Tag Archives: Young Adult

[Blog Tour] Review for Death by Society by Sierra Elmore

Somehow, it’s September again, which means the fall semester, which means I’m drowning in schoolwork. But in the midst of my busy schedule, I made time, as I always do, for a blog tour post (as soulless as it may seem from an outsider perspective, signing up for these blog tours is the most effective way of ensuring that I’m still regularly reading and reviewing books that aren’t required reading for school throughout the year). Thanks to Paola at Noveltindie for hosting and inviting me to the tour, and congratulations to Sierra for self-publishing her debut! You can find more information about the tour at the launch post.

Book Information

  • Title: Death by Society
  • Author: Sierra Elmore
  • Release Date: September 13th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis:

MEAN GIRLS meets IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY when two teenage girls’ worlds collide when one attempts suicide to avoid toxic popularity.

Carter Harper may have created an award-winning app and have a 3.93 GPA, but her successes are overshadowed by brutal bullying, depression, and loneliness. Tired of being treated as the popular girls’ plaything, Carter thinks her only choice is to die by suicide.

Abby Wallace is one of the most popular girls in school, subordinate only to Kelsey, her best friend with benefits. The ambitious poet destroys reputations without care to prove how cool, cruel, and strong she is, all while pushing down her past trauma and secret guilt.

Carter and Abby’s tumultuous relationship comes to a boiling point when Abby stops Carter from attempting suicide. But what happens when they have to protect one another from Kelsey’s harmful antics? If Carter and Abby can stand each other for more than three minutes, they can stop Kelsey from hurting more girls—and maybe become friends in the process.

In the tradition of Courtney Summers and Laurie Halse Anderson, DEATH BY SOCIETY questions how far we’ll go to gain power over our lives—and what happens when we use our voices for both good and to harm others.

Review

Trigger/content warnings: Death by Society and my review of the book discuss and mention bullying, anxiety, depression, suicide, and sexual assault.

Death by Society is one of those books that hits super close to home for me because it addresses bullying and suicide, which are both things that I have personal experience with. Although Carter’s specific experience of bullying is pretty different in nature from my own, the depiction of her social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression really resonated with me. In particular, the guilt over how her severe depressive episodes affected her mother and the tendency to hide what she was going through were a little too real.

Additionally, there’s a part of the book where Carter freaks out over the fact that she’s recovering because the change, despite being a positive one, leads her to question her entire existence, having attached so much of her sense of self to the depression. Death by Society is one of the few fictional books on mental health and depression I’ve read that has depicted that angst and fear of getting better and captured it so well. Because as much as it sounds bizarre to anyone who hasn’t been there before, wanting to live after wanting to die is fucking scary! You’re not running away from your problems anymore, and you have to confront them and deal with them in a constructive way. You have to change your shitty coping mechanisms, and it’s hard to do that when you’ve been this way so long that you don’t know how to be otherwise. I learned in therapy that even positive change is stressful, and Carter’s life post-suicide attempt reflects that in many ways.

One of the things that felt refreshingly honest about Death by Society is how it makes room for the complex and messy aspects of humanity by giving a voice and narrative POV to Abby, who is both a victim of sexual violence and a bully to Carter for much of the story. As tempting as it can be to view violence and harm as things done exclusively by people who are fundamentally horrible in every conceivable way, by people who are simply unfeeling monsters beyond redemption, the reality is that so much harm is enacted by everyday people playing into toxic social systems (whether they realize it/intend to, or not), and even victims of violence (past or present) can also perpetuate violence toward others when they have the power to do so. Abby’s character exemplifies that truth, and it was interesting to watch her come to terms with the harm she inflicted and choose a different path.

Another way this book felt Super Real was the overall incompetence of most of the adults in Carter’s life at doing a damn thing about the bullying: the lip service paid to cultivating a welcoming environment at school, the reactionary and performative measures from administrators meant to convince themselves that they’ve done something when they don’t meaningfully addressing the root issues… It’s been a little over 10 years since I’ve graduated high school (holy shit I’m old), but it still feels like society is stuck in the same bullshit when it comes to [failing to address] bullying. Rather than making her feel better, Carter’s interactions with the school administrators mostly just re-traumatizes her because they aren’t actually putting her needs first, they’re protecting themselves and coddling the parents of the other girls. Reading this book really made me contemplate the question of what actually helps? What is proven to be effective in preventing bullying and addressing the harm after the bullying has occurred? Because suspension and a lukewarm assembly with PowerPoint slides certainly are not.

While my commentary on this book so far may make Death by Society seem like a supremely SeriousTM book (which it is, in a lot of great ways!), it’s also actually ridiculously funny as well. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud while reading my ARC. There’s some morbid humor (because it is about heavy topics) but also some irreverent jokes. Not only do individual characters get dragged, our broader social institutions and norms get roasted and indicted as well. Death by Society is one of those gems that skillfully blends humor and social commentary and can make readers laugh without making light of the important issues involved, which is why I found it so cathartic of an experience to read.


Book Links

Add Death by Society on Goodreads!

Purchase a copy of Death by Society.

About the Author

Sierra Elmore writes YA contemporary and thriller novels about girls wreaking havoc while fighting trauma. Her work has won the YoungArts merit award and was selected for the Author Mentor Match program.

Elmore earned a BA in Sociology from Arcadia University. She’s conducted research on the representation of mentally ill women in media, as well as relational aggression amongst adolescent girls.

Elmore lives in New York City, where she explores independent bookstores, volunteers for the Crisis Text Line, and goes to as many concerts as possible.

Visit Sierra’s website at https://sierraelmore.com.

[Blog Tour] Review for Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin

Hello again, everyone! Last time I posted I had just finished up my spring semester, and now suddenly here I am having finished my summer term as well (more or less, with the exception of a final paper…). While recovering from an amazing but exhausting 2-day weekend conference on children’s literature, I had the chance to dive into the soon-to-be-released Dauntless for this blog tour hosted by Kate at Your Tita Kate.

