Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Girls With Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

“You are perfection personified,” she continues, “and we must ask that you act like it.”

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Blurb:”The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.”

[AD – GIFTED]

Trigger Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, gore.

Innovations Academy requires girls to work towards being the perfect sponsorship investment upon their graduation. Their diets are strict (no additives in their own meals but they must learn how to cook a hearty flavourful meal for a future husband), dating is strictly forbidden, no access to the internet because their future sponsor/husband will give them all the relevant news information they need. They’re not allowed to leave the property except for the very rare trips to the town where their movements are carefully monitored.

The protagonist, Philomena, is coming to the end of her time at the academy but feels her opinions of the teachings she’s been given start to waver after bumping into a boy called Jackson at a gas station. He’s completely different to what she’s been trained to believe boys and men act like and suddenly everything is under a magnifying glass. For the majority of this book, Philomena was difficult for me to get behind because she didn’t have much personality. However, I think this is more the fault of the situation she’s in than her exclusively as a character because once she starts to pick apart what’s really going on she becomes a much more well-rounded character and I was rooting for her by the end.

It’s a very quiet, slow book but when it hits that climax I was unable to process what was happening. The inner workings of this place are something I never saw coming and it was refreshing to read a YA book of this ilk that had something completely different in that big reveal.

There’s some LGBT representation as two of the girls are in a secret lesbian relationship and while this is mentioned briefly, it’s more of a sideline thing to show some girls doing the opposite of what they’re being told and it would have been nice to see this get played out more.

My favourite scene in the book was when the girls get their hands on a women’s magazine and start reading an article about how to work out if you’re good at oral sex or not. It was a little bit of exposure to a world they didn’t know existed and it was so funny.

Girls With Sharp Sticks shows the importance of friendship, the power of literature and taking back what was once taken from you.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Every Heart A Doorway – Seanan McGuire

“Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

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Blurb:”Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.”

Nancy is one of many children who have opened up doors and found themselves in another world. After being spat out out of a universe in which death surrounds her, she is now expected to return to life as normal and forget everything she uncovered. Sadly, it’s not that easy and her parents ship her off to the Wayward Home for Children; which is basically a sanatorium for girls in similar situations.

Every Heart A Doorway has incredible set up and the information being delivered through dialogue not only prevents heavy exposition dumps, but gives room for readers to feel out this new place along with the protagonist. As children start to turn up dead I was just hooked on all the possible ways this story could go. It does have very gory moments that feel played up very much for shock value until the threads start to tie together and the relevance of the horror emerges.

This book gave me serious Coraline and Miss Peregrine vibes because every girl in the home is adapting to the “real world” again after coming back from a door, and it had this creepy air of mystery and dark magic to it.

The only grievance I really had was that the story is too short. It feels almost like a short story than a full length book and it reached its peak just as it ended. I would have liked more time to flesh out the surrounding characters and learn more about them as the ones that were given backstories were super interesting.

Every Heart A Doorway is equal parts creepy and intriguing but will keep you in its clutches until the final page.

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Posted in poetry, review

Date & Time – Phil Kaye

“every moment trips
over its own announcement
again and again and again
until it just hangs there
in the center
of the room as if what you had
to say had no
gravity at all.”

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Blurb:”Phil Kaye’s debut collection is a stunning tribute to growing up, and all of the challenges and celebrations of the passing of time, as jagged as it may be. Kaye takes the reader on a journey from a complex but iridescent childhood, drawing them into adolescence, and finally on to adulthood. There are first kisses, lost friendships, hair blowing in the wind while driving the vastness of an empty road, and the author positioned in the middle, trying to make sense of it all.”

I discovered Phil Kaye, like coincidentally all my favourite poets, through the Button Poetry Youtube channel. Continuing to blossom on the American poetry scene, Phil Kaye now presents his debut collection to the public.

Date & Time focuses on… well exactly what it says in the title. The concept of time is explored with Phil Kaye sharing small moments from his life in a non-linear sense. This is because while time passes by chronologically, we, as humans, are constantly looking back on significant moments in our lives or looking forward to the future with fear and uncertainty in our hearts.

