by Kiersten White
To be published by Harper Teen
on September 9, 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher for review.
Synopsis from Goodreads:Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.My take: I'm a fan of the first book of the Paranormalcy series and also of Mind Games. I also love how fearless a writer Kiersten White seems to be -- she switches genres like she's changing clothes. In this book, she takes on a new challenge: writing a standalone historical fantasy.
On the positive side, this book had some of the most promising opening chapters I've read in YA this year. Jessamin is of mixed race -- she's the child of a white colonizer from the country of Albion and a women of color from the Polynesian-ish island of Melei. Jessa has blackmailed herself into a spot at an exclusive boarding school in Albion. She's smart, she's proud, she's prickly -- and she's desperately misses her island home. She writes hilarious letters to her mother back in Melei, adding parenthetical commentary for the reader. Me: "Themes of race and class and colonialism and a heroine who seems to have stepped right out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel? Bring. It. ON!"
To me, the book didn't quite deliver on the promise of those early chapters, and I think that most of that can be attributed to this book's length. In just 288 pages, I'm not sure it's possible to explore social issues and develop a non-instalove-y romance and build an entire fantasy world. Happily, Illusions of Fate features White's trademark adorable wordplay and sparkly magic, but I also thought everything in this book felt a little rushed, from the snappy banter to the romance to the resolution. But I remain a fan of Kiersten White and look forward to seeing what new challenge she tackles next. Sci-fi? A book in verse?
by Atia Abawi
To be published on September 2, 2014
Source: ARC sent by publisher for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.
My take: Sami and Fatima have been lifelong friends, and when Sami returns from a period away at religious school, their friendship blooms into star-crossed love. When their relationship is discovered, disaster ensues. Fatima's mother has already picked out a prospective husband for her; Sami's father tells him that he can't marry a Hazara girl. Disapproval turns to violence and bloodshed -- just a heads up that this book contains both child abuse and multiple brutal murders. It also felt like there were few blameless people in all the carnage. Everyone played a part, from Sami and Fatima -- who seemed a little naive in their belief that they could waltz off into the sunset -- to Sami's interfering cousin and Fatima's cruel mother.
I definitely appreciated the chance to read a YA story set in a world that's so unfamiliar to me, and felt that this book did offer insight into these characters' daily lives. I also liked the way it showed the very limited educational opportunities and autonomy for women in rural Afghanistan. But the book didn't completely explain the roots of the bloody clashes between the different groups. Class differences? Power struggles? Religious differences? Historical enmity? I'm guessing it is probably a combination of all those and more.
I think the art of writing a story like this lies in finding balance between the desires and dreams of individuals and the beliefs and customs of groups. On the one hand, the book is about a boy and a girl, but on the other, this budding romance feels doomed by centuries of cultural and religious and political baggage.