Love is a Quiet Power | A Review of Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

All the things the boy will do, I promise to do better. In all the ways he can love you, I promise to love you better.

Ijeoma is eleven years old when the Nigerian Civil War breaks out. Eleven, when her father dies in the subsequent bombings that ravage her Igbo village. Eleven, when her mother sends her away to live with a grammar school teacher and his barren wife—whether for Ijeoma’s safety or out of the grief her mother has yet to cope with, Ijeoma herself cannot say. And she is eleven, living at the grammar school teacher’s, cleaning up and tending his home, when Ijeoma first finds love in the young Hausa girl that comes to live with them.

Under the Udala Trees is a subtle, slow burn that pays off emotionally in every conceivable way. From the onset of the Nigerian Civil War to Under the Udala Trees’ quiet and satisfying ending, we are dropped into and left to ruminate on Ijeoma’s world where the expectations of an only child—a girl child, at that—are monumental and the future she sees for herself as an independent woman freely living with her female lover, is inherently antithetical to how those around her would see her: dutiful student, dutiful daughter, dutiful Christian, dutifully working her way to being an equally dutiful wife. The constant push and pull of these warring ideas creates a beautifully, sometimes painfully, layered experience.

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Unarmed Truth & Unconditional Love | A Review of Dear Martin by Nic Stone

“About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police… That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.”

The above statistic is an opening line in a report run by the LA Times in August of 2019, detailing the realities of police violence against communities of color, particularly against black boys and men. This statistic is just a number to many young Americans but a dangerous reality for black and brown boys living in the United States.

Justyce, a soon-to-be graduate and honor roll student, lives this reality in Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a book that explores what it means to be a young man forced grapple with and question how not only authority figures see him and boys like him, but how his peers see him, too.

This self-perception is tested from the moment Dear Martin begins—a simple attempt at helping his currently drunk and bumbling ex-girlfriend get home safely turning into a violent and unprovoked encounter with a police officer. This encounter, a first for Justyce, springboards vivid political discussions in his debate classes, with his peers, even the adults in his life, and leads to one escalation after another that leaves Justyce questioning his own humanity, and questioning whether or not it even matters when others’ judgement can mean the difference between life and death?

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A Dash of Salt | The Illuminae Files

A good series is the fine wine of the book world. With each new entry, it ages boldly, elates the spirit, makes you crave more and more until you’re drunk on the quality of what you’ve read.

I would like to say that the Illuminae Files was that—a perfectly aged wine that hit where it needed to and left sweetness behind in its wake. Unfortunately, what I expected to be a bottle opened only once a century turned out to be something that I could get in a box on the bottom shelf of my local gas station any day of the week.

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Review | Girls of Paper and Fire

It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

I’ve added this to my mental list of books that I wish I had had when I was a teenager and the actual demographic for YA novels, because holy shit.

Where to begin? I think I’ll start with the fact that I loved this book as a slow burn (in terms of both plot and in terms of romance, but we’ll get to that,) heavily focused on character as opposed to plot. When it comes to the kind of subject matter that Girls of Paper and Fire tackles–a very dominating patriarchy, class imbalances, sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape–I think that it’s good that, for a decent chunk of the book, this was less focused on an epic, sweeping fantasy plot, and more on Lei, her experiences with her world, and her discovery of there being more going on in the Hidden Palace than just her duty as a Paper Girl. 

Let’s get into it.

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Review | The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.

It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.

Let’s get into it.

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Debut Review | For Blood & Glory by Cassandra A. Hendricks

As one of my anticipated YA reads for the year, For Blood and Glory was a debut that didn’t disappoint.

Let’s get into it.

The Run-Down

Sefira is just trying to bounce back—from a lot. The institutionalization of her mother several years ago,  the recent downward spiral in her mental health that had her adopted family uprooting themselves for her sake. She wants as normal life as possible, without the fear of her mother’s mental illness is the reason for her own, without the consistent hatred of her step-brother who blames her for his father leaving their blended family, and without the looming feeling that something just isn’t right in her world.

When things start getting out of control, when she finds out she’s able to do so much more than an average sixteen-year-old girl should be able to, when she meets a girl that is more like her than she could ever image—Sefira enters the world she always should have been a part of. What she finds there is magic, revelations about the woman who was her mother, and a familial bond that she never expected to have. Life never comes together so easily, however, and as Sefira comes into her new powers amidst being chased by forces from another world, she uncovers a secret that puts the universe into perspective and her and her family’s lives in danger.

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Reading Log | Reading Your Best Friend’s Book

Somehow, sneaking back into prison is always harder than sneaking out of it.

