“Invisible Son” Review

The cover is blue with streaks of purple and red. The face of a black teen is on the front with short black hair and headphones around his neck. His shoulders are seen but part of the blue of the cover. Written by Kim Johnson
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers, June 2023
416 pages
Completed September 18, 2023

Life can change in an instant.
When you’re wrongfully accused of a crime.
When a virus shuts everything down.
When the girl you love moves on.

Andre Jackson is determined to reclaim his identity. But returning from juvie doesn’t feel like coming home. His Portland, Oregon, neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, and COVID-19 shuts down school before he can return. And Andre’s suspicions about his arrest for a crime he didn’t commit even taint his friendships. It’s as if his whole life has been erased.

The one thing Andre is counting on is his relationship with the Whitaker kids—especially his longtime crush, Sierra. But Sierra’s brother Eric is missing, and the facts don’t add up as their adoptive parents fight to keep up the act that their racially diverse family is picture-perfect. If Andre can find Eric, he just might uncover the truth about his own arrest. But in a world where power is held by a few and Andre is nearly invisible, searching for the truth is a dangerous game.

This book deals with a lot due to the book starting in February 2020 and going through the summer to August. COVID, the murder of George Floyd, and the protests that took place in the aftermath all take place as Andre is trying to find Eric. I don’t want to spoil too much but since it’s the first year of COVID a lot happens because of that along with everything else. There’s a scene where Andre is eating some Ramen noodles and complains they’re too bland. Any reader who’s familiar with the symptoms of COVID will recognize that moment for what it is.

The crime Andre went away for is entirely someone else’s and the answers to why he was framed are all to realistic and simple considering who he’s dealing with. There’s a lot said about racism and the differences in how Black and Brown people are treated by the police and society and also the different outcomes for marginalized groups dealing with COVID along with everything else. I’m glad I read this book. I don’t want to ever get so comfortable in my own situation that I forget what others have dealt with and continue to deal with. This is definitely a book every white person should read. (That said if you’re currently dealing with ongoing issues from having had COVID and/or lost family members to COVID you may wish to avoid this book for that reason.)

As hard as it was I really enjoyed reading this book. Andre is a great characters and he has family and friends he can depend on. The family across the street was complicated but the kids are a good group of individuals who are finding their way. The ending is bittersweet – Andre is free at least, and there’s hope for the future, but his world is forever changed.

“Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything” Review

a person's head is on the top of the cover looking towards the left. Over the back of their head are three birds in flight going in various directions. below them as the title and authors name and a skyline of a city in the background. THe cover is purple and pink in the center with black on the edges. Written by Justine Pucella Winans
Published by Clarion Books, April 2023
384 pages
Completed September 12, 2023

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Torre is an avid birder undergoing a gender identity crisis and grappling with an ever-growing list of fears. Some, like Fear #6: Initiating Conversation, keep them constrained, forcing them to watch birds from the telescope in their bedroom. And, occasionally, their neighbors. When their gaze wanders from the birds to one particular window across the street, Bianca witnesses a creepy plague-masked murderer take their neighbor’s life. Worse, the death is ruled a suicide, forcing Bianca to make a choice—succumb to their long list of fears (including #3: Murder and #55: Breaking into a Dead Guy’s Apartment) or investigate what happened.

Bianca enlists the help of their friend Anderson Coleman, but the two have more knowledge of anime than true crime. As Bianca and Anderson dig deeper into the murder with a little help from Bianca’s crush and fellow birding aficionado, Elaine Yee (#13: Beautiful People, #11: Parents Discovering They’re A Raging Lesbian), the trio uncovers a conspiracy much larger—and weirder—than imagined. But when the killer catches wind of the investigation, Bianca’s fear of public speaking doesn’t sound so bad compared to the threat of being silenced for good.

In this absurdist, bizarrely comical YA thriller that is at turns a deceptively deep exploration of anxiety and identity, perhaps the real murder investigation is the friends we make along the way.

This was a fun read. The murder mystery was interesting but the way it was handled was a bit over ridiculous. However it being ridiculous was intentional given the description. Serious things would happen with only a brief mention from the adults and then the plot moved on… so the teenagers could solve the mystery. Which was fine but I ended up enjoying reading about Bianca’s character development more as they both figured out their gender identity (realizing they are non-binary) and also dealing with all their anxieties and fears. That was the more interesting part of the book for me. The characters are all great though I wish Bianca had been able to talk to their parents more, but that was realistic. At least they have their friend’s parents to rely on for that.

