Love, Hate & Other Filters

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult
Pub Date: Jan. 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

This was disappointing. I picked this from my library’s limited selection of audiobooks because I’ve been having a lot of success with Young Adult audiobook’s lately and I’ve been seeing some buzz about it.

To be honest, I didn’t even look at the synopsis, I just new it was about an Indian teenager who was into film. I didn’t like the Maya’s voice from the beginning and I found her such a whiny narrator to listen to. When I hit the 20% mark and this book was still just a surface level romance novel, I debated DNFing and went back to look at the synopsis. When I realized the main premise of this book was actually supposed to be about a terrorist attack and the struggles many Muslim people suffer to be accepted after any terrorist attack, I decided to stick it out.

I appreciate what Samira Ahmed was trying to do with this book. She addressed several different themes: the struggle of Indian daughters to breakaway from their parents expectations, the struggle of any teenager to pursue a career in something as unstable as the film industry, and the xenophobia and hate against Muslims and those who are “othered” in the United States. These are all great themes and I was interested in exploring the different ways people react in the aftermath of a tragedy and how some people let their hate overcome them, while others fight for those who are marginalized. But I thought the execution in this book was terrible.

Honestly, this was a romance novel with a brief look at some of the themes I’ve discussed above. It didn’t explore any of these themes in any great depth and I thought all of the characters emotions were very surface level. This book had more unyielding parents (I’ve read a lot of books of this nature lately), but the drama felt really forced and not authentic. In theory I understood that Maya’s parents were trying to protect their daughter in a world that is not very kind, but no one used any reason in this book (Maya included), except for her Aunt, and everyone felt extremely 1-dimensional. The main story was ultimately a romance and it wasn’t a very well written one. It was so cliche and I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes through the entire thing. This book just had so much more potential, but it got bogged down with a heavy romance and the author barely explored any of the complex themes she introduced into the story.

Even though this tacked something I haven’t seen addressed much in literature, I would not recommend this book. It was too poorly written and executed. Pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterThe Nowhere Girls, or The Poet X instead.

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The Poet X

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (Read Apr. 2018)

“Burn it! Burn it.
This is where the poems are,” I say,
thumping a fist against my chest.
“Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”

Yes! I loved this!

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican Republican immigrants. Her mom is extremely religious and is adamant that Xiomara be confirmed in the catholic church. Xiomara has always been a little rough around the edges, getting in fights to protect her twin brother and against the lewd remarks men in her neighbourhood make about her body. She just wants to be a normal teenager and date boys like the other girls her age.

She feels repressed in her day to day life and turns to poetry to express herself, which she records in her private journal. She really enjoys writing her English assignments and when her English teacher, Ms. Galiano starts a slam poetry club, she is intrigued because it feels like the poetry is just bursting out of her. But the poetry club meets at the same time as her confirmation class, which Mami would never allow her to miss.

At the same time, Xiomara meets a boy, Aman. She just wants to spend time with him like any other teenager. But her mother is strictly opposed to dating and she is forced to hide her relationship with him. She questions everything in her life, from her mother’s strict rules to the religion that is being forced on her. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide what’s going on in her life and Xiomara becomes more and more at odds with her mother. Poetry becomes the only way she can expresses the conflict she feels building inside her.

I have read so many books lately about latinx teenagers and I have learned so much about latinx family culture (although most of the books were about Mexican culture). What has been hardest for me to understand is the relationship between these American-born daughters and their immigrant mothers. Every single book I’ve read has had the same conflict of strict latina mothers and their teenage daughters trying to break away from the confines of their mother’s perspective and rules. I grew up in a religious home as well, but I can’t imagine the frustration of mother and daughter not being able to relate to each other. My mom can have a pretty strong personality, but she was never anything but supportive and understanding of where I was coming from. I think the difference is that we both grew up in Canada and shared the same cultural perspective, whereas Xiomara and her mother grew up in very different circumstances and struggled to relate to one another.

I always talk about liking gritty books with gritty writing and this is another great example. I recently read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and The Authentics at the same time and loved the first and disliked the second because one book was so gritty and authentic while the other seemed to have this protective layer of film over the story, lacking any real emotional depth. I had the same experience with this book as I read it at the same time as I read Love, Hate & Other Filters, which I felt had that same disconnect between the emotional potential of the story and the actual depth the author achieved. I am here for the emotions and Acevedo was not afraid to go there in this book. It’s what makes one book great and another book sadly mediocre.

The poetry in this book was fantastic. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I really love books like this that are not a collection of poems, but a whole story told in poetry. I’ve already picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of my reading challenge books for April, which I understand is written in a similar fashion, so I’m excited to pick that one up later this month! Definitely recommend this book!