Book Information

  • Title: Dauntless
  • Author: Elisa A. Bonnin
  • Publisher: Swoon Reads, an imprint of Macmillan
  • Release Date: August 2nd, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Adventure

Synopsis:

“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.” 

Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana. 

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

Review

Dauntless is a book that really made me go, “wow, what a ride” after I turned the last [digital] page. As the bold title and cover illustration suggest, it is a story packed with action and adventure, but it holds much more than that.

One of the things that stood out to me as I was reading is the thoughtfulness of the worldbuilding. Sure, there are aesthetically and conceptually cool aspects, such as the magical armor made from slain beasts that literally molds itself to the owner, the large human settlements built on giant trees, and so on, but what I found most compelling was the thematic messages embedded in the worldbuilding decisions. Seri’s and Tsana’s respective cultures have very different ways of viewing not only human-beast relations but also intra-human relationships, and I like that both have strengths and flaws that are addressed by the narrative through the experiences of the major characters. I also liked the commentary on history and historiography and the ways those shape a person’s worldview for better or for worse. I can’t say too much more without spoiling parts of the story, but I definitely enjoyed learning more about the world and watching the different pieces come together.

One aspect of the book that surprised me at first but I appreciated later is the alternating narrative viewpoints, split three ways between the primary protagonist Seri, who is a reluctant fighter for various reasons; Seri’s love interest Tsana, who feels torn between competing loyalties; and Seri’s mentor, Eshai, who is only a few years older than Seri but is already a seasoned warrior and has been hailed as a hero by their society for an incredible feat she accomplished at a young age. Seri, as the protagonist, has a lot of learning and growing to do over the course of the story, and it was satisfying to see her gradually clarify her values and commit to fighting for what she believes in despite her initial reluctance to be a fighter at all. Tsana’s point of view helps heighten some of the romantic tension and overall narrative conflict while also offering insight into the culture of a different people from Seri’s. I found Eshai’s perspective (which is the one I wasn’t expecting to find in the story) fruitful for exploring the concept of heroism and how being placed on a pedestal as a symbol of hope for an entire society at a young age can affect the person in question. Her perspective also serves as an interesting foil to Seri’s because unlike Seri, she has established her identity and is used to taking on the mantle of leadership. I also loved that the platonic bond between Seri and Eshai was emphasized and given similar weight to the romantic bond between Seri and Tsana.

As mentioned earlier, Dauntless is an action-packed story, and frankly I spent a lot of the time Very StressedTM because I wasn’t sure how various fights/battles would play out and be resolved. While certain characters (e.g. the protagonist) tend to have a bit of plot armor ensuring their survival (especially in YA), that wasn’t a guarantee for everyone, and there are potentially devastating outcomes that don’t involve death. I felt the weight of those possible outcomes in each fight/battle scene. Great for the storytelling, not great for my blood pressure!

Conclusion: Dauntless, at its core, is a story about three flawed but fierce young women who are forced to make tough decisions and fight against seemingly impossible odds, and how they are able to find the strength to carry on in the face of everything. Come for the epic fight scenes, stay for the character growth arcs, sweet sapphic romance, and thematic food for thought!


Book Links

Add Dauntless on Goodreads!

Purchase a copy of Dauntless:

About the Author

Elisa A. Bonnin was born and raised in the Philippines, after which she moved to the United States to study chemistry and later oceanography. After completing her doctorate, she moved to Germany to work as a postdoctoral scientist. A lifelong learner, Elisa is always convinced that she should “maybe take a class in something” and as a result, has amassed an eclectic collection of hobbies. But writing will always be her true love. Publishing a book has been her dream since she was eight years old, and she is thrilled to finally be able to share her stories. Dauntless is her first novel.

Author Links:

[Blog Tour] Review for Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster by Andrea Mosqueda

Happy Pride Month! I regret that I am a bit late to the party for this book tour, but it almost feels appropriate that I’m late to post about a book featuring a bisexual disaster as a blogger who is a disaster bi, lol. Anyway, I’m happy to present my review for the newly released Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster! Thanks to Paola for hosting this tour. You can find the tour launch post on Paola’s blog.

Book Information

  • Title: Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster
  • Author: Andrea Mosqueda
  • Cover Artist: Zeke Peña
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
  • Release date: May 24th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis

In this voice-driven young adult debut by Andrea Mosqueda, Maggie Gonzalez needs a date to her sister’s quinceañera – and fast. 

Growing up in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Maggie Gonzalez has always been a little messy, but she’s okay with that. After all, she has a great family, a goofy group of friends, a rocky romantic history, and dreams of being a music photographer. Tasked with picking an escort for her little sister’s quinceañera, Maggie has to face the truth: that her feelings about her friends—and her future—aren’t as simple as she’d once believed.

As Maggie’s search for the perfect escort continues, she’s forced to confront new (and old) feelings for three of her friends: Amanda, her best friend and first-ever crush; Matthew, her ex-boyfriend twice-over who refuses to stop flirting with her, and Dani, the new girl who has romantic baggage of her own. On top of this romantic disaster, she can’t stop thinking about the uncertainty of her own plans for the future and what that means for the people she loves.

As the weeks wind down and the boundaries between friendship and love become hazy, Maggie finds herself more and more confused with each photo. When her tried-and-true medium causes more chaos than calm, Maggie needs to figure out how to avoid certain disaster—or be brave enough to dive right into it, in Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster.

Review

In many ways, Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster feels like it was written for me. It’s set in Texas, features a middle child with 2 sisters and a single surviving parent, and, of course, the main character Maggie is a bisexual disaster. There were lots of little moments and details that made me feel seen in various ways, whether it was shopping at HEB and the feeling of walking into a store from the Texas heat and humidity, or being extremely sentimental and documenting one’s feelings in a creative project to process them. Though I’m not a photographer, as a writer and someone who draws, I appreciated the way Maggie’s eye for detail and beauty suffused her narration.

