Diverse Reads: Bone Deep by Kim O’Brien


3 stars. Interesting premise, poor delivery.

“It seemed proof that fear could open doors to other worlds, that the greater the fear we produced in ourselves, the greater the power it gave us to tap into those worlds.”

Bone Deep was a mixed bag for me. It had a lot of promise, as I went into the novel thinking it was going to be dark and atmospheric. Instead, it struggled with the kind of story it wanted to tell, fluctuating between an almost paranormal kind of mystery and saccharine romance.

The beginning of the novel hinted at a dark, complex backstory between the primary narrator, Paige, and her former friend, Emily, setting up an intense relationship between the two. This darkness carried through until about the middle of the novel, ending around the time Paige begins to form her intense feelings!!! for the other narrator, Jalen. Their “relationship” really strained the story and took me out of the moment several times, as I couldn’t get over the fact that Paige was melting over a boy while her former best friend was mysteriously missing, possibly even dead. With that being said, Paige’s character was kind of annoying to begin with so I’m not really surprised that her character got distracted so easily.

Moving on. I wanna focus on what I thought was done well–Jalen Yazzi. The novel is primarily told in first person by Paige, but there are several chapters where it is narrated by Jalen. The reader gets an interesting glimpse into his life, as he is someone who describes himself as being “divided in half by blood”. Jalen is part Navajo, part white, and his ethnic identity is an essential component of the plot. I won’t give away too much, but there are some arguably paranormal aspects to the story that revolve around Navajo mythology. Considering how much of the story takes place at an ancient Native American ruin, it only makes sense for the Navajo people and their mythology to play a part in the novel.

Jalen’s narration also sheds light on Navajo people and the issues they face in the modern day, especially the high rate of alcoholism among Native American people in general. His uncle struggles with alcoholism and Jalen’s respect and sympathy towards his uncle was admirable, showing the goodness of his personality and the complexity of the addiction.

“You love them, but you also fear them because when they’re drinking, there are no filters–only intense, dark emotions. Hateful things come out of their mouths, words that shoot like bullets and hurt all the worse because you can’t shield yourself from the truth in them.”

I hate that I even have to say this, but I appreciate the tasteful and humanizing approach that O’Brien had with writing the Native Americans in the story. As a people, they are all too often overlooked or dehumanized within media today, so Jalen’s perspective is really important. I just wish we could’ve gotten more of his narration instead of Paige.

The end of the novel, with all the mystery culminating in the inevitable and violent reveal, was absurd to me. It read strangely, like it was almost a dark comedy, and not something super serious and engaging. I couldn’t help but laugh a few times at the execution of it all. Following the grand reveal, the events weren’t really discussed among the main characters, which was really jarring. The plot shifted completely and focused exclusively on Paige and Jalen and their feelings, which felt so wacky in the context. This really threw the whole mystery-thriller aspect of the novel off for me.

Overall, this could have been a really good book if Paige focused less on her feelings for Jalen and more on the disappearance of her best friend. The romance was the biggest flaw, as it weighed the story down and watered down the seriousness of the events. It wasn’t a terrible read though. If you don’t really mind cliché love and are interested in a YA mystery with interesting mythology and diversity, then this will probably be a good book to read. O’Brien is clearly a good writer and knows what she’s doing. I just wish she could have toned down the insta-love.

(Note: There’s a sexual assault scene early on in the story so I wanted to make that known in case it could be triggering for anyone to read.)

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Diverse Reads: 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

4.5 stars for beautiful writing, originality, and diversity.

I am really big on diversity in the YA genre, especially when it comes to stories that are not contemporary. So I’ll go ahead and make this clear–I loved this book. Not because it was perfect, but because it did something original and it did it well.

5 to 1 tells a story of two people, Sudasa and Kiran, who come from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Sudasa lives a life of luxury because she was born a girl and Kiran lives a life of poverty because he was born a boy. Bodger takes the present day issues of infanticide and foeticide in India and creates a society in which women are no longer unwanted, but revered, and men are treated as less than. She essentially reverses the gender inequality found within India today, creating a dystopian society ruled by a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy. I really liked the idea of women taking matters into their own hands and creating a new society out of frustration for the old.

Because of the shortness of the book, the world building is kept to a minimum. I couldn’t help but wish the book was one hundred pages longer so that I could become more immersed in the world. However, the lack of world building didn’t take away from much, as the characters do more than make up for it.

I was invested in the immediate struggles of Sudasa and Kiran, as they went against the grain of their little world. Their backgrounds were sprinkled throughout their narration, slowly revealing their complex personalities and willingness to go against their society, to forge their own paths for their lives. Both characters were strong in their own right. I especially appreciated how Sudasa stood up for herself time and time again, despite the pressure to conform and obey. Oh, and there is, thankfully, no romance in this book. There was definitely potential between Sudasa and Kiran, but Bodger wisely left romance out of the picture. Given the subject matter, it was only natural for the characters to focus on literally anything else before romance.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was that Bodger got the Hindi right. That’s a big plus.