The reasonable part of me knows it’s because everyone’s asleep when I sneak out at night, and that by the time I return in the early morning, the dreary gray building is already starting to wake. But the cynical part of me thinks it has more to do with how the guards would be only too happy to get rid of me and all too reluctant to take me in.

A Soldier and a Liar; Caitlin Lochner

This Book Made Me Feel Things

There’s something nostalgic in opening a book you read years ago to read it all over again with fresh eyes and a changed mind—and something incredibly satisfying in getting to know that book a second time over after years of nurturing, coaxing, and loving hands working it over.

I didn’t expect to be so emotional when I finally got my preorder delivery of A Soldier and a Liar, and that was a serious oversight on my part. I read the first lines, overcome with the feeling of finality. A book that I had read in high school—a paperback, if I remember correctly, back when it was still titled This Is How We Fall Apart—was now a sleek hardback with blurbs on the back and my friend’s name on the front.

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This Book Ruined Me | Illuminae Review

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to review what’s easily been one of my favorite science fiction novels, but I never claimed to be good at blogging.

Illuminae… where do I start? Illuminae surprised me in ways I haven’t been with YA in a long time. When I say that I pulled an all-nighter to finish this book, I honestly mean it. I devoured each and every inky page, sometimes furiously, others with my heart ready to straight up vacate my chest in the span of a night. This was a high-octane, emotional novel and it’s been more than a month since I read it and I’m still not over it.

Let’s talk about this masterpiece by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman.

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Drops of Cerulean | Review & Author Interview

There’s something to say about a piece of literature that pulls every emotion out of you over the course of reading. I’ve only read a handful of books that have managed to do that for me, and when I came across this book earlier this year, I couldn’t believe that not only did this book just happen to exist in the same timeline that I did, but that it was the debut from a very talented author. The only thing that I regret is the fact that it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing it, as well as sharing the amazing interview that I was able to snag with Dawn Adams Cole, the author.

Let’s talk about one of my favorite reads of the year, Drops of Cerulean, and see what Dawn Adams Cole had to say about it, her process, and what she hopes readers gain from her words.

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A Review | The Belles: Beautiful & Poingant

Sometimes you come across books that are pretty; other times you come across books that are downright beautiful.

Let’s talk about The Belles.

Heavily inspired by New Orléans culture and French roots, The Belles is a decadent young adult fantasy that enticed me first with the sheer beauty in which it was written, and then kept me interested with rich world-building, a page-turning plot, and a main character that I couldn’t help but root for. Throw in sprinklings of forbidden love, court secrets, and betrayals I didn’t expect but probably should have, The Belles surprised me by how enjoyable and interesting I found it. From page one I wanted to dive straight into Orléans, experience the lavish balls, explore the colorful cities, and perhaps even book my own appointment at one of the many tea houses through which the Belles complete their beauty work—if I didn’t know the tea houses’ true nature, that is.

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The Race Problem With ARCs

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I made a couple of Tweets yesterday regarding ARCs—specifically ARCs for books written by/for people of color and the disproportionate number of white ARC reviewers for these books vs. reviews by people of color.

I was finalizing the list of books I wanted to include on my BHM Anticipated Releases Tour (shameless plug for the fun happening next week) and skimming the reviews because I like looking through reviews of books I want to read because I like to get a feel for how a book has been received or perceived; I find it makes me think more when I read through a book.

In browsing the Goodreads pages for the authors/books I’d be including, I noticed a pattern that was mildly annoying until I came across a review on New Kid that solidified the source of my agitation. New Kid is a middle-grade graphic novel written by Jerry Craft with the following blurb:


Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? 

New Kid, Jerry Craft

And yet so many reviews, including the one in question, entirely stripped New Kid of its racial context, hailing it as a universal story about what it means to be a new kid in a strange environment. As I started to pay more attention to who was reviewing the ARCs of this book, I realized the sheer number of the reviewers weren’t black or even biracial reviewers, but white ones.

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A Survivor’s Take on Emergency Contact

A Quick CW: I’ll be talking about sexual assault in this post. While nothing goes into graphic detail, please be aware and take care of yourself when choosing to read.


For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Emergency Contact, Mary H.K. Choi

Sexual trauma in YA is nothing new. Underlying or overt themes of sexual assault and abuse are a prevalent topic and their inclusion and execution in teen and YA fiction, be it within books, shows, or movies, is a conversation that I see, but generally don’t engage in often. This is for a number of reasons tending to boil down to the fact that most of the time, there aren’t enough spoons to pull myself through the hundreds of voices sounding that probably don’t need my opinion on what’s a hashed-and-rehashed topic anyway.

Emergency Contact, however, is a book I feel should be discussed.

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