Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: “Every Exquisite Thing” by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

I’m excited to share that I will be contributing monthly reviews to The Lesbrary book review blog, dedicated to talking about books by and about women/femmes who identify as queer.

Image from Goodreads

The first review I wrote for the blog is for “Every Exquisite Thing,” a short story part of the Ghosts of the Shadow Market collection from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments universe. Follow this link to see the review. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve also read the collection or the story!

One Day at a Time Season 3 Exceeds Expectations…Again!

This is a recap I wrote about one of my favorite shows. It’s final season aired on Netflix and it got cancelled, but I’m hoping with enough traction, another network will pick it up. Here is the original post.

There was a moment there last year when One Day at a Time (ODAAT) fans weren’t sure if they’d get a season 3, but thanks to some persuasive hype from fans across Twitter and the internet overall, this little show that could saw the light of day once more. You could say, it’s taking things one day at a time (okay, I’m sorry, but Elena Alvarez would be proud of that one).

Speaking of Elena Alvarez and pride, this season of ODAAT continues the energetic and quirky Latinx’s coming out and coming of age story. The show does a magnificent job of depicting her growing relationship with her Sydnificant Other and taking the next step: sex. Yes, that’s right. ODAAT tackles the quintessential teenagers and sex storyline not with a heterosexual couple, but with a queer one, and that’s just sensational.

Why is it sensational you ask? Because most shows deal with this subject from the heteronormative perspective, with parents worrying about their babies learning the logistics of intercourse, teaching them about safe sex, and just what taking that next step can mean for a 15-year-old.

In this show, Penelope Alvarez, Elena’s mom, goes through the exact same concerns and worries about her daughter, and even consults her go-to lesbian friend for advice on how to handle the situation. This is one of the many things that makes the show so special. It doesn’t shy away from the hard conversations, it makes sure to include as many perspectives as possible, and it has so much fun and heart while doing it.

One Day at a Time covers all matters, from drug use, to addiction, to rape culture, to the idea of womanhood in contemporary times. The episodes that focus on Alex’s encounters with smoking and marijuana contain the humor you’d expect from a sitcom, but also touch on a valid point of view concerning brown communities.

His mom admits that she also smoked when she was about his age, but tells the story with an experience of being the only girl in her group of friends to get arrested while the rest were let off with warnings. She doesn’t approach the matter as one of criminality, but she is realistic about the implications of Alex getting caught.

Possibly one of the most heartbreaking moments in the season is Schneider’s relapse. Since the first episode, the audience has rooted for the honorary Alvarez member, so to watch him fall after eight years of sobriety was devastating, giving fans a minor taste of what actual families of addicts must feel. Though it’s met with all the severity called for from such a situation, it is not without compassion.

The Alvarez family stands by Schneider’s side as he admits he’s fallen off the wagon. While Penelope gives him the reprimand he needed, she also gives him the love and friendship he needs to get back up. She is absolutely the perfect picture of the Latinx mom: tough, but full of love.

So much more happens throughout season 3, including a phenomenal ending where Penelope goes through a crisis of identity and comes out with the realization that she is her own happy ending, and graduates as a nurse practitioner (dale, Lupita, dale!). With each passing season, Gloria Calderón Kellett, Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, and the whole ODAAT team prove that shows about people of color can resonate across all boundaries while representing their communities.

So, someone, please, please, please make season 4 happen! If you want to get on the social media campaign to help this show out, use #SaveODAAT.

Meagan Reads Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up for black history month and finished it just before February ended.

Image from Goodreads

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman growing up in Africa with some of the same concerns as most teenagers, and some not so common.

As she navigates her youth and becomes a college student, the constant protests and walk-outs from the schools’ faculties makes it hard for her and her friends to get an education. She decides to go to America, leaving her high school sweetheart Obinze behind.

This novel is not told in chronological order, but that’s the base storyline from which all the other events and moments that take place are founded on. The book takes on the Herculean task of addressing numerous sociopolitical issues, from race to feminism to sexual assault to class to culture and so much more.

While the material sounds heavy and overwhelming, Adichie’s writing is so precise and focused, that it never feels like it’s all over the place. The story itself doesn’t take on a linear structure, but its commentary and social elements are clear and articulate.

Even when the protagonist is working through the issues herself, Adichie’s development of Ifemelu’s feelings and actions in regards to them feels like real life. Sure, the characterization conveys the sense of a messy human being, but the writing itself is never a mess.

The events throughout the novel are broken up by posts that Ifemelu writes for her blog, each one relating to the particular scene happening at the moment. It was interesting to see the character’s introspective moments take place in this format, as it presented her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a cohesive manner that couldn’t be conveyed by the narration.