I highly recommend everyone read 5 to 1, especially if you’re looking for something original and diverse within ya. Bodger takes a very serious social and cultural issue found within India and creates a respectful, beautiful story as a result, while not watering down the seriousness of the subject matter. So many dystopian novels leave me confused and uninvested, making me wonder how exactly the society became the way it is. Though the reader doesn’t found out the exact mechanics for the establishment of Koyanganar, we know why it came to be. And that’s equally, if not more, important.

Crossing my fingers for a sequel!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Writing Diversity: An Introduction

“I want to write a _____ character but I’m not ______. What do I do?” 

This question pops up a lot on the internet. Writers don’t want to risk offending people or portraying marginalized people in a stereotypical or negative light. They may feel burdened with choosing to write a diverse character, as there is a likelihood that they will inaccurately portray them. So what is the solution?

1. Research. I mean that in its broadest sense.

Simply googling information about the marginalized person and reading wikipedia articles does not suffice as research. It’s a start but certainly not a solution. One must read as much as possible about their character.

When writing a character who is a different race than your own, especially if you’re white, reading up on history is essential. In contemporary or historical fiction, understanding context is essential to understanding the person. What caused these people to come to this country? Are they living in diaspora? What are their family dynamics in terms of their culture? These are just a few of the many questions to ask yourself when you begin your research.

2. Talk to real, diverse people.

There’s a reason there’s such a strong emphasis placed on diversity within the work place and within schools (aside from equal opportunity). Diversity offers perspective into experiences that many people will never experience themselves. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and any other negative -ism one can think of. Being exposed to other people’s life experiences creates empathy and it creates conversations about change.

So, speak to people. Hear their stories. Understand why they are the way they are and learn from them.

3. Be aware of one’s privilege.

This is an obvious one but a difficult thing to be constantly aware of. As a writer, it is your duty to create. With creation, there is projection. Writers tend to project their own perceptions and ideas into the things they write, which is the point most of the time, but it can cause issues when writing marginalized characters. This is when stereotyping tends to come into play because the writer is relying on their own misconceptions. Don’t do that.

Instead, try to run your story ideas by the people who you’re writing about. Who knows, maybe they can help you out with that one plot-hole that you haven’t worked through yet?

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Diverse Reads: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

This is the first of many reviews in which I will discuss a diverse book that I’ve read. What qualifies as a diverse read is a novel that features a marginalized person as the main character (or main characters if there are multiple narrators). Right now, I have a goal of reading more books by authors of color in the Urban Fantasy genre. So naturally, Julie Kagawa was my first choice.

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The Immortal Rules is set several decades in the future, following the “Red Lung” virus that decimated much of the population of the world. Vampires now rule over humans, offering them protection from the virus if the humans offer them their blood. The novel explores how the main character, Allison Sekemoto, deals with living in such conditions and the difficult choices she has to make.

I particularly enjoyed this novel because Allison is an incredibly strong heroine. From the beginning of the story, the reader is quickly made aware that Allison knows how to take care of herself. Not only that, she also takes care of others. Despite living in squalid conditions and struggling to survive in a harsh world, she watches out for her friend Stick, keeping him safe, making sure he has food, etc. People don’t do that kind of stuff in “The Fringe” where she lives. But Allison does, despite Stick being completely undeserving of her kindness.

Early on, she’s forced to make a tough decision when she’s facing death. Does she die a gruesome and painful death or does she become a vampire, the thing she hates most in the world? Her choice to become a vampire is interesting because it shows she has depth. Her deep-rooted hatred for all things vampire didn’t prevent her from wanting to live. (Well, sort of live. Vampires are dead, remember?) The rest of the novel shows how she deals with the moral implications of being apart of the undead club.

Aside from Allison’s name, and a few mentions in the story about her asian ancestry and appearance, there is no focus on her being Japanese. She just is. I’ve read several reviews of the book where people wondered what was the point of making her Japanese if it wasn’t going to play a larger role in the plot. My answer to that is simple: It doesn’t have to play a larger role in the plot. The fact that she is Japanese has no bearing on the story whatsoever and that’s fine.

The purpose of diverse representation, especially within the fantasy genre, is important because it shows that people like Allison, for example, can go on fantastical adventures without the focus being about her race.

Overall, the first of Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series is an exciting read and I highly suggest it to anyone interested in a vampire story without all the common cliches.

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Diversity Within Young Adult Media

Diversity.

This is a word that tends to come up frequently these days. Such as in the work place, within schools, and even when it comes to discussing politics. Fundamentally, diversity is a means of representation for “the other”. The other being anyone that falls outside the default, which is a white, cis-gendered man or woman from a middle or upper class background. Within the context of Western society, this description has become the default for characters portrayed in western mainstream media.

Being a woman of color and young adult myself, I have a particular interest in diverse representation within young adult media. This ranges from novels, to television, to film, and anything in between. It is incredibly important for all races, genders, and sexualities to be represented, especially within media that is targeted for a younger demographic.

With that being said, the goal of this blog is not to try and needlessly criticize the media that surrounds us, but to deconstruct it and create a conversation about diversity. What can we, as consumers or creators, do to improve things?

That is what I want to explore with this blog. Alongside that, I am going to review things that I read/watch/listen to and occasionally write about my own experiences with writing.

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