shadows
  3. Legacy of Light

Ongoing Series

 

The Timekeeper Trilogy by Tara Sim (Indian American)

  1. Timekeeper
  2. Chainbreaker
  3. Firestarter (out January 15, 2019)

 

The Bone Witch Trilogy by Rin Chupeco (Filipino)

  1. The Bone Witch
  2. The Heart Forger
  3. The Shadow Glass (coming out March 1, 2019)

 

The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel Jose Older (Cuban American)

  1. Shadowshaper
  2. Shadowhouse Fall
  3. Untitled, TBA

 

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigerian American)

  1. Akata Witch
  2. Akata Warrior
  3. Untitled, TBA

Children of Blood and Bone

Legacy of Orïsha by Tomi Adeyemi (Nigerian American)

  1. Children of Blood and Bone
  2. Children of Virtue and Vengeance (coming out March 5, 2019)
  3. Untitled, TBA

Mirage.jpg

Mirage by Somaiya Daud (Moroccan American)

  1. Mirage
  2. Court of Lions (coming out 2019)
  3. Untitled, TBA

A Spark of White Fire

The Celestial Trilogy by Sangu Mandanna (British Indian)

  1. A Spark of White Fire
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

For a Muse of FIre

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig (Chinese American)

  1. For a Muse of Fire
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

Upcoming Series

These series titles are simply the name of the first book since that’s all the info we have on them for now.

The Tiger at Midnight

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (Indian American)

  1. The Tiger at Midnight (out April 23, 2019)
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao (Chinese American)

  1. Blood Heir (out June 4, 2019)
  2. Untitled, TBA
  3. Untitled, TBA
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[Blog Tour] Character Playlists for The Speaker by Traci Chee

Hi again, everyone! In case you didn’t know, The Reader by Traci Chee was one of my favorite books of 2016 (see my review here). The Speaker, which is Book 2 in the trilogy, was one of my favorite books of 2017. The final installment, The Storyteller, is coming out next Tuesday the 13th (in the U.S.).

For the purpose of promoting The Storyteller and its prequels, I signed up for the official blog tour and put together two playlists of five songs each for Sefia and Archer, the two main characters of the series, based on The Speaker and The Reader.

There will be some spoilers involved in the synopsis for The Speaker and my commentary for the songs I chose, so reader discretion is advised. If you have read The Reader and The Speaker, hopefully you’ll enjoy this tribute, and if you haven’t read them [yet], it’s never too late to join the fandom. 🙂

The Book

The Speaker

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, slipping into the safety of the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move. Haunted by painful memories, Archer struggles to overcome the trauma of his past with the impressors, whose cruelty plagues him whenever he closes his eyes. But when Sefia and Archer happen upon a crew of impressors in the wilderness, Archer finally finds a way to combat his nightmares: by hunting impressors and freeing the boys they hold captive.

With Sefia’s help, Archer travels across the kingdom of Deliene rescuing boys while she continues to investigate the mysterious Book and secrets it contains. But the more battles they fight, the more fights Archer craves, until his thirst for violence threatens to transform him from the gentle boy Sefia knows to a grim warrior with a cruel destiny. As Sefia begins to unravel the threads that connect Archer’s fate to her parents’ betrayal of the Guard so long ago, she and Archer must figure out a way to subvert the Guard’s plans before they are ensnared in a war that will pit kingdom against kingdom, leaving their future and the safety of the entire world hanging in the balance.

The Author

Traci Chee

Traci Chee is an all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts. She studied literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog. The Speaker is the second book in the Sea of Ink and Gold trilogy that began with The Reader.

The Playlists

Note: Clicking on the hyperlinks will redirect to YouTube where you can listen to the songs. The translated lyrics I’ve included correspond to the parts of the song that resonate the most with the story and the characters’ feelings. All lyrics translations were done by me unless otherwise specified. Please do not use my translations without my explicit permission.

Sefia’s Playlist

Arranged to arrive on this Earth, yet separated in en route
Are the roads we walk the same?
Looking at the same radiant sun, I suddenly have a premonition
Long-estranged strangers will meet each other

Perhaps it’s that your smile has a similar curve to mine
Perhaps it’s because the constellation you guard is the same as mine
Perhaps it’s that the endless night is especially lonely
So leaning back to back, we wait for dawn

If the night is not dark, why yearn for beautiful dreams?
The breaking of dawn will be the ultimate reward for those who persist
If the night is too dark, then we will close our eyes and gaze
Hoping that if it doesn’t extinguish, it will brighten into starlight in the heart

The first time I encountered you, the overcast sky obscured your side profile
Whatever stories you had, I longed to understand
I feel I understand your uniqueness

Your heart has a wall, but I’ve discovered a window
Sometimes revealing a trace of warm glimmering light
Even if you have a wall, my love will climb onto the windowsill and bloom
Opening the window, you’ll see the sorrow dissolve

Because we can’t fly
The voyage to happiness is long
Inevitably, there are storms ahead of us
That will try to tear apart our tightly gripped hands
If you aren’t afraid, you aren’t troubled, then I won’t fret

When we’ve crossed over the ocean of love
We’ll celebrate that we ultimately never gave up or backed down
On the flourishing shore, the glistening teardrops from the along the way
Will be buried as treasure

This turbulent ocean of love
Has too many, too many sorrowful waves
Let’s not be like that, let’s not regret anything
We have to cross the ocean together
We have to reach the shore together

If at times we lose heart or are disappointed
That’s because we love the other person too much
Who can be skilled in love at the very start?
Who can have a direction when they’ve just embarked?
Not arduous, not difficult, no need to yearn

I’ve fallen in love with you, I’ve fallen in love with you
It’s fated to be you; I’ve failed utterly
I’ve fallen in love with you, I’ve fallen in love with you
It was long prophesied that we would separate, decided that it would be a tragedy

Whatever time Heaven has allotted me
I’ll give it all to you; I’ve forgotten myself
Hurrying in the limited time left in life
Let this moment halt right here

As long as you live another day, I’m willing
No matter if there’s worse news tomorrow
As long as you live another day, my heart
My heart will be satisfied

Archer’s Playlist

  • Heart of Sword ~夜明前 (Before Dawn) – T.M. Revolution
    • This song is one of the ending themes for the anime adaptation of the manga series Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X), which focuses on a samurai who was once a notorious assassin but has since reformed. To me, this song suits Archer’s life after being kidnapped by impressors and forced to live a violent life on the edge, living for the next fight, the next day.
      Here is a translation of the chorus, which I found on AnimeLyrics.com (translated by Rizuchan)

Though I’m alone, I think I can cross over the distant tomorrow
As long as it’s still dawn
These feelings that will rush if they are left alone
And that dream will pass by each other again

Thank the Heavens, thank the Earth
Thank Fate for letting us meet
Ever since I’ve had you, life has been full of miracles
Drifting together, roaming together, interweaving into a brilliant tapestry of memories

Thank the wind, thank the rain
Thank the sunlight for illuminating the earth
Ever since I’ve had you, the world has become very beautiful
Drifting together, roaming together, the years are all filled with drunken sweetness

The sea can dry up, the stones can rot, the sky can collapse, the earth can split
We will stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand

It was you
Who, in the wilderness
In the discouraged mortal world
Let me glimpse you in one glance

It is I
Who doesn’t have a complete heart
Nor am I a perfect person
Able to love you

So you can be infatuated
I can be unrestrained
Neither of us mentioning the hurt we’ve endured
As long as there is a place for us to roam

Tomorrow is the final day to see each other one last time
Let the dawn pass before us
Please settle into sleep before I leave
I fear the feeling of breakups the most

Tomorrow is the final day to see each other one last time
So forget what month, what year it is
When you open your eyes
I will appear one day to say I love you again

[Blog Tour] Review for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Hi, everyone, I’m pleased to be posting again as part of the blog tour for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the ALA annual conference in New Orleans earlier this year. I hope you take some time to check out his book and read my review. 🙂

Cover of Darius the Great is Not Okay: two boys, one with short hair and one with longer curls, sit side by side with their backs to the viewer, overlooking the city of Yazd, Iran. A mosque with twin minarets looms in the distance, cast in a shaft of turquoise (the shaped of the letters of the title) that contrasts with the pale orange color of the buildings and the red sky. The title is rendered in bold white letters.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

My Review:

I’m not sure how best to describe this book except to compare it to a weighted blanket. It settles onto you in a loving embrace and makes you feel at home.

Darius expresses his doubt and his hope so candidly that it makes you want to give him a hug. His use of SFF pop culture references gives him a distinctiveness and nerdy sense of humor that grounds his character.

Darius is someone I can relate to strongly for multiple reasons: being part of diaspora, dealing with depression, and feeling socially estranged from peers. He struggles with feeling adequate and comfortable in his own skin, an experience that has defined pretty much all of my life, so it was hard not to see myself in him.

The depiction of depression in this story resonated with me in a lot of the details, from the neveremding quest for the right meds, to the self consciousness about taking meds and the unhelpful comments from ignorant people and the difficulty talking about it to family because of language and cultural barriers.

The beauty of this book is that it is so incredibly validating of people like me and Darius. Disappointment, insecurity and despair are tempered by warmth, solidarity, and love.

I love the way Darius’s various relationships are portrayed in this book because they feel so nuanced and real in the way he navigates the line separating distance from intimacy. It’s hard to let yourself be vulnerable when you feel under attack from all sides: from your family, from your peers, from your country’s mainstream culture, from your heritage culture. But Darius is given the chance to do that and he gains so much from it. His friendship with Sohrab is so pure and wholesome, and his interactions with his extended family are bittersweet as they try to bridge the gap between them.

Although I’m not Persian/Iranian, there were aspects of the culture that were relatable for me, such as the centrality of food in all occasions, the range and specificity of familial terms, and the concept of taarof, whose Taiwanese equivalent I just tweeted about the day before reading the book.😂

On a different note, this is one of the few books I’ve read where boys are allowed to be sensitive, to cry, to feel the emotional spectrum fully without the narrative shaming them, and I really appreciate that given the prevalence of toxic masculinity in fictional boys.

Overall, I have to say this is one of my favorite contemporary reads of the year, and i confess it made me tear up near the end in a key scene, so I’m recommending it wholeheartedly.

Content/Trigger Warnings: bullying, homo-antagonism, Islamophobia, fat/body/food-shaming, ableism

AUTHOR BIO:

Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle (SCY) under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. This is his first novel.

[Blog Tour] Review for Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Title: Star-Touched Stories

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 7th, 2018

Those who have read my reviews of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes know that I adored them, so when I found out about Star-Touched Stories, my heart leapt with excitement. Now that I’ve read it, I can say it lived up to my expectations.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the ARC I received from the publisher as part of the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes, so reader discretion is advised. I strongly recommend reading The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes before reading Star-Touched Stories.

