BLOG TOUR: PUNCHING THE AIR REVIEW

Title: Punching the Air

Author(s): Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Publishing Date: Sept. 1st 2020

Pages: 400

Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Fiction, Poetry

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From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

|CW: racism, microaggression, violence, use of racial slurs|

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 stars for Punching the Air

|Disclaimer: I was provided with this advanced review copy by HarperCollins International and Edelweiss for in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.|

Punching the Air is a realistic and touching story about a sixteen year old Black Muslim boy, Amal Shahid, who is wrongly incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

This book blew me away with how simply brilliant it was. If it was possible for me to highlight the entire ARC, I think I would have. From the very beginning, Punching the Air literally had punched me in the guts, but quite seriously this book hooked me and had me emotional.

Punching the Air explores, or rather displays, racism, judicial racism, the prison industry and the reality of being Black in the US or anywhere else in the world where we’re seen as other.

Amal is an example of thousands of other Black boy, and in extension Black people, are wrongly sentenced by a broken system or maybe it isn’t truly broken but simply designed that way. A system that criminalises and dehumanises Black bodies. A system that calls Black teens and babies adults. A system that would call a Black sixteen year old boy a young man, but a white boy of the same age a mere boy. A system that is supposed to be fair and see in black and white, and it does see in Black and White. It sees that Black is guilty and evil, and White is innocent and pure.

Punching the Air is a story that shows how this system, which exists almost everywhere, harms Black people. How Black people are judged by the colour of our skins, because our skins must tell our entire stories, right?

While I must stay the message in Punching the Air makes it a masterpiece already, the writing itself is a wonder on its own.

I’ve never read a full story in verse, and I’m glad Punching the Air was my introduction to this beautiful form of writing. Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam’s writing conveyed the story expertly. They had me feeling everything Amal was feeling. For the duration of time I was reading this book, I was this sixteen year old boy who loved poetry and art, who had high hopes, dreams and aspirations, who just had my life uprooted and my story rewritten. That is how good the writing and delivery was.

A must read…

I feel like I haven’t done this book justice and I probably won’t ever be able to even if I had all the right words because how can I ever put them all together.

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I’d like to thank the authors for enriching my life with this work.

Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads


About the Authors

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.

Dr. Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the “Central Park jogger” case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. Now known as the Exonerated Five, their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed series When They See Us. Yusef is now a poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honors. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Sanovia, and their children. You can find him online at http://www.yusefspeaks.com.


Giveaway

Enter below to win a copy of Punching the Air! This giveaway is open internationally and sponsored by HarperCollins International. And will end on September 30, 2020.

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You can check out the rest of the tour here


Have you read Punching the Air yet? What’s a book you adored lately?

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Raybearer Blog Tour: Interview with Jordan Ifueko+ ARC Review

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Hello everyone!

Today, I’m so excited to interview the author of one of my favourite books of this year, Jordan Ifueko, who is this the author of the African inspired YA fantasy, Raybearer; and also to share my review of her brilliant debut.  

This interview is done in collaboration with Hear Our Voice Book Tours. You can check out the other posts on the tour here .

Q: Hello, Jordan! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Before I go on with the interview, congratulations on your debut Raybearer, I’m so excited to read your book. So, can you tell us a little about you and your book?

A: Thanks for having me!

I’m a Nigerian American Anxious Afro Dream Girl. I write about magic Black girls who aren’t magic all the time, because sometimes they need a vacation.

The elevator pitch for my debut novel, RAYBEARER:

In a global empire, a love-starved prodigy is coerced by her mother to join a divine crown prince’s council. Her mission? Earn his trust. Swear her love. And to her horror…kill him.

Q:  I believe in starting an interview with something light to ease any seriousness and this particular question started as a joke on Twitter, but I love it still. What’s your favourite Winne the Pooh character

A: You know what? Even as a kid, I had a deep abiding sympathy with Rabbit. I knew I was supposed to laugh at him for being crabby, but I never could. Of course he’s grumpy! People keep disturbing his nice sensible gardens! He’s the only adult in the room!

Q: It’s known that I have a bias to African inspired fantasies being an African myself and I’m always curious and pleased when I read one by a Black author and my question now is this; what was your biggest inspiration to write Raybearer?

A: Storytelling in the tradition of griots, who are oral historians/musicians in West African culture, feature prominently in RAYBEARER, albeit with a fantasy twist. I grew up with a lot of folktales from my parents, like those of Anansi the Spider. However, I’m a blend of many cultures. Nigeria was a British colony until the 1960s, so British literature and fairytales are a major influence of mine as well.