Veronica, Maggie’s older sister, reminded me of my own older sister as the Eldest Daughter of an Immigrant Family who Made Sacrifices and Became a Second ParentTM. Similarly, Alyssa, Maggie’s younger sister, felt similar to my own younger sister in being the social butterfly sibling with a sassy streak who gets the most freedom as the youngest child. The Gonzalez family dynamic as a whole felt familiar, with the teasing and roasting alongside the care and support. Maggie’s grief from having a parent gone too soon and the awkwardness of having to explain their absence resonated with my experience of losing my mother as well.

Parallels to my own life aside, Maggie’s voice really drew me into her story. Her struggles with indecision, confusing feelings, and the desperate desire to avoid disappointing her family were all portrayed with nuance and realism. True to the title of the book, Maggie is messy because good intentions don’t always pan out, and as humans, we can get so caught up in our own problems that we fail to notice the struggles and feelings of those around us.

This book felt like a big hug because of how central family and friendship are to the story. Although romance is an important part of the book because of the three different love interests, Maggie’s devotion to her family and her determination to do right by her friends when she ends up hurting them are just as important. The story is a love letter to every queer teen who needs reassurance that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing and to make mistakes and that you deserve people who love you and support you through your messiness.

Purchase a copy of Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster:

About the Author

Andrea Mosqueda is a Chicana writer. She was born and raised in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her partner and works in the publishing industry as an assistant editor. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found doing her makeup, drinking too much coffee, and angsting over children’s media. Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster is her first book.

Find Andrea Mosqueda on social media:

Author Interview: Emily X.R. Pan

Welcome to my eighth and final interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!

About the Book

  • Title: An Arrow to the Moon
  • Author: Emily X.R. Pan
  • Cover Artist: David Curtis
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Release Date: April 12th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Synopsis

Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology in this magical novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Astonishing Color of After.

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love…but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

An Arrow to the Moon, Emily X.R. Pan’s brilliant and ethereal follow-up to The Astonishing Color of After, is a story about family, love, and the magic and mystery of the moon that connects us all.


Interview with Emily X.R. Pan

Q: Welcome back to my blog! It’s been 5 years since I last interviewed you. At the time, your debut, The Astonishing Color of After hadn’t come out quite yet, and now you’ve published your second novel. What lessons have you learned since then that you wish you could send to your past self?

A: This question always gets me all philosophical and turned around—like if I could share some of my current wisdom with my past self, would it really have changed the path I took? Would I actually be worse off in other ways? But it is certainly interesting to think back on how I’ve grown. I had no idea back then that it would feel harder to write after I was a published author. There was much less pressure when I was just writing for myself—much of the time I was full of despair, of course, as it took multiple books for me to sign with an agent and finally sell something. But that’s nothing like the feeling of writing up on a stage, with people watching to see what I’ll produce next.

I learned that I have to trust my creative instincts. I have to trust myself. It took me so long to pull the right iteration of An Arrow to the Moon out of my brain because I was drowning in the noise of everything that followed my debut. I was worrying about what readers would think, whether they would be disappointed, the comparisons they might make.

I remember this conversation I was having with Laurie Halse Anderson at one point—she warned me that no matter what, everyone would compare my second book to my debut. And as soon as she said it, I knew she was right and I had to quit worrying about it. I wanted to write something very specific, and I knew it was going to be quite different from Astonishing—because I would be bored out of my mind if I just wrote the same type of book again and again—and I had to just get out of my way and let myself do it.

Q: An Arrow to the Moon is set in the past in the year 1991. What about this time period interested you, and why did you choose this time as the setting?

A: Two specific reasons. I wanted to bastardize a bit of history from 1974, so that timeline put my characters in 1991. And I wanted to capture the isolation that I felt when I was growing up in a predominantly white town: How my parents would seek out community, but in a way that often made me feel more separate from other Asian Americans my age. How connecting deeply with a single person was enough of a lifeline to get me through the choppiest of times. As an ode to the way I grew up, I wanted this story to be before cell phones, before everyone was on the internet 24/7, to really underscore what that isolation was like.

Q: You mentioned in another interview that you read many different versions of Chang’e and Houyi’s tale while doing research for the book. Do you have a favorite among those different versions you looked at? What version of the tale did you hear growing up?

A: The version I heard the most growing up had Chang’e being so unable to resist her curiosity that she decides to try just a little bit of the elixir that was meant to be shared—she ends up consuming all of it by accident.

My favorite version I came across while researching had a third key character—a villain—who tries to steal the elixir from Houyi. In that one, Chang’e consumes the elixir only to prevent this bad actor from getting his hands on it.

Q: Whereas The Astonishing Color of After is written in first-person from a single narrative viewpoint, An Arrow to the Moon jumps around quite a bit between third-person perspectives of multiple characters. Did you decide to do this from the beginning, or was it something you incorporated after you began drafting?

A: I started out just jumping back and forth between Hunter and Luna, my two main characters. The other perspectives came in because I knew I wanted all the family relationships to be much more complicated, and that I needed to show elements and secrets that Hunter and Luna would not be aware of. I started journaling and freewriting to figure out more about all the parents, and it became clear that I had to give them their own POV chapters.

Q: You mentioned that this book took many years to complete, and you almost thought you wouldn’t finish. Since everyone in the publishing industry seems to be going through burnout and fatigue right now due to the pandemic, I’d like to ask: what kinds of things have you done to take care of your mental health while working on this book, and what kinds of supports from people around you have helped?

A: This is such a wonderful question—thank you for asking it. I am a strong believer in taking all the help I can possibly get for my mental wellbeing. I’m lucky to be privileged enough to afford a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a mindfulness coach, all of whom were absolutely instrumental in helping me care for myself throughout the process of writing this book. They all emphasized the importance of being gentle with myself, and I have to credit my mindfulness coach with patiently teaching me how to do that.

I am also lucky to have the most incredible friends who sent me little gifts or baked me delicious treats when they knew I was having a hard time, or called to check in on me, or made a point of not talking about publishing and getting my mind off things with a board game or some D&D. And on the publishing side, I have the most incredible agent, who really prioritizes my mental health, and who is always helping me find the best way to balance this job with my health. Having his support in that regard really means everything.

