Book Review, Fiction, Review, Thriller, Young Adult

Book Review Round-Up: April 2022

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Review of ‘Tokyo Dreaming’, by Emiko Jean

Emiko Jean delivers, in her second book in this series, yet another occasion to peek into what the lives of the members of the Japanese Royal Family might look like as she continues the story of American-Japanese Princess Izumi.  The author also continues to explore the difficulties of being an immigrant returning to one’s home country, adding to it the tension of keeping one’s high school friendships alive while transitioning into university life.  Just in case this wasn’t enough, Jean adds the discomfort that comes with one’s parents, who have been separated since before one’s birth, getting married… which is complicated enough without the whole Royal Family thing.  Without spoiling it, main character Izumi’s romance was quite sweet and mature in many ways, yet still heart-breaking and, as a reader, stressful in that satisfying way, with just enough tension to keep me reading without having me reach for antacids. I wish more romances were portrayed like this; complicated and difficult, but without the extravagant drama that reality shows, soap operas, and romcoms seem to have convinced us are a “must have” as proof that one’s relationship is “passionate”.  The ending is not what I would have wanted to happen, but from what I’ve gleaned from reading up online, I’m in the minority.  Let me know which side you’re on!

Review of ‘Burn Down Rise Up’, by Vincent Tirado

An activism-flavored supernatural thriller, Burn Down Rise Up by Vincent Tirado brings a fictional urban legend to life.  Teens in the Bronx are disappearing, and they all have one thing in common: the Echo Game, played between 3AM and 4AM in the tunnels of subway systems around the world.  When one of their friends goes missing, a potential victim of this game, and when one of their moms comes down with a mysterious infection, Raquel, Charlize, and Aaron decide to go down to the subway tunnels to save them both.  Author Tirado manages to use this grueling setting to underline the real-life horrors of the fires that ravaged most of the Bronx in the 1970s.  It even touches upon the racism and discrimination that created the conditions of profound neglect in the area, which led landlords to abandon and even burn down their own properties.  Since at the same time, New York City closed down several of its fire companies, it led to countless people dying—and that horrific energy is behind the Bronx’s Echo Game.  A relevant documentary on the topic that seems worth watching is Decade of Fire, which shows both the burnings but also the many grassroots efforts that arose in the Bronx at that time.

Review of ‘Blaine For The Win’, by Robbie Couch

The core messages of this book were fantastic for YAs and adults alike.  First message: You don’t need to change yourself for anyone.  If the other person doesn’t like you as you are, then they are not for you.  I wish I had learned that lesson much earlier in my life; as a social chameleon, I unfortunately welcomed some pretty toxic relationships into my life, the poison of which I’m still evacuating from my life.  Second lesson: We are capable of so much more than we think we are, but still need to be true to ourselves.  How many of us don’t attempt something because we don’t think we can do it?  Blaine went into the presidential campaign for all the wrong reasons but ended up slaying it.  Spoiler ahead: I have to admit that I was disappointed that Blaine basically dropped everything related to the presidential campaign.  I feel it would have been more powerful for Blaine to develop a more Blaine-centric contribution to the governance at his school through his art.  But I understand and appreciate the reasons and the way he stepped down.  A great and thought-provoking, yet relaxing and deeply enjoyable read.

Review of ‘At The End of Everything’, by Marieke Nijkamp

There is a lot to unpack in this dystopian young adult thriller.  When teenage patients exiled at the ironically names Hope Juvenile Treatment are abandoned during an outbreak of the plague (yes, that one from the Middle Ages), they have to figure out how to survive.  But survival means banding together, something this group of forsaken teenagers marginalised for various reasons has a hard time doing initially.   While there are more than two dozen teenagers at the treatment centre, the book hops between only three POVS: Logan’s, Emerson’s, and Grace’s.  Neurodivergent Logan communicates through a sign language that she and her twin sister have developed; through her POV we feel the frustration of not being listened to.  Emerson is nonbinary and struggling with their Catholic faith; through them, we feel the frustration of the dissonance that surrounds us.  And Grace becomes the group’s leader despite her own objections and her anger issues.  There is a lot of physical violence during the group’s struggle for survival, so reader beware.  I’m also not sure this is a book anyone struggling through the COVID19 pandemic should pick up; I can see it being quite triggering.  But for readers who can handle it, the book raises some very interesting questions that could be very useful in our quest to make the world a better place.

Review of ‘Africville’, by Jeffrey Colvin

Colvin’s Africville is based on a now extinct town of the same name, settled outside of Halifax by former enslaved people in the 1700s.  The story spans multiple generations and multiple locations—Montreal, Vermont, and Alabama, to name a few.  It starts with Kath Ella Sebolt and runs all the way down to her great-grandson.  The characters’ search for identity, after theirs was ripped away from them when their ancestors were forcibly enslaved, made for great reflection.  I couldn’t help but wonder how I would feel if I had no idea where I came from, many times throughout the book.  The most poignant aspect remains the almost casual destruction of the entire town in the 1960s.  So much hard work by people whose entire history was ripped away from them, trying to lay the foundation of some history for the next generations despite continued racisms-related obstacles, just razed to the ground.  I understand that this book is a work of fiction taking many liberties with what actually happened in Nova Scotia.  But at the same time, I find that fiction can be sometimes a great way to introduce people to the possibility that the history of the land they are on just might not be as they had thought it was.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!

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