I started writing RAYBEARER 13ish years ago, when I was 13! RAYBEARER features a group of children who are handpicked to be raised in isolation with the future emperor, and groomed to someday rule the empire of Aritsar. At the time, I was attending a tiny school of close-knit kids–my graduating class was only 17 people. We took ourselves extremely seriously, so it wasn’t hard to imagine we would someday rule the world, ha

RAYBEARER also deals with the trauma we inherit from our ancestors, and so the book explores some difficult familial relationships as well.

Q: A lot of authors from marginalised communities write things they wish or want to read into their books. Did you do this in Raybearer, and what are these themes/elements/tropes?

A: I wrote what I wanted to read as a young teen Black girl. One thing I often grew up reading in Eurocentric fantasy are female characters that are treated with reverence, protected physically, and waited on by servants. I remember distinctly realizing that Black women and girls are rarely treated this way in fiction (and of course, rarely ever in real life). That’s why Tarisai, RAYBEARER’s protagonist, is given a lot of societal privilege from the get-go– I was tired about stories about Black girls treated roughly by their environments.

Q: Writing is like any other creative process, writers have their favourite and least favourite parts of their works. What were your favourite parts to write?

A: I love writing descriptions of places, food, and clothing. I am a plantain enthusiast and own an embarrassing amount of fabric, but I can’t stop buying it–there’s something so sensual about beautifully woven textiles, especially West African ones.

Q: Were there any parts of the book that didn’t quite make it to the final stage and how did you feel to let those parts go?

A: Many, many interactions between Tarisai and her council family ended up being cut, because they didn’t move the plot forward in a significant way. I still miss those parts, because teen me would have loved to live in an Afrocentric castle with my best friends!

Q: To close this interview, I’ll be asking you the same question I ask every author I interview. If you could pitch your book in 7 words, what will they be?

A: Bonds. Purpose. Empire. Sacrifice. Dynasties. Afros. Longing.

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

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The epic debut YA fantasy from an incredible new talent—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir

Nothing is more important than loyalty.

But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

|CW: parental neglect, manipulation, off page rape, off page sex scenes (consensual), on page sex scene (consensual), misogyny, regicide, fire, child abuse, domestic abuse, attempted murder, death, fascism, colonisation, enslavement|

Black, POC (several races), anxiety, PTSD

5 full stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this advanced review copy by Hear Our Voices Book Tours and Amulet Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

A lush fantasy that explores so many themes and complexities, Raybearer is a brilliant debut.

Raybearer is a beautiful West African inspired fantasy. Set in the fictional world of Aritsar, almost completely by a singular and ancient empire, it follows love and touch starved Tarisai who befriends the young prince and joins his council while under a compulsion to kill him when he loves her the most.

Raybearer takes place over a somewhat broad timeline, covering parts of Tarisai’s childhood and spanning into her adulthood.

One thing I adored about Raybearer is its application of themes and tropes. Raybearer contains a multitude of themes and tropes, many native to YA fantasy but the application of these is just simply brilliant. It takes all these tropes, some overused and overdone, some not overdone but ever present, and some new and dream-like especially for Black folks and weaves them so perfectly and makes the old seem new, and the new magical. Tropes and themes, I’ve always wished to see Black characters and POC in, are just here in the book and wonderfully done too. Themes and tropes Black people and POC have never had the chance to see ourselves in, characters we haven’t had the chance to be. Black royalty and Black people being loved. Soft Black boys and boys of colour. Found family and close friendships. Seeing all this left me feeling full.

I cannot talk about the things I loved about this book without mentioning the amazing world building. Aritsar, the world Raybearer is set in, is as solid as any world I’ve ever read in a book. With different cultures, most based on real life cultures and regions, magic system, lore and its complex politics. But I must say my favourite thing about the world is the infusion of West African cultures, most noticeably Yoruba culture. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing my culture in books and Raybearer is one of the books that incorporates it so well. The names,the food, the dresses, the naming and belief about certain landscapes and some of the myths have roots in these cultures . Make no mistake, the world building of  Raybearer is its own, but these little additions were just everything to me.

The writing in Raybearer was also as good. You know those books that have wonderful concepts and world building,but lack execution? That’s not Raybearer.

