Category Archives: Diversity in YA
Orphaned and living with her older sister working as a nursing student, fifteen-year-old amateur private detective Scarlett takes a case from Gemma Archer, who is convinced her older brother killed his best friend. However, the media reported that Quinn Johnson killed himself. While keeping an eye on Gemma for her safety since her parents are frequently absent, Scarlett finds Gemma’s brother Oliver to be as creepy as he sounds, embroiled within a secret cult. During her investigating, she discovers the cult has roots that link to her own family, and she might be in a lot of danger.
Part of an effort to include more diversity in YA literature, Jennifer Latham wrote this exciting novel about a young Muslim American, including references to cultural myths, magic, and language. Having been compared to that hit teen detective of the 2000’s Veronica Mars, Scarlett comes with elements of sassy attitude, independence, and determination. Despite saying she’s 15, her voice actually seems younger and less capable, perhaps because to the reader, she’s not yet established her credibility as a detective. Additionally, Scarlett’s romantic relationship with Decker felt the most flat along with a few minor side characters. Otherwise, this murder mystery is unique, unpredictable, engaging, and best for older middle grades/younger high school teens, especially reluctant readers who are searching for books that reflect cultural diversity.
Before Cinder and Scarlet, Cress and Iko, there was Levana and her elder sister Channary. When their royal parents were brutally murdered by shells (Lunar people without the gift of manipulating bioelectricity), Channary ascended to Queen, forcing her younger and less gifted sister to hide in her shadow. When they were children, Channary had cruelly manipulated her sister into climbing into a hot fire, scarring her horribly. For years Levana was known as the disfigured princess. As Channary begins her reign, Levana has finally developed her glamour enough to be somewhat different, and only Channary has the power to see through it, using it to taunt and toy with her. Levana is also hopelessly in love with one of the royal guards, happily married with an expectant wife who quickly dies in childbirth, and the love she so craves is never achievable unless…Levana uses her gift to become his dead wife and convince him. In an act of defiance against Channary, Levana marries the guard. With Channary’s insults, careless ruling, and wanton ways, Levana plots to have her murdered and then she can finally become something she’s destined for…Queen of Luna.
Though this is a prequel and the reader knows Levana to be evil, it is easy to be convinced (or seduced) by her innocence in this novel, a naivety that is twisted first by Channary and then subconsciously warped by Levana herself. It is both recognizable, relatable, and horrifyingly reprehensible how she transformed from a young, tortured child into a ruthless ruler. A spoiled child, who, when she did not get the love she felt she deserved, decided to coerce, force, and finally break whatever or whomever as it suited her, convincing herself this was the only course of action to get what she wanted. This is a key theme, the epitome of selfishness that Machiavelli would have no trouble lauding.
The final Lunar Chronicles novel! Cinder, Wolf, Thorne, Cress, and Iko have “kidnapped” Emperor Kai to prevent Queen Levana from becoming Empress. Together they plan to infiltrate Luna by having the wedding on the moon and rescue their captured friend Scarlet. Meanwhile, with Queen Levana furious about her fiance’s absence and already incensed that Cinder or Princess Selene is still free, her stepdaughter Winter hides the secret of Cinder’s coming, told to her by Jacin, her beloved guard, and would be immediately killed if Levana knew of it.
When he returns, Kai is successful in convincing the Queen, upon their arrival for the wedding, everything dissolves into chaos. Cinder’s party is discovered and pursued, but luckily not caught, though they lose Cress in the commotion. Wolf, Cinder, Thorne and Iko travel to Wolf’s parents’ home to lie low and wait, as their entire plan depends on Cress’s hacker skills. On the other hand, Cress was discovered and shielded by Winter and Jacin, but not without raising Levana’s ire against her stepdaughter. Finally, fed up with catering to Winter’s whims and the memory of her dead husband, Levana orders Jacin to kill Winter and so breaks the last tether from her past. However, she underestimates his loyalty, and Jacin fakes Winter’s death and frees Scarlet to rescue them both. Winter and Scarlet manage to make their way, aided by a secret helper (Cress), to Cinder and her companions, just in time to begin the revolution to overthrow Levana and restore Selene to her rightful throne.
Without discussing any spoilers for the smashing ending, Winter wraps up the stories of all main characters as well as the fate of Luna and Levana’s reign while also satisfying reader expectations. Bear in mind its fairytale roots, so the romances are neatly tied and everyone has a happy ending. I want to stay in this world so much for its loveable characters and strong female role models! I am so sad to finally see it end…maybe there will be more short story editions like the one below! Or the newly announced graphic novels featuring Iko!
This collection of short stories, some previously released as ebooks, is amazing alone just for the last two stories and the unique perspectives it gives on some of our favorite characters who haven’t yet had a voice in the original novels.
The Keeper: Michelle Benoit’s quick account of how she came to be the secret guardian of Princess Selene while she was developing after her horrific burns and becoming cyborg. Story was very interesting and really made you feel how much love she had for Selene and for the important job she was entrusted with.