I have found that the best things I can do for myself are to get off social media (in fact get off the internet and strictly enforce screen-free time), make some other kind of art (maybe painting, maybe crocheting, or playing the mandolin), reconnect with friends outside publishing, spend some quality time playing with my dog somewhere with grass and trees and fresh air blowing on my face. I recommend everyone try any of these.

Q: I know you have other projects in the works that you can’t really share details on, so I’ll ask a more general question about the future: what kinds of new challenges do you want to tackle with your next books?

A: I have an idea for something that is meant to be commentary on sociopolitical dynamics, that I don’t know if it’s ever going to become what I envision it being—that one feels really hard. But I’m hopeful. I’m also eager to play with form and try something really wacky. And I have some other bits of history that I very much want to bastardize and play around with, and those will be a real challenge with the amount of research I still have ahead of me.

I have too many projects in the works, and not enough time. But what I’ve found is that it’s the stories that feel the most challenging and ambitious for me, craft-wise, that I am most interested in pursuing.


Add An Arrow to the Moon on Goodreads.

Order a signed copy of An Arrow to the Moon from Books of Wonder.

Purchase An Arrow to the Moon from another seller:

You can also read my review of An Arrow to the Moon on Medium.

About the Author

Emily X.R. Pan (she/her) is the New York Times and National Indie bestselling author of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, which won the APALA Honor Award and the Walter Honor Award, and received six starred reviews. It was also an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Best YA Books of All Time. Emily co-created the FORESHADOW YA platform and anthology, and is a passionate teacher of creative writing. She has taught fiction workshops, literature seminars, craft bootcamps at various institutions, including New York University, The New School, The Center for Fiction, 92nd Street Y, Tin House. Emily has mostly recently joined the Vermont College of Fine Arts as MFA faculty in their Writing for Children’s and Young Adults program. Originally born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan, Emily now lives on Lenape land in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA in fiction from the NYU Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow and editor-in-chief of Washington Square Review. She was also the founding editor-in-chief of Bodega Magazine. These days she spends her free time playing the mandolin, making art, and training her furry dog-beast to balance on strange objects. Her latest novel, AN ARROW TO THE MOON, was an instant national bestseller. Visit Emily online at exrpan.com, and find her on Instagram: @exrpan.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!

Author Interview: Judy I. Lin

Welcome to my seventh interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series! (Note: Judy is not American but rather Canadian, but I want to highlight the Taiwanese diaspora outside of the U.S. as well during TAHW.)

About the Book

  • Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
  • Author: Judy I. Lin
  • Cover Artist: Sija Hong
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (an Imprint of Macmillan)
  • Release Date: March 29th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Synopsis

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shénnóng-shī—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Covert illustration by Sija Hong.

A Venom Dark and Sweet, the sequel to A Magic Steeped in Poison, will be published August 23rd, 2022 from Feiwel & Friends!


Interview with Judy I. Lin

Q: It’s been 5 years since I first interviewed you on my blog, and at the time you didn’t have a book deal yet whereas now you have debuted and even become a New York Times bestseller, with a second book releasing this year. What lessons have you learned that you’d like to share with folks who are currently on the path to publication?

A: Wow, that was so long ago! I remember being newly agented and hopeful that my book will sell and of course the crushing disappointment when it did not. When I’ve learned since then is that it is impossible to predict what will sell and what will not. The books that are being published now sold a year or two ago. Even though my YA horror did not find a home, writing it gave me the confidence to eventually work on the project that I was always scared of – the project that became A Magic Steeped in Poison.

Q: If you were to describe the major characters of your book as different kinds of dumplings, what would they be?

A: This is such a creative question and I’m definitely hungry after answering it.

Ning is best represented by the dumpling that appears in the story: the humble zongzi (glutinous rice dumpling). A dumpling with history, associated with remembrance and sacrifice.

Zhen is the soup dumpling (xiaolongbao), known for its delicate folds, with a surprising filing inside. Just like how she keeps her true self hidden.

Kang would be shumai. A combination of pork and shrimp, from a province by the sea, but has traveled all around the world. There are many varieties of shumai, like how he has to put on different personalities in order to survive.

Lian is the potsticker (guotie). A small package of flavor, very similar to her personality, and usually accompanied by a spicy dipping sauce.

Q: Authors of color are often criticized for writing fantasy stories that draw on their culture that are “inauthentic,” but half the fun of fantasy is being able to make stuff up. What parts of the worldbuilding for Dàxī did you have the most fun with?

A: I really loved incorporating elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine into my story, especially the herbal remedies. In my research, I learned about the formulas from some of the compendiums (including Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng – the herbal medicine classic!) and what sort of ailments those ingredients and tonics would address. This led me to imagine what these ingredients would be used for if they took on magical properties. Most of my worldbuilding, even the fantastical or magical components, was usually built on a kernel of something that existed in the real world.

Q: I appreciate the amount of thought that went into names of places in the story. How did you come up with the place names in Dàxī?

A: It was important to me that names in the story had a corresponding Chinese name that evoked a certain feeling I wanted to convey (whether it is a person’s name or the name of a place), so I had to make sure the names sounded fine in both the pinyin representation (and corresponding sounds in English) and that it wasn’t something offensive in Chinese. It was a lot of back and forth where I might have settled on an English name, but then had to tweak it when I found that another character matched the feel better.

You’ll also notice that a few places I drew on place names from Taiwan. Yěliŭ for one, because I liked the literal translation – Wild Willow, since the academy is in the forest, surrounded by trees. Língyǎ is from the Kaohsiung neighborhood I grew up in, but I changed the first character to “tomb”, which matches its role as the resting place of former emperors. It’s a fun part of the process!

Q: How do you approach drafting? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you overwrite and have to pare down or do you underwrite and then have to fill in details? Do you write everything in order or do you jump around?

A: I am a plotter for sure. I like to have an outline before I start drafting so I know where I am going, but I still leave space for myself to explore and then revise the story as needed. My first drafts are very short, and I have to keep building with each revision – adding details and emotional arcs as needed.

