Weekly Reads: Round-up #1 (The Abhorsen trilogy, Magonia, Two Boys Kissing, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)

Hello all, and welcome back to Weekly Reads!

So here’s the deal: I’ve been reading a whole lot over the past week or so—more than I can possibly give justice to reviewing, actually. (When you read a book one day then another the next day, your brain gets a little palimpsest-y.)

Because of that (not-so-actual) problem, and the fact that I’m not sure that everyone needs an in-depth review of every book anyway, we’re doing a book round-up this week, aka the too fast, too furious version of my thoughts on all the YA I’ve read lately. (What else.) I’ll start with a one-sentence movie trailer summary and then talk a bit about the good, the bad, and my rating. (I still don’t have a system, but I’ll pretend.)

So let’s do this.

The Abhorsen trilogy (SabrielLiraelAbhorsen) by Garth Nix

Summary: In a world that’s awesome, light-side necromancer women have to fight the undead with the help of mage dudes and talking animal companions.

The Good: The worldbuilding and mythology. (Semi-sentient bird-planes made of paper! Charter Magic vs. Free Magic, what does it mean? A magical wall built between overlapping realities! And so on.) There are mysterious magical beings contained in a pissed-off talking cat and a friendly talking dog (these are also the best characters). And the relentless undead menace feels ominous.

The Bad: The human protagonists were likeable but not everything. (Lirael gets more of an arc than any of them but I still don’t totally feel her.) The pacing, particularly after the first book, was choppy–sometimes it dragged, sometimes it sped, sometimes it felt like we missed out on a lot of information we should have (missed opportunities, because Lirael was actually a librarian, for crying out loud) and it was weird that it more or less dropped the perspective characters from the first book (they got cameos, basically) when they could’ve added a lot more depth.

Overall: Seven bells and a tail-wag.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Summary: The Fault in Our Stars meets Birds meets Pirates of the Caribbean in the sky, with hipsters. (Okay kidding, but not really?)

The Good: So this book retreads plenty of YA material (chosen one, dystopia + rebellion, more-than-best-friends, flipping perspectives between girl and guy, etc.) but I don’t actually think anyone will accuse it of being unoriginal. The world Headley builds is in the sky and based on odd sightings and superstitions about skyfolk through history, and the research and imagination show. Aza and Jason both have pretty good voices, if you like pretentious kids a la John Green, but a little more grounded. And Aza, who is initially sickly but ignoring it but all-too-aware of how it affects her family, feels a bit more genuine and less romantic a figure than Hazel Grace, maybe because she draws on the author’s experience. (And I still like The Fault in Our Stars, so I was there for Aza.) And also: this is one of few books that aren’t explicitly in the “LGBT books” YA category where some queer people actually exist (in the form of Jason’s moms), which is, I’m sad to say, still refreshing, since genre YA tends to be ridiculously heteronormative.

The Bad: So once Aza gets into the sky, the book gives us Jason’s perspective on the ground, which works, but Aza’s character and motivations get pretty hazy. The narrative relies a lot here on bonds it tells us about (between her and a couple of sky people) but it doesn’t really show us she has any investment in them. In fact, since we are in her head and she doesn’t really seem to care about these people through most of the chapters, it’s hard to understand why she does anything at all but mope about her ground-life until near the end, when the book seems to realize it needs to give her reasons to act.

Overall: Eight choking-hazard feathers and a sequel pre-order.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Summary: Seven gay boys try to navigate love and life, observed and narrated by a chorus of dead gay men. (No, really.)

The Good: While the chorus perspective of a generation before trying to impart wisdom could come off as preachy, it’s alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking and it acts as a good method of seguing between storylines. The stories converge a little bit around the two boys kissing to break a world record (Craig and Harry), but not unrealistically so, and it makes a nice focal point. Each of the boys is addressing love and dating and family and his identity in his own way, and they’re all reasonably distinct and very readable. Levithan has a very universal way of writing about love and other feelings, so even if you can’t relate to these particular situations, I think there’s a lot that’s relatable.

The Bad: I’m having a moment with David Levithan because I’ve been really into all of his writing I’ve read so far (Will Grayson, Will Grayson, The Lover’s Dictionary, and now this book). I’m actually having a hard time coming up with what I didn’t like.

Overall: Just read this. It’s not even very long.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Summary: Simon (a not-out indie kid) has found the perfect guy online, but he doesn’t know who he is, and he’s being blackmailed to wingman someone who knows about their emails.

The Good: Simon has a reasonably charming voice and his setting (a small town in Georgia) seems decently relatable and realistic. Also, he worships Oreos, and I know that feel.

The Bad: I picked this up because it seemed to intersperse the narrative with online interactions, but it’s just email. The emails were cute and the story had a reason for why email, but it still felt dated in a book that mentions other social media—I really wanted to see other communications in other formats (they’re relayed to us, but not in the context of their form). For some reason, Tumblr is referred to at least once as “the Tumblr” even when not referring to a specific Tumblr, which pulled me out because lol no. Also, while I’m glad the book didn’t go for too obvious a reveal of Simon’s love interest, I feel like it’s a delicate balance between picking someone non-obvious and picking someone a reader will still have had on their radar, and I’m not sure the book really accounted for that. Also, it felt like a lot of plots dropped and went nowhere—it made sense, a bit, because Simon was self-absorbed, but also it established these interactions and complications for him that didn’t lead to much, so even though most of the resolutions felt reasonably satisfying, the book lacked complexity. It also felt at points like the author was trying to address aspects of social justice from an outside perspective, which I know is tricky because I’m also a writer and a white (though not straight) lady, but it did in some instances what I always fear it will: stuck out, came off as too preachy.

Overall: This book is easy to read and inoffensive, but I never would’ve read it had it not been a LGBTQIA+ book. Five okay-band shirts and a half-eaten Oreo. (This will probably not earn a shelf spot.)

Whew. So that’s it. Thanks for stopping by this edition of Weekly Reads, and I’ll see you again soon!

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