This is also shown through the clever arrangement of the the book as it is split into three parts: End, Beginning, and Middle. I really loved taking this idea as the essential idea of this debut and it feels like the perfect fit given the many poems I’ve seen Phil Kaye perform in the online spaces. The “end” opens the reader to a life lived, waiting for that moment to fade away while taking time to notice in passing the events and relationships that ended long before this one.  The “beginning” depicts Phil Kaye’s early life and the childlike wonder and hope that feels all consuming before adulthood snatches them away. The “middle” represents the fork in the road: we know where we have been, but not exactly where we are going just yet.

My favourite poems from Date & Time are as follows:

“Internet Speaks Back To The Author, 2018” looks at what has been physically lost from loves to forgotten memories, and shines a light on loneliness and how the internet can reinforce that feeling.

“Repetition” is one of my all time favourite poems from Phil Kaye. It focuses on how repeating certain actions or words can cause them to lose their meaning: how if you are always up to see the sunrise then it just becomes morning, or saying “i love you” too much it becomes a hello or goodbye in a rush to somewhere else.

“My Grandmother’s Ballroom” depicts a family member’s mind as a ballroom full of people representing their memories and how they all fall apart as illness strips the mind apart.

“Yellow Bouquet” is about a boy in an arcade turning the money he’s made from the machines into a collection of rubbish with no value, but it makes him unable to wait to grow up.

Date & Time is a strong debut from Phil Kaye and I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan

“My dream was to one day work at NASA. I knew it was a long shot, but I liked a challenge.”

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.”

Trigger warnings: homophobia, physical and emotional abuse, rape and sexual assault.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a book that I clicked with instantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint the thread that had me turning page after page with no sign of stopping. Sabina Khan does a fantastic job of explaining Rukhsana’s life and dropping the reader into an incredibly important period: the all-too familiar final school year before college. Rukhsana is already facing a tremendous amount of pressure and as a Muslim daughter of Bengali parents, she’s also battling the expectations that she should be married off as soon as possible. Despite the fact that she has just secured a scholarship at her dream school and also she’s a lesbian. It was wonderful to go through this story with an already established gay relationship and the scenes with Rukhsana and Ariana were so heart-warming to read as they were just so comfortable in each other’s company; the love felt real.

I expected a turn to happen in this book when Rukhsana’s parents finally found out about the relationship but I didn’t expect them to go to the extremes they did. I gasped, cried, and recoiled at many of the scenes that unfolded as a result of a parent’s desperate attempts to control their child. This shift provided the stark reminder that, while society is becoming more liberal and accepting, there are still places in the world where being gay can result in death, and that there is an older generation clinging to their religious beliefs so tightly that they are willing to let their children suffer greatly as a consequence.

An unexpected aspect was the Grandma’s role in the story. She is one of the few people accepting of Rukhsana’s love life because she has experienced times in her own life where she was beaten down and forced into a box. Her narrative, through both dialogue and diary pages, shows what can happen when someone chooses to conform to what is expected of them. It’s almost a lose-lose situation. This part of the narrative is where it gets quite dark and triggering which is why I’ve applied the aforementioned warnings at the start of this review.

The Love And Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a story about fighting for who you love, and who you want to be, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Last Bus To Everland – Sophie Cameron

“I think we’re not in the real world any more.”

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Blurb: “Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants. Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.”

[Ad – Gifted]

I adored Sophie Cameron’s debut Out Of The Blue and so when Macmillan sent me an advanced copy of her new book, I was over the moon.

Everland is a secret world beyond a door that appears at 11:21pm every Thursday and the protagonist, Brody, happens upon it after a chance meeting with wing-wearing Nico. This new location has everything you can possibly think of and is full of people from all around the world. It’s a place that will surely appeal to fans of readers who dream of abandoning the every day for a bit of magic just within their grasp. While Everland was what initially drew me to this book, it’s not what ended up holding my interest. The mantle goes to Brody himself.

