Reflections on Turning 16

Sixteen laps around the sun! Woohoo! I know sixteen is supposed to be one of the big birthdays, like 18 or 21, but while I feel different than I did last year, there’s certainly not been some veil that’s been lifted in a journey to adulthood. But, still, I had a good day!

Me and Tahereh Mafi, Yallwest 2016

I’ve been writing book reviews since I was seven, which is more than half of my life. Book Reviews by Ava has served as a record of my growth- both as a reader/writer and as a person, and it is one that I am immensely grateful for. It is so gratifying to be able to look back on myself at seven, at ten, at thirteen, and now finally, at sixteen. It’s empowering to see myself face challenges and overcome obstacles through my writing and I can’t wait to chronicle the next chapter in my life. Continue reading

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

soaWhere do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.

I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

kosMy first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.

In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.

I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.

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January Wrap Up

What I’m Up To:

I cannot believe it’s 2019! 2015 seems like it was just yesterday. After a long holiday break, school has started back up for me. So far, my highlights have been an interesting soa.jpgclass on the culture of the Hispanic Caribbean and another on the intricacies of arguments.

What I’m Reading Right Now: 

Just like I promised in my review of Circe by Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles is what’s currently sitting on my nightstand. This novel follows Patroclus, Achilles’ friend and lover, as he navigates his life and the Trojan War by the famed hero’s side. I’m only 25 pages into the story, but Miller’s signature attention to detail and lush storytelling have already captured my attention.

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Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

qoaad.jpgQueen of Air and Darkness is a brick. Surpassing 900 pages if you count the bonus short story in the back, the novel is the heftiest I’ve read in a very long time. Contributing to its length are the appearances of nearly every character from Clare’s previous works, (Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments, Jem and Tessa from The Infernal Devices, Magnus and Alec from The Bane Chronicles, and more) who each adds to an enjoyable ensemble cast of characters.

Most of these characters, as well as the expected protagonists in The Dark Artifices, receive their own storyline, or at least their own perspective and I suspect devoted fans will be happy to see past favorites again, as I certainly was. However, some of their stories felt superfluous and like they were taking away from the storyline started in Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows.

“People were made up of all sorts of different bits…Funny bits and romantic bits and selfish bits and brave bits. Sometimes you saw only a few of them. Maybe it was when you saw them all that you realized you knew someone really well.”

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

circeSomeone I know described Circe as “Percy Jackson for adults.” To me, there seems to be no description more apt for this spellbinding tale. Circe is acclaimed author Madeline Miller’s take on the titular character, the ancient Greek enchantress best known for bewitching Odysseus and temporarily turning his crew into pigs in The Odyssey. After centuries of neglect, this witch finally gets her own story.

There is much to be said about reading a book and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Miller, a devout student of the classics, does not deviate much from the accepted literary canon. Circe hosts Odysseus and later Telemachus (as well as her niece Medea and a few gods). She helps her sister Pasiphaë birth the minotaur and jealously turns the nymph Scylla into a ravenous monster. Because of this set plot, there are often extended breaks in the action of the story. This was not a problem for me. I enjoyed Circe’s inner monologues and Miller’s lush descriptions of the Greek landscapes.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

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New Year, Same Blog (Kinda)

My Year in Review

2018 was crazy for me. For starters, I finished my first year of boarding school and started my second. In June I studied abroad in Chile, where I studied poets like Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Lately, I’ve just been studying hard in school, which starts back up in a few days.

yjyMy Favorite Books of 2018

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Zevin’s vivid female characters- a mother, a daughter, a wife illuminate her latest novel. Both timely and timeless, Young Jane Young explores marriage, affairs, and love through vibrant female perspectives, painting a hilarious, lively portrait that is not to be missed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali: Abdulali’s novel is a difficult work to read. She does not shy away from harsh realities, showing readers compelling stories and undeniable statistics, but ends her novel with a necessary glimmer of hope, which I intend to carry into the new year.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor: I cannot get enough of Taylor’s lush fantasy worlds. Last year, Strange the Dreamer, the predecessor to Muse of Nightmares made its way on to my best of list, so I delight in putting Taylor’s latest onto this list as well. Her clear gift for spinning stories so wildly imaginative and yet so fiercely human makes her one of my favorite authors to date.

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Still Need That Christmas Gift?

We’ve all been there. Christmas is just a week away and you haven’t got anything for anybody. Maybe you blew all your savings on some great Black Friday deal or you’ve just finished taking the finals that’ve occupied your mind for the past month, or maybe you just forgot. Whatever the deal is, a desperate sprint to find great gifts for people you love (or, in the case of a few, like) has begun. But, fear not, because below is a gift for every person in your life. And, if you can’t find anything here, check out my guides from 2017, 2016, and 2015 for even more inspiration.

yjyFor the cousin who just can’t resist bringing politics up at the dinner table 

If this is where you’re struggling, you’re in luck because I just could not choose between two fantastic novels for this person in your life. My first recommendation is Gabrielle Zevin’s Young Jane Young, a hilarious take on a young intern’s affair with her congressman. The second novel I chose is Tahereh Mafi’s semi-autobiographical A Very Large Expanse of Sea, which follows a Muslim-American teenager finding her place in high school (and the world) in the wake of 9/11.

For the world’s biggest fan of A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch

There’s something irresistibly lovable about cheesy Netflix Christmas movies set in small, imaginary countries in Europe. I can only handle so much sugar-and-spice, but if you know someone who can’t get enough, I’d recommend Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Chances are they’ve seen this summer blockbuster, but Crazy Rich Asians the book is so much better. Your friend will delight in Kwan’s gossipy footnotes and swoon over protagonist Rachel Chu’s very own Cinderella story.

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