Australian, diversity spotlight thursday, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, OwnVoices, Speculative Fiction

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a meme started by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks; you can read the announcement post here. Each spotlight involves sharing:

  1. A diverse book I have read and enjoyed
  2. A diverse book that has already been released but I have not read
  3. A diverse book that has not yet been released

Read and enjoyed: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Goodreads Link

Summary:

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I reread this recently and it was an absolute delight. Woodson’s writing was beautiful, immersing me completely as it evoked her family life and world as a child. Telling the memoir in verse was especially effective in evoking emotions, and the sense of times gone past.

As a writer, I enjoyed the details of her coming to realise her intuitive passion for words and storytelling and began to write. I especially loved this moment, when she discovered a picture book with an African-American child and realised “that someone who looked like me/could be in the pages of the book/that someone who looked like me/had a story” – it was incredibly moving.

TBR: Ida by Alison Evans

Goodreads Link

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Summary:

How do people decide on a path, and find the drive to pursue what they want?

Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths.

One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered.

How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?

Ida is an intelligent, diverse and entertaining novel that explores love, loss and longing, and speaks to the condition of an array of overwhelming, and often illusory, choices.

I’ve been so looking forward to reading Ida, which was released in Australia in January – it’s so rare to see ownvoices stories of genderqueer characters, and I’ve heard a lot about how great the queer rep is + how naturally it’s integrated.

Whilst I’m not generally a sci-fi reader, the premise does sound really interesting – a blend of contemporary and realism with the classic coming-of-age/finding your path YA and New Adult concerns. Should be a thought-provoking read!

Not Yet Released: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Goodreads Link

29917906Summary:

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

You had me at ‘conspiracy of history and magic’. The Cold War’s a fascinating period of history, and I’d love to learn more about it through this story. This is an ownvoices book, featuring a Jewish-American protag.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

Speculative Fiction

First Light by Rebecca Stead – Review

Book Review: First Light by Rebecca Stead. Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy!

Goodreads Link

Publisher’s Website

Book’s Website

First Light was a beautiful read, blending science fiction and fantasy in a clever way, filled with mystery and suspense, and with its lovable characters. Rebecca Stead is most well-known for her second book When You Reach Me, the Newbery Medal winner – which I do highly recommend! – but I did slightly prefer First Light over it: its plot was more complex, and the characters more compelling. My thoughts are below the blurb.

Summary

Thea has never seen the sun. Her world lies deep within a glacier, a place of great beauty, hardship and superstition. She longs for her people to return to the surface, but her search forces her to defy her powerful grandmother – and reveals the truth behind her mother’s tragic death.

Peter has arrived in Greenland to live on the ice while his father studies climate change. There, he is troubled by strange visions – visions that lead him to a crevice in the glacier…

My thoughts

To start with, I absolutely adored Thea, one of the protagonists. She’s a fourteen-year-old from Gracehope – an imaginary society of hundreds of people inside a glacier in Greenland, descended from a group of persecuted settlers who sought safety there, several generations ago. Thea’s given nuance through the pressure she feels as the last daughter of the first line of settlers, through her role caring for the Chikchu dogs within her society, and her relationships with those around her (her conflict with her grandmother Rowen, and her friendships and family relationships). What I loved most about her was her passionate conviction in finding a better path for her people, and her courage and vulnerability throughout the story.

Peter, the other POV character, was also really likable – though he’s not given as much depth as Thea is, and the chapters from his perspective initially feel quite slow in comparison. It’s not a huge issue though, and in retrospect, makes sense in light (ha, ha) of what it was setting up. It’s nice to see how curious he is about, and how he realistically reacts to, the completely different world he faces in Greenland.

The supporting characters were also well-portrayed. I liked how there was a balance between giving the adult characters depth, and having us empathise most with the young characters and their perspectives – many middle-grade novels don’t do very well in this regard. There aren’t really any ‘minor’ characters – sufficient attention is given to everyone as they’re set up at the start, and later, more is revealed about them or a different side of them is shown. I’m hoping we’ll see more diversity amongst Rebecca Stead’s casts as time goes on, as this has been pretty lacking in the books I’ve read of hers (all of them except Goodbye, Stranger) so far.