The writing is atmospheric and engages all your senses. I loved Jordan Ifueko’s writing. It was clear and easy to follow, while also magical. You feel every characters feels and its just amazing. The pacing was also great. The book started off slowly, building the background and the grew faster as it went on. The transition in the pace was smooth and nice. 

A book about finding self, the characters in Raybearer were amazing

 

The brilliant plot, world building and writing apart, I think the characters were my favourite thing about this book.

The characters in Raybearer and their relationships are complex. The characters with their flaws and faults; their inspirations and complexities. And the relationships equally as complex. Not quite as simple, not quite definable. Some sweet and soothing like the relationship of the council siblings. Some hard and so damn complicated, like the relationship between Tarisai and The Lady, her mother, and the relationship between The Lady and the world that made her as she is.

My favourite characters are pretty easy to guess, at least some of them are. Tarisai and her council siblings, especially Dayo, Kirah and Sanjeet. And some are unexpected especially if you’re just starting the book; The Lady, a truly complex character, Woo In, Mbali and Ye Eun.

The character development and arcs were amazing too. For Tarisai, it was learning about herself. About her dreams, her wants, her purpose, her belly song. For The Lady, we see how she became as she is. The Lady is one of the best characters in this book. She is the perfect anti-hero. Her character is so layered. It’s hard to hate her, it’s impossible to forgive her actions, but you can understand her. I still can’t believe she made me cry, but she is the character. 

Another character central character who deserves another mention is Ẹkundayọ (yes, i will always be too extra 😌✨. and the only reason the name isn’t fully extra is because i suck at intonation) Kunleo. Dayo is such a sweet and gentle character. He’s the definition of baby. I just want to pick him up and put him in my pocket along with Sanjeet who is also as soft and my child, Tarisai. I loved his character so much, the softness in him that Black boys in fiction aren’t allowed to have. His love for his council siblings and his understanding for Tarisai. He’s honestly one of the purest Black boys I’ve ever read and the fact that he’s also biromantic and asexual made my heart squeal because of representation!

Raybearer is a story about self discovery and agency, about justice and setting the scales right, about loyalty and love.

I feel like I’ve rambled all too much about this book, but I can’t end it yet without mentioning the core themes here. Raybearer is a compelling story about justice, the length one is willing to go to get it and how they extract it. It’s about birthright, power, purpose, loyalty and love. In my placeholder review on Goodreads, I mentioned comparing Raybearer to my other favourite YA fantasy of this year and realising they aren’t the same. I’ll repeat what I said that Raybearer is like homecoming. It’s that book I didn’t know I needed or I knew. It’s like home — achingly familiar, magical, warming and wonderful. Like a hug. 

A million times recommended. Wake me up when the sequel is out because I don’t know how to exist anymore.

Links:

Indiebound | Target | Barnes & Noble | Powells | Amazon | Waterstones | AUDIOBOOK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Ifueko is a Nigerian-American author of Young Adult fiction. She stans revolutionary girls and 4C curls. RAYBEARER is her debut novel.

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Thank you again to Jordan Ifueko for taking out some of her time to chat with me and to HOV Book Tours for this opportunity. I hope y’all buy and love this book because it has all of my heart.

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Series Review: The Feverwake Duology

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|Content warnings: Racism, xenophobia, generational trauma, manipulation, domestic abuse, violence, gore, death, blood, rape, murder, depression mention of an eating disorder, mention of suicide and suicidal ideation, loss of a love one, fascism, addiction, ableist language, slut-shaming|

(this is combined list of content/trigger warnings for both books)

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Bisexual Jewish mc, gay POC Jewish mc/li, Jewish major sc, Black side characters, sapphic side character, queer side characters, biracial mc

The Fever King

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In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

(minor spoiler in review)

