I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was last week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve previously read and am now ready to share my full thoughts about.
First up, I’d like to talk about Mark My Words by Muhammad Khan. Thank you so much to Macmillan’s Children’s Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Fifteen-year-old Dua Iqbal has always had trouble minding her own business. With a silver-tongue and an inquisitive nature, a career in journalism seems fated. When her school merges with another to form an Academy, Dua seizes her chance and sets up a rival newspaper, exposing the controversial stories that teachers and the kids who rule the school would rather keep buried.
Dua’s investigations are digging up things she shouldn’t get involved with about family, friends and her community and as exams rattle towards her, she needs to make some hard decisions about when to leave things alone. But when she discovers that some kids at school are being blamed for selling drugs when the real perpetrator is right in front of their noses, she can’t keep quiet any longer.
Publication Date: 17th February
TW: racism, classism, homophobia, drug abuse, corruption, violence, attempted mugging
Mark My Words is a pacy, entertaining and thought-provoking read.
This is very much a character-focused book, as you get to know and love Dua. I loved her passion and dedication to exposing the truth, though she is also fairly stubborn and insular. Her voice was so sparky and true to teenagers, with plenty of humour and heart to it. This is very much a story of her growth and coming into herself and her voice. She is nowhere near perfect and makes substantial mistakes, but these are challenged and addressed within the story. The friendship group and paper team around her are also really fun to read about, with all of them getting development and a sense of insight into their own struggles. In particular, I loved the intersectional approach Kahn took, ensuring that many different aspects of prejudice are challenged.
I loved how much this book explores the power of journalism and activism. It is only by speaking up that change can be enacted. However, Dua is up against a deeply ingrained system of classism and racism that seeks to diminish her voice. By going against the status quo, she risks a lot and does not always consider how her actions will impact those around her. This leads to a nuanced discussion around authenticity, corruption and obsession. The way this is threaded into the wider arc of social justice and pointing out the flaws in the system is really interesting. Khan really leans into the personal cost and toll this vital work can take, especially on young people. You can really feel the anger at this broken, failing system radiating through the pages, but you also get a sense of hope and inspiration in this incredible work being enacted.
Mark My Words is a punchy, puissant and impactful read that I hope gets the attention it deserves.
Next up, I’d like to talk about When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando. Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
A powerful coming-of-age story about chance encounters, injustice and how the choices that we make can completely change our future. The second YA novel from the critically acclaimed Danielle Jawando, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Gayle Foreman, Jennifer Niven and Nikesh Shukla.
When fourteen-year-old Shaq is stabbed outside of a busy shopping centre in Manchester, three teenagers from very different walks of life are unexpectedly brought together. What follows flips their worlds upside down and makes Chantelle, Jackson, and Marc question the deep-rooted prejudice and racism that exists within the police, the media, and the rest of society.
Publication Date: 31st March
TW: racism, domestic abuse, murder, violence, mugging, care experiences, police brutality
When Our Worlds Collided is another striking book from a powerful voice within YA.
I absolutely loved And The Stars Were Burning Brightly when I read it two years ago. That was an intense, moving and thought-provoking read that I have never forgotten. Jawando maintains that emotional potency here, with a sensitive and beautifully caring story. She really proves that she has this wonderful, innate ability to completely capture the audience emotionally and compel them to keep reading.
When Our Worlds Collided takes on several heavy topics, but always with Jawando’s characteristic sensitivity and nuance. It particularly talks about being Black in Britain today and the intersections of this with class. The way Shaq’s stabbing gets reported, sensationalised and miscommunicated is horrific, but all too realistic considering recent headlines. This is repeated and reflected on further throughout the book and this makes for essential reading. Jawando’s writing burns with the sense of a fury simmering and boiling over at this broken system and society.
The emotional impact of this book hinges on your ability to connect with the three central characters: Chantelle, Jackson and Marc. We switch between their perspectives, allowing for a three-dimensional and nuanced conversation about events between their headspaces. Obviously I loved all three of them and rooted for their hopes and dreams. They’re all facing their own struggles and battles that exemplify aspects of this corrupt, racist system. Jawando takes you on an emotional rollercoaster alongside them, feeling the anger, frustration, sadness and threads of hope and joy right alongside them. I think it is this exceptional character work that really defines and shapes her work. Only through this connection can the book have quite the same devastating impact.
When Our Worlds Collided is a fierce, thought-provoking book that shines brightest in its incredible characterisation and development.
Finally, I’d like to delve into Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. Thank you to Tor for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.
But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.
Publication Date: 10th May
TW: violence, blood, gore, death, racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual assault
Siren Queen lives up to its name, as Vo casts an enchanting spell over you. This is the type of book that bewitches and utterly ensnares you.
I adored The Chosen and the Beautiful when I read it last year, with Vo’s magical and ethereal writing completely immersing me in this gorgeously created world. Vo brings that same intangible magic to Siren Queen, with gorgeously evocative and cinematic writing. It is a short book, but it is jam-packed full of lush descriptions and layers. This type of writing for me is like smoke, with the vagueness and enshrouded nature creating a stream of consciousness style at times. I loved the romantic glamour we encounter occasionally. The central relationships are tangled and fragmentary, often with a mercenary glint of ambition. Yet you still want them to succeed and get caught up in the heady atmosphere.
However, my main obsession with the writing comes from the seamless way Vo interweaves elements of fantasy into an otherwise highly realistic story. We encounter moments that seem plucked straight from fairytales, myth and legend. There’s always a sense of something just beyond human comprehension running through and it’s dark, cruel and often gory. Nothing comes without a price and Vo exposes the abhorrent racism, homophobia and sexism running through the industry through creative metaphors and touches of horror.
Luli was a phenomenal protagonist. She was brave, determined and overwhelmingly loyal, but also had a hardened heart against the world desperate to break her. In order to achieve her fame, she will go to any lengths. She is a woman perfectly aware of what society and industry thinks and wants from her. The way she navigates the world is endlessly fascinating and I really enjoyed her narrative voice. Vo keeps the narrative ever so out of joint, moving across time and place enough to disturb you and force you to really pay attention. It’s so dream-like and almost hallucinatory, evoking an incredibly toxic and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Siren Queen is a haunting, enchanting and darkly edged story that exemplifies Vo’s unique and stunning writing.