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Teen Advisory Board Member Ava Reviews Grave Mercy
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Ismae escapes from an abusive arranged marriage with a brute. When she arrives at the convent of Saint Mortain, the cloister of killer nuns inform her the god of Death has blessed her with violent powers and, should she accept to train under them, a great destiny. After she chooses to train as an assassin, she is given her first mission: kill a man residing in the courts of Brittany. But matters complicate once she begins falling for the very man she’s ordered to slaughter.
I absolutely adore the main character, Ismae, who needs no knight in shining armor, but didn’t let that blind her from the possibility of love. Too often books feature a “strong” female who cripples when their love interest departs, proving how strong they actually are. But my favorite aspect of this book is how women, hurt not only by men but by society’s limiting expectations, unite to heal while taking revenge on the men who have endangered other women. Ismae develops lasting friendships with females, instead of the usual girl-pitted-against-girl trope.
If you’re in the mood for a refreshing combination of historical fiction and fantasy, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers is definitely the right read! Another bonus: this is just the first book of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, so there’s more to look forward to after you’ve turned the last page.
-Review written by Ava, Age 14
- Written by By Ava, Amanda, and Alannah
So often we see authors place their black characters in minor roles with a white savior as the protagonist. So here we present to you a list of six popular fiction genres with corresponding YA novels featuring black protagonists!
1. Romance with Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Everything, Everything has been mentioned countless times from both the book and the movie. Maddy is allergic to everything, and can’t leave her house because of the risks, not leaving for seventeen years. Olly moves in and they make eye-contact, and Maddy knows she’s going to fall in love. A sweet, beautiful story about overcoming odds and risking it all for love is a definite, swoon-worthy must-read.
2. Action-Adventure with A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney
Alice, trained in magic weaponry and battling Nightmares, is struggling to keep up with school and her mother. But when Alice’s mentor is mysteriously poisoned, she must travel to Wonderland, home of the Nightmares that nearly ended her before. The task is seemingly simple: find the antidote and make it back home with her head still attached to her neck. But she soon discovers it’s easier said than done!
3. Biographical Account with Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Space travel is easily one of America's greatest accomplishments, with its crowning glory arguably being the spectacular moon landing. Yet contrary to what was for so long believed, this wasn't achieved solely by white men, nor white women either... Meet the HIDDEN FIGURES who helped to make this amazing feat possible - several incredibly devoted and talented black women who fought to assert their rights in a world that was prejudiced against them. Beautifully written by Margot Lee Shetterly, this will be a read that you won't want to put down!
4. Fantasy withThe Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
In Orléans, every person is born ugly and gray without the help of a Belle, who controls beauty and has the power to make people beautiful. Camellia Beauregard, a Belle, wants to be chosen as the royal favorite by the Queen of Orléans and able to be acknowledged as the most talented Belle, serving the royal family. Competing with five other Belles for the position, Camellia navigates through dangerous waters to make a choice for something she truly believes in. Not only is this book a fantastic fantasy book, but it also deals with many issues prevalent in the world today.
5. Speculative Fiction with Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
After the Civil War was brought to a sudden halt when the dead began walking the battlefields, the Native and Negro Reeducation Act was enacted, requiring colored children to train in combat schools with the sole purpose of defending the privileged white people from the dead. Jane McKeene is about to graduate as an Attendant—women who are trained in combat and etiquette, though she wants nothing more than to head back to her home in Kentucky. But when she finds out about a dastardly plot that threatens everyone in Baltimore County, she discovers maybe the dead aren’t the ones to fear after all.
6. Thriller with Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
While technically more historical fiction with a fantastical twist, KINDRED features many thriller-y elements. And it was just so good that we had to put it on this list! While celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her husband, Dana, a modern black woman, time travels to the antebellum South to save a drowning young boy. But as Dana is continuously called back to the past to save the boy from life-threatening situations, the time she needs to stay in the past grows longer and longer until she is unsure whether it’s possible to go back to the present in one piece.
Written by Ava Lee and Amanda Kay
Love Hamilton, aka the most brilliant Broadway show in history? Read these eight novels with protagonist similar to Hamilton characters like Lafayette, Angelica, AND PEGGY!!!
*MSL stands for the Most Suitable Lyric from Hamilton that suits the characters.
1. Alexander Hamilton in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Hamilton and Hazel’s similarities lie not in their life stories, but in their cynical view of the world. Hazel’s (Hamilton in disguise) terminal cancer is set to ruin her life, but when she meets Augustus Waters, a fellow member of the Cancer Support Group, she realizes her limited days are about to be changed forever.
