Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Lives Of Desperate Girls, by MacKenzie Common (ARC review) | zeroes in on real issues but fails to be truly engaging

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One small, northern community. Two girls gone — one missing, the other dead. A riveting coming-of-age debut young adult novel for fans of Everything I Never Told You and All the Bright Places. 

Sixteen-year-old Helen Commanda is found dead just outside Thunder Creek, Ontario. Her murder goes unremarked, except for the fact that it may shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is beautiful, rich and white. Helen is plain, and from the reservation. They had nothing in common except that they were teenage girls from an unforgiving small town. Only Chloe’s best friend Jenny Parker knows exactly how unforgiving, but she’s keeping some dangerous secrets of her own. 

Jenny begins looking for answers about Helen’s life and death, trying to understand larger questions about her town and her best friend. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I was very close to DNFing The Lives Of Desperate Girls many times while reading it, but fortunately I stuck around long enough to finish the book. I commend it for its improvement as I went on, the thing The Lives Of Desperate Girls does best is its raw yet poignant commentary of social issues such as racism and sexism, as well as focusing on the common struggles of teenagers, like bullying and depression. Unfortunately, everything else in the book is glaringly underdeveloped and just uninteresting.

The Lives Of Desperate Girls is set in Canada, in a small town named Thunder Creek, located somewhere in northern Ontario. It’s a fairly poor and underdeveloped area, and there is a very visible divide between the mostly white residents and the nearby Natives. This is seen multiple times throughout the book, specifically with the police completely and utterly favoring Chloe, a white girl, and her missing case, and pushing aside Helen, a native girl, and her murder case. In the midst of other examples, I actually thought Jenny’s feelings about the blatant racism in her community were quite realistic and told well, without sounding too preachy. I didn’t know too much about Canada’s First Nations and reading about their history and life was interesting, and how they dealt with the Thunder Creek community definitely pulled on your heartstrings yet made you think. The discussion on gender inequality was also well-done, zeroing in on rape and slut-shaming, and the disparities between social class was also talked about in detail.

Most of the Goodreads reviews of this book seemed to mention the clunkiness of the writing, and I definitely have to agree with that. It is frustratingly bland for most of the time, but it does have its moments, specifically while exploring the numerous social issues that this story covers. At those times, the prose is surprisingly relatable, honest, and sophisticated all at once. If only it had been that way throughout.

The mystery/thriller plot is one of the low points for this book, while Common tries to add a number of elements to up the anticipation for the big reveal, it ultimately falls flat due to bad storytelling. First off, the writing doesn’t make it that thrilling for the reader either, it’s incredibly unexciting and fails to trigger any sort of anticipation or curiosity. Secondly, Jenny’s motivation to play detective is never, ever put into words properly or even conveyed at all. She gets into all types of dangerous antics to ‘solve’ Helen’s murder and for what? We never know the true motivation behind her actions in general, in fact, everything going on in Jenny’s investigation in very vague and directionless. For all her sleuthing, Jenny doesn’t even seem to have direction in mind and often randomly throws guesses at who the killer is, usually people she already knows or has met. Thirdly, Jenny’s big secret on Chloe’s disappearance. Can’t say much about that due to spoilers, but y’all can experience that bullshit for yourselves and then get back to me.

The characters are clearly the biggest low point in this novel, which is tragic, because even if the mystery part of it fell flat, the novel could have redeemed itself through its characters and contemporary side. Jenny is one of the most inconsistent characters ever. Her narration in the first 30% in incredibly passive and monotone, and while she does improve later on, her entire personality changes when she’s supposed to be a quiet and ordinary girl. She meets shady people, goes to places she shouldn’t go to, and adamantly refuses to talk to the police on Chloe’s case (we still don’t know why that is *sighs*). We never see her true psychological trauma and struggle after Chloe’s disappearance and while she does change throughout the book, it’s so sudden, unrealistic, and vague. She does have a love interest, Tom, who is equally dull and one-dimensional. They both suddenly decide to ‘fall in love’ through a few smoke and make-out sessions, and it develops into the most ridiculous romance ever.

If you’re in for an eye-opening piece of commentary on the several social issues in our world, The Lives Of Desperate Girls is worth tuning in to. But, if you came for an intriguing murder mystery, a heartfelt contemporary, or even something remotely fascinating, you can do better than this one.

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco

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3.5 stars

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

My feelings for The Bone Witch fluctuated frequently throughout this book, and if you would have told me I’ve rated it higher than 2 stars back when I was at 15%, I would have laughed in your face. Seriously, I had considered abandoning this book at about 10%, but decided it was too early and reluctantly pushed on. Surprisingly, the book picked up around 45%, and while it wasn’t completely smooth sailing from there, it was far more exciting than the beginning chapters. My rating of 3.5 stars doesn’t entirely encompass my feelings for this book, it was filled with moments I loved and others I didn’t understand, but I’m so happy I didn’t abandon The Bone Witch like I thought I would.

The Bone Witch follows young Tea, a girl from small village who initially discovers she is an asha (someone who can wield magic/draw runes) after accidentally resurrecting her brother  at his funeral. Turns out she isn’t a typical asha, who can wield the elements, but a “bone witch”, a type of dark asha that specifically works with death and the dead. They are also the only people that can kill the mysterious and dangerous Daeva creatures, which are a consistent threat to the world. After this incident, Tea becomes a student of Lady Mykaela, a powerful and well-known bone witch, and they both (along with Tea’s resurrected brother, Fox) travel to arrive at the Valerian “asha-ka” , a school and home in which asha learn their duties and skills, and eventually make their debut as an official asha, that can entertain and fight. The Valerian household is the specific house in which Lady Mykaela herself was raised.

The world-building…. is absolutely magnificent. It’s the motivation to learn about this world that inspired me to continue on, a feeling I haven’t experienced in long time. I’ve got so used to all these “fantasy-lite” books trying to develop their own world and failing, I’ve completely forgotten how rich and beautiful a full-blown world can be. Chupeco planned everything out in this book perfectly, and it never became confusing or overwhelming, and I am confused quite easily. From the descriptions of the asha’s hua (very important asha clothing) to the busy Valerian household, everything felt so unique and cultured and dynamic. The politics between each of the 9 kingdoms is brilliantly fleshed out, as well as the politics within the separate asha-kas. The kingdoms, food, and character values seem to take inspiration from the Middle-East, and the political and social order is structurally developed. A concept I find especially interesting, is “heartglass”, a necklace worn by everyone in the kingdoms to show their emotions through different colors. Social norms are also very dynamic, an example being the prejudice against bone witches due to fear and ignorance.

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