Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Lately it’s been tricky to fit in as many books as I’d like, and since I dropped everything earlier this week to get through the fairly-lengthy A Court of Wings and Fury, I decided to take on a couple of relatively short books to review for the rest of the week.
And although they were both compelling, easy reads, my main beef with both of them is—you guessed it—that they’re short. Womp womp.
But let’s get into it, shall we?
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
If we were talking music, I’d label this book a timely pop music mash-up: it’s on-trend with the contemporary fandom romance theme I’m starting to see happening (Queens of Geek, Eliza and Her Monsters) and it’s basking in the height of fairy tale retelling trendiness. (Or the tail end of it, maybe. I’m not that good at predicting the longevity of YA trends yet.)
So that said: this is about an orphaned young woman who lives with a crappy stepfamily and just wants to go to the ball—or the con, as it were. But also, it’s about the prince, who takes the form here of an actor who’s about to play Geekerella’s favourite character in the reboot. (And, a la Star Trek, the fictional space show in this book is a lot about diversity and representation, so the male lead and the character he’s about to play are Indian-American, which felt like a nice touch.)
Pros include that there are some heartwrenching and well-written moments about the female lead’s memories of her father, and props to the fact that the prince here is a real human (and a reasonably relatable character, as famous actors go) who you can actually root for getting together with the other protagonist for reasons other than helping her escape her awful life. Also in general, otherwise, this is a cute read that translates the fairy tale well to modern times. The Magic Pumpkin is a vegan food truck staffed by bored non-vegans; the stepsisters are nasty YouTube vloggers who pound kale smoothies. #relatable
(Also sidenote: I have to ask this author one day if she watched the crap out of Ever After as I did as a kid, because this version of the story structure seems to really, really echo that movie, which possibly made me enjoy it more for nostalgia reasons but also made me feel like it was more predictable?)
Cons are basically just that this book is short. “You literally always say that when the book is under 400 pages,” you’re thinking. And, I mean, you’re not 100% correct, but you’re not entirely wrong, either.
But here’s why it’s too short: There’s a friendship that just barely has time to develop that it feels like I should be more invested in. The actor-protagonist is set up as being basically friendless on a kind of shaky premise. (The story of losing his one friend is sad, but it’s never really established why he can’t make more friends within his industry.) There’s a side relationship you could blink and miss that seems included for not much reason. (I also feel extra weird when people do this with queer relationships, because it’s like…any undeveloped sudden background pairing feels weird, but are you doing this with queer characters as a tiny wave of an ally flag? I don’t know.) Also, there were characters I was interested in hearing more about where more was hinted at (like the actor’s personal…person helper publicity someone?) and that just kind of misted off.
In any case: this really is an easy read, the shift between fairy tale to contemporary is cute, its message is one that cares about diversity and outcasts, and although I could’ve used a bit more development for the romance as well, the two leads really did have a nice banter. If you’re looking for a quick, fun retelling, you’ll probably be happy with this one.
Written in the stars by Aisha Saeed
You’re going to find this one out right in the book jacket, so we may as well lead with it: this is a book about forced marriage. It’s a book about a Pakistani-American girl who goes on vacation with her parents only to find out that that’s what’s in store for her. It is not a light, fun read. It goes to some absolutely hopeless places, but I think it is ultimately worthwhile.
Written in the Stars is a quick, heartwrenching page-turner with some moments of lovely food description. It won’t take up much of your time and it’s on an important topic, so regardless of my rating below, I’m going to recommend that others read it. (Obviously with some caveats: you will have to imagine here the trigger warnings that go along with forced marriage.)
This is what I talk about when I talk about reviewing being hard. Sometimes, friends, a book just is really lacking in terms of its writing. But do I want to put people off reading it if it’s on an important topic, if it has important representation, if it’s an Own Voices book? A THOUSAND TIMES NO. But if I told you this book had great characters, relationships, dialogue, and action, I would be super lying. What it has is representation of people we maybe don’t always see (and that’ll be controversial I’m sure because there are definitely some negative representations in there), a plot that reflects an important issue, and an author I hope we get more from.
So that said: yeah, this book was too short by a mile. It is a series of plot events with very little description of even the action in a scene. There are a few snippets of meaningful dialogue and almost no character/relationship development. The plot is one that is unique among YA books and about a difficult, important topic, so this is worth looking at, but in terms of the writing, I can’t rate it highly.
It took almost no time to establish the relationship between Naila, the protagonist, and Saif, her actual love interest, so other than the hope that a young adult novel wouldn’t possibly be that soul-crushing, there was really no reason to dig in and imagine them ever reuniting. I rooted for Naila/Saif entirely just because it was Naila’s choice, and not because I knew anything about Saif more than like, he’s pretty nice and he believes in free will.
Basically everything in this book is a speed-rap except for Naila’s stay with family in Pakistan, which I guess was appropriately dragged out and ominous, but because we as readers know what’s going on (it’s on the book jacket!) and there were definite clues, it felt awkward that Naila took so long to suspect it. (Her family had always told her they’d arrange her marriage, so…yeah.)
In any case: because everything is such a speed-rap, there’s not much time to get invested in Naila’s relationships with her brother, her parents, her aunts and uncles and cousins, her best friend back home, people down the line—it’s easy to feel betrayed for her when people betray her because what happens to her sucks so much, but it doesn’t feel as personal as it could if we got the real sense of love and trust between people. These people barely interact, you know?
And it’s easy to feel happy for her when people do care about her well-being, but not because we really feel the connection between her and those who are sympathetic, but basically because holy shit, someone help this girl.
I felt engaged throughout this book and had a sense of emotional connection with the story and Naila, but not because I knew her (she wants to be a doctor, but why? what does she even like? I don’t know) or what her relationships with anyone were like, but just at a base level that what’s happening is difficult and she’s clearly resilient to maintain hope and trust in others through it all.
…but also, the ending to this is so abrupt. So abrupt and sped through. I mentioned this book is short, right?
So yeah. As a person who reviews writing, I really can’t give it a high rating because the characters are all about as flat plot device as they come and scenes bled into one another as they raced by without much to define them.
However, this is a short book that I recommend reading if you can. There’s not a lot like it in YA, it’s on a current issue, and although I wanted a lot more from this story, I’d like to see more of this kind of story, if you catch my drift. Not in that I ever want any of this to happen to young women agh, but I appreciate this author’s dedication: “To every Naila everywhere.” More types of stories need to be out there so more people can see themselves reflected on the page, I think.
One day, I will meet the short book that is perfect as it is, but it is not this day.
Until then, I’ll talk to you next week! Thanks for coming by!