One of the salient points that stood out to me is that Ifemelu is often irked by displays of false identities. She doesn’t care for two-faced people, and yet in participating in her blog that sends her into internet fame, she too wears a mask. This hypocrisy might make for an unlikeable character to some, but for me personally, I found it realistic and just plain human.

Of the many issues touched on in this novel, its handling of mental illness and how it is perceived in other cultures stood out. The basic understanding brought to light by the African characters surrounding Ifemelu is that mental illness and conditions are fake diseases made up by white people.

When Ifemelu experiences anxiety and depression, her best friend Ginika recognizes the symptoms and talks to her about it. Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju though, from an older generation, says it’s just another made-up disease created by the quirky American doctors who think everything is a disease.

The split between generations and cultures creates a striking picture of how “Americanized” those who emigrated have become. However, they are still seen as foreigners and outsiders in America, but when they return to Nigeria, they are now foreigners and outsiders to their homeland.

This idea of belonging to two places and no place all at once resonated with me, as I’ve seen it second-hand with my father, and how he’s been living in this country longer than the country he was born in, and whenever we go back to visit Ecuador, he’s an outsider there now. It’s a feeling I’m sure many readers will find rings true.

Adichie’s novel doesn’t necessarily provide answers or easy fixes to the issues discussed or the problems emigrants/immigrants face. Rather, she brings the discussions to light so that those who read the book may take on the conversation, the same way her characters have.

Meagan Reads Poetry: My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet

I saw Aja Monet read at a poetry panel at the Miami Book Fair a couple of years back, and immediately knew I needed to pick up her book. It took me a while to do that because every time I went to look for it in a store, it was out of stock. That should tell you something right away. I finally found it at a store in Boston though, so I could finally read it!

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is a collection of poetry dedicated to the strength and vulnerability of women of color who straddle multiple worlds at once. The voice of so many of the poems feels soft, but strong, like a quiet passion. It’s feminine and reverent, like a prayer to a goddess.

Monet creates subtle, but powerful lines that evoke a primal emotion, like these:

"i cannot tell the difference
between her wailing and mine
my mother does not know
we are sisters"

In poems like “ree ree ree,” Monet uses solid images to convey a simultaneous sense of womanhood and the weight that comes with that identity, as well as freedom from identity afforded by childhood:

"how black and brown girls
gather and peel
comparing stretch marks
and playground scars."

Poems like “the young” give a raw and visceral feeling with images that pound on you as hard as the piece’s rhythm itself. This combination of detailed imagery with disciplined rhythms works to make a piece of art that hits hard.

The poems with short staccato lines create spitfire lyricism, while those with longer lines create a rich and lush cadence that conveys a sense of reverence. Monet is also adept at the use of space around words and on the page to convey sound instead of silence. The visual structure of the poems makes it feel like the blank space between words is louder than the words themselves.

Monet’s specific choice to use no capitalization and very little punctuation also plays into this sense of prayer within poetry. The collection reads as a series of pleas from the men, women, and children from the speaker’s world of simultaneous joy and sorrow.

While the first section focuses more on the power of femininity, the second part of the collection contains a cry for justice. Once again, Monet’s use of space and structure create a visual plea on the page that conveys a sense of urgency that evokes the pain behind the pleas.

The third part of the collection hones in on intimate relationships that have shaped the speaker. In the piece “selah,” Monet states:

"i love my body
when it is with your body"

This language shows a total vulnerability and insecurity that many people have, and yet in that vulnerability there is strength. It’s a personal sentiment, but one that is universal, and that’s what makes Monet’s work so brilliant.

The collection ends with a salient call to “always, be.” It’s a statement that ties the whole book together and reaffirms the very title of the collection, because the speaker knows that merely to exist is to resist, an act that those in the margins are all too familiar with.

I highly recommend this poetry collection to those who want to dive into work that lifts the voices of those who were once made voiceless. It contains so much emotion and power that long after reading, it lingers with you.

Has anyone else read My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter? What are your thoughts on the collection? Any particular poems that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

How to Find the Right Romance Novel

I used to be one of those book snobs who scoffed at romance novels, but after educating myself on the gendered implications of the genre, I decided I wanted to try to get into at least one.

I won’t lie. Letting go of my old prejudices that were deeply rooted in misogyny was not easy. Try as I might, it still kept a hold of me even as I ventured into romance novels. I just couldn’t get into them.

