My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. Read by Katherine Kellgren. HarperCollins, 2016.
Many people whose taste I trust said they enjoyed this book, plus it’s narrated by one of the best narrators ever, Katherine Kellgren, and set in Tudor England – kind of. This is an alternate England, with conflicts between Eðians, who turn into animals, and Verities, who think this is wickedness itself. Edward is king, and dying. At the request of his advisor, Lord Dudley, he orders his best friend and cousin Jane to marry Dudley’s son, Gifford Dudley, who prefers to be called G. G has a secret – a rather large one. It took a little bit to take off, but was great fun once it did, filled with snarkiness and quotes from Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, the Princess Bride, Shakespeare, and more. There were some historical inaccuracies that bothered me, such as blackberries being available year-round and a running joke about characters hunting for “pants” in an era when hose and slops with stockings would have been worn instead – but I could tell that accuracy wasn’t the goal here. Jane and G have a delightfully slow-building romance, while Edward’s sister Bess and Mary are wonderfully awesome and treacherous, respectively. Katherine Kellgren was just as amazing as I expected, though I am still sad that she is no longer around.
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno. Harper Teen, 2018.
This was a Cybils finalist in the young adult speculative fiction category, and also recommended by Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library. Spoiler/trigger alert: sexual assault. Georgina Fernweh and her sister Mary are almost 18, living on the tiny island of By-the-Sea. Its economy is sustained by the annual influx of tourists coming to look for Annabella’s bird, a distant Fernweh ancestor if the old stories are true. It’s the last summer before college. Mary (who can float) has dated almost every boy on the island. Georgina, our POV character, is still waiting for her own power to show up, and has had much less dating success (it’s harder to find girls to date with such a small population), though she does develop a crush on cute tourist Prue. But something is happening to Mary, and Georgina can’t quite figure out what it is. Colorful characters populate this story, told in dreamy language punctuated by realistic teen cursing. It’s a hard look at toxic masculinity set against the magic of women working together. So beautiful. The dreamy magic paired with horribly real issues is reminding of Fran Wilde’s new book, Riverland (review to come.)
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Narrated by Bahni Turpin. Balzer + Bray, 2019.
Like the rest of the world, I loved The Hate U Give, so of course I had to read Angie Thomas’s second book. But as Maureen at By Singing Light said, I am a Nice White Lady without a lot of direct personal experiences relating to the book. On the Come Up is set in the same neighborhood of Garden Heights. Our heroine, Bri, wants to be a rap star like her father, who was murdered when she was very young. Now her mother and older brother, Trey, struggle to keep the family afloat. Even though they both tell her to focus on getting to college, Bri feels that the system is rigged against young black people like her and that making it as a rap star would offer her family a better chance of success. Family bonds are tested by the pressures of the gangs around them, and life at a majority white public school that wants its minority students to conform rather than trying to make them comfortable. This book was really difficult for me to listen to, as Bri’s impulsive nature led her to make choices that had me saying, “Oh, honey! Listen to your mama!” even as I knew that she wouldn’t and couldn’t while staying to true to herself. Her lyrics and struggles were real, and the tough scenes balanced with ones filled humor, affection, or a bit of romance. Bahni Turpin is an extremely talented narrator, bringing all the characters here to life. Another great book, and one that will be easy to sell to teens.