“The Labyrinth’s Archivist” Review

The side of person's face takes up the top left corner of the cover across the top and down to the bottom. They are dark skinned with gold tones and various shapes and designs on their skin. Their eyes are mostly closed and the face is looking downwards. Rest of the cover is black with circle shapes visible. The title is arranged sideways on the right side of the cover and the authors name is at the bottom. Written by Day Al-Mohamed
Published by Falstaff Books, July 2019
132 pages
Completed September 10, 2023

Walking the Labyrinth and visiting hundreds of other worlds; seeing so many new and wonderful things – that is the provenance of the travelers and traders, the adventurers and heroes. Azalea has never left her home city, let alone the world. Her city, is at the nexus of many worlds with its very own “Hall of Gates” and her family are the Archivists. They are the mapmakers and the tellers of tales. They capture information on all of the byways, passages and secrets of the Labyrinth. Gifted with a perfect memory, Azalea can recall every story she ever heard from the walkers between worlds. She remembers every trick to opening stubborn gates, and the dangers and delights of hundreds of worlds. But Azalea will never be a part of her family’s legacy. She cannot make the fabled maps of the Archivists because she is blind.

The Archivist’s “Residence” is a waystation among worlds. It is safe, comfortable and with all food and amenities provided. In exchange, of course, for stories of their adventures and information about the Labyrinth, which will then be transcribed for posterity and added to the Great Archive. But now, someone has come to the Residence and is killing off Archivists using strange and unusual poisons from unique worlds whose histories are lost in the darkest, dustiest corners of the Great Archive. As Archivists die, one by one, Azalea is in a race to find out who the killer is and why they are killing the Archivists, before they decide she is too big a threat to leave alive.

I really enjoyed this story – the characters were great and I liked how the main character’s disability was used in the story – Azalea is a great character all around. The murder mystery was interesting and I enjoyed how it all played out. It may have been a bit predictable who was the actual killer but it was still fun reading it. I liked the fact that Azalea’s grandmother had the same gift if perfect memory and it wasn’t played as if it was a compensation for her being blind – it was a thing other characters may or may not have regardless of disability or not.

“Elatsoe” Review

The cover is covered with white cloudy shapes of dogs with a young girl standing on the right side of the cover near the top. She is wearing a red coat and black pants and has long hair. The title is written out across one of the dogs. Written by Darcie Little Badger
Published by Levine Querido, August 2020
362 pages
Completed August 4, 2023

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

Darcie Little Badger is an extraordinary debut talent in the world of speculative fiction. We have paired her with her artistic match, illustrator Rovina Cai. This is a book singular in feeling and beauty.

I enjoyed this book, but I had some trouble following it at times. Something about the writing style didn’t work for me. I felt like important information got lost within paragraphs describing various things. I also felt like the world could have been explained more – why were there randomly vampires and feiry rings for traveling? I know it’s meant to be urban fantasy and it should have have worked, but something felt off about it. All that said I enjoyed reading about Elatsoe and her friend figuring out what had happened to her cousin. I also liked that her parents were supportive as well in helping her figure out what had happened. It is essentially another story where kids/teenagers save the day but in this case the parents are helpful instead of useless.

“Mexican Gothic” Review

A young Mexican woman is standing or sitting on the cover visible from the nose down wearing a red dress that wraps around her chest with no shoulders. She has her hands in her lap holding a bouquet of yellow flowers. The background is green wallpaper with floral designs.Written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Del Rey, June 2020
320 pages
Completed July 26, 2023

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

I really enjoyed this one. The story does take a while to get going with a slow pace as things unfold but it never really felt like it was too slow. I did think the last few chapters were a bit fast in comparison but it made sense for the story because once the truth came out things had to be dealt with quickly or no one was going to be freed from the house. The description is right that Noemí is an unlikely rescuer or at least she seems that way at first. Given that it’s set in the 50s her personality/behaviors aren’t much of a surprise but the way she handled everything still made sense. I liked the way the central mystery was resolved. There’s a lot that wasn’t explained but like most horror stories some things aren’t ever explained.

“The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester” Review

A young person shown on the cover with white/purple hair and wearing a black t-shirt with a logo of something that is covered up by the book they're holding in their right hand against their chest. Their right arm is covered with a tattoo of sky and a bird and tree. The background is purple and white with stars. The title is shown at the top of te cover. Written by Maya MacGregor
Published by Astra Young Readers, May 2022
355 pages
Completed July 20, 2023 (2nd read)

Sam Sylvester’s not overly optimistic about their recent move to the small town of Astoria, Oregon after a traumatic experience in their last home in the rural Midwest.

Yet Sam’s life seems to be on the upswing after meeting several new friends and a potential love interest in Shep, the pretty neighbor. However, Sam can’t seem to let go of what might have been, and is drawn to investigate the death of a teenage boy in 1980s Astoria. Sam’s convinced he was murdered–especially since Sam’s investigation seems to resurrect some ghosts in the town.

Threatening notes and figures hidden in shadows begin to disrupt Sam’s life. Yet Sam continues to search for the truth. When Sam discovers that they may be closer to a killer than previously known, Sam has a difficult decision to make. Would they risk their new life for a half-lived one?

Originally read this last year soon after it was published – I still love it. It’s a great quick read with awesome characters. The central mystery is a little predictable but it was still fun waiting to see what was going on. I liked it more for the character interactions. Especially Sam realizing there is a place where they can be themselves and have friends and date safely. This is both a story about being non-binary and Autistic and finding people who get you in all the ways that matter. Their father already does but having people beyond their father understand them is something new.

