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Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

we set theIn this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?


Amanda’s thoughts

I WANT THE NEXT BOOK! NOW! And after you read this, you will too.


Freshly out of the Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Dani is now the Primera to a promising young politician from a wealthy and respected family. Dani understands her role as Primera, one of two wives in the household, means she will run the home and be her husband Mateo’s equal. She quickly learns that secretive and cold Mateo, who is being groomed to run for president, views her as little more than a personal assistant. She’s not thrilled to be placed with Carmen, an enemy from school, who is Mateo’s Segunda, the second wife. Together, they all live in the heart of the capital, where luxury abounds. Money and power are important in the inner island, and Mateo’s family has both. But not far away, things are very different. Long ago, a wall was built around the inner island, and those suffering on the other side know nothing of the riches afforded to those lucky enough to be inside the wall. Dani knows intimately what life is like there and the risk many take to cross the militarized border that has a shoot-on-sight policy. Now part of the island’s elite, she is appalled at the wealth and resources taken for granted here. Life as a Primera could be extremely dull—be responsible and think of nothing more than supporting your husband—but Dani never gets to experience that.


Dani becomes involved with La Voz, a resistance group. The road to her involvement is complex—first she’s blackmailed, then she’s spying, and eventually she has to choose were her allegiances are. Their repeated message of “if we’re not all free, none of us are free” begins to really eat away at Dani, making her think hard about her past, the wall, her role as Primera, and what action she could take to affect change. Dani is supposed to exist to bring order and stability to the home (with Carmen there for warmth and beauty), but with her eyes opened more than ever to the injustices and resistance movement, she knows she needs to act. Being a spy is a complicated enough idea on its own, but throw in the fact that Dani isn’t sure who she can trust, from La Voz to her new family to Carmen, and it’s a real mess full of potential spies, liars, and double agents. As she struggles with her place now, she discovers many surprising revelations about Carmen, not the least of which is that they both have feelings for each other that go well beyond just being a paired Primera and Segunda. But as Dani untangles all of the prejudice, privilege, lies, and hatred around her, she wonders who, if anyone she can trust. And as her roles both at home and within La Voz continue, she worries that every part of her life is now a lie. How and where is Dani the most useful? And what price for freedom?


A tense cliffhanger that reveals secrets and sets up book two will leave readers (me!) desperate to see what happens. This well-written book has great world building, strong characters, and so much intrigue. A smart and engrossing read full of twists and turns. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Book review: The Prey by Tom Isbell

At a recent YA book club meeting, we talked about some of the things that we dislike as readers, things that we’re so over. The list was of the long, varied, and ranty variety. It seems like every meeting we discuss our dysptopia-fatigue, so that made the list. If we’re going to read a dystopia, somehow show us something different. In Tom Isbell’s The Prey, twin girls are experimented on by the government and boys (all boys, not just twins) who are categorized as “less thans” are kept in captivity and then hunted for sport. This premise, while still pretty familiar-feeling for a dystopia, at least seemed interesting enough to check it out.


Set 20 years after the Omega (the nuclear incident that obliterated much of the planet), Book lives in Camp Liberty (and narrates half of the story, in first person), raised to think that being called an “LT” means he and the other boys will go on to be lieutenants. In reality, they are “less thans” because of things like handicaps, skin color, weight, sexuality, religion, and their parents’ politics. After new boy Cat opens Book’s eyes to what their camp really is used for, Book, Cat, and 6 other boys set out to escape the Republic of the True America, Western Federation Territory. They aren’t entirely sure where they will escape to or what they will encounter, but the risk seems worth it. They team up with a group of 20 girls (lead by Hope, who narrates half of the story, in third person) who have escaped from the girls’ camp, Camp Freedom. Together they will set off on a journey across treacherous terrain, through punishing conditions, always barely one step ahead of hunters and the government. Their goal: whatever is waiting for them in The Heartland.


The overlarge cast of characters  is necessary for the group to stand a chance against the foes they encounter, but there were too many characters–many of them nameless and only a few well-developed. I kept getting pulled out of the story thinking of the logistical nightmare of coordinating that large of a group trying to flee without a lot of options for hiding. Then there’s the fact that the girls have suffered atrocious experiments (many are weak and frail), and many of the boys have physical handicaps. Yet they move relatively quickly in spite of little food, water, or rest. Parts of their escape were riveting–disgusting and gruesome and suspenseful in all of the best ways. Other parts plodded along.


The story really begins to pick up momentum when they encounter Frank, an old guy living in a remote area. If it wasn’t in your mind before, their encounter with him begs the question: just what does this world look like? How is it that he gets to live out there alone? Do others? Does everyone live in some kind of camp? Where are the kids who are not twin girls or “less than” boys? Where are the adults? The people older than 17? This is the problem with first books in trilogies often–not enough world building is offered because you know (or hope) it will be revealed in the rest of the series. I wanted more–I wanted to full understand this post-Omega world. And just when I think we might start to get some answers, just when the group reaches a new territory, the story comes screeching to a halt–not just a halt, but a completely puzzling “wait a minute, you’re going to do WHAT?” kind of halt.


The concept is great, but I wanted to take out a pen and start editing. Cut out some characters, get rid of the totally unnecessary love triangle idea/instalove idea (two more hits on our “things we don’t love” list), and give me more world building. I wanted more characters to die (that sounds awful, but seriously, their escape is very physically demanding. They encounter (or could encounter) many different ways to die. Give me more risk–kill off a few of those nameless characters), I wanted them to somehow learn more about the rest of the world, to talk about the experiments done to the girls, what life in the camps was like, what they remember from life before the camps. There is so much potential here, and I hope the next books in the series live up to it. Readers who still gravitate to dystopias will likely pick this up (the cover and flap copy are attention-grabbing), but may find themselves skimming the slow parts (and all of the obligatory romance parts). No matter how you get to the end–close attention or skimming–you’re still going to be left thinking, REALLY?!


ISBN-13: 9780062216014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date
: 1/20/2015