Two books I read in a month turned out to be grouped as romance on Goodreads. There was War Brides by Helen Bryan (a freebie I picked up ages ago from Amazon’s deal of the day) and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, which I got on audio for a steal with Google Play books and a generous Book Riot promo code. I chose it because, yes, I want to see the movie and support marginalized communities in entertainment.

GR War Brides blog
War Brides by Helen Bryan (Image from GoodReads)

Truthfully, I didn’t think War Brides was so much a romance novel, because the love stories play so subtly in the background of everything else going on. It mostly focuses on the lives of five women converging in Crowmarsh Priors, England due to the circumstances of World War II. I suppose the true love story in this book was the relationship that developed between these women who didn’t all get along at first, but eventually a friendship was forged in the fires of the war.

Still, the weddings and romances that took place within the book allow this novel to fall into the romance category. Due to the time it takes place, intimacy is described mildly. So, here we have historical fiction with a major focus on getting through a war and female bonds, with a side of romance.

I really enjoyed this book, as I kept wanting to read it instead of my textbooks for school. I was very much into the story plots of espionage, but I was equally charmed by the love stories between certain characters. I felt like I had an equal investment in the romance and surrounding story.

GR CRA blog
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, Audio Book read by Lynn Chen

Crazy Rich Asians is an absolute trip. It’s just so much fun. I come from a Latin-American background, so I can’t say that I totally relate to the culture, but I do see hints of my own family’s quirks within these characters.

There’s an overly-involved matriarch who’s trying to find the dirt on her son’s new girlfriend, while the totally laid-back husband lets her go about her insanity because he knows there’s no fighting it. There’s a down-to-earth cousin who’s more of a sister and offers sage advice. This is definitely an example of “rich people problems,” but with a cultural twist that I find just absolutely enjoyable. Roxane Gay put it best in her review of it when she called it dishy.

With these two books, I think I’ve finally found my stride with the romance genre. I just have to find love stories that take place within other environments that catch my interest, be it historical fiction or just enjoying another cultural perspective.

Has anybody else had this struggle and found a solution that works for them? What are some other romance novels you can recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Fiction: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This is an older novel now, but I read it for my coworkers’ book club. I went with Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed because I’ve read his other two big novels (Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and loved them. Spoilers may come up in this article, so if you haven’t read the book and plan to, proceed at your own risk!

hosseini blog

The novel takes place across the U.S., Greece, Paris, and Afghanistan, throughout different storylines from various characters and family ties. Each family’s story creates an echo of the one that came before it. While every character dynamic creates a glimpse into the messiness of life and the relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and siblings, each on its own, together they weave a rich tapestry that converges all their stories.

From the very beginning, readers are warned that this isn’t going to have a happy ending. As Abdullah’s father tells his children the story of the div that takes a village’s children, only not for as vile a reason as they at first believe, we see the foreshadowing of what’s to come for Pari, Abdullah’s sister. In a time and village when raising children is difficult, Saboor, their father, makes the hard decision to give Pari away to Mr. Wahdati, his brother Nabi’s boss, so that she may have a better life and survive, even if it means breaking Abdullah and Pari apart.

But life with the Wahdatis is imperfect, as Nila, Pari’s new mother, struggles with depression and oppression in a society that demonizes “bad” women. Meanwhile, Mr. Wahdati hides his secret love for his chauffeur Nabi, who only comes to know this secret after he becomes the man’s caretaker after suffering a terrible stroke. Nila flees to Paris with Pari, where life for them there ensues in such disarray.

In and out these stories go, jumping from Markos Vavaris, who becomes friends with Nabi and discovers the secret of Pari’s past, and must now find her to reunite her with her brother, to two other cousins who visit Afghanistan in hopes of recovering their family’s lost land and encounter Markos and his friend Thalia.

It’s hard to lay out the details of all the stories, as after a while of reading, they bleed into one another and the lack of chronology makes it hard to tell one story without jumping back into another. This, of course, is Hosseini’s intention with the way he’s structured the novel. It’s all one story told from varying perspectives, and yet each perspective is its own story in its own right. The difficulty in retelling the whole point of the novel in fact reflects the book’s main theme: that life happens all at once in a kaleidoscopic field, and there maybe isn’t an actual point. It just is.

Hosseini’s prose is lush and poetic, reflecting the characters’ culture’s penchant for storytelling. Though the chapters grow longer as the book passes, time never seems to be an issue when reading it. The beauty of the Hosseini’s language makes this heavy and heartbreaking read easy to devour. Simply put, it’s just well written.

If you’ve read this book or other Hosseini works, leave comments! Did you like them? What were your thoughts?

This post was originally featured on The Misadventures of a Media Journalist blog.