What have I been reading lately?
Always an excellent question, homechickens! Because the days are lengthening and the weather is starting to get hot (for which read “pushing 70”) and that means there are more hours in the day for reading, lounging artfully in the sun, drinking lemonade, and getting ferociously sunburned despite applying SPF 70 liberally and at frequent intervals. Who knew sweat could be so detrimental to the essential function of sunscreen, I ask you.
Unsurprisingly, I have been reading a lot of YA lately, and I have three dark and delectable reading recs for you this week, as we face down the end of April and gird our loins for May. If you’re officially over dystopians, well, sorry, but some of these are dystopian. What they also are is lyrical; thematically, these books tie together because there’s some elegant and scrumptious language that really hits the spot.
“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor
Masks! Layered identities! How mysterious!
This is actually not a book I’ve read “lately” but I’m fudging a little because it’s good and I don’t think I’ve formally recommended it here yet. This is, as the kids say, my perogative.
The protagonist is a teen with suspiciously blue hair who goes to art school in Prague (I know!) and creates drawings of creatures her friends think are monsters living in a fantasy world. She thinks differently: Those monsters are actually her family and their world is no fantasy. The lines between her family and the human world start to blur and collide and she’s sent on a chase across worlds and through different lives to find out the truth about herself.
There is, of course, a love story, as this seems to be obligatory in these sorts of things these days, but there are a lot of different ways to interpret it. Further, though I don’t want to give too much away here, some of the things the characters do are not terribly nice, and what fascinates me is how many different readings on these things I’ve encountered. Some people despise them, others view them as the actions of weakly drawn and stereotyped female characters, others see them as a critique on tropes. If others have read it, we can have a lively debate about Karou, Chiro and more in the comments!
“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer
Have you ever wanted to read a cyborg Cinderella? Then this book is for you! That’s pretty much how my favourite bookseller friend sold it to me, and she was absolutely right. Cinder lives in New Beijing, a slave to a human family, but she’s also a skilled mechanic, and she’s trying to earn her freedom in a politically charged and tense landscape in which people are stalked by a plague and live in fear of the residents of a colony on the moon.
It’s a lush and richly imagined world that raises some interesting questions about humanity and cyborgs. This is a world in which people can endlessly repair and reinvent themselves, but cyborgs are firmly placed in the second class of society; I was left with a lot of food for thought about embodiment and identity, especially since Cinder is somewhat more than she appears to be. (Aren't we all.)
You can also just, you know, read it for the rollicking adventure and evil stepmother. We can have another vivacious discussion in the comments about the stereotyping of her stepmother and stepsisters, if you like!
“Wither” by Lauren DeStefano
The minute I saw the Library of Congress Cataloging data for this book, I knew I was going to love it:
The same artful, intriguing, beautiful design of the LOC data and the cover holds through in the tone and style of the book; I really love it when a graphic designer crawls inside a book and enhances it with the design, not upstaging it or falsely advertising, but meshing beautifully.
In the future imagined in “Wither,” a virus claims the lives of all women by 20, and men by 25. It’s the result of genetic engineering originally intended to improve life for the human race, and now scientists are in a race to figure out how to undo the damage.
What kind of life would you lead if you knew when you were going to die, and that your lifespan would be short? Rhine is captured and sold as a sisterwife to a wealthy man, and she could enjoy the comforts of her new life; a safe home, a steady supply of food, access to a library. But she’s not happy there, because she’s a slave and she misses her brother on the outside.
Over the course of the book, we watch her bond with her fellow wives, uncover sinister doings, and face some tough choices. I like Rhine, because she’s written true to form; if you were living in a brutal, dog-eat-dog world, it would be easy to slide into comfort when it was offered, especially given the alternatives. She struggles with it and hates herself at times even as she grows emotionally close to her captors, and DeStefano resists the urge to depict anyone as purely innocent or evil in this story.
I know, the bird in a cage symbol is a bit heavy-handed, but it works here I swear.
I ran out and bought the sequel as soon as I finished, and it looks to be just as satisfying.
What have you been reading lately?