The Fever King, the first book of the Feverwake duology follows Noam, the son of Altantian immigrants in Carolina, a futuristic United States (or more accurately a part of it) from when he wakes up in a containment centre after surviving a strain of the deadly virus, Magic, marking him as ‘Witching’ and as the joins the highest ranks of witchings working for the state, Level IV. Set in this pandemic filled state, it follows Noam’s rise from a significantly powerless immigrant to one of the rarest and most powerful witchings, all the while planning the downfall of the government he works for.
The Fever King is a dark and rich novel about the complexities of power, politics and corruption, with themes on racism and xenophobia.
I find it a bit ironic that I read this book about pandemic during one, and that I also happened to enjoy it. The Fever King has to be one of the most impressive books I’ve read since the start of the year. Despite the number of times I was going to be shocked by this book and how prepared I was, it didn’t really hit me until it did…especially Lehrer.
I won’t lie, but the one thing I found most impressive about this novel and the duology in total, more than the themes of racism and xenophobia,was the villain Lehrer and his perfect manipulations. Lehrer is one of the best written villains I’ve read and even if I didn’t love this duology, Lee deserves my respect for writing him. Just when you think you had him figured out, he surprises you.
I guess another thing is that the darkness of the book and the villain more impactful is the main character. Noam is a naive character with an astonishing single minded tenacity. It’s one of the reasons he’s likeable and one reason the book is as intense as it is.
Now to the reason I didn’t rate this book above 4 stars, two reasons actually. Noam and Dara’s relationship is one of my favourite things about this book. Seeing my two precious baby gays (technically only Dara is gay and Noam is bi) together was sweet. While their relationship wasn’t entirely a smooth sailing, it was cute…mostly cute. One of the issues I had is tied to their relationship. Minor spoiler here: When Dara tells Noam he had read this mind, which was I guess inevitable because of Dara’s presenting ability, I didn’t feel right with me. Yes, I understand he can’t resist it and it’s presenting power but it felt wild and violatory to me. The second reason was the ending of the book didn’t seem to fit in smoothly into the book. It seemed more like an epilogue which I guess it’s what it actually is, but it would have been a lot better for me if it had been called an epilogue.
All in all it was a great book. Lee weaves a perfectly dark and twisty novel and I would definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Links

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Bookshop

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Amazon

The Electric Heir

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In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

The Electric Heir, the second and final book of the duology picks up six months after The Fever King and after Noam has succeeded in helping Lehrer overthrow the sitting government. Noam has become Lehrer’s favoured pawn and has remembered what happened six months ago, but he is still yet a subject to Lehrer’s whim. Noam plays the dangerous double game of working to bring down Lehrer while remaining by his side as his perfect prodigy.
The Electric Heir is literally an extension of The Fever King, but this sequel is much darker than the first book.
Noam, our still extremely naive and stubborn main character — well now, one of the main characters —, is in a huge mess, one he had a hand in creating. Being both heavily burdened with the guilt of the things he’s done for Lehrer, under his command and trying to find a way to defeat him, while wanting him to believe he’s on his side.
Dara also is back in town, but changed. Like Noam, Dara has one main objective to take Lehrer down and maybe reconnect with the boy he loves, but things aren’t the way he left them six months and just like him, Noam has changed.
I feel the most striking thing about this book is the conversations on abuse and healing. Noam finds himself in a predatory and abusive relationship, where he has significantly less power and is manipulated by his partner, and Dara, himself, had once been the one Noam was in this relationship. While Noam struggles with being trapped in this toxic relationship, Dara is currently trying to recover from the effects of it
The Electric Heir talks about hard topics like rape, statutory rape, major depressive disorder, anxiety, alcoholism and suicidial ideation. It’s not a pretty book, its dark, darker than its predecessor and heartbreaking.
While I felt the climax of the book was a little underwhelming, I really did love this book. The twists in plots and the sheer brilliance of the villain, like I said in my review for The Fever King, once when you think you’ve figured Lehrer out, he does something to surprise you.
I loved the resolution of the book. It made me so happy to see the main characters happen, in love and recovering.
The Feverwake Duology is a definite recommend.
Rating: 4.5 stars (⭐⭐⭐⭐★)

Links

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Have you read the Feverwake duology? How did you feel about it?


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ARC Review: And The Stars Were Burning Brightly

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An emotionally rich and current story of suicide, mental health, bullying, grief and growing up around social media.

When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart.
Al was special.
Al was talented.
Al was full of passion and light…so why did he do it?
Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan begins to retrace his footsteps. And along the way, he meets Megan. Al’s former classmate, who burns with the same fire and hope, who is determined to keep Al’s memory alive. But when Nathan learns the horrifying truth behind his brother’s suicide, one question remains – how do you survive, when you’re growing up in the age of social media?

CW: Bullying, depression, suicide, loss of a loved one, racism, homophobia, grief

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Black mc, gay side character

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

5 stars 

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A brilliant book about grief, mental health and bullying, And The Stars Were Burning Brightly is one of the best books I’ve ever read

I read this book on the last day of March and didn’t review back then because I knew if I thought too deeply and tried to analyse this book I’ll be bawling at 1am. That is how good this book is.