Each of the three stories blends fantasy and romance and builds upon the world from TSTQ and ACOW.

Death and Night is the swoony tale of courtship between Maya and Amar from The Star-Touched Queen, taking the reader back to when they first met lifetimes ago. The two immortal beings Death and Night are hated and feared by many in the mortal realm and Otherworld alike for their dark natures, but in each other they find beauty, passion, and possibility.

Even knowing how things would end, I still felt the thrill of suspense and tension. I read this story already when it was first released by itself as an e-book novella, and I savored it again on the second read-through. It makes me want to reread The Star-Touched Queen with fresh eyes and attend to the dramatic irony that will appear now that I have the backstory.

Poison and Gold centers on Aasha, the curious and earnest vishakanya from A Crown of Wishes, taking her from supporting role to the forefront. As she is adjusting to her new life in the mortal realm among humans, she is offered a position as Gauri and Vikram’s Spy Mistress. However, the title and responsibility must be earned and approved by the current Spy Mistress of Bharata, Zahril, who is mysterious, proud, and nearly impossible to please. Driven by ambition and the desire to help her friends, Aasha rises to the challenge of training under Zahril, and in the process, finds herself and first love.

If you like puzzles and brain teasers, this story is riddled with them (pun intended). Poison and Gold is a coming-of-age story that gives Aasha satisfying depth and development as she evolves from rough and awkward stone to gleaming polished gem.

Last but not least is Rose and Sword, which alternates between past and present as a young princess of Bharata-Ujijain (alternatively called Bharat-Jain on the back cover, I’m assuming the inconsistency will be corrected in the final version) named Hira listens to her grandmother tell a tale about Gauri’s wedding night, when she discovers Vikram is fated to die that very night. Just as she is about to give up hope, Gauri is presented with a chance to bring Vikram back from the dead, but taking it means braving the dangers of Naraka as well as the faults of the human heart. With great love comes great risk, and Gauri must make a choice about whether the risk is worth the outcome.

Alternating between Hira and Gauri’s points of view creates both distance and immediacy, outsider perspective and embodied subjectivity, revisiting familiar characters with a fresh gaze. The balance between the two makes room for meta-commentary not only on the events of the story but also folkloric storytelling itself as an art and oral tradition. This story is at once bittersweet and hopeful and makes for the perfect goodbye to the world of the Star-Touched stories (if this is indeed the end).

Conclusion: All three stories are written with Roshani Chokshi’s signature gorgeous, evocative prose, rendering the characters’ emotions palpable. When people joke about authors whose grocery lists they would read, Roshani Chokshi is one of the authors who comes to mind for me. If you’ve read TSTQ and ACOW, don’t miss out on Star-Touched Stories.

Content/Trigger Warnings:

  • Aromisia: There are a few places where the celebration of romance veers into positioning it as universal for humans/above other kinds of love/relationships, which is probably the most notable flaw about the book.
  • Binarism: Although this collection features an f/f romance in Poison and Gold, and queerness is referenced in the stories, it’s still restricted to the context of binary genders, men and women, which was disappointing to me as a non-binary reader.
  • Transmisogyny: There’s a scene in Aasha’s story where Vikram dresses up as a harem wife to sneak in because men aren’t allowed in the women’s quarters, and it’s played for laughs like it was in A Crown of Wishes (mentioned it in my review there as well). Although Vikram does argue that dresses are more comfortable, the act of crossdressing is still framed as a humorous and deviant thing to do to scandalize other people. This framing fails to recognize the violence of gender policing/cisnormativity and the danger that trans/non-binary/gender-nonconforming folks face for defying those norms.

Author Interview: Livia Blackburne

I know I’m late, but here is the fourth and final interview for my Taiwanese American Heritage Week series, with Livia Blackburne, whose most recent book Rosemarked was one of my favorite reads of 2017. I’m dying for the sequel, Umbertouched, which comes out later this year (November 6th), but in the meantime, here’s a spoiler-free interview with Livia about Rosemarked and writing. 🙂

Synopsis of Rosemarked from Goodreads:

A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.

Q: In YA, we always talk about the concept of “strong female characters,” and in fantasy, these tend to be warrior-types who literally kick ass. In Rosemarked, your main female character, Zivah, is a healer rather than a warrior. What do you think makes her strong, and what do you believe a healer’s perspective brings to the story?

A: I’m glad you made that observation! Writing Zivah the way I did was a deliberate choice after writing Midnight Thief, in which the main character  Kyra was a more traditional type of kick ass heroine. And while I love Kyra, with Rosemarked, I started thinking about other kinds of strength. What are other ways to change the world, if you are not able to beat up everyone you meet? And so, there’s Zivah. Physically, she’s very weak. In fact, she’s very close to death. But she’s smart. She’s worked hard to gain knowledge, and she’s savvy about applying it. She’s also determined, loyal, and brave.

Q: The Rose Plague is a very distinctive illness in how it manifests. Did you base it on any real life disease(s)?

A: The broad strokes of rose plague were inspired by leprosy. In fact, one of the main inspirations for Rosemarked was a play about the Hawaiian leper colony at Molokai. I was struck not only by the biological aspects of the disease, but the social emotional aspect aspect. It’s bad enough to develop a terminal illness. How much worse is it to have to deal with that illness in quarantine, apart from your family and everyone you love? For the specific symptoms of rose plague, I borrowed from a whole bunch of different diseases. Rashes, of course, are very common disease marker, and I also included some flu-like symptoms such as fever and delirium.