Brody is a gay – not out yet- boy who is bullied at his school, under-performing and always second to his intelligent “soon to be a Cambridge student” brother, with a dad suffering from agoraphobia and a mother working all hours to make ends meet. If anything, the discovery of Everland becomes a lifeline for him. But for six days a week he is forced to live this version of his life.

Last Bus To Everland tackles dealing with a relative who has a mental illness, the pressures of under-achieving as well as over-achieving, and poverty. I expected this book to be heavily set in Everland and that was not the case. Everland is almost that physical manifestation of wanting to get away: its inhabitants are all facing issues in their lives and Everland provides that place to escape everything, while also proving that you can leave your problems behind, but they’ll always be waiting when you get back. I love that this aspect gave the platform to round out why all the characters came to this magical place and what led them to discover it in the first place.

Brody is a character that I just felt so much for. I wanted to climb into the pages and give him a hug along with having a stern word with the bullies. He struggles a lot with the weight of the future and feels very much alone: something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with.

Sophie Cameron is a gem of an author. While her story concepts have brought me to both of her books now, it is ultimately the characters I leave thinking about for weeks after.

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Posted in adult fiction, lgbt, review, romance

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

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Blurb: “Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?”

Trigger warning: brief homophobia and slurs, emotional and physical abuse.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo is a book that I’ve heard a lot about. Towards the end of 2018, it popped up on everyone’s favourite lists for the year, and I’ve not seen a single bad thing about it. Sadly, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve avoided it: I don’t tend to have good experiences with hyped books. It wasn’t until fellow blogger Sofia kept badgering me to read it whenever I mentioned my next audiobook listen that I finally cracked.

The story is centered around Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo who has decided to come out of hiding to write a book about her life with the help of Monique, a magazine reporter. Evelyn is famous of her many film roles but also the absurd number of husbands she’s garnered along her journey. Monique, on the other hand, is the epitome of the writer stuck in a dead-end job looking for that something to give her life purpose.

I fell in love with this book instantly. The glamour and mystery around famed Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo reminded me so much of The Great Gatsby in the sense that everyone knows Evelyn Hugo, but know one really knows her. The story starts with Monique being informed by her boss that Evelyn Hugo has requested her specifically to write a brief article on her life; when she accepts the offer that story becomes a memoir. The book has multiple narratives: Monique’s, a gossip columnist, and Evelyn Hugo. I went with the audiobook (on several recommendations) and every single narrator – Alma Cuvero, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles- for this book is utterly brilliant. I was completely immersed in every part of the plot, in every single character, and when it came to Evelyn talking about her life, and her many husbands, I often found myself stopping what I was doing just to take it all in. There were many instances where I just forgot that Evelyn Hugo isn’t a real person and that I wasn’t actually listening to an autobiography. I’ve come out of the reading experience feeling like I have learned so much about this incredible woman who lived such a mesmerizing, complicated life only to be faced with the cold reality that she never existed.

Monique fades into the background a lot but always pops up at the right moments to ask Evelyn the questions that I, and probably many other readers, wanted answers to. She is the other side of the coin. Here you have a rich and famous actress spending hours in the same room talking to a magazine reporter who can barely make ends meet, and yet they were able to realise the similarities in their lives; that despite their different classes, ultimately they are both human.

A big surprise in this book is that Evelyn Hugo is bisexual. I say that because none of the marketing that I have seen for the book has mentioned this aspect at all – which is something that would have made me pick up this book a lot sooner. It has gay men, lesbians and bisexuals littered throughout and I feel like this is something that should be shouted about from the rooftops.

It’s been a long time since I finished reading a book and felt such a sense of happiness but also loss that led to me wanting to starting reading that same story again right away, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo did that for me. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

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Posted in adult fiction, fantasy, review

Vicious – V.E.Schwab

“There are no good men in this game.”

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Blurb:”Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick,an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will.”

Trigger warnings: Death, suicide attempts, talks of suicide, and self-harm.

If you’ve been following me at all, you’re probably aware of how much I adore V.E.Schwab and, therefore, it’s not at all surprising to see yet another review of one of her books popping up on my blog. However, this comes with its own confusing story: somehow among all the excitement of hearing about the various projects Schwab is working on, I got it into my head that Vengeful was the start of a new series. Turns out it’s a sequel and I discovered this on release day. So, I’ve had to do some backtracking.