I usually write everything in order. After I’m done, I update my outline, and then I go back and write it all over again! Maybe not the most efficient writing process, but one that works for me.

Q: What strategies and tools do you find most effective for immersing yourself in the mind of a character or a world?

A: During my first draft, I like to free write. Free writing and using stream of consciousness allows me to fully step into the character’s mind, see what they see and feel what they feel. Most of what comes out of it is not useable, but it helps me get into their headspace and I can see the direction the story should take as I embody the character and navigate them through the story.

I also listen to music a lot while I’m writing. I build a playlist that captures the feeling of the book and then every time I turn on the playlist, I’m instantly in that headspace where I am ready to create.

Q: Publishing involves a lot of factors that are out of our control as writers. What personal goals do you have for your writing that aren’t about numbers, ranking on bestseller lists, etc.

A: To be honest, how A Magic Steeped in Poison has been received has surpassed even my wildest dreams. There were so many things I was able to cross off my “author list”.

My personal goal though is just to be able to write more books. I would love to someday sell a book set in Taiwan, because that’s a dream that has yet to be fulfilled. I have a few ideas that I’ve been working on that I hope I will get to write some day! But right now I have two projects already in the works that I am very excited about and I can’t wait to share when I am able to.

Q: On a similar note, how do you keep yourself grounded when faced with rejection, disappointment, setbacks, etc. in the publishing process?

A: I’ve experienced all of those things and more during the first few years when I was trying to sell a book. There were times when I wanted to give up, but I kept going because my goal was always to show my daughter that it was important to keep working to pursue your dreams. My husband was also very supportive and ensured that I had the time to write without distractions.

On the writing side, I was lucky in that along the way I connected with friends who were at different steps of the publishing journey, so we could help each other get through all the highs and the lows. I was able to cheer them on and received their support and that kept me writing as well. Professionally, my agent continued to champion my stories even when it felt like nobody wanted them! Without all of those supports I don’t think I would still be writing today.


Add A Magic Steeped in Poison on Goodreads.

Purchase A Magic Steeped in Poison:

Add A Venom Dark and Sweet on Goodreads.

Pre-order A Venom Dark and Sweet:

About the Author

Judy I. Lin, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of the Book of Tea duology (A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet), was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughters.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren Kanoelani, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!

Author Interview: Anna Gracia

Welcome to my third interview for my [belated] Taiwanese American Heritage Week series!

About the Book

  • Title: Boys I Know
  • Author: Anna Gracia
  • Cover Artist: Fevik
  • Publisher: Peachtree Teen
  • Release Date: July 5th, 2022
  • Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Synopsis

A high school senior navigates messy boys and messier relationships in this bitingly funny and much-needed look into the overlap of Asian American identity and teen sexuality.  

June Chu is the “just good enough” girl. Good enough to line the shelves with a slew of third-place trophies and steal secret kisses from her AP Bio partner, Rhys. But not good enough to meet literally any of her Taiwanese mother’s unrelenting expectations or to get Rhys to commit to anything beyond a well-timed joke. 

While June’s mother insists she follow in her (perfect) sister’s footsteps and get a (full-ride) violin scholarship to Northwestern (to study pre-med), June doesn’t see the point in trying too hard if she’s destined to fall short anyway. Instead, she focuses her efforts on making her relationship with Rhys “official.” But after her methodically-planned, tipsily-executed scheme explodes on the level of a nuclear disaster, she flings herself into a new relationship with a guy who’s not allergic to the word “girlfriend.” 

But as the line blurs between sex and love, and the pressure to map out her entire future threatens to burst, June will have to decide on whose terms she’s going to live her life—even if it means fraying her relationship with her mother beyond repair. 

Interview with Anna Gracia

Q: Throughout the course of Boys I Know, June Chu makes a lot of mistakes and questionable-to-poor choices before getting someplace better. In my experience, the process of writing a book is pretty similar. What kinds of false starts did you make while writing Boys I Know, and how did you move past them?

A: Boys I Know was the first novel I’d ever written, so naturally I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote it in chunks, over the course of a year, not totally knowing what was going to happen to June or how it would come together as a coherent story. I flailed around for a while, tweaking and making (what I thought were) major changes until I was fortunate enough to sign with an agent who had a much more sweeping idea of how edits should go. In short, I deleted the entire book and started over with a blank page shortly after signing, giving me permission to let go of what wasn’t working and start fresh. In that way, I think it parallels June’s options to either continue on her same path with minor alterations or to simply start over, despite that choice seeming much more daunting.

I feel like there’s so much about publishing that’s like “you don’t know until you know” and being lucky enough to take Boys from hot mess first draft to publication has really helped clarify what I need to do going forward and has made me less afraid of, well, everything, because I know I’m capable of doing it.

Q: I really love the use of chengyu/Chinese idioms in this book because of how well they illustrate the relationship dynamic between June and her mother, encapsulating both the pressures these words often put on her but also the influences she picks up from her mother as a result. How did you go about incorporating these into the text in a way that felt authentic to the story you were trying to tell?

A: I’m so glad you asked this! (Mostly because I spent so much time making sure the Chinese was correct and finding the right phrase to go with each situation.) For me, I grew up hearing these left and right, spouted in Chinese with the English translation immediately after, just like June’s mom does, so it felt natural to have her incorporate them into her speech regularly, especially when she’s trying to make a point to her daughter. I wanted Mrs. Chu to encapsulate that passive-aggressive style of parenting where she is somehow both overbearing but also weirdly hands off about things, expecting that simply dictating wisdom is enough to set her kids on the right path. So when June references a particular proverb or phrase in other contexts, I wanted it to be a subtle reminder of how even her own thoughts had been affected by her mom, her upbringing, and her culture.

I think it’s pretty common for multi-lingual people to think in more than one language and I wanted to show how even someone as “Americanized” as June still has the Taiwanese side of her baked into her identity, inseparable from the very way she exists.