“How Long ’til Black Future Month?” Review

On the cover a young black woman is facing towards the right in profile with her long hair styled with decorations that are white geometric shapes. The shirt or dress she is wearing has a thick collar that looks like two rows of white balls. The title of the book and authors name are on the top and bottom of the cover. Written by N.K. Jemisin
Published by Orbit, November 2018
416 pages
Completed June 14, 2023

“Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories.”

“Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.”

This is a great collection of short stories all written by N. K. Jemisin. Some of them are early ideas that would become her larger works. Others are stories she had written for other publications. All are great. I also highly recommend reading the introduction to the book for more background and to know where the title of the book comes from. I really enjoyed each story and will likely read more by this author at some point.

“We Don’t Swim Here” Review

The heads of two young people, both Black, are on the cover facing away from each other. One is clearly visible while the other is almost entirely blurred out. The background of the cover is dark greenish blue water at the top and solid black from the middle down.Written by Vincent Tirado
Published by Sourcebooks Fire, May 2023
320 pages
Completed: May 20, 2023

“Bronwyn is only supposed to be in rural Hillwoods for a year. Her grandmother is in hospice, and her father needs to get her affairs in order. And they’re all meant to make some final memories together.”

“Except Bronwyn is miserable. Her grandmother is dying, everyone is standoffish, and she can’t even go swimming. All she hears are warnings about going in the water, despite a gorgeous lake. And a pool at the abandoned rec center. And another in the high school basement.”

“Anais tries her hardest to protect Bronwyn from the shadows of Hillwoods. She follows her own rituals to avoid any unnecessary attention—and if she can just get Bronwyn to stop asking questions, she can protect her too. The less Bronwyn pays attention to Hillwoods, the less Hillwoods will pay attention to Bronwyn. She doesn’t get that the lore is, well, truth. History. Pain. The living aren’t the only ones who seek retribution when they’re wronged. But when Bronwyn does more exploring than she should, they are both in for danger they couldn’t expect.”

This was a really fun read. I was one of those books where once I started I just kept going and finished it all in one go. I loved all of the characters and the central mystery was great. The town was suck in a trap of its own making from the past act and couldn’t see a way out of it because so much had gone into covering up what that act actually had been that only a few left knew the full story. I really enjoyed the resolution of everything though there was on plot point I wish had been explained. I believe I know the answer given what is said throughout the book but it’s never explicitly said nor does anyone in the town seem to realize the truth of that plot point of everything that’s gone on. Though to be fair the main characters are teens and it’s the kind of story where adults don’t entirely know what they should know. It works either way.

“A Master of Djinn” Review

A person stands at the bottom of a set of stairs in a palace of gold. At the top of the cover are the inner workings of a machine with gears and pipes and other bits of technology.  Written by P. Djèlí Clark
Publisheed by Tordotcom Publishing, May 2021
400 pages
Completed: May 14, 2023

“Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.”

“So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world forty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.”

“Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…”

This was such a great read. The characters are fun to read about and the world building was fantastic. I had a lot of fun reading this book. It’s set in 1912 so there’s a bit of history to think about with the time period but it’s also a rather different world because of the changes that have happened. The world building explains enough to keep the story going but doesn’t answer everything. Which I actually appreciated. Since the story is set over 40 years after the changes it would have required a lot of information dumping which the story never did. Some things are explained others are left for the reader to figure out. I really enjoyed how everything worked out and the crisis was solved. If P. Djèlí Clark writes another novel in this series I will definitely read it. There are several short stories also set in the same universe that I’m going to see if I can find and read as well.

“Elena Knows” Review

The cover is yellow with the profile of a woman in blue looking to the left. There's what looks like a chair over the profile - the seat and back of the chair are in red and then the legs are in blue and end up being part of the profile. The title, author's name and translator's name are the top left corner of the cover. Written by Claudia Piñeiro (Translated by Frances Riddle)
Published in English by Church Press, July 2021
Originally published in 2007 in Argentina
158 pages
Completed: April 30, 2023

“After Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.”

One more book for the Disability Readathon, which fits the last of the reading prompts – “Read a translation”.

This book is one of those complicated ones because as it turns out the characters aren’t very likable and that’s the point. Both Elena and Rita are rather mean spirited people who judge others and the whole book centers around Elena’s assumptions about her daughter. The book explores mother-daughter relationships, abortion rights, religion and disability – and it’s not nice about any of them. There are several disturbing things that happen in this book that have everything to do with how women’s bodies are treated.

The formatting was a bit difficult as the book is entirely Elena’s thoughts as she goes about her day and flashbacks to past conversations but it’s almost walls of text with the dialogue not evenly spaced out. I’m not sure if that’s a translator choice or the original author.

There’s an afterward at the end of the book that gives a bit more context about the author and the themes of the book. I’m glad that was there to get a deeper understanding of the author and the intent of the book. I’m probably going to check out the author’s other works as a result.