Gretchen

Gretchen's staff picks, news, blogs, and other posts

Split by Swati Avasthi

I just finished Split by Swati Avasthi. It's a YA novel about two brothers who have escaped an abusive home. It is aptly named, because it split me right open and I couldn't put it down. An intensely difficult book, it is nonetheless a strikingly nuanced story. Ms. Avasthi has clearly spent time working closely with issues of domestic violence, and her account here is unflinching in its depiction of what abuse can do, how many different ways it can break people, and when and how they might put the pieces back together.

Split Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780375863400
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers - March 9th, 2010

Ash by Malinda Lo

I recently read Ash by Malinda Lo, a queer YA retelling of Cinderella. If you think that sounds like your kind of book, you will love this one. It is so gorgeously written! It reminded me of Deerskin by Robin McKinley in a lot of ways (though it isn't nearly so dark and difficult in theme), especially in terms of how Lo balances the language of fairy tales with the language of modern fiction, and the quality of the writing overall.

Ash Cover Image
$10.99
ISBN: 9780316040105
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - October 5th, 2010

Staff Pick: Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Gretchen)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has many of my favorite fantasy tropes: country girl in the city, lost heirs, intricate politics, queer epic love, a past and future that stretch beyond the timeline of the book but influence its events. It features a really awesome set of gods and goddesses who are uncanny--that is, not simply humans with extra powers, but actually fundamentally different, though they seem all too human at times. Difficult metaphysics, high stakes, (almost) nobody is purely good or purely evil. Stunning visual descriptions. Plot twists so intense and so frequent it's like riding a giddy whirlwind to read.

One of the best parts is that Yeine is a protagonist whose voice isn't just that of an American transplanted to a fantasy land, but whose thought patterns and metaphors unapologetically reflect her heritage, a culture which we only see a few glimpses of outright but which is rich and layers and affects her decisions and perspectives throughout the book. Jemisin has written an interesting blog post on the Orbit site about writing a post-feminist character, which is definitely worth reading if you don't mind minor character spoilers.

The writing is tight and often luminescent--there are a few phrases and
passages that made me gasp in appreciation of the craft. It's difficult to pull this kind of book off well--to leave enough hints about the many mysteries that are unfolding without revealing the twists too soon. Conversely, you don't want to give too little information, or the reader will check out. Each twist was doled out at just the right time, and I continued to be surprised and delighted as each new piece of the story revealed hidden emotional or political depths. The plot is beautifully constructed through taut, lean prose. The first person narration is engaging and the character's voice is capable of sustaining it throughout, with tension between the story-as-told and the speaker's moments of mad self-doubt. It's riveting storytelling.

It's a truly remarkable book, and I eagerly await the sequel. We get a couple of pages of it as a teaser at the end of the book, and just from that it's obvious that the series will address the few issues I had with this first installment--namely, that it focuses primarily on the concerns of the rich and powerful, despite its protagonist of 'barbaric' roots.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys original, character-driven fantasy that doesn't pull its punches.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Cover Image
By Jemisin
$16.00
ISBN: 9780316043915
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Orbit - February 25th, 2010

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