City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

Inside cover blurb:

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

Thoughts:

The setting and the context (refugee crisis) of the story was definitely what drew me to this book in the first place. The actual writing and plot didn’t blow me away, but were decent enough to keep me reading.

Plus: Non-Western setting, story of a refugee written by an author who has worked extensively in the region.

Minus: Pretty simplistic plot, nothing really standout about the book as a whole.

If you like this book, try:

Diamond Boy ebook by Michael Williams

Diamond Boy by Michael Williams

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Inside cover blurb:

“Rashad is absent again today.

That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…

Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.

And that’s how it started.

And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.

Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.

Cuz that’s how it can end.”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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This is a very timely book with an interesting format: two narratives told by alternating characters, one black and one white, each written by two different authors, one who is black and one who is white.

Reynolds and Kiely do a fantastic job of depicting all sides of the story. Especially when it comes to the reasons why people often choose inaction when faced with a difficult situation- in this case, deciding whether or not to testify against a police officer who clearly did the wrong thing.

Neither main character, Rashad (the victim) nor Quinn (witness to the assault), wants to be involved in what becomes a national news story, but they come to realize that we are all a part of these stories whether we act or not.

No matter your own political leanings, American Boys depicts how much skin color really means in this country. I hope that it challenges the reader to acknowledge and question the flaws in our criminal justice system and all systems of power.

Plus: This book really makes the racial issues of our country personal and individual. Everyone needs to understand that they are part of the problem and therefore part of the solution!

Minus: Reads a little like a how-to (do the right thing) manual at some points, but it is a very important message so the bluntness of the dialogue can be excused, in my opinion.

If you like this book, try:

How It Went Down

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon- A narrative told by many different characters, all with their own opinion as to why a black teen was shot and killed by a white man.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Inside cover blurb:

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

Thoughts:

I wanted to write this review as soon as I finished this book because I thought it was AMAZING, but I had to take time for a breather.

Wow. There is just so much here. My heart broke for Charlie and for anyone who has ever felt that way. And I think many people, especially teens, can identify with some piece of her story.

Plus: This book is brutal, but it a good way. It is a raw depiction of a girl’s downward spiral, but it also shows that you can rebuild after tragedy- which is such an important message.

Minus: I have very conflicted feelings on trigger warnings, but this book would definitely get one. Not that that’s a bad thing or a way to discourage anyone from reading it, but it does deal with very powerful and emotional issues.

If you like this book, try:

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Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Inside cover blurb:

Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Thoughts: 

Extremely readable historical fiction novel. The pop culture references are fun. But even with its historical setting, it feels fresh and modern. Nora is an extremely relatable character, facing very real issues that still plague teens today.

Plus: Such good historical fiction, with great parallels to modern issues. All around a very socially aware book which I so appreciate! And it’s a story focused on friendship which seems to be so rare.

Minus: The ending seems a little abrupt, but that also fits with the book’s overall theme of uncertainty.

If you like this book, try:

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Inside cover blurb:

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Thoughts:

I had been waiting for this book for so long! Only to be painfully let down. This book basically reminded me of a teenage-goblin version of 50 Shades of Grey. That bad. Nothing drew me in, I didn’t care about the characters, and people went around saying things like “You’re the monster I choose.” Nope, I’m out.

Plus: Read it, they said. It’s like Labyrinth, they said. Well at least the cover is pretty.

Minus: Goblin fanfiction. (Which isn’t inherently a negative, I might point out…)

 Read this instead:

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The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle