Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

I finished reading the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Labyrinth Lost, a few days ago. I decided to sit on my experience for a bit before writing about it. I want to talk about how I discovered the book in the first place. Thanks to various Goodreads book giveaways, the novel was put on my radar and I entered all the different times I could. The cover alone intrigued me as I immediately recognized its Day of the Dead decoration, which meant this had to be a Latinx protagonist (I hadn’t noticed the series title at that point yet). Then I saw the series title and I saw the author’s name, so I clicked on her profile. I found out she was Ecuadorian raised in New York, so naturally, yes, I had to read this book. I have Ecuadorian roots myself so that made me inclined to read this story. I’m so glad I did.

labyrinth lost

I’ve read plenty of fantasy books, between Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, and Cinda Williams Chima. While I love those books and series, the mythology is heavily based in Anglo-Saxon culture and history. Even in fantastical, fictionalized worlds, Euro-centric stories prevail. I’m a fan of those authors and the stories and characters they’ve created, but even so, I never felt like I saw myself in any of those worlds or people. Enter Zoraida Cordova with Brooklyn Brujas and for the first time ever, in all the books about magic and myth and folklore that I’ve read, I saw someone like me. Alejandra Mortiz (the main character) talks about her Ecuadorian family who came to NY by way of Puerto Rico (shout out to my mom’s people). When I told my dad about this seemingly small, throwaway detail, he said, “Oh yeah a lot of us do that. That’s really accurate.”

My family has never practiced brujeria or anything like that, but I am familiar with the background of magic. Likewise, while we’ve never believed in or practiced witchcraft, the underlying concept of the power of ancestry and how the dead are never truly gone is something that resonated with me because in my family, we do believe that our loved ones are always with us, even when they pass. We believe in the other side, and that the veil that divides our worlds is rather thin. There’s even a moment in the book where Alex is describing the superstition of how dropping utensils indicates visitors will be coming soon, and depending on which utensil was dropped, that would state if it was a man or a woman. I couldn’t help but laugh, because my mom yells, “Visita!” every time one of us drops a utensil in our house. Again, we’re not witches, but it seems certain superstitions just run through our culture. To see my own family beliefs represented in this fantastical world of magic just felt so validating.

The other thing I appreciated about this book was the depiction of Alex’s bisexuality. The fact that she was bisexual had no influence on the outcome of events or the narrative of the story whatsoever. Sure, as most YA novels are wont to do, there was a bit of a love triangle, but it never played into a drama of having to choose one over the other, of being either or. It was accepted and no one batted a lash at the fact that Alex was in love with Rishi. It was just as natural as her growing feelings for Nova. While romance played a small role and was weaved throughout the plot, it never drove the story. If anything, the love for her family was the driving force behind the story, and the fact that her family never questioned or made a deal out of Alex having a crush on Rishi was just such a relief to see in a YA novel that was made to be about magic and family and the power a girl can have.

Overall, if you’re interested in a different culture’s take on magic and fantasy, I highly recommend this book. Labyrinth Lost was just such a fun adventure and kept me turning the pages. I read it in 8 days, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that fast with my busy schedule.

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Meagan Reads YA Horror: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As part of my ongoing (and almost done!) reading challenge, I chose this young adult horror novel about a protagonist named Theseus Cassio (who prefers to go by Cas) for the category “a book you heard about because of this challenge.” Following in his father’s footsteps, Cas has become a ghost hunter himself with a plan for revenge to kill the thing that killed his father. Upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario, everything about this hunt is different from the ghosts he’s hunted in the past. Unexpectedly gaining a circle of friends, and a guilty conscience for classmates lost during his hunt, Cas takes on the most powerful specter he’s ever encountered.

The story was reminiscent of early Supernatural seasons, so of course it held my attention. The plot moved at a fast pace that never left me bored and had the right amount of rise and fall. What I appreciated most was that the story didn’t go longer than it had to and finished in a good place. The twists were surprising and left me wanting to continue each time a new one came into play.

Now, while the story was entertaining enough, the characters for the most part were annoying. Their personalities and descriptions relied heavily on stereotypes that sounded like an adult who has no idea what teenagers are actually like. Blake tried to give a couple of characters layers beyond their surface personalities, but the writing didn’t go deep enough to make them stand out as realistic people.

The best parts of this book were the supernatural elements and horror story, which made the audio book worth listening to. However, the narrator really seemed to have a hard time grasping what a teenage girl sounds like, and only seemed to have one mode for the boys: smarmy asshole. Perhaps the narration is part of the problem I had with characterization in this book, but I think that had more to do with Blake’s writing and the narrator didn’t help. Overall, not a terrible book, but not one I feel the need to continue the series.

Meagan Reads YA Sci-Fi: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Read this book for the 26 book reading challenge I started a couple of years ago and am still chugging through for the category “a book set in summer.” The whole novel takes place in Portland, Maine in the summer before a life-changing event takes place in the main character’s life.

Quick summary that includes spoilers, so read at your own risk. The premise is that this takes place in a future in which the disease of amor deliria nervosa has been eradicated through a procedure that U.S. citizens undergo when they come of age. So, a special kind of surgery targets the part of the brain that processes and let’s you express emotions related to love.

Lena is a typical teenage girl who enjoys running with her best friend Hannah and can’t wait to undergo the procedure and escape her past: being the daughter of the woman who committed suicide due to falling ill with the delirium. Lena follows the rules and wants to fit into her society until, wait for it, she meets a boy named Alex.

Overall, the idea of this society is interesting and captivating, but I think I’m definitely well past my young adult years, because the nauseating young love oh my god I can’t live without you after having just met you and I hardly know you trope makes me roll my eyes so hard. The whole story and character’s development hinges on this stereotype, but my biggest problem with it is how heteronormative it is.

The point of the procedure is to eradicate falling in love, but everything rides on the idea that only boys and girls fall in love with each other. The society even has rules that doesn’t allow boys and girls to have too much interaction prior to their procedures, to reduce the possibility of falling ill. At this point, I’m over books and stories that perpetuate the idea that only heterosexuals fall in love and no other kind of people even exist. It’s 2017. Get with the times please.

However, maybe it was my mind trying to read too much into it, but I felt a sort of queer element from Hannah. They were best friends, and the way she acts toward Lena and wanting her to break free from society’s restraints always felt like Hannah trying to push her friend to the realization of how she really felt about Lena. In the end, when Lena rebels for Alex, and Lena asks her best friend to run away with them, Hannah let’s her go and says she’s not actually brave enough. That whole relationship felt to me like Hannah was always in love with Lena, but Lena never realized it, and Hannah didn’t want to ruin things for her.

I appreciated the strong use of religion to establish this totalitarian government’s rhetoric behind the eradication of love. That is something that actually translates into real-life as is often seen in the U.S.’s politics with a blurred line between Church and State. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Book of Shhh, which is sort of like their constitution and bible. If the chapter doesn’t open with a passage from that book, it opens with lines from some kind of banned literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, or other poetry and novels that elevate the concept of love.

Another relevant element in this story is how police brutality is seen through Lena’s eyes. With her conditioning, she at first believes the law enforcement is there to protect the country’s citizens from themselves. When she falls to the deliria though and goes through each act of rebellion and becomes a victim of the patrollers, she finds they actually enjoy using extreme force and violence to bring criminals to justice. Lena’s description of her encounter with the police shows her thinking that the cure doesn’t eradicate all emotions, because hate and violence are still prevalent. This leads to the revelation that maybe love isn’t the problem. Love isn’t what makes people go mad and do terrible, chaotic and destructive things. That’s just people.

I’ll end this summary and review with a technical and structural choice the writer made and I think did well. The whole book is written in present tense, which is actually harder than it sounds. There’s a reason most books are written in past tense (in English at least). It’s just one of those things that feels and comes more naturally to our language. Oliver’s choice to write third person limited in present tense makes for an engaging story that brings the audience into the moment and feel like we know what Lena knows. It’s a structure that helps you feel the urgency of every situation, and it’s probably what kept me reading the whole book and look past the love story that I found cliche.

All in all, the book entertains and keeps you intrigued, but I didn’t feel a particular investment in any of the characters, and I don’t feel compelled to pick up the next installment.