The worldbuilding in this book was also amazing. The fictional society of Gracehope is fascinating, with their specific traditions and hierarchies, the visual descriptions of their world under the ice (how they skate to get around, the lake, the council chamber…), their history, and the different roles within the society. I also liked how their society paralleled enough with ours that you could understand it really well from the start – many fantasy books have the problem of being too confusing in their introductions, but that didn’t happen here – I was easily immersed.

Additionally, I was impressed by the blend of science fiction and fantasy in this book. This is obviously tricky to pull off, and First Light was great in that respect. I also liked how the very relevant issue of climate change was integrated throughout the story – it really showed an awareness of and made you care about the issue (if, well, you didn’t care already) without being straightforwardly didactic.

Finally, what really kept me reading throughout the book were the mystery elements. Thea encounters secrets and questions about her people’s history, and the future meant for them. Peter wonders about what his parents seem to be hiding, and comes across surprises on the ice. I was really impressed by the way information was revealed as these mysteries were uncovered – whereas other books often go into too much of an infodump, First Light never did this. Good use of context and timing to spread out the information, the use of different characters to tell these stories, having surprises, and imbuing everything deeply with emotion all aided in this.

First Light would be great for inspiring an interest in science and awareness of global warming, as an introduction to fantasy, and for the mystery elements, in kids. It’s not just for the middle grade target audience though – the story’s complex and compelling enough for readers of any age. Definitely recommended.

graphic novel, Speculative Fiction

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Review

It’s been a while since I’ve read a new graphic novel, so it was great fun to dive into such a good one. Nimona gave me what I expected in the best possible way – lots of fun, action, sharp humour and likable characters – and also what I didn’t expect – emotional scenes and relationships. I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, but otherwise really liked the book and think it’s something I’d reread.

We start off the story by meeting Ballister Blackheart, ‘the biggest name in supervillainy’, and Nimona, a young girl and shapeshifter who convinces him to make her his sidekick. As they uncover possible secrets at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and attempt to wreak havoc, things escalate. Standing in their way is Sir Goldenloin, who has a past with Blackheart, but possibly the most intriguing and threatening of all are the secrets behind Nimona’s own powers.

In terms of visuals, I wasn’t completely taken with Nimona’s art style (especially the
font/handwriting in the dialogue) at first, but it grew on me as the book progressed. The colours were always great and vibrant, though, and I enjoyed the creativity in the character designs and the settings. One issue I had was that at some parts of the story, particularly in major battles and the like, that the action moved too quickly between panels. I had to struggle to keep up with what was going on and go back to some previous panels to try and follow what had happened from one sequence to the next. Not a huge issue, but a noticeable one.

As I said, Nimona had great humour, dialogue, action and plain fun from the first page. I won’t go into too much detail about this, because it’s something you need to experience for yourself, but there were jokes about everything from heroes and villains to slapstick to science to magic abound. Definitely could be enjoyed by people of all ages. There’s a slight edge of silliness, in a fun way, that never went overboard to detract from the story; and it’s also something which I think was helped by the visual medium.

The characters were also very likable. Telling the story from the villains’ point of view has been done, and not always well, but it’s pulled off very effectively here. I admired, laughed and rooted for Blackheart and Nimona the whole way.

The biggest issue with the book was, as I said above, the ending. Without giving too much away, there was nowhere near enough closure. It was somewhat sad with a touch of hopefulness – which I’m fine with – but when this was done on top of a lack of closure I ended up feeling disappointed.

I’m still happy to recommend Nimona for everything else that it did so well. It’s difficult to think of similar recommendations because of everything unique about the book, but if you enjoy graphic novels, kids’ cartoons with that depth and universal appeal which everyone will enjoy, and fantasy (with a touch of science), you’ll enjoy this!