Q: Although Rosemarked is a fantasy novel, there are aspects of it that I could tell were grounded in science. Was your science background (Biochemical Science and Cognitive Neuroscience) helpful in writing this book, and if so, how?

A: Well, I did a lot of research into the history of medicine to find inspiration for the healing techniques used in the story, and my biochemistry background helped out a lot with that. Also, the story centers around a memory potion. While that potion is strictly fantasy, it is based on real neuroscience principles of memory. For example, the potion takes away your personal memories and your knowledge of the world, but doesn’t take away physical skills such as the ability to use a sword. This is very similar to actual incidences of amnesia, where people might forget ever learning to play the piano but still be able to play a minuet.

Q: One of the central conflicts of Rosemarked and Umbertouched is the colonial occupation of Dara and Shidadi people by the Amparan Empire. Are any of these cultures based on real life cultures?

A: None of the cultures map directly onto a real world culture. When I decided I wanted to write an ancient empire, I did look at the Persian empire as an example of how an empire might be run in that kind of time, with that kind of technology. And some aspects of the Persian empire did make it into the Amparan empire. For example, the importance of roads for transportation and communication, as well as a very cool military technique that appears in Umbertouched.

On the other hand, Ampara differs from Ancient Persia in many ways as well. Most notably, the Persian empire was actually quite good to the people it subjugated, so much so that sometimes their armies were welcomed as liberators. Anyone who reads Rosemarked, however, knows that the Amparan empire is anything but merciful.

There is some Asian influence, especially in the landscape of Monyar peninsula. One of the early Amparan surgeries described in Rosemarked was based on a real technique used in ancient India. And here’s a random bit of trivia, the basic philosophies of the Shidadi and Dara people stem from two sides of a Facebook debate about safety, liberty, and government overreach that scrolled across my news feed after the Boston marathon bombing. I wouldn’t read too much into the story about my own political views though. The story goes where it will.

Q: Rosemarked is your sophomore series. Has your writing process for this series changed from when you were writing Midnight Thief, and if so, how?

A: Midnight Thief was the first novel I ever completed, and I really had very little idea of what I was doing. A lot of things, like character traits, or world building, I kind of improvised as I went along. With Rosemarked, I was a lot more deliberate about planning beforehand. I spent a lot more time on world building. I thought a lot about what I wanted the story to be like, what I wanted the characters to be like, and what I wanted that I asked to be. Basically, I built a much stronger foundation and it saved me a great deal of time in revisions.


Livia Blackburned author headshot.jpg

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a three tesla MRI scanner. She is also the author of MIDNIGHT THIEF (an Indies Introduce New Voices selection), DAUGHTER OF DUSK, and ROSEMARKED (an Amazon best book of the month and YALSA Teens Top Ten Nominee).

Author Interview: Fonda Lee

Hey everyone, sorry for the gap in posting. Today’s interview is with Fonda Lee. Aside from addressing more general writing questions, this interview will touch on the first book of her adult fantasy, Jade City, which came out late last year, as well as her YA science fiction duololgy that began with Exo and concludes with Cross Fire, which is coming out later this month on May 29th. For context, I’m giving y’all the summaries of the books. (There won’t be any spoilers in the interview.)

Exo and Crossfire take place in a future in which Earth is colonized by aliens called the zhree. Here’s the Goodreads summary for Exo:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…

And the Goodreads summary for Jade City:

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

Now, for the actual interview!

Q: Unlike many aliens we see in sci-fi, the aliens in Exo and Cross Fire, the zhree, are very clearly non-humanoid. Are there any real life-forms that inspired their design?

A: I was very intentional about not making the zhree humanoid. There are so many humanoid aliens in science fiction because Hollywood has human actors; I don’t have that constraint as a novelist. I wanted the aliens to be truly alien, but they needed to have certain characteristics to satisfy the premise of humans and aliens coexisting and cooperating on a future colonized Earth. I made a list of what traits would make an alien race compatible with us; they would be land-dwelling, use vocal communication, and be intelligent tool users. I also knew, from all the research I did into space travel for my previous novel, Zeroboxer, that radiation and harsh conditions are a major barrier to astronauts. An alien species with natural body armor would have a huge advantage over us in creating a galactic civilization. So that’s how the zhree came about: I envisioned them sort of as six-limbed, armored land octopi.

Q: The main character of the Exo duology, Donovan, has a unique position of privilege within the zhree-dominated colonized society because of his father’s political influence and his own integration of zhree technology into his physiology to become more like the zhree. What made you decide to center his perspective exclusively as opposed to, or without the addition of, that of someone with less privilege or even someone in the anti-colonial organization Sapience, like Anya?

