Hello and welcome to my wrap up for both August and September. I didn’t read very much in these months, so I’m combining them. Let’s just get right into it.
The first book I read in August was Good Talk by Mira Jacob. A graphic memoir told in a series of interviews and conversations with her son, her parents, various people in her life or fictional conversations with celebrities. Jacob looks at the American experience through the lens of being a first-generation American, coming from a family of immigrants. She speaks about her experience of being the only non-white student to win an essay contest and how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker when 9/11 happened. — This was an unique take on a memoir, using a mixture of drawings for people and pictures for backgrounds. I’m not entirely sure I like it personally, but I did enjoy reading this and seeing the various experiences that Jacob has had. This is very much about the immigrant experience and growing up surrounded by that.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. Huaxia is at constant war with Hunduns, mecha aliens that lurk beyond the great walls, and they fight the aliens with Chrysalises, which require two pilots. Zetian, a 18-year-old, signs up to become a concubine-pilot, who usually are the ones to die while the male pilots burn through them. Zetian signed up because she wanted to kill the man who had murdered her sister, and she gets her wish in a way no one anticipated. She eventually gets paired with one of the strongest and most unpredictable pilots, but she’s not about to back down. Not when she could burn her way through the ranks and destroy the system, preventing more girls from being sacrificed. — There is so much that happens in this book, I wouldn’t be able to cover it all without spoiling some major plot points, and I wouldn’t do it justice! Zetian is based on the first empress of China, so this is essentially Asian-inspired sci-fi/fantasy. You can really feel Zetian’s rage at this unfair system, one that is rigged in favor of the men, the overarching oppression of women and keeping them under control. She is far from the stereotype of a meek and obedient Asian woman, is a powerful woman, not afraid to take risks, but it doesn’t veer into becoming the opposite stereotype. She’s still human, still feels fear and has emotions, struggles with her being. This book challenges the strong binary traditions and thinking of Huaxia, and by extension, the world’s. It absolutely speaks against patriarchy and strong gender roles, not allowing those to be a determinant in how Zetian lives her life, along with her lovers. There is polyamory that comes up later in the book, along with men loving men. I could go on and on, but I would prefer you go read this amazing and epic story. This is the first in a series, and I can’t wait to see what Xiran Jay Zhao writes next!
Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel by Gabby Rivera, illustrated by Celia Moscote. Juliet is headed to Portland, leaving the Bronx right after she came out to her family. She’s not sure she’ll ever speak to her mom again, but to figure herself out, Juliet is going to Portland to intern with her fave feminist author. However, it’s not a perfect plan since Harlowe is white, has a different upbringing, and isn’t all-knowing. Juliet is dealing with figuring out her identity as an out Puerto Rican lesbian, and she lucks into finding some queer family who help guide and encourage her. — This is based on the novel by Rivera, which I’ve already read. This is essentially the same story, just in a visual format. The colors and art in this is gorgeous! I really enjoyed this, and would recommend it even if you’ve already read the novel.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo are both students at an elite school, Niveus Private Academy. At the start of their senior year, they’re both selected to be prefects, which is going to look fantastic on their college applications and puts them in running for valedictorian. Not long after the announcement, a mysterious person calling themselves Aces starts sending mass texts to the whole school, revealing secrets about Devon and Chiamaka that could completely destroy their carefully planned futures. The secrets start out as very minor and seemed like a sick prank, but become more serious and dangerous, stacking everything against them. Chiamaka and Devon race to stop Aces before it gets deadly, and expose Aces for who they are. — This is so so good, and I can’t believe it’s a debut! Àbíké-Íyímídé does a great job of creating and building up the unease, suspense, and the sense of danger everywhere we turn. Chiamaka and Devon are the only Black students at Niveus, and it does quickly become obvious they’re being targeted because of that. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that there are queer characters in this. It’s a weird phrase to be saying, but this book is very cinematic. I can easily see this being adapted to the big screen, and I hope it is, with a great director.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. Deka is coming of age and is about to undergo a ritual to determine the purity of her blood. Deka prays it’ll run red and not gold. Those who bleed gold are impure and will be put to death. The feared day comes, and Deka bleeds gold. She’s locked away from the town as the elders attempt to find her final death. Deka goes through an unimaginable amount of pain before she’s rescued by a mysterious woman who wants to recruit her into an army of the impure, called alaki. This is when Deka learns that those who bleed gold are considered demons and have supernatural gifts. They’re sent to fight creatures called deathshrieks, which threaten the safety of the Otera empire. The deathshrieks attack villages, stealing young girls and killing all else. Deka also learns that she is unique, even among the alaki, and is figuring out what this all means for her. She also learns of many dark things that have happened in Otera’s history, realizing that all she’s been told growing up is not the whole truth. — There is so much that goes on in this, but it is incredible. It is very dark, and a lot of violent things happen, including allusions to sexual assault, torture, war, child soldiers and a bunch I’m not covering. Make sure you look up a full list if you need to check. This is a story about a girl who was raised in an extremely patriarchal society, one that controls women by judging the “purity” of their blood, and when they’re recruited into the army of impure, they’re sent to the frontlines ahead of the men soldiers. It’s a very violent story full of exploitation and oppression, but also has stories of love, people caring for each other, finding their own meaning among the horrors that surround them. I didn’t care for the romance between Deka and her assigned soldier, but that was minor. There is a queer relationship which is casually mentioned, but not until much later into the story, nearly at the end. I’m also so over gendered magic because it never considers the relationship that queer, trans, and nonbinary people have with it. Fantasy also rarely considers the lives of queer, fat, and disabled people, which would’ve been nice to see in this especially since it speaks of revolution and pushing the envelope of who can do what. However! That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy The Gilded Ones. I did very much, and I will definitely be picking up the next Deathless book when it comes out.
That’s all of what I read in August and September. I haven’t been reading much this month either, so I might bundle October with November, we’ll see. Let me know what you think of these books, and I’ll see you next time!