Q: When developing their characters, some authors create elaborate profiles and aesthetic collages and playlists while others stick to what is necessary for the story and don’t spend too much time on the rest. Where would you say you fall in the range between these two approaches? And if you have any fun details about June that didn’t make it into the final story, please share a few!

A: Originally, June was a piano player. But that created logistical concerns I didn’t want to have to deal with (like having privacy while she practiced, for one), so I switched her over to the other Asian parent-approved instrument of choice, the violin.

Other than that, June has remained more or less consistent throughout all the versions and edits of this story, which is surprising considering I don’t create any kind of character profile or aesthetic or anything upfront. My lack of structure and overall vision upfront I’m sure makes the process much longer and more frustrating than it probably needs to be, but I’m pretty adamant that writing the story itself is what lets me better explore my characters and keeps them from remaining too tidy.

Q: Do you have a narrative point of view or tense that you default to when you write, or does it vary depending on the story?

A: I personally default to writing in first person past tense because it makes me feel like I’m telling a story, but I did see someone say they DNFed the book because of it so maybe I need to explore writing in present tense because that seems to be more popular in YA!

Q: A lot of writers I know approach a first draft with the mentality that you’re just getting words down no matter how terrible, and editing is on the backburner. However, I’m the type who makes some edits even as I draft. How do you approach the editing/revision process, and how do you deal with situations where you feel like you are ramming your head against a brick wall trying to figure out how to continue improving on the draft you have?

A: Honestly I probably do not have good advice for this because my process is completely chaotic and inefficient. I draft out of order and refuse to outline or use beat sheets, and instead of tackling edits in several passes I try to do everything all at once.

The only thing I can say is that when it all becomes too overwhelming (and trust me, I do a fair bit of head ramming against brick walls as well), I just focus on one paragraph at a time, like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, reminding myself that if I keep hacking away at it, I’ll eventually finish.

It’s not poignant or strategic in any way–I mostly finish projects because of an innate desire to “win” against the part of myself that wants to give up.

Q: Debut year is both an exciting and stressful experience even without the added stress created by the pandemic. What tools and strategies have you been using to manage your mental health?

A: I just keep repeating to myself that most everything outside of the book content itself is out of my control and spend my time on doing things I do enjoy for it, like making unhinged posts about it on social media. I also spend a lot of time burying myself in other people’s books, which helps me remember that there are a lot of stories out there and that mine is just one of many. It’s easy to get swept into thinking that your book is all that matters but it’s also a very good way to burn out and I would very much like to keep publishing. Also, cake. I strongly recommend cake as a solution to everything.


Add Boys I Know on Goodreads.

Pre-order Boys I Know:

About the Author

Anna grew up biracial in the Midwest, spending her formative years repeatedly answering the question “What are you?” Before finding her way as a young adult author, she was a CPA, a public school teacher, a tennis coach, and for one glorious summer, a waitress at a pie shop. She now lives on the West Coast, raising three kids and writing stories about girls navigating a world full of double standards.

Author Links:


Thanks for reading this interview! If you’re enjoying my Taiwanese American Heritage Week posts, please consider donating to the victims fund for the Taiwanese American church community in Orange County that was attacked this weekend on May 15th by a gunman, or donating to Ren, a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Taiwanese, and Japanese person who needs help with student loan debt and medical bills. Thanks!

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for A Magic Steeped in Poison

If you haven’t read my review for A Magic Steeped in Poison, please go back to that post, where you can also find the information on the book. Otherwise, come along with me for this book playlist.

Out of the five songs I picked for this playlist, four were used as the opening or ending songs for Chinese historical dramas from the 90s and early 2000s. All of these songs have a bit of a sober or melancholic feeling because of the darkness and angst that weighs on the story and the romance in A Magic Steeped in Poison. I took the time to translate the lyrics as well as I could so you could get a feel for what they’re about. Links are to the individual YouTube videos.

1. 一步一生 – 曾慶瑜 (One Step, One Lifetime – Regina Tsang)

What is that ambling sound
What flickering shadow of feelings
What is that fleeting silhouette of youth
That spins endlessly in this moment?

One turn, a hand raised
A fantastical, mesmerizing gaze
Illuminated my dreamscape
One turn, a foot put forth
Revealing the first flirtation
Decorating another’s eyes

At this time, who comes to see me?
At some unknown far-off place
In this place, just who am I even?
Stranded from the splendid place

One step, one posture
One step, one share of status
Finely crafted into a painting
One step, one stage of life
One step, one transformation
Each step more refined than the previous
Each step more at ease than the previous

2. 下沙 – 游鴻明 (Raining Sand – Chris Yu)

Everyone has someone they cannot forget
Thoughts will pass through your soul like fine grains of sand
When I opened the door gently, there was only the sound of the wind and rain
I feel that love turns people cruel
People who were once in love become thorns in each others’ hearts
The more truly you love, the more deeply you hurt

Just like night and day, separated by an instant
I’m well aware this is goodbye, tomorrow is the last time to see each other again

The sky is raining sand and also laughing at me for being too foolish
You should just stop chasing after footprints you can’t make out
The sky is raining sand and also brooding on my behalf
I bury my love in the sand, along with news of you

Once you’ve left, you’re gone, don’t think of it
The wind has left, the sand is gone, don’t think of it

3. 多情最累 – 辛曉琪 (Sentimentality is Most Wearisome – Winnie Hsin)

Who pities the woman whose heart is like water
Going the extra mile to accompany you
Clinging so, yet all I get in return is silence
I gaze at the waning moon and raise an empty cup
When I look again, it brims with tears
Sentimentality is most wearisome
In the haziness, you’ve gradually grown more distant

Seeing through the gilded facade of passionate love
Who can judge this matter of right and wrong?
In times of storms, I persevere through the dawn and greet the night again
Unable to drink away the bitter taste, I’m left with nothing but thoughts reverberating through my mind
In the space between chatter and laughter, all I see is a sky full of gratitude and grievances

The comings and goings of the mortal world are like a guesthouse
There is no end to the world’s sorrows and joys that you witness
A dream follows a regret
After love and hate, life continues and then breaks again
Who knew that your heart only allows someone to stay for one night
Adding a bit of worry and sorrow for no reason
Could it be that true feelings are hard to obtain
That infatuation is doomed to wander
Until it vanishes like smoke in the end?