A: I’d read plenty of young adult dystopian novels in which the protagonists are rebels fighting oppression: The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. They’ve become a staple of the category. It’s easy to root for and identify with a character who’s downtrodden and trying to forcibly overthrow an evil empire. It’s more challenging to understand and change the system from within. I love moral ambiguity in my fiction; I don’t want to make it easy for readers to identify good guys and bad guys (in fact, I never write them), because the real world is rarely so simple. If I’d written the book from Anya’s perspective, or written it in dual-POV, it would’ve been like a dozen other YA dystopian novels. Here’s the thing: the world is NOT dystopian from Donovan’s POV. In fact, it’s pretty darn good. Which goes to show that dystopia is all a matter of perspective. You could say that I wrote EXO and CROSS FIRE specifically as a way of challenging myself to make readers like, understand, and even root for, the “other side.” Donovan and his friends are good people who try to do what they believe with their own solid reasoning is truly right, which is to uphold the alien colonial regime. I want that to mess with reader’s heads.

Q: One of the hardest aspects of writing speculative fiction is avoiding excessive infodumps. How do you manage the balance between action/suspense and providing information on the world the characters inhabit?

A: One of the keys to seamless worldbuilding is to weave information into the narrative in a natural way. The story should keep plowing forward and readers should be able to absorb everything they need to know in context. This also means giving the characters opportunities to interact with the world and examine the backstory in a way that informs the reader, without it ever seeming to inform the reader. For example, I don’t open EXO with an infodump on how the aliens came to rule Earth. It’s not until about a third of the way through the book that Donovan happens to see some old footage of the invasion and that’s when the reader gets it, in an almost “oh, by the way” as the story progresses.

Q: I know you have a background in martial arts, which must be helpful for writing the action and combat scenes in your books. What advice do you have on writing such scenes for people who don’t have that background?

A: Don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty blow-by-blow details. Action scenes have to have narrative purpose and emotional consequence for the characters; that’s the most important thing. That said, action scenes should have rhythm, freshness, and clarity. Don’t use the same old clichés, “Her heart was pounding,” or “He saw red.” Come up with better ways of conveying the sensations of the fight, and make sure the reader can clearly visualize what’s happening. Finally, there’s no substitute for research. That might be first hand (take martial arts classes, learn to safely handle weapons) or second hand (for me, that included watching a lot of live MMA, action movies, videos on YouTube, and seeking out good action and fight scenes in other books.)

Q: I’ve only gotten to read a small part of Jade City, but I got very distinct Taiwan vibes from some of the worldbuilding. I know you’ve mentioned Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hawaii, Japan as influences on the worldbuilding for Jade City in another interview. Are there any parts of the setting based on very specific real life locations, e.g. a particular neighborhood, street, building you’ve seen or visited?

A: The city of Janloon in Jade City is very much a world entirely of my own imagination. Think of it like Wakanda in Black Panther; it’s a place very much formed out of real world cultures and geography and aesthetic cues, but it’s also magical and completely its own place. I want the reader to feel like this setting is familiar, but they shouldn’t be able to identify anything that’s obviously from our world. Even the brands of cars and motorcycles and guns are invented; but my goal was to render everything so specifically that it feels real.

Q: Your debut novel, Zeroboxer, was a standalone whereas Exo and Jade City are both the first books in series. How has your writing process for these series differed from your writing of Zeroboxer, if at all, and do you have any advice for writing multi-volume stories?

I’ll hopefully be able to answer this question in a few years! Right now, I’m in the thick of working on the Green Bone Saga, so the one thing that I can tell you is that writing a sequel comes with its own set of challenges and is just as hard as writing the first book. (Not least of all because of the more aggressive deadlines.) The only way that the writing process really differs is that I have to think further ahead. For example, as I’m writing the second book now, I’m thinking about how certain thing might have repercussions in the third book. And I have my eye not just on the story arc for this book, but for the entire series.


Fonda Lee photoFonda Lee is the author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City (Orbit), a finalist for the Nebula Award and named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, and Syfy Wire, among others. Her young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux) and Exo (Scholastic) were Junior Library Guild Selections and Andre Norton Award finalists. Cross Fire (the sequel to Exo) releases in May 2018. Fonda is a recovering corporate strategist, black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado living in Portland, Oregon. You can find Fonda online at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

Review for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker

Summary: Frances has many ideas for making fabulous dresses but no outlet to express her creativity. Through a stroke of good luck, she secures a job as a secret seamstress to Prince Sebastian. The prince wears the dresses Frances designs while going by the name of Lady Crystallia and quickly becomes a fashion icon in Paris, garnering recognition for Frances’ designs. Over time, the two become good friends and develop romantic feelings for one another. However, their happiness is threatened when they are pulled in different directions, Frances by her ambitions to work in a position where her name is known to the public, and Sebastian by their filial duty to marry as the royal heir.

Review:

When I first heard about the idea for this graphic novel and saw preliminary design sketches on Tumblr a few years ago, I was so impatient for it to be released. Now I’ve finally read it! If you saw my Goodreads review, it was basically me crying about my love for this book. Initial impressions aside, I have conflicting feelings about the book that I’ll elaborate on below.

The Good/Great:

The plot made for a great coming-of-age story, with the characters’ desires and growth at the forefront. I’ll admit I’m biased in being drawn to and loving the story because Sebastian is trans (there weren’t specific labels mentioned in the book, but genderqueer and trans femme seem to fit the best from what I gathered) and there are so few trans characters in YA. Watching Sebastian transition and become comfortable presenting as a girl was super heartwarming for me as a trans and genderqueer person. Frances’ arc in developing her creative/artistic talent was likewise relatable to me as someone who writes and draws and wants to be a published author. Jen Wang’s art style is a combination of cute and elegant and really makes the whole experience a visual treat.