MSL: And there’s a million things I haven’t done/But just you wait - Alexander Hamilton
Author: John Greene
2. Aaron Burr in ONE OF US IS LYING
Simon is the creator of Bayview High’s gossip app and has the dirt on everybody, no matter their social standing. However someone - or not - has it out for Simon, and that person (Aaron Burr in disguise) thinks he should have talked less, and smiled more.
MSL: Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead - Aaron Burr, Sir
Author: Karen M. McManus
3. John Laurens in A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE
A gentleman may seem well-versed in society’s norms, but all have shameless vices whether it’s a need to duel or fill their flasks every hour. Henry “Monty” Montague (John Laurens in disguise) embarks on his last Grand Tour of Europe to enjoy roguish pleasures before he is forced to commit to his family’s estate—that is until he discovers a plot that threatens the ones he loves.
MSL: Two pints o’ Sam Adams but I’m working on three! - Aaron Burr, Sir
Author: Mackenzie Lee
4. Lafayette in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
In ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Godspeed is the ship which brings the people of Earth to a new planet, where Amy wakes up fifty years too early. Elder (Lafayette in disguise) fights against the controlling government while realizing that there are more secrets than he had ever thought possible.
MSL: I dream of life without a monarchy/The unrest in France will lead to ‘onarchy? - My Shot
Author: Beth Revis
5. Hercules Mulligan in AND I DARKEN
Hercules Mulligan is strong, brave, and risks his life as a tailor to get information, like how Lada risks everything to prove that she’s more to what comes to eye. AND I DARKEN is the story of the princess of Wallachia, Lada Dragwlya (Hercules in disguise) and how she fights for vengeance on the Ottoman empire.
MSL: Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction/When you knock me down I get the f*** back up again!
Author: Kiersten White
6. Angelica in MOXIE
Just like Angelica, Vivian Carter in MOXIE stands for what she believes in and does not back down, no matter what the cynics say. Vivian’s plan to stop gender discrimination (Angelica in disguise) in her small Texas town by her comics makes MOXIE a definite must read.
MSL: I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel! - The Schuyler Sisters
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
7. Eliza in UNDER A PAINTED SKY
UNDER A PAINTED SKY features a rebellious yet sweet heroine, unafraid to do what is necessary for their best of companions. Join Samantha Young (Eliza in disguise) and Annamae, a runaway slave, as they head down the 1849 Oregan Trail, on the run from the discriminatory law and heading towards a new life in California. (Psst! They both speak French!)
MSL: Run away with us for the summer - Take a Break
Author: Stacey Lee
8. And Peggy! in GEMINI
Hailey (Peggy in disguise) and Clara, two conjoined sisters, have lived in the same old town all their lives, but their relationship fissures as they grow older. Hailey wants to be the center of the party, but Clara is fine being a wallflower. As graduation approaches, they must learn how to be their own person while stuck to each other’s hip.
MSL: And Peggy! - The Schuyler Sisters
Author: Sonya Mukherjee
Teen Advisory Board Member Ava Reviews Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix
Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao
The sequel to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns switches to Jade’s perspective. The wicked but stunning Empress Xifeng is slowly poisoning the Emperor, seeking to control the Great Forest. But the rightful heir to the throne, Jade, is determined to put an end to her reign, especially after Xifeng tries killing Jade, the one prophesied to bring her downfall. Using the stories her nursemaid taught her, Jade must collect five relics to raise the Dragon Guard, the only way to dethrone the Empress.
Though YA fairytale-retellings were my go-to for quite some time, I eventually lost interest. Well, at least until I read and reread Julie C. Dao’s Snow White spinoffs. Not to mention, it’s about time we have an all-Asian cast in an Asian-based fantasy world! While it’s fantastic that the number of Asian in entertainment is rising, most of the time those sources (E.g. novels, movies, etc) feature the struggle in being an outcast in society as a result of not being white. But this novel takes a whole new turn, casting the characters in a fun plot where they don’t have to struggle with their heritage, as being Asian is the norm.
Also, I love how the love interest defies stereotypes. Almost 100% of the time, the male love interest is this dark, brooding, handsome figure. But there are two stereotypes Dao defeats:
The love interest is Asian. Asian men have a history of been viewed as unmasculine, just as Asian women have a history of being overly-sexualized. Although this factor is sort of a given, as Dao’s cast is entirely Asian anyway.
He has the height of a dwarf. Many men struggle with the idea of dating a woman who’s taller than them, but this defies that expectation.
Love this fresh, diverse retelling of Snow White! It’s filled with more plot twists than I can count on both hands. Recommended to fans of the Lunar Chronicles, Caraval, and people who want more diversity in literature.
-Review written by Ava, Age 14
Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix hit stores November 6th. Haven't read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns yet? Find it here!