Glitches: Cinder’s introduction to her new family, the Linh’s: Sweet Garan who swiftly dies of letumosis, sour Adri who treats her as if she is gum on her shoe, sparkling Peony who immediately finds a kindred spirit to love, and submissive Pearl who follows her mother’s every instruction. It is through Adri’s prejudice that Cinder learns to become a mechanic and restores Iko. As reader, it is so believable (and reminiscent of Cinderella lore) one almost doesn’t want to leave dear Cinder in this hopeless situation, but also can recognize that inner fire of hers to survive and succeed appears even this early, which is so strong and endearing in this young glimpse of her character.
The Queen’s Army: The brutal recruitment, training, and domination of Wolf in the Lunar Queen’s special forces, and his simmering resolution to follow his own path despite his animalistic, manipulated urges. Dark and tinged with the desperation to survive, this story better allows for more empathy and compassion with Wolf and his Lunar soldier brothers.
Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Dashing rogue Carswell Thorne might have been a scoundrel in his own terms, but Cress saw through that from examining his past. Here Carswell is a younger teen and though he seems to be finding the easy escape hole, there’s a glimpse of his true heart. Light, fun, but I desired more, more, more of Carswell than this little snippet.
After Sunshine Passes By: A very short narrative where Cress describes her life as a shell, rising into a technological hacker whiz, and the surprise of her satellite prison. Possibly a unneccessary story as Cress’s backstory is well-fleshed out without being described in other novels, but perhaps stemmed from world-building the shells’ secret bunker and helpless slavery.
The Princess and the Guard: The origin of a young Winter and Jacin’s friendship, Winter’s realization that the Lunar gift takes away personal choice and willpower, and their strengthening bond as Jacin becomes in-truth her guard and trusted protector. Taking place over a few years and highlighting key events in Winter’s life, this gem defines Winter’s and Jacin’s coming-of-age as well the constant danger present in the Lunar Court. I found it harder to connect to Winter than any of the other girls in the original books, but this Winter is divided into sane Winter vs losing her mind Winter. This stark contrast gave me a better grasp of Winter’s character and made me like her more (though, as she’s the version of Snow White, she’s already pre-determined to be my least favorite; Gennifer Goodwin’s Snow from Once Upon a Time is the only exception to the rule so far).
The Little Android: An out-of-the-ordinary story of an android whose personality chip develops abnormally. The android saves the life of a drowning man, seeks to survive rather than be reprogrammed, and shows the sweet gifts of love, sacrifice, and true friendship. I could read this story over and over and over again.
The Mechanic: Prince Kai’s point-of-view seeking, meeting, and immediately liking the brilliant Cinder. Love, love, love! I could read an entire book with Kai as a narrator.
Something Old, Something New: Best story in the whole book by far, and I won’t give any spoilers away. There’s a wedding, and the ending had me crying for more wedding (Babies! Life adventures!) short stories of these most beloved characters.
In the 1930’s, young Emilia Menotti, her African brother Tio, and her mother Rhoda journey to Ethiopia, the last unconquered African country, to fulfill Tio’s mother Delia’s dream, a hope cut short when Delia, the “Black Dove” and one part of a trick flying duo, died during an airplane accident and left Em’s mother, the “White Raven” battered and shaken but alive. After her physical and emotional recovery, Rhoda left her daughter and her new informally adopted son Tio to pursue the possibility of their life in Ethiopia, with the help of her Italian husband, of whom she stays pretty independent. Now, two years later, Emilia and Tio can finally join Rhoda, right as Haile Selassie I becomes Emperor. As they adjust to a new life and a new language, they fall in love with Ethiopia, it’s people, culture, and way of life. But the political situations of the time overshadow this beauty. Tensions with Italy escalate and as a possible invasion looms, Rhoda teaches Em and Tio how to fly their airplane and be their own versions of Black Dove and White Raven and no longer only stories or dreams in a child’s notebook. Tio’s a natural flier, and Em learns with dogged determination but is gifted at navigation. They are a team, but unfortunately, Tio’s blood holds him back from freedom. In an attempt to save Tio and their family, they all choose to sacrifice when Italy finally does invade and the war effort becomes personal.
In another heart-wrenching, well-written historical tale by Wein, a love and kinship between two female aviators, one black and one white, and their children is changed when one mother dies. Despite their difference in heritage, Em and Tio are truly brother and sister. The political tension over the racial difference is palpable in the United States, but in Ethiopia, no one much notices. In Ethiopia, there are still slaves and the economy is very poor. Tio and the Menotti family are suspended on all sides during this conflict, and the resolution causes nail-biting, tears, and blossoming hope. (#toomanyfeels!) Wein does a fantastic job introducing a point of view that doesn’t have much traction in Western literature and inspires a new perspective of diversity. I really enjoyed learning the history of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and their rich heritage while also recognizing the heartbreak that came about for the country during WWII.
For more about the Second Italian-Abyssinian War and Haile Selassie I, you can start with these few links.