Vicious has one of the best openings to a book that I’ve ever read. The reader is introduced to Victor Vale, one of the protagonists, as he traipses through a graveyard and begins to dig up a plot. The story then flits around present and the past (ten years ago) building up the picture of Victor and his friendship with Eli Ever in college. Victor was fascinated by the “fight or flight” nature humans have, while Eli had expressed the interest in ExtraOrdinaries; people with powers. The balance in this aspect is perfect. You’re given just enough background scenes to satisfy the burning questions but not enough that you ever have the full picture, and yet you can still feel grounded and understand character motivations. Victor Vale wants revenge on Eli, Eli is killing ExtraOrdinaries and making himself look like a hero.

I ended up loving the side characters more than I planned to. One of Victor’s “strays” (as he calls them) is a girl called Sydney who survived being shot. She has a sub storyline going on with her sister which, in a lot of ways, mirrors the events of Victor and Eli. I found her o fascinating and only wish maybe she’d been fleshed out even more but I appreciate the focus naturally being more on the protagonists of the story.

I was not prepared for how dark Vicious was going to be. It’s violent, dark and gritty, and is basically a tale of two friends-turned-enemies that are trying to one-up each other with dangerous consequences.  It’s the first story where I was actually rooting for no one to win but it had me hooked from start to finish.

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Posted in review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Exile – S.M.Wilson

“That was the thing about this place. Blink. And you missed it. Blink. And you could be dead.”

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Blurb: “After surviving on Piloria once, Storm and Lincoln are the obvious candidates to return to the dinosaur continent to test the new virus that should clear the way for human settlement. But they have their own priorities – finding a cure for the plague that’s sweeping Earthasia, and keeping themselves alive.”

I picked up The Extinction Trials on a whim after seeing a mixture of the buzz online and that it was pitched as “The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park.” It only took a couple of pages for me to fall completely in love and try shoving it into the faces of anyone who would care to listen. It felt new, original and filled my need for dinosaurs eating people; yes, you read that last part right. My review of the first book can be found here.

The Extinction Trials:Exile shows straight off how history is destined to keep repeating itself. When barely any of the participants return from the dinosaur continent, Piloria, the government is still very much set on its plans to get rid of the dinosaurs by administering a virus to their water supply. A good majority of this book is set on Earthasia with both Lincoln and Storm being promoted to roles within Parliament. It can feel like a bit of a lull at times and I found myself just wanting to get to the dinosaurs, but it was important to flesh out the human continent and give a horrid reminder of just how bad the conditions are. A lot of the seemingly minor bits of information littered at the reader’s feet become quite important later on.

I love the two protagonists, Lincoln and Storm, in the sense that they really don’t like each other. They have returned home after surviving dinosaur attacks and it isn’t until they are forced back onto the island together that the duo is actually reunited; quite simply, they have no reason to. I can’t quite place it but this just made their “relationship” feel more real because they both want extremely different things and had nothing really tying them to each other. Lincoln cares only about saving his sister in whatever way he can, while Storm can’t stop thinking about the idealistic nature of Piloria. Storm gets to spend more time with her father, Reban, and it was interesting to actually see his side of things as he was pitched more so as the villain in the previous book. This mix of narratives did a wonderful job of giving a more rounded view of the important factors at play.

I also liked seeing Blaine again, the stipulator left behind by the government and seeing how he has continued to adapt to his new surroundings with very little help for Piloria. It fuelled that seed growing in Storm’s mind about the possibility of living alongside the dinosaurs without human interference, and showed just how adaptable humans can be.

Once again, S.M.Wilson does a fantastic job of building the tension when the characters, along with some new faces, finally land on the dinosaur continent. The descriptions were so lush and vibrant that I could picture it so clearly while venturing through the narrative. There were many moments when I held my breath; waiting in anticipation for a dinosaur to jump out of the bushes at the last minute.

Another brilliant addition to the series and I simply cannot wait for the next one!

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and break dancing. It’s my story.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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