The Not-So-Good:

It partially follows the template of a typical trans acceptance narrative. While Frances and Sebastian’s manservant have no problem accepting and respecting Sebastian’s gender from the beginning, the same can’t be said for other characters. Sebastian being closeted and fearful of rejection and disgust from their parents as well as the public drives the primary conflict in the story. This isn’t automatically bad, but it’s part of a broader trend of cis authors putting trans characters through some rough situations that aren’t always handled very well in execution.

TW: outing of a trans character

There is a scene where Sebastian is publicly outed by another character who pulls off their wig while they are presenting as a girl, which results in a confrontation involving the king and queen that is pretty emotionally devastating. My issue with this scene is that forcibly outing characters, especially as a humiliating spectacle, is really overused for dramatic effect by cis authors, who may not realize how hurtful the experience can be for trans readers. It happens so much that I am desperate for more stories where trans characters are able to come out on their own terms.

Conclusion: While the the characters are endearing, the art is lovely, the ending is a happy one all around, and the overall message is hopeful for trans/non-binary people, trans/non-binary readers who choose to pick this up should take care while reading in the second half since the outing/confrontation scene is potentially triggering.

March and April 2018 MG/YA Releases by POC/Indigenous Authors

Disclaimer: These are all of the ones I know of, not all of the ones that exist! Also if I’m wrong about any of the descriptions/categorizations feel free to drop a comment. Detailed synopses can be found by clicking the hyperlinks in the titles, which redirect to the books’ Goodreads pages. 🙂


  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Novel-in-Verse, Afro-Latina Dominican(?) MC, Own Voices
  • Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi (March 6th) – YA, Nigerian-inspired Fantasy, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (March 6th) – MG, Contemporary, biracial Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (March 6th) – MG, Historical Fiction, Multifaith Muslim/Hindu Indian MC, Own Voices
  • The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi (March 6th) – MG, Contemporary, Afghan American MC, Own Voices
  • After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, MCs of Color (one Black, one biracial but exact ethnicity I’m not sure of)
  • The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk (March 6th) – YA, Contemporary, Black MC with Anxiety (Own Voices for both?), Korean American Adoptee MC, Queer White MC
  • Lies That Bind (Anastasia Phoenix #2) by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (March 6) – YA, Mystery/Thriller
  • Restore Me (Shatter Me #4) by Tahereh Mafi (March 6th) – YA, Dystopian
  • The Final Six by Alexandra Monir (March 6th) – YA, Science Fiction
  • Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones (March 13th) – YA, Contemporary, Gay Indigenous MC (author is Cree/Métis), Own Voices
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (March 13th) – MG, Historical Fiction, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (March 20th) – YA, Contemporary Fabulism, Biracial White/Taiwanese American MC (Own Voices for Taiwanese but not biracial)
  • Along the Indigo by Elsie Chapman (March 20th) – YA, Fabulism, Biracial White/Chinese MC (Own Voices for Chinese but not biracial rep)
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (March 20th) – YA, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco (March 20th) – YA, Fantasy, Secondary World POC MC
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (March 27th) – MG, Mystery, Black MCs, Own Voices
  • Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (March 27th) – MG, Contemporary Fantasy/Horror, Queer Black MC in the Virgin Islands, F/F Romance, Own Voices
  • The Place Between Breaths by An Na (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is a Classic (Cilla Lee-Jenkins #2) by Susan Tan (March 27th) – MG, Contemporary, Biracial White/Chinese American MC, Own Voices
  • Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Korean American MC, Own Voices
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava #1) by Roshani Chokshi (March 27th) – MG, Fantasy, Indian American MC, Own Voices
  • Damselfly by Chandra Prasad (March 27th) – YA, Contemporary, Biracial White/Indian American MC, Own Voices
  • Love Double Dutch by Doreen Spicer-Donnelly (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (Jasmine Toguchi #3) by Debbi Michiko Florence (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Japanese American MC, Own Voices
  • Rebound (Prequel to The Crossover) by Kwame Alexander (April 3rd) – MG, Contemporary, Novel-in-Verse, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (April 3rd) – YA, Historical Fantasy/Alternate History, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Isle of Blood and Stone (Isle of Blood and Stone #1) by Makiia Lucier (April 10th) – YA, Fantasy
  • Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (April 10th) – YA, Contemporary, Gay Chinese American MC (Own Voices for Chinese American rep)
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly (April 10th) – MG, Contemporary, MCs of Color(?)
  • Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds (April 10th) – MG, Contemporary, Black MC, Own Voices
  • The Lost Kids (Never Ever #2) by Sara Saedi – YA, Fantasy
  • Running Through Sprinklers by Michelle Kim (April 17th) – MG, Contemporary, Biracial white/Korean MC, Own Voices
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (April 17th) – MG, Fiction, Black MC, Own Voices
  • Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn (April 18th) – MG, Contemporary, Korean Canadian MC, Own Voices
  • Inferno (Talon #5) by Julie Kagawa (April 24th) – YA, Fantasy
  • Trouble Never Sleeps (Trouble is a Friend of Mine #3) by Stephanie Tromly (April 24th) – YA, Contemporary

And that’s the end! I do roundup posts like this bimonthly (I started in July 2017, skipped November-December 2017 due to lack of time/smaller volume of releases), so check back in late April/early May for the May and June releases. 🙂

These posts take a lot of time and effort on my part, and I’m not paid by anyone for the labor. If you have a little money to spare, you can donate to my ko-fi: www.ko-fi.com/theshenners.

