I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was last month. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m talking about three incredible recent reads that all contain impactful messages.
First up, I’d like to talk about All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Thank you so much to Bethany Carter at Faber Children’s for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Rashad is absent again today.
That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…
Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.
And that’s how it started.
And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.
Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.
Cuz that’s how it can end.
Publication Date: 4th March
TW: racism, police brutality, assault
All American Boys is one of those books that demands your attention and commands you to listen.
It’s cliche to say, but it really is a powerful book and its core message is one that we all need to embrace – no longer can we be passive bystanders to injustice and hatred. This is an impassioned call to arms and to recognise that without actions, our words of activism and support are meaningless. I appreciated how complex the story was, delving into areas of nuance and depth. Silence in these situations is apathetic and taking on the side of the oppressor. All American Boys reminds us that silence is not an option.
I really liked how the two perspectives informed one another, often being able to view similar events through different lenses. Quinn is a flawed and emotionally torn voice, on a path of learning and being able to stand up for the truth. Rashad on the other hand is a vulnerable voice, frighteningly used to these acts of discrimination and violence. His perspective is a testament to ideas of ‘perfect’ victimhood and how deeply engrained racist ideas are.
I loved that they were connected by the team and how they were peripheries for the other right until the end. They weren’t close friends, rather two people brought together by an awful circumstance and each learning how to grapple with the events of that night. The writing is impactful, hitting close to home while also being imaginative and vivid. You really feel caught up in the lives of these fully-developed characters. It can be hard in dual narratives for each voice to stand out, but it is pulled off superbly here.
All American Boys is fierce, vital and searing. This is a book that will leave a mark on your heart and your mind.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Thank you so much to Rock the Boat for granting my request for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Keep the Secret. Live the Lie. Earn your Truth.
Eighteen-year-old Daunis’s mixed heritage has always made her feel like an outsider, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When she witnesses a shocking murder, she reluctantly agrees to be part of a covert FBI operation into a series of drug-related deaths.
But the deceptions – and deaths – keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. Now Daunis must decide what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
Publication Date: 1st April
TW: drug use, drug addiction, gun violence, sexual assault, violence
Firekeeper’s Daughter is a YA mystery unlike any other I’ve read, full of wonderful representation and a cast of characters that have such vivid and distinct voices. Boulley has crafted a story that will constantly keep you on your toes.
This is an incredibly strong and memorable debut. Boulley has crafted a compelling story full of heart and warmth. The Own Voices representation of Daunis’ culture is infused with such obvious love and respect for the community. You can feel how special every aspect is to Boulley and therefore you connect that much more. The writing is incredibly evocative and pays such close attention to all the minute details, giving it this vibrant and immersive feel. You can’t help but get sucked into the story. It has this intangible quality that is just beautiful to witness. It has a lyrical element to its realism which is intoxicating.
As a mystery, I cannot fault this book. The twists and turns are excellent and delve into some dark places. Alongside Daunis, you find yourself unable to trust anyone around you and secrets are revealed at every turn. Every time I thought I could pin down the plot, some new element would be revealed and new twists awaited me just after the next page. The cast of characters are all so well-drawn and you feel really connected to them. They have such vibrant voices and practically jump off the page, even though you want to know the dastardly secrets they’re hiding.
Something I personally loved about this book was the depiction of grief. It felt like such an authentic experience and made me pour my whole heart into reading the book. Daunis goes through differing stages of grief and to an extent, the entire book is about her journey and process of recovery. Entwined with that is the wonderful indigenous representation. It was really interesting to see how a different culture responds to grief and their sacred rituals to respect and preserve the memory of their loved one.
Firekeeper’s Daughter brings strong indigenous representation to the table in a striking debut, told through an evocative and intriguing voice. Keep an eye on Boulley.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the brilliant The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur. Thank you so much to Rob Richardson at Melia for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
Publication Date: 20th April
TW: death, grief, disappearances, references to sexual assault, kidnapping, slavery, mentions of suicide, poisoning, abusive parent, facial mutilation
The Forest of Stolen Girls is one of those books that just consumes your every waking thought. Whilst reading, I could think of nothing but the world Hur has so expertly crafted.
This is a masterclass in dramatic tension and atmosphere. Right from the start, I was immediately hooked by that opening. It sets the scene and makes you eager to uncover what truly happened all those years. This is a dark, dangerous and shadowy world that Hur thrusts you in. Monsters hide behind facades of kindness and respectability and almost everyone is hiding a dark truth within their heart.
After finishing The Forest of Stolen Girls, I am desperate to get my hands on a copy of The Silence of Bones. June Hur has such a gift for writing these unique, atmospheric and utterly thrilling mysteries and I just need more. The twists were executed so well and completely upended my expectations. I figured out whodunnit, but I didn’t completely work out why and how. Well written mysteries make you desperate to reread the book straight away, but also reward the reader for paying close attention. Hur pulls both of these aspects off spectacularly.
On top of the intriguing mystery, The Forest of Stolen Girls is also a heartfelt exploration of family, grief and trauma. It’s the tale of two sisters torn apart by circumstance and tragic events, brought back together by bloodshed and missing girls. It speaks to the fractured bond between them and how exactly that rift was formed. Hur also makes these characters so compelling and realistic that you can’t help but root for them.
The Forest of Stolen Girls is a whisper, a gleaming knife in the dark and a glowing ember of a book. It is patient in its unfolding, building to a devastating realisation and infused with brilliant elements of history and culture.