And The Stars Were Burning Were Burning Brightly is a story told in dual POVs, following Al’s brother and best friend, Nate and Megan has they deal with their grief after he dies by suicide.

So I know there’s no way I’ll write this review without crying. This book has one of best representations of grief and how odd it truly is. How you think you’re over the loss of someone and something happens or you lose someone else, and you don’t how to separate your pain and grief and you don’t know whether you’re mourning for now or then. The depression and bullying rep too is perfect, so because of how brilliant this book is I’ll put myself through pain.

Nate and Megan had different ways of handling their grief. For Nate, he wanted to know what happened to his brother, because the Al he knew was brilliant as the stars he loved and it didn’t make sense to him. And Megan wanted Al to be remembered for what he really was, a brilliant artist and a wonderful person. Reading from both their perspectives and seeing tiny snippets of who Al was made this book even more beautiful and heartbreaking.

ATSWBB does a brilliant job exploring the duality social media and cyberbullying. Al’s bullies used social media to torment so bad he gave up and his best friend, Megan uses this same vast network to ensure he’s remembered for the star he was.

ATSWBB was an amazing book also because of the writing. Danielle Jawando’s writing is honest and poignant, and her style of writing is simply amazing. I love when Black authors write not following the rules of standard English, but how the language styles of their communities. I was a little shocked when I came into the book, but the writing style helped me connect with the book even more.

Characters like the stars…

The characters of And The Stars Were Burning Brightly were amazing. I found them really relatable and so dear to me.

They were as messy, angry and vulnerable as teenagers can be. I love them so much and I could say something more constructive, but I don’t quite have the words.

An always recommend…

And The Stars Were Burning Bright is a book I’ll recommend to anyone and everyone. It’s a beautiful book about grief, depression, escape and life in the age of social media.

1000% recommend and don’t forget the tissues.

 

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ARC Review: The Opposite of Falling Apart

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After losing his leg in a terrible car accident, Jonas Avery can’t wait to start over and go to college. Brennan Davis would like nothing more than to stay home and go to school, so she can keep her anxiety in check. When the two accidentally meet the summer before they move away, they’ll push each other to come to terms with what’s holding them back, even as they’re pulled closer to taking the biggest leap of all—falling in love. The Opposite of Falling Apart has more than 2.1 million reads on Wattpad.

|CW: Panic attacks, anti-Asian commentary, car accidents|

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Anxiety, PTSD, Disabled, Amputee

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⭐⭐⭐★

3.5 stars

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Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Wattpad books for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review is going to take a slightly different pattern than all my other reviews, because I don’t think I can structure it the same way.

The Opposite of Falling Apart follows teenagers, Jonas and Brenan, as they meet in a minor car accident the summer before college and through their first year in college and develop a friendship helping each other through that blooms to a romance while also working on their individual challenges.

The Opposite of Falling Apart was a book that dealt with heavier themes and I thought it handled them well.

When I first came across this book on Netgalley, the synopsis got interested in it, coupled with the fact that when I remember someone recommending the Wattpad version of this book to me when it still was still on Wattpad and when l used the site actively. I had high expectations for this book, and I can say it didn’t disappoint.

The Opposite of Falling Apart gave a candid look on it’s like to live with a mental illness and a disability. While I can’t say much for the disability or PTSD rep, the anxiety rep was really good.

One of the main characters, Brennan suffers from general anxiety disorder, while my anxiety isn’t as severe as hers, Brennan was one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read. I understood her. Her reactions, her insecurities and that constant negative voice in her head. The way it seemed her own mind was against her. Everything. In some ways, reading about Brennan helped me discover some anxious traits in myself that I didn’t really think on.

While Brennan was a girl scared of the world, Jonas on the other hand was a boy angry at it. I really don’t know anything about being an amputee, but Good was able to capture Jonas’ emotions wonderfully . Jonas’ world has become divided between before and after. The Jonas he was before the accident and getting used to the new reality that’s his after. His anger about losing his leg, at people for trying too hard to treat him the way they think they should — like he was fragile and helpless and his mixed feelings about his family’s new dynamics. Jonas was caught up in his own tangle of grief of the person he was and the alternate version of a Jonas without The Accident.

