Contemporary

Seashell Reviews: Three Voices, Three Worlds Apart

No time to track down full reviews of YA books? Seashell Reviews offers bite-size thoughts to let you know which books you shouldn’t pass up, and which ones you can hold off for another day. Original titled blog feature by Angel @ Mermaid Vision Books.

 

 

 

 

Tell the Wind and Fire Sarah Rees Brennan cover
In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised. Lucie alone knows the young men’s deadly connection, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself? (Goodreads)

I didn’t realize this was a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities until almost a third of the way through, which doesn’t really help convince me of its strength as a retelling. For a book that aims to center a female character, there’s an extremely heavy focus on the men in Lucie’s life. Ethan and Carwyn weren’t as different as everyone around them kept saying they were, their personalities exchangeable and unremarkable even in the most heated moments. Likewise, the mythology of the novel is bland, the Light and Dark qualities in people barely explained enough to really make sense. Brennan emphasizes the love triangle between Ethan, Lucie, and Carwyn, to the detriment of the plot. If we must compare it to Dickens’ classic novel, it wouldn’t be a fair comparison, as Two Cities had threats that felt vital to the story. Brennan’s story seems to float along without a conflict to ground it, and it suffers.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl Mona Awad coverGrowing up in the suburban hell of Misery Saga (a.k.a. Mississauga), Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her best friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating guys online, but she’s afraid to send pictures, even when her skinny friend China does her makeup: she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. So she starts to lose. With punishing drive, she counts almonds consumed, miles logged, pounds dropped. She fights her way into coveted dresses. She grows up and gets thin, navigating double-edged validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, her reflection in the mirror. But no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl? (Goodreads)

In my reading life so far, I’ve found that there are some books that are technically astonishing in their use of craft, but which I can’t connect to emotionally. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is one such book. There are turns of phrases that are absolutely brilliant in their detail, like the sentences shaped themselves as we learn about Lizzie and the moments that set her perspectives throughout the years. But I felt very little for Lizzie. As a fat girl myself, I didn’t expect that she and I would be completely alike, but I struggled to understand her even as I recognized sentiments that I’ve had about myself. I don’t know that Awad could have written Lizzie’s story in a way that I would find more relatable–each woman’s experiences and sense of their body are different and valid. I certainly appreciate how Awad molded her story, and the words she chose to illustrate it. A strange reading experience, all in all.


A Bollywood Affair Sonali Dev coverMili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years—not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be—if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life—cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie. (Goodreads)

Recs from the Book Riot team haven’t steered me wrong yet, and A Bollywood Affair lived up to those expectations. I’ve admittedly never read a romance featuring South Asian characters before, though I have started watching some Bollywood films. The time I spent with Mili and Sam was a delight, their characterizations paced perfectly alongside each other. Mili’s growth was especially lovely to watch. She tests her personal boundaries with an equal amount of care and risk, and the choices she makes reflect that same viewpoint. Sonali Dev charms with her prose, dialogue and descriptions giving poignancy to the family connections and identity crises that both Mili and Sam experience.

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