Review: Piecing Me Together

Review: Piecing Me Together

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)


“I don’t know what’s worse. Being mistreated because of the colour of your skin, your size, or having to prove that it really happened.”

High school junior Jade attends an elite school on scholarship in a predominately white area where she is the only person from her “bad” neighbourhood in Portland, OR. With her mother struggling to make ends meet, she reminds Jade that every opportunity must never be wasted if she wants to book it out her neighbourhood someday. However, Jade can’t help but feel like some of these opportunities make her feel like a charity case. More than anything, she wants to join her school’s study abroad week to improve her Spanish skills. But instead, she is invited to a mentorship program for people from her background and is partnered up with Maxine, a school alumnus who has made a name for herself and wants to give back to her community. She has nothing in common with Maxine and her privileged background, but this is an opportunity that Jade can’t turn down. 

Piecing Me Together is a standout novel about a teen’s journey of awareness and self-empowerment through art. Readers will find Jade’s story thoughtful as she navigates the world as a Black girl. The microaggressions she faces in her everyday life is powerfully nuanced and incredibly realistic. Race, privilege and identity are key themes that string through the entire novel. I feel like this book will get some slack for being “quiet” but, honestly, this technique works best in this circumstance. It lacks in an explosive conflict, opting for a story that focuses on the minute reproduction of Jade’s reality. Watson touches upon a lot in so little space which makes the story so layered and put together. Because of this, I wasn’t a massive fan of how quickly the conflict Jade had with one of her white peers had resolved.  This is just a heads up to readers who prefer a more fast-paced read. 

The way Watson create Jade’s voice was indeed on point and brought to life the way Jade’s experiences differs to say Sam, her new friend, who is white and comes from the same impoverished background as her. Jade can see how, despite their similar experiences, they are given different opportunities. Sam benefits a lot from white privilege but fails to see to truly understands its impact until Jade points it out. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself frustrated with Sam but opens your understanding of how she thinks what she does.  Jade grows up a lot in this, and I appreciated her development. She starts by not wanting to rock the boat but slowly realises that she is allowed to speak out when in discomfort and she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it. Maxine is a little tricky. It took some time to appreciate her, mainly because she doesn’t begin taking the mentorship seriously, which impacts how Jade feels about her. (and me!) Slowly, over time, they realise they can relate to each other. Jade’s home community is quite precious. I love her uncle and her mum. They’re often on edge with each other, but do care genuinely and want the best for the other. 

Overall, I found Piecing Me Together quite touching and realistic. Jade’s story is colourful as her art and well put together. The characters come alive and become people that we might already know in our lives. Watson has created a story that gives a voice to often silenced Black voices and creates an exciting story that can be completed in one sitting. 


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Review: I Wish You All The Best

Review: I Wish You All The Best

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

“Whatever happens, I wish you all the best, Ben De Backer.” 

Just three words have Ben De Backer kicked out of his family home and living with their estranged sister and brother-in-law. After coming out as nonbinary, they are forced to start life anew in a different school, aiming to keep a low profile. But any attempts by Ben to live their life unnoticed is quickly interrupted by Nathan Allan, a charismatic student, who decided to take Ben under his wing. Slowly, Ben comes out of their shell and what began as a horror story could very well have a happy ending. 

When Ben is rejected by their parents, they are taken in by their older sister, Hannah, who has also left home suddenly due to their parent’s judgemental behaviour. With ten years lost between them, they begin to work fixing the gap they have between them. I appreciated Hannah and how she finally had enough of her parent’s actions and decided to make a move to leave. Deaver portrays her struggle well, and I enjoyed how it intertwined with Ben’s life, and her actions still resonate in the current story. Hannah and Thomas, her husband, try their best to help Ben get settled into a new school and create a healthier and affirming environment for Ben to thrive in. They’re learning, and doing their best to do it right. 

A shining point in this story is Ben’s support system. It begins with Hannah, but it doesn’t stop there. Mariam is their online nonbinary mentor who provides much-needed support, but the online space creates some disconnect. They also meet with a therapist who allows Ben to address what they’ve faced in a safe environment, allowing them to tackle their anxiety in a space that suits them. Ben also meets unlikely friends in school, including Nathan who brings in his friends and Ben thrives in their new environment. Ben still has trouble, but that’s okay because for once, they can think of a future that isn’t so unstable. 

I managed to get this book down in under three hours, and it was time well spent. Ben’s story is a much-needed one. Ben’s fear felt so real, and it showed on-page. They may have left their home, but their parent’s reaction isn’t far off from their mind, reminding them that everything they have now could go in an instant. Deaver’s debut begins with a tragic outcome but ends with a wholesome promise of a new beginning on one’s own terms. 

Overall, I Wish You All The Best is quiet but satisfying. A story about a nonbinary teen by a nonbinary author; this is a story that celebrates life amidst terrifying circumstances and is a shining example of what future contemporary YA literature has to offer. 


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Review: The Silence of the Girls

Review: The Silence of the Girls

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher.

As the ancient city of Troy continues to withstand the brutal siege of the Greek army, its surrounding areas slowly find themselves torn to pieces by Greece’s greatest warrior, Achilles. Having watched her city ransacked, her family murdered, Briseis finds herself deep within the Greek army, a battle prize, forced to adjust to her new lifestyle. Far from home, Briseis brings to life a story often untold: the life of a woman living in war.

One of the beauties of The Iliad is the sheer depth and detail that comes to life in the story, making it open to so many interpretations and retellings — giving characters you might not have given a second glance, a space to thrive and make their story told. And The Silence of the Girls is one to add to your list. What made this book unique that despite how quiet it felt reading it, it certainly packed a hefty punch. Barker does not give up in the detail: violent, brutal and devastating. We follow Briseis from the moment Achilles takes her away to the days after his own demise. She understands how little her life means in the hands of men who think they’re above her.

The conflict, climax, and resolution of the Trojan War is not a surprise to most readers, so I really enjoyed witnessing the day to day life of Briseis and what she could’ve been expected to do around an enemy camp. Memorable names – Agamemnon, Priam, Hector, and Patroclus, etc. etc – all make an appearance one way or another, and we get to see them through different eyes. I was rather interested in the actions of Achilles when he’s not being a hero. He is in no way a hero to Briseis, and we get to witness that. For most of the novel, Briseis is our first-person narrator, but towards the finale, the narrative brings in Achilles, and he was a fascinating figure of brutality and equally compelling to follow. 

The book’s pacing was rather slow, but for me, that worked in its favour. I enjoyed that I wasn’t barrelling through the novel at the speed of light, and I was consistently engaged throughout the entire reading experience. However, I have to note that despite the title and its emphasis on the voices that were left untold, the story doesn’t really highlight much of its own women apart from Briseis and Helen. I would even say the men were given more depth than some of the captured women. I guess you could say that’s a product of the original text that ignored them in the first place. 

Overall, a brilliant imagining of the untold experience of Briseis. A fascinating take on the myth of Achilles and the Trojan war told by a woman that time could’ve forgotten. Barker makes a stand in this detailed standalone that can satisfy any mythology enthusiast. 


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Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy of both books via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

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Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer

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“Regardless of whether you desire it, love is what sits at the core of the world. It is stronger than greed and hate and jealousy and pain. What brings us together will always be more powerful than what keeps us apart.” 

A poetry and prose collection that uses mythological goddesses to create a story of self-love and healing. I’m a not a massive fan of poetry collections anymore, but something about Aphrodite particularly caught my attention. Maybe, I’m just a sucker for mythological goddesses.

 The poetry collection begins with Aphrodite and the author conversing before weaving into different pieces that discussed topics such as body image, abuse and queerphobia. I think about stood out the most was how Mateer framed this collection and its narrative. The collection flows through Aphrodite’s life, while also mentioning other women such as Medusa and Pandora, intertwining their stories with her own experiences. 

I absolutely loved the illustrations and the designs of the tarot cards. I haven’t read anything previously by Mateer, so I don’t know if it’s a common thing, but I wasn’t expecting it. So it added such a nice touch to the entire collection. I would definitely consider buying a physical copy because of the art. 

“I belong to no one. They never wrote that part down.”


Mooncakes

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker (Author) Wendy Xu (Artist)

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Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Nova Huang either spends her time at her grandmothers’ bookstore or investigating supernatural events that occur in her small town. Nothing new rarely happens, until the appearance of a white wolf changes everything. Her childhood crush returns, fighting a horse demon, asking for Nova’s help.

Damn, this story is sweet as hell. Reading this was quite comforting. The autumn vibes were really up my alley. I love Wendy Xu’s style, and it’s what drew me to Mooncakes in the first place. Nova, a Chinese-American, is struggling to cope with the loss of her parents and her duties of being a witch. Tam Lang, a nonbinary werewolf, returns to their childhood home to bring down the demon the resides in the woods, and returning home can bring up some not so good memories. Despite having not seen each other in ages, they return to each other unconditionally, and their support for each other was so endearing and sweet. 

I’d hate to pit the writing and art style against each other since they’re two different things, but, personally, the art carried most of the book. I felt like the writing was more on the weaker side. I think the character development was great, Tam and Nova are adorable. Nova’s grandmothers were funny and great. However, the plot is a little underwhelming at first. I was very interested in the wolf magic and Tam’s past, and how it all connected together in the end. So it’s a shame that wasn’t fleshed out as much as you’d expect, along with the magic system. It felt a little rushed at the end, in my opinion. However, I wouldn’t hold it against the series though. There’s so much to love and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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