Posts Tagged With: romance

Almost Perfect

by Brian Katcher

Logan is still smarting from his break-up with Brenda, his chaste girlfriend of three years who cheated on him in the backseat of a car with some random dude. His friends try to convince him to ask out someone new, but he isn’t interested–until Sage Hendricks transfers to his school. She’s cute, she’s weird, and she seems really interested, but some secret from her past is keeping her from being anything more than friends with Logan. Everyone thinks they’re together, and Logan wishes they were… until he kisses Sage and she tells him her secret: she was assigned male at birth. Logan freaks out about what this means for him, but as Sage remains part of his life, he starts to think about what it means for her and what it doesn’t have to mean for them.

I’m really happy a book like this exists (even though I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, which I’ll get into later). It’s not a great book for a trans person to read, because it is so much about the ungenerous things ignorant people think when they first encounter a trans woman, but it’s a great premise for a reader who still has a lot to ponder about trans issues. Logan is a hick, and his response to Sage’s revelation is horrible, but pretty realistic. He worries that it means he’s gay, he worries that others will think it means he’s gay, he thinks Sage tricked him, he grapples with the image he has of Sage’s body. He treats her like dirt, and I wanted something better for Sage, but I appreciated the realism. Logan evolves realistically over the course of the novel, but he’s still not perfect by the end, which I liked even though I still didn’t like him. I loved Sage and I thought she was a really well-rounded character, especially for a trans character in an issues book, since they usually treat “problem characters” like Sage as props for the “normal” main character’s emotional journey.

What I absolutely hated about the book was all the racism. Some of it was unnecessary characterization of Logan’s friends: Sam is a fat Japanese-American who is compared to Buddha more than once; Jack is a white kid whose favourite joke is an “Engrish” pun. But the worst instance of racism in the book was Logan’s description of going to a frat party:

Approaching Greek Town was like riding up to an encampment of angry Indians. I could hear their war cries long before I saw them.

None of these descriptions or characterizations are valuable in any way, and it frustrates me that they were not edited out of this otherwise valuable book. Yes, a lot of LGBT-themed YA books are about middle- or lower-class white teenagers, and as problematic as I find that I will still recommend those books to teens. I’m so desperate for good trans YA fiction that I probably would have still recommended this to teens with the racist characterizations of Sam and Jack. But the “encampment of angry Indians” bit is inexcusable.

With great regret, I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

edit: Definitely did not think this review would ever find its way to Brian Katcher. He seems like a decent fellow and he took my criticism seriously, so I’d definitely give his next book a chance. I’ve removed a line I wrote about the award this book received, because while I still have problems with race issues being overlooked in LGBT book awards, it was a pretty mean thing to write.

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Categories: teens | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales: Sanctuary

by Melissa Marr; ill. Irene Diaz & Laura Moreno

Desert Tales is a story arc with characters from Wicked Lovely outside of the Faerie Courts of the novels. Ex-faery Rika lives in the Mojave desert, pining over a mortal boy named Jayce who can’t see her. When some mischevious desert faeries cause Jayce to fall off a cliff, Rika saves him by breaking his fall, causing her to be visible to him and his friends. The faeries continue to razz Rika by trying to harm Jayce, causing her to reveal more of her powers to Jayce in order to keep him safe. But would a boy like Jayce want to be with a girl who wasn’t quite human?

I thought this book was going to be a manga adaptation of Wicked Lovely, but it is a story that takes place outside of the world of the Wicked Lovely novels, and it is probably better for it. As with most manga, the story in the first volume just sets everything up and isn’t wrapped up in the end. The plot is a bit boring because of that, but you get Rika’s backstory and a lot of characterization. The drawings are done in a really pretty manga style and I didn’t have too hard a time telling characters apart in most frames (why must everyone have those stringy bangs?). I love that the lead boy is a person of colour–something you don’t see in a lot of teen fantasy or most manga or even on the cover of this book), but I dislike Rika’s wimpy female routine. She is a very insecure character, super emotional and timidly shy, and she has to tone down her strength so Jayce won’t know she is supernatural. I’m hoping that as the story goes on, her strength will become more of an asset and we’ll get to see her kicking butt. While not a fantastic read on its own, this volume set up a decent amount of conflict in what could be an interesting world, and I would read the second one.

Recommended for fans of Wicked Lovely or teens who like fantasy romance manga. You don’t have to read the series to understand this story, but it probably helps.