Most Anticipated MG/YA Releases of September and October

So September and October are a gift because there are so many great kidlit titles coming out from authors of color. Here’s a [far from exhaustive] list of ones I’ve had on my radar! I’ve had the privilege of reading many of these already (16 out of 24, which is 2/3), and I can tell you that they are amazing. 🙂

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Sep. 5th) – Young Adult, SFF, Gay Puerto Rican (#ownvoices) and Bisexual Cuban American MCs, M/M romance

  • 2 boys who are going to die meet and bond over the course of about 24 hours

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Sep. 12th) – Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Indian/Bengali American MCs (#ownvoices), Biracial Black/Bengali MC

  • 5 women spanning 3 generations of a Bengali family in the U.S. negotiate their multicultural identities

Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper #2) by Daniel Jose Older – Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Afro-Latina Puerto Rican MC

  • Supernatural and real world forces of evil threaten the lives and community of Sierra Santiago, who will do anything to protect her own

Warcross by Marie Lu (Sep. 12th) – Young Adult, Science Fiction, Chinese American MC, #ownvoices

  • A gamer girl/bounty hunter hacks her way into the world’s biggest virtual reality game tournament and is hired to track down a suspicious figure lurking in the game

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh (Sep. 15th) – Young Adult, Science Fiction/Dystopian, Korean MC, #ownvoices

  • A boy who has risen in the military of a future Korea is drafted into a special weapons project that turns girls into war machines and starts to fall for his charge

Rise of the Jumbies (The Jumbies #2) by Tracey Baptiste (Sep. 19th)- Middle Grade, Fantasy, Black Trinidadian MC, #ownvoices

  • Corinne La Mer makes a dangerous journey across the Atlantic to find a way to save the missing children of her island home

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) by Kendare Blake (Sept. 19th) – Young Adult, Fantasy

  • The deadly race for the throne has begun, the last sister standing wins.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (Sep. 19th) – Middle Grade, Contemporary, #ownvoices Black MC, secondary Black Autistic character

  • Following his brother’s gang-related Death, a boy struggles to cope and avoid the gang life and finds solace in building Lego creations at the community center.

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh (Sep. 19th) – Middle Grade, Contemporary, #ownvoices Taiwanese American MC, secondary Autistic character

  • One summer away has upended Bea’s life and friendships, forcing her to make new ones and develop confidence in being herself.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Sep. 26th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Biracial white/Japanese American MC, Social Anxiety rep, #ownvoices

  • An anxious aspiring artist flees her abusive home with an old friend-turned-crush and embarks on a journey that will transform her.

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar (Oct. 2nd) – Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Indian MC, #ownvoices

  • A girl is swept up in the freedom movement of India through her mother’s participation and becomes involved herself in radical change.

Akata Warrior (Akata Witch #2) by Nnedi Okorafor (Oct. 3rd) – Middle Grade/Young Adult, Fantasy, Nigerian American MC, #ownvoices

  • A girl and her friends develop their powers as Leopard people to face down and vanquish a threat to humanity.

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (Oct. 3rd) – Young Adult, Magical Realism, Bisexual Latina/Mexican American MC, #ownvoices

  • The Nomeolvides sisters are blessed and cursed. Flowers flow from their hands, but their love makes those they love disappear. A mysterious boy who emerges from their garden estate may be the key to unlocking the secrets of the past and even breaking the curse.

Seize Today (Forget Tomorrow #3) by Pintip Dunn (Oct. 3rd) – Young Adult, Science Fiction/Dystopian

  • The conclusion to a series about a girl who foresees her own future in which she kills her sister and must work to stop herself.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (Oct 3rd) – Young Adult, Contemporary/Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Indian American MC, #ownvoices

  • An Indian American girl connects with her heritage through a magical pashmina that transports her to India.

Not Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee (Oct. 5th) – Young Adult, SFF, Black trans boy MC

  • Bells becomes a fugitive due to a coverup by the Heroes’ League and has to take down a corrupt government while applying to college and working up the courage to confess his feelings to his best friend.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Oct. 10th) – Young Adult, Fantasy/Retelling, Chinese MC

  • Xifeng has a great destiny awaiting her, but her path to becoming Empress of Feng Lu requires her to embrace the darkness within her.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Oct. 17th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Black MC, #ownvoices

  • A Black teen processes his feelings about antiblack racism through a journal dialogue with Martin Luther King Jr. and becomes the center of a media storm when he and his friend become victims of police brutality.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (Oct. 17th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller, Queer Chinese American MC, #ownvoices

  • Jess harbors a crush on her best friend Angie and through Angie, is drawn into a wealthy but seedy social circle with dangers they cannot escape unscathed.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (Oct. 17th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Mexican American MC, #ownvoices

  • After her sister’s death, a girl feels alone and pressured to take her sister’s place, only to discover that her sister may not have been as perfect as she seemed.

Like Water by Rebecca Podos (Oct. 17th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Besexual Latina MC, Secondary qenderqueer character

  • A small-town girl falls for someone who brings to the surface secrets she’s been trying to suppress.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Oct. 24th) – Young Adult, Contemporary/Thriller, Novel-in-Verse, Black MC, #ownvoices

  • His brother is dead, and he’ll make the killer pay, but as he goes down the elevator, someone new appears who is connected to his brother, and he may not make it to the bottom.