4. 白絲線 – 那英 (White Silk Thread – Na Ying)

Tonight, the ash-colored wind stings your eyes
Love rides into the distance on a transparent rainbow
Are all these feelings reciprocated?
The starry night in the cosmos illuminates your face

Memories no longer have a sweet taste
Write down half a punctuation for this paragraph
The snow drifts beneath a forlorn first-quarter moon
There are no roses in this moment, only light blue tears

Love is like white silk thread
Longing tugs at my heartstrings
Weak thoughts buoy along silver leaves, echoing in your world
Love is always limitless
Longing is written in my eyes
Your borders blur and vanish
I only wish you could aid me through my night

5. 江南 – 林俊傑 (South of the River – JJ Lin)

The wind arrives here and is clingy
Clinging to the thoughts of passerby
The rain arrives here and winds into thread
Winding around us as we linger in the mortal realm
Your presence beside me is fate
Our fate is written on the Stone of Three Lifetimes
Love has one in ten thousand parts sweetness
Better that I am buried at this point

Circling round and round
Day after day, year after year, I
Gaze deeply at your face
A face showing the tenderness of anger, the tenderness of grievance

Not understanding love and hate, passion and worry, we both assumed love was like the changeable weather
Believing that loving a day at a time would be enough to overcome eternity
Freezing time in this moment

Not knowing how to express tenderness, we assumed sacrifice in the name of love was merely an ancient tale
How painful the grief of separation can be, how concentrated the pain can be,
When our dreams were buried in the misty rain south of the river
When our hearts shattered
That’s when we finally understood

[Blog Tour] Review for A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

Hello again. I am currently struggling through the last stretch of finals week, but I’m excited to kick off this year’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, where I celebrate authors of Taiwanese heritage on my blog, with my review for A Magic Steeped in Poison, written by a Taiwanese Canadian author. Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the rest of the tour stops on their tour launch page.

Book Information

Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
Author: Judy I. Lin
Series: The Book of Tea
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy

Synopsis

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shénnóng-shī—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022, and it definitely delivered everything I wanted and more.

This book was really a treat for me as someone who grew up with Chinese dramas. It was atmospheric and trope-y in all the best ways while also delivering a fresh story with an innovative magic system, written in lush prose that stimulates all the senses.

Ning, the protagonist of A Magic Steeped in Poison, is the kind of person you can’t help but root for. Her family is the center of her world, she’s competent but humble and kind, and she’s always just Trying Her Best. Even as the story is an epic fantasy with a broad political landscape, it’s also a deeply personal coming-of-age story for Ning. Having grown up in a far-flung rural village in the empire of Dàxī, leaving her family behind and traveling to the capital city for the shénnóng-shī competition dumps her into a world much bigger than what she’s used to. There’s the culture shock of moving to a big city but also the stark class disparities between herself and most of her fellow competitors. Her interpersonal interactions in the capital are intertwined with higher political stakes, and she has to decide who to trust, what she values, and where her loyalties lie.

Chief among the people who test her ability to judge others’ character is Kang, a mysterious, handsome, and brooding boy full of secrets. They meet seemingly by chance and then establish a magical bond through a shared brew of tea that brings them into a surprisingly intimate closeness while also giving them reason to question whether the other person is everything they seem to be. There is sweetness and angst, disclosure and mistrust, and the tension between them extends throughout the story.

Another key player in the story who is full of mystery is the regent, Princess Zhen, who is the host of the shénnóng-shī competition. Ning doesn’t know what to make of her but is pulled into her orbit when she gets entangled in the royal court’s lethal power plays. I may have a soft spot for Zhen because of her romance with her bodyguard, Ruyi, but having a sapphic romance among the major supporting characters was a nice surprise. I can’t say too much about the princess without spoiling the story, but I definitely grew more attached to her as the story progressed.

A Magic Steeped in Poison is the first in a duology, and the setup for the second book is definitely there. When I finished the last page I was beside myself clamoring for the sequel and even though the wait is much shorter than usual because book 2 comes out in August of this year, I am cursing the publishing gods for not dropping it into my lap now.

In the second half of my tour stop, I have a book playlist, so stay tuned for that. 🙂

Book Links  

About the Author

Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. 

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello again! This is part 2 of my tour stop for the Lakelore book tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can find all the info about the book and my review in the first part.

Today, I’m presenting some of my favorite quotes from Lakelore that I found resonated with my experiences and/or were just beautiful to behold. These are spoiler-free, so don’t worry!

Quote #1

I planned to help them hide out behind the rocks. Then I saw the first flicker of iridescent blue lift off the water. It fluttered through the air, a slice of lake-silver wafting like a leaf. Then another followed it. Then a few more, then a dozen. Then a hundred, each of them like a butterfly with its wings made of water. Then a whole flock of blue-green and silver-blue wings, their backs shining like the surface of the lake. They spooled away like they always did, showing me the dark underneath the water.

Bastián

Quote #2

I look up, and track that rush of blue. First I take in what it is as it crosses the sky, a spotted fish with a feathered tail that looks blade sharp . Then I take in that the sky is no longer daylight-gray, but purple, dark as the rind of an eggplant. The fish swims through that sky like it’s water. Ocean plants twist up toward that sky. A starfish with blue swallowtail wings rustles the stalks. The sky ripples with threads of light like sun bowing on the bottom of a pool. The memory of what this boy once showed me brushes against my neck.

Lore

Quote #3

Lore’s glance catches on my wrist. They give my watch a weird look. No one our age wears watches, and I know that. But I’ve also noticed that wearing a man’s watch signals something to people looking at me that they don’t even register. It makes it more likely that they’ll call me him instead of her, and while him might not be quite right, it’s a whole sky closer to right than her. That’s worth my friends telling me that an analog watch makes me look about a thousand years old.