I loved seeing Jonas and Brennan’s characters develop. Jonas, on his own part, coming to terms with how his life had changed, his new reality and coming to a sort of closure with the accident that changed; and Brennan learning how to take chances and that while her anxiety was a part of her, it wasn’t all of her. The romance between them was also nice. It was real, messy and sweet too.

My one problem with this book was its pacing, which ultimately affected my reading experience. The pacing in my opinion was too slow and the book seemed to drag on forever. I found it so bad that I was scared to open the book. Reading a book with an anxious character and where her emotions are fully explored, while it made me feel understood, it was like revisiting all my personal anxiety.

Ultimately it was a good book.

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What book with good mental illness rep do you think everyone should read?

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ARC Review: The Perfect Escape

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Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?

Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and Kate needs the money too.

If the two of them team up, Nate has a true shot at winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…

 

|CW: Acrophobia, mild panic attacks, parental neglect, emotional abuse, racist microaggressions, bullying, mention of death of a loved one|

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Korean-American, Indian (side character)

 

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⭐⭐⭐

3 stars

 

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Kdrama meets American high school romance, The Perfect Escape was cute…

When first saw The Perfect Escape on Goodreads, I thought it looks like  a good book, you can’t imagine how happy I was when I was presented an offer to read an Advanced Review Copy.

The Perfect Escape follows Nate Kim and Kate Anderson two high schoolers in their senior year who meet at the zombie escape room they work at, develop a quick friendship and crush, and later on enter a zombie themed survival competition to win a grand price.

The Perfect Escape is a kdrama-esque book and it shows from the characterisation and almost every other aspect of the book. Nate, the male MC, is a first generation Korean-American kid from a poor family and a scholarship kid. While Kate on the other hand, is the sole child of the CEO of one of the leading tech companies in country with an absent and controlling father. Even the match — cute poor boy x rich girl — is very kdrama like which is kind of cute, especially with how the author went about it, removing most of the power imbalance and just leaving the cute romance.

While the combination of kdrama and  American High school romance was mostly cute. The problems that exist when you mix two dramatic types of TV together wasn’t escaped out in this book. The Perfect Escape was cute and had almost Nollywood level drama. In simpler words, it was unbelievably dramatic, with really took down some of my enjoyment of this book.

Another thing I didn’t feel quite comfortable with in the book was a certain stereotype about immigrant parents. It really grated on my nerves when I first saw it, but in later scenes it rub me off as much. I also had to remind myself to trust in the author to know what she was doing as she’s Korean American herself and I cannot know her reality more than her, especially when stereotype doesn’t necessarily mean falsehood.

The writing was simple and easy to follow which lended to the voices of the characters being cute and relatable. The pacing was mostly ok, a little in between fast and slow and not being too much of either. The plot focus was vastly different in two halves of the book. The first half and up to 60% was about building on the characters, their motivations, experiences and their relationships and the second half was about the romance. I know I mentioned I enjoyed the romance, even doubly so because it wasn’t something I expected to enjoy given it was insta love. I usually hate insta-love  as a trope because I find it cringy and unrealistic, but The Perfect Escape just seemed cute and natural.

 

The characters were cute…

I liked the characters in The Perfect Escape and I thought they were relatable, especially Nate.

Nate was a kid in a Asian- American home with all the rules and expectations in being one. I found I related to him; the Kim household rules (which basically like all POC household rules) and being an elder brother. Nate thrived to make his parents proud of him and worked harder than his peers because of his background. Picking up multiple talents and working hard in school. Apart of this, Nate was also sweet, awkward and thoughtful. He was an endearing character.

Kate was also cute.  With her love for theatre, nerdiness and understanding, I loved her character. She was really fun to read about and mature. 

I liked their friendships, the different friends they had, and the friendship between the main characters themselves.

Overall, it was cute…

The Perfect Escape was a cute book and fun one to escape into when everything else is intense. If you love kdrama, zombies and nerds, you’ll like The Perfect Escape.

 

As a side note: I’ll recommend checking Own voices reviews. I haven’t had the time to check them, but when I do I’ll link them here.

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Will you be reading The Perfect Escape?

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Book Review: Love From A to Z

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marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting

|CW: Islamophobia, cultural appropriation, chronic illness, racist microaggression, talk of rape, talk of family death, talk of war and war victims|

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Chinese-Canadian, Muslim, Multiple Sclerosis, POC.

