By Margaret Verble
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2021
Read via Netgalley
Elinor grew up in North Dakota as the daughter of a white US airman and the Korean woman he brought home after his time overseas. She knows what it is like to feel like an outsider as one of the few non-white students growing up in her North Dakota town, as an Asian woman in a largely white modeling industry, and as an older student in her journalism classes.
O Beautiful is an unflinching look at the things that women, especially women of color, deal with on a daily basis. From the first pages, Elinor is accosted by men who "just want to talk" or "were just trying to be friendly." Jung Yun succeeds in portraying just how oppressive it is to live a life where you are always on your guard, always worried, always looking for the next possible threat. Elinor is often angry and I would say that this book is written with anger, too; there is anger about the way racism and sexism impact our lives, the way giant corporations are destroying the planet for profit, and the widening gap between people who can't make ends meet and those who have more money than they could ever spend.
As the title indicates, this is a story about who belongs in America. Can woman truly feel at home in a society where they need to be on their guard? Can Black or Asian or Latino people find a place to call their own when the people around them see them as threats? O Beautiful is a tightly constructed novel about one woman searching for a place where she will be truly safe and welcome as an Asian American woman.
Agatha of Little Neon is, in a way, a coming of age story. While she is in her mid-twenties, Agatha is discovering for the first time that the people in authority are not always looking out for her best interests. She is also starting to wonder who she might be if she hadn't promised her life to God and her sisters. Agatha, Frances, Therese, and Mary Lucille are well-acquainted with many of the virtues, but the thing that rings true on every page is kindness--they are kind to themselves, kind to each other, and kind to the people they encounter who are doing the best they can. This is a story about figuring out who you are and what is important when your community and your beliefs let you down.
Millie is a force of nature. Emma Lord has written a character who is vivacious and determined, but slowly coming to realize that her impulsive choices impact the people in her life. And it's a beautiful cast of characters we get to enjoy--Millie's nerdy dad; her aunt who makes amazing milkshakes and runs a nightclub; Millie's geocaching best friend Teddy; and the perpetual thorn in her side, school stage manager Oliver.
One of my favorite aspects of this story was the way Emma Lord captures people doing the best that they can. Millie's dad isn't trying to hide information about her mom; he just doesn't know how to talk about the woman he loved who left Millie with him and disapeared. Millie isn't trying to be sneaky or deceitful when she hatches her latest scheme; she just imagines it's the quickest way from point A to point B. This story is a beautiful look at the ways we inadvertently hurt the people we love and the ways that we can mend those relationships.
When You Get The Chance is flat-out charming. It's a must-read for any YA theatre lover, and reading it would be a delightful way to spend any weekend.
Many of us watched The Phantom Menace and wished for more time with the brilliant, beautifully dressed, Queen Amidala of Naboo without interference from a certain whiny boy Jedi. E.K. Johnston has given us that chance with her fantastic trilogy (the third book will be out in April 2022). In Queen's Peril, Johnston expands what we saw in that first movie and shows readers that the greatest relationship in Padme's life was the bond between the queen and the handmaidens who would do anything for her. The book has some moments that readers may find difficult--as it turns out, the queen and her court have a fair amount of boring business to take care of and they are also teenage girls with an endless wardrobe at their disposal, so there is a lot of discussion of clothing. But Johnston excels at giving us a fuller understand of who Padme was and just how young she was when she was sent to rule an entire planet and ultimately, play a pivotal role in the future of the galaxy.