Bastián

Quote #4

What I don’t say , what I want to say: All my friends liked me. And most of them even stuck with me when I came out (and those who didn’t, I chose to forget their names). I was the one they asked what shirts to wear on first dates, what were the best grocery stores to buy flowers to bring their mothers after they stayed out too late. But I don’t hear from most of them. I’m the kind of friend that’s fun when I’m there and forgettable when I’m not.

Lore

Quote #5

ADHD medication helps give me more of a buffer against changes in my brain weather . I used to get startled by a noise and be thrown off for hours. Someone would give me a look that could have meant nothing, and the ground of my thoughts would dry out and crack. That still happens, but it happens less often , and it happens slower.

This morning I missed the time I usually take my meds. I woke up groggy, tired from dreams of the lake flooding onto the shore, the water pulling into the shape of flames and licking across the hills. So I’m back to setting alarms. If I’m not on top of my meds, the weather in my brain dries out faster, like lightning might catch in the sky.

BAstián

Quote #6

“It was a lot like that ,” Lore says. “Sometimes I kind of wish I could give the people around me a daily report on my gender. Just so they’d know what to expect. So no one would give me that confused look whether I was wearing a binder or makeup or whatever.”

When I don’t say anything, Lore looks up. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”

“No,” I say. “You’re making a lot of sense. The world could use daily gender forecasts.”

The minute I hear myself say it, I know how stupid it sounds. Yes, I sometimes imagine that state of my brain in terms of weather. That doesn’t mean I tell anyone about it. It must sound even weirder about gender.

But Lore’s face lights up. “Yes,” they say. “Sunny, forty-two percent expected femininity.”

“Tonight,” I say, “cloudy with likely masculinity.”

“Exactly,” Lore says.

Bastián

Quote #7

I want to ask. Of course I want to ask. But it’s none of my business. And even if it was, how would I ask? Hey, random question, but did you grow up thinking there was maybe something weird about your own brain? Or that your brain was doing things the wrong way? That you were doing things the wrong way?

Even in my head, it sounds like a bad infomercial. It comes with a flourish of harp sounds. There’s an Amanda the Learning Specialist for that.

Lore

Quote #8

“Your turn.” Bastián looks at me. “Gender forecast.”

“For right now?” I ask. “Yeah.”

“Right now?” I shake the glitter jar. “I think it might be this.”

“Okay.” Bastián’s smile is shy, and they don’t quite look at me, like I’ve given them some kind of compliment they want but don’t know what to do with . “What about yesterday?”

“I guess”— I think about it, how I felt, how to put it in terms other than masculine and feminine, boy or girl, neither or both or somewhere in the space between—“ really strong coffee. Or maybe that popping sound soda makes.”

“A gender fizz.” Bastián nods. “Sounds like the next big drink.”

Lore

Quote #9

I can feel Bastián’s wince so clearly it presses into my chest plate. I know that feeling of not asking because you don’t want to admit that you didn’t understand something, that after several more repetitions you still might not understand it, the worry that the other person’s patience will thin and fray before you can.

Lore

Quote #10

I want to tell them that sometimes it’s okay, and sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes it means trying to change the weather in my own brain and finding it as impossible as moving the clouds in a storm. The weather in my brain may or may not match up with what’s going on, but an atmosphere of something being wrong can permeate everything even if I can’t figure out what it is. Sometimes it means not saying anything when someone misgenders me because I don’t want to be flagged as a problem any more than I already am.

BastiáN

[Blog Tour] Review for Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello again! Spring is in the air here, and while school is kicking my butt (as always), I am currently on spring break, so I managed to fit in some pleasure reading for this blog tour! I’m excited to present my tour stop for Anna-Marie McLemore’s newest book, Lakelore! Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the full tour schedule on their website.

Book Information 

Title: Lakelore
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore 
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022 
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult Fantasy

Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore's novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.
Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.

Synopsis

In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake – but can they keep their worlds above water intact?

Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

Review

You know how some books hurt to read because they hit close to home, but then they heal you and tell you it’s okay to exist as you are? Lakelore is one of those books for me. I mean, I love all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, but this one really spoke to me on a deeper level than any of their previous books (which again, are all marvelous still in their own right). The intersections of being trans, neurodivergent, and a person of color are explored in this story from dual points of view, and both Bastián and Lore’s experiences really resonated with me in various ways.

At its core, Lakelore is a story about the Terrifying Ordeal of Being KnownTM. Vulnerability is difficult enough to begin with, but being neurodivergent, trans/nonbinary, and brown in an ableist, transmisic, and racist world, both Bastian and Lore have been made to feel like there is no space in the world for them to exist, like the only way to live is to shrink themselves into digestible packages and to make sure nobody ever sees the unacceptable sides of themselves. In each other, they find kindred spirits. They can info-dump on each other about their favorite niche interests, they can joke with each other about gender, they don’t have to explain life as a brown person in a white world. However, the tension between their desperate hunger for intimacy and their all-consuming fear of rejection keeps every interaction between them balanced on a knife’s edge, where one wrong move or word feels like it could ruin everything. The acts of self-sabotage as a defense mechanism to preempt the possibility of being hurt by the other person? Maybe a little too relatable.

Of course, as usual, Anna-Marie McLemore brings their characters and setting to life with gorgeous prose that invites you to linger and bask in every turn of phrase, to let yourself get swept away by each emotionally charged ebb and flow of words. I kept highlighting passages for the favorite quotes portion of this book tour (coming up in my next post) and quickly found myself stressed by the need to narrow the list down.

Conclusion: Just read the book! It is an Experience.

Content/trigger warnings: misgendering, general trans-antagonism, ableist bullying, gendered harassment

Book Links

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) writes magical realism and fairy tales that are as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. Their books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; MISS METEOR (co-authored with Tehlor Kay Mejia); DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and THE MIRROR SEASON, which has recently received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal, and the forthcoming LAKELORE (March 8, 2022) and SELF-MADE BOYS: A GREAT GATSBY REMIX (Fall 2022).

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