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

5 stars

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A marvel of a book…

Love From A to Z was one of my most anticipated books of last year and you can’t imagine how happy I was when I somehow managed to convince my cousin to get me a copy for my birthday in July last year, and as I hoped it didn’t disappoint. When I finished this book, I was positively over the moon and I’d had another book I completely adored.

We follow the story of Adam and Zayneb (a character who shares my name, yay!) through their journals. Adam is a college student who has recently dropped out of his course following being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Zayneb (i won’t make any other name comment after this one i promise, but yay!) is a senior year high school who has been suspended from school for ‘threatening’ a wildly Islamophobic teacher. Somehow, maybe by the hand of fate, their paths cross. Two different people who share a journal.

I can’t begin to fully explain how much I love this book. Love From A to Z felt like the book I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I have so many feelings and not enough words to explain, but I’ll try.

I’ll start with the romance aka one of the most amazing things amongst all the amazing things in this amazing book. I know I’m being extra.

I love romance. I love halal romances, because they’re like peak Muslim, lol. Teen halal romances? Hell yes! But Love from A to Z has to be the most adorable halal romance ever. Most adorable halal teen romance.

What makes Love from A to Z superior over every other halal teen romance I’ve ever read? (which isn’t much, oop)
Its because it really explores being young and in love. I absolutely love how it explores teen emotions and love connect to being Muslim. I don’t think any other book as gotten being a Muslim teenager in love and today’s world completely right, but this book pretty much did. I’m going to combine this with the cute and relatable moments, lol.

Meeting a cute boy on the plane and finding out he’s Muslim too? Yes. Finding out said boy might actually like you too? Scream worthy yes. Inviting each other out, but with a family member or friends around to keep it halal? Yes. Texting each other random stuff? I’m crying but, yes. The feelings, the lust (which people try to shy away from, but yes teenagers can be lustful), but remembering Astagfirullah you’re entering forbidden territory? Yes!

Yes, the romance was everything but Love from A to Z was more than just the romance. It highlighted so many things central to the Muslim identity and also being a Muslim teenager in the twenty first century. While it’ll be false to say all Muslims share the same experiences, practice faith the same way; there are things we have all experienced even in small doses, and we have seen happening to people like us and this book shows different perspectives and experiences.

Despite all its cuteness, Love From A to Z, brought up difficult topics like Islamophobia, disability, wars and grief. Islamophobia in its different forms, and it means to be visibly Muslim today. I absolutely loved how SK Ali handled the MS rep. I don’t have words.

The writing was amazing, although a bit unconventional but it made the book even more amazing. I haven’t read a book that uses journal entries instead of titles, but SK Ali makes it work so well I really don’t think if it had been writing the ‘normal’ way, I’d feel so close to the characters. Writing the titles gave me an idea of what the chapter was and added to its impact, and reading their journals made me feel more connected to the characters.
I know I’m repeating myself but SK Ali is a genius.

The characters, my babies, my heart…

You know that book with characters so amazing you’ll fight anyone and everyone for? That’s Love From A to Z. It has to have one of the most lovable and relatable characters.

Being a character centred book, the characters didn’t just hold the story together, but gave its magic.

I adored the main characters, Adam and Zayneb. They’re like two polar opposites that just seem to attract each other. Like poles on a magnet. Adam is a laid back, quiet, soft spoken and gentle guy and Zayneb? Zayneb is fiery, passionate and a bit volatile like a storm or the sea after a rain. That’s Adam and Zayneb. Adam is like a sweet, gentle rain or the sea on a calm day and Zayneb is the opposite of that. Their differences are even made more obvious by the entries in their journals. Adam enters more marvels and Zayneb, the oddities.

The character relationships and development was just great also. I loved Adam’s relationship with his family. How he cares for his sister and her for him. His memories of his mum and the overall family relationship. Zayneb’s relationship with her family too was also amazing. And more than their families, I loved the friendships.

Love From A to Z had well rounded characters, I cannot stress how much the characters developed. Adam comes to terms with his diagnosis and realises he can be happy, and Zayneb being unapologetically Zayneb once more. I really don’t think I can care about book characters anymore than I care about these two.

It was a masterpiece…

I feel like despite all I’ve said I haven’t really been able to do this book one bit of justice. It’s so amazing, I just can’t say enough. All I can say is that you need to read this. This book deserves more recognition than it gets. Thank you, SK Ali for writing this. I really have no words. I should end this before I start crying again.

2000% recommend. All of my heart belongs to this book.

 

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Have you read this beautiful gem of a book? What did you think?

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