The Queen of Attolia

Rating: .5
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Series: The Queen’s Thief #2
Genres: Fantasy
Pub Date: 2000 (read Apr. 2018)

This is a surprisingly hard book to rate! It has such high reviews and I went into it with such high expectations and it just didn’t quite live up to them 😦

The Queen of Attolia is the 2nd book in the Queen’s Thief series and follows where The Thief left off, so there are spoilers from The Thief in here if you haven’t read the first novel. Gen has returned to Eddis to continue in his role as the Queen’s Thief. He continues to steal into the Queen of Attolia’s court and when he is caught, she takes swift vengeance against him. He is returned to Eddis, but he barely recovers from his run-in with Attolia and is listless, hiding away from the rest of the court. Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis war with each other and Eugenides comes up with a plan to steal the Queen of Attolia and find justice for his country.

Megan Whalen Turner is definitely a good writer and I really like how clever her plots are. Every character and every sentence matters. I think I said this in my last review, but it reminds me of Melina Marchetta’s writing in that every single character matters and nothing happens by chance. This book has a pretty brutal start, but I only grew to love Eugenides more and more. I like that she gives Attolia a back story and that she’s not just an evil shadow queen. It’s still a pretty short book for fantasy and I’m interested to see what she’d going to do with the story in the next book.

The only part I didn’t really like in this book was the romance. I liked the little surprise in the middle, but I just didn’t really buy into the romance. I could buy into the proposal as a bid for power, but I didn’t get the love.

Anyways, I don’t have a whole lot else to say about this book. It’s a struggle to rate because it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, so I want to rate it a 3.5, but I gave the Thief a 4 and this was just as good as the Thief. I didn’t expect much from the Thief and it ended up really surprising me with how clever it was, which is why I gave it a 4. I was expecting this one to be clever, which is maybe why I didn’t love it as much – my expectations were just too high.

Top Reads Winter 2018

I read some really great books over the past few months, so I decided to take a look back at some of my favourite reads this Winter (Jan-Mar). I read a total of 32 books and it was really hard to narrow down the field. I re-read a few old favourites (Jellicoe Road and Beartown), but I decided not to consider these since they weren’t new winter reads and I’ve talked a lot about them already. So, my top 5 reads of Winter 2018 (in no particular order) are as follows:

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

I read this as part of my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration and I loved it! It’s a simple story about a girl and her mom who immigrate from China to America and struggle to make it in New York City. They live in a horrible apartment with no heat and work long hours in a sweat shop sewing clothes, receiving little support from their family. But the main character Kimberly is determined to get an education to lift herself and her mother out of poverty. Girl in Translation tells of her struggles throughout middle school and high school – I thought it was just such a quiet, meaningful story.

I listened to this one as an audiobook and it was the first fictional audiobook I’ve loved. Julia is the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants whose older sister Olga has just died in a tragic accident. In the wake of her death, Julia struggles with her grief and her inability to live up to her mother’s ideal of the perfect daughter. She acts out against her family and those around her, shutting herself off from the world in her anger. Julia is not a likable character, but her grief was just so raw and real that I couldn’t help but love her, despite all the questionable choices she makes. A fantastic read about grief and identity and special props to the audiobook narrator Kyla Garcia, who is fantastic!

Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading my way through the graphic novel series, Saga, for a while now, but something about the latest issue struck me so much more than all the other volumes. Saga tells the story of Alana and Marko, an intergalactic family who fall in love despite coming from two opposing sides of a war, and their newborn daughter Hazel. The story follows them across the galaxy as they try to be a family despite all the people and governments who want all evidence of their traitorous relationship to be eliminated. Vaughan weaves so much relevant social commentary into this series about families, violence, relationships, and politics and Fiona Staples artwork is amazing! The artwork is NSFW, but a fantastic and engaging series!

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

I picked up this book because it made the Canada Reads shortlist for 2018 and I’ve been trying to read more Canadian authors and it did not disappoint. I can’t pinpoint why I loved this book so much, it’s a pretty short science fiction read about a dystopian future where indigenous people are hunted for their bone marrow. The government has constructed a second round of schools for indigenous peoples to harvest their bone marrow that are chillingly familiar to the residential school system. The book tells the story of one group of indigenous individuals who form their own kind of family in the woods to try and protect themselves. We slowly learn everyone’s back story throughout the novel and you can’t help but admire them for their hope and tenacity. I thought it was a meaningful and beautifully written story.

This book surprised me. It was really hard to pick the last book for this list out of all the 4 star books I read this season, but this one just stands out for me. I didn’t expect to like it that much and it is a looong book, but Johnston dragged me right into his story and I was completely captivated by Fielding and Smallwood and their love for Newfoundland. I read Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders a few years ago and I feel like this was a good companion novel because together they examine both sides of Newfoundlands journey to confederation with Canada. I really liked Johnston’s writing and it was a moving read about a place so dear to my heart.