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani (Oct. 24th) – Young Adult, Contemporary, Black Christian MC, #ownvoices

  • A girl navigates her budding sexuality in an ultra-religious environment that treats sex as forbidden and dirty.

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (Oct. 31st) – Young Adult, Nigerian-inspired Fantasy, Black MC, #ownvoices

  • Sin-eaters practice magic to rid people of their guilty feelings but pay the price in a being permanently marked and a short life-span. Taj is called to eat the sin of a royal and is forced to fight against an evil that threatens his entire home.

Review for Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish

Note: This review is based on an ARC that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The finished book will be released on September 26th, 2017.

My Summary: Kiko Himura wants nothing more to escape the suffocating environment of her home and her very white hometown in Nebraska, and acceptance into Prism, her top choice of art school, is her ticket to freedom. Much to her dismay, rejection from Prism ruins her plan, but a new unforeseen opportunity takes its place: she will go on a trip to California with her former best friend, Jamie and visit art schools on the West Coast. Desperation and the nightmare of being forced to live in under the same roof as her predatory uncle are enough to outweigh her intense anxiety, so she goes. More than just a vacation, this is a trip to find herself, reconnect with Jamie, and forge a new future.

Review:

Trigger/content warnings: anxiety, emotional abuse, childhood sexual abuse, suicide ableism

I have a lot of feelings about this book because I related to Kiko so much. Growing up in a very white environment as an Asian person messes with your self-esteem and self-image, and like Kiko, I definitely felt that I would never really be seen as attractive by people because I was Asian. I literally had a white friend tell me he generally wasn’t attracted to Asian people (he is no longer my friend, in case you’re wondering). The various microaggressions she experiences are all too familiar to me.

In addition to sharing Kiko’s experience of being Asian American, I also have generalized and social anxiety, and the descriptions of Kiko’s anxiety in Starfish resonated strongly with me. There’s a scene at a classmate’s party that was especially relatable and brought back some painful memories of parties I went to in college. Another aspect of Kiko I saw myself in was her anxiety over having romantic relationships as someone with mental illness(es). The fear of falling into toxic and codependent relationships is so real. In general, the portrayal of anxiety was just so incredibly on point for me, to the point that it actually triggered my own anxiety at times because I was empathizing with Kiko’s experience on a visceral level.

Besides being really relatable, Starfish was simply gorgeously written. Kiko is an artist, and the author expresses her artist’s point of view through poetic language. Each chapter ends with a brief description of Kiko’s latest work of art, which is thematically related to the chapter in question and serves as a visual representation of Kiko’s inner emotional landscape and how she relates to the world and the people around her. These added details create a distinctive voice for Kiko’s character.

If it wasn’t obvious from the trigger/content warnings, this story deals with some heavy topics. Kiko’s home environment is incredibly toxic. Her parents are divorced, and she lives with her two brothers and her white mother. Her mother is emotionally abusive toward her. This abuse has a racialized dimension, as she uses her embodiment of white beauty ideals to belittle Kiko, whose features are more typically East Asian. Kiko craves her mother’s love and approval even while knowing that her mother does not really care about her except as it benefits or is convenient for her. It really hurt to follow Kiko through her interactions with her mother, the pain was so raw.

To make matters worse, during the events of the story, Kiko’s maternal uncle moves into the house with her family, which amplifies her anxiety. It is first strongly implied and then explicitly revealed that he sexually abused Kiko when she was younger, and she has lingering trauma from those events. Although Kiko told her mother what happened, her mother never believed her and sided with the uncle instead.

Despite the serious topics, the book isn’t all doom and gloom and angst, nor is it a tragic story. Kiko’s physical journey doubles as a psychological journey as well, allowing her to process everything she has lived through, refute the victim-blaming messages she’s gotten from her mother, and see that there are people and things outside of the cage of her toxic home. Her relationship with Jamie is very sweet and wholesome, and she also finds a role model who is Japanese American who sees her talent and gives her the push she needs to really chase her artistic dreams.

These parts of the story bring hope and light and an empowering message that were so lovely and satisfying to read. Perhaps others readers might think the ending/resolution is too much of a fairy tale happy ending, but personally, I loved it and think it’s necessary and important for readers who see themselves in Kiko. Her mental illness is not magically cured by the end of the story (which would be a very terrible message to readers), but she has greater self-awareness, a robust support system, and a means of channeling her creative energy and expressing herself honestly, all of which are critical to coping.

My one criticism of this book was the pattern of ableist language. Disabilities, including mental illnesses, span a huge spectrum, and while the rep for one disability may be great, other disabilities may not get the same treatment. In this case, the anxiety was portrayed wonderfully, but there was still ableist language that was insensitive toward other illnesses/conditions, including bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and psychosis. Specifically, these illnesses were effectively used as a scapegoat/explanation for Kiko’s mother’s abusive behavior. (Unfortunately, it’s common even for mentally ill people to use words like “psychopath” to label people who behave in violent otherwise horrible ways.) The author did mention on Twitter that she removed the words “crazy” and “insane” from the final version of the book, but I don’t know whether these other references to mental illness were taken out or rewritten. If you’re planning to read the book, just be warned that there may be several instances of stigmatizing language.

Recommendation: Overall, I highly recommend this book because it did so much for me and covered a lot of ground and was just breathtaking to read and experience. If you have anxiety or other related mental illnesses or are an abuse survivor, I’d recommend taking it slow and taking breaks because it definitely has the potential to be triggering.