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Blood Red Road

by Moira Young

Saba is devoted to nothing more than her twin brother, Lugh. They live with their little sister Emmi and their pa out in the middle of nowhere with only one distant neighbour. Living conditions are getting worse and worse, and Pa can’t seem to read the stars right anymore so he doesn’t know when the next rain will come. Lugh says Pa could never read the stars, that there’s nothing to read, they’re just stars. But it seems the stars have told their pa something, because he knows before it happens that Lugh is going to being carried off by Tonton soldiers, that Saba will search for Lugh, and that he himself is going to die trying to stop the Tonton from leaving. After she sees the Tonton kill her father and ride off with her brother, Saba fuels her quest for Lugh with red hot hatred, letting her anger take control and guide her through each trial she encounters. Her singleminded pursuit of her brother becomes complicated when others want to get involved, and Saba must learn to feel more than anger and hatred in order to achieve her true heart’s desire.

This book is nearly 500 pages, but I blew through it in four days because I just couldn’t put it down. Saba is a very strong, stubborn character with a loud personality. She reminded me of Katsa from Graceling, because she was physically strong but had problems allowing herself to feel positive emotions. I love strong female characters, and any character that has a crow as a free pet gets bonus points for awesomeness. I wasn’t sure if I would like the writing style, since many words are written in a phonetic way, but it was consistent and definitely more intelligible than Trainspotting. First person narration can get awkward with action sequences, but Saba is a gripping narrator and the action reads like you’re watching it yourself. As always, I was frustrated when the focus shifted from action to romance, and I found it hard to believe that Saba’s real heart’s desire was not saving the life of her twin brother, but starting a romance with some annoyingly cocky dude she just met. I guess either way she lives entirely to be with one man or another, which is less feminist than I thought this book would be (not to mention less entertaining). Still, I really enjoyed the adventure in the story–if not the characters and their relationships–and I would read the next one to see how it goes and how Saba’s character continues to develop. I sincerely hope the Amazon-like Free Hawks get more page time in the next one–especially Maev–and I pray to Moira Young that it won’t involve anyone getting together with Lugh.

Of course a good read for anyone who loved The Hunger Games or other dystopian books with romance thrown in. The romance part is a bit of a dealbreaker for readers who just want a straight-up action adventure, though.

Question for other dystopia-loving readers: can you think of any physically strong female protagonists who do not get romantic with another character? I’d love to find something like that.

Categories: teens | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins

Yes, everyone has already reviewed this. But I wanted my say too. I watched Battle Royale long before I read this book, and even though the concept is a pretty clear rip off, I still enjoyed Collins’s take on it. The games are brutal and are described brilliantly, and I appreciate a book that doesn’t shy away from the feel-bad vibes of killing a lovable character here and there. I’m a sucker for strong female characters and emotionally complex relationships, which is why I loved the first book when I read it. Katniss is described as having olive skin, which I read as her being mixed race or at least not explicitly white. I really appreciated it, and I think it is just more realistic in a story set in the future. As a side note, I felt really betrayed when I learned that the casting call for Katniss in the movie was explicitly for whites only. Read this for more thoughts on the race issues with the movie.

Before all this movie business came out, I read Catching Fire and I continued to enjoy Katniss’s rejection of all romantic attention directed toward her. The book was a pretty big copy/paste of the first book with a few tweaks here and there, but if I could enjoy The Hunger Games after Battle Royale, what was one more variation of the same story? The book annoyingly ended on a cliff-hanger, so I toiled and toiled until the third book came out….

All for nought. While The Hunger Games was one of the best books I read the year it came out, Mockingjay was one of the worst. It’s not even that bad if you compare it to other YA novels or even other dystopian novels, but I was comparing it to the first two novels in the series. It’s like Collins got wrapped up in the surge of feedback she was getting from teen fans online, and decided to make it about romance instead of about kicking oppressive government butt. Katniss spends most of the book nearly catatonic over who she will choose to be her boyfriend. I couldn’t be more disappointed if she ended up marrying a Mormon vampire. There is a tragic twist at the end that I found to be an emotional cheap shot, and the way Katniss makes her “big decision” (no, not about taking down the government–about who she will date, sillyhead!) is too convenient and predictable to give this book any compliments other than “great action sequences.” They are pretty good action sequences, though.

I recommend dystopia-lovers to read the first book. It stands alone quite nicely, and trust me when I tell you that it’s not worth it to read on.

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