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Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Publisher’s description

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Amanda’s thoughts

As I write this, it’s the final days of 2020 and Minnesota has decided to be very Minnesota-y and is having a rather unexpected blizzard. I’m tired and cranky and just over EVERYTHING lately. I stop and start books, I scroll on my phone, I rewatch The Office. Nothing feels interesting. But then! BUT THEN! I picked up this book. I read it slowly, delighting in every clever department name and plot twist. I got completely caught up in Amari’s world and only really set the book down to text people how great this book is. This book is stupendous.

Amari is off on a fantastical adventure after she receives a mysterious interactive recording from her missing brother. Under the guise of it being a summer camp, she goes to attend training at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where her brother was apparently working before his disappearance. There, she’s paired up with her new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, a weredragon and mastermind inventor, and learns that her brother was one of the most famous agents in recent history, responsible for helping bring about the end of two powerful magicians who were waging war on the supernatural world. Amari, whose aptitude and talents make it seem like she might be a hero, isn’t concerned about anything like that—she doesn’t want to be a hero; she just wants to find her brother. But when her talent is revealed to show her true abilities, suddenly Amari is seen as a potential villain, an enemy of the Bureau.

Now Amari has to prove herself to those in charge or she’ll be cut loose from the program and have her memory wiped. Staying and succeeding is the only chance she has at tracking down her brother. As Amari thinks, this is not so different from being a Black girl from the projects attending a private school (as she did). She’s used to standing out, to being judged. She doesn’t like being underestimated and will prove people that they’re wrong about her, but will have to deal with secrets, lies, blackmail, creatures, illusions, tests, and traitors along the way.

Every page of this story was a delight. Really all I want in life right now is for this whole series to be out and all the movies so I can just live inside the world of Amari and friends. I’m obsessed. Go order this right now. And get ready for it to fly off library shelves. One of the best starts to a fantasy series that I’ve read in a very long time.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062975164
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2021
Series: Supernatural Investigations #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

From the critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe comes a mind-bending, riveting novel about a teen who was born to a virgin mother and realizes she has the power to heal—but that power comes at a huge cost.

Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth.

This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it.

Amanda’s thoughts

elenaFact: I really enjoy Hutchinson’s books. You can read my reviews of At the Edge of the Universe, We Are the Ants, Violent EndsThe Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and Feral Youth to see why. I love his books because they so often deal with mental health and loss and large, weird science fiction ideas about worlds ending.

Florida teenager Elena Mendoza has always been unique. She’s the first and only documented case resulting from human parthenogenesis. Being virgin-born has always made her stand out, but that’s nothing compared to the attention she receives when it turns out she can perform healing miracles. When she witnesses Freddie, the girl she has a crush on get shot, the mermaid from the Starbucks logo tells Elena to heal Freddie. Healing Freddie also appears to rapture the shooter, who disappears in a beam of light. It’s all rather shocking and confusing to Elena, who has always heard voices from inanimate objects, but never knew she could do things like heal others. Her mother suggests she keep her down after this, act like doesn’t know what happened and that she can’t perform miracles. But how do you just forget what you were able to do and move on?

After Elena confirms she really can heal people (unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard for her to just accept what happened), things grow far more complicated than she could have anticipated. The voices (coming from such places as a girl on a tampon box, a My Little Pony, a skeleton, and more) tell her she needs to heal as many people as possible. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. But for every healing she does, people are raptured—and not just in some 1:1 ration; literally hundreds of people could go missing for each healing. Suddenly, Elena has BIG questions to grapple with. Can she help someone right in front of her knowing others will disappear to an unknown place? Is she being used? Do things happen for a reason or do they just happen? Does nothing matter? Does anything matter? Does EVERYTHING matter? How are things connected? Are people even worth saving (that question will sound familiar to fans of Hutchinson)? Does healing people fundamentally change them? Why should you decide who or what matters? It’s heavy philosophical stuff, which readers of Hutchinson will have come to expect.

As always, Hutchinson populates his story with a diverse group of characters. Elena is Cuban American and bisexual. Her best friend, Fadil, is Mulim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still figuring it out). The big picture themes include mental health/suicidal ideation (and actual suicide), bullying, identity, supportive relationships, and how your choices change you and the world around you. Hutchinson superfans will be thrilled to see cameos of characters from his previous books. This look at making impossible choices and handling moral conflict is already one of my favorites for 2018 (and, as of writing this, I’m still back here in 2017). Riveting, thoughtful, weird, brilliant, provocative, and heavy—just what I have come to expect from Hutchinson. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481498548
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/06/2018

Book Review: Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

Publisher’s description

ra6Greg has lived in Lancaster his whole life. The town’s always had its quirks, and being born without a shadow means he’s counted among them. When Greg discovers an old mansion in the woods just outside of town, he didn’t expect to meet a smart, beautiful, funny, and…very dead teenaged girl named Eleanor.

Yeah. He’s in love with a ghost.

And before he knows what’s happening, Greg finds himself at the wrong end of a history lesson when the town’s past, and his own, threaten to pull the two of them apart permanently!

From acclaimed comics writer Nick Tapalansky and phenomenal newcomer artist Anissa Espinosa, Cast No Shadow is a teen romance with humor and heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

cast noI always love books from First Second, but this one was not nearly as engaging as I had hoped it would be. The premise is cool—boy with no shadow falls in love with girl ghost only he can see—but the execution is lacking. A lot of things are kind of glossed over entirely or not fleshed out enough to really make an impact. Greg, who has no shadow, is best friends with Layla, who enjoys punching people. When she starts to date a boy Greg loathes, the two grow apart a bit. He can’t understand how she can like that guy and Layla thinks that Greg has just made up a ghost girlfriend (Eleanor) out of jealousy. Greg is also coping with his feelings about his dad’s girlfriend moving in. A ghost girlfriend whom Greg falls into insta-love with seems to be just the ticket to help him feel less crappy, but when they kiss, his shadow pops out and escapes, bringing chaos to Greg’s life and the town at large. Greg has to figure out how to stop his shadow and how to help Eleanor move on—to wherever it is she needs to go.

 

I definitely did not need the “this house was built on an Indian burial ground!” part of the story, even if the characters call out racist and inaccurate depictions when dealing with this fact. The inclusion of the “magical” burial ground is lazy, offensive, and nearly enough to make me want to skip this book altogether. 

 

While I dug the art and the concept of the story, I just wanted more from it. It kind of felt like we were just supposed to go with the story, without thinking harder about the plot holes or completely absent explanations. I had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss things, because I was often left wondering, wait, what? Readers who don’t mind a not fully fleshed out story but are into the concept may still find this interesting, but those looking to understand more about the relationships and the nuance of the plans carried out will be left dissatisfied. A surprising miss from a publisher that usually churns out really great graphic novels. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781596438774

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 10/10/2017