I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was in August. 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 We Are All Constellations by Amy Beashel. Thank you so much to Rock the Boat for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
A heartbreaking but hope-filled tale about the stories we tell ourselves to survive…
You are strong. You are brave. You are not alone.
Seventeen-year-old Iris is happy. She’s fearless, she’s strong. She is everything but a girl who lost her mum.
But Iris’s dad and step-mum have been keeping a secret. One big enough to unravel her. Only the magnetic Orla can provide an escape, until things get…complicated. As Iris questions who she is, it becomes clear she can’t run away from grief.
What happens when someone who has never faced up to the darkness lets it in?
Publication Date: 6th October
TW: suicide, self-harm, death, grief, sexual assault, harrassment, aphobia, mood disorder, alcoholism
We Are All Constellations is a beautifully inward story focusing on family, mental health and grief. It explores those rippling fractures of trauma that reverberate from our past into our present.
Amy Beashel thrives in these intimate, character-driven stories delving into the messy reality of mental health disorders and the lived experience of grief. Iris is a fantastically complex character, fractured by grief and the trauma of her past experiences. She is trying to find her footing in the world, leading to some mistakes and moments where she is incredibly unlikable and this behaviour is never justified. However, Beashel shows how she is all too human, learning and growing over the course of the story. I adored her rawness and the inevitable complications arising from that. Her past hangs heavy on her shoulders and complicates how she views herself and the world. Beashel infuses the story with a healthy dose of happiness and love, to balance that heavy darkness of some scenes and subjects touched upon. This creates that perfect balance that allows you to fully digest the situation and explore your own feelings.
As with her previous book The Sky is Mine, this is a visceral, gut-wrenching book that is unafraid to portray the dark messiness of these complex situations. There is so much nuance and sensitivity woven into this portrayal of mental health issues. In particular, the exploration of suicide is poignant and wonderfully complex. This is such a taboo subject, but one that needs to be shouted about and allowed for difficult discussions to take place. Having someone you know die by suicide upends everything and can often lead to a lot of guilt and shame. Beashel ensures that support and resources are signposted at the end of the book and allows plenty of moments for the book to just breathe and sit in its nuances.
We Are All Constellations is undoubtedly a heavy read, but one that truly stays with you.
Next up, I’d like to talk about If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang. Thank you so much to Inkyard Press for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
In this genre-bending YA debut, a Chinese American girl monetizes her strange new invisibility powers by discovering and selling her wealthy classmates’ most scandalous secrets.
Alice Sun has always felt invisible at her elite Beijing international boarding school, where she’s the only scholarship student among China’s most rich and influential teens. But then she starts uncontrollably turning invisible—actually invisible.
When her parents drop the news that they can no longer afford her tuition, even with the scholarship, Alice hatches a plan to monetize her strange new power—she’ll discover the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know, for a price.
But as the tasks escalate from petty scandals to actual crimes, Alice must decide if it’s worth losing her conscience—or even her life.
Publication Date: 11th October
TW: racism, ableism, classism, revenge porn, knife violence, infidelity, claustrophobia, child abuse, blood
If You Could See the Sun is an incredibly addictive, immersive and thrilling read. This is academic rivals to lovers excellence, mixed with a searing exploration of power and privilege.
Right from the start, Liang had me utterly hooked with that premise. That mix of academic contemporary competition and a touch of the fantastical through Alice’s powers. Invisibility has often been a concept that fascinates me and seeing it monetised here was such a clever twist on the trope. Alice herself has always felt invisible, unseen by her peers and unacknowledged for her prowess in the same way as her male, highly wealthy rival. This speaks to the inherent classism and sexism at the base of this academic structure and reflects wider society. Alice is diminished for her intelligence and furious drive to succeed, while this is praised and seen as only a facet of Henry’s personality. I loved how much this book delved into privilege and classist power structures, particularly those associated with intelligence and social mobility. This is always a structure that wants Alice to fail.
In case you couldn’t tell, I fell head over heels in love with Alice. Here was a snarky, extremely clever and driven girl who often comes across as prickly, blunt and a touch naive to the power plays surrounding her. However, the way she learns and grows over the course of this book is truly wonderful. The way Liang uses her powers to give her character development and a way to see beneath the veneers of perfection in this environment is masterful. I also adored the dynamic between her and Henry. There was just the right level of resentment and tension between them, with sparks flying on every page (though often not recognised by Alice). Their chemistry was wonderful and burnt just slow enough for me over the course of the book.
If You Could See the Sun is an incisive and incredible book, balancing deeply romantic flourishes with an incredibly entertaining exploration of power.
Finally, I’d like to delve into the book you need for this spooky season: The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew. Thank you so much to Orion and Gollancz for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Delaney Meyers-Petrov is tired of being seen as fragile just because she’s Deaf. So, when she’s accepted into a prestigious program at Godbole University that trains students to slip between parallel worlds, she’s excited for the chance to prove herself. But her semester gets off to a rocky start when she has an awkward encounter with a pretentious upperclassman, Colton Price, whom she has every intention of keeping her distance from.
Colton has been ordered to keep far away from the new girl, and the voices that call to her from the shadows. But the pull of her proves impossible to ignore, and he can’t help but be fascinated by her unusual talents.
After a fellow student turns up dead, she and Colton are forced to form a tenuous alliance, plummeting down a rabbit hole of deeply buried university secrets. They soon find themselves up against something old and nameless, an enemy that threatens to tear them – and their forbidden partnership – apart.
Publication Date: 20th October
TW: body horror, gore, violence, blood, death, murder, drowning, posession
The Whispering Dark is the encapsulation of those sleepless nights characterised by darkness and the foreboding sense of something just outside of your senses watching you. This is such a chilling and strangely beautiful story.
Firstly I have to talk about the Deaf representation in this book. The way Andrew brings such authenticity and nuance into this representation is impeccable, effectively showing how Delaney navigates a world not built to accommodate her. This is an Own Voices story, allowing that extra layer of detail to be woven into the book. Personally, I loved the extending glass analogy for chronic illness and disability strung throughout the book. It really speaks to how the disabled community is often infantilised and ignored. Also the way Andrew intertwines Delaney’s deafness with the supernatural abilities and forces surrounding her is exquisite. The ability to interact with the dead is a fascinating, yet morally complex one. It really opens up so many intriguing questions here, combined with an intensely compelling magic system and world-building.
Delaney herself was a wonderful protagonist. I loved her bite and frustration at the world around her. She is trying to find herself and discover the truth about her past and why she was sent to Godbole University. The way her and Colton have this dangerous but beguiling connection, despite every instinct telling them to stay away from one another, is brilliant and adds that extra layer of intrigue to the story. Colton is also a shadowy character that I wanted to fully unpick. He is enmeshed in a fascinatingly twisted web of secrets and lies that deeply connects to the horrendous heart of the book. This is a murderous little gem of a book, combining mystery and horror with plenty of twists and moments that made me drop the book in surprise. Also, I loved how damn Gothic this book was. Every page dripped blood and suspense in this claustrophobic and paranoia inducing environment. Not all is as it seems and there is plenty of intrigue occurring in the background. There are also some pretty gory scenes that do not hold back on the horror. That menacing sense of dread permeates the pages and leaves you constantly checking over your shoulder.
The Whispering Dark is a story marked by death